H. Roland Holst

The White Terror

March 18 – The Political
Prisoners’ Day

(8 March 1923)

From International Press Correspondence, 8 March 1923, pp. 188–189.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2021). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

Proletarian class war has never cost such immeasurable sacrifices as during the last four years; never have so many young lives been destroyed in the flower of their youth. The bourgeoisie has lost faith in its own gods, and frantically clings to its power like a senile old man to life; terrified by the presentiment of its impending and inevitable death, the bourgeoisie is no longer capable of any human feeling, or even of a policy of reasonable moderation. In its desire for vengeance, and in its fear, the bourgeoisie is continually trampling its own laws underfoot. It regarded the contempt of the Bolsheviki for bourgeois legislation as highly reprehensible, but now it revels in lawlessness in the hope that it will weaken the proletariat, by destroying its communist and syndicalist vanguards.

It recently welcomed the Fascist Terror in Italy with as much heartiness as it welcomed Horthy’s state-military Terror of three years ago. Without a word of protest, even with inward satisfaction, wide circles of the bourgeoisie and intelligenzia look on while thousands of workers in all capitalist countries, are being gradually crushed underfoot because they showed their class comrades the way out of the bloody hell of decaying capitalism. Day and night a loud cry of lamentation, of wrath, and despair, rises from the prisons of Germany, Spain, Italy, Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Roumania, etc. The cry is echoed by the prisoners and persecuted of the vast lands of Asia and Africa – those lands where the oldest capitalist predatory states, England and Holland, are sucking the blood of hundreds of millions of human beings, exploiting oppressing and enslaving them. In these lands the oppressed belong to a race far superior in all culture – except technics – to ours.

It is frightful to think of the sufferings of the rebels languishing in prisons in every part of the world. It is a thought which pierces the soul, and poisons heart and mind. It is terrible to think that it is precisely the bravest and most energetic proletarians who are perishing in the fetid prison atmosphere; those hearts with the most glowing desire for emancipation from the capitalist yoke; those spirits whose impulse for action, whose social idealism, left them no rest, and tor whom activity in the cause of revolution was as the breath of life. All this is bad enough, but it is not the worst. If we could but give these sufferers the assurance that we know and appreciate their fearful torments, then we need pity them, just as little as they will pity themselves. If we could only convince them that we are not abandoning them, that we are carrying on the struggle on their behalf as well as for the cause in general, that we think of them and care for their loved ones – if they only knew all this, then it would not be so difficult to suffer for so great and sacred a cause as that of communism.

But it is frightful when the imprisoned champions lack this knowledge and conviction. And the pity is that this is the case today. To-day there is unfortunately no powerful and vivid sympathy among the masses for the political prisoners, no general and passionate movement for an amnesty, a movement whose waves would rise ever higher and more irresistibly against the walls of the capitalist bastilles. Today there is no unceasing and burning consciousness of solidarity with the tortured and tormented, no restless thought which robs the heart of sleep. “The workers in all countries are asleep”,- these words were recently spoken by the secretary of the Amsterdam Trades Union International. We shall not inquire into the question as to who has promoted this sleep by pacifist narcotics, and who, on the other hand, has unwearyingly attempted to awaken the masses. But Fimmen’s words are true. The masses are asleep, and therefore to-day there is no sense of a vital bond and unity with the political prisoners. II is only when the masses are awake and fighting that the feeling of solidarity arises in their hearts.

Working men, comrades and you, working women, my sisters! This must not be. You must not sleep whilst your brother is suffering for having fought for your emancipation. He is suffering, sitting in his dark cell, brutally and cruelly treated, even beaten and tortured. He does not see the sun, nor feel the soft wind, he does not feel the approach of spring, the awakening of all nature. He pines for his loved ones, he has nothing to occupy his mind, his soul and his body alike are starved. He feels himself cut off from the world of human beings, from the world of his hates and loves – the days and months pass, everything remains the same, the same frightful unending desolation, the same tormenting pining, the same living death ...

You cannot remove all these torments from your brothers, but you can make them bearable. He can bear them if he feels himself borne up by your fraternal love, your active solidarity, if he feels that his frightful sufferings evoke results in you, unfetter your powers. This is the best consolation for imprisoned fighters, the softest pillow for the hard plank bed. But if he feels nothing of this, then the prisoner feels himself “ forsaken by God and man”. -n which has hitherto lent him power; he despairs; perhaps lie even regrets his brave actions, regrets that he championed the cause; he becomes unfaithful in spirit – and is it not terrible to think that this is your fault?

All who are in prison live only on hope and confidence, on faith and belief, and we who are free have the sacred duty to give them all this. Any sign of sympathy, of comprehension, a tier bringing comfort to the heart, some good food strengthening the body, a book occupying the mind, and beyond and above all, the news that those at liberty are thinking of him, are lighting to release him, to rescue him from this tomb ... and the prisoner takes heart again, becomes resigned and calm, even content. He is exalted beyond his sufferings by the thought: “It was not and is not in vain.”

Come, workers, comrades, women, and youthful workers, – in the week of March 11–18, we shall send a ray of sunshine into the dark dungeons and cells of all those who are suffering for their brave attempt to emancipate the oppressed classes and races. March 18 is the day upon which, 52 years ago, the sun arose for all the oppressed and disinherited – arose for a short time only, for it speedily set again in a bloody sky, and was no more than a “glorious fore-runner of the coming state of society”. We shall send them fraternal greetings and fraternal gifts. We shall be with them in spirit, we shall help them to our utmost to bear their burden, we shall storm their prison walls with mighty songs of certain victory, we shall loudly and emphatically demand their release from their jailors, we shall generate the power enabling us to carry through our demands./p>

Last updated on 20 October 2021