Liberty to Brest-Litovsk
CHAPTER VIII

THE MOSCOW STATE CONFERENCE


Attempts of the Government find supporters outside the Soviets—The Generals
and the Committees at the front—Rodzianko’s declaration and Chheidze’s declaration—
Two Russias—Kerensky’s ambiguous position—Difficulty of amalgamation
—The Bolsheviks and the Moscow workmen.



THE position of the Premier of the “ Save the Revolution ” Government was exceedingly difficult, first of all because in the Russian Revolution, as probably in all others, the revolutionaries themselves turned out to be the worst friends of liberty and order.

Their watchword was :  “ Save what the Revolution has won ! ”  But besides the Revolution there was Russia also expecting a deliverer.  In a country with a population of 175 millions, anarchy and famine reigned far and wide ;  the war had taken a firmer grip than ever.  The Government had to fight against these three calamities.  But how was that to be done, when the Government instead of being supported by powerful political organisations with a proper conception of State affairs was merely trying to find supporters among masses as unstable as molten lava ?

Any other supporters were considered by Kerensky and his colleagues to be not democratic enough.  Kerensky’s popularity was very great both in the army and at the rear.  When the municipal elections were taking place under the new universal suffrage law, the success of the Social-Revolutionaries was increased by the fact that Kerensky belonged to that party.  In almost every town his comrades were in the majority.  But the voters did not really know for whom they were voting, as the Social-Revolutionary party consisted of many sections sharply distinct from one another.  The Left were nearer to the Bolsheviks, and afterwards supported them.  The Right were nearer to the Socialist-Populists of the Plekhanov and Potressov type.  The Right Social-Revolutionaries supported Kerensky.  Among them there were able and honest individuals like Lebedev, Mme. Breshko-Breshkovskaia, Savinkov, and others.  The numerous Social-Revolutionary Centre, where Chernov was especially influential, were all against Kerensky.

Chernov, a writer of influence in Socialistic circles, an ideologist of the so-called “ Revolutionary Populist group,” had been a political refugee for ten years.  In October 1915, together with other Social-Revolutionaries, he founded (in Geneva) the “ Committee of Intellectual Assistance to Russian Prisoners of War in Germany,” which published a pacificist journal called Away from Home.  The Germans and Austrians assiduously disseminated this periodical among Russian prisoners in the camps.  In many ways the general ideas voiced by this journal coincided with those of the Bolsheviks.

This man, who had taken part in the Zimmerwald Congress, was appointed by the Social-Revolutionaries to the post of Minister of Agriculture.  In the Cabinet, as in the party, Chernov carried on a struggle against Kerensky.  This also was not conducive to the establishment of the firm Government which was so much spoken of both on the Right and on the Left.  But the Left considered it should be based on the will of the people, as expressed by the spontaneously established Soviets and democratic organisations, whereas the Right wanted to retain the uninterrupted succession of authority in the form of an independent Provisional Government, which could hand over its powers only to a Constituent Assembly properly elected by universal suffrage.  This Right tendency had the support of the Fourth Duma.  But the Duma was attacked furiously on all sides by the Revolutionary Democracy, beginning with Chheidze, President of the Soviet ;  who, like Kerensky, was afraid to avail himself of its support because he did not wish to risk his popularity among the Democracy.

The suffrage law under which the Duma had been elected was exceedingly incomplete, and even, under the old régime was often severely criticised by the members of the Duma themselves, especially those of the Cadet party.  But still it was a lawful assembly of national representatives, a parliament which all through the war had taken the national and patriotic point of view and had established a party truce for the sake of saving the country.  It was only the extreme Left, led by Chheidze and Kerensky, that spoke against such a policy of union for the defence of the country.  From the very first days of the war these men spoke in the Duma—not of victory over the Germans but of the liquidation of the war.  It is therefore easy to understand that the Soviet, where Chheidze was President, persistently discredited the Duma Committee, insisted on its being closed, and tried to assume the rô1e of a parliament.  But the method of recruiting the Soviet was too haphazard and illegal, and its activity was purely that of a political meeting.  Practically even in the first Soviet the influence of the mob was of enormous importance.  Even the Socialist Ministers began to understand the lack of statesmanship in their Soviet colleagues, and pending the election of the Constituent Assembly tried to find some substitute for representation.  Notwithstanding solemn promises of support, they—and especially Kerensky—were met with increasing coolness in the Soviet.

For three months, from August to November, Kerensky made various attempts to establish a consultative institution of more authority than the Soviet.  On the 3rd August, before the final formation of the Cabinet, Kerensky hastily convened, in the Winter Palace, representatives of the executive committees of all the parties.  After an excited and feverish all-night sitting, the meeting entrusted the formation of a Cabinet to Kerensky.  A more serious representative State Conference was convened in Moscow on the 25th August.  A month later, on 29th September, a democratic Congress met in, Petrograd, only Socialists being admitted.  Finally, on the 20th October a fourth and last attempt was made, and a Council of the Republic was convened, but was dispersed by the Bolsheviks.  After that the latter were masters of the position.

Invitations to the State Conference in Moscow1 were sent to the representatives of all classes, of all parties, organisations, and corporations.  About 2500 representatives came to the Conference.  There is no exaggeration in saying that the flower of the Russian population were gathered together in the enormous hall of the Great Theatre on the 25th of August.  Professors and workmen, military men and members of co-operative societies, of Zemstvos and municipal corporations, scientists, writers, peasants from the Peasants’ Union, generals and privates, monarchists and republicans—all had responded to the call of the Government.  It was a review of the living forces of the country, where the two Russias were to be reconciled.  What was then termed the Right wing, which included all non-Socialists, was called “ property-qualified Russia,” although there were not a few proletarians of the educated classes among them.  The Left wing, which styled itself democratic Russia, included not only workmen but even titled persons and rich men.

This arbitrarily given nickname even then included two distinctly divergent groups.  The Right group was composed of people who acknowledged political liberty and a democratic state as essential to a new Russia.  But they considered that it could be founded only on personal initiative and private property.  The Left group were Socialists, who considered property to be an institution of the bourgeoisie and one to be abolished as soon as possible.

By this time so great was the divergence of views on the methods to be followed and the objects to be attained that, although the invitations had been issued by Kerensky, to whom the Soviet had promised full support, yet the Executive Committee had a long discussion as to whether it could with any propriety take part in the State Conference.  The Bolsheviks argued hotly against it, considering the whole affair to be counter-revolutionary.  And even the Soviet was afraid of compromising itself, as from information received by the Soviet “ dark forces wanted to use the Conference for the purpose of striking a decisive blow at the Revolution.”  By this time the fear of a counter-revolution had become a sort of mental epidemic among Socialists.  It had existed before, but now their alarm was more concrete in character, for they were frightened by the more and more persistent demands of the military commanders, who proposed a series of measures for the purpose of arresting the ruin of the army by the restoration of discipline.  Like the civilians the soldiers divided into two groups.  The masses were drawn to the Soviets, while the officers and the better educated private soldiers grouped themselves around the Generals headed by Kornilov, who had already in a report to Kerensky expressed his views on the commissaries and the committees.

But both of the latter institutions were considered by Soviet politicians as “ triumphs of the Revolution,” and any attempt on them—counter-revolution.

Part of Kornilov’s report to the Government got into the newspapers.  In it the Supreme Commander-in-Chief pointed out that the drafts sent out to him were not only quite worthless for fighting purposes, but were corrupting the troops already at the front.  “ It is therefore necessary, in cases when soldiers commit crimes in the rear, to have recourse to the same severe measures up to capital punishment, as are in force in the army at the front.”  This proposal was furiously criticised by the press.

The fears of the Soviet circles unfortunately infected the Government.

Nevertheless, after prolonged debates, the Executive Committee decided to take part in the State Conference, and at this time showed great independence of the Bolsheviks, depriving them of the right to take part in the Conference because of their refusal to submit to the resolutions of the Soviet majority.

But even the absence of the Bolsheviks could not close the rift in the Conference.  Only one watchword at times brought unity into all ranks, and that was when some orator would say :  “ Russia will not permit the conclusion of a shameful peace.”  Then equally vigorous and united applause came from Right and Left.  But no sooner did the speakers touch on more concrete matters, on the question of how to preserve Russia from a disgraceful peace, or what order was to be introduced in the rear and at the front for this purpose, than the Conference would again divide into two camps.

The Conference was especially sensitive on the question of army organisation.  During the debates on this question not only were the words significant but there was significance in the applause, for whom, what reason, and from whom it came.  And more than once, either when the Generals were speaking, or when the representatives of the Army Committees were addressing the meeting, the terrible presentiment of civil war surged up threateningly, and all words of conciliation sounded weak and unconvincing.

When Kerensky proposed to greet Kornilov “ as the leader of the perishing Russian Army,” an enormous majority of those present gave this courageous and honest patriot a hearty ovation.

Only the soldiers smiled carelessly and retained their seats, when the others rose to applaud their leader and chief.  And what else could be expected of these uneducated or half-educated men, when those whom they looked upon as their spiritual teachers—the civilian members of the Soviet—also remained sitting ?

On the stage, not far from the long table at which the Ministers sat, with Kerensky at their head, stood General Kornilov.  With an air calm but careworn, he looked at the Left section, on whose conscientiousness and good sense depended that which was dearer to him than life itself—the fate of Russia.  And in the front row of the stalls below him sat the Georgian Chheidze, who, turning his back on the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, deliberately applauded the representatives of the Front Committees in the boxes on the Left.  His example was followed by the other members of the Executive Committee.  It was only bourgeois Russia that applauded the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Army.

The Soviet showed plainly and significantly its total inability to understand the meaning of any army, and of what its efficiency and discipline must be based on.  After such a demonstration all appeals for unity sounded dead and hopeless, and it was in vain that Prince Tsereteli spoke of an honest, democratic coalition.  It could not be formed until Democracy had adopted an honest attitude towards the principal problem of the State—the war and the army.  The form of government and the establishment of authority, economics, and class warfare—all this did not give rise to such outbreaks of political passion as the army did.  Kaledin, Alexeiev, and Kornilov spoke of this decay of the army courageously, not fearing the truth.  They demanded the immediate introduction of decisive measures, and not of half-measures.

Kaledin, the Cossack General, thus formulated these necessary measures :

The Army is to keep outside politics.  Meetings must be prohibited at the front.  All committees and Soviets must be abolished, both in the Army and in the rear.  Only the economic committees may be left in the regimental units.  The Soldiers’ Declaration of Rights must be amended and supplemented by an indication of his duties.  Strict discipline must be restored.

A similar view of the need for efficiency of the army was taken in the declaration made by the members of the Fourth Duma, read by Rodzianko.  This declaration was the best exposition of the political ideas and desires of the so-called bourgeois Russia, as represented at the Congress.  These were as follows :

At the present moment the chief object is to save Russia from defeat, dismemberment, and disgrace, and so to carry on the World War to a victorious end, in complete accord with our Allies, as to guarantee mankind against a repetition of such a war in the future.

The declaration begins with this.  History has already shown that the Russian politicians who grouped themselves round the Duma were quite correct in their statement of what was required at that time.  But power was not on their side and their exhortations fell on heedless ears.

Of course such aims demanded order and discipline in the army, as was pointed out in the above declaration.  But in carrying on the war “ the Government, in defining the aims of the war waged by Russia and the Allies, must not introduce any tendencies of international Socialism, but must be guided exclusively by the national interests of Russia.  The Government must preserve a complete independence as regards motions passed by the international Socialistic conference.  It must likewise keep itself completely independent of the Soviets of Workmen’s, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Delegates organisations which do not represent the opinions and will of the entire nation.”

The Fourth Duma in its declaration urged that the Russian Government should be independent of any party.  The Government must be one and undivided, and no organisations have any right to interfere in its orders.  But neither must the Government anticipate in any fundamental measures the decisions of the Constituent Assembly, especially such measures as would affect the unity of the Russian State.  The declaration especially emphasised the necessity for the Government to “prevent all the attempts to aggravate Social conditions, and foment class warfare now encouraged by certain Socialistic parties.  The Government must likewise prohibit any arbitrary solution of Social questions by interested parties.”  This refers to the seizure of land by the peasants and of factories by the workmen.

The Right half of the State Conference did not come to any formal agreement, though individual speakers expressed full concurrence with this declaration of the Fourth Duma.  The majority of the Right orators merely developed its fundamental principles.  Shulgin (Nationalist) and Maklakov (Cadet) were especially clear in their exposition.  The Cadets had taken an active part in drawing up the declaration, and, if I am not mistaken, it was written by Milyukov, who, in his speech, again emphasised still more clearly all the danger of capitulating to the Utopian claims of the working classes, and to the extreme demands of the nationalities composing the Empire.

Maklakov, while welcoming that part of the Government programme which promised to carry on the war until the conclusion of an honourable peace, said :  “ But I cannot help drawing attention to the alarm felt by the public conscience, when it sees among the ‘ Save the Revolution ’ Government some of yesterday’s ‘ defeatists.’ ” These words caused the Left wing to cheer Chernov lustily, as if for the purpose of letting every one know which of the Ministers was “ yesterday’s defeatist,” and there were cries from the Left :  “ Long live the Muzhik Minister Chernov ! ”

But Maklakov was listened to in gloomy, inimical silence when he spoke of the necessity of saving Russia, and not the Revolution, when he said that the way to salvation lay through the army, and that therefore “ it is our revolutionary duty to restore discipline in the army.”  Now Chheidze in his speech had explained that the aim of commissaries and committees was “ to be conductors of revolutionary policy.  Therefore,” said Maklakov, “ it was not considerations of discipline, not military necessity, but the desire to have their own agents in the army that made the Revolutionary Democracy stand up for these institutions.  Those who introduced them into the army hoped that they would manage to do without battles, that Zimmerwald would lead them to an honourable peace.  And the war still went on.  Zimmerwald proved a poor defence against the advancing foe.  A choice must be made.  The army must either take to politics or else obey its leaders.  But to restore discipline in the army would mean giving it into the power of the officers to whom at present the Government shows no trust.”  Maklakov prophetically warned the Government that in choosing the middle way it was creating such a state of affairs that “ the army will not be a fighting army, and will not belong to the Government.”

In November Kerensky himself experienced all the hard truth of this prophecy.  What was said by Rodzianko, Guchkov, Alexeiev, Kornilov, Milyukov, Riabushinsky, Kutler, Shulgin, and many others who stood out for a strong Government and a strong army, in many points coincided with the task the Government had before it :  “To save the State, to protect the honour and dignity of the Russian people,” as Kerensky put it.  In his speeches too there was a ring of patriotism, far nearer to the feelings of the Right wing than to those of the Left.  Nevertheless the Socialist majority in the Cabinet more than counteracted this tendency of their chief.  They spoke of the salvation of Russia, of the necessity of saving it from defeat by the Germans, and yet put their trust, not in the patriots Alexeiev and Kornilov, but in the “ defeatists ” Chheidze and Chernov.  It was obvious what the result would be.

Radzianko could not even read his Duma declaration.  It was only printed in the newspapers.  When his turn to speak came the time allowed each speaker had already been curtailed, and Kerensky either was not able or did not wish to let the most prominent representative of property-owning Russia have his say—the most prominent representative if not by his personal qualities at least by the position he occupied.  It was one of those chance occurrences to which history likes to give a symbolic meaning.  Non-Socialistic Russia, defending the interests not of a class but of the State, was left unheard all through the State Conference.  And Chheidze, speaking for Socialistic Russia, was able not only to finish his speech, but even to read the whole of a long manifesto of the Revolutionary Democracy.  This declaration was signed not only by the Central Committee of the Workmen’s, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Delegates, but also by the Railway, Post and Telegraph, and Teachers’ Unions, by the Front organisations, by part of the representatives of the Zemstvo and municipal institutions, the Food Committees, etc.  As there was no voting at the Conference it is very difficult to determine the numerical ratio between the non-Socialist and Socialist parties.  But there is no doubt that the number of people on the side of the democratic organisations, in whose name Chheidze spoke, was enormously greater than that of the people who, speaking generally, supported Rodzianko.  The Left were correct in saying that they had the masses with them.  Numerically they were stronger.  But the bulk of the intellectual forces was not on their side.  The Left had to acknowledge this.  Mme. Breshko-Breshkovskaia, justly named the “ Grandmother of the Revolution,” said, turning to the benches occupied by the present or former members of the Duma :  “ You who, more than others, are rich in talent, knowledge, and experience in Statesmanship—go to the people, use your spiritual wealth in their service.”

But the Left would not or could not understand that intellectual power used to carry out alien ideas ceases to be a power.  And the ideas of the Right and the Left wing of the Conference in regard to State matters were almost diametrically opposed.

It is true Chheidze’s declaration (subsequently known as the Declaration of the 27th of August) constituted a withdrawal from the old position held by the Revolutionary Democracy.  In the spring of 1917 the Socialist Ministers promised on entering the Cabinet to intensify class warfare.  The Declaration announced :  “ The Revolutionary Democracy, as represented by its Soviet of Workmen’s, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Delegates, is striving in everything to place the interests of the whole of the country and the Revolution above those of separate classes and groups of the population.”  This was already a great advance.  But it could be of no significance unless the Soviets drew practical conclusions from it in fundamental questions of government and the war and in social and national problems.  On none of these points, however, could they leave their former positions.  The word “ victory ” was still not to be found in their vocabulary, the spirit of Zimmerwald still determined their relations to the war.

“ The Government must bear in mind that the energetic continuation of a foreign policy embracing a refusal of all imperialistic aims (at that time the Germans had occupied an enormous tract of Western Russia) and the desire for the speedy conclusion of universal peace on democratic principles, will be a mighty weapon for increasing the efficiency of the army.2  The Government must act with the support of democratic organisations in the rear and at the front.  It must demand that the military authorities shall be unconditionally obedient to it, as the representative of the supreme power of the State.”  But there was not a word about democratic organisations also being obliged to obey this authority.  Thus double authority was, so to speak, decreed by this declaration.  The declaration very justly points out that the proprietary and privileged classes must sacrifice their interests for the good of the country.  But it most inaccurately asserts that “democracy is prepared to make any sacrifices to save the country and the Revolution.”  The misfortunes of the country and the Revolution arose from the fact that no one knew how to inspire the masses with a readiness to make sacrifices or even to submit to discipline.

The declaration proceeded to set forth a long economic, agrarian, and financial programme.  Perhaps the most important points in it were the demand that agricultural land should be handed over to land committees “ without any infringement of the present form of land tenure.”  How land can be taken away from private owners without infringing these forms of land tenure does not appear ?  The Soviet lawyers themselves would perhaps not be able to answer this.

As regards commerce and industry, there are clauses in the declaration which actually clear the way for the subsequent work of the Bolsheviks, such as :  “ In order to increase productivity it is first of all necessary to establish control over production and an active share in the management of undertakings, even going so far as the formation of syndicates and trusts by the State, and the introduction of monopolies.”

The food trade must also be “ under the especially strict supervision of food control institutions.”3

No less dangerous was the war programme of the Revolutionary Democracy based on the support of the committees, who were to be the leaders of the social and political life of the soldiery, while the Commissaries were to “ carry on a propaganda of the revolutionary policy of the Government.”  The commanders were to be “ completely independent in all military operations,” but they were not to undertake extraordinary measures of “ revolutionary action ” without the Commissaries.  “ The extravagant use or abuse of the system of coercion and repression ruins the fighting spirit and efficiency of the army.  Therefore discipline must not be restored by the sole authority of the commanding officers.”

Even after flight en masse, crimes, and desertions, which had become so common in the army, the democracy was afraid of repression as ruinous to the fighting spirit.  It was clear that neither patriots nor Generals could take this point of view, that no compromise was possible, and that, sooner or later, the Government would have to make, a definite choice between two divergent courses.  Unfortunately for Russia, when the fateful hour arrived, the Government, in the person of Kerensky, made the choice that was ruinous to Russia.

But in August at the Moscow State Conference Kerensky was still seeking for what he thought was a central position uniting both camps.  He was neither able nor, steadfast enough for this hard task.  In his speeches, especially in his perorations, with hysterical nervousness he would threaten Right and Left, call for sacrifices and talk of the perilous position of Russia.  Yet when dealing with concrete problems, with the organisation of Government and of the army in the struggle against anarchy and economic ruin, he hesitated, made many a slip, and could not see his way.  That part of Kerensky’s speech which dealt with the army was positively dangerous.  “ The old army was, unfortunately, bound by the hateful fetters of mechanical coercion and the senseless subordination of man to iron, and often to a brainless will placed above him.”

Thus spoke the Premier, who had retained the post of Minister of War, in the presence of the representatives of those very Army Committees which for five months had done nothing but throw off the chains of all coercion and all subordination.

But what was still more dangerous was that in his speech Kerensky divided the officers into two classes.  To one he took off his hat :  “ The ordinary fighting officers who were not trying to make a career.”  These had on their side the whole intelligent portion of the army, including those new Army Committees and representatives of the central revolutionary authorities who formed such a necessary and integral part of the army, i.e. the Commissaries !  In the other class, disapproved of by the Premier, were those officers who considered the committees and Commissaries harmful (i.e. practically all the independent officers who were not seeking for cheap demagogic popularity), with the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, General Kornilov, at their head.

The disapproval hinted at by Kerensky was at once understood by the soldiers present and by their civilian leaders.  It widened the rift between the officers and soldiers, and made the desperate position of the officers still worse.

One thing can be placed to the credit of Kerensky and his colleagues in the Cabinet, in connection with the Moscow Conference, and that is that they were not afraid of the truth, and used the Conference to show Russia the dangerous position she was in.  Disorder, ruin, anarchy, which later, under the Bolshevist regime, acquired a complete and obvious character, existed practically even then.  “ I should like to find new, not human words, in order to describe to you all the horror which overwhelms us, when we see this danger. . . . The State is in mortal danger. . . . All of us are in mortal fear,”—Kerensky kept repeating in his speech.  The Ministers of the Interior, of Finance, of Commerce, and especially the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, who all spoke after him, brought a series of ruthless and terrible proofs that Russia was on the brink of utter ruin.

“ The sole task that the Government has before it is to save the country, to protect the honour and dignity of the whole Russian people and the Russian State,” said the Prime Minister of the Provisional Government.  It would seem as if all who were present, without distinction of party or class, must unite in one common impulse, and come to the aid of the Government.  There is no doubt that sincere pain and alarm for their perishing country were heard in the speeches of even the Socialist orators, who had lately considered patriotism as treachery to the Workmen’s International.  They likewise felt the sobering influence, but the process was too slow, far slower than was required by the complex and perturbed condition of an enormous nation.  For it was not only the workmen, peasants, and soldiers whose minds were disturbed by the struggle between excited class appetites and the gnawing of their civic conscience.  The minds of the leaders were likewise divided between the ingrained dogmas of their international and class catechism and the anxiety for what was, after all, their own native Russia.  And perhaps, in his weakness of will and logic, the most tragic incarnation of this duality was Kerensky, the chief and the nominee of the Democracy.  First he would call for sacrifices, for a non-party spirit, for unity, then he would threaten :  “ I will put a limit to the tendency to use the great calamity of Russia as a weapon against the interests of the nation as a whole, and whatever ultimatums may be presented to me, I will manage to subdue them to the supreme authority, and to myself, its supreme head.”

As the majority of the members of the State Conference knew that Kornilov was becoming more and more persistent in his demands for the reorganisation of the army, every one understood these hints, and knew that the Premier’s threats were directed against the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, and so the hearers, instead of uniting in one general burst of patriotism, as Kerensky himself demanded, were divided between him and Kornilov.

Hesitating between the bitter consciousness of the perilous situation and the obstinate prejudices of the Revolutionary Democracy, Kerensky could not bring the various tendencies of Russian public forces to anything like a united effort.  The theatrical handshake which the representative of large industries gave in answer to Tsereteli’s appeal to the bourgeoisie to make the same sacrifices as labouring democracy hardly deceived any one.  All knew that industry was ruined owing to the complete loss of discipline among the workmen, and that if industry could indeed be re-established, it was not by fine speeches, but by strong and wise measures.  And, however strange it may be, yet in spite of the Socialistic character of the noisy Left wing, political passions were aggravated not so much by social disputes, as by differences in the conceptions of victory, discipline, and liberty.

It was in vain that the veterans of the Revolution, Plekhanov, Mme. Breshko-Breshkovskaia, and Krapotkin, called for good sense and unity.

Plekhanov, the founder of Russian Social-Democracy, protested against the isolation of the bourgeoisie, and tried to convince the proletariat that they should come to an agreement with the other classes, and not fight against them, “ as otherwise nothing will be left of Russia, to the great delight of German capitalists.”

Krapotkin, the philosopher of Anarchism, at once displeased the Soviet leaders by beginning his speech as follows :  “ I join with those who have called upon the Russian people to cast loose from Zimmerwaldism once for all, and as one man, to stand up in defence of their country and the Revolution.  In my opinion Russia and the Revolution are inseparable.  If the Germans defeat us, the consequences of their victory will be so terrible, that even to mention it fills the mind with horror.”

In the speeches of the Socialists of such groups Socialistic ideology was united to sober statesmanship and warm patriotism.  Their words met with no sympathy in that Left wing which had practically already taken the power into its own hands.  For appearance’ sake, both speakers were applauded, as former revolutionary workers.  Krapotkin was furiously applauded only when he proposed the immediate establishment of a republic.

In spite of the general tension and excitement, the undoubted general desire not only to elucidate the position, but also to find some outlet, in spite of the readiness of many “ to lose their own souls, but at least to save their country ” (Kerensky’s words), the State Conference, which sat three days (25th-28th August), was to all thoughtful people an additional proof that the Provisional Government, and with it the whole of Russia, was at an “ impasse.”  It was time, not to “ deepen ” the Revolution, but to check with a firm hand, to demand from the Revolutionary Democracy and the masses excited by it sacrifices in deeds, and not merely in words, to cast loose from Socialistic romanticism, or else to drink the bitter cup of revolutionary experiment to the dregs.

At this Conference it became clear that it was the Soviet, i.e. the Socialist Centre, that was driving Russia to choose the second alternative.  The Bolsheviks, who were already preparing the draught of hemlock for Russia, were not present at the Conference.

The Socialist Centre was acting independently of the Bolsheviks, even were in conflict with them.  But the Bolsheviks, though absent from the Conference, were carrying on a widespread agitation against it among the Moscow proletariat, especially among the town workmen, who threatened to stop the trams and cut off the electric light.  The waiters in the refreshment bar of the Opera House where the Conference was held struck on the third day, and it was some other organisation (if I mistake not, the Zemstvo Union) which hastily established a sort of soup kitchen in the theatre.

This ferment in the town among the masses, to whose support the Soviet politicians were always referring, naturally not only kept up their nervousness, but their aggressive attitude towards the proprietary elements of the Conference.  Striving to retain their waning popularity, they emphasised their differences both with the bourgeoisie and with the extremists.  But this did not save their authority, nor did it save the masses from subsequent suffering.

Nevertheless, a small group of Bolsheviks did come forward at the Moscow Conference with a separate declaration, in which it was stated that the Provisional Government “ convened the Moscow Conference in order to get new strength for a new campaign against all that had been won by the Revolution.  The Moscow Conference is a convenient opportunity for the counter-revolutionary executioners to come to an understanding about the organisation of an All-Russian counter-revolutionary conspiracy.  The proletariat will not allow the bourgeois oppressors to triumph.  The proletariat will carry on the Revolution to the end, will secure land for the peasants, and peace, bread, and liberty for the people.”

History has shown the real meaning of such promises, as it has shown how many real executioners, savage and ruthless, were hidden among the ranks of the Bolsheviks themselves, only waiting for the moment when the people’s want of organisation and its trustfulness would enable them to wreak their fury on the unfortunate population of Russia.




1 The shorthand reports and other materials of the Conference apparently perished during the bombardment of the Moscow Town Hall by the Bolsheviks in November 1917.  I am writing about the Conference partly from newspaper reports, and partly from personal notes and impressions.  I was a member of the Conference, as a delegate of the Petrograd City Council.

2 This was well answered by a Socialist, a representative of the Officers’ Union, Lieutenant-Colonel Wrzosiek :  “ Try to grasp the psychology of a soldier.  You tell him to fight and point to Stockholm, and promise him that Peace will come from there.  How can a soldier fight with his soul so divided ? ”

3 Even then this control had reached such a stage that private initiative was almost killed.  But the new institutions were hastily formed, and staffed by persons who were more noted for their revolutionary tendencies than for their experience—young men who were quite incapable of managing their work, the more so as there was no strong Government.