The Armed Forces and the Revolution

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The insurrection at Sevastopol continues to spread. Things are coming to a head. The sailors and soldiers who are fighting for freedom are removing their officers. Complete order is being maintained. The government is unable to repeat the dirty trick it played at Kronstadt,[1] it is unable to engineer riots. The squadron has refused to put to sea and threatens to shell the town if any attempt is made to suppress the insurgents. Command of the Ochakov has been taken over by Lieutenant Schmidt (retired), who was dismissed from the service for an “insolent” speech about defending, arms in hand, the liberties promised by the Manifesto of October 17.[2] According to a report in Rus,[3] the term fixed for the sailors’ surrender expires to day, the 15th.

We are thus on the eve of the decisive moment. The next few days—perhaps hours—will show whether the insurgents will win a complete victory, whether they will be defeated, or whether a bargain will be struck. In any case, the Sevastopol events signify the complete collapse of the old slavish order in the armed forces, the system which transformed soldiers into armed machines and made them instruments for the suppression of the slightest striving after freedom.

Gone for ever are the days when Russian troops could be sent abroad to suppress a revolution—as happened in 1849.[4] Today the armed forces have irretrievably turned away from the autocracy. They have not yet become wholly revolutionary. The political consciousness of the soldiers and sailors is still at a very low level. But the important thing is that it has already awakened, that the soldiers have started a movement of their own, that the spirit of liberty has penetrated into the barracks everywhere. Military barracks in Russia are as a rule worse than any prisons; nowhere is individuality so crushed and oppressed as in the barracks; nowhere are torture, beating and degradation of the human being so rife. And these barracks are becoming hotbeds of revolution.

The Sevastopol events are neither isolated nor acci dental. Let us not speak of former attempts at open insur rection in the Navy and in the Army. Let us compare the sparks at St. Petersburg with the fire at Sevastopol. Let us recall the soldiers’ demands which are now being formulated in various military units at St. Petersburg (they appeared. in yesterday’s issue of our paper). What a remarkable docu ment this list of demands is! How clearly it shows that the sla.vish army is being transformed into a revolutionary army. And what power can now prevent the spread of similar de mands throughout the Navy and throughout the Army?

The soldiers stationed in St. Petersburg want better rations, better clothing, better quarters, higher pay, a reduction in the term of service and shorter daily drill. But more prominent among their demands are those which could be presented only by the civic-minded soldier. They include the right to attend in uniform at all meetings, “on an equal footing with all other citizens”, the right to read all newspapers and keep them in the barracks, freedom of conscience, equal rights for all nationalities, complete abolition of all deference to rank outside the barracks, the abolition of officers’ batmen, the abolition of courts martial, jurisdiction for the civil courts over all military offences, the right to present complaints collectively, the right to defend oneself against any attempt on the part of a superior to strike a subordinate. Such are the principal demands of the soldiers in St. Petersburg.

These demands show that a great part of the Army is already at one with the men of Sevastopol who have risen for liberty.

These demands show that the hypocritical talk of the henchmen of the autocracy about the neutrality of the arnied forces, about the need to keep the forces out of politics, etc., cannot count on the slightest sympathy among the soldiers.

The armed forces cannot and should not be neutral. Not to drag them into politics is the slogan of the hypocritical servants of the bourgeoisie and of tsarism, who in fact have always dragged the forces into reactionary politics, and turned Russian soldiers into henchmen of the Black Hundreds, accomplices of the police. It is impossible to hold aloof from the struggle the whole people is waging for liberty. Whoever shows indifference to this struggle is supporting the outrages of the police government, which promised liberty only to mock at it.

The demands of the soldier-citizens are the demands of Social-Democracy, of all the revolutionary parties, of the class-conscious workers. By joining the ranks of the supporters of liberty and siding with the people, the soldiers will ensure victory for the cause of liberty and the satisfaction of their own demands.

But in order to secure the really complete and lasting satisfaction of these demands, it is necessary to take another little step forward. All the separate wishes of the soldiers, worn out by the accursed convict life of the bar racks, should be brought together into a single whole. And put together, these demands will read: abolition of the standing army and introduction of the arming of the whole people in its stead.

Everywhere, in all countries, the standing army is used not so much against the external enemy as against the internal enemy. Everywhere the standing army has become the weapon of reaction, the servant of capital in its struggle against labour, the executioner of the people’s liberty. Let us not, therefore, stop short at mere partial demands in our great liberating revolution. Let us tear the evil up by the roots. Let us do away with the standing army altogether. Let the army merge with the armed people, let the soldiers bring to the people their military knowledge, let the barracks disappear to be replaced by free military schools. No power on earth will dare to encroach upon free Russia, if the bulwark of her liberty is an armed people which has destroyed the military caste, which has made all soldiers citizens and all citizens capable of bearing arms, soldiers.

The experience of Western Europe has shown how utterly reactionary the standing army is. Military science has proved that a people’s militia is quite practicable, that it can rise to the military tasks presented by a war both of defence and of attack. Let the hypocritical or the sentimental bourgeoisie dream of disarmament. So long as there are oppressed and exploited people in the world, we must strive, not for disarmament, but for the arming of the whole people. It alone will fully safeguard liberty. It alone will completely overthrow reaction. Only when this change has been effected will the millions of toilers, and not a mere handful of exploiters, enjoy real liberty.

  1. ↑ In the latter half of October 1905 Kronstadt was the scene of meetings of protest over the tsar’s Manifesto, issued on October 17 (30) of that year. The Bolsheviks who addressed the meetings exposed the tsar’s attempt to deceive the people. In view of the rapid growth of revolutionary sentiment among the masses, the Kronstadt Social-Democratic organisation planned an armed uprising for the end of the month But events took a spontaneous turn. On October 24 (November 6) a meeting of sailors demanded better food, higher pay, shorter service and a treatment fit for human beings; it also put forward political demands: a democratic republic, universal suffrage, freedom of speech, assembly and association, inviolability of the person, abolition of the social-estates, and so on. The sailors’ demands were backed by the soldiers. On October 26 (November 8) the struggle developed into an armed uprising. But the insurgents were poorly organised for lack of firm leadership and a plan of action.
    The authorities, which ordered troops from St. Petersburg, pro claimed martial law early on October 28 (November 10) and took the offensive. The uprising was crushed. Many of the arrested insurgents were faced with the death sentence, penal sevitude or imprisonment. The St. Petersburg Committee of the RSDLP issued a leaflet “To the Soldiers and Sailors” revealing the truth about the events of October 26-27 (November 8-9). At the call of the Bolsheviks, the workers of St. Petersburg and other cities stood up for the Kronstadt sailors and soldiers. On November 2(15), the proletariat of St. Petersburg called a general strike. Frightened by the masses’ revolutionary action, the government announced that the insurgents would be tried in civil and not in military court. The court sentenced the defendants to disciplinary punishment or imprisonment, and some of them to penal servitude.
    The Kronstadt insurrection was a result of the influence exerted on soldiers and sailors by the revolutionary struggle of the workers and peasants throughout Russia and by the Bolsheviks’ activity in the Army and Navy.
  2. ↑ On October 17, 1905, at the height of the all-Russian political strike, the tsar issued a Manifesto promising “civil liberties” and a “legislative” Duma. A manoeuvre designed to gain time, split the revolutionary forces, wreck the strike and put down the revolution, the Manifesto was a fraud, and was never carried into practice.
  3. ↑ Rus (Russia)—a liberal-bourgeois daily published in St. Peters burg intermittently from December 1903 to June 1908. It changed title twice—to Molva (Hearsay) and Dvadtsaty Vek (The Twentieth Century).
  4. ↑ This refers to the part which the troops of Tsar Nicholas I took in suppressing the revolutionary national-liberation movement in West-European countries. In 1848, the tsar moved his troops into Rumania, Poland, the Baltic Provinces and Right-Bank Ukraine, and granted the Emperor of Austria a loan of six million rubles to suppress the national-liberation movement in Italy. In 1849, tsarist troops helped in putting down the Hungarian revolution.