The Bolsheviks in the tsarist Duma

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   The Bolsheviks in the tsarist Duma

The Outbreak of War


Chapter XXII
The Outbreak of War

The Declaration of War – Workers’ Demonstrations during the Mobilisation – The Duma Declaration – Refusal to Vote War Credits – Conditions of Party Work at the Commencement of the War – First Anti-War Proclamations of the St. Petersburg Committee – A Raid by the Secret Police – a Journey across Russia

The Baku strike and the July demonstrations of the St. Petersburg workers were the last big revolutionary events before the outbreak of war. These struggles had produced many victims among the workers. When the mass movement had developed into barricade fighting and armed collisions, the tsarist government did not let anything stand in the way of their endeavours to crush the incipient revolution. The series of lock-outs had struck at the economic conditions of the workers and mass arrests and deportations weakened the political organisation of the working class. The proletariat required a certain time to recover, to collect its forces for fresh onslaughts on tsarism. The workers were, however, denied this respite; on the contrary, subsequent events struck a heavy blow at the revolutionary movement.

The declaration of war was a signal for the blackest reactionary forces to redouble their attacks on the working-class movement. In the atmosphere of rabid chauvinism and artificial jingoism, the tsarist government savagely repressed all legal and illegal working-class organisations.

The war, although nominally caused by a quarrel between Austria and Serbia, was really a gigantic struggle between imperialist brigands, who were ready to cut each other’s throats in the fight for new markets. The war promised the bourgeoisie the possibility of fresh plunder abroad and enormous profits from war orders at home. The bourgeoisie of all countries greeted the outbreak of war with delight, cloaking their desire for booty under a thin veneer of nationalist ideals. The Russian bourgeoisie was no exception in this respect. It had formerly allowed itself the liberty of playing at liberalism and opposition, but now for the sake of imperialist aspirations it hastened to bend the knee and swear whole-hearted allegiance to the flag of tsarism. It suddenly discovered that the Romanov autocracy with its bloody police regime and its cruel oppression of the masses was a champion of democracy and the defender of small nations against the Prussian Junkers and German militarists.

Patriotic demonstrations were staged in the streets of St. Petersburg. House-porters, policemen, secret police, together with the riff-raff of all descriptions paraded the streets, carrying portraits of the tsar and national flags, singing “God save the tsar,” and shouting “hurrah” at the top of their voices. Under the protection of the forces of “law and order,” the demonstrators became brazen, knocking off the hats of passers-by and beating up any citizen who was not sufficiently enthusiastic in his patriotism. Any such demonstration was liable to be transformed at any moment into a crowd of characteristic Russian pogrom-makers. In St. Petersburg, the “patriots” smashed the windows of the German Embassy, and in Moscow they attacked several German commercial and industrial enterprises.

Patriotic pogroms alternated with ceremonies of kneeling in front of the tsar’s palace. Even the students, who were formerly so proud of their “Left” traditions, stood on their knees before the Winter Palace, shouting hurrahs and paying homage to their “beloved” sovereign.

Under cover of the wave of chauvinism which swept over the country the tsarist police hastened to settle accounts with its old “internal enemy,” the most advanced section of the Russian proletariat. By a stroke of the pen, such working class organisations as still survived were suppressed. Siberia was once again crowded with exiles, and party organisations lost many of their best members. The war, for which the bourgeoisie had been preparing for some time, found the working-class not only unprepared, but recently defeated in a serious encounter with the forces of tsarism. At the same time, certain groups of backward workers, who did not grasp the real significance of events, were infected by the widely diffused poison of patriotism. In these circumstances it was difficult to envisage any widespread organised resistance to the war-madness and war-reaction by the Russian proletariat.

And yet, despite these handicaps, a number of anti-war actions took place in St. Petersburg in the first days of the war. As soon as general mobilisation was announced, the St. Petersburg Committee issued its first anti-war proclamation: “A sanguinary spectre haunts Europe,” “Down with war! War against war! These words must re-echo through all the cities and villages of Russia.” This was the Party’s appeal to the workers, peasants and soldiers.

“The workers must remember that workers across the frontier are not their enemies. The workers of all countries are oppressed by the rich and governing classes, they are exploited everywhere ... Soldiers and workers, you are being called upon to die for the glory of the cossack whips, for the glory of your country – your country, which shoots down workers and peasants and which imprisons your best sons. We must declare that we do not want this war. Our battle-cry is ‘Liberty for Russia.’”

This proclamation was hastily drafted as soon as the news of the outbreak of war had become known, and only contained a brief survey of the situation, but it will be seen that the St. Petersburg Party organisation had already given the cue which was subsequently strengthened, developed and completed by all other Party organisations.

Although communications with the provinces were interrupted immediately, we had little doubt that a similar spirit animated the advanced provincial workers. We obtained only fragmentary news of which a letter I received from Kostroma a few days after the mobilisation is typical. This letter contained the following resolution adopted by a group of Kostroma workers:

We protest most emphatically against the action of the tsarist government in involving the Russian proletariat in a fratricidal war with the proletariat of Germany and Austria. We ask the Duma Social-Democratic Workers’ Fraction what steps it has taken against the war and what it has done to express fraternal solidarity with the proletariat of the belligerent states.

On the day that the army was mobilised the workers of about twenty factories struck in St. Petersburg in protest against the war. In some places the workers met the reservists with shouts of “Down with the war” and with revolutionary songs. But the demonstrations now took place under conditions different from those of a few weeks before. The onlookers, particularly in the centre of the city, were incited by patriotic sentiment and no longer maintained a “friendly neutrality,” but took an active part in hunting down the demonstrators and helping the police to make arrests.

One such “patriotic” outburst occurred in the Nevsky Prospect on the first day of mobilisation, while a workers’ demonstration was marching past the town Duma. The people in the street, mostly bourgeois loafers, who usually hid themselves or made off through side streets when workers’ demonstrations appeared, now became very active and, with shouts of “traitors,” assisted the police to beat up the demonstrators. The police were able to arrest the workers and take them off to the police station.

In such conditions it was impossible to organise a widespread movement against the war and the heroic acts of individual workers were drowned in a sea of militant patriotism.

In order to demonstrate more clearly the complete “unity” of the tsar with the people and, above all, to get war credits voted, the State Duma was hastily convened. Most of the deputies from the extreme Right to the Cadets were thoroughly war-minded and talked of nothing but “war until victory is won,” “defence of the fatherland,” etc. The newspapers competed with each other in reproducing the patriotic utterances of the party leaders in the Duma on the necessity of combining to fight the foreign enemy.

The bourgeois press was very anxious about the attitude the workers’ deputies would adopt with regard to the war. While I was receiving visits from workers one evening at home, a crowd of bourgeois journalists from all the St. Petersburg papers, from the Black Hundred Zemschina to the Left Den, arrived and asked me a number of questions.

“What is the attitude of the workers towards the war? What is the position taken up by your fraction? What do the workers’ deputies propose to do in the Duma?”

Producing their note-books and pencils, they made ready to take down my answers. But what I said was altogether unsuitable for publication in their newspapers. I declared:

The working class will oppose the war with all its force. The war is against the interests of the workers. On the contrary, its edge is turned against the working class all over the world. The Basle Congress of the Socialist International, in the name of the world proletariat, passed a resolution declaring that, in case of the declaration of war, our duty was to wage a determined struggle against it. We, the real representatives of the working class, will fight for the slogan “War against War.” Every member of our fraction will fight against the war with all the means at his disposal.

Needless to say, my answer was not published in any newspaper, but immediately became known to the secret police, who saw in my words a confirmation of the anti-war position of our Party, and I began to receive abusive letters written not to convince but to terrorise.

“You will share the fate of Herzenstein and Yollos,” was the theme of several letters from members of the Black Hundreds. Herzenstein and Yollos were two deputies of the previous Dumas assassinated by members of the Union of the Russian People with the connivance of the secret police. One of the letters also contained a drawing of a skeleton, representing the fate that would overtake me.

When the workers learned of these threats, they insisted on providing me with a special guard at my home. Despite my protests as to the impossibility of protecting oneself against the assassin’s bullet, the workers insisted on this proposal.

This occurred in the first few days of the war, before the public declaration of the fraction which was to be made in the Duma during the discussion on the war credits vote. At first we attempted to work out a joint declaration for the two Social-Democratic fractions and the Trudoviks. After consulting with Party comrades who were in St. Petersburg, we decided to insist that the declaration should emphatically condemn the war and definitely refuse any support from the working class. Negotiations were opened between the three fractions, but the Trudoviks left at the first consultation. Kerensky, Chkheidze and myself were present, and Kerensky declared bluntly that the Trudoviks considered it necessary to declare in favour of war. Chkheidze wavered at first, inclining toward the need of “defending the country.”

However, after prolonged negotiations the two fractions proceeded to draft a joint declaration. The main lines of the declaration were decided at a conference attended by some members of our St. Petersburg Committee and some prominent Mensheviks. The first draft was drawn up, if I remember right, by Sokolov. Later in the day Shagov and Pctrovsky returned to St. Petersburg and joined us. Later more deputies of both fractions arrived, and after several more meetings and much discussion, the final text of the declaration was agreed to by both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks.

The next sitting of the Duma was to be held on July 26. A few days previously, most of the deputies, this time the Trudoviks included, went to a reception at the palace where they were able to give full vent to their sentiments of loyalty to the tsar. Rodzvanko opened the Duma with a highly patriotic speech about the “complete unity between the tsar and his loyal people”: for the “defence of the State and how “all the nationalities inhabiting Russia had merged into one fraternal family when their fatherland was in danger,” etc. These clap-trap formulas of militant patriotism were subsequently repeated with slight alterations by the leaders of the parties which composed the Duma majority. Kerensky, speaking for the Trudoviks, read a declaration which, after a few pseudo-revolutionary phrases, asserted that the Trudoviks were firmly convinced that “the great elemental force resistance to the enemy and would protect its home country and its culture which had been created by the sweat and blood of past generations.”

The declaration of the Social-Democratic fraction was then read, but Rodzyanko censored it before it was printed in the stenographic report.

Although our declaration did not contain a clear and precise characterisation of the war or of the position of the working class and did not give a well-defined revolutionary lead, yet, when set off against the jingo background, it sounded a clear call of protest against the war madness. In contrast to the statements made by the other parties, the Social-Democratic declaration resolutely condemned the war and opposed to it the solidarity of the working class, denying the existence of any “unity” between the tsar and the people which had been so hypocritically welcomed by the Black Hundred Duma.

After its patriotic orgy, the State Duma proceeded to vote the war budget. In accordance with decisions taken at all congresses of the International, our fraction refused to take any part in the voting and left the hall. Our declaration and our refusal to vote war credits raised a storm of protest from the Duma majority. Deputies from all other parties, including the left Cadets and Progressives, lost their temper and attacked us in the lobbies.

“What are you doing? You are the representatives of the workers and should lead them, but instead you are dragging the Russian people to the edge of an abyss. You will destroy the nation.”

The Right were very abusive and threatened to deal with us later, although quite ready to fall upon us then and there. We left the Duma followed by the threatening shouts of the Duma “diehards.”

Our anti-war stand in the Duma soon became widely known among the workers and it was taken as the guiding line for the anti-war work of the Party. We began gradually to rebuild our underground work, directed mainly towards organising the masses for a struggle against the war. The difficulties of Party work in the atmosphere which was created in the early days of the war and the difficulties of maintaining connections with the Central Committee abroad became intensified more than ever before. The Austrian authorities had arrested Lenin and it was two months before we could satisfactorily re-establish communications with the foreign centre. Our chief work was anti-war propaganda which, under war conditions, rendered every member who was caught liable to trial by court-martial and almost certain death.

After the destruction of Pravda and the labour press the Duma fraction remained the only rallying centre for the Party forces. The St. Petersburg Committee had been destroyed, and scarcely any of its members were left in St. Petersburg. Many had been arrested and others were forced into hiding in the adjoining districts. Their chief base was Finland, where Olminsky, Yeremeyev, Kamenev, Demyan Bedny, Gorky and other comrades were living. It was extremely difficult to keep in close touch with them, but it was very important that the Committee should be reconstructed. On the other hand, it was imperative to keep the activity of the St. Petersburg Committee as secret as possible. Hence the new St. Petersburg Committee had fewer members, although it was confronted with a larger amount of work.

The first task of the Committee was to establish contacts with the districts and to reorganise the printing facilities for the issue of proclamations. We had to make arrangements to dismantle the printing plant and transfer it and all other accessories to another place as soon as a proclamation had been printed. By this means, although the secret police continually arrested fresh batches of our members, we were able to continue our work.

I took the draft of the first proclamation to Finland to be edited from there. As the frontier was very carefully watched, I put one copy of the draft in my top-boot and another in a matchbox which I could burn at any moment if I was searched by the police. At the appointed place I met Comrade Yeremeyev and spent the whole night correcting the draft. The next morning, taking the same precautions, I returned to St. Petersburg and handed the draft to the group of comrades who were to print and distribute it. These comrades used to go to the most crowded points of the town – to the railway stations and the mobilisation depots – and give the proclamations to the reservists or sometimes push them into their pockets.

The St. Petersburg Committee issued its second proclamation on the war in the beginning of August. This proclamation dealt with the necessity of conducting propaganda among the troops, with preparing for an armed struggle, and with the approaching social revolution. Thus, the slogan of “War against war” was evolving into a practical programme of utilising the war for the revolutionary struggle.

The appearance of this proclamation alarmed the secret police, who had hoped they had succeeded in completely smashing the Party organisations and that their repressive measures and the prevailing patriotism had cut away the ground from under the feet of the revolutionary parties, the proclamation demonstrated that the Bolsheviks, far from being destroyed, were making use of the situation to further the revolutionary movement. The government decided to stamp out this “treason” and the secret police began to hunt down those comrades who were associated with the printing of the proclamation and to search for the illegal printing-press. Several arrests were made but the press was not discovered. [1]

Two weeks later we were able to issue another manifesto in the name of the St. Petersburg Committee. Despite the strict war-time measures, the manifestos were distributed at the factories and works and reached the reservists and to some extent the regular troops. They fulfilled their purpose of gradually reinforcing the revolutionary sentiments of the masses and dispersing the chauvinist fog spread by the government press. We exposed the true face of the imperialist war and appealed to the masses to prepare for an armed struggle under the banner of the international solidarity of the proletariat.

Gradually Party cells were reconstructed and Party members who had escaped arrest gathered around themselves all active workers and observing strict rules of secrecy recommenced their work. In the absence of any other legal working-class organisations. Party members turned their attention to the insurance societies which gave them contacts with the workers. District organisations were again formed and in some districts the work became very lively and delegates were sent to the St. Petersburg Committee. With great difficulty, and not so quickly as we would have desired, the Bolshevik organisation in St. Petersburg began to revive, to gather in new links and cells, and was able to continue its revolutionary work, directed now mainly towards fighting the war and preparing for revolutionary action by the working class.

The provinces slowly followed suit. In the second half of August I went round Russia on a tour originally planned in connection with the preparation for the Party congress and which I now used for the purpose of strengthening and re-establishing the local Party organisations. I proposed to visit some Volga cities and then proceed to Baku and Tiflis, for the Baku organisation had been destroyed after the long strike in the summer. I was also to initiate preparations for a Party conference proposed for the autumn.

In order to avoid spies I had to leave St. Petersburg secretly. After having walked about the city for some time I went to a forest near the Obukhovo station and waited until I saw a goods train approaching, then I ran to the line and jumped on the train which took me to Lyuban. Concordia Samoylova and Yuriev, who were living there since the destruction of the Party organisation, met me at an agreed spot and handed me a railway ticket. I went to the station just before the train left, climbed into a carriage and at once clambered into an upper bunk. The secret police soon missed me from St. Petersburg and hunted for me unsuccessfully all over the city.

I visited a number of cities, got in touch with Party members and with their help held a series of meetings. I gave them addresses to which they could safely send correspondence and literature and took part in settling various questions of local Party activity.

In Baku it was necessary to build up the organisation anew. After several conferences with Baku Bolsheviks, including Comrade Shaumyan, I decided to organise large meetings of workers throughout the oil-fields. These meetings, however, were never held; some agent-provocateur had managed to sneak into the conferences and I was immediately surrounded by spies who prevented me going anywhere without endangering the persons I met. In these circumstances we had to give up the idea of holding large workers’ meetings and, as I could not continue with a string of spies at my heels, I was forced to return directly to St. Petersburg.

On my arrival at St. Petersburg, I learned that a large force of secret police had been mobilised to discover my whereabouts. And, in the Duma, I was told how happy Junkovsky was when at last he was informed that I had turned up in Baku. In a conversation with a member of the Duma, Junkovsky had said, without attempting to hide his satisfaction: “Badayev had completely disappeared, but now we have found him in Baku.”

It was now September, and the other members of our fraction returned to St. Petersburg soon afterwards. Although they had had to discontinue their work of preparing for the congresses, they had strengthened Party work in the provinces. News from the localities brought evidence that our anti-war propaganda met with the support of the revolutionary workers.

1. It can be seen from the documents preserved in the Archives of the Police Department that the secret police considered that I was the chief agent in the issuing of these manifestos. The chief of the secret police reported that though “the St. Petersburg Committee has ceased its activity” yet “the restless youthful members of the illegal organisations are not content with their enforced inactivity and, under the influence of the Social-Democratic deputy, Badayev, have begun to issue a series of leaflets dealing with current events with the set purpose of discrediting the government’s conduct of the war.” The secret police were obviously acting under instructions to prepare the material necessary for my arrest and prosecution. But they failed to obtain the proofs they expected from their searches and reported: “All measures will be taken to obtain from persons arrested confessions which will prove that the deputy Badayev is engaged in revolutionary propaganda.”