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February 6, 2017 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal / John Riddell's Marxist Essays and Commentary website — 100 years ago today, on February 6 (January 24), 1917, a Menshevik-influenced workers’ group within the Central War Industry Committee issued the following appeal for a demonstration calling for a provisional government.
The War Industry Committees were set up by Russian businessmen in 1915 to assist the Russian imperial government with military supplies. Managers and engineers filled the committees, which were supplemented by groups of workers elected from factories. Bolsheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries were generally opposed to such collaboration by workers with owners and managers of industry, but some Mensheviks participated in the worker groups.
In early 1917, the Menshevik-composed Central Worker Group under the Central War Industry Committee attempted to mobilize workers to call for replacing the tsarist regime with a Provisional Government. The following appeal, which appeared in the factories on February 6 (January 24), 1917, led to the arrest of the members of the Central Worker Group on February 8-9 (January 26-27), 1917. The government postponed the convocation of the Duma until February 27 (14); workers responded with a one-day strike rather than the mass demonstration suggested below.
For the Bolsheviks’ reply to this appeal, see Document #4, to be posted here on February 16.
Translation and annotation by Barbara Allen.
Appeal to the Workers of Petrograd from the Central Worker Group of the Central War Industry Committee
The despotic regime is strangling the country. The autocracy’s policy is worsening the already severe disasters of the war, which bear down with all their weight upon the classes which do not own property. And the government’s self-seeking multiplies many times over the already countless victims of war.
The government, which created a severe crisis of food supply, is stubbornly pushing the country, day by day, toward hunger and complete ruin. It is using wartime circumstances to enserf the working class. By chaining the workers to the factory, it turns them into factory serfs. Incapable of coping with the tasks set by the war, the ruling regime nevertheless used it to intensify the persecution and oppression of Russia’s various peoples.
Neither the war’s end, nor the peace that the weary country thirsts for, can lead the people out of calamity, if the war is ended by the current autocratic power rather than by the people themselves.
Once they end the war, the autocracy will attempt to forge new chains for the people. Instead of relief, the end of the war can bring new, even more terrible misfortunes to the people. Bound hand and foot by the lack of political rights, the people, especially the proletariat, will be given over to arbitrariness, unemployment, and hunger. High prices and unemployment, together with the government’s despotism, will cast the working class into poverty and slavery.
The working class and democratic forces can wait no longer. Each missed day is dangerous. The task now urgently posed for resolution is to decisively eliminate the autocratic regime and fully democratize the country. This is a matter of life and death for the working class and democratic forces.
Proceeding from everything stated above, it is clear that the current conflict between propertied bourgeois society and the authorities creates conditions especially favorable for the working class’s active intervention. The people’s movement can use the Duma’s conflict with the government to promote a decisive blow against the autocracy.
We, the workers of ___________________, resolve: to immediately set about unifying and organizing our forces and electing a factory committee; to reach an understanding with comrades of other mills and factories; to explain to all comrades at many assemblies the extreme importance of this moment; and to provide information about our decisions to other factories.
We should be ready for a general, organized public initiative at the moment when the Duma (parliament) convenes.
Before the Duma convenes, let all of worker Petrograd, factory by factory, district by district, simultaneously move toward the Tauride Palace (seat of the Duma), in order to present the main demands of the working class and democratic forces.
The entire country and the army should hear the voice of the working class. Only a Provisional Government, leaning for support on the people who have organized through struggle is capable of extricating the country from a dead end and fatal ruin, of strengthening political freedom within it, and of bringing about peace on conditions acceptable to both the Russian proletariat and the proletariat of other countries.
Translated from A.G. Shliapnikov, Semnadtsatyi god, volume 1, 1923, pp. 279-280.
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!” (January 20, 1917, Mezhrayonka)
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, dates are reckoned by the Gregorian calendar; dates are given with the Gregorian (“New Style”) date first, followed by the Julian (“Old Style”) date in parentheses.