Arthur Ransome
Russia in 1919

The Opposition


No man likes being hungry. No man likes being cold. Everybody in Moscow, as in Petrograd, is both hungry and cold. There is consequently very general and very bitter discontent. This is of course increased, not lessened, by the discipline introduced into the factories and the heavy burden of the army, although the one is intended to hasten the end of hunger and cold and the other for the defence of the revolution. The Communists, as the party in power, naturally bear the blame and are the objects of the discontent, which will certainly within a short time be turned upon any other government that may succeed them. That government must introduce sterner discipline rather than weaker, and the transport and other difficulties of the country will remain the same, unless increased by the disorder of a new upheaval and the active or passive resistance of many who are convinced revolutionaries or will become so in answer to repression.

The Communists believe that to let power slip from their hands at this moment would be treachery to the revolution. And, in the face of the advancing forces of the Allies and Kolchak many of the leaders of the opposition are inclined to agree with them, and temporarily to submit to what they undoubtedly consider rank tyranny. A position has been reached after these eighteen months not unlike that reached by the English Parliament party in 1643. I am reminded of a passage in Guizot, which is so illuminating that I make no apology for quoting it in full: —

"The party had been in the ascendant for three years: whether it had or had not, in church and state, accomplished its designs, it was at all events by its aid and concurrence that, for three years, public affairs had been conducted; this alone was sufficient to make many people weary of it; it was made responsible for the many evils already endured, for the many hopes frustrated; it was denounced as being no less addicted to persecution than the bishops, no less arbitrary than the king; its inconsistencies, its weaknesses, were recalled with bitterness; and, independently of this, even without factions or interested views, from the mere progress of events and opinions, there was felt a secret need of new principles and new rulers."

New rulers [White Commanders] are advancing on Moscow from Siberia, but I do not think that they claim that they are bringing with them new principles. Though the masses may want new principles, and might for a moment submit to a reintroduction of very old principles in desperate hope of less hunger and less cold, no one but a lunatic could imagine that they would for very long willingly submit to them. In the face of the danger that they may be forced to submit not to new principles but to very old ones, the non-Communist leaders are unwilling to use to the full the discontent that exists. Hunger and cold are a good enough basis of agitation for anyone desirous of overturning any existing government. But the Left Social Revolutionaries, led by the hysterical but flamingly honest Spiridonova, are alone in having no scruples or hesitation in the matter, the more responsible parties fearing the anarchy and consequent weakening of the revolution that would result from any violent change.

The Left Social Revolutionaries

The Left Social Revolutionaries want something so much like anarchy that they have nothing to fear in a collapse of the present system. They are for a partisan army, not a regular army. They are against the employment of officers who served under the old regime. They are against the employment of responsible technicians and commercial experts in the factories. They believe that officers and experts alike, being ex-bourgeois, must be enemies of the people, insidiously engineering reaction. They are opposed to any agreement with the Allies, exactly as they were opposed to any agreement with the Germans. I heard them describe the Communists as "the bourgeois gendarmes of the Entente," on the ground that having offered concessions they would be keeping order in Russia for the benefit of Allied capital. They blew up Mirbach, and would no doubt try to blow up any successors he might have. Not wanting a regular army (a low bourgeois weapon) they would welcome occupation in order that they, with bees in their bonnets and bombs in their hands, might go about revolting against it.

I did not see Spiridonova, because on February 11, the very day when I had an appointment with her, the Communists arrested her, on the ground that her agitation was dangerous and anarchist in tendency, fomenting discontent without a programme for its satisfaction. Having a great respect for her honesty, they were hard put to it to know what to do with her, and she was finally sentenced to be sent for a year to a home for neurasthenics, "where she would be able to read and write and recover her normality." That the Communists were right in fearing this agitation was proved by the troubles in Petrograd, where the workmen in some of the factories struck, and passed Left Social Revolutionary resolutions which, so far from showing that they were awaiting reaction and General Judenitch, showed simply that they were discontented and prepared to move to the left.

The Mensheviks

The second main group of opposition is dominated by the Mensheviks . Their chief leaders are Martov and Dan. Of these two, Martov is by far the cleverer, Dan the more garrulous, being often led away by his own volubility into agitation of a kind not approved by his friends. Both are men of very considerable courage. Both are Jews.

The Mensheviks would like the reintroduction of capitalists, of course much chastened by experience, and properly controlled by themselves. Unlike Spiridonova and her romantic supporters they approved of Chicherin's offer of peace and concessions to the Allies (see page 44). They have even issued an appeal that the Allies should come to an agreement with "Lenin's Government." As may be gathered from their choice of a name for the Soviet Government, they are extremely hostile to it, but they fear worse things, and are consequently a little shy of exploiting as they easily could the dislike of the people for hunger and cold. They fear that agitation on these lines might well result in anarchy, which would leave the revolution temporarily defenceless against Kolchak, Denikin, Judenitch or any other armed reactionary. Their non-Communist enemies say of the Mensheviks: "They have no constructive programme; they would like a bourgeois government back again, in order that they might be in opposition to it, on the left"

On March 2nd, I went to an election meeting of workers and officials of the Moscow Co-operatives. It was beastly cold in the hall of the University where the meeting was held, and my nose froze as well as my feet. Speakers were announced from the Communists, Internationalists, Mensheviks, and Right Social Revolutionaries. The last-named did not arrive. The Presidium was for the most part non-Communist, and the meeting was about equally divided for and against the Communists. A Communist led off with a very bad speech on the general European situation and to the effect that there was no salvation for Russia except by the way she was going. Lozovsky, the old Internationalist, spoke next, supporting the Bolsheviks' general policy but criticizing their suppression of the press. Then came Dan, the Menshevik, to hear whom I had come. He is a little, sanguine man, who gets very hot as he speaks. He conducted an attack on the whole Bolshevik position combined with a declaration that so long as they are attacked from without he is prepared to support them. The gist of his speech was:

1. He was in favour of fighting Kolchak.

2. But the Bolshevik policy with regard to the peasants will, since as the army grows it must contain more and more peasants, end in the creation of an army with counter-revolutionary sympathies.

3. He objected to the Bolshevik criticism of the Berne, delegation (see page 156) on very curious grounds, saying that though Thomas, Henderson, etc., backed their own Imperialists during the war, all that was now over, and that union with them would help, not hinder, revolution in England and France.

4. He pointed out that "All power to the Soviets" now means "All power to the Bolsheviks," and said that he wished that the Soviets should actually have all power instead of merely supporting the Bolshevik bureaucracy.

He was asked for his own programme, but said he had not time to give it. I watched the applause carefully. General dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs was obvious, but it was also obvious that no party would have a chance that admitted its aim was extinction of the Soviets (which Dan's ultimate aim certainly is, or at least the changing of them into non-political industrial organizations) or that was not prepared to fight against reaction from without.

I went to see Sukhanov (the friend of Gorky and Martov, though his political opinions do not precisely agree with those of either), partly to get the proofs of his first volume of reminiscences of the revolution, partly to hear what he had to say. I found him muffled up in a dressing gown or overcoat in an unheated flat, sitting down to tea with no sugar, very little bread, a little sausage and a surprising scrap of butter, brought in, I suppose, from the country by a friend. Nikitsky, a Menshevik, was also there, a hopeless figure, prophesying the rotting of the whole system and of the revolution. Sukhanov asked me if I had noticed the disappearance of all spoons (there are now none, but wooden spoons in the Metropole) as a symbol of the falling to pieces of the revolution. I told him that though I had not lived in Russia thirty years or more, as he had, I had yet lived there long enough and had, before the revolution, sufficient experience in the loss of fishing tackle, not to be surprised that Russian peasants, even delegates, when able, as in such a moment of convulsion as the revolution, stole spoons if only as souvenirs to show that they had really been to Moscow.

We talked, of course, of their attitude towards the Bolsheviks. Both work in Soviet institutions. Sukhanov (Nikitsky agreeing) believed that if the Bolsheviks came further to meet the other parties, Mensheviks, etc., "Kolchak and Denikin would commit suicide and your Lloyd George would give up all thought of intervention." I asked, What if they should be told to hold a Constituent Assembly or submit to a continuance of the blockade? Sukhanov said, "Such a Constituent Assembly would be impossible, and we should be against it." Of the Soviets, one or other said, "We stand absolutely on the platform of the Soviet Government now: but we think that such a form cannot be permanent. We consider the Soviets perfect instruments of class struggle, but not a perfect form of government." I asked Sukhanov if he thought counter revolution possible. He said "No," but admitted that there was a danger lest the agitation of the Mensheviks or others might set fire to the discontent of the masses against the actual physical conditions, and end in pogroms destroying Bolsheviks and Mensheviks alike. Their general theory was that Russia was not so far developed that a Socialist State was at present possible. They therefore wanted a state in which private capital should exist, and in which factories were not run by the state but by individual owners. They believed that the peasants, with their instincts of small property-holders, would eventually enforce something of the kind, and that the end would be some form of democratic Republic. These two were against the offering of concessions to the Allies, on the ground that those under consideration involved the handing over to the concessionaires of the whole power in northern Russia-railways, forests, the right to set up their own banks in the towns served by the railway, with all that this implied. Sukhanov was against concessions on principle, and regretted that the Mensheviks were in favour of them.

I saw Martov at the offices of his newspaper, which had just been suppressed on account of an article, which he admitted was a little indiscreet, objecting to the upkeep of the Red Army (see page 167). He pointed eloquently to the seal on some of the doors, but told me that he had started a new paper, of which he showed me the first number, and told me that the demand for it was such that although he had intended that it should be a weekly he now expected to make it a daily. Martov said that he and his party were against every form of intervention for the following reasons:

1. The continuation of hostilities, the need of an army and of active defence were bound to intensify the least desirable qualities of the revolution whereas an agreement, by lessening the tension, would certainly lead to moderation of Bolshevik Policy.

2. The needs of the army overwhelmed every effort at restoring the economic life of the country.

He was further convinced that intervention of any kind favoured reaction, even supposing that the Allies did not wish this. "They cannot help themselves," he said, "the forces that would support intervention must be dominated by those of reaction, since all of the non-reactionary parties are prepared to sink their differences with the Bolsheviks, in order to defend the revolution as a whole." He said he was convinced that the Bolsheviks would either have to alter or go. He read me, in illustration of this, a letter from a peasant showing the unreadiness of the peasantry to go into communes (compulsion in this matter has already been discarded by the Central Government). "We took the land," wrote the peasant in some such words, "not much, just as much as we could work, we ploughed it where it had not been ploughed before, and now, if it is made into a commune, other lazy fellows who have done nothing will come in and profit by our work." Martov argued that life itself, the needs of the country and the will of the peasant masses, would lead to the changes he thinks desirable in the Soviet regime.

The Right Social Revolutionaries

The position of the Right Social Revolutionaries is a good deal more complicated than that of the Mensheviks. In their later declarations they are as far from their romantic anarchist left wing as they are from their romantic reactionary extreme right. They stand, as they have always stood, for a Constituent Assembly, but they have thrown over the idea of instituting a Constituent Assembly by force. They have come into closer contact with the Allies than any other party to the left of the Cadets. By doing so, by associating themselves with the Czech forces on the Volga and minor revolts of a reactionary character inside Russia, they have pretty badly compromised themselves. Their change of attitude towards the Soviet Government must not be attributed to any change in their own programme, but to the realization that the forces which they imagined were supporting them were actually being used to support something a great deal further right. The Printers' Gazette, a non-Bolshevik organ, printed one of their resolutions, one point of which demands the overthrow of the reactionary governments supported by the Allies or the Germans, and another condemns every attempt to overthrow the Soviet Government by force of arms, on the ground that such an attempt would weaken the working class as a whole and would be used by the reactionary groups for their own purposes.

Volsky is a Right Social Revolutionary, and was President of that Conference of Members of the Constituent Assembly from whose hands the Directorate which ruled in Siberia received its authority and Admiral Kolchak his command, his proper title being Commander of the Forces of the Constituent Assembly. The Constituent Assembly members were to have met on January 1st of this year, then to retake authority from the Directorate and organize a government on an All-Russian basis. But there was continual friction between the Directorate and the Conference of members of the Constituent Assembly, the Directorate being more reactionary than they. In November came Kolchak's coup d'etat, followed by a declaration against him and an appeal for his overthrow issued by members of the Constituent Assembly. Some were arrested by a group of officers. A few are said to have been killed. Kolchak, I think, has denied responsibility for this, and probably was unaware of the intentions of the reactionaries under his command. Others of the members escaped to Ufa. On December 5th, 25 days before that town was taken by the Bolsheviks, they announced their intention of no longer opposing the Soviet Government in the field. After the capture of the town by the Soviet troops, negotiations were begun between the representatives of the Conference of Members of the Constituent Assembly, together with other Right Social Revolutionaries, and representatives of the Soviet Government, with a view to finding a basis for agreement. The result of those negotiations was the resolution passed by the Executive Committee on February 26th (see page 166). A delegation of the members came to Moscow, and were quaintly housed in a huge room in the Metropole, where they had put up beds all round the walls and big tables in the middle of the room for their deliberations. It was in this room that I saw Volsky first, and afterwards in my own.

I asked him what exactly had brought him and all that he represented over from the side of Kolchak and the Allies to the side of the Soviet Government. He looked me straight in the face, and said: "I'll tell you. We were convinced by many facts that the policy of the Allied representatives in Siberia was directed not to strengthening the Constituent Assembly against the Bolsheviks and the Germans, but simply to strengthening the reactionary forces behind our backs."

He also complained: "All through last summer we were holding that front with the Czechs, being told that there were two divisions of Germans advancing to attack us, and we now know that there were no German troops in Russia at all."

He criticized the Bolsheviks for being better makers of programmes than organizers. They offered free electricity, and presently had to admit that soon there would be no electricity for lack of fuel. They did not sufficiently base their policy on the study of actual possibilities. "But that they are really fighting against a bourgeois dictatorship is clear to us. We are, therefore, prepared to help them in every possible way."

He said, further: "Intervention of any kind will prolong the regime of the Bolsheviks by compelling us to drop opposition to the Soviet Government, although we do not like it, and to support it because it is defending the revolution."

With regard to help given to individual groups or governments fighting against Soviet Russia, Volsky said that they saw no difference between such intervention and intervention in the form of sending troops.

I asked what he thought would happen. He answered in almost the same words as those used by Martov, that life itself would compel the Bolsheviks to alter their policy or to go. Sooner or later the peasants would make their will felt, and they were against the bourgeoisie and against the Bolsheviks. No bourgeois reaction could win permanently against the Soviet, because it could have nothing to offer, no idea for which people would fight. If by any chance Kolchak, Denikin and Co. were to win, they would have to kill in tens of thousands where the Bolsheviks have had to kill in hundreds, and the result would be the complete ruin and the collapse of Russia in anarchy. "Has not the Ukraine been enough to teach the Allies that even six months' occupation of non-Bolshevik territory by half a million troops has merely the effect of turning the population into Bolsheviks?"


Chapter 27: The Third International