Sunday, October 4, 2015

Boycotts and armed struggles in the period of revolutionary recession

From chapter four of Trotsky's Stalin – An Appraisal of the Man and his Influence [1940]


....At the Party Conference which met at Finland in July, all of the nine Bolshevik delegates, with the exception of Lenin, were in favor of the boycott. Ivanovich did not take part in that conference. The Boycottists had Bogdanov as their spokesman. The affirmative resolution on the question of whether to participate in the balloting passed with the united votes of “the Mensheviks, the Bundists, the Poles, one of the Letts, and one Bolshevik,” wrote Dan. That “one Bolshevik” was Lenin. “In a small summer house Ilyich ardently defended his position,” Krupskaya recalled; “Krassin pedaled up on his bicycle, stopped at a window for a while and listened closely to Ilyich. Then, without coming into the house, he went away, thoughtful …” Krassin went away from that window for more than ten years. He returned to the Party only after the October Revolution, and even then not at once. Gradually, under the influence of new lessons, the Bolsheviks came over to Lenin’s position, although, as we shall see, not all of them. Quietly, Koba too repudiated Boycottism. His Caucasian articles and speeches in favor of the boycott have been magnanimously relegated to oblivion.

The Third Duma began its inglorious activity on the first of November. The big bourgeoisie and the landed gentry had been previously assured of a majority in it. Then began the gloomiest period in the life of “renovated Russia.” Labor organizations were dispersed, the revolutionary press was stifled, courtsmartial came in the wake of the punitive expeditions. But more frightful than the outward blows was the internal reaction. Desertion assumed a mass character. Intellectuals abandoned politics for science, art, religion, and erotic mysticism. The finishing touch on this picture was the epidemic of suicides. The transvaluation of valnes was first of all directed against the revolutionary parties and their leaders. The sharp change of mood found a bright reflection in the archives of the Police Department, where suspicious letters were censored, thus preserving the most interesting ones for history.

At Geneva Lenin received a letter from Petersburg, which read: “It is quiet both above and below, but the silence below is tainted. Under its cover such anger looms as will make men howl, for howl they must. But so far we, too, suffer the brunt of that anger …” A certain Zakharov wrote to his friend in Odessa: “We have absolutely lost faith in those whom we had so highly regarded … Think of it, at the end of 1905 Trotsky said in all seriousness that the political revolution had culminated in a grand success, and that it would be followed immediately by the beginning of the social revolution! . . And what about the wonderful tactic of armed insurrection, which the Bolsheviks had bruited about? . . Truly, I have lost all faith in our leaders and in all of the so-called revolutionary intellectuals.” Neither did the liberal and radical press spare the vanquished their sarcasm.

News dispatches from local organizations to the Party’s central organ, which was again transferred abroad, were no less eloquent in recording the revolution’s disintegration. Even in the hard-labor prisons, the heroes and heroines of uprisings and of terrorist acts turned their backs in enmity upon their own yesterdays and used such words as “party,” “comrade,” “socialism,” in no other than the ironic sense.

Desertions took place not only among the intellectuals, not only among those who were here today and gone tomorrow and to whom the movement was but a half-way house, but even among the advanced workers, who had been part and parcel of the Party for years. Religiousness, on the one hand, and drunkenness, card-playing and the like, on the other, waxed stronger than ever in the backward strata of the working class. In the upper stratum the tone was beginning to be set by individualists who strove to raise their personal, cultural, and economic status above that of the mass of their fellow-workers. The Mensheviks found their support in that thin layer of the labor aristocracy which was made up for the most part of metal workers and printers. Workers of the middle stratum, whom the revolution had accustomed to reading newspapers, displayed greater stability. But, having entered political life under the leadership of intellectuals and being suddenly left on their own, they became petrified and marked time.

Not everybody deserted. But the revolutionists who did not wish to surrender ran against insurmountable difficulties. An illegal organization needs sympathetic surroundings and constant renewal of reserves. In an atmosphere of decadence it was not only hard but virtually impossible to abide by the indispensable rules of conspiracy and maintain revolutionary contacts. “Underground work proceeded lackadaisically. During 1909 there were raids on Party printshops at Rostov-on-the-Don, Moscow, Tyumen, Petersburg …” and elsewhere; “supplies of proclamations in Petersburg, Byelostok, Moscow; the archives of the Central Committee in Petersburg. In all these arrests the Party was losing good workers.” This is recounted almost in a tone of distress by the retired Gendarme General Spiridovich.

”We have no people at all,” Krupskaya wrote in invisible ink to Odessa, at the beginning of 1909. “All are scattered in prisons and places of exile.” The gendarmes made visible the invisible text of the letter and—increased the population of the prisons. The scantiness of revolutionary ranks led unavoidably to the lowering of the Committee’s standards. Insufficiency of choice made it possible for secret agents to mount the steps of the underground hierarchy. With a snap of his finger the provocateur doomed to arrest any revolutionist who blocked his progress. Attempts to purge the organization of dubious elements immediately led to mass arrests. An atmosphere of suspicion and mutual distrust stymied all initiative. After a number of well-calculated arrests, the provocateur Kukushkin, at the beginning of 1910 became head of the Moscow district organization. “The ideal of the Okhrana is being realized,” wrote an active participant of the movement. “Secret agents are at the head of all the Moscow organizations.” The situation in Petersburg was not much better. “The leadership seemed to have been routed, there was no way of restoring it, provocation gnawed away at our vitals, organizations fell apart …” In 1909 Russia still had five or six active organizations; but even they soon sank into desuetude. Membership in the Moscow district organization, which was as high as 500 toward the end of 1908, dropped to 250 in the middle of the following year and half a year later to 150; in 1910 the organization ceased to exist.

The former Duma deputy Samoilov tells how at the beginning of 1910 the Ivanovo-Voznesensk organization, which until recently had been rather influential and active, fell apart. Right after it the trade unions faded away. Their places were taken by gangs of the Black Hundreds. The pre-revolutionary régime was being gradually restored in the textile factories, which meant the lowering of wages, severe penalties, dismissals, and the like. “The workers kept on the job bore it in silence.” Yet there could be no return to the old order. Abroad, Lenin pointed to letters from workers, who, telling of the renewed oppression and persecution by the manufacturers, would add, “Wait, 1905 will come again!”

Terror from above was supplemented by terror from below. [The fight of] the routed insurrectionists continued convulsively for a long time in the form of scattered local explosions, guerrilla raids, group and individual terrorist acts. The course of the revolution was characterized with remarkable clarity by statistics of the terror. 233 persons were assassinated in 1905; 768 in 1906; 1,231 in 1907. The number of wounded showed a somewhat different ratio, since the terrorists were learning to be better shots. The terrorist wave reached its crest in 1907. “There were days,” wrote a liberal observer, “when several big acts of terror were accompanied by as many as scores of minor attempts and assassinations of lower rank officialdom … Bomb laboratories were established in all cities, the bombs destroying some of their careless makers …” and the like. Krassin’s alchemy became strongly democratized.

On the whole, the three-year period from 1905 through 1907 is particularly notable for both terrorist acts and strikes. But what stands out is the divergence between their statistical records: while the number of strikers fell off rapidly from year to year, the number of terrorist acts mounted with equal rapidity. Clearly, individual terrorism increased as the mass movement declined. Yet terrorism could not grow stronger indefinitely. The impetus unleashed by the revolution was bound to spend itself in terrorism as it had spent itself in other spheres. Indeed, while there were 1,231 assassinations in 1907, they dropped to 400 in 1908 and to about a hundred in 1909. The growing percentage of the merely wounded indicated, moreover, that now the shooting was being done by untrained amateurs, mostly by callow youngsters.

In the Caucasus, with its romantic traditions of highway robbery and gory feuds still very much alive, guerrilla warfare found any number of fearless practitioners. More than a thousand terrorist acts of all kinds were perpetrated in Transcaucasia alone during 1905-1907, the years of the First Revolution. Fighting detachments found also a great spread of activity in the Urals, under the leadership of the Bolsheviks, and in Poland under the banner of the P. P. S. (Polish Socialist Party). On the second of August, 1906, scores of policemen and soldiers were assassinated on the streets of Warsaw and other Polish cities. According to the explanation of the leaders, the purpose of these attacks was “to bolster the revolutionary mood of the proletariat.” The leader of these leaders was Joseph Pilsudski, the future “liberator” of Poland, and its oppressor. Commenting on the Warsaw events, Lenin wrote: “We advise the numerous fighting groups of our Party to terminate their inactivity and to initiate some guerrilla operations …” “And these appeals of the Bolshevik leaders,” commented General Spiridovich, “were not without issue, despite the countermanding action of the [Menshevik] Central Committee.”

Of great moment in the sanguine encounters of the terrorists with the police was the question of money, the sinews of any war, including civil war. Prior to the Constitutional Manifesto of 1905 the revolutionary movement was financed principally by the liberal bourgeoisie and by the radical intellectuals. That was true also in the case of the Bolsheviks, whom the liberal opposition then regarded as merely somewhat bolder revolutionary democrats. But when the bourgeoisie shifted its hopes to the future Duma, it began to regard the revolutionists as an obstacle in the way of coming to terms with the monarchy. That change of front struck a powerful blow at the finances of the revolution. Lockouts and unemployment stopped the intake of money from the workers. In the meantime, the revolutionary organizations had developed large political machines with their own printshops, publishing houses, staffs of agitators, and, finally, fighting detachments in constant need of armaments. Under the circumstances, there was no way to continue financing the revolution except by securing the wherewithal by force. The initiative, as almost always, came from below. The first expropriations went off rather peacefully, quite often with a tacit understanding between the “expropriators” and the employees of the expropriated institutions. There was the story of the clerks in the Nadezhda Insurance Company reassuring the faltering expropriators with the words, “Don’t worry, comrades!” But this idyllic period did not last long. Following the bourgeoisie, the intellectuals, including the self-same bank clerks, drifted away from the revolution. Police measures became more stringent. Casualties increased on both sides. Deprived of support and sympathy, the “fighting organizations” quickly went up in smoke or just as quickly disintegrated.

A typical picture of how even the most disciplined detachments degenerated is given in his memoirs by the already-cited Samoilov, the former Duma deputy of the Ivanovo-Voznesensk textile workers. The detachment, acting originally “under the directives of the Party Center,” began to “misbehave” during the second half of 1906. When it offered the Party only a part of the money it had stolen at a factory (having killed the cashier during the act), the Party Committee refused it flatly and reprimanded the fighters. But it was already too late; they were disintegrating rapidly and soon descended to “bandit attacks of the most ordinary criminal type.” Always having large sums of money, the fighters began to preoccupy themselves with carousing, in the course of which they often fell into the hands of the police. Thus, little by little, the entire fighting detachment came to an ignominious end. “We must, however, admit,” writes Samoilov, “that in its ranks were not a few … genuinely devoted comrades who were loyal to the cause of the revolution and some with hearts as pure as crystal …”

The original purpose of the fighting organizations was to assume leadership of the rebellious masses, teaching them how to use arms and how to deliver the most telling blows at the enemy. The main, if not the only, theoretician in that field of endeavor was Lenin. After the December Insurrection was crushed, the new problem was what to do abut the fighting organizations. Lenin came to the Stockholm Congress with the draft of a resolution, which, while giving due credit to guerrilla activities as the inevitable continuation of the Decemher Insurrection and as part of the preparation for the impending major offensive against Tsarism, allowed the so-called expropriations of financial means “under the control of the Party.” But the Bolsheviks withdrew this resolution of theirs under the pressure of disagreement in their own midst. By a majority of sixty-four votes to four, with twenty not voting, the Menshevik resolution was passed, which categorically forbade “expropriations” of private persons and institutions, while tolerating the seizure of state finances only in the event that organs of revolutionary government were set up in a given locality; that is, only in direct connection with a popular uprising. The twenty-four delegates who either abstained from voting or voted against this resolution made up the Leninist irreconcilable half of the Bolshevik faction.

In the extensive printed report about the Stockholm Congress, Lenin avoided mention of the resolution concerning armed acts altogether, on the grounds that he was not present during the discussion. “Besides, it is, of course, not a question of principle.” It is hardly possible that Lenin’s absence was accidental: he simply did not want to have his hands tied. Similarly, a year later at the London Congress, Lenin, who as chairman was obliged to be present during the discussion on the question of expropriations, did not vote, in spite of violent protests from the Menshevik benches. The London resolution categorically forbade expropriations and ordered dissolution of the Party’s “fighting organizations”.

It was not, of course, a matter of abstract morality. All classes and all parties approached the problem of assassination not from the point of view of the Biblical commandment but from the vantage point of the historical interests represented. When the Pope and his cardinals blessed the arms of Franco none of the conservative statesmen suggested that they be imprisoned for inciting murders. Official moralists come out against violence when the violence in question is revolutionary. On the contrary, whoever really fights against class oppression, must perforce acknowledge revolution. Whoever acknowledges revolution, acknowledges civil war. Finally, “guerrilla warfare is an inescapable form of struggle … whenever more or less extensive intervals occur between major engagements in a civil war.” [Lenin.] From the point of view of the general principles of the class struggle, all of that was quite irrefutable. Disagreements came with the evaluation of concrete historical circumstances. When two major battles of the civil war are separated from each other by two or three months, that interval will inevitably he filled in with guerrilla blows against the enemy. But when the “intermission” is stretched out over years, guerrilla war ceases to be a preparation for a new battle and becomes instead a mere convulsion after defeat. It is, of course, not easy to determine the moment of the break.

Questions of Boycottism and of guerrilla activities were closely interrelated. It is permissible to boycott representative assemblies only in the event that the mass movement is sufficiently strong either to overthrow them or to ignore them. But when the masses are in retreat, the tactic of the boycott loses its revolutionary meaning. Lenin understood that and explained it better than others. As early as 1906 he repudiated the boycott of the Duma. After the coup of June third, 1907, he led a resolute fight against the Boycottists precisely because the high-tide had been succeeded by the ebb-tide. It was self-evident that guerrilla activities had become sheer anarchism when it was necessary to utilize even the arena of Tsarist “parliamentarism” in order to prepare the ground for the mobilization of the masses. At the crest of the civil war guerrilla activities augmented and stimulated the mass movement; in the period of reaction they attempted to replace it, but, as a matter of fact, merely embarrassed the Party and speeded its disintegration. Olminsky, one of the more noticeable of Lenin’s companions-in-arms, shed critical light on that period from the perspective of Soviet times. “Not a few of the fine youth,” he wrote, “perished on the gibbet; others degenerated; still others were disappointed in the revolution. At the same time people at large began to confound revolutionists with ordinary bandits. Later, when the revival of the revolutionary labor movement began, that revival was slowest in those cities where ‘exes’ had been most numerous. (As an example, I might name Baku and Saratov.)” Let us keep in mind the reference to Baku.

The sum total of Koba’s revolutionary activities during the years of the First Revolution seems to be so inconsiderable that willy-nilly it gives rise to the question: is it possible that this was all? In the vortex of events, which passed him by, Koba could not have failed to seek such means of action as would have enabled him to demonstrate his worth. Koba’s participation in terrorist acts and in expropriations cannot be doubted. And yet, it is hard to determine the nature of that participation....

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