[Classics] History of the Russian Revolution


The State Conference in Moscow

If a symbol is a concentrated image, then a revolution is the master-builder of symbols, for it presents all phenomena and all relations in concentrated form. The trouble is that the symbolism of a revolution is too grandiose; it fits in badly with the creative work of individuals. For this reason artistic reproductions of the greatest mass dramas of humanity are so poor.

The Moscow State Conference ended in the failure assured in advance. It created nothing and decided nothing. However, it has left to the historian an invaluable impression of the revolution – although a negative impression, one in which light appears as shadow, weakness parades as strength, greed as disinterestedness, treachery as the highest valor. The mightiest party of the revolution, which in only ten weeks was to arrive at the power, was left outside the walls of the Conference as a magnitude not worth noticing. At the same time the “party of evolutionary socialism,” unknown to anybody, was taken seriously. Kerensky stepped forth as the incarnation of force and will. The Coalition, wholly exhausted in the past, was spoken of as a means of future salvation. Kornilov, hated by the soldier millions, was greeted as the beloved leader of the army and the people. Monarchists and Black Hundred men registered their love for the Constituent Assembly. All those who were about to retire from the political arena behaved as though they had agreed for one last time to play their best rôles on the stage of a theater. They were all eager to shout with all their might: Here is what we wanted to be! Here is what we would have been, if they had not prevented us! What prevented them was the workers, the soldiers, the peasants, the oppressed nationalities. Tens of millions of “slaves in revolt” prevented them from demonstrating their loyalty to the revolution. In Moscow where they had gone for shelter a strike followed on their heels. Harried by “dark elements,” by “ignorance,” by “demagoguism,” these two and a half thousand people, having crowded into a theater, tacitly agreed together not to violate the histrionic illusion. Not a word was spoken about the strike. They tried never to mention the Bolsheviks by name. Plekhanov recalled “the unhappy memory of Lenin” just in passing, and as though he were talking of an enemy completely routed. The impression thus bore the character of a negative to the last detail: in this kingdom of half-buried shades, giving themselves out for “the living forces of the nation,” the authentic people’s leader could not possibly figure otherwise than as a political cadaver.

“The brilliant auditorium,” writes Sukhanov, “was quite sharply divided into two halves: to the right sat the bourgeoisie, to the left the democracy. In the orchestra and loges to the right many uniforms of generals were to be seen, and to the left ensigns and soldiers. Opposite the stage in the former imperial loge were seated the higher diplomatic representatives of the Allied and friendly powers ... Our group, the extreme Left, occupied a small corner of the orchestra.” The extreme Left, in the absence of the Bolsheviks, were the followers of Martov.

Towards four o’clock Kerensky appeared on the stage accompanied by two young officers, a soldier and a sailor, symbolizing the power of the revolutionary government. They stood stock still as though rooted in the ground behind the back of the Minister-President. In order not to irritate the Right Wing with the word republic – so it was agreed in advance – Kerensky greeted “the representatives of the Russian land” in the name of the government of the “Russian state.” “The general tone of the speech,” writes our liberal historian, “instead of being one of dignity and confidence, was, as a result of the influence of recent days ... one of badly concealed fright, which the orator seemed to be trying to suppress within himself by adopting the high notes of a threat.” Without directly naming the Bolsheviks, Kerensky began with a fist-shake in their direction. Any new attempts against the government “will be put down with blood and iron.” Both wings of the conference joined in a stormy applause. Then a supplementary threat in the direction of Kornilov, who had not yet arrived: “Whatever ultimatums no matter who may present to me, I will know how to subdue him to the will of the supreme power, and to me, its supreme head.” Although this evoked ecstatical applause, the applause came only from the left half of the Conference. Kerensky kept coming back again and again to himself as the “supreme head”: he had need of that thought. “To you here who have come from the front, to you say I, your War Minister and supreme leader there is no will and no power in the army higher than the will and power of the Provisional Government.” The democrats were in rapture at these blank cartridges. They believed that in this way they could avoid the resort to lead.

“All the best forces of the people and the army,” affirms the head of the government, “associated the triumph of the Russian revolution with the triumph of our arms on the front, but our hopes have been trampled in the mud and our faith spat upon. Such is his lyrical summing up of the June offensive. He himself, Kerensky, intends in any case to wage the war to complete victory. Speaking of the danger of a peace at the expense of Russia’s interests – that course having been suggested in the peace proposals of the Pope on August 4 – Kerensky pays a tribute of praise to the noble loyalty of our Allies. To which he adds: “And I, in the name of the mighty Russian people, say only one thing: We have expected nothing else and we can expect nothing else.” An ovation addressed to the loges of the Allied diplomats brings all to their feet except a few internationalists and those solitary Bolsheviks who have come as delegates from the trade unions. From the officers’ loge somebody shouts: “Martov, get up!” Martov, to his honor be it said, had the force not to offer homage to the disinterestedness of the Entente.

To the oppressed nationalities of Russia striving to rebuild their destiny, Kerensky offers a Sunday school lesson interwoven with threats. “When languishing and dying in the chains of the tzarist autocracy” – thus he boasts of chains that others have worn – “we poured out our blood in the name of the welfare of all the peoples.” Out of a feeling of gratitude, he suggests to the oppressed nationalities, they ought now to endure a régime which deprives them of rights.

Where lies the way out? “Do you not feel it in you, this mighty flame? ... Do you not feel within you the strength and the will to discipline, self-sacrifice and labor? ... Do you not offer here a spectacle of the united strength of the nation?” These words were pronounced on the day of the Moscow strike, and during the hours of the mysterious movements of Kornilov’s cavalry. “We will destroy our souls, but we will save the state.” That was all the government of the revolution had to offer the people.

“Many provincials,” writes Miliukov, “saw Kerensky in this hall for the first time, and they went out half disappointed and half indignant. Before them had stood a young man with a tortured pale face, and a pose like an actor speaking his lines. This man seemed to be trying to frighten somebody and create upon all an impression of power and force of will in the old style. In reality he evoked only a feeling of pity.”

The speeches of the other members of the government exposed not so much a personal bankruptcy, as the bankruptcy of the compromise system. The grand idea which the Minister of the Interior, Avksentiev, submitted to the judgement of the country, was the institution of “travelling commissars.” The Minister of Industry advised the capitalists to content themselves with a modest profit. The Minister of Finance promised to lower the direct tax upon the possessing classes by increasing indirect taxation. The Right Wing was incautious enough to greet these words with a stormy applause, in which Tseretelli afterward, with some embarrassment, pointed out a lack of eagerness for self-sacrifice. The Minister of Agriculture, Chernov, had been told to keep still entirely, in order not to irritate the Allies on the right with the specter of land expropriation. In the interests of national unity it had been decided to pretend that the agrarian question did not exist. The Compromisers had no objection. The authentic voice of the muzhik never once sounded from the tribune. Nevertheless in those very weeks of August the agrarian movement was billowing throughout the whole country, getting ready to break loose in autumn in the form of an unconquerable peasant war.

After a day’s intermission – a day passed in reconnoitering and mobilizing of forces on both sides – the session of the 14th opened in an atmosphere of extreme tension. When Kornilov appeared in his loge, the right half of the Conference gave him a stormy ovation, the left remained seated almost as a body. Cries of “get up!” from the officers’ loges were followed with coarse abuse. When the government appeared, the left section gave Kerensky a prolonged ovation, in which, as Miliukov testifies, “the right just as demonstratively refused to participate, remaining in their seats.” In those hostile clashing waves of applause were heard the close approaching battles of the civil war. Meanwhile upon the stage representatives of both halves of the divided hall continued to sit with the title of government; and the president, who had secretly taken military measures against the commander-in-chief, did not for a moment forget to incarnate in his figure “the unity of the Russian people.” In pursuance of this rôle, Kerensky announced: “I propose to all that in the person of the supreme commander-in-chief who is present here, we should all greet our army, courageously dying for freedom and the fatherland.” On the subject of that army he had said at the first session: “Our hopes have been trampled in the mud, and our faith spat upon.” But never mind! A saving phrase had been found. The hall rose and stormily applauded Kornilov and Kerensky. The unity of the nation was once more preserved!

The ruling classes, whom historic necessity had seized by the throat, resorted to the method of historic masquerade. It evidently seemed to them that if they could once more stand before the people in all their transformations, this would make them more significant and stronger. In the character of experts on the national conscience, they brought out on the stage all the representatives of all the four state Dumas. Their mutual disagreements, once so sharp, had disappeared. All the parties of the bourgeoisie now united without difficulty upon the “extra-party and extra-class program” of those public men who a few days back had sent a telegram of greeting to Kornilov. In the name of the first Duma – of the year 1906! – the Kadet Nabokov renounced “the very intimation of the possibility of a separate peace.” This did not prevent the liberal politician from subsequently relating in his memoirs how he, and with him many of the leading Kadets, saw in a separate peace the only way to salvation. In the same way representatives of the other tzarist Dumas demanded of the revolution first of all a tribute of blood.

“General! you have the floor!” The session has now arrived at its critical moment. What will the high commander-in-chief have to say, after Kerensky has insistently but vainly urged him to limit himself to a mere outline of the military situation? Miliukov writes as an eye-witness: “The short, stumpy but strong figure of a man with Kalmuck features, appeared up the stage, darting sharp piercing glances from his small black eyes in which there was a vicious glint. The hall rocked with applause. All leapt to their feet with the exception of ... the soldiers.” Shouts of indignation mingled with abuse were addressed from the right to the delegates who did not stand: “You roughnecks, get up!” From the delegates not standing the answer comes back: “Serfs!” The uproar turns into a storm. Kerensky demands that they all quietly listen to the “first soldier of the Provisional Government.” In the sharp, fragmentary, imperious tone appropriate to a general who intends to save the country, Kornilov read a manuscript written for him by the adventurer Zavoiko at the dictation of the adventurer Filonenko. But the program proffered in the manuscript was considerably more moderate than the design to which it formed an introduction. Kornilov did not hesitate to paint the condition of the army and the situation at the front in the blackest colors, and with an obvious intent to cause fright. The central point in his speech was a military prognosis: “The enemy is already knocking at the gates of Riga, and if the instability of our army does not make it possible to restrain him on the shores of the Gulf of Riga, then the road to Petrograd is open.” Here Kornilov hauls off and deals a blow to the government: “By a whole series of legislative measures introduced after the revolution by people strange to the spirit and understanding of an army, the army has been converted into a crazy mob trembling only for its own life.” The inference is obvious: There is no hope for Riga, and the commander-in-chief openly and challengingly says so before the whole world, as though inviting the Germans to seize the defenseless city. And Petrograd? Kornilov’s thought was this: If I am empowered to carry out my program, Petrograd may still be saved, but hurry up! The Moscow Bolshevik paper wrote: “What is this, a warning or a threat? The Tarnopol defeat made Kornilov commander-in-chief, the surrender of Riga might make him dictator.” That suggestion accorded far more accurately with the designs of the conspirators than could have been guessed by the most suspicious Bolshevik.

The Church Council, having participated in the gorgeous welcome of Kornilov, now sent to the support of the commander-in-chief one of its most reactionary members, the Archbishop Platon. “You have just seen the deadly picture of our army,” says this representative of the living forces, “and I have come here in order from this platform to say to Russia: Do not be troubled, dear one. Have no fear, my own one ... If a miracle is necessary for the salvation of Russia, then in answer to the prayers of his church, God will accomplish this miracle ...” For the protection of the church lands, however, the orthodox prelates preferred some good Cossack troops. The point of the speech was not there, though. The Archbishop complained that in the speeches of the members of the government, he “had not once heard even by a slip of the tongue the word God.” Just as Kornilov had accused the revolutionary government of demoralizing the army, so Platon accused “those who now stand at the head of our God-loving people” of criminal unbelief. These churchmen who had been squirming in the dust at the feet of Rasputin were now bold enough publicly to confess the revolutionary government.

A declaration of the 12th Cossack Army was read by General Kaledin, whose name was persistently mentioned during this period among the strongest of those in the military party. “Kaledin,” to quote one of his eulogists, “not desiring and not knowing how to please the mob, broke with General Brussilov on this ground, and as not adaptable to the spirit of the times was retired from the command.” Returning to the Don at the beginning of May, the Cossack general had soon been elected ataman of the Don army, and so to him as chief of the oldest and strongest of the Cossack armies was allotted the task of presenting the program of the privileged Cossack upper circles. Rejecting the accusation of counter-revolutionism, his declaration ungraciously reminded the minister-socialists how at the moment of danger they had come to the Cossacks for help against the Bolsheviks. The gloomy general unexpectedly won the hearts of the democrats by pronouncing in a thunderous voice the word which Kerensky had not dared to speak out loud: Republic. The majority of the hall, and with special zeal the minister Chernov, applauded this Cossack general, who was quite seriously demanding of the republic that which the autocracy was no longer able to give. Napoleon predicted that Europe would become either Cossack or republican. Kaledin agreed to see Russia republican on condition that she should not cease to be Cossack. Having read the words: “There should be no place for defeatists in the government,” the ungrateful general roughly and impudently turned in the direction of the unlucky Chernov. The report of the liberal press remarks: “All eyes were fixed upon Chernov, whose head was bowed low over the table.” Being unretained by any political position, Kaledin developed to the full the military program of the reaction: abolish the committees, restore power to the commanders, equalize the front and the rear, reconsider the rights of the soldiers – that is, reduce them to nothing. (Applause from the Right was here mingled with protests and even whistling from the Left.) The Constituent Assembly “in the interest of tranquil and deliberative labors” should be convoked in Moscow. This speech, prepared in advance of the Conference, was read by Kaledin the next day after a general strike which made his phrase about “tranquil” labors in Moscow sound like a joke. The speech of the Cossack republican finally raised the temperature of the hall to the boiling point, and prompted Kerensky to show his authority: “It is unbecoming for anybody in the present assembly to address demands to the government.” But in that case why had he summoned the conference? Purishkevich, a popular member of the Black Hundreds, shouted from his seat: “We are in the position of supers to the government!” Two months before, this organizer of pogroms had not dared show his face.

The official declaration of the democracy, an endless document which tried to answer all questions and answered none, was read by the president of the Executive Committee, Cheidze, who received a warm greeting from the Left. Their cries of “Long live the leader of the Russian revolution!” must have embarrassed this modest Caucasian, who was the last man in the world to imagine himself a leader. In a tone of self-justification the democracy announced that it “had not striven after the power, and had not desired a monopoly for itself.” It was prepared to support any power capable of preserving the interests of the country and the revolution. But you must not abolish the soviets: they alone have saved the country from anarchy. You must not destroy the soldiers’ committees: only they can guarantee the continuation of the war. The privileged classes must in some things act in the interests of the whole people. However, the interests of the landlords must be protected from forcible seizures. The solution of nationality questions must be postponed to the Constituent Assembly. It is necessary, on the other hand, to carry out the more urgent reforms. Of an active policy of peace, the declaration said not a word. In general the document seemed to have been especially designed to provoke the indignation of the masses without giving satisfaction to the bourgeoisie.

In an evasive and colorless speech, the representative of the peasants’ Executive Committee reminded his auditors of the slogan “Land and Freedom,” under which “our best fighters have died.” An account in a Moscow paper records an episode omitted from the official stenographic report: “The whole hall rises and gives a stormy ovation to the prisoners of Schlusselburg who are seated in a loge.” Astonishing grimace of the revolution! “The whole hall” does honor to those few of the former political hard-labor convicts whom the monarchy of Alexeiev, Kornilov, Kaledin, Archbishop Platon, Rodzianko, Guchkov, and in essence also Miliukov, had not succeeded in strangling to death in its prisons. These hangmen, or colleagues of hangmen, wanted to decorate themselves with the martyr’s aureole of their own victims!

Fifteen years before that, the leaders of the right half of this hall were celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of the capture of Schlusselburg fortress by Peter the First. Iskra, the journal of the revolutionary wing of the social democracy, wrote during those days: “What indignation awakens in the breast at the thought of this patriotic celebration on that accursed island which has been the place of execution of Minakov, Myshkin, Rogachev, Stromberg, Ulianov, Generalov, Ossipanov, Chevyrev; Andryushkin; within sight of those stone cages in which Klimenko strangled himself with a rope, Grachevsky soaked himself with kerosene and set fire to his body, Sophia Ginsburg stabbed herself with a pair of scissors; under the walls within which Shchedrin, Yuvachev, Konashevich, Pokhitonov, Ignatius Ivanov, Aronchik and Tikhonovich sank into the black night of madness, and scores of others died of exhaustion, scurvy and tuberculosis. Abandon yourself, then, to your patriotic bacchanal for today you are still the lords in Schlusselburg!” The motto of Iskra was a sentence from the letter of a Dekabrist hard-labor convict to Pushkin: “The spark will kindle a flame.” The flame had been kindled. It had reduced to ashes the monarchy and its Schlusselburg hard-labor prison, and now today in the hall of this State Conference yesterday’s jail-keepers were offering an ovation to the victims torn from their clutches by the revolution. But most paradoxical of all was the fact that the jailers and their prisoners had actually united together in a feeling of common hatred for the Bolsheviks – for Lenin, the former chief-editor of Iskra, for Trotsky, the author of the above-quoted lines, for the rebelling workers and the unsubmissive soldiers who now filled the prisons of the republic.

The National-Liberal, Guchkov, president of the third Duma, who in his day had refused to admit the left deputies into the Committees of Defense, and for this was named by the Compromisers first War Minister of the revolution, made the most interesting speech-a speech, however, in which irony struggled vainly with despair: “But why then ...” he said, alluding to the words of Kerensky, “why have the representatives of the government come to us with ’mortal alarm’ and ’in mortal terror’ with a sort of morbid, I would even say, hysterical, cry of despair? And why does this alarm, this terror and this cry, why do they find in our souls a kindred piercing pain as of the anguish of those about to die?” In the name of those who had lorded, commanded, and pardoned, and punished, the great Moscow merchant publicly confesses to a feeling as of “the anguish of those about to die.” “This government,” he said, “is the shadow of a power.” Guchkov was right. But he himself, too, the former partner of Stolypin, was but a shadow of himself.

On the very day of the opening of the conference, there appeared in Gorky’s paper an account of how Rodzianko had got rich by supplying worthless wood for rifle-stocks. This untimely revelation – due to Karakhan, the future soviet diplomat, then still unknown to anybody – did not prevent the Lord Chamberlain from speaking at the conference with dignity in defense of the patriotic program of the manufacturers of military supplies. All misfortunes, he said, flowed from the fact that the Provisional Government did not go hand in hand with the state Duma, “the sole, legal and absolutely all-national popular representative assembly in Russia.” That seemed a little too much. There was laughter on the left. There were shouts: “The third of June!” There had been a time when that date, the third of June, 1907, the day of the trampling underfoot of the constitution they had granted, burned like the brand of a galley-slave on the brow of the monarchy and the party supporting it. Now it was only a pale memory. But Rodzianko himself, too, with his thundering bass, ponderous and portentous, seemed as he stood on the tribune rather a living monument of the past than a political figure.

As against attacks from within, the government brought forward some encouragements received a long time ago from without. Kerensky read a telegram of greeting from the American president, Wilson, promising “every material and moral support to the government of Russia for success in the common cause uniting both peoples and in which they are pursuing no selfish aims.” The renewed applause addressed to the diplomatic loge could not drown the alarm caused in the right half of the assembly by this telegram from Washington. Praise for their disinterestedness had too often meant to the Russian imperialists the prescription of a starvation diet.

In the name of the compromisist democracy, Tseretelli, its acknowledged leader, defended the soviets and the army committees, as one defends for honor’s sake a lost cause. “We cannot yet remove these scaffoldings, when the temple of free revolutionary Russia is not yet completely built.” After the revolution “the popular masses had trusted nobody in the essence of the matter, but themselves”; only the efforts of the compromisist soviets had made it possible for the possessing classes to stay on top at all, even though at first deprived of their comforts. Tseretelli placed it to the special credit of the soviets that they “had handed over all state functions to the Coalition Government.” Did this sacrifice, he asked, have to be “wrested from the democracy by force?” The orator was like the commander of a fortress who boasts publicly that he has surrendered the position entrusted to him without a struggle ... And in the July days – “Who then came forward in defense of the country against anarchy?” A voice resounded on the right: “The Cossacks and junkers.” Those short words cut like the blow of a whip through the flow of democratic commonplaces. The bourgeois wing of the conference perfectly understood the rescuing services done them by the Compromisers; but gratitude is not a political feeling. The bourgeoisie had promptly drawn their conclusion from the services rendered them by the democracy. It was this: The chapter of the Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks is at an end, the Cossack and junker chapter is next in order.

Tseretelli approached the problem of power with special caution. During the recent months elections had been held to the city dumas, in part also to the zemstvos, on a basis of universal franchise – and what had happened? The representatives of these democratic, self-governing bodies had turned up at the State Conference in the left group, side by side with the soviets, under the leadership of those same parties, the Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks. If the Kadets intend to insist upon their demand: to abolish all dependence of the government upon the democracy, then what will be the use of the Constituent Assembly? Tseretelli only just suggested the contours of this argument, for carried to its conclusion it would have condemned the policy of coalition with the Kadets as standing in contradiction even with formal democracy. They are accusing the revolution of overdoing its speeches about peace, he said, but do not the possessing classes understand that the slogan of peace is now the sole means by which the war can be continued? The bourgeoisie understood this all right. They merely wished to take this means of continuing the war, along with the power, into their own hands. Tseretelli concluded with a hymn of praise to the Coalition. In that divided assembly which saw no way out of its problems, his compromisist commonplaces awakened for the last time a ray of hope. But Tseretelli, too, was already in essence a phantom of himself.

The democracy was answered in the name of the right half of the hall by Miliukov, the hopelessly sober representative of those classes for whom history had made a sober policy impossible. In his “History” the leader of liberalism has expressly set forth his own speech at the State Conference. “Miliukov made ... a brief factual survey of the mistakes of the ‘revolutionary democracy’ and summarized them: ... Capitulation on the question of ‘democratization of the army,’ involving the retirement of Guchkov; capitulation on the question of a ‘Zimmerwaldist’ foreign policy, involving the retirement of the Minister of Foreign Affairs (Miliukov); capitulation before the utopian demands of the working class, involving the retirement of Konovalov (Minister of Commerce and Industry); capitulation before the extreme demands of the national minorities, involving the retirement of the rest of the Kadets. The fifth capitulation – before the tendency of the masses to direct action in the agrarian problem ... had caused the retirement of the first president of the Provisional Government, Prince Lvov.” That was no bad history of the case. When it came to suggesting a cure, however, Miliukov’s wisdom did not go beyond police measures: We must strangle the Bolsheviks. “Confronted by obvious facts,” he reproached the Compromisers, “these more moderate groups have been compelled to admit that there are criminals and traitors among the Bolsheviks. But they have not yet acknowledged that the very fundamental idea uniting these partisans of anarchosyndicalist militant action is criminal (applause).”

The extremely submissive Chernov still seemed to be the link uniting the Coalition with the revolution. Almost all the orators of the Right Wing, Kaledin, the Kadet Maklakov, the Kadet Astrov, aimed a blow at Chernov, who had been ordered in advance to keep still, and whom no one undertook to defend. Miliukov for his part called to mind the fact that the Minister of Agriculture “had himself been at Zimmerwald and Kienthal, and had there introduced the most extreme resolutions.” That was a blow straight to the jaw. Before becoming a minister – the minister of an imperialist war – Chernov had actually placed his signature under certain documents of the Zimmerwald Left – that is, of the faction of Lenin.

Miliukov did not conceal from the Conference the fact that from the very beginning he had been opposed to the Coalition, considering that it would be “not stronger but weaker than the government which issued from the revolution” – that is, the government of Guchkov and Miliukov. And now he “greatly fears that the present staff of executives ... cannot guarantee the safety of persons and property.” But however that may be, he, Miliukov, promises to support the government, “voluntarily and without any argument.” The treachery of this magnanimous promise will become adequately clear in two weeks. At the moment his speech did not evoke any enthusiasm nor occasion any stormy protest. The orator was both greeted and dismissed with a rather dry applause.

The second speech of Tseretelli reduced itself to promises, asseverations, clamor: Don’t you understand that it is all for you – soviets, committees, democratic programs, slogans of pacifism – all this is a protection for you? “Who is more capable of setting in motion the troops of the Russian revolutionary state, the war-minister Guchkov, or the war-minister Kerensky?” Tseretelli was here repeating the words of Lenin almost verbatim, although the leader of compromise regarded as a service what the leader of revolution had branded as treachery. The orator even apologized for his excessive mildness in relation to the Bolsheviks: “I tell you that the revolution was inexperienced in the struggle with anarchy on the left (stormy applause from the right).” But after it had “received its first lessons” the revolution corrected its mistake: “An exceptional law has already been passed.” During those very hours Moscow was in the secret control of a committee of six – two Mensheviks, two Social Revolutionaries, two Bolsheviks – defending it against a seizure of power by those to whom the Compromisers were giving this promise to shatter the Bolsheviks.

The high point of the last day was the speech of General Alexeiev, in whose authority the mediocrity of the old military chancelleries stood incarnate. To the wild enthusiasm of the Right, this former chief-of-staff of Nicholas II and organizer of defeats for the Russian army, talked about those destructive characters “in whose pockets is to be heard the melodious clink of German marks.” For the restoration of the army, discipline is necessary; for discipline, the authority of the commanders is necessary; and for this again, discipline is necessary. “Call discipline ‘iron,’ call it ‘conscious,’ call it ‘genuine’ ... at bottom these three kinds of discipline are one and the same.” For Alexeiev all history was comprised in the domestic service regulations. “Is it so difficult, gentlemen, to sacrifice some imaginary advantage – the existence of these organizations (laughter on the left) for a certain period of time? (uproar and shouts on the left).” The general urged them to give the disarmed revolution into his keeping, not forever – oh, God save us, no – but only “for a certain period of time!” Upon the conclusion of the war he promised to return the goods undamaged. But Alexeiev concluded with an aphorism that was not bad: “We need measures and not half-measures.” These words were a blow at the declaration of Cheidze, the Provisional Government, the Coalition, the whole February régime. Measures and not half-measures! To that the Bolsheviks heartily subscribed.

General Alexeiev’s speech was immediately offset by the delegates of the Petrograd and Moscow left officers, who spoke in support of “our supreme chief, the Minister of War.” After him Lieutenant Kuchin, an old Menshevik, spokesman of the “representatives of the front at the State Conference” spoke in the name of the soldier millions, who, however, would scarcely have recognized themselves in the mirror of compromisism. “We have all read the interview of General Lukomsky, printed in all the papers, where he says that if the Allies do not help us, Riga will be surrendered ...” Why did the high commanding staff which has heretofore always concealed its failures and defeats, consider it necessary to lay on these black colors? Cries of “For shame!” from the left were aimed at Kornilov, who had expressed the same thought at the conference the day before. Kuchin here touched the possessing classes on their sorest point. The upper circles of the bourgeoisie, the commanding staff, the whole right half of the hall, were saturated with defeatist tendencies in all three spheres, economic, political and military. The motto of these respectable and cool-blooded patriots had become: the worse it gets the better! But the compromisist orator hastened to abandon a theme which would have mined the ground under his own feet. “Whether we shall save the army or not, we do not know,” said Kuchin. “But if we fail, the commanding staff will not save it either ...” “It will!” cried a voice from the officers’ seats. Kuchin: “No, it won’t!” A burst of applause from the left. Thus the commanders and the committees, upon whose pretended solidarity the whole program of the restoration of the army was based, shouted their hostility across the hall – and thus likewise the two halves of the Conference, which was supposed to constitute the foundation of “an honest coalition.” These clashes were merely a weak, smothered, parliamentarized echo of those contradictions which were convulsing the country. Obeying their Bonapartist stage directions, the orators from left and right followed each other alternately, balancing each other off as well as possible. If the hierarchs of the orthodox Church Council supported Kornilov, then the evangelical Christian parsons sided with the Provisional Government. The delegates of the zemstvos and the city dumas made speeches in pairs – one from the majority adhering to the declaration of Cheidze, the other from the minority supporting the declaration of the State Duma.

The representatives of the oppressed nationalities one after another assured the government of their patriotism, but beseeched it to deceive them no longer: In the localities we have the same officials, the same laws, the same oppression. “You must not delay – no people is able to live upon mere promises.” Revolutionary Russia must show that she is “mother and not stepmother of all her peoples.” These timid reproaches and humble adjurations found hardly a sympathetic response even from the left side of the hall. The spirit of an imperialist war is least of all compatible with an honest policy upon the question of nationalities.

“Up to the present time the nationalities from beyond the Caucasus have not made a single separative move,” announced the Menshevik, Chenkeli, in the name of the Georgians, “and they will not make one in the future.” This promise, which was roundly applauded, was soon to prove false: from the moment of the October revolution Chenkeli became one of the leaders of separatism. There was no contradiction here, however: the patriotism of democrats does not extend beyond the framework of the bourgeois régime.

Meanwhile certain more tragic specters of the past are taking their place upon the stage; the war cripples are going to lift their voices. They too are not unanimous. The handless, the legless, the blind, have also their aristocracy and their plebs. In the name of the “immense and mighty League of the Cavaliers of St. George, in the name of its 128 departments in all parts of Russia,” a crippled officer, outraged in his patriotic feelings, supports Kornilov (applause from the right). The All-Russian League of Crippled Warriors adheres through the voice of its delegate to the declaration of Cheidze (applause from the left).

The Executive Committee of the recently organized union of railroad workers – destined under the abbreviated name of Vikzhel to play an important rôle – joins its voice to the declaration of the Compromisers. The president of the Vikzhel, a moderate democrat and an extreme patriot, paints a vivid picture of counter-revolutionary intrigue among the railroad lines: malicious attacks upon the workers, mass discharges, arbitrary violations of the eight-hour day, arrests and indictments. Underground forces, he says, directed from hidden but influential centers, are clearly trying to provoke the hungry railroad workers to a fight. The enemy remains undiscovered. “The Intelligence Service is dreaming, and the prosecuting attorney’s inspectors are fast asleep.” And this most moderate of the moderates concludes his speech with a threat: “If the Hydra of counter-revolution lifts its head, we will go out and we will choke him with our own hands.”

Here one of the railroad magnates immediately takes the floor with counter accusations: “The clear spring of the revolution has been poisoned.” Why? “Because the idealistic aims of the revolution have been replaced by material aims (applause from the right).” In a similar spirit the Kadet landlord, Rodichev, denounces the workers for having appropriated from France “the shameful slogan: get rich!” The Bolsheviks will soon give extraordinary success to the formula of Rodichev, although not quite of the kind which the orator hoped for. Professor Ozerov, a man of pure science and a delegate from the agricultural banks, exclaims: “The soldier in the trenches ought to be thinking of war, not of dividing the land.” This is not surprising: a confiscation of privately owned land would mean a confiscation of bank capital. On the first of January, 1915, the debts of the private land owners amounted to more than 3¼ billion rubles.

On the right spokesmen took the floor from the high staffs, from the industrial league, from chambers of commerce and banks, from the society of horse breeders, and other organizations comprising hundreds of eminent people. On the left spokesmen appeared for the soviets, the army committees, the trade unions, the democratic municipalities, and the cooperatives behind which in the distant background stood nameless millions and tens of millions. In normal times the advantage would have been with the short arm of the lever. “It is impossible to deny,” preached Tseretelli, “especially at such a moment, the great relative weight and significance of those who are strong through the possession of property.” But the whole point was that this weight was becoming more and more impossible to weigh. Just as weight is not an inner attribute of individual objects, but an inter-relation between them, so social weight is not a natural property of people, but only that class attribute which other classes are compelled to recognize in them. The revolution, however, had come right up to the point where it was refusing to recognize this most fundamental “attribute” of the ruling classes. It was for this reason that the position of the eminent minority on the short arm of the lever was becoming so uncomfortable. The Compromisers were trying with might and main to preserve the equilibrium, but they also were already without power: the masses were too irresistibly pressing down on the long arm. How cautious were the great agrarians, bankers, industrialists about coming out in the defense of their interests! Did they indeed defend them at all? Almost not at all. They spoke for the rights of idealism, the interests of culture, the prerogatives of a future Constituent Assembly. The leader of the heavy industries, Von Ditmar, even concluded his speech with a hymn in honor of “liberty, equality, fraternity.” Where were the metallic baritones of profits, the hoarse bass of land rents – where were they hiding? Only the over-sweet tenor melodies of disinterestedness filled the hall. But listen for a moment: how much spleen and vinegar under all this syrup! How unexpectedly these lyric roulades break into a spiteful falsetto! The president of the All-Russian Chamber of Agriculture, Kapatsinsky, standing with all his heart for the coming agrarian reform, does not forget to thank “our pure Tseretelli” for his circular in defense of law against anarchy. But the land committees? They will straightway turn over the power to the muzhik! To this “dark, semi-illiterate man, crazy with joy that they have at last given him the land, it is proposed to turn over the inauguration of justice in the country!” If in their struggle with this dark muzhik, the landlords happen to be defending property, it is not for their own sakes – Oh no! – but only in order afterwards to lay it upon the altar of freedom.

The social symbolism would now seem to have been completed. But here Kerensky is blessed with a happy inspiration. He proposes that they give the floor to one more group – “a group out of Russian history – namely Breshko-Breshkovskaia, Kropotkin and Plekhanov.” Russian Narodnikism, Russian anarchism, and Russian social democratism take the floor in the person of the older generation – anarchism and Marxism in the person of their most eminent founders.

Kropotkin asked only to join his voice “to those voices which are summoning the whole Russian people to break once for all with Zimmerwaldism.” The apostle of non-government promptly gave his adherence to the right wing of the Conference. A defeat threatens us, he cried, not only with the loss of vast territories and the payment of indemnities: “You must know, comrades, that there is something worse than all this – that is the psychology of a defeated nation.” This ancient internationalist prefers to see the psychology of a defeated nation on the other side of the border. While recalling how a conquered France had humbled herself before the Russian tzars, he did not foresee how a conquering France would humble herself before American bankers. He exclaimed: “Are we going to live through the same thing? Not by any means!” He was applauded by the entire hall. And then what rainbow prospects, he said, are opened by the war: “All are beginning to understand that we must build a new life on new socialist principles ... Lloyd George is making speeches imbued with the socialist spirit ... In England, in France and in Italy, there is forming a new comprehension of life, imbued with socialism-unfortunately state socialism.” If Lloyd George and Poincaré have not yet “unfortunately” renounced the state principle, at least Kropotkin has come over to it frankly enough. “I think,” he said, “that we will not be depriving the Constituent Assembly of any of its rights – I fully recognize that to it belongs the sovereign decision upon such questions – if we, the Council of the Russian land, loudly express our desire that Russia should be declared a republic.” Kropotkin insisted upon a confederative republic: “We need a federation such as they have in the United States.” That is what Bakunin’s federation of free communes had come down to! “Let us promise each other at last,” adjured Kropotkin in conclusion, “that we will no longer be divided into the left and right halves of this theater. We all have one fatherland, and for her we ought all to stand together, or to lie down together if need be, both Lefts and Rights.” Landlords, industrialists, generals, Cavaliers of St. George, all those who did not recognize Zimmerwald, extended to the apostle of anarchism a well-earned ovation.

The principles of liberalism can have a real existence only in conjunction with a police system. Anarchism is an attempt to cleanse liberalism of the police. But just as pure oxygen is impossible to breathe, so liberalism without the police – principle means the death of society. Being a shadow-caricature of liberalism, anarchism as a whole has shared its fate. Having killed liberalism, the development of class contradictions has also killed anarchism. Like every sect which founds its teaching not upon the actual development of human society, but upon the reduction to absurdity of one of its features, anarchism explodes like a soap bubble at that moment when the social contradictions arrive at the point of war or revolution. Anarchism as represented by Kropotkin was about the most spectral of all the specters at the State Conference.

In Spain, the classic country of Bakuninism, the anarchosyndicalist and so-called “specific,” or pure anarchists, in abstaining from politics, are really repeating the policy of the Russian Mensheviks. These bombastic deniers of the state respectfully bow down to force the moment it changes its skin. Having warned the proletariat against the temptations of power, they self-sacrificingly support the power of the “left” bourgeoisie. Cursing the gangrene of parliamentarism, they secretly hand their followers the election ballot of the vulgar republican. No matter how the Spanish revolution develops, it will at least put an end to anarchism once for all.

Plekhanov, who was greeted by the whole conference with stormy applause – the lefts were honoring their old leader, the rights their new ally – represented that early Russian Marxism whose outlook had in the course of the decades become fixed within the boundaries of political freedom. For the Bolsheviks the revolution had only begun, for Plekhanov it was already finished. Advising the industrialists to “seek a rapprochement with the working class,” Plekhanov suggested to the democrats: “It is absolutely necessary for you to come to an agreement with the representatives of the commercial and industrial class.” As a horrible example Plekhanov introduced the “unhappy memory of Lenin,” who had fallen to such a level that he was summoning the proletariat to “an immediate seizure of political power.” It was just for this warning against a struggle for power that the Conference had need of Plekhanov, who had abandoned the last item of the armor of a revolutionist upon the threshold of the revolution.

On the evening of the day that the delegates from “Russian history” spoke, Kerensky gave the floor to a representative of the Chamber of Agriculture and the Union of Horse Breeders, also a Kropotkin, another member of the old princely family which had, if you believe their genealogical tree, a better right than the Romanovs to the Russian throne. “I’m not a Socialist,” said this feudal aristocrat, “though I have a respect for genuine socialism. But when I see seizures, robberies and violence I am obliged to say ... the government ought to compel people who are attaching themselves to socialism to withdraw from the task of reconstructing the country.” This second Kropotkin, obviously aiming his shot at Chernov, had no objection to such socialists as Lloyd George or Poincare’. Along with his family-opposite, the anarchist, this monarchist Kropotkin condemned Zimmerwald, the class struggle and the land seizures – alas, he had been in the habit of calling them “anarchy” – and also demanded union and victory. Unfortunately the records do not state whether the two Kropotkins applauded each other.

In this conference, corroded with hatred, they talked so much about unity that unity simply had to materialize at least for one second in the inevitable symbolic handshake. The Menshevik paper tells of this incident in rapturous words: “During the speech of Bublikov an incident occurred which made a deep impression upon all the members of the Conference ... ‘Yesterday,’ said Bublikov, ‘a noble leader of the revolution, Tseretelli, extended his hand to the business world, and I want him to know that that hand is not left hanging in the air ...’“ When Bublikov stopped speaking Tseretelli came up and shook hands with him. Stormy ovations.

How many ovations! A little too many. A week before the scene just described, this same Bublikov, a big railroad magnate, attending a congress of industrialists, had bellowed against the soviet leaders: “Away with the dishonest, the ignorant, all those who have driven us toward destruction!” and his words were still echoing in the atmosphere of Moscow. The old Marxist, Riazanov, who attended the conference as a trade union delegate, very appropriately recalled the kiss of the prelate of Lyon, Lamourette – “That kiss which was exchanged by two parts of the National Assembly – not the workers and the bourgeoisie, but two parts of the bourgeoisie – and you know that the struggle never burst out more furiously than just after that kiss.” Miliukov acknowledges with unaccustomed frankness that this union was, upon the side of the industrialists, “not sincere, but practically necessary for a class which would have too much to lose. The celebrated handshake of Bublikov was just such a reconciliation, with mental reservations.”

Did the majority of the members of the conference believe in the force of handshakes and political kisses? Did they believe in themselves? Their feelings were contradictory, like their plans. To be sure, in certain individual speeches, especially from the provinces, there was still to be heard the crackle of the first raptures, hopes, illusions. But in a conference where the left half was disappointed and demoralized, and the right enraged, these echoes of the March days sounded like the correspondence of a betrothed couple made public in their divorce trial. Having already departed into the kingdom of shades, these politicians were saving with spectral measures a spectral régime. A deathly cold breath of hopelessness hung over this assembly of “living forces,” this final parade of the doomed.

Towards the very end of the conference an incident occurred revealing the deep split even in that group which was considered the model of unity and loyalty to the state, the Cossacks. Nagaiev, a young Cossack officer in the soviet delegation, declared that the working Cossacks were not with Kaledin. The Cossacks at the front, he said, do not trust the Cossack leaders. That was true, and touched the conference upon its sorest point. The newspaper accounts here report the stormiest of all the scenes at the conference. The Left ecstatically applauded Nagaiev and shouts were heard: “Hurrah for the revolutionary Cossacks!” Indignant protests from the Right: “You will answer for this!” A voice from the officers’ benches: “German marks!” In spite of the inevitability of these words as the last argument of patriotism, they produced an effect like an exploding bomb. The hall was filled with a perfectly hellish noise. The soviet delegates jumped from their seats, threatening the officers’ benches with their fists. There were cries of “Provocateurs!” The president’s bell clanged continually. “Another moment and it seemed as though a fight would begin.”

After all that had taken place Kerensky declared in his concluding speech: “I believe and I even know ... that we have achieved a better understanding of each other, that we have achieved a greater respect for each othe r .” Never before had the duplicity of the February régime risen to such disgusting and futile heights of falsity. Himself unable to sustain this tone, the orator suddenly burst out in the midst of his concluding phrases into a wail of threat and despair. As Miliukov describes it: “With a broken voice which fell from a hysterical shriek to a tragic whisper, Kerensky threatened an imaginary enemy, intently searching for him throughout the hall with inflamed eyes ...” Miliukov really knew better than anybody else that this enemy was not imaginary. “Today citizens of the Russian land, I will no longer dream ... May my heart become a stone ...” Thus Kerensky raged: “Let all those flowers and dreams of humanity dry up. (A woman’s voice from the gallery: ‘You cannot do that. Your heart will not permit you.’) I throw far away the key of my heart, beloved people. I will think only of the state.”

The hall was stupefied, and this time both halves of it. The social symbol of the State Conference wound up with an insufferable monologue from a melodrama. That woman’s voice raised in defense of the flowers of the heart sounded like a cry for help, like an SOS from the peaceful, sunny, bloodless February revolution. The curtain came down at last upon the State Conference.

Source: Marxist Internet Archive