Sylvia Pankhurst announces the Russian Revolution and discusses its relevance to the situation in Britain.
'Anarchy in Russia', say the newsagents' placards. The capitalist newspapers denounce the latest Russian Revolution in unmeasured terms, and even the working men and women in the street too often echo their angry denunciations. Yet the latest revolt of the Russian Revolution, the revolt with which the name of Lenin is associated, has been brought about in order that the workers of Russia may no longer be disinherited and oppressed. This revolt is the happening which definitely makes the Russian Revolution of the twentieth century the first of its kind. (...) We can look with confidence to the votes of the Russian people which, as yet, we cannot feel towards the votes of our own countrymen and women, because the Russian people have lately proved themselves. In the Moscow Municipal elections in the summer 72 per cent of the votes were cast for Socialist candidates. In Petrograd also the Socialists secured the majority of the votes. Compare the recent British Trade Union Congress and Labour Party manifestos with this of the Russian Soviet. Compare the general outlook of such working-class bodies in the two countries! Why are the British organisations so far behind the Russian?
War hardships, greater in Russia than in any other belligerent country, have contributed to make Russia riper for revolution than the others and to increase the need of her people for Socialism; but this is not the sole reason why the Russian workers are politically ahead of ours. In Russia the politics of advanced politicians have long been more definite and scientific, and, above all, more democratic, than the politics of those who are held to be advanced politicians in this country. The British Labour Party has hitherto existed without a programme; the programme which its Executive now proposes for it is so vaguely drawn that Mr Sidney Webb, a member at its Executive, is able to describe it as embodying: 'A Socialism which is no more specific than a definite repudiation of the individualism that characterises all the political parties of the past generation.'
Our Labour Conferences deal chiefly with fugitive partial reforms of the moment, in a spirit rather of opportunism than of adventure and research; and, to a lesser extent, the same thing may be said even of our Socialist Conferences. In the political field we believe we are right in saying that neither a Labour Party, Trade Union nor ILP Conference has discussed, at any rate within recent years, such essential democratic institutions as the Initiative Referendum and Recall, institutions which are all actually in being in the Western States of USA, and which are partially established elsewhere. A Russian Socialist woman said to us: 'People here are actually discussing whether the Referendum is democratic; why, I realised the democratic importance of the Referendum when I was fifteen years of age!' The following evening we heard Mr Bernard Shaw assuming, in addressing a Fabian audience, that our populace is too ignorant to be trusted to use the Referendum, and declaring that if it were established in this country, legislation would be held up altogether. The Lettish Social-Democratic Workers' Party was formed in 1904; at its second Congress in June, 1905, it placed the following political reforms on its programme:-
(1) Government by the people, i.e. the supreme power of the State, to be placed in the hands of a Legislative Assembly consisting of representatives elected by the whole population of Russia.
(2) Adult Suffrage, i.e., the right to an equal, secret and direct vote in all elections, local and national - for all citizens, men and women, who have reached the age of 20, according to the proportional representation system. Biennial elections.
But this was a long time ago; the Russian Socialists are now heading straight for Socialism, and for years past have been busily hammering out the programme and learning confidence in themselves and in it.
The educational value of a programme, which every new recruit to the Party must consider and accept, and every critic must discuss, is very great, and the Russian Socialist parties have not overlooked it. They have insisted that their members shall make up their minds as to what they believe and what they want.
In this country we have in the workers' movement a very large very cautious body of people which always shrinks from taking any step that appears adventurous or new and which always seems to be looking out of the corner of its eye to find out what the capitalist Press and public is saying and thinking of what it does. There are also, both inside and outside the Labour movement, large masses of people who are vaguely revolutionary in their tendencies and always ready to criticise those in power, but who have never mastered any economic or political theory. Their criticism is purely personal; they believe that if only Mr Asquith, Mr Lloyd George, or Mr Bonar Law can be turned out of office all will be well. Successive Ministries pass and re-pass; they are opposed to all of them but never learn that their quarrel is not with the individual Minister, but with the system which he upholds. Whilst our people are largely divided into one or other of these two categories we shall not make much progress. A great educational work is necessary to open the people's eyes to induce them to study Socialism, and to compare it with the capitalist system, the evils of which they now endure. Without the knowledge that such study will bring them, revolution would only mean a change of master, however successfully it might be accomplished; with that knowledge the people can do without delay all that they will.
The Russian problem is our problem: it is simply whether the people understand Socialism and whether they desire it.
Meanwhile, our eager hopes are for the speedy success of the Bolsheviks of Russia: may they open the door which leads to freedom for the people of all lands!
Published in Workers' Dreadnought, 17 November 1917. Taken from the Antagonism website.