MARXIST INTERNET ARCHIVE | History of CP Bolshevik

H I S T O R Y O F  T H E C O M M U N I S T   P A R T Y

O F  T H E

S O V I E T  U N I O N

(B O L S H E V I K S)

    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
    (1904-1907)


     

    1.
     
     
     
     
     
    RUSSO-JAPANESE WAR. FURTHER RISE OF THE REVOLUTION-
    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 harbour.

        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 generals.

        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 war.

        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 Russia.

        The Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks adopted different attitudes towards the war.

        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 revolution.

        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 revolutionary storm.

        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 height.

        Revolution in Russia had begun.

WORKERS' POLITICAL STRIKES AND DEMONSTRATIONS. GROWTH OF THE REVOLUTIONARY MOVEMENT AMONG THE PEASANTS. REVOLT ON THE BATTLESHIP "POTEMKIN"