What Free Russia Asks Her Allies
By Lincoln Steffens
[Everybody's Magazine, August 1917]
The shores of Norway look just like the tourist posters of "the land of the midnight sun." They are rock; clean-washed, frozen, solid rock. And inshore, Christiania, the clean little capital, looks substantial and fine. But the cross seas of war and the Russian revolution were rocking the people, and the people were rocking the state; as the second-class prophetess had foretold on the ship the night before. "Wait," she called down the stairs amid-ships, with the dark faces of the other refugees affirming her words, "wait till you come to the land in the morning. You shall see that our revolution and your war are like the waves that tip up this boat and go on to tip up other boats till they come to the land. Land and liberty. But the revolution is only begun. When it is done, then the war will be over."
"And wars," said a man. "And autocracy," said another. Another said, "Plutocracy." A Russian said there would be "democracy."
"Really," I challenged. "Will Russia be a republic?"
"A republic!" the crowd echoed, and the first woman, the fierce one, hissed that a ''republic was nothing.... The United States is a republic."
"We shall have a republic, of course," a socialist said calmly. "But we here, we shall tell them in Russia that they will not copy the United States; that you are different from old Russia only that you have ten Tsars to our one."
"We shall have liberty," some one shouted. An East Sider I knew said "Free speech." A Finn called it "self-government, self-control," and a Polish fellow drawled, "Russian self-government means for other peoples too: Finns, and Liths, and us Poles; and all."
"You really hope for all that?" I spurred.
"Hope!" they exclaimed, almost in chorus. "We know. We are sure."
"But," I protested, "the French revolution; ours; yours—1905, 1908, Russia's; all the revolutions—history shows—— "
Oh, sure," said a black-bearded man, "but we know history and we shall go by it. We have studied why the others failed and—you shall see. We shall get all we have said, and——
"Land," said a peasant-looking figure up the stairs, and the fierce woman backed him up. "Yes, land. Land and liberty." That is the slogan of the Russian revolution, like the Mexican. Land is the cry that is crying all around the world, land and liberty.
When the Russian revolt of 1905 was shot down in Petrograd and the government clamped the lid on thought and speech, the Russian writers turned to fiction, and the stuff they produced was so licentious, so sensual, so vicious that even our East Side Russians were shocked. That literature expressed the people. They, too, were vicious. History has other examples which indicate that a people will turn upon and rend itself in vice when a great, universal hope is disappointed. Would that happen again?
I wondered and, wondering, returned to the upper deck to Charles R. Crane. He knew the Russians; this was his twenty-second trip to Russia. He should be able to say whether all this faith, hope, and pride were sailing for a fall. The Tsar was gone, but had the Russians themselves the character to realize their dreams, the dreams of all the peoples? The little dancer who was giving him a Russian lesson closed the grammar over her finger to hear Mr. Crane's reply.
"The Russians," he said, "are a strong, gentle people with a genius for cooperation and centuries of experience in local self-government and community ownership. They know what 'land' means; ninety per cent of them already have some of it. And—"A burst of drunken song from the first-class interrupted, or inspired, the rest. "And," he concluded, "this Russian Revolution is a revolution without vodka, without drink."
The dancer reopened the book; the answer was complete for her.
The Norwegians were short of food. Business was good. Their neutral ships were making joyous millionaires of the owners and speculators in shipping shares. But the people were poor, hungry, angry. Emboldened by the Russian news, they were saying in plain talk that theirs was a government by business men, chiefly shipping men, and that the national policy was determined by the shipping interest, not the interest of the people.
The United States had just gone into the war, and the American policy toward neutrals, who, like Norway and Sweden, were dependent for their life on trade with us—the possibility that we would cut off or cut down our business with them, was a fearful question there. The people wanted it taken up with us in their interest. A mob-like muttering which mixed up such words as "Bread," "Business," "America," "Russia" and "Revolution," "Peace" and "May first," broke into a popular demand for the resignation of two big shipping men from the ministry two days after we left Christiania for Sweden.
Stockholm was very like Norway. Everybody was talking about "May first" and "Bread," "Germany or England?" "the United States," and "the Russian Revolution." Food was short. Bread and sugar could be had only on tickets, and the king was setting the fashion in submission by taking out of his gold pocket-sugar-box at a tea a lump of sugar for his own cup. But we were advised by Swedish statesmen and journalists to wait there for the Swedish Revolution. It was "coming, sure, on May first." And the people were meeting and complaining aloud: that their nobility was pro-German by education; that the middle class was making fortunes out of trade with Germany; and that, therefore, the Government, which these classes controlled, was run in the interest of business and Germany, not of the hungry people. The Swedish policy was risking a restriction of supplies from and by the United States.
Socialism is strong in Sweden, and Mr. Branting, the Socialist leader in the Rikstag, just back from Petrograd, was telling his people about it and warning his Government in public words that there was danger in Sweden, too; that May first was to be a critical day; and that, since the example of the Russian soldiers in the Russian Revolution, the Government could not count on the Swedish troops. The Government tried out his theory. We travelers were "tipped" in our Grand Hotel to go out one afternoon and see the soldiers disperse a mob in front of the Rikstag. We went, but we didn't see the soldiers disperse the mob. There were soldiers in the mob, and the companies that had marched under arms to the square had not moved the mob, hadn't even seen it. They marched by without looking at it, and their officers didn't dare to give the order to halt and fire. These officers, it was explained, had heard what was done by Russian troops to their officers, and they knew something about their own troops which made them follow the men they were there to lead—right by the clamoring bread rioters.
Now, we Americans didn't know then what the Russian army officers had suffered. Leaving New York soon after the first news of the Revolution, we had been three weeks at sea and so hadn't heard a word of the astonishing news which to the people ashore was old, and nobody would stop to tell us about it. They'd tell us all about some detail of an event, not the event, or they'd discuss till we were tired the "next revolution" in Russia or in Sweden.
A Swedish brakeman from the United States on the train to Tornio explained at length that a soldier in uniform, especially an untrained recruit, was really a man, and a working man at that; and that on May first the Swedish Government would find it out, as the Russian Tsar had. But it was hard work to get out of him the fact, which had set him thinking, the very illuminating fact that the Russian Revolution went through because the old soldiers had been killed off in the two years' fighting with Germany; fresh troops were in the Petrograd regiments; and these raw men, being workmen, students, peasants and revolutionaries generally, forced by conscription to take arms, refused to use them to shoot down their "comrades," the people in the mob, and sometimes killed their own officers instead.
The reason the big Swede gave for his interest in his argument for conscription and his utter lack of interest in the fact back of that argument was that the fact related to the first, "the old" revolution in Russia, five weeks old, whereas he and his friends were watching for the next, the real revolution in Sweden on May first.
"Why don't you wait here for it?" he asked. "It's only a couple of weeks off now."
A revolution in hand was worth two in the future of Sweden, we told him, and went on through Sweden to Tornio on the famous Russian frontier, where the red flag that is flying clear across Russia first startled us.
There the Russians bought Petrograd newspapers, and all the way down through frozen Russia they were reading and talking about the "news." And they told us things. But they told us that a certain revolutionist high in the council of the cause, was on the list of police spies, before they told us that this list was being printed day by day in the papers, and we had to drag it out of them that in the seven days of street fighting which made the revolution in Petrograd, the secret police archives had been set on fire, the building burned and that "some of the damning records had been saved." They knew all that, and their interest was to look through the lists for the names of men and women they knew and had trusted, and to note the price of their treason.
"So-and-Sosky!" they read, and then with a gasp: "Fifty rubles a month!"
A British officer on the train told us that the Russian soldiers and sailors had killed the "right officers," before he told us they had killed any. It developed bit by bit that he had been all through the revolutionary scenes at his military post town; had seen the Russian soldiers and sailors rise up and, overthrowing their old officers, elect new ones. But what interested him was the truth so amazing to him, that "these soldiers and sailors evidently knew their officers well. They killed the brutes, cast out the incompetents and kept or promoted the officers who understood and worked at their jobs." That he would talk about, that and what was coming next—on May first, which he dreaded.
Our train emptied us into Petrograd one midnight, more confused, more eager, more curious than even we reporters are used to being. What we knew was worse than nothing; it was just a lot of disconnected, contradictory flashes of scenes. The picture on my mind of the city I was stepping into the darkness and mystery of, was like one of those post-impressionist paintings you can make nothing of, or an anarchist's nightmare; a terrifying vision of an ignorant, brutal people hungry for food and hungry for vengeance, loose, free—free to wreak their will; who had, as a matter of fact, done very little killing and plundering so far; who had, indeed, up to now, shown astonishing self-restraint and even good judgment; but, then, they had only half-done their work and were waiting, panting to finish it—on May first.
That's what I had been led to expect to see in Petrograd, Russia. What I saw was—Order; no government and no disorder. What I heard was—Justice; no law, but all men full of respect for all men. And what I came to feel there was that I was one of a great, strong, young people in a state of exaltation; lifted by ideals far, far above anything I had ever believed the human animal capable of in mass. That was the key to my understanding of the Russian Revolution.
It may not last—this state of mind. It had lasted from the start of the Revolution to the time I got there; it lasted during the five weeks I was in Petrograd; and that means that it outlasted the riots of May, when we went to the verge of civil war. And it lasted—I found it all through Russia and Siberia on my way home. Men and women everywhere were rising above themselves to work out with humility and confidence, with passion, but with caution, their common—the nation's, a people's—job.
"It can't last," the foreigners there said, "it simply can't." And nobody says it can. I don't. I think I saw the beginning of the descent to earth just before I quit Petrograd. I heard some parlor Socialists, society folk and foreign investors discussing ways and means to split the Revolutionary Government: break off the Jews from the Gentiles, the soldiers from the working men, and set the peasants against both.
But this I can say: "Some of us who lived with the Russians in their joy, will never again lose our belief in the possibilities of human nature in the mob; of man in the mass."
And this also I will say: "The Allies must realize this, the exalted state of mind of the Russian people."
They didn't then. They were sending to Russia commissioners from France, from England, from the United States, and these ambassadors to a people were, hearing all this wonderful tale of liberty, order and idealism impatiently. When the elated Russians, full of the vision of the-life before New Russia, had risen to the height of their eloquence, the foreign commissioners would say:
"Yes, yes, that's all very fine, but how about the war? Will Russia fight?"
They got no answer. There was then an answer, a great, a true answer. The answer is, "Yes, Russia will fight and fight as a nation, like a race of freemen, too—if ——"
Let's see if we can't get that "if." It's for us. The Allies control it. And it's not impossible to get it. It only means getting an actual conception of a nation, a whole nation of people, lifted up to a height where they mean literally what they and the Allies and what we all say, but only think we mean.
It was quiet in the station where we alighted, and cold. Few people were about, and no police. "Abolished," said our host. We drove out into the dimly lighted, wide, frozen streets. They were empty of life. A youth with a soldier's rifle slung over his shoulder halted our automobile at the crossing. "The dark forces use autos," our guide explained; "carriages pass unchallenged."
The guard took our pass to the automobile light, which shone on his young face. A student. "Can such as he keep order in a revolutionary metropolis?" I asked. "Oh, no," the guide said, seriously; "the people themselves keep order."
Waved on by the people's policeman, we passed the smoke-stained walls of a stone building that had been fired, and I looked to our guide for an explanation. "A court," he said. There were two other burned buildings. Police-stations.''
"Were courts and police-stations all that were destroyed?"
"That's about all. The mobs were—rather—careful."
We seemed to drive miles and miles through a deserted city. We saw not five human beings. But when we got to our hotel, it was full. Our reservation was the only vacant room. Petrograd was crowded with people from all over Russia: peasants from Siberia; soldiers and sailors from the front; officers run out of the service; delegations of working men elected in other cities to govern their new government; landlords, nobles, and business men retreated there for safety. The great city was not dead; it was harboring two million souls that were merely quietly asleep.
Russia was corrupt, so corrupt that her Tsar was believed to be controlled by the Germans, and no doubt some of his generals were. The exact truth of this will come out in certain trials to be held later, but that's of the future. We're looking back now, for a moment. The Russian people believe that their Government was sending the Russian army out to be defeated; that a million or two of their fathers., sons, brothers, and friends were killed by a corrupt conspiracy between the old regime and Germany. Were they enraged? No. They were hungry. The Government thought they were angry, or perhaps they merely thought they ought to be angry, and would soon rise up in revolt. The people think that the Government wanted to force on the revolt and get it over with; that that is why the Government held back food and maltreated the bread-lines. Certainly the Government was prepared for revolution; and the revolutionists were not. The plan on which the city was armed with machine guns has been found since.
The Russian Revolution is attributed to provocation by the Government. It was the Government that was violent, not the people. The Government attacked the people, who merely moved away from, the bread-lines. But, hungry, they came back, and again and again were beaten by the police; and, gentle, as everybody says, they didn't resist.
The soldiers came—the Cossacks; old regiments, but, as the Swedish brakeman said, new men; working men, peasants; "comrades" full of the teachings of "the propaganda." They didn't shoot; they didn't use their swords; they were gentle with the mobs. And the mobs began to notice it. "Are the Cossacks with us?"
One day, the third of the seven, the police fired on the mob, and the soldiers fired on, charged, and drove out the police. Their officers commanded them to turn on the mob; they shot their officers. "The soldiers are with us!"
That was the real sign. The revolution was on. The working men were on strike, so were the soldiers. It didn't go all at once. Some regiments turned before others; some units of a regiment turned and others didn't; and there were fights, there were battles in the streets and in the armories, bloody, quick battles. The strikers won, armed and unarmed, and all turned upon the police, who retreated to cellars and roofs, but armed there with rifles and machine guns, fought. They fought like rats. The police shot into crowds that didn't see the police till the police attacked them—for revenge, apparently; in despairing hate.
And the mobs, the brutal Russian democracy, what did the dreaded people do? Sometimes they caught and killed the police. Not often. Once they fought and some of the crowd died to get a squad of police in a fighting police-station, and they killed them all, and burned the station; but that was because they found the basement full of "food for sale": a Russian police graft. The police wouldn't let the shopkeepers sell 'to the people, except on tickets, but they, the police, stored up big stocks and sold to the rich who paid them graft prices.
For that, the mob, in sudden fury, killed. And sometimes they killed because in a battle between a roof full of police and a street full of people, many people were shot down. But this wasn't typical. All witnesses agree that the typical thing was for the people to fight up under a building that harbored an attacking squad of policemen; go up, under fire, to the roof, fight well and take the police, and bring them down to the street. There always some voices clamored for blood. But always also some voice said:
"Niet, niet. That's what the Government did. We mustn't do any of the things the Government does. We must take the prisoners to the Duma and let them be tried."
And this was done. And the Soldiers' and Workmen's Committee, which had been formed on the model of the Workmen's Committee of 1905-08 by adding the soldiers, condemned these police prisoners to—the loss of their privilege of exemption from military duty. They were sent to the front. Sometimes they were placarded and marched through the streets, but—that's about all."
The first act of this revolutionary Government was to abolish capital punishment. And the first leader, Kerensky, sounded the note of that Government:
"If we must govern by force and fear, I will not govern in Russia."
The teachings of Tolstoy have sunk deep into the Russians—Tolstoy or Jesus.
The Government and police made the Russian Revolution, the people carried it through; not the reformers of the Duma. These wanted only a limited, constitutional monarchy, and they pleaded with the Tsar for it. The Duma group, sincere and quick, saw the opportunity, and worked for their ends while the revolution rolled up and down Petrograd, along the front, into Moscow and other cities, and spread all over Russia. But the people won and they have held the victory. And it is a remarkable fact that disconnected as these uprisings were, not in close communication, they followed, with a few explainable exceptions, everywhere the same course, through the same stages, in the same moderate spirit, to the same end: the very same form of government.
When I started out through Russia and Siberia with the Russian Commission to the United States, we heard of independent republics which we had to pass through and which might hold up our train. We used to joke about having neglected to get passports for these republics. Mr. Bakhmetieff, as a representative of the Provisional Government, was keen to ask at each such center what the situation was. Everywhere the answer was the same: First, there was a perplexed complaint that they couldn't get from Petrograd any response to their inquiries for orders, instructions or even advice as to what to do. And, second, when we asked: "Well, and what did you do?" Their answer showed that they had happened to do exactly what Petrograd had done, and Moscow, and Riga, and all the other centers.
They had set up a government, by universal consent, variously obtained, with a Provisional Government so-called, a group representing the Zemstvos, the business men, landlords, and, as they said, the middle class. And under that, but with the sovereign power to veto or command the acts of the Provisional Government, they had organized a Soldiers' and Workmen's committee, which represented "the common people."
And, as for the tales of an independent republic, that was a misunderstanding of the conflict of interest between these two groups or forces, as represented by the very same conflict in Petrograd.
"We have not voted to support the Provisional Government because it doesn't seem to represent us, the people, in its foreign policy."
That's the point. That brings us to May first, the day all men seemed to dread, the day which had been set aside for a Labor Day, a day when the Russian people were to celebrate the triumph of their revolution and the prospect for liberty the world over. And because they thought all the rest of the world, England and the United States and France or at any rate all the other free peoples would want to rejoice with the Russians, they moved up their May Day eleven days. They violated their Greek calendar to make their May Day our May Day. So it came suddenly to us, but not without warnings.
We were told we mustn't go out that day; and that, the night before, we must lay in a store of food. We did this last. Everybody did. And that was necessary, for no worker worked in Petrograd on May first. But we went out. The people were out before us. We heard the song, the Russian Marseillaise, and the calls, the honkings of the armored motor-cars and automobiles. All "the peepul" of Petrograd, all were out from early till late. And so were we. I went all over that city, all day long, and it was a day to remember. It was sunny, cold, very, very cold, for the ice had not run out of the Neva; and that's the sign of spring at Petrograd. But it was sunshine, physically and spiritually. The Russian people were glad, warm, kind, and organized. The same arrangement which had made the great funeral of all the people killed in the Seven Days a marvel of order and dignity, was followed on May first. Everybody knew where he was to go, where to march, where to speak or listen, as he wished. And anybody and everybody spoke; and all said what each thought. The notes sounded were happy—hope and faith and brotherhood.
I saw two processions meet on the bank of the Neva. One was of jolly Russians: men women, girls and boys, soldiers and workers; the other of Tartars, Mongols and Chinamen, workers who did the dirty work of the city—street-cleaning, sewers, draining. These were shy, abashed, not sure. The two processions cheered each other; then, moved a bit, they halted to sing the revolutionary song together; and then, at a moment I felt—everybody seemed to get the full import of it—the two or three races rushed together, and embraced, and wept. A moment, and they, recovered their dignity, and marched on their way. But the Mongols were not shy any longer; they looked a bit astonished at one another, but their step was sure.
That dreaded day ended like a holiday in New York in a general retreat of the crowds homeward, with babies crying, mothers worn out, and even the fathers and brothers and the girls too tired to shout or sing. But the weary people were satisfied, and certainly they were innocent.
"Ah, yes," said the head-waiter at the hotel; he was "loyal"; he didn't take part in this rubbish; he despised it: "You wait." And he was right. But we, sure now of the people, paid no heed. We inquired about Stockholm. Had the Swedish revolution come off? There was news from there, but only about that Peace Conference. No revolution. But a Socialist in touch with Sweden, said: "No, no revolution on May first. But wait. Revolutions never come off when scheduled. But the causes of a revolution are in Sweden and" (he named a few other countries) "—you'll see. And you'll see here, too, soon."
Next day there were street meetings; a few, but active. We heard the words "Miliukoff," "Peace," "Germany and the Allies," "England," "the United. States," and a lot about "Secret Treaties." We remembered hearing those words on May first, but more quietly spoken. On the third the whole city was excited by many such meetings; on May fourth (our date) there was shooting on the Nevski.
"Now you're seeing what we saw in the Seven Days," said the Americans who had been through that period.
It wasn't so terrible. There were mobs; and military motor-trucks and armored cars, full of armed workmen and wild girls and angry soldiers, shot here and there, like bullets,, and there were clashes between contending crowds. But I think you get a wrong impression of such things, because we reporters, naturally, pick out to report only incidents, and there were enough street battles on May fourth and fifth to give, if described, a sense of great violence and disorder. That wouldn't be true. There must have been thousands of meetings and hundreds of parades that day, with at least a million people deeply moved and partly armed; and there were but three "bloody incidents," and—seven killed and wounded. That was the news. I was in the biggest, hottest mob all the afternoon of May fifth, the last day of the "rioting," and this is what I saw:
It was in the Marinsky, in front of the Council of Empire. The Provisional Government was supposed to be sitting there, listening to a committee from the Council of Soldiers and Workmen, who were protesting against Miliukoff's foreign policy. As a matter of fact, this critical meeting was two blocks away, at the Ministry of War. Gutchoff, the Minister of War, was ill, and the meeting was held at his bedside. Some of the mob learned this, and went there, but the great crowd, in ignorance, remained before the Council. A threatening regiment— threatening not the crowd, but the Council—marched quietly into the square and lined up before the great building; and another; and others; some armed, others unarmed; some with officers, some without; but all in good order, in perfect formation, and all silent. There were speeches, many at once, but far enough apart to avoid confusion, and whenever a soldier felt inclined to speak, he fell out, took the box, spoke and returned to his place. It was remarkable.
This and other incidents bore in upon me the truth of Charles R. Crane's statement; he said that the Russians are a strong, gentle people experienced in self-government and co-operation. And they have a sense of order, too; of organization, and of liberty. This last is the amazing thing.
Most of the speeches in that crowd were one way. They said, as their banners said: "Down with Miliukoff." And the complaint was, in brief, that the Allies had among themselves certain treaties, made in secret and kept a secret, by which, at the end of the war, they were to add to their dominions over certain weaker nations, and that Russia had one with them. Russia was to get Constantinople, for example. But the Russians did not want Constantinople, unless the people of Constantinople wanted to join Russia. Russia, new Russia, wanted to gain nothing out of this war except what the war was for: freedom and democracy for all the world. So Miliukoff must repudiate this treaty, and ask the Allies to come together again and repudiate all these secret treaties. The United States and Russia, the two new allies, should demand that the war be fought out only for justice and right; not-for money, or territory, or empire, but for ideals. The speakers were passionate; so was the crowd. Feeling ran high and deep. They said they were willing to fight for all this right there in that square at that moment, and you felt they were. There was a psychology about it; it gripped one, carried one along with it. But right in the midst of it, at the height of the feeling, after a good speaker had expressed that crowd to its satisfaction, a little clerk-like dandy got up, and began in a rasping voice to speak against this view. There was a murmur of anger, and I thought the moment had come; there certainly would have been trouble in some countries I know. Not in Russia. That hot mob turned upon that murmur:
"Niet," a dozen voices said. "Silence! We must hear "him out, too. Everybody can say all that he thinks."
And the little speaker, interrupted for a moment, proceeded to explain at painful length that Mr. Miliukoff was standing sincerely and bravely for the inviolability of an agreement. Russia, old Russia, but yet Russia, had entered into contracts with her allies for the war, and Russia, new and old, was in honor bound to keep those contracts. The United States might ask for a revision, but not Russia; not Mr. Miliukoff.
Other observers of this and similar incidents, despised the Russian crowds because, having cheered one view, they'd cheered the opposite, as in this case. I don't feel that way about it. I had a conversation with Mr. Miliukoff on this subject, and he had an element of right, as the little speaker did, and it seemed to me hopeful that the Russian mob saw it; that they could get and applaud two ideas. But the best is that they would listen, as they always did, and as they always insisted that an audience should, to any speaker, no matter what he said. There was a moment when Lenin, the veteran radical who came home through Germany, was most unpopular both with the Provisional Government and the people; they said he was jeopardizing the Revolution; but the Soldiers and Workmen wouldn't forbid his meetings, and the people kept a small crowd before his house, to see that he was protected and heard.
Nor would they let you judge him. Once when a member of the Soldiers' and Workmen's Council was abusing Lenin for the trouble he made, I asked suddenly, "Is there anything in the charge that Lenin is in German pay?"
"Certainly not," said Lenin's enemy. "Lenin is as sincere as any of us. Only he is arrogant and risks the cause just to stick to his own theory.
Nobody suspected anybody of meanness or materialism, and that's what I mean by exaltation. They didn't suspect others, because they weren't guilty themselves; they were in the flood of idealism. Even Miliukoff, denounced all over Petrograd, clear across Russia and all along the front for his policy, was never accused of evil intent; only of obstinate wrongheadedness. But the rest of this story shows that.
Take the supreme moment of that meeting at Mr. Gutchoff's bedside, where a majority of the Provisional Government and all the Soldiers and Workmen, were trying to persuade the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Miliukoff, to resign or demand of the Allies a clearing up of the matter of the secret treaties. One speaker, flushed and eloquent, was quoting President Wilson, showing that he was saying for the United States just what the Soldiers and Workmen were saying for Russia: that this war must be for no extension of territories and no compensation or revenge, but only for conditions that would make for permanent peace and a freed world.
"Are not you ashamed, Paul Nicholevitch," the orator said, pointing at Miliukoff; but he stopped. A cry: "Daloi Miliukoff," one cry, fired like a shell from the crowd in the Marinsky, before the Council of Empire, screamed down the Moika Canal and burst in the smaller, intenser crowd in front of the War Minister's palace. It sobered the speaker. He repeated, but in a softer tone he said: "Are not you ashamed to let the leader of the oldest, the least democratic, the most corrupt and plutocratic of the republics, lead the world in the declaration for the idealistic ends of this world war, while you, the leader of the youngest, the newest, the most hopeful of all democracies, you lag; you stand with the old empires for the old, dead diplomacy?"
But even this man, afterward, when I spoke to him, said:
"Miliukoff ashamed? No, he was not ashamed. I spoke too strong. Why should Miliukoff be ashamed? He was honest; he was in earnest; God, he may have been right. Maybe we are too deep in the old tangle of the treaties and too weak to demand a better understanding. Maybe it is for the United States to do; or, better still, the Allies. And why not? They want the Russian people to fight. We can't make them fight. We'll try, but—I think only the United States or the Allies can make the Russians fight. How? Why, by themselves, voluntarily calling a conference of all the allies, the old allies and the new: England, France, all—and the United States, New Russia and—yes, and China, and there openly agreeing, all, to fight on, only for—what they, what we all, say is what we are fighting for."
Miliukoff resigned; not that day, however. The mobs disturbed the councils of the government and caused alarm—for the Revolution. So the Soldiers and Workmen posted placards and passed the word otherwise, asking the people not to hold meetings for a few days; to trust them, their leaders, to work it all out right, and keep perfect order and silence—for just a few days. And the people obeyed. There wasn't a street meeting in Petrograd for three days; not a peep.
The councils met in quiet, and in quiet studied their problem. Mr. Miliukoff said that it wasn't fair to ask him and the Provisional Government to carry out, not his, but the Soldiers' and Workmen's policy so against his convictions. The Soldiers and Workmen ought to do it themselves. They were taking now all the power and none of the responsibility. He wanted the Provisional Government to give way to the real government, the Soldiers and Workmen. And they wouldn't! So Miliukoff resigned. And the rest of the Provisional Government, wishing the Soldiers and Workmen to come in and take their share of the responsibility, could get only a few to come. The Soldiers and Workmen refused the crown. Why?
I asked them, several of them, that question. The demand of the Government seemed reasonable, but they all gave the same-answer:
"Niet. We would fail, and that would mean the failure of the Revolution. We have not forgotten the lessons of history, the experience of 1905-08. No, no. We shall make mistakes, but shall not make the same mistakes that we made before. We want the middle-class government to govern—for a while, while we have the capitalistic system, but we want the power."
"But why, why?"
"Why? Because if we, we Socialists, took the throne, our people, the Russian people, would expect us to set up a Socialist state all at once. That can't be done, not all at once, like that. Not now, with this war on. The first few governments must fail. Let them be the bourgeois governments. They'd fight us if we took power and tried out all our ideas. That would be civil war. We want no civil war. We know what we are about. We are avoiding civil war and saving the Revolution, we with the power, they with the responsibility. And some of them also understand that. It is all open and perfectly agreed among us. There will be sacrifices, but only of good men, not of the people, not of the Revolution. The Russian Revolution of 1917 will go on to the end."
"You mean," I said, "that Kerensky will go down as Miliukoff did?" "Kerensky?" he said. "Kerensky will die. I love that man. We Russians all love Kerensky—but, Kerensky doesn't matter. Nobody, no individual, matters. We Russians have seen all our greatest spirits die—for the cause of Russia's freedom. We are used to it. Any one of us would be glad to go and serve and die for Russia, as Kerensky must."
Kerensky, the non-resistant, took the portfolio of War in the ministry formed after Miliukoff resigned. And he, the man who signalled the Russian mob not to kill, took the War Department because the new Provisional Government wanted to respond to the call of the Allies and finish the war. That government knows vividly what it is so hard for the outside world to grasp, that the Russian people are really free. The soldiers gave up thirty thousand rifles to the workmen in Petrograd alone; the Soldiers' and Workmen's Committee represent a people that are armed. The Allies keep sending commissions to the Russian Government to get it to make the Russians fight. No government can make the Russians fight. But the Russian leaders agreed that if there was any one among them who could make the Russians want to fight, it was Kerensky. He is a sick man; he didn't like, he didn't want the job. He preferred Justice; he was happy in that department; he was making it stand for mercy. But he consented; he is Minister of War; and he does his best, as the news shows.
He personally led a part of the Russian lines to begin attacks on July first; and other parts, inspired by their example, charged. But the "advance" was not effective. Magnificent, it is not war. And the loss was terrible to the simple soldiers who couldn't resist the appeals of Kerensky and the Soldiers' and Workmen's Council. There may be other such attacks, and, of course, they may catch fire. But what the Allies need and what Kerensky asks is that Russia, the nation, shall go to war, united, organized, inspired.
Kerensky's friends in the Soldiers' and Workmen's Committee told me that Kerensky said: "I will give not only my strength, I will give my life to make the Russians fight. I may get the soldiers to charge, and I'll beg the nation to join in an all-together fight. But I can't. I know I can't. Only President Wilson and the Allies can do that."
Only the Allies can make the Russians want to fight, and they can do it only by dealing in the spirit of New Russia with the public opinion of Russia. That public opinion may be based on an illusion. That illusion may have been planted by the Germans and it probably was, for the Germans, the German people, seem to have the same idea. No matter. The fact is that the Russian and German soldiers have been talking man to man for months for miles along the trenches; and that, not thousands, but hundreds of thousands of Russians have left the front and gone back home to a million places in Russia and Siberia, and there and all along the road they have spread the opinion that some of the Allies have secret treaties by which each of them is to get an increase of empire. That's what took the fight out of the Russians. That's what the Allies have to deal with. And the Russian statesmen suggest a way to deal with it:
Call a conference of the Allies, with the new allies: the United States, New Russia, and China. See that the Russian representatives represent the Russian people and have their full faith, as, for example, Kerensky has it. Then if the secret treaties are an illusion, if there is nothing bad in them, put, say, Kerensky, in a position to go home and say so. If they are not an illusion, it is harder, but not impossible.
Soon after I got to Petrograd, an Englishman, a high-minded, scholarly Liberal, who was there on a mission for his Government, said he was glad the Americans had come into the war, because he thought we would "put the war back on the high plane where it was with us English at first."
That's all the Russians ask, the people, I mean, the mob, the free, armed Russian mob, and that mob is not unreasonable. If my report shows anything, it shows that the Russian people have not only self-government, literally, but self-control; that they are fair; will listen and, listening, can accept two ideas at once and consider them, talk them over quietly together and act upon them.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
If you appreciate the articles, read the e-novel informed by them —
THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald