Enough of Illusions! by Peter Kropotkin (1907)
By Better Worlds, Brighter Futures
This article, like Kropotkin’s earlier “The Revolution in Russia,” gives readers a glimpse of the first Russian Revolution as it was unfolding. Writing sometime between June and August 1907, shortly after the end of the Second Duma, he forcefully recounts and condemns the actions of Nicholas II. Calling the period between the outset of the revolution and the closing of the Second Duma the “Period of Illusions,” Kropotkin writes that only sustained opposition from the people can oust the Tsar and secure democratic changes.
Twelve years of turmoil would ensue between the 1905 revolution and the ouster of the Tsar in February 1917. During this time, it is believed that Kropotkin was primarily in exile in London, keeping abreast of the news from Russia and no doubt writing, advocating, and fundraising on behalf of the revolutionary situation there.
This article is of interest for its insight to an event that is part of the early history of the modern revolutionary Left. It was transcribed from a digitized primary source which can be found in PDF format here.
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Monthly Magazine Devoted to Social Science and Literature
Published Every 15th of the Month
EMMA GOLDMAN, Proprietor, 210 East Thirteenth Street, New York, N.Y.
Vol. II — SEPTEMBER, 1907 — No. 9
* * * * *
ENOUGH OF ILLUSIONS!
By Peter Kropotkin.
THE dismissal of the second Duma terminated the first period of the Russian Revolution, the Period of Illusions. These illusions were born when Nicholas II., appalled by the general strike of October, 1905, issued a manifesto promising to convoke the representatives of the people and to rule with their aid.
Everyone clearly recollects the circumstances under which these concessions were wrested. Industrial, commercial and administrative activities came to a sudden stop. Neither revolutionists, nor political parties instigated and organized this grand manifestation of the people’s will. It originated in Moscow and rapidly spread over entire Russia, like those great elemental popular movements that occasionally seize upon millions, making them act in the same direction, with amazing unanimity, thereby performing miracles.
Mills and factories were closed, railroad traffic was interrupted; food products accumulated in huge masses on way-stations and could not reach the towns where the populace were starving. Darkness and silence of the grave struck terror into the hearts of the rulers who were ignorant of the happenings in the interior, as the strike had extended to the postal and telegraph service.
It was animal fear for himself and his own that forced Nicholas II. to yield to Witte’s exhortations and convoke the Duma. It was terror before the throng of 300,000 invading the streets of St. Petersburg, and preparing to storm the prisons, that compelled him to concede an amnesty.
It would seem that no faith should have been placed in the faint traces of constitutional liberties thus extorted. The experience of history, especially that of ’48, has shown that constitutions granted from above were worthless, unless a substantial victory, won by the spilling of blood, converted the paper concessions into actual gains, and unless the people themselves widened their rights by commencing, of their own accord, a reconstruction along the lines of local autonomy.
The rulers, who had submitted on the spur of the moment, in such cases have usually allowed the heat and triumph of the people to subside, meanwhile preparing faithful troops, listing the agitators to be arrested or annihilated, and in a few months have repudiated their promises, and forcibly put down the people in revenge for the fear and humiliations they had to undergo.
Russia had suffered so much during the preceding half-century of hunger and outrage and insolence of her masters; Russian cultured society was so exhausted by the long sanguinary and unequal struggle–that the first surrender of the treacherous Romanoff was hailed as bona fide concession. Russia exultingly ushered in the Era of Liberty.
In a previous article we had pointed out that on the very day the October manifesto was signed, introducing a liberal régime, the wicked and treacherous Nicholas, with his consorts, instituted the secret government of Trepoff in Peterhoff, with the object of counteracting and paralyzing those reforms. In the first days of popular jubilations, when the people believed the Tsar, the gendarmerie, under the guidance of the secret government, hastily issued proclamations inciting to slaughter of Jews and intelligents, dispatched its agents to organize pogroms and raids. These agents gathered bands of Hooligans, cut down intelligents in Tver and Tomsk, mowed down men, women and children celebrating the advent of freedom, while Trepoff–the right hand of the Tsar–issued the order “not to spare ammunition” in dispersing popular demonstrations.
The majority divined the source of the pogroms. But our radicals had committed their customary blunder. They were so little informed (and are yet to-day) as to the doings in the ruling circles that this double-faced policy of Nicholas was positively known only seven or eight months later when exposed by Urusoff in the first Duma. Even then, prompted by Russian good nature, men still reiterated that it was not the Tsar’s fault, but his advisers’. The Tsar, it was said, was too mild to be crafty. In reality–and it is now becoming a conviction–he is too malicious not to be treacherous.
While the secret government of Peterhof was thus organizing pogroms and massacres, and turning loose upon the peasantry hordes of Cossacks brutalized in their police service, our radicals and Socialists had their dreams of “parliament,” forming parliamentary parties, with their inevitable intrigues and factional dissensions, and imagined themselves in possession of the constitutional procedure that had taken England centuries to form.
The outlying provinces alone understood that, utilizing the discomfiture of the government caught unawares, it was necessary to rise at once, and, without consulting the abortive “autocratic constitution,” to pull down the local institutions which are the mainstay of the government over the entire extent of Russia. Such risings broke out in Livonia, Guria, Western Grusia, and on the East-Siberian railway. The Gurians and Letts set a fine example of a popular insurrection: their first step was to establish local revolutionary autonomy.
Unfortunately these revolts found no support either from their neighbors, or from Central Russia and Poland. And even where the villages revolted in Central Russia they were not sustained by the cities and towns. Russia did not do what was done in July, 1789, when the insurgent town populaces of Eastern France abolished the crumbling-down municipalities, and, acting from below, began with the organization of districts, ordering the town affairs without waiting for royal or parliamentary laws. Even the Moscow rising did not awaken active aid in the masses and failed to put forth the usual revolutionary expedient–an autonomous municipal commune.
Diligent inculcation of German ideals of imperial centralization, of party discipline, into the minds of Russian revolutionists bore fruit. Our revolutionaries heroically joined in the struggle, but failed to produce revolutionary mottoes. Even if they were vaguely surmised there was no one to formulate them definitely.
The individual revolts were crushed. Trains carrying the Semenoff regiment were allowed to pass to Moscow while the revolutionaries were awaiting “directions” from some source. The punitive detachment led by Meller-Zokomelsky left Cheliabinsk and reached Chita unmolested: in spite of the strike on the Siberian railway it was permitted to proceed! The brutal inroads of Orloff raged in the Baltic provinces, but the Letts could elicit no help from the West and Poland. Curia was laid waste, and wherever the Russian peasants stirred the Cossacks beat them down with a ferocity like that of the Terrible Ivan’s bodyguard.
In the meantime the naive–foolishly naive–faith in the Duma was still alive. Not that the Duma was regarded as a check to arbitrariness, or capable in its narrow sphere of curbing the zeal of the Peterhofers. O, no! The Duma was looked upon as the future citadel of legality. Why? “Because,” reiterated our simpleminded intelligents, “autocracy cannot subsist without a loan, and foreign bankers will lend no money without the Duma’s sanction.” This was asserted at a time when the French and even the English governments were backing a new loan, not without guarantees to be sure, for it was desired to draw Russia into a contemplated conflict with Germany.*
(*As if Turkey, ten times bankrupt, did not procure new loans, even for war purposes. As if the Western bankers do not exert themselves to reduce as many countries as possible to the condition of Greece and Egypt, wherein the bankers’ trust, as a guarantee of debts, seize upon state revenues or state properties. As if the Russian looters would scruple to pawn state railways, mines, the liquor monopoly, etc.)
Even the dismissal of the first Duma and the drumhead courts-martial did not sober our simple-hearted politicians. They still believed in the magic power of the Duma and in the possibility of gaining a constitution through it. The character of the labors of both Dumas shows this.
There are words–“winged words”–that travel around the earth, inspire people, steel them to fight, to brave death. If the Duma did not pass a solitary law tending to renovate life, one might at least expect to hear such words. In a revolutionary epoch, when destructive work precedes constructive efforts, bursts of enthusiasm possess marvelous power. Words, mottoes, are mightier than a passed law, for the latter is sure to be a compromise between the spirit of the Future and the decayed Past.
The Versailles House of 1789 lived in unison with Paris; they reacted upon each other. The poor of Paris would not have revolted on the 14th of July had not the Third Estate, three weeks before, uttered its pledge not to disperse until the entire order of things was altered. What if this oath were theatrical; what if, as we now know, had not Paris risen, the deputies would have meekly departed, as did our Duma. Those were words, but they were words that inspired France, inspired the world. And when the House formulated and announced “The Rights of Man,” the revolutionary shock of the new Era thrilled the word.
Similarly we know now that the French King would have vetoed any law about the alienation, even with recompense, of the landlords’ feudal rights; moreover, the House itself (like our cadets) would not have passed it. What of that? Nevertheless, the House uttered a mighty summons in the first article of the declaration of principles on the 4th of August: “Feudal rights abolished!” In reality, it was mere verbal fireworks, but the peasants, consciously confounding declaration with law, refused to pay all feudal dues.
No doubt, those were mere words, but they stirred revolutions.
Finally, there was more than mere words, for, availing themselves to the government’s perplexity, the French deputies boldly attacked the antiquated local institutions, substituting for the squires and magistrates communal and urban municipalities, which subsequently became the bulwarks of the revolution.
“Different times, different conditions,” we are told. Indisputably so. But the illusions precluded a clear realization of the actual conditions in Russia. Our deputies and politicians were so hypnotized by the very words “popular representatives,” and so far underestimated the strength of the old régime that no one asked the pertinent question: “What must the Russian revolution be?” However, not only the believers in the magic power of the Duma were misguided. Our Anarchist comrades erred in assuming that the heroic efforts of a group of individuals would suffice to demolish the fortress of the old order reared by the centuries. Thousands of heroic exploits were performed, thousands of heroes perished, but the old régime has survived and still does its work of crushing the young and vigorous.
Yes, the era of illusions has terminated. The first attack is repulsed. The second attack should be prepared on a broader basis and with a fuller understanding of the foe’s strength. There can be no revolution without the participation of the masses, and all efforts should be directed toward rousing the people who alone are capable of paralyzing the armies of the old world and capturing its strongholds.
We must forge ahead with this work in every part, nook, and corner of Russia. Enough of illusions, enough of reliance on the Duma or on a handful of heroic redeemers! It is necessary to put the masses forward directly for the great work of general reconstruction. But the masses will enter the struggle only in the name of their direct fundamental needs.
The land–to the tiller; the factories, mills, railways–to the worker; everywhere, a free revolutionary commune working out its own salvation at home, not through representatives or officials in St. Petersburg.
Such should be the motive of the second period of the revolution upon which Russia is entering.