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Russian Socialists in the Struggle for Democracy

For the past few weeks, protests for fair elections in upcoming municipal polls have become weekly in Moscow and St. Petersburg as thousands have defied authorities to attend unsanctioned rallies. The police crackdown has been particularly harsh in Moscow. Protests on July 27 and August 3 resulted in over 2000 detentions. Images of police in riot gear wrestling citizens to the ground and beating peaceful protesters were reminiscent of the mass protests against election fraud in 2011-2012.

Members of the Russian Socialist Movement, a small Marxist, anti-Stalinist organization active in the Russian left, have been participants in local electoral campaigns and in the protests. Two RSM activists, Valeria Kovelishina and Ilya Budraitskis talk about the Russian Socialist Movement, their electoral work, the protests for democracy in Russia and what they might mean for the future.

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To the Democracy

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By Maxim Gorky
Novaya Zhizn, No. 174
November 20, 1917

The socialist ministers released by Lenin and Trotsky from the Peter and Paul Fortress went home, leaving their colleagues M. V. Bernatsky, A. I. Konovalov, M. I. Tereshchenko, and others in the hands of people who have no conception of the freedom of the individual or of the rights of man.

Lenin, Trotsky, and their companions have already become poisoned with the filthy venom of power, and this is evidenced by their shameful attitude toward freedom of speech, the individual, and the sum total of those rights for the triumph of which democracy struggled.

Blind fanatics and dishonest adventurers are rushing madly, supposedly along the road to the “social revolution”; in reality this is the road to anarchy, to the destruction of the proletariat and of the revolution.

On this road Lenin and his associates consider it possible to commit all kinds of crimes, such as the slaughter outside St. Petersburg, the destruction of Moscow, the abolition of freedom of speech, and the senseless arrests–all the abominations which Pleve and Stolypin once perpetrated.

Of course, Stolypin and Pleve went against democracy, against all that was live and decent in Russia. Lenin, however, is followed by a rather sizable–for the time being–portion of the workers; but I believe that the good sense of the working class and its awareness of its historical tasks will soon open the eyes of the proletariat to the utter impossibility of realizing Lenin’s promises, to all the depth of his madness, and to his Nechaev and Bakunin brand of anarchism.

The working class cannot fail to understand that Lenin is only performing a certain experiment on their skin and on their blood, that he is striving to push the revolutionary mood of the proletariat to its furthest extreme and see–what will come of this?

Of course, he does not believe in the possibility of the victory of the proletariat in Russia under the present conditions, but perhaps he is hoping for a miracle.

The working class should know that miracles do not occur in real life, that they are to expect hunger, complete disorder in industry, disruption of transportation, and protracted bloody anarchy followed by a no less bloody and gloomy reaction.

This is where the proletariat is being led by its present leader, and it must be understood that Lenin is not an omnipotent magician but a cold-blooded trickster who spares neither the honor nor the life of the proletariat.

The workers must not allow adventurers and madmen to heap shameful, senseless, and bloody crimes on the head of the proletariat, for which not Lenin but the proletariat itself will pay.

I ask:

Does the Russian democracy remember the ideas for the triumph of which it struggled against the despotism of the monarchy?

Does it consider itself capable of continuing this struggle now?

Does it remember that when the Romanov gendarmes threw its ideological leaders into prisons and hard-labor camps, it called this methods of struggle base?

In what way does Lenin’s attitude toward freedom of speech differ from the same attitude of a Stolypin, A Pleve, and other half-humans?

Does not Lenin’s government, as the Romanov government did, seize and drag off to prison all those who think differently?

Why are Bernatsky, Konovalov, and other members of the coalition government sitting in the fortress? Are they in any way more criminal than their socialist colleagues freed by Lenin?

The only honest answer to these questions must be an immediate demand to free the ministers and other innocent people who were arrested, and also to restore the freedom of speech in its entirety.

Then the sensible elements of the democracy must draw further conclusions, they must decide: is the road of conspirators and anarchists of Nachaev’s type also their road?

Published in Maxim Gorky, Untimely Thoughts: Essays on Revolution, Culture and the Bolsheviks, 1917-1918, Yale University Press, 1995, 85-87