Only a provisional government can bring peace

February 6, 2017

One hundred years ago today, on February 6 (January 24 according to the Julian calendar in use in Russia), a Menshevik-influenced workers' group within the Central War Industry Committee issued this appeal for a demonstration calling for a provisional government.

The War Industry Committees were set up by businessmen in 1915 to assist the Russian imperial government with military supplies. Managers and engineers filled the committees, which were supplemented by groups of workers elected from factories. Bolsheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries were generally opposed to such collaboration by workers with owners and managers of industry, but some Mensheviks participated in the worker groups.

In early 1917, the Menshevik-composed Central Worker Group under the Central War Industry Committee attempted to mobilize workers to call for replacing the Tsarist regime with a Provisional Government. The following appeal, with the full title "Only a provisional government can bring freedom and piece," led to the arrest of the members of the Central Worker Group, starting two days later on February 8-9 (January 26-27). The government postponed the convocation of the Duma until February 27 (14); workers responded with a one-day strike rather than the mass demonstration suggested below.

This leaflet presents the views of the Menshevik current among Russian socialists, which would play the more moderate role throughout the Russian Revolution. The reply of the other major currents, the Bolsheviks, will be the next installment in the series. This leaflet was translated and annotated by Barbara Allen, author of the biography Alexander Shlyapnikov, 1885-1937: Life of an Old Bolshevik, and is part of the an SW series giving a view from the streets during the 1917 Russian Revolution. The series is edited by John Riddell and co-published at his website.

THE DESPOTIC regime is strangling the country. The autocracy's policy is worsening the already severe disasters of the war, which bear down with all their weight upon the classes which do not own property. And the government's self-seeking multiplies many times over the already countless victims of war.

The government, which created a severe crisis of food supply, is stubbornly pushing the country, day by day, toward hunger and complete ruin. It is using wartime circumstances to enserf the working class. By chaining the workers to the factory, it turns them into factory serfs. Incapable of coping with the tasks set by the war, the ruling regime nevertheless used it to intensify the persecution and oppression of Russia's various peoples.

Neither the war's end, nor the peace that the weary country thirsts for, can lead the people out of calamity, if the war is ended by the current autocratic power rather than by the people themselves.

Once they end the war, the autocracy will attempt to forge new chains for the people. Instead of relief, the end of the war can bring new, even more terrible misfortunes to the people. Bound hand and foot by the lack of political rights, the people, especially the proletariat, will be given over to arbitrariness, unemployment and hunger. High prices and unemployment, together with the government's despotism, will cast the working class into poverty and slavery.

Russian workers in a factory before the First World War
Russian workers in a factory before the First World War

The working class and democratic forces can wait no longer. Each missed day is dangerous. The task now urgently posed for resolution is to decisively eliminate the autocratic regime and fully democratize the country. This is a matter of life and death for the working class and democratic forces.

Proceeding from everything stated above, it is clear that the current conflict between propertied bourgeois society and the authorities creates conditions especially favorable for the working class's active intervention. The people's movement can use the Duma's conflict with the government to promote a decisive blow against the autocracy.

We, the workers of ___________________, resolve: to immediately set about unifying and organizing our forces and electing a factory committee; to reach an understanding with comrades of other mills and factories; to explain to all comrades at many assemblies the extreme importance of this moment; and to provide information about our decisions to other factories.

We should be ready for a general, organized public initiative at the moment when the Duma (parliament) convenes.

Before the Duma convenes, let all of worker Petrograd, factory by factory, district by district, simultaneously move toward the Tauride Palace [the seat of the Duma], in order to present the main demands of the working class and democratic forces.

The entire country and the army should hear the voice of the working class. Only a Provisional Government, leaning for support on the people who have organized through struggle is capable of extricating the country from a dead end and fatal ruin, of strengthening political freedom within it, and of bringing about peace on conditions acceptable to both the Russian proletariat and the proletariat of other countries.

Source: Published in A.G. Shliapnikov, Semnadtsatyi god, volume 1, 1923, pp. 279-280. Translated by Barbara Allen.

A note on Russian dates: The Julian calendar used by Russia in 1917 ran 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar that is in general use today. In the "View from the Streets" series, centennials are reckoned by the Gregorian calendar; dates are given with the Gregorian ("New Style") date first, followed by the Julian date in parentheses.

Further Reading

From the archives