This article is part of The Nation’s 150th Anniversary Special Issue. Download a free PDF of the issue, with articles by James Baldwin, Barbara Ehrenreich, Toni Morrison, Howard Zinn and many more, here.
The Tragedy of the Political Exiles
Excerpted from the October 10, 1934 Issue
During my ninety days in the United States old friends and new spoke much of my years in exile. It seemed incredible to them that I had been able to withstand the vicissitudes of banishment and come back unbroken in health and spirit and with my ideals unmarred. I confess I was deeply moved by their generous tribute. But also I was embarrassed, because the plight of hosts of political exiles scattered over Europe is so tragic that my struggle to survive was hardly worth mentioning.
The world carnage put an end to the golden era when a Bakunin and a Herzen, a Marx and a Kropotkin, and all the others could come and go without hindrance. In those days who cared about passports or visas? Who worried about one particular spot on earth? The whole world was one’s country. Not in their wildest dreams did it occur to these revolutionaries that the time might come when the world would be turned into a huge penitentiary, or that political conditions might become more despotic and inhuman than during the worst period of the Czars. The war for democracy and the advent of left and right dictatorships destroyed whatever freedom of movement political refugees had formerly enjoyed. Tens of thousands of men, women, and children have been forced to roam the earth, admitted nowhere. If they are fortunate enough to find asylum, it is nearly always for a short period only; they are always exposed to annoyance and chicanery, and their lives made a veritable hell.
All political movements are at each other’s throats—more bitter, vindictive, and downright savage against each other than they are against their common enemies. The most unpardonable offender in this respect is the so-called Union of Socialist Soviet Republics. Not only is it keeping up a process of extermination of all political opponents in and outside its territory, but it is also engaged in wholesale character assassination. Men and women with a heroic record of revolutionary activity, persons who have consecrated themselves to their ideals, who went through untold sufferings under the Romanovs, are maligned, misrepresented, dubbed with vile names, and hounded without mercy.