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The naval battle in the Korea Strait has captured the attention of the political press the world over. At first the tsarist government tried to conceal the bitter truth from its loyal subjects, but it soon realised the hopelessness of such an attempt. In any case it would have been impossible to conceal the utter rout of the entire Russian navy.

In appraising the political significance of the last naval battle, we can only repeat what we said in Vperyod, No. 2,[1] on the fall of Port Arthur. The complete military debacle of tsarist Russia had become evident by then, but the Baltic squadron still gave the Russian patriots a ray of hope. All realised that the outcome of the war depended on victory at sea. The autocracy understood that an adverse outcome of the war would be tantamount to a victory of the “internal enemy”, viz., of the revolution. It, therefore, staked its all. Hundreds of millions of rubles were spent on hastily dispatching the Baltic fleet, motley crews were scraped together, final preparations to get the warships into sea trim were rushed through, and old tubs were added to the new and powerful battle-ships to increase the total number of craft. The great armada—as huge and unwieldy, as absurd, help less, and monstrous as the whole Russian Empire—put to sea, expending a fortune in coal and maintenance, making itself the laughing-stock of Europe, especially after its brilliant victory over the fishing smacks, and grossly violating all the usages and principles of neutrality. According to the most conservative estimates this armada cost nearly 300,000,000 rubles, besides 100,000,000 rubles on the expedition. Altogether 400,000,000 rubles were thrown away on this last war gamble of the tsarist autocracy.

Now this last gamble, too, has failed. Everyone had expected the defeat of the Russian fleet, but no one had thought it would be so crushing. Like a horde of savages, the Russian ships flung themselves headlong upon the Japanese fleet, which was magnificently armed and equipped with the most up-to-date means of defence. After a two-day battle, thirteen of Russia’s twenty warships manned by from twelve to fifteen thousand, were sunk or destroyed, four were captured, and only one (the Almaz) escaped and reached Vladivostok. More than half the crews were killed or drowned, and Rozhdestvensky “himself” and his right-hand man, Nebogatov, were taken prisoner, while the Japanese fleet came out of the engagement unscathed, except for the loss of three destroyers.

Russia’s naval strength has been completely destroyed. The war has been lost irretrievably. The complete expulsion of the Russian troops from Manchuria and the seizure of Sakhalin and Vladivostok by the Japanese are now only a matter of time. We are witnessing, not just a military defeat, but the complete military collapse of the autocracy.

With every new blow struck by the Japanese, the significance of this collapse, as the collapse of the entire political system of tsarism, grows clearer both to Europe and to the whole Russian people. Everything is up in arms against the autocracy: the wounded national pride of the big and petty bourgeoisie, the outraged pride of the army, the bitter feeling over the loss of hundreds of thousands of young lives in a senseless military adventure, the resentment against the embezzlement of hundreds of millions from the public funds, the fears of an inevitable financial collapse and a protracted economic crisis as a result of the war, and the dread of a formidable people’s revolution which (in the opinion of the bourgeoisie) the tsar could and should have avoided by means of timely and “reasonable” concessions. The demand for peace is spreading far and wide. The liberal press is indignant. Even the most moderate elements, like the landowners of the “Shipov” trend, are beginning to utter threats,and even the sycophantic Novoye Vremya is demanding the immediate convening of representatives of the people.

The European bourgeoisie, that most faithful prop of the tsarist government, is also beginning to lose patience. It is alarmed at the inevitable realignment in international relations, at the growing power of the young and fresh Japan, and the loss of a military ally in Europe. It is disturbed over the fate of the thousands of millions which it has so generously lent to the autocracy. It is seriously perturbed by the revolution in Russia, which is unduly exciting the European proletariat and may lead to a revolutionary conflagration on a world scale. In the name of “friendship” with tsarism it appeals to its common sense, insists on the necessity of peace—peace with Japan, and peace with the liberal Russian bourgeoisie. Europe does not for a moment shut its eyes to the fact that peace with Japan can now be bought only at a very high price; but it figures out in sober and business-like fashion that every extra month of war abroad and of revolution at home is bound to raise the price still higher and increase the danger of a revolutionary explosion that would blow the entire policy of “concessions” away like whiffs of smoke. Europe understands that it is terribly difficult, almost impossible, for the autocracy to call a halt now—it has gone too far for that; and so this bourgeois Europe tries to reassure itself and its ally with roseate dreams.

The following, for example, is from a short article by Cornély entitled “The End of an Epic”, which appeared in Le Siècle, ·a newspaper of the patriotic French bourgeoisie: “Now with the Russians beaten at sea after having been defeated on land, it is incumbent upon their government to conclude peace and reorganise its armed forces. Adventurist governments are sometimes compelled, on the strength of their pretensions or by considerations of security, to involve the peoples over which they rule in war. Since they have staked their very existence on a victorious outcome, they demand sacrifice upon sacrifice from their peoples, thus leading them to ultimate disaster. Such was the history of our two empires in France. Such would have been the his tory of the third empire, if its establishment in our country had met with success.

“Such, on the contrary, is not the position of the Russian Government; this government is deeply rooted among the Russian people, so that common misfortunes do not divide the government and the people but only cement the bonds between them. A Caesar vanquished is no longer Caesar. An unfortunate tsar may yet remain august and popular.”

Alack and alas! The braggadocio of this chauvinistic French shopkeeper is “all too obvious”. His assurances that the war has caused no rift between the Russian Government and the people are at such variance with the generally known facts that one can only smile, as at some naive and innocent ruse. To warn his friend and ally, the Russian autocrat, of the inevitable ruin towards which he, like a true “Caesar”, is heading blindly and doggedly, the French bourgeois kindly assures this Caesar that he need not resemble other Caesars, that he has a different, a better way out. We soon believe what we desire. The French bourgeoisie is so desirous of having a powerful ally in the person of the tsar that it comforts itself with the romantic fable that misfortune unites the Russian people with its tsar. M. Cornély does not take this fable seriously himself, and still less should we.

Not only the Caesarian governments were given to adventurism, but also the governments of the most legitimate monarchs of a most ancient dynasty. There has been more adventurism in the Russian autocracy, which is a whole century behind the times, than in any of the French empires. It was sheer adventurism that made the autocracy plunge the people into this senseless and shameful war. Now the autocracy is facing the end it deserves. The war has laid bare all its sores, revealed its rottenness to the core, proved its complete alienation from the people, and destroyed the sole pillars of its Caesarian rule. The war has proved a stern trial. The people have already passed sentence on this government of brigands. The revolution will execute the sentence.

  1. See. pp. 47-55 of this volume.—Ed.