Special pages :
The Reaction is Taking to Arms
|Written||3 June 1900|
Published in Vperyod, No. 9, June 4, 1906. Published according to the newspaper text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 10, pages 508-513.
The Social-Democratic press has long been pointing out that the vaunted “constitutionalism” in Russia is baseless and ephemeral. So long as the old authority remains and controls the whole vast machinery of state administration, it is useless talking seriously about the importance of popular representation and about satisfying the urgent needs of the vast masses of the people. No sooner had the State Duma begun its sittings—and liberal-bourgeois oratory about peaceful, constitutional evolution burst forth in a particularly turbulent flood—than there began an increasing number of attacks on peaceful demonstrators, cases of setting fire to halls where public meetings were proceeding, and lastly, downright pogroms—all organised by government agents.
Meanwhile the peasant movement is growing. Strikes among the workers are becoming more embittered, more frequent and more extensive. Unrest is growing among the most backward military units, the infantry in the provinces, and among the Cossacks.
Far too much inflammable material has accumulated in Russian social life. The struggle which ages of unprecedented violence, torment, torture, robbery and exploitation have paved the way for has become too widespread and acute. This struggle between the people and the old authority cannot be confined within the limits of a struggle of the Duma for a particular Ministry. Even the most downtrodden and ignorant “subjects” can no longer be restrained from proclaiming the demands of awakening human and civic dignity. The old authority, which has always made the laws itself, which in fighting for its existence is resorting to the last, most desperate, savage and furious methods, cannot be restrained by appeals to abide by the law.
The pogrom in Belostok is a particularly striking indication that the government has taken to arms against the people. The old, but ever new story of Russian pogroms!— ever, until the people achieve victory, until the old authorities are completely swept away. Here are a few excerpts from a telegram received from a Belostok elector, Tsirin: “A deliberately-organised anti-Jewish pogrom has started.” “In spite of rumours that have been circulated, not a single order has been received from the Ministry all day today !" “Vigorous agitation for the pogrom has been carried on for the past two weeks. In the streets, particularly at night, leaflets were distributed calling for the massacre, not only of Jews, but also of intellectuals. The police simply turned a blind eye to all this.”
The old familiar picture! The police organises the pogrom beforehand. The police instigates it: leaflets are printed in government printing offices calling for a massacre of the Jews. When the pogrom begins, the police is inactive. The troops quietly look on at the exploits of the Black Hundreds. But later this very police goes through the farce of prosecution and trial of the pogromists. The investigations and trials conducted by the officials of the old authority always end in the same way: the cases drag on, none of the pogromists are found guilty, sometimes even the battered and mutilated Jews and intellectuals are dragged before the court, months pass—and the old, but ever new story is forgot ten, until the next pogrom. Vile instigation, bribery, and fuddling with drink of the scum of our cursed capitalist “civilisation”, the brutal massacre of unarmed by armed people, and farcical trials conducted by the culprits them selves! And yet there are those who, seeing these phenomena of Russian social life, think, and say, that somebody or other is “recklessly” calling upon the people to resort to “extreme measures”! One must be, not reckless, but a poltroon, politically corrupt, to say such things in the face of events like the burning of the People’s House at Vologda (at the time of the opening of the Duma) or the pogrom in Belostok (after the Duma had been in session a month). A single event like this will have more effect upon the people than millions of appeals. And to talk about “reckless” appeals is just as hopelessly pedantic and as much a sin of a deadened civic conscience, as to condemn the wild cry for revenge that is going up from the battlefields of Vologda and Belostok.
The Duma did the right thing by immediately discussing the interpellation on the Belostok pogrom, and sending some of its members to Belostok to investigate on the spot. But in reading this interpellation, and comparing it with the speeches of members of the Duma and the commonly-known facts about pogroms, one has a deep feeling of dissatisfaction, of indignation at the irresolute terms in which the interpellation is worded.
Judge for yourselves. The authors of the interpellation say: “The inhabitants fear that the local authorities and malicious agitators may try to make out the victims themselves to be responsible for the calamity that has be fallen them.” “... False information on these lines is being circulated.” Yes, the downtrodden and tormented Jewish population is indeed apprehensive of this, and has every reason to be. This is true. But it is not the whole truth, gentle men, members of the Duma, and authors of the interpellation! You, the people’s deputies, who have not yet been assaulted and tormented, know perfectly well that this is not the whole truth, You know that the downtrodden inhabitants will not dare to name those who are really responsible for the pogrom. You must name them. That is what you are people’s deputies for. That is why you enjoy—even under Russian law—complete freedom of speech in the Duma. Then don’t stand between the reaction and the people, at a time when the armed reaction is strangling, massacring, and mutilating unarmed people. Take your stand openly and entirely on the side of the people. Don’t confine your selves to conveying the fear of the townspeople that the vile instigators of the pogroms will say it is the murdered victims who are to blame. Indict the culprits in unequivocal terms—it is your direct duty to the people. Don’t ask the government whether measures are being taken to protect the Jews and to prevent pogroms, but ask how long the government intends to shield the real culprits, who are members of the government. Ask the government whether it thinks that the people will long be in error as to who is really responsible for the pogroms. Indict the government openly and publicly; call upon the people to organise a militia and self-defence as the only means of protection against pogroms.
This is not in keeping with “parliamentary practice”, you will say. Are you not ashamed to advance such an argument even at a time like this? Don’t you realise that the people will condemn you if, even at a time like this, you do not give up playing at parliaments and do not dare to say straightforwardly, openly and loudly what you really know and think?
That you know the truth about the pogroms is evident from speeches delivered by members of the Duma. The Cadet Nabokov said: “We know that in many cases the administration has not succeeded in allaying the suspicion that the simultaneous outbreak of the pogroms is the result either of the Black-Hundred organisations operating with the knowledge of the local authorities, or, at best, of the latter’s systematic inaction.”
If you know that this is so, gentlemen of the Cadet Party, you should have said so in your interpellation. You should have written: We know such-and-such facts and therefore ask questions about them. And if you know what happens “at best”, it is unseemly for people’s deputies to keep silent about what happens at worst, about the deliberate organisation of pogroms by the police on orders from St. Petersburg.
“Belostok is not an exceptional case,” rightly said Levin. “It is one of the consequences of the system that you want to combat.” Quite right, citizen Levin! But while in news papers we can only speak of the “system”, you in the Duma ought to speak out more plainly and sharply.
“Pogroms are part of a whole system. In the October days ... the government ... found no other means of combating the liberation movement.... You know how that chapter of history ended. Now the same thing is being repeated.... This system is perfidiously prepared and thought out, and is being carried out with equal perfidy. In many cases we know very well who organises these pogroms; we know very well that leaflets are sent out by the gendarmerie departments."
Once again, quite right, citizen Levin! And therefore you should have said in your interpellation: does the government think that the Duma is not aware of the commonly-known fact that the gendarmes and police send out those leaflets?
Deputy Ryzhkov bluntly stated that the allegation that pogroms are due to racial enmity was a lie, and that the allegation that they were due to the impotence of the authorities was a malicious invention. Deputy Ryzhkov listed a number of facts which proved that there had been “collaboration” between the police, the pogromists and the Cossacks. “I live in a big industrial district,” he said, “and I know that the pogrom in Lugansk, for example, did not assume ghastly dimensions only because [mark this, gentlemen: only because] the unarmed workers drove back the pogromists with their bare fists, at the risk of being shot by the police.”
In Rech, this part of the report of the debate in the Duma is headed “The Government Is Indicted”. This is a good heading, but it belongs into the text of the Duma interpellation, not into a newspaper report. Either draft these interpellations in such a way as to make them a passionate indictment of the government before the people, or in a way that they may arouse ironical taunts and jeers at the crying discrepancy between the monstrous facts and the bureaucratic evasions in bureaucratically-restrained interpellations. Only by adopting the first-mentioned method will the Duma teach the reactionaries not to jeer at it. As it is, the reactionaries are jeering, quite openly and frankly. Bead today’s Novoye Vremya. These lackeys of the pogromists are chuckling and making merry: “One cannot help observing with particular satisfaction [!!] the haste with which the Duma interpellated the Minister on the anti-Jewish pogrom in Belostok.” You see: the pogromists are particularly pleased—the flunkey blurts out the truth. The reactionaries are pleased with the Belostok pogrom, and with the fact that they can now abusively call the Duma the “Jewish” Duma. The reactionaries jeer and say: “If, as was stated in the Duma today, we must pardon the riots against property made by the peasants in the Russian gubernias, then we must also pardon the pogroms against Jewish property in the Western territory.”
You see, gentlemen of the Duma, the reactionaries are more outspoken than you are. Their language is stronger than your Duma language. The reactionaries are not afraid to fight. They are not afraid to associate the Duma with the peasants’ struggle for freedom. Then don’t you be afraid to associate the reactionary government with the pogromists!