[Classics] Socialism and War

2. Classes and Parties in Russia

The bourgeoisie and the war

To one respect, the Russian government has not lagged behind its European confrères; like them, it has succeeded in deceiving “its” people on a grand scale. A huge, monstrous machine of falsehood sod cunning was set going in Russia too for the purpose of infecting the masses with chauvinism, of creating the impression that the tsarist government is waging a “just” war, that it is disinterestedly defending its “brother Slavs”, etc.

The landlord class and the upper stratum of the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie ardently supported the tsarist government’s bellicose policy. They are rightly expecting enormous material gains and privileges for themselves out of the partition of the Turkish and the Austrian legacy. A whole series of their congresses already have a foretaste of the profits that would flow into their pockets if the tsarist army were victorious. Moreover, the reactionaries are very well ante that if anything can postpone the downfall of the Romanov monarchy and delay the new revolution in Russia, it can only be a foreign war that ends in victory for the tsar.

Broad strata of the urban “middle” bourgeoisie, of the bourgeois intelligentsia, professional people, etc., were also infected with chauvinism—at all events at the beginning of the war. The Cadets—the party of the Russian   liberal bourgeoisie—wholly and unreservedly supported the tsarist government. In the sphere of foreign policy the Cadets have long been a government party. Pan-Slavism – with the aid of which tsarist diplomacy has more than once carried out its grand political swindles—has become the official ideology of the Cadets. Russian liberalism has degenerated into national liberalism. It is vying in “patriotism” with the Black Hundreds; it always willingly votes for militarism, navaliant etc. In the camp of Russia liberalism, approximately the same thing is observed as was seen in the 70s in Germany when “free-thinking” liberalism decayed and from it arose a national-liberal party. The Russian liberal bourgeoisie has definitely taken the path of counter-revolution. The point of view of the R.S.D.L.P. on this question has been fully confirmed. Life has shattered the view held by our opportunists that Russian liberalism is still a motive force of the revolution in Russia.

Among the peasantry, the ruling clique, with the aid of the bourgeois press, the clergy, etc., also succeeded in rousing chauvinist sentiments. But, as the soldiers return from the field of slaughter, sentiment in the rural districts will undoubtedly turn against the tsarist monarchy. The bourgeois-democratic parties that come in contact with the peasantry failed to withstand the chauvinist wave. The Trudovik party in the State Duma refused to vote for war credits; but through the mouth of its leader Kerensky it made a “patriotic” declaration which played extremely well into the hands of the monarchy. The entire legally published press of the “Narodniks” in general, trailed behind the liberals. Even the Left-wing of bourgeois democracy—the so-called Socialist-Revolutionary Party, which is affiliated to the International Socialist Bureau—floated in the same stream. Mr. Rubanovich. that party’s representative on the I.S.B., comes out as an open social-chauvinist. Half of this party’s delegates at the London Conference of “Entente” Socialists voted for a chauvinist resolution (while the other half abstained from voting). In the illegally published press of the Socialist-Revolutionaries (the newspaper Novosti[1] and others) chauvinists predominate. The revolutionaries “from bourgeois circles”, i.e., the   bourgeois revolutionaries not connected with the working class, have suffered utter bankruptcy in this war. The sad fate of Kropotkin, Burtsev and Rubanovich is extremely significant. 

The working class and the war

The only class in Russia that they did not succeed in infecting with chauvinism is the proletariat. Only the most ignorant strata of the workers were involved in the few excesses that occurred at the beginning of the war. The part played by workers in the Moscow anti-German riots was greatly exaggerated. In general, and on the whole, the working class of Russia proved to be immune to chauvinism.

This is to be explained by the revolutionary situation in the country and by the general conditions of life of the Russian proletariat.

The years 1912–1914 marked the beginning of a new, grand revolutionary upswing in Russia. We again witnessed a great strike movement such as the world has not known. The number involved in the mass revolutionary strike in 1913 was, at the very lowest estimation, one and a half million, and it, 1914 it rose above two million and drew near to the level of 1905. On the eve of the war, in St. Petersburg, things had already developed to the first barricade battles.

The underground Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party performed its duty to the International to the full. The banner of internationalism did not falter in its hands. Our Party had broken organisationally with the opportunist groups and elements long ago; its feet were not weighted with the fetters of opportunism and of “legalism at any price”, and this circumstance helped it to perform its revolutionary duty—just as the break-away from Bissolati’s opportunist party helped the Italian comrades too.

The general situation in our country is inimical to the efflorescence of “socialist” opportunism among the masses of the workers. In Russia we see a whole series of shades of opportunism and reformism among the intelligentsia, the petty bourgeoisie, etc.; but it constitutes an insignificant minority among the politically active strata of the workers. The privileged stratum of workers and office employees   in our country is very weak. The fetishism of legality could not be created here. The Liquidators (the party of the opportunists led by Axelrod, Potressov, Cherevanin, Maslov, and others) found no serious support among the masses of the workers before the war. The elections to the Fourth State Duma resulted in the return of all the six anti-liquidator worker deputies. The circulation of and collection of funds for the legally published workers’ press in Petrograd and Moscow have proved irrefutably that four-fifths of the class-conscious workers are opposed to opportunism and liquidationism.

Since the beginning of the war the tsarist government has arrested and exiled thousands and thousands of advanced workers, members of our underground R.S.D.L.P. This circumstance, together with the introduction of martial law in the country, the suppression of our newspapers, and so forth, has retarded the movement. But for all that, out Party is continuing its underground revolutionary activities. In Petrograd, the committee of our Party is publishing the underground newspaper Protetarsky Golos.[2]

Articles from the Central Organ Sotsial-Demokrat, published abroad, are reprinted in Petrograd and sent out to the provinces. Manifestoes are secretly printed and circulated even in soldiers’ barracks. In various secluded places outside the city, secret workers’ meetings ate held. Lately big strikes of metal workers have begun in Petrograd. In connection with these strikes our Petrograd Committee has issued several appeals to the workers. 

The Russian Social-Democratic Labour Group in the State Duma and the war

In 1913 a split occurred among the Social-Democratic deputies in the State Duma. On one side were the seven supporters of opportunism led by Chkheidze. They were elected for the seven non-proletarian gubernias[3] where the workers numbered 214,000. On the other side were six deputies, all from workers’ curiae, elected for the most industrialised centres in Russia, in which the workers numbered 1,008,000.

The chief issue in the split was: the tactics of revolutionary Marxism or the tactics of   opportunist reformism? In practice, the disagreement manifested itself mainly in the sphere of work outside of parliament among the masses. It Russia this work had to be conducted secretly if those conducting it wanted to remain on revolutionary ground. The Chkheidze group remained a faithful ally of the Liquidators who repudiated underground work, and defended them in all talks with the workers, at all meetings. Hence the split. the six deputies formed the R.S.D.L. group. The year’s work has shown irrefutably that this is the group that the overwhelming majority of the Russian workers supports.

On the outbreak of the war the disagreement stood out in glaring relief. he Chkheidze group confined itself to parliamentary action. It did not vote for credits, for had it done so it would have roused against itself a storm of indignation among the workers. (We have seen that in Russia even the petty-bourgeois Trudoviki did not vote for credits); but it did not utter a protest against social-chauvinism either.

The R.S.D.L. group, expressing the political line of our. Party, acted differently. It carried into the very depths of the working class a protest against the war; it conducted anti-imperialist propaganda among the broad masses of the Russian proletarians.

And it met with a very sympathetic response among the workers – which frightened the government and compelled it, in flagrant violation of its own laws, to arrest our comrades, the deputies, and to sentence them to lifelong exile it, Siberia. In its very first official announcement of the arrest of our comrades the tsarist government wrote:

An entirely exceptional position in this respect was taken by some members of Social-Democratic societies, the object of whose activities was to shake the military might of Russia by agitating against the war by means of underground appeals and verbal propaganda.

In response to Vandervelde’s well-known appeal “temporarily” to stop the struggle against tsarism—it has now become known from the evidence of Prince Kudashev, the tsar’s envoy in Belgium, that Vandervelde did not draw up this appeal alone, but in collaboration with the above-mentioned tsar’s envoy – only our Party, through its Central Committee, replied in the negative. The guiding centre   of the Liquidators agreed with Vandervelde and officially stated in the press that “in its activities it will not counteract the war.”

The tsarist government’s primary charge against out comrades, the deputies, was that they propagated this negative answer to Vandervelde among the workers.

At the trial, the tsarist Prosecutor, Mr. Nenarokomov, set up the German and French Socialists as examples for our comrades. “The German Social-Democrats,” he said, “voted for the war credits and proved to be the friends of the government. That is how the German Social-Democrats acted, but the dismal knights of Russian Social-Democracy did not act in this way ... The Socialists of Belgium and France unanimously forgot their quarrels with other classes, forgot party strife and unhesitatingly tallied round the flag.” But the members of the R.S.D.L. group, obeying the instructions of the Central Committee of the Party, did not act in this way, he said ...

The trial unfolded an imposing picture of the extensive, underground and-war agitation our Party was conducting among the masses of the proletariat. It goes without saying that the tsarist court did not by a very long way reveal all the activities our comrades were conducting in this sphere; but even what was revealed showed how mud, had boa, done within the short space of a few months.

At the trial the secret manifestoes issued by our groups and committees against the war and for international tactics were read. Threads stretched from the class-conscious workers all over Russia to the members of the R.S.D.L. group, and the latter did all in its power to help the workers to appraise the war from the standpoint of Marxism.

Comrade Muranov, the deputy of the workers of the Kharkov Gubernia, said at the trial:

“Understanding that the people did not send me into the State Duma for the purpose of wearing out the seat of a Duma armchair, I travelled about the country to ascertain the mood of the working class.” He admitted at the trial that he took upon himself the function of a secret agitator of our Party, that in the Urals he organised a workers’ committee at the Verkhneisetsky Works, and in other places. The trial showed that after the war broke out members of the R.S.D.L. group travelled   through almost the whole of Russia for propaganda purposes, that Muranov, Petrovsky. Badayev and others arranged numerous workers’ meetings, at which anti-war resolutions were passed, and so forth.

The tsarist government threatened the accused with capital punishment. Owing to this, not all of them behaved at the actual trial as bravely as Comrade Muranov. They tried to make it difficult for the tsarist prosecutors to secure their conviction. The Russian social-chauvinists are now meanly utilising this to obscure the essence of the question: what kind of parliamentarism does the working class need?

Parliamentarism is recognized by Südekum and Heine, Sembat and Valiant, Bissolati and Mussolini, Chkheidze and Plekhanov, and parliamentarism is recognised by our comrades in the R.S.D.L. Duma group; it is recognised by the Bulgarian and Italian comrades who have broken with the chauvinists. There are different kinds of parliamentarism. Some utilise the parliamentary arena in order to win the favour of their governments, or, at best, to wash their hands of everything, like the Chkheidze group. Others utilise parliamentarism in order to remain revolutionary to the end, to perform their duty as Socialists and internationalists even under the most difficult circumstances. The parliamentary activities of some bring them into ministerial seats; the parliamentary activities of others bring them—to prison, to exile, to penal servitude. Some serve the bourgeoisie, others—the proletariat. Some are social-imperialists. Others are revolutionary Marxists. 


[1] Novosti (News)—a daily Socialist-Revolutionary Party newspaper published in Paris from August 1914 to May 1915.—Ed.

[2] Proletarsky Golos (Proletarian Voice)—a newspaper, organ of the St. Petersburg Committee of the R.S.D.L.P., published underground from February 1915 to December 1916. Four numbers appeared. Its first issue published the manifesto of the Central Committee of the R.S.D.L.P. entitled: The War and Russian Social-Democracy.—Ed.

[3] Provinces.—Ed.

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