"Chapter V." by Louise Bryant (-1936)
EVERY change or development of the political situation in Russia will appear vague and incomprehensible unless one understands the essential points of the various political parties and has some definite idea of the way a Soviet government works. In order to do so it is not at all necessary to go into the fine points of Socialism, which the average reader probably has neither time nor inclination for, but just to get a broad general idea. In writing this I do not write as a Socialist, but as a layman speaking to laymen. I attempt to give no pointers to students of political economy. They will be familiar with this outline and much more.
The first thing to remember is that all the important political parties in Russia are Socialist parties–except the Cadets.
The Cadet party is the party of the propertied classes; it has no force of arms and no great mass of people. At one time the only accredited legal party which stood for fairness and reform, as the revolution progressed it lost in influence and fell rapidly into ill repute.
RUSSIAN POLITICAL PARTIES
|Parties||Monarchists and reactionary parties which disappeared at beginning of Rev. Later these elements entered Cadet party.||Cadets||Mensheviki, Socialist Revolutionaries and other moderate Socialist groups||Bolsheviki and Left Socialist Revolutionaries|
|Classes represented||Feudal land-owners, reactionary capitalists||Liberal land owners, liberal capitalists, professional classes||Socialist intellectuals, proprietors, well-to-do peasants||Industrial workers, day labourers, poor peasants|
|Attitude towards Socialism||Unconditionally hostile||Unconditionally hostile||For Socialism but consider this not the time for realisation||For Socialism through a proletarian dictatorship|
|Form of government||Autocracy||Bourgeois parliamentary republic or Constitutional monarchy like England||Parliamentary Republic based on coalition of Socialists and bourgeois classes||Republic based on Soviets of Soldiers'. Workers' and Peasants' Deputies|
|Attitude toward the war||Coalition of autocracies and Great Russia||Russia is a great power in alliance with Allies. Wanted Dardanelles and expansion in Asia Minor||Wanted peace but no break with Allies||Immediate general democratic peace. Hostile to Germany but also not in sympathy with alleged imperialistic war aims of other belligerents|
Marie Spirodonova, in speaking of the Cadets, said: "It is impossible at the present moment to be anything more reactionary than a Cadet. The reason is simple. No one dares to come out openly in favour of a monarchy or to say he is hostile to Socialism, so naturally all these people hide behind the Cadet party–claim to be Cadets, although they are not actually members and they do their best to destroy it. That is why the party that was once an honest, liberal party has become the Black Hundred organisation–hated and despised."
Katherine Breshkovsky, in one of her speeches, expressed much the same opinion. "As regards our capitalists, great and small, I must tell you that upon them rests a great, bloody sin. I am impartial–you know the class I come from–I repeat our enemy at home is just this merchant and capitalist class."
In trying to compare the deep chasm between the mass of the people in Russia and our own people where lines are hardly discernible, we must remember that in Russia over 80 per cent. of the people are proletariat or semi-proletariat. That is, they are either entirely without property or they have such small holdings that they are unable to exist from them. On the other hand–after the revolution the propertied classes refused to co-operate in any way with the democratic organisations of the masses. They bent every effort to break down those institutions.
Often our press speaks of the Socialist Revolutionists or the Mensheviki as if they were "reasonable" and conservative parties as opposed to the radical Bolsheviki. They commonly speak of the Bolsheviki as Anarchists and as Maximalists. All these ideas are far from correct. The Mensheviki and the Bolsheviki are branches of the same party and until 1903 they worked together. They still have precisely the same programme, but they differ as to tactics. They are both Social Democrats–Marxians. They got their names because of the split. The majority of the party went with the Bolsheviki and the minority went with the Mensheviki. That is what their names mean–majoritists and minoritists. Both stand for the socialization of the industry and the land. They differ in tactics.
In October, 1917, the Bolsheviki accepted the Socialist Revolutionists' land programme. This was to provisionally divide the land but at the same time to abolish all private ownership of land.
The Socialist Revolutionists–the party of the peasants–is by far the greatest party in Russia. In 1917 this party also split. It is now divided into two groups known as the Socialist Revolutionists and the Left Socialist Revolutionists–representing the conservative and the radical wings.
The right wing of the Socialist Revolutionists and the Mensheviki–like the Cadets–have at present no following and no force of arms. The active masses have gone to the left wing of the Socialist Revolutionists which works with the Bolsheviki and upholds the Soviet Government.
This moving of the masses away from the moderate groups is largely due to the policy of a government composed of Socialists and bourgeoisie which led to a denial of the desires of the Russian masses–peace, land and control of industry.
In a modern revolution all middle parties disappear or become unimportant. In Russia, where the proletariat is armed, the proletariat becomes the only real influential body. The Bolsheviki are in power because they bow to the will of the masses. The Bolsheviki would be overthrown the very moment they did not express that will.
There are other small Socialist groups in Russia–namely, the Mensheviki Internationalists, a branch of the Menshevik party; Iedinstvo, Plechanov's party, the extreme war party of the Mensheviki; Troudoviki or Populist Socialists, a semi-Socialist party; United Social Democrat Internationalists (Gorki's party), etc.
The Maximalists are a small group–an offshoot of the Socialist Revolutionist party. Their programme is practically agrarian Anarchism.
That the Bolsheviki are not Anarchists but Socialists with a political instead of an entirely economic programme is best demonstrated by the fact that they opposed the attempted irresponsible confiscation of property by the Anarchists with force of arms.
The Soviet Government
The Soviets were such a natural form of organisation for the Russian masses to take because of their long experience with primitive communistic institutions. They owe their strong hold on the people to the fact that they are the most democratic and sensitive political organs that have ever been invented.
The Soviet is an organ of direct proportional representation based on small units of the population with one representative to every 500. It is elected by equal suffrage, secret ballot, with full right of recall. A Soviet is not elected at regular periods. The separate delegates, however, can be recalled and re-elected by their constituents at any time. Therefore, the complexion of the Soviet immediately registers the feeling of the masses of the population. Soviets are based directly on the workers in the factories, the soldiers in the trenches and the peasants in the fields.
Every town has a joint Soviet of Soldiers' and Workers' Deputies: The different wards of the towns also have soviets. Provinces, counties and some villages have Peasants' Soviets. The All-Russian Congress of Soviets is made up of delegates from the provincial soviets, which also may be directly elected, the proportion being one delegate to each 25,000.
The All-Russian Soviet usually meets about every three months. It elects a Central Executive Committee which is the Parliament of the Country. The Central Executive Committee consists of nearly 300 members. The People's Commissars which are the Cabinet or Ministry, of which Trotsky is one, Lunarcharsky another, and so on, are elected by the Central Executive Committee. The Commissars are simply men at the head of a collegium for every department of the government. Lenine is the chairman of the Commissars.
The whole purpose of the Soviets is not simply a territorial representation, but also a class body–a body representing one class mainly–the working class.
The Soviets are the only organised force in Russia that is definitely anti-German. No further explanation is necessary than to say that they are opposed on every point and the two governments cannot exist side by side.
Another important point to remember is that both the Provisional Governments existed only so long as they were tolerated by the Soviets.