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1917: The View from the Streets #4: ‘For a provisional revolutionary government of workers and poor peasants'
February 15, 2017 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal / John Riddell's Marxist Essays and Commentary website — 100 years ago this week, in February 1917, the Bolshevik Petersburg Committee of the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party issued the following proclamation as a response to Menshevik appeals to workers to come out in support of the Duma (parliament) on the day of its convocation (see Document #3).
The Bolshevik committee warned workers not to trust attempts to ally them with Duma liberals, calling instead for a one-day strike on February 23 (10) to commemorate the second anniversary of the trial of the Bolshevik deputies to the State Duma. The Petersburg Committee had forgotten, however, that many factories would be closed on that date, because it fell during a Russian religious holiday.
The Russian Bureau of the Bolshevik Central Committee, led by Alexander Shlyapnikov, urged the Petersburg Committee to transfer the date of the strike to February 26 (13), and to consider extending the action to disrupt and take control of the initiative planned by the Worker Group of the Central War Industry Committee for February 27 (14). The Petersburg Committee, however, proceeded with its original plan, which failed due to the holiday. Nor did any workers respond to the Russian Bureau’s call for a February 26 (13) strike.
The February Revolution would begin around International Women’s Day on March 8 (February 23).
Selection, translation, and annotation by Barbara Allen.
Proclamation by the Bolshevik Petersburg Committee of the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party, February 1917
Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party
Proletarians of the entire world, unite!
The ruling classes have tightened the noose which they hung around the neck of the peoples of Europe. Millions of human lives have perished. The best and healthiest young forces of the people have been maimed or killed. Millions more suffer in captivity. Work comes to a halt and there is hunger.
As many as fifteen million people from all combatant countries have lost their lives during the two years of slaughter, which have increased the profits of those with power in this world. What an unprecedented crime! Shame on those who undertook this mass extermination of the finest forces of the people! We, the worker vanguard and oppressed democratic forces, who spill our blood for a cause alien to us, face a great and difficult duty – to put an end to this crime!
And what do they do?
During the past two and a half years, have we heard even a weak voice of reason from the ruling classes, who dispose over the fate of the peoples whom they oppress? Now is the second anniversary of the trial of the representatives of the Russian working class in the State Duma. Since the very beginning of the war, the State Duma has cried out at its sessions for Russia’s economy to flourish. Yet behind the walls of the Tauride Palace, the Duma ruins the economy by putting it at the mercy of the wolfish appetites of gentry landowners, capitalist factory owners, and bankers.
After our deputies were expelled from the State Duma, quickly tried, and banished to remote, cold Siberia, the gentry landowners and capitalists rubbed their hands in satisfaction that they might speak more freely in the State Duma. But for two years, the State Duma has said nothing regarding the violation of its rights. It will also be silent on the second anniversary of deputies’ exile. On the other hand, it will shout out and its agents will hustle about to seek among the working class, which it has decapitated, a sympathetic response to the servile speeches of “comradely” deputies.
And they can find some chauvinist groups of workers, who have been blinded by the tempest of war and who will carry Duma liberals’ lustful cravings into the workers’ midst. The most capricious rumors about the State Duma’s intentions are circulating among workers now, on the eve of the proposed convocation of the State Duma on 14 February. It is easy to see that the State Duma is not prepared to do anything new. But Duma liberals once more are not averse to making menacing gestures while protected by a wall of workers who have risen.
In the factories, workers heard the call to support the State Duma and even to push it to take a resolute step by presenting demands at the doors of the Tauride Palace. This summons is not only useless but also traitorous. Going in supplication to the palaces of tsars and ruling classes will dearly cost the credulous people who hoped to receive something from the inhabitants of these palaces.
Liberals and liberal worker politicians, when they do not have sufficient gunpowder, gladly dress up in front of the people as resolute warriors for the people’s cause. But they conceal their actual intentions. Comrades, they come running to offer assistance, so that you would allow them to surrender the country more fully to further military plunder and to endlessly wage war “to the end.” They do not speak about this directly to us, but it is their fondest dream.
We know what the fine words of liberals mean when they shout their dissatisfaction with the current government yet secretly apportion among themselves future ministerial seats. From their tongues slip resolute phrases about taking power or about a “provisional government,” depending on the organized people for support, yet they say not a word about war. We fully understand that only the mighty blow of democracy will put a stop to the harassment of the people and to their ordeal.
We should tell them: “All our efforts are directed against you and the war that you started. We are against the tsarist monarchy that you love so much because the monarch’s scepter conceals your appetites and your dark deeds. We are against the tsarist government. You say you want to struggle against it, but you are afraid of its defeat, because only the tsarist government allows you to toy with the people.
We are for a democratic republic, which will put power into the hands of the people. We are for a provisional revolutionary government of workers and poor peasants. It will be able to convene a National Constituent Assembly based on universal, equal, direct, and secret suffrage. We are against the chauvinist criminal greed of each nation’s capitalists, who divide up the world and inflict deep wounds upon it. We are for the international solidarity of workers, which will bring peace and happiness to the people.
On February 10, the anniversary of the day when the tsarist court struck a blow against our deputies, we will send them our fraternal greeting, for they gave their utmost strength in struggle for our slogans. We demand the immediate return of our deputies and we will mark this anniversary by holding a one-day strike. This will be a sign of our readiness to give our lives in struggle for the demands that our exiled deputies proclaimed openly.
Down with tsarist monarchy! War on war! Long live the Provisional Revolutionary Government! Long live the National Constituent Assembly! Long live the Democratic Republic! Long live International Socialism!
Petersburg Committee of the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party
Published in A.G. Shlyapnikov, Semnadtsatyi god, volume 1, 1923, pp. 303-6.
Other leaflets in the “1917: The view from the streets” series
1. “Down with the war; long live the revolution!” (December 1916, Bolshevik-influenced students)
2. “The Day of People’s Wrath is Near!” (c. January 20, 1917, Mezhrayonka)
3. “Only a provisional government can bring freedom and peace” (February 6, 1917, Mensheviks)
A note on Russian dates
The Julian calendar used by Russia in 1917 ran 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar that is in general use today. In the “View from the Streets” series, centennial dates are reckoned by the Gregorian calendar; dates are given with the Gregorian (“New Style”) date first, followed by the Julian date in parentheses.