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The young Stalin forges his arms

At the beginning of this century, the Tsarist régime was the most reactionary and the most oppressive of Europe. It was a feudal power, medieval, absolute, ruling over an essentially illiterate peasant population. The Russian peasantry lived in total ignorance and misery, in a chronic state of hunger. Periodically great famines occurred, resulting in hunger revolts.

Between 1800 and 1854, the country had thirty-five years of famine. Between 1891 and 1910, there were thirteen years of bad harvests and three years of famine.

The peasant worked small plots of land which, redistributed at regular intervals, became smaller and smaller. Often, they were little strips of land separated by great distances. A third of the households did not have a horse or an ox to work the soil. The harvest was done with a scythe. Compared to France or to Belgium, the majority of peasants lived in 1900 as in the fourteenth century.


Sidney and Beatrice Webb,   Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation? second edition (London: Victor Gollancz, 1937), p. 236.

During the first five years of this century, there were several hundred peasant revolts in the European part of Russia. Castles and buildings were burnt and landlords were killed. These struggles were always local and the police and the army crushed them mercilessly. In 1902, near-insurrectionary struggles occurred in Kharkov and Poltava. One hundred and eighty villages participated in the movement and eighty feudal domains were attacked. Commenting on the Saratov and Balashov peasant revolts, the military commander of the region noted:

`With astonishing violence, the peasants burned and destroyed everything; not one brick remained. Everything was pillaged --- the wheat, the stores, the furniture, the house utensils, the cattle, the metal from the roofs --- in other words, everything that could be taken away was; and what remained was set aflame.'


Ibid. , p. 531.

This miserable and ignorant peasantry was thrown into the First World War, during which the Tsar, still revered as a virtual God by the majority of peasants, intended to conquer new territories, particularly towards the Mediterranean. In Russia, the First World War killed about 2,500,000 people, particularly among the peasants conscripted to the army. The standard level of misery was compounded by the war's destruction and the countless dead.

But in this feudal Russia, new productive forces developed at the end of the nineteenth century. These included large factories, railroads and banks, owned for the most part by foreign capital. Fiercely exploited, highly concentrated, the industrial working class, under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party, became the leading force in the anti-Tsarist struggle.

At the beginning of 1917, the main demand of all revolutionary forces was the end of this criminal war. The Bolsheviks called for immediate peace and the distribution of land. The old reactionary Tsarist system, completely undermined, collapsed suddenly in February 1917; the parties that wished to install a more modern bourgeois régime seized the reins of power. Their leaders were more closely linked to the English and French bourgeoisies that dominated the anti-German alliance.

As soon as the bourgeois government was installed, the representatives of the `socialist' parties entered it, one after the other. On February 27, 1917, Kerensky  was the only `socialist' among the eleven ministers of the old régime.


Alexander Kerensky,  Russia and History's Turning Point (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1965), p. 220.

On April 29, the Socialist Revolutionaries, the Mensheviks, the Popular Socialists and the Trudoviks voted to enter the government.


Ibid. , p. 248.

The four parties more or less followed the European social-democratic movement. On May 5, Kerensky  became Minister of War and of the Marine. In his memoirs, he summarized the program of his `socialist' friends:

`No army in the world can afford to start questioning the aim for which it is fighting .... To restore their fighting capacity we had to overcome their animal fear and answer their doubts with the clear and simple truth: You must make the sacrifice to save the country.'


Ibid. , p. 277.

Sure enough, the `socialists' sent peasants and workers to be butchered, to be sacrificed for capital. Once again, hundreds of thousands were bayoneted.

In this context, the Bolsheviks touched the most profound needs of the working and peasant masses by organizing the insurrection of October 25 with the slogans `land to the peasants', `immediate peace' and `nationalization of banks and large industry'. The great October Revolution, the first socialist revolution, was victorious.

next up previous contents index
Next: Stalin's activities in Up: Another view of Stalin Previous: In Communist Parties

Fri Aug 25 09:03:42 PDT 1995