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Konstantin Yurenev, a leader of the Mezhrayonka,
a revolutionary current of Russian Social Democracy.
January 22, 2017 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal / John Riddell's Marxist Essays and Commentary website – 100 years ago today, on January 22 (9) 1917, an estimated 150,000 workers in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) carried out a protest strike against the war and the tsarist autocracy, a foreshock of the Russian revolution that broke out six weeks later (see “Historian’s summary” below).
The following call for this action was circulated during the previous days by the Social Democratic Interdistrict Committee (Mezhraionka). January 22 (9) was the anniversary of Bloody Sunday in 1905, when the tsarist government used military force to violently suppress a peaceful demonstration. (See “Note on Russian dates,” below).
The Interdistrict Committee members wanted to rally all Marxist Social Democrats to unite the factions of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party, in order to present a united socialist front against the war, the autocracy, and liberal attempts to draw workers into a patriotic effort to support the war. During 1917 the Mezhrayonka fused with the Bolshevik current.
Translation and annotation by Barbara Allen.
Items #3 and #4 of this series will present the viewpoint of the other two major Social Democratic currents, the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks.
Call to action by the Social Democratic Interdistrict Committee (Mezhraionka), January 1917
Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party.
Proletarians of all countries, unite!
Comrade workers! For the third time already, the anniversary of January 9, a day of great mourning, comes in the midst of a monstrous war, organized by the bourgeoisie and the nobles’ government. War continues in its third year. The government sends millions of working people to the fronts to die without glory on distant battlefields and in filthy trenches. They die from hunger and cold or in bloody engagement with their toiling brothers, who are as completely innocent as are they.
What is the cause for which workers of all countries brutally slaughter, blow up, and murder one another in endless battles? What are the goals for which half of the European male population is maimed, crippled, and destroyed? The newspaper hacks, lackeys of the bourgeoisie, answer us in a harmonious chorus that war is waged for law and justice and for brotherhood and equality of all peoples. For these goals, according to them, millions of people slaughter and torture one another and innocent human blood flows.
Comrades! They want to conceal the truth with a lie. It is simply appalling that false, traitorous words about law, morality, and justice have served throughout to conceal the murder of millions. Our ‘lords’, the nobles, bankers, and manufacturers, have always relied on lies while committing the vilest crimes. Their strength lies in deceit. Our ruling classes build their strength and their wealth on the ignorance and disunity of the people.
Only because of ignorance did our very brothers, dressed in military uniforms and cowed by military discipline, shoot at the insurrectionary proletariat and spill the blood of their defenseless fathers and mothers on the ill-omened square before the Winter Palace on January 9, 1905. With bayonets, whips, and bullets, the government suppressed the first Russian revolution in 1905 and 1906. ‘Don’t be stingy with cartridges,’ ordered Trepov. But whose bayonets and bullets wounded and killed our comrades? They were the bayonets and bullets of workers and peasants who lacked consciousness.
* * *
It was cheap for the government and the bourgeoisie to achieve victory over the great revolution of 1905. Only several thousand workers perished and several hundred soldiers were killed. These soldiers also were workers and peasants. Comrades, the entire autocratic government stays in power by keeping us split and by keeping the working class unorganized. But we’ve accumulated 12 years of experience. The bourgeoisie will not deceive us now! We will remember without fail that our close relatives and dear friends die on the front and their mothers and wives cry in the rear not for law and justice, but so that ‘the fatherland’s industry will prosper’, as they say in the ravings of the bourgeois newspapers.
Comrade soldiers! The bourgeoisie needs you to die in order to increase its profits. It needs you to die so that there would be more room for its cannibalism to expand! Russia is too small for them. Give them Constantinople, the Bosporus, and the Dardanelles. Such greedy appetites guide the bourgeoisie of all combatant countries. Now there are no defenders. Now they are all aggressors.
In order to weaken the resistance of the working class, the bourgeoisie of each country calls on it to be patriotic and to defend the fatherland. Indeed, we do defend the fatherland, but not from an external enemy. We defend it from an internal enemy, which is the tsarist autocracy. We defend it from a gang of bandits, who started a war. They are a band of murderers, who try to break the rebellious ranks of the proletariat with calls for patriotism. The goal of the bourgeoisie and its newspaper servants is to send the proletariat in the wrong direction.
* * *
There are traitors from our midst, the members of workers’ groups of the war industry committees, who forgot our class self-consciousness, when they called for unification with the bourgeoisie. Gradually but definitively, they lost their proletarian convictions. Lagging behind the bourgeoisie, they obediently repeat everything that profits it. To them we say “Hands off!”
At the beginning of the war, they spoke about civil peace.
Now the worker delegation under the Central War Industry Committee falsifies the voice of the working class. It calls upon the proletariat to carry out ‘mass political actions’ to help the bourgeoisie in its war of words with the government. But they forgot that the bourgeoisie, with Prince Lvov and Miliukov at its head, struggles not against the entire police regime but against individuals who are unable to organize a victorious war of conquest to secure Constantinople and the Straits for them. They forgot that the Miliukovs united with the Guchkovs to struggle against revolution and to renew the shattered trust in the bloody monarch.
No, comrades, we and they do not follow the same path. Any help we might give to the bourgeoisie in its squabble with the government only makes it easier for it to achieve its goals of conquest, which postpones the revolution and has a disastrous impact upon our own situation.
Only we, the workers, the peasantry, and the long-suffering army are strong; we can only depend upon ourselves. So comrades, let’s go forward bravely along the path of the proletariat’s class struggle. Let’s remember that our proletarian tasks are still not resolved. Those demands, which were inscribed upon our banners of January 9, 1905, are still alive. We will struggle for socialism and a new life together and not just once, but in mighty association with the entire international proletariat, which is a worldwide, harmonious family.
* * *
Right now our task is to create a powerful party organization. We Bolshevik and Menshevik Social Democrats call upon you comrades to create a single Social-Democratic Workers’ Party, so that a powerful proletariat could raise the army to revolt. By setting the strength of the proletariat and army against the nobility and the bureaucracy, the whole rotten police regime can be overthrown. On its ruins, a democratic republic can be created. Comrades, the day of the people’s wrath is near. This will be a day of revenge and a day for trial and punishment of the debauched government, which has committed violence upon the popular masses.
Right now, we’ll more resolutely close our ranks on January 9, the day of great sorrow and grief for the comrades whose lives were traitorously wasted in 1905. A steel chain of fraternal solidarity will more strongly bind us. Comrades, we’ll shout harmoniously and powerfully: Revenge upon the aggressor who sits upon the throne. Ruin to tsarist stooges and murderers of the people, who use the blood and sweat of the people’s labor to accumulate millions of fortunes for themselves. They feast during the plague time of the people’s distress. By murdering husbands and sons, they force wives and mothers to pay the bills for their gain.
Comrades, we call upon you to commemorate those who fell in 1905 with a one-day strike on 9 January. Forward, comrades! Arrange meetings and assemblies of protest against the war. Collect money for the victims of political repression and to fund the illegal press. On this day, the forces of the organized proletariat will pass under review. On this day, we should once more powerfully and unanimously shout:
Down with autocracy! Long live the revolution! Long live the Provisional Revolutionary Government! Down with war! Long live the Democratic Republic! Long live the international solidarity of the proletariat! Long live a united Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party!
Petersburg Interdistrict Committee
Printed leaflet issued by the Petersburg Inter-district Committee prior to January 22 (O.S. January 9), 1917. Published in A.G. Shliapnikov, Semnadtsatyi god, volume 1, 1923, pp. 265-268. Translated by Barbara Allen.
The January 22 (9) action – a historian’s summary
“Elaborate plans for suppressing any major outbreaks were drawn up [by the government], and machine guns were positioned at strategic locations throughout the city. In an impressive display of working class solidarity more than 150,000 Petrograd workers went out on strike on January 9, the anniversary of Bloody Sunday.
“Some of the factories shut down that day were struck for the first time since 1905, and, equally significant, soldiers watching demonstrating workers were observed tipping their hats and cheering as red banners bearing revolutionary slogans were carried by.” (Alexander Rabinowitch, Prelude to Revolution: The Petrograd Bolsheviks and the July 1917 Uprising, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1968, pp. 24-25.)
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, centennials are reckoned by the Gregorian calendar; dates are given with the Gregorian (“New Style”) date first, followed by the Julian date in parentheses.
Other leaflets in the “1917: The view from the streets” series
• “Down with the war; long live the revolution!” (1 December 1916)