Peter Petroff, Justice March 1910

Russian Revolution and Counter-Revolution – III

Source: Justice, March 5 1910, p. 8;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

The “Social-Revolutionaries” were somewhat more advanced than the “People’s Friends,” in so far as they recognised the necessity of the evolution of capitalism, but they did not go far enough. They did not adopt the only revolutionary Socialist theory of modern times – Marxism.

Opportunism in theory brought them in practice to “revolutionary adventuring,” which found its expression in their efforts to put in one category such different elements and classes as “Intellectuals,” proletarians, and the “Peasantry” (which consisted of different classes, as I will show later), and in their preaching of the wonderful tactics of Terrorism; but they were most remarkable in their utopian agrarian programme.

They pretended that it was an original “Russian” programme based upon their Russian theory. However, history repeats itself; this original programme had been preached by an English Utopian, Thomas Spence, about 130 years before. They suggested “socialisation” of the land and its “re-distribution” periodically among the people according to their requirements. Their agrarian Utopia was modified by the arguments of the Revisionists, which were adopted from the German Revisionist Dr. David, and which he, in his turn, adopted from all the bourgeois economists, including John Stuart Mill.

The confusion of feudal bourgeois and petty-bourgeois elements in Russia were just the soil in which this blending of old, outworn utopian ideas with anaemic Revisionism could flourish. Such expectations, however, are doomed to extinction.

In the existing agricultural districts there came together two different antagonisms – (1) between the agricultural proletariat and the farmers; (2) between all the peasantry and the landowning class. The first antagonism is still evolutionary, the second is nearing completion. The first is all in the future the second, to a certain degree, already in the past. But as the evolution of ideas is always behind the evolution of things, the antagonism between the peasantry as a whole and landlordism was certainly more apparent, and nourished these “original” theories.

However, at that time the “Social-revolutionaries” were in their infancy; they were not seen in Russia as an active organisation. There was more noise made about Terrorism than real, constructive, political work.

Neither had the newly-formed definite Liberal organisation any influence on the masses.

Being compelled by the activity of the Social-Democratic Party, the latter came out to express in some way their position in relation to the struggle going on. In the first and second numbers of their organ “Osvobogdenia” (Liberation) they said: “We are in peril on one hand from the short-sighted, inefficient bureaucracy, and on the other from the discarded ideas of class and selfish interest,” (read – class struggle of the workers) ... “Being convinced believers in law and order, ... we want to create a programme on which can unite those groups which, under the influence of the Government reaction and the revolutionary struggle, might provide the material for forming a Russian constitutional party.”

Now let us bid our friends the Liberals and the “Social-Revolutionaries” good-bye until the time when they became important factors in the development of events.

I turn to the only important sphere of work of the Social-Democratic Party. All over the country the party organisations were spreading their aims including the awakening of the struggle for political freedom, trade unionist functions, and generally the Socialist education of the working class. Supporting every revolutionary and oppositional effort of other groups and parties, they were determined to organise the masses into a separate class-conscious body, their principle in tactics being (1) to move against the enemy separately, but to unite for attack; (2) not to sacrifice for the sake of the attack any political demand; (3) to reveal the differences of class interests; and (4) to look very carefully after the growing allies, so as to take advantage of the experience of the workers in other countries and to fight their own battle. It was certainly an unpleasant prospect to look forward to, after the revolution, to fight for a century for political freedom, like the European proletariat, because they had allowed the bourgeoisie to take the lead.

The usual methods of working until the time of the decisive struggle of the revolution were distribution of literature, illegal meetings, and other activities, This work was going on systematically, and was visible from time to time in strikes and political demonstrations. The nerve system of the organisations was the illegal printing press which was more dangerous to the existing régime than bomb factories. Nearly every morning the workers found their benches white with literature. In the evening the streets and places of recreation were covered with leaflets.

All the efforts of police and spies were directed to finding out their origin. The discovery of the printing-press would have resulted in a collapse of propaganda and organisation for a long time. For this reason printing was carefully carried on in secret. The majority of the members of the organisation had no idea how it was done. Those in the secret were not known to the bulk of the members of the organisation, sometimes not even to the whole of the committee, but only to one or two connected with it.

I remember, after having been for a considerable time a member, I thought that it was somewhere in a cellar where no light could penetrate. I always wondered how this mysterious press could produce such a huge mass of leaflets and other matter. One day I was called upon to start one in my own room. It was a small room in which I lived – I paid 12s. a month for it. Living with me was a young fellow who had no idea of Socialism, but he and the landlady were out all day, so that the room was always entirely at my disposal.

I brought in a chest of drawers with cupboard in it, specially prepared for printing. It had a very innocent appearance; nothing was to be seen, even when the doors were open. Nevertheless, it contained every necessary – type, ink, frame, everything was there; but not bought – it was stolen from real printing presses! (It was illegal to buy them.)

My landlady was quite sure I was not a dreadful Socialist, and she could not imagine the nature of my piece of furniture. While we were carrying on our printing she carefully cautioned me against bringing in books. She said: “You should be very careful about taking books from other people; they might be Socialists, and bring you dangerous literature without your knowledge!”

She little knew that for several months previously I had had piles of this same dangerous literature in her room. But, of course, I assured her that my friends could not possibly have anything to do with such things.

She was not surprised when one day I brought in a new big basket and other furniture, into which I put my stock of paper. I managed to get hold of this by going to a wholesale house, and represented myself as being in business.

The result of our work was carried out by loading ourselves with it under our clothes to safe places, from which others distributed it to district headquarters.

I was obliged to stop in all the evening, for fear that the landlady, when coming in to clean up, might try to move the table, and finding it impossible because of its weight, have her suspicions aroused.