‘A Funeral in the Taiga: From the Diary of a Red Partisan’ by Leo Perlin from Soviet Russia. Vol. 3 No. 5. July 31, 1920.

Red partisans in the Siberian taiga.

Would love to know more about ‘Leo Perlin.’ He may have been an American who later went to China with others of the Vladivostok Branch of the Far Eastern Bureau of the Russian Communist Party under Grigori Voitinsky in 1920.

‘A Funeral in the Taiga: From the Diary of a Red Partisan’ by Leo Perlin from Soviet Russia. Vol. 3 No. 5. July 31, 1920.

WE KNEW Pankratiev was going to die. For the last few weeks he had been gradually passing away. He was not receiving any food and had acquired the appearance of a living skeleton, with his large burning eyes, into which I dared not look, for so strong was their look, that it seemed Death itself was gazing through them. And there he lay, in the middle of the tent, upon a canvas stretcher, always with eyes open, even in his sleep. We, wounded men, patients of the Partisan Hospital, have suffered enough not to be moved by the moans of that man; but the last few days of his life brought such suffering upon him, so torturing and painful were his animal-like shrieks and groans, that each of us wished the moment of his death would come sooner.

Siberian partisans, 1920.

Around us was wild, impassable forest, always mysterious, real Siberian Taiga in its virgin grandeur, unexplored, just as it was thousands of years ago. Wild beasts were roaming right around our camp, sometimes rushing through so near as to make the leaves rustle. And we knew that even the King of the Taiga — the invincible Amur Tiger, was wandering at a mile’s distance from us. Wild nature was spreading before us, but we hardly took notice of it. We could not think of the splendor of the trees, and flowers in their full bloom, for our very lives were at stake. Our situation was dangerous, it seemed even hopeless. The Japanese had landed superior forces in our region, and supported by machine guns and light artillery, had driven us Partisans from the villages we held. Armed with old, half-broken rifles and a limited supply of ammunition, and no new supplies in view, we kept up a stubborn fight against the overwhelming forces. Poorly clad, without an adequate food supply, in many cases having black bread as our only meal, we were willing to stand even greater hardships, firm in our determination to see Russia free. We were cut off from the world and received information only accidentally. The only delayed newspaper we ever got was an enemy publication, because the revolutionary press was ruthlessly suppressed, and the newspapers we received always tended to kill our hope for freeing Siberia from the yoke of Kolchak and his foreign supporters.

Partisans in Suchan, 1920.

For us Partisans it was a hard struggle, with victory very far off, perhaps not to be witnessed by us at all. The difficulty of fighting a superior, well-armed, and adequately supplied enemy was increased by the rigors of wild nature that we had to overcome. We never discussed among ourselves what would happen if we were completely beaten. We knew that we had to fight on.

Even more unfavorable was the situation of those Partisans, who had the ill luck to be wounded in various skirmishes with the enemy. When in battle line, we could not have the consoling thought of a soldier of the regular army, who knew that at well-equipped hospital with the best accommodations was awaiting him in case of injury. The Partisan could not hope for anything. We always preferred to be killed than to be wounded, because terrible uncertainty lay in store for us in the latter case. We might fall into the hands of the cruel, merciless enemy, and we well remembered the case of the torturous death inflicted upon our unfortunate comrades who had been accidentally captured.

Partisan hospital in the Siberian village of Pogrominsky.

And now the worst has happened. Thirty of us were in this little improvised hospital. We were made to move from place to place until the advance of the enemy compelled us to retreat to the thick of the Taiga. We were lucky to have the attention and care of a physician, Dr. Senkievich, but we were cut off from the world and had a very small stock of hospital supplies on hand. On account of this, we had to be very economical with the bandages, washing them over and over again, until nothing but rags remained.

Then there was the terrible vision of hunger coming. The few sacks of flour and beans — the only provisions we managed to take with us — were fast becoming empty. With Japanese and Kolchak troops right around us, how were we to get food? And so we cut down our meagre rations of flour cakes and beans. We were weak and exhausted from our wounds and constant moving from place to place, and here we lay in the open, the damp taiga air pressing heavily on our lungs. We did not complain because of the absence of sugar or meat or any such luxuries — we did not even have bread and were now facing starvation. To aggravate matters, we were in a helpless state- and could not even move.

Red partisans in Siberia.

We well knew that we were not in a regular hospital. Each time we cast a glance upon our dying Comrade Pankratiev, we realized the sadness of our situation. We realized that he would survive if he had a chance to be operated upon. But the surgical instruments necessary for the operation were not on hand and could not be procured in the Taiga, and so we had to watch his flesh rot slowly, see his eyes sink deeper into his eye sockets and hear his wild shrieks of pain. It was sad for us to see Pankratiev pass away, because the majority of us, wounded men, were with him throughout the fighting and had learned to like him. He had been destined to live and enjoy health and happiness, but here he was, far from his beloved, to be buried in the thick of the Siberian Taiga. It was not only his fate to give up his life under such conditions and be buried among the wild beasts of the forests. Many more comrades had to pay the price with their young lives in the struggle for liberty. It was just two weeks ago that we received news of the tragic death of Karl Liebknecht, nephew of the great German Socialist, who was killed by a bullet. In the small forsaken graveyard of Kazan ka lies the body of Liebknecht, and a cross with the following simple inscription tells the tale of heroism and hard struggle: “Here is buried Karl Liebknecht. Peasants, pray for him! He died for you in a strange land.”

It was early in the morning that we saw Pankratiev’s last hours of life. He was unconscious at the end and could not answer simple questions. The few attendants began preparations for his burial. We could not pay proper tribute to his dead body, for we did not even have a saw to make a coffin. And the corpse was laid in the bark of a tree and covered with a sheet. The attendants and those of the wounded who could walk were the only ones in the procession to the place of burial — some thirty paces from our hospital The little band started off and began to sing the revolutionary burial song, “Vechnaya Pamiat”. Those of us who were lying helpless could only hear the pathetic air sung in a subdued voice, and a feeling of mortal anguish overwhelmed us. This was the last we would see of Pankratiev. We did not con- verse among ourselves and each of us was alone with his sad thoughts. Would we be saved from this fate of perishing in the Taiga? Death from hunger awaited us, for we had provisions only for a few days. Isolated from all villages and farms, we could not expect any new food supplies, except by a miracle. We could not hunt game, because the sound of shooting could be heard by the enemy. Yes, we always felt the danger of being discovered. We never spoke but in a low voice, for did not the Japanese and Kolchak soldiers look for our hospital twice? The last time the Japanese traced all paths so steadily and carefully that they came within less than a mile from our hospital. We gave up our bonfire at night and every little noise in the bushes made us feel the fear gnawing at our hearts. The enemy was persistent in his attempt to find the Partisan Hospital and inflict his vengeance upon the helpless wounded. We knew that and expected no mercy. Every night we fell asleep uncertain whether we might not find ourselves surrounded at daybreak by enemy troops. We were convinced that these were our last days, for we were bound to be discovered.

Slowly were dying away the sounds of “Vechnaya Pamiat”, and each one of us was deep in his reflections of our situation.

Red partisans n the taiga, Transbaikalia. 1919.

We were not regretting that we would have to part with our lives in an age so youthful and promising. We had reconciled ourselves to any fate when voluntarily entering the Partisan Detachments. What did one’s life matter when Russia’s liberty was at stake? The Revolution was demanding a great price to be paid, and we willingly gave our young lives. We felt that the cause was bound to be victorious, for were there not thousands of others like ourselves, who had parted with everything to bring themselves to the altar of the Russian Revolution? Great physical sufferings, hunger, privations, a superior enemy — what could stop us? Truly, we did not have machine-guns or even good rifles, but we felt that it was not a matter of arms — something more powerful than fast bullets supported us and nothing could stop that — the Revolution was behind us, bidding us fight on, and we joyfully submitted to the call.

We, wounded Partisans, half of whom at best would remain crippled forever, would forget our sufferings, when we reminded ourselves of the devotion of the workers and peasants to our common cause of freeing Siberia from the hated rule of Kolchak. We gained inspiration and a greater desire to battle on, when we thought of the poor peasants, who had to suffer all the wrath and vengeance of the Japanese and Kolchak punitive expeditions. A peasant shared his meagre food with us, or perhaps one of his family went to the hills and shouldered a rifle to fight the oppressors of the country — and often their houses were burned down, and everyone in the village flogged.

We reminded ourselves of the peasant children, revolutionaries of the future, who shared their parents’ hatred for the dictator’s role. They sang revolutionary songs with real enthusiasm and would rather die than disclose anything that might injure the cause of the Partisans. Here it was, in the village of Novo-Niezhino, that a twelve year-old boy showed singular heroism. The Kolchak troops occupied the village a day after the Partisans had left it. The Kolchak officers seized a twelve year old boy and insisted that he tell the direction in which the Partisans had gone. But the little boy felt that not merely the lives of those men were at stake — something greater than that depended upon his answer, and so he stubbornly claimed that he knew nothing. The officers insisted, threatened, and finally told him that he would be burned alive if he remained obstinate. The big Russian kitchen stove was at the officers’ order filled with straw and the boy was shoved into the stove. Then the officer lit a match and ordered the boy to give full information, or the straw would be ignited. The boy knew, but would not tell. The inhuman threat was not carried out, however, and the boy was let out of the stove. What must he have felt when the officer held the match?

‘The Oath of the Siberian Partisans’ by S.V. Gerasimo, 1933.’

We thought of the binding ties that exist between us, Partisans, and the peasants and workers. We are brothers of one great world army that can never be conquered. What did it matter that the Japanese had landed another few thousand soldiers in our region? Was not the whole nation, nay, the entire world with us? We could not measure our forces in thousands of rifles, as the enemy did. We felt we could fight even with bare hands. The Russian Revolution, irresistible as fate itself, told us to wage the battle. We shall fight on.

Soviet Russia began in the summer of 1919, published by the Bureau of Information of Soviet Russia and replaced The Weekly Bulletin of the Bureau of Information of Soviet Russia. In lieu of an Embassy the Russian Soviet Government Bureau was the official voice of the Soviets in the US. Soviet Russia was published as the official organ of the RSGB until February 1922 when Soviet Russia became to the official organ of The Friends of Soviet Russia, becoming Soviet Russia Pictorial in 1923. There is no better US-published source for information on the Soviet state at this time, and includes official statements, articles by prominent Bolsheviks, data on the Soviet economy, weekly reports on the wars for survival the Soviets were engaged in, as well as efforts to in the US to lift the blockade and begin trade with the emerging Soviet Union.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/srp/v3n04-jul-24-1920-soviet-russia.pdf

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