1910s >> 1919 >> no-182-october-1919

Correspondence: Concerning Russia Again

Sir,—My small letter in your May issue about the Russian Constituent Assembly called forth a three-column response from you (which I scarcely expected) touching on various points to which, of course, I am not really called upon to reply. However, in view of their interest, I shall endeavour to make clear my ideas with regard to them, but before doing so I would point out that they are not founded on anything that may have been written in various books published about the Russian Revolution by Litvitnov, Philips Price, Trotsky, Arthur Ransome, etc., for I make a point of not reading them.


At the commencement of your comments on p. 84 you say : “We did not say or imply that the Kerenskyites were in a majority in the Constituent Assembly.” In the 3rd paragraph of p. 70 (April) you said “and the Bolsheviks it was who squashed the Kerensky crowd by suppressing the Constitutional Assembly.” This surely implies that the Kerensky crowd were in “the majority in the Constituent Assembly,” the fact being that, in so far as parliamentary “power” can suppress anything, the Kerenskyites (i.e., the Right Wing Social Revolutionaries, Kadets and others) were suppressed into a negligible minority by the actual results of the elections to the Constituent, i.e., by the followers of Tchernov’s Centre.


As to who were the people that elected the “bourgeois noses” of Tchernov’s Centre, this is another point entirely, and I believe has never adequately been dealt with and may perhaps still be a little obscure—I cannot say if it has been dealt with in the books mentioned above. In the first place it should be remembered that the lists of candidates had been prepared under arrangements made largely by Professor Grimm, a Kadet (as I pointed out in the “Cambridge Magazine” 26.10.18) during the period of Provisional Governments, and it does not require much imagination to discern that such arrangements under such auspices would scarcely favour really revolutionary candidatures, but would incline to the nomination of “eminently respectable” citizens. I believe the Bolsheviks allowed the elections to the Constituent to be held largely to show how utterly discredited all those elements were that had been ruling the country during the Provisional Government era, and in this they certainly succeeded, for the Kadets and Kerensky, Arksentier and Co., suffered a debacle unknown even in elections here—a result which could have been more generally anticipated in this country if Kerensky’s “oppressive and repressive” activities had been honestly reported by the various newspaper correspondents in Russia. The Kerensky-Kornilov plot “put the lid on,” so to speak, and probably very many of the “respectable” candidates arranged for on the lists as partizans of a more or less “Provisional Government” policy swung over from the Right to the Centre of Tchernov.
I must here digress to discuss the class-consciousness of the Russian masses, which the Socialist Standard seems to doubt the existence of. If you mean that the vast bulk of the Russian people cannot enter into learned dissertations as to how “Labour determines Price” [which it doesn’t. Ed. “S.S.”] or how “the magnitude of value expresses a relation of social production,” I am with you. But I deny that ability to discuss the Marxian theory is essential to the acquisition of a feeling of “class-consciousness.” Owing to the Government opposition to workers organisations for self protection the Russian industrial worker could feel his “oppressed” position better than most as his wages were scandalously low. As regards the peasant-labourer in Russia he saw his landlord, i.e., his immediate oppressor, so to speak, every day—landlords in Russia lived on their estates much more than is the custom with us (it must not be imagined, however, that all landlords were grasping and cruel). On State-lands and properties the peasant labourer was treated worse than dirt. Hence all the workers could easily realise as your “first principle” states, “that society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living by the master class and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.”


Doubtless very many of the workers voted for “respectable” candidates of Tchernov’s Centre, but—with all due deference to the S.P.G.B.’s predilection for parliamentary power —thank goodness the Russian masses had not been educated in a tradition of the “benefits”‘ to be derived from voting somebody into a central assembly sitting hundreds of miles away and vast numbers refrained from doing so on this occasion. Nowhere, not even in Russian papers, have I seen any figures to show that even one-third of the electorate went to the polls for the Constituent Assembly. Millions did not, and these must have included numbers of thoroughly class-conscious workers. The Socialist Standard must be aware that many class-conscious workers abstain from elections here ; I know many myself.
The Russian masses found it difficult to raise enthusiasm for the Constituent Assembly. As I pointed out in the “Cambridge Magazine” of 26 Oct. 1918, the second All-Russia Peasant Congress, which met some three weeks after the Bolshevik Revolution, passed a vote in favour of the Constituent only by a small majority— 360 votes against 321. Another significant fact is that Maria Spiridonova, the “extremist,” was elected chairman of this All-Russian Congress. The previous one, held in the Spring, was, if I remember rightly, presided over by Tchernov, and Spiridonova was an upholder of the Soviet idea—as was only natural, she being the great apostle of the communal system of land ownership, also favoured by Lenin, on the lines of the ancient Mir. Of course it is true that hundreds of thousands of peasants have during the Revolution acquired land in direct ownership and thus far cannot be considered as Communists, but in so far as they have abolished landlordism they can be regarded as Socialistic. Lenin being a practical statesman sees the danger of this system, for always present is the menace of usury, under which plot after plot can be acquired by a more “fortunate” peasant and thus peasant-holders may be transferred back to their old position of landless agricultural labourers. Lenin, of course, is fighting this by intense educational propaganda, whilst at the same time encouraging wherever possible the communal land system.


All this, however, does not necessarily imply that the majority of the peasants are hostile of 
the Soviet Government, as is so frequently emphasised by “The New Statesman” and other 
journals. The bulk of the former landless peasants fully realise that but for the revolutions in the towns there would have been no revolution in the countryside. So many anti-Bolshevists and others speak of the Bolshevists as a minority. If they mean that the conscious Bolshevists as a party form a minority of the people, this is probably true, but it should be remembered that all the voters for a party do not necessarily belong to that or any other party. In Germany, for instance before the war, 
the Social-Democratic Party obtained over four million votes in the Reichstag ; yet the Social 
Democrats actually numbered only some 900,000 the others were sympathisers with their policy. 
Such, I believe, is the case in Russia. The Bolsheviks form the largest party, and still have the bulk of the people with them, and as I write this (22.7.19) will soon probably be in possession of large tracts of the magnificent black-earth, dairy-product belt between Tchebiabinsk and Omsk.


Yours, etc., 


A. P. L.


Our Reply.


Our critic is rather absurd in his first argument. The history of this discussion is that a correspondent criticised in our April issue our attitude toward the Bolshevist movement. As we clearly stated in May, that correspondent challenged us to explain how it was that (we use his own words) “the workers of Russia overthrew the Czarist and then the Kerensky Government if they were not class-conscious.” In our reply we stated that “the Bolsheviks it was who squashed the Kerensky crowd by suppressing the Constitutional Assembly.”
This our latest critic affects to believe implies that the Kerensky crowd were in the majority in the Assembly. It does nothing of the sort, for both majority and minority were suppressed with the Assembly. We even studiously avoided using “Wage Slave’s” term: “Kerensky Government.” Not caring to commit ourselves, on the strength of capitalist information, even so far as that, we spoke only of the “Kerensky crowd.” Our statement implied that there was a Kerensky crowd, but not that crowd was a majority.


Our present critic says that he believes that the Bolsheviks “allowed the elections to the Constituent to be held largely to show how utterly discredited all those elements were that had been ruling the country during the Provisional Government era . .” We would like something rather more solid than “A.P.L.’s” “belief” before accepting such a charge against the Bolsheviks, If they had at the time the power to prevent the elections taking place (as our correspondent implies that they had) they surely must have had power to see that those elections took place under such conditions as gave the people the opportunity of voting for Bolshevist nominees. If their idea was to show ”how utterly discredited all those elements were that had been ruling the country during the Provisional Government era,” that could have been shown just as successfully by a sweeping Bolshevist majority as by a sweeping majority for the “followers of Tchernov s Centre.”


All our critic’s arguments as to who were the people who elected the ‘”bourgeois noses’ of Tchernov’s Centre” are beside the point. The question is, were Bolshevist candidates before the public ? If they were not why were they not ? If they were why were they not returned ? Our correspondent says that it does not require much imagination to discern that under the stated conditions the inclination would be to secure the nomination of “’eminently respectable’ citizens” rather than “really revolutionary candidatures.” If this were true there is only one explanation of it, and that is that the Bolshevists were aware, or at all events afraid, that the result of offering Bolshevist candidates throughout the whole field would have been to “show how utterly discredited” the Bolsheviks were, also.


But the whole supposition is silly, as are the arguments which are intended to support it. An electoral victory would have been of immense value to the Bolsheviks, and whatever “A.P.L.” may “believe,” we give the leaders of that remarkably conducted movement credit for being able to realise the fact.


To return again to the original matter, our critic would appear to claim that the Kerenskyites were suppressed by the ballotting for the Constituent Assembly, and therefore not by the Bolsheviks. Even in that case, however (which was a rather different point to that which we understood our first critic to be referring to) our main contention in regard to this point — that the Kerensky crowd was not overthrown by a class-conscious working class —is obviously correct, for class consciousness certainly was not demonstrated by the workers rejecting capitalist Kerensky and accepting capitalist Tchernov.


Owing to the great length of our correspondent’s letter and the number of points he touches on, and also to an unexpected demand upon our space for more urgent matters, we are compelled to hold over a portion of our reply for our next issue.


Editorial Committee


Leave a Reply