V. I.   Lenin

What Has Been Revealed By the Trial of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Duma Group[1]

Published: Sotsial-Demokrat No. 40, March 29, 1915. Published according to the text in Sotsial-Demokrat.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [197[4]], Moscow, Volume 21, pages 171-177.
Transcription\Markup: D. Walters and R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive 2003 (2005). 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.

The trial, by the tsar’s court, of five members of the R.S.D.L. Duma group and six other Social-Democrats seized on November 4, 1914 at a conference near Petrograd has ended. They have all been sentenced to life exile in Siberia. The censor has deleted from accounts of the trial published in the legal press all the passages that may be unpleasant to tsarism and the patriots. The “internal enemies” have been rapidly dealt with and again nothing is to be seen or heard on the surface of public life except the savage howling of a pack of bourgeois chauvinists, echoed by some handfuls of social-chauvinists.

What, then, has the trial of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour group proved?

First of all, it has shown that this advance contingent of revolutionary Social-Democracy in Russia failed to display sufficient firmness at the trial. It was the aim of the accused to prevent the State Prosecutor from finding out the names of the members of the Central Committee in Russia and of the Party’s representatives in its contacts with workers’ organisations. That aim has been achieved. To continue achieving that aim in the future, we muse resort to a method long recommended officially by the Party, i.e., refuse to give evidence. However, to attempt to prove one’s solidarity with the social-patriot Mr. Yordansky, as Rosenfeld did, or one’s disagreement with the Central Committee, is a wrong method, one that is inexcusable from the standpoint of a revolutionary Social-Democrat.

We shall note that, according to a Dyen report (No. 40)[2]—there is no official or complete record of the trial—Comrade Petrovsky stated: “In the same period [November] I received the Central Committee resolution . . . and besides I was given resolutions adopted by workers in seven various places concerning their attitude towards the war, resolutions coinciding with the Central Committee’s attitude.

This declaration does Petrovsky credit. The tide of chauvinism was running high on all sides. In Petrovsky’s diary there is an entry to the effect that even the radical-minded Chkheidze spoke with enthusiasm of a war for “liberty”. This chauvinism was resisted by the R.S.D.L. group deputies when they were free, but it was also their duty, at the trial, to draw a line of distinction between themselves and chauvinism.

The Cadet Rech[3] had servilely “thanked” the tsar’s court for “dispelling the legend” that the Russian Social-Democratic deputies wanted the defeat of the tsar’s armies. Taking advantage of the fact that in Russia the Social-Democrats are tied hand and foot in their activities, the Cadets are pretending to take seriously the so-called “conflict” between the Party and the Duma group, and declare that the accused gave their evidence without the least compulsion. What innocent babes? They pretend ignorance of the threat of a court-martial and the death sentence that hung over the deputies in the early stage of the trial.

The comrades should have refused to give evidence concerning the illegal organisation, and, in view of the historic importance of the moment, they should have taken advantage of a public trial to openly set forth the Social-Democratic views, which are hostile, not only to tsarism in general, but also to social-chauvinism of all and every shade.

Let the government and bourgeois press wrathfully attack the R.S.D.L. group; let the Social-Revolutionaries, liquidators and social-chauvinists (who must fight us somehow, if they cannot fight us on the issue of principles!) with gleeful malice “discover” signs of weakness or of fictitious “disagreement with the Central Committee”. The Party of the revolutionary proletariat is strong enough to openly criticise itself, and unequivocally call mistakes and weaknesses by their proper names. The class-conscious   workers of Russia have created a party and have placed in the forefront an advance contingent which, during a world war and the world-wide collapse of international opportunism have revealed more than anyone else the ability to perform their duty as internationalist revolutionary Social-Democrats. The road we have been travelling has been tested by the greatest of all crises, and has proved, over and over again, the only correct road. We shall follow it still more firmly and resolutely; we shall throw out fresh advance contingents, and shall see to it that they not only carry out the same work, but carry it through more correctly.

Secondly, the trial has revealed a picture without precedent in world socialism—that of revolutionary Social-Democracy making use of parliamentarianism. More than any speeches, this example will appeal to the minds and hearts of the proletarian masses; more convincingly than any arguments, it will refute the legalist opportunists and anarchist phrase-mongers. The report on Muranov’s illegal work and Petrovsky’s notes will long remain a model of that kind of work carried out by our deputies, which we have had diligently to conceal, and the meaning of which will give all class-conscious workers in Russia more and more food for thought. At a time when nearly all “socialist”(forgive the debasement of the word!) deputies in Europe have proved chauvinists and servants of chauvinists, when the famous “Europeanism” that once charmed our liberals and liquidators has proved an obtuse habitude of slavish legality, there was to be found in Russia a workers’ party whose deputies excelled, not in high-flown speech, or being “received” in bourgeois, intellectualist salons, or in the business acumen of the “European” lawyer and parliamentarian, but in ties with the working masses, in dedicated work among those masses, in carrying on modest, unpretentious, arduous, thankless and highly dangerous duties of illegal propagandists and organisers. To climb higher, towards the rank of a deputy or minister influential in “society” such has been the actual meaning of “European” (i.e., servile) “socialist” parliamentarism. To go into the midst of the masses, to help enlighten and unite the exploited and the oppressed—such is the slogan advanced by the examples set by Muranov and Petrovsky.

This slogan will acquire historic significance. In no country in the world will a single thinking worker agree to confine himself to the old legality of bourgeois parliamentarism, when that legality has been abolished with a stroke of the pen in all the advanced countries, and has led to merely a closer actual alliance between the opportunists and the bourgeoisie. Whoever dreams of “unity” between revolutionary Social-Democratic workers and the “European” Social-Democratic legalists of yesterday, and of today, has learned nothing and forgotten everything, and is in fact an ally of the bourgeoisie and an enemy of the proletariat. Whoever has to this day failed to realise why the R.S.D.L. group broke away from the Social-Democratic group that was making its peace with legalism and opportunism can now learn a lessen from the activities of Muranov and Petrovsky as described in the report on the trial. It was not only by these two deputies that this work was conducted, and only hopelessly naïve people can dream of a compatibility between such work and a “friendly and tolerant attitude” towards Nasha Zarya or Severnaya Rabochaya Gazeta,[4] towards Sovremennik, the Organising Committee, or the Bund.

Do the government hope to intimidate the workers by sending the members of the R.S.D.L. group to Siberia? They will find themselves mistaken. The workers will not be intimidated, but will the better understand their aims, those of a workers’ party as distinct from the liquidators and the social-chauvinists. The workers will learn to elect to the Duma only men such as the members of the R.S.D.L. group, and for similar and ever more extensive work, such that will be conducted among the masses with still more secrecy. Do the government intend to do away with “illegal parliamentarianism” in Russia? They will merely consolidate the links between the proletariat exclusively with that kind of parliamentarism.

Thirdly, and most important, the court proceedings against the R.S.D.L. group have, for the first time, produced open and objective material, disseminated all over Russia in millions of copies, concerning the most fundamental, the most significant and most vital question of the attitude of the various classes in Russian society towards   the war. Have we not had enough of nauseating intellectualist jabber about the compatibility between “defence of the fatherland” and internationalism “in principle”(i.e., purely verbal and hypocritical internationalism)? Has not the time come to examine the facts that bear upon classes, i.e., millions of living people, not some dozens of phrase-mongers?

Over half a year has passed since the outbreak of war. The press, both legal and illegal, and expressing all trends, has had its say; all the party groups in the Duma have defined their stands—a highly insufficient index of our class groupings, but the only objective one. The trial of the R.S.D.L. group and the press comment on it have summed up all this material. The trial has shown that the finest representatives of the proletariat in Russia are not only hostile to chauvinism in general but, in particular, share the stand of our Central Organ. The deputies were arrested on November 4, 1914. Consequently, they had been conducting their work for over two months. How and with whom did they carry it on? Which currents in the working class did they reflect and express? The answer is found in the fact that the “theses” and Sotsial-Demokrat provided the material for the conference, and that, on several occasions, the Petrograd Committee of our Party issued leaflets of the same nature. There was no other material at the conference. The deputies had no intention of reporting to the conference on other currents in the working class, because no other currents existed.

Perhaps the members of the R.S.D.L. group were expressing the opinion of a mere minority of, the workers? We have no grounds to suppose so, since, in the two and a half years, between the spring of 1912 and the autumn of 1914, four-fifths of the class-conscious workers of Russia rallied around Pravda, with which these deputies were working in complete ideological solidarity. That is a fact. Had there been a more or less appreciable protest among the workers against the Central Committee’s stand, that protest would have surely found expression in the resolutions proposed. Nothing of the kind emerged at the trial, though the latter, it might be said, did “reveal” much of the work done by the R.S.D.L. group. The corrections   made in Petrovsky’s handwriting do not reveal even the slightest hint at any difference of opinion.

The facts show that, in the very first months after the outbreak of the war, the class-conscious vanguard of the workers of Russia rallied, in deed, about the Central Committee and the Central Organ. However unpleasant this fact may be to certain “groups”, it is undeniable. Thanks to the trial, the words cited in the indictment: “The guns should be directed, not against our brothers, the wage slaves of other countries, but against the reactionary and bourgeois governments and parties of all countries"—these words will spread—and have already done so—all over Russia as a call for proletarian internationalism, for the proletarian revolution. Thanks to the trial, the class slogan of the vanguard of the workers of Russia has reached the masses of the workers.

An epidemic of chauvinism among the bourgeoisie and a certain section of the petty bourgeoisie, vacillation in the other section of the latter, and a working class call of this nature—such is the actual and objective picture of our political divisions. It is to this actual situation, not to the pious wishes of intellectuals and founders of grouplets, that one must gear one’s “prospects”, hopes, and slogans.

The Pravdist papers and the “Muranov type” of work have brought about the unity of four-fifths of the class-conscious workers of Russia. About forty thousand workers have been buying Pravda ; far more read it. Even if war, prison, Siberia, and hard labour should destroy five or even ten times as many—this section of the workers cannot be annihilated. It is alive. It is imbued with the revolutionary spirit, is anti-chauvinist. It alone stands in the midst of the masses, with deep roots in the latter, as the champion of the internationalism of the toilers, the exploited, and the oppressed. It alone has held its ground in the general debâcle. It alone is leading the semi-proletarian elements away from the social-chauvinism of the Cadets, the Trudoviks, Plekhanov and Nasha Zarya, and towards socialism. Its existence, its ideas, its work, and its call for the “brotherhood of wage slaves of other countries” have been revealed to the whole of Russia by the trial of the R.S.D.L. group.

It is with this section that we must work, and its unity must be defended against social-chauvinists. That is the only road along which the working-class movement of Russia can develop towards social revolution, and not towards national-liberalism of the “European” type.


[1] The trial of the Bolshevik deputies to the Fourth Duma (A. E. Badayev, M. K. Muranov, G. I. Petrovsky, F. N. Samoilov, N. R. Shagov) and other Social-Democrats, who took part in the illegal Party Conference in Ozerki, took place on February 10 (23), 1915. The case was tried by the Special Court in Petrograd. They were charged under Article 102, i.e. accused of participation in an organisation aiming at the overthrow of the existing state system. The main circumstantial evidence against the Bolshevik deputies was Lenin’s theses The Tasks of Revolutionary Social-Democracy in the European War and the C.C. R.S.D.L.P. manifesto The War and Russian Social-Democracy, which were confiscated during the search.

The five Bolshevik deputies were exiled for life to Turukhansk Territory {Eastern Siberia).

[2] Dyen (Day )—a daily of a bourgeois-liberal trend, which began publication in St. Petersburg in 1912. Among its contributors were Menshevik liquidators, who took over complete control of the paper after February 1917. Closed down by the Revolutionary-Military Committee of the Petrograd Soviet on October 26 (November 8), 1917.

[3] Rech (Speech )—the central daily newspaper of the Cadet Party, published in St. Petersburg from February 1906 onwards. It was suppressed by the Revolutionary-Military Committee of the   Petrograd Soviet on October 26 (November 8), 1917, but continued to appear under other names until August 1918.

[4] Severnaya Rabochaya Gazeta (Workers’ Northern Gazette)—a legal daily of the Menshevik liquidators, published in St. Petersburg from January to May 1914.

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