‘The Lessons of May Day: The Russian Proletariat and the Soviet Power’ by Leon Trotsky from International Press Correspondence. Vol. 2 No. 43. May 30, 1922.

The first May Day observed in the land of the Soviets in relative peace since the Revolution, May 1st, 1922, saw massive gatherings in celebration and in support of the Soviet position at the conference to remake the capitalist world then underway in Genoa, Italy. Here, Commissar of War Leon Trotsky remarks on the source of the survival of the socialist experiment against all odds, the conscious support masses of workers and peasants.

‘The Lessons of May Day: The Russian Proletariat and the Soviet Power’ by Leon Trotsky from International Press Correspondence. Vol. 2 No. 43. May 30, 1922.

Not only were the May Day demonstrations in Moscow and Petrograd gigantic, but also those of Kharkoff and Kiev. The organizers themselves had not reckoned on such a number of demonstrators. The foreigners, including those who are by no means kindly disposed towards us, were astonished. Under the immediate impression of the Moscow demonstration, one of the representatives of the Amsterdam International declared that he had seen nothing like it except at the funeral of Victor Hugo. Of course, all demonstrators did not share in the same feeling: one element was enthusiastic, another was moved by sympathy, with another it was a case of mere curiosity, with another again it was a case of just going with the crowd. So, however, are all movements which embrace hundreds of thousands. In general the masses felt that they were taking part in a common thing. The enthusiastic portion, of course, set the pace for all the rest.

Some days before the First of May the comrades in the local organizations said, “You cannot imagine how the Genoa Conference has increased the political interest and raised the revolutionary self-confidence of the working masses.” Others added, “The feeling of revolutionary pride plays a great part in the present mood — we have compelled them to deal with us almost as human beings!”

First of May in Cheboksary. 1922.

If one were to judge from the foreign White Socialist paper, appearing in Berlin it would seem that the Russian working class is permeated through and through with scepticism, with a decadent reactionary mood and with hatred of the Soviets. It is quite possible that not all of these reports are concocted in Berlin, the centre not merely of Russian Monarchism, but also of White Socialism. Everyone describes what he sees; the Mensheviks, however, consider every object from the inverse position and portray it accordingly. There is no doubt that in the workers’ quarters there exists discontent due to various inconveniences caused by the present hard life. One can also add that the slow pace of the development of the European revolution and the arduous and painful process of our economic reconstruction evoke in certain rather important, not purely proletarian, sections of the working class the feeling of decadence and lack of clearness which even goes over to mysticism. On weekdays (and our greatest epoch has also its weekdays) the consciousness of the working class in considering and judging the questions of the days is not united; the difference of interests and views of various sections of the working class come to the front. At the next great event, however, the deep unity of the proletariat which has passed through the fiery trial of the revolution becomes perfectly evident. We have observed this fact several times on that long road from the insurrection of the Czechoslovaks in the Volga area up to the negations at Genoa. Our enemies have claimed several times that the rising of the Czecho-Slovakians was helpful to the Soviet power. The Mensheviks, the Social Revolutionaries and their older brothers the Cadets, and the Milioukoff group are continually repeating that military intervention is so mischievous because it only serves to consolidate the power of the Soviets. But what does this mean? It means precisely that in the difficult and serious times of trial the close union of the Soviets with the working masses in spite of disorder, in spite of grievances, in spite of unskilfulness, in spite of the weariness of many sections and in spite of the discontent of others always comes to light.

Of course, a state regime which happens to be at variance with social development can also consolidate its position at a time when outward danger threatens. This we observed to be the case with Czarism during the first period of the Russo-Japanese war. This applies, however, only to the first period, that is to say only so long as masses of the people have not yet assimilated the new facts. The settlement follows later; the out-of-date regime loses much more of its stability than it gained in the first period of war. Why therefore do we not witness this invariable phenomenon in the history of the Soviet Republics? How was it that the experience of three years of military intervention compelled our far-sighted enemies to come to the idea of renouncing the continuance of military attacks? For the same reason for which the Genoa Conference gave a great uplift to the mind of the working masses, which against expectations resulted in the colossal success of the May Day demonstrations.

Soviet Delegation at Genoa. May, 1922.

The Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries were of course opposed to the demonstrations of the workers and appealed to them not to participate in them. The more clearly therefore was the unanimity of the working masses expressed with regard to the fundamental and vital questions of the Workers’ Republic. One can of course say that repression has hindered and is hindering the successful propaganda of the White Socialists. This cannot be denied. But the struggle between them and ourselves consists in that they endeavor to overthrow the Soviet Power and the Soviet Power does not permit them to do so. We do not feel obliged to provide them with favorable conditions for their counter-revolutionary activities.

Not is the bourgeoisie endeavoring to lighten the conditions of work of the Soviets; the revolutionary movement developed in spite of it, and is still developing. Czarism had at its disposal the most powerful instrument of suppression, but this did not prevent its overthrow. Nay more; the Menshevists themselves have several times written and stated that the Czarist suppressions only strengthened and deepened the revolutionary movement. And this was true. In the first period of the Russo- Japanese imperialist war, Czarism was still successful in arranging patriotic demonstrations, though very small ones. Soon, however, the revolutionary masses dominated the streets of the cities. The statement with regard to suppressions therefore proves nothing, as the question arises: why are these suppressions successful, whilst the struggle against them remains without success? The answer is: repressions are futile when they are adopted by an outworn state power against the new progressive historical forces. In the hands of the historical progressive power repression can prove to be a very effective means of emancipation in the arena of history from the out-of-date forces.

On the 1st of May, the close connection of the working masses with the Soviet Government and the total powerlessness of the party of White Socialism made themselves apparent. Cannot the conclusion be drawn that repression is unnecessary? May we not legalize this impotence although it is a deadly enemy of the Workers’ Revolution?

May Day 1922, Perm.

This questions must be quite dearly answered. Had the May Day festivals throughout the whole world had the same character, the question of repression in Russia would not have arisen. The same would have been the case if Russia alone existed in the world. The reason, however, why the working masses demonstrated so unitedly on the last May in Moscow, Petrogad, Charkoff, Kiev and other towns was that they felt, thanks to the Genoa Conference, their love for their Russia of Peasants and Workers, confronted by about 40 bourgeois states, more deeply and intimately. Within the national limits of Russia the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries are a disappearing influence, but in the international field the relation of forces is different as the bourgeoisie throughout Europe and the whole world has control of power and Menshevism is its political intermediary.

Russian Menshevism is very weak, but it is a lever of the still powerful system, the driving forces of which are the Paris, Loudon and New York stock exchanges. This was perfectly clear in the Georgian question. The Mensheviks, led by Vandervelde, asked for no more and no less than the restoration of Menshevik Georgia. M. Barthou, the most reactionary political negotiator of France, demanded the administration [admission ?] of the former Menshevik government of Georgia to the Genoa Conference. This same Barthou keeps the Wrangel troops in reserve in case troops are needed for landing on the Caucasian coast. All these things are the outcome of the greed of the stock exchange for Caucasian oil.

From the point of view of domestic politics the importance of the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries is very negligible. But in consideration of the capitalist cordon they have been and still are the semi-political and semi-military agents of imperialism armed to the teeth.

After long weekdays with their quiet mutual undermining work, the Genoa Conference showed anew in clear dramatic form the contrast between Soviet Russia and the rest of the world. Therefore the working masses of our country gathered so unanimously beneath flag of the Soviets. This great movement of the masses showed the revolutionary power of the republic, but it also showed the vastness of the dangers which threaten it. At present there are no fronts and no military actions; we are, however, still a beleaguered fortress. Our enemies have concluded an armistice with us and asked us to send them envoys. The enemies are informed and convinced that we have at present less reason than ever for capitulating. But the enemy is still strong, the danger is therefore also great. The lesson of May Day is: Though conscious of our strength, none the less we must not reduce our vigilance by one iota.

International Press Correspondence, widely known as”Inprecor” was published by the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) regularly in German and English, occasionally in many other languages, beginning in 1921 and lasting in English until 1938. Inprecor’s role was to supply translated articles to the English-speaking press of the International from the Comintern’s different sections, as well as news and statements from the ECCI. Many ‘Daily Worker’ and ‘Communist’ articles originated in Inprecor, and it also published articles by American comrades for use in other countries. It was published at least weekly, and often thrice weekly. The ECCI also published the magazine ‘Communist International’ edited by Zinoviev and Karl Radek from 1919 until 1926 monthly in German, French, Russian, and English. Unlike, Inprecor, CI contained long-form articles by the leading figures of the International as well as proceedings, statements, and notices of the Comintern. No complete run of Communist International is available in English. Both were largely published outside of Soviet territory, with Communist International printed in London, to facilitate distribution and both were major contributors to the Communist press in the U.S. Communist International and Inprecor are an invaluable English-language source on the history of the Communist International and its sections.

PDF of fill issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/inprecor/1922/v02n043-may-30-1922-Inprecor.pdf

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