Declaration Of The Rights Of The Peoples Of Russia 2
…The first Congress of Soviets, in June of this year, proclaimed the right of the peoples of Russia to self-determination.
The second Congress of Soviets, in November last, confirmed this inalienable right of the peoples of Russia more decisively and definitely.
Executing the will of these Congresses, the Council of People’s Commissars has resolved to establish as a basis for its activity in the question of Nationalities, the following principles:
(1) The equality and sovereignty of the peoples of Russia.
(2) The right of the peoples of Russia to free self-determination, even to the point of separation and the formation of an independent state.
(3) The abolition of any and all national and national religious privileges and disabilities.
(4) The free development of national minorities and ethnographic groups inhabiting the territory of Russia.
Decrees will be prepared immediately upon the formation of a Commission on Nationalities.
In the name of the Russian Republic,
People’s Commissar for Nationalities
President of the Council of People’s Commissars
V. Ulianov (Lenin)
The Central Rada at Kiev immediately declared Ukraine an independent Republic, as did the Government of Finland, through the Senate at Helsingfors. Independent “Governments” spring up in Siberia and the Caucasus. The Polish Chief Military Committee swiftly gathered together the Polish troops in the Russian army, abolished their Committees and established an iron discipline….
All these “Governments” and “movements” had two characteristics in common; they were controlled by the propertied classes, and they feared and detested Bolshevism….3. This footnote is reproduced at the bottom of the page.
Steadily, amid the chaos of shocking change, the Council of People’s Commissars hammered at the scaffolding of the Socialist order. Decree on Social Insurance, on Workers’ Control, Regulations for Volost Land Committees, Abolition of Ranks and Titles, Abolition of Courts and the Creation of People’s Tribunals…. 3
Army after army, fleet after fleet, sent deputations, “joyfully to greet the new Government of the People.”
In front of Smolny, one day, I saw a ragged regiment just come from the trenches. The soldiers were drawn up before the great gates, thin and grey-faced, looking up at the building as if God were in it. Some pointed out the Imperial eagles over the door, laughing…. Red Guards came to mount guard. All the soldiers turned to look, curiously, as if they had heard of them but never seen them. They laughed good-naturedly and pressed out of line to slap the Red Guards on the back, with half-joking, half-admiring remarks….
The Provisional Government was no more. On November 15th, in all the churches of the capital, the priests stopped praying for it. But as Lenin himself told the Tsay-ee-kah, that was “only the beginning of the conquest of power.” Deprived of arms, the opposition, which still controlled the economic life of the country, settled down to organise disorganisation, with all the Russian genius for cooperative action—to obstruct, cripple and discredit the Soviets.
The strike of Government employees was well organised, financed by the banks and commercial establishments. Every move of the Bolsheviki to take over the Government apparatus was resisted.
Trotzky went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the functionaries refused to recognise him, locked themselves in, and when the doors were forced, resigned. He demanded the keys of the archives; only when he brought workmen to force the locks were they given up. Then it was discovered that Neratov, former assistant Foreign Minister, had disappeared with the Secret Treaties….
Shliapnikov tried to take possession of the Ministry of Labour. It was bitterly cold, and there was no one to light the fires. Of all the hundreds of employees, not one would show him where the office of the Minister was….
Alexandra Kollontai, appointed the 13th of November Commissar of Public Welfare—the department of charities and public institutions—was welcomed with a strike of all but forty of the functionaries in the Ministry. Immediately the poor of the great cities, the inmates of institutions, were plunged in miserable want: delegations of starving cripples, of orphans with blue, pinched faces, besieged the building. With tears streaming down her face, Kollontai arrested the strikers until they should deliver the keys of the office and the safe; when she got the keys, however, it was discovered that the former Minister, Countess Panina, had gone off with all the funds, which she refused to surrender except on the order of the Constituent Assembly. 44. Countess Panina was arrested and brought to trial before the first Supreme Revolutionary Tribunal. The trial is described in the chapter on “Revolutionary Justice” in my forthcoming volume, “Kornilov to Brist- Litovsk.” The prisoner was sentenced to “return the money, and then be liberated to the public contempt.” In other words, she was set free!
In the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Supplies, the Ministry of Finance, similar incidents occurred. And the employees, summoned to return or forfeit their positions and their pensions, either stayed away or returned to sabotage…. Almost all the intelligentzia being anti-Bolshevik, there was nowhere for the Soviet Government to recruit new staffs….
The private banks remained stubbornly closed, with a back door open for speculators. When Bolshevik Commissars entered, the clerks left, secreting the books and removing the funds. All the employees of the State Bank struck except the clerks in charge of the vaults and the manufacture of money, who refused all demands from Smolny and privately paid out huge sums to the Committee for Salvation and the City Duma.
Twice a Commissar, with a company of Red Guards, came formally to insist upon the delivery of large sums for Government expenses. The first time, the City Duma members and the Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary leaders were present in imposing numbers, and spoke so gravely of the consequences that the Commissar was frightened. The second time he arrived with a warrant, which he proceeded to read aloud in due form; but some one called his attention to the fact that it had no date and no seal, and the traditional Russian respect for “documents” forced him again to withdraw….
The officials of the Credit Chancery destroyed their books, so that all record of the financial relations of Russia with foreign countries was lost.
The Supply Committees, the administrations of the Municipal-owned public utilities, either did not work at all, or sabotaged. And when the Bolsheviki, compelled by the desperate needs of the city population, attempted to help or to control the public service, all the employees went on strike immediately, and the Duma flooded Russia with telegrams about Bolshevik “violation of Municipal autonomy.”
At Military headquarters, and in the offices of the Ministries of War and Marine, where the old officials had consented to work, the Army Committees and the high command blocked the Soviets in every way possible, even to the extent of neglecting the troops at the front. The Vikzhel was hostile, refusing to transport Soviet troops; every troop-train that left Petrograd was taken out by force, and railway officials had to be arrested each time—whereupon the Vikzhel threatened an immediate general strike unless they were released….
Smolny was plainly powerless. The newspapers said that all the factories of Petrograd must shut down for lack of fuel in three weeks; the Vikzhel announced that trains must cease running by December first; there was food for three days only in Petrograd, and no more coming in; and the Army on the Front was starving…. The Committee for Salvation, the various Central Committees, sent word all over the country, exhorting the population to ignore the Government decrees. And the Allied Embassies were either coldly indifferent, or openly hostile….5. This footnote is reproduced at the bottom of the page.
The opposition newspapers, suppressed one day and reappearing next morning under new names, heaped bitter sarcasm on the new regime. 5 Even Novaya Zhizn characterised it as “a combination of demagoguery and impotence.”
From day to day (it said) the Government of the People’s Commissars sinks deeper and deeper into the mire of superficial haste. Having easily conquered the power— the Bolsheviki can not make use of it.
Powerless to direct the existing mechanism of Government, they are unable at the same time to create a new one which might work easily and freely according to the theories of social experimenters.
Just a little while ago the Bolsheviki hadn’t enough men to run their growing party—a work above all of speakers and writers; where then are they going to find trained men to execute the diverse and complicated functions of government?
The new Government acts and threatens, it sprays the country with decrees, each one more radical and more “socialist” than the last. But in this exhibition of Socialism on Paper—more likely designed for the stupefaction of our descendants—there appears neither the desire nor the capacity to solve the immediate problems of the day!
Meanwhile the Vikzhel’s Conference to Form a New Government continued to meet night and day. Both sides had already agreed in principle to the basis of the Government; the composition of the People’s Council was being discussed; the Cabinet was tentatively chosen, with Tchernov as Premier; the Bolsheviki were admitted in a large minority, but Lenin and Trotzky were barred. The Central Committees of the Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary parties, the Executive Committee of the Peasant’s Soviets, resolved that, although unalterably opposed to the “criminal politics” of the Bolsheviki, they would, “in order to halt the fratricidal bloodshed,” not oppose their entrance into the People’s Council.
The flight of Kerensky, however, and the astounding success of the Soviets everywhere, altered the situation. On the 16th, in a meeting of the Tsay-ee-kah, the Left Socialist Revolutionaries insisted that the Bolsheviki should form a coalition Government with the other Socialist parties; otherwise they would withdraw from the Military Revolutionary Committee and the Tsay-ee-kah. Malkin said, “The news from Moscow, where our comrades are dying on both sides of the barricades, determines us to bring up once more the question of organisation of power, and it is not only our right to do so, but our duty…. We have won the right to sit with the Bolsheviki here within the walls of Smolny Institute, and to speak from this tribune. After the bitter internal party struggle, we shall be obliged, if you refuse to compromise, to pass to open battle outside…. We must propose to the democracy terms of an acceptable compromise….”
After a recess to consider this ultimatum, the Bolsheviki returned with a resolution, read by Kameniev:
The Tsay-ee-kah considers it necessary that there enter into the Government representatives of all the Socialist parties composing the Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies who recognise the conquests of the Revolution of November 7th—that is to say, the establishment of a Government of Soviets, the decrees on peace, land, workers’ control over industry, and the arming of the working-class. The Tsay-ee-kah therefore resolves to propose negotiations concerning the constitution of the Government to all parties of the Soviet, and insists upon the following conditions as a basis:
The Government is responsible to the Tsay-ee-kah. The Tsay-ee-kah shall be enlarged to 150 members. To these 150 delegates of the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies shall be added 75 delegates of the Provincial Soviets of Peasants’ Deputies, 80 from the Front organisations of the Army and Navy, 40 from the Trade Unions (25 from the various All-Russian Unions, in proportion to their importance, 10 from the Vikzhel, and 5 from the Post and Telegraph Workers), and 50 delegates from the Socialist groups in the Petrograd City Duma. In the Ministry itself, at least one-half the portfolios must be reserved to the Bolsheviki. The Ministries of Labour, Interior and Foreign Affairs must be given to the Bolsheviki. The command of the garrisons of Petrograd and Moscow must remain in the hands of delegates of the Moscow and Petrograd Soviets.
The Government undertakes the systematic arming of the workers of all Russia.
It is resolved to insist upon the candidature of comrades Lenin and Trotzky.
Kameniev explained. “The so-called ‘People’s Council,’” he said, “proposed by the Conference, would consist of about 420 members, of which about 150 would be Bolsheviki. Besides, there would be delegates from the counter-revolutionary old Tsay-ee-kah, 100 members chosen by the Municipal Dumas—Kornilovtsi all; 100 delegates from the Peasants’ Soviets—appointed by Avksentiev, and 80 from the old Army Committees, who no longer represent the soldier masses.
“We refuse to admit the old Tsay-ee-kah, and also the representatives of the Municipal Dumas. The delegates from the Peasants’ Soviets shall be elected by the Congress of Peasants, which we have called, and which will at the same time elect a new Executive Committee. The proposal to exclude Lenin and Trotzky is a proposal to decapitate our party, and we do not accept it. And finally, we see no necessity for a ‘People’s Council’ anyway; the Soviets are open to all Socialist parties, and the Tsay-ee-kah represents them in their real proportions among the masses….”
Karelin, for the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, declared that his party would vote for the Bolshevik resolution, reserving the right to modify certain details, such as the representation of the peasants, and demanding that the Ministry of Agriculture be reserved for the Left Socialist Revolutionaries. This was agreed to….
Later, at a meeting of the Petrograd Soviet, Trotzky answered a question about the formation of the new Government:
“I don’t know anything about that. I am not taking part in the negotiations…. However, I don’t think that they are of great importance….”
That night there was great uneasiness in the Conference. The delegates of the City Duma withdrew….
But at Smolny itself, in the ranks of the Bolshevik party, a formidable opposition to Lenin’s policy was growing. On the night of November 17th the great hall was packed and ominous for the meeting of the Tsay-ee-kah.
Larin, Bolshevik, declared that the moment of elections to the Constituent Assembly approached, and it was time to do away with “political terrorism.”
“The measures taken against the freedom of the press should be modified. They had their reason during the struggle, but now they have no further excuse. The press should be free, except for appeals to riot and insurrection.”
In a storm of hisses and hoots from his own party, Larin offered the following resolution:
The decree of the Council of People’s Commissars concerning the Press is herewith repealed.
Measures of political repression can only be employed subject to decision of a special tribunal, elected by the Tsay-ee-kah proportionally to the strength of the different parties represented; and this tribunal shall have the right also to reconsider measures of repression already taken.
This was met by a thunder of applause, not only from the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, but also from a part of the Bolsheviki.
Avanessov, for the Leninites, hastily proposed that the question of the Press be postponed until after some compromise between the Socialist parties had been reached. Overwhelmingly voted down.
“The revolution which is now being accomplished,” went on Avanessov, “has not hesitated to attack private property; and it is as private property that we must examine the question of the Press….”
Thereupon he read the official Bolshevik resolution:
The suppression of the bourgeois press was dictated not only by purely military needs in the course of the insurrection, and for the checking of counter-revolutionary action, but it is also necessary as a measure of transition toward the establishment of a new régime with regard to the Press—a régime under which the capitalist owners of printing-presses and of paper cannot be the all-powerful and exclusive manufacturers of public opinion.
We must further proceed to the confiscation of private printing plants and supplies of paper, which should become the property of the Soviets, both in the capital and in the provinces, so that the political parties and groups can make use of the facilities of printing in proportion to the actual strength of the ideas they represent—in other words, proportionally to the number of their constituents.
The reëstablishment of the so-called “freedom of the press,” the simple return of printing presses and paper to the capitalists,—poisoners of the mind of the people—this would be an inadmissible surrender to the will of capital, a giving up of one of the most important conquests of the Revolution; in other words, it would be a measure of unquestionably counter-revolutionary character.
Proceeding from the above, the Tsay-ee-kah categorically rejects all propositions aiming at the reëstablishment of the old régime in the domain of the Press, and unequivocally supports the point of view of the Council of People’s Commissars on this question, against pretentions and ultimatums dictated by petty bourgeois prejudices, or by evident surrender to the interests of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie.
The reading of this resolution was interrupted by ironical shouts from the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, and bursts of indignation from the insurgent Bolsheviki. Karelin was on his feet, protesting. “Three weeks ago the Bolsheviki were the most ardent defenders of the freedom of the Press— The arguments in this resolution suggest singularly the point of view of the old Black Hundreds and the censors of the Tsarist régime—for they also talked of ‘poisoners of the mind of the people.’”
Trotzky spoke at length in favour of the resolution. He distinguished between the Press during the civil war, and the Press after the victory. “During civil war the right to use violence belongs only to the oppressed….” (Cries of “Who’s the oppressed now? Cannibal!”).
“The victory over our adversaries is not yet achieved, and the newspapers are arms in their hands. In these conditions, the closing of the newspapers is a legitimate measure of defence….” Then passing to the question of the Press after the victory, Trotzky continued:
“The attitude of Socialists on the question of freedom of the Press should be the same as their attitude toward the freedom of business…. The rule of the democracy which is being established in Russia demands that the domination of the Press by private property must be abolished, just as the domination of industry by private property…. The power of the Soviets should confiscate all printing-plants.” (Cries, “Confiscate the printing-shop of Pravda!”)
“The monopoly of the Press by the bourgeoisie must be abolished. Otherwise it isn’t worth while for us to take the power! Each group of citizens should have access to print shops and paper…. The ownership of print-type and of paper belongs first to the workers and peasants, and only afterwards to the bourgeois parties, which are in a minority…. The passing of the power into the hands of the Soviets will bring about a radical transformation of the essential conditions of existence, and this transformation will necessarily be evident in the Press…. If we are going to nationalise the banks, can we then tolerate the financial journals? The old régime must die; that must be understood once and for all….” Applause and angry cries.
Karelin declared that the Tsay-ee-kah had no right to pass upon this important question, which should be left to a special committee. Again, passionately, he demanded that the Press be free.
Then Lenin, calm, unemotional, his forehead wrinkled, as he spoke slowly, choosing his words; each sentence falling like a hammer-blow. “The civil war is not yet finished; the enemy is still with us; consequently it is impossible to abolish the measures of repression against the Press.
“We Bolsheviki have always said that when we reached a position of power we would close the bourgeois press. To tolerate the bourgeois newspapers would mean to cease being a Socialist. When one makes a Revolution, one cannot mark time; one must always go forward—or go back. He who now talks about the ‘freedom of the Press’ goes backward, and halts our headlong course toward Socialism.
“We have thrown off the yoke of capitalism, just as the first revolution threw off the yoke of Tsarism. If the first revolution had the right to suppress the Monarchist papers, then we have the right to suppress the bourgeois press. It is impossible to separate the question of the freedom of the Press from the other questions of the class struggle. We have promised to close these newspapers, and we shall do it. The immense majority of the people is with us!
“Now that the insurrection is over, we have absolutely no desire to suppress the papers of the other Socialist parties, except inasmuch as they appeal to armed insurrection, or to disobedience to the Soviet Government. However, we shall not permit them, under the pretence of freedom of the Socialist press, to obtain, through the secret support of the bourgeoisie, a monopoly of printing-presses, ink and paper…. These essentials must become the property of the Soviet Government, and be apportioned, first of all, to the Socialist parties in strict proportion to their voting strength….”
Then the vote. The resolution of Larin and the Left Socialist Revolutionaries was defeated by 31 to 22; the Lenin motion was carried by 34 to 24. Among the minority were the Bolsheviki Riazanov and Lozovsky, who declared that it was impossible for them to vote against any restriction on the freedom of the Press.
Upon this the Left Socialist Revolutionaries declared they could no longer be responsible for what was being done, and withdrew from the Military Revolutionary Committee and all other positions of executive responsibility.
Five members—Nogin, Rykov, Miliutin, Teodorovitch and Shiapnikov—resigned from the Council of People’s Commissars, declaring:
We are in favour of a Socialist Government composed of all the parties in the Soviets. We consider that only the creation of such a Government can possibly guarantee the results of the heroic struggle of the working-class and the revolutionary army. Outside of that, there remains only one way: the constitution of a purely Bolshevik Government by means of political terrorism. This last is the road taken by the Council of People’s Commissars. We cannot and will not follow it. We see that this leads directly to the elimination from political life of many proletarian organisations, to the establishment of an irresponsible régime, and to the destruction of the Revolution and the country. We cannot take the responsibility for such a policy, and we renounce before the Tsay-ee-kah our function as People’s Commissars.
Other Commissars, without resigning their positions, signed the declaration—Riazanov, Derbychev of the Press Department, Arbuzov, of the Government Printing-plant, Yureniev, of the Red Guard, Feodorov, of the Commissariat of Labour, and Larin, secretary of the Section of Elaboration of Decrees.
At the same time Kameniev, Rykov, Miliutin, Zinoviev and Nogin resigned from the Central Committee of the Bolshevik party, making public their reasons:
— The constitution of such a Government (composed of all the parties of the Soviet) is indispensable to prevent a new flow of blood, the coming famine, the destruction of the Revolution by the Kaledinists, to assure the convocation of the Constituent Assembly at the proper time, and to apply effectively the programme adopted by the Congress of Soviets….
We cannot accept the responsibility for the disastrous policy of the Central Committee, carried on against the will of an enormous majority of the proletariat and the soldiers, who are eager to see the rapid end of the bloodshed between the different political parties of the democracy…. We renounce our title as members of the Central Committee, in order to be able to say openly our opinion to the masses of workers and soldiers….
We leave the Central Committee at the moment of victory; we cannot calmly look on while the policy of the chiefs of the Central Committee leads toward the loss of the fruits of victory and the crushing of the proletariat….
The masses of the workers, the soldiers of the garrison, stirred restlessly, sending their delegations to Smolny, to the Conference for Formation of the New Government, where the break in the ranks of the Bolsheviki caused the liveliest joy.
But the answer of the Leninites was swift and ruthless. Shliapnikov and Teodorovitch submitted to party discipline and returned to their posts. Kameniev was stripped of his powers as president of the Tsay-ee-kah, and Sverdlov elected in his place. Zinoviev was deposed as president of the Petrograd Soviet. On the morning of the 5th, Pravda contained a ferocious proclamation to the people of Russia, written by Lenin, which was printed in hundreds of thousands of copies, posted on the walls everywhere, and distributed over the face of Russia:
The second All-Russian Congress of Soviets gave the majority to the Bolshevik party. Only a Government formed by this party can therefore be a Soviet Government. And it is known to all that the Central Committee of the Bolshevik party, a few hours before the formation of the new Government and before proposing the list of its members to the All-Russian Congress of Soviets, invited to its meeting three of the most eminent members of the Left Socialist Revolutionary group, comrades Kamkov, Spiro and Karelin, and ASKED THEM to participate in the new Government. We regret infinitely that the invited comrades refused; we consider their refusal inadmissible for revolutionists and champions of the working-class; we are willing at any time to include the Left Socialist Revolutionaries in the Government; but we declare that, as the party of the majority at the second All-Russian Congress of Soviets, we are entitled and BOUND before the people to form a Government….
— Comrades! Several members of the Central Committee of our party and the Council of People’s Commissars, Kameniev, Zinoviev, Nogin, Rykov, Miliutin and a few others left yesterday, November 17th, the Central Committee of our party, and the last three, the Council of People’s Commissars….
The comrades who left us acted like deserters, because they not only abandoned the posts entrusted to them, but also disobeyed the direct instructions of the Central Committee of our party, to the effect that they should await the decisions of the Petrograd and Moscow party organisations before retiring. We blame decisively such desertion. We are firmly convinced that all conscious workers, soldiers and peasants, belonging to our party or sympathising with it, will also disapprove of the behaviour of the deserters….
Remember, comrades, that two of these deserters, Kameniev and Zinoviev, even before the uprising in Petrograd, appeared as deserters and strike-breakers, by voting at the decisive meeting of the Central Committee, October 23d, 1917, against the insurrection; and even AFTER the resolution passed by the Central Committee, they continued their campaign at a meeting of the party workers…. But the great impulse of the masses, the great heroism of millions of workers, soldiers and peasants, in Moscow, Petrograd, at the front, in the trenches, in the villages, pushed aside the deserters as a railway train scatters saw-dust….
Shame upon those who are of little faith, hesitate, who doubt, who allow themselves to be frightened by the bourgeoisie, or who succumb before the cries of the latter’s direct or indirect accomplices! There is NOT A SHADOW of hesitation in the MASSES of Petrograd, Moscow, and the rest of Russia….
— We shall not submit to any ultimatums from small groups of intellectuals which are not followed by the masses, which are PRACTICALLY only supported by Kornilovists, Savinkovists, yunkers, and so forth….
The response from the whole country was like a blast of hot storm. The insurgents never got a chance to “say openly their opinion to the masses of workers and soldiers.” Upon the Tsay-ee-kah rolled in like breakers the fierce popular condemnation of the “deserters.” For days Smolny was thronged with angry delegations and committees, from the front, from the Volga, from the Petrograd factories. “Why did they dare leave the Government? Were they paid by the bourgeoisie to destroy the Revolution? They must return and submit to the decisions of the Central Committee!”
Only in the Petrograd garrison was there still uncertainty. A great soldier meeting was held on November 24th, addressed by representatives of all the political parties. By a vast majority Lenin’s policy was sustained, and the Left Socialist Revolutionaries were told that they must enter the government….
The Mensheviki delivered a final ultimatum, demanding that all Ministers and yunkers be released, that all newspapers be allowed full freedom, that the Red Guard be disarmed and the garrison put under command of the Duma. To this Smolny answered that all the Socialist Ministers and also all but a very few yunkers had been already set free, that all newspapers were free except the bourgeois press, and that the Soviet would remain in command of the armed forces…. On the 19th the Conference to Form a New Government disbanded, and the opposition one by one slipped away to Moghilev, where, under the wing of the General Staff, they continued to form Government after Government, until the end….
Meanwhile the Bolsheviki had been undermining the power of the Vikzhel. An appeal of the Petrograd Soviet to all railway workers called upon them to force the Vikzhel to surrender its powers. On the 15th, the Tsay-ee-kah, following its procedure toward the peasants, called an All-Russian Congress of Railway Workers for December 1st; the Vikzhel immediately called its own Congress for two weeks later. On November 16th, the Vikzhel members took their seats in the Tsay-ee-kah. On the night of December 2d, at the opening session of the All-Russian Congress of Railway Workers, the Tsay-ee-kah formally offered the post of Commissar of Ways and Communications to the Vikzhel—which accepted….