Gilbert McClatchie

Where Russia Stands. Our Attitude Supported by Latest Literature

Source: Socialist Standard, May 1921.
Transcription: Socialist Party of Great Britain.
HTML Markup: Adam Buick
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2016). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit "Marxists Internet Archive" as your source.

A large quantity of literature now exists in connection with the Russian question. While much of the information is contradictory, and a confused assortment of statements, still we can glean sufficient from it to enable us to make a fairly accurate survey of the general position, although details of certain matters, such as the method of taking the vote, are still lacking.

Conditions Favoured Bolshevists

From this literature we can see what the conditions were that enabled the Bolsheviks to obtain possession of power, and to retain their hold upon it up to the present time.

Before proceeding with our investigation it will be, perhaps, as well to point out that neither Socialism nor an approximation thereto exists in Russia yet. No less an authority than Lenin has made this clear. For example, in a pamphlet entitled The Chief Task of our Times, published by the Workers' Socialist Federation, he points out: "Reality says that State Capitalism would be a step forward for us ; if we were able to bring about in Russia in a short time State Capitalism it would be a victory for us."

Before information on this point had been received in this country, those people who suffer from an overheated imagination, and who put wishes in the place of knowledge, sedulously propagated the idea that Socialism had been established in Russia and that all we had to do was to copy the Bolsheviks. However, even these individuals are now compelled by the facts to admit that they were too hasty in coming to their conclusions.

An Unsound Foundation

As to the capture of political power by the Bolsheviks, Lenin, Trotzky, John Reed, and others supply us with convincing evidence that the Bolsheviks rode into power upon a wave of emotion, and used the customary bluff of the sensationalists to carry the mass of the people with them. In the first place the bulk of the Russian people had not the knowledge or experience to enable them to understand the meaning of a basic change in their conditions. The overwhelming mass of them were peasants, with the reactionary and conservative outlook of the peasant. Their ideas were bound up with the personal ownership of a small piece of land and freedom from the oppressive landowners and the rural pests, tax-gatherers, money-lenders, and the like.

Lenin's Pessimism

At the All-Russian Congress of Peasants on the 27th November, 1917 Lenin made the following remarks during the land debate :

If Socialism can only be realised when the intellectual development of all the people permits it, then we shall not see Socialism for at least five hundred years (Ten Days that Shook the World, John Reed, p. 303.)

This statement suggests a lack of understanding of, or a wilful blindness to, one of the fundamental teachings of Marx:

The Marxian Corrective

No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have been developed ; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have been matured in the womb of the old society. Therefore, mankind always takes up only such problems as it can solve; since, looking, at the matter more closely, we will always find that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions necessary for its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation.

Had the above principle been thoroughly grasped by those who write so glowingly of Bolshevism, and expect so much from it, they would have realised that the new society must grow out of the old, and could not be imposed upon it from without. The latter was the view and the practice of the Utopians of the past.

In view of the fact that the mass of the Russian people were intellectually backward, how was it that such a measure of success attended the efforts of the Bolsheviks ? The answer to this question is not far to seek.

John Reed's Testimony

The Russian masses were heartily sick of the war. This war-weariness had been brought about not only by the ordinary conditions of war, but also on account of the action of a section of the Russian ruling class, who wished to come to an understanding with Germany. In their blind pursuit of this object they laid the foundations of their own ruin by disorganising the army, creating a shortage of food in the towns and villages, and so forth. Of this John Reed writes as follows :

In considering the rise of the Bolsheviki it is necessary to understand that the Russian economic life and the Russian army were not disorganised on November 7th, 1917, but many months before, as the logical result of a process which began as far back as 1915. The corrupt reactionaries in control of the Tsar's Court deliberately undertook to wreck Russia in order to make a separate peace with Germany. The lack of arms on the front, which had caused the great retreat of the summer of 1915, the lack of food in the army and in the great cities, the break-down of manufactures and transportation in 1916—all these we know now were part of a gigantic campaign of sabotage.—(Ten Days that Shook the World.)

Here was a fact of prime importance that played right into the hands of the Bolsheviks. Just as the National Assembly of France in 1851 voluntarily destroyed the root of its own power by handing over military control to Bonaparte, thus preparing the way for the Third Empire, so the Russian ruling class voluntarily impaired the efficiency of the very military machine that maintained them in power.

The Procession of Muddlers

Eventually the revolt against the war and war conditions broke out and Tsarism, left without a repressive weapon, collapsed. The parties that came into power after the fall of Tsarism, failed to understand the conditions that had given rise to the revolt. Each in turn made the prosecution of the war the first and all important objective. This policy brought about the downfall of one ministry after another.

There was only one party in Russia that promised immediate peace, and made that a central plank in its platform. This was the Bolshevik Party. The soldiers, the workers, and the peasants wanted in the first instance peace. Consequently, as time went on, they turned more and more toward the Bolsheviks— the party that held out the promise of an end to war troubles.

In the meantime an event occurred which still further favoured the Bolshevik movement, justifying the charges of its adherents against the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries— who were in power at the time—and compelling the latter to place arms in the hands of Bolshevik supporters. This event was the Kornilov affair, an adventurous attempt to conquer power by a late Tsarist general.

After Kornilov

The following reference to this event appeared in the Socialist (26.8.20) under the heading "The Bolsheviks After the Revolution " :

Trotsky, Lunacharsky, Kameniev, and others were arrested. They were tried by magistrates of the old order, and the trial resulted in setting the prisoners at liberty. During this time occurred the march of the Caucasus Division on Petrograd, headed by Korniloff. The Revolution was in danger. The Bolsheviks, the causes of all evil, had to be appealed to. The prisons were opened, the Kronstadt sailors called upon, and the Bolshevik workmen armed.
Public opinion came with tremendous rapidity to favour the audacious Bolsheviks, who now seemed to be the only Socialists capable of realising popular aspirations, as expressed in the slogan—"Peace, Bread and Land".

The Bolsheviks took full advantage of all the circumstances favouring their coup. They promised the war-weary soldiers peace ; they promised the starving town workers bread ; and they promised the land-hungry peasants land. By such means they gathered together sufficient support to carry them to power—the disorganised and badly equipped army proving useless, as a weapon of defence, to the falling coalition Government.

Bolshevik Good Faith

To the credit of the Bolsheviks be it said, they were the only party in Russia that endeavoured to keep the promises made during the struggle for power. Their first work immediately they had captured the political machinery was—the declaration of an immediate armistice by all the belligerents for the purpose of arranging peace terms ; the promulgation of the Land Decrees ; and the endeavour to obtain food for the starving population of the towns. For the latter purpose thirteen trains loaded with bolts of cloth and bars of iron were sent eastward to barter with the Siberian peasants for grain and potatoes.

These acts justified for the time the trust of their supporters, and increased the antagonism toward the supporters of the previous governments, besides providing the Bolsheviks with good propaganda arguments for the future. The point not to be lost sight of is that the supremacy of the Bolsheviks depends upon their power to satisfy the demands of the Russian people for means of subsistence. Unfortunately for the Bolsheviks, the bulk of the people are peasants who do not understand the meaning of co-operation for the purpose of satisfying social wants. We will return to this point later on.

The Military Pickle

The position in the army immediately preceding the Bolshevik rising is summed up by Trotsky as follows :

At the front, the situation grew worse day by day. Chilly Autumn, with its rains and winds, was drawing nigh. And there was looming up a fourth winter campaign. Supplies deteriorated every day. In the rear —the front had been forgotten —no reliefs, no new contingents, no warm winter clothing, which was indispensable. Desertions grew in number. The old Army Committees, elected in the first period of the Revolution, remained in their places and supported Kerensky's policy. Re-elections were forbidden. An abyss sprang up between the Committees and the soldier masses. Finally the soldiers began to regard the Committees with hatred. With increasing frequency delegates from the trenches were arriving in Petrograd, and at the sessions of the Petrograd Soviet put the question point blank: "What is to be done further? By whom and how will the war be ended ? Why is the Petrograd Soviet silent?
The Petrograd Soviet was not silent. It demanded the immediate transfer of all power into the hands of the Soviets in the capitals and in the provinces, the immediate transfer of the land to the peasants, the workingmen's control of production, and immediate opening of peace negotiations." — (Brest-Litovisk, pp. 32.33.)

The Soviet Not New

The Soviet, the method of organisation flourishing in Russia and utilised by the Bolsheviks, was not built up by the latter: They found this organisation already existing, obtained the majority of support in it in the industrial centres, and conditions then favoured their move for the conquest of political power, although their first venture in June 1917 had been unsuccessful.

Once in power the Bolsheviks found that the conditions that placed them there were stumbling blocks to future progress. Slogans and watchwords helped them no longer. They had to deal with a population in a backward state of development, a population mainly made up of peasants, whose outlook is essentially reactionary. The mass of this population was utterly devoid of all knowledge of social organisation, not having had the opportunity of learning the lessons social production taught to the populations of more advanced nations. Consequently the Bolsheviks could only proceed by methods of compromise, in spite of their previous denunciation of compromises when taken part in by the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries. That there may be no doubt about the fact that the Bolsheviks had to enter into numerous compromises we will quote some remarks Lenin made with reference to the German "Left," who declared against compromises :

Lenin on Compromise

It is to be wondered at that, holding such views, the Left do not decisively condemn Bolshevism ! Surely it is not possible that the German Left were unaware that the whole history of Bolshevism, both before and after the October Revolution, is full of instances of manoeuvring, temporising and compromising with others, the bourgeois parties included. —(Left Wing Communism, p. 52.)

In justification, however, Lenin claims that the Bolshevik compromises were revolutionary compromises. This has been the claim made on behalf of nearly every compromise throughout working-class history, including the well known Gotha compromise of the German parties in 1875 that brought about the collapse of German Social Democracy at the outbreak of War in 1914.

Not Exact Veracity

In the early days of the struggle (October, 1917) the Bolsheviks placarded the walls of Petrograd, and sent pronouncements throughout the country, to the effect that the vast mass of the soldiers, the workers, and the peasants were supporting them. The emptiness of the catch-cry, so far as the peasants were concerned, was soon illustrated. At the All-Russian Congress of Peasants (November 23rd, 1917) summoned by the Bolsheviks, the latter were howled down. Zinoviev could not get a hearing, and Lenin was received with a tumult of opposition.

Almost immediately it was evident that most of the delegates were hostile to the Government of People's Commissars. Zenoviev, attempting to speak for the Bolsheviki, was hooted down, and as he left the platform, amid laughter, there were cries of "There's how a a People's Commissar sits in a mudpuddle".—(John Reed, p. 297.)

So strong was the opposition that the Bolshevik delegates, who were only able to muster a bare fifth of the delegates present, were at one time on the point of withdrawing from the Congress. (A full report of this Congress is given by John Reed, p. 296 et seq.)

Eventually, in order to get the support of the peasants, the Bolsheviks were compelled to compromise with the Left Socialist Revolutionaries. A compact was made at a secret conference of the leaders of the two parties whilst the Congress was actually in session. This was the beginning of the many compromises of their programme the stern facts of the situation forced upon the Bolshevik Government—compromises essential to their retention of power, and signifying the throwing overboard of many of the principles they had previously laid down as of paramount importance in the struggle for Socialism.

To be Continued.