On the Road to Liquidation. W. Kossowsky May 15, 1908

On the Road to Liquidation
The Triumph of the Counter-Revolution and the Prospects of the Revolution in Russia.

Source: “The Social Democrat,” Vol. XII No. 5 May 15, 1908, pp. 222-229;
First Published: in Die Neue Zeit;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

For two years now Russia has been passing through a difficult political crisis, which to the superficial observer promises to last for a long, long time to come, and even to become, with certain “constitutional” correctives, the “normal” state of the political life of the country. Among these superficial observers we find even a whole party – the Cadets – who fondly imagine that Russia, whether the Government wants it or not, has entered the unalterable path of a slow constitutional development, and they base their tactics upon this illusion of the gradual growth of free and legal institutions in the midst of the autocracy. It is, however, only just to remark, that also in certain Social-Democratic circles, there was a time when it was seriously thought that the revolution had come to an end – the revolution in the sense of the battle in the more or less near future with the autocratic police regime for a real constitution; it was thought that the crisis in the movement for emancipation would be ended by the granting of some considerable reforms by the Government of the Czar in favour of the ruling classes (the Agrarians or land-owners and the bourgeois financiers), the establishment of a constitution, so to speak, for the “upper ten thousand”; and to prove this theory the example of Prussia (after the defeat of the revolution of 1848) was cited. However, this pessimism, brought about by the depression in the revolutionary movement after the crushing suppression of the December rising in 1905, after also the determined change in the feelings of the bourgeoisie, which had turned its back on the revolution, soon gave place to a more courageous outlook based on a more serious study of the opposing social forces and their inter-relations.

For two years now the Government has directed a systematic attack upon the movement for emancipation and anything that has the slightest connection with it. All the forces of the tremendous governmental mechanism are exclusively directed against the revolutionary movement – and this seems to be the sole occupation of the Russian Imperial Government. In this struggle the Government stops at no cruelty and knows no mercy, but it proceeds with the caution of a practised and agile tyrant. Step by step, and without undue haste, it destroys one thing after another of all that has been conquered during the revolutionary period, choosing with great success the time for its blows – moments of well-defined social antagonisms and moments of social disorganisation, depression, and apathy. Observe how the Russian Government is preparing the occupation of Finland. There cannot be a more favourable moment for the attack on the Finnish constitution; the revolution in Russia is suppressed, and free Finland is isolated, and appears as a tiny oasis in the midst of a tremendous wilderness, a wilderness full of the bones of the heroes who have fallen in the struggle for liberty. On the other hand, in this oasis, the class struggle is becoming sharper daily; the working classes are organising against the bourgeoisie, the agricultural labourers and the small peasant proprietors against the Agrarians – the land-owners; the influence of the Finnish Social-Democracy is growing beyond the limits of the proletariat of the town and country. The upper classes, the landlords and capitalists, are longing for the strong hand in the struggle against the red forces that have demonstrated such immense power during the last elections; they have little hope to find this “strong hand” in the Finnish Senate, and are surreptitiously throwing glances in the direction of the autocracy in St. Petersburg. The autocracy, keenly on the alert, observes those glances, and, having at its command a strong army, decides that the moment for action has come. And thus a whole series of preparatory measures are set in motion so as to feel the ground. Russian revolutionists are arrested in Finland, and Finnish citizens are similarly treated in St. Petersburg – a flagrantly illegal act. The highest administrative posts in Finland are filled by men who have become famous for their cruelty during punitive expeditions in various parts of Russia, men of the school of Plehve and Bobrikoff. Frequent military manoeuvres are organised near the Finnish frontier, Cossacks are sent to Helsingfors, the province of Viborg is filled with soldiers, and, finally, the constitution of Finland is directly attacked, as when the ukase of the Czar was promulgated demanding the immediate payment of 20 million maarkas by Finland for military purposes. In a word, there are clear and unmistakable signs that the autocracy is gradually preparing the complete restoration of the regime of Bobrikoff. The latest “feeler” may be seen in the rumour of an attempt to annex Viborg to Russia.

Such, then, is the policy of the Government of the Czar throughout the Empire of Russia, a policy which may be briefly described thus: The gradual (carefully feeling its way at each step) liquidation of the October period, with the object of the complete restoration of the ancien regime.

The social forces on which the Government is relying for support in its policy of liquidation are principally the landowning nobility and the bourgeois financiers, and partly also the growing class of the agrarian bourgeoisie, the cultivation of which is one of the problems of the agrarian policy of the Government.

The landowners, frightened out of their wits by the agrarian disorders and the demand for the expropriation of their land for the benefit of the peasants, have become the greatest enemies of political liberty and even of the intellectual development of the country. They are gradually turning the Zemstvos (provincial assemblies) in which the landowners are in an overwhelming majority into ordinary departments of the police; they are closing the schools, libraries, hospitals, statistical bureaux; in a word, all the institutions for education and culture, and at the same time they are voting enormous sums of money for the strengthening of the police and watchmen, and even, as in the case of the Ekaterinoslav Zemstvo, they are organising troops of spies to watch the doings of the population.

The capitalist bourgeoisie has also become imbued with a spirit of hatred for the movement of emancipation. The circumstance, that the worker has attempted to make an extensive use of the days of freedom in order to improve his economic position, has had for its result that the bourgeoisie threw itself into the arms of the reaction, and now it is making a determined effort to exploit the powerful mechanism of the police government, with the object of regaining from the workers all that was conquered by them during the floodtide of the revolution. It not only answers all the demands of the workers for improved conditions of labour or all their resistance to a reduction in wages or an increase in the working hours by wholesale lock-outs, but the logic of things forces the bourgeoisie to go further and resist all political strikes; the same bourgeoisie which during the October days in 1905 did all it could to encourage such strikes. To take one instance: The Union of St. Petersburg Manufacturers has drawn up a whole scheme of repressive measures in the event of their workmen attempting to celebrate the anniversary of January 9 by refraining from work on that day. The same reactionary spirit has taken hold of the town councils, filled almost exclusively by bourgeois elements. These are more and more becoming the mainstay of the Black Hundreds. The following telegram from Elisawetgrad appeared in the St. Petersburg papers on January 18 last: “On receipt from the Zemstvo of 5,000 roubles, the Town Council at its last meeting decided to use this money for the purpose of increasing by two the number of agents of the secret police and the organisation of a troop of i8 mounted watchmen.” And many are the town councils who have entered on this path of the guardianship of the interests of the police.

The process of the dissolution of the peasantry, which is hastened on to a considerable extent by the agrarian policy of the autocracy, is becoming another weapon in the hands of the Government. In the village, the relations between the handful of well-to-do peasant money-lenders and the poverty-stricken masses of agricultural labourers and peasants is daily becoming one of greater and greater opposition and conflict. The rising class of agricultural bourgeoisie naturally looks to the “strong hand” of the autocracy in its struggle against the masses of the peasants.

Leaning on the above-mentioned classes as its support, the Government gradually destroys the free press, the trade unions, even the educational and intellectual undertakings which are held to be infected in the slightest degree with the spirit of liberty: it seeks, in a word, to destroy everything which in one way or another can help the masses of the people to develop from a state of human dust to one of an organised power. Not only are the revolutionary movements, the proletarian and peasant organisations, persecuted, but also the bourgeois opposition, however slight its sympathy with the revolution. It is but necessary to recall the house-searches at prominent “Cadets,” and the cases of prosecution instituted against some of them for belonging to a non-legalised party. All this work of destruction has for its background the most vulgar politics of chauvinism and nationalism, which lately has reached an unheard of state of intensity. It has for its background the sowing of a race hatred unequalled even in the annals of the Russian autocracy. The Jews, of course, are the first victims against whom the senate is directing one attack after another with an inventiveness difficult to surpass, more and more limiting their rights, though one would imagine that this was well-nigh impossible. In a second degree only to the Jews, the Poles come in for the tender attentions of the autocracy. Positive war has been declared against their national culture, and the first act has been the dissolution of their educational society the “Maciurz,” with all its branches.

While it is thus bleeding the movement for emancipation, the Government at the same time is strengthening its position as much as possible, and in this respect may be instanced the organisation of a special railway corps to enable it to withstand a possible railway strike in the future.

One thing alone has still remained of all the October victories, viz., the Imperial Duma. But the Duma, which is now so constituted that the overwhelming majority consists of the enemies of democracy, the landlords and capitalists, has degenerated into a miserable parody of a representative chamber of the people. It has degenerated into a mere Government Department, and is devoid of the slightest particle of that “complete power” which is wholly concentrated in the hands of the mighty bureaucracy.

In the “Grazhdanin,” of January 10, 1908 (No. 2), the organ of the uncultured squires and noblemen, the upholders of the autocracy of the well-known school of Prince Mestchersky, we, find a splendid characterisation of the present-day regime in Russia with its Third Duma. In an article, entitled “The Master in Uniform,” the name which the author gives to the ruling bureaucracy, we read as follows: – “Russia has convinced itself that the Duma has become transformed in a new instance of the bureaucracy, an instance, moreover, where business will be transacted more slowly than in the others.” “The doll (this is the name which the author gives to Octobrist ‘Liberalism’) has entered the Taurida Palace (the house of the Duma) and the master in uniform has returned to his department, and since then both of them are playing a game which is called Russian Parliamentarism, but which, in reality, is nothing but the government of Russia by the heads of departments, as of old.” “Together with the Law of June 3 (the law limiting the franchise after the dissolution of the Second Duma) there has emerged from the chaos of the Russian disorders also the master in uniform, who now, as formerly, is agile, bold and all powerful. He again dominates Russian life from top to bottom and at every step, and pervades every nook and corner of it; you will find him in the Ministries, in the Imperial Council, in the Imperial Duma.” “The new order has in reality turned out to be a new order .... for the Russian bureaucracy.” In another issue, No. 4 of the same publication, Prince Mestchersky himself sums up the situation to a nicety: “We have no constitution nor an atom of a Parliament.”

And yet there can be no doubt whatsoever that the third Duma, obedient and loyal as it is, is still like an eyesore to the Government, because, though not dangerous itself, it carries with it the idea of a representative chamber, because there is in it the potentiality which may, in the future, under favourable circumstances, become a danger to the “historic might” of Russia. For this reason there can be no doubt that the Government is seriously considering whether the time has not already come when the third Duma is also to be strangled. There are unmistakable signs that the Government is already feeling its way in this direction. Rumours are being spread from semi-official circles that the third Duma would be dissolved in the event of her refusal to vote credits for the building of a new fleet. It is true that so recently as at the sitting of the Duma on January 15, the Finance Minister, Kokovtzeff, has professed, in the name of the Government, his friendly feelings for the Duma thus: “The representatives of the power of the Government, those, at least, who are directly carrying out the will of His Imperial Majesty, regard the representative institution of the people with that respect which is its due.” But from experience we know full well what value can be assigned to such a solemn declaration of a Russian Minister of State. The declaration of Kokovtzeff reminds one of a similar declaration of the Dictator Franco of Portugal, who, after the dissolution of the Cortes in May, 1907, the setting up of his dictatorship and the practical institution of absolutism, has, without the slightest shame, declared: “I respect the principle of the representation of the people!” We consider that the real feelings of the ruling clique towards the Duma is more correctly expressed in the following extract from an article in a recent issue of the “St. Petersburgskija Wiedomosti,” a paper highly connected in bureaucratic spheres: “The necessity to get rid of the guardianship of the Duma over our national defence, and the abolition of the dependence of the latter on the former is so clear that it seems unnecessary to add another word on the subject.”

In the above quotation one may also discover a hint as to the manner in which the liquidation of the remnants of the October days will be proceeded with. In all probability when the third Duma is dissolved the Government will not dare finally to destroy all signs of any representative institution, it will more probably content itself with a thorough surgical operation, it will alter the competence of the institution and will probably instead of the Duma convoke the Semsky Sobor with consultative rights only. How soon the Government will proceed to the further demolition of the people’s representation (thoroughly crippled as it already is) it is difficult to foresee. The Government understands how to wait, and generally delivers its blow when the conjuncture of circumstances is most favourable to itself. But there can be little doubt that these favourable circumstances are not far off. It is but necessary to remember that all classes of the population are now devoid of almost any interest in the Duma.

At first sight it might appear that in this further work of the destruction of the representative institutions of the people, the Government might meet with the active opposition of the landlords and capitalists who are masters of the Imperial Duma as now constituted. But a little consideration will show that this conclusion is incorrect. The propertied classes have no desire for the restoration of the ancien regime, which even for them meant political slavery; they would wish that the Government should share with them the political power. All this is quite true. But at the same time their first consideration is always the defence of their economic interests, and they are convinced that these were jeopardised by the wave of strikes and agrarian disorders, and against their recurrence they are anxious to assure themselves at all costs. They look to the strong power of the Government of the Czar as to a sheet anchor to defend them against the waves of proletarian and agrarian outbreaks; and he that cannot dispense with the “strong arm,” must also, with many a heart-search, be prepared to be reconciled to the objective logic of this force, which is alien to the idea of representative institutions in all their concrete forms. The propertied classes will be compelled to accept with the “strong arm” all its consequences. This, the Government understands but too well, and this gives it the power and boldness to dare. And dare it will.

And thus the Government is steadfastly proceeding on the road to the complete liquidation of all the liberties that were conquered during 1905 – on the complete destruction of all reforms. Here is also a reply to the question as to whether the Russian revolution has concluded or not.

And, yet, while it is liquidating the movement of emancipation, the Government is powerless to return to the autocratic times of Plehve. The regime of Plehve was, after all, based on a kind of system in which the action of the law had also its place. But, now to keep in check the revolution which bursts, so to say, through every crevice, the Government is compelled to suspend the application of the general laws throughout the length and breadth of the empire, to place the whole of Russia in an “exclusive” position (a state bordering almost on one of martial law), to place a considerable portion of the country under the thumb of the military, to decentralise the power, to divide the empire in a series of satrapies, and to give over the population into the hands of a number of autocrats: governor-generals, governors, and prefects, replacing the law by a system of its absolutist will in the form of a “compulsory decree.” The Government has adopted as a system the anarchy of administration, and this has had the inevitable result of bringing with it anarchy in the life of Russia with the never-ending attempts on property and life. The anarchy in the public life of the country is but the other side of the medal upon which is inscribed in words of blood the anarchy of the Government forces.

Between the millstones of this double anarchy the economic life of Russia is being crushed. The productive forces of Russia are being undermined. The home market, which is almost the sole feeding nerve of Russian capital, is in a pitiful state owing to the unceasing fall in the purchasing powers of the principal portion of the population: the peasantry who are dying, for want of land, and of the famine resulting from this want. In reality, the industrial life of Russia never emerges from the state of an almost chronic depression and crisis, and only now and again greater life in some of the national industries are noticeable as a reflection of the greater activity on the world-market.

Such a state of things is bound, sooner or later – perhaps sooner than is to be expected – to drive the bourgeoisie into the camp of the opposition. Having obtained all it could from the strong power of the autocracy in the way of an increase in the surplus-value it was able to extract from the workers by the greater exploitation of their labour; and having, by the aid of the autocratic police power, been able to reach the highest possible limits of this exploitation, the bourgeoisie will then discover that the very ancien regime, which was till now its mainstay, has now become a great hindrance to the production of its profits, owing, as we have already, pointed out, to the fact that the autocratic regime is one under which the purchasing powers of the masses of the population, the peasantry, is constantly diminishing. Then the bourgeoisie will break its alliance with the decaying landowning-nobility, and will commence to bring pressure to bear upon the Government with the object of forcing it to raise the state of siege in which the country has been placed. It is also very possible that the situation which will be created by the change in the frame of mind of the bourgeoisie, will further be complicated in favour of the revolution by another factor, viz., the economic upheaval of Russia, which will be brought about by the approaching commercial and industrial crisis all over the world. But a weakening of the police repression, with an oppositionary frame of mind of the bourgeoisie and an economic unrest, must inevitably lead in Russia to a fresh revolutionary expansion of the movement, the fresh entry of the proletariat on the scene which by that time will have had time to recover from all its defeats and recuperate its strength.

Rich with the experience gained after the October days, made wise by the painful lessons learned during the period of the counter-revolution, free from the many illusions of the splendid “days of freedom,” the proletariat will again put itself at the head of the movement for emancipation, and in front of all others will march forward to storm the citadels of the autocracy. And in this new skirmish with the “historic might” the proletariat will reckon upon the sympathy of the bourgeoisie, and the active support of the widest circles of the population of the towns and the millions of poverty-stricken peasants, for whom the solution of the agrarian problem in the spirit of the compulsory expropriation of the land is impossible under the autocracy, and for whom this solution is a question of life and death.

We are again on the eve of a tremendous battle for liberty, not an atom of which we now enjoy in Russia. The revolution in Russia is, for a time, conquered, but not ended. And, perhaps, the time is now not far distant when the cry for a constituent assembly will again become the watchword of the masses of the people.