He was 26 years old when he died. But he seems to have lived longer than 26 years…. And he went through a whole lot more than most people of his age. Yet he was not enabled to live in the very real sense… To work, struggle, create, to live the well-rounded existence of a young fighter, idealist and revolutionist - alas - that was denied him.
For he was snatched away while only a stripling, who was only groping his way; for it was in prison only, where he had met people whose way of thinking was so near to him, that he came to see his way clear…. And how intensely he regretted that he had not known all that! How strongly he wished that he had the opportunity to live the life of a man who has found himself after having wandered long in the dark. That realization came to him now that he came to feel with every fiber of his emaciated body that he would not last long, that he was sinking from day to day, that neither his indomitable will, nor his passionate desire to live, neither his youth nor his ardent blood - nothing would halt the approaching end….
Naumov died. … A young, steadfast, devoted comrade died, one whose life was devoted to our ideas with his soul and body - he died from tuberculosis which he had contracted during his exile to the Solovky Islands. And the only thing I have to remember him by is a postal card sent from the clinic, with the address written by him, while the notification itself was already pinned [penned] by someone else: … “Died April 18 in Tomsk, in the clinic.”
That is what one of the exiled comrades writes us about Naumov.
We here, abroad, received the same kind of postal card: the address shows his handwriting and on the reverse side - a notification of his death…. And now I have before me his letters written to his friends abroad during the last two years of his life.
There are only a few of them - but what letters! … Every line breathes such youthful ardor, such simple and winning sincerity! In reading those letters one forgets that the author is a doomed man, that the dried-up flower to be put on the grave of the Communards - was sent by one who himself, a month later, was to sink into the grave….
“Deeply agitated” - he writes in that letter - “I viewed the snapshot of the wall of Communards which you sent me recently. Space and. … prevent me from carrying out my ardent wish: to bow reverently before the ashes of those who sacrificed their lives for Freedom. Nothing, however, will prevent my heart from beating in unison with the hearts of the children and grandchildren of the Communards, nothing will prevent me from loving with all my heart the great Truth of the Communards and hate their executioners,
and no one will be able to shake my faith in the near triumph, of this truth.…
….I am inserting here two modest little flowers which grew up here upon the Russian land, upon the land swept with the blood of the Russian workers and peasants…. Place those flowers upon the the blood-soaked grave of the Communards…. The day is drawing near when the blood of the Russian workers and of the French Communards will blossom forth into the gorgeous flower of freedom and Commune…”
He writes simply, unaffectedly and with reserve. Of himself, of his brief life he writes reluctantly: he had to be asked several times before he had sent in a brief story of his life; told in a matter of fact manner, giving only a dry record of events.
He is the son of a peasant from the province of Tula. His father was an inveterate drunkard. “In my young days,” he writes, “my parents were driven by their poverty to move to Moscow.” There his mother worked as a cook and her only son “until eight years of age breathed the heavy air of the kitchen.” Then the family went back to the village and the young Naumov entered the local school. His passion for reading earned him the nickname “the learned one.” For five years after his graduation from the local village school the young lad was deprived of the chance to study. In 1920 he entered the “agricultural technicum.” In 1921 he joined the Communist cell of the school: “This joining was an impulsive and not a conscious act on my part.” In 1922 “he left the technicum, aiming to enter the Rabfac (college prep schools for workers) and through the latter the university (social science faculty). “The Komsomol awakened within me a deep interest toward social sciences, which brought about a more conscious reaction toward life and the gradual breaking away from the Komsomol and its ideas.”
“I did not have much luck with the Rabfac - I was too late for it. I drifted into the second training school for infantry officers. … It was with difficulty that I bore those two months of barrack life…. In 1923 I began clerking in one of the Moscow offices. I drifted further and further away from the Komsomol. Although ignorant of Anarchism and lacking any contacts with Anarchists, I was constantly reprimanded for my ‘Anarchist deviations.’ Whence those deviations came to me - I do not know.
“In March 1924 I withdrew my membership card from the Komsomol, having submitted a written declaration to that effect. In May of the same year I was arrested, and charged with ‘keeping and spreading of anti-Soviet literature’ which they found on me, and also my writings in which I attempted to get my bearings in the chaos of ideas and impressions overwhelming me at that time.
“But I was not a Menshevik, nor did I even sympathize with the Mensheviks. Nor was I an Anarchist. I was just a seeker, groping my way through.
“I was exiled for three years to Ural region. In the city of Tobolsk I had my first chance to meet Anarchists and obtain Anarchist literature from them. I plunged into the study of the latter and in 1925 I came to feel myself organically linked up with the doctrine of Anarchism-Communism. In the same year as a result of a tiff which I had with the G.: P. U. authorities I was transferred to Obdorsk. There, another conflict took place which landed me in prison for ten months. In the spring of 1926 I was transferred to the Tobolsk prison. Altogether this year of prison told heavily upon my mental and physical state.
“In January 1927 I was arrested in Tobolsk, and in July of the same year I was banned for three years to the Solovky islands.
“After having served my term in Solovky I was exiled to Siberia for additional three years. I left Solovky on February 1930, already stricken with pulmonary tuberculosis, throat ailment and many other ailments - all of which became aggravated as a result of a typhus contracted in 1930.
“On May 20, 1930, I landed upon the shores of Karga; I was ragged, half alive and only had 3 roubles and 40 kopeks in my pocket ($1.20). And then the trials and tribulations of the Siberian exile began. The room - a veritable bed-bug breeder…. One could fall asleep only at five o’clock in the morning. It was even worse with food. During the two and a half months that I spent in Kargarsk I ate potatoes only three or four times, and as to butter, milk, meat, eggs - I forgot how they looked….”
He did little complaining , but he could not altogether hide the real situation. “The material and spiritual conditions of life,” he wrote during that period, “are conducive towards the progressive development of tuberculosis. I am carried away very often in my thoughts to your active life and I feel deeply pained that I cannot take part in the struggle which needs people so badly Every line that I receive from you, comrades, is like a breath of fresh air for one that is being stifled….”
Toward the end of May, Naumov was taken away to the hospital in Tomsk. The disease was rapidly destroying his organism. “On the whole,” he confessed at that time, “I am a first-rate invalid…. But this is only bodily so - I still feel buoyant in spirit. …” He even wanted to sign out of the hospital, being eager to obtain work, But in vain! … The disease has done its work. On April 18 Naumov breathed his last….
That is the entire “life story!” And what is so unique about it? - the reader may ask not without justification perhaps. Who really wants that story about an anonymous youth whose fate seems to differ so little from the fate of many others like him?
And who will believe that story? Who, among the “revolutionists” abroad, among those who are vociferous about equality and freedom, who will believe that “in the first and only socialist country of the world” young and self-denying revolutionists, workers and peasants are doomed only because they refuse to let themselves be indoctrinated and because they make an attempt to think their own thoughts?
Who will believe that among the hundreds and thousands of such “heterodox” people, who now rot away in the prisons and exile places of Soviet Russia, there is not one who could be indicted - even by the Soviet court, which lacks any guarantees of fair trial - on charges of a criminal nature?
Who will believe that people who are sentenced for a number of years to hard prison labor or exile by a mere administrative “prikaze” (order) of the G. P. U. can easily save themselves all those horrible tortures just by signing a small piece of paper stating that they have retracted their convictions?
Who will believe that it is because of this firmness of conviction, the refusal to traffic with their conscience that the best fighters for freedom are doomed in “The land of Socialism?”
Who among the tourists and “workers’ delegations” making their yearly pilgrimage to the Holy Mecca will believe it?
Whoever among them took the trouble of looking into the political prisons and of talking to the political prisoners, who are the only group of Soviet citizens who speak their minds freely, fearless of consequences?
Who among those “delegates,” instead of regarding the visit to Russia as a “joy ride” along the officially mapped out itinerary, set himself the aim to see things for himself, to get away to the far off, forsaken corners of Ural, Siberia, Turkestan, all those places of exile and to find out even sketchily, but from first hand, how those people live and why they were punished by the “workers’ and peasants’ government?”
And if they wish to do so but are prevented by the all-seeing eye of the G. P. U., what keeps them from raising their voice of protest upon their return from Soviet Russia? What accounts for the almost universal “conspiracy of silence” on this matter?
(“The Bulletin of the Russian Relief Fund of the International Workingmen’s Association, No. 26, November 1932).
From: The guillotine at work p602-7.