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Russia 1917: As We Saw It

We begin a monthly series of excerpts from the Socialist Standard of the time with what we said about events in Russia in 1905 which Lenin described as a 'dress rehearsal' for 1917.

The entry of Russia into the stage of machine production and international commercial inter-communication made it essential that there should be a limitation of the aristocracy which had hitherto dominated that empire. To engage in competition for foreign and neutral markets with other commercial countries rendered it necessary that the press should be removed from the censorship of the ruling class, so that the widest publicity should be given to matters concerning commerce; that education should become more general, so that the worker might become a more efficient machine minder; that freedom of contract should be exhibited in all trade relations between merchants and manufacturers, so as to secure equality of competition.

With an autocracy interfering in all matters, private or public, these freedoms desired by the middle-class could not be secured, so that it was but a question of time how soon the growing middle-class would seek to secure political power for itself. This could only be obtained by the establishment of a constitutional government, either of the republican or of the monarchical form. (…)

The working-class, too, – that class which has to carry on the battles of its masters – began to manifest signs of unrest. Strike has followed strike in all parts of Russia. The desires expressed have been for economic and political reform on the part of the workers, for political reform on the part of the middle-class.

In order to gain those desires a large number of the discontented wished to make a peaceful demonstration before the Winter Palace at St. Petersburg. These were no revolutionists! they did not belong to Socialist Societies, nor did they believe in Socialist principles! They were but unlettered working men with middle-class leaders, who believed that the Csar – the father of his people – had but to learn of their wrongs to redress them.

Poor misguided workers! Foolish you, to believe that you could gain redress except from among yourselves. A ruling class whose interests are opposed unto yours will do nothing for YOU. You must emancipate yourselves.

This lesson taught the workers in many countries, had yet to be learnt by the Russian working-class. They had not sufficiently learnt that in other countries the military was a weapon used to quell strikes. (...)

Now this lesson is being taught in autocratic Russia, as it has been taught in Monarchical England and Republican France. Hundreds of men, women and children have been butchered in the streets of St. Petersburg. In other centres, too, a like answer has been given to the demands of the workers. The class struggle manifests itself clearly, and what will be the result in Russia? We fear that the result will be but the victory of the middle-class. The Constitutionalists in Russia in 1905 will, like the Liberals in England in 1831, and the French middle-class in 1789, 1830, and 1848, use the working-class for their own ends, and then throw them over. The Russian worker is, we fear, too illiterate to understand clearly his own class interest, and will, therefore, need years of education before he takes his place with the vanguard of the international working-class revolution. (Socialist Standard, February 1905). Full article