The October Revolution in the American Press

Seattle Labor Council Sends Greetings To Workers Of Russia

The Russia transport Shilka, sailed into Elliot Bay, Seattle, around Christmas of 1917, carrying a cargo of liquorice root, peas and beans. Rumors were widespread that it also carried gold and munitions to aid in starting a Bolshevik revolution in the United States. “All of us are Bolsheviki,” the committee of the crew told a group of representatives from the Seattle Central Labor Council. Through the aid of a Russian interpreter, the Central Labor Council learned of conditions in what the Seattle Union Record called “the world’s newest and most advanced democracy” (2 February 1918). When the Shilka left harbor on January 8 1918, it carried a letter from the Central Labor Council to the workers of Russia.

To the Workers of All Russia, Who Are Sincerely Endeavouring to Establish Democracy, In Care of the Crew of the Russian Steamship Shilka.

Brothers and Sisters: The Central Labor Council of Seattle, representing upwards of 40,000 organized workers of this city, an integral part of the American Federation of Labor, whose membership is composed of 2,000,000 men and women, welcomes the opportunity presented by the visit of the Russian steamship Shilka to this port to send you our fraternal greetings and express to you our sincere hope for the success of your efforts to make of Russia a free republic conditioned upon both political and industrial democracy.

Having no direct means of communication with you, and compelled to rely upon other sources for our information, including perverted news through a capitalist controlled press, and consequently misled as to Russian internal conditions, we make no effort nor have we any desire to address ourselves exclusively to any one faction, but we extend to all factions of workers alike our hearty good will, firm in the belief that in the end (which we trust is not far off) the rule of the workers will be absolute, and the affairs of your great country, the first of any in modern history, placed to remain in the hands of the only necessary and responsible class in society—the working-class.

Again expressing to you our profound sympathy with you in your efforts to establish true democracy and pledging you our hearty support in hastening that end, we are, yours fraternally.

- Central Labor Council of Seattle, A. E. Miller, G.M. Welty, Leon Glasser, Committee; James A. Duncan, Secretary, 2 January 1918. Seattle Union Record, 2 February 1918.

10. Tacoma IWW Greets Revolutionists

During their stay in the United States, the crew of the Shilka visited the halls of the IWW in Seattle and Tacoma. When the ship left it also carried a message from the IWW local of Tacoma.

To the Revolutionary Movement of All Russia, and Especially the Crew of the Transport Shilka, Now in the American Port of Tacoma, Washington:

Fellow Workers: We, the members of the Tacoma Branch of the IWW, wish to extend to you our heartiest greetings and best wishes, and wish to compliment all the revolutionists who took part in the successful crushing of the autocrats of your part of the world. But we wish above all to commend you for your wonderful example in building the New Society and raising the Proletariat to its rightful place as rulers of its own destiny, in which we recognize you as co-workers with the Industrial Workers of the World in our attempt to establish the worldwide Indus trial Commonwealth and the great idea of the Brotherhood of Man, to the end that the human race may be able to continue to progress higher and greater, unhampered by parasites of any kind.

You no doubt realize that we, the revolutionists of America being still in the minority, are unable as yet to follow your example in freeing ourselves from the terrible slave system in which we are enthralled, but confidently look forward to the time when we can reach across the Pacific Ocean and grasp the hands of our Progressive Fellow Workers in Russia and say WE ARE WITH YOU!

The prosecution of the members of the Industrial Workers of the World becomes more severe each day, and our organization grows accordingly. We have nothing but great hopes for the future Freedom of ALL MANKIND. LONG LIVE THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION!

Yours for the Freedom of the Workers,

- A. R. Tucker, W. H. Harrington, K. McClennon, Committee, 5 January 1918. Industrial Worker, Seattle, 12 January 1918.

11. NY Socialists Greet Revolution

Here, another greeting to the revolutionaries from The Socialist Party of New York.

The convention of the Socialist party of Greater New York extends its heartiest greetings to the Russian Revolution and its de facto Socialist government, who so valiantly uphold the principles of international Socialism and are therefore the living refutation of the capitalistic hope that revolutionary working-class solidarity is dead.

We are highly gratified over the fact that the first Socialist government ever established has brought about the beginning of peace negotiations and was instrumental in forcing the imperialistic world powers and their capitalistic governments to pay homage, in words if not in deeds, to the Socialist peace formula of: no annexations, no punitive indemnities and the self-determination of nationalities.

The convention takes great pride in the courageous and consistently international attitude that the revolutionary government of Russia has taken in the peace negotiations with the central powers and expresses its special satisfaction over the decided refusal to sanction annexation in any form.

- New York Evening Call, 7 January 1918.

12. Boston Socialists Greet Revolution

Another greeting to the revolutionaries, here from The Workmen's Council in Boston.

The members and friends of the Socialist Party and of the Workmen’s Council of Greater Boston, assembled in mass meeting this 13th day of January, hail the Russian revolution as the greatest achievement for humanity in this century. We send greetings of working-class fellowship and solidarity to the revolutionary government of Russia and endorse the struggle of Russian revolutionists against the imperialists of all countries. We greet the Russian Revolution as the dawn of a new era for the workers of the world. The heroic struggle of our Russian comrades against the lying press of the imperialists of other nations, their success in thwarting the counter-revolution of the reactionaries and their service in publishing the secret treaties of the capitalist governments with the old Tsarism are additional proofs of their proletarian statesmanship in this hour of world travail.

We commemorate the martyrs and the heroic dead of our class who fell victims of the hated regime of the Romanovs. We member with reverence the grim lines of revolutionists that walked their weary way in exile to frozen Siberia; the comrades who rotted away in the vile dungeons of the autocracy, and the brave fighters who went to the scaffold with songs on their lips.

We also send heartfelt greetings to the revolutionaries in all countries who have gone to prison, some to their death, in the glorious struggle against the imperialists and international exploiters. We send special greetings to Karl Liebknecht and the increasing numbers associated with him in the struggle against Prussian domination of Europe. Their fight is an inspiration to the workers of all nations who oppose the rise of autocracy at home.

We further welcome with joy the increasing signs of the decay of capitalism in all advanced countries and the increasing power of the working-class. The peace of the world will not be dictated by the professional diplomats and imperialists, but by the workers through the international that grows stronger every day. The old order of capitalism is passing, and the commonwealth of useful labor will yet be established on its ruins.

- New York Evening Call, 15 January 1918.

13. Banker Praises Bolshevik Leaders

Upon his return from Russia, Colonel William Boyce Thompson was interviewed by Charles W. Wood. The report Thompson gave of conditions in Russia differed sharply from that found in most commercial newspapers.

“Russia is not anarchistic. Russia is not lawless. The despised Bolsheviki are not and never have been pro-German, and the attitude of the American press in failing to understand them has tended to aid the Kaiser’s cause. The fact is that Russia has been under the leadership for several months of the most radical socialist group, but this fact is neither unnatural nor a thing to provoke despair. It simply means that Russia is pointing the way toward a new order of society throughout the world, a larger freedom, a more complete equality and what I believe to be a purer democracy than the world has ever known before. The Russian people have made tremendous sacrifices for this ideal, but they have been happy in their suffering and would not exchange their new found freedom for the conditions that obtain anywhere else on earth.”

It was not a socialist who spoke. It was a Wall Street millionaire, a banker, a captain of industry, a 'mining king,' Col William Boyce Thompson, who had just returned from a six months’ trip to Russia as one of the heads of the American Red Cross mission. Unlike most Americans of wealth, he had made it a point while there to get acquainted with the Russian people, not merely with that 10 per cent who have made up the so-called respectable element. When he spoke of Russia, he spoke of the 90 per cent. They were the happy ones, that 90 per cent of no-accounts who are most decisively counting now.

“And the real pro-German element in Russia,” said Col. Thompson, “is not found among the mass of workers and peasants who were supposed to be conspiring for a separate peace. It is found among the very respectable capitalists and landlords, who have been the loudest in their cries that Lenin and Trotsky were German spies. The price of real estate jumped in Petrograd when Riga was captured by the Germans…

“I must say for the Bolsheviki that they have maintained a most surprising degree of order in Russia. The impression must prevail here that they sprang like a mob upon Petrograd, terrorizing the order-loving people, looted the homes and indulged in a general melee of riot and bloodshed. As a matter of fact, the change of government was announced officially in every section of Petrograd. The city was divided into regional head-quarters and every person in Petrograd knew the headquarters of the region in which he lived. Instructions were issued in case assistance were needed to send word to these headquarters. An appeal always, within a few minutes brought a motor car filled with soldiers to the spot. Looting was absolutely prohibited and during the first month of the November revolution, I can say from my personal observations, there was better order than at any other time during my four months’ stay.

“This is the situation which in the American has so generally been called ‘anarchy’. There has been the greatest opportunity for the reigning of the anarchy in Russia that has ever existed since men began to wear boots, and yet, considering the temptations to lawlessness and to indulgence in license rather than liberty, the order and good behavior which prevailed are astounding. At no time since the Tsar was overthrown has there been anything for a single moment comparable to the excesses of the French Revolution.

“Yet the Russian Revolution must be looked upon as an equally great transition. Consider the wrongs that had been endured from time immemorial, the complete negation of liberty and human rights. A workingman in Russia was considered no better than a dog. In many respects he was treated worse. Then suddenly these 180,000,000 downtrodden human beings found themselves in possession of absolute liberty, and there were 10,000,000 of them under arms. In the face of this situation the intelligent classes were talking of placing a grand duke on the throne, or in some way preserving a measure of the old regime. But, notwithstanding this additional incentive to violent revenge, Russia was practically free of massacres of the upper-classes. This is all the more wonderful when we remember that the country had just passed through three years of brutalizing rule...

“I sincerely believe that Russia is pointing the way to general peace, just as she is pointing the way to great and sweeping world changes. It is not in Russia alone that the old order is passing. There is a lot of the old order in America and that is going, too. We may just as well open our eyes to it—all of us. The time has come everywhere when affairs must be handled for the benefit of the many—never again for the comparatively few, and what I call legislation by proxy must cease.

“I’m glad it is so. When I sat and watched those democratic conclaves in Russia, I felt that I would welcome a similar scene in the United States. Some cultured professor or some great captain of industry now in Congress might be answered by some locomotive fireman in hobnail boots; and often hobnails would have a shade the better of the oratory. I’d like to see a lot of workingmen in the United States Senate; not merely attorneys for workingmen, but men whose rough hands or rough and ready ways show that they are actually doing the world’s work. Then I’d like to see real employers side by side with them instead of their paid attorneys. I believe we’d all come to a better understanding then.”

Colonel Thompson blamed natural conservatism, not German propaganda, for our misunderstanding of Russia. But he insisted that this misunderstanding had been giving aid and comfort to the Kaiser.

“President Wilson,” he said jubilantly, “has shown that he appreciates the full situation. His message to Congress is one upon which the common people of all nations can come to a common understanding. It should be received by the world of Germany with the same enthusiasm that it was received in Petrograd; and it is not beyond my expectations that it may prove a death blow to German imperialism.”

- San Francisco Examiner, 19 January 1918.