Editorial: The Last Fifty Years in Russia
Elsewhere in this issue we reproduce extracts from an unsigned article: “The Russian Revolution,” which, fifty years ago, in November 1906, placed on record the attitude of the S.P.G.B. to events in Russia. In 1904 war had broken out between Japan and Russia over Korea, which then, as today, attracted greedy investors and speculators in the neighbouring countries, and had great importance as a war base. Russia suffered a shattering defeat at the hands of Japan, and this gave impetus to movements demanding political and economic reforms. The capitalists wanted to get rid of the Tsarist autocracy, which hampered their development; workers wanted higher wages; peasants wanted land reforms, and all were able to unite in demanding parliamentary government based on a democratic franchise. Frightened by the wave of strikes, mutinies and riots, the government at first gave way and the Tsar agreed to set up a Duma (parliament); with legislative authority, not merely a consultative body, as had earlier been the limit of concession. But before long, helped on by the lack of unity and purpose in the ranks of the opposition, the Tsar’s government regained confidence and dissolved the Duma. It was while this counter-offensive of the Tsar’s government was in full flood that the article “The Russian Revolution” appeared in our columns, the occasion being the issue, by the International Socialist Bureau, of an appeal on behalf of the Russian workers.
The line taken by the article is for the most part shown by the published extracts, a line that the S.P.G.B. continued to hold when, in 1917, defeat in another war produced more movements of revolt in Russia, though this time they were successful in their aim of removing the Tsarist regime. The victory was to be short lived, because within months the various movements that had been associated in overthrowing the Tsar and establishing a provisional government were themselves overthrown by the Communist Party, which has held power ever since.
Subsequent events have completely justified the declaration made in 1905 (and repeated in 1917) that the outcome of the struggle in Russia could not at that time be Socialism, but only capitalism: what has happened has proved the correctness of the S.P.G.B.’s Marxist approach. Although there are people who know so little about Russian conditions or about Socialist principles that they can still believe that there is Socialism in Russia, serious students have never been deceived; and even the popular impression of Russia held in Western Europe now more or less clearly recognises that it is not a social system better than Western capitalism, but actually worse, because of its dictatorship.
It is an ironical reflection that the anticipation of fifty years ago, that removing Tsarist autocracy would immediately open the way to a democratic republic, should have proved so wrong that it is only now that the “flight from Stalin” promises at least some prospect of progress in that direction. As far as elementary rights of organisation, publication, voting, etc., are concerned, Russian workers might still be living under the Tsars. In 1906 the government of Emperor Nicholas II. dissolved the not very democratically elected Duma, but it remained for the Communist government in 1918 to suppress permanently the first freely elected Constituent Assembly and thereafter forbid all political organisations except the Communist Party.
Along with political reaction has gone the repudiation of early Communist Party ideas about equality, a path along which the British Labour Party has also moved.
But while Russia has, as we forecast in 1905, not produced Socialism, it has built up the modem industries which make it a formidable capitalist, military and industrial Power, second only to U.S.A.
Another saddening reflection prompted by similarity between 1906 and 1956, is that knowledge of and contact with Russian workers is as difficult now as it was then. The Socialist Standard had to admit in 1906 to a lack of information about events in Russia, and this is still true: we do not know to what extent groups of workers in Russia have been able, despite the dictatorship, to keep alive their belief in the ultimate victory of Socialism against all its enemies and false friends in the so-called Communist and Labour Parties.