Letter from exile (unknown sender)


You are always on at me to speak of myself and in some detail. Which is no easy thing to do. A summary of our situation would of necessity prove nothing more than an endless litany of lamentations and would be a very sad affair .. What is the good of complaining? Is there anybody around to show an interest in our fate, after so many years of physical and moral suffering, suffering shrouded in silence in that “civilised” world of yours? What would come of it if it were to become known among you that thousands of exiles of every class and every stratum in society were suffering a slow agony somewhere on the far-off steppes of Siberia just because the purposes of a certain “fatherland” require it? Over there in your lands in the West is there anyone left who might be surprised by this? I have no doubt but that in all the letters reaching you from this country of ours, you are forever reading about the same things: hunger, deprivation, disease, suffering, tortures, and so on. Which is, actually, only to be expected. For although we may be separated from one another by hundreds or indeed thousands of kilometres, we all have to contend with the same conditions … So expect no good news from us. And, above all, nothing new! Everything, absolutely everything proceeds as it did before, back in the days of our grandfathers and great-grandfathers!

Well, here comes my very own lamentation.

I am a mere mortal. Before I was imprisoned and banished, I brandished a tool in a factory. I read a little, dabbled a bit in poetry and had “notions”. It was this last shortcoming that was my undoing. For, under our present laws, having “notions” is … an offence against the State. And so, for the past 5 years, I have been trailed through the prisons and banishment places. I have sampled pretty much everything. And, since I have not “yet” abjured my notions, my “travels” continue. I have often been shipped off to some little backwater bearing some bizarre name, somewhere near the Arctic Ocean. The last inhabited northerly village. I have done my best to protest, but to no avail. Off to these splendid places I must go, with or without warm clothing. Now the cold thereabouts reaches -60° and below. As you can see, the outlook is not bright. Over these past 5 years my health has been broken so much that, from the healthy and sturdy figure that I once was, I have now been turned into an old man, weak and ailing. I visited a doctor recently. His diagnosis was brief and to the point: “Acute rheumatism.” So I wonder how the hell my “acute” rheumatism is going to fare at -60°. But I have not lost hope. If this is what it takes for the revolution to prosper, one has to learn how to endure it all …

As for work, we have absolutely no way of finding any hereabouts. A few people survive by hunting, but one cannot go hunting without a rifle. Even if there was any work to be come by, it is not for the likes of us: it is handed out to all comers, criminals included, to former bourgeois, to men of no conscience or no law, but not to us.

The countryside hereabouts is not counted as a place of banishment. There are only a few of us here, amid all sorts of criminals, lost souls, unfortunates and wretches, the place is teeming with them. They are to be seen everywhere .. in gangs .. Not that this comes as any surprise to us, this being run-of-the-mill … But someone newly arrived from the outside world would be aghast at it. One really would have to be the last word in sadism and bereft of any human sentiment to be able to push men to such extremes …

Thanks for the money. It comes to me as a double relief, for, on receipt of your assistance, I somewhat forget my status as a “man without rights” and my loneliness here in this forsaken place. At present, I am on my own here, with no other exiles around. The inhabitants of my village are out and out savages. With an extremely low level of education. Conversation with them on any topic is out of the question. On every side there is dense, virgin forest … I venture there sometimes, albeit not without some trepidation, searching for wild strawberries. This is merely a pastime for me for there are no other fruits to be had!

My health is so-so. Last year I never expected that I would see my time in exile through. Now I reckon I may even survive it, since I have only spat up blood once in a long time, adding to my confidence …

When it comes right down to it, everything depends on the decisions made by “the centre”. It would be hard for me to say whether I am merely due a “change of scenery” or might be allowed to return to central Russia, with the exception of certain towns … Our fate lies in the hands of the “Almighties” !

IWA Fund for Aid to Anarchists and Anarcho-Syndicalists Imprisoned and Exiled in Russia

Address: A. BERGMAN
120, rue Tahère, St-Cloud

From: Translated from French version: International Institute for Social History, Amsterdam ; Fléchine [Fleshin] archive, folder 89, duplicated bulletin [1929] (KSL note:F89 547-8) . Translated by: Paul Sharkey.