The Great Withdrawal

“The great withdrawal of the bourgeoisie from the government." This is what the main speaker of the Executive Committee, in a report he submitted last Sunday, called the formation of the coalition government and the entry of former socialists into the Ministry.

Only the first three words in this phrase are correct. "The great withdrawal" does indeed characterise and explain May 6 (the formation of the coalition government). It was on that day that "the great withdrawal" really began, or, to be exact, manifested itself most clearly. Only, it was not a great withdrawal of the bourgeoisie from the government but a great withdrawal of the Menshevik and Narodnik leaders from the revolution.

The significance of the Congress of Soviets of Soldiers’ and Workers’ Deputies now in session lies in the fact that it has made this circumstance clearer than ever.

May 6 was a triumph for the bourgeoisie. The bourgeois government was on the verge of defeat. The masses were definitely and absolutely, sharply and irreconcilably opposed to it. One word from the Narodnik and Menshevik leaders of the Soviet would have sufficed to induce the government to relinquish its power unquestioningly. Lvov had to admit that openly at the sitting in the Mariinsky Palace.

The bourgeoisie resorted to a skilful manoeuvre which was new to the Russian petty bourgeoisie and to Russia’s masses in general, which intoxicated the intellectual Menshevik and Narodnik leaders, and which took proper account of their Louis Blanc nature. The reader may recall that Louis Blanc was a renowned petty-bourgeois socialist who entered the French Government in 1848 and became as sadly famed in 1871. Louis Blanc imagined himself to be the leaderof the "labour democrats" or ’socialist democrats" (the term “democracy” was used in the France of 1848 as frequently as in Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik writing in 1917), but in reality he was the tail-end of the bourgeoisie, a play thing in their hands.

During the almost seventy years that have elapsed since then, that manoeuvre, which is a novelty in Russia, has been made many times by the bourgeoisie in the West. The purpose of this manoeuvre is to make the "socialist democratic" leaders who “withdraw” from socialism and from the revolution harmless appendages of a bourgeois government, to shield this government from the people by means of near-socialist Ministers, to cover up the counter-revolutionary nature of the bourgeoisie by a glittering, spectacular faíade of “socialist” ministerialism.

This method has been developed to a veritable art in France. It has also been tested on many occasions in Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, and many of the Latin countries. It is this manoeuvre that was made in Russia on May 6, 1917.

“Our” near-socialist Ministers found themselves in a situation in which the bourgeoisie began to use them as their cat’s paw, to do through them what the bourgeoisie could never have done without them.

Through Guchkov it would have been impossible to lure the people into continuing the imperialist,predatory war, a war for redivision of the colonies and annexed territories in general. Through Kerensky (and Tsereteli, who was busier defending Tereshchenko than defending the post and telegraph workers), the bourgeoisie were able, as correctly admitted by Milyukov and Maklakov, to begin “organising” the continuation of this kind of war.

Through Shingaryov it would have been impossible to ensure the preservation of the landed estates system at least until the convocation of the Constituent Assembly (if an offensive were to take place, it would “enable Russia to re cover completely", said Maklakov. That means that the Constituent Assembly itself would be “healthier”). Through Chernov, this can be brought about. The peasants have been told, although they have not been very glad to hear it, that to rent land from the landowners by agreement with each individual owner is “order”, while to abolish the landed estates at one stroke and rent from the people, pending the convocation of the Constituent Assembly, land formerly owned by the landowners is “anarchy”. This counter-revolutionary idea of the landowners could only be put into effect through Chernov.

Through Konovalov it would have been impossible to ensure the safeguarding (and the increase—see what the ministerial newspaper, Rabochaya Gazeta, writes about the coal industrialists) of the scandalous profits from war contracts. Through Skobelev, or with his participation, this safeguarding can be ensured by allegedly preserving the old order, by near-“Marxist” rejection of the possibility of “introducing” socialism.

Because socialism cannot be introduced the scandalously high profits made by the capitalists not from their purely capitalist business but from supplies to the armed forces, to the state—these profits can be both concealed from the people and retained!—this is the wonderful Struvean argument which has brought together Tereshchenko and Lvov, on the one hand, and the “Marxist” Skobelev, on the other.

Popular meetings and the Soviets cannot be influenced through Lvov, Milyukov, Tereshchenko, Shingaryov and the rest. But they can be influenced through Tsereteli, Chernov and Co. in the same old bourgeois direction. And one can pursue the same old bourgeois-imperialist policy by means of particularly impressive, particularly “nice”-sounding phrases, to the point of denying the people the elementary democratic right to elect local authorities and prevent both their appointment and confirmation from above.

By denying this right, Tsereteli, Chernov and Co. have unwittingly turned from ex-socialists into ex-democrats.

A “great withdrawal", all right!

June 21 1917