Justice, February 12 1910

Russian Revolution and Counter-Revolution — I

Source: Peter P(etroff), “Russian Revolution and Counter-Revolution — I,” Justice, February 12, 1910, p.7;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Whenever I read in an English paper or magazine or in a book anything about Russia it seems to me that the reader might get from such “literature” a curious impression and idea of the conditions of life in Russia.

There are facts and facts; what are these facts? The nice doings of the Black Hundreds, the Azeffs, trials and persecutions — that is all that the reader gets.

Of course I do not object to these figures; they are mostly true. Neither do I object to the number; as they do not represent a hundredth part of the atrocities of the Russian Government.

But these facts alone cannot give the reader a correct idea of the real conditions of the Russian public and private life. The reader might gain the impression that in Russia there are only Azeffs, gallows, Black Hundreds and the band of Liberals who play with them. It is true that there is no lack of these delectable creatures of the Czar’s Government. There is a proverb that “behind every man there is a gendarme and a spy.”

But notwithstanding all this there are different public movements, a simmering of the masses, a legal and illegal Socialist and Trade Unionist movement.

But these movements and their objectives might be better understood if one knew the character of the Russian Revolution and Counter-Revolution.

I shall try in a few brief, sketches, from my own experience, to give the reader the main features of the revolution and the counter-revolution.

When I joined the movement in 1901 there were no political parties in the proper sense of the word, except the Social-Democratic Party.

The evolution of capitalism was further advanced than even in France or in Germany at the time of the great revolution. There was the same growth of towns and of big industries; the same process which destroyed the home industries of the peasants and the town artisans also involved the workers themselves in the production and exchange for the world market. And thus they were captured by capital.

The tendencies of the economic evolution were the same as in Western Europe but there were factors peculiar to this phase of Russian development:-

(1) Capitalism in Russia had to struggle not with manufacturers, but with urban and rural home industry only.

(2) Capital and machinery were imported ready from other countries.

These two factors were the causes of the great rapidity with which capitalism became established and of the enormous growth of a proletariat. But many of the factories were occupied mainly in supplying the Government, and the capital coming from outside did not give rise to a strong capitalist class.

Thus the evolution of capitalism in Russia was stronger than the evolution of a class of capitalists, and the evolution of the proletariat more pronounced than that of the capitalist class.

These factors prevented the capitalist classes in Russia from getting the lead in the revolutionary struggle against the Government. There were but small Liberal groups at that time, who very successfully held “revolutionary” lunches and suppers, at which they addressed to themselves speeches in opposition to the Government. But opposition, does not harm when it is harmless. Still, these liberals, coming partly from the feudals, partly from the capitalists, in the Zemstvos were occupied in creating schools (with the aid of the Democratic intellectuals). How feeble they were they in comparison with the bourgeoisie in France or, in England, or even in Germany, at the time of the Revolution!

In Western Europe the capitalist class fought for and gained political freedom, which after all was an advantage for the working-class, who only then revealed themselves in a movement against the capitalist class. In Russia there arose first the working class, who had to fight not only the capitalist class, but to gain political freedom for themselves and the capitalist class. When I compare the position of the Russian and other European, workers I remember a picture given by Louis Blanc in his “Philosophy of History.” He states the position of the French worker in this way. Two travellers are going in one direction. One is well clothed, supplied with all necessaries, the other is poorly clad, without boots; the way is rough and stony; and they are told, “You are free and equal; compete with each other.” That is the position of the European worker. The Russian working class is the second traveller, but in addition he is chained hand and foot

Arrayed against us was a powerful Government, armed with the best products of European invention, supported by the European capitalist classes, and with the worst kind of Eastern despotism. With us were the students, some groups of Radicals, with a general feeling of sympathy among the people. The peasantry, which was in opposition, was beyond the reach of organisation. There was only the working class in large aggregations in the towns which was the material for a revolutionary party.

But we had no liberty of speech, of press, or of organisation. Surrounded by spies and gendarmes, we had to organise the revolutionary army.

Before us there stands the enemy’s fortress, from which are poured showers of shot and shell, which kill the best of our fighters. We must take it and we will; and if we can unite, all the powers of the awakening proletariat with all the revolutionary forces of Russia, after them will naturally follow all the best and noblest elements. And only then will be realised the prophecy of the Russian revolutionary worker Alexieff: “There will be raised the strong arms of the millions of the proletariat, and the yoke of despotism upheld by bayonets will be shattered.” Iskra, organ of the R.S.D.P., 1901.

The Social-Democracy took up the initiative in the struggle against absolutism by allying all the oppressed elements, and bombarded the feudal, absolute system.

How they have done this I will show in my next article.