C H A P T E R T H R E E
THE MENSHEVIKS AND THE BOLSHEVIKS IN
THE PERIOD OF THE RUSSO-JAPANESE WAR
AND THE FIRST RUSSIAN REVOLUTION
|RUSSO-JAPANESE WAR. FURTHER RISE OF THE
ARY MOVEMENT IN RUSSIA. STRIKES IN ST. PETERSBURG.
WORKERS' DEMONSTRATION BEFORE THE WINTER PALACE ON
JANUARY 9, 1905. DEMONSTRATION FIRED UPON. OUTBREAK
OF THE REVOLUTION
At the end of the nineteenth century the imperialist states began an
intense struggle for mastery of the Pacific and for the partition of China.
Tsarist Russia, too, took part in this struggle. In 1900, tsarist troops
together with Japanese, German, British and French troops suppressed with
unparalleled cruelty an uprising of the Chinese people directed against the
foreign imperialists. Even before this the tsarist government had compelled
China to surrender to Russia the Liaotung Peninsula with the fortress of
Port Arthur. Russia secured the right to build railways on Chinese
territory. A railway was built in Northern Manchuria -- the Chinese-Eastern
Railway -- and Russian troops were stationed there to protect it. Northern
Manchuria fell under the military occupation of tsarist Russia. Tsardom was
advancing towards Korea. The Russian bourgeoisie was making plans for
founding a "Yellow Russia" in Manchuria.
Its annexations in the Far East brought tsardom into conflict with
another marauder, Japan, which had rapidly become an imperialist country and
was also bent on annexing territories on the Asiatic continent, in the first
place at the expense of China. Like tsarist Russia, Japan was striving to
lay her hands on Korea and Manchuria. Already at that time Japan dreamed of
seizing Sakhalin and the Russian Far East. Great Britain, who feared the
growing strength of tsarist Russia in the Far East, secretly sided with
Japan. War between Russia and Japan was brewing. The tsarist government was
pushed to this war by the big bourgeoisie, which was seeking new markets,
and by the more reactionary sections of the landlord class.
Without waiting for the tsarist government to declare war, Japan
started hostilities herself. She had a good espionage service in Russia and
anticipated that her foe would be unprepared for the struggle. In January
1904, without declaring war, Japan suddenly attacked the Russian fortress of
Port Arthur and inflicted heavy losses on the Russian fleet lying in the
That is how the Russo-Japanese War began.
The tsarist government reckoned that the war would help to strengthen
its political position and to check the revolution. But it miscalculated.
The tsarist regime was shaken more than ever by the war.
Poorly armed and trained, and commanded by incompetent and corrupt
generals, the Russian army suffered defeat after defeat.
Capitalists, government officials and generals grew rich on the war.
Peculation was rampant. The troops were poorly supplied. When the army was
short of ammunition, it would receive, as if in derision, carloads of icons.
The soldiers said bitterly: "The Japanese are giving it to us with shells;
we're to give it to them with icons." Special trains, instead of being used
to evacuate the wounded, were loaded with property looted by the tsarist
The Japanese besieged and subsequently captured Port Arthur. After
inflicting a number of defeats on the tsarist army, they finally routed it
near Mukden. In this battle the tsarist army of 300,000 men lost about
120,000 men, killed, wounded or taken prisoner. This was followed by the
utter defeat and destruction in the Straits of Tsushima of the tsarist fleet
dispatched from the Baltic to relieve Port Arthur. The defeat at Tsushima
was disastrous: of the twenty warships dispatched by the tsar, thirteen were
sunk or destroyed and four captured. Tsarist Russia had definitely lost the
The tsarist government was compelled to conclude an ignominious peace
with Japan. Japan seized Korea and deprived Russia of Port Arthur and of
half the Island of Sakhalin.
The people had not wanted the war and realized how harmful it would
be for the country. They paid heavily for the backwardness of tsarist
The Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks adopted different attitudes towards
The Mensheviks, including Trotsky, were sinking to a position of
defending the "fatherland" of the tsar, the landlords and the capitalists.
The Bolsheviks, headed by Lenin, on the other hand, held that the
defeat of the tsarist government in this predatory war would be useful, as
it would weaken tsardom and strengthen the revolution.
The defeats of the tsarist armies opened the eyes of the masses to
the rottenness of tsardom. Their hatred for the tsarist regime grew daily
more intense. The fall of Port Arthur meant the beginning of the fall of the
autocracy, Lenin wrote.
The tsar wanted to use the war to stifle the revolution. He achieved
the very opposite. The Russo-Japanese War hastened the outbreak of the
In tsarist Russia the capitalist yoke was aggravated by the yoke of
tsardom. The workers not only suffered from capitalist exploitation, from
inhuman toil, but, in common with the whole people, suffered from a lack of
all rights. The politically advanced workers therefore strove to lead the
revolutionary movement of all the democratic elements in town and country
against tsardom. The peasants were in dire need owing to lack of land and
the numerous survivals of serfdom, and lived in a state of bondage to the
landlords and kulaks. The nations inhabiting tsarist Russia groaned beneath
a double yoke -- that of their own landlords and capitalists and that of the
Russian landlords and capitalists. The economic crisis of 1900-03 had
aggravated the hardships of the toiling masses; the war intensified them
still further. The war defeats added fuel to the hatred of the masses for
tsardom. The patience of the people was coming to an end.
As we see, there were grounds enough and to spare for revolution.
In December 1904 a huge and well-organized strike of workers took
place in Baku, led by the Baku Committee of the Bolsheviks. The strike ended
in a victory for the workers and a collective agreement was concluded
between the oilfield workers and owners, the first of its kind in the
history of the working-class movement in Russia.
The Baku strike marked the beginning of a revolutionary rise in
Transcaucasia and in various parts of Russia.
"The Baku strike was the signal for the glorious actions in January
and February all over Russia." (Stalin.)
This strike was like a clap of thunder heralding a great
The revolutionary storm broke with the events of January 9 (22, New
Style), 1905, in St. Petersburg.
On January 3, 1905, a strike began at the biggest of the St.
Petersburg plants, the Putilov (now the Kirov) Works. The strike was caused
by the dismissal of four workers. It grew rapidly and was joined by other
St. Petersburg mills and factories. The strike became general. The movement
grew formidable. The tsarist government decided to crush it while it was
still in its earliest phase.
In 1904, prior to the Putilov strike, the police had used the
services of an agent-provocateur, a priest by the name of Gapon, to form an
or ganization of the workers known as the Assembly of Russian Factory
Workers. This organization had its branches in all the districts of St.
Petersburg. When the strike broke out the priest Gapon at the meetings of
his society put forward a treacherous plan: all the workers were to gather
on January 9 and, carrying church banners and portraits of the tsar, to
march in peaceful procession to the Winter Palace and present a petition to
the tsar stating their needs. The tsar would appear before the people,
listen to them and satisfy their demands. Gapon undertook to assist the
tsarist Okhrana by providing a pretext for firing on the workers and
drowning the working-class movement in blood. But this police plot recoiled
on the head of the tsarist government.
The petition was discussed at workers' meetings where amendments were
made. Bolsheviks spoke at these meetings without openly announcing
themselves as such. Under their influence, the petition was supplemented by
demands for freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of association
for the workers, the convocation of a Constituent Assembly for the purpose
of changing the political system of Russia, equality of all before the law,
separation of church from the state, termination of the war, an 8-hour
working day, and the handing over of the land to the peasants.
At these meetings the Bolsheviks explained to the workers that
liberty could not be obtained by petitions to the tsar, but would have to be
won by force of arms. The Bolsheviks warned the workers that they would be
fired upon. But they were unable to prevent the procession to the Winter
Palace. A large part of the workers still believed that the tsar would help
them. The movement had taken a strong hold on the masses.
The petition of the St. Petersburg workers stated:
"We, the workingmen of St. Petersburg, our wives, our children and
our helpless old parents, have come to Thee, our Sovereign, to seek truth
and protection. We are poverty-stricken, we are oppressed, we are burdened
with unendurable toil; we suffer humiliation and are not treated like human
beings. . . . We have suffered in patience, but we are being driven deeper
and deeper into the slough of poverty, lack of rights and ignorance; we are
being strangled by despotism and tyranny. . . . Our patience is exhausted.
The dreaded moment has arrived when we would rather die than bear these
intolerable sufferings any longer. . . ."
Early in the morning of January 9, 1905, the workers marched to the
Winter Palace where the tsar was then residing. They came with their whole
families -- wives, children and old folk -- carrying portraits of the tsar
and church banners. They chanted hymns as they marched. They were unarmed.
Over 140,000 persons gathered in the streets.
They met with a hostile reception from Nicholas II. He gave orders to
fire upon the unarmed workers. That day over a thousand workers were killed
and more than two thousand wounded by the tsar's troops. The streets of St.
Petersburg ran with workers' blood.
The Bolsheviks had marched with the workers. Many of them were killed
or arrested. There, in the streets running with workers' blood, the
Bolsheviks explained to the workers who it was that bore the guilt for this
heinous crime and how he was to be fought.
January 9 came to be known as "Bloody Sunday:" On that day the
workers received a bloody lesson. It was their faith in the tsar that was
riddled by bullets on that day. They came to realize that they could win
their rights only by struggle. That evening barricades were already being
erected in the working-class districts. The workers said: "The tsar gave it
to us; we'll now give it to him!"
The fearful news of the tsar's bloody crime spread far and wide. The
whole working class, the whole country was stirred by indignation and
abhorrence. There was not a town where the workers did not strike in protest
against the tsar's villainous act and did not put forward political demands.
The workers now emerged into the streets with the slogan, "Down with
autocracy!" In January the number of strikers reached the immense figure of
440,000. More workers came out on strike in one month than during the whole
preceding decade. The working-class movement rose to an unprecedented
Revolution in Russia had begun.