Dora B. Montefiore The Call 14 August 1919
Source: The Call, (extended review) 14 August 1919, p.6. This review is noted in papers circulated to the British Cabinet on the Labour situation, CAB 24/87, Press Reports, p.56, August 1919! Note by transcriber.
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
It is of interest to compare this account of the rise and successful development of the Russian Workers’, Peasants and Soldiers Revolution, written by a bourgeois onlooker, with Trotsky’s “History of the Russian Revolution,” written by one of the principal actors in the drama from inside knowledge and information. The two authors address two different audiences. Antonelli is writing principally for a bourgeois public, and writing (to his credit be it stated) with a full desire to tell the truth and to correct some of the shameless myths and fables circulated through every capitalist country by their corrupt press, but he cannot of course tell all the truth, because, being an outsider to the newly constituted Bolshevist administration, he can only perceive the results of these decrees but cannot trace the scientific policy which led to the promulgation of those decrees. On the other hand he gives much useful information to those in other countries, who have not followed the Russian Revolution in its internal development since 1903, when, after the Socialist International Congress in London the Russian group broke into two parts, one taking the name of “Bolsheviks” (majority) and the other of “Mensheviks” (minority. The split was caused by a question of internal organisation, Lenin leading one section and Martof the other, and as Lenin’s followers won the vote by an overwhelming majority they have since been known as the “Bolsheviks.” Many attempts at fusion were made in 1904, when the Russian Socialist groups met at their National Congress, but these attempts only served to prove how wide was the gulf that yawned between the two opposing factions on the vital problem of the attitude of Socialists toward the long delayed Russian bourgeois revolution, the Mensheviks declaring that such a revolution, when it came, must be supported and watched over by the Socialists, who were to act as the left wing of the revolutionary forces. The Bolsheviks, on the contrary, held that “the establishment of a democratic republic was only admissable under the form of a victorious rising of the people, and the establishment of a provisional revolutionary Government. The bourgeois revolution, they contended, would do its best to snatch from the Russian people the greater part of the conquests of the active revolutionary period.” “Thus” continues Antonelli, “since 1904, fourteen years before the coup d’etat of 1917, the Bolshevist programme was, in its salient lines, already very clearly and distinctly determined.”
Trotsky who writes as a Socialist to Socialists who are supposed to have made a special study, not only of the theory of Socialism, but also of the contemporary history of the movement in their own and other countries, plunges straight into the heart of the raging conflict attendant on the military debacle of Tsardom, and gives us a moving narrative of how “militarism having organised the peasantry not on a political but a military basis” the army was called upon to send representatives to revolutionary bodies – the newly organised “Councils” or “Soviets,” before its political consciousness in any way corresponded to the level of the rapidly developing revolutionary events. This led to the election by the army of a number of lower class intellectuals, “who in pre-war days had led a humdrum private life, and, had no claim to any sort to political influence,” but who now became overnight representatives of whole corps and armies and discovered that they were the “leaders” of the Revolution. Their cry was that of our Pacifists and Labour Party folk, who, as Trotsky puts it “argue that the Revolution cannot be carried through without the participation of the bourgeoisie in the Government .... thus expressing the timid and hesitating mind of the middle class intellectuals and its vassal attitude towards Imperialist Liberalism.” Point after point mentioned by Antonelli, as being specially illustrative of circumstances and atmosphere surrounding the recent Social Revolution in Russia we can identify as finding its parallel at the present moment in Great Britain. Our author states how during Kerensky’s Coalition Government the various groups in the Constituent Assembly were numerous and ineffective. Our own capitalist Press recorded last Sunday how in the present House of Commons we have “the Wee Frees;” the Coalition’ Liberals, the Labour Party (which his itself divided), .the Centre Party; which is now known as “the dining and whining party,” the National Democratic Party; the Coalition Unionists, who are still faithful to Mr. Bonar Law, the County Tories, who are attached to Walter Long, the National Party, and I ought to add, the Geddes Party .... “Nor must I forget the mysterious Hyde Park Party, whose forte is effective gesture.” Antonelli describes how, on the very night, and the succeeding days of the Bolshevik coup d’etat, the theatres and cinemas were filled to overflowing, and the ordinary life of a great city flowed on its usual course. We cannot help noticing here in our own country how, though revolution is knocking at the door, the holiday making folk snatch at the pageants and pleasures, provided by a watchful Government, anxious to turn the attention of the masses from the sane consideration of industrial and political questions.
In reply to the oft repeated assertions and insinuations. of the capitalist press that the men, who in the name of the People, took over power on October 26th, 1917, were obscure nobodies, ignorant peasants, or people in the pay of Germany, Antonelli writes: “Let us first get rid of legends and calumnies. These men (the 14 Commissaries of the People) are not black adventurers, as generally represented ‘fishers in troubled waters,’ the scum of a popular rising. They each have a past which is well known. All have given serious pledges of their revolutionary convictions, have risked their lives for their ideas, or have lived for years in the ‘Dead House’ of Dostoievsky, in the terrible prisons of Tsarist Siberia. Neither are they ignorant men, nor even half educated. Nearly all
are intellectuals who have been through the University. The majority are not even of plebeian origin.” He then gives short biographies of each Commissary, and among the pen portraits that of Lunatcharsky, “thin, with the emaciated profile of the Slav Christ, the veiled and mystic glance, with intellect gentle and artistic rather than self-willed,” seems that of a man specially suited to fill the role of Commissary for Education, On November 2nd, 1917, hearing a false rumour of the destruction by the mob of the Kremlin and its artistic treasures, he wrote resigning his position as a member of the Council of Commissaries but later and more correct information led him to withdraw his resignation after issuing a manifesto to the comrades, winding up with the following words: “But I beg of you comrades, give your support, help me. Preserve for you and your descendants the beauty of our land, become the guardians of the wealth of the People. Soon, even the most ignorant, who have been kept so long in their ignorance, will awaken, and will understand how art is the source of joy, of strength and of wisdom: Citizens! Watch over our national wealth!”
One of Lenin’s first acts after the Bolsheviks took over power was to curb and tame the capitalist Press. The term “Liberty of the Press” was used by the capitalists in order to undermine the newly formed administration. Lenin interpreting, as would every good Marxian student, that the moral code of any given historical period was based on its economic method of production and distribution, did not hesitate to stop by summary action this poisoning of the minds of the people. “To tolerate bourgeois newspapers would mean ceasing to be a Socialist. When a revolution is being made it is impossible to stand still and mark time. One must either go forwards or backwards. He who speaks of liberty of the press is going backwards, and is putting brakes on the train which is going at top speed towards Socialism.” This new morality is the stumbling block over which the bourgeoisie bark their shins more than over anything else in the Socialist interpretation. The “law” and “order,” of Socialism is not and cannot be that of capitalism. The manner in which the personnel of the various public services is won over to the new Administration is a lesson in tactics not to be neglected; Trotsky, who was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs, found when he visited the Ministry on October 27 that the employees had struck and the offices were empty. He waited till November 4th, and then had a notice posted up bidding the employees return to their work on the 6th at a given hour under pain of losing their appointments. At the hour mentioned the heads of departments delivered up their keys stating that they were yielding to force. But the strike of lesser officials continuing Trotsky dismissed a bunch of them and the rest quickly fell into line, and returned to work. When the Senate proved obstinate, the salaries of the Senators were promptly stopped. Antonelli characterises these proceedings in the following words: “The policy of the Bolsheviks towards the people is not brutal but immoral.” He has yet to learn that a Social Revolution changes moral as well as other values and that during the period of transition between the disestablished dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, with its unchecked foreign policy and its legal violence as expressed in D.O.R.A. and similar legislation, and the consolidation of the dictatorship of the proletariat, there must be enacted certain stringent decrees for the protection of the newly formed Soviet Republic whether it be that of Russia, or the western countries of Europe or America. Antonelli quotes the Bolshevik formula: “Peace to the Nation, land for the people, the factory for the workman.” That is the ideal for which the workers fought and died. Until it is realised the capitalist class in every land may continue to expect increasing industrial unrest.
1. “La Russie Bolscheviste” by Etienne Antonelli.
2. Defence Of the Realm Act. Note by transcriber.