Julius Martov 1907

The Lesson of the Events in Russia

Source: Le Socialisme, December 29, 1907;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitch Abidor.

In St Petersburg on December 5 75,000 workers abandoned their workplaces; in Moscow, the same day, 300,000 workers in the most important factories also stopped working. In Tiflis, Baku, Harbin (in Manchuria) the strike was total: stores remained closed, trams didn’t circulate. In Vilna, Saratov, Ivano-Vosnesensk in several other working-class cities the factories didn’t open. Finally, the students in all the upper schools of St Petersburg and Moscow deserted their classrooms.

Why this unforeseen strike?

On December 5 the tribunal opened at which the Social-Democratic deputies of the Second Duma were to be tried, and the Russian proletariat protested against this new crime on the part of the aristocracy.

Enormous protests in the principal industrial cities; protests in smaller cities where, if there was no strike, slogans calling for solidarity were taken up in favor of the parliamentary faction that was being pursued; protests by professional unions whose central organization is distinct from the Social-Democratic party, but that is connected to it by ties of profound sympathy.

In its scope the movement has gone beyond the most optimistic predictions. We couldn’t dare hope that the working class, that had suffered and suffers under an unheard terror on the part of the administration and the bosses, would once again accept the risks of a conflict breaking out in winter, in the Russian winter. The unions doubted of their success on the eve of the demonstrations. But an irresistible current of indignation swept over the Russian proletarian masses and, on the morning of December 5, in an orderly fashion — in order not to give any pretext for police intervention — the workers abandoned work to vote for resolutions condemning Czarism.

In several factories it was the women who took the initiative in the strike.

The scope of this movement so troubled the powers that be that reprisals have begun. The arrests, expulsions, and blows are considerable. Three thousand workers in the railway shops have been thrown onto the streets. In order to resist the terror of the bosses and the administration new strikes were started.

The reactionary band is worried. Stolypin had declared a little while ago that the revolution was completely crushed. And this is what the ultra-reactionary Novy Vremya now admits: “Can we seriously speak of the crushing of the revolution when in the capital 75,000 workers were able to demonstrate in favor of their republican opinions?”

At the time of the strike in St Petersburg two other demonstrations occurred in the same city. At the Imperial Senate, before which the former deputies and officers had been brought, the accused called for public debate. Upon the refusal of their demands they left the High Court accompanied by their lawyers, crying: “Down with autocracy!”

At Nicholas’ Unobtainable Chamber , amidst the functionaries and the privileged who compose the Third Duma, a worker’s deputy, modestly dressed — Comrade Kossorotov — arose and read the declaration of the Social-Democratic faction. From the first words: “condemning the fact, unprecedented in history, of the charging of deputies for having fulfilled their mandate...,” a frightful tumult was unloosed. One would have thought they were the petty nobles of the court of Versailles covering the voice of Garibaldi, so true is it that the morals of the “elite of the privileged” are always and everywhere the same. But the representative of the Russian proletariat didn’t allow himself to be disconcerted. He hurled words of contempt at the shouters, and the Social-Democratic faction left the hall.

The iniquitous decision was rendered: the Socialist deputies of the Second Duma were condemned to forced labor or exile in Siberia, thus augmenting the long list of victims of the revolution begun October 17, 1905.

This new crime of Czarism will not stop the march of events. In crushing the revolutionaries of December 1905, in pronouncing the dissolution of the First Duma, the autocracy thought it had finished off the revolution. Nevertheless, a few months later it saw rise up against it the extreme left of the Second Duma, which the subterfuges of the electoral law hadn’t prevented from arriving there powerful and compact. After having fought in the streets through a strike, the revolutionary proletariat had made use of the “legality” granted by the Czar to his subjects. And from the first sessions the Revolution’s elected representatives, despite the threats by the regime of courts martial, showed what a class party knowing how to use the most miserable “legality” knows how to do. It is for this that when the liberal majority decided not to respond to the insultingly reactionary declaration of the imperial government, the Social-Democrats knew how to break this conspiracy of silence in order to energetically condemn the imperial regime and declare, once and for all, that it would be neither through the Duma, nor through negotiations with the monarchy, but in the streets and by force that the fate of freedom in Russia will be decided.

The Social-Democrats have never ceased to react against the state of despair to which defeat cast the Russian people. They have fought for the rejection of the budget, against the increase in the army, for the trial of the killer police. They have used the tribunal of the Duma to activate the masses. They have brought down the wall that the government had wanted to put up between the voters and their representatives through the prohibition of the publication of the account of the sessions.

The charges filed by the Fouquier-Tinville of the counter-revolution, procurator Kamyshansty, establish that the Social-Democratic faction was the headquarters of the revolutionary army; the center towards which converged, from all points of Russia, the hopes of the workers who remained faithful to the demands of October calling for a Constituent and a democratic republic. The testimonies of solidarity of the soldiers and sailors who are brothers of the Russian people also went to this same center.

Our deputies ceaselessly repeated that neither they, nor the Duma could emancipate the nation, and that it was up to the proletariat itself to take up the struggle again until complete satisfaction is gained.

When last May 31 the minister of Justice called for the lifting of parliamentary immunity for the Social-Democratic faction the leader of that faction, our Comrade Tcheretelli, responded; “We think that we have fulfilled our obligations as representatives of the people in telling the people that only its own action will save the cause of freedom!”

The government has resolved to take the arm of “legality” from the hands of the Social Democrats. It has delivered the parliamentary faction to the tribunal under the pretext of a conspiracy that never existed. It has illegally mutilated the electoral law. In order to deprive the proletariat of its legal arm autocracy has smashed, by a coup d'état, its own legality. In order to “purge” the parliament of Socialists it walked all over parliamentary rights and violated the fundamental laws of the constitution. It hopes in this way to render inoffensive the institution that the October Revolution tore from it. The proletariat having been pushed to the side, placed face to face with the reactionaries and the tremblers, the government hopes to re-establish absolute autocracy under the mask of a parliamentary regime. If despite it all a small Social-Democratic faction has managed to cross the barriers of the Third Duma, the reactionary majority works to cover its voice with shouts.

No matter what might happen, the events I just related show what revolutionary use can be made of legality by the socialist proletariat. They also show that by the action of December 5, that same legality having been smashed the Socialists know how to use other revolutionary means. In summary, they prove that for a vanguard party all arms are usable in the struggle for liberation.