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Monday, 9 September 2013

Clare Sheridan on Leon Trotsky

19th October, 1920: Trotsky's car came at 6.30. Nicholas Andrev had been having tea with me, and I offered to give him a lift, as he lives somewhere near the War Ministry. It was snowing hard and there was a driving wind, which lifted up the frozen snow and blew it about like white smoke. The car had a hood, but no sides. In the Red Square we punctured. For some time we sat patiently watching the passers-by falling down on the slippery pavement, and the horse-carts struggling up the hill. Winter has come very suddenly and one month too soon. The horses have not yet been shod for the slippery roads, consequently they can hardly stand up. This morning I counted four down all at the same moment. In London a fallen horse attracts a good deal of attention, and a crowd collects, but here no one even turns his head to look. I have been much laughed at because I stop to watch, but the method of getting the horse up amuses me. The driver (man or woman, as the case may be) gets behind and pushes the cart. The horse, so weak that he has no resisting power, impelled forward by the shafts, struggles to his feet in spite of himself. No unharnessing is necessary. This evening, when I became too cold to be interested any longer by the passers-by falling in the square, I asked the chauffeur if he had nearly finished. He answered 'Sichas' which literally translated is "immediately", but in practice means tomorrow, or next week! So I pulled up the fur collar of my inadequate cloth coat, put my feet up lengthways on the seat, and let Andrew sit on them to keep them warm. I arrived at Trotsky's at 7.30. He looked at me and then at the clock. I explained what had happened. "So that is the reason of your inexactitude," he said; an inexactitude which could not in the least inconvenience him as he did not have to wait for me. He kissed my frozen hand, and put two chairs for me by the fire, one for me and one for my feet. When I had melted and turned on all the lights of the crystal candelabra he said: "We will have an agreement, quite businesslike; I shall come and stand by the side of your work for five minutes every half hour." Of course the five minutes got very enlarged, and we talked and worked and lost all track of time. When the telephone rang he asked: "Have I your permission?" His manners are charming. I said to him: "I cannot get over it, how amiable and courteous you are. I understood you were a very disagreeable man. What am I to say to people in England when they ask me: What sort of a monster is Trotsky?" With a mischievous look he said: "Tell them in England, tell them" (but I cannot tell them!). I said to him: "You are not a bit like your sister." The shadow of a smile crossed his face, but he did not answer.

I showed him photographs of my work and he kept the ones of the "Victory". Among the portraits he liked "Asquith" best, and said that that one was worked with more feeling and care than any of the others. He took for granted that Asquith must like me, which is not necessarily the case, and said half-laughingly: "You have given me an idea - if Asquith comes back into office soon (there is a rumour that he might bring in a Coalition with Labour, and recognise Russia) I will hold you as a hostage until England makes peace with us." I laughed: `What you are saying humorously is what a British official told me seriously, only he said it a propos of Winston. As a matter of fact, I'd be proud if I could be of any use in the cause of peace. But if you said you would shoot me, Winston would only say "shoot"' - which is, to my mind, the right spirit, and exactly the spirit that prevails among the Bolsheviks. They would not hesitate to shoot me (some of them have told me so) if it were necessary, even if they liked me as a woman. Winston is the only man I know in England who is made of the stuff that Bolsheviks are made of. he has fight, force and fanaticism.

Clare Sheridan, Russian Portraits (1921)

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