The Russian Revolution, February 1917
Sometime in 1917 the Socialist Party of Great Britain was sent from Stockholm the Bulletin of the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Workers and Soldiers Deputies, which has become known as the Petrograd Soviet.
The Bulletin was a collection of a number of documents, published in English, by various groups within the Petrograd Soviet.
A keen philatelist in the Party had removed the postage stamp but on the back of the envelope is attached a sticker bearing the legend: “opened by Censor 782”. Under wartime regulations, all foreign post was routinely opened by British government censors.
The entire document is published below. The document’s historical importance is due to the fact that not many of these Bulletins now survive. The political importance of the Bulletin is that it contains articles and addresses from the Bolsheviks, the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries. Eventually, the Bolsheviks would begin to ruthlessly squeeze out all other opposition groups from the Petrograd Soviet.
Readers of the Bulletin were told that the responsible editor was Karl Lindoff, then residing in Stockholm. The Bulletin was to be published ten times a month. The edition published below is Bulletin No. 1 for June 26th, 1917. At this point, with the Kerensky Government still prosecuting the war, the Bolsheviks were thinking of attempting a coup.
Lindoff was to write:
“The purpose of our Bulletin is to help the public opinion of all countries to properly estimate the Russian Revolution
”. And this is precisely what the Socialist Party of Great Britain did, albeit with only the limited information at hand. For in August 1918 the SOCIALIST STANDARD carried an article “The Revolution in Russia: Where it Fails” which argued:
Is this huge mass of people, numbering about 160,000,000 and spread over eight and a half millions of square miles, ready for Socialism? Are the hunters of the North, the struggling peasant proprietors of the south, the agricultural wage-slaves of the Central Provinces, and the industrial wage-slaves of the towns convinced of the necessity, and equipped with the knowledge requisite, for the establishment of the social ownership of the means of life?
Unless a mental revolution such as the world has never seen before has taken place, or an economic change has occurred immensely more rapidly than history has ever recorded, the answer is “No !
RUSSIA SINCE 1917: SOCIALIST VIEWS OF BOLSHEVIK POLICY, SPGB pamphlet, 1947, p. 14
The 1917 Russian Revolution actually started in late February. Triggered by the introduction of food rationing cards in Petrograd, it was launched by (mainly) women, infuriated by shortages and long queues for bread. When ordered to fire upon the protesters, the soldiers disobeyed. Along with massive protest demonstrations, there were mass strikes. Within days the Tsar had abdicated, and a ‘Provisional’ government led by a former minister, Kerensky, took over.
But as the war dragged on, with increasing hardships for civilians, both in the cities and the countryside, the government lurched from crisis to crisis. By summer, peasants were taking over the estates of the landowners; long columns of soldiers were voting with their feet, making their way home; and, after a failed coup in early July, by October/November Lenin and Trotsky achieved another revolution.
The importance of the February revolution is the light it sheds on Lenin’s spurious claim that a vanguard party with a centralised, top-down leadership was essential for leading the supine and ignorant masses. Lenin held that “the working class by virtue of its own powers alone is capable solely of developing a trade union consciousness... class consciousness can only be brought to the workers from the outside, that is from outside the economic struggle, outside the sphere of the relations between workers and employers” (WHAT IS TO BE DONE?, March 1902). Just weeks before, in Switzerland, Lenin had stated that Russian workers were more backward and less revolutionary than any European workers so there was no chance of a revolution starting in Russia.
But in Petrograd, at a time when the regime was weakened, workers and women could and did push at a rotten door. Just then, Petrograd had few members of the Bolshevik party left (many were exiled or jailed). As one activist wrote, “The revolution caught us, the party people of those days, like the foolish virgins of the Bible, napping.” Another confirmed this: “Absolutely no guiding initiative from the party centres was felt” (quoted by Trotsky, THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION - chap. 8 “Who led the February Revolution?
”). So the Bolshevik party, Lenin’s revolutionary vanguard with its advanced theory, could not claim any credit for initiating or leading this movement, and the February revolution took them by surprise. In February 1917, the demonstrations and strikes seem to have been self-organised without the help of any useless leaders.
The women’s demonstrations led to mass strikes, and the release of – mostly Menshevik – political prisoners. These established as a rival political authority the Petrograd Soviet (a workers’ council), which at once started to arrange for food supplies. By November a popular slogan was “All power to the Soviets!” but these councils were by June 1918 side-lined by the Bolsheviks.
A vanguard party could only result in top-down minority rule, and so dictatorship. But Socialism cannot be achieved that way: it requires a class-conscious majority, democratically and politically organised with a single objective. By ending the wages system, a Socialist working class can make Socialism possible.
Bulletin of the Executive Committee of the Petrograd COUNCIL of WORKMEN’S AND SOLDIERS DEPUTIES/DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
The Purpose pf our Bulletin is to help the public opinion of all countries to properly estimate the Russian Revolution.
The disarrangement of the means of communication resulting from the war, the antagonism of reactionary governments and, mainly, the unusual and complicated character of the momentous events in Russia – such are the main cause of the innumerable false conceptions spread in all countries with regard to the activity of the Petrograd council of Workmen’s and Soldier’ Deputies, of the Russian political parties and with regard to the work of revolutionary Russia.
Our aim is to assist the public opinion of the civilised world to dispel the fog caused by the distortion and misunderstanding and we will do it by publication of telegrams and statements sent directly by the Executive Committee of the Council of workmen’s and Soldiers’ Deputies, of quotations from the Russian socialist papers and of editorial articles.
In this connection we urge the parties and organs in sympathy with Russian Revolution to assist in the work of mutual information by supplying us with document and materials of all kinds
Reprint without indication of the source prohibited.
Regarding the Conference in Stockholm
The Petrograd Workmen’s and Soldiers Council Wires to us: Upon a request of our French brothers, who cannot arrive in due time, the Conference will be put off. The new date will be appointed after an agreement with the parties of France and of other countries will have been reached.
The invitation to the British Independent Labour Party
The Executive Committee of the Workmen’s and Soldiers Council expresses its deep respect to Messrs MacDonald and Jowett and invites them to visit Petrograd in order to enter into direct relations with the revolutionary democracy.
Draft of the aims of peace of the Russian Democracy
The Department of the International Relations has submitted to the Workmen’s and Soldiers Council the following basic principles adopted by the Executive Committee on June 1st.
The International Conference, which will be assembled by the Executive Committee, aims at the unification of the toiling classes of all countries in common struggle, in order to attain a just peace. The wish of all toiling classes to establish speedy peace without any oppression or injustices towards any of its populations involved, presents a favourable basis for such a reunification. Those terms of peace had been generally expressed by the formula: “peace without annexations or indemnities on the basis of the right of nations to autonomous self-government”. In order to obtain such a peace, it will be necessary that the democracy, united in every country with regard to these aims, takes up again the struggle against the imperialistic classes and that all democracies together fight against the imperialism which rules over the worlds policy.
It will not be possible for us to obtain a democratic peace, until we have overcome the policy of the capitalist classes. The Conference will be called and the Appeal to the parties will be issued on this basis, in order to induce the parties to begin common action against the capitalist policy. We must aim at uniting the toiling classes. The farther this unity will be extended the more effective will be its influence. For this reason, the Executive Committee, in its call for the Conference, does not draw the line on any party or current in the movement. On the contrary, it invites to the Conference all those who approve the unity on the above mentioned basis. The Conference, called by the Executive Committee, aims at the reestablishment of mutual confidence of the democracies of different countries by uniting them on the basis of a peace program and by inducing them to assist each other in the common struggle against imperialism.
These basic principles have been discussed and adopted in the session of June 1st.
From the Convention of the Councils of the Workmen’s and Soldiers Deputies of Russia
Comrade Cyon welcomed the Convention on behalf of the British Independent Labour Party. The party which should have been represented by Ramsay MacDonald regards with the admiration and astonishment the achievements of the Russian revolution. We hope that the revolution will abstain from a separate peace in the interest of the International Democracy, but will at the same time compel the British and French governments to harmonize their war aims with those of the revolution. On behalf of Comrade Anderson Cyon declares, that the fire of the revolution begins to spread in England and that without doubt revolution will break out in England too, if the Russian revolution maintains its position. Cyon closes with greetings in the name of Trevelyan and Ponsonby, who at the beginning of the war were members of the British Cabinet, who at the beginning left those posts because they were of the opinion that England had no right to enter the war and that England has in this war only materialistic aims in view. They are of the opinion that the war must close with peace without annexations or contributions.
-After the greeting from Comrade Cyon the glorious activity of MacDonald was described by Comrade Dann. Everybody expected with joy the arrival of MacDonald, but this measure was prevented by some of the British seamen. However, the number of the working men is steadily growing smaller, who do not understand that the struggle for general peace is also the struggle for rebirth and for the further advance of the working classes.
The Convention adopts a motion of greeting for MacDonald and MacLean.
Minister Zeretelli in reply to an inquiry from Comrade Martow stated: I declare that Russia, as soon as the Interference with the inner Affairs of Greece has begun, had protested against it through the Minister of Foreign affairs. Within a few days a declaration will be published in which it will be asserted that Russia refuses to shoulder any responsibility and protests against the violation of the constitution of Greece and the right of that country to self-government.
MILLIUKOW branded as a dishonest slanderer. In the evening session of June 5/18 Comrade Trotzki stated: After the question of Grimm was taken up for discussion statements were published which attempt to connect my name with the name of comrade Grimm on the one side and on the other with that of the bourgeois newspaperman Kolyscko, who is arrested as a well-known agent of Germany – Mr Milliukow stated three days ago in the private meeting of the Imperial Duma that after the arrest of Kolyscko and the expulsion of Grimm it is absolutely necessary to arrest Lenin and Trotzki who are of the same type as Kolyscko, in other words are German agents. From this tribune of the revolution are democracy I state, so that everyone could hear it, and I request the representatives of the honest press to record my words: “Until Mr Milliukow withdraws his words or proves them, he is branded as a contemptible slander”.
This declaration appeared in all Petrograd papers with the exception of Milliukow’s Organ the “Retsch”.
The next issue will mostly contain material bearing on the case of Robert Grimm.
THE DECLARATION OF THE ALLIES AND THE RUSSIAN SOCIALIST PRESS
The declaration of allied powers addressed to the Russian Government have made deep impression on the Russian revolutionary democracy, which is filled with strongest aversion against imperialistic war aims, as well as against the imperialistic phraseology.
On this occasion, the true convictions of Russian democracy have found their particularly striking expression. The declarations of the allies have like a spark set ablaze these democratic feelings. Every sentence in the reply notes had exercised deep and lasting influence on the formation of democratic aspirations, though not in the sense as the Allied meant it. In the utterences reproduced by us below, every party of Russia has given expression to its particular point of view. We begin with the official organ of the Council of workman’s and Soldier’s Deputies – the “Izvestija” from which we reproduce the editorial article.
/It is now the time turn of the peoples to speak/.
President Wilson is mistaken if he believes that his thoughts can find access to the heart of the revolutionary Russian people. The Russian revolutionary democracy knows very well that the way to the keenly aspired general peace can be found only in the combined struggle of the workers of all countries against the world imperialism. The Russian democracy cannot therefore be misled by any hazy or high sounding sentences. It goes without saying that the French and English notes will likewise fail to enthuse our democracy. For our democracy perceived in them, along with the recognition of the principles of the right of nations to autonomous existence, also an effort to push through the war aims which are in conflict with this principle. Indeed, it was not Messiseur Ribot who took the liberty to insinuate that the formula - "peace–without annexations or indemnities” – did not originate in Petrograd but abroad and that its origin is clear. Likewise the obstacles, which Messiseur Ribot intends to put in the way of our French brothers in the matter of passports, show only too clearly how much the imperialists are afraid of the unity of all workers of the world in the struggle for peace. However, the Russian democracy, is estimating the declarations of the English and French governments will take notice of the concessions of the allies. True, it will find in these declarations merely the recognition of the principle, but even this recognition clearly proves that the governments do not dare to address the masses in a different language. Our government will understand to draw the proper conclusions from this concession. Entire revolutionary Russia will support the government.
With regard to the “premature joy” of the capitalist press that the foreign policy was destroyed by the reply note of the allies, the “Izvestija” remark: that would have been true if the council had based its hopes upon the good will and the political sense of the dominant classes. But the revolutionary democracy never had the illusions by means of which the capitalist class wanted to deceive it. The Russian democracy has faith in the democracy of other countries, and in nothing else. The movement of all of all countries in the direction leading to general peace is advancing slowly, may be too slowly for those tragic times which the Russian revolution and with it the whole human race are passing, still it is advancing from day to day. Blind is he who does not see it.
“That would have been true if the Council had based its hopes upon the good will and the political sense of the dominant classes.
That is the reason the joy of imperialists to us to be premature.
We have urged more than once that the temporary government must approach the Allies with the pressing and determined proposition to submit the war agreements to a revision in the spirit of the new progress. Now, however, there is no necessity any more for such a step on the part of the temporary government. The diplomatic representatives of France and England without waiting for an official inquiry on the part of the Russian Government have given such an unequivocally reply to the question which stirs the entire revolutionary Russia that further negotiations with regard to this matter have lost all sense. The formal consent of the Allies to review the agreements is actually already anticipated in their effects by the declarations of the English and French Governments. The French declaration announces categorically that France will push the war “till her faithful and devoted territories of Alsace and Lorraine, which have some time ago been taken away from her by force, are restored to her”. Besides, she demands such payment for damages as would exhaust the enemy forever. It would be useless to attempt to persuade gentleman like Thomas and Buchanan. The democracy of our country should address itself not to the official apologists for imperialism – but to the democracy of Europe, which already begins to free itself of the spell of imperialistic sophistry. Our Council must enter into direct and active relations with the western proletariat.
The English and French capitalists are ready to change their banners but they want to carry the same freight under the new banner. It is not necessary to prove that no agreement between them and us can be reached on such a basis. An agreement is only possible if the allies announce their readiness to throw overboard their old imperialistic load. But shall we present an ultimatum and, if the reply is unsatisfactory, break with the allies? Certainly not. We want no separate peace. By means of a specially called conference of representatives of the allied governments an attempt must be made to modify the agreement. This conference must convene as soon as possible. We, on our part, must work for the success of our government, inaugurating an open campaign with the view of converting the English and French democracy.
Semlja I Wolias/Socialists – Revolutionists/
In this hazy reply only one thing is clear: England surrenders no feature of its former plans for conquest. Naturally there is nothing unusual in it. Indeed, so long as our own capitalist class had not yet given up its hopes for conquest, how can we expect the capitalist class in western countries, to whom our brothers, the workmen of England and France had not yet presented any demands, should renounce its aspiration at conquests. The rep[ly of the allies sounds also decidedly as an ultimatum. Therefore, The Russian Revolutionary Democracy, conscious of the great responsibility for the fate of the international revolution, the cradle of which is now in Russia, must keep cool in this highly important moment and must supress the natural and just indignation against those, who by their stubbornness delay the peace and drag the world again into the bloody maelstrom of the world’s slaughter, and the Russian Revolutionary Democracy must calmly consider its further plans. It is evident that the great Russian Revolution cannot deviate from its determination.
The resolution of the central committee of the Russian Democratic Labour Party.
The Declarations of the English and French Governments
The official declarations of the English and French Governments in reply to the appeal of the Russian Provisionary Government prove again the unwillingness of the capitalist classes of the “allied” countries to take their stand for peace without annexations or indemnities upon the basis of the right of nations to autonomous existence. In these declarations one sees clearly the endeavour to continue the war until their aims of conquest are attained and also the wish to make of the Russian army a passive instrument for the policy of prolongation of the world’s slaughter, international robbery and violence.
The collapse of the Policy of the Coalition Government
The policy of the Coalition Government had suffered a complete collapse, because the Government promised to head the country towards peace by means of diplomatic negotiations with the imperialistic Governments of England and France.
The Compulsory loan from Russia.
The tremendous increase in the expenses compelled the government treasury to use all the available means. On the other hand, there are no new resources. All proposed measures for increased taxation of the well-to-do classes cannot be carried through for another month or two, and they cannot therefore put an end to the steadily growing deficit in our budget. Compelled to immediately develop new resources, the Government attempted to raise the money by means of the “liberty loan”. The “liberty loan”, on account of the anti-revolutionary feeling among the well-to=do classes, who do not wish, unless compelled, to help the Government, had yielded a comparatively small sum, which barely suffices for the current expenses of the war. For the entire period of subscription, the loan bought barely a billion roubles, whole the monthly expenses of the State exceed two billions. The state is thus compelled to take immediate and urgent steps in order to find new resources for the current expenses, until the basic finance reform can be put through. One of these means is the conversion of the “liberty loan” into compulsory loan, which can yield not less than 5-6 billions, which will enable us to carry on the work until proper order is brought into the entire financial situation.
Russia and the “Change of the Throne” in Greece. The “Izvestija”, Nr, 81. Published the following statement issued by the Foreign-Office.
After the fall of Nicholas II, the hands of the Franco-British diplomacy were free to deal with King Constantin as they wished, and they brought pressure to bear on him which forced him to abdicate. The Russian Temporary Government did not in any way participate in this action. The fact that King Constantin could not any more figure on help from Nicholas II had much to do with the events no part in the dethronement of King Constantin.
Appeal of the Petrograd Executive Committee of the Council of Workmen’s’ and Soldier’s Deputies to the socialist parties and Central Labour Union organisations in all countries/ June 2nd/
The Executive Committee of the Petrograd Council of the workmen’s and Soldiers’ Deputies in its session of May the 20th. had Labour Union Organizations of all countries.
On March the 28/15 the Petrograd Council of Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Deputies had issued an appeal to the peoples of the entire world in which it had called the peoples of Europe to joint action in favour of peace.
The Council of Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Deputies, and with it annexations and indemnities, on the basis of the right of nations to autonomous self-government.
The Russian democracy compelled the first temporary government to accept this platform and as the events had demonstrated /Aril 20th and 21st/May3rd and 4th did not allow the first Russian temporary government to deviate from it. The second Russian and temporary government head under pressure of the Council of Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Deputies put this platform at the head of the declaration.
On May 9th/ April 26th/ the Executive Committee of the Council of the Workmen’s and Soldiers Deputies decided to take the initiative of calling an international socialist conference and on May 2nd/15th/ the Council had issued an appeal/ to the socialists of all countries calling them for common action for peace.
The Council of Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Deputies is of the opinion that a speedy end to the war and the establishment of peace on conditions demanded by common interest of the toiling masses and of the entire mankind only means of international united efforts of labour parties and industrial organizations of the warring neutral countries in order to conduct energetic sand persistent struggle against the universal slaughter, And the first and determined step for the organization of such international movement is the calling of another national conference. Its chief problems must be to reach an agreement between the representatives of the socialist proletariat, as to the abandonment of the policy of “national unity” with imperialistic classes, which makes the struggle for peace impossible, as well as with regard to the wars and means of such struggle.
International agreement for purposes of abandonment of this policy generally the necessary prerequisite for the organizations of this struggle on an international basis and on a large scale. This way is forced upon the proletariat by all its international treaties.
The calling of the conference is also urgently necessary for the life interests of the proletariat and the peoples.
All parties and organizations of toiling classes who share these views and who are ready to join their efforts for the carrying of these views into life are called upon by the Council to participate in the conference it is now calling.
The Council expresses in this connection its form conviction that all parties and organizations which accept this proposition will agree to decidedly carry into life all decisions which will be adopted by the conference.
As place for the conference the Council selects the City of Stockholm. The date for calling the conference – June 28th./July 11th.
Responsible editors Karl Lindoff, Stockholm. The Bulletin will appear at least ten times a month. Price Kr. 40. – per month. No 1. June 26th. 1917. Address: Adolf Fredriks Kyrkogats 15, Stookholm.
The letter was sent by land to the editors of the SOCIALIST STANDARD, 193, Gray’s Inn Road, London, W.C. from Stockholm. The envelope had been opened by the British Government Censor and given the number 782. There is no date when the Bulletin was sent to the Socialist Party of Great Britain and the stamp is missing. The document was in a file of papers belonging to the late Comrade Jim D’Arcy
Object and Declaration of Principles
The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.
Declaration of Principles
THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN HOLDS:
1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.
2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.
3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.
4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.
5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.
6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.
7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.
8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.