Russia: Revolution and after
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.
Against this desire the autocracy exercised all its powers. The knout, Siberia – these were some of the powers they used, and used mercilessly. As a result the agitation of the middle-class was driven below the surface. Secret societies, Nihilists societies were but the expression of the objects of the middle-class. True! they sometimes had the support of working men, but it was nevertheless a middle-class movement. The members were mainly from the commercial class, the professions, the students at the universities. These formed the centre of the movement. Any support they received from the landed aristocracy, or from the uneducated working masses, was of minor import.
At the same time that this movement was going on, taxation in Russia was excessive. The autocracy, knowing that its only hope for the maintenance of its stability was imperial aggrandisement, carried on wars against the weak and incoherent races of Asia, built railways at immense cost for the furtherance of those warlike designs. The ruling class, financially corrupt, and financially bankrupt, carrying on their schemes with borrowed money, found it necessary to levy heavy taxes to pay such portion of the interest of such borrowed money as was not itself paid with the borrowed money.
The result was great distress among many of the trading sections of the community, and among many of the members of the agricultural communes. The Mir, instead of being a commune carried on for the benefit of its members, was maintained as a machine for facilitating the collecting of taxes.
The distress was greatly augmented by the war with Japan, and recently hardly a week has passed without hearing of men mutilating themselves to prevent their being taken as soldiers, of wholesale emigration from Russia, of murders of governors of towns and provinces.
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 Czar – 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. Men and women shot down in Milan and Turin during the grain riots, when Leiter tried to corner the world’s supply of wheat; men struck down in the recent general strike in Italy; innocent men shot down in Featherstone; gunboats sent to Hull during the dock strike, and to Grimsby, and soldiers to Penrhyn during the strike there; martial law declared in Colorado; men tortured to death in the Monjuich Prison at Barcelona; Pinkertons used to shoot down the strikers at the steel works of Carnegie at Homestead; strikers bludgeoned in the streets of Rosarion. Everywhere the same civilised methods have been used, and will be used, when the workers strive to endanger the stability of commercial society by securing a greater quantity of the products of their own labour for their own consumption.
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.
We think the result will be the disruption of the Russian empire into middle-class republics. Although to-day the revolutionaries in Finland will join with those in Poland, or Lithuania, and in the other Russian provinces in the same way as middle-class and working-class will combine in opposition to the ruling class, yet no sooner will they have achieved their victory, and desire to carry on the constructive work of government then all the disharmony of jarring interests will be manifested. Then, too, one section of the vast empire will be found more advanced than another, and agreement will be obtained only by separation.
Be this as it may, it is for the Russian Socialist, as for the Socialist everywhere, to recognise that it is for him to carry on his propaganda. He must use every phase of the movement for the furtherance of his ideal, always remembering that neither the rule of the Zemstovs, nor of any other middle-class government, will mean emancipation for him from his economic bondage. His hope must be in propagating his principles, in making capital out of every mistake of his enemies, in organising the workers to seize hold of the reigns of government, in teaching them how best to use that government when they have it in their possession.
Whether this should be now, or should be later, they should clearly recognise that the best wishes of the international Socialist movement is with them, for the victory of the Socialist movement in Russia will be a victory for it everywhere, and would lend fresh hopes, and give fresh incentive to their comrades throughout the world. The interests of the workers of all countries are the same – the establishment of the Socialist Republic.