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‘1917: The View from the Streets’: Leaflets of the Russian revolution #1 - ‘Down with the war. Long live the revolution!’
December 2, 2016 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal / John Riddell's Marxist Essays and Commentary website — One hundred years ago this month, an organizing committee of Bolshevik-influenced students issued this underground proclamation calling on students in Russia who were opposed to the war to come together with workers and peasants to put a provisional revolutionary government in power. The organizing committee linked revolutionary student circles at higher educational institutions in Petrograd, Russia. Its proclamation reflects the impact of the Zimmerwald movement upon leading student revolutionary activists in Russia. It was originally published by Alexander Shlyapnikov in 1923.
This is the first in a series of new translations being published under the collective title “1917: The View From the Streets”. With the aim of helping to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, Links will be publishing a range of revolutionary leaflets and statements produced at the time. This is an initiative that has come about through the joint efforts of US historian Barbara Allen and Canadian socialist and Links collaborator John Riddell.
The translation and annotation below is by Barbara Allen
Appeal to Revolutionary Students, December 1916
By Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party
‘Proletarians of all countries, unite!’
To the revolutionary students of Russia.
The glory of victory is given only to the brave,
The fallen in struggle do not know shame…
Youth, our song is sung to you –
Eternal glory to you…
Comrades! During the years of reaction, when work was difficult and routine, there were no questions demanding definite actions toward their solution. Therefore, the differentiation which was occurring among our students could not come to light in a sufficiently well-defined way. Vulgar, bourgeois moods grew among students and became stronger in the stinking decay of a bastardized constitution. Only now these moods have been revealed in all their strength. Such moods attest to the complete ideological bankruptcy and reckless opportunism of the general student body.
At one time they seemed united in their revolutionary democratic mood. Now, given the exacerbation of class contradictions in society, students have split into two opposing groups. First, the bourgeois-opportunist group, which is ideologically connected to the Russian liberal bourgeoisie, has become much stronger recently. The second group is revolutionary-socialist and possesses the internationalist, class-based ideology of the world proletariat.
With no desire at all to appeal to the former group, we appeal to those comrades who share our convictions but who for some reason still stand on the sidelines of the socialist work of proletarian organizations. In the past, a large part of the student body merely sympathized with this work, but at the present moment the revolutionary world view obligates one to take corresponding action. Events force upon these students the need either to renounce their sympathy and to completely merge with the bourgeois sector of students and with the Russian bourgeoisie, or to move from thoughts and words toward definite revolutionary action and to connect themselves with the proletariat in the great struggle to overthrow modern-day slavery.
Yes, the students were very ‘sympathetic’. They talked very much about the interests of ‘the people’, but they spent too much time in thought to be capable of doing the slightest thing in the name of their great values. All the best ones perished. Merging their sense of consciousness and will with those of ‘the hungry and the slaves’, they went forward on the straight path of difficult, heroic struggle against the current tsar’s predatory pack of hounds.
Eternal memory to those who were lost for the sacred cause!
Eternal memory to those who were tormented in rotten prisons!
Eternal memory to those who told us the living word!...
And the students?! They convinced themselves that they held a definite ideological position and by it they justified their inaction and weak will. They did not notice that they had long ago lost any defined ‘position’. They stood not on the firm foundation of ideological-social convictions, but in a dirty swamp of vulgar opportunism. So they lived for a long time. They breathed the poisoned air of ideological demoralization. They held forth, in their own self-importance, about their highly elevated ‘position’ and the absolute worth of their (stagnant) moods. Years passed by while the students bogged down more and more deeply.
The world war broke out as a result of the plundering policy of the ruling classes and their governments and it put on the agenda very acute questions, which everyone had to answer quickly. Various social strata in Russia reacted differently to these burning questions and to the terrible events which were unfolding. Up to this time, there was not and could not have been a single attitude among students to these questions. No matter how much the bourgeois press lied about ‘national unity’, the people (proletariat and peasantry) have not wanted war.
The revolutionary minority of our students has gone along with the people, not with so-called ‘society’. The students were with the people on the barricades of the first revolution , suffered with them during the difficult years of reaction, and along with them tried to prevent the bloody feud of the bourgeoisie, for whom the people are only a means to an end. Together with the proletariat, the students defended the red flag of the International from concerted attack by the bourgeoisie of all countries and by some early teachers of socialism. It is true that some students were fooled by chauvinism, actively accepted war, and flung themselves into slaughtering imaginary oppressors to defend the ‘fatherland’, meaning the state, and its money bags, which are its heart and soul.
Among those who, from the moment the world slaughter began, did not find anything better to do than merely ‘not to oppose’, there were even some who had said earlier that the state is the most acute expression of class rule and that the current government expresses bourgeois rule. They had considered the only just war to be the war of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie and against the tyranny of Nicholas the Bloody, and the war of actual slaves against actual oppressors.
By their decision ‘not to oppose’, they cut themselves off from the majority of their comrades. They turned their backs on the proletarian and turned toward dissolution and debauchery. Only after 28 months of war have they now come to recognize with horror that their hands, which they raised as if to defend oppressed peoples, had been woven into a horrible fraternal embrace with tsarism. They feel that they have been deceived and that fraternization with monarchs is the chief reason for long, protracted war without end.
The Second International was not fit to play the role of a revolutionary organization of action even in peacetime, when contradictions between internationalist and national-socialist elements were not so acute. Its majority was unaware of the need for immediate revolutionary acts in case of imperialist war. When world war began, it was consumed with opportunism and lacked the desire to summon the proletariat to a revolutionary act. Thanks to its uncertain practical position, it often earned the sympathy of the radicalizing intelligentsia. If it could not throw off the yoke of militarism from the peoples even in peacetime, then it was even less capable of doing so at the moment when the ‘great’ slaughter originated. Resolute steps were needed when the united world bourgeoisie faced off against the International, but it could not unite behind a single action. The bankruptcy of the Second International’s practical position showed how weak still were its organization and its will to carry out resolute actions when needed.
This historical lesson did not pass in vain. From the sea of blood and tears and from the moans of the maimed, the Third International will emerge as an international organization of the revolutionary proletariat and of action. When the first Zimmerwald Conference met, we welcomed its ‘manifesto’ to the proletarians of Europe as an attempt to gather the forces of the future International.
From the very beginning of war, the organizational connection between individual parts of the international proletariat was severed. The proletariat could do no more than defend its socialist conquests from the bourgeoisie, which was united against it. Now it is emerging from the stage of organizational fragmentation into the stage of unification on the basis of revolutionary action. From now on, comrades, the convictions held by each one of us will be tested by the degree of our participation in socialist organizations From this moment, whoever is not with us is against us.
Get to work, comrades! Go into the illegal social-democratic workers’ organizations! Create your own student organizations for struggle against war and its perpetrators! Connect these organizations with the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party. You should also work in legal democratic organizations in the spirit of fortifying socialist and revolutionary propaganda in them! Assume the initiative to act and speak out! By all possible means, you should dispel the fragmentary illusions that people can be emancipated by means of the all-Russian despot’s bayonets! To work! To work, comrades!
You heard: ‘To you working men and women, mothers and fathers, widows and orphans, wounded and crippled, and to all victims of war, we appeal, extending hands to one other across all borders, blood-drenched fields, ruins of cities, and mountains of corpses: 'Proletarians of all countries, unite!' These are the words of the first Zimmerwald Manifesto. Do you hear them? ‘Two years of world war. Two years of devastation. Two years of bloodied victims and rabid reaction. Who will bear responsibility for this? Who hides behind those who cast the burning torch into the barrel of powder? Who wanted war and prepared for it already long ago? The ruling classes did!’
Do you hear, comrades: ‘Having laid millions of people in the grave, having plunged into sorrow millions of families, having turned millions of families into widows and orphans, having heaped up debris upon ruins, and having destroyed irreplaceable objects of cultural value, the war entered into a dead end’. ‘There were neither victors nor conquered. More accurately, all were defeated, became weak through loss of blood, were ruined, and were exhausted. Such are the results of this horror-filled war. Thus, the ruling classes’ fantasies about imperialist world dominion did not come true’.
Do you hear, citizens? ‘During peacetime the capitalist system deprives the worker of any joy in life. During war it deprives him of everything, even life. Enough murder! Enough suffering! And enough devastation! Use all the means at your disposal to promote the quickest possible conclusion to human slaughter! Demand an immediate end to the war! Ravaged and ruined peoples – raise yourselves up to struggle! Act more boldly! Remember that you are the majority, and if you want, you can become a strong force. Let the governments see that hatred toward war and the desire for social redemption grow in all countries. Then the hour of peace among peoples will approach. Down with war!’
These are the words of the second Zimmerwald manifesto: ‘To the ravaged and ruined peoples’. This is the inviting voice of socialism! We are at the threshold of great events. They do not wait. Don’t tarry, comrades! Take care not to arrive too late! Already the vanguard of the International has entered the blood-filled arena to halt the slaughter, to destroy the hateful slavery, and to create new forms of life. All new and large forces go forward to the victory of the revolution and toward the people’s festival of insurrection. We will not stab them in the back. We will follow along behind them. So go ahead, comrades! Keep pace with workers in the ranks of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party under the proud, red banners of irreconcilable struggle!
Call the tsarist monarchy to account! Down with war! Long live the revolution! Forward! For the Provisional Revolutionary Government! For the Russian Democratic Republic! For socialism! Long live the Third International of the Revolutionary Proletariat!”
“To the Revolutionary Students of Russia.” Appeal from the Organizing Committee of the SD (Social Democratic) fractions of Higher Educational Institutions, December 1916. Published in A.G. Shliapnikov, Kanun semnadtsatogo goda, Moscow/Petrograd: Gosizdat, 1923, vol. 2, pp. 63-67.
Biography of Alexander Shlyapnikov
Born into poverty in provincial Russia, Alexander Shlyapnikov (1885-1937) became a skilled metalworker and a revolutionary Marxist. While living in Western Europe in 1908-16, he worked with Vladimir Lenin. During World War I, he coordinated Bolshevik smuggling of literature into Russia. During the 1917 Revolution, Shlyapnikov chaired the All-Russian Metalworkers’ Union and was appointed Commissar of Labor after the Bolsheviks took power. As a leader of the Workers’ Opposition (1919-1921), he advocated trade union control of the economy. After the Workers’ Opposition was defeated, Shlyapnikov wrote memoir-histories of the revolution, which incorporated many primary documents. Framed up and arrested under Stalin in 1935, he was executed in September 1937.
Barbara C. Allen, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History at La Salle University, Philadelphia, USA, published a biography of Alexander Shlyapnikov with Brill in 2015, which was reissued in paperback by Haymarket Books in 2016. See Alexander Shlyapnikov, 1885-1937: Life of an Old Bolshevik