Isolating the Russian revolution

Submitted by Matthew on 24 May, 2017 - 12:35 Author: Morgan Philips Price

The following abridged article is by Morgan Philips Price, the Russian correspondent for the Manchester Guardian. First published in the US magazine Class Struggle in May 1919, it describes the foreign policy of all the ruling classes in Europe towards Russia after the October revolution.

One of the most deadly weapons wielded by the ruling classes of all countries is their power to censor the press; for thereby they are able to create under the pretext of military necessity an artificial public opinion with the object of hiding their foul designs. Never was this fact more clearly demonstrated than at the present moment; never was it more obvious that the governments of the Central Powers and the Allies, in order to suppress the workers’ and peasants’ revolution in Russia, must hide from their own people the truth about [the Russian] revolution, must represent it to the proletariat of the west as the work of a gang of robbers...

Living here in the besieged castle of the Russian Workers’ and Peasants’ Soviets, surrounded by the armed hosts of the European warlords, I am in a position to see more clearly than those outside this iron ring the power possessed by the ruling classes, whose foul designs include the strangling of the youngest of the governments of the toiling masses. Telegrams to my newspaper are suppressed, or, if passed by the British censor, are decapitated, so that no sense is left in them, postal communication is severed, provocative rumours about what is happening here are spread in London and Paris, and my attempts to deny them are frustrated. The technical apparatus of the capitalist states of Western Europe is set in motion against those whose duty it is to tell the truth about the Russian Revolution and to convey to the West the cry of the Russian people for help.

Knowing therefore the love of freedom and the sense of justice of the British working man, I am in these few lines appealing to him to understand the facts that I have here set before him — facts which I have obtained after four years’ residence in Russia….

The Russian Revolution in March, 1917, was nothing less than the first practical step taken by the working classes of a European country to protest against the indefinite dragging on of the war for objects hidden in the Chancellories of secret European diplomacy. There is no better proof of this than in the fact that the first act of the first all-Russian Soviet conference in May, 1917, was an appeal to the workers of the world to lay down their arms and make peace with each other over the heads of their governments.

The Russian workers and peasants were brought to this conviction by their intense sufferings during the previous two and a half years. The war... had brought their economically poorly developed country to ruin, the industries were at a standstill, famine was raging in the towns, and the villages were filled with maimed soldiers. Long before the March revolution one could see that the Russian army was no longer capable of the offensive and meanwhile all the towns in the interior of Russia were, even in 1916, filled with deserters. The “Bolshevik” revolution of October, 1917, was the second protest of the Russian workers and peasants against the continuation of a war which they had not the physical strength to carry on, nor the moral justification to support. It seemed better for them to risk the dangers of making peace single-handed with the Prussian warlords than be ruined by being dragged along in a war for the objects which were disclosed in the secret treaties between the Allies.

The October Revolution differed from that of March. For the first time in the history of the world a people realised that only by radically altering the whole form of human government was it possible to put down war. Declining all ideas of a compromise peace between the rulers of the countries at war (a solution which would only have led to another war) the workers and peasants of Russia dared to create a government, which, by putting an end to the political and economic power of landlords and financial syndicates, definitely rooted out that poison in human society which alone is the cause of war.

For the Russian people under Tsarism saw more clearly perhaps than the workers of England and Germany that the competition between the great banking and industrial trusts of London, Paris, Berlin and New York for spheres of influence, mining and railway concessions in undeveloped countries like their own, was the root cause of all modern wars and that, therefore, to put an end to war, the social and political system which breeds the exploiting trust must be once and for all overthrown.

From this it follows that the workers and peasants of Russia after the October Revolution were forced to undertake a task, which the weak Kerensky government (controlled, as it was, mainly by landlords and bankers) could not even attempt to solve, namely to take directly under its authority the principal means of production, distribution and exchange. For this reason the railways, waterways and mines were declared state property and the banks taken under government control.

But no sooner was this done than the governments of England and France began to plot for the overthrow of the Russian Soviet Government. The Allied governments began to spread rumors that the leaders of the Russian workers’ and peasants’ government were agents of Germany and had betrayed the working classes of England and France, because they had brought Russia out of the war.

[But] the necessity for Russia to obtain peace was dictated, firstly, by the impossibility of undertaking the work of social reconstruction at home, if a foreign war was draining the country of its material resources; and, secondly, by the desire of the workers and peasants of Russia to maintain a neutral position between the armed camps of Europe, and to show to the workers of other lands that they had no partiality to any of the warring governments. Germany By these tactics they were largely responsible for the great strike in Germany during January 1918. This was the first real protest of the German people against the war, and the policy of their government.

Contrast with this the tactics of the Allied governments, who, in spite of their loud assertions that by armed forces alone can Prussian militarism be crushed, have after four years’ battering away at the Western front at the cost of thousands of the noblest lives failed to call forth a single demonstration in Germany against the war. But the strike in Germany failed and the German government was left free to crush the Russian Revolution. Why did the strike fail? Because Hindenburg and the Prussian junkers were able to appeal to the more uneducated and less class-conscious among the German people and to say to them: “Don’t withdraw your support from us, because, if you do, the Allied governments will ruin Germany and reduce you to slavery.”

They were able to point to the secret treaties, published by the Soviet government, which showed that the Allies had been fighting to annex Germany up to the left bank of the Rhine, and that their governments had not repudiated these treaties. It was only when the Soviet government saw that the Russian Revolution had been deserted by the Allied democracies and betrayed by the German proletariat, that they were compelled reluctantly to sign the cruel Brest-Litovsk peace. And the very fact that the Kaiser and his hirelings imposed such onerous conditions shows how much he feared the Russian workers’ and peasants’ revolution and how abominable is the slander that the Bolsheviks are the agents of the German government, since it was not the Russian peasants and workers that deserted the Allies, but the Allies, yes, and I fear the working classes in the Allied countries, who deserted the Russian peasants and workers in the hour of their distress.

What was the policy of the Soviet government of Russia after the Brest-Litovsk treaty? I submit that it was a policy which aimed at maintaining the strictest neutrality between the two great fighting camps. Yet the governments of Germany and the Allies did everything to make the maintenance of neutrality impossible, because they looked upon the Russian workers and peasants either as objects for economic exploitation or as cannon fodder to be used by them.

The Soviet Government was forced to give up the Black Sea fleet to Germany (as a matter of fact a great part of the fleet was blown up to prevent its falling into German hands) and was forced to accept the principle of individual exchange of war prisoners, whereby hundreds of thousands of Russian workers and peasants were left to work in Germany in slavery under the Kaiser. And why had the ultimatums, which were showered upon the Soviet government from Berlin, to be accepted?

Because the Russian army had been ruined. And why was it ruined? Because the Allies had tried, all through the spring and summer of 1917, to force the Russian workers and peasants to fight for the objects which were disclosed by the Bolsheviks in the secret treaties [including the carving up of the Ottoman Empire in the event of Allied victory]. Whenever the Russian people, either through the Soviet or through the more progressive members of the Provisional Government, asked the Allies to define their war aims, they were met by platitudes about liberty and justice. Meanwhile the peasants and workers were starving and had no prospect before them but endless war for the undefined aims of foreign governments.

But in spite of its isolation the Soviet Government, in the spring of this year, commenced a program of social reconstruction. In order to succeed in this sphere it was necessary to receive help from economically more advanced countries...[this was refused at every turn]. The governments of England and France, in order to recoup themselves for the losses of the London and Paris bankers incurred by the Russian Revolution are now trying to overthrow the Soviet government and reestablish a government with the aid of armed hirelings, which will impose again the milliard tribute of the loans of Tsarism upon the backs of the Russian workers and peasants.

I categorically assert that the anarchy and famine now raging in Russia is the deliberate work of the imperialist governments of Europe, and in this respect the governments of the Allies and of Germany behave like vultures of the same brood. At the end of the eighteenth century the landlords of England declined to treat with the ambassadors of the free French republic and declared war upon a people who had cast off a feudal tyranny.

Today the banking oligarchies in London try to strangle by isolation and spread of famine the great movement of freedom that has sprung up in Eastern Europe. They will not succeed now, just as they did not succeed then, and the conquests of the Russian Revolution will endure, as did the conquests of the French Revolution last century. But to bring this about, the workers of England must know the truth, and, knowing it, must dare to act.