Pravda played an extremely important role in the development of the revolutionary movement before the war and, from the moment of its foundation, was one of the chief means of conducting our Party work. The editors and the workers concerned in the printing and distribution of the paper became directly engaged in the organisation of the masses. Every revolutionary worker considered it his duty to obtain and read his Bolshevik newspaper every day, despite all the difficulties which might arise. Every copy was passed from hand to hand and read by scores of workers. The paper gave expression to their class-consciousness, educated and organised them.
The popularity of Pravda among the workers can be explained by the fact that it consistently followed a firm Bolshevik policy and, unlike the opportunist Liquidationist press Luch and other papers), it always stated the problems in simple, straightforward language. Whereas the circulation of Luch never exceeded a maximum of 16,000 copies, that of Pravda reached 40,000 a day. A similar relation in the degree of support among the workers was visible in the amounts brought in by the collections which were made on behalf of the papers. Pravda was started on the money of the workers and supported throughout by workers’ subscriptions, but the Liquidators published their paper mainly on big donations given by individuals in sympathy with the Mensheviks. In 1913, Pravda received no less than 2,180 contributions from workers’ groups while Luch during that period only received 660. The following year (until May) Pravda received 2,873 and Luch 671.
In connection with every political event, every battle of the working class, workers sent letters, resolutions and reports to Pravda. We were unable to publish all this material on the four pages of the paper, even in its enlarged form, and much could not be printed for censorship reasons. The workers bluntly expressed their opinions of the tsarist regime and their willingness to engage in revolutionary struggle against it and, when the editors decided to take the risk and publish such correspondence, the paper was invariably fined and confiscated. As this was such a common occurrence, the workers provided for it in advance by requesting: “In case the paper is confiscated, please publish our news once more in the following number.”
Pravda maintained its close contact with the workers also through the numerous visitors to the editorial offices, which became an important centre for organisational work. Meetings between delegates from local Party cells were held there, information was received from factories and workshops and from there instructions and the arrangements about secret meeting-places were taken back to the districts.
The tsarist secret police were well aware that the Bolshevik Pravda was a very dangerous enemy to the regime. Although, owing to the growing revolutionary temper of the St. Petersburg workers, the police hesitated two years before deciding to crush Pravda, they continually worried it with minor persecutions designed to reduce its power. Throughout the existence of the paper, every issue appeared after a struggle, every article after a fight. Arrests, fines, confiscation and raids – the police gave us no rest.
The Party created its newspaper under extremely difficult conditions and the Central Committee attached enormous importance to its part in the revolutionary movement. The group of comrades who were responsible for it were assisted in their difficult work by the Bolshevik fraction in the Duma. Pravda and the fraction worked hand in hand and only with the aid of the paper was the fraction able to carry out the tasks assigned to it by the Party and the revolutionary movement. We used the Duma rostrum to speak to the masses over the heads of the parliamentarians of various shades. But this was only rendered possible by the existence of our workers’ press, as the so-called liberal newspapers devoted only a few lines to our speeches and sometimes passed them over in silence. Had there been no workers’ Bolshevik paper, our speeches would not have been known of outside the walls of the Taurida Palace.
This was not the only assistance which we received from Pravda. At the editorial offices we met delegates from the St. Petersburg factories and works, discussed various questions and obtained information from them. In short, Pravda was a centre around which revolutionary workers could gather and which provided the support for the work of the fraction in the Duma.
From the moment that the fraction was formed it made newspaper work one of its chief tasks. Immediately the Fourth Duma opened, the Bolshevik “six” published the following appeal in Pravda:
Being absolutely convinced that Pravda will carry out the task of welding together the forces of the proletariat during the present period, we appeal to you, comrades, to support it, distribute it and supply it with material. No doubt Pravda has its shortcomings, like any new paper which has not had the time or experience to gain strength, but the only way to remedy this is to support it regularly.
When I was charged by the Party with the task of attending to the issue of Pravda I addressed the following message to the St. Petersburg workers:
A workers’ deputy and a workers’ newspaper serve the same cause. There must be the closest co-operation between the two; that is why, comrades, I consider it my duty to take the most active part in bringing out our workers’ newspaper, Pravda. Comrades! by our own efforts, with our hard-earned pence, we have created the first workers’ daily in Russia. We, the workers of St. Petersburg, took a leading part in this work. But it is not enough to found a newspaper, we must strengthen it, and to put it securely on its feet a great deal has to be done. Every worker must become a regular reader and every reader must recruit other regular readers. We must organise collections for Pravda and ensure that it is distributed as widely as possible. Comrades! Let us all work together to build up the paper which serves the cause of Labour.
But in addition to organising support for Pravda and arranging for the means to continue its publication, I had also to struggle against the continual persecution of the police. We were constantly fighting against the confiscation of the paper and had to resort to the most varied subterfuges in order that the issue of any particular day should reach its readers.
To comply with the law a copy of the newspaper was sent from the printing shop to the Press Committee at the same time as the paper was issued for sale. As the Committee usually issued an order immediately for the confiscation of the issue we had to utilise the short interval between the dispatch of the paper from the printing shop and its receipt by the Committee for the distribution to our vendors.
Representatives from factories and works gathered in the courtyard outside of the printing office in the early dawn ready to receive the paper straight from the press and dash off to their districts. Later the police became familiar with our manœuvres and the printing establishment was surrounded with spies and the neighbouring streets filled with detachments of mounted and foot police. Often, in contravention of the law, the officials of the Press Committee came to the printshop and confiscated the paper as it came off the presses. Then we attempted to conceal a few bundles of the paper in the attic or on the staircase in order to smuggle out at least a few copies after the police had gone.
The “immunity” which I enjoyed as a member of the State Duma somewhat facilitated our task in this constant struggle with the authorities, but, needless to say, it in no way insured either my comrades or myself from police persecution and legal prosecution. The investigating magistrates accumulated case after case against me and, when they considered that a favourable moment had arrived, they presented their bill – I was prosecuted several times in respect of the newspaper. The government did not venture to arrest workers’ deputies, but during the proceedings tried to involve other more vulnerable people.
Many times I was asked: “Who edits the newspaper Pravda?” And every court official received the same stereotyped answer: “The name of the editor is printed in each copy of the paper and the collaborators are thousands of St. Petersburg workers.”
In May 1913, Pravda was closed down and a few days later appeared under the new title of Pravda Truda. This very obvious camouflage was resorted to on many other occasions; the editors had a supply of titles all containing the word Pravda: Za Pravdu, Proletarskaya Pravda, Severnaya Pravda and Put Pravdy  followed one after the other. The secret police lost no opportunity of suppressing Pravda, yet our work was so well organised that the St. Petersburg workers were rarely without their daily newspaper.
Not the least of our difficulties was the lack of funds. The main source of money was the regular collections made among the workers at factories and works, but we sometimes received material help from individual persons who were in sympathy with the workers’ revolutionary movement, including Maxim Gorky, who helped us whenever he could. Gorky was a regular contributor to all Bolshevik publications and he not only lent material support himself, hut took steps to procure funds for the paper from others.
When he returned from abroad, Gorky settled in Finland, not far from St. Petersburg, and I visited him there in the summer of 1913. His help was needed both in regard to the paper and in relation to other Party work and I went to see him at the request of the Party Centre, taking care not to compromise him and subject him to fresh police persecution.
Gorky overwhelmed me with questions concerning Party life, the state of the revolutionary movement, the underground work, the activity of the Duma fraction, etc., and displayed an enormous interest in all the details of the struggle. He was particularly insistent in all matters which concerned work in the factories and I was unable to keep pace with the rate at which he poured out questions. With regard to the particular request, Gorky promised to do all in his power and devoted much time to helping us to obtain the necessary connections and means for the publication of Pravda.
Incensed by the tenacity of Pravda, the police became ruthless and ignored all legal formalities. Although they had no orders of confiscation, they arrested newsvendors, took away bundles of Pravda, and did not even trouble to get a retrospective decision of the Press Committee to legalise their actions.
At the end of February 1914, a police detachment under the command of a high official, but without any order, raided the editorial offices late at night. Locks were wrenched off the doors, everything was turned upside down and manuscripts and correspondence thrown into a heap in the middle of the floor. I was informed of the raid by telephone and at once ran to the offices and remonstrated with the police about the illegality of the search. But, as I no longer figured as the official editor of the paper, the officer replied:
“Why do you interfere? You are a stranger in this office, it does not concern you.”
“It certainly does. I am a workers’ deputy, and this is a workers’ paper. We are serving the same cause,” was my reply.
The police concluded their search and took away all the material that they wanted. On the following day I made another protest to the Minister responsible, but it was ineffective; the Minister and the police were working hand in glove.
At this time, the government introduced a new press law into the State Duma, designed to take away the last vestiges of the “freedom” conquered in 1905. The police raids on Pravda were a foretaste of the intention of this law. The fraction framed an interpellation dealing with the illegal confiscation of Pravda and on March 4 I spoke in support of the urgency of the interpellation. I dealt with the general conditions of the workers’ press throughout Russia and my speech amounted to an appeal to all workers to rally to the defence of Pravda. The Black Hundred majority rejected our motion, but my speech attained its object – the workers heard our call; both the amount of collections and the number of subscribers to Pravda increased daily.
Pravda was indispensable during the July days of 1914. Full reports of the development of the struggle were published everyday and the editors were in constant touch with the strike committees, helping them and organising collections in aid of the strikers. As a consequence the police persecutions increased, fines, confiscations and arrests became more frequent and day and night the offices were besieged by spies and by every variety of policemen. Every number was in danger and was only saved from the police with the greatest difficulty. We had to argue as to whether such or such an article of the law rendered the newspaper liable. I spent much time at the editorial offices helping the editors and I always carried with me copies of the relevant statutes so as to be able to confront the police officials with the actual text.
When the revolutionary movement in St. Petersburg had reached the stage where the workers were constructing barricades, the government decided to act. The secret police were instructed that our organisations must be smashed and the revolutionary movement deprived of its principal weapon, the press.
This time the raid on the newspaper was planned to take place at a moment when the principal visitors to Pravda as well as the whole editorial board could be arrested. The police descended on the offices just after dusk on July 8, when the work was in full swing and the workers had just arrived from the districts with their correspondence and the workshop collections and on other kinds of Party or trade union business. I at once went to the offices and found the building surrounded by police. After forcing my way through with some difficulty, I saw the place was in complete disorder, police officials were ransacking all drawers and cupboards and all the collaborators of the paper together with the visitors had been arrested and bundled into one room. I was not allowed to reach them and had to talk through an open door.
I at once protested against the search and the arrests and said that I would raise the matter in the State Duma. The police rang up their superiors and, on being told to proceed without ceremony, they ordered me to leave the place at once. I persisted, but they forced me out, and drew up the usual charge against me for interfering with the actions of the police.
This ransacking of Pravda was the signal for a series of attacks on labour organisations. During the few days just before the declaration of war the police destroyed all working-class papers, educatitjnal and trade union organisations. Mass arrests were made in St. Petersburg and batches of prisoners exiled to the northern provinces and Siberia.
The war brought still more stringent police measures and the Party was forced completely underground. Our fraction often discussed the question of resuming the publication of a workers’ newspaper and the matter was on the agenda of the November Conference when the whole of the Duma fraction of the Bolsheviks was arrested.
Throughout the war, we were unable to resume the publication of Pravda.
1. The English translation of the above titles in the order as they are printed, reads: Pravda (Truth) of Labour; For Pravda; Proletarian Pravda; Northern Pravda; The Path of Pravda. – Ed.
Last updated on 14.9.2011