The History of the Russian Revolution
Volume One: The Overthrow of Tzarism
Tzarist Russia in the War
Russia’s participation in the war was self-contradictory both in motives and in aims. That bloody struggle was waged essentially for world domination. In this sense it was beyond Russia’s scope. The war aims of Russia herself (the Turkish Straits, Galicia, Armenia) were provincial in character, and to be decided only incidentally according to the degree in which they answered the interests of the principal contestants.
At the same time Russia, as one of the great powers, could not help participating in the scramble of the advanced capitalist countries, just as in the preceding epoch she could not help introducing shops, factories, railroads, rapid-fire guns and airplanes. The not infrequent disputes among Russian historians of the newest school as to how far Russia was ripe for present-day imperialist policies often fall into mere scholasticism, because they look upon Russia in the international arena as isolated, as an independent factor, whereas she was but one link in a system.
India participated in the war both essentially and formally as a colony of England. The participation of China, though in a formal sense “voluntary,” was in reality the interference of a slave in the fight of his masters. The participation of Russia falls somewhere halfway between the participation of France and that of China. Russia paid in this way for her right to be an ally of advanced countries, to import capital and pay interest on it – that is, essentially, for her right to be a privileged colony of her allies – but at the same time for her right to oppress and rob Turkey, Persia, Galicia, and in general the countries weaker and more backward than herself. The twofold imperialism of the Russian bourgeoisie had basically the character of an agency for other mightier world powers.
The Chinese compradors are the classic type of the national bourgeoisie, a kind of mediating agency between foreign finance capital and the economy of their own country. In the world hierarchy of the powers, Russia occupied before the war a considerably higher position than China. What position she would have occupied after the war, if there had been no revolution, is a different question. But the Russian autocracy on the one hand, the Russian bourgeoisie on the other, contained features of compradorism, ever more and more clearly expressed. They lived and nourished themselves upon their connections with foreign imperialism, served it, and without their support could not have survived. To be sure, they did not survive in the long run even with its support. The semi-comprador Russian bourgeoisie had world-imperialistic interests in the same sense in which an agent working on percentages lives by the interests of his employer.
The instrument of war is the army. Inasmuch as every army is considered unconquerable in the national mythology, the ruling classes of Russia saw no reason for making an exception of the army of the tzar. In reality, however, this army was a serious force only against semi-barbaric peoples, small neighbours and disintegrating states; on the European arena it could act only as part of a coalition; in the matter of defence it could fulfil its task only be the help of the vastness of spaces, the sparsity of population, and the impassability of the roads. The virtuoso of this army of serfs had been Suvorov. The French revolution in breaking open the doors of the new society and the new military art, had pronounced a death-sentence on the Suvorov type of army. The semi-annulment of serfdom and the introduction of universal military service had modernised the army only as far as it had the country – that is, it introduced into the army all the contradictions proper to a nation which still has its bourgeois revolution to accomplish. It is true that the tzar’s army was constructed and armed upon Western models; but this was more form than essence. There was no correspondence between the cultural level of the peasant-soldier and modern military technique. In the commanding staff, the ignorance, light-mindedness and thievery of the ruling classes found their expression. Industry and transport continually revealed their bankruptcy before the concentrated demands of wartime. Although appropriately armed, as it seemed, on the first day of the war, the troops soon turned out to have neither weapons nor even shoes. in the Russo-Japanese war the tzarist army had shown what it was worth. In the epoch of counter-revolution the monarchy, with the aid of the Duma, had filled up the military stores and put many new patches on the army, especially upon its reputation for invincibility. In 1914 came a new and far heavier test.
In the matter of military supplies and finances, Russia at war suddenly finds herself in slavish dependence upon her allies. This is merely a military expression of her general dependence upon advanced capitalist countries. but help from the Allies does not save the situation. The lack of munitions, the small number of factories for their production, the sparseness of railroad lines for their transportation, soon translated the backwardness of Russia into the familiar language of defeat – which served to remind the Russian national liberals that their ancestors had not accomplished the bourgeois revolution and that the descendants, therefore, owed a debt to history.
The first days of war were the first days of disgrace. After a series of partial catastrophes, in the spring of 1915 came the general retreat. The generals took out their own criminal incapacity on the peaceful population. Enormous tracts of land were violently laid waste. Clouds of human locusts were driven to the rear with whips. The external rout was completed with an internal one.
In answer to alarmed questions from his colleagues as to the situation at the front, the War Minister Polivanov answered in these words: “I place my trust in the impenetrable spaces, impassable mud, and the mercy of Saint Nicholas Mirlikisky, Protector of Holy Russia” (Session of August 4, 1915). A week later General Ruszky confessed to the same ministers: “The present-day demands of military technique are beyond us. At any rate we can’t keep up with the Germans.” That was not the mood of a moment. Officer Stankevich reports the words of an engineer of the corps: “It is hopeless to fight with the Germans, for we are in no condition to do anything; even the new methods of fighting become the causes of our failure.” There is a cloud of such testimony. The one thing the Russian generals did with a flourish was to drag human meat out of the country. Beef and pork are handled with incomparably more economy. Grey staff non-entities, like Yanushkevich under Nikolai Nikolaievich, and Alexeiev under the tzar, would stop up all cracks with new mobilisations, and comfort themselves and the Allies with columns of figures when columns of fighters were wanted. About fifteen million men were mobilised, and they brimmed the depots, barracks, points of transit, crowded, stamped, stepped on each other’s feet, getting harsh and cursing. If these human masses were an imaginary magnitude for the front, for the rear they were a very real factor of destruction. About five and a half million were counted as killed, wounded and captured. The number of deserters kept growing. Already in July 1915 the ministers chanted: “Poor Russia! Even her army, which in past ages filled the world with the thunder of its victories … Even her army turns out to consist only of cowards and deserters.”
The ministers themselves, with a gallows joke at the “bravery in retreat” of their generals, wasted hours in those days discussing such problems as whether to remove or not to remove the bones of the saints from Kiev. The tsar submitted that it was not necessary, since “the Germans would not risk touching them, and if they did touch them, so much the worse for the Germans.” But the Synod had already started to remove them. “When we leave,” they said, “we will take with us what is most precious.” This happened not in the epoch of the Crusades, but in the twentieth century when the news of the Russian defeats came over the wireless.
The Russian successes against Austria-Hungary had their roots rather in Austria-Hungary than in Russia. The disintegrating Hapsburg monarchy had long ago hung out a sign for an undertaker, not demanding any high qualifications of him. In the past Russia had been successful against inwardly decomposing states like Turkey, Poland, Persia. The south-western front of the Russian army, facing Austria, celebrated immense victories which made it very different from the other fronts. Here there emerged a few generals, who to be sure demonstrated no military gifts, but were at least not thoroughly imbued with the fatalism of steadily-beaten commanders. From this milieu there arose subsequently several white “heroes” of the civil war.
Everybody was looking for someone upon whom to lay the blame. They accused the Jews wholesale of espionage. They set upon people with German names. The staff of the Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaievich gave orders to shoot a colonel of the gendarmes, Myasoyedov, as a German spy, which he obviously was not. They arrested Sukhomlinov, the War Minister, an empty and slovenly man, accusing him – possibly not without foundation – of treason. The British Minister of Foreign Affairs, Grey, said to the president of the Russian Parliamentary Delegation: Your government is very bold if it dares in time of war indict its War Minister for treason. The staff and the Duma accused the court of Germanophilism. All of them together envied the Allies and hated them. The French command spared its army by putting in Russian soldiers. England warmed up slowly. In the drawing-rooms of Petrograd and the headquarters at the front they gently joked: “England has sworn to fight to the last drop of blood … of the Russian soldier.” These jokes seeped down and reached the trenches. “Everything for the war!” said the ministers, deputies, generals, journalists. “Yes,” the soldier began to think in the trenches, “they are all ready to fight to the last drop … of my blood.”
The Russian army lost in the whole war more men than any army which ever participated in a national war – approximately two and a half million killed, or forty per cent of all the losses of the Entente. In the first months the soldiers fell under shell fire unthinkingly or thinking little; but from day to day they gathered experience – bitter experience of the lower ranks who are ignorantly commanded. They measured the confusion of the generals by the number of purposeless manoeuvres on soleless shoes, the number of dinners not eaten. From the bloody mash of people and things emerged a generalised word: “the mess,” which in the soldiers’ jargon was replaced by a still juicier term.
The swiftest of all to disintegrate was the peasant infantry. As a general rule, the artillery with its high percentage of industrial workers, is distinguished by an incomparably greater hospitality to revolutionary ideas: this was clearly evident in 1905. If in 1917, on the contrary, the artillery showed more conservatism than the infantry, the cause lies in the fact that through the infantry divisions, as through a sieve, there passed ever new and less and less trained human masses. The artillery, moreover, suffering infinitely fewer losses, retained its original cadres. The same thing was observed in other specialised troops. But in the long run the artillery yielded too. During the retreat from Galicia a secret order was issued by the commander-in-chief: flog the soldiers for desertion and other crimes. The soldier Pireiko relates: “They began to flog soldiers for the most trivial offences; for example, for a few hours’ absence without leave. And sometimes they flogged them in order to rouse their fighting spirit.” As early as September 17, 1915, Kuropatkin wrote, citing Guchkov: “The lower orders began the war with enthusiasm; but now they are weary, and with the continual retreats have lost faith in a victory.” At about the same time the Minister of the Interior spoke of the presence in Moscow of 30 000 convalescent soldiers: “That’s a wild crowd of libertines knowing no discipline, rough-housing, getting into fights with the police (not long ago a policeman was killed by the soldiers), rescuing arrested men, etc. Undoubtedly, in case of disorders this entire horde will take the side of the mob.” The same soldier, Pireiko, writes: “Everyone, to the last man, was interested in nothing but peace … Who should win and what kind of peace it would be, that was of small interest to the army. It wanted peace at any cost, for it was weary of war.”
An observant woman, Feodorchenko, serving as sister of mercy, listened to the conversations of the soldiers, almost to their thoughts, and cleverly wrote them down on scattered slips of paper. The little book thus produced The People at War, permits us to look in that laboratory where bombs, barbed-wire entanglements, suffocating gases, and the baseness of those in power, had been fashioning for long months the consciousness of several million Russian peasants, and where along with human bones age-old prejudices were cracking. In many of the self-made aphorisms of the soldiers appear already the slogans of the coming civil war.
General Ruszky complained in December 1916 that Riga was the misfortune of the northern front. This is a “nest of propaganda, and so is Dvinsk.” General Brussilov confirmed this: From the Riga district troops arrive demoralised; soldiers refuse to attack. They lifted one company commander on the points of their bayonets. It was necessary to shoot several men, etc., etc. “The ground for the final disintegration of the army was prepared long before the revolution,” concedes Rodzianko, who was in close association with the officers and visited the front.
The revolutionary elements, scattered at first, were drowned in the army almost without a trace, but with the growth of the general discontent they rose to the surface. The sending of striking workers to the front as a punishment increased the ranks of the agitators and the retreat gave them a favourable audience. “The army in the rear and especially at the front,” reports a secret service agent, “is full of elements of which some are capable of becoming active forces of insurrection, and others may merely refuse to engage in punitive activities.” The Gendarme Administration of the Petrograd province declares in October 1916, on the basis of a report made by a representative of the Land Union, that “the mood in the army is alarming, the relation between officers and soldiers is extremely tense, even bloody encounters are taking place. Deserters are to be met everywhere by the thousands. Everyone who comes near the army must carry away a complete and convincing impression of the utter moral disintegration of the troops.” Out of caution the report adds that although much in these communications seems hardly probable, nevertheless it must be believed, since many physicians returning from the active army have made reports to the same effect. The mood of the rear corresponded to that of the front. At a conference of the Kadet party in October 1916, a majority of the delegates remarked upon the apathy and lack of faith in the victorious outcome of the war “in all layers of the population, but especially in the villages and among the city poor.” On October 30, 1916, the director of the Police Department wrote, in a summary of his report, of “the weariness of war to be observed everywhere, and the longing for a swift peace, regardless of the conditions upon which it is concluded.” In a few months all these gentlemen – deputies, police, generals, and land representatives, physicians and former gendarmes – will nevertheless assert that the revolution killed patriotism in the army, and that the Bolsheviks snatched a sure victory out of their hands.
The place of coryphées, in the chorus of military patriotism, undoubtedly belonged to the Constitutional Democrats (Kadets). Having already in 1905 broken its dubious ties with the revolution, liberalism at the beginning of the counter-revolutionary period had raised the banner of imperialism. One thing flowed from another: once it proved impossible to purge the country of the feudal rubbish in order to assure to the bourgeoisie a dominant position, it remained to form a union with the monarchy and the nobility in order to assure to capital the best position in the world market. If it is true that the world catastrophe was prepared in various quarters, so that it arrived to a certain degree unexpectedly even to its most responsible organisers, it is equally indubitable that Russian liberalism, as the inspirer of the foreign policy of the monarchy, did not occupy the last place in its preparation. The war of 1914 was quite rightly greeted by the leaders of the Russian bourgeoisie as their war. In a solemn session of the State Duma on July 26, 1914, the president of the Kadet faction announced: “We will make no conditions or demands. We will simply throw in the scales our firm determination to conquer the enemy.” In Russia, too, national unity became the official doctrine. During a patriotic manifestation in Moscow the master of ceremonies, Count Benkendorff, cried to the diplomats: “Look! There is your revolution which they were prophesying in Berlin!” “A similar thought,” explained the French minister Paléologue, “was evidently in the minds of all.” People considered it their duty to nourish and propagate illusions in a situation which, it would seem, absolutely forbade illusions.
They did not wait long for sobering lessons. Very soon after the beginning of the war one of the more expansive Kadets, a lawyer and landlord, Rodichev, exclaimed at a session of the Central Committee of his party: “Do you really think we can conquer with those fools?” Events proved that it was not possible to conquer with fools. Liberalism, having more than half lost faith in the victory, tried to employ the momentum of the war in order to carry out a purgation of the camarilla and compel the monarchy to a compromise. The chief implement towards this end was to accuse the court party of Germanophilism and of preparing a separate peace.
In the spring of 1915, while the weaponless soldiers were retreating along the whole front, it was decided in governmental circles, not without pressure from the Allies, to recruit the initiative of private industry for work in behalf of the army. The Special Conference called for this end included, along with bureaucrats, the more influential industrialists, The Land and City unions which had arisen at the beginning of the war, and the Military-Industrial Committees created in the spring of 1915, became the points of support of the bourgeoisie in the struggle for victory and for power. The State Duma, backed by these organisations, was induced to intercede more confidently between the bourgeoisie and the monarchy.
These broad political perspectives did not, however distract attention from the important problems of the day. Out of the Special Conference as out of a central reservoir tens of hundreds of millions, mounting up to billions, flowed down through distributing canals, abundantly irrigating the industries and incidentally nourishing numberless appetites. In the State Duma and in the press a few of the war profits for 1914 and 1915 were published. The Moscow textile company of the Riabushinskys showed a net profit of 75 per cent; the Tver Company, 111 per cent; the copperworks of Kolchugin netted over 12 million on a basic capital of 10 million. In this sector patriotic virtue was rewarded generously, and moreover immediately.
Speculation of all kinds and gambling on the market went to the point of paroxysm. Enormous fortunes arose out of the bloody foam. The lack of bread and fuel in the capital did not prevent the court jeweller Faberget from boasting that he had never before done such a flourishing business. Lady-in-waiting Vyrubova says that in no other season were such gowns to be seen as in the winter of 1915-16, and never were so many diamonds purchased. The night clubs were brim full of heroes of the rear, legal deserters, and simply respectable people too old for the front but sufficiently young for the joy of life. The grand dukes were not among the last to enjoy this feast in times of plague. Nobody had any fear of spending too much. A continual shower of gold fell from above. “Society” held out its hands and pockets, aristocratic ladies spread their skirts high, everybody splashed about in the bloody mud – bankers, heads of the commissariat, industrialists, ballerinas of the tzar and the grand dukes, orthodox prelates, ladies-in-waiting, liberal deputies, generals of the front and rear, radical lawyers, illustrious mandarins of both sexes, innumerable nephews, and more particularly nieces. All came running to grab and gobble, in fear lest the blessed rain should stop. And all rejected with indignation the shameful idea of a premature peace.
Common gains, external defeats, and internal dangers, drew together the parties of the ruling classes. The Duma, divided on the eve of the war, achieved in 1915 its patriotic oppositional majority which received the name of “Progressive Bloc.” The official aim of this bloc was of course declared to be a “satisfaction of the needs created by the war.” On the left the social-democrats and Trudoviks did not enter the bloc; on the right the notorious Black Hundred groups. All the other factions of the Duma – the Kadets, the Progressives, three groups of Octobrists, the Centre and a part of the Nationalists, entered the bloc or adhered to it – as also the national groups: Poles, Lithuanians, Mussulmans, Jews, etc. In order not to frighten the tzar with the formula of a responsible ministry, the bloc demanded “a united government composed of men enjoying the confidence of the country.” The Minister of the Interior, Prince Sherbatov, at that time characterised the bloc as a temporary “union called forth by the danger of social revolution.” It required no great penetration to realise this. Miliukov, the leader of the Kadets, and thus also of the oppositional bloc, said at a conference of his party: “We are treading a volcano … The tension has reached its extreme limit … A carelessly dropped match will be enough to start a terrible conflagration … Whatever the government – whether good or bad – a strong government is needed now more than ever before.”
The hope that the tzar, under the burden of defeat, would grant concessions, was so great that in the liberal press there appeared in August the slate of a proposed “Cabinet of confidence” with the president of the Duma, Rodzianko, as premier (according to another version, the president of the Land Union, Prince Lvov, was indicated for that office), Guchkov as Minister of the Interior, Miliukov, Foreign Minister, etc. A majority of these men who here nominated themselves for a union with the tzar against the revolution, turned up a year later as members of the “Revolutionary Government.” History has permitted herself such antics more than once. This time the joke was at least a brief one.
A majority of the ministers of Goremykin’s cabinet were no less frightened than the Kadets by the course things were taking, and therefore inclined towards an agreement with the Progressive Bloc. “A government which has not behind it the confidence of the supreme ruler, nor the army, nor the cities, nor the zemstvos, nor the nobles, nor the merchants, nor the workers, not only cannot function, but cannot even exist – the thing is obviously absurd.” In these words, Prince Sherbatov in August 1915 appraised the government in which he himself was Minister of the Interior. “If you only arrange the scene properly and offer a loophole,” said the Foreign Minister Sazonov, “the Kadets will be the first to propose a compromise. Miliukov is the greatest possible bourgeois and fears a social revolution above everything. Besides, a majority of the Kadets are trembling for their own capital.” Miliukov on his side considered that the Progressive Bloc “would have to give in somewhat.” Both sides were ready to bargain, and everything seemed thoroughly oiled. But on August 29 the Premier, Goremykin, a bureaucrat weighed down with years and honours, an old cynic playing politics between two games of grand-patience and defending himself against all complaints by remarking that the war is “not my business,” journeyed out to the tzar at headquarters and returned with the information that all and everybody should remain in their places, except the rambunctious Duma, which was to be dissolved on the 3rd of September. The reading of the tzar’s order dissolving the Duma was heard without a single word of protest: the deputies gave a “hurrah” for the tzar, and dispersed.
How did the tzar’s government, supported according to its own confession by nobody at all, survive for over a year and a half after that? A temporary success of the Russian troops undoubtedly exerted its influence and this was reinforced by the good golden rain. The successes at the front soon ceased, to be sure, but the profits at the rear continued. However, the chief cause of the successful propping up of the monarchy for twelve months before its fall, was to be found in a sharp division in the popular discontent. The chief of the Moscow Secret Service Department reported a rightward tendency of the bourgeoisie under the influence of “a fear of possible revolutionary excesses after the war.” During the war, we note, a revolution was still considered impossible. The industrialists were alarmed, over and above that, by “a coquetting of certain leaders of the Military Industrial Committee with the proletariat.” The general conclusion of this colonel of gendarmes, Martynov – in whom a professional reading of Marxist literature had left some traces – announced as the cause of a certain improvement in the political situation “the steadily growing differentiation of social classes concealing a sharp contradiction in their interests, a contradiction felt especially keenly in the times we are living through.”
The dissolution of the Duma in September 1915 was a direct challenge to the bourgeosie, not to the workers. But while the liberals were dispersing with cries of “Hurrah!” – to be sure, not very enthusiastic cries – the workers of Petrograd and Moscow responded with strikes of protest. That cooled off the liberals still more. They feared worst of all the intrusion of an uninvited third party in their family discussion with the monarchy. But what further step was to be taken? Accompanied by a slight growl from the left wing, liberalism cast its vote for a well-tried recipe: to stand exclusively on legal grounds, and render the bureaucracy “as it were, unnecessary” in the course of a mere fulfilment of their patriotic functions. The ministerial slate at any rate would have to be laid aside for a time.
The situation in those days was getting worse automatically. In May 1916 the Duma was again convoked, but nobody knew exactly what for. The Duma, in any case, had no intention of summoning a revolution, and aside from that there was nothing for it to say. “At that session” – Rodzianko remembers – “the proceedings were languid; the deputies attended irregularly…The continual struggle seemed fruitless, the government would listen to nothing, irregularities were increasing, and the country was headed for ruin.” In the bourgeoisie’s fear of revolution and its impotence without revolution, the monarchy found, during the year 1916, a simulacrum of social support.
By autumn the situation was still worse. The hopelessness of the war had become evident to all. The indignation of the popular masses threatened any moment to flow over the brim. While attacking the court party as before for Germanophilism, the liberals now deemed it necessary to feel out the chances of peace themselves, preparing their own future. Only in this way can you explain the negotiations of one of the leaders of the Progressive Bloc, the deputy Protopopov, with the German diplomat, Warburg, in Stockholm in the autumn of 1916. The Duma delegation, making friendly visits to the French and English, could easily convince itself in Paris and London that the dear Allies intended in the course of the war to squeeze all the live juice out of Russia, in order after the victory to make this backward country their chief field of economic exploitation. A defeated Russia in tow to a victorious Entente would have meant a colonial Russia. The Russian possessing classes had no other course but to try to free themselves from the too close embrace of the Entente, and find an independent road to peace, making use of the antagonism of the two more powerful camps. The meeting of the Duma deputy with the German diplomat, as a first step on this road, was both a threat in the direction of the Allies with a view to gaining concessions, and a feeling out of the actual possibilities of rapprochement with Germany. Protopopov was acting in agreement not only with the tzarist diplomats – the meeting occurred in the presence of the Russian ambassador in Sweden – but also with the whole delegation of the State Duma. Incidentally the liberals by means of this reconnoitre were pursuing a not unimportant domestic goal. “Rely on us” – they were hinting to the tzar – “and we will make you a separate peace better and more reliable than Stürmer  can.” According to Protopopov’s scheme – that is, the scheme of his backers – the Russian government was to inform the Allies “several months in advance” that she would be compelled to end the war, and that if the Allies refused to institute peace negotiations, Russia would have to conclude a separate peace with Germany. In his confession written after the revolution, Protopopov speaks as of something which goes without saying of the fact that “all reasonable people in Russia, among them probably all the leaders of the party of ’the People’s Freedom’ (Kadets), were convinced that Russia was unable to continue the war.”
The tzar, to whom Protopopov upon his return reported his journey and negotiations, treated the idea of a separate peace with complete sympathy. He merely did not see the necessity of drawing the liberals into the business. The fact that Protopopov himself was included incidentally in the staff of the court camarilla, having broken with the Progressive bloc, is explained by the personal character of this fop, who had fallen in love, according to his own words, with the tzar and the tzarina – and at the same time, we may add, with an expected portfolio as Minister of the Interior. But this episode of Protopopov’s treason to liberalism does not alter the general content of the liberal foreign policy – a mixture of greed, cowardice and treachery.
The Duma again assembled on November 1. The tension in the country had become unbearable. Decisive steps were expected of the Duma. It was necessary to do something, or at the very least say something. The Progressive Bloc found itself compelled to resort to parliamentary exposures. Counting over from the tribune the chief steps taken by the government, Miliukov asked after each one: “Was this stupidity or treason?” High notes were sounded also by other deputies. The government was almost without defenders. It answered in the usual way: the speeches of the Duma orators were forbidden publication. The speeches therefore circulated by the million. There was not a government department, not only in the rear but at the front, where the forbidden speeches were not transcribed – frequently with additions corresponding to the temperament of the transcriber. The reverberation of the debate of November 1 was such that terror seized the very authors of the arraignment.
A group of extreme rightists, sturdy bureaucrats inspired by Durnovo, who had put down the revolution of 1905, took that moment to present to the tzar a proposed programme. The eye of these experienced officials, trained in a serious police school, saw not badly and pretty far, and if their prescription was no good, it is only because no medicine existed for the sickness of the old régime. The authors of the programme speak against any concessions whatever to the bourgeois opposition, not because the liberals want to go too far, as think the vulgar Black Hundreds – upon whom these official reactionaries look with some scorn – no, the trouble is that the liberals are “so weak, so disunited and, to speak frankly, so mediocre, that their triumph would be as brief as it would be unstable.” The weakness of the principal opposition party, the “Constitutional Democrats” (Kadets), is indicated, they point out, by its very name. It is called democratic, when it is in essence bourgeois. Although to a considerable degree a party of liberal landlords, it has signed a programme of compulsory land redemption. “Without these trumps from a deck not their own” – write these secret counsellors, using the images to which they are accustomed – “the Kadets are nothing more than a numerous association of liberal lawyers, professors and officials of various departments – nothing more.” A revolutionist, they point out, is a different thing. They accompany their recognition of the significance of the revolutionary parties with a grinding of teeth: “The danger and strength of these parties lies in the fact that they have an idea, they have money (!), they have a crowd ready and well organised.” The revolutionary parties “can count on the sympathy of an overwhelming majority of the peasantry, which will follow the proletariat the very moment the revolutionary leaders point a finger to other people’s land.” What would a responsible ministry yield in these circumstances? “A complete and final destruction of the right parties, a gradual swallowing of the intermediate parties – the Centre, the Liberal-Conservatives, the Octobrists and the Progressives of the Kadet party – which at the beginning would a decisive importance. But the same fate would menace the Kadets … and afterwards would come the revolutionary mob, the Commune, destruction of the dynasty, pogroms of the possessing classes, and finally the peasant-brigand.” It is impossible to deny that the police anger here rises to a certain kind of historic vision.
The positive part of their programme was not new, but consistent: a government of ruthless partisans of the autocracy; abolition of the Duma; martial law in both capitals; preparation of forces for putting down a rebellion. This programme did in its essentials become the basis of the government policy of the last pre-revolutionary months. But its success presupposed a power which Durnovo had had in this hands in the winter of 1905, but which by the autumn of 1917 no longer existed. The monarchy tried, therefore, to strangle the country stealthily and in sections. Ministers were shifted upon the principle of “our people” – meaning those unconditionally devoted to the tzar and tzarina. But these “our people” – especially the renegade Protopopov – were insignificant and pitiful. The Duma was not abolished, but again dissolved. The declaration of martial law in Petrograd was saved for a moment when the revolution had already triumphed. And the military forces prepared for putting down the rebellion were themselves seized by rebellion. All this became evident after two or three months.
Liberalism in those days was making its last efforts to save the situation. All the organisations of the enfranchised bourgeoisie supported the November speeches of the Duma opposition with a series of new declarations. The most impudent of these was the resolution of the Union of Cities on December 9: “Irresponsible criminals, fanatics, are preparing for Russia’s defeat, shame and slavery.” The State Duma was urged “not to disperse until the formation of a responsible government is attained.” Even the State Council, organ of the bureaucracy and of the vast properties, expressed itself in favour of calling to power people who enjoyed the confidence of the country. A similar intercession was made by a session of the united nobility: even the moss-covered stones cried out. But nothing was changed. The monarchy would not let the last shreds of power slip out of its hands.
The last session of the last Duma was convoked, after waverings and delays, on February 14, 1917. Only two weeks remained before the coming of revolution. Demonstrations were expected. In the Kadet organ Rech, alongside an announcement by the chief of the Petrograd Military District, General Khabalov, forbidding demonstrations, was printed a letter from Miliukov warning the workers against “dangerous and bad counsel” issuing from “dark sources.” In spite of strikes, the opening of the Duma was sufficiently peaceful. Pretending that the question of power no longer interested it, the Duma occupied itself with a critical, but still strictly business question: food supplies. The mood was languid, as Rodzianko subsequently remembered: “We felt the impotence of the Duma, weariness of a futile struggle.” Miliukov kept repeating that the Progressive Bloc “will act with words and with words only.” Such was the Duma that entered the whirlpool of the February revolution.
1. Prime Minister from January to November 1916. [Trans.]