I spent the journey from Helsinki to Petersburg in the company of naval officers and military personnel. I got safely through the gendarme post at Beloostrov and a gloomy morning greeted me in Petersburg with a light autumn rain. The sleuths and spies who met passengers at the Finland station did not yet know me, and my appearance in no way bothered them.
The existence of relatives in Petersburg spared me the need to go immediately round the illegal rendezvous. I turned up as an unexpected guest at my own people’s place in the working-class district beyond the Neva Gate. I at once received a lot of information about what militant workers in Petersburg were doing and thinking.
I decided to spend the first week or two, that is, until I fell into the spies’ net, with my sisters, who lived in the Steklyanny district. I sought out everyone whom I knew or merely remembered from party work, but they were mostly people who had already left it.
On the information of the Petersburg Committee I found the bourgeois apartment of the “young gentleman” (Starck) and that same evening met S. Narvsky (Bagdatiev) and V. Schmidt at his place. They acquainted me with the state of affairs on the Petersburg Committee. All party workers were at that time under the impression that a victory had been won over the social chauvinists on the question of elections to the War Industries Committee. I, in turn, acquainted them with my assignment and also with the state of affairs abroad. Party workers had come together sufficiently in Petersburg by this time for work to be carried out in all districts, but especially well in the Vyborg district. A strong party organization had been formed in that district which was run exclusively by the workers themselves.
It was very difficult to convene a plenum of the Petersburg Committee, so I made my report in sections and to each group of party workers separately. Comrades were very glad at my arrival and for news of West European workers. The Central Committee’s proposal to organize a Bureau of the Central Committee was approved by all with the exception of Starck and “Miron” (Chernomazov). “Miron” indulged in some demagogy at the expense of the foreign members while Starck had his own proposal, to make the Petersburg Committee into the Central Committee Bureau. His argument was that by now the Petersburg Committee was the effective centre of our work in Russia. This view was not shared by the majority of members of the Petersburg Committee, nor by the leading party workers. Dual membership of the Petersburg Committee and the Central Committee Bureau would anyway be inconvenient and risky.
On questions of tactics and strategy we were completely unanimous. The principal activity of the Petersburg Committee would be to lead economic conflicts, political demonstrations and, anywhere and everywhere, the struggle against social chauvinism and the liquidators, its errand-boys in working-class circles. And everywhere our comrades emerged triumphant, having behind them the enormous majority of workers. The most notable work of this period was without doubt the election campaign for the War Industries Committees, which took place in September 1915. Unfortunately, I have found nothing on this in the archive of the Petersburg Committee for that period. I have however managed to compile a relatively complete picture of that work.
I had arrived in Petersburg about three weeks after the fiasco of the Guchkov-Gvozdev scheme to bring workers into the War Industries Committees. The campaign had been legally prepared by the bourgeoisie and defensist socialist circles for more than a month. Our organizations also took a wide part in that work but, because of their anti-defensist, revolutionary internationalist position, they could only operate illegally. They had to work under very difficult conditions; but the Petersburg Committee emerged from this struggle against the defensists’ bloc with the bourgeoisie for influence in the Petersburg proletariat with honour and glory.
The Central War Industries Committee arose in 1915 as a result of the campaign for the “militarization of industry”. It had existed until August merely as an administrative department of the Council of Congresses of Representatives of Commerce and Industry, the all-Russian organization of lockers-out. The basic objective of the Central War Industries Committee was to procure orders for the army and share them out among factory owners. They were thus aiming to remove “unfair” competition between industrialists, winning orders by backstage methods and speculating on different ministers and greater and lesser princes and their prostitutes in sharing out the juicy revenue. Of course, help for the army and a firm wish to ensure all necessary supplies also formed part of their plans. A congress of representatives of local and regional War Industries Committees was held from 25 to 27 July 1915 at which statutes were drafted. On 27 August these statutes were approved by the State Duma, received the tsar’s assent and became law in the form of the “War Industries Committees Act”. Only later were the words “of the Council of Congresses of Representatives of Commerce and Industry” removed. A place on these committees had by law been allocated to a workers’ delegation.
Practical-minded industrialists were concerned no less than the government with the struggle against the mounting revolutionary movement but hoped, by harnessing workers to the chariot of militarism not from fear but conscience, to isolate them from the “Bolshevik and defeatist virus”.
The awakening of working-class revolutionary activity, in the Petersburg area especially, where until recently over a half of the output of war material was concentrated, greatly perturbed bourgeois circles. The more percipient “captains of industry” found Okhrana and police intervention in the workers’ movement to be most damaging, as it exacerbated relations between capital and labour, and it regarded such intervention as one of the causes of the political protests that disrupted the normal reproduction of profit in the factories. The red spectre evoked no idle fear among the Minins and Pozharskys of our day, who were distinguished from the Nizhni-Novgorod merchants of old only by the fact that they brought no offerings to the “altar of the fatherland” but on the contrary contrived to grab a large slice of the contracts, all in the name of the homeland and its defence. But industrialists who had no faith in the ability of the military dictatorship to solve the labour problems, devised a scheme for latching workers on to their own business, involving them in the cause of the war, thereby making the whole workers’ movement prey to their own fortunes.
In its invitation for workers’ representatives to stand in the elections, the Central War Industries Committee defined their function as follows:
“Workers’ representatives will, by taking part in the work of the Central War Industries Committees, assist in the great and sacred task of aiding our army. They will co-operate in the most thorough investigation of the conditions necessary for raising the productivity of factory labour and aid more effective work towards the defence of country.”
The “defence of the fatherland” required exactly as much of workers as was necessary for employers to secure the greatest profits.
The bourgeois defenders of the fatherland waged their campaign in Petersburg first, hoping, by conducting it successfully there, to force all the Russian proletariat to follow, laying down all means of class self-defence in the face of organized capital. In their campaign the employers in the War Industries Committees found loyal allies among those “socialists” who had accepted the war. The latter exploited their proximity to the working masses and placed all their authority at the service of the bourgeoisie’s imperialist interests. The bourgeois ideologists of “Great Russia”, from Struve to Guchkov and Ryabushinsky, never managed to “condition” workers in even small numbers, so bad were they at concealing their true interests. The talents of the Potresovs, Maslovs, Plekhanovs and other lesser fry were necessary for that role – they knew best how to administer nationalist poison to working-class people. The whole fund of marxist phraseology was put into action: here you had the interests of economic development, there freedom from German “domination”, and there the interests of “democracy” and the “internationalism” of defence. A new form of solidarity – the patriotic, mutual extermination of proletarians!
However, all attempts to create a “class peace” were unsuccessful, as Russian workers were disinclined to become the cattle that the capitalists and the tsarist regime had condemned them to be. The Association of Factory and Plant Owners remained as reactionary in its labour policy as ever, even if it had a protective “defensist” coating. In its struggle against workers’ discontent it relied as of old upon the police and the Okhrana. We heard, in the press, at conferences and even from “opposition” representatives of patriotic capital, about “petitioning” for the repeal (with, of course, the reservation “for the duration of the war”) of all the restrictions prescribed by the factories acts concerning the employment of female and adolescent labour, and also “suspension, for the duration of the war, of the restrictions in force on the length of the working days and overtime”. The coal-owning sharks of the Donets Basin and the patriotic iron and steel employers of the south were dreaming of one thing alone: abolishing holidays, increasing the number of compulsory working days to 360 per year and demanding as much cheap manpower as possible, such as Chinese and prisoners-of-war. You had to have a thoroughly defensist psychology to preach class peace under such conditions!
War Industry Socialists
In order to realize his desires Guchkov approached the workers’ group of the Insurance Council and several major hospital funds for support. This approach was received by the workers’ representatives at the beginning of August. The members of the Insurance Council’s workers’ group told Guchkov that they had been empowered by the workers only on matters of insurance and could not enter into any discussion of questions connected with the elections to the War Industries Committees. The insurance people suggested that he approach the working men and women in the factories and plants directly. The hospital funds answered him in the same vein. So the industrialists were unable to make use of the workers’ insurance bodies for their chauvinist ends.
After this a special patriotic proclamation befitting the occasion was issued by the Central War Industries Committee, together with election rules. Both items were displayed in the factories and were also handed out as leaflets. The Petersburg Committee decided to utilize this campaign to unfurl the revolutionary internationalist banner of social democracy. This campaign, for the first time during the war, openly and legally laid before workers questions of the domestic and international policy of tsarism. And workers did not fail to make broad use of the opportunity. Party organizations used every tactic to prolong the campaign. Meetings were arranged in the plants at which two world-views met – internationalism, which knew of only one fatherland for the working class, the socialist system – and the other, conciliatory defensism, proposing a “fatherland” for workers even in the conditions of tsarism. The appalling situation within the country tied the hands of the patriotic socialists, so they tried to link their policy to the revolutionary tasks standing before all Russian workers at that time.
The bourgeoisie of all shades and the legal “democratic press” agitated for workers to participate in the War Industries Committees and tried everything to inflame chauvinist passions. The social patriots, or the “War Industry Socialists” as they were then called, did not lag behind the bourgeois chauvinists. They put all their reserves of “marxism” into action to prove that the “defence of the fatherland” principle, dressed up in the guise of the War Industries Committees, did not diverge from the idea of workers’ internationalism. The social-patriotic newspaper Rabochee Utro (Workers’ Morning), taking into account the revolutionary mood of Petersburg workers, played upon their “militant mood” and invited workers “even if the bourgeois would not let them in [in reality the bourgeoisie were beckoning them most enthusiastically] to unlock the doors with their horny hands”.
Chkheidze’s Duma faction, which had been rendered impotent by the internal split – Chkhenkeli’s and Khaustov’s open patriotism – vacillated on the question of participation in the War Industries Committees. N.S. Chkheidze, who regarded himself as more left than the rest, still stood for workers’ representatives’ participation. In a personal meeting he proved to me at great length that although he stood for joining he was in no way in favour of working as part of that organization, but for organizing workers and anti-government forces. The social patriots would quote his “pro-participation” position, dropping all the qualifications. Thus the Menshevik Duma faction was also guilty of hoodwinking the workers over the elections.
Numerous resolutions and mandates adopted at huge meetings in the plants indicated the scale of the pre-election work of the Petersburg Committee. At the giant Putilov works a special mandate was adopted; but at the majority of the others resolutions like the following one at the New Lessner works were adopted:
We, workers at the New Lessner works, having discussed the question of participation in the War Industries Committees and the election of deputies to works committees, have resolved: the present world war has been hatched and is being waged exclusively in the interests of bourgeois-capitalist society. The proletariat has no interest in the current war. It will bring it nothing but millions of comrades fallen in the field, millions of cripples and destitute. Simultaneously with the declaration of war on the Central Empires, the commanding classes of Russia have declared a ruthless war upon the whole labouring class, the proletariat. They have strangled the workers’ trade unions and destroyed the workers’ press. They have vilified and despatched the proletariat’s representatives to the State Duma to do hard labour. And now, after thirteen months of war, after innumerable defeats, and convinced of the impossibility of beating the external enemy without flattening the country, they are now making a bid to lure the working class over to their side, and the workers who only yesterday were being shot down are being called to the defence of the “fatherland”. Our reply can be one only: the proletariat will fight for the emancipation and liberation of the labouring masses of the population, whatever nationality they belong to. We reject any activity connected with support for the international bloodbath, or support for the commanding classes who have crushed and oppressed the labouring population for centuries on end. We recognize that only the complete destruction of the capitalist police-autocratic regime will be able to bring the country out of the situation that has come about. We demand the immediate convening of an All-Russian Constituent Assembly elected on the basis of universal, direct, equal and secret suffrage. We demand the immediate restoration of all the proletariat’s trade unions and cultural and educational organizations; we demand freedom of the press, freedoms of assembly and association. We regard the broad organization of the working class in trade union, cultural and educational, and strictly class political organizations to be the most pressing urgent task of the hour. The police-autocratic regime is pushing the country towards a whole series of catastrophes: having clapped our best comrades into heavy convicts’ shackles, it still holds them to this day behind locked prison gates, in exile or hard labour – these, the fighters for our better future. We demand the immediate release of all those arrested, exiled and sentenced for political activity.
Very little material is preserved from the first delegates’ meeting. The most detailed description of the events of 27 September 1915 was made at my request by comrade Sergei Narvsky (Bagdatiev), who was sent to the delegates’ meeting by the Petersburg Committee with the mandate of the Putilov worker, Kudryashev. This letter was sent by me to the central organ, Sotsial-Demokrat, and was printed in no. 30.
I shall use it as a historical document and take from it the extracts that are of interest to us.
On the main point, that is, the attitude towards the war, the majority of workers accepted our point of view. But with the mental confusion at present reigning in the workers’ movement, it is no wonder that in the broadly correct resolutions and mandates adopted in the majority of plants extraneous points crept in, consciously or unconsciously taken from the ideology of the other camp (liquidationism). In particular various “conciliators” and “unifiers” sinned in this direction. The latter’s organization almost evaded making a clear decision whether or not to enter the War Industries Committees. They wanted to call a workers’ congress and decide the question there. By contriving to unite opposing elements, they gave in at their very first serious political test. At the delegates’ meeting they split up according to their sympathies: being either for us or for the liquidator-Narodnik bloc ... 198 delegates were present at the meeting (in all there should have been about 220). We had managed to hold preliminary meetings for only a part (about sixty) of our delegates, the core of whom was the delegation from one very large works. At these preliminary meetings a proposed plan of action was presented for the party and its supporters at the delegates’ meeting; but the necessity was pointed out here that from the viewpoint of the Petersburg Committee, speakers presented before the meeting had to be able to put the internationalists’ point of view on the current war and the consequent non-participation of workers in the War Industries Committees boldly and distinctly without superfluous rhetoric. To put these intentions into practice it would be more convenient to send to the meeting as speakers individuals who had not been elected in the plants. The delegates’ names and addresses were registered officially and therefore the public appearance of the delegates themselves with anti-war and revolutionary speeches might give the authorities and the public prosecutor opportunities that speeches by “unknown individuals” would not give them and this was a major consideration. There were two such individuals at the meeting, i.e. by no means sufficient for it to be said that their voice could decide the question. The majority was ours even without them. They were able to abstain from voting but the malevolent and treacherous gossip issuing from the liquidators at the meeting about the presence of outsiders and their threats to announce this openly to the meeting, forced the “appointed” comrades to cast their vote too; but when the ballot papers had been counted up our majority was a clear one even without their votes. It should be remembered that the second vote was by the list of delegates’ names; besides, we could not have known what was awaiting us once we had gone out of the doors of the meeting. All this was perfectly well known and understood by the liquidators and their representatives on the platform. But having suffered a reverse and being left in a minority, not only among the social democrats but even in their bloc with Narodniks and non-party delegates, these fraudulent proclaimers of “unity” conducted a not only divisive but treacherous policy ... On our side there were two speakers who each spoke twice. The reporter from the Petersburg Committee at the meeting was “Vladimir” (V. Zalezhsky). On the other side, under the guise of different “tendencies”, more than a dozen noisy emotive speeches were delivered. Our speakers took the Petersburg Committee mandate as their basis and elaborated upon it. Starting out from this mandate they also proposed a form of “declaration” to the War Industries Committee on their refusal to join it. The declaration had been drafted in advance and distributed by the Petersburg Committee. At first we got 95 votes at the voting by name, but when some of the comrades had already left, thinking that the question was settled and the meeting would thereupon end as it was now very late (1 o’clock), we got 90 votes against (the liquidator-Narodnik-non-party bloc) 81 votes. At the beginning of the session the liquidators had been sure of their majority. The choice of Gvozdev and not “Kudryashev” as chairman was a false omen. Kudryashev did not appear as chairman, first because several unifier internationalist votes had been cast for Gvozdev before “Kudryashev” had arrived at the meeting and so it “would be awkward” for them, as they said, to vote for someone else in the run-off; secondly, at the start of the meeting when the line of struggle was still unclear, many people did not attach importance to the question of the composition of the platform. Be that as it may, the liquidators, once having suffered defeat, completely lost their heads. Not daring to check the votes themselves, they raised a rumpus and started to leave. They demanded that Gvozdev leave the chair as their representative on the platform but he refused, stating that the voting had been checked in every way and was quite proper and that he could see no grounds for leaving the meeting. We still had to move our mandate, to which we had wanted to append to the declaration, to the vote. The delegates from Sestroretsk and the Izhor works said that they had to go as the last train was leaving soon. The atmosphere of the meeting had by then reached its peak. They had been in session since twelve noon with nothing to eat. (The War Industries Committee had treated us to tea, or rather, hot water, without even any sugar ...)
Much was made in the social-patriotic resolution of what we had already heard from their speakers. A few workers had been arrested at several plants. At the election of delegates the liquidators’ bloc had put on their list these arrested workers, who had not yet been dismissed from the plant. The mass voted for that list in the hope thereby of getting their workmates released. In the middle of the debate at the delegates’ meetings, the liquidators proposed to discuss this matter. For their part, they proposed to approach the Central War Industries Committee with a proposal that it mediate for the release of those arrested. A section of our people, thinking of continuing the meeting the following day, considered backing the motion and adjourning the meeting until the arrested were released. It was clear to us that this meant breaking off the meeting and finally dispersing without having passed a principled resolution covering the war and the War Industries Committees. A conflict with the authorities over such a purely police issue had no international significance and deprived the campaign of the importance that we attached to it. Comrade “Kudryashev” spoke therefore against the proposal to adjourn the meeting with a demand for the release of the arrested. In the event of the arrest of any of the delegates the proletariat would try to utilize all means of struggle open to it. It demanded moreover the release of those already arrested. Comrade “Kudryashev”’s motion was carried. The internationalists who had vacillated on that question realized the danger of adjourning the meeting.
A Repeat Election Campaign
The refusal of Petersburg workers to accept the slogan of “defence” and collaboration with the Guchkovs and Ryabushinskys threw all the patriots into great confusion. The Menshevik defensists were the first to recover, and tried to demonstrate the “uninternationalness” of the “boycottists’” position. The bourgeois press supported them and lent its pages to the ideas of the social-chauvinists. The defensists, learning from their unsuccessful experience in Petersburg, wished to regain ground in Moscow and managed things more cunningly there. The elections were planned in a hushed-up way, without pre-election meetings or any kind of agitation. The Okhrana helped the social patriots by arresting hundreds of Bolshevik internationalists. Thus Moscow industrialists obtained a docile majority of backward workers from the textile and other factories, but a considerable portion of Moscow metalworkers refused, in spite of the deception and threats, to take part in the elections to the War Industries Committees. But here the liquidators did not baulk at a split. After Moscow they reared their heads again in Petersburg.
Soon after, Gvozdev’s letter denouncing the “irregularity” of the elections appeared. The majority of the industrialists at first regarded fresh elections with scepticism. They knew the Petersburg proletariat. Still, Guchkov managed to overcome his colleagues’ scepticism and force them to accommodate Gvozdev. The hopes of the lockers-out from the “Council of Congresses” to split Petersburg workers had been dashed, so they decided to “assist” Gvozdev. Rumours had been going round Petersburg about backstage negotiations between the Gvozdev lot and Guchkov long before any public statements. It was known to us that Gvozdev had been a private guest at Guchkov’s cabinet, but their preparatory “electoral pact” had been kept secret. In the week following 20 November a notice appeared in the newspapers announcing elections for the Central War Industries Committee on 22 November. Guchkov personally petitioned the City Governor to hold a meeting of electors, but the latter resolved not to give permission without first consulting the minister Khvostov. He found no obstacles to further elections. News of the election preparations appeared in the press a couple of days beforehand. From this it could be understood that Guchkov and Gvozdev wanted to catch their Bolshevik opponents off-guard. The Petersburg Committee succeeded with great difficulty in organizing a meeting of some of the electors and discussing a prepared resolution on the second elections, and this was adopted on 21 November. The story went around working-class circles that in view of the shortage of time and for greater “authenticity”, Gvozdev would himself distribute the election notices from a motor car belonging to the War Industries Committee. However much the Guchkovites rushed things, the meeting on the 22nd could not be held – there was not a single hall free that day. So despite the wishes of the liquidators, the workers had a whole week in front of them. During that time the internationalist electors proved unable to assemble in large numbers as they were persistently trailed. The Okhrana tried to ensure the “freedom” of the Gvozdev company. Searches of several comrades were carried out. No less than five electors were detained in that period. For the rest of the week workers at several plants where the “liquidator-narodnik” bloc had prevailed, as at Eiwas, organized meetings and stripped their electors of their mandate to take part in the second elections. The Petersburg Committee conducted a struggle against Gvozdevism throughout the various districts.
Organized industrialists wholly supported Gvozdev and co. and even protected them from attacks by the police, although all the documents on the elections had been already passed to the Okhrana. It was important and desirable for the bourgeoisie to divide the workers, in order to deprive them of their power to resist the increasing exploitation, and also to convert all those who went along with defensists into wires conducting bourgeois politics into the mass of workers. The Petersburg Committee took good account of this and firmly disassociated itself from the re-run elections to the War Industries Committee.
The “Petersburg Initiative Group” took the work of the Gvozdevites under its wing, issuing a special appeal in defence of the Gvozdevites where they spouted indignation at the Bolsheviks for using an “illegal printing-press” in the struggle against themselves. The appeal did not hesitate to lie, stating that their friends had not joined the committees “for defence”.
The counter-revolutionary and anti-proletarian physiognomy of the workers’ group in the Central War Industries Committee was soon to exhibit itself in practice. The defensists tried to use their position as workers’ representatives” to fight the developing strike movement. They drafted proposals for conciliation chambers, interfered as mediators and tried in every way to minimize the number of disputes. Through their supporters they advised workers to address petitions to them, organized questionnaires and so on. During disputes they displayed unusual zeal, but their diplomatic efforts had no success. Labour diplomats proved as powerless as any others. Class struggle developed according to its own laws, conflicts took their course and resolved themselves according to the balance of forces.
A Secret Meeting of Industrialists
From every corner of Russia I received information on the strike movement which the military censorship banned from legal newspapers. These reports were, of course, very sketchy, but I could already piece together a general picture of the relentless growth of the movement from the spring of 1915 onwards. In that year the Petersburg area marched ahead as before followed by the Moscow and Ivanovo-Voznesensk areas. The movement began to shift from economic demands to political struggle and, in July and August, overflowed into a series of political strikes. Petersburg was the centre of political activity. Our party’s Petersburg Committee served effectively as the leading organ for the provinces.
The government of Nicholas II was greatly perturbed by the growth of the revolutionary movement and worked out means of fighting it. Arrests, banishments and the despatch of the insubordinate to penal battalions at the front were practised wholesale. But alongside this it strove also to bring “pressure” to bear on the factory-owners too. Thus in the autumn of 1915 a secret conference between their representatives and the Okhrana was arranged. I received the following report on it, which is almost verbatim:
A conference took place in Petersburg at the end of October at the army headquarters under the chairmanship of General Prince Tumanov.
Tumanov (in the chair): Gentlemen, I have gathered you here to find out what you are doing for your employees with regard to improving their conditions. At the present time criminal propaganda is being carried out among workers and a certain disquiet can be observed among them. It is necessary to counteract this to some extent ... Of course the most effective way is to eliminate the possibility of discontent arising from the shortage of goods. At present it is really hard to obtain goods in the shops and everything is dear. To get at the root of this discontent it is essential to make it easier for workers to obtain basic necessities by setting up a number of retail shops. In addition, it would be desirable to establish canteens for the workers, which would give them the chance of obtaining a good quality lunch at a reasonable price. With this in mind, would you be so kind as to report what you are doing in the plants.
A representative from the Neva Shipyards: Some 5,000 work in the yards and there is a canteen and a store. The former is used by about 1,000 and the latter by 4,500.
Thornton: 3,000 work here and so there is a shop and a canteen which are used by some 2,000. The average wage for labourers is 90 kopeks for women and 1.30 rubles for men.
Lessner: 9,200 people work here. A retail shop is currently being organized for employees at Lessners, Eiwas, Nobels, Phoenix and other plants for about 22,000 altogether. All the management is unreservedly in the hands of our boards: in accordance with the rules of statutes, anyone can have as many votes as shares he has purchased in the firm. Shares arc at ten rubles. Anyone who has paid the initial fee can obtain goods. As regards sitting on the board and the commissions you can rest assured on this, your Excellency. Only those who have purchased a full share can be elected to the board and that is pretty difficult for workers. The Association of Factory and Plant Owners is at present forming a large organization bringing together all plant-owners who wish to join. The purpose of the organization is to form a chain of co-operatives as a counterweight to the workers’ co-operatives. Working capital has been raised by five- or six-ruble contributions from each worker employed in the undertaking. Each worker shall in addition contribute ten kopeks to cover the work of administering the co-operative. This money is only a loan and, when the need has passed, it will be refunded to the plants that contributed it. By this method it will be possible to set up more viable shops than purely workers’ organizations can.
Prince Tumanov: How quiet is your place? Did you have a clean-out after the strike?
Lessner: Indeed we did, your Excellency! Seven were arrested and we can say that the workers are now even content “We can work in peace now,” they keep saying. One hardened agitator was among those arrested. Just imagine, it had been quite impossible to find him! He was working in the plant under a foreign name, he would take two caps with him and acted out a comedy of disguises and remained elusive for quite a time. He had been taken on under a foreign name. And ex-Duma member Ozol was arrested at his house.
Prince Tumanov; 1,300 rubles in German and American money was found at Ozol’s. Apparently he had only just arrived from abroad.
Atlas: 750 work here. There are no organized facilities.
Metal Works: 7,000 work here. There is a canteen for 350; everything’s quiet.
Baranovsky; 2,300 working here. There is nothing to report.
Voronin, Lutsch and Cheshire: This firm is a combine of seven factories with 5,500 workers all told. The average wage for a labourer is 1.90 rubles.
Siemens-Schuckert: The works produces military and naval equipment. 800 are employed; a fully-equipped canteen exists, but the workers are not using it as yet. At the present moment the workers themselves are organizing the canteen with the assistance of the management; they are also organizing a retail shop,
Parviainen: 5,500 working here. There are no shops or canteens. Average wage for labourers is 1.60 rubles.
Prince Tumanov: How arc you managing after the strike? Have you cleared out the dubious elements?
Parviainen: Indeed so. 160 have been dismissed and five of the most hardened arrested. It’s quiet now and everyone’s working.
Prince Tumanov: Are there any due for call-up among those dismissed?
Parviainen: Yes. We immediately reported them to the military governor, so they have probably been rounded up by now.
Prince Tumanov: And how, gentlemen, do you arrange it so that dismissed workers can’t get into someone else’s works? Are there concrete safeguards that they remain outside the gates?
Voronin, Lutsctt and Cheshire: We have blacklists kept by the Association of Factory and Plant Owners. Information about all workers, but chiefly all those dismissed for unreliability, must immediately be paused to the Association of Factory and Plant Owners who will, in turn, circularize all factories and plants which are members of the association, to the effect that the aforesaid workers should not be taken on at the plant. A dismissed worker may start at any plant or factory but the management is obliged to dismiss him within three days without reason being given. In this way we are able to rid ourselves of undesirable elements simply and conveniently.
Wagon Works: 2,500 employed. There is a canteen for 500.
Pnnce Tumanov: How are you managing after the strike? Many dismissed and arrested?
Wagon Works: No one has been dismissed.
Prince Tumanov: How can that be? You had a strike so you could have cleared out the undesirable elements but you didn’t take advantage of the occasion? You’re surely not waiting for another strike?
Wagon Works: We are to blame, your Excellency. At our works, the workers stand so closely together that we are afraid to dismiss anyone for fear of serious repercussions. The workers have stated bluntly: “If anyone is victimized for this strike we shall not go to work.” And we knew that they would stand by their promise. We handed a list of the fourteen most dangerous ones to the Okhrana with a request to have them arrested on the quiet, but the Okhrana have not yet done anything.
Prince Tumanov (to the gendarme acting as secretary): Note that down and make the arrests.
Siemens-Schuckert (Dynamo Works): 1,800 are employed here and there is a shop and a canteen.
Skorokhod: 3,000 work here and there is a shop. We also, your Excellency, have sent a list of those whose arrest we would greatly appreciate to the Okhrana but no one has yet been arrested.
Prince Tumanov (to the gendarme-cum-secretary): Note it and have them arrested! Tell them up there to make immediate arrests when they are requested.
Putilov: 24,000 working here. There is a shop and a canteen for 2,800. The management of the shop is concentrated entirely in our hands, as we joined it as members and have been elected to the board.
Prince Tumanov: What was afoot at your works yesterday?
Putilov. Permit me, your Excellency, to report on that in complete confidence ... (It subsequently emerged that on that day, unknown persons not from among the workers in the factory had organized a meeting and sought to provoke action by the workers.)
Prince Tumanov: And what else are you doing for your workers? Are you contributing anything to the consumer association?
Prince Tumanov: Why nothing? You have such colossal revenue – you should allocate some of it to the workers.
Putilov: How can we, your Excellency? We are squarely in debt and we can hardly make ends meet.
Cable Works: 1,300 are working here. There is nothing to report.
Mechanical and Boiler Works: 850 working here. There is a shop with the usual rules.
One of the representatives states: Your Excellency has been good enough to suggest that canteens be organized for workers. This is indisputably important and useful in fighting criminal organizations, but it does pose a certain risk. For workers can use the canteens for clandestine meetings and gatherings. Besides, any undesirable conversations and so forth are possible over lunch. It is essential to give serious thought to how we can avoid this danger. It is very awkward to install foremen in the canteen as overseers.
Prince Tumanov: Can’t you somehow shorten the lunch break so that workers have only just enough time to get their dinner down? That would exclude the risk of conversations.
Factory-Owners: Not at all. Many workers with families go home to dinner and they wouldn’t have enough time. The workers would not as a whole agree to that.
One of the gendarmes: Then fit them up with gramophones. Have them turned up loud so that no one can hear a word. In for a penny, in for a pound: then everything’ll be all right.
Prince Tumanov: Exactly! And what’s more, we could fit the factories out with paintings on patriotic subjects. Everything will then be nice and peaceful. Gentlemen, I am most grateful for the reports you have made and may I apologize for tearing you away from your normal work in the plants; it has been necessary owing to highly important considerations. You are earning enormous revenues and to ensure that the work continues it is vital you give a little to the workers. Let me say, in closing, that I am always at your service. Do turn to me in case of any need and I shall do everything in my power. Until we meet again.
The Ninth of January
In December, the Petersburg comrades began to prepare for public activity on the traditional day of 9 January. The Petersburg Committee put forward a plan for a one-day strike and demonstrations under the slogans: “a constituent assembly”, “an eight-hour day” and “a democratic republic” for discussion in the various city districts. On the demonstrations the attitude to the war would be expressed by the slogans “Down with the war” and “Long live the revolution”. The districts adopted the Petersburg Committee’s proposed plan and began to prepare. It was decided to hold the demonstrations in the morning when the workers came out of factories after meetings had finished. After the pattern of July 1914, workers were to link up with neighbouring factories and head en masse for the city centre. The Petersburg Committee issued a special leaflet To the soldiers and 9 January.
Our workers in the plants had to wage a struggle against the Mensheviks and Gvozdevites over 9 January. They were all against strikes and demonstrations. They justified their attitude in various ways: the chauvinists, like Gvozdev and Breido, were against them because they “would harm the cause of defence” and would be at variance with the view of the bourgeoisie on the Central War Industries Committee; others, who were smarter, with a mysterious air warned workers against public activity on 9 January as they “foresaw” a more important struggle ahead for which they appealed for “energy to be preserved”. Of course both these positions received the most heartfelt response from works managements and the police. The left SRs issued a proclamation On 9 January in which they called for a strike. The Socialist-Revolutionary patriots went along with the defensist Mensheviks.
The strike and demonstration passed off with a high level of enthusiasm and organization. The Vyborg district marched at the head, with over 40,000 strikers; behind them came the Moscow, Narva and other districts. Once past the Neva Gate, the workers waited for the police to come and “pick them up”. Many small establishments and printshops went on strike. According to information from employers’ sources there were in all some 100,000 workers on strike. Demonstrations took place in the outskirts only, as the police would not allow them in the centre. Many demonstrators were arrested. The managements of certain establishments applied a number of repressive measures to individual groups of workers. During the demonstrations workers met soldiers; a friendly exchange of greetings would then take place. At the sight of the red banner (as, for example, along the Vyborg Chaussee) the soldiers took off their caps and shouted “Hurrah!” The mass that had been stirred to action by the strike and demonstrations was a long time in calming down. On the evening of the following day, a vast column of working women and men and soldiers paraded along the Bolshoi Sampsonievsky Prospekt for several hours on end. Revolutionary songs were sung, speeches made and “Down with the war!” shouted in unison. All the while, the police kept themselves to the sidelines. The fact that a good third of the crowd were soldiers restrained the police: not only did they not try to disperse it, they did not even make verbal threats.
On 19 January a strike of maintenance men in the city tram depots in Petersburg began. The movement had been well prepared and from the start involved all four depots: Moscow depot, with 700 workers; Vasiliev Island depot, with 500 workers; Petersburg depot, with 400 workers; and Rozhdestvensky depot, 300–400 workers, making about 2,000 workers all told. Leading the strike were members of our party’s Petersburg organization. The demands were broken down as follows: a pay rise for those on 50 rubles a month of 50 per cent, those on 60 rubles, 40 per cent and those on 70 rubles, 30 per cent; an increase in the cost of living supplement; complete abolition of fines; free travel on city railways twice a day; bonus payments at Christmas and Easter at the rate of one month’s pay; severance pay at the rate of one month’s pay for each year of service; daily-paid to have equal rights with monthly-paid; payment for leave not taken; overtime pay for both monthly and daily paid at one and a half times the day rate; lodgings to be found or a rent allowance to be paid; issue of pay-books; cost of living supplement to be paid twice monthly; establishment of a training school for senior employees; no elected representatives to be victimized for petitioning.
In spite of the ban on newspaper reporting of the strike, it soon became known to everyone in the city. The strike was followed with feelings of unconcealed sympathy. The disruption to transport was blamed wholly upon the city fathers, who would not make concessions and were trying to pay the maintenance men 1.50 rubles a day, on which it was impossible to exist in Petersburg. On 23 January, the Strike was joined by more than 150 workers at the central power station, and after them, all the sub-stations with some 80 men came out. For many hours the trams did not run. The military authorities despatched 50 soldiers to each depot and to the power station. 40 men were exiled and some taken before the military governor and returned to their workplace under an escort of soldiers as “conscript workers”. The city Duma appointed a commission of inquiry to examine the dispute.
Of the vehicles put into service on 25 January, 79 were still unrepaired, and during the 26th another 99 vehicles were taken off. On the 27th, the city Duma accepted the workers’ demands and the strike was called off. The Petersburg Committee had directed the strike and issued a leaflet for the occasion. The action had passed off in a mood of solidarity. There were only four strikebreakers at the power station.
Linked directly to the success of the strike by the central power station workers was the celebrated industrial action at the huge Putilov plants. The electricians in the Putilov shops, whose wages did not exceed between 2 and 2.50 rubles a day, presented demands to the management for higher wages. But .the directors of the works, as stooges of an alliance of French and Russian capitalists, brusquely turned down the workers’ just demands. At the beginning of February the electricians stopped work and were supported by the remainder of the workforce. Nearly 15,000, most of the day shift, joined the strike. Nor did the night shift fall behind, and the next day the works was closed down by order of the Okhrana General Tumanov. Conscripts were summoned to the military governor. This was the start of events that were to attract the attention of all Russia and form the subject of discussion in the State Duma.
Almost simultaneously, a sectional dispute in the Petersburg Metalworks was, thanks to General Tumanov, turned into a general one: the works was closed on 8 February. In March the movement had acquired vast dimensions and was accompanied by mass exile and arrests.
The protracted nature of the war, with all its incalculable calamitous consequences which fell mainly upon the shoulders of the urban and rural democratic movement, brought about a clearer awareness that became known in Russia as a “change of mood” about the war. The patriotic hysteria of the war’s first days had been dissipated by the savage blows of reality. The democrats’ self-deception and “illusions of liberation” in that predatory war had been dashed by the ruthless policy of government repression within the country. Russian industrialists had given such a twist to the idea of a struggle against “German militarism”, “German dominance” and so forth that even the philistines sobered up. The dislocation of all spheres of economic life struck at the poorest layers with the unprecedentedly high cost of living, and schooled the philistines to connect small causes with large effects.
More than once the mood of wide masses of people reached rebellious anger. The events in Moscow in the previous May, with inhuman attacks on Jews and Germans, had been provoked by the authorities to defuse the atmosphere of public discontent following the reverses in the Carpathians.
The revolutionary mood at the beginning of autumn had been dispersed by appeals for calm and by arrests. But both merely intensified the spontaneous growth of mass discontent. It passed from the rear out to the front and, reinforced by the grievances of trench life, rebounded into the villages and towns. The boys in the barracks notwithstanding the tough wartime discipline, were openly restive and indignant. The discontent of the soldiers – peasants and workers dressed in grey greatcoats – sprang above all from the barbaric regulations that held sway in the tsar’s army. The soldiers, who lacked any rights, were objects of ridicule for the young masters dressed in officers’ uniforms. The fighters for the “liberation of western democracy” were kicked in the teeth, and flogged just as in the era of Nicholas I; a host of penal measures were employed against them, including firing squads, all in the name of “discipline”.
The treatment of soldiers by officers and by the police provoked the crowd to mob rule. In the previous autumn, a bloodbath along such lines had occurred between police and Muscovites. There were many dead and injured.
The commandant of Petersburg, together with the General Staff of the Northern Army, were waging a constant “war” on the soldiers by prohibiting them from using trams. Numerous “rulings” were issued restricting tram travel by soldiers, requiring them to pay for their ride or preventing them from going inside the car, allowing them to stay only on the end platforms. All these orders were deeply resented by the mass of soldiers, who systematically refused to obey them. Finally, just before Christmas, the military governor issued a disposition totally banning tram travel for lower ranks. Squads of as many as six soldiers were stationed by each tram stop. In addition, special detachments of city constables went out on the hunt for soldier passengers. In the evenings, armed patrols roamed the city removing detainees to the commandant’s headquarters. The soldiers showed utter contempts for the “orders”, leaped aboard moving trams, avoided the guard-posts at the stops in any way they could, and quite frequently put up open resistance. The public always supported the soldiers and as a result quite a few cases of “obstructing the police in the course of their duty” arose. The scale of the insubordination can be judged by the number of those arrested for riding on trams on the first day of the Christmas holiday: according to accounts by soldiers, their number exceeded a thousand. The following day, it was even higher. With such stubborn disobedience, they did not dare punish any greater numbers. The mood in the barracks was aroused. Soldiers said openly that they would repay the military authorities on 9 January together with the workers. Realizing the impact that the order had had on the soldiers, the governor hastened to revoke it on the eve of 9 January.
How far the mood of the broad masses of Petersburgers had moved from the jingo-patriotism of the beginning of the war can be gauged by the fact that the patriots proved unable to celebrate the victory over the Turks and the capture of Erzurum with demonstrations, although attempts were made. The organizers were forced to confine themselves to fireworks and the obligatory military parades.
The philistines’ scepticism and distrust of the government at times went as far as “defeatism”. Quite often opinions could be overheard on the tram about “our customs” with the conclusion: “They’ll know all about our customs when the Germans arrive.” But this still only showed itself indirectly; there was not yet visible in this discontent any sign of a transition from criticism to independent political activity.
The Situation of the Workers and Party Work
The strike struggle, especially by the advanced workers of Petersburg, produced an unlikely number of interpretations and at times even contradictory arguments among Russian “society”. Rumours grew like a heap of dirty spring snow, became intertwined with specific facts and were laid before open and closed sittings of our statesmen, who took alarm at the stormy conflicts between capital and labour which would not be constrained even by “defence of the country”. The workers’ irreconcilable mood and their stubborn refusal to submit to the idea of “defence of the fatherland” or to bear the brunt of intensified exploitation in its name without a murmur, found its accurate reflection in the patriotic profits of the industry of the fatherland. But particularly displeasing to the Russian bourgeoisie was the anti-patriotic nature of the workers’ movement, which served to demonstrate the total collapse of the influence of liberalism upon the working class. Its hostility to internationalism reached a point of frantic hatred for Bolshevik social democrats, the representatives of international socialism in Russia. The bourgeois press would not “recognize” any socialists other than the Gvozdevites. The so-called “progressive” papers, Den, Rech and Sovremennoe Slovo, were reduced to spreading falsehoods, as over the first elections to the War Industries Committees or during the elections for the Insurance Council, where workers’ representatives spoke up for the “internationalist” social democrats: the papers tried to present the incidents as an accident “Suddenly” the elections had turned out to be on a factional basis, the other side had “unexpectedly” won, etc.
All the ideological defenders of capital who denied class struggle (especially in wartime, as these gentlemen had “no doubt” about the patriotism of the worker) went to great pains to locate the causes of conflict outside social relations, namely in “foreign influence”, payoffs, provocation, etc. They sought to attribute the discontent of workers in the early days to the influence of “defeatist ideas”. Under the leadership of the social chauvinists, patriotic society anathematized the “Leninites”, and the Okhrana rushed to uncover the required quantity of “defeatist” leaders, hoping thereby to kill off opposition to the war and exploitation. But the movement did not stop.
To counter the rising discontent of the workers, rumours about “German money” were put about. The venal newspapers financed by police stations and the Okhrana spread reports about German bribes to strikers. But although the reports came from Zemshchina, Russkoe Znamya and other sinks of police iniquity that were apparently very well-informed about “bribery” through their own closeness to ruling circles in Germany, such rumours had no success, although the General Staff used them in its war on the strike movement.
Left and liberal circles of society found another cause for the growth of the strike movement: provocation. They linked such provocation, that creature of the Russian autocrat, directly to “intrigues” by Wilhelm II. Stories that the Okhrana was in the service of German imperialism circulated in Russia from the start of the war. There were cases of Okhrana agents being discovered engaged in espionage for Germany. The case of the colonel of the gendarmerie, Myasoedov, only went to justify such rumours and lend them greater credibility.
As a result of the government’s police and censorship measures, an atmosphere of mystery developed around the workers’ movement that encouraged rumour. The bitter struggle by government agents against the political opponents of tsarism who did not subscribe to the “defence of the country” drove philistine opinion to the facile explanation that all power in Russia – the court, the ministers, generals and civil servants – were all Germans. The campaign by the authorities against legal public organizations, and their simultaneous patronage of every type of extortion, only convinced the wider public of the correctness of its opinion and the government’s lies were turned against itself.
The causes of the strike movement ran, of course, far deeper than those invented by popular chatter. The war had not eliminated class struggle but, on the contrary, having intensified the exploitation of the working class, had given rise to more acute forms of it. The strike struggles of the working class in Russia could not be viewed in isolation from the general bourgeois democratic movement. The break-up of feudal practices in the course of the war created an extremely onerous situation for the working sector of the country. The bourgeoisie attempted to exploit the new situation to increase its wealth and consolidate its political influence. Behind the ballyhoo about the “alliance of classes and peoples” the bourgeoisie had concluded a forward contract with tsarism at the expense of the economic and political interests of the masses of people. Under the guise of “defence of the country” this deal was foisted on to the backs of the democratic movement and the working class by the renegades from democracy: Kerensky, Maslov, Rubanovich, Potresov and their ilk. This deal brought the bourgeoisie immediate benefits in the form of “participation in aid of our gallant army”, through the intermediary of every conceivable public organization. “Aid” brought in million-ruble orders while the objects of the war, if achieved, held out promises of all sorts of other “empires” for Guchkov and Ryabushinsky. But for the moment they set themselves up in motor vehicles and munitions. Industry worked flat out, the capitalists took advantage of the dislocation of transport to profiteer, and the whole entrepreneurial wolf-pack enjoyed such affluence as they never even dreamt of in peacetime.
The employers’ wartime labour policy did not differ in principle from its peacetime one. The policy of Franco-Belgian-German-British-pure-Russian organized capital on the labour question was simple: a ruthless struggle against any demands, rapacious exploitation, lock-outs and police reprisals. When the guns started to boom in the west, this cosmopolitan capital donned a “pure Russian” guise and, stocking itself up with profitable orders, rushed to the aid of the “fatherland”. The managements of even known “German” firms opened up hospitals and donated kopeks and supported every kind of patronage for the patriotic absorption of the workers. Wartime was giving cosmopolitan capital resources for the coercion of workers such as it could not have dreamt of in peacetime.
The factories, now overloaded with military orders, had an interest in raising production by extending the working day. Thirst for high profits led them to exploit women and children and to import cheap Chinese and Korean labour. The government acceded to all the employers’ requests over this matter and repealed the statutes that safeguarded the health of workers. The contradictions between labour and capital sharpened and led rapidly to disputes. The workers had but one tool of struggle – the strike. Employers resorted to spying, provocation and lock-outs. The police, the Okhrana and the General Staff were at the service of the employers too.
Influenced by the previous summer’s strike movement, and out of concern for “normal working” in all enterprises, Petersburg’s organized employers made representations to the Council of Ministers for the “militarization of all workers”. Petersburg capitalists thus hoped to kill any spirit of protest among the workers and eradicate strikes by means of discipline and martial justice. The organization of plants on the pattern of barracks, bestowing on the management stooges of capital “officer” powers with an arsenal of punishments and rewards, was the ideal of this “cosmopolitan” capital. The Council of Ministers wholly accepted the views of capital, prepared a bill and passed it at the spring session of the State Duma. But the strike movement of February and March said plainly that workers would not reconcile themselves to such a statute and it was left in abeyance.
Influenced by the rising discontent among the working masses, the General Staff started to “interest itself” in the movement. Militarism extended its powers further and further towards the rear, directing all its “rear units” into the working class, which would not forget its own war-cry, “Workers of the world, unite”.
The strengthening of reaction during wartime had an adverse effect on the building of organizations in Russia’s workers’ movement. In the final years before the war, the working class was striving to reinforce itself with illegal and legal bodies. Of the latter, the strongest was the workers’ press. It was the first to fall and, following it, all the other ones were destroyed or disarmed.
The incipient, though very small, influx of intellectuals into the workers’ movement, which marked the last years before the war, was again cut off. This element, alien to the working class, succumbed to social reaction and once again (as after the 1905 revolution) began to drift away. Many of them were mobilized, but more than a few voluntarily joined some office of imperialism. Almost everywhere workers’ organizations found themselves without intellectuals, but this did not paralyse their activity as in the previous period of pre-war reaction. The workers’ organizations had thrown up their own purely proletarian leaders. The whole movement towards organization was forced to “dig in” behind an illegal wall of clandestine workers’ associations.
As in peacetime, the organizational basis of the illegal associations was the plant, workshop or factory. Factory organizations were grouped together into city districts, districts into city organizations, committees and so on. Apart from our party’s standing organizations, some plants that had groups from other illegal organizations foreign to us (socialist-revolutionaries, “unifiers”, anarchist-communists etc.) held occasional meetings of individual groups on matters of local importance, mainly during disputes.
The central point of the ideological work of the illegal cells of our party, scattered around all the industrial centres of Russia, was the attitude to the war, the struggle against chauvinism and “patriotic” exploitation. The work of our organizations during the war period has yet to find its historian. Its scale can be judged by the strike waves that never ceased to shake the rotting shell of the tsarist monarchy. Evidence of the active work of the workers’ organizations during wartime is provided by the exiling of thousands of organized workers, arrests, and the posting of strikers to front-line positions.
Our organized comrades opposed the zoological nationalism of the Purishkeviches and the chauvinist sophistry of Plekhanov with the international interests of the proletariat and the power of the socialist, revolutionary ideal. They opposed the ideas of defence of the country and alliance with the bourgeoisie (Gvozdevism) with agitation for the revolutionary overthrow of tsarist power and irreconcilable class struggle against the capitalist predators, the real culprits of the mass slaughter.
The demand for illegal socialist literature was so great that the poor illegal technology could not meet it. Private initiative came to its aid. Every sort of manuscript, hectographed or retyped copy of individual proclamations, articles from illegal publications abroad, etc., circulated among workers. A typewritten copy of Lenin and Zinoviev’s pamphlet The War and Socialism was passed from hand to hand around Moscow. Sotsial-Demokrat and Kommunist were such luxuries that 50 kopeks or a ruble would be paid for one reading. There were demands for hundreds of copies of Kommunist; and workers would readily put aside three rubles of pay for a copy. Besides this, declarations of an internationalist tendency by various groups of party workers circulated throughout Russia. Picture postcards of our Duma deputies exiled to Siberia were sold out in two months in Petersburg alone – a quantity of about five thousand prints.
Membership of local organizations in the south, the Volga region, the central region and Petersburg was swelled by social-democratic elements from the evacuated areas of Poland and the Baltic lands. Thus in Petersburg two national groups, the Estonians and the Latvians, were affiliated to the Petersburg Committee with the status of city districts. There was also quite a large number of Polish workers evacuated deep into the country; there were even workers from Warsaw factories in Petersburg. The Poles, however, kept separate and did not join the local organizations.
Of the legal workers’ organizations the insurance bodies remained everywhere. In one or two places in the centre, Moscow, Tula and the south, several trade unions and associations still survived, but their activity was greatly hampered. Later on co-operatives grew up which party elements had also penetrated. The same struggle of the two currents was conducted on insurance matters in the hospital funds: between the liquidators, painted in a national-patriotic hue, and the Pravda-ists, remaining true to the old red internationalist banner. The elections to the Insurance Council on 21 January 1916 bore a markedly anti-Gvozdevite, anti-liquidationist character. The Petersburg Committee’s proclamation to workers over the Insurance Council elections appealed for a struggle against the “Guchkov boys”.
The Pravda-ist list was voted for in full. Thirty-nine representatives were elected on the basis of the seventy votes cast for the list. The number of liquidationist, Narodnik and non-party votes was in all twenty-six, who together elected two alternate representatives.
Following the scandalous Gvozdevite business, the elections provided a clear indicator of the strength of the two currents and a true witness to the internationalism of the politically conscious representatives of Russian workers.
Many months had passed since gunfire and the crackle of machine-guns drowned the voice of international workers’ solidarity. Over the course of many years, lies, treachery and nationalist poison had driven nations and their working masses against each other. The governing classes had tried to exploit cunning theories of the “defence of the country”, the “protection of culture” against the idealism of the working masses who had been reared on revolutionary socialist propaganda. In the bloody affairs of the bourgeoisie and monarchies of the belligerent countries a faithful ally was international opportunism, which, behind the intoxication of war, sought to put its hoary old theory of class peace into practice. The allies of the bourgeoisie’s imperialist appetites, the social patriots, discovered in each of the belligerent countries “peculiarities” of a local nature, and each tried to justify his position by the “interests of the working class”. German opportunists from Scheidemann to Kautsky were fighting “Russian autocracy”, the French were “defending the republic”, the British were “liberating Belgium”, while the Russians “would not obstruct” hangmen generals from waging war to “liberate western democracy”. This was how the job of diverting the thoughts and actions of democrats and the working class from their own situation and the struggle for their class objectives, was carried out.
Each country and each coalition of warring capitalist forces was quite happy to speculate on a “revolution” in a rival country. Even the Russian Imperial General Staff gladly allowed through and even dramatized stories about the revolutionary movement in the Central Powers. The bourgeois press kept Russia fully informed on the revolutionary discontent of the Austro-German peoples. These reports were lapped up by the Russian worker but he took them in quite a different sense from the bourgeoisie. For while the latter were seeking a strategic buttress from the enemy’s hard-pressed internal situation and called on the masses for “just a bit more patience” and “one more push”, the working class drew its own, opposite, conclusions. For the Russian worker and socialist would find strength in the final victory of class solidarity over the narrow, pernicious, “supra-class” nationalism and this awakening of revolutionary moods. A movement in this direction, which had been dormant at the start of the war, was growing daily in the fight against the bloody designs of capital and tsarism.
The long months of carnage and the deteriorating state of democracy showed that the democratic movement could expect nothing from the war. Thinking workers in our country had never linked their fate and aims with a victory over “those Germans”, just as in the former revolutionary years they retained trust in their own forces and in awakening the urban and rural poor for the final toppling of a tsarism that had graced itself with the “liberationist” lie of the war. Russia’s proletariat, although weighed down with military and police shackles, was preparing, alongside those workers throughout the world who had remained loyal to the International, for a great worldwide struggle for the class interests of the exploited and for socialism.
I was not able to enjoy my freedom from being shadowed for very long. Within two weeks of my arrival I came under observation as I travelled to and from the rendezvous of the Petersburg Committee and meetings with individual comrades in working-class districts. At first this observation did not bother me too much; but then, as time went on, the sleuths became more brazen. However, I always found a lodging-place for the night away from the gaze of spies. I soon adapted to the illegal conditions and the constant moving around. Life in the underground had, over those last ten years, changed only in respect of its participants. Instead of the student youth and intellectuals of 1903–5, only workers were in evidence in the war years. Likewise, the secret meeting-places in flats and lodging-houses were all in working-class districts and in workers’ flats. Intellectuals were a rare exception.
Of the old party intelligentsia there remained very few who had maintained their ties with the workers. An exception was A.M. Gorky. As before, workers would crowd into his house, bringing with them all the problems that confronted them.
I too dropped in on Aleksei Maksimovich many times. He took an internationalist position and followed the development of illegal work with the closest attention, rendering us various services. Around him throbbed the many-faceted life in which the most diverse elements of the Petersburg intelligentsia took part. Aleksei Maksimovich was himself keen on the idea of organizing radical-democratic groups.
At his flat you could obtain the very latest political news of the parliamentary and extra-parliamentary life of our bourgeois opposition. It was by its nature a unique central point. On politics and tactics Aleksei Maksimovich was not qualified to speak and working-class people went to him simply to have a heart-to-heart with him, to pour out their anxieties. This procession of workers was well known to the Okhrana, and spies were permanently on duty around the building.
I was extremely interested in the life and structure of our illegal party organizations. In their “pure” form I had known them well between 1902 and 1907 but later, when I returned from abroad in 1914, I found them already considerably diluted and softened up by legality. There was a legal press; unions and novelties like the insurance bodies etc. had appeared, which had been non-existent in the previous period. The war had wiped out all these liberties at a stroke, and prompted workers to start building totally illegal organizations.
Close familiarity convinced me that the essence of the organizations would remain as before. Similarity of conditions determined their identical nature. Just as earlier, the factory circles were the basic party cells, electing a factory delegation which formed part of the district conference which in turn elected the “district committee”, while a conference of the latter committees elected the Petersburg Committee in line with the appropriate district representation. However, because of the clandestine conditions it was sometimes difficult to call a conference, and the Petersburg Committee accepted direct delegates from the district committees as members.
Attached to the district committees and the Petersburg Committee various colleges were set up: the college of propagandists and agitators; the literary college; and the organizers’ college. The organizer was the guiding spirit. The scale and depth of the revolutionary work would depend upon his degree of activity. And the Petersburg Committee paid a great deal of attention to that college. Even special hectographed guidelines on the organizers’ college and its functions were issued which ran as follows:
The organizers’ college has representatives of the delegations of all the local organizations: those elected by individual groups and those co-opted. The organizers’ college is a subsidiary organization of the Petersburg Committee and, at the same time, a school for training new organizers. As a subsidiary organization of Petersburg Committee, the organizers’ college sets its aims as follows: (1) the expansion and strengthening of organizations in the localities; (2) the resurrection of organizations that have temporarily ceased activity or have lost contact with the district bodies; (3) the organization of new groups; (4) supply of literature to party organizations.
These tasks shall be carried out in the following manner:
(1) Each organizer shall assist the district representative (the leading organizer) in finding flats for classes and meetings of his group, in notifying both group members and speakers of the dates and venues. He shall also check on the implementation of decisions of the Petersburg Committee, the proper contribution of members’ dues and demand punctual presentation of his report and so on.
(2) Wherever the activity of any group begins to drop off or ceases altogether as a result of collapse, provocations, lack of propagandists, accommodation etc., the organizer is obliged to elucidate the reasons that have produced a halt in the group’s activity.
(3) In organizing new groups the organizer must attempt to contact old comrades in the firm being organized; to use for this purpose contacts and acquaintances of other group members; to exert every effort to deliver the relevant literature there; and finally, where possible, to obtain employment in the given firm.
(4) Every organizer must promptly prepare for a literature store and promptly supply it to the groups. After distributing it, he must collect reports on the effect of the distributed literature upon the workers.
(5) The organizer must keep all addresses and all contacts at his own house in the obligatory code and, also, with a comrade who does not take an active part in party life and who, in the event of the organizer being imprisoned, must immediately pass all details of contacts to the organizers’ college. As an education class, the organizers’ college shall arrange meetings not less than twice a month for discussing problems connected with the current situation, inasmuch as current events may serve as material for agitation (May Day, 4 April, Women’s Day, days of strikes, the growth of the trade-union movement and so on and so forth).
Discussion-group work during wartime proceeded fairly well in both Petersburg and Moscow. Those wishing to study socialist science were everywhere more numerous than the organization could cater for. From everyone wishing to learn, usually those comrades were chosen who could at once work on their own upon completing their discussion-group studies. The extension of discussion-group work to basic socialist education classes for all willing students was not within our means. The discussion groups were but an educational method of training party workers for the mass movement. The most intensive discussion-group work took place in autumn and winter. In the summer mass meetings were held where not only the political struggle but also the situation in the factories was discussed, questions of strike action decided, etc. When strikes flared up as at Lessners in the spring of 1915, the boldest and most influential workers would gather mass meetings and lead the movement illegally.
It is difficult to enumerate all the problems which were discussed here and at workers’ meetings. I recall questions about the war, the United States of Europe, the high prices and the Second and Third Internationals. No question suggested by the life of the factory or city, or of interest to the whole country, would pass the workers by. They would discuss them during worktime as well. Factory cells and circles were generally composed of people who knew each other well. A question would therefore be presented for discussion and, if a decision required, settled wholly during working hours. The work of the factory circles of the “good old days” of intellectual discussion-group activity was sharply distinct from this later period. The old circles used to educate workers about the “theory of the workers’ movement”, but the circles of the later period were organizations for the actual practice of the workers’ struggle.
Gathering the Party’s Forces
Through my personal acquaintances who remained from 1914, I made contact with several groups of workers. Meetings were arranged where the international situation, attitude to the war, the tasks of workers in Russia and other such questions were discussed. Although chauvinism had had a difficult time, it had made some headway. Even old Bolshevik workers had succumbed to it. So my friends from the Eiwas works held a small meeting at comrade N. Nazarov’s, where M. Kalinin, “Kirill” (Orlov) and others whose names I do not remember were present.
The old party worker, M. Kalinin stood openly for the “rout” of the Germans and agreed with the Gvozdevites over participation in “defence”. His position did not find support among other workers; but the slogan “defeat of the tsarist monarchy” did cause stories to circulate. It had to be interpreted historically and examined in conjunction with our attitude to the policies of tsarism, in order to rid it of any cause for speculation by enemies of our party and agents of the German General Staff.
I met among the Ericsson workers a group of comrades headed by Kayurov which was conducting work at that factory. The war had brought many new enterprises to life in the Vyborg district and had drawn in a mass of women. Revolutionary social-democratic work was carried out among them too. In the same Vyborg district I met an unusual workers’ circle of “Nizhni-Novgorod-Sormovans”, D. Pavlov, A. Kuklina, Kayurova, Alexandrova and others working independently. This circle brought together former party workers who had taken an internationalist positon but had not linked up with the Petersburg Committee through fear of provocation. It took a lot of effort to turn it towards active work in the district. In this regard a major role was played by M.G. Pavlova who criticized the “Sormovans” quite sharply and aptly for their “tears” over A.M. Gorky and their love of words. In the end the comrades got down to work in earnest and subsequently through their experience made a huge contribution to the organization of the party.
On various occasions I went to workers’ meetings at Lessners and Nobels. Small groups of six to eight would gather. At meetings of organized comrades and also from members of the Petersburg Committee I was to hear much dissatisfaction about the conduct of our Duma faction (they were by now in exile) at their trial. Comrades condemned Kamenev especially severely. The deputies who were suffering for anti-militarist work were popular with the masses. I managed to obtain a postcard with a photograph of our “quintet” in prison. I arranged for it to be reproduced (the photograph had been found on the Steklyanny, at comrade I.I. Kovalenko’s), and shortly afterwards were able to produce illegally a few thousand postcards which were quickly sold out and brought income to the organization. It was as hard to convene the Petersburg Committee as it was easy to get workers together. All my requests for a plenum of the Petersburg Committee proved abortive. I would nearly always, before his arrest, meet Bagdatiev, and later Starck and more rarely “Vladimir”. I would be notified of the plenum at a venue for me to arrange only a couple of hours beforehand, although it was stipulated that twelve or twenty-four hours’ notice of a meeting should be given. Sometimes for some reason the agreed venue was not used and I was sought everywhere. All this was done with the object of setting me against the Petersburg Committee, to which the “Mironites” had declared in my absence that I wished to have no dealings with them. On behalf of the Petersburg Committee Bagdatiev and Starck presented me with demands that I place the means of communications with the provinces and abroad in their hands in case I was arrested. But I found out from other members of the Petersburg Committee that they had not even discussed this. I sensed that Miron Chernomazov was operating through them, and exceedingly skilfully at that, and I categorically refused but indicated the contacts and intermediaries with whose aid they could find out everything in event of my misadventure. This was not at all to the liking of Starck and the others who stood for the Central Committee Bureau being picked from the Petersburg Committee itself. They therefore continued to weave their intrigues within the Petersburg Committee.
After familiarizing myself with the work of the Petersburg Committee I proceeded to seek out activists for the formation of the all-Russian centre that would be able to direct social-democratic work in Russia.
With the consent of the Central Committee’s foreign group it had been decided to form, in either Petersburg or Moscow, a bureau of the Central Committee of the RSDLP, and I had been given the names of a few party workers.
It was desirable to bring into this bureau only workers, old party activists and Pravda-ists. Of the individuals indicated by the centre’s foreign group, none proved to be in Petersburg or, if they were, no longer shared our viewpoint. It would have been quite easy to assign this work to the Petersburg Committee, which had been the ideological centre from the very first day of the war; but organizationally it had contact with only a few of the major industrial centres and no opportunity to work there. However, out of elementary caution and also through fear that the work of the Central Committee Bureau would become known to Miron Chernomazov, I decided not to link the all-Russian work to the apparatus of the Petersburg Committee. I soon found people able to maintain the work of the Central Committee Bureau. In the selection of these people great help was tendered by student youth and also Maria I. Ulyanova and A.I. Elizarova. We were quickly able to form a group which specialized in importing literature from Finland and storing it. Lack of funds hindered expansion. There were no returns from the areas, no factories were organized (financially) and even collections among workers for the Petersburg Committee were very badly run. I often had recourse to the financial aid of A.M. Gorky for our work.
K.M. Shvedchikov came to be both in charge of transport matters and to manage the storage of literature, and was also treasurer. Only very much later did we succeed in attracting a good underground organizer, comrade Vadim (Viktor Tikhomirnov), who undertook some of the work previously borne by K.M. Shvedchikov.
Having got the machinery of the Central Committee Bureau into operation, I nominated comrades who would be able to direct illegal work. They had to be selected most carefully, as the available circle was limited in the extreme. Many social-democratic workers from the pre-war period were in exile, prison or in the trenches.
Agreement was reached with individual activists of the Petersburg Committee about the composition of the Central Committee Bureau: comrades Ignat Fokin (“Petr”), Zalezhsky (“Vladimir”) and active Workers from the insurance group. The insurance organizers put forward S. Medvedev but they could not indicate where he lived and so the chairman of the insurance group, G.I. Osipov, was appointed as his deputy. Comrades Petr and Vladimir joined by right of co-optation from the Petersburg Committee. K.M. Shvedchikov joined as the leading organizer of the storage and distribution of literature and also as treasurer.
The supply of literature was put in hand: by the end of 1915 fifteen issues of Sotsial-Demokrat had been received in Petersburg with several hundred copies of each, and a small quantity of Kommunist no. 1–2. Of course this was inadequate to satisfy even the minimal requirements of Petersburg alone, never mind the rest of Russia.
There was therefore a great deal of animosity and complaints about the distribution which K.M. Shvedchikov was in charge of. We were unable to set up transport or reprinting arrangements through lack of funds.
Once I had set up the work of the Central Committee Bureau and also transport from abroad, I decided to travel round to several points in central Russia and take a look at our party work on the spot. I reached Moscow at the end of December. I had not been in that city for over eight years, since I was doing time in the Butyrki and other parts. It had changed little.
I had arranged to meet Petr Germogenovich Smidovich. I took refuge at his place but moved to a neighbouring flat at night. Both he and his wife, Sofya Nikolaevna, were doing party work and lived under the Okhrana’s most intense observation. On this visit I came to meet I.I. Skvortsev (Stepanov). I also met there comrade Milyutin, who had taken on work in the middle Volga region, and comrade A. Saveliev, who had arrived from the front. A small meeting was arranged at Doctor Obukh’s with comrade “Makar” (V.P. Nogin), M.S. Olminsky, Yakovleva, P.G. Smidovich and several other Muscovites. The proposal to create an all-Russian Bureau of the Central Committee was welcomed wholeheartedly. I acquainted the comrades with the state of affairs abroad, in the party and work in Petersburg.
I learned a great deal from them about the state of party work and the workers’ movement in the same region. The patriotic and chauvinist agitation from the start of the war in all the bourgeois press had in May brought about pogroms against Germans and German businesses. Moscow workers had readily succumbed to patriotic provocations and held a protest strike against the “German takeover”. The level of awareness of Moscow was considerably lower than that of the Petersburgers.
Moscow was becoming the centre for all sorts of legal conferences: of co-operatives, war industries committees, for the struggle against high prices and so on, in which workers also took part; sometimes resolutions in an internationalist spirit were carried, as for instance at the conference for the struggle against high prices.
Our party’s work went on in all the districts of Moscow. All attempts to centralize this work by forming a single party committee for all Moscow were, however, unsuccessful. As soon as our comrades began to turn their work in this direction, convene a conference and appoint a “Moscow Committee”, arrests followed and any practical activity was smashed. This pointed to the existence of provocateurs, and some people were actually suspected, but they could not be unmasked through lack of firm evidence.
In the Moscow industrial region July and August 1915 passed off stormily. The movement started over the struggle against high prices and to demand fixed price rates, but it ended in workers being shot. Meetings and rallies took place everywhere. In Moscow the movement coincided with the dissolution of the State Duma and this gave rise to thinking that the Muscovite proletariat supported the progressive bloc.
The Moscow region was richer than that of Petersburg in intellectual workers and writers. But thanks to the absence of a centralized party these forces were used very badly and irregularly. In Moscow I received warnings from comrade Olminsky and other collaborators of Petersburg Pravda about Chernomazov, but again without concrete evidence. Nevertheless I decided that upon my return to Petersburg I would bring this to the notice of the Executive Commission of the Petersburg Committee and press for the expulsion of “Miron”.
The Muscovites were pleased with the literature, and read it as voraciously as the Petersburgers. People put their names down to read Kommunist, which even brought in some income.
Having obtained reports about the work, established contacts and, most important, come to an agreement about the basic line of work, I moved on to Murom on the Kazan railway. I did not risk getting off at my native town but travelled on to Navashino and, taking great precautions, found my way from there on horseback to Doshchatoe where my old mother lived.
The Doshchatoe works was a branch of the Vyxun plants, in the back of beyond – it existed far and away from any politics. Women and old men worked without a murmur, submissively bending their backs for paupers’ wages whatever the length of the working day. My family were all Old Believers and lived only for their faith and their own households. When persecution of Old Believers with their chapels, books and icons, ceased, the number of adherents began to drop. “Suffering for the faith” was now difficult. The wealthier types had now adapted to the establishment and there was no longer that earlier psychology of struggle by forbearance, suffering, prayer and fast so familiar to me in my childhood. The young people had given up prayer and you no longer heard the dreary chant of “the prophets have prophesied for one thousand years”, etc.
I felt I was in a distant, incomprehensible world. Only childhood recollections linked me with the mud-caked machinery, the huge clear pond and the enigmatic, endlessly stirring forest; and the stern, archaic icons recalled the ardent love of God, the desire to be His preacher and to suffer for that love and the old holy book. The attitude towards me was very good, as one hunted down by the tsarist government. Among the old folk it was felt that their finest hours of struggle “for the faith” against the priests and the local authorities made their youth akin to mine.
After stopping there several days, I went back to Navashino and from there via Arzamas to Nizhni-Novgorod and Sormovo. Here I expected to find old party workers from 1902–1905, but I had also picked up some contacts in Moscow. Even in that year the railways suffered from overcrowding. At junctions crowds of passengers and soldiers spent whole days and nights, and there was a crush on disembarkation that could scarcely be controlled by the gendarmes and railway police. The conversation of the men and women travelling, mainly Russian country folk and mobilized soldiers, revolved around the universal sorrow, the war.
I arrived in Nizhni early in the morning. I left my bags at the left luggage office and set out in search of comrades. At once the neglect of the streets, with a lot of unswept snow, struck me: this was an effect of the war. The huge mills that ground “wheat-flour” for all of central Russia stood lifeless. New plants were going up and rumbling to produce only munitions and other equipment. It was still only January 1916 but the shortage of grain could already be felt: hoarders were beginning to profiteer.
I quickly found the contacts. One was working in an office, and comrade Saveliev was employed in the statistical section of the zemstvo administration. The organization in Nizhni was weak. All the work was chiefly carried out in Kanavino, where there used to be large old plants and factories which had been evacuated. There was a “workers’ club”. I got to know several Kanavinans at comrade Levit’s, a small master carpenter. Leading the Kanavino work was comrade Kozin, who kept in contact with the Sormovans. Work was put in hand but at once we encountered and had to fight a battle against the social patriots. From the Nizhni-Novgorodians I obtained an address in Sormovo.
On one of the days over the New Year holiday I headed for Sormovo by the railway that connects the industrial zone and the village and reaches out as far as noisy, sprawling Kanavino. I had worked in Sormovo in 1900 in a rolling mill. The plant then belonged to the Benardak brothers. A decade and a half later the settlement and the plant had grown considerably, demolishing many residential quarters along the “ditch” (Kanava) and spreading towards the old wooden railway station. From outward appearance it was evident that business was doing fine.
An unpardonable mix-up occurred, The Nizhni-Novgorodians had given me the wrong password, which delayed our meeting till the next day when the Sormovans had checked back with Nizhni. A brake had been placed upon work in Sormovo by arrests. On the very day of my visit mass searches and arrests were taking place. The party workers were young and had little experience. No one was left from the old tested workers. We held a small meeting where I made a report to the comrades on the state of affairs in the party, work in Petersburg and Moscow and the situation in other countries. The Sormovans for their were informed me that work was getting under way: circles had been organized and meetings arranged. They suffered from a lack of leaders, especially when they had to speak out against the local defensists who had planted themselves in the hospital fund. The newly arrived folk from the countryside who worked there in large numbers in wartime fell under their influence. There was a great need for literature and the comrades were glad of what I had sent. In Sormovo I looked up one of the old social-democratic workers with whom I had worked in 1900. 1 found him with his family in his own little house and now grown old. M. Gromov, an energetic comrade, had gone through much in his time. He had often been driven out of his factory for social-democratic work, imprisoned and exiled. His privations had whitened his head but had also made him a wholehearted “sympathizer” with the young, fresh forces.
Another comrade, Grigorii Kozin, lived in Nizhni in the celebrated Pechori. I had spent a year and a half in jail with him back in 1904 but had never met him since. The old activist had been ground down by life: family worries, unemployment and hunger. A talented propagandist and a good organizer, he had completely dropped out, tormenting himself with regrets and seeing the only solution in an influx of fresh forces. These were quick to come. The red banner of the workers’ movement passed out of the weakening hands of the old men to a younger and more energetic generation of workers.
Arrests in Nizhni intensified. The Kanavino workers’ club was wrecked in a raid by gendarmes. It was proposed that I disappear as there was not a sufficiently “clean” lodging for me. Having collected a few reports and addresses and agreed upon passwords, I set off for Petersburg.
Insurance Work and the Chernomazov Business
Standing somewhat removed from the Petersburg Committee was the workers’ insurance group headed by chairman G.I. Osipov, contributors to the magazine Voprosy Strakhovaniya (Questions of Insurance), and the hospital fund organizers; A.N. Vinokurov, Gnevich, N.I. Podvoisky, K.S. Eremeev, N.I. Milyutin, K.M. Sundukov, K.M. Shvedchikov, A.I. Elizarova and others. The anomalous situation between the insurance organizers and the workers’ insurance group on the one hand and the Petersburg Committee on the other soon developed into open conflict. The Petersburg Committee formed its “own” group of insurance organizers from the hospital fund secretaries. The guiding spirit behind this new organization was the secretary of the hospital fund at Lessners, Miron, alias Chernomazov. He was popular and did enjoy support among certain workers in the Vyborg district. The Petersburg Committee trusted him; L. Starck, S. Bagdatiev, V. Schmidt and others stood squarely behind him. Collaborators on our former Pravda of 1914, older insurance organizers and all the comrades who knew him closely harboured a unanimous distrust for Chernomazov. The divorce of the insurance comrades from the Petersburg Committee was an outcome of this distrust and disagreement with his demagogic activities. All the old insurance workers declared that they were unable to work with him.
From the first days of my arrival I landed myself in the quarrel. I soon managed to establish that Miron was a suspicious individual. From then on I wholly took the side of the old insurance organizers. They insisted that I take measures against Miron; but it was very hard to institute anything as there was no documentary evidence against him apart from my personal conviction of the man’s dishonesty.
The struggle against Miron’s influence in the organization dragged on, as I was the only illegal party worker to conduct a struggle against him and his followers on the Petersburg Committee.
All my doubts about Chernomazov, which I had expressed to the Executive Commission of the Petersburg Committee, had aroused protests and demands for proof. A rather ambiguous role in this matter was played by V. Schmidt who would support all my suspicions about Chernomazov in private meetings with myself but would support him in Petersburg Committee meetings or behind my back.
Alongside our party’s usual colleges and district associations there were also attached to the Petersburg Committee various non-territorial groups, sometimes with craft names such as “The Marxist Building Workers” or “The Petersburg Railway Organization of the RSDLP”. These groups also issued leaflets and carried out party work in their own spheres.
An attempt was made with my personal participation to organize the teachers, without big results. The teachers had become petty-bourgeoisified and did not respond to calls to revolutionary work. Among students in higher education work proceeded with success: serious organizations were formed which helped in the working-class districts. As before, young people were revolutionary-minded. After the election campaign and without doubt as a direct result of our success at the electors’ meeting for the War Industries Committees, the Okhrana exhibited an unusual zeal in trailing and hounding Bolsheviks. Arrests took place throughout the city and in the working-class districts in particular. Special attention was paid to the hospital funds. There were frequently swoops on the Putilov hospital fund. There were certain pointers to Chernomazov’s involvement in these arrests. However, all evidence was of a “suggestive” nature. Some rumours came from the prison, but in no more definite form. Chernomazov’s scheming against Voprosy Strakhovaniya and his desire to sow discord between myself and the Petersburg Committee convinced me that this “Miron” was highly suspect. His urge to worm his way in everywhere, to know everything and be the representative for everything, convinced me that the Petersburg Committee was dealing with a provocateur. Starck kept up a friendship with him: they jointly organized a publishing house called “Volna”, at a time when “Priboi” and “Prosveshchenie” had still not been wound up.
Starck would behave in an amazingly frivolous and suspicious fashion. Above all he broke an elementary requirement of underground work: he tried to work for the illegal Petersburg Committee as well as in the publishing house, on Voprosy Strakhovaniya etc., ignoring the most elementary precautions. He dragged sleuths behind him to all the rendezvous known to him. Because of this he too fell under our suspicion.
At my very first meeting with members of the Petersburg Committee I reported the Muscovites’ suspicions about Miron; K.M. Shvedchikov, who dealt with despatches and literature storage, made a protest about Starck. Starck systematically had broken K.M.’s ban on visiting him or sending people to him who were known to be under observation by agents. The Executive Commission decided to bring it to the attention of the Petersburg Committee. I demanded to be invited to this session of the Committee.
At the beginning of January 1916 I made the acquaintance of the former deputy to the Third State Duma, Shurkanov, who was working at the Eiwas factory. There were always rendezvous and meetings of party workers at Shurkanov’s. Comrade “Yurii” (Lutovinov) would invariably stay with him when working in Petersburg. Sometimes there were searches, and often surveillance. However, the house’s convenient situation allowed comrades to look in despite the risk, and use his services. Once, on my way to meet Orlov I met Aleksei Gorin (alias Volkov, Vorobiev etc.) there; in an odd fashion he warned me against using Shurkanov’s flat, saying it was “a beacon for the Okhrana” promising to give more details later, But Aleksei Gorin did not manage to give me the information about Shurkanov’s flat. Soon afterwards there was a large-scale round-up of eleven old party workers who had gathered on Aleksei Gorin’s initiative to celebrate the New Year at one of the restaurants on the Petersburg bank. The gathering was held against my advice and personal refusal to take part in a social get-together. Through their frivolousness these comrades seemed to be meeting their arrest halfway.
You could observe an all-round decline in the old precepts of conspiratorial work. There were occasions when on meeting comrades in the streets of Petersburg, I noticed agents behind them; I would warn them, and give advice on how to shake them off. I personally had developed an incredible sensitivity to being tailed. But despite the caution with which I would visit comrades, I could not avoid it. There were so many jobs to be done and I had to visit so many people that it was hard to elude observation. I sensed instinctively not only sleuths following me but also people watching me at particular points such as tram stops and the bridges and alleys of the Vyborg district, so I never led them to the flat where I was going. I had to resort to all sorts of ruses: using back yards, slipping down other people’s stairways and yards, etc. By now I had my own rules: don’t spend two nights in a row in one flat; don’t walk along one road more than once; keep changing your hat and coat. Knowledge of Petersburg’s working-class districts helped me greatly. But it was difficult to exist for a long time in such conditions. Lodging each day among new people and in new conditions became terribly wearing. When I had grown tired of stumping round other people’s flats, I would head for my sisters’ on the Steklyanny. I could still relax better there, where the Okhrana could find me if ordered to, than elsewhere. Fortunately my sisters lived not far apart from each other. When going for a “rest” for a day or two, I would take great precautions: I would choose routes where it was easy to check whether there was any observation. When going to the home of one brother-in-law, I.P. Tyuterev, I would use my sisters, nephews and nieces to mount counter-observation on the agents. I would visit one house by day and move to another for the night, and would come out only in the evening. I knew many of the sleuths by their faces and dress. A particularly convenient flat was I.I. Kovalenko’s photographic studio by the Skorbyashchii Church on the Steklyanny. The building did not have a doorkeeper, the door was not bolted, and many callers came to the studio, while the tram stop and the proximity of the church meant I could lose myself in the crowd when I went out.
I had a nice lodging and resting place at D.A. Pavlov’s. Here I could take a rest and arrange meetings with any of the comrades and also learn about the state of affairs in the whole district. I could go to that flat at any hour of the night. In a tight spot at night-time, if I was overwhelmed by agents, I would find refuge at N.I. Nazarov’s, an Eiwas worker who lived on the Grazhdanka behind the Polytechnical institute. Often sleuths would pursue me relentlessly, trailing at my heels till late at night. Then like a hounded beast I would make for a safe refuge, Nikolai Ivanovich’s place. The way there lay through an orchard where my followers did not dare encroach.
Chernomazov and Co.’s Provocative Activity
A.M. Gorky gave me great assistance with my work. At his place I could glean news from the world of the rulers and also about the work and thoughts of the democratic intelligentsia, whom Aleksei Maksimovich was trying to draw into revolutionary anti-tsarist work, and I could sometimes hold meetings with these individuals. I came to know Ivan Pavlovich Ladyzhnikov through whom, to avoid the spies, Aleksei Maksimovich passed me information, documents and sometimes money. I often took shelter at I.P.’s flat. At Gorky’s I got to know the internationalist Sukhanov. Through meetings here I managed to bring back many workers and valuable party organizers who had dropped out of revolutionary work. I also received from him extremely valuable and extensive material on the pogroms and harassment of Jews during the war, which I succeeded in forwarding abroad in full. I was often at N.D. Sokolov’s. Although not in agreement with our position, he did render valuable services to my work. He gave me information about the legal world, and comrades would go straight to him over legal matters. Here I also had encounters with Chkheidze, Kerensky and others. Chkheidze spoke about his solidarity with Zimmerwald, protested against Larin’s machinations and declared that he had no common ground with the “Organization Committee”. His attitude towards the Gvozdevites and the War Industries Committees was that one should “use the legal opportunities”. He did not approve of the methods of Gvozdev and co.
Occasionally I would pop round for the night to see some of my countrymen at the home of Anatolii Nikolai Ryabinin, a Murom man, a geologist and Pravda-ist. The war had knocked him off his Pravda-ist rails, and his horizons were limited to the strategic perspectives of an allied victory over the Germans: a formerly good comrade had become a typical patriotic intellectual. And he was not alone. There were many who had left socialism for patriotism and worked in all types of organizations at the front and the rear.
During this period of illegal residence I came into contact with many extremely interesting Bolshevik workers. From some you could obtain reports on work in their city districts. I managed to send much of their literature abroad. One Eiwas worker, “Yurii” (Lutovinov), who lived at ex-deputy Shurkanov’s, gave me enormous help in the struggle against Miron Chernomazov and also sorted out contacts in the south. Comrade Yurii was delegate to the Central Committee Bureau for the south of Russia, chiefly the Donets Basin, where he started to organize and was several times arrested.
Miron Chernomazov and Starck, becoming aware of the firm measures I was taking to clean up the Petersburg organization, went over to the offensive. They called together their “Little” Petersburg Committee and carried a motion against the editorial board of Voprosy Strakhovaniya,
From start to finish this resolution was false and had been pushed through an incomplete meeting of the Petersburg Committee by the Mironites. It bore the imprint of the Chernornazovian “special insurance policy”, with which no one from the insurance group or the Pravda-ists were in agreement. All the “Bolshevik insurance activists” to which the resolution refers were young, inexperienced students who frequently changed, secretaries of hospital funds and Miron’s own henchmen. The latter were dreaming of bringing Voprosy Strakhovaniya under his complete control and entrenching himself there. However, he received a rebuttal, and the old editorial board’s resolution of 19 January in reply refuted all the Mironites’ “factual” points.
With the support of many comrades I called together the Executive Commission of the Petersburg Committee where the far from regular conduct of Starck and certain others was brought to light and they were subjected to censure. I pressed for Miron and Starck to be removed from the Petersburg Committee. Fresh arrests quickly followed which devastated the ranks of Petersburg Committee workers. “Sergei” (Bagdatiev) was arrested first, followed by “Vladimir” (Zalezhsky) and others. The work went to new people and relationships changed markedly for the better.
With the approach of spring the usual growth of revolutionary feeling could be felt. The tsarist government strove to solve the labour question by instituting councils of elders in accordance with the act of 1903. Our organizations were against this, and however much it was praised by the Gvozdevites, this government ruse did not succeed. The Petersburg Committee took advantage of this act for agitation and, in one or two places, to organize workers. The resolution on this question by workers at New Lessner is typical and reflects that attitude of the revolutionary masses to the government’s scheming. This resolution was apparently adopted not long before the strike at that works in March. I quote it from a copy in my possession:
This general meeting of workers at the New Lessner works, having discussed the management’s proposal to organize an institute of elders on the basis of the act of 1903, declares that this act was created by a base servant of tsarism, minister Plehve, exclusively to oppose the rising revolutionary movement of the working class in those years.
The author of this policemen’s act had the intention of forming a permanent cell among the workers through which it would be able to fish out the most active organizers.
The act had the aim of paralysing the revolutionary initiative of the masses and replacing it by a legal and amicable community with the enemies of the proletariat, capital and its accomplice, the government.
The working class has understood this with its sound instinct as the foul fraud of the policemen’s lawyers and throws out the deal offered with a firm protest.
So now it is that thirteen years later when the working class is again gathering its strength to settle accounts with a government that has ruined it, this same act has crawled out on to the stage.
The working class will not allow itself to be duped this time either.
While decisively rejecting the management’s proposal, we at the same time protest against the supposed friends of the workers who are trying to justify this campaign against the working class in the pages of the bourgeois press and from the tribune of the State Duma.
We demand trade unions and freedom for other class organizations of the proletariat, the restoration of the workers’ press and recognition of the works commissions elected on broad democratic principles.
The works commissions of which the resolution speaks existed semi-legally in many major enterprises and were composed of representatives from the sections and workshops. All matters relating to the internal regime of the shops were subject to the purview of these commissions. The function of representation fell to them in any conflict between workers and management.
February passed and I had been in Russia exactly four months. Work was growing harder each day. I could go out only at dusk, meeting representatives of the organization and comrades of the Bureau of the Central Committee under cover of night. I had by now spent many nights beneath the open sky, eluding agents in back gardens, orchards and other people’s back yards. Often I would only reach a resting-place by daybreak, by which time I was frozen stiff and tired out. All the comrades from the Bureau of the Central Committee and the Petersburg Committee workers were insisting on my speedy return abroad. I had collected a wealth of material and documents and set about organizing my departure. I found a transit passport through Beloostrov. For my departure I used the flat of M.G. Pavlova on Serdobolsky Street and I selected Lanskaya station to alight at and a train going just as far as Tenjoki. My things travelled with comrade M.I. Stetskevich, to be on the safe side. Having waited about three hours as Terijoki I bought a ticket for Helsinki where, having passed through a tight formation of gendarmes and agents, I arrived early in the morning.