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The Bolsheviks in the tsarist Duma
What has the Trial of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Fraction Proved?
by V.I. Lenin
The tsarist trial of five members of the RS-DW Fraction and six other Social-Democrats seized at a conference near Petrograd on November 17, 1914, is over. All of them have been sentenced to exile in Siberia. From the accounts of the trial published in the legal press the censorship has cut out items unpleasant to tsarism and patriots. The “internal enemies” were dealt with decisively and quickly, and again nothing is seen or heard on the surface of public life apart from the mad howl of a host of bourgeois chauvinists seconded by handfuls of social-chauvinists.
What, then, has the trial of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Fraction proved?
It has proved, first, that this advance detachment of revolutionary Social Democracy in Russia did not show sufficient firmness at the trial. It was the aim of the defendants to make it difficult for the State Attorney to identify the members of the Central Committee in Russia and the Party representative who had had certain dealings with workers’ organisations. This aim has been accomplished. In order that we may accomplish similar aims in the future, we must resort to a method long recommended officially by the Party, namely, refusal to testify. However, to attempt to show solidarity with the social-patriot, Mr. Jordansky, as did Comrade Rosenfeld (Kamenev – Ed.), or to point out one’s disagreement with the Central Committee, is an incorrect method; this is impermissible from the standpoint of revolutionary Social-Democracy.
We call attention to the fact that according to the report of the Dyen (Day) (No. 40) – there is no official and complete record of the trial – Comrade Petrovsky declared:
“At the same period (in November) I received the resolution of the Central Committee, and besides this ... there were presented to me resolutions of workers from seven localities concerning the attitude of the workers towards the war, resolutions coinciding with the attitude of the Central Committee.”
This declaration does Petrovsky honour. Chauvinism was running high everywhere. In Petrovsky’s diary there is a phrase to the effect that even radically minded Chkheidze spoke with enthusiasm of a war for “liberty”. This chauvinism was resisted by the Deputies, members of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Fraction, when they were free; it was also their duty to draw the line between themselves and chauvinism at the trial.
The Cadet Ryech (Speech) servilely “thanks” the tsarist court for “dispelling the legend” that the Russian Social-Democratic Deputies had wished the defeat of the tsarist armies. The Ryech takes advantage of the fact that the Social-Democrats in Russia are bound, hand and foot. The Cadets make believe that they take seriously the so-called “conflict” between the Party and the fraction, declaring that the defendants testified freely, not under the judicial sword of Damocles. What innocent babes! As if they do not know that in the first stages of the trial the Deputies were threatened with court-martial and capital punishment.
It was the duty of the comrades to refuse to give evidence concerning the illegal organisation; bearing in mind the world-historic importance of the moment, they had to take advantage of the open trial in order directly to expound the Social-Democratic views which are hostile not only to tsarism in general, but also to social-chauvinism of all and every shade.
Let the governmental and bourgeois press wrathfully attack the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Fraction; let Socialist-Revolutionaries, Liquidators and social-chauvinists (who must fight somehow, if they cannot fight us on the issue of principles!) maliciously “pick out” manifestations of weakness or of a so-called “disagreement with the Central Committee.” The Party of the revolutionary proletariat is strong enough openly to criticise itself, unequivocally to call a mistake and a weakness by their proper names. The class-conscious workers of Russia have created a Party and have placed at the front a vanguard which, when the World War is raging and international opportunism is bankrupt the world over, has proved most capable of fulfilling the duty of international revolutionary Social-Democrats. Our road has been tested by the greatest of all crises, and has proved over and over again the only correct road. We shall follow it still more determinedly and more firmly, we shall push to the front new advance-guards, we shall make them not only do the same work but complete it more correctly.
Secondly, the trial has unfolded a picture of revolutionary Social-Democracy taking advantage of parliamentarism, the like of which has not been witnessed in international Socialism. This example will, more than all speeches, appeal to the minds and hearts of the proletarian masses; it will, more than any arguments, repudiate the legalist-opportunists and anarchist phrase-mongers. The report of Muranov’s illegal work and Petrovsky’s notes will for a long while remain an example of our Deputies’ work which we were compelled diligently to conceal, and the meaning of which will give all the class-conscious workers of Russia more and more food for thought. At a time when nearly all “Socialist” (excuse me for debasing this word!) deputies of Europe proved to be chauvinists and servants of chauvinists, when the famous “Europeanism” that had charmed our Liberals and Liquidators proved a routine habit of slavish legality, there was a Workers’ Party in Russia whose deputies neither shone with fine rhetoric, nor had “access” to the bourgeois intellectual drawing rooms, nor possessed the business-like efficiency of a “European” lawyer and parliamentarian, but excelled in maintaining connections with the working masses, in ardent work among those masses, in carrying out the small, unpretentious, difficult, thankless and unusually dangerous functions of illegal propagandists and organisers. To rise higher, to the rank of a deputy influential in “society” or to the rank of a Minister, such was in reality the meaning of the “European” (read: lackey-like) “Socialist” parliamentarism. To go deeper, to help enlighten and unite the exploited and the oppressed, this is the slogan advanced by the examples of Muranov and Petrovsky.
And this slogan will have a world-wide historic significance. There is not one thinking worker in any country of the world who would agree to confine himself to the old legality of bourgeois parliamentarism once it has been abolished in all the advanced countries by a stroke of the pen (a legality which brought about only a more intimate practical alliance between the opportunists and the bourgeoisie). Whoever dreams of “unity” between revolutionary Social-Democratic workers and the “European” Social-Democratic legalists of yesterday and of to-day has learned nothing and forgotten nothing and is in reality an ally of the bourgeoisie and an enemy of the proletariat. Whoever has failed to grasp at the present day for what reason and for what purpose the Social-Democratic Workers Fraction had split away from the Social-Democratic Fraction that was making peace with legalism and opportunism, let him learn now, from the report of the trial, of the activities of Muranov and Petrovsky. This work was conducted not only by those two deputies, and only hopelessly naive people can dream of a compatibility between such work and a “friendly tolerant relation” with the Nasha Zarya or the Severnaya Rabochaya Gazeta, the Sovremennik, the Organisation Committee, or the Bund.
Does the government hope to frighten the workers by sending into Siberia the members of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Fraction? It is mistaken. The workers will not be frightened; on the contrary, they will better understand their aims, the aims of a Labour Party as distinct from the Liquidators and the social-chauvinists. The workers will learn to elect to the Duma men like the members of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Fraction for similar and broader work, and at the same time they will learn to conduct still more secret activities among the masses. Does the government intend to kill “illegal parliamentarism” in Russia? It will only strengthen the connections of the proletariat exclusively with that kind of parliamentarism.
Thirdly, and this is most important, the trial of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Fraction has, for the first time, yielded open objective material, spread over Russia in millions of copies, concerning the most fundamental, the most significant question as to the relation to the war of various classes of Russian society. Have we not had enough of that nauseating intellectual prattle about the compatibility of “defence of the fatherland” with internationalism “in principle” (that is to say, purely verbal and hypocritical internationalism)? Has not the time come to face the facts that relate to classes, i.e., to millions of living people, and not to dozens of phrase-heroes?
More than half a year has passed since the beginning of the war. The press, both legal and illegal, has expressed itself. All the party groupings of the Duma have defined their positions, these being a very insufficient but the only objective indicator of our class groupings. The trial of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Fraction, and the press comments, have summed up all this material. The trial has shown that the advanced representatives of the proletariat in Russia are not only hostile to chauvinism in general but that, in particular, they share the position of our Central Organ. The Deputies were arrested on November 17, 1914. Consequently, they conducted their work for more than two months. With whom and how did they conduct it? What currents in the working class did they reflect and express? The answer to this is given in the fact that the conference used the “theses” of the Sotsial-Demokrat as material, that the Petrograd committee of our Party more than once issued leaflets of the same nature. There was no other material at the conference. The Deputies did not intend to report to the conference about other currents in the working class, because there were no other currents.
But did not the members of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Fraction express only the opinion of a minority of the workers? We have no right to make such a supposition, since, for two and a half years, from spring, 1912, to autumn, 1914, four-fifths of the class-conscious workers of Russia rallied around the Pravda with which these Deputies worked in full ideological solidarity. This is a fact. Had there been a more or less appreciable protest among the workers against the position of the Central Committee, this protest would not have failed to find expression in the proposed resolutions. Nothing of the kind was revealed at the trial, although the trial, we are frank to say, did “reveal” much of the work of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Fraction. The corrections in Petrovsky’s hand do not reveal even the slightest shade of any difference of opinion.
The facts tell us that, in the very first months after the beginning of the war, the class-conscious vanguard of the workers of Russia rallied, in practice, around the Central Committee and the Central Organ. This fact may be unpleasant to one or the other of our “fractions,” still it cannot be denied. The words quoted in the indictment: “It is necessary to direct the armies not against our brothers, the wage-slaves of other countries, but against the reaction of the bourgeois governments and parties of all countries” – these words will spread, thanks to the trial, and they have already spread over Russia as an appeal to proletarian internationalism, to proletarian revolution. The class slogan of the vanguard of the workers of Russia has reached, thanks to the trial, the widest masses of the workers.
An epidemic of chauvinism among the bourgeoisie and one section of the petty bourgeoisie, vacillations in another section, and a working class appeal of this nature – this is the actual objective picture of our political activities. It is to this actual picture, and not to the benevolent wishes of intellectuals and founders of little groups, that one has to adapt one’s “prospects,” hopes, slogans.
The “Pravdist” papers and the “Muranov type” of work have brought about the unity of four-fifths of the class-conscious workers of Russia. About forty thousand workers bought the Pravda; many more read it. Let war, prison, Siberia, hard labour break five times more or ten times more – this section of the workers cannot be annihilated. It is alive. It is permeated with revolutionary spirit, it is anti-chauvinist. It alone stands among the masses of the people, and deeply rooted in their midst, as a protagonist of the internationalism of the toiling, the exploited, the oppressed. It alone has kept its ground in the general debacle. It alone leads the semi-proletarian elements away from the social-chauvinism of the Cadets, Trudoviks, Plekhanovs, the Nasha Zarya, and on to Socialism. Its existence, its ideas, its work, its appeal to the “brotherhood of wage slaves of other countries “ have been revealed to the whole of Russia by the trial of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Fraction.
It is with this section that we must work. It is its unity that must be defended against social-chauvinism. It is only along this road that the labour movement of Russia can develop towards social revolution and not towards national liberalism of the “European” type.
Sotsial-Demokrat, No. 40, March 29, 1915.
Complete Works, Vol. xviii, page 151.