This essay was written on March 18th, 1917, when the first news of unrest in Petrograd had reached New York.
The streets of Petrograd again speak the language of 1905. As in the time of the Russo-Japanese war, the masses demand bread, peace, and freedom. As in 1905, street cars are not running and newspapers do not appear. The workingmen let the steam out of the boilers, they quit their benches and walk out into the streets. The government mobilizes its Cossacks. And as was in 1905, only those two powers are facing each other in the streets – the revolutionary workingmen and the army of the Tzar.
The movement was provoked by lack of bread. This, of course, is not an accidental cause. In all the belligerent countries the lack of bread is the most immediate, the most acute reason for dissatisfaction and indignation among the masses. All the insanity of the war is revealed to them from this angle: it is impossible to produce necessities of life because one has to produce instruments of death.
However, the attempts of the Anglo-Russian semi-official news agencies to explain the movement by a temporary shortage in food, or to snow storms that have delayed transportation, are one of the most ludicrous applications of the policy of the ostrich. The workingmen would not stop the factories, the street cars, the print shops and walk into the streets to meet Tzarism face to face on account of snow storms which temporarily hamper the arrival of foodstuffs.
People have a short memory. Many of our own ranks have forgotten that the war found Russia in a state of potent revolutionary ferment. After the heavy stupor of 1908-1911, the proletariat gradually healed its wounds rn the following years of industrial prosperity; the slaughter of strikers on the Lena River in April, 1912, awakened the revolutionary energy of the proletarian masses. A series of strikes followed. In the year preceding the world war, the wave of economic and political strikes resembled that of 1905. When Poincaré, the President of the French Republic, came to Petersburg in the summer of 1914 (evidently to talk over with the Tzar how to free the small and weak nations) the Russian proletariat was in a stage of extraordinary revolutionary tension, and the President of the French Republic could see with his own eyes in the capital of his friend, the Tzar, how the first barricades of the Second Russian Revolution were being constructed.
The war checked the rising revolutionary tide. We have witnessed a repetition of what happened ten years before, in the Russo-Japanese war. After the stormy strikes of 1903, there had followed a year of almost unbroken political silence – 1904 – the first year of the war. It took the workingmen of Petersburg twelve months to orientate themselves in the war and to walk out into the streets with their demands and protests. January 9th, 1905, was, so to speak, the official beginning of our First Revolution.
The present war is vaster than was the Russo-Japanese war. Millions of soldiers have been mobilized by the government for the “defense of the Fatherland.” The ranks of the proletariat have thus been disorganized. On the other hand, the more advanced elements of the proletariat had to face and weigh in their minds a number of questions of unheard of magnitude. What is the cause of the war? Shall the proletariat agree with the conception of “the defense of the Fatherland”? What ought to be the tactics of the working class in war time?
In the meantime, the Tzarism and its allies, the upper groups of the nobility and the bourgeoisie, had during the war completely exposed their true nature, – the nature of criminal plunderers, blinded by limitless greed and paralyzed by want of talent. The appetites for conquest of the governing clique grew in proportion as the people began to realize its complete inability to cope with the most elementary problems of warfare, of industry and supplies in war time. Simultaneously, the misery of the people grew, deepened, became more and more acute, – a natural result of the war multiplied by the criminal anarchy of the Rasputin Tzarism.
In the depths of the great masses, among people who may have never been reached by a word of propaganda, a profound bitterness accumulated under the stress of events. Meantime the foremost ranks of the proletariat were finishing digesting the new events. The Socialist proletariat of Russia came to after the shock of the nationalist fall of the most influential part of the International, and decided that new times call us not to let up, but to increase our revolutionary struggle.
The present events in Petrograd and Moscow are a result of this internal preparatory work.
A disorganized, compromised, disjointed government on top. An utterly demoralized army. Dissatisfaction, uncertainty and fear among the propertied classes. At the hot-torn [?], among the masses, a deep bitterness. A proletariat numerically stronger than ever, hardened in the fire of events. All this warrants the statement that we are witnessing the beginning of the Second Russian Revolution. Let us hope that many of us will be its participants.