1910s >> 1919 >> no-177-may-1919

Correspondence. Concerning the Russian Constituent Assembly

To The Editor.

 

Sir,—The editorial reply (in your April issue) to “A Wage Slave” states that the Bolsheviks “squashed the Kerensky crowd by suppressing the Constituent Assembly.” The assumption that the Kerenskyites were in a majority in the Constituent Assembly is a very prevalent one— the Liberal weekly ”The Nation,” for instance, once held it—but it is quite erroneous, as I showed in the “Cambridge Magazine” of 26th October. The Kerenskyites and the Kadets— in fact all the “Oborontsi” (the “defenders”) as they were called during the Provisional Government era—were numerically quite negligible in the Constituent. The majority was composed of Social Revolutionaries of the Centre “led” by Tchernov, who as an individual stood for peace and also, at one time at least, for a revolutionary land policy (as I pointed out in another of my letters to the “Cambridge Magazine,” see issue 11th January), but by resigning from the Provisional Government during July 1917 (in face of the hostility of Kerensky and the Kadets) when it was a question of carrying out that land policy, he showed his weakness and his activities ceased, except in so far as they were employed in heaping abuse on the heads of the Bolsheviks week after week in his paper “Dielo Naroda.”

 

As the Russian working classes—with the exception, perhaps, of the Italians the most class-conscious in Europe, in spite of your assertion to the contrary—already held power in the Soviets and in the workshops, they acted quite rightly, in my opinion, in sending Tchernov and his majority about their business. What could Tchernov give by Parliamentary methods (so beloved by Mr. Ramsay MacDonald) that the Bolsheviks had not already given or that large numbers of the Russian masses had not already taken, for a considerable number of peasant labourers (I am not referring here to peasant owners) had already seized land—and committed “atrocities” into the bargain of which WE NEVER HEARD, OF COURSE—during the latter months of the Kerensky regime, when it became obvious to them that nothing was to be expected from “constitutional” methods under Provisional Governments!

 

As your space is, I know, limited, I shall now close, although I should like to have said something about the socialisation of land, the Lenin and Spiradonova ideas with regard to same, and the “chaos” to which this has led. Perhaps I may again be allowed to occupy a little of your space in a future issue.—

Yours, A, P. L.

 

Reply:

 

It is not easy to grasp the point of our correspondent’s letter. We did not say or imply that the Kerenskyites were in a majority in the Constituent Assembly. Our first critic, “A Wage Slave,” challenged us to explain how it was that “the workers of Russia overthrew the Czarist and then the Kerensky Government if they were not class-conscious.” Our reply was not that the workers had returned a Kerenskyite majority to the Constituent Assembly, but that they had elected a “bourgeois majority”—”the working class voted the bourgeoisie into power.” The Kerensky crowd were included in the Constituent Assembly, and when the Bolsheviks suppressed the Constituent Assembly they “squashed the Kerensky crowd” with it. We do not profess to know what was the numerical strength of the Kerensky party in the Constituent Assembly. We have (and do again) frankly confessed our ignorance on the subject of the situation in Russia, more particularly as to details, and we have ordered our policy in accordance with that ignorance. Of course, if we cared to accept every unsupported rumour that is bandied about we could make good copy in plenty, as others are doing. But the number of Kerenskite noses in the Constituent Assembly did not concern us in the least. The point is that they were bourgeois noses, and were put in the Assembly by the vote of what “A Wage Slave” claimed was a class-conscious working class, and overthrown—by whom ? By the “class conscious” proletariat who had a few weeks previously shown their “class-conscious-ness by electing them? Only “A Wage Slave” has dared to tell us so yet.

 

And we notice that, whatever may have been the numerical strength of the Kerenskyites in the Assembly, “A.P.L.” speaks of the “Kerensky regime.”

 

“The Russian working classes,” says our correspondent, “with the exception, perhaps, of the Italians, the most class-conscious in Europe, in spite of your assertion to the contrary—already held power in the Soviets and in the workshops, they acted quite rightly, in my opinion, in sending Tchernov and his majority about their business.” In the first place we should be glad if “A.P.L.” would point out where we have, made the “assertion to the contrary” he refers to. Comparing the degree of class-consciousness of one race with that of another is a pastime we leave to correspondents who know all about it. But what does it matter whether the Russian working class are more or less class-conscious than other proletarians ? Goodness knows it is not saying much to say that they are more class-conscious tham the workers of this country !

 

The point is, of course, were they sufficiently class-conscious to seize their opportunity and make the most of it. Our correspondent seems to think that they were. Will he tell us, then, why they elected their worst enemies to the Constituent Assembly? He will doubtless be among the first to admit that this folly, giving the ruling class of other countries the excuse that the Bolsheviks were mere usurpers, who had overthrown the chosen authority — the democratically elected representatives—of the people, more perhaps than anything else ruined their cause among the workers of other lands, and strengthened the hands of foreign capitalists in providing a screen for the Russian bourgeoisie to organise behind.

 

“A.P.L.” need not fear that we shall weep for the dismissal of the bourgeois Constituent Assembly as such—as a bourgeois instrument, that is. As against the workers we have no atom of sympathy with the bourgeoisie, and recoognise no duties toward them, no privileges attaching to them, no rights claimed by them. Our hatred of them is unutterable, and removes them entirely beyond any other and softer emotion within us. But there is another aspect of the case. Besides being an instrument of bourgeois tyranny the Assembly was the expression of the will of the Russian people. At least, we understand the basis of the election to have been such as would make it so, and even “A.P.L.,” in his search for an excuse for the Bolshevik suppression of the Assembly, does not say that it was not democratically elected. Without claiming anything more sacred than working-class expediency for the democratic principle, this was a reason for suffering the Assembly. For as Socialists we hold that the franchise presents to the workers the way to their emancipation. Until the workers learn to use this instrument properly they are not fit or ready for Socialism. To suppress the Assembly was simply to try to force on an unready and unwilling people a social system for which their economic conditions were no more ripe than their mental state—to challenge, in the face of that mentally and economically unready people, the organised might of the whole capitalist world. Even complete success in that challenge could not, as far as our information shows, justify the adventure. For to successfully establish Bolshevism, on the evidence to hand so far, is a step backward. It is a reversion to peasant-proprietorship on the land. As the products of the soil must therefore belong to the peasant propietors, the products of the factories cannot belong to the community without fatal social discord. Our reasons for making this statement have been given before. The inevitable result must be the strangulation and final death of manufacture and the lapse of Russia into a state of barbaric agrarianism, a state under which Russia cannot develop into a Socialist commonwealth.

 

The Russian working classes, “A.P.L.” declares, held power in the Soviets and in the workshops. If that were entirely true the sequel (when we reach it) would only furnish one more proof of the truth of our contention that only by the capture of the political machinery, indicative as that event must be of the readiness of the people for the social revolution, can the working class proceed. If the workers hold power in the Soviets and workshops it appears pretty clear that their power on the military field is fiercely challenged. And after all it is there in the first place that they must be confirmed in their power.

 

But our correspondent’s remark that “a considerable number of peasant labourers bad already seized land . . . during the latter months of the Kerensky regime, when it became obvious to them that nothing was to be expected from ‘constitutional’ methods under Provisional Government!” illuminates the whole landscape in one vivid lightning flash. It reveals the “class-conscious” Russian worker expecting something from a Bourgeois government; lays bare the true foundation of much of the Bolshevik “power in the Soviets,” at least in the rural districts; and it shows, with its context, how little our correspondent understands the real object of the Socialist determination to capture the machinery of government.

 

Not to hand out parcels of land to “peasant labourers” (our correspondent’s term, not ours) or factories to the workers therein do we aspire get possession of machinery of State, but in order to gain control of the civil and military forces, so that we shall be in a position to make the land and other means of living the property of the whole people. The ”peasant labourers,” disappointed in the bourgeois representatives they had so foolishly returned to a bourgeois parliament, may not have found it difficult to seize the land they wanted, but the methods they have embraced do not help them any more than did those they have abandoned if they prove unable to hold the land they have seized.

 

Whatever may be the outcome of the Russian revolt (and we have no doubt as to that) it may be pointed out that, just as her backward industrial development makes Russia about the least fit for Socialism of all European countries, those very conditions make her about the only one of them all where Bolshevism stood even the ghost of a chance. For people to advocate similar methods in this country is extravagant folly, with no advantages to compensate its perils.

 

Editorial Committee