THE TSARIST government’s contempt for liberal exhortations and pleas for reform reached its peak in the autumn of 1916. By its actions, the government gave the opposition some good trump cards, but when it came to open and resolute struggle, even if only within the confines of the State Duma, the disgruntled bourgeoisie proved to be so cowardly that it would grant any concessions. Fear in the face of the revolutionary workers’ movement was stronger than any logic.
The irreconcilability of the government and its absolute inability to tackle the economic breakdown or emerge victorious from the military operations, undermined the prestige of the authorities in the eyes of even the widest circles of philistines. Left-wing liberal circles were forced to take an illegal line of work so as to retain the support of petty-bourgeois layers which were patriotically and oppositionally inclined.
The documents and proclamations printed below were reproduced from the resources of the establishments where they happened to be received. In the plants it was done by the Hospital Funds and, less often, in the office. In the plants they were passed round from hand to hand till they were in tatters. Enthusiastic amateurs existed who would copy out whole pamphlets by hand.
After the dissolution of the congresses of bourgeois public organizations, certain radical circles of the Petersburg bourgeois also took the path of illegal activity. Setbacks at the front, territorial losses and the growth of a revolutionary mood in the army and factories forced even the torpid Russian bourgeoisie to rise in open opposition to the predatory rule of the tsar’s camarilla. It threatened an assault, but only for the sake of the war and to smash their competitor, the German merchant. At the end of December a special leaflet was circulated around Petersburg which came out of the Meeting of Representatives of Public Organizations held in Moscow on 11 December. One of several, this leaflet was addressed exclusively to workers. In it the bourgeois organizations spread the tale then current that agitation against the war was conducted by “German spies”, hangers-on of the tsar and other such elements. The proclamation represented a model of the deception with which the bourgeoisie sought to entwine the mass of the people and thereby drive them to the slaughter:
You are the ones who stand at the benches. You are the ones who in stifling workshops forge the shells, our means to victory. Workers, we are addressing you. At a moment of exceptional external struggle, Russia is also undergoing an acute domestic crisis. A worthless government, composed of and headed by those same protégés of the old regime who are engaged not in a war with the enemy but a struggle against public and workers’ organizations, has brought to the greatest state in the world dislocation of all its living organs. The problems in the sphere of feeding and supplying the population, which are connected with the war and inevitable while its lasts, have been compounded by the incompetent and possibly deliberate actions of the government into a scene of inconceivable breakdown, profiteering and pillage. And then, certain leading figures of the working masses start telling us that all this mess which besets our lives is a consequence of the war and that therefore the war must be ended. They further add that the war is being waged by the government and not the people and that the war must be ended in the interests of the international community of man.
Workers! Fight these exhortations by every means, open the eyes of others, cry out until you are hoarse that the war must be prosecuted at all costs not so much in order to destroy all the German people but to smash its militarism which lies with oppressive weight upon the democratic classes of Europe; cry out that the war must be continued to smash the German hearth of reaction, that same reaction that is supported in Russia by the accursed autocracy which torments the country. Realize that victory over Germany represents the definitive victory over the Russian autocracy. Realize that our government is lying when it says that it wishes to defeat Germany together with the people. It is lying because Germany always has and will support the vilest reaction in Russia for its own interests.
And so for the war, for its slogans of liberation which can be realized only with complete victory over Germany, we have the French Republic, now streaming with blood, ruined Belgium, freedom-loving Britain and the advanced section of Russian society; against the war are Germany and the secret yearnings of our ruling strata, the true enemies of our Russian liberty. In Russia itself the best forces of the Russian intelligentsia, the most eminent members of the State Duma, all Russia’s zemstvos and towns, all the public organizations, the pillars of the Russian liberation movement, Plekhanov, Burtsev and Kropotkin, are all for continuance of the war; against the war are the toadying obscurantists of the autocratic regime.
So, however can you workers at such a moment and with such a line-up of forces, again put forward the demand “Down with the war” and thus unwittingly play into the hands of the autocratic system? No, it is impossible that anyone within whom there beats a Russian heart and whose soul grieves and mortally longs beside the motherland or anyone who has comprehended the exceptional gravity of the present moment will not march behind the banner which was raised in Moscow by the finest sons of Russia.
War to the end regardless of further sacrifices.
But every human life is immeasurably dear to us to avoid more millions of sacrifices being made in vain and so that our army is never again left without shells, it is written on our banner:
Down with the criminal government, down with the protégés of autocracy!
And so that the war brings us truly to victory and the war takes as few as possible victims from us, and to alleviate as far as is still possible our fatal domestic mess to which the government has brought our country, it is written on our banner:
Long live a ministry formed from the finest public figures and accountable to the people!
Workers! Moscow is Russia’s heart. Let us rally our ranks around her banner and let us remember that in our alliance lies woe for Germany and woe for our government, and now:
Long live the army, the protectress of Russia.
Long live great and free Russia.
A group of united citizens of Petrograd.
Arrange widest distribution.
Our adversaries were hoping to lure workers over to their side with such slogans. However, two and a half years of war and the behaviour of all the bourgeois parties had taught Petersburg workers a great deal. They did not trust the allusions to their erstwhile mentors. Plekhanov, Kropotkin and others who had latterly taken the path of aiding the bourgeoisie and were lauded by them for it, were duly regarded as having deserted the workers: that was how the Petersburg proletariat saw it and that indeed was how it was.
This phenomenon was typical not only of Petersburg but of many other Russian cities too. As I toured several localities, Moscow, Nizhni-Novgorod and elsewhere, I encountered the same picture. Comrades arriving from other places reported the same thing. Illegal leaflets and proclamations were no longer shunned but sought, asked for and read with interest and trust. Hatred of the government had plumbed the very depths of society and this terrified the bourgeois liberal top dogs. The government sensed this and prepared for struggle, arming the police and training them in machine-gunnery, artillery and so on. But the interests of the ruling classes were divided and even among the bigwigs surrounding the tsar’s throne there was no unity of views. Rasputin’s murder led to the disintegration of the court and the break-up of the reigning camarilla. The downfall of the monarchy was now inevitable and close at hand.
On this visit to Russia I managed to establish relatively close contact with the provincial organizations. There was regular communication with Moscow, Nizhni-Novgorod, Kiev, Tula, Voronezh, the Donets Basin and certain plants in the Urals and Siberia.
Work in Moscow was progressing considerably better this time. Student youth was beginning to stir, and in working-class districts work was proceeding well. The organization was run by V.P. Nogin, P.G. Smidovich, I.I. Skvortsev and others. Through M.G. Pavlova I came to know R.V. Mostovenko, whose flat I personally availed myself of for lodging and rest. Things were not going too badly in Nizhni either. The Sormovo organization had grown stronger and even sent a certain proportion of dues collected as a contribution towards the Central Committee. Besides our organization among refugees, the Bund was also active there, as was an organization of the left tendency of the Socialist-Revolutionaries. In December 1916 the last-mentioned group succeeded in publishing a printed leaflet directed against the “hereditary blood-suckers” of the tsarist government with its landlords and capitalists. This organization’s slogan was “down with the war”, coupled with a call for an armed uprising.
I managed to obtain a number of reports on the workers’ situation and the state of our party’s work in the Donets Basin which provided the following picture.
From the very start of the war all the ore-miners were exempted. None of the mobilizations affected them. This circumstance had an enormous effect on the course of the workers’ movement in the Donets Basin. It appeared that all that half-starving mass was so stultified with patriotic feeling that it did not so much as notice what was being done all around or rather what was being done to it.
But the capitalist joint-stock companies took advantage as never before of this convenient moment, and as workers sang patriotic songs, the working day was lengthened in all enterprises (the “stint”) and workers were forced to work overtime. The managements of the mines incessantly fined workers for the slightest manifestation of protest against rough treatment, with the result that only a few wretched coppers would remain out of their meagre earnings. For all their harsh conditions the workers showed no sign of protest during the first year of the war; their awareness seemed to have been drugged, and became no clearer. A wave of chauvinism took hold of a considerable section of those workers, who took collections for defence and in aid of war victims, refugees and so forth.
Ever-rising prices forced workers to start giving thought to their own situation. To the rescue came their friends, the intellectuals who, from as far back as 1905 and 1906 enjoyed great prestige among the masses. Propounding the idea of defence, they called on workers to organize co-operatives that were supposedly to ease the tough economic plight which was as much hitting at workers as the population as a whole. At first workers indeed did resort to this remedy. Throughout almost the entire basin the co-operative movement grew, new consumer associations were formed and the old ones strengthened. Workers took part in them to use the legal opportunities for meetings, but even at consumer association meetings voices of brave and irreconcilable fighters for complete freedom could be heard, though their message at that stage did not encounter any support. By the beginning of the second year the picture had changed a little: here and there in the plants and mines small cells and grouplets were organized where questions of current affairs were discussed and where even the first news of the Zimmerwald conference percolated through. As it later turned out, all these cells were to become adherents of the Zimmerwald resolutions. We should note that these grouplets were not interlinked and did not even know of the existence of others similar to themselves.
In February and March 1916 there appeared two leaflets at one of the Gorlovka mines, calling on workers to organize, which quite graphically portrayed the political and economic state of the country and put forward the slogans of the RSDLP majority. These leaflets had also been distributed at other mines and although very badly hectographed they were nevertheless read with great eagerness, the more so because this was the first sign of an awakening movement, and no more positive initiative was to present itself elsewhere until the very outbreak of the strike. In early April the first wartime strike in the Donets Basin broke out, involving twenty neighbouring undertakings with some fifty thousand workers in all. The signal for the strike was given from the mine where the leaflets already mentioned had appeared and another twelve mines joined the strike in a single day. In the very first days they set to to organize themselves and everywhere identical demands were advanced for a 50 per cent wage rise and, in one or two places, the abolition of fines for not reporting for duty. These rises were predetermined by the ever rising cost of living. The mining companies refused to meet the demands. Thereupon at a general meeting of all the mines a decision to strike was taken until all demands were met. The strike started off quite calmly and workers continued to assemble at now one and now another mine to discuss the situation. At all these meetings workers engaged in no adventures. At one, a strike committee was elected. But meanwhile the custodians of law and order went into action after their own fashion: two companies of soldiers were despatched from Bakhmut, ostensibly to protect the mines. But on the second day, following an order to disperse a meeting, the soldiers refused to undertake “protective” roles of this type. A detachment of mounted police was sent out in their place, and at first confined itself to merely a presence at all the meetings. On the tenth day, an official came from one of the mines with the special mission of negotiating with the workers. All the workers duly gathered. He addressed them in a brotherly way, pointing out to them that, as he said, it was criminal to go on strike at such a critical moment, that the Jews, those enemies within who desired the downfall of the homeland be it by spying or by revolutionary propaganda, were inciting them to this crime and that workers, as sincere orthodox folk to whom the fatherland was dear, must fight this enemy of the Russian people and pay no heed to their hostile speeches, especially as the workers were earning good money and had no need to go out on strike. The workers grew restive, for none of them had anticipated such speeches. Voices were heard to say that this was not 1905 when the myth of Jewish domination made such a terrible impact, that nowadays they were well able to distinguish their friends from their enemies, that economic demands were not punishable under the law, and that the strike had come about by virtue of the very low wages which you just could not manage on with the high cost of living. Realizing that his assignment was not to be crowned with success, the official started to threaten postings to front-line positions. The workers replied that if their demands were not met they would go themselves to the military governor. The official threatened them once more with shootings and jail but drove off with nothing gained.
After his departure there were several attempts by the police to arrest the more prominent workers, but in vain. At all the mines workers organized a guard who would raise the alarm as soon as they caught sight of police approaching their workmates’ dwellings so that a crowd would come running out and drive the police off, even springing arrested workmates for them.
The general situation was getting worse and worse. There was no money and holidays were approaching. Although the companies had not yet stopped allowing credit in their retail stores, workers started being refused in many of them. The workers did not know how to proceed. With their last money, two telegrams were sent to workers’ deputies in the Duma but alas, no reply was received. One more effort was made: a little money was collected, a representative was chosen and sent to Petersburg to consult with the deputies, but he was never seen again, as if he had vanished into thin air. The governor of Ekaterinoslav paid a visit to the mines after the holidays were over. He, just like the official on the special mission, addressed the workers in an emotive “brotherly” speech, rebuking them for a mindless strike.
He conceded that wages were low in view of the rising price of basic necessities, but the workers could make an approach to him, for he would at once mediate with the company for a 30 per cent rise. Then voices called out: “We won’t go back for 49 per cent, we demand 50 per cent.” The furious “mediator” started to threaten legal proceedings, saying that this was no longer an economic strike but a rebellion pure and simple and that people were shot for rebellion. The whole mass of workers stood there as if frozen to the spot, and shouted “Fire!” Even mothers with babies did not shift from the spot. “Better to be shot down right here than to die of starvation,” shouted the workers. “Let’s have another Lena and serve as an example to others who have to fight for their rights.” The governor went wild, the police were standing by, and the most terrible outcome was to be expected. But the governor refrained this time, although he had left instructions with the police which they were subsequently to fulfil to the letter. The governor drove off and in order to avoid any excesses or clashes with the police, the workers took the decision not to assemble on May Day but to gather on 2 May to decide how ultimately they should proceed. May Day passed off quietly and there were not even any arrests.
On the morning of 2 May workers started to collect at the prearranged spot but found soldiers there. They had to occupy a nearby knoll. When a section of the workers started to move off to forewarn workmates who had not yet arrived, the knoll was unexpectedly surrounded by police who started demanding that the workers disperse. Noticing workers from the Gorlovka mines approaching some people on the knoll started to go to the aid of those arriving. At that moment the police turned around to face the Gorlovkans and made straight for them. The Gorlovkans turned back and ran for some nearby gulleys. But having got that far, the crowd was now delayed by having to cross the gulleys. At that point the pursuing police, led by a superintendent, caught up. Upon command of the latter, two volleys were fired but both appeared to be deliberately into the air. Then the infuriated superintendent burst into the crowd and started to fire in all directions with his revolver. Simultaneously another two volleys rang out and the police took cover. The crowd which caught up from behind found four dead and twenty wounded on the site.
At the other end of the settlement, a police detachment swooped on a crowd going to warn workmates due to arrive and beat them up with whips, while a desperate brawl broke out with other workmates who had by now drawn near and the others had wanted to warn, as a result of which one policeman and several dozen workers were seriously injured. The injured were taken off to Rudnik hospital and the dead put in the morgue. All four dead proved to be family men, one of them left seven children and a sick wife. Workmates collected 44 rubles and some kopeks to help the bereaved families, and bought shrouds and wreaths. But when they arrived to dress out the dead, the police would not let them into the mortuary in spite of requests from relatives and the bravery of the crowd which had to be driven away by threats of further shootings. When they arrived for the funerals the next morning the morgue was empty: by night the police had removed the dead and buried them in an unknown place, refusing even to show relatives the graves.
Mass arrests were carried out on the night of 4 May. Feeling defeated, the workers no longer resisted.
The strike was to last another seven days, during which workers agreed to end the strike but did not enter into negotiations with the company. On 11 May they reported for work at all the mines on their old conditions. Subsequently, however, a “financial ration” was awarded amounting to a 25 per cent pay supplement. From that month onwards, strike action overflowed throughout the Donets Basin, mostly finishing in defeat for the workers.
The strikes were accompanied everywhere by sweeping arrests, sacking of workers from the plants and the deportation of workers in their hundreds to front-line positions. Thus, in the May of that year, a strike flared up in the town of Mariupol at one of the richest plants; this ended in defeat after two weeks, being crushed by mass arrests and the sacking of hundreds of workers. In July a colossal strike flared up in Lugansk which ended in a bloody massacre and mass arrests.
Simultaneously with the strike wave, strong political groups began to be formed, the cells rapidly gaining strength rather as if workers wanted to recover the precious time lost. They started to seek links between each other. This was now easy. During the strikes all these grouplets and cells had become acquainted with each other. At this juncture they all united to form the social-democratic organization of the Donets Basin, whose statutes and programme were those of the RSDLP majority.
Comrades arriving with reports from the localities regretted but one thing, the lack of literature, demand for which was extremely great and whose supply from abroad was limited. We had to distribute Petersburg Committee publications and hastily prepare literature for publication inside Russia. But there were serious obstacles owing to lack of funds.
The Petersburg Committee had well equipped its illegal printshop in Novaya Derevnya but it was seized along with several thousand copies of the pamphlet Who Needs the War? by A.M. Kollontai. Many of our technical workers were seized together with the printshop. I soon afterwards managed to establish that “Aleksei the printer” had ratted on the printshop. The Petersburg Committee took immediate steps to isolate and boycott this man. But this whole fiasco did put a brake on Petersburg Committee proclamations for a while.
As the activity of the Central Committee Bureau developed, a great variety of reports on the revolutionary struggle of the working class started to come in. The publication of a newspaper became a crying need. Comrade Molotov made intensive investigations in quest of premises and staff for the organization of an illegal printshop. In anticipation of this, we decided to publish Osvedomitelny Listok (Information Bulletin), reproducing it on typewriters and sending it out to our organizations even if only in single copies for them to duplicate it in accordance with the requirements of their forces. It was planned to issue the first number of the Central Committee Bureau’s Osvedomitelny Listok after 9 January.
At the end of 1916 I learnt from N.D. Sokolov that comrade E.D. Stasova was arriving from exile for treatment and I at once hastened to meet her and bring her into the work. Comrade Stasova undertook a part of the secretarial work that did not require trips around the city’s rendezvous points.
In spite of ever mounting repression, mass arrests and the loss of party workers, our illegal organization developed and strengthened. The most powerful illegal organization in Petersburg was our party’s Petersburg Committee which brought together some 3,000 members, but the majority of Petersburg workers could be regarded as sympathizing with its anti-war policy. Out of our party’s legal organizations there remained in existence only the Workers’ Group of the Insurance Council, which was also the all-Russian centre of the hospital funds and its journal, Voprosy Strakhovaniya. The activity of these institutions was inhibited in the extreme and many members of the Insurance Group were in jail or exile.
Closest to the Petersburg Committee in its tactics and attitude to the war was a group known by the name of the “Inter-District Organization” of the Social-Democratic Labour Party. There numbered in this organization a group of “non-factional” social democrats, former Trotskyites and Plekhanovites, but the organization did possess the resources and opportunities to publish leaflets and even a small four-page newspaper, Vpered (Forward), of which two issues appeared. The membership of the Inter-District Organization never went beyond some 150.
At the end of the summer of 1916 the Petersburg Initiative Group of Menshevik Social Democrats was resurrected and in the August a leaflet came out opposing the “War Industries Socialists” and disclaiming any responsibility for the Labour Group of the Central War Industries Committee, forbidding its supporters to enter into any pacts with them on matters of the workers’ movement and declaring the Gvozdevites to be instigators of a new split. The organization issued four leaflets during 1916: the first was devoted to the War Industries Socialists; the second to the general nature of the war and the position of the working class, with the slogans “down with the war” and “long live peace”; the third leaflet consisted of an eleven-point statement on the food crisis; the fourth leaflet was issued for 9 January 1917 beneath the slogan “down with the war, long live peace, long live the democratic republic and the constituent assembly”.
There were also many diverse national social-democratic groups in Petersburg, some of which affiliated to our party organization with the status of districts within the Petersburg Committee. Of other non-social-democratic organizations there were the Socialist-Revolutionaries. Their Petersburg organization had a majority of leftists, Chernov supporters. According to Aleksandrovich, the deputy Kerensky also joined them, renouncing his previous position of national defence. The Socialist-Revolutionaries carried out work in various districts with some success, but they were unable to create a strong organization.
After our organizations, brought together by the Petersburg Committee, the strongest without doubt was the defensist Mensheviks’ organization. The latter made highly practical use of their semi-legal status, publishing the periodicals Delo and Ekonomicheskoe Obozrenie, and staffed hospital funds and labour groups of the War Industries Committees.
At the offices of the Central War Industries Committee on the Liteiny in Petersburg, their “Labour Group” had its premises, where defensists gathered from all over Petersburg, reports were made and members of Chkheidze’s Duma faction, the “non-party Socialist-Revolutionary” Kerensky and others would go. The meetings were often well attended and representatives of the Petersburg Committee would go along there to pursue the fight against “Gvozdevism”. After one such visit we lost comrade Evdokimov, who was put in jail.
This organization had intellectual resources and funds at its disposal, thanks to its proximity to capitalist moneybags. The tsar’s government however undervalued the defensists’ patriotism and believing that it could not split the Petersburg proletariat any further, started persecuting them, liberal and patriotically-minded workers as they were.
After the congresses of the “public organizations” in Moscow broken up by the Stürmer government, the “Labour Group” became a tool of the liberal-organized movement around the Duma, following the slogan of “national salvation”.
With the existence of a whole multiplicity of groups and party organizations, the growth of the revolutionary movement demanded unity of action from these organizations. The danger of fragmenting the movement was, though small, still present. With this in mind, the Menshevik social-democratic Duma faction in the figure of N.S. Chkheidze proposed to our Central Committee Bureau via N.D. Sokolov to discuss the question of co-operation and co-ordinated revolutionary actions. The Socialist-Revolutionaries made a similar approach through Aleksandrovich. The Bureau considered the proposals and took the decision that it could only enter into an agreement on the matter of co-ordinated action with organizations that had adopted the position of a consistent struggle against the war and its supporters and were not party to any agreement with the liberal bourgeoisie.
An appointment between myself, Chkheidze and someone else was arranged at N.D. Sokolov’s at which I raised in practical terms the question of a break by Chkheidze and the rest from the Gvozdevites and of an open condemnation of their policy, and furthermore demanded their firm backing for the working masses’ revolutionary anti-war movement both from the Duma tribune and outside it.
In front of witnesses, Chkheidze disowned solidarity with “Gvozdevism” but sought to justify his visits to the Labour Group of the War Industries Committee as being for information purposes only. A vacuum was developing around the Duma faction by that time. Their policy of continual wavering did not meet with support from any of the illegal social-democratic groups. The performances of the Chkheidze faction in the Duma were so pale that they could not evoke any response or support from revolutionary-minded workers’ circles. I also had an appointment at N.D. Sokolov’s with Kerensky. The topic of the conversation was the attitude to the war and co-ordinated action. A.F. Kerensky called himself an internationalist, accepted the platform of the Zimmerwald left and renounced his patriotic aberrations. I put to him the same terms of a break from the “Gvozdev-Guchkov” bloc as it was perfectly well known to me that he too was taking part in the work and meetings of the war industries socialists. I moreover demanded more clarity on the attitude to the war, a definitive break from the “defence of the fatherland” and a public statement on the matter.
All we members of the Central Committee Bureau and Petersburg Committee organizers, however, put little faith in the sincerity of Chkheidze’s and Kerensky’s statements. The latter were all in very close touch with the bourgeois opposition and we suspected that these people were, in the guise of making “contacts”, intending to latch us on to the movement “around the Duma” which was being prepared among bourgeois intellectuals and democrats from the autumn onwards. The most extreme slogans of this movement were “accountable government” and “a government of national salvation”.
The autumn of 1916 was marked by open public activity by the organized merchant and industrial bourgeoisie. The Russian bourgeoisie followed the bourgeoisies of all the other belligerent countries, and adopted the war as its own, considering it to be a highly profitable business, proclaiming a “union with the government” and encouraging the reconciliation of classes. However, the policy of barbarian tsarism which was not only undertaken in the interests of merchant and industrial capital but also had its own purely dynastic aims, frequently subordinated the “final ends” of the Russian bourgeoisie to the interests of the court and thus sowed anxiety in the business hearts of our country’s merchants and manufacturers. While striving for an alliance with the government and understanding all the “evil” sides of the tsarist, bureaucratic-police system of government which crushed any public initiative or self-activity whatever, the bourgeoisie decided to erase the pernicious effect of the tsar’s policy and to take over by itself the conduct of the war.
A number of public organizations, with auxiliary functions to the military and civil organs of the state, had been created by the liberal bourgeoisie. These organizations acquired the character of class organizations of the bourgeoisie, were more mobile than those of the government and quickly assumed an enormous importance in servicing the requirements of the war. The government tolerated these organizations as a necessary evil and was even compelled to concede them increasingly wide-ranging rights. The all-Russian Union of Zemstvos, the all-Russian Union of Towns and the War Industries Committees united around themselves all the so-called “enfranchised” section of Russia. Thanks to their liberal parentage and the government’s hostile attitude towards them, all these organizations proved able to draw upon organizational forces within the democratic intelligentsia and through it to gain a foothold in the populace as well. All these public organizations formed by the liberal merchant and industrial bourgeoisie presented by the end of 1916 powerful strong-points of a Russian bourgeoisie united around the issue of the war. In spite of holding such fortresses in their sway and being brought together by the black-and-yellow banner of the “progressive bloc” in the State Duma, our bourgeoisie did not so much as dream of using them against the tsarist government and its regime. All the liberal representatives of the commercial classes and war industries were advocates of a constitutional monarchy. Democracy scared them just as much as socialism. They were truly afraid of revolution, many times more so than of German imperialism.
Nicholas II’s policy aroused resentment not only because it did not fully answer the immediate interests of the merchant and industrial bourgeoisie but also because that whole tsarist system of governing Russia was dealing irreparable blows to the monarchy itself. The bourgeoisie, in its relations with Nicholas II and the House of Romanov as a whole, was in entire agreement with a certain section of the Russian aristocrats and court retinue who looked on with “heartfelt anguish” as their beloved but degenerate monarch and all his minions fell under the spell of “dark forces”, political adventurers and charlatans. There were among the aristocrats groupings which took part in all the backstage “manoeuvres” of public activities and implored Tsar Nikolai to make concessions to the “finest men of the country”. Nikolai II was however deaf to all entreaties and would not agree to moderate his autocratic power.
The critical situation within the country, the unceasing danger at the front and, most important, the blatant aspiration of certain court circles for a rapprochement with Germany and reports of possible backstage peace negotiations with Germany, worried the “patriotic” progressive bourgeoisie to the utmost. During the enforced Duma recess a snap cabinet reshuffle took place: it was no mere change of faces but a demonstration of the tsarist autocracy’s firm intention of maintaining its rightward course irrespective of the black-and-yellow bloc and so-called Russian public opinion. To buttress the attacks by the progressive bloc in the State Duma, preparation for a struggle was being made by all the bourgeois organizations: the all-Russian Union of Towns, the all-Russian Union of Zemstvos, the War Industries Committees, Chambers of Commerce, all sorts of commodity exchange committees and finally even the Congress of the United Nobility. However, the liberal bourgeois and liberalistic monarchists, at the same time as preparing a struggle against the tsar’s feudal chieftains, courtly parasites and bureaucrats of the best vintage, were also holding backstage negotiations with representatives of the same “dark” government forces. Among the intelligentsia very many rumours and stories circulated around Petersburg about all sorts of secret deals done in the wings of the State Duma. We did at that time manage to obtain a virtually verbatim account of one such conference where a deal was attempted. The conference took place on 19 October 1916, prior to the opening of the State Duma. (The opening of the autumn session of the State Duma was held on 1 November.) The conference, held at the house of the State Duma president, N.V. Rodzyanko, had an inter-factional nature. All its participants, from Shulygin to Milyukov, had reacted negatively to Protopopov’s entry into the Stürmer cabinet. As a colleague of the president of the State Duma, Protopopov was regarded as a member of the then celebrated “progressive bloc” and his joining the government was considered a betrayal. At this conference of Duma members, the allegations by now circulating throughout Petersburg, that Protopopov was an adventurer who did not even enjoy the support of his personal friends in the Duma, were confirmed.
The arena of the bourgeoisie’s struggle for its own rule was the State Duma. For the opening of its work, the bourgeoisie had already succeeded in concentrating the attention of very wide circles in the country on this parliamentary duel of the knights of Russia’s liberalism versus the monster of our nation, the government of the tsar. Within the Tauride Palace itself, the seat of the Duma, the great day was awaited.
In Petersburg, reactions to the speeches anticipated in the Duma were fairly mixed. The intelligentsia, officialdom and the philistines were expecting a thunderstorm. The working population, understanding the class essence of the Duma, nurtured no exaggerated illusions about a parliamentary contest.
1 November and the days following were indeed red-letter days for the liberals. The forms of the parliamentary struggle lagged in no way behind those of Europe. The government took the step of forbidding the printing of the deputies’ declarations and speeches, but this only led to all of them being illegally issued. Their intervention opened with the declaration of the progressive bloc read out by Shidlovsky.
The declaration stated on behalf of five factions of the Fourth State Duma that “the great struggle for our just cause [i.e. the war] must at all costs be carried forward to a victorious end”. The progressive bloc saw in the actions of the tsarist government many grave impediments to a successful conclusion of the war. The authorities’ ill-conceived and haphazard regulations were threatening the whole of the country’s economy. The declaration stressed the government’s isolation and the ever growing mistrust it aroused. It even treated the patriotic upsurge of the “public organizations” with suspicion and was conducting an open struggle against them. The declaration then passed on from the government’s convictions and warnings of possible evils to its own proposal that it “leave” and make way for those who enjoy the trust of the “whole people”. A peculiarity of this declaration lay in its address to the army and navy included at the end. The phrases concealed a desire to win over the sympathies of the officer-corps of the armed forces to the State Duma. Though the bourgeoisie was far removed from the idea of involving the army in the settlement of political questions, it was most important for it to have support among the military staff and the officer caste. This objective was relatively easily achieved.
The focus of attention in the first sitting of the State Duma was the speech by the leader of Russian liberalism, P.N. Milyukov. His speech provided the programme not only for the Cadet party but also for the whole bloc.
The orator’s basic theme, underlying all his speech from start to finish, was the government’s inability and reluctance to tackle all the difficulties flowing from wartime conditions. Especially heavy points were made against the head of the government of the day, Stürmer. The latter was made the symbol of the Germanophile tendencies in court circles and was suspected of direct treachery. The predatory, conquering greed of Russian liberalism, which demanded the Straits and Constantinople, also expressed itself quite sharply in Milyukov’s speech. The speech gave rise to a multitude of interpretations and prompted talk of a duel and the prosecution of Milyukov by Stürmer; the fall of the Stürmer cabinet, which followed soon after, was also attributed to it. Its publication was prohibited but that did not prevent its eager distribution by illegal means. The working population made use of all the material in the speech that implicated the tsarist government together with its civil service and ministers.
After Milyukov, Chkheidze spoke. All the indecision of the Chkheidze faction was evident in his speech. He could not find a single objection to the overtly imperialist designs expounded in the declaration of the bloc. In Chkheidze’s speech, Russia’s militant proletariat would not find anything to guide them in the struggle they were waging throughout the land. At a time when the appetites of the bourgeoisie were finding a voice in the rhetoric of Milyukov, Maklakov and others, the people who called themselves social democrats were not merely incapable of reflecting the struggle against the war being waged by the proletariat of our country but actually behaved quite as if no such struggle was in fact in progress. Yet our Duma social democrats were at that time most fond of “showing solidarity” with Karl Liebknecht. Solidarity with Karl Liebknecht was not taken by them to mean following the same path as his and working in a revolutionary anti-war direction in one’s own country; Chkheidze and the rest confined themselves to “hailing” his courage. But the chauvinist press was likewise full of articles that hailed his struggle “in an enemy country”, thereby aiming to deceive the workers. So the solidarity expressed by Chkheidze was drowned in the general flood. Even in moderate working-class circles, Chkheidze’s speech produced perplexity: in it no one could trace any of the revolutionary tension that the working class breathed; still less was there any socialist clarity, in relation to the war in particular. Revolutionary workers’ circles and Bolshevik social democrats had anyway long ago ceased to regard the Duma faction as a guiding revolutionary centre. The offensive opened by the liberal bourgeoisie against the government was rounded off “from the left” by the Narodnik (Socialist-Revolutionary) deputy, A.F. Kerensky. In the first days of the November session, he put a question on the ban on publishing Duma speeches, military censorship and the predicament of the press. On the fundamental questions of domestic and foreign policy and on the question of the war itself, this representative of the party of the Socialist-Revolutionaries had, however, no opinion of his own.
The bourgeoisie succeeded very rapidly in shifting the struggle for power far beyond the bounds of the Tauride Palace. The start of the winter of 1916 was noted for a series of elaborate congresses that opened up wide possibilities for the bourgeoisie to step up their offensive. The policy of the tsarist government was not even encountering backing among the most true and loyal nobility. The congress of representatives of noble societies which took place on 28 November endorsed the moderate demands of the progressive bloc. This period of the war, with its liberal cravings for power, was witness to a peculiar form of political agitation: the publication and illegal circulation of letters between one dignitary and another. Letters from Chelnokov to Rodzyanko, Guchkov to Alexeev, and others were that autumn passed round from hand to hand. In the end, up spoke also our organized prop of the throne of the fatherland, the nobility. The president of the united nobility, A.P. Strukov, addressed a letter “by way of appeal” to the tsar in which he “indicted” the State Duma, citing the untold harm that its public activities were causing. This letter and also the tactics of the Duma formed subjects for discussion at the Congress of the United Nobility on 28 November 1916.
A section of the nobility headed by V.N. Lvov formed the “left” at this congress. Our merchant and industrial bourgeoisie also spoke through the left section of this congress. An assessment of the political situation from the standpoint of this social class was contributed by V.N. Lvov in a speech which was circulated quite extensively among the Petersburg and Moscow bourgeoisie and intellectuals.
This speech by V.N. Lvov typified the anxiety of the noble estate for the fate of the tsarist fatherland and its own age-old privileges. All the nobility from the right to the “left” wing was moved by but one desire: to save the House of Romanov at any price, to safeguard it from the disintegration, corruption and decomposition of the top ruling circles and shield it from the eyes of the people. Unmasking of Nicholas II’s system of government and exposing the ineptitude and venality of its lackeys was of course considered by the nobility to be dangerous demagogy.
At the beginning of December congresses were convened of the public organizations connected with work for the defence of the country. Having lost its support among even the ranks of the united nobility, the government withheld permission for the opening of the congresses. The leading figures of the Unions of Zemstvos and Towns had to make improvised arrangements at short notice. The All-Russian Union of Zematvos organized an assembly of delegates from provincial zemstvos for 9 December. At this assembly G.E. Lvov made a speech “on the current situation”. His speech was fraught with the landowners’ anxieties for the fate of the monarchy and the privileges of noble and bourgeois society linked to it.
The driving force of the liberal zemstvos was the war and the thirst for plunder that went with it. They saw the road to Russia’s “salvation” in “smashing” the enemy and acquiring Constantinople and the Straits. It was such imperialist appetites which stirred the patriotic hearts of the liberal zemstvos.
Representatives of the Union of Towns gathered the same day but separately. The government took police measures against this congress. In place of the opening of the congress, a police charge-sheet was served. Representatives of the public organizations were this time no longer afraid to hold illegal gatherings. In reply to the police ban on congresses, the representatives of the zemstvos, towns and other organizations gathered on 11 December in a joint conference which adopted a motion of protest against the government’s action in dissolving the congresses.
As was to be expected, the tsarist government sought to neutralize the progressive bloc’s plans for agitation. All opposition speeches by deputies were systematically deleted. On many days newspapers were published with blank columns in place of the reports of State Duma sittings. This state of affairs did not, however, disrupt the militant programme of the parliamentary bloc. The deputies’ speeches, which were reproduced by a variety of means, were quite amply distributed among the population.
Duma progressive bloc politicians sought and found a basis in working-class circles among the defensists and through the War Industries Committees. In those days the war industries socialists were conducting strenuous agitation around the plants of Petersburg. The creation of a united front against the government formed part of this agitation. The workers’ interests, their class tasks and attitude to the war around which struggle was unfolding, were left out of account by our social-patriots. All their efforts could be reduced to a drive to win support for the State Duma. In November the following resolution was put out by them around the factories and plants:
The government, which has now even come into sharp collision with the majority in the State Duma, is openly leading the country, already groaning under the yoke of war, to utter dislocation, ruin and downfall. The salvation of the country lies in the free and broad organization of the masses of the people; but the free and broad organization of the masses of the people is possible only with a radical change in the existing political order. The country may perish, fall apart and starve but the people will still not be freed or organized for it is lack of organization and fragmentation which forms the best guarantee of the rule of the noble-bureaucratic clique. Such is the essence of government policy. The ban on publication of speeches at the first sitting of the Duma and the reduction of the Duma to an inarticulate department of state indicates that the Russian government is ready for a new betrayal and is preparing to carry out a new coup d’etat: to abolish the 3 June Duma because the Duma will not consent to keep quiet about the crimes of the government.
Russia is undergoing an unprecedentedly grave and threatening time. The mass of the people and the working class above all, must direct all their resources of mind and will to intervene skilfully in the movement now embracing all layers of the population and exert decisive influence upon events.
In consideration of the situation that has come about, we declare that to save the country from a government which is driving it towards its doom, the following steps are necessary:
(1) immediate and decisive transformation of the existing regime and the organization of a Government of National Salvation, founded upon the people, the Duma and all the existing public, labour and democratic organizations;
(2) immediate declaration of a universal and complete amnesty and as a priority, the release and restoration of civil rights to the exiled social-democratic deputies of the Second and Fourth Duma.
In adopting this resolution, we consider it necessary to send it at once to the State Duma, demanding that it conduct the most resolute struggle against the government’s power regardless of the threats.
However, this resolution did not have any success. Our Petersburg Committee of the RSDLP was obliged to develop counter-agitation and issued a special leaflet exposing the Duma’s lickspittle policy, the falsity of its slogans and also the treachery of the war industries socialists. Here is the leaflet:
Comrades, throughout the war, the State Duma, whenever opening its sittings, vowed with an outpouring of the most loyal sentiments to be faithful to the tsarist government and exchanged kisses with its ministers. Yet now the militant deputies, while remaining as before hangers-on of the tsar, have raised a stir and a row with the government. What about? They declare that a change of ministers is required in order to continue the bloodbath through to the end.
When the masses of the people, exhausted by the immeasurable burden of a war sanctified by the capitalists, begin to lose patience and are ready to march against the oppressors, liberal leading lights then attempt to exploit this movement by the people for their own thieving appetites. They need a ministry of public confidence. But what can that bring the tormented people? Instead of Stürmers, Milyukovs, who talk about the salvation of the country but are ready to lead it to new deaths and demanding ever fresh sacrifices.
No! We must always bear in mind that those who are calling us to wage war to the end are least of all considering us and are least of all concerned about the fate of the nation. The swapping of some murderers for others will not make us halt the struggle against a revamped government. That bunch of chauvinist workers which until now has found only words of condemnation for our revolutionary actions has set special store by the lustings of the liberals for power. It has addressed an appeal to you to fight for a “government of national salvation”.
These “labour politicians”, who have abandoned us at the toughest point of the war’s woes so as to assist the government and the bourgeoisie to carry on the war, condemn our revolutionary urge not to lay down arms against the war and the oppressors and keep silent about the kidnapping of our deputies, are now, though rejected by us, calling on us to march behind their slogans and to surrender the country’s salvation to those who wish to turn the long months of bloodshed into years and are ruthlessly strangling the workers’ movement.
Comrades! Haven’t ten years of bloody experience of the workers’ movement quite clearly demonstrated who will really fight against the predatory monarchy? By rallying our forces, extending our agitation into the ranks of the poor peasantry and into the army, we shall forge a veritable hammer of revolution; at its blows the government which so torments the people shall perish.
We know of only this primary task. Through the toppling of the tsarist government to the formation of a Provisional Revolutionary Government of workers and poor peasants! We shall demand of such a government the immediate termination of the war, the immediate convoking of a Constituent Assembly and the realization of political liberties so as to provide the conditions for conducting a struggle for the realization of genuine democracy, the Democratic Republic, the confiscation of landed estates, and, in order to put into the hands of the working class its most powerful weapon, shorter working hours, establishment of the eight-hour day! But today we must be on our guard!
Governments and ruling classes, choking in the streams of blood flowing through their own making, will strain every effort for the outcome of the war to bring them continued enslavement of the peoples and the reinforcement of their power; the workers of all the world and first and foremost the workers of the belligerent countries must direct their blows against their own governments. Only by disarming them and assisting the people to put an end to this war through carrying out the political overturns, will we lead the country away from its doom in the truest possible way.
But remember, comrades, as long as the life of the peoples is being sapped by the capitalists, as long as they are masters of the world, they will not stop in their chase for profits to hesitate to throw the peoples over and over again into the conflagrations of wars. Only the destruction of the capitalist system and its replacement by a socialist one will put an end to wars and human sufferings. That is why we Russian workers will, through development of the revolutionary potential of the international proletariat and the formation of the Third International, devote every effort to the realization of socialism. We will support our comrades in Britain, Germany and France in their readiness to wage a struggle for the overthrow of capitalist governments once we have removed the fetters of our 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 Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party
In its call for the unity of workers, soldiers and the poor peasantry, the leaflet counterposes the slogans of revolutionary social democracy to the false liberal positions of the defensists. The Petersburg proletariat did not allow itself either to be intoxicated by the poison of nationalist venom or to be carried away by the false slogans of the “government of national salvation”, and would not follow the progressive bloc in the State Duma to which the defensist elements of bourgeois democracy were summoning them.
The Labour Groups of the Central and Area War Industries Committees had finally and irrevocably turned into adjuncts of the pseudo-liberal bourgeoisie. The tsarist government’s attitude to the activity in the State Duma and also the attitude of the various classes to this activity prompted the “war industries socialists” at that time to address a special appeal to the Duma which is highly instructive:
Blank spaces have been appearing in the newspapers in place of Duma reports for a week now. Government repression against deputies’ freedom of speech is turning the State Duma into a mere office divorced from the people and reducing the effect of its work to a minimum. We cannot allow ourselves to be flattered by the fact that one section may still, despite the barbs of censorship, learn of the content of the deputies’ speeches. That is only an insignificant part of the population. For the enormous majority remain in complete ignorance of what the State Duma is doing. The country can freely acquaint itself with the activity of the Duma, exert influence upon it and mobilize its forces around it under one condition only: that of free and open circulation of the deputies’ speeches among the population at large.
The originally concentrated attention paid by the mass of the public to the Duma when they found blank spaces instead of speeches in the press will gradually subside and be replaced by apathy. An atmosphere could develop which would be extremely dangerous for the interests of the country and all its progressive forces and extremely favourable to reaction and its schemes.
In view of the aforesaid, the workers’ representatives in the Central and Petrograd Area War Industries Committees consider continued work by the Duma under such conditions to be impermissible. To continue Duma activity in such conditions is not only incompatible with the dignity of a representative institution but also highly damaging and dangerous, creating an undesirable precedent by placing a tool in the hands of reaction whereby it can at any moment turn the Duma into a harmless talking shop.
In maintaining that the situation created, which has effectively destroyed the Duma as such, cannot be tolerated any longer, the workers’ representatives on the Central and Petrograd Area War Industries Committees demand in accordance with the sentiment of broad layers of the working class, that the Duma majority adopt every possible means, not discounting the most extreme, to acquaint the population and the army with the work of the State Duma by the free and wide circulation of Duma reports. While not expecting any results to come from its formal question tabled on this matter, the State Duma is however in duty bound on the one hand to revoke immediately the regulation on war censorship issued under article 87 and on the other to undertake the task of the widest possible distribution of Duma speeches by relying upon the backing of the public organizations.
This is supreme obligation of the Duma, Without this stipulation and without the immediate restoration of public knowledge of its work, the Duma will inevitably find itself once and for ever cut off from the country and deprived of any basis on which to further its activity.
The social-patriots drew the “lesson” from the attempts by the liberal bourgeoisie to threaten the government (while at the same time seeking a new deal with it behind the backs of the people and at their expense): that the conditions in which the government had imposed on the sycophantic and posturing bourgeoisie was “effectively destroying the Duma”. As a solution they demanded that the Duma majority adopt “extreme measures” ... to circulate the speeches of Milyukov, Rodzyanko, Maklakov, Shulygin and other such heroes.
Such was the policy of the leaders of the all-Russian centre of the “War Industries Socialists”. The attitude of the Petersburg proletariat to these circles of social-patriots was distinctly negative. The Mensheviks themselves were forced to dissociate themselves from their own children who had ensconced themselves in the War
Industries Committees. It should however be borne in mind that only a year after the beginning of the election campaign for the War Industries Committees, when the split and nationalist poison had been introduced into working-class ranks, the Initiative Group of Mensheviks renounced the defence of its own representatives and issued the following appeal:
Comrades, the world has never before seen such a horror, such sufferings and destruction: the whole air is saturated with the charred and rotting bodies of humanity and blood flows without end. And there seems to be no sign of a dawn through this thick bloody mist. There is only the further involvement of hitherto neutral countries in the bloody carnage. Rumania has now been dragged in by its international adventurism. Instead of blood circulating through the veins of mankind, it is watering the fields and forests and turning the seas and rivers crimson. To untie the knot of this world-wide tragedy at this crucial historical moment, it is essential to gather together all the living resources of international socialism beneath the banner of social democracy; the organization of our forces for the struggle against the imperialists, the predators of human life, and the struggle for the speediest end to this slaughter is a vital one.
But not all is gloom. There are bright features also in the life of the people of the world. We can already see a tiny strip of light gleaming on the horizon of international social democracy. We can see for example that in Germany, Britain and France, a minority which takes the standpoint of the International, is becoming stronger and more powerful. That strip of light is widening as this minority grows. And the day is not far off when this light will overwhelm the gloom of congealed blood and illumine the minds and thoughts of the social-nationalists. But this light that will bear with it joyful tidings for the world has not as yet perturbed our defensist committee-men. Under the banner of an independent national socialism they are continuing as before to do deeds that are destroying international solidarity.
Comrades! You will remember that when we Petrograd workers sent them into the War Industries Committees, we gave them a mandate in which they were empowered to demand the calling of an all-Russian workers’ congress at which our attitude to the current situation and to the War Industries Committees would be set out. We considered their term of office to be temporary and in no way authorized them to speak in the name of the entire Russian proletariat. We granted them only a provisional mandate and stated quite categorically that we were the most fervent opponents of the war and stand for its immediate termination.
But they forgot that! They forgot that the Petrograd proletariat had in no way authorized them to speak on their behalf over the heads of the electors the language of national socialism and the language of defensism. They “overlooked” the fact that one particular political group, although covering itself with the banner of the then united Menshevism, together with its electors did not for one moment adopt the standpoint of defence but repeatedly demanded that the mandate be fulfilled.
Using the cover of the impossibility of calling an all-city meeting of electors and conferring incidentally and only now and again with individual representatives of the college, they kept repeating and go on blandly repeating: “We are carrying out the wishes of the proletariat which sent us here.” They are thus blasphemously covering their anti-labour policy with the name of the broad masses, instead of a continual emphasis on the negative attitude to the war adopted by the broad masses and their advanced elements, they “proudly” uphold the banner of imperialism, the banner of defence, the will and desires of the proletariat notwithstanding. They are thereby introducing disruption into the workers’ ranks. While the banner of the International, the banner of international class solidarity, has been surrendered by them to Guchkov for the archives as an out-of-date and worthless rag.
More than that, comrades! They are flouting the decisions of Zimmerwald and Kienthal and will not recognize our own comrades who are striving to resurrect the international class association. They are dreaming aloud of recalling Martov and Axelrod. In renouncing these decisions, they are renouncing the necessity for a struggle to achieve a peace. Organized Mensheviks who take the stand of the International have therefore discussed the question of our present attitude to the group in the Central War Industries Committee in all the districts and at an all-city meeting and resolved by an overwhelming majority of votes to recall the Labour Group of the Central War Industries Committee. In bringing all the aforesaid to the notice of the broad masses, we declare that the Labour Group of the Central War Industries Committee has not to this day heeded the voice of organized workers and that that voice has remained but a hollow sound for the committee-men.
We therefore state: 1) We renounce any responsibility for the activity of the Labour Group of the Central War Industries Committee; 2) We shall not enter into any agreements with them on matters of the workers’ movement; 3) We declare the group to be the instigators of a new split.
The Petersburg Initiative Group
Workers at many plants and factories carried resolutions for the recall of their representatives from the War Industries Committees. Protests were passed against their speculative play on the name of the working class and the workers’ mandate. The Petersburg proletariat had never, in its revolutionary majority, supported the “Labour Group”. The workers’ negative attitude to the “war industries socialists” found echo in even the committee’s own publications. Thus, in Byulleten Rabochei Gruppy no. 4, we find the following:
The Labour Group must stress that the demands for the Group to walk out of the Central War Industries Committee emanate exclusively from comrades who reject a defence standpoint. We must therefore reject the demand for a walk-out as one of the facts of the unceasing struggle of the two ideological currents in Russia’s working class. The Labour Group has serious grounds for refusing to walk out if only from considerations of principle. A legitimate outcome to the conflict between the two viewpoints cannot in any event be achieved by a formal removal of one of the parties from the base whose views it is implementing in practice. One or other viewpoint will not triumph as a result of whether the Group leaves the Central War Industries Committee or stays in it. The only difference will He in the fact that the organizational soil provided by staying in the Central War Industries Committee will disappear from beneath the feet of a particular section of the working class.
Leaving to one side the argument over principles, it is also necessary to take account of the value of the practical and organizational work, a part of which is reported on in the current Byulleten. Only if the ideological dispute ends with the victory of the opponents of the Labour Group’s position, will we be able to say that the price of even this great practical work cannot compensate for the violation of principles. But the argument has not yet reached this stage and therefore to wind up practical work in the name of purity of principles whose correctness has yet to be demonstrated would be an act unheard of in the history of the workers’ movement.
The Labour Group must emphasize that the demands for its departure originate from limited circles in the working class and it cannot give them more consideration than demands from a number of other workers’ organizations which are giving ever closer support to the Labour Group, taking part in its work and supporting it organizationally and ideologically. Even discounting the important factor that the demand for a walkout has been presented by groups which differ from the Labour Group over its basic position on the question of war and peace, agreeing to leave our posts would still mean a sharp break from the numerous comrades scattered throughout Russia who regard the Labour Group as a vital and extremely valuable instrument in the hands of Russia’s working class. To agree to the proposal of the recallists would mean heading for an open break with several dozen workers’ organizations, prominent leaders of the working class and all the international tradition of modern democracy. We cannot make a break from broad circles of our ideological sympathizers just to meet the demands of a small number of ideological opponents.
Such in broad terms is the purely practical standpoint of the Group on the question of its recall. In conclusion it should merely be noted that the struggle by certain elements against the Labour Group has in recent days assumed an extremely acrimonious nature that entirely excludes the possibility of a comradely pact. Leaflets have been published in which the Labour Group is portrayed as a bloodsucker sucking the blood of the working class and so on. A number of wholly fictitious doings have been attributed to the Group and to advance the aims of a struggle against the Group, distorted accounts by newspaper reporters, refuted at the time, have been put into service. The Group has here to note that it is very difficult to find time to deal with all these distortions and that it has not always been possible to refute them for reasons of censorship as these newspaper inventions are utterly and completely composed in highly patriotic terms so that any refutation will naturally be regarded as “treacherous conduct”.
The role of “leader of the Petersburg proletariat” was not being fulfilled by the social-patriots. All the liberal bourgeoisie’s hopes for workers’ support for the progressive bloc’s “parliamentary” struggle against the government were dashed against the revolutionary class resolve of the Petersburg proletariat.
As we have said above, the government responded to the progressive bloc’s behaviour in the Duma with a tightening of military censorship of Duma speeches. On 10 November the chairman of the Council of Ministers, Stürmer, was replaced by Trepov. The Duma sitting was put off till 19 November. A “declaration” was awaited from the new chairman of the Council of Ministers. The interval was to be explained by the need for time to prepare Trepov for the role.
In spite of rumours that spread around Petersburg about a further postponement of the convening of the Duma, the sitting was resumed on the date set by the government. Trepov, the new chairman of the Council of Ministers, made a statement on the opening day. The appearance of the representative of the “renewed government” was greeted by a hostile demonstration by the social democrats and Trudoviks. When Trepov attempted to read out his declaration, his voice was drowned by noise and shouts of “down!” Such a welcome had not formed part of the progressive bloc programme, and the Duma left found itself on its own. The majority of the Duma bloc had by now wearied of the break with the government and saw their “triumph” in the replacement of Stunner by Trepov, and did not wish to create any animosity. The progressive bloc now found a convenient opportunity to dissociate themselves from the left and the Duma president, Rodzyanko, proposed to punish the demonstrators by suspension from eight sittings. The motion was adopted. Four deputies, Chkheidze, Kerensky, Skobelev and Khaustov, were suspended. The suspended members were, in accordance with standing orders, allowed to speak in their own defence.
The suspension of the left section of the State Duma members gave rise to a series of protests. No campaign was however undertaken among workers in the factories on this occasion. This indicated to the deputies and defensist organizations closely linked with them that they had no base of support in the mass of the workers, even less in the thick of the Petersburg proletariat – in fact they had never sought such a thing, always preferring the parliamentary game. Concentrating energies and attentions around the Duma was moreover not one of our tasks. The suspension was a very convenient gauge of the falsity of the tacit agreement fixed up between the Mensheviks and Narodniks on the one hand and the progressive bloc on the other. For a while the incident did cool the defensist ardour of Duma “support”, and the lesson taught them by the bourgeoisie was most instructive.
In spite of telling blows dealt to our underground organization by individual and mass arrests, exile to Siberia and postings to front-line positions, the work of our organizations did not ebb and by the end of 1916 their overall expansion could be observed. Once freed from war hysteria and also from the apathy and pessimism brought on by the war, many new forces were driven towards us and several who had left party work during the war returned to the bosom of the party.
The strongest organization we had was the Petersburg one. Throughout the war the Moscow organization suffered from the lack of a general leading organizational centre. The cause of this was the espionage of the Moscow branch of the security police (Okhrana) and especially by its so-called “inner light”. Moscow comrades understood this perfectly and had their suspicions about one or two people, but were nevertheless unable to get the organization established. The Central Committee Bureau then directing all-Russian work had to resort to forming such an organizing centre from the top downwards by means of appointments made in consultation with Moscow party workers, and created a Regional Bureau of the Central Committee of the RSDLP(B).
The contacts of the Central Committee Bureau with its seat in Petersburg and its close link with the Petersburg Committee were expanding greatly. Contacts were established on the arrival of workers from the industrial centres and by trips made by our representatives to the localities. Lack of financial resources did not permit us to support the organizations and we often had to rely solely upon the occasional trip or chance visit. We would receive not only simple reports on the work of the organizations but also material evidence in the shape of leaflets produced by the most diverse means.
In November the Central Committee Bureau received the reports from the areas. For conspiratorial reasons, the cities sending in information were protected beneath more general titles.
A provincial capital in the central industrial district (Tver). A city committee was elected as early as the autumn meeting of local party workers in 1915, but it was only able to resume active work in March 1916 when a group of new party workers arrived to assist the ailing committee. Discussion-group activity was promptly set in motion but there was no co-ordination in the work for the lack of a centre. The committee did not disband but did nothing. The strikes which broke out in the second half of April ended in a victory for the workers at two undertakings. The strike movement ended at the end of May with the rout of the organization. Over that period the organization had managed to issue three leaflets on the war, the War Industries Committees and May Day. Work was resumed at the beginning of June. A new centre was formed; a plan of work was drawn up (the main point lay in stepping up agitation). Work was made harder by the fact that no people remained at the centre who were rich in knowledge and experience. Discussion-group work had not ceased even by September ...
A city on the Volga (Nizhni-Novgorod). In September 1916 we eventually managed to organize a city committee. There are two district committees: one for the outskirts and one in the main factory district (Sormovo). There are now four circles active in the outskirts. In the factory district there are fourteen; the organization thus amounts to 150 to 200 members (those paying dues on the basis of at least one per cent of their earnings are considered to be members). The resources of the organization are apportioned for the requirements of the districts, literature and the all-city committee, with ten per cent being allocated to the Central Committee. The Central Committee Bureau has been sent an advance of 25 rubles to cover illegal literature. There is a dreadful shortage of literature. As yet we have not had many issues of the central organ. The pamphlets On the War and On the High Cost of Living come only in single copies and those are hard to get hold of. We haven’t even seen Kommunist. All the work in the organization, including purely propaganda work (there exists a college of propagandists of six members), is at present being undertaken exclusively by workers. The main shortcoming of the organization is the almost total lack of theoretically knowledgeable and experienced people. The local intellectual forces do not take close part in the work for a variety of reasons. Given the presence of a few experienced propagandists and also literature, work could be expanded more widely. The appeal of the organization has been very great. At the present time a reorganization in the factory district is being carried out by the committee. It is proposed to split into two. Deep discontent with the current state of affairs with the high cost of living is mounting in the factory district: a new struggle for wage rises lies ahead. (The Central Committee Bureau has already been notified about the summer strike). Foreseeing the possibility of a strike, the liquidators and defensists have taken steps to avert it. They have started implementing their Guchkovian ideas about conciliation courts and have proposed that workers form joint commissions with employers’ representatives to deal with questions of food supply and wages. These commissions have now been set up. Our organization proved unable to open workers’ eyes to the true nature of these employers’ commissions in good enough time and workers took the bait. Now they are awaiting the outcome of these commissions. There have been no results so far. But to a question of a wage rise the manager answered with a categorical refusal. The matter will not therefore be settled without a strike. The city committee put out in the middle of November a hectographed proclamation on the food crisis in which the link between the high cost of living and the food crisis and the war is brought out and a call for a struggle against the war and the Russian government made. A copy has been sent to the Central Committee Bureau. Although the liquidators along with the employers have succeeded in duping workers over the business of the commissions, their influence is pretty slight. Thus, the proposal by the Central Labour Group of the War Industries Committees that they contribute information on the workers’ situation and so on encountered a sharp rebuttal from the latter. The workers stated that they did not regard the group as representative of workers and therefore refused to have any dealings with it, Around the plants, signatures are currently being collected beneath the statement in support of its aim. A considerable number have been already gathered. The sheets are still going round the plants. Many are now signing them who had earlier declared themselves in favour of participation in the War Industries Committees,
Kazan, 5 November 1916. There has been a student demonstration. To start with, a meeting was held in the university lobby where speakers got up to criticize the government and make speeches on the war. A resolution against the war was carried demanding peace and advancing the slogan of revolution. After the meeting a crowd of some 800 to 1,000 people went on to the streets and, singing revolutionary songs, headed for the prison where more speeches were made; afterwards, on the way to Theatre Square the crowd gradually broke up. The police did not intervene. The demonstration lasted about an hour and a half.
Kharkov. The organization numbers some 120 members paying dues regularly. Among young Latvian Bolsheviks there is a tendency to work together with the Russians and not in isolation in the way evident among members of Latvian social democracy, the majority of whom work separately from the Russians. This is to be welcomed. In September Kharkov workers suffered some casualties from the collapse of the strike at the Union General Electric Company works.
After staying out two weeks, the workers went back following numerous arrests. Since September the idea of publishing an illegal newspaper has been mooted. The Kharkov organization has now succeeded in producing the first issue of a hectographed paper: Golos Sotsial-Demokrata. The newspaper will come out weekly. They have in mind to publish a journal alongside this as soon as the equipment can best be set up. But for the time being they are only able to produce a newspaper in hectographed form. In reviewing these last two months it should be said that the local Mensheviks always oppose deciding this or that question at broad meetings preferring to settle them at group meetings as they are afraid of defeat and are keenly aware of their scant influence among the proletariat. Kharkov workers have refused to participate in the War Industries Committee in the most decisive fashion. In the course of such work, our party has been deprived of two active comrades who spoke publicly at a meeting and were arrested on exit. In the first days of November the Central War Industries Committee’s Labour Group or, as they are called here, the “Gvozdevites”, sent the following letter to the management committee of the workers’ club with a request for a reply: “How many arrests have taken place during 1916? Over what?” and so on. They asked for all the material to be sent to them. The management committee considered this matter at a meeting; a preliminary question was put to it: do we recognize the Gvozdevites as representatives of the workers and is it desirable for workers to have any dealings with them? ... About forty people were present at the meeting of the management committee. With long debates the meeting dragged on past midnight and it was resolved that as Petrograd workers did not recognize them but regarded them as political adventurers, Kharkov workers would for the same reason not wish to have any common business with them and so it was resolved not to answer their letter or even to send them the resolution lest they then claim that Kharkovans had momentarily recognized them as representatives.
The strike movement in the industrial centres and in Petersburg developed in the autumn of 1916 with hitherto unseen strength. The burdens imposed by the war could be keenly felt. The condition of the working class deteriorated from day to day. The movement which had its origin in the economic demands of one or another group of workers would turn into a political struggle. The workers’ mood was so buoyant and revolutionary that strikes arose at the mere appearance of a leaflet. Solidarity strikes were particularly widespread during that autumn. News of a struggle by comrades had only to reach workers at another factory for the latter to rush off to make contact and give firm backing at the necessary moment.
In December I wrote a letter to our Central Committee which was based in Switzerland and to V.I. Lenin and G.E. Zinoviev personally. In this I reported briefly on our work and the state of affairs in the country. I am including it in full omitting only the coded section which concealed the illegal addresses of the time.
2 December 1916
At last I have a chance to share some news and documents with you. I feel you will be moaning about the long-standing lack of news but I think you will have guessed the reasons, which are not of my willing, namely, lack of personnel. My journey was full of unexpected adventures and lasted nearly three weeks because of that. I only got here at the end of October (old style). I shall report all the details when I have more time to spare. I found all my friends and acquaintances in fine fettle. However our losses started as early as 5 November. That day and night there were raids on all the hospital funds and a few hospital fund staff were arrested. On the night of 16 November mass searches were made on workers and intellectuals of all tendencies but the majority of these individuals were “old” ones, already on the Okhrana’s books. One member of the workers’ group of the Insurance Council, G.I. Osipov, and one or two people attached to the marxist press, were arrested. Many of my personal friends disappeared in those arrests.
A total absence of patriotic euphoria is generally discernible in the mood of the working masses and democrats. The high cost of living, the vicious exploitation and the barbaric policy of the government have all proved convincingly to the masses the true nature of the war. The cry of “war till victory” remains the slogan only of the war industries. Working men and women, soldiers and ordinary “residents” openly express their dissatisfaction with the continuance of the war. “Will all this soon end?” can be heard absolutely everywhere. The workers’ movement is marked by an upsurge of strikes throughout the country. There have been strikes in Moscow, Petersburg, the Donets Basin (Kharkov and Nikolaev), Ekaterinburg and Baku. You will receive the details. This summer in Petersburg passed off amid a considerable lull. The high cost of living has assumed catastrophic proportions. The lack of foodstuffs has angered broad circles. People have been entirely preoccupied with how to get hold of this or that item. They have gone in for co-operatives, bulk purchasing and so on. Prices have gone up five or ten times compared with last year’s. Clothing and footwear are becoming almost unobtainable. What used to cost (suits and so on) thirty to forty rubles before the war now costs 150 to 200 and so on. By autumn the state of affairs was getting even worse and there were days in September and October when there was no bread in working-class districts. And you no longer need talk about meat. The same thing is evident in Moscow. At the beginning of October the Petersburg Committee launched a mass campaign for a struggle against the “food supply” breakdown by organizing protest meetings and so on. The meetings took place around the plants amid great spirit behind the slogans of “down with the war” and “down with the government”. Leaflets have been issued. The appearance of leaflets in a plant was taken by the mass of workers as an invitation to strike and this rapidly involved all the Vyborg district. There have been demonstrations. A strike which had started on 17 October against the wishes of the organization lasted two or three days. During it there were many clashes with the police. One of these should be taken note of as an indication of the mood of the mass of the soldiers. The barracks of the 181st infantry reserve are situated beside the New Lessner works. When the strike began, police charged in to break up the workers who were coming out singing. In the crowd were soldiers whom the police threatened with all sorts of reprisals. Many started arguing; the police attempted to make arrests but the crowd beat them back. There was at that time drilling in progress in the yard of the 181st infantry reserve barracks and the soldiers there, attracted by the noise, went up to the barrack fence where they were invited by workers to help them against the police. The reservists and young soldiers quickly responded to the workers’ appeal, knocked the fence down and went into the street to join the mass of people and then started to throw stones at the police (the soldiers had no weapons with them). The latter fired back as they retreated. Shortly afterwards cossacks arrived, ringing the plant and placing sentries all round the barracks. The regiment had been placed under arrest.
Then rumours spread round the city that many soldiers had been arrested and would be going before a drumhead court-martial. It was difficult to verify these rumours but a court-martial of Baltic sailors accused of membership of the RSDLP(B) military organization had been fixed for the 26 October. In the dock of the district court-martial were seventeen petty officers and three civilians. The Petersburg Committee decided to give support to the sailors and declared a general protest strike for that day. Taking part in the strike were 116,000 workers, all educational establishments and many small workshops and printshops, the number of whose employees couid not be estimated. The strike had a big impact on the trial and the sentences were relatively “mild”. Four men were convicted: T.I. Ulyantsev, an engineer on the cruiser Rossiya, to eight years’ hard labour; I.D. Sladkov, a petty officer at the Naval Artillery School, to seven years; I.V. Brendin, a petty officer on the cruiser Rossiya, who retracted all of his testimony given at the preliminary investigation, to seven years’ hard labour; and I.N. Egorov, a deportee, to four years’ hard labour. All the defendants acted most properly in court.
The protest strike lasted between one and three days and led to repression. The Association of Factory and Plant Owners decided to punish workers with a lock-out; many plants closed down: Ericssons, Lessners, Renault and others, for example. The Petersburg Committee decided to start a struggle against the lock-out by agitating for a general strike. A leaflet was put out but the employers quickly stepped in and the military authorities ordered the plants to reopen their shops. This was effected by 1 November.
The mood of working-class circles started to liven up after that strike. The strike had the beneficial effect on the “food shortage”: bread, meat and other items began to appear in abundance.
Following these and more general events, attention became riveted on the Duma “circus”. The progressive bloc came out against Stürmer. Publication of the speeches of accusation made at three sittings (1, 2 and 3 November), and especially the first, was prohibited, but they were widely distributed around Petersburg in manuscript. Many believed in the sincerity of the State Duma majority’s struggle against the government, at whose head marched the Cadets of 1 November.
But reality was soon to expose the Cadets’ inconsistency, for their words of opposition little matched their fawning deeds and the backstage games they are up to.
The Cadet accompanists of our time, the Gvozdevites, have already begun their agitation for support for the State Duma and its demands. A special resolution has been drafted which demands a “government of national salvation”. It was carried at a small number of plants and delivered by a “deputation” to Rodzyanko.
A couple of days later the majority of the bloc ejected their previous and current friends, the factions of Chkheidze and the Trudoviks, from the Duma. The poor Guchkovite boys were most demoralized at such a turn by the “saviours of the nation” and started to agitate against the bloc while still “supporting it”.
The Petersburg Committee is circulating its own resolution on its attitude to the Duma around the plants. The cabinet reshuffles and Stunner’s replacement by Trepov are considered by the Cadets to be a “great” victory. This already satisfies a considerable portion of the bloc and it is striving towards “joint” work with the government. The Cadet party at its own meeting decided to maintain a hypocritical tactic: not to compromise in words and say that “nothing has changed” but for the sake of “preserving the unity” of the bloc to work in practice with the government. In relation to them, our organizations are maintaining the old tactic of exposing the falsehood of Cadet liberalism.
Local party workers have promised to supply more detailed accounts of the state of the work and the life of the organizations and the workers’ movement. Here work has been set up fairly well but we do experience a shortage of personnel. Our mutual relations are of the very best and most comradely. I go to meetings of the Executive Commission every week and sometimes meet them more often. I have made reports and there have been discussions. There are comrades who are wavering on the question of the “right of nations” to self-determination and the United States of Europe. Justified criticisms about the lack of leading articles are being sent to the central organ. These demand that the Central Committee representatives in the Zimmerwald groupings be more specific. We have had all Central Committee publications here since the September ones ... The War and the Cost of Living has been published in five thousand copies. It has become most difficult for me as I have been obliged to turn my hand to everything: writing articles, organizing, liaising with people, preparing reports and attending committee meetings. I live between the earth and the sky. I live on the move. Literature and people are demanded from all sides and the Central Committee is moaned at. The idea of the need for an all-Russian conference crops up more and more often. Bear this in mind and prepare reports and resolutions on the current situation.
8 December: Forgive the patchwork style of my letter, dear friends. I have received various bits of information from various parts of the provinces, copies of which I am enclosing for you. Delegates from the provinces arrive very frequently at the Petersburg Committee requesting literature and information. There is an uproar over the shortage of people, literature and directives. Everyone is demanding that the Central Committee Bureau arrange a conference. The Executive Commission has already elected people for a joint discussion with the Central Committee Bureau on the agenda and reports. The Central Committee Bureau’s resolution concerning the differences among the collaborators on the central organ has been adopted by the Petersburg Committee’s Executive Commission.
You can judge the mood of the provinces and all Russia by the following incident conveyed to us by comrades coming from Kremenchug. A large crowd of “queuers” had collected around a shop for sugar – the majority were women. A row broke out between the women and the guardians of order, the town constables. The row led to the constables being beaten up and the shops being looted. Soldiers were called out to “restore order” but they refused to fire. Cossacks were called in but they too kept out of the way. Then the authorities put their last forces into action, the mounted police guard. The latter complied and opened fire on the crowd. This disturbed the cossacks and soldiers and they rushed upon the mounted police and broke them up. After that the crowd joined up with the cossacks and soldiers and started to attack the police stations and the police chief’s own quarters and he was injured, though managing to hide in time. They wrecked the army offices and killed the local army chief. Many shops were wrecked. This spontaneous mutiny lasted two days, but then fresh forces arrived and the crackdown began with the customary ferocity. Many were killed and wounded.
It is reported from the Donets Basin that our organizations there are growing stronger. A regional conference was recently held by the regional committee. There are many working prisoners-of-war (Austrians) in the area. Relations between them and the workers are very good. The prisoners-of-war are organizing themselves and are seeking to join our organizations. In various places managements have attempted to squeeze out free labour by bringing in prisoners-of-war (in the pits) but have run up against protests from the prisoners-of-war themselves who declared that they would not go down the mines even on pain of death if they were displacing dismissed workers.
The enfranchised bourgeoisie is planning congresses and has already sent out invitations to various workers’ organizations like the hospital funds, co-operatives and the War Industries Committees (the Gvozdevites). The government tends to oppose the congresses. But it is not alone in opposing them, for the progressive bloc is now also against them. We managed to discover that on 16 November a conference of the bureau of the bloc was held with delegations from the public organizations, namely, the Union of Towns, represented by Chelnokov and Shchepkin; the Union of Zemstvos (Prince Lvov) and the War Industries Committees (Konovalov) under the chairmanship of Meller-Zakomelsky, a member of the Council of State. Milyukov was the reporter for the Progressive Bloc. He sang the praises of the bloc and the public organizations for their display of “unity” as a result of which such a brilliant victory as the removal of Stürmer was won. After such a “celebration” for the bloc there ensued the “bread-and-butter” business during which the bloc’s task was to follow a zigzag path. “Society must be prudent in its demands to the Duma lest it bring about a breaking of the unity of the public front” ... Shingarev dotted the i’s, declaring in his comments on Milyukov’s speech that the progressive bloc could not make demands and therefore it would be proper to refrain from organizing congresses and conferences, for it was not known what their mood would be. They could present demands to the Duma, but any further aggressive policy towards the Duma would be impossible. Shidlovsky stated openly that an aggressive policy by the Duma could lead to its dissolution and dissolution to “revolution”, which of course they feared most of all. That is all the information there is for you at the moment; reports on this affair will be carried in Proletarskii Golos, which is soon to come out.
Personally I stand for exploiting the election campaigns for the congresses and for publicly presenting there an independent declaration, but for opposing participation in “organic work” ... Colleagues in the Central Committee Bureau are in solidarity with this. It has also been carried by the Petersburg Committee. But there have already been one or two instances of boycotting the elections. A leading article should be printed in the central organ against the boycott system. It is necessary to follow the same line that the Petersburg Committee adopted in relation to the War Industries Committees in the autumn of 1915. A boycott is clearly advantageous to the Gvozdevites as it gives them links with the provinces and assists in the deceit about their representative status.
The Russian government’s attitude to the Duma and the German peace proposal has perturbed broad circles of the general public and intellectuals. Even the patriotic element is discontented with the Duma’s decision and its unwillingness “on principle” to accept a basis for discussion of the peace proposals. Our organizations have used this fact as a graphic illustration of the predatory ideals of the Russian bourgeoisie and government. To the “peace” plans of the ruling classes of the belligerent countries we are counterposing the need to turn the slaughter against the government. A proclamation of the Petersburg Committee to this effect is coming out in a day or two.
The Bureau also proposes to issue a leaflet and it may manage to establish a periodical central organ. Work is in hand in this direction. It is reported from Kharkov that differences have arisen there over the current situation. Certain comrades there take the position that we are living in the era of the social revolution. I shall shortly be seeing one or two people from there and shall clarify their intentions.
The soldiers’ mood is extremely tense. Rumours of mutinies in the army are circulating. It is reported that there are disturbances in Dvinsk, but it is not known over what. It has been announced that the tsar has “relieved” the commander, General Alekseyev, for his “opposition views” and has appointed General Gurko in his place, but Gurko was replaced by someone else on 2 December. By 6 December the Congress of Nobility, the Duma-ites and the Council of State made ready to be received by the tsar. Our tsarist retainers had already got their speeches prepared when they were unexpectedly “beaten”: the tsar had departed for the front and refused to meet them. He had clearly demonstrated by his address to Pitirim and by bestowing an order on General “Kuvaka” his displeasure with the bourgeoisie ... “Society” is as a whole full of rumours and gossip. It is reported that back in the summer there had been a conference of certain military circles on active service, corps, divisional and certain regimental commanders where the question of overthrowing Nikolai II was discussed. By and large, even avowed monarchists are extremely disturbed by all the doings of the tsarist autocracy.
14 December: There were raids at the end of last week. The printshop of the Petersburg Committee has been seized; 6,000 copies of the pamphlet Who Needs the War? and 3,000 copies of the fourth issue of Proletarskii Golos. Twenty-four people were arrested at the printshop and in the stores. There have been further arrests among the printers: all in all, major losses whose extent has yet to be clarified.
Thoughts of workers are now revolving round the question of “peace”. Slogans are demanded. We are thinking of putting a resolution out. Reports are demanded. The mood is very uplifted, especially so in Moscow. The “congressites” there have gone into struggle against the police authorities. The Duma in its tactics lags behind the mood of the bourgeoisie. There’s no time to write any more. I must send this off as I’m heaped up with work. I firmly shake your hands.
Revolutionary work among the sailors of the Baltic Fleet was full of heroism. Party activity among sailors had never entirely ceased since the days of the first (1905) revolution. It had been only temporarily retarded by repression and had not disappeared. During the war revolutionary work received a boost. Thanks to the mobilization many proletarian elements and sailors with a revolutionary past had poured into the fleet. Screening crew members in wartime was far more difficult than in peacetime.
The Petersburg Committee maintained the closest links with the fleet’s military organizations. All work on the vessels and among shore-based and fortress companies was carried on by the sailors themselves. It was impossible for an outsider, newcomer or civilian to have a stable existence in the fortified zones of Kronstadt, Viipuri, Tallinn and Turku. The Petersburg Committee had made several attempts to send people to work among the sailors, but was unsuccessful and was therefore compelled to recommend the sailors to build the organizations with their own forces.
The upsurge of the workers’ movement in Petersburg which could be noted in the summer and autumn could not help reflecting itself in the mood of the proletarian elements in the fleet, crushed by the harsh wartime discipline. In the autumn of 1915 a fairly strong social-democratic sailors’ organization took shape. All the biggest vessels and shore companies in Kronstadt, Helsinki, Petersburg and other zones of the Baltic coast were linked up by the “Chief Committee of the Kronstadt Military Organization”.
In spite of the extreme caution and conspiratorial skill shown by party workers in the military organization, their activity soon fell under the surveillance of internal and external Okhrana agents. Shortly after organizing the committees, the party workers themselves, members of our party, conducted a mass campaign of agitation both oral and printed, distributing literature received from the Petersburg Committee. The agitation fell upon highly fertile soil: discontent with the war and the soldiers’ conditions deeply stirred the men between decks. Leaflets and pamphlets were read till they were in shreds and were distributed widely.
The buoyant revolutionary mood among the crews soon overflowed into open indignation. On 19 October the crew of the battleship Hangut expressed their anger at the regime in force aboard the ship, and also at the bad food. The indignant crew seized some of the officers and contacted other vessels, seeking aid. This unorganized outburst of indignation was quickly isolated and quelled. The naval authorities took brutal reprisals against the vessel’s crew. Twenty-six men stood trial and the whole group was transferred to shore work and disbanded. The trial was held on 17 December 1915, passing two death sentences and sentencing another fourteen sailors to hard labour for varying terms. But even such savage repression could not kill the revolutionary spirit in the fleet. “Disorders” of varying proportions occurred aboard many vessels even after the reprisals against the Hangut sailors.
In the December of 1915 the precise contacts between the sailors and the Petersburg Committee were identified by the efforts of the Okhrana. Agents of the gendarmerie were among the sailors joining political circles. The links between the Petersburg Committee and the Kronstadt sailors were “illuminated” by the provocateur V. Shurkanov (the ex-Duma deputy). The Petersburg Committee members who kept the contact, K. Orlov and V. Schmidt, were closely acquainted with V. Shurkanov and frequently arranged venues at his flat. This was the way in which the Okhrana had set itself up throughout almost all the work of the Petersburg Committee’s military organization.
A memorandum by Colonel Globachev to the director of the police department was compiled from information obtained in this way:
Over a recent period the existence has been noted by the special agents of the Department under my charge of a military organization of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party among ratings of the Baltic Fleet operating along the following lines:
Functioning on board every vessel are social-democratic cells that elect their own committees, each vessel’s committee having its representative on the leading committee. The aforementioned cells have arisen quite independently, owing to the existence of favourable soil in the sense of the high degree of development of the ratings and the presence among them of individuals who prior to entry into military service had already become skilled in underground work.
By arranging gatherings ashore in cafés and restaurants, the vessels’ leading committee has directed all 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. Such an agitational approach in the hands of the experienced leaders of the committee has already had some influence upon the mood of the ratings, and according to the secret agents in question there is at the present time on nearly all ships a mood of excitement and extreme nervousness, despite the fact that no other grounds for this exist – all shipboard life is following its normal course.
The ideological leaders of the underground work on the warships have tried in every way to restrain the sailors from sporadic unrest, in order to bring about a situation where a general action could take account of the possibility of an active movement from the part of the working class which might bring crucial influence to bear upon changing the political system; no actions planned for set dates have as yet been found on the people named and all their work is concentrated in the organizational field. Having thus succeeded in creating a favourable mood, the underground are now experiencing difficulties in restraining isolated actions and in this respect the openly expressed discontent which took place in August or September of this year on the battleship Hangut as a result of which one part of the sailors from that vessels were sent to Arkhangelsk and the other part of the sailors court-martialled, made an unfavourable impression upon them.
The cells and committees aboard the vessels arose quite independently without the assistance of the group now functioning in Petrograd which styles itself the “Petersburg Committee” of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party; according to secret reports which have come in, the leading committee of the naval organizations has from its inception sought opportunities to join forces with the already mentioned Petersburg Committee, which in practice it only recently achieved through one of the active leaders of the workers’ movement who was a representative of the Vyborg party district on the “Petersburg Committee”. Having made contact with the military organization, the aforementioned party worker surrendered his mandate for the Vyborg district and is currently sitting on the Petersburg Committee as representative of the military organization. All matters relating to the latter are passed by this party worker via a sailor of the twelfth company of the Kronstadt Naval Support Company, Pisarev, whose exact identity has not yet been established, and from whom the former receives party rendezvous points. On 29 November this year an unknown sailor was despatched by Pisarev to Petrograd to that same representative on the “Petersburg Committee” with a message for a rendezvous signed by “Otradnev”; Pisarev possibly signs himself thus, but another sailor could possibly be concealed behind that name.
At the moment one of the leading military committee’s primary concerns is to make contacts with vessels lying at Helsinki and finding premises in the town of Kronstadt where it is intended to arrange for some woman to meet the sailors in the guise of a laundry-woman. In connection with the above, an assignment was given by the committee for the also as yet unidentified sailor, Brendin, one of the foremost party workers who was going off for six months’ sick leave in Helsinki. He was also given rendezvous points for a member of the “Central Committee” of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, one “Albert” who had settled in Helsinki as clerk in a local dock office.
One of the first manifestations of the activity of the leading committee will be a meeting of sailors in Kronstadt fixed for 6 December.
Steps towards continued secret observation of the military organization have been taken by myself.
Copies of this report have been forwarded with nos. 229 and 230 to the Heads of the Kronstadt and Finland Gendarme Administrations.
I have the honour to report the above to Your Excellency.
Arrests of a considerable proportion of the active members of the groups of sailors leading the military work were carried out on 28 December 1915.
Heading the military organizations as members of its leading centre, called the “Chief Committee of the Kronstadt Organization”, were I.F. Orlov (Kirill), Timofei Ulyantsev, Ivan Sladkov, Nikolai Khovrin, Nikifor Brendin, Mikhail Stakun, Nikolai Pisarev and Vladimir Zaitsev. “Kirill” Orlov maintained the contact with the Petersburg Committee, with right of membership of it.
The Chief Committee’s links with the ship and shore companies were extremely broad. It had its people aboard nearly every warship and on many there were whole groups called “committees”. The arrests on 28 December and subsequently over the same case disrupted the organization’s work in part only. Even the Chief Committee was not arrested in its entirety, for example Vladimir Zaitsev was spared arrest.
The plan of the military organization was well thought out. By dint of the peculiar conditions of military work, democratic and elective principles of representation were somewhat restricted by comparison with normal social-democratic organizations.
Alongside personal contacts between the committees and their centre there also existed coded correspondence. During the arrests part of these agreed formulas fell into the hands of the gendarmes. As all servicemen’s correspondence passed through the hands of the officers, letters were written in a coded form that bore a realistic everyday appearance. The document below, while not exhausting all the complexities of the sailors’ conspiratorial methods, does provide a good illustration of its general lines.
(1) The date indicates from which point to start deciphering.
(2) If it is mentioned that uncle has been round and that we have been over at his place then you are to understand that everything is going brilliantly.
(3) If they write that mum is alive and well, you are to understand that things are going brilliantly everywhere.
(4) If something remarkable happens on one of the ships you must write about the successful events in this way: A brother or sister (mention the ship’s code name) states (underline what he or she has said) that he or she has been at home and that there they cannot endure the shortages and are praying to God for the enemy to be defeated swiftly. That will mean that things are going very well on that ship - if things are going badly, put it round the other way.
(5) If you or we need help then you should write this: dad (put the ship’s code name) wants to buy a foal from the stud (don’t put the price).
(6) If you have things on all ships in order write that there has been a bumper harvest at home and if things have not been too successful write that the spring crop has been poor.
(7) If any ship needs help or literature to be sent, write the ship’s code name and then mention afterwards that you have received a letter from your little brother and he writes that everything at home is sorting itself out and he doesn’t feel any hardship at all.
(8) But if it is very hard to get help, write that dad has bought a foal from the stud.
(9) If things at your end have been tied up all right or those between the army and ourselves, write that you have been out for a walk and had a very nice time but if things haven’t been tied up all right, a very miserable time.
(10) If you have hopes of making new contacts, write that you have hopes of having an even nicer walk.
It was extremely risky to name ships, crews and other units in the letters and therefore the comrades were compelled to resort to code names for all ships and shore establishments. The Chief Committee devised a special code for these names and put it in the charge only of organizers of the committees. The names were sometimes changed.
The whole plan of organization of work in the navy was literally the doing of the navy proletarians themselves. All the military organization lay with the sailors themselves and therein lay the organization’s insuperable strength. The first point, which defines the tasks of the military organization, speaks of its complete subordination to the Petersburg Committee. This point was extremely important as anarchistic tendencies and impulses to hold independent demonstrations and other actions had emerged among sailors, including the proletarian ones; this arose from their isolation from the workers’ movement as a whole. The organization had to counter such phenomena and especially the idea that the navy could “by itself”, independently of the general struggle, lead a victorious revolution.
In December 1915 there was among the organized sailors of the Baltic Fleet a desire to express their attitude towards the celebration of 9 January in some way or other. Certain hotheads proposed to hold a “demonstration”. However, the Petersburg Committee took account of the overall situation and also the lesson of the Hangut and declared itself firmly opposed to political action by sailors and recommended its members not to expose themselves in any way at that stage but just carry on with work of a general nature.
The trial of those arrested on 28 December 1915 was held on 26 October 1916. Petersburg proletarians reacted to it with a political protest strike in which some 130,000 working men and women took part. This trial did not in any degree kill off revolutionary work among the sailors. After the December arrests, work in the navy did not halt. This provided the clearest evidence that it was not sustained by merely the seventeen instigators who were now lying in jail. The military authorities took advantage of these arrests to introduce and reinforce every type of repression, but these measures only provoked the crews yet further.
In the report of the Chief of the Kronstadt Gendarme Administration made on 9 October 1916 on behalf of the Commander of the Rear and the Chief Commandant of the Port of Kronstadt, Colonel Trecak admits that
“after the liquidation on 28 December 1915 of the RSDLP groups which had arisen on the battleships ... and other vessels of the Baltic Fleet at Kronstadt, their criminal activity which had come from the Petrograd Committee to the Baltic Fleet was paralysed but by no means eliminated“.
The memoranda of that same sleuth-in-chief, Trecak, report also that proclamations of the Petersburg Committee were already being distributed around the garrison again in January 1916, i.e. immediately after the arrests, the “liquidation” notwithstanding.
The secret service had established that in February fresh people had already re-started contacts with the Petersburg Committee and literature supply from it. In the month of April Petersburg Committee leaflets devoted to the Putilov works affair and also to May Day turned up among sailors and soldiers.
Through the observations of the external secret service and the “inner light” (provocateurs) it was established that as early as July 1916 the “Chief Committee of the Kronstadt Military Organization” had been reconstituted. Many of the gatherings of organized sailors, and in particular those held in cafés in Kronstadt, were “observed” by the secret service, and the authorities were by August already contemplating new plans for mass arrests and further “liquidations”.
In a secret memorandum dated 2 August 1916, the Chief of the Petrograd Okhrana divulges information obtained from provocateurs to the Chief of the Kronstadt Gendarme Administration, reporting that
“in the Kronstadt Committee, things are set up thoroughly and conspiratorially, and its participants are all silent and prudent people. This committee has its representatives ashore also.”
The following “plan of action” was uncovered by the same internal secret service. When, with the onset of the frosts and shipping movements hampered, there would as a result be plenty of sailors in Kronstadt, they planned to mount an uprising; when they had partly killed and partly arrested the officer corps, they would present a demand for the overthrow of the existing government, a change of the political system and the termination of the war:
“The Petrograd proletariat must support this uprising and to notify it of its commencement, the fleet will, once ridden of its officers, sail from Kronstadt and fire a few salvos towards Petrograd. If severe measures against the workers ensue and the government starts to fire on them, the fleet will raze all Petrograd not leaving a single stone.”
This report, obtained as it was from provocateurs, suffers from gross inaccuracy. The “Chief Committee” of our military organization was mature enough not to adopt such an exclusively conspiratorial plot. This sort of plan could not have found any backing from the Petersburg Committee. There had been talks back in 1915 between party workers about the Baltic Fleet’s possible role in the open revolutionary movement. In these, stress was always laid upon the armed forces’ ancillary role, which although perhaps crucial, would always be subordinated to a workers’ rising. Isolated political action would not have been of any use to the workers’ movement, and it had no proponents in the Petersburg Committee or the Central Committee Bureau.
It further reported that “the Kronstadt Committee of the Military Organization is so confident of its strength and regards its tasks as soundly planned that it does not even desire outside help ...” The report is correct in one thing only: the “Kronstadt Committee” had after the arrests become stronger than in 1915, but it by no means took the line that “it could do everything”.
According to the same information, the Kronstadt Committee was asking only one thing of the Petersburg Committee: to print a leaflet in 100,000 copies and to send them one party worker.
In conformity with an instruction of the Director of the Police Department, Major General Klimovich, a fresh “liquidation” of instigators was carried out with the agreement of the military authorities. On the night of 8–9 September, thirty sailors were searched and seven of them arrested. There were also searches in Petersburg in the quest for the “military group”.
But these arrests did not destroy revolutionary work nor even less “scare” the sailors. Literature was distributed as before and propaganda openly conducted. In the autumn of 1916 the workers’ movement had attained a sweep unheard of in wartime and the proletarians in the forces responded to the summons of their brothers-in-arms.
All these protracted proceedings by the gendarmerie actually evoked a negative reaction from Admirals Viren and Nepenin. They sensed full well that all these arrests, searches and spying were only exciting the mass of the sailors in a revolutionary direction and so frequently refused to authorize such measures. Two months later, the Chief of the Kronstadt Gendarme Administration intervened to press the commandant of the fortress into banishing all unreliable sailors to forward positions or “remote military zones” of the Russian Empire. There was no other solution, for arrests no longer availed.
Notwithstanding the valuable services rendered by the defensist Labour Groups organized under the aegis of the War Industries Committees, the “renewed” government in the autumn of 1916 embarked on a struggle against the Labour Groups which had gone over to a path of revolutionary opposition to the government. In many areas semi-legal “action groups” of the Labour Groups of the War Industries Committees were formed by social-democrat defensists (Mensheviks) and Socialist-Revolutionaries. This rallying of even moderate and patriotically-thinking elements worried the tsarist government.
The “new” Minister of the Interior, Protopopov, launched a general offensive against the Central War Industries Committee and against its Labour Group especially. In a letter addressed to the Chief of the Petrograd Military Region, S.S. Khabalov, Protopopov sought to portray the “Labour Group” as “covert defeatists” trying to exploit their legal status for revolutionary activity.
In conclusion Protopopov recommended that Khabalov adopt appropriate measures against the Labour Groups and reported how the Chief of the Kiev Military Region had solved similar problems most successfully by reorganizing the group arid divesting it of the means to maintain contacts with workers. Khabalov’s attempts to interfere in the activity of the Central War Industries Committee encountered a certain rebuff from the policy-makers of the War Industries Committees, and “reorganization” along Kiev lines was not achieved.
The bourgeois leaders of the War Industries Committees were briefed on all the activity of the Labour Groups and defended them from police incursions. The industrialists defended the activity and inviolability of the Labour Groups not so much because they liked Labour Group members’ faces as out of entirely realistic political calculation. The most moderate elements of workers and patriotically-minded intellectuals were grouped around the “Labour Groups”, namely, those who placed national unity in the name of victory above the principles of class struggle and international solidarity.
By taking advantage of the privileges of legality and the. overt sympathy and patronage of the liberal bourgeoisie, the social-patriots from the Labour Groups sought to monopolize political activity undertaken on behalf of our country’s working class. This was to the bourgeoisie’s benefit, and it accordingly found both a place and representative functions for the groups which spoke its native language of “defence of the homeland and culture”, thereby introducing a split into working-class circles.
The tsar’s government had in the autumn of 1916 successfully repulsed the verbal assaults of the progressive bloc and, capitalizing on the irresolute nature of the State Duma, opened an offensive against “public opinion”. The “public opinion” of the War Industries Committees centred around the Labour Group of the Central War Industries Committee, and Protopopov in consequence struck his first blow in that direction. The provocateur activity of Abrosimov and others assisted him in his campaign.
In the middle of December, a conference of local Labour Groups of War Industries Committees was held. The conference was run under the direct leadership of the Mensheviks’ central organization, the Organization Committee, one of whose members, Batursky, took part in the preparatory work for the conference. From material from Okhrana files and reports published by the group itself it is clear how far removed the defensists’ policy was from the actual revolutionary struggle of the working class. On the basic question of the attitude to the war, the social-patriots continued to see “our task of the defence of the country as one of the principal means to achieve the liquidation of the war on conditions acceptable to democracy”.
At the end of November news arrived that the Central Powers were prepared to conclude a peace and therefore our defensists considered it obligatory to meddle in that diplomatic game and declare that “the international proletariat must actively intervene in the wheeling and dealing over the liberty and dignity of the peoples now in progress behind their backs”. While advancing such a standpoint for the “international proletariat” the defensists spoke in other terms to its own country: “The position of the Russian proletariat, confronted as it is with the danger of the military rout of the country, is highly complex as a result of the necessity for combining practically the realization of our international tasks of a struggle against the conquering ambitions of the possessing classes with a struggle for the destruction of the political regime that has brought the country to catastrophe.” The conference demanded but one thing of the bourgeois Konovalovs and the tsarist government: “definitive statements on the aims of the war and the terms for peace”.
The general leftward shift in the country and the intensifying strike and political movement of the working class compelled even the defensists to alter their tactic of rejecting struggle. The conference of 13–15 December was, in its resolution on “the political tasks of the working class”, driven to make the reservation that “the working class will not renounce ... the slogans behind which it has marched towards Russia’s total de-feudalization for eleven years.” However there immediately followed another reservation and a dilution of the very slogans behind which the proletariat had fought in 1905. The immediate task of the hour was considered by the defensists to be “the final removal of the existing regime and the formation in its place of a provisional government resting for support upon the freely and independently organized people”. Behind this verbal window-dressing there lay concealed not a revolutionary content but merely a play upon the slogan they had given in November: the formation by the State Duma of a government of national salvation. The defensists were pinning their hopes on the State Duma becoming the “centre of an all-national movement”. The burning desire of the defensists to adapt to the slogans and demands of liberal bourgeoisie showed clearly through all their key resolutions.
However, the change of tactics did force the Labour Groups to take an illegal path as well. Thanks to provocations, the government was well informed on all the activities of the Labour Group and took steps to “neutralize” it. The unpopularity of its members among workers together with the latter’s negative attitude to the policy of “War Industries socialism” eased Protopopov’s task. He was confident, and Okhrana briefings confirmed if, that the liquidation of the Labour Groups would call forth no protests from the working masses, who had refused to follow them; he therefore took measures for their arrest.
The all-Russian centre directing day-to-day social-democratic work had been organized by myself on the assignment of our party’s Central Committee as early as my trip to Russia from abroad in the autumn of 1915. But one year later there remained of the comrades who had launched the work on an all-Russian scale only isolated individuals, and in 1916 I again had to select comrades for running the technical side of the work of the Central Committee Bureau. This time the job of drawing in collaborators was accomplished far more rapidly. The choice of party workers was much wider than in the previous year. There was no longer that odd Chernomazov-Starck rivalry to establish contacts from the Petersburg Committee as there had been during the first period of organizing the Central Committee Bureau. With the agreement of the leading party workers on the Petersburg Committee (comrades Zalezhsky, Shutko, Antipov, Evdokirnov and others), we were able to bring comrades Zalutsky and Molotov into this leading centre.
Sometimes, though not often, representatives of the Petersburg Committee and organizers from the Insurance Council (workers’ group) attended our meetings. We have not been able to preserve the minutes of our work. Nor has much of the material relating to the practical work of that time survived. We would meet at different ends of Petersburg. Often business was decided in the deserted streets of Lesny district, the three of us “going for a stroll” in the dark evenings.
Among my papers I have kept half a sheet of paper with the agenda and decisions of one such meeting of the Central Committee Bureau. Judging by the nature of the resolutions this “protocol” relates to November 1916. The following items were placed on the agenda:
The Central Committee Bureau would assemble not less than once a week. Brief encounters and meetings were far more frequent. At our meetings matters not only of a Russian nature were discussed but also international questions and the work of the foreign section of our Central Committee. At the request of the editorial board of the central organ Sotsial-Demokrat and a group of party literary workers, the exiles G. Pyatakov, N. Bukharin and others, the Bureau examined the questions of the differences on the national question which had arisen abroad and carried the following resolution:
Having listened to comrade Belenin’s statement concerning the differences among the collaborators on the party press over particular points in the party’s programme and tactics, the Central Committee Bureau deems it essential to bring the following to the attention of the central organ’s editorial board abroad:
(1) the Central Committee Bureau in Russia, in stating its full solidarity with the Central Committee’s basic line as carried in the central organ, Sotsial-Demokrat, expresses its wish that all Central Committee publications be edited in a strictly consistent fashion in complete compliance with the line of the Central Committee adopted from the start of the war.
(2) The Bureau declares itself against the conversion of Central Committee organs into discussion papers.
(3) The Bureau finds that the divergences between contributors and the editorial board of the central organ on particular questions of the minimum programme must not form an obstacle to the participation of these individuals in the Central Committee’s publications and it proposes that the editorial board of the central organ accept their collaboration on other questions standing outside the area of disagreement.
(4) The Bureau proposes that in order to clarify and eliminate the differences, private publishers should be used both inside Russia and abroad to issue special collections of discussion articles.
We were confronted with the problem of the “unifiers”, who were righting against the factional situation prevalent in Russian social democracy. In the first year of the war, an article was issued illegally by them, handwritten and hectographed, giving historical data on the splits in the parties of other countries. On the basis of this “fight for unity” within the party there appeared a new political organization of social democrats which assumed the title of the Inter-District Committee. This organization was born in 1913 and had a certain link with the “Central Group” created in the same year to rebuild the Petersburg Committee after the ravages of 1912 and early 1913.
During the war period, cries for unity had abated considerably as mechanical unity found no acceptance in party ranks. In the years which had elapsed since the split in the Duma faction, the existence of the two parties had become so firmly established that there remained little of the simple desire for “unity at any price”. In the process of the political struggle the Menshevik social democrats had turned into an adjunct of “public opinion” and sunk to the depth of adapting working-class politics to the requirements of the liberal bourgeoisie. The war had exposed all these features of Menshevism particularly sharply.
The “unifiers” from the Inter-District Committee became a third faction. In the sphere of policy they fully accepted our attitude to the war, even including civil war, and the tasks of the working class in it. This did not prevent them however from dreaming of unity with those against whom they, daily and hourly, conducted agitation and from whom they in every way sought to dissociate themselves. Such an attitude by “non-factional” social democrats presented the worst form of factionalism and lacked even a shadow of principle.
By making use of old acquaintances, the Inter-District Committee was in 1916 attempting to gather comrades under the flag of unity, but this was now out of fashion. The resolution, accompanied as it was by a note on unity, was so vacuous that it did not really require refutation. The Inter-District’s itch for unity finally ended up with the Committee speaking simultaneously for Bolsheviks and Mensheviks in its proclamations.
The existence of separate parties with seemingly “identical” programmes was considered by some unifier comrades to be the caprice of individual figures and a manifestation of “impatience”, sectarianism and so forth. The enthusiasts for “unity” had overlooked the most important point about the history of the workers’ movement in our country, namely, that a section of social-democratic party workers had come forward and although formally recognizing the programme and tactics of “international social democracy” were in essence alien to its revolutionary content. Russian social democracy
could now observe the emergence of a purely “liberal workers’ party” from its own depths and under the cloak of its own programme. With each day that passed, the war demonstrated the rightness of this view. When discussing the work and proposals of the “unifiers” we did not conceal our negative attitude to “blind unity”. But soon even the unifiers began to restrict the circles of social democrats they considered worth unifying with. During the war they proposed to unite just the “internationalists”. To that we replied: “Let us get to work and our activity will unite better than any resolutions.”
The food crisis took the form of a rapid rise in the prices of basic necessities, the periodic disappearance of goods from the market and a swing towards doing business by “knowing the right people”, i.e. under-the-counter dealing, and had assumed major proportions by the third year of the war. The proletarian masses of the industrial regions felt this crisis especially harshly. Unrest and strikes over the high cost of living had started in 1915. In 1916 looting of markets occurred in Petersburg. The burden of the food crisis struck above all at working women and workers’ wives and mothers who were forced with extremely limited resources to find ways and means of wheedling out hoarded products and became the first to join the fight against emergent speculation.
Sensing a threat from the hungry masses, the Russian bourgeoisie also started a “struggle” against the food crisis. The industrialists grouped together in the Association of Factory and Plant Owners were the first to feel the effects of the troubles in food supply and distribution: workers were starting to table pay claims. The factory and plant owners decided to take advantage of the crisis to intensify the exploitation of the workers by organizing supplies through the plants.
From the very first days of the war, the government had been compelled to adopt a line of intervention and price control. Price control applied however chiefly to small traders. Wholesale merchants and big stores were under no restriction and therefore the controls frequently led simply to the disappearance of items from small shops.
All the patriotic landowners stood out against the regulation of grain prices. The tsarist government passed the business of supplying cereal products directly into the hands of the landowners themselves or their agents. The landowners were hardly likely to object to that, and through various bodies (in particular, the congress of food supply commissioners’ delegates held in 1916) set exceedingly high minimum prices for grain products. This policy of minimum prices greatly assisted profiteering and prompted grain producers to hoard grain in anticipation of yet higher prices to come.
Provincial governors were also brought into the struggle against the food crisis and special commissioners were appointed. The divergence of interest between the different groups of exploiters in the business of supplying food to the populace and army, and the industrialists’ struggle against the landowners and their minimum prices, led every governor and provincial commissioner to ban the export of grain from his province, yet without any overall plan. Very often the industrial centres found themselves short of the most essential items. We received reports from workers like the one below:
In Bryansk county, Orel province, there is no rye flour, salt, paraffin or sugar. In Bryansk a pound of sugar costs from one to one ruble fifty. Discontent is rife and more than once there have been strikes in the factories and plants with the demand for “flour and sugar”. There is in Bryansk county a village called Star, where there is in the village a factory making glass products which belongs to the Maltsov company and is engaged on war contracts. Workers there struck on 8 October because they had not eaten bread for two weeks, having only potatoes: they selected two spokesmen and sent them to the factory manager with a demand for flour and sugar (for the company had undertaken to procure the items at pre-war prices as it kept wages also at peacetime levels). The manager could not give an answer but just made promises. But the following day the two spokesmen were arrested as unreliable elements and held under emergency regulations; two days later the workers went back but still did not get the bread. There is no organization at the factory.
Lyudinovo village, Zhizdra county, Kaluga province. There is an engineering and mining works in the village belonging to the Maltsov company. There are some 5,000 workers at the plant and a social-democratic organization. The organization consists of twenty people but it has no contacts or literature. The plant works for the defence industry. On the occasion of a shortage of food products and because of the high prices, the workers in September went on strike demanding a rise of 75 per cent. The strike lasted two days; they settled at 50 per cent. In October (during the last two days) an acute shortage of flour and sugar was experienced there as well. Flour had reached five rubles a pood. The workers struck again, putting forward the demand “bread and sugar” and pay rises from 25 per cent to 100 per cent, depending on the particular worker’s rate. They were out for a day and a half. Flour was obtained and ten pounds each was distributed together with a pound and a half of sugar, and wages were increased by up to 75 per cent. From 13 to 16 November I stayed in the town of Zhizdra, Kaluga province. There was an acute shortage of domestic items; at all times there was no flour, sugar or paraffin at all. No commodities other than hay were being brought in from the villages. I then travelled round the villages: grumbling, discontent and a vague apprehension all around.
While the prices of the means of subsistence were relentlessly rising, the wages of the majority of workers lagged far behind the cost of living. In many sectors of industry male adult labour was being supplanted by cheap female and child labour. The employers succeeded in splitting along grade lines, separating off the highly skilled, paying good money on certain machines while keeping the remaining mass on low rates. Thus, even at the beginning of 1916 for example, milling-machine operators, turners, fitters and pattern-makers were earning from five to ten rubles while labourers were on average receiving fifteen kopeks an hour. This did not however stop the patriotic bourgeoisie, which had prospered from the war, moaning about the excessively high pay for workers and their mood for exorbitant “unpatriotic” demands and so on.
The liberal bourgeoisie, organized in the Union of Zemstvos and the Union of Towns, under pressure from the mounting movement in the country against high prices, formed a special body in Moscow for watching over the food question, with the title of “Central Public Organizations’ Food Committee”. The institution was soon to become the focus of the “civic struggle” against the food breakdown. The whole struggle of these organizations and their centre consisted of correcting the defects of tsarist food policy and finding a line that would reconcile the industrialists and landowners at the expense, of course, of the mass consumers.
The same two political lines which had hitherto existed among the mass of workers conflicted also over the question of the struggle against the food crisis: that of proletarian revolutionary social democracy (communism) and that of the liberal opportunism pursued by defensists of every tendency. All the social-patriotic defensist elements of social democracy (the Mensheviks) and the Socialist-Revolutionaries formed their centre for the “struggle against the food crisis” under the aegis of the War Industries Committees. In February 1916 at the Second Congress of Representatives of the War Industries Committees a special food section was formed.
Our liberal politicians evaded the fundamental cause of both the food supply crisis and the high cost of living as well as the material hardships of the working class arising from it, namely, the war. This was not through ignorance or immaturity on the part of the Labour Group representatives. This evasion of the fundamental cause of all the people’s ills was the nub of the defensists’ politics. Even the “war industries socialists” could not help understanding this: once having accepted the war, they had to carry their betrayal of the working class through to the end. and endeavour to conceal all the consequences of the war.
The bourgeoisie took advantage of the “labour representatives” to divert the proletarian struggle into all sorts of hollow trivialities like co-operatives, public canteens and other such half-measures. The factory and plant owners would gladly meet workers’ wishes halfway when it was a matter of organizing canteens inside the factories and plants.
The Labour Group of the Central War Industries Committee sent a delegation to the Petersburg City Duma to try and impress on the Petersburg Fathers of Speculation the need to organize public canteens for the capital’s working population. After rather a long period of waiting the City Duma allotted 250,000 rubles to the city guardians of the poor for the organization of public canteens. With this money it was proposed to open some nine canteens with a daily capacity of 8,000 people. That was what the city’s “aid” in the fight against the food supply breakdown was limited to.
Differences between the War Industries socialists and the War Industries capitalists then arose over the question of the organization of the canteens. In September 1916 the Labour Group convened a conference of representatives of hospital funds and certain cooperatives representing defensist elements grouped around those institutions.
As a result of this conference, a “Canteen Centre” was created, consisting of fifteen representatives (the Provisional Central Workers’ Commission for the Organization of Workers’ Canteens). Agitation for the opening of canteens was conducted around Petersburg’s factories and plants. The most “astute” and forward-looking manufacturers and plant-owners quickly came forward to meet these demands, as they had an interest in forestalling claims for higher wages, and provided funds to rent premises and equip the canteens. The “movement” undertaken by the defensists in favour of democratizing the guardianship of the poor and organizing “self-managing” canteens effectively resulted in feeding only an insignificant number of workers employed in the Petersburg war industries.
Our underground organizations produced their own assessment of both the food supply crisis and the campaign to fight the food crisis conducted by the bourgeoisie and the representatives of the liberals in the workers’ movement. Our party’s Petersburg Committee proposed the following motion to the district and plant committees on the subject of fighting the food crisis:
We, workers of the ..... works, having discussed the question of the sharpening food crisis, recognize that:
(1) the food crisis observable in all countries is an inevitable consequence of the current war which has latterly acquired the character of a war of attrition;
(2) the continuance of the war will entail a deepening of the food crisis, famine, poverty and the degeneration of the mass of the people;
(3) in Russia the food crisis is complicated by the continued rule of the tsarist monarchy which places the country’s whole economy in a state of complete dislocation, surrendering it to the whim of rapacious capital and ruthlessly suppressing any initiative by the mass of the people;
(4) all piecemeal means of fighting the food crisis (e.g. co-operatives, wage rises, canteens etc.) can only marginally mitigate the effects of the crisis and not eliminate the causes;
(5) the only effective means of struggle against the crisis is a struggle against the causes producing it, i.e. a struggle against the war and the ruling classes which plotted it; in taking all this into account, we call upon the Russian working class and all democrats to take the road of a revolutionary struggle against the tsarist monarchy and the ruling classes behind the slogan of “Down with the war!”
This motion was adopted at general works meetings in many major enterprises. The assessment of the struggle and likewise the causes of the current food crisis were given out by our various organizations in the form of special sets of study notes, theses or abridged articles, and distributed around works committees as guidelines for their work. A characteristic feature of all the articles and documents was the theme of “broad democratism” in the organization of provisioning the urban population. The Association of Factory and Plant Owners, having a vested interest in stable wage-rates, declared itself in favour of dividing workers by making special food supply arrangements for certain categories. Nor was the government opposed to such an approach, and partly implemented similar measures in state-owned plants. The remainder of the population was thus incited against these workers. A split between “private” and “state” industry would even penetrate within a single proletarian family. Workers sensed this danger and reacted negatively. Their origin aroused the proletarians’ class caution.
All energies of the Unions of Zemstvos and Towns and the co-operatives were directed towards the struggle against the food crisis; but all their efforts proved fruitless. Bread increasingly often disappeared from sale. Many basic necessities had entirely left the “open market”, moving voluntarily over to the “under-the-counter” sector.
The working population suffered great hardships. Unrest over the shortage of food products rolled across from one city district to another, embracing ever wider circles of working women, workers’ wives and housewives. Quite often unrest took on a turbulent nature like the looting of shops and the beating-up of traders, police and others, but it was still powerless to bring down prices or reduce the scale of the mounting speculation. The tsarist government and bourgeois organizations could not and would not fight the predatory interests of merchant capital and the landowners, industrialists and grain buyers-up. All of this eased our underground work of explaining the causes of the approaching famine. In our fight against the food crisis we concentrated workers’ attention on the fundamental cause – the war – and called workers to an organized struggle against the war and our country’s ruling classes.
The question of the state of food supply was put down for discussion in the Duma for the end of November, on the 24th. The acting head of the Ministry of Agriculture, Rittich, spoke on behalf of the “renewed” government. In his speech he expressed his readiness to work with the Duma, and stated that because of his short period in office he was unable to give a reply concerning the government’s programme. At the same time, Rittich made a typical reservation:
“I consider that only measures of a gradual evolutionary nature are possible in the complex sphere of economic relations. I reject any abrupt break.”
Many speakers came forward on questions of food policy. At this sitting too, the leading role fell to the Cadets, whose representative, Shingarev, delivered a most instructive speech. He pointed to the symptomatic emptiness on the government bench and compared this with the emptiness within the Council of Ministers itself, where “neither knowledge, plan nor system” could be located.
“During the war four ministers of agriculture and six ministers of the interior had succeeded one another, with the result that none of them knew what to do or what his predecessor had done.”
He went on to give the example of the announcement of a recruitment campaign timed for 15 July, at the very height of the grain harvest. It had only been with enormous effort that Duma members managed in a special sitting to obtain the repeal of the order. Because of this mix-up “the harvest in a whole number of areas had to he brought in by non-Russian manpower”. And even then the government did not fail to create a shambles:
Stürmer’s telegram arrives in both Turkestan and the Kirghiz regions and conscription of non-Russians begins during working hours. Result: grave and substantial disorder in those districts and consequent loss of manpower for the farms. Minister Naumov managed with some difficulty in putting prisoner-of-war labour to use; but here too the government swiftly disrupted the plan by insisting that prisoners-of-war be taken off farm work. The same Naumov now tackles the question of fixed prices and then Naumov resigns. The United Nobility candidate, Count A.A. Bobrinsky, who succeeds him, becomes gradually convinced of the need to set fixed prices and, after a titanic struggle, fixed prices are passed at a special conference. A procurement organization is only just off the ground when all of a sudden Count Bobrinsky has the bright idea that the fixed prices perhaps after all should be revised. A new Minister of the Interior appears on the scene [he is referring to Protopopov – A.S.] and a curious stage fight starts up between him and Count Bobrinsky. Count Bobrinsky really wants to give up his job [i.e. to hand food matters from the Ministry of Agriculture over to the Ministry of the Interior – A.S.] and it was only his own organization, his own ministry and a majority on the Council of Ministers which, confronted by Protopopov’s rising star, denied him the chance of winding up his business ... Protopopov dreams of pulling the banks into the procurement organization and would like to approach provincial governors while Bobrinsky puts on a show of fighting Protopopov!
Shingarev then passed on to describe the attempts made to hold a special conference on food supply; but Stürmer overshadowed the conference and pushed through “his own policy”. Meanwhile the Ministry of Agriculture was putting a plan together for a food supply organization with the involvement of local interests. The plan was published in the form of a mandatory regulation in a bulletin of statutes and government orders. A few days later, however, Count Bobrinsky, terrified that Protopopov would organize a revolution with the aid of the county and rural committees, demanded in a secret circular in the form of a coded telegram that the operation of the organization’s rules newly promulgated by the senate be everywhere rescinded.
According to Shingarev’s statement, in Russia grain surplus to demand amounted to 440 million poods.
“But,” he asked, “what if the country is caught in the grip of a crop failure? What if earlier chaos and that earlier worthless piece of business that Mr Prime Minister has been calling upon us to undertake, remains as before? What then? Isn’t it abundantly clear that our main practical piece of business is the removal of an administration that is unable to work?”
Thus the Cadets once again posed the question of “businesslike” administration, stressing that the government was “incapable” of working in a way necessary and beneficial to the liberal industrial bourgeoisie. Touching on the question of the war, Shingarev declared that
“it must be carried through to the end whatever the price ... The government at war is living off your resolve, for you have many times eschewed faintheartedness, government incompetence and, at times, even treacherous thoughts. It is precisely the Duma that has formed a focus for the people’s thoughts and the people’s will which despite worthless bureaucrats will continue to wage the war and wage it unto the end.”
Passing on to the question of feeding the civilian population and army, Shingarev stated that “the moment has come to tell the people from this seat: the state demands your grain but it will give away that grain as it has given away its children.” It is self-evident that this matter was a direct obligation of the Duma for, in the Cadets’ opinion, it had the “moral authority”. The food policy had been conceived by them as a policy for fixed prices and a state trading monopoly:
“Fixed prices are but the beginning of an enormous duty to the state. A grain monopoly may have to be introduced after the example of France and Germany. One thing we do know: an organized country is invincible but a disorganized country is powerless to deal with even its own bureaucrats.”
Shingarev described Russia’s domestic and external situation, drawing a historical parallel between Russia’s position and the state of France at the end of the eighteenth century.
“Are those not our own days, is not that our chaos, is not that our crazy blind administration, are not those our own domestic problems, are not those our own failures in the fight against the external foe, are not those our own ominous, evil rumours of betrayal?”
So this Cadet leader had now to spell out that, there being “no other way out, the abolition of this regime, the dispersal of that rabble and replacement of that worthless administration” was indispensable.
The debate on the food question lasted several days, but all the representatives of the various parties who spoke only reiterated Shingarev’s basic thoughts. Among the socialist speakers was Tulyakov, who maintained:
The food crisis is essentially a political crisis, and although it has been previously possible to allay the catastrophe at hand by mutual concessions by the government and society, swift and decisive action is now vital. The old regime has arrived too late with its concessions and the road to bread is now only possible over the head of the old regime and the government embodying it. The food crisis is insoluble not because the administration is without talent, lazy and dissolute, but because an administration that in normal times sees the source of its well-being in the enslavement of the mass of the people has at the height of the food crisis been handed over to landowners who dream of turning Russia into a nobleman’s estate. The working class will gain nothing by handing over food matters to local authorities as local government organs are in their present form alien and inimical to the population.
On the model of all opportunists as well as all defensists, the representative of Chkheidze’s faction diplomatically avoided the fundamental question of the food crisis, the war. Nor did Rusanov, speaking for the Narodniks (Socialist-Revolutionaries) utter a single word about the root cause of the food supply breakdown. Both the social-democrats (Chkheidze’s faction) and the Narodniks on the food question were acting as “outriders” to the progressive bloc, thus in no way reflecting the views of our country’s revolutionary proletariat. The debates ended on 5 December. In the end, the motion of the progressive bloc was adopted (114 votes for, with 17 against and 87 abstentions), which contained a series of political details and put forward the need to establish a fixed price system, the involvement of local bodies in the apportionment of food products and the withdrawal of the government from such administration, a firm and systematic state and public regulation of the prices and production of principal industrial products of mass consumption, the drafting of a plan for 1917, a census and classification of the workforce and so on. The implementation of such measures would be dependent on “co-operation between the government and public bodies”. Both sides had been striving for this lovers’ pact.
The campaign by the organized bourgeoisie against the tsarist government demonstrated to the broadest and even the most backward circles of workers that “parliamentary” methods of toppling tsarist autocracy would not achieve their objectives. The stronghold of tsarism was not rocking before the speeches of representatives of the progressive bloc, Narodniks and Mensheviks. The government replied by steering a rightward course and, in full understanding of the true soul of Russian liberalism, felt confident that it would find a way to a working agreement.
In response to all the fearful “formulas for the transition to urgent tasks” adopted by the State Duma, the State Council and even the Congress of the United Nobility, the tsar bestowed honours upon Metropolitan Pitirim, General Voeikov and others. The court camarilla sustained one victory after another, sowing disintegration in the ranks of the aristocratic world associated with the struggle in the Duma and public organizations.
The widespread illegal literature carrying speeches in the Duma and the State Council, letters from leading liberal figures and resolutions from all sorts of congresses all exercised a decomposing effect upon the foundations of the tsar’s throne. During the autumn of 1916 the tsarist monarchy had lost even the small credit that, backed up by the Press, police and Church, it had formerly held among backward superstitious sectors of the population. All these reports, rumours, speeches, appeals and so forth made a profound impression on the war-weary representatives of the countryside now dressed in grey greatcoats. We were by now receiving vague tales of how Duma deputies’ speeches about traitors and turncoats within the court and the government were making a big impact on the mass of the soldiers. In those speeches and the accompanying talk about the corruption of the tsarist government the mass of soldiers were able to find some explanation for the army’s monstrous defeats. Persistent rumours circulating round Petersburg at the end of 1916 had it that on the northern front soldiers of several regiments had refused to go over to the offensive as they suspected that their offensive and the entire military operation would be betrayed by the traitors inside the government. At the time it was not possible to verify the rumours but subsequently, during the revolution, the incidents were confirmed by members of the command themselves.
The objective growth of revolutionary moods and with it the crystallization in the country of a struggle against the tsarist government, the rise of the strike movement and revolutionary flare-ups posed before us as leaders of social-democratic work in Russia (the Central Committee Bureau and the Petersburg Committee) the question of mass street demonstrations. Sporadic disparate actions, strikes in individual enterprises or even individual working-class districts were not achieving the political objectives for which they had been launched, and were satisfying neither the masses in the party nor broader circles of non-party working masses. The rising class struggle now required new, more decisive methods than strikes. Our conviction at that time was that a suitable method of struggle would be on the streets. Our aim to translate the struggle from the confines of the workplace and bring it out on to the streets in the form of demonstrations beyond the bounds of the working class met with the liveliest response among workers. We had envisaged demonstrations also as the only means of attracting the wider mass of soldiers into political struggle. From November onwards, we discussed concrete forms of such action with representatives of the Petersburg Committee. The round-up of our party workers which began in November had not hindered wide discussion of our tactic of street demonstrations.
During wartime, or, more exactly, ever since the July days of 1914, the Petersburg proletariat had not tested out its strength in street demonstrations. Party organizations had, moreover, lost the habit of preparing such actions, although the tradition of a “procession into the city”, to the Nevsky Prospekt, was re-awakened among the mass of workers during nearly every strike.
When considering this question, the Central Committee Bureau took stock of the changed situation from the “peaceful era” of 1914 and was well aware that calls for street demonstrations would invariably finish up with fighting and bloody clashes. The Petersburg Committee, with party workers like K.I. Shutko, G. Evdokimov, V. Schmidt, N. Antipov, N. Tolmachev and others, appreciated the responsibility entailed in embarking on such tactics and decided to undertake preparatory work in that direction, timing street demonstrations for the traditional 9 January celebrations. The directive to prepare for street demonstrations was also given to Moscow, and it was proposed that I travel there to co-ordinate the tactical details of the change-over to street demonstrations throughout the Moscow industrial belt.
The loss of the “machinery” (i.e. the underground printshop) put the Petersburg Committee in an extremely difficult position. In December we had to prepare the leaflets for 9 January. Copy was collected for the fourth issue of Proletarskii Golos, but there was no chance of it being printed by the Petersburg Committee. Solving this problem and in particular the business of printing Proletarskii Golos no. 4 was undertaken by comrade Antipov, who had been in charge of organizing the Petersburg Committee’s “machinery”. Comrade Antipov came to an arrangement with some printers in the party and placed his own man at Altschuler’s press with the object of using it for the Petersburg Committee’s illegal requirements. The publication of the fourth issue of Proletarskii Golos in December was one of the Petersburg Committee’s major jobs in preparation for the January demonstrations.
Under the leadership of comrade Antipov, our printers evolved a plan for using Altshculer’s printing press. “Our man” working at the printshop would work out all the operating procedures, study the layout of the premises and all the peculiarities of the shop. Antipov picked twelve or thirteen bold and determined printers from each trade and on the night of 17 December they carried out an armed seizure of the printshop. Having gained control of the press, the printer comrades locked up the night shift working there and with their own resources set up and rolled off several thousand copies of Proletarskii Golos, fourth issue. The first stage of the operation succeeded brilliantly but the ending was unfortunate. People bringing the papers out were arrested at the exit. But some were able to get the literature to the rendezvous point, though further arrests were made on the spot.
At first we had imagined that the fiasco had come about through a random raid by the police who were on the alert throughout the district following Rasputin’s assassination. However, the whole series of losses that ensued as well as the hunches of Antipov and others inclined us towards the theory of a betrayal. A number of incriminating facts confirmed these suspicions and also afforded opportunities to pinpoint the person concerned. Suspicion fell upon the printer, Mikhailov (alias Vanya the printer), to be confirmed later by documents after the February revolution.
I had planned my trip to Moscow for 16 December and for greater security I devoted days on end to erasing all traces of the intensive surveillance placed on myself. I succeeded in breaking free and found my way to the train with a valid ticket quite unnoticed. I was in Moscow the next day. I had a reliable refuge in Moscow at R.V. Obolensky’s flat in Teply Pereulok, which very usefully had two entrances. The sleuths of Moscow did not know me, so things were considerably easier for me there. I made contact with the party organization through P.G. Smidovich, V.P. Nogin, I.I. Skvortsev, M.S. Olminsky and a number of other comrades whose names I do not recall. I had a meeting with a whole number of “rank-and-file” party workers in the Zamoskvorechie district, and went to a rendezvous at the College of Commerce. I established complete solidarity with the Moscow comrades on all the problems of intensifying street demonstrations. Moscow party workers (the Moscow Regional Bureau of the Central Committee) had also decided to carry out their first trial of street demonstrations on 9 January 1917. Workers in the industrial districts were being prepared for these demonstrations and it was decided to run off a leaflet.
The mood of Moscow workers and of the “democratic” circles of the population was akin to that of Petersburg. My visit to Moscow coincided with Rasputin’s assassination and Moscow newspapers, which on this question proved to be free of censorship, were full of relish for this palace “mystery”. They attempted to turn the murder of that devout debauchee into a most colossal political event, if not the forerunner of a palace coup. This zeal of the bourgeois papers did bring certain benefits by discrediting the tsarist bigwigs, and dealt a final blow to the “divine” provenance of the tsar’s power. Alongside newspaper sensations about Rasputin a great wave of rumours about the inside life of the court, which outdid all “the secrets of the court of Madrid”, swept through the newspapers.
At the end of 1916 party work in Moscow itself was taking shape in a very characteristic way: social-democratic work was carried out in nearly all working-class districts but all efforts by Moscow comrades to unify work on a city-wide scale were wrecked by provocational activity which had woven a sturdy nest inside the organization. Owing to these provocations and the intensive internal and external surveillance by the gendarmerie, we could not fully use some very long-established and important party workers who were living in Moscow at that time. And on account of shortage of funds, the Central Committee Bureau was unable to utilize the available forces of the Moscow party intelligentsia to reinforce other districts. We could use a number of comrades from time to time only, despite the crying need for party workers at the centre and in the localities.
Lack of financial resources greatly constrained the activity of the Central Committee Bureau. Contributions from the organizations were extremely modest. What was left of the money I had raised from the material on the pogroms that I had sold in America had quickly dried up. The huge job of securing material resources fell to myself on top of all the other work. The high cost of living weighed heavily on our operations. The necessity of setting up “machinery” for the Central Committee Bureau, organizing regular tours of the organizations and the conference of party organization that we had proposed, in short, the whole plan of work we had mapped out, at once confronted us with a need for substantial funds. The Bureau’s treasury was in no position to meet these requirements. To defray our outgoings we had recourse to a number of measures like a proposed 10 per cent regular levy on contributions from local organizations, sale of postcards and portraits of the convicted deputies and also collections around “former” social-democratic figures. In this field we were rendered important services by A.M. Gorky and I.I. Ladyzhnikov who came to our aid. However, all our efforts to obtain financial support from “former” social democrats – people by then occupying key posts in capitalist undertakings and public organizations or working as technicians and managers with leading firms and earning tens of thousands of rubles – suffered failure. I personally sent people out to see some of these gentlemen (who are today “comrades” and members of our Russian Communist Party) and sounded out the ground, but without success. Once, when discussing the problems of our financial policy, A.M. Gorky defined these “has-beens” most aptly: “They’d sooner pay you for a binge at the Cuba than for underground work.” And how right he was. Very few responded to our appeal, and they were comrades with unimportant positions in “society” at that time. The Central Committee Bureau also imposed an obligation on Moscow comrades to find resources for strengthening all-Russian work, but financial matters were not too brilliant there either. This lack of means inhibited our work in the extreme. Relations with abroad and the transport of literature consignments required ample resources. Organization of political action throughout Russia likewise required a great deal of money, but as we did not have it, all contacts with the provinces took place spasmodically.
We assumed that if we concentrated our work of organizing demonstrations in Petersburg, Moscow and Ivanovo-Voznesensk, our tactic would in various ways and through direct contact between Petersburg and Moscow workers and workers from other areas become generally familiar and be adopted by advanced proletarians from factories in all the other industrial regions.
Political surveillance and provocation during the war acquired a scale unknown in the period of “peace”. Governments and army General Staffs of all the belligerent and neutral countries sought to exploit the political activity of parties and the revolutionary workers’ movement to the advantage of one or other bloc of warring world powers. Politicians and strategists of the belligerent countries did not shun any methods in their aim to weaken their adversaries. Speculation on unrest, strikes and even revolution and the overthrow of monarchies and tsarism formed part of the strategic and military plans of many belligerent countries.
International military and police surveillance and provocation gave us Bolsheviks no respite even while abroad. Our anti-war slogans and anti-tsarist revolutionary activity could not avoid attracting the attention of the governments of those countries at war with Russia and the Entente. German imperialism was the first to reckon on the possibility of using our revolutionary anti-war work in Russia for its own ends. We had foreseen such intentions. The collapse and betrayal of the social-democratic parties of the Second International made schemes for espionage and political adventuring easier for governments and their General Staffs. The militaristic designs of the German and Austrian imperialists did not, however, trouble us, but merely obliged us to be cautious even when abroad not to fall into the clutches of the secret services. Already in the first months of the war there had been attempts by the Austro-German secret services to infiltrate our ranks. But the first agents of the imperialists were “social democrats”. We were familiar with the desire of Parvus, a German social-patriot and businessman, to “assist” our revolutionary work. But the least hint of such things would be sufficient for our comrades abroad to break off all relations with anyone who had any links with Parvus or other such gentlemen.
I was personally to stumble upon a number of attempts by the secret service to move among us, give us assistance and obtain “information”. The first “top-grade” agent whom I had any dealings with was Troelstra, the Dutch socialist and a leader of the Second International, who in October 1914 had travelled to Sweden as an emissary of the Central Committee of German social democracy. It was from him that I, having just arrived from Petersburg, first heard the statement that the Central Committee of German social democracy was backing its government’s war because of the dangers of tsarism and that the Central Committee of German social democracy was also prepared to give us help in our struggle. Troelstra was (or at least appeared to be) quite taken aback by my refusal of the offer and my annoyance at the idea of our struggle being backed up with sixteen-inch shells, and he asked me to convey my views on the Central Committee’s proposal to him in writing. I wrote down my reply to the proposal and handed it to Troelstra while he was still in Stockholm.
Also in Stockholm there came first to comrade A.M. Kollontai and then to myself Kesküla, an Estonian social democrat. When we met he tried to make play of his contacts and acquaintance with comrades Lenin, Zinoviev and other members of our foreign centres. Kesküla behaved in a very odd way, declaring himself in favour of a German orientation to our policy, finally offering me his good offices if we required his help in obtaining arms, a printing press and other means of struggle against tsarism. His conduct seemed most suspicious to us and we at once felt him to be an agent of the German General Staff and not only turned down his offer but also broke off all relations with him. His connections in Sweden were considerable. He had contacts with Finnish “activists”, friends inside the Russian embassy and also in Russian banking and insurance circles.
Our refusal to have dealings with Kesküla did not preclude further attempts by him to penetrate our midst through other individuals. At the end of 1915, we uncovered a link between Bogrovsky, the secretary of the Stockholm group of the RSDLP(B) and Kesküla. An investigation established that the former had received money from Kesküla, although he had used it for personal purposes only. For infringing the resolution on the inadmissibility of relations with Kesküla, Bogrovsky was expelled from the party and the incident forced us to be even more prudent in drawing people in to assist our revolutionary work.
The investigation of Bogrovsky’s activity and his dealings with Kesküla was conducted by comrades N. Bukharin and G. Pyatakov. We soon managed to fall on fresh clues to a ring of espionage surrounding our Stockholm group of Bolsheviks. We succeeded in finding evidence of Kesküla’s connection with the Danish left socialist, Kruse, who had been deported from Norway.
In 1915 or 1916 I had an encounter with Kruse at the Danish Hotel Dagmar in Petersburg. His arrival in Russia seemed to me highly suspicious and his explanation, a very muddled one, only confirmed my creeping distrust of him. When at N.M. Bukharina’s in Moscow in 1916, I received even more pointers which justified my suspicions with regard to the nature of Kruse’s activity. Evidently not anticipating any suspicion falling on himself, Kruse had in Moscow offered all those same facilities that Kesküla himself had thrust upon us back in 1914. At the same time he was seeking to make use of our contacts, and in particular N.M. Bukharina’s address, given to him by N. Bukharin, to get in touch with Kesküla’s friends resident in Moscow. I shared my suspicions with N.M. Bukharina and later received from her a letter written in English of a very odd nature which contained a request that she go and meet some Estonian and convey him a message from Kesküla. I proposed right away to have several photocopies taken of Kruse’s letter; this would thus implicate the “left” socialist in direct contacts with the secret service.
During my stay in Russia in the winter of 1915–1916 comrades Bukharin and Pyatakov developed their revolutionary counter-intelligence skills so extensively that the entire espionage service was thrown into alarm. Military and police espionage in Sweden were closely interlinked. German espionage found protectors in Sweden’s top governmental circles. French and British intelligence were also at work, relying partly upon top commercial circles and the sympathy of the “democracies” of the Scandinavian countries. Our counter-intelligence so perturbed Swedish police circles that the Stockholm authorities hastened to pick up comrades Bukharin and Pyatakov and concocted some absurd charge to deport them from Swedish territory. Branting and his party majority took no steps to uncover any of these intrigues.
With regard to the offers from Kesküla and his agents, I personally by that time, 1916, had brought them to Branting’s notice; but the bosses of Swedish social democracy did nothing to unmask the work of the spy network. The work of anti-war socialist groups in even the neutral countries was subjected to persecution and fell beneath the watchful eye of all sorts of police; it quite often reminded us of tsarist procedures. During our stay in Sweden we did not conceal our identity of views or our contacts with the left groups in the socialist parties of Scandinavia. The addresses of these organizations were a help to us in maintaining relations with both Russia and our centres abroad. We would receive literature at Swedish social democrats’ addresses to be ferried over to Russia. This link was discovered by the Swedish police and once (in 1916) they made a raid on the premises of the left groups in the Folkets Hus (people’s house) of a south Stockholm working-class district and a certain quantity of our literature was impounded. Correspondence received by our comrades was opened and inspected by sleuths. My rules on illegal work, not to have any party material addressed to myself, safeguarded me however from losing correspondence so that throughout the period of my work there I had no instances of lost documents or letters.
The most reactionary war required the adoption of all sorts of stratagems to fight the workers’ movement. The Western “democracies”, which had given their blessing to the imperialist slaughter of peoples, and duped the working class about the war’s “liberating” mission, took over all the tricks of the tsarist Okhrana in relation to the left social-democratic groups.
The work of the Okhrana did not relax during the war. Wartime conditions gave the gendarmerie unlimited possibilities for rooting out sedition. To the usual peacetime “punishments”, prison, hard labour and exile, a new one was added: posting to front-line positions. And many advanced workers were despatched to forward positions as a punishment for holding strikes, protesting against exploitation, or political activity.
Our underground organizations in the big industrial centres lay not just under the untiring watch of external observation, planted agents and other manifestations of spying. For underground organizations the most dangerous form of espionage was provocation, the so-called “inner light”. The Petersburg, Moscow and other major organizations could sense at every step the hand of the “internal agency” at work. It was only by means of provocation that the Petersburg Okhrana succeeded in discovering the printshop and arresting Petersburg Committee members and other leading party workers. The standard average duration of a party worker’s illegal activity was for Petersburg set at three months. Our organizations geared themselves to this standard. There were of course quite a few exceptions to this rule, but those exceptional cases were regarded by our underground as work “in excess of the norm”. After such a three-month term the work of the internal agency and external observation, in the form of shadowing, would culminate in arrests. There were very few instances of street arrests. The Okhrana preferred to uncover a party worker’s refuge for the night and make the arrest at the house. Skilled professionals therefore tried above all to arrange their lodgings and flats secretly, that is if they had any.
On my last trip from Stockholm to Petersburg in October 1916 1 noticed relatively quickly intensive external observation upon myself. Evading the sleuths trailing me proved fairly easy. I had developed a particularly keen sense and my eyes readily spotted among passers-by the sleuth marching along on my heels. In order to evade arrest I did not use either passports or a permanent flat, although I had both. One passport carnet bearing the name of Mavritsky had been obtained for me by “trusties” and through the “private” means of V. Shurkanov (a provocateur), and I obtained another passport bearing the name of a Finnish national when passing through Helsinki. But both of these I used only for railway travel, though I carried one of them, the Finnish one mainly, as a document in event of any street incident. I did not present them to obtain a residence permit but used the visas obtained by the holders.
In the course of my work I had developed certain “rules”. I would never walk twice along the same road. I would never stop over at one flat for more than one night at a time. The locations of the different lodgings permitted me to cover my tracks. Thus by the end of 1916 I had the use of three flats beyond the Neva Gate, two on the Vyborg side, one at Lesny, one on the Grazhdanka and one at Galernaya Gavan. In the event of intensive observation I would hide in one of my flats for a couple of days, which would upset the sleuths’ arrangements. I hid the whereabouts of my night-time flats from all comrades most diligently.
Fighting the internal agency, i.e. provocations, was immeasurably harder. The presence of provocations would be finely reflected in the whole work of the organization. During wartime charges of provocation, lurking suspicions and hints were expressed about very many comrades. Many of these suspicions were themselves in the nature of provocations: it was most important to the Okhrana to introduce the maximum suspicion and demoralization into our ranks. We had to check the rumours and suspicions very meticulously, but verification would nearly always falter at the lack of “concrete” facts. A considerable share of the suspicions were founded upon mistrust or the private hunches of individual comrades. It was difficult to establish the grounds for mistrust and to investigate and check the suspect member by gaining a closer acquaintance with his activity outside party circles. Yet this very sensitivity of individual comrades and the ability to “sniff out” the enemy was from my personal experience and the reactions of a number of underground workers very seldom mistaken. It was on the basis of a number of private convictions that we declared the well-known Miron Chernomazov to be a provocateur.
Individual comrades had suspected Chernomazov of scheming and careerism as long ago as 1914. When I came across Chernomazov’s activities in Petersburg in 1915 I was greatly struck by its disruptive anti-party nature. At the end of 1915 I was to hear many personal statements concerning Chernomazov’s work in the hospital and insurance funds. Chernomazov made use of his position as secretary of the hospital funds of the biggest undertakings on the Vyborg side, the Lessner plants, and planned to create a leading centre for insurance work around his own personality. He worked stubbornly towards this end; by using the Vyborg district party committee, he proved able to secure a majority of the then Petersburg Committee behind him.
Grouping around him young secretaries of several factory hospital funds he worked against our legal journal Voprosy Strakhovaniya and opposed it with the idea of a new “non-factional” journal, Bolnichnaya Kassa. Simultaneously he began a cunning campaign of intrigue against our Workers’ Group of the Insurance Council. Chernomazov and company sought to cloak their work against our insurance organizations with principled differences, charging the Workers’ Group of the Insurance Council and the editorial board of Voprosy Strakhovaniya with opportunism and accusing them of reluctance to work in step with the Petersburg Committee. This accusation was seconded in the Petersburg Committee by L. Starck and S. Bagdatiev (alias Narvsky). We had to open an investigation into the whole affair, and in the autumn of 1915 we made an examination of these differences of “principle”.
Suspicions of intriguing, lust for power, careerism and even suggestions of Chernomazov’s and his friends’ links with the Okhrana were expressed by the following comrades: G. Osipov (a member of the Workers’ Group of the Insurance Council speaking on its behalf), Vinokurov, Gladnev, Faberkevich, Podvoisky, Shvedchikov, Olminsky and Eremeev. Several of them also expressed suspicions about L. Starck and S. Bagdatiev. As evidence against them there was only the “work” of Chernomazov and Co., and so I directed all my attention towards checking it.
I managed to arrange a joint meeting of representatives of the Workers’ Group and the editorial board of the journal with the “young” insurance workers organized by the Petersburg Committee on the then very acute problem of the activity of our workers’ insurance group and the editorial board of Voprosy Strakhovaniya. This joint meeting took place at the flat of the engineer Faberkevich, a former member of the editorial board of Voprosy Strakhovaniya. At this meeting we succeeded in proving the complete baselessness of the charges of opportunism and all the reproaches of lack of co-ordination of work with the Petersburg Committee. At the end of the debate the “young” insurance workers (supporters of Chernomazov and Starck) moved a practical proposal on a “coalition” structure for the editorial board of Voprosy Strakhovaniya which would reserve half the seats for themselves as “representatives” of the Petersburg Committee. Fully expressed in this proposal was Chernomazov’s ambition to penetrate the centre of the insurance work, the very place into which he was not allowed access and where none of the old comrades wanted to work jointly with him or his candidates. We rejected the proposal for a coalition structure for the editorial board as contrary to party statutes and practice on the management of party central organs, for Voprosy Strakhovaniya and the Workers’ Group of the Insurance Council
were all-Russian institutions. On behalf of the Central Committee I declared the “coalition” proposal to be unacceptable; but bearing in mind the importance of the issue and of involving new forces in collaborating I proposed to present a list of people to the Central Committee Bureau whom the “young” insurance workers might like included on the editorial board of the all-Russian organ guiding insurance work. My proposal was accepted by the entire editorial board and by the representatives of the insurance organizations, but caused some confusion in the ranks of the Chernomazovites.
Chernomazov, Starck and Co. were quick to realize against whom the proposal to submit candidates to the Central Committee Bureau was aimed: they did not propose any candidates but made a vigorous attack on myself in person, trying to discredit both myself and the Central Committee as “foreigners” and party bosses divorced from the work. As it was then composed, the Petersburg Committee was under the thumb of Chernomazov, Starck and Co. and had adopted the motion proposed by those gentlemen against Voprosy Strakhovaniya and a further one directed against myself personally. It took a lot of trouble to compel the Petersburg Committee to reverse its resolution. But the insurance workers carried a contrary motion which once again refuted all the charges made against them. However, I then managed to get the agreement of the Petersburg Committee’s Executive Commission to the expulsion of Chernomazov and Starck from its ranks. However, owing to the duplicity of certain Petersburg Committee members, this was not implemented until the autumn of 1916 when a firm resolution against those gentlemen’s intrigues was adopted.
Although without meeting Chernomazov himself, I, on looking into the affair, had become increasingly convinced by his behaviour that we had there a fairly smart Okhrana agent. The suspicions that I had expressed to one or two members of the Petersburg Committee had provided a pretext to the Executive Commission (Bagdatiev, Schmidt and Starck) to demand “more concrete” data from me on his work as a provocateur. The evidence provided by the whole of Chernomazov’s activity proved insufficient for these comrades. It was impossible for me to meet this demand and submit concrete data on Chernomazov’s function as a provocateur in the form of material proof. Contact with the Okhrana itself would be necessary for that, and I had none. So, by exploiting this alibi, the said Petersburg Committee workers retained links with the Chernomazovites. Only in the autumn of 1916 was a halt called both to Chernomazov’s intrigues and to the slap-happy attitude of some Petersburg Committee workers by a resolution from the Central Committee Bureau. All party workers were forbidden to have anything to do with him.
At the beginning of the winter of 1915, during one of my habitual tours of Petersburg Committee rendezvous points I met on the Vyborg side, a worker acquaintance, Aleksei Gorin, a turner by trade, who was a member of our underground organization at that time active in Petersburg. As old comrades from working in Paris we got into conversation. When he heard that the Petersburg Committee had fixed up a rendezvous at V.E. Shurkanov’s flat where in fact I was then heading, he warned me to be careful with contacts made at that flat. “That flat is a beacon for the Okhrana,” he said. Workers from Eiwas whom we knew then came up to us, preventing our continuing the conversation. We had arranged to meet again, but that same evening he and others imprudently gathered at a restaurant on the Petersburg side and were arrested. I was therefore unable to find out whom Gorin suspected when I mentioned the flat of former Third Duma deputy Shurkanov. The remark did, however, put me on the alert and prompted me not to bring Shurkanov into our work. By asking leading questions, I tried repeatedly to ascertain whether anyone else under suspicion had a flat on the Vyborg side but without success.
Petersburg Committee workers would use Shurkanov’s flat both as a rendezvous and for overnight lodgings, and for several it was a permanent abode. I too had sometimes to call in there to meet one or another member of the Petersburg Committee. I had not hitherto been acquainted with Shurkanov, and on our first meeting he gave the impression of a rather dim and fairly uneducated worker. From the outset he exhibited great interest in my nomadic life in Petersburg, and made a number of offers which would in his opinion spare me a dog’s life of roaming around the city. At that time Shurkanov was working at the Eiwas works. My brief observation of Shurkanov, his way of life and also snippets of information from various Eiwass workers yielded no information that enhanced my suspicions about him. Illegal party workers were to be found living in his flat. In his life he in no way stood out from an average metalworker of the Petersburg district. He was prized among comrades for his hospitality and it was said that he was no fool at drinking. Many old comrades would gather round at his flat for a drink and to reminisce about the old days – for example Poletaev, Afanastev, Klimanov, Pavlov and others.
Shurkanov’s part in party work was an extremely modest one. It was only his history as a deputy that had afforded him the opportunity to maintain his contacts and to render “services” to the organization by making his flat available. He did not have any influence on party work, but by having the contacts and comrades around him at his own place he was well involved in highly clandestine business. At the rendezvous arranged by Petersburg Committee workers at Shurkanov’s everything would be talked over in his immediate presence.
Shurkanov showed special solicitude towards myself. My homeless existence worried him particularly and he suggested many time that I take one of his spare rooms. I considered, however, that all these offers were inappropriate and directly violated my precautions on underground work. And for reasons of a similar nature, founded moreover upon a certain secret distrust that I still retained for Shurkanov following A. Gorin’s comments, I made various polite excuses and turned down all his offers of lodgings and resting places.
In my struggle against Chernomazov, Shurkanov stood wholly on my side, thereby confirming all the doubts and conclusions I had expressed over the provocateur nature of Chernomazov’s activity.
After the conferences with Moscow party comrades at the end of December 1916 I managed to make a trip to Nizhni-Novgorod. In view, however, of the arrests and searches taking place in Kanavino and Sormovo, I was able to stop only three days there. Since the time of my first visit in 1915 the Nizhegorod organization had grown considerably stronger. Circles were active at the Sormovo works; the party enjoyed influence among workers at the plant. A struggle against the defensist elements within the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries was under way. The former found support in the hospital fund and were engaged in seeking “legal” paths for the workers’ movement even if that meant working within the 1903 act on factory and works stewards. Discontent was at that time mounting among workers over the high cost of living and the shortage of food supplies which was especially acute for the purely proletarian masses having no ties with the land.
Local party workers did not harbour any special hopes for the chance of movement in connection with 9 January. They did not, however, rule out the possibility of strikes if the capital undertook strong action on those days.
By the end of 1916 the idea of “war to the end”, to “the final victory”, was largely undermined. Anti-war feelings were rampant not only among the working masses but also embraced wide circles of “city-dwellers”. In the army itself, both at the front and the rear, patriotic fever had long since burnt itself out and no artificial efforts could fan it up again. Despair and hatred gripped the labouring masses and only a small push was needed for it to overflow into protest.
The government, landlords and bourgeoisie understood and took stock of the growth of discontent and anti-war feelings, and stepped up their repressive methods of fighting isolated manifestations of protest. Intensive agitation was conducted against us, both in the press and through the various organizations working for “the organization of defence”. Every resource was set in motion: accusations of provocation, of German intrigues and bribes. But slander could not halt the workers’ movement either: just like the bourgeoisie’s other ploys it proved incapable of rousing the proletariat to a battle for the Dardanelles.
The tsarist government was keenly aware that the first blows of popular indignation would be directed against itself and made ready to repulse a spontaneous popular onslaught. In all major industrial centres the police were given training in armed street fighting. The tsar’s government resolved to meet the revolutionary movement, which was developing month by month and threatening the foundations of the tsarist monarchy, with a well-prepared and bloody rebuff. Nor did the government conceal its bloody preparations from the eyes of the people. It had decided to spray 1917 with hot lead. But we had by now grown a little accustomed to the horrors of death after those years of carnage and no longer feared them. The threat of them was clear to everyone, not only at the front but in the rear too.
Our little organizations, scattered around factories, plants and mines, were also preparing for struggle. They did not at that stage have any military know-how at their disposal, nor were they as well armed as the tsar’s police detachments; but that did not demoralize our fighters, armed as they were with only a thirst for struggle and victory. Every worker had a vague idea that inside those grey greatcoats, soldiers’ hearts were beating in time with his own wishes. The task of the proletariat for 1917 was to draw the army into a revolutionary front against the tsar, the landlords, the bourgeoisie and the war.
Last updated on 21.7.2011