The October Revolution in the American Press

49. Policing Russia

As we predicted, the war correspondents are now putting out feelers suggesting that, even if Germany withdraws from Russia, the allied forces will have to increase their forces there, in order to maintain “law and order.” It is even expressly stated that the withdrawal of the Teutons will be the signal for uprisings and unrest, which we must be ready to “police.”

Perhaps our armies should also “police” Belgium, because its people might want to arise and take the power when their oppressors are driven out. Strange that no one suggests it. Why is it only in Russia that the rule of the Teutons is considered a beneficent protection of the people against disorder?

Certainly Russia will revolt when the iron heel is withdrawn. Certainly her people will rise to power, even over the heads of those business men of hers who have incorporated in Germany in order to protect their property by international law from the demands of their workers. But why is it our job to handle this revolt—we who declare for self-determination of peoples?

- Seattle Union Record, 5 November 1918.

50. Greetings to Russian Comrades

Comrades of the Russian Soviet and the Bolshevik Republic: We salute and honor you on this first anniversary of your great revolutionary triumph, the greatest in point of historic significance and far-reaching influence in the annals of the race. You have set the star of hope for all the world in the eastern skies. You have suffered untold persecution, exile and misery and you have shed your blood freely all these years in the great struggle for emancipation, not only of your own oppressed people, but the oppressed of all the earth. On this historic anniversary we extend our proletarian hand to you from all directions and across the spaces and assure you of our loyalty and our love.

The chief glory of your revolutionary triumph is that you have preserved inviolate the fundamental principles of international Socialism and refused to compromise. It will be to your everlasting honor that you would rather have seen the Revolution perish and the Soviet with it than to prostitute either one by betraying the workers to alleged progressive reforms which would mean to them an extension of their servitude under a fresh aggregation of exploiters and parasites.

You, Russian Comrades of the Soviets and of the Bolsheviks you represent, are resolved that for once in history the working-class which fights the battles, sheds its blood and makes all other sacrifices to achieve a revolution, shall itself receive and enjoy the full fruitage of such a revolution; that it shall not allow itself to be used, as dumb driven cattle, to install some intermediate class into power and perpetuate its own slavery and degradation.

On this anniversary-day we pledge you, brave and unflinching comrades of the Soviet Republic, not only to protest against our government meddling with your affairs and interfering with your plans, but to summon to your aid all the progressive forces of our proletariat and render you freely all assistance in our power.

We pledge you, moreover, as we grasp your hands in comradely congratulations on this eventful day, to strive with all our energy to emulate your inspiring example by abolishing our imperialistic capitalism, driving our plutocratic exploiters and oppressors from power and establishing the working-class republic, the Commonwealth of Comrades.

- Eugene V. Debs, One Year of Revolution, a Socialist Party pamphlet, 7 November 1918.

51. The Bolshevik Birthday

One year ago, today a giant was bom. On 7 November 1917, the Soviet Republic was established in Russia.

Solomon said: “There is nothing new under the sun.” Solomon did not live to see an industrial democracy. The Soviet government is something really new under the sun. For the first time in the history of this poor old world the working people took the reins in their hands. The new Russian government is the first real democracy.

Around the giant’s cradle storms beat and tempests howled. Kerensky’s government had left everything in confusion. More than that, generations of Tsarism has impoverished and ruined Russia. Bolsheviki quickly got things into running order. The Kaiser thought he saw an opportunity to snatch a slice of Russian territory from the weak young government and crush the rising tide of Bolshevism. But the young government was not so weak as he thought. He has been obliged to withdraw his troops from Russia. The allied governments also sent troops to “help” Russia. They imagined that the Russians would seize the opportunity to throw off the hated Bolsheviki rule and flock to their standard. The Russians did not flock. Evidently they did not hate the Bolsheviki.

No, the Russian people love the Soviets. They are the Soviets. Here is a government of the people, by the people, for the people in actual fact. Here is a political and industrial democracy. How long the Soviet republic can survive against the opposition of a capitalist world nobody can guess. But the fact remains that it has lived one year in spite of the hatred of every other government in the world. That it has survived in fact in the face of all attacks proved it has satisfied its own people. It has fitted their immediate needs. It has maintained their interests, and they are with it.

Whatever may happen later on, an industrial democracy, under the most adverse circumstances, has survived for one whole year. That mighty fact alone is enough to terrify all the autocrats. That is the reason why 7 November is a great day in the list of our unhappy planet.

- Victor Berger, Milwaukee Leader, 7 November 1918.

52. Many Cheer Anniversary of Revolution

7 November 1918, the first anniversary of the Bolshevik triumph, was celebrated at a series of meetings, and in editorials and articles. These celebrations were heightened by startling events in Europe. Mass peace demonstrations swept Germany. German sailors mutinied at Kiel, killed their officers and hoisted the Red Flag. On 9 November, the Kaiser abdicated and the Social-Democrats took over the government. On 11 November, the armistice was signed, and fighting ceased. The First World War was over.

Thousands of clamoring New Yorkers were turned away from the doors at the chain of great mass meetings held in Manhattan, Bronx and Brooklyn to celebrate the first anniversary of the Russian Soviet republic.

To cheering crowds in Hunts Point Palace, Bronx; New Star Casino, Harlem; Brooklyn Labor Lyceum, Williamsburg, and Brownsville Labor Lyceum, Albert Rhys Williams, John Reed, Scott Nearing, Max Eastman, Santeri Nuorteva and others recounted the achievements of the Bolsheviki and urged the American workers to redouble their efforts for industrial freedom.

From the New Star Casino audience the following message was adopted to be forwarded by cable to the Russian government: “We, working men and women of New York City, in mass meetings assembled, send hearty greetings to the Russian Soviet republic. We congratulate our Russian Comrades on their wonderful achievements, and pledge our hearts and lives to follow their noble example and establish in our own country a free working-class.”

All the speakers affirmed that the revolution in Germany, of which the news had just reached the city, was directly the outcome of the pioneer working-class revolution of the Bolsheviki. Scott Nearing roused his hearers to the highest enthusiasm of evening when, after picturing the control which the industrial masters of America are to gain during the next few years under the domination of the Republican party, he said: “When the American working-class comes face to face with that condition, it will send to the citizens of the Russian republic the only message they care to hear from us, and that is that we have made the same answer to our tories that they have made to the tories of Russia.

“President Wilson has gone as far as he can with his program because of a system that is absolutely opposed to a working-class control. He will now be brushed aside. That is what the Republican victory means. It means a Republican president in 1920. It means that Weeks, Penrose, Lodge, Roosevelt and their kind will be in control. Lodge will be chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, possibly before the peace treaty is ready to be signed, and his committee will have power to accept or reject it. The Republican party will control the policy of reconstruction.

“That is exactly as it should be. The political structure of a nation should reflect its industrial organization. Under the domination of a set of despots, bourbons and tories, such as no other country possessed, our political structure will exactly reflect our industrial structure. We’ll have no more camouflage."

Nuorteva at the close of a brilliant speech outlining the influence of the revolutionary Russian Soviet government on the working-class of Bulgaria, Austria and Germany, said: “In that sign the world will be won. In that sign only will the world receive real peace and happiness.”

Nuorteva, referring to the widespread talk as to the foreign flags that would make their way to Berlin, said:

“The first flag of the real enemies of German imperialism to reach Berlin was the flag of the Russian Soviet government. Around that flag, flying at the Russian embassy, the forces of German revolutionists flocked. To that flag Karl Liebknecht came when he was let out of prison. There the plans were laid that led to what we are reading of today.”

John Reed, complaining that he had been attacked by a bourgeois neutral disease, the Spanish influenza, thrilled the crowds with reports of the first days of the triumph of the Bolsheviki and branded as lies the reports of massacres and disorders in Russia.

Ella Reeve Bloor was chairman of the New Star Casino meeting, and told of being in Budapest during a great working-class demonstration some years ago. Hearing hoarse cries, she asked the meaning and was told it was the workers demanding the votes. She said her informant could not believe her when she said that the American working-class had the vote, but used it to elect their economic masters to power.

Williams did not arrive at the Casino till nearly midnight.

Other speakers to address the audiences in the various halls were Louis C. Fraina, Benjamin Gitlow, N. I. Hourwich, Sen. Katayama, Ludwig Lore, A. Philip Randolph, A. I. Shiplacoff, Joseph A. Whitehorn and Gregory Weinstein.

- New York Call, 8 November 1918.

53. One Year of Red Russia

One year ago 7 November the Bolsheviki came into power in Russia. They gained their power by the votes of the people (not all the people, but according to competent observers, 90 per cent of the people voting through the Soviets). They have retained their power for a year in spite of minor armed revolts, in spite of German invasion, in spite of allied invasion.

They have given the people a government which has proved successful enough to make the workers vote for them again and again. For in Russia political representation is not something which happens once a year, or once in four years. The delegates to the governing body are constantly subject to recall, as informally as a union meeting often can recall its delegates to the Central Labor Council. And no news has yet come which points to the lessening of Bolshevik popularity among the workers.

On the contrary, after the allied forces had been in military possession of Vladivostok for a month, a municipal election in that city showed a big majority for the Bolsheviki over the moderate Socialists and the Cadets combined. In the face of a "government” in Archangel, approved by the allied forces, containing only one Socialist, the population gave a big majority to the Socialists.

The Bolsheviki have given Russia a government attractive enough to excite the desires of the workers in all the countries nearest to them. We see little nations of Austria breaking into a flame of Bolshevism which, in spite of our ignorant newspapers, is not anarchism, but a very rigid Marxian Socialism. We see even China called to account by the allies because she refused to put down governors “sympathetic to the Bolsheviki.”

The Bolsheviki have given Russia a government so stable that competent observers of all kinds say it never can be overthrown, except by foreign occupation and force of arms, a government so orderly that, even in the midst of a revolution, Professor Albert Ross traveled 20,000 miles in Russia and “never saw a blow struck,” but, “instead of agitation and tumult, found habit still the lord of life.”

The Bolsheviki have been accused of every crime under the sun. They have been accused primarily of selling out their people to the Germans. And yet report after report comes from Russia to the effect that it was the Tsar’s regime which betrayed 7,000,000 Russians to death in pre-arranged slaughter; that even now it is the business group, the capitalists of Russia, who hope and plot for a German invasion to introduce "law and order” with an iron hand; that peace was inevitable when the allies would give the starving Russians no help, although the Bolsheviki offered their strength to fight, if the allies would supply help and munitions.

The Soviet government of Russia, lied about and opposed, set out, even without help, to overthrow the autocracy of the central empires by the only weapon left them—propaganda. And how successful they have been in this the many revolutions in Austria, following one year after Lenin became premier, are the best evidence.

- Seattle Union Record, 12 November 1918.

54. The First and Second Revolutions

The important thing to remember about Russia is that there have been two revolutions there since March 1917, and that these two revolutions are absolutely different in character, and are fighting for control.

The first revolution was a revolution against the Tsar. The Tsar and his blood stained government was overthrown. A new government was established—a republican government, a bourgeois republic, in which the capitalists and the employers of labor governed instead of the nobility.

The government was changed but that was all. The peasants didn't get control over the land. The workers didn’t get control didn’t get control over the factories. It was simply a political revolution, not an economic revolution; rights of the Tsars and the nobles had been destroyed, and in their place was established the rights of the capitalists. The workers had no industrial rights; they were still wage-slaves, still an oppressed class.

Then started a new revolution—an economic revolution against the capitalists and the employers of labor. The workers and the peasants had organized into Soviets, Councils of Workers and Peasants, in which no capitalist or owner of property could be a member. These Soviets decided on 7 November 1917, that they would become the government of workers and peasants; and that the capitalists, the owners of industry, should have absolutely no share in the government. All men and women should become useful workers; if any person was not a useful worker, he was a parasite, and as such should have no share in the government. The capitalist republic became a republic of the workers.

The capitalist republic, such as Russia under Kerensky, gives the people political democracy—that is, you have a right to vote in politics; but you have no right to vote in the shops where you work, you have no industrial democracy... Political fraud...

The Soviet government is the real democracy. The peasants get together in the villages, the workers in their factories, and elect delegates to the local Soviet. Every three months these local Soviets elect delegates to the All-Russian Congress of Soviets, which meets in Moscow. It elects the members of the Council of People’s Commissars, the executive organ of the government, and a Central Committee which sits permanently in Moscow during the period elapsing between sessions of the All-Russian Congress. Lenin and Trotsky and others, including the Central Commission, make a report; if their work has been satisfactory, they are reelected, if not, they are thrown out and new persons elected in thier place.

Is this despotism? It is the real democracy, it is the workers themselves making the government. By means of such a government the workers are able to realize freedom, industrial democracy and the control of their own lives in their own way...The soviet government is the government of workers; everything that is done is done in the interests of the workers. It is a worker's republic, not a republic of landlords and capitalists and the sweaters of labor. And that is the kind of society that must be established in every nation, by means of Socialism—the world for the workers.

- John Reed, Revolutionary Age, 18 November 1918.

55. November Seventh, 1918

In the following address celebrating the first anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution, Max Eastman, editor of The Liberator, denounced the so-called 'Sisson documents', claiming to prove that Lenin and other Soviet leaders were in the pay of the German high command and that the Bolsheviks were in fact German agents. The documents consisted of supposed letters from the German general staff, correspondence between Bolshevik leaders, orders on banks and reports of telephone conversations, all said to reveal a direct connection between the Germans and the Bolsheviks. They had been originally offered for sale by White Russians to the British Secret Service, but had been rejected as crude forgeries. They were purchased for $29,000 in Petrograd by Edgar Sisson: a State Department official and President Wilson’s special representative in Russia, who brought them to Washington. The State Department would not accept the documents as proof of the allegation that the Bolsheviks were German agents, but President Wilson personally authorized an official publication of the documents. They were distributed by George Creel, chairman of the Committee of Public Information, a U.S. government agency, who claimed that they were genuine.

The documents were immediately denounced as fraudulent not only by Socialists like Santeri Nuorteva, John Reed and Max Eastman, but also by liberal newspapers and magazines such as the New York Evening Post and The Nation. The Post observed: “The plain fact is that some of the most important charges and documents brought forward by Mr. Sisson were published in Paris months ago and have, on the whole, been discredited." (17 September 1918.)

Comrades and friends, this meeting is called to celebrate of the greatest events in all the history of mankind. It is anniversary of the achievement of social revolution in the Empire of Russia, and it is the date of the dawn of social revolution in the Empire of Germany. Today the German fleet is in the hands of the revolutionary working-class, and the red flag flies at Kiel. Tomorrow the army. Then Berlin and the old empire! And we are not only met to celebrate the establishment of the Socialist republics, but we are met to demand that the capitalist republic of the United States keep its hands off these republics. The war is over now, and there is no excuse left. We want our soliders who are invading the territory of the Russian Soviets under the command of a Japanese general, in order to make the world safe for English, French, American and Japanese capital, called off.

And we want our army of libellers and scandalmongers, who are vilifying the name of the Russian Soviets throughout the width of the world, under the command of an unreliable yellow journalist, George Creel, called off.

George Creel boasts that he has the full backing of the United States Government in sending out documents purporting to prove that the leaders of the Russian Soviets are pro-German agents and traitors to democracy. But what is there in the behavior of the United States Government since this war began to show that it knows how to estimate the character and motives of revolutionary Socialists?

George Creel had also the full backing of the United States Government in sending out documents purporting to prove that the leaders of the Socialist party and the IWW in this country were pro-German agents and traitors to democracy. I read one of these documents, and I know that it was the deliberate lie of the man who wrote it. What reason is there for Socialists to believe better of the Sisson documents? They prove that the United States Government has the same opinion of Lenin and Trotsky that it has of Eugene V. Debs and Bill Haywood, and that is all they prove, and the opinion rests upon the same basis of fact, namely, that these men were loyal in the utmost extremity to the interests of the international working-class.

When the Sisson documents fell rather flat, a more plausible scheme was devised for discrediting the government of Russia. A bloody and indiscriminate “Reign of Terror” was devised, and Lenin and Trotsky were denounced throughout the nations of the world as outlaws and wholesale murderers. This scheme is more plausible because it rests upon a certain basis of fact. It is no doubt true that a number of people have been officially put to death for conspiracy to overthrow the Soviet Government and assassinate its leaders. A report through Amsterdam, giving the official organ of the Bolshevik Government as its authority, says that the exact number since August is 68.

It is also no doubt true that a number of people have been unofficially put to death by mobs of the Russian people for the same crime, although we are assured by the British envoy, Lockhart, that Lenin is using every effort to bring such things to an end.

Sometimes when I read the New York papers I am almost convinced that they may be taking as many lives over there in this way as one in every four days. And one in every four days is the number of people that are lynched, burned, tortured or strangled to death by mobs in the United States as a regular routine part of our civilization in times of peace.

Whatever reign of terror exists in Russia today, and whatever extreme measures may have been taken by the Russian Government to protect itself against conspiracies, are the direct inevitable result of the invasion of Russia by foreign armies—an invasion whose commonly expressed purpose is to stir up among the Russian classes conspiracies to overthrow that Government.

I want you to imagine what would happen in this country if an imperial Kaiserdom was invading our territory from the south, and five imperial republics were sending expeditionary forces down through Canada, all of them opposed to our form of government, all with the open purpose of overthrowing it, and if at the same time thousands of seditious Americans were plotting to assassinate the President and dynamite the Houses of Congress. Would not Woodrow Wilson declare martial law all over this land in a hurry, and would not its execution be more prompt than discriminate? And martial law is the respectable name for a reign of terror.

If they give Eugene Debs ten years in the penitentiary for intellectually disagreeing with the policies of President Wilson on a public platform, what would they give Theodore Roosevelt if they caught him in a back cellar in Washington with a bomb in his pocket for the assassination of the President, and a knife to stick in the bowels of the Postmaster General? That is exactly the situation in Russia. I venture to say that considering the comparative seriousness of the crimes being committed, there is a more unscrupulous reign of terror in this country at this moment than there is in Russia.

Withdraw the invading armies and leave the Russian people free to develop their own destiny as they must, and not one-millionth part of the blood will be shed by them in the cause of liberty that these armies are shedding now in the cause of capitalism.

I understand that they maintain in the District Attorney’s office and the courts that it is unlawful to denounce the invasion of Russia by Woodrow Wilson. I maintain that it is unlawful for Woodrow Wilson to invade Russia. Just before I came here I was regaling myself with that delightful old romance, the Constitution of the United States. And I notice that the constitution locates the power to declare war in the representatives of the people. And it nowhere delegates to the executive branch of the Government the right to ship citizens out of the country, and half way round the earth, to wage war on a foreign power without a declaration of war by the representatives of the people. I am told by a distinguished lawyer in this community that President Wilson is waging his own private and personal war on the Government of Russia, in direct violation of the spirit, and even of the letter, of the United States Constitution.

There is one thing that this war has done in this country—it has killed the Constitution. It has deeply destroyed the force and honor of its provisions which guaranteed liberty and the rights of man. And what are we going to do about this? Are we going to try to pump new life and new blood and meaning of liberty into that old document? We are going to leave it lying among the honorable dead, and go forward to the day of power when we will establish a new constitution with new life and a new meaning of liberty. And the essential principle of that constitution, as of the constitution of Russia, will be this, that no man or woman is a citizen entitled to vote, who does not live upon the income of his own labor.

A hundred years ago throughout the countries that were called democratic there was a property qualification for the franchise. Only those men could vote who lived, in part at least, upon the profits of capital. With the growth of the conditions of democracy that system was broken down, and by the end of the last century almost all men, and even women, were entitled to vote, both those who lived upon the wages of labor and those who lived upon the profits of capital. And now the next step— the twentieth century—there has been established in Russia a labor qualification for the franchise, and only those men and women are entitled to vote who do not live upon the profits of capital, but live by the actual service of their hands and brains, In that change of sovereignty is expressed and ensured the death of all caste and privilege and the birth of industrial democracy—the greatest revolution and creative political act in the history of mankind...

- The Liberator, December 1918.

56. The Sisson Documents

Although George Creel accused the New York Evening Post of having given “aid and comfort to the enemies of the United States” for daring to question the authenticity of the Sisson documents (New York Evening Post, 12 October 1918), he was forced to agree to have them examined by impartial scholars. Creel asked the National Board for Historical Research to appoint a committee of experts to investigate the documents. When it was revealed that Professor Samuel Harper of the University of Chicago was one of the committee of three selected (the other two were J. Franklin Jameson and Archibold Cary Coolidge) there was considerable doubt expressed that a neutral investigation would take place. Harper was widely known as a supporter of the Administration’s interventionist Russian policy. When Harper and Jameson, after only a week’s study of the documents (Coolidge took no part in the investigation) reported that most of them were clearly genuine and that there was nothing in the others “that positively excludes the notion of their being genuine," there was an outcry that the report had been written to order in response to Administration pressure.

The report on the authenticity of the so-called Sisson documents, signed by Dr. J. Franklin Jameson and Professor Samuel N. Harper, and scattered broadcast by the committee on public information through the press and in a pamphlet edition of documents themselves, not only calls for stem rebuke from every American historical scholar who values the good name of his profession, but fairly justify a congressional investigation of conduct of Mr. Creel and his committee in the whole affairs. Mr Creel refused to submit his documents to Dr. Jameson and Professor Harper, or even rejected their report after it was prepared, he would have been blameless and would have scored a point for his committee; but, having accepted the report and included it in his official edition of the documents, he must share the odium which the transaction casts upon the good name of the government and the integrity of American historical scholarship.

Mr. Creel’s first step was altogether creditable. Having in mind the attacks which have been made, particularly by the New York Evening Post, upon the creditability of the Sisson documents, he requested the national board of historical service, a self-constituted body of historical students formed early in the war to assist the government in such ways as might offer, to appoint a committee to pass upon the authenticity of the papers. The board appointed as such committee Dr. Jameson and Professor Harper. Dr. Jameson is a historical scholar of international reputation, director of the department of historical research in the Carnegie Institution at Washington, and editor of the American Historical Review. A higher authority in the treatment of historical documents could hardly have been chosen, and there was every reason to anticipate a judicial decision in any report to which he affixed his name.

The selection of Professor Harper, on the other hand, was amazing. Professor Harper, is, indeed professor of the Russian language and institutions in the University of Chicago, and presumably is able to read the Sisson documents in the original and to pass upon the accuracy of the English translations. A more unfit person in other respects, however, could hardly have been found in academic circles. Professor Harper is an open opponent of the Bolshevik government. He is on record in print as accepting the authenticity of the Sisson documents. He is, or was, a member of the Russian information bureau at New York, a propagandist agency established and maintained by Mr. Bakhmetev, the so-called Russian ambassador; and a member also of the American-Russian League, an organization believed to be very friendly to Mr. Bakhmetev and to intervention in Russia. Had a paid attorney for the anti-Soviet forces in this country been employed to pass judgment upon the authenticity of the documents purporting to show a corrupt connection between Lenin and Trotsky and the German government, the choice could not have been worse.

The report is such as the followers of Mr. Bakhmetev and the enemies of Soviet Russia might have desired. Mr. Creel submitted the documents to the committee. Mr. Sisson “detailed...with all apparent candor” his connection with them, and “several officials” at Washington kindly contributed "other pertinent and valuable information.” If any one outside of official and prejudiced circles was invited to testify, the fact does not appear from the report. On the basis of this sham investigation the committee “have no hesitation in declaring that we see no reason to doubt the genuineness or authenticity” of the first 53 documents; that two others are perhaps derived, at one or two removes, from actual documents, and that of the remainder, while their genuineness cannot be positively affirmed, there is “little in any of them that makes it doubtful.” Of the many criticisms of the documents, only those of the Evening Post, and a part only of them, are dealt with, and “most of them fall away,” we are told, when it is remembered that the more important documents are written in Russian (not an entirely unknown language, it may be observed), and when the difference between the old style and new style Russian calendar is regarded. A number of the strongest substantive criticisms voiced in the editorial columns of the Evening Post and in letters of various correspondents are passed over altogether; no attempt is made to meet the weighty objections brought against the credibility of some of the documents by the Petit Parisien and the New Europe months ago, and more recently by the New York Call; the source of the documents, if it was ever traced by the committee beyond Mr. Sisson’s story, is not revealed, and the statements of the alleged fact in the documents themselves are passed over with only one or two unimportant allusions.

If two German historians had made a report of this flimsy and superficial sort on a highly controversial matter in which the reputation of the German government for truthfulness and fair dealing was involved, would Dr. Jameson and Professor Harper have accepted it as a scholarly performance? Must the reputation of American scholars go by the board as a part of the wreckage of war?

- The Nation, 23 November 1918.