Alexander Shlyapnikov

On the Eve of 1917

5. Back to Petersburg

I ARRIVED in Petersburg in the heat of battle. Powder was in the air of the Vyborg quarter. I stayed with some relatives beyond the Neva gate and hunted out the Petersburg Committee. At a meeting of the Executive Commission of the Petersburg Committee, I met Evdokimov, Antipov, Schmidt and “Anya” (Kostina). I acquainted them with matters abroad, shared out the literature that I had managed to bring with me, and learned about the most important events of the year.

After my departure abroad in February 1916 there had been a number of strikes in Petersburg. An especially bitter one happened at the New Lessner works, flaring up spontaneously over an economic issue. The main demand was for an increase in the labourers’ rate to 2.50 rubles a day. The strike began on 21 March on the eve of the holidays and was thereby already doomed. However, despite the unfavourable situation, an unofficial committee assumed the leadership of the strike and to this end issued a series of appeals, some of which I have preserved:

When you come into the plant don’t start work but maintain your main demands! The sacrifices inflicted upon you by this strike shall not be in vain. From their experience of this strike, the plant-owners and manufacturers shall be convinced of our solidarity and organization and once having given the labourers here a rise the plant-owners will be compelled to agree to a rise in a whole number of other plants. We will not allow memories of the course of this strike to crack our solidarity. Remember: the rise we demand for the labourers is as vital to them as air and water! Pay heed to your leading committee – it is formed from your own representatives and representatives of the all the revolutionary tendencies in the plant. Pay heed to the voice and counsel of leading comrades and then you will be able to use the favourable prospects to advantage.

Leading committee of workers at the New Lessner works

29 March 1916

However, given the lack of a common trade-union centre and under conditions of police terror and the threat of posting to the front the difficulties of an economic struggle presented themselves a few days after the declaration of the strike. The leaders’ chief mistake was a decision to accept sackings which reduced the effect of the strike to nil and disoriented the men who had stopped work. Moreover, a strike that raised the question of increasing labourers’ wages could only be successful where there was a movement to hand involving all or at least a majority of engineering undertakings behind those demands. This there was not, and the stoppage that had started unfavourably with regard to its timing was furthermore not linked to wider action by other metalworkers. This is very starkly evident in a statement by the leading committee itself:

From the leading committee of workers at the New Lessner works

Comrades, those of you who have received dismissal notices and have signed on for work are heatedly discussing: what should we do? What happens now? Other comrades who took part in the strike have been guided in their attitude to it for the eight days by announcements posted by the works management or even by rumours and stories originating in those same offices of bottom and top management. Hence al! sorts of wrong and absurd opinions. Thanks to this, a part of the workers talk of a lost strike, envisaging all sorts of terrible things: call-up to the front and so on and so forth. But what in fact is the situation? Is there room for despondency? Or is the reason rooted in comrades’ inability to take full account of the circumstances that have arisen in the course of the stoppage? If comrades would listen more to the view of the leading comrades and the view of their leading committee and carry out the decisions of their representatives and did not each act at his own risk and peril there would be no place for despondency. What we said at the general meeting and in the first leaflet should be firmly understood and borne in mind. We said: more resoluteness, more organization! Don’t believe management rumours and announcements. Remember, your leading committee is guarding your interests with vigilance. It will indicate to you what to do and how when the time comes and only in that way will we tear from the capitalists everything that we have the power to win at the present time. We have said earlier and endorse now: the struggle is hard and the greater the degree of organization the greater the chances of winning the strike. Our resolution on not accepting dismissal has been violated and in the interests of the good orderliness of the strike we have been forced to recommend acceptance of dismissals to the remaining workers even though we understand that this will weaken our forces. The announcement about signing on for work appeared and, having seen the impossibility of restraining comrades from signing on, we were forced not to protest against it, realizing once again that it was not in our best interests. Comrades, a mistake has been made! So, if you want the strike to finish in victory for the workers don’t repeat these mistakes in the future. Comrades, understand that, under compulsion from the military authorities and driven by the desire to wring out surplus value again as soon as possible and also the fear of the works passing into the hands of the state and a fear that demands will likewise be presented in many other plants, the management will be forced to start up the works again as soon as possible. It is in the management’s interests to break the workers’ strength and organization by trying to intimidate them with all sorts of scares and smash their forces. Comrades, remember that all Petersburg workers have an interest in the outcome of our stoppage and the defence of our basic demands, that is, the reinstatement of all workers and the increase in wages for male and female labourers. It is not by chance that the Association of Factory and Plant Owners have advised shareholders of the G.A. Lessner works not to yield to this demand. Finally, comrades, remember that although there is no call-up to the front as yet nor mass arrests of leading comrades, there will be the very moment the works management is convinced of our weakness and our inability to defend our interests. Comrades! Today or tomorrow management will either put up a notice about re-starting work and will carry out a thorough purge by not reinstating many leading comrades or else it will distribute selective invitations to report for work to the remaining workers. Whether it is done this way or that, you should know that it is in your interests when you arrive at the plant, and don’t start work, to send representatives to the works management to hold talks on reinstating all workers and paying the labourers’ rise, for otherwise not only will you be still working under the old conditions but the management will exploit your lack of organization to worsen your working conditions yet more. Comrades, realize that eight days of the strike have passed and we are still saying: the position is favourable and we will triumph and we can uphold our main demands provided you stand firm and remain solid. There is no other way out for the management for it is forced to meet our demands. And the position now is just as it was at the start of the strike. By understanding and upholding your main demands – reinstating all workers at the plant and the rise for the labourers – we will have achieved something towards a percentage rise for the other workers too.

Throughout the strike, management has been feeling out our strength and the workers’ solidarity but it has been forced to re-start the works as soon as possible: it fears the workers and therefore it is re-starting three shops today; but tomorrow when it is convinced of our lack of organization it will start up the remainder of the shops only after throwing out the most advanced comrades, using the police to make hundreds of arrests and sending hundreds of our comrades to front-line positions. Although this has not already been done don’t help it to be done now.


Understand the gravity of the situation! All of you who have come to the plant can force the management not to smash our forces and break up our ranks. The management has no other way out and it will be compelled to meet our demands. Stand firm, act in an organized fashion and listen to the voice of our leading committee and advanced workers. By acting in a disorganized manner you will fragment the strike and assist its collapse. The sacrifices brought upon the workers by this strike must not be in vain. Have greater confidence in your own strength, don’t rise to provocations and don’t split our ranks! Don’t further the prospects and intentions of your class enemies, the capitalists, by your lack of organization! Don’t start work, send delegates to the management and demand satisfaction of your main demands: the reinstatement of all workers and the rise for the labourers!

The leading committee of workers at the New Lessner works

Petrograd, 31 March 1916

This appeal, reproduced in typed and hectographed form, was distributed among workers when the plant was closed down. The impact of the strike in the working-class districts of Petersburg and even beyond the city limits was enormous. Manufacturers and the government replied with repression. The leading figures of the War Industries Committees were then playing a shameful strike-breaking role. Breido, the Menshevik and a member of the labour group of the War Industries Committee, was especially zealous. Two thousand men ended up on the street as a result of the defeat, and were blacklisted. Many found themselves in special battalions and at the front. A whole article was devoted to the strike in the third issue of the illegal Proletarskii Golos, a publication of the Petersburg Committee.

The Petersburg Committee undertook wide-scale agitation prior to May Day and issued a special leaflet. We managed to hold a lot of mass meetings and strikes at many of Petersburg’s factories and works. The summer was also spent in organizing forces in separate actions that had by September acquired a mass character. And in October things came to street clashes.

As in previous years the movement started and found particularly organized revolutionary expression in the Vyborg quarter. On 17 October a strike began at the Renault works. The workers went off to bring out other plants. The police appeared on the scene and started dispersing them. There were especially large groups of workers around the New Lessner works. The barracks of the 181st infantry reserve was situated at the side of the works. Relations between soldiers and workers were extremely amicable. Soldiers were among the thronging workers. It was said at the time that there was a wounded soldier among them who was a holder of the George Cross. When the police started to lose their heads and assaulted the crowd with sabres and whips, soldiers from the neighbouring barracks who were looking over a low fence into the street knocked down the fence and joined the workers, beating up and driving out the police. Cossacks were called out to arrest the soldiers and workers. But the cossacks decided not to act and they were withdrawn. The soldiers’ behaviour caused consternation among the military hierarchy. All sorts of top brass paid visits to the barracks; however, they were only able to arrest the “instigators” from the 181st regiment at night after a roll-call. 130 men were arrested and threatened with court-martial.

The strike and the whole movement bore an openly political character but it had begun spontaneously and was directly led by the masses themselves, A leaflet from the Petersburg Committee of our party was taken as a signal to strike, although there was no call for a strike in it. However, the workers’ mood was so heady that the news that the Petersburg Committee had merely issued a leaflet could have been taken as the call for a strike. The Stürmer government was at that time waging a struggle against the Duma bloc. Both sides were branding each other as “traitors”. It was forbidden to print even Duma speeches by bourgeois representatives and this aroused an extraordinary interest among all the people. The speeches had probably never been sold in such quantities as in that period. Their basic theme was the government’s inability to organize the war or, as was then said, to organize the “defence of the country”. There was quite a bit of bravado in their speeches but no principled, class lines reflecting the needs of the hour.

N.S. Chkheidze, whom I often met at N.D. Sokolov’s, replied to my criticisms by saying that they too were “Zimmerwaldists” and opponents of the war; and that the war had become a factor which it was essential for social democracy to exploit, though without breaking from patriotically minded democrats.

The Petersburg Committee hastened to wind up the spontaneous strike which had flared up. A special leaflet was issued on this occasion which ran as follows:

Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party

Workers of the World, unite!

Once again our comrades, the Petersburg workers, are exhibiting their courageous will-power and their political wisdom to the whole world as they come out on to the street with the cry of “Down with the war!” No one can hurl the reproach at them that they are leaving their jobs merely through narrow personal considerations. No! Indignant at the tribulations of the silent peoples who for twenty-five months have been allowing their government gang to annihilate millions of lives and the capitalists to loot the fatherless poor, Petersburg workers are openly and loudly declaring that it is necessary to put an end to this torrent of rapine and death. The excruciating absurdity of this lunatic war waged by the ruling classes with the cold-bloodedness of murderers, is now beginning to be understood especially clearly by the soldiers, our previous plant and factory workmates.

For this government is drilling them and keeps them on the streets day and night turning the city into a strongpoint; forcing them at a signal from its hired serfs to sow death among the people to blame only for having the audacity to tell the truth straight to its face.

Soldier comrades, you have been sent to Russia’s frontiers on behalf of those who are crushing you in the vice of their power. But here your rifle barrels are aimed at unarmed workers and your bereaved mothers and sisters all so that the capitalists can rob them without hindrance. Such fratricide they call the defence of the fatherland; but concerted action by our soldier brothers can during these days serve as a sign that they are with us.

Worker comrades, explain to the most backward and ignorant of your people what this interminable war is bringing to the people: make collections, link up more closely with the soldiers but don’t let yourselves be fooled by those who want to call you to a premature slaughter by rumours and attract police action and provocations.

Worker and soldier comrades, prove that the hopes of your enemies who are waiting for you to come forward into a clash with them now when your forces are not yet rallied are in vain. Every day brings the storm closer to the heads of the government and the ruling classes. The scarcity of the most essential items of food, the rapacious greed of local bosses, the heaps of paper money and the breakdown of the transport system are embracing Russia ever more widely. So let the coming hour of the people’s judgment find our ranks closed and ready for a lengthy and stubborn struggle!

Read our appeals, hold meetings, pass resolutions, aim to organize demonstrations and stoppages but don’t take every demonstration and every protest strike as the opening of the final round in our hard war against the tsarist monarchy. Long live that war which began long ago though at times ebbing! It will yield us real victory if we prove able to prosecute it fully equipped organizationally. Go back now to your benches so as to leave them again to lead the final assault by a general strike in alliance with the army to topple autocracy and establish a democratic republic, the eight-hour day and the confiscation of landed estates.

Long live the revolution! Down with the war! Down with the monarchy! Long live the democratic republic! Long live the international revolutionary proletariat! Long live socialism!

Petersburg Committee of the RSDLP

The workers went back to work, but not for long. A few days later the Petersburg Committee raised Petersburg to the defence of sailors of the Baltic Fleet who were threatened with a court-martial. At the beginning of 1916 there were numerous raids and arrests in Petersburg, Kronstadt and Helsinki among sailors and individuals in touch with them. A major public trial of the “Military Organization of the Petersburg Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party” was held. The voluminous Bill of Indictment, consisting of fifty typed pages, describes the Petersburg Committee’s work among the sailors in reasonable detail. The Okhrana’s secret service was pretty well informed. It began as follows:

From the autumn of 1915 reports started coming into the Kronstadt gendarmerie headquarters that there was a marked increase in the activity of revolutionary organizations of social-democratic tendencies among the crews of vessels of the Baltic Fleet. These are endeavouring to place as many of their supporters in the fleet who would train the ships’ crews for actions in pursuit of a variety of demands when the war comes to an end. The aforementioned activity, although not succeeding in organizing systematic propaganda, has, as events have proved, nevertheless exerted a powerful influence on the crews’ excited mood and this in the end overflowed into major disorders on the battleship Hangut on 19 October 1915 the participants in which, namely twenty-six ratings, were sentenced by the Naval Court-Martial of 17 December of the same year and duly punished.

At the same time there arose similar disorders on the cruiser Riurik.

The existence of propaganda was confirmed by the participants and by disorders on other vessels that arose from the crews’ dissatisfaction with their food and officers bearing German surnames.

The Petersburg Security Department has received reports parallel to this material about the emergence of a military organization of the Russian Social-Democratic Party among ship and shore-based crews of the Baltic Fleet.

According to these reports social-democratic circles have been formed on each warship whose leading personnel sat on a general directing committee. The latter, by arranging gatherings ashore in teashops and restaurants, directed its energies chiefly towards explaining current events to the sailors in a desirable light with the purpose of creating a climate of discontent among them.

This approach apparently succeeded in winning some influence on the sailors, creating among them a highly restive mood for which no other reason could be observed. But the movement’s ideological leaders tried in every way to restrain the sailors from sporadic disorders in order to bring a situation about where a general action could take account of the possibility of an active movement from the part of the working class which might bring decisive influence to bear on changing the political system.

No actions planned for a set date have as yet been noted in the secret service reports. All the revolutionary work shows itself primarily in the organizational field. Having thus succeeded in creating a desirable mood aboard the vessels of the fleet, the leaders are now experiencing difficulties in restraining isolated actions and in this regard the openly expressed discontent on board the battleship Hangut made an unfavourable impression on them.

Although the circles arose on the ships independently and outside of the influence of the group functioning in Petersburg that styles itself the Petersburg Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, the leading committee of the naval organization has none the less from the time of appearance sought opportunities to join forces with the “Petrograd Committee” which it in fact achieved through one of the active leaders of the workers’ movement who was the representative of the Vyborg party district on the Petrograd Committee, the peasant Ivan Fedorovich Orlov.

The charge was made under section 1 of article 102 and paragraph 2 of article 317 of the Naval Penal Code. The shrewd behaviour of the defendants in court aroused the admiration of friends and the involuntary respect of the judges. But the Petersburg Committee decided not to confine itself to the eloquence of a legal defence but conducted agitation for mass defence by means of a strike. On 26 October, the day of the trial of our sailor comrades, over 130,000 workers left the furnaces, benches and stifling vaults of the prisons of labour for three days.

The government and the Association of Factory and Plant Owners decided to punish the workers with a “gentle” lock-out and closed down the striking enterprises on 26 October. But that did not intimidate the workers and in response to the lock-out, workers from other factories and plants who had not taken part in the 26 October strike decided to support the comrades locked out by going on strike also. The Petersburg Committee issued an appeal, calling for a struggle to get the factories reopened. But the lock-out was lifted on the very day the leaflet came out, 1 November. The plants and factories were reopened without any further consequences. It was clear that the government feared to put tough measures into effect lest they produce more storms in reply.

The Central Committee Bureau and Party Work

All around revolutionary work was seething. All circles of the population were being drawn into politics because of the high cost of living and the food queues. People had no compunction about insulting the authorities on any pretext. The atmosphere was laden with struggle. We managed to attract a lot of new personnel into work for the Petersburg Committee.

The Central Committee party workers whom I had organized in the autumn of 1915 during my first wartime visit from abroad had all been knocked out of action. Several were in jail while others were in exile or awaiting it. When I arrived in Petersburg the second time, in the autumn of 1916, I could only find K.M. Shvedchikov who was expecting banishment. The job of forming a leading centre had to be started again from scratch. Nevertheless the work hitherto conducted had not been in vain. Many contacts of the old apparatus remained and that eased matters considerably. With the help of comrade Tikhomirnov (Vadim) we managed to set up a network of illegal flats for meeting in and for storing literature. Tikhomirnov also got journeys over to Finland into operation to pick up illegal material.

It was harder to pick comrades for the Central Committee Bureau itself. There were so few organizers on the Petersburg Committee that to take them off it even for vital work could be contemplated in emergencies only. I managed soon afterwards to seek out some comrades who had escaped from exile, Skryabin and Zalutsky, and the three of us constituted the collegium of the Central Committee Bureau. By that year it was significantly easier to find co-workers. The turning-point in the mood of the people and the growth of opposition among even the bourgeoisie drove into our ranks no small number of student activists.

But we had to work under extremely tough conditions. We proved able to group many active comrades around us. But owing to lack of resources we did not succeed in expanding the work very widely. We were very poor. From 2 December 1916 to 1 February 1917 only 1,117 rubles 50 kopeks flowed into the funds of the Central Committee Bureau. We had to carry out all work within these means. If we sent an organizer out to the provinces we could not guarantee him even one month’s support; consequently we had to rely upon the initiative of chance visits by comrades from different areas or strokes of luck for our contacts. The Bureau spent very little on maintaining its staff. The majority had their earnings but underground workers even in February 1917 could not receive more than a hundred rubles a month. The supply of literature required a great deal of funds, but we were unable to assign very much to it.

No less difficult were conditions of personal existence. From the very first days of my arrival, when I at once became the object of intensive trailing by spies, it was plain to me that settling down with my own flat, a valid passport and other such luxuries was in such a situation to court real disaster. To have any possibility of countering the stratagems of the agents I had to have as many lodgings as possible. Comrades helped me to find places, and I had a particular spot for each night. These were dispersed in various parts of Petersburg, including its extremities; for example, on the one hand, on the Grazhdanka and on the other, at the Galley Harbour and also in between them in the city centre. My life was turning into a perpetual wandering. It was hard to write, read and at times even to think as often when tired hospitable comrades engaged me with their political programmes and enjoyable conversation deep into the night. You could survive like that for two or three months but my physical energy did not allow more.

Petersburg proletarians tried to alleviate my existence in every conceivable way; but they could not rid me of the sleuths and were in no position to offer me any greater security and comfort than what they themselves had at their disposal. The Jewish worker, Shurkanov, formerly a deputy to the Third Duma, was especially sweet and ingratiating. He would express his “charm” and affection towards me by embraces and went as far with his concern for me as to offer to place his own flat at my disposal, and declared his desire to equip a “special” room concealed from extraneous observers. Although I had not suspected any treachery in this friendship the offer was not taken up and throughout my peregrinations I did not once stay overnight with him. His behaviour and general style did not as a whole predispose me towards his friendship and I called at his place only in cases of extreme necessity when a comrade had fixed to meet me there. After one such meeting once not long before the revolution I landed myself in such a web of spies that I was forced to roam the back gardens of the Vyborg and Lesny quarters till almost dawn when, with frost-bitten hands, I stumbled across the Eiwas worker, N.I. Nazarov, on the Grazhdanka at five in the morning. I had however broken free of the ring of observation and reached a lodging place minus the sleuths.

This situation dreadfully constrained our work. As before the Vyborg quarter was in the lead, and brought to the fore for general party work the outstanding energies of the workers, Chugurin, Alexandrov, Kayurov and many others. The Central Committee Bureau consisted of a “trio”: the writer of these lines (under the alias of A. Belenin), P. Zalutsky and V. Molotov (Skryabin). The work was shared out between us as follows. Zalutsky was a member of the Petersburg Committee, carried out work on it and served as its link with the Central Committee Bureau; Molotov took charge of literary matters and organized the Central Committee’s illegal printshop. To myself fell the organizational work and contacts with abroad and the provinces.

The Bureau’s staff centre was at M.G. and D.A. Pavlov’s at 35 Serdobolsky Street. Mariya Georgievna was the “custodian of the press” and of the Bureau’s small archives and other papers and literature. There were rendezvous points at different places in the city. The ferrying of literature from Finland and its storage and distribution in Petersburg and around the provinces was left to the leading worker, comrade Vadim (Tikhomirnov). He had managed to organize a small group of young lasses who operated on this side, made trips over to Finland and distributed literature to specific addresses.

Relations with the Petersburg Committee were of the best. Chernomazov had long ago been removed and schemed against me among party workers in the Vyborg quarter, to no avail. Work was undertaken in unanimity and progressed with huge steps.

Smitten by the reverses at the front, the Russian bourgeoisie began to shift to the left. Its representatives, Milyukov, Guchkov and the rest, launched attacks on the ministers. The demand for a “government of national salvation” arose from the bowels of the bourgeois opposition. A campaign to back up this slogan was initiated around the Duma. The bourgeoisie had dreams of dragging the working class into this campaign also, and found a handy tool for realizing their aims in the persons of those workers who did penance to the War Industries Committees. But the party’s Petersburg Committee, taking stock of the lessons of the revolutionary struggle of 1905 and the Russian bourgeoisie’s militant imperialism, conducted a campaign against subordinating the struggle of the working class to governmental alliances of Duma liberals. The Petersburg Committee issued a leaflet on this topic in which it contrasted the slogans of revolutionary democracy with the slogans of the bourgeoisie:

Workers of the world, unite!

Comrades, all through the war, at the opening sessions of the State Duma, its members have sworn their allegiance to the tsar’s government with expressions of most loyal subjects and by kissing the ministers’ hands. Today, the militant deputies, while remaining as before cringing hangers-on of the tsar, have raised a hue and cry and started a row with the government. Over what? They declare that a cabinet change is required to continue the war to the end. Now that the masses of the people, exhausted by the excessive burdens of a war sanctified by the capitalists, are beginning to lose patience and are preparing to move against the oppressors, liberal smart dealers are trying to utilize this popular movement to satisfy their own bandit-like appetites. They must have their ministry of public confidence but what can it bring to a mutilated people? Milyukovs instead of Stürmers. They were talking of saving the country but are quite ready to lead it to new deaths and ever more fresh sacrifices.

No! We should always remember that those who are calling on as to wage war to the end are considering us least of all and are bothered least of all about the true fate of the nation. The replacement of one lot of murderers by another will not force us to cease our struggle against a revamped cabinet. Particular hope is being placed in those self-seeking liberals by that bunch of chauvinist workers who until now have found only words of condemnation of our revolutionary action. Yet now it is addressing an appeal to us to fight for a “government of national salvation”.

Those “workers’ politicians” who have abandoned us at the hardest moment of the onslaught of war and are going to the aid of the government and bourgeoisie in carrying out this slaughter, who condemn our revolutionary efforts not to lay down our weapons of struggle against the war and the oppressors, and keep silent about the seizure of our deputies torn from us, these “workers’ politicians” are now calling on us to follow their slogans! Deliver the salvation of the country into the hands of those who want to turn the long months of blood-letting into years and are ruthlessly strangling the workers’ movement!

Comrades, surely dozens of years of bloody experience in the workers’ movement shows quite clearly who is really able to fight against this piratical monarchy?

By rallying our forces and broadening agitation among the ranks of the peasantry and in the army, we shall forge a genuinely revolutionary hammer. The anguished people will finish off the government with its own blows.

We know only of this first task. Through the toppling of the tsarist government to the formation of a provisional revolutionary government of workers and poor peasants! Of this government we shall demand the immediate ending of the war; the immediate convocation of a Constituent Assembly; the introduction of civil liberties so as to create the conditions for waging a struggle to bring about true people’s rule, the Democratic Republic; the confiscation of landed estates; putting into the hands of the working class its most powerful weapon – shortening its working hours by promulgating the eight-hour working day!

But now we must be on our guard! The governments and ruling classes, choking themselves in the torrents of blood they have let loose, will exert every effort for the outcome of the war to bring them further enslavement of the peoples and a strengthening of their power. The workers of all the world, and the workers in the countries at war primarily, must aim their blows against their own governments. When they have disarmed them and enabled the peoples to put a stop to this war by carrying through political overturns, we shall be able to save the country from doom in the most real way of all.

But remember, comrades! As long as the capitalists are prospering out of the people’s life and as long as they remain lords and masters, in their chase for profits they will have no second thoughts about tossing the peoples over and over again in the conflagration of war. Only the destruction of the capitalist system and its replacement by a socialist one will put an end to war and human suffering.

Therefore, by developing the revolutionary muscle of the international proletariat, we Russian workers shall be devoting all our energies to the realization of socialism. We shall support the comrades of Britain, Germany and France in their readiness to conduct a struggle for the overthrow of capitalist governments once we have thrown off the fetters of the tsarist monarchy.

Forward without respite! Down with the war! Down with the tsarist government! Long live the Provisional Revolutionary Government! Down with the tsarist monarchy! Long live the democratic republic! Long live the revolution! Long live socialism!

Petersburg Committee of the RSDLP

November 1916

At the end of autumn and the beginning of winter party work in the Petersburg region concentrated on explaining the causes of the high cost of living and also on agitation over the food supply crisis. It was a time when prices of foodstuffs were rising madly, which caused housewives’ riots in the Petersburg markets; bread was starting to disappear and the government was compelled to take the path of state intervention in the grain trade. A timid attempt was made at a state grain monopoly but the grain lords proved to be the big landowners.

All public organizations were concerned with solutions to the food question. And each of them provided remedies for salvation from famine in line with its own nature. The landowners stoutly resisted any sort of regulation or constriction of their “freedom” and tried to gain control over the first state measures on grain supply to the army and the cities. The industrialists were for their part extremely interested in settling the problem and actively sought to concentrate supply to factory employees in their own hands.

In short, all these groups approached the problem from the standpoint of exploiting the food crisis for their own class interest. The Labour Group of the Central War Industries Committee also took part in the discussion of this question. It made a request to organizations, chiefly the co-operatives, to provide information about the workers’ food consumption. Replies were sent to the Labour Group’s enquiry, but these were not published anywhere. Our party workers in the south obtained for me a copy of a reply which offered something distinct in principle from all the others. This reply belonged to the Kharkov or Ekaterinoslav comrades. Among other things it said:

If a guaranteed supply of basic foodstuffs for workers is to be organized we insist that management and distribution be transferred wholly into the hands of the consumers themselves, i.e. the workers. If the delivery is to be undertaken separately for each enterprise then a special works committee must be set up elected by all the workers in the enterprise; but where organization is on a city-wide basis then an appropriate organization of representatives of workers of all the city should be formed.

As interested parties, we consider that the transfer of the whole business of food supply to workers exclusively or even predominantly into the hands of the employers is not in any instance permissible and for workers offensive in the highest degree. We are sure moreover that food supply in the hands of employers will be used to justify reduced wages.

The political issues of the hour had determined this reply. It was important for the working class and urban poor to take over the supply business if only to make it subject to control, as the schemes of the landowners’ government for “priority feeding” amounted to dividing workers and merely improving the lot of one section at the expense of another. Hence the “universal suffrage” and the equality of all in the sphere of food distribution proposed by the comrades above.

The Social Movement and Social Democracy

Stirred by the growth of our party’s illegal organizations, I sought to attract intellectuals to the Central Committee Bureau and the Petersburg Committee, but in vain. All the “former” Bolshevik social-democratic intellectuals and writers had settled into organizations attached to the Union of Towns, the Union of Zemstvos, the War Industries Committees and so forth. Many of them, for example Steklov, Shary, Dansky, Krasin, Krasikov and others, would not touch illegal work. I managed to attract only a few out of the whole mass of intellectuals from the old days.

During this visit, I would often call at A.M. Gorky’s, meeting people of interest at his place and obtaining from him information and money for our work. Aleksei Maksimovich himself dreamed of forming a party of the bourgeois intelligentsia in Russia, a radical-democratic party, as in his opinion the existing ones did not and could not satisfy it.

In December 1916 a variety of congresses of organizations working for the “defence of the country” were held in Moscow: the Union of Zemstvos and the Union of Towns with the participation of the War Industries Committees, the commodity and corn exchanges, the co-operatives and the “workers’ delegations” (from the hospital funds, co-operatives and trade unions). These congresses adopted a whole series of liberal anti-government resolutions. One was carried at an assembly of delegates of provincial zemstvos held on 9 December 1916: it contained a number of attacks on the “individuals” who held supreme power in a tight grip and had infected the nation’s conscience and were continuing to undermine “the roots of our political system”. The resolution spoke about “chaos growing daily”, and proposed “Salvation through practical patriotism and a vital sense of responsibility to the homeland. When the authorities become a hindrance to victory, responsibility for the fate of the homeland must be assumed by the whole country ... The government ... is leading Russia along the path of destruction.” Such was the position of “zemstvo liberalism”.

The bourgeoisie, brought together in the Union of Towns, also adopted a resolution demanding “responsible government” and invited parties to form a broad alliance for supplying food to the populace and the army. But these resolutions were enough for Stürmer to dissolve the congresses. After their dispersal, the delegates became, in words, even more left-wing, and passed the following resolutions:

Conference of representatives of Public Organizations

11 December 1916

The banning and breaking up of the congress forces us representatives of public organizations of all classes of the population who have gathered for the food supply conference, to register their indignation and resolutely protest against the habitual policy of the old regime which is dissipating and disrupting the country at a time which requires from the people the utmost concentration and unity of forces.

The fatherland is in danger! The food breakdown is growing daily. The ill-conceived plans of the incompetent authorities, which are not linked together by any system, are making this crisis more and more fearful. A spectre of famine is menacing the army and the nation. The government that has given us Sukhomlinovs, Myasoedovs and Stürmers, has from the very start of the war prevented the army from accomplishing its difficult task. The country has paid for the mistakes and crimes of the authorities with millions of lives and fifteen provinces under occupation. From the outset of the war, Russian society forgot all the earlier sins of the government and devoted all its energies to a joint struggle with the government against the external foe. But in their strivings to preserve their archaic privileges and prerogatives, the unaccountable authorities have put a toy in the hands of a bunch of shady rascals and have continued in the rear to conduct a treacherous struggle against society and the nation. This shameless and criminal regime which has disrupted the country and rendered the army impotent cannot be trusted by the people either to prosecute the war or to conclude a peace.

In these fateful days which are deciding the destiny of the nation, the political system that has brought the country to the brink of collapse must be done away with. The hour has struck. The reuniting of all strata and classes of the population in a cohesive organization capable of leading the country out of this blind alley, is becoming the urgent task of the hour. The State Duma must, by finding backing from a newly reorganized people, unflinchingly and courageously carry the great task now begun through to the end. No compromises and no concessions.

Our last words are to the army. The army, its officers and men, must understand that, by destroying and dissipating the nation’s life-blood, the government is striking an irreparable blow to the common cause. The army must understand that the whole country is ready to rally together to lead Russia out of the disastrous crisis that is at hand.

This resolution was given wide circulation. Because of the constraints of censorship, all resolutions, speeches and letters from individual statesmen and other proclamations as a rule attracted unusual interest and were eagerly copied out by any means to hand. Manuscripts dealing with the war, the food crisis, the current situation and so on were passed from hand to hand. I managed to retain a portion of them but most I sent abroad.

Alongside the proclamations, appeals, speeches by deputies and other such documents, the following declarations also passed through workers’ hands in the final months of 1916. The first document, knocked out on a typewriter, is an address To All Citizens which ran as follows:

The disgusting and senseless self-destruction of nations is running into a third year. Several million people have been killed or maimed, some hundred thousand millions’ worth of public funds squandered irreversibly, whole countries devastated and all the working population of Europe placed under arms or posted to munitions plants.

To what end? For the liberation of nations from the yoke of Germany, or so they say, “For the liberation of nations from the yoke of Britain,” the Germans tell us. Only ignoramuses can repeat this lie put about by the ruling classes. In this war the bankers of London, Paris and Berlin are in fact deciding the question of which of them shall rule the world by exploiting the manpower of their subject and allied nations.

Industrialists and landowners of all countries are no longer content with the share of unearned wealth given freely to them every year by the workers and peasants by being underpaid for their labour and overcharged for the goods they buy. They are aiming to invest the incalculable capital funds amassed in this way to produce further and large profits. And as no one’s own country can alone, either through the poverty of its population (Russia) or the saturation of its markets (Germany and Britain), swallow up all the additional output of goods, the need arises to unload these goods abroad while refusing the sale of imported foreign goods at home, better and cheaper though they might be.

The interests of the capitalists of the individual countries collide. But the interests of the capitalists are the interests of the governments because modern governments, monarchs, presidents, ministers, deputies, civil servants, the military and the clergy are all mere henchmen of capital as are the newspaper hacks, diplomats, spies and that whole colossal gang of lackeys and toadies styled “public opinion”.

Enjoying as they do the protection of their own ministers, their own courts, their own church and police and resting as they do on their paramount position in the economy of the country (as the owners of all the means and instruments of production), the capitalists in their internal policies are guided by one ideal: cutting wages for the workers, increasing rents to the letters of land and housing, inflating the prices of commodities and stifling any attempt at popular protest.

By relying on that same government and on the soldiers who have been stultified and drilled until they have lost all human semblance, the capitalists in their foreign policy are pursuing but one aim: that of fortifying for themselves at all costs rich markets for dumping surplus goods and investing surplus capital. Lackeys of German stockbrokers are trumpeting about the liberation of Poland with the same “honourable patriotic awareness” with which Mr Milyukov is calling the Russian people to the liberation of Galicia, Armenia and Tsargrad (Constantinople). The difference lies merely in that each lackey exerts himself only on behalf of his own master.

Over many years, Britain which had already seized the finest colonies, and Germany which still had virtually no colonies but had enormous surplus capital at its disposal, were preparing for a battle between themselves and sought allies. Countries whose propertied classes had grounds for fearing competition from British capitalists or which found themselves beneath the heavy clout of London joint-stock companies, joined Germany; but states fearing rivalry from German industry concluded military pacts with or gave support to the “Entente Cordiale” with Britain. The whole world split into two camps, jealously following each other and contending with feverish armaments, ready on any odd occasion to push mankind into self-destruction.

It is an idle question to ask who started the war. The capitalist cliques of all countries had been preparing for it. ... The blame for this crime, unprecedented in its ferocity and number of victims, lies with all of them. Asquith, Briand, Bethmann and Trepov, Schiemann and Milyukov, D’Annunzio and Rolland, all those innumerable lackeys, prophets and bards of the capitalist classes who have uttered their phrase “war to the end” ...

Citizens, you, workers and peasants, you, proletarians of mental labour, where is your voice, why does it not sound out loud and clear? Or is it that your conscience, shaken beyond limit and your ideas confused in contradictions, are now incapable of prompting decisions to you that are worthy of men and citizens? Or are you convinced that the liberty and economic well-being of Russia is unthinkable without the conquest of Galicia, Armenia and Tsargrad (Constantinople)? Surely you cannot after these twenty-eight bloody months feel able to share the false assertions of the venal rags that this war is a war for the freedom of humanity or that this war is the last war? Surely you must realize that even if the capitalist bands of the belligerent countries do not drown Europe in blood but conclude a peace, they will only be preparing for a new struggle to seek new allies and rearm themselves with the last copper of the people? Not only Britain and Germany, in the shape of their banks and companies, are making claims to world dominion; the American and Japanese capitalists are equally pretenders to this; and however the war turns out, it is only the beginning of horrifying world conflicts in which Russia will play its customary role of hireling of this or that coalition of industrial powers.

Freedom and the peaceful co-operation of nations is a great goal worthy of sacrifices. But that is not what inspires the businessmen of capital. India and Egypt are groaning under the yoke of the “British liberators”. Morocco and Tunisia testify to the liberalism of France by the history of their uprisings. “Liberated” Tripolitania has been converted into a torture chamber by the Italians. Crushed Galicia and Armenia, downtrodden Finland, the ashes of Turkestani settlements, the gallows of Ireland and the annihilation of the Chinese people, call out for vengeance. In what way is this company of “liberators” better than the German oppressors?

A durable peace between nations is possible only when all the means and instruments of production, which currently serve as sources of unearned income for their private owners are expropriated by the state and declared public property like bridges, railways and waterways. Every able-bodied person will have to labour and every worker will receive from society the full value of his labour. The entire output of industry will be deposited in public stores and distributed among the peoples at prices equalling the value of labour expended in the production and distribution of these products. The multi-million taxes that are today in this country paid out to the capitalists either as deductions from wages or surcharges on goods will be lifted from the peoples’ shoulders. Only any surplus of products, after meeting the needs of all the consumers of the country, will be exported abroad, in exchange for essential goods produced in other countries. Every undertaking will produce only to satisfy demands presented to it by the country. In such conditions there cannot be the artificial surplus of products which are at present dumped by the capitalists on foreign markets and form the principal cause of international conflict: surplus capital seeking profitable investment in overseas territories. Capital is generally created by the under-remuneration of the worker’s labour and the customer’s overpayment for the finished product. If the labouring people receive the full value of their output and the consumer pays for the product only what it is worth where can the profit that constitutes free capital be taken from? And who will be there to strive after profit if the production and distribution of material values lies wholly in the hands of the freely organized peoples and not of gangs of bankers?

Citizens who have believed the lies of your rulers, who have given the lives of your children and all the property of the nation over to the hands of self-seeking groups, you who are blinded by the ringing words “freedom of the peoples”, are suffering the unequalled shame of your country; you are seemingly refusing to see that you are ruled by hysteria-mongers and rogues, conscious provocateurs and traitors, Rasputin and Pitirim, Protopopov and Rodzyanko, the harbingers of freedom, the Romanov dynasty acting the part of defender of oppressed mankind, Milyukov and Shidlovsky as the spiritual leaders of Russia.

Where are the limits to the moral decline of our country’s governing classes, where are the bounds of our social downfall? The fields are emptying, socially useful enterprises are closing. Everything that is still being produced in the country is growing scarcer with the growth of worthless paper money, of no use to anyone, and is being eaten up by the armies. The left-overs are snatched up by profiteers and rot in storehouses awaiting a further rise in prices. While almost daily ever fresh taxes are imposed on the shoulders of the impoverished people and new loans are agreed at the expense of the people’s labour.

Citizens! Does it not seem to you that an ominous dividing line has been reached; the capitalist world is outliving itself: will mankind perish directed by a plutocracy or is it still capable of inaugurating a new era of free labour and international solidarity?

On the battlefields the idea of the state as an association of capitalists has disappeared in favour of domestic violence and external conquest. But on the shed blood of the peoples there is asserting itself the idea of a new state as an organization of toilers for a just distribution of material benefits, equality in the exercise of obligations and equal participation in Italian, Serbian and Bulgarian socialist parties and in fraternal solidarity with a considerable section of the French, German, British and Austro-Hungarian proletariat, call on the labouring classes of Russia to take the destiny of the homeland into their hands.

Remember, citizens, that every hour of the war will carry away hundreds and thousands of lives and this involuntary sacrifice by the peoples on the altar of capital, this senselessly shed blood, calls out to our conscience. We cannot delay, it is criminal to idle. A general political strike and uprising, the toppling of the government and the Romanov dynasty, the confiscation of all socially important undertakings and the establishment of peace – such is an objective worthy of all the limitless sacrifices and privations through which Russia is bound to pass.

The shame of centuries must fall; namely our autocratic regime. The Russian people is well able to manage its affairs without the diktats of crowned wiseacres. All the stooges of the court and the government, all those ministers of the moment, bribe-takers and provocateurs must receive due retribution according to the deeds they have committed. All the capital funds plundered for war contracts and profiteering must be subjected to confiscation.

Citizens! At an hour of national peril in 1789 France proclaimed the idea of popular power and triumphed. At this time of danger to all mankind when the capitalist cliques are threatening to turn the world back to the days of Attila with endless wars, we call you to loftier tasks.

It is insufficient to proclaim a republic and an assembly of people’s representatives freely elected by all citizens of Russia. It is necessary to bring it about that this assembly declares all private enterprises, factories, plants, mines, roads, means of communication, housing, stores, estates, monastic and state lands, forests, properties and so on that are of social significance to be state property and transfer its management to workers’ and peasants’ associations, co-operatives, local democratic management bodies or special committees – all under the direction of the whole people in the shape of the Assembly of people’s representatives.

When we summon you to an uprising in the name of the Republic, we have in mind the political emancipation of the Russian nation. The first thing, though, that the Assembly of the Republic is duty bound to do is to transfer all the means and implements of production belonging to the capitalists into the hands of the toilers, that is, to carry through the economic emancipation of the people.

Once having realized an economic and political revolution within its own country, the Russian people will propose a peace on the basis of liquidating standing armies and navies, of solving international disputes not by wars but by a court, of lifting customs tariffs and promulgating the full freedom of international commerce. If the labouring people of other countries are not yet in a position to support us and if the armed bands of these or those capitalist countries threaten us with attack we shall fight for the salvation of our free Republic and for the true liberation of the people from the yoke of capitalist gangs. But when our armies go into battle not under the eagles of the Tsar but under the red banner of the Russian Socialist Republic, there will be no forces in modern society capable of halting the victorious onward march of such armies.

Citizens! The hour of ruin for our country and the whole of the world’s culture is approaching! It is in your power to make it an hour of triumph and a great rebirth. Let us close ranks and stand up as one against the exploiters and butchers for our free Republic, free labour in socially-run fields and factories and eternal peace between nations. The war has shaken their power to the roots. Their strength lies in our cowardice and sloth for they have no other strength. One concerted outburst will give us victory over capital and all its underlings. Mobilize all democratic forces, form strike committees, organize meetings and circles, fight the prejudices about the aims and tasks of this war, reproduce our appeals, propound everywhere and by all available means the correctness of our views, seek to make our voice penetrate the barracks, factories, countryside and the front. Prepare for the great day of the uprising when Russia will need all your experience, courage and perhaps even your life itself.

A Petrograd Group of Social-Democratic Workers

Similar groups of social democrats which had no permanent link with the overall city organization existed in large numbers in Petersburg. Several of these circles kept apart and isolated through fear of provocateurs. Well known to me were two groups of activists which for a long while did not join the network of Petersburg organizations out of their mistrust of Chernomazov. But these circles still undertook work; because of their detachment from the local centre, it did, however, bear a makeshift character.

The other document is a resolution on the tasks of democracy. It was produced on a typewriter. The resolution defined those tasks as follows:

The Tasks of Democracy

The bourgeoisie as a whole, and especially ours in Russia, has demonstrated that it is incapable of organizing industry and the distribution of material benefits. Where it rules it is destroying the productive forces in the process of periodic wars instead of developing them.

Where, as in our country, the bourgeoisie is not in power, it is afraid out of fear of revolution to take power in its hands thereby dooming the country to its ruin in the general world scramble. Only the world proletariat can save the values of human culture by acting at once to terminate this bloody slaughter of nations.

Peace must be general and not the separate one that our nobility would like to conclude, afraid as they are of the route of German junkerdom from which our own reactionary forces could derive support in event of a revolution in Russia. A new and victorious Russian Revolution could provide the impetus to the world proletariat but this could only be successful given the existence of a firm class organization of the proletariat. The task of democracy is to end the war. The task of the Russian working class is to liberate democracy compelling it to carry out the tasks laid before it, by waging an organized struggle against autocracy.

The ruling class, who are the culprits for the current war, have laid all its burden upon the masses of the people who are suffering incalculable bloody sacrifices and at the rear are groaning under the oppression of the financial system. By financing not only the overhead costs of the war but also a part of general expenditure by a colossal increase in taxation on the essentials of life and an unlimited issue of paper money, avoiding the need to tax property, are, in step with the falling exchange rate of the ruble, reducing their debt obligations and interest payments in real terms and increasing the monetary valuation of their property also in step with the falling ruble and its newly enhanced profitability.

These same indirect taxes and endless issues of paper money are causing a frantically racing cost of living which is bringing about the pauperization of the broad masses of the peasantry and especially the urban petty bourgeoisie on a hitherto unseen scale, giving rise to a continual reduction in the basic necessities which a worker, for all the prolongation and intensification of his labour, can acquire for his earnings.

Successive state bond issues which in turn render property taxation unnecessary are imposing colossal interest payments on future generations and threaten to turn today’s war taxes into permanent taxes increasing many times over thereby crushing the proletariat and peasantry with their burden and prolonging today’s forced-labour regime for all time which, taken together with the high cost of living, will lead to the impoverishment, subjugation, degradation and degeneration of the broad masses.

The exceptional rise in state expenditure consequent upon the rises in prices, the reduced real return on the issue of paper money and bonds caused by the falling value of the ruble and the plainly imminent bankruptcy of the state are, in conjunction with the growing danger of indignation by the masses of the people bent down under the double burden of excessive toil and the scarcity and expense of food products, beginning to threaten the ruling classes with, from their point of view, a premature ending to the war business that has been so profitable to them and, given a favourable outcome, promises even greater profits. Unsuccessful and ever more feverish moves by the ruling classes to solve the “food question” flow from their desire to postpone the onset of a crash and are now leading to a temporary divergence of interests among them: one group of exploiters is, by heaping all the responsibility for the present high prices on the other group, seeking to protect its own war profits by a certain restriction of the war profits of the other group.

From the outset the landlords have responded to the attempt by the industrialists to retard the rise in landowners profits, by setting fixed retail prices for farm products, with passive resistance: a refusal to sell grain until their guaranteed prices are raised and, if the fixed prices remain held down, countering with a demand for the extension of fixed prices to industrial products consumed by the broad masses.

A reconciliation of the divergent interests of landlords and industrialists will be achieved either by a measured return to the free market and free price-setting and by a number of measures (new taxes, requisitioning etc.) that will force the peasant to put his grain on the market or, if fixed prices are extended more widely and are observed, by the setting of fixed rates for labour as well, which will guarantee the landlords and the industrialists high profits and threaten severe penalties (posting to the front, jail, hard labour or corporal punishment for refusal to work for the fixed rates).

The food supply conferences and congresses organized by the Union of Zemstvos and the Union of Towns have to arrive at such an accord between landowning and industrial interests: the former, with their war profits somewhat curtailed, will not permit the operation of fixed prices to be prolonged but will only allow the war to continue to the moment when its termination holds out hope to the ruling classes of more favourable results than at the present time. The admission of insignificant delegations from consumer associations and certain workers’ organizations to the conferences and congresses is to present the appearance that the landowners and industrialists, the real bosses of the congresses, enjoy backing from all sectors of the people.

The total lack of many essential items resulting from the extreme reduction in the number of workers employed in productive labour, the acute scarcity of a range of other equally necessary items, all these famines, whether of sugar, flour, firewood or paraffin which break out now in one and now in another locality because of the complete dislocation of transport, the corruption of officials from the bottom to the top ranks and the senseless measures undertaken by them (local export bans, local, arbitrarily devised prices and so on) which lead to the lunatic rise in the cost of living regularly alternating with shortages of goods, all this has prepared fertile soil for speculation which though not creating the current food crisis, has taken advantage of it and thereby in some instances brought about its further aggravation.

As the executive committee of the ruling classes, the government has come under attack from all sides also for tolerating in its ranks almost open traitors who are increasing the bloody and material sacrifices of this war and making an unfavourable end to it unavoidable, and for the fact that it is incapable of reconciling the divergent interests of the different groups of exploiters to various restrictions placed upon them; it is rapidly driving the state towards utter military, financial and economic exhaustion and bankruptcy.

The government is seeking to protect itself from these attacks by taking every step to divert the attention of the masses of the people from the fundamental causes of the current situation and directing it towards certain secondary and tertiary phenomena like for example, small traders stashing away a few dozen poods of flour or salt. Beset by mounting external and internal problems, it will seek to turn the rising popular indignation towards pogroms, pogroms launched against this or that uninfluential group of bourgeois which plays a minuscule role in the soaring cost of living, upon minority nationalities which, as such, play no part in causing high prices and themselves fall into exploiters and exploited, and upon numerically small groups extracting benefit from the growing cost of living on the one hand and the broad masses suffering from that same high cost of living, on the other.

In their efforts to put off a complete food supply collapse which would make continuation of war impossible, the ruling classes want to split off workers producing destructive materials into a special privileged group which would experience the fewest food supply difficulties existing among the hungry population and, by corrupting it by this separation, to divorce it from the working class and the broad masses of exploited.

Last updated on 21.7.2011