The narrative of The Bolshevik Myth starts in December 1919, when Berkman and Emma Goldman were deported to Soviet Russia along with over two hundred other anarchists, socialists, and other leftists. Berkman describes conditions on board the transport ship, the Buford.
Berkman begins with great enthusiasm for the revolution. Unlike some of his fellow anarchists, he is willing to ignore the very different philosophy of the Bolsheviks. "From now on, we are all one—one in the sacred work of the Revolution", he tells a welcoming committee. "Socialists or anarchists—our theoretical differences are left behind. We are all revolutionists now."
The Bolshevik Myth describes the situation in Petrograd and Moscow. Food is scarce and rations are being cut. At the Moscow rooming house in which Berkman stays, meals are served at a common dining room. Berkman notes that the other residents watch an empty seat at the table. "In their eyes I read the frank hope that the missing one may not come: there will be a little more soup left for the others".
In March 1920 Berkman and Goldman meet Lenin, whom Berkman describes as speaking with "a peculiar, almost Jewish, accent". Lenin tells them that liberty is a luxury that cannot be permitted during the early stages of the revolution. Lenin assures them that anarchists will not be persecuted for their beliefs, but "we will not tolerate armed resistance or agitation of that character".
In May, Berkman learns that 45 anarchists have been imprisoned for many months, with no charges brought against them. The prisoners have begun a hunger strike to protest the conditions under which they are being held. Berkman tries to intercede with the Bolshevik leadership on the prisoners' behalf and ten of the anarchists are released, but the remainder are sentenced without trial to five years in prison.
Berkman and Goldman are asked to collect material for a planned Museum of the Revolution, which gives them the opportunity to spend the remainder of 1920 traveling the countryside. In Ukraine they learn about Nestor Makhno and his insurrection. They visit a prison and labor camp in Kharkov.
In February 1921, strikes erupt in Petrograd when workers take to the streets demanding better food rations and more union autonomy. The unrest spreads to the port town of Kronstadt, where the Baltic Fleet is docked. The sailors of the fleet support the striking Petrograd workers; Lenin and Trotsky proclaim them guilty of mutiny and order a military response. Berkman and Goldman try unsuccessfully to intercede. In the fighting that ensues, thousands of sailors and workers are killed.
It is becoming evident that the Bolsheviks are persecuting anarchists on ideological grounds. Golos Truda, an anarchist newspaper, is shut down. Growing numbers of anarchists are arrested. Bukharin denounces the anarchist movement in Russia as criminal bandits waging war against the Soviet Republic.
The Bolshevik Myth ends in September 1921 with Berkman's decision to leave Russia.
Gray are the passing days. One by one the embers of hope have died out. Terror and despotism have crushed the life born in October.... Dictatorship is trampling the masses under foot. The Revolution is dead; its spirit cries in the wilderness....
I have decided to leave Russia.
Read more about this topic: The Bolshevik Myth
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