THE FIRST GOVERNMENT CRISIS
IN the spring of 1917 the Revolutionary Democracy was blind both to the danger of Bolshevism and to the military peril. Of this we have clear evidence in the speech delivered on May 10 by the Soviet leader, Tsereteli, a Menshevik, at the extraordinary meeting of the four State Dumas, which reviewed the events of the first two months of the Revolution. This first public meeting, the first public skirmish between the two principal political groupsthe Socialists and the bourgeoisiecoincided with the first Ministerial crisis.
Warning voices sounded from the Right. They emphasised the German peril in view of the growing disruption of the army, pointed to the spread of anarchy throughout the country, the land riots fraught with the menace of starvation, and the ambiguous position of the Government.
The Kiev Deputy, Shulgin, a courageous and able patriot, said in his pointed way : The Tsars Government is shut up in the fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul, while the Provisional Government is under domiciliary arrest. A keeper is appointed to guard it with the instruction, Keep a sharp look out ; they are bourgeois, they must be closely watched. Shulgin spoke of the criminal incitement of soldiers against the officers, of the open street propaganda against the Allies, particularly against England, adding that all this pacifist propaganda among the ignorant masses emanated from Lenin and his pack.
Tseretelis response was imbued with the spirit of the Zimmerwald Conference and its denial of a class-truce during war-time. The so-called defence of the Fatherland in the present war is nothing but a fraud, aiming at subjugating the people to the service of Imperialism, declared the manifesto of the second Zimmerwald Conference. This, too, was the standpoint from which Tsereteli estimated the war and Russias relations with her Allies. Everything for the war, said Shulgin in his speech. The spokesman of the Soviet objected that this was the motto of the autocracy, to whom war was both an aim and a means. From the Benches of Deputies he was reminded that in England and France that was the motto of the whole nation. But Tsereteli did not believe that unity between the people and the Government could exist anywhere, even in free countries. The French and English nations are one thing, and the Imperialistic gang another, and you will soon see this proved there as triumphantly as in Russia. We are profoundly convinced that the English working classes will direct the policy of their Ministers in conformity with their class interests. Tsereteli did not wish to re-establish the formula of the destruction of German imperialism, because the destruction of a foreign countrys imperialism by armed force is the surest way of implanting imperialism and barbarism in ones own country. The idea of vanquishing the Germans was as abhorrent to him as it was to the Bolsheviks. Like them, he did not so much desire to fight as to apply the utmost endeavours to provoke a certain corresponding (revolutionary) movement in other countries. Yet, at the same time, he expressed the assurance that so long as our country was threatened by the invasion of imperialistic armies, the Russian Democracy would stand firm for the defence of its liberty, and no wavering would be possible in the ranks of the army. Not only the Stavka (Headquarters), but all the Generals, and even the Army Committees expressed alarm at the growing disintegration of the army. But Tsereteli simply did not believe these rumours,1 just as he declined to believe that Lenin was leading Russia to civil war. I do not agree with Lenin and his propaganda, said Prince Tsereteli, but Deputy Shulgins words are a calumny against Lenin. Lenin has never preached anything preventing the onward march of the Revolution. Lenin is conducting a propaganda of ideas and principles which is nourished by such demonstrations as that of Shulgin and the so-called moderate propertied elements. Thus the possibility of an agreement with the bourgeoisie is eliminated. According to Lenins standpoint, when the bourgeoisie becomes incapable of dealing with problems concerning the entire State, it must be set aside and the Soviet of Workmens and Soldiers Deputies assume full power. If Shulgins ideas were shared by all the bourgeoisie, then I must say that the only hope for Russias salvation lies in the dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasants. Such ideas as Shulgins constitute the only real menace of civil war.
Subsequent events showed the lamentable shortsightedness of Tsereteli. It was not the bourgeoisie but Lenin and his satellites who unchained the demons of civil war in Russia. But the Revolutionary Democracy, intoxicated with the new wine of liberty, looked only to the Right for its enemies, expected blows to come only from that quarter, and hastened to put into practice all its cherished watchwords, all the resolutions adopted at once obscure and unpopular but very long-winded Socialistic meetings and congresses.
The Ministerial crisis which took place in May was a manifestation of that distrust of the Right parties which was so skilfully and persistently fanned into flame by the Bolsheviks. This time the word victory, used by the Minister of Foreign Affairs P. Milyukov, in a Note addressed to the Allied countries, served as a motive for the crisis. From the very beginning of the Revolution this word was regarded in Soviet circles as counterrevolutionary. On March 30, for instance, the Izvestia published an article advising the soldiers taking part in manifestations to replace on their banners the motto War until Victory by that of War for Liberty.
A demonstration was organised against Milyukov on account of his Note declaring that the entire Russian people aspired to continue the war until final victory. The Bolsheviks started their agitation in the barracks. On May 3 a section of the Finland Regiment marched up to the Marie Palace, where the Government sat, carrying placards with the inscriptions : Down with annexations, Down with the Government, Down with Milyukov and Guchkov. They were joined by other military units, but a strong counter-demonstration was at once organised in support of Milyukov and the Government. Hot disputes for and against the Government raged at street meetings. Soviet orators came to the palace and urged the soldiers to disperse. General Kornilov, Commander of the Petrograd Military District, also appeared in the square. You represent an armed people, he said. Therein lies your strength. But you are also weak, because you are not as well-disciplined as good troops should be. Then try to be not merely an armed crowd, but a real, well-disciplined army.
The demonstrators dispersed. But the instigators of the demonstration won the day. A split was created in the Provisional Government. The Executive Committee of the Soviet, which from the first had looked suspiciously on the firm patriotism of Guchkov and Milyukov, secured their resignation.
The Izvestia did not conceal its joy when the Minister of War, Guchkov, resigned on the 15th of May and Milyukov on the 16th.
This important Government change was welcomed with equal rejoicing by the Berlin Press.
In point of fact it was but the first step towards the realisation of the Bolshevist demandfull power to the Soviets. The Bolshevist Central Committee of the Social-Democratic party exerted a very resolute pressure upon its less energetic comrades in order to achieve this end. The Pravda published a lengthy appeal from the Social-Democrats to the soldiers of all belligerent countries calling upon them to put an immediate end to the imperialistic robbers war. The Russian Provisional Government, wrote the Pravda, published on the 3rd of May a Note confirming the old predatory treaties, and expresses its readiness to continue the war until complete victory is attained, thereby raising indignation even among those who have hitherto trusted and supported it. The Pravda therefore demands the transfer of power to the revolutionary Soviets by means of a workmens revolution. The appeal ends with a new war-cry : Peace to the huts, War to the palaces ! Hurrah for Socialism !
Simultaneously with this open summons to civil war the Bolsheviks wrote :
Party agitators and orators must refute the dastardly lies of the capitalists and capitalist papers, accusing us of being the instigators of civil war. ... Party agitators must again and again protest against the hideous calumnies spread by capitalists, that our party is advocating a separate peace with Germany. We consider William II. just such another crowned robber deserving of execution as Nicholas II, and the German Guchkovs and German capitalists as being robbers, grabbers, and imperialists as much as Russian, English and all other capitalists. We are opposed to negotiations with capitalists. We stand for negotiations and fraternisation between the revolutionary workmen and soldiers of all countries. We are firmly persuaded that the Guchkov-Milyukov Government are trying to render the situation more acute because they know that the workmens revolution is beginning in Germany, and this revolution will strike a blow at the capitalists of all countries.
All the subsequent work of the Bolsheviks demonstrated the hypocrisy of these protests. Both separate peace and civil war were but the logical consequences of their agitation. But in the spring of 1917 the masses of soldiers and workmen, simple-minded, ignorant, bewildered by unintelligible foreign words, intoxicated by demagogic promises, firmly believed that it sufficed but to put all the downs into practice for the war to end as if by magic, and every workman to become a gentleman. Committee meetings and conferences, all packed with soldiers, adopted without demur the most extreme resolutions, particularly those which promised a speedy peace. Resolutions rose everywhere, like bubbles on the waters surface. Workmen, schoolboys, servant-maids, doctors, soldiers wives, railway-guards, sextonsall hastened to embody their particular needs and newborn political ideas in lengthy and often quite amusing resolutions. But the Soviets lent an attentive ear to all these chance decisions of chance meetings.
After the resignation of Milyukov and Guchkov the Provisional Government found themselves definitely in the power of the Soviet, which could no longer maintain the attitude of an irresponsible critic. The formation of a Coalition Government with the participation of Socialists became inevitable. The Bolsheviks, led by Trotsky, who by that time had returned from abroad, protested very sharply against the coalition headed by the bourgeois Prince Lvov, and even then urged the Soviet to take the power into its own hands. But the Soviet would not go so far and only introduced five of its members into the GovernmentChernov, Peshekhonov, Skobelev, Tsereteli, and Pereverzev. The new Cabinet was composed of six Socialists (including Kerensky), four Cadets, and four non-party members.2
Since, however, one of the Cadets, Nekrasov, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Tereshchenko, frequently voted with the Socialists, all the power was practically concentrated in the Socialists hands, in so far at least as the Provisional Government represented a power.
What the aims of these new statesmen were, and what was their conception of their duties towards the destiny of the Russian people, may be gathered from the declarations of the Executive Committee and the Provisional Government respectively.
On entering the Provisional Government the representatives of the Soviet, while associating themselves with the general and insistent aspirations for the consolidation of liberty, have imposed on themselves the following task : to pursue an active foreign policy openly aiming at a speedy conclusion of peace based upon the self-determination of peoples, without annexations and indemnities ; and more particularly the preparation of negotiations with the Allies for a revision of the agreement based upon the declaration of the Provisional Government of May 9 (April 27).
Thus spoke the Executive Committee.
The declaration of the Coalition Government, dated May 19, repeated the same words with regard to a speedy conclusion of peace (without annexations and contributions, based upon the self-determination of the peoples). This was the first occasion on which an official document of the Russian Government quoted a part of the formula which formed the basis of the invitation to the third Zimmerwald Conference. This invitation had been sent out by the Swiss Socialist, Robert Grimm, to all parties and organisations that accepted the programme of a fight against the party truce ; the renewal of class war ; a demand for an immediate armistice, and conclusion of peace without annexation and indemnities based upon the free self-determination of the nations. After the Brest peace the tragic irony of this formula appeared in all its nakedness. But every discerning mind had perceived it long before, and a large section of the Press and such politicians as Milyukov, Kropotkin, Plekhanov, Potresov, and Korolenko strained every nerve to disclose the madness and criminality of such watchwords in Russia, where the enemy occupied vast stretches of territory inhabited by small nations whose right to self-determination would certainly not be granted by victorious German troops. It was a hopeless struggle. No amount of logical argument could overcome the academic socialistic prejudices which held far more powerful sway over the minds of the Revolutionary Democracy than all the realities of Russias internal, external, and, in particular, of her military situation.
The Revolutionary Democracy sank ever deeper into the mire of Bolshevist formulæ which, disguised or undisguised, pervaded the Soviet declarations. The second point of the declaration of the Executive Committee that explained the reason for the Socialists joining the Government demanded the democratisation of the army, the organisation and strengthening of the fighting forces, and of their capacity for defensive and offensive operations in order to avert a possible defeat of Russia and her Allies, an eventuality not only fraught with the greatest calamities for all nations but one which would render impossible the conclusion of universal peace based upon the above-mentioned principles.
Admitting in word that the defeat of Russia and the Allies would spell calamity to all mankind, the Soviet politicians with a kind of frenzied fury went on destroying the spirit and body of the army. Democratisation and the elective principle, thoughtless or provocative committees and meetings and talk of a speedy peace, loosened organisation and discipline in the army, and darkened the soul of the weary Russian soldier.
In their first reports to the Soviet (May 26) the Socialist Ministers stated their method for carrying out the Soviets principles of home and foreign policy. Tsereteli announced that, despite the predictions of their antagonists, nothing alarming had occurred in foreign politics ; they had been neither obliged to capitulate before the Allies, nor to seek the way of a separate peace. (This was said a week after the Socialists had entered the Government.) He described the visit of the Socialist Ministers to the British Ambassador, whom they had asked whether he did not find the time ripe for a revision of the treaties. They had told the Ambassador that they acted not only through diplomatic channels, but tried to get into touch with all the democracies of the world, which would, according to Tsereteli, follow revolutionary Russia. As Sir George Buchanan made no response, Tsereteli was of opinion that their first step in foreign policy might be considered a success.
It is hard to refrain from a bitter smile on reading the report of this naive conversation now, when it has become so clearly apparent how these infants in statesmanship, playing at international politics, were only paving the way for the Bolshevist state-criminals who were stealthily watching for their turn. At the same meeting of the Soviet, after Tseretelis ingenuous report on his diplomatic achievements, the new Minister of Labour, the Social-Democrat M. Skobelev, made a still more naive declaration : I had meant to go to the Zimmerwald Conference, he said, and now I am a Minister.
According to him, before his time the affairs of State were conducted by ignoramuses, and Russia was being ruined. Everything must be altered, all branches of social life interfered with. The position of the labouring masses must first of all be ameliorated, and to this end all the revenues of the banks and commercial enterprises should be taken over. Propertied classes should be taxed up to 100 per cent. If capital desires to hold to the bourgeois system of economics, let it work without interest. Shareholders, bankers, and factory-owners would call upon the Government, lay down their registers and keys, and say, Take over our business and do as you will. But we know, Skobelev answered, when and what to take. We must force these gentlemen to submit to the state and establish for them a labour conscription. It was their duty, that is to say, to remain in their positions at the command of the Government. Such was the scheme of the Minister of Labour for saving Russia from ruin. In the same breath he defended the workmen accused of a democratisation of profiteering, i.e. of presenting economic demands which destroyed all production. His defence was extremely biassed. In reality the workmens excessive demands had already, in the spring of 1917, undermined Russian industry. The Anarchist Bleichman praised the speech of the Minister of Labour, declaring that it was in accordance with Lenins principles. But both the Anarchists and Trotsky thought that the Socialists had played long enough at supporting a coalition, and that the Soviet should now be given full power. In that respect they were more logical than the Socialist Ministers, who did not wish themselves or the Soviet to be wholly responsible ; and while inciting the masses to a struggle against the capitalists and landowners, considered that the bourgeoisie must share their responsibility.
In order to dispel all doubts as to the adherence of the new Socialist Ministers to the Zimmerwald programme, the Soviet department for Foreign Relations, then still directed by Skobelev, sent out a Note to the nations of the world. It appeared as a sort of response to an article by Huysmans published in the Swedish Social Demokraten, in which he compared the Russian Socialist Ministers with their French and English colleagues. The Russian Socialist Ministers, this Note declared didactically, are delegated to the Government for the purpose of obtaining a peace by an agreement between the nations and not of prosecuting an imperialistic war in the name of the liberation of the nations at the point of the bayonet. Russian Ministers have no intention whatsoever of supporting the party truce which had been created by the military menace. ... The basis of the Socialists participation in the Government lay not in the cessation of class war, but, on the contrary, in its further development with the weapons of political power (Izvestia, No. 70).
This conception of the part to be played in the Government by the Socialists obviously struck at the very roots of any idea of a coalition based upon an agreement between the Socialist and bourgeois parties. It created an inner front upon the very heights of authority. The German army occupied the whole of Poland, the north-western region and part of the Baltic provinces. The menace of a further German invasion was perfectly obvious to any one who had eyes to see. At a time when by a three years war and the criminal mistakes of the Tsarist regime the economic life of Russia had been undermined, the new power of the revolutionary democracy which succeeded it saw its prime duty ; not in the defence of the State, nor in the building up of a new order of internal freedom, but in the deepening of class war in fulfilment of the sacred will of Karl Marx. Yet, notwithstanding all this, Skobelev cries with a fine flourish of trumpets, Let no one say we shall be a plaything in the Kaisers hands ; no, the Kaiser will be a plaything in ours.
Given this puerile misunderstanding of the terrible burden of the war borne by the Russian people, it is not surprising that the Socialist Ministers, deeming themselves the sole exponents of the peoples will, listened angrily and impatiently to the bitter warnings of the military leaders. General Alexeiev, the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Army, spoke very plainly at the first officers congress (May 10).
Russia is going to ruin, he said. She is tottering on the brink of an abyss. A few more thrusts, and with all her weight she will crash into its very depths. The enemy has occupied the eighth part of our territory. He cannot be bribed by the Utopian phrase : Peace without annexations or indemnities. He openly desires both annexations and indemnities. He stretches out his greedy paw to where no enemy soldier has ever been before, he stretches a hand towards wealthy Volhynia, Podolia, the Kiev region, towards the entire right bank of our Dnieper. And what of ourselves ? Will the Russian army ever permit it ? Shall we not hurl this insolent foe out of our country, and then leave diplomacy to conclude a peace with or without annexations ? Let us be frank ; the fighting spirit of the Russian army is exhausted. But yesterday stern and powerful, it now faces the enemy in a trance of fatal inaction. A longing for peace and quiet has replaced the old traditional loyalty to the country. Base instincts of self-preservation are re-awakened. Where is the powerful authority at home for which the whole state is yearning ? We are toldit will come soon. But we do not see it yet. What has become of our love for the Mother-country ? Where is our patriotism ? The sublime word of brotherhood is inscribed upon our banner, but it is not written in our hearts. Class antagonism is raging in our midst ; whole classes who had honourably fulfilled their duty to their country are placed under suspicion. As a result a deep abyss has yawned between soldiers and officers.
We each think only of ourselves, of our own interests. Bread is plentiful, yet the Russian army is underfed, while the horses are completely starved.
New and brighter days have dawned, but where is the animation, the transport, the enthusiasm of a young nation that has attained to the supreme blessings of humanity ? As yet we see it not. ...
Russian officers must unite and think how to pour this enthusiasm into our hearts, for there is no victory without enthusiasm, and without victory there is no salvation, there can be no Russia. ... We are confronted with the colossal task of restoring discipline, of recasting into a united whole that which constitutes the Russian army, that is the officers and privates, of strongly bridging over and ultimately completely filling up the gulf which divides the private from the officer, of once more moulding them into the rock which was the old Russian army. ...
The mass of the army has sincerely, honourably, and rapturously accepted the new regime. The details of the new state organisation will be decided by the Constituent Assembly.
We must all unite upon the one great platform : Russia is in peril, we, as members of a great army, are bound to save her. Let this standard unite you all and give you the strength to work. Let there be ever present to your mental vision traced in fiery letters the words : Yes, Russia is perishing.
This speech with its clear and precise prophecy of the terrible danger menacing Russia was made at the very time when the Socialist Ministers were promising peace by means of a class war. The Soviet leaders responded to the bitter warnings of the military authorities and honest patriots by a storm of frenzied abuse, which was taken up by the entire Socialistic Press. Three weeks later (June 4), to the unconcealed joy of the Soviet, General Alexeiev was obliged to resign the post of Commander-in-Chief.
By that time Alexander Kerensky was already Minister of War and Marine. His was an exceedingly difficult position. As a Social-Revolutionary his former attitude in regard to the war had been one of great reserve, and before the Revolution he, like Chheidze, spoke in the Duma not so much of defending the State as of bringing the war to an end. After the Revolution Chheidze stubbornly held to his former views. But Kerensky was changed. Novel experiences drove him to new, healthier political ideas. He essayed to become the link between the Revolutionary Democracy, whose favourite he was, and Government circles. But he was devoid of clear ideas of statesmanship as well as of a just conception of his own powers. By education a lawyer, with the psychology of a civilian and the ingrained mental habits of an internationalist Socialist, Kerensky, intoxicated by the success of his speeches and his ever-increasing popularity, did not hesitate to take upon himself not only the government of the Russian State, but also the administration of the enormous Russian Army at a time when the country was wearing itself out in a military struggle beyond its strength, when all Government activity had to be concentrated on the solution of the most complicated military problems.
How could Kerensky achieve this, fettered as he was by the dogmas of Revolutionary Democracy, which concerned itself chiefly with the democratisation of the army, not with its military efficiency ? He proved incapable even of defending the armys highest assetits Commanders. The resignation of the able, gifted, experienced General Alexeiev was one of the many instances of the blunt, ruthless, and cruel persecution of officers emanating from Soviet circles. At times Kerensky took a bold stand, but the essential point was beyond his comprehensionthat an army is incapable of existing, much less of fighting, without discipline and compulsory and punitive measures.
Like many other revolutionaries, he thought that high-sounding phrases and passionate speeches were sufficient to reawaken the old fighting spirit that had been overstrained by a prolonged war and finally shaken by propaganda. Kerensky rushed from staff to staff and from camp to camp along the whole front, and made speech after fiery speech to the soldiers, while behind his back, in the heart of the Soviet, his own position was being steadily undermined. The temper of the Revolutionary Democracy was so much the reverse of warlike that the Minister of War did not at once obtain permission to utter the word offensive, while all talk of victory was absolutely forbidden. To take one example out of many. A few days after the reorganisation of the Government the Social-Democrat internationalist Sukhanov published a threatening article in one of the most influential papers of the Left, Novaia Zhizn, edited by Maxim Gorky. The watchword of an offensive that has eclipsed all others since the advent of the new Government has acquired not its ordinary innocent technical meaning but an odious political significance. The entire trend of the new Governments policy gives this watchword a menacing character. Sukhanov uttered the warning that neither agitation nor the call of the bourgeois press would obtain any results until every measure has been taken for the liquidation of the war, and until the war is purged of all signs of national and allied imperialism.
Now we know how the Bolsheviks have done the purging and its results are seen. Even Gorkys paper was later forced to oppose those with whom as a matter of fact it marched shoulder to shoulder during the first stage of the Revolution. The fruits of this friendship proved bitter to the now Bolshevist Socialists, yet they ought to have known their friends, for the Bolsheviks never concealed either their programme or their political and social aspirations. Representatives of other Socialist groups were well acquainted with the moral worth of Lenin and the Leninistes. In the chronicles of Russian refugees and in the history of the Social-Democratic party there are many facts proving their contempt for truth, justice, and honesty, their demoralisation verging upon moral insanity. But the Revolutionary Democracy shut its eyes, blindly worshipping a class doctrine which, it believed, obliterated all that was foul and atoned for every crime.
1 Tseretelis thoughtless I do not believe it was cruelly avenged by merciless fate. After the Bolshevist coup détat he was obliged to escape to Georgia. Only after witnessing the sufferings of his own Georgian people did he realise the meaning of Bolshevism. On June 15, 1918, he printed a letter in the Izvestia of Tiflis, describing how the demoralised army plundered the country, sold arms and munitions to the enemy, disarmed the national troops, and how Bolsheviks scattered ruin and death wherever they went. Then only Tsereteli and his Social-Democratic comrades understoodand preferred the friendship of German Generals, surrendering Georgia to the German yoke.
2 The names of the members of the new Cabinet were : (1) Premier and Minister of the Interior, Prince Lvov ; (2) Minister of Labour, Skobelev (S.D.) ; (3) Minister of Justice, Pereverzev (S.R.) ; (4) Agriculture, Chernov (S.R.) ; (5) Supplies, Peshekhonov (Pop.-Soc.) ; (6) war and Marine, Kerensky (S.R.) ; (7) Social Assistance, Prince Shakhovskoy (Cadet) ; (8) Finance, Shingarev (Cadet) ; (9) Post and Telegraph, Tsereteli (S.D.) ; (10) Commerce and Industry, Konovalov (Progressist) ; (11) Foreign Affairs, Tereshchenko (non-party) ; (12) Railways and Communications, Nekrasov (Cadet) ; (13) State-Controller, Godnev (Oct.) ; (14) Education, Manuilov (Cadet) ; (14) Synod Lvov (Oct.).