“In summer 1905 I left for Bryansk and there directed the activity of the local committee with two other comrades. With no bed in my room, I slept on newspapers on the floor, lived on smoked sausage and bread, spending no more than twenty kopecks per day, and every evening I walked eighteen verstyl [about 11 miles total a verst is about 1KM or .66 miles] to Bezhitsa and back to attend workers’ circles at the Bryansk locomotive plant. In October 1905, on the suggestion of Olimpy Kvitkin, I was co-opted onto the Oryol Committee, which at the time was a ‘conciliatory’ organisation. After Kvitkin had departed, its leader, Ponomaryov, would laugh and say to the other Committee members: ‘We have two solid Bolsheviks, Mikhail Ekaterinoslavsky who is twenty, and Evgeny Preobrazhensky who is nineteen.'”
I came across this wonderful autobiographical sketch of the Russian revolutionary and scientific socialist EA Preobrazhenksy. I include the entire item as an editable PDF and a few teaser paragraphs below. I will serialize this over the next few days.
It is from the 1969 book Makers of the Russian Revolution originally published in French and edited and annotated by Georges Haupt and Jean-Jaques Marie
The scan and OCR is from the English translation Cornell University Press 1974.
The book provides profiles of leading figures of the Russian Revolution including many of the original Bolsheviks. The editors produced the work using as much original and autobiographical material as was available to them. The book remains available used for about 20.$ US.
EAP Autobiography complete PDF follow this link for the complete PDF format Scan.
EVGENY ALEKSEYEVICH PREOBRAZHENSKY (autobiography) first part excerpted
I was born in 1886 into a priest’s family in the town of Bolkhov, Oryol province. I learnt to read at a very early age and when only four, I read the tales in Tolstoy’s Alphabet. As a child, I was very religious. [ . . . ] I went to the Oryol Gymnasium [ . . . ] and at the age of fourteen I came to the conclusion that God does not exist. From that moment I began my stubborn struggle inside our family against going to church and other religious ceremonies. This aversion for religion was rein forced by the fact that I could observe all the religious quackery with my own eyes from the wings. [ . . . ]
It was when I was in the fifth form at the Gymnasium that illegal literature initially came into my hands. Of these first works, I remember Amfiteatrov’s hectographed¹ serial The Obmanov Family which had previously been printed in the newspaper Rossiya, the proclamation of the revolutionary students of the Ekaterinoslav Mining Institute, descriptions of Cossacks beating students, and a few revolutionary poems such as the ‘Marseillaise’, ‘Dubinushka’, ‘Firm, Boys, Stand Firm’, etc. [ … ]
In Bolkhovo that summer, the only revolutionary ‘cell’ consisted of myself and a childhood friend, the son of the local merchant, Ivan Anisimov, who later became a Menshevik and who, I think, emigrated with the Whites. The two of us would set off for the most solitary places outside town and there we expressed our protest against the autocracy by singing the’ Marseillaise’, but in such a way that no one could hear us. Whenever we passed the Bolkhovo town jail, a pitiful, old-fashioned, tumble-down building which usually housed a couple of dozen petty thieves and horse stealers, our thoughts went out to the Kresty and Butyrki, where the heroic enemies of the autocratic regime were languishing.
Returning to the Gymnasium after the holidays, I decided to devote the minimum of time to school work necessary to avoid being given a mark of less than 3 [out of 5] At night I concentrated eagerly on reading foreign works printed on cigarette paper, whilst during the day I read books on the history of culture, on both general history and the history of the revolution, and also on the rudiments of political economy. In addition, Ivan Anisimov and I began to spread our propaganda among the students: we started a couple of circles, and came into contact with some people living under police supervision in Oryol. During this period, I developed a mystical passion for multiplying illegal literature. I had already abandoned as politically useless the hand-written journal School Leisure, which I had founded and run with Aleksandr Tinyakov, the poet who later went mad. Hectographing a few small things did not satisfy me either, although from one master sheet we could obtain a hundred copies. I dreamt of a printing-press. [ . . . ]
When I moved up into the seventh class, I could no longer remain a vague, wishy-washy revolutionary. I had to choose between the socialist revolutionaries and the social democrats. I was decisively influenced by two works: The Communist Manifesto, and The Development of Scientific Socialism by Engels.² After long meditation over them, I decided that the Populist outlook was untenable and unscientific, and that only Marxism could show me the correct path. This watershed in my beliefs produced certain practical consequences. Previously I had distributed to students not only SD literature which reached us from the Oryol SD Committee through Valeryan Schmidt and Pyotr Semyonovich Bobrovsky (both later Mensheviks,) but also SR literature which was provided by the SR Nikkeleva, although she lived under supervision in Oryol. I recall with what sombre resolution I announced to her that I could no longer help her distribute SR literature because I had become a Social Democrat.
[At that time the RSLDP Russian Social Democratic Labor Party was the predominate Marxist Party. The split between the Bolsheviks and Menshevik factions of the RSLDP begins approximately concurrent to the time that Preobrazhensky joins, but, to some extent, the two factions co-existed until the beginning of the outbreak of the 1st World War. Though the contemporary reformist and class-collaborationist politics of organizations which today are called ‘Social Democratic’ had roots in the Second International at the time of Preobrazhensky’s writing, the fundamental split between Social Democrats and Communists is not fully articulated until the October Revolution of 1917 note by RV]
In spring of that year  I was entrusted with a small circle of two workers from the Khrushchev engineering works. I explained the Party pro gramme to them at some length, but not very convincingly. In summer, when I moved up into the eighth class in the Gymnasium and after consultations with the Party, I gave lessons at the Dyadkovo factory in the Maltsev industrial centre, Bryansk district, to the son of the local police chief. I converted my pupil, Nikolay Mikhailovich Zolotov, who now lives in France, to the SD faith. Whilst officially I was teaching him Latin, we devoted our main effort to distributing propaganda among workers at the Dyadkovo, Ivot and other Maltsev factories. It was here that I first met Fokin, who subsequently played a major part in the building of our organisations of Soviet power in the Bryansk district. My pupil’s father, the police chief, made great efforts to catch the Dyadkovo cell which distributed proclamations and mimeographed literature. We stored the mimeograph machine and illegal literature in a rather original way. My pupil complained to his father that he had nowhere to keep his books and exercise books, and asked him for a drawer in his father’s desk which could be locked. His father readily agreed and we kept our material there, whilst father Zolotov conducted searches through Dyadkovo, Similarly, whenever we needed to organise mass meetings in the forests at individual factories, we asked the police chief for his pair of horses, saying we wanted to go hunting. Without suspecting a thing, he willingly gave them to us and we rode round the organisations in our area. All this only came to light a year later.
In April and May 1905, our group led a general strike in educational establishments in Oryol. Yet despite this and the fact that we had spoken in public at student meetings, I was not arrested and I even received my school-leaving certificate. In summer 1905 I left for Bryansk and there directed the activity of the local committee with two other comrades. With no bed in my room, I slept on newspapers on the floor, lived on smoked sausage and bread, spending no more than twenty kopecks per day, and every evening I walked eighteen verstyl [about 11 miles total a verst is about 1KM or .66 miles] to Bezhitsa and back to attend workers’ circles at the Bryansk locomotive plant. In October 1905, on the suggestion of Olimpy Kvitkin, I was co-opted onto the Oryol Committee, which at the time was a ‘conciliatory’ organisation. After Kvitkin had departed, its leader, Ponomaryov, would laugh and say to the other Committee members: ‘We have two solid Bolsheviks, Mikhail Ekaterinoslavsky who is twenty, and Evgeny Preobrazhensky who is nineteen.’ Despite these sallies, I stuck to my guns and defended the position adopted at the third Party Congress. Before this a curious thing had happened in the Oryol organisation. It sent Olimpy Kvitkin as its representative to the third Congress. He left as a Menshevik but returned a convinced Bolshevik and did everything to support Mikhail Ekaterinoslavsky and myself in our Bolshevik views.
¹. A Hectograph is a gelatin based reproduction system invented in Russia in the 1860s.
². I provide a link to Engel’s famous pamphlet Socialism Utopian and Scientific. It is fitting that the young Preobrazhenksy begins with this. He is some 20 years later to make an extraordinary contribution to the discipline of Scientific Socialism with his book The New Economics