The general political situation throughout Russia and, in particular, the situation within the labour movement, invariably determined the forms which the struggle inside the Duma would take. It is this consideration which gave special interest to the obstruction in the State Duma in April 1914, as a result of which all Social-Democrats and Trudoviks were suspended for fifteen sittings. The incidents which occurred in the Duma directly reflected the development of the working-class struggle, which, as often happens, temporarily rendered the liberal parties more radical. The whole episode, however, revealed another normal feature of liberal tactics. As soon as the Duma position became somewhat acute, the Liberal parties quietly dropped their opposition and resumed their place in the ranks of the counter-revolutionary Duma majority.
The immediate cause of the obstruction was the prosecution of Chkheidze for a speech made in the Duma. On the initiative of Maklakov, the Minister of the Interior, the Council of Ministers decided to prosecute Chkheidze for referring to the advantages of a republican regime. The tsarist government had frequently prosecuted deputies in court or by administrative order for activity outside the Duma, but this was the first case of prosecution for a speech delivered within the Duma itself. This was a direct attempt by the government to destroy freedom of speech from the Duma tribune, a freedom which was already restricted by the actions of the Black Hundred presidium. If it succeeded, it meant that the entire Left would be crushed.
The Liberal parties, the Cadets and the Progressives, were also alarmed by the prosecution of Chkheidze. They were not concerned with the fate of the Social-Democratic deputies, but regarded the event as an attack on the “constitutional guarantees” to which they clung as the principal achievement of the “emancipation struggle.” Some Cadets, stimulated by the unrest in the country, even began to talk about refusing to vote the budget, whilst the Progressives introduced a bill on the immunity of deputies for speeches made in the Duma.
Rodzyanko at once took counter measures. After having consulted Goremykin, the newly appointed Premier, he arranged for a series of clauses to be introduced into the bill in committee which imposed still greater penalties for “abuse of freedom of speech.” These clauses were particularly directed against the extreme Left and entirely destroyed the value of the rest of the bill. In fact it handed over the Social-Democrats and Trudoviks to the tender mercies of the government.
Since the Black Hundred Duma held up even this distorted version of the “freedom” of speech bill, the Social-Democratic fraction decided to introduce a motion proposing that all Duma work be suspended until the discussion and passing of the bill dealing with the immunity of deputies. This, however, was too drastic for the Liberals, and so they introduced another motion which proposed to postpone discussion of the budget until the bill was passed. This motion was, of course, defeated, somewhat to the relief of the Liberals themselves. The two Social-Democratic fractions and the Trudoviks, however, refused to surrender and planned to organise obstruction in the Duma to prevent discussion on the budget. In view of the rise of the revolutionary spirit in the country, such a demonstration within the Duma was of far greater importance than a dozen or two of the most radical speeches directed against the government.
The first budget debates coincided with the second anniversary of Pravda, when our Party organised “Labour Press Day.” The demonstrations held by the St. Petersburg workers,. the numerous resolutions received by the editors and the collections made for the Pravda “iron” fund, the wide circulation of the jubilee number of Pravda, of which 130,000 copies were sold, made us absolutely sure that our demonstration in the Duma would assist in the new forward movement of the masses and would be supported by the entire working class.
Before the opening of the sitting on April 22, the two Social-Democratic fractions and the Trudoviks introduced a resolution to postpone the budget discussion until after the freedom of speech bill had become law. The Duma listened impatiently to speeches from the representatives of the three fractions and then decided by a huge majority to start the debate on the budget immediately. During the speech of the representatives of the budget commission, the members of the three fractions left the hall to discuss their further action. We decided to return in time for the expected speech of Bark, the Minister of Finance, and to prevent him from speaking.
Instead of Bark, Goremykin, the new President of the Council of Ministers, made his way to the tribune. Goremykin, an elderly tsarist dignitary appointed in place of Kokovtsev, because the latter was considered too soft-hearted and liberal, was charged with the task of ruthlessly checking the revolutionary movement, which was daily becoming more menacing. Thus our plan of obstruction was more appropriate than we had hoped; it would now be directed against the head of the government and would be a demonstration against tsarism itself.
Goremykin had barely managed to begin, “Gentlemen, members of the State Duma,” when pandemonium broke out on the benches of the Left, with shouts of “Freedom of speech for deputies” rising above the noise. Powerless to stop the noise, Rodzyanko apologised to Goremykin and proposed that the deputies concerned should be suspended for fifteen sittings. Goremykin then left the rostrum, which was ascended in turn by the offending deputies, each of whom, according to Duma regulations, had the right to speak in his own defence before being excluded. One by one they protested vehemently and members of our “six” seized the opportunity to hurl accusations at the government and to reveal the cowardice and impotence of the Liberals.
The suspensions followed one another rapidly and any defence which lasted too long was unceremoniously cut short by Rodzyanko. Some of the suspended deputies refused to leave the Duma hall; then the procedure was as follows. Rodzyanko adjourned the house and during the interval a military detachment entered the hall, the soldiers lined the barrier while the officer approached the suspended member and demanded his withdrawal. Only then, with the words “I submit to force,” did the deputy leave the hall.
This use of force was unprecedented in the history of the Duma; the ministerial benches were full and all the ministers watched Rodzyanko’s efficient work. After the removal of a deputy, the sitting was resumed and then the whole process was re-enacted. Finally, when all who had offended had been removed, Goremykin reappeared at the rostrum. Once again, however, he was unable to utter a word – the surviving members of the Left fractions resumed the obstruction. The Rights demanded “Suspend them all,” and Rodzyanko again excused himself and the procedure of expulsion recommenced.
For the third time, Goremykin was greeted with the banging of desks and shouts from the Left, and it was only after every surviving member of the three fractions had been suspended and removed by force that the president of the Council of Ministers was able to begin his speech. He uttered a few incomprehensible words about mutual understandings, common work and the “regrettable incidents” which had just occurred and was then followed by the Minister of Finance, Bark. Freed from the “pernicious” speeches of the Left deputies, the Duma settled down to the discussion of the budget.
The behaviour of the Cadets and Progressives during these suspensions was typical of Liberals whose real allegiance was to the counter-revolution. But yesterday they had used high-sounding phrases about the struggle for freedom of speech, but, far from taking part in the obstruction, some even voted for Rodzyanko’s motion of exclusion. It was true that some abstained from voting, but not one was bold enough to vote against. More than that, in their press the Cadets went so far as to defend the use of force because “... it was not simply brute, physical force, but the action of a disciplined body acting under the orders of the head of the institution representing the people.” The Cadets openly revealed their abject flunkeyism towards tsarist autocracy and the Black Hundreds.
But the whole question of obstruction and our suspension was in no way decided by the attitude which the Liberals adopted towards it. As was the case in all our Duma work, the efficacy of our action depended on the support which we could muster among the workers. Though the Duma reflected to some extent the political struggles which occurred in the country, the question had ultimately to be settled at the factories and in the streets and not within the walls of the Taurida Palace.
Our fraction, together with other Party organisations, began to prepare workers’ demonstrations in connection with the Duma events. Through trade unions, educational societies and other working-class organisations, in all of which strong Bolshevik cells existed, the movement was started. Foreseeing this development, the secret police redoubled their activities. Every member of the fraction was closely watched and the fraction’s rooms were besieged by spies. In the evening of the day on which the deputies were suspended the secret police arrested six Party members, workers who had come to our rooms to discuss the question of organising strike action.
These arrests forced the fraction to take more precautions. Representatives of Party organisations were forbidden to visit the fraction and our work with Party cells was conducted in strict secrecy. We arranged with the comrades from the various organisations to meet at a concert in one of the halls where working-class concerts and lectures were usually held, and while there made the final arrangements for the protest-action.
The protest strike began on the day after the expulsions, April 23, and although only about 4,000 workers (mainly printers) left work, it was a beginning which flared up into a mass strike on the following day. On April 24 the number of strikers had swollen to 55,000 and these were joined by another 17,000 on the third and fourth days. The movement spread to Moscow where over 25,000 men left work. Everywhere the strikes were started at meetings, at which protest resolutions were adopted.
The Manufacturers’ Association replied as usual by closing down all the big establishments. On April 24 sixteen large works were closed and about 25,000 workers discharged. The Manufacturers’ Association, which was called the “lock-outers’ association,” thus revealed itself as an organisation for political as well as economic struggle against the workers. Work was resumed at most of the factories on April 29, but some employers prolonged the lock-out until May 2 in order to punish the workers in advance for the anticipated strike on May Day. The capitalists thought that they could destroy the revolutionary enthusiasm of the working class by starvation and unemployment, but this was not enough for the Black Hundreds, who called for ever more severe measures against the workers.
The reactionary Russkoye Znamya (Russian Banner) with cynical frankness proposed that wages should be reduced and that all representation of the workers, e.g. in the Duma or on insurance bodies, should be abolished. The Black Hundreds were forced to acknowledge the existence and growth of revolutionary feeling among the masses and they thought that the causes were to be found in the agitation carried on by the workers’ press and in the activity of the Social-Democratic deputies. In a leading article on April 26, Russkoye Znamya wrote as follows:
Since the workers’ press, which is entirely controlled by the Social-Democratic deputies, was incautiously allowed to develop, very close connections have been established between the deputies and the workers. A year ago the workers were almost unmoved by events in the Duma: Social-Democrats were excluded from meetings, their friends, escaped convicts, were rearrested and their premises searched, and yet the workers remained quiet. Now on the other hand, every speech in the Duma arouses a response among 200,000 organised workers. All live questions in working-class circles are immediately re-echoed from the Duma rostrum, whence the Social-Democrats censure the government and still further excite the ignorant masses. At the same time all utterances of the Social-Democratic deputies are taken up by the workers. The objectionable obstruction in the Duma organised by the Social-Democrats as a protest against their arrogance being curbed, entailed a mass strike which though only partially successful was of considerable extent. It is time to take stock of the position and consider the danger of this close connection between the cannon fodder and the trouble-makers.
Russkoye Znamya then proceeded to enumerate its proposals, such as deprivation of political rights and wage reductions, since in the words of the pogrom-makers “hunger does not lead to strikes; it is only the well-fed who engage in riots.” The paper then drew the following conclusion:
Only in this way will calm be restored. It will then not be necessary to have cavalry regiments galloping about St. Petersburg to maintain order in the streets every time the Social-Democrats make a demonstration in the Duma.
It will be noticed that the Black Hundreds correctly estimated the importance of the ties which bound the workers’ deputies to the masses. The existence of these ties was amply demonstrated by the support which our activity received from the workers of St. Petersburg, Moscow and other cities.
Whilst our fraction and the two others which took part in the obstruction received from all quarters messages of approval and support, the Cadets were forced to invent all sorts of excuses for their behaviour in order to placate their constituents. The most outspoken representative of the Right Cadets, Maklakov , the deputy for Moscow, complained bitterly that he was obliged to go to Moscow and explain why he did not vote against the exclusion of the Left deputies. He said: “A new movement of protest is sweeping the countryside which ignores our party and which regards the lawful channels of protest as discredited.” Milyukov, the leader of the Cadets, supported him: “If it is true that revolutionary tendencies are growing, then it is very regrettable.” The only object of the Liberals was to hold back the revolution; even in their speeches against the government their chief argument was that the government’s policy was stimulating and provoking the revolution.
It was at this moment, when the Cadets and their allies, the Progressives, were showing their hands so cynically, that the Liquidators broached the question of joint action with the Liberals. In their press they wrote that the proletariat would be only too willing to work with the progressive bourgeois parties. Having analysed the situation they attempted once again to foist on the working class their policy of “freedom of association tor the workers.” The Menshevik Severnaya Rabochaya Gazeta (Northern Workers’ News) wrote: “The questions of liberty of speech in the Duma and of the immunity of deputies have become the most vital in the political life of the country. These questions are closely associated with the fundamental demands which were formulated in August 1912” (the August Bloc).
This standpoint was directly opposed by Pravda on the grounds that the question of freedom of speech in the Duma, etc., was not of fundamental importance for the workers and that the Duma could only serve as one of the means of strengthening the revolutionary struggle. Pravda wrote:
The Liberals were fresh from the crime of assisting Messrs. Rodzyanko and Purishkevich in their attack on the Social-Democrats and Trudoviks when they received offers of collaboration from the Liquidators. Such offers at this time are gravely prejudicial to the interests of the working-class movement. The slogan of the moment is not collaboration with the bourgeoisie but forward with the revolution despite the hesitations and betrayals of the bourgeoisie. The Liquidators may obtain joint action with the bourgeoisie inside the Duma, but it is outside that we must seek the true policy ... The working class also accepts “joint action,” but on a basis which is rejected both by Liberals and Liquidators.
The attitude of the Mensheviks to the wave of strikes which spread over St. Petersburg when the Left deputies were expelled from the Duma, was characteristic of their fear of any mass action. Confronted with the possibility of revolutionary developments, they completely lost their heads and attempted to hold back the movement.
A secret police report reproduces the minutes of a meeting of the Menshevik fraction on April 25, at which, in the presence of Dan, the question of strikes and demonstrations in St. Petersburg was discussed. At the meeting several members expressed the opinion that “it was necessary to thank the workers for their support and ask them to postpone the strike until May 1.” The resolution adopted by the fraction was framed in that spirit, stating that “it was necessary to refrain from striking now in order to act with increased vigour on May 1.”
The same report contains further accounts of meetings of the “seven,” giving many examples of vacillations and waverings within the Menshevik fraction itself. The strength and extent of the revolutionary revival had its effect on individual Mensheviks. According to the police report, Chkhenkeli argued that “the fraction should discard its old tactics of purely parliamentary work and its old slogan of ‘preserve the Duma at all costs’ and pass on to more revolutionary work.” This argument, however, met with no support from the other members of the “seven.” Chkheidze, opposing Chkhenkeli, called on fraction members “to keep their heads cool during these difficult times and endeavour to achieve something within the limits imposed by the law.”
There is no need to state that such damping down of the strike movement during a period of revolutionary enthusiasm could only be harmful. The influence of the Mensheviks, however, weakened considerably at this time and they were powerless to prevent the spread of the movement. Eighty thousand workers participated in the protest strike against the exclusion of the Left deputies, creating a powerful impression throughout the country.
Whilst the Left deputies were absent from the Duma, the Liberals spoke against the government and introduced motions condemning it, but they were in no way able to delay the passing of the budget, which was approved in its entirety by the Duma majority. This quiet atmosphere delighted the government and all the ministers endeavoured to have the estimates of their departments passed before the suspended deputies returned. According to newspaper reports the Ecclesiastical Department was particularly anxious; one of their chiefs said: “They will return from their enforced absence more enraged than ever – they will bite.”
Meanwhile the deputies of the three Left fractions discussed the tactics that should be followed when they returned to the Duma. Proposals were made to continue the obstruction, to delay debates by making very long speeches and, on the other hand, to regard the conflict as finished and to resume the usual Duma work. Finally the deputies of all the fractions agreed to make a joint statement on their return and to have it read in the Duma.
The statement was drafted and adopted at a joint meeting of the three fractions. Despite our precautions we discovered later that Rodzyanko was informed by the secret police of the text. Hence when the deputies returned to the Duma on May 7 Rodzyanko was in the chair and determined to prevent the reading of the statement. But we also were prepared. We had arranged for a number of speakers, so that if Kerensky, who was entrusted with the reading of the statement, was stopped, another speaker could continue. A prolonged struggle ensued between the president and the Left fractions, but in the end the whole of the statement was read.
Thus the return of the suspended deputies to the Duma was, fresh demonstration against the government and brought to the notice of the whole country.
The April events in the State Duma and the mass response which they aroused from the workers played an important part in the subsequent strengthening and development of the revolutionary movement. The effects were immediately visible in the First of May demonstration, which in 1914 far excelled those of previous years. In St. Petersburg 250,000 workers struck, in Moscow about 50,000, whilst First of May strikes were organised and carried out with exceptional enthusiasm in provincial cities where the labour movement had hitherto been relatively weak. Everything pointed to the fact that the working class was preparing to enter into a decisive struggle with tsarism. The admission of Purishkevich, the greatest enemy of the revolution, is significant. Speaking in the Duma on May 2, with the impression of the May Day strikes fresh in his mind, he said:
We are witnessing remarkable scenes; we are passing through a period strikingly similar to 1904. If we are not blind we must see that despite certain differences there is much in common between what is happening now and what took place in 1904. We must draw the necessary conclusions.
This time it was not the workers’ deputies but Purishkevich himself, the leader of the Black Hundreds, who spoke of the approach of a new revolutionary year. This itself demonstrates the intensity of the revolutionary movement among the working class.
Although the main provisions of the budget had already been sanctioned before the deputies returned, we managed to participate in the later stages of the debate. Every time we spoke we dealt not only with the particular estimate under discussion, but with the entire policy of the tsarist government. At the request of the fraction, I spoke on the estimates of the Ministry of Education, which at that time were arousing great public interest.
Kasso, the new Minister of Education, had initiated a number of repressive measures, driving out professors from the universities, arresting and banishing students; he had even arrested a number of juveniles from secondary schools for taking part in very harmless circles. My speech was based to a large extent on material sent by Lenin from Cracow. It was a damning exposure of these measures and at the same time it dealt with the hypocrisy of the “remedies” proposed by the Cadets and other liberal parties.
1. Not to be confused with the Minister for the Interior – a brother of the deputy.
Last updated on 14.9.2011