1917: the view from the streets

Leaflets of the Russian Revolution, No. 3

Tsar Nicholas, with son Alexei, addressing army officers

One hundred years ago this week, on February 6 (January 24) 1917, a Menshevik-influenced workers’ group within the Central War Industry Committee issued the following appeal for a demonstration calling for a provisional government.

The War Industry Committees were set up by Russian businessmen in 1915 to assist the Russian imperial government with military supplies. Managers and engineers filled the committees, which were supplemented by groups of workers elected from factories. Bolsheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries were generally opposed to such collaboration by workers with owners and managers of industry, but some Mensheviks participated in the worker groups.

In early 1917, the Menshevik-composed Central Worker Group under the Central War Industry Committee attempted to mobilise workers to call for replacing the tsarist regime with a Provisional government. The following appeal led to the arrest of the members of the Central Worker Group on February 8-9 (January 26-27) 1917. The government postponed the convocation of the Duma (parliament) until February 27 (February 14); workers responded with a one-day strike rather than the mass demonstration suggested below.

For the Bolsheviks’ reply to this appeal, see document No4, to be published next week.

The series is edited by John Riddell and the leaflets have been translated and annotated by Barbara Allen.

Appeal to the workers of Petrograd from the Central Worker Group of the Central War Industry Committee

 The despotic regime is strangling the country. The autocracy’s policy is worsening the already severe disasters of the war, which bear down with all their weight upon the classes which do not own property. And the government’s self-seeking multiplies many times over the already countless victims of war.

 The government, which created a severe crisis of food supply, is stubbornly pushing the country, day by day, toward hunger and complete ruin. It is using wartime circumstances to enserf the working class. By chaining the workers to the factory, it turns them into factory serfs. Incapable of coping with the tasks set by the war, the ruling regime has nevertheless used it to intensify the persecution and oppression of Russia’s various peoples.

Neither the war’s end nor the peace that the weary country thirsts for can lead the people out of calamity, if the war is ended by the current autocratic power rather than by the people themselves.

Once they end the war, the autocracy will attempt to forge new chains for the people. Instead of relief, the end of the war can bring new, even more terrible, misfortunes to the people. Bound hand and foot by the lack of political rights, the people - especially the proletariat - will be given over to arbitrariness, unemployment and hunger. High prices and unemployment, together with the government’s despotism, will cast the working class into poverty and slavery.

The working class and democratic forces can wait no longer. Each missed day is dangerous. The task now urgently posed for resolution is to decisively eliminate the autocratic regime and fully democratise the country. This is a matter of life and death for the working class and democratic forces.

Proceeding from everything stated above, it is clear that the current conflict between propertied bourgeois society and the authorities creates conditions especially favourable for the working class’s active intervention. The people’s movement can use the Duma’s conflict with the government to promote a decisive blow against the autocracy.

We, the workers of _______, resolve:

  • to immediately set about unifying and organising our forces and electing a factory committee; to reach an understanding with comrades of other mills and factories;
  • to explain to all comrades at many assemblies the extreme importance of this moment;
  • and to provide information about our decisions to other factories.

We should be ready for a general, organised public initiative at the moment when the Duma convenes.

Before the Duma convenes, let all of worker Petrograd, factory by factory, district by district, simultaneously move toward the Tauride Palace [seat of the Duma], in order to present the main demands of the working class and democratic forces.

The entire country and the army should hear the voice of the working class. Only a Provisional government, leaning for support on the people who have organised through struggle, is capable of extricating the country from a dead end and fatal ruin, of strengthening political freedom within it and of bringing about peace on conditions acceptable to both the Russian proletariat and the proletariat of other countries l

Translated from AG Shliapnikov Semnadtsatyigod Vol 1, 1923, pp279-80.

Previous leaflets in the series are available at https://johnriddell.wordpress.com.