A. Badayev

The Bolsheviks in the Tsarist Duma


Chapter XXIII
The November Conference

The Treachery of the Second International – Vandervelde’s Letter – The Mensheviks Support the War – Lenin’s Theses on the War – The Conference – Proclamation to the Students – Discussion of the Theses

By developing our Party work, conducting anti-war propaganda,, and organising a campaign against war, we were acting in accordance with the decisions of the International Socialist Congresses. These congresses had repeatedly condemned war between bourgeois governments, stressed the duty of Social-Democrats to vote against war credits in parliaments and appealed to the workers to end by means of an armed insurrection any war which might occur.

The Basle Congress, the last congress before the war, held in 1912 during the war crisis in the Balkans, addressed a manifesto to the world proletariat in which it declared:

“Let the governments remember that the Franco-Prussian war called forth the revolutionary explosion of the Commune, that the Russo-Japanese war brought in its wake the revolutionary movement of all the nations within the Russian Empire ... The workers of the world regard it as a crime to shoot each other in the name of capitalist profits, dynastic rivalries or secret diplomacy.”

Our Duma fraction based its work on these statements.

Our fraction, then just organised, had sent the following letter to the Basle Congress:

“War and bloodshed are necessary to the ruling classes, but the workers of all countries demand peace at all costs. And we, Russian workers, extend fraternal hands to the workers of all other countries and join with them in their protest against war – the disgrace of our time.”

Later, in April I913, when there was a danger of a Russo-Austrian clash, the Duma Social-Democratic fraction exchanged letters with the Social-Democratic fraction in the Austrian parliament and with the executive committee of the Hungarian Social-Democratic party. At that time we wrote:

The nations within the Russian Empire know of no justification for this criminal war ... we scornfully repulse the anti-German and antiAustrian agitation of Russian liberals who try to varnish with a progressive colour the barbaric attempt to incite the Russian peoples against the Germans and everything German ...

In their reply, the Austrian Social-Democrats expressed joy and satisfaction with our attitude:

We regard your fearless action again Pan-Slav chauvinism as one of the best guarantees of European democracy and European peace ... We are bitterly hostile to your oppressors but we are bound to the Russian people by indissoluble ties in a common struggle for peace and freedom.

As is well known, on the day after war was declared, the leaders of the International committed one of the greatest betrayals in history and deserted the standard of the international working class. Carried away by the wave of nationalism, the Socialist Parties followed the lead of their respective governments and became tools in the hands of their national bourgeoisie. The notorious doctrine of “defencism” made its appearance. The leaders betrayed the revolution and adopted the theory that once war had been declared it was necessary to defend the fatherland, joining the bourgeois press in inciting the worst jingoist passions and calling for a ruthless struggle against the “enemy.” The German Social-Democrats declared that they were fighting Russian tsarism, while the Allied Socialists asserted that they supported the war against German militarism and Prussian Junkerdom. Both sides thus supported the imperialist brigands in their attempts to destroy their competitors at the expense of the lives of millions of workers and peasants.

I shall not deal with the details of this betrayal, the voting of war credits and the acceptance of posts in bourgeois cabinets, but shall refer to an attempt to lead the Russian Social-Democrats along the same path. This task was undertaken by Emil Vandervelde, Belgian Socialist and Chairman of the International, who became a minister in the Belgian government in the early days of the war.

A few months previously, in the spring of 1914, Vandervelde came to Russia in order to become acquainted with the Russian working-class movement. At conferences with representatives of the various Social-Democratic tendencies, including our Bolshevik fraction, he had ample opportunity to acquaint himself with the irreconcilable struggle which the Russian prolelariat was waging against tsarism. During his stay in Russia he was able to observe the ruthless oppression of the workers by tsarist autocracy. After all this it was particularly strange to hear from Vandervelde a proposal to cease the struggle against tsarism and to support the war which it had engineered. Vandervelde’s action is a clear example of the opportunism which overtook the leaders of the International and which finally led them into the position of aiders and abettors of the international bourgeoisie.

Vandervelde’s proposal was addressed to both Social-Democratic Duma fractions, and naturally the tsarist government willingly allowed this foreign telegram to reach us. The wording of the telegram reveals the depths of chauvinism to which the European Social-Democrats had fallen:

For Socialists of Western Europe, the defeat of Prussian Militarism – I do not say of Germany, which we love and esteem – is a matter of life or death ... But in this terrible war which is inflicted on Europe owing to the contradictions of bourgeois society, the free democratic nations are forced to rely on the military support of the Russian government.

It depends largely on the Russian revolutionary proletariat whether this support will be effective or not. Of course, I cannot dictate to you what you should do, or what your interests demand; that is for you to decide. But I ask you – and if our poor Jaurès were alive he would endorse my request – to share the common standpoint of socialist democracy in Europe ... We believe that we should all unite to ward off this danger and we shall be happy to learn your opinion on this matter – happier still if it coincides with ours.

This telegram was proudly signed “Emil Vandervelde, delegate of the Belgian workers to the International Socialist Bureau and Belgian minister since the declaration of war.”

Vandervelde stated that he allowed us to make any use we liked of his telegram; in other words he proposed that we should use it as an argument for stopping our struggle against the war.

It was quite obvious that we could only return one answer. There could be no talk of making peace with tsarism, which remained the principal and implacable enemy of the working class. On the other hand the workers had no enemies in the armies which were facing each other. The enemy in each case was on the near side of the trenches, represented by the national bourgeoisie, against whom the weapon had to be directed. This was the only way in which the Party of the revolutionary proletariat could reply to the appeal of Vandervelde, the king’s minister.

At first it seemed that the Mensheviks also were bound to share this point of view. In the joint declaration read in the Duma on July 26, the Mensheviks refused to support the war and did not suggest concluding a truce with the government. But the example of the West European opportunists made them waver in, and then change, their position and they too sank to social patriotism and defencism.

Among the Mensheviks there were several supporters of the final victory of Russia, who considered that it was wrong to vote against war credits and to oppose the war. Vandervelde’s message gave rise to violent discussions within the Menshevik fraction as to the reply which should he sent. In the final draft they withdrew their opposition to the war and, after enumerating the hardships suffered under tsarism, wrote:

But in spite of these circumstances, bearing in mind the international significance of the European conflict and the fact that Socialists of the advanced countries are participating in it, which enables us to hope that it may be solved in the interests of international Socialism, we declare that by our work in Russia we are not opposing the war.

The Romanov autocracy was so savage and repulsive that the Mensheviks were, of course, unable to declare openly their support of the government; nevertheless their reply was equivalent to such support. This decision not to oppose the war implied a renunciation of the last traces of a revolutionary struggle against the government, surrendering the working class to the tender mercies of tsarism.

The Bolshevik fraction also drafted its reply to Vandervelde, explaining our attitude to the tasks of the working class in the war. The draft was submitted to a conference of the fraction and Party members which was held in Finland at the end of September, in Kamenev’s apartment.

After thorough discussion the text drafted by the fraction was approved. In our reply we rejected outright any suggestion of supporting the war and ceasing the struggle against the government. In opposition to this, we advocated as the task of the Party the utilisation of the war crisis to further the revolution. Military victory for Russian tsarism would merely strengthen the autocratic regime and make the Russian government the greatest obstacle and menace to international democracy. We wrote:

In no circumstances can the Russian proletariat co-operate with the government, nor can it even call for a temporary truce or render it any support. This is not a question of passivity. On the contrary we consider it our most urgent task to wage an implacable struggle against tsarism, on the basis of the demands advanced and supported by the Russian working class during the revolutionary days of 1905, demands which in the past two years have won widespread support in the mass political movement of the Russian workers. During this war, which involves millions of workers and peasants, our task is to counteract the hardships caused by the war by means of developing and strengthening the class organisations of the proletariat and wide masses of democracy and utilising the war crisis in order to prepare the masses for the successful realisation of the tasks of 1905. At the present moment we demand the convocation of a Constituent Assembly and we demand it in the interests of that democracy which your telegram invites us to support ... This is the only way in which we can serve the Russian working class and world democracy, as well as the cause of the International, which, we believe, will have to play an important role in the near future. When the results of this terrible war are summed up, the eyes of backward sections of the masses will be opened and they will be forced to seek salvation from the horrors of militarism and capitalism in the only possible way, namely by the realisation of our common Socialist ideal.

The full text of this reply, signed by the Central Committee, was published in the November issue (No. 33) of the Sotsial-Demokrat.

In addition to deciding on the answer to Vandervelde, the conference dealt with certain current questions of Party life. It was decided to issue another anti-war proclamation (this was published in the beginning of October), and the provisional date for the next All-Russian Party conference was agreed upon. It was proposed that the discussion of the Party attitude to the war should be one of the main items on the agenda.

Lenin’s Theses on the War, which had now reached Russia, were to serve as the basis for this discussion. These theses, written in September 1914, defined for the first time the attitude of the Bolshevik Central Committee to the war. Lenin wrote:

From the point of view of the working class and the labouring masses of all the peoples of Russia, by far the lesser evil would be the defeat of the tsarist armies and tsarist autocracy ... [1]

The seventh and last point of the theses advanced the following slogans for Party work:

First, an all-embracing propaganda of the Socialist revolution, to be extended also to the army and the area of military activities; emphasis to be placed on the necessity of turning weapons, not against the brother wage-slaves of other countries, but against the reaction of the bourgeois governments and parties of all countries; recognition of the urgent necessity of organising illegal nuclei and groups^in the armies of all nations to conduct such propaganda in all languages; a merciless struggle against the chauvinism and patriotism of the philistines and bourgeoisie of all countries without exception. Against the leaders of the present International who have betrayed Socialism, it is imperative to appeal to the revolutionary consciousness of the working masses who bear the brunt of the war and are in most cases hostile to chauvinism and opportunism ...

These theses formed the foundation for the manifesto of the Central Committee published in No. 33 of the Sotsial-Demokrat, the Party organ, the first number issued after the Dutbreak of war. The manifesto, which revealed the real meaning of the imperialist war and exposed the treason of the leaders of the International, explained as follows the anti-war position of Russian Social-Democracy:

Our party, the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, has suffered, and will yet suffer, great losses in connection with the war. All our legal workers’ press has been annihilated. Most of the tradeunions have been dissolved and large numbers of our comrades have been imprisoned and exiled. But our parliamentary representatives forming the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Fraction in the State Duma considered it their unquestionable Socialist duty not to vote for the war credits and even to leave the meeting-hall of the Duma in order more energetically to express their protest; they considered it their duty to brand the politics of the European governments as imperialist. Notwithstanding the tenfold increase of the tsarist government’s oppression, our comrade workers in Russia are already publishing their first illegal appeals against the war, doing their duty by democracy and by the International ...

And then, later on:

To turn the present imperialist war into civil war is the only correct proletarian slogan. It is indicated by the experience of the Commune, it was outlined by the Basle resolution (1912) and it follows from all the conditions of imperialist war between highly developed bourgeois countries ...

Lenin’s theses and the Central Committee’s manifesto confirmed the correctness of the policy which we had followed in Russia since the commencement of the war and at the same time strengthened that policy by a clear and precise formulation of “defeatism,” as the Bolshevik anti-war programme was subsequently called.

When these documents, after great difficulty and in a roundabout way, finally reached us from abroad, we had first of all to inform representatives of local organisations and then together with these representatives work out how the slogans should be applied in practice, i.e. to plan a definite programme of action. This was the main object of the Party conference called by the fraction in November 1914.

The conference had to find a way of freeing the revolutionary movement from the depression which had set in on the outbreak of war. Working-class organisations had been destroyed and a reactionary war terror was raging with increasing force. The reconstruction of the Party organisation in these conditions required strenuous and persistent effort, technical means were required too. All these main questions of Party work were to form the objects of the conference: the strengthening of contacts between the centre and the local organisations, the organisation of Party work in the army, the setting up of illegal printing presses, the publication of a newspaper, the maintenance of communication with organisations abroad, finance, etc.

We prepared for the conference with the greatest caution and in strict secrecy. Members of the fraction journeyed through the provinces arranging for the election of delegates from all the important industrial centres. The delegates were given addresses of secret meeting-places in St. Petersburg to obtain there all necessary information. In order not to arouse the suspicions of the police, the delegates did not meet the deputies until the conference itself.

Originally it was intended that the conference should be held in Finland, but subsequently we found a suitable place in the outskirts of St. Petersburg in the suburb of Ozyorky. Most of the houses were uninhabited in the winter and No. 28 Viborg Road, where lived Gavrilov, a factory clerk, whose wife allowed us to use their apartment, was almost isolated. Ozyorky was a particularly convenient district because it could be reached by tramcar as well as by railsay and the terminus was not far from the Gavrilovs’ house.

After a part of the delegates had arrived in St. Petersburg, the date of the conference was fixed. We all made our way to Ozyorky by different routes. I left home early in the morning and started out in the opposite direction. Having dodged the spies I approached the Neva, jumped into a boat and crossed to the other side; this was a favourite way of avoiding all pursuit because it was difficult for anybody to get a second boat immediately. On the other side, after altering my direction a number of times, I finally reached the conference.

The other members of the conference had to adopt a similar strategy. The small room contained our Duma fraction, Petrovsky, Muranov, Samoylov, Shagov and myself, and the delegates from the districts: M. Voronin from Ivanovo-Voznesensk, N.N. Yakovlev [2] from Kharkov, Linde from Riga and two representatives from St. Petersburg, N. Antipov, member of the Executive of the St. Petersburg Committee, and I. Kozlov, a Putilov worker, member of the Insurance Board. It was agreed that Kamenev should come from Finland on the next day. Many of the delegates were unable to attend; one, Alexey Japaridze, from the Caucasus, fell into the hands of the police when he left the railway station in St. Petersburg; others were prevented from leaving their respective cities.

The conference started work on the evening of November 2, when all the delegates read reports on conditions in their districts. They described the state of Party organisation, the progress of Party work and the feelings of the workers, particularly with regard to the war. Party cells had suffered heavily as well as the legal organisations; our Party, the leader and guide of the proletariat, had been half destroyed. Yet the skeleton still existed, some Party work was still being done and the question of its extension was bound up with the question of preserving the Duma fraction which acted as the centre and core of the whole organisation.

On the strength of the reports a number of decisions were adopted, taken down by Yakovlev, who acted as secretary to the conference.

The conference then proceeded to the question of a proclamation addressed to students. A joint committee of Bolshevik groups in the Mining, Technological, Medical and Agricultural Institutes had been formed and was displaying considerable activity. We decided to issue a proclamation to assist them in their work.

Proclamations issued in St. Petersburg were usually sanctioned either by the Bureau of the Central Committee or by the St. Petersburg Committee, but if this was impossible for technical reasons, I had the text approved by some group of Party members and then handed it directly to the printers.

In view of the importance of anti-war pronouncements, I decided to submit this proclamation for the consideration of the conference, where it was discussed and sanctioned. The proclamation to the students shows how consistent our attitude to the war was. From the first leaflets which gave simple anti-war slogans we passed on to a relatively detailed analysis and drew definite conclusions from it.

On the second day the conference passed on to the main question of the Party’s war platform. Comrade Kamenev opened the discussion. Lenin’s theses, which served as the basis for the attitude taken up by the Central Committee towards the war, corresponded to the position which we, in Russia, had taken since the outbreak of war, and definitely confirmed the correctness of that policy. The more precise and clear formulation given by Lenin had completed the task of framing the anti-war platform and our job now consisted in working out how that platform should be realised in practice and made widely known throughout the country.

The discussion of the theses proceeded methodically, point by point, and all delegates participated in the debate, but no objections were raised to the principles outlined, although certain formal amendments were suggested. It was accompanied by the discussion of practical suggestions as to how to carry on our anti-war propaganda. But before the conference could complete its work, the police broke into the room and arrested everyone present.


1. Lenin, Works, Vol. XVIII, p. 63.

2. Comrade Yakovlev was President of the Yenisseisk Province Executive Committee at the beginning of the revolution. He was shot by Kolchak during the Civil War.

Last updated on 14.9.2011