Th. Rothstein 1907

The Russian Coup d’état

Source: Justice, 22 June 1907, p. 6;
Transcribed: Ted Crawford,
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). 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.

Finite la comedia! The Duma has been dismissed, the electoral law altered, and a number of Social-Democratic deputies are under lock and key. M. Stolypin may now boast of an 18th of Brumaire of his own, and consider himself as the Russian Napoleon.

We are not sorry for this coup d’état. In revolutions, as in politics in general, illusions are dangerous, and the sooner the fig leaves which cover the nudity of things are thrown off the better. The Duma was never mistaken by our comrades, the Social-Democrats, for a Parliament. They used it for what it was worth, as an instrument of political education and a centre of crystallisation of the popular masses. But the Russian Liberals have been doing their level beet to keep up the fraudulent idea that the Duma was a legislative assembly capable of doing away with the “remnants” of autocracy, and of reconstructing political Russia from the top to the bottom, and the peasant masses, on their part, trusted with a childish faith in the power of the Duma to give them land and liberty. The present re-assertion of the autocracy has destroyed this fraud and this faith, and the popular masses are bound to make a further step in the recognition of the fact, so often insisted upon by the Social-Democrats, that the question of freedom and political right is purely a question of power, and that a Parliament in Russia will be a dangerous delusion so long as the autocracy, in any shape or form, is permitted to exist.

This lesson is bound to be the more instructive, as the second Donut, unlike the first, was essentially a work-a-day Duma, which at no moment thought of entering of the lists against the autocracy as such. It was certainly a strange thing—perhaps, the strangest thing about it—that the Duma which was by three-fourths a pronouncedly opposition Duma should have been so timid in its action as to call forth the criticism of even foreign Radicals. The reason was that the Socialists from the very first decided to make the utmost use of the Duma as a means of bringing the autocracy into discredit, while the Liberals, afraid of dissolution and of the consequent recrudescence of the revolution, agreed to yield as much as possible in order to render the Duma a permanent institution of the State. One may disagree with the policy of the former and condemn the tactics of the latter; but the very circumstance that the Duma was not a revolutionary Duma, but took, partly as a means and partly as an end, to humdrum legislative work serves now to bring out the fact still clearer to the view of the people that autocracy, even when assured of its existence, cannot bear the presence alongside of it of national representatives who criticise and try to control its actions and its measures. To the masses of the peasantry who are steeped in political ignorance and are incapable of tracing the economic and social evils from which they suffer to their political roots, this demonstration of what, to us Social-Democrats, is an elementary truth cannot but convey a valuable lesson and show the necessity of drawing nearer to the revolutionary proletariat.

The Liberal press, both in this country and elsewhere, pretends to be shocked and alarmed by this recrudescence of absolutism. We, of course, are neither shocked nor alarmed, nor even surprised. As we said before, the Duma to us was never anything more than a fig-leaf on the body of the old absolutism, and what has happened now was expected as inevitable from the very beginning. If there is anything surprising at all to us in the whole affair it is that Stolypin should have chosen for his coup d’état the moment and the pretext he did. One had thought that the Duma would not be dismissed until the question of the Budget, including the loan, were decided one way or another; and, even if so, that a pretext would have been found which could give the dissolution some sort of justification in the eyes of the bourgeois world. As it happens, neither is the case. The Budget was still under discussion in the committee, where the tendencies were not at all against the Government; while the charge against the Social-Democrats which served as a pretext for dissolution was the clumsiest imaginable. Evidently it was a mere accident of court intrigue which has decided for dissolution at this particular moment—as it can, for the rest, be inferred from the wording of the Czar’s Manifesto which points to it having been drawn up some considerable time ago.

On looking back to the career of the Second Duma, one cannot remain blind to the fact that the only party which emerges from the difficult position, in which it had been placed, with triumph, is our own party, the Social-Democrats. The Revolutionary Socialists were simply nowhere. Nobody took the slightest notice of them, and, in the end, when sending out invitations to a congress of the party, had themselves to confess that they do not know what to do and how to act. On the other hand, the Cadets, that is, the Liberals, knew perfectly well what to do and how to act; but their doings and actions, guided as they were by cowardice, subserviency to the Government, and the alternate fear of the revolution and dissolution, were such that they now stand discredited in the eyes of the majority of their own followers, and have probably forfeited their future political career. Lastly, the Toil Group, which had played in the first Duma the leading part, presents a spectacle of such helplessness of action and poverty of thought, that the most charitable thing which can be said of it is that it only reflected the confused state of political education in which the great peasant masses, whom it represented, find themselves at their hour of transition. On the whole, as we say, without any party bias, the Social-Democrats were the only party which excelled in tactics as well as in talents and proved the only party of opposition in the Duma. No wonder that all the wrath of the autocracy has, with a sure instinct, been finally discharged against them, and most, if not all of them, are now confined in the cells of the St. Petersburg prisons waiting for deportation to Siberia. History will not forget their services or their martyrdom.

What the near future may be—no man can tell either abroad or even in Russia. The proletariat, and to an extent the town classes in general are always prepared for action, but they, themselves, are fully aware that it would be sheer madness on their part to begin anything before the peasants make a decisive move. And the peasants are a big sphinx. No one, and least of all they themselves, know what is passing in their minds, and numbering as they do 80 millions, and scattered as they are over a vast area, their action is an unknown quantity which it would be rash to discount in advance. Nevertheless, the ultimate outcome of the present struggle cannot be doubted for one moment. Russia, whatever the powers of reaction may try, cannot possibly revert to the state of things preceding October, 1905, and the abyss which separates new Russia from the old will not be bridged over by any dissolutions, coups d’état or field courts-martial. Russia has once and for all been shunted off the old track, and unless the powers of resistance prove so great that it falls into stagnation and final disruption, it is bound to move along the new road. In this connection the very passivity, which distinguishes the peasants at the present moment will serve the revolution in good stead, as their pent-up rage, once it breaks out, will supply the motive force which will make a clean sweep of the autocracy. Let us hope that this moment may soon arrive and spare us the innumerable horrors which are otherwise inevitable.