“Much better to die in open combat, among comrades, with weapons in their hands. That’s how I want to die. That’s how hundreds and thousands die for this republic every day.”
This is from the writings of Bolshevik revolutionary, journalist and soldier Larissa Reisner, who committed her life to the survival of the Russian Revolution.
While working as a journalist and a teacher in Petrograd the event that would change her life—the 1917 Russian Revolution—broke out.
Reisner offered up her services to the central committee of the revolutionary socialist Bolshevik party.
From there she took on a number of roles including the first woman to be political commissar in the revolutionary Red Army.
Reisner’s Dispatches from the Front Line is an account of the years 1918 and 1919. Russia was plunged into civil war and invaded by 14 foreign armies.
Reisner describes some of the dangerous undercover missions she undertook often only just avoiding capture.
But her account is also filled with the horror of the civil war—and the brutality Russia’s capitalist ruling class used to try and crush the revolution.
“Chistopol, Elabuga, Chelny and Sarapul—all these small towns are dripping blood,” she wrote.
“In one place, the wives and children of the Red Army soldiers were flung into the Kama River and even babes-in-arms were not spared.”
But while capturing immense suffering Reisner also focused on the determination and heroism of workers, peasants and soldiers fighting for a better society. In one passage she commends the creativity and innovation of the people who made up the forces that defended the revolution.
“Creativity also belongs to us, it’s not just a bourgeois trait,” she wrote. “For instance, we needed to blow up some exceptionally well-equipped ships supplied by the British.
“So unknown to anyone a communist engineer, Brzezinski, invented a brilliant thing—he worked out how to fix mines to the keels of ordinary sailing boats and in that way was able to arm a whole flotilla of sailboats.”
And although not a dominant theme in the accounts, she highlighted the determination and bravery of women.
One passage describes a young woman who, despite being badly injured, walked from Ukraine to join the Red Army.
Reisner describes her journey as an “absolute purgatory of long roads, hellish train travel and a burning fear of forever being separated from all the names and faces which connected her to revolution”.
The warmth and respect Reisner had for her comrades shines through.
It is easy to understand why Reisner’s account was so popular with so many on its publication in 1920. It’s exciting, heartfelt and even sometimes funny—all while remaining a vital historical account.
Reisner would never see Joseph Stalin’s counter-revolution, as she died from Typhus in 1926. But her words capture the true spirit of the revolution that Stalin tried to destroy.
Dispatches From the Front Line is filled with the message that it is working people that make revolutions—and who strive to keep them alive.