A reader at St. John, New Brunswick, asks the following questions :—
What was the programme, or principles, in brief, of the Mensheviks and the Left Social Revolutionaries, now under a ban in Russia? Have these extinct organisations much in common with the S.P.G.B. ?
Yours, etc., M. WASSON.
In order to make our comments on these Russian organisations understandable we must first give some facts about them. The "Russian Social Democratic Party," which later split into two separate bodies, Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, was formed in 1898. Its aim was declared to be Socialism. Its energies were largely taken up with problems of organisation, with the struggle for immediate demands (such as the right to organise in trade unions, the shorter working day) and with resisting the efforts of the Czarist Government to suppress its propaganda. From the first there were two wings in the Party, and in 1903 at the Party Congress at Geneva a split developed. The following statement concerning the split is taken from "The Labour International Handbook," published in May, 1921, by the Labour Publishing Co., Ltd., London. The Editor, R. Palme Dutt, is a well-known Communist.
"It is important to note that there was no disagreement on the programme, which was adopted unanimously. The difference was one of tactics, and concerned (1) the importance to be attached to illegal work; and as the difference developed (2) the question of co-operating with bourgeois parties of the left." (P. 286.)
A Unity Congress was held in 1906, but the two sections continued to keep their separate organisations and journals. In 1912 they ran candidates against one another in the elections for the Fourth Duma ("Handbook," p. 287).
Both Mensheviks and Bolsheviks claim (and still claim) to be Marxists.
The "Socialist Revolutionary Party, " formed in 1901 did not claim to accept Marxist principles. They advocated and practised political association, which both Mensheviks and Bolsheviks condemned.
"In their social theory they looked above all to the peasants and the development of agricultural communes with a large local autonomy" ("Handbook," p. 288.)
The "Socialist Revolutionary Party," with a predominantly peasant membership, was much larger than the other parties, whose members were chiefly in the towns. The Mensheviks were less numerous than the Bolsheviks.
The "Left Socialist Revolutionaries" were a wing led by Spiridonova and Kamkov, who gave general support to the Bolsheviks in their seizure of power in 1917. They had seven seats on the Council of Commissaries until early in 1918, when they resigned as a protest against the Bolshevik policy of making peace with Germany.
The Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries still have organisations and journals, with headquarters in Berlin.
In 1920 when a British Labour Delegation visited Russia the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries each issued a full statement of their position. These were included in the Report of the Delegation (Published by the Labour Party and Trades Union Congress, London).
If the Mensheviks could be judged solely on this declaration of Socialist principles there would be little to find fault with.
The S.R. declaration, on the other hand, contains little about principles, and is not in any real sense a Socialist declaration at all. It is merely a propaganda effort to justify the tactics of the S.R. Party and to blacken the Bolsheviks.
The important thing is that the Menshevik document referred to above, although issued by the Central Committee of the Party, does not give anything like a full and true picture. Rather it represents the views of certain individuals on Socialist principles, completely divorced from the actions of the Party. This characteristic of the Mensheviks is one often found in the Labour Parties of Western Europe and elsewhere.
Let us look at certain of their actions.
The Mensheviks permitted their members to support the war—-in flat contradiction of' the Socialist principles they were supposed to understand and accept.
The Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries (and the Bolsheviks) belonged to the Second International before the war. They accepted the absurd claim that that body and its affiliated parties were Socialist.
The Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries are still affiliated to the "Labour and Socialist International " and still push the reforms which make up the only stock-in-trade of that non-Socialist body.
It will be seen, therefore, that the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries have no more in common with the S.P.G.B. than any of the other reformist parties which find it convenient to cover over their reformist programmes with a gloss of Marxian phrases and ideas.