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Cannon fodder for the revolution: the Russian proletariat in 1917.

According to Marxist theory, the working class represents the principal dynamic force of the revolution because of its important intrinsic qualities--namely, its discipline and capacity to organize, its sense of solidarity and collective spirit, and its ability to engage in collective action. The workers' most important quality, however, is their supposed understanding and mastery of the socialist creed (simvol sotsialisticheskoi very), which is itself understood to be the direct result of their class consciousness. A true proletarian understands the difference between capitalism and socialism, between bourgeois and socialist revolution, and he knows the path ahead. He also appreciates the leading role he is expected to play in the necessary destruction of capitalism and the building of socialism, fully aware of his calling as the obvious dominant power (gegemon) and vanguard of the revolution.

According to the tenets of Soviet historiography, the formation of the proletariat as a class in Marxist terms had been effectively accomplished in late tsarist Russia by the 1880s. By that time, workers were fully conscious of themselves as proletarians, which was regarded as the necessary proof that the class itself had come into being as a social formation. By 1917, this established social class was primed to carry out a socialist revolution and therefore readily assumed its appropriate leading role in the revolutionary movement. Following the end of the USSR in 1991, the problem of how the Russian working class actually became mobilized to do this predictably lost some of its urgency. Certain studies, however, continued to engage the topic and offered at least a partial revision of the standard Soviet position, suggesting that the workers coalesced as a class not in the 1880s but later, during World War I. (1)

As for historians writing outside the country, there has never been a Soviet-like consensus on the problem of the Russian working class. However, an influential school of social historical research nonetheless agreed that a bona fide working class had effectively formed by 1917 and that, by then, a significant share of workers had begun to self-identify as proletarians. Scholars from this school of thought acknowledged the legitimacy of the revolution based on the framework of modernization theory. The workers and the soldiers represented the driving force of the revolution, after all, not the Bolsheviks. (2)

Soviet historians reached their conclusions by combining deductive reasoning with Marxist definitions of the proletariat and socialist revolution. By contrast, non-Soviet specialists based their views on inductive reasoning drawn largely from empirical analysis. The logic of Soviet historians was straightforward: if the workers were the social group that played the most active role in overthrowing the monarchy and later the Provisional Government and were the most ardent in displaying their revolutionary fervor, then, naturally, they possessed a proletarian consciousness.

Using deductive reasoning to resolve historical questions, however, does not work. This is especially true when the original theory at issue is itself subject to serious doubt. The use of inductive reasoning, however, also has its limitations. The empirical material on which historians have drawn to support their conclusions about workers during the revolution, for example, rests solely on assessments of the workers' exterior involvement in revolutionary events. By contrast, their interior motivations, incentives, and self-reflections as to how and why they engaged in revolution have generally been overlooked. Yet it is precisely such interior questions that are critical to understanding the extent to which workers endorsed socialist doctrine. The mere fact that a deviant act occurs is not enough to describe it as a "crime." One has to determine criminal intent, the offender's awareness of the criminal nature of his/her intent, and his/her participation in the crime. The case of the revolutionary nature of worker behavior is not much different. Their behavior was certainly revolutionary. But what motivations lay behind their actions? Were workers indeed acting out of a sense of proletarian consciousness, or were they instead operating according to a plebian-proletarian consciousness that included a predisposition toward anarchy, disorder, violence, and chaos, as has been suggested by a number of influential US historians? (3)

Here I argue that by 1917, the Russian proletariat had neither subjectively nor objectively coalesced as a working class in the Marxist sense of the term. The vast majority of Russian workers neither saw themselves as a coherent whole nor possessed a socialist worldview. They did not share discrete political goals or interests and did not claim a leading role in the revolutionary movement.

The preconditions necessary for the transformation of the proletariat into a self-conscious class were still absent in Russia on the eve of 1917. By this time, the number of hereditary workers engaged in factory work across the country was significantly less than 50 percent. (4) We know this because, even by 1929, for which we have better data, the percentage of intergenerational workers in all industries was 52 percent. (5) According to the incomplete data of the occupational census of 1918, more than a third of workers owned either personal or family-based land in the village. Many of these workers continued to work their own land. (6) (These numbers should be regarded as conservative given the incompleteness of the census.) Even those who "broke" with the village still held on to rural traditions. A significant number of workers had roots in the petty bourgeoisie and other social constituencies. The majority, meanwhile, kept one foot in the city and industry and the other very much in agriculture and the countryside.

The proletariat was also distinct from other groups in terms of its multilayered social structure. In the minds of workers, a certain ambivalence of views and motives was common. They could thus support revolutionary acts while also taking part in anti-Jewish pogroms. In 1914, in regard to both their leisure habits as well as their habits of cultural consumption, the workers had much in common with the petty bourgeoisie and the urban peasantry as elements of the "lowest strata of the urban population." (7) The wide range of political beliefs among workers also set them apart. Thus it was fairly easy to draw proletarians into new forms of discourse and, as frequently happened, into a new party as well, regardless of the party platform. Indeed, many groups, including far-right radicals, liberals, social democrats, socialist revolutionaries, and Christian organizations engaged with the proletariat and sought its support.

Several historians have pointed to individual examples of workers who were politically aware and/or saw themselves as members of the intelligentsia or even as socialists to suggest that workers overall served as the vanguard in the revolution. These more politically aware workers were distinguished by their interest in intellectual work and political literature, as well as their "conscious engagement with social issues" and their distinctive lifestyles. Countering this, however, other historians have offered mountainous evidence suggesting that most workers were downtrodden, backward, ignorant, patriarchal, poorly organized, and politically indifferent. They engaged in factory theft at high rates, drank heavily, and were inclined to anarchy, disorder, and chaos. (8) In a sense, one could argue that both these images are correct, given that workers were a diverse group. Problems arise, however, when one extrapolates from the traits of a small number of "progressive" workers and projects them onto workers in general. Even with regard to "advanced" workers, one should be careful not to exaggerate their level of preparedness. For example, in 1902-3, for every worker appointed to lead his group within the Workers' Organization of St. Petersburg, the organization also assigned a so-called intellectual-deputy (jntelligent-deputat) in case the worker-deputy was unable to perform his agitational role. These intellectual-deputies would then become the de facto leaders of the group's activities. (9)

Most workers not only did not see themselves as members of a special class--they did not even see themselves as a distinct estate category Around the turn of the 20th century, less than 1 percent of the 109,000 workers surveyed in the provinces of Smolensk and Moscow (the most industrially advanced province of the empire) were identified by zemstvo statisticians, doctors, or even by workers themselves as "workers" with regard to their social background. The vast majority identified themselves instead by referencing their officially ascribed social category or estate--that is, as peasants, soldiers, townspeople, nobles, clergy, orphans, artisans, "Honorable Citizens," "cantonists," foreigners, merchants, and so forth. The proletariat such as it was at the time cannot be defined as part of a working class (in Marxist terms) because neither its members themselves (nor the other social groups around them) identified them as such. (10)

With the exception of a small minority of workers who doubled as professional revolutionary social democrats, the understanding that most proletarians had of what could be called socialist dogma was at best vague and ambiguous. Scientific socialism remained alien and incomprehensible. Relying on police data, Minister of Internal Affairs P. A. Durnovo concluded that the mass protests of the 1905 revolution had been driven by popular sympathy for "instinctive socialism" (bezsoznatel'nyi sotsializm), by which he meant visions of the free distribution of land to the peasants and of the free transfer of all capital and factory profits to the workers. Most of all, working people understood socialism to mean the promise of a good and happy life, or more evocatively as the "Kingdom of God on Earth," an "Earthly Paradise," or simply as a better or "brighter future." (11) As the historian Irina Pushkareva has argued, workers who took part in strikes in the early 1900s
   often operated with a different understanding from that of party
   leaders. Only a small number of worker-activists were inspired by
   the world "revolution." The crowd had a murky understanding of
   terms like "socialism" and "socialist society." Most [workers] did
   not ponder the meaning of speeches about democratic freedoms or
   about the need for dignity and rights in the workplace. While
   revolutionary parties interpreted slogans like "Down with the
   Autocracy" in unambiguous terms, for a distinct (and not
   insignificant) share of the working population, appeals of this
   sort were understood in a constructive rather than a destructive
   sense--these were simply calls for making changes in the way people
   lived, to have local authorities uphold the law [to ensure]
   tolerable living conditions. (12)


Even the progressive workers in Maksim Gor'kii's novel Mat' (Mother) saw their fellow proletarians in a similar light. (13)

Even in the capital, where the concentration of workers was greatest, and even as late as the eve of February 1917, not even the majority of so-called progressive workers can be described as sharing a formally socialist worldview. What, then, can one say about the provinces? Worldviews do not change in just a few months' time. Thus the population's receptiveness to socialist propaganda, which historians argue grew ever more visible after February, reflects, in fact, not a change in belief but rather a shift in mood. (14) The vocabulary of the revolution remained incomprehensible--a foreign language to "normal people" without the luxury of a decent formal education. (15) As Maurice Paleologue, the French ambassador to Russia, observed in his memoirs:
   Since the revolutionary drama began [in February 1917], not a day
   has passed without its ceremonies, processions, charity
   performances and "triumphs." There has been an uninterrupted series
   of demonstrations, demonstrations of victory or protest
   demonstrations, inaugural, expiatory and valedictory.... On Easter
   Monday, the 16th April, I passed, not far from the St. Alexander
   Nevski Monastery, a long line of pilgrims who were marching to the
   Tauride Palace, reciting prayers as they went. They carried large
   red flags on which could be read: "Christ is Risen! Long live the
   free Church!" [29 April 1917] (16)


Let us turn now to trying to understand the worldview of workers from a psychological perspective. Was it possible for Russian workers to have acquired a proletarian class consciousness by the early 20th century? My answer is "no," it was not. To understand an involved intellectual theory such as socialism requires a capacity for abstract or conceptual thought. One has to be able to think in abstract, mediated, and nonvisual or nonmaterial terms--that is, one has to be able to take the information that one has acquired about the concrete material world and render that information in nonconcrete ways, turning real objects, in effect, into symbols or ideas and then work with those symbols and ideas to find solutions that can then be applied back to material reality. Illiterate or semiliterate workers simply could not have thought in these terms, as abstract thinking of this sort is a byproduct of an extended and systematic education.

The renowned Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980) argued that humans pass through four distinct stages in their cognitive development, each succeeding and building off the next: (1) the sensory motor phase, from birth to 18 months; (2) the pre-operational stage, from 18 months until age 5; (3) the stage of concrete operations, from 6 to 11 years old; and (4) the formal operational stage, from ages 12 to 15. (17) Only once an individual completes the fourth stage of development does s/he acquire the ability to think abstractly, including the ability to ponder hypothetical situations--that is, to imagine what might be. This fourth stage does not emerge naturally, however, but rather as the outcome of years of formal schooling. As such, this fourth stage of cognitive development is either entirely absent or only discernible in limited form in nonliterate societies or those that are defined by a slowly developing, traditional culture.

The same is true of illiterate or semiliterate individuals in literate societies--they, too, do not experience this fourth stage of development. For example, in the United States up to 30 percent of people never attain the formal operational stage. (18) It is precisely the experience of formal education that makes one's thinking more rich, substantive, and general in scope as well as more abstract, more disciplined, and less susceptible to error. As the noted philosopher, pedagogue, and psychologist Pavel Blonskii (1884-1941) observed:

All things being equal (for example, assuming a comparable life experience), the thinking of the uneducated person is more limited, has less content, and is less able to generalize or express abstract ideas. At the same time, [the thinking of an uneducated person] is also more superficial, undisciplined, and susceptible to false explanations and understandings.... There is surely no intellectual function that education affects more strongly than that of thought. This is not simply a reflection of the knowledge that schooling provides.... Schooling teaches how to resolve problems, identify outcomes, determine causes. A school-based education turns a person into a more experienced thinker. (19)

Educated people who had contact with workers and peasants in the early 20th century noted their concrete style of thinking, including a low aptitude for abstract thought and for making generalizations. Revolutionaries often took advantage of and abused this trait, urging workers, soldiers, and peasants to issue petitions, requests for redress, or orders that they either did not fully understand or whose political or revolutionary meaning escaped them. For example, under pressure from Socialist Revolutionary and Social Democratic activists, Father Grigorii Gapon was able to easily slip political demands into the famous petition of 9 January 1905, including demands for political freedoms, separation of church and state, and the establishment of a constituent assembly, all of which effectively doomed any chance of the petition being considered by the tsar. (20)

The worker P. Timofeev recalled how workers of the Nevskii Shipyard presented their demands to the delegate they were sending to the government's Shidlovskii Commission, which was created in the aftermath of the events of Bloody Sunday:
   Don't spend your time talking too much about politics on that
   committee there.... To hell with politics! What about politics?!
   Heaven forbid they give us freedom of speech ... and it's obvious
   they need to release [everyone they arrested]. And another thing:
   they need to write about our meetings in the newspapers, and fully,
   of course! They say we need the freedom to assemble, to form
   unions, but the most important thing is the right to strike! Don't
   forget anything ... and leave out the politics! (21)


Shidlovskii had announced prior to the meeting of the commission that political demands would not be considered. However, much as in the case of the Bloody Sunday petition, under pressure from Social Democratic activists worker representatives nonetheless demanded freedom of speech, the freedom to assemble, immunity for delegates to the commission, the release of all arrestees, and full public transparency for the commissions work, all without noting the political nature of these positions. This led to the closure of the commission.

Like other members of Russia's lower orders, Russian workers understood the autocracy in terms of the arbitrary impact it seemed to have on their lives rather than more abstractly as a particular form of government. In the same way, their patriotism was not based on an abstract love for the Russian nation or the Russian state but rather on a more concrete understanding of "motherland" (rodina) as the special place one was from or that one knew well, the home that one missed and nostalgically pined for, as so many would do during World War I. (22)

The diary of the former house serf F. D. Bobkov offers a captivating description of how an individual could be transformed through education. Bobkov was born in a village in Kostroma Province in 1831. At the age of 15, he moved to Moscow, where he worked in his owner's city house, staying there until the emancipation in 1861. In 1865, he became the assistant to a railway station captain, before going on to work as an entrepreneur and ultimately, by the time of his death, obtaining the status of a merchant of the First Guild. (23) He taught himself to read and write at 14, while still in the village. Unable to fulfill his desire to continue his studies, he became a zealous reader, devouring everything he could get his hands on, including novels, books on popular medicine and mechanics, and the works of the English historian Henry Thomas Buckle and the German philologist Wilhelm von Humboldt. In his diary, Bobkov meticulously described everything that happened to him, the people he met, the things he heard and talked about, everything he did and read. From the day he started the diary (which he continued right up until his death in 1898), Bobkov carefully described the various shifts that occurred in his views, values, and understanding of life, relaying a sense of the unfolding development of his personal identity and self-worth and his growing social awareness, which he relays through comments on issues such as serfdom and the structure of Russian society. He makes clear how his thinking and understanding of the world evolved over time, and how he developed the ability for self-control and discipline. (24) In short, Bobkov's life confirms everything that psychologists and anthropologists have written about the effects of a systematic education on the human psyche.

As mentioned above, the particularities of the cognitive processes of semiliterate or illiterate individuals provided a psychological explanation for the absence of a socialist worldview among workers. Given this information, we should be able to use data on workers' education to estimate the ability of "progressive workers" to comprehend socialist doctrine and to identify their role as the supposed vanguard of revolution. If individuals with a secondary or higher education were distributed evenly among the professions, then their percentage among workers would be no more than the overall Russian average, which was 1.6 percent in 1897 and 4 percent in 1917. (25) In fact, however, individuals with such backgrounds were far rarer among workers. The few workers we find with any education beyond the primary level were declasse types, former members of higher estates who became workers after being stripped of their original estate status. In 1897, 59 percent of male workers were literate, while the rate among female workers was 27 percent. (26) Among peasants the corresponding rates were 39 percent and 13 percent, respectively. (27) By 1918, the rate of literacy among workers had increased to 79 percent for men and 44 percent for women. (28)

In the best-case scenario, an "advanced" worker might have obtained a primary school education, and some especially motivated workers exposed to this kind of schooling might drive themselves to a higher cultural level through further self-study. Overall, then, the relative share of "advanced" workers with a secondary or higher education was much lower than the percentage of people with such educational status in the country as a whole. Given this low intellectual potential, the Russian proletariat was simply unable to fulfill the mission assigned to it by Marxist theory that is, to serve as the avant-garde or hegemon of the toiling masses. Yet in the meantime, workers did indeed join the revolutionary movement as "extras" in mass protests or, as they say in the theater, as bit players occupying second- or third-tier roles. Taking on such roles, they found themselves open to being used as de facto puppets by political opportunists, and, in the event that the revolution erupted into an armed uprising or civil war, as cannon fodder as well.

The context for the proletarians' performance as "extras" or puppets in the revolution was prepared in advance--indeed, it was all but predetermined, given their level of cognitive development and the fact that illiterate and poorly educated individuals are impressionable and susceptible to manipulation, more likely to think with their hearts than with their heads. The semiliterate Pelageia Vlasova in Gor'kii's Mother offers an apt illustration of this. In Gor'kii's telling, she joins the labor movement out of love for her son and is motivated by a vague dream to bring about earthly justice. (29) People are less likely to resist persuasive appeals if they have a low educational level and are less accustomed to relying on knowledge as the basis for their conclusions. Susceptibility to such influence is heightened when the social environment changes radically and individuals find their own convictions suddenly brought into question. Furthermore, once part of a crowd, an individual becomes particularly impressionable, as instincts take over and become the main factor influencing behavior, as happened in 1917. (30)

The action of executing orders or demands also tends to make an individual more pliable, and indeed the need to respond to commands was a common experience for workers and peasants, whether vis-a-vis the family, with regards to community life, or in the factory. Under the influence of such factors, communities of uneducated individuals find themselves easily affected by propaganda, political agitation, and spin doctoring, which then opens genuine potential for their actions to be manipulated. The revolutions of 1917 provide a classic example of this trend. (31)

Paleologue's memoirs provide some interesting impressions of the first days following the February coup (perevorot):

Pierce but a little way into their minds and all one finds is a faith which is vague and hazy, sentimental and dreamy, almost destitute of intellectual and theological elements and always on the verge of sinking into sectarian anarchy. [18 March 1917]
   I found "meetings" in progress everywhere, held in the open air, or
   perhaps I should say open gale. The groups were small: twenty or
   thirty people at the outside, and comprising soldiers, peasants,
   working-men and students. One of the company mounts a stone, or a
   bench, or a heap of snow and talks his head off, gesticulating
   wildly. The audience gazes fixedly at the orator and listens in a
   kind of rapt absorption. As soon as he stops another takes his
   place and immediately gets the same fervent, silent and
   concentrated attention. [20 March 1917]

   Eight-tenths of the Russian population cannot read or write, a fact
   which makes the audiences at public meetings and gatherings
   particularly responsive to the power of eloquence and the action of
   the leaders. [1 April 1917]

   Anarchy ... is an inebriating passion to a Russian.
   [1 April 1917] (32)


During the February days, the renowned Russian religious philosopher and publicist V. V. Rozanov (1856-1919) lamented what he saw as the rapid turn in mass consciousness: "In just two, at most, three days, Rus' has faded away.... There is no more tsardom, no church, no army, and no more working class. What's left, then? Strangely--literally nothing. Only the base people remains." (33) However, this (at first glance) unexpected catharsis came about as the result of a long process of "brainwashing," pursued by probably all the country's political parties, which viewed workers and soldiers as revolutionary cannon fodder.

Still, Rozanov was too quick in noting the demise of the church, as suggested by the example of the burials of the victims of the revolution that followed in Petrograd shortly thereafter. As witnessed by Paleologue (5 April 1917), the first funerals were performed as civil ceremonies, but soon
   The number of persons present last Thursday at the funeral
   ceremonies in the Champ-de-Mars has been calculated at nearly a
   million. The civil character of the obsequies has aroused no
   popular protest. The Cossacks alone had announced that their
   conscience did not allow them to take any part in a funeral at
   which the figure of Christ was not displayed and they stayed at
   home in their barracks.

   But next morning the humblest classes, especially the soldiers,
   began to experience an uneasy feeling, a feeling compounded of
   disapproval, remorse, vague alarm and superstitious forebodings.
   There could be no doubt now, they thought, that these obsequies,
   unhallowed by priest or ikon, were an act of sacrilege. God would
   be avenged! Those Cossacks had known it all along! They had refused
   to be involved in such a sinful enterprise. How cunning they are!
   Besides, was it not doubly impious to have painted the coffins red?
   There are only two Christian colours for coffins--white and yellow;
   it is so well known that the catechism does not even mention it. So
   the dead have been profaned by that devilish novelty of painting
   the coffins red! That was the last straw! The entire ceremonial at
   the Champ-de-Mars must have been arranged by the Jews!

   This revulsion of public feeling has become so general and
   outspoken that the Provisional Government has seen itself compelled
   to mollify it. Acting on its orders, a number of priests proceeded
   to the Champ-de-Mars yesterday and said prayers over the graves. [8
   April 1917] (34)


Uneducated and poorly educated workers, raised in accordance with the norms of the authoritarian family, felt the need for guidance, protection, and paternalistic concern. Knowing this, parties across the political spectrum sought to guide and control the proletariat and its political organizations to achieve their party goals. Each party thus identified workers according to their own lights. The suggestion that workers were monarchists, liberals, Social Democrats, or Socialist Revolutionaries was in effect an act of the parties' self-identification projected onto the workers. In each case, the power and potential that the workers had to serve the parties was key to how they were perceived. For liberals, for example, workers symbolized the country's promise of peaceful modernization; for Social Democrats and Socialist Revolutionaries, by contrast, they symbolized the potential for the violent overthrow of the regime. (35) Due to this intraparty competition, workers thus had the opportunity to choose which party they would join.

Yet why was it the Bolsheviks who ultimately prevailed in this competition among the parties? How did they end up securing the role of principal puppeteer?

First, their socialist program and the means they proposed for attaining it were in step with workers' expectations. The main points of their agenda included the violent expropriation and transfer of private property to the workers, the establishment of worker control, and the transfer of power to the soviets. None of these demands was the product of a proletarian consciousness on the part of the workers. Instead, they reflected the frameworks of traditional peasant culture and life in the repartitional commune that were then extended and reproduced to match life in the new environment of the city. On the one hand, the Bolsheviks' call for violent expropriation reflected the peasant conviction that private property or, if not property itself, then at least private wealth was the equivalent of theft. (36) On the other hand, it also expressed the morality of peasant customary law, which allowed the community to exact its own retribution against thieves. The demand for worker control for its part is easily recognizable as the extension of the age-old peasant practice of exerting community control over all economic activity in the village, and, finally, the call for turning power over to the soviets suggests a vision of self-government similar to that of the peasant skhod (village assembly), which had served as the basic form of peasant self-government for centuries. It is no coincidence that the workers came up with the idea of transferring power to themselves (as a formative step toward the expropriation of industry) and to the soviets (as a form of political organization). (37) As is well known, the peasants believed that the land belonged to the commune, and each member of the commune shared equally in its use. The skhod decided on a general plan for how the land would be worked, and the livelihood of everyone in the commune depended on the decisions made at these gatherings. The peasantry's deepest desire was the confiscation of noble land and its transfer to the commune. After the Stolypin reforms, this desire for a so-called Black Repartition (chernyi peredel)--that is, the total expropriation of all noble lands--expanded to include lands owned by peasants who had separated from the commune on the basis of the Stolypin legislation.

Second, the Bolsheviks came out ahead because they alone among the various Russian parties devoted themselves to devising a deliberate and timely "revolutionary technique" designed to produce mass manipulation. They knew what they wanted and were determined to reach their objectives. Thanks to the deft use of such "revolutionary technique," Bolshevik activists were able to take control of the soviets, the factory committees, and the unions. The Bolshevization of the masses by the fall of 1917 was thus the result of manipulation. (38) Only the Bolsheviks created special party schools abroad, where they trained workers to serve as professional revolutionaries. Vladimir Lenin carefully studied the literature about how to achieve victory through war and complete the successful seizure of power. For example, during the war years, he read On War (Vom Kriege), the principal theoretical work of the Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz. (39) The Bolsheviks were also responsible for publishing the majority of revolutionary leaflets (listovki), the goal of which was to
   cultivate an authoritarian-revolutionary style of thinking and
   influence the mentality of the "downtrodden and abused" in a very
   distinct way. This [authoritarian-revolutionary mentality] stoked a
   hunger for revenge among the people, [which was itself driven on
   the one hand by] a deep hatred, resentment, and envy of "the rich,"
   who were known to the workers in their everyday capacity as
   industry owners and factory managers, and [on the other] by
   frustration with the state bureaucracy. Revolutionary agitation did
   not just inspire grand or sublime feelings--it also stirred base
   sentiments far removed from the ideals associated with the building
   of a democratic society. Agitation pursued by the revolutionaries,
   combined with the government's lackadaisical attitude on the
   "worker question," effectively sparked not just a series of small
   internal wars but also a great civil war in the form of the
   revolution. [As a result,] workers subconsciously acquired an
   ambiguous, somewhat muddled attitude toward terror. (40)


Though lacking a class consciousness, workers nonetheless played a demonstrably active role in the revolution of 1917 as "crowd extras," and it is worth noting that they often demonstrated a heightened sense of radicalism and aggression as they did so. What explains this reaction? Aside from socioeconomic factors, which I have addressed elsewhere, three additional factors are worth noting: (1) the influence of significant gender, family, and age imbalances within the worker population; (2) a meaningful disconnect between the expectations and needs of workers, on the one hand, and their living conditions, on the other; and (3) high levels of social frustration. (41)

The Russian worker population in the late imperial decades was characterized by unfavorable age, gender, and family structures that produced far-reaching consequences. As is well known, when the age structure within a given social group is well balanced, as reflected in a generally even distribution among generational groups, the old find themselves in a better position to protect and assist the young, both by imparting their life experiences and by keeping the young under their control. The family plays a critical role in this regard. Family life provides the basis for instruction and discipline, regulates sexual needs, promotes social control, and provides members of the family with necessary emotional, moral, and material support. Families are also clearly nurturing: people within families live longer, are less prone to illness or suicide, and are less likely to have problems with alcohol, while generally engaging in less crime and enjoying a higher standard of living than individuals without families. In short, families ensure a greater ease of life. (42) When all this is taken into account, it is fair to say that Russian workers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries found themselves in an extremely disadvantaged position.

Due to a combination of social and economic reasons, men outnumbered women in the Russian proletariat by a rate of almost 6 to 1. (43) Male workers were in greater demand among employers because of their physical strength and the special skills required for industrial work. At the same time, parents often required their daughters to remain in the household prior to marriage, and after marriage husbands often forbade their wives to leave home. Village authorities were not allowed to issue passports to women without the permission of their husbands or their parents--a source of frequent complaint for many women. (44) Making matters worse, men in Russian cities outnumbered women by 10 to 14 percent. The age distribution within the proletariat also skewed heavily toward young males. Thus the relative proportion of men aged 17-29 was a striking 2.6 times greater among workers than among the peasant population, while the proportional share of male workers aged 15-24 outnumbered that figure among their peasant counterparts by a factor of 2.3. The demographic profile of the proletariat also reflected a so-called youth bulge (molodezhnyi bugor), which some sociologists see as a precondition for revolutionary action. (45) At the same time, children and teenagers were 2.7 times fewer among workers than among the peasant population, while the elderly were even more underrepresented: elderly individuals were 5-3 times more common among peasants than among workers. Male workers were 1.2 times--and female workers 1.8 times--less likely to be married than their peasant counterparts. At the same time, the percentage of "singles"--that is, unmarried individuals--was twice as high among workers. By 1914, the proletariat included nearly one million single male workers and about half a million single female workers, a result of the overall imbalance between the sexes. Given the high value placed on marriage in Russian society at the time, many of these individuals were likely to be affected by anxiety and a sense of disappointment at not having families or children. At the same time, the worker literacy rate was twice as high as it was for peasants.

What we see here, then, are the outlines of a significant discordance. The outlook of workers was broader, they had greater needs and expectations, yet their living standards were worse. This--from the workers' point of view--abnormal situation was the result of the particulars of Russia's rapid modernization. However, as global experience has shown, even when successful, modernization involves numerous pitfalls and poses multiple dangers for society. Modernization exacts a high price (and even requires victims), such that the overall benefits of the process do not apply equally to all and certain social groups end up experiencing far greater deprivation and hardship than others. (46)

In situations where an individual appears unable to satisfy his or her most basic needs, the result is what psychologists describe as a condition of frustration: an emotional state defined by resentment, disappointment, anxiety, anger, and even despair, which then often expresses itself in aggression directed against the perceived source of the problem. People in a frustrated state are thus easy to draw into political protest and become ready targets for would-be political and religious messiahs (proroki), who sympathize with their suffering and promise them rapid improvements as long as they follow the leaders' directives and appeals. (47) It is no coincidence that the principal social base for anarchism in Russia consisted of a mix of factory workers, members of the Lumpenproletariat, vagrants, the unemployed, and underage youth. For example, during the 1905 revolution, the average age of participants involved in anarchist protest was 18-24, and few of these individuals had completed more than a primary education. (48)

The workers' active engagement with the strike movement, poor labor discipline, and high level of criminality all speak eloquently to their general frustration. (49) At the beginning of the 20th century, workers were the social group most likely to be engaged in criminal activity, while peasants who remained in the village were the least. Even though Russia's 5-2 million workers made up only 4 percent of the country's population, they accounted for about 30 percent of convicted criminals. (50) Workers (the majority of whom were categorized as peasants in terms of their social estate) were 19 times more likely to engage in criminal activity than their peasant counterparts in the village. These statistics suggest the workers' desperation and marginalization, which also seems supported by the fact that it was quite difficult to distinguish vandals and hooligans from workers during the strikes and demonstrations of 1905-6 and 1912-14. (51)

Returning to Mother, Maksim Gor'kii aptly characterized the workers of his time:
   Meeting one another they spoke about the factory and the machines,
   had their fling against their foreman, conversed and thought only
   of matters closely and manifestly connected with their work. Only
   rarely, and then but faintly, did solitary sparks of impotent
   thought glimmer in the wearisome monotony of their talk. Returning
   home they quarreled with their wives, and often beat them,
   unsparing of their fists. The young people sat in the taverns, or
   enjoyed evening parties at one another's houses, played the
   accordion, sang vulgar songs devoid of beauty, danced, talked
   ribaldry, and drank.

   Exhausted with toil, men drank swiftly, and in ever)' heart there
   awoke and grew an incomprehensible, sickly irritation. It demanded
   an oudet. Clutching tenaciously at every pretext for unloading
   themselves of this disquieting sensation, they fell on one another
   for mere trifles, with the spiteful ferocity of beasts, breaking
   into bloody quarrels which sometimes ended in serious injury and on
   rare occasions even in murder.

   This lurking malice steadily increased, inveterate as the incurable
   weariness in their muscles. They were born with this disease of the
   soul inherited from their fathers. Like a black shadow it
   accompanied them to their graves, spurring on their lives to crime,
   hideous in its aimless cruelty and brutality. (52)


The workers' sense of relative deprivation offers a good explanation for the rise in labor protest during the postreform decades, in particular during World War I, when deprivation increased. Workers now found themselves deprived in a double sense--on the one hand, in terms of their working conditions and, on the other, with regard to their hopes for a better future. Rising expectations ran headlong into a sudden deterioration in living standards; while failures at the front and massive military casualties stripped away any optimism or faith in the potential for ultimate victory in the war, which turned out to be especially painful. We thus find ourselves facing a perfect case illustrating James Daviess "J-Curve" theory of political revolution. As Davies puts it: "Revolutions are most likely to occur when a prolonged period of objective economic and social development is followed by a short period of sharp reversal. People then subjectively fear that ground gained with great effort will be quite lost; their mood becomes revolutionary." (53)

In sum, my argument is that Russian workers had not established themselves as a class in the Marxist understanding of the term and did not possess a proletarian socialist worldview by the time of the revolutions of 1917. Though they played a highly active role in the revolutionary movement and in the overthrow of the monarchy, this was not a function of their revolutionary spirit, level of organization, or level of consciousness. Instead, it was the result of their desperation and frustration, their relative deprivation, their disadvantageous demographic profile, and their susceptibility to propaganda and manipulation. The Bolsheviks themselves admitted to this. Writing in 1917, Lenin observed, "We know perfectly well that the Russian proletariat is less well-organized, less prepared, and less conscious [of itself as a class] than the workers of other countries. Rather than its own characteristics, it is a distinctive set of historical circumstances that has created--and perhaps just for a short time--the Russian proletariat as the decisive actor of the worldwide revolutionary proletariat." (54)

The Social Democratic program, as the most radical and aggressive of the country's political agendas, found a receptive audience among Russian workers because of their predisposition to radicalism and aggressive behavior. Straightforward and readily comprehensible slogans such as "Down with Autocracy," "Beat the Bourgeois," "Down with the Provisional Government," and "Land to the Peasants, Factories to the Workers, and Peace to the [World's] Peoples" combined with skillful propaganda and large-scale, effective organizational work allowed the Bolsheviks to mobilize the proletariat to serve as the cannon fodder of the revolution and later the Civil War.

In Petrograd alone in 1917 revolutionary violence claimed some 1,315 "killed, maimed, or seriously injured." (55) These casualties pale in consideration, however, with the losses that followed between 1918 and 1922, when official estimates suggest a range of 14-21 million deaths in the former Russian Empire due to the combined effects of war, terror, famine, and disease. Compared to peasant casualties, the number of workers reflected in these totals is small. Measured in per capita terms, however, worker mortality was far higher than that of peasants or of the population at large. The population of the Russian state (defined according to the borders of 1930) declined by some 7 million people between 1918 and 1922--that is, by 5.2 percent (from 140.9 million to 133.9 million)--yet the decline in workers as counted in the industry census data was considerably steeper--a drop of some 40 percent, from 2 million to 1.2 million. (56) As we can see, the proletariat's suffering at the hands of the "revolutionary fever" was especially great because they more than any other social group served as the battering ram for the achievement of the Bolsheviks' political objectives.

Translated by Nicholas Seay

St. Petersburg State University

Mendeleevskaia liniia, 5

St. Petersburg 199034, Russian Federation

bmironov@mail.wplus.net

(1) I. M. Pushkareva, "Vozvrashchenie k zabytoi teme: Massovoe rabochee dvizhenie v nachale XX veka," Otechestvennaia istoriia, no. 2 (2007): 101-21; Iu. I. Kir'ianov and M. S. Volin, eds., Rabochii klass Rossii ot zarozhdeniia do nachala XX v., 2nd rev. enl. ed. (Moscow: Nauka, 1989), 409-32; Pushkareva, ed., Trudovye konflikty i rabochee dvizhenie v Rossii na rubezhe XIX-XX vekov (St. Petersburg: Aleteiia, 2011), 5-16, 433-46.

(2) See E. Akton [Edward Acton], "Revoliutsiia i ee istoriki: 'Kriticheskii slovar" v kontekste," in Kriticheskii slovar' Russkoi revoliutsii, 1914-1921 gg., ed. Akton, U. G. Rozenberg [William G. Rosenberg], and V. Iu. Cherniaev (St. Petersburg: Nestor-Istoriia, 2014), 2234; Rozenberg, "Interpretiruia Russkuiu revoliutsiia," in Kritikicheskii slovar' Russkoi revoliutsii, 35-51; O. V. Bol'shakova, "Russkaia revoliutsiia glazami trekh pokolenii amerikanskikh istorikov," in 1917 god: Rossiia revoliutsionnaia, ed. V. M. Shevyrin, 2nd ed. (Moscow: INION RAN, 2009), 6-32; G. L. Sobolev, Oktiabr 'skaia revoliutsiia v amerikanskoi istoriografii, 1917-1970-e gody (Leningrad: Nauka, 1979); G. Fogt, "Novye aspekty nemarksistskoi literatury ob Oktiabr skoi revoliutsii," in Istoriia SSSR v soirremennoi zapadnoi nemarksistskoi istoriografii: Kriticheskii analiz, ed. A. N. Sakharov (Moscow: Nauka, 1990), 24-46; Maureen Perrie, "Review: The Russian Working Class, 1905-1917," Theory and Society 16, 3 (1987): 431-46; Hugh Ragsdale, "Comparative Historiography of the Social History of Revolutions: English, French, and Russian," Journal of the Historical Society 3, 3-4 (2003): 323-72; S. A. Smith, "Writing the History of the Russian Revolution after the Fall of Communism, "Europe-Asia Studies 46, 4 (1994): 563-78; and Ronald Grigor Suny, "Revision and Retreat in the Historiography of 1917: Social History and Its Critics," Russian Review 53, 2 (1994): 165-82.

(3) John L. H. Keep, The Russian Revolution: A Study in Mass Mobilization (New York: W. W. Norton, 1976), 113-14, 151; Theodore H. von Laue, Why Lenin? Why Stalin? A Reappraisal of the Russian Revolution, 1900 1930 (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1964), 127; Robert C. Tucker, The Marxian Revolutionary Idea (New York: W. W. Norton, 1969), 147; Robert G. Wesson, Ihe Soviet Russian State: An Aging Revolution (New York: Wiley, 1972), 2.

(4) E. E. Kruze, Polozhenie rahochego klassa Rossii v 1900-1914 gg. (Leningrad: Nauka, 1976), 131-65; Kir'ianov and Volin, Rabochii klass Rossii ot zarozhdeniia, 285-303; S. S. Khromov, ed., Rabochii klass Rossii, 1907-feirai 1917g. (Moscow: Nauka, 1982), 73-76; A. G. Rashin, Formirovanie rahochego klassa Rossii: Istoriko-ekonomicheskie ocherki, 2nd ed. (Moscow: Sotsekgiz, 1958), 532-34.

(5) la. M. Bineman, ed., TtudvSSSR, 1926-1930: Spravochnik (Moscow: Plankhozgiz, 1930), 28-29.

(6) Kruze, Polozhenie rahochego klassa Rossii, 139; Rashin, Formirovanie rahochego klassa Rossii, 493-579.

(7) Kh. Ian, "Russkie rabochie, patriotizm i Pervaia mirovaia voina," in Rabochie i intelligentsiia Rossii v epokhu reform i revoliutsii 1861--fevral' 1917g-, ed. S. I. Potolov (St. Petersburg: Blits, 1997), 380, 382, 393; L. Engel'shtein [Laura Engelstein], "Diskussiia," in Rabochie i intelligentsiia Rossii, 427-28.

(8) lu. I. Kir'ianov, "Mentalitet rabochikh Rossii na rubezhe XIX-XX w.," in Rabochie i intelligentsiia Rossii, 59.

(9) E. R. Ol'khovskii, "Formirovanie rabochei intelligentsii v Rossii v kontse XIX-nachale XX v.," in Rjibochie i intelligentsiia Rossii, 594-95.

(10) B. N. Mironov, Rossiiskaia imperiia: Ot traditsii k modernu, 3 vols. (St. Petersburg: Dmitrii Bulanin, 2014), 1:416.

(11) G.I. Korolev, "Predstavleniia rabochikh Rossii kontsa XlX-nachala XX v. o sotsializme," in Rabochie i intelligentsiia Rossii, 236-53.

(12) I. M. Pushkareva, "Rostovskaia stachka 1902 g. v svetc novykh istochnikov," in Trudovye konflikty i rabochee dvizhenie, 430.

(13) Maksim Gor'kii, "Mat'," Sobranie sochinenii, 16 vols. (Moscow: Pravda, 1989), 5:31-33.

(14) Robert B. McKean, Petersburg between the Revolutions: Workers and Revolutionaries, June 1907--February 1917 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), 6.

(15) Orlando A. Figes, A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891-1924 (New York: Penguin, 1998), 76.

(16) Maurice Paleologue, An Ambassador's Memoirs, trans. F. A. Holt, 3 vols. (New York: George H. Doran, 1925), vol. 3, chap. 12 (http://www.alexanderpalace.org/mpmemoirs/3_12.html). Such demonstrations were observed throughout the country.

(17) Zh. Piazhe [Jean Piaget], "Teoriia Piazhe: Razd. III. Teoriia stadii," in lstoriia zarubezhnoi psikholvgii: 30-e--60-e gody XX veka (Moscow: Izdatel'stvo Moskovskogo universiteta, 1992), 232-92.

(18) Dzh. Masionis [John Macionis], Sotsiologiia, 9th ed. (St. Petersburg: Piter, 2004), 176.

(19) P. P. Blonskii, lzbrannye psikhologicheskie proizvedeniia (Moscow: Prosvcshchenie, 1964), 281.

(20) S. I. Potolov, "Peterburgskie rabochie i intelligentsiia nakanune revoliutsii 1905-1907 gg.: Sobranie russkikh fabrichno-zavodskikh rabochikh g. S.-Peterburga," in Rabochie i intelligentsiia Rossii, 530-41.

(21) U. A. Sinister, Peterburgskie rabochie 1905-1907gg. (Leningrad: Nauka, 1976), 103. Bloody Sunday occurred on 9 January 1905, and the commission was established shortly thereafter on 29 January.

(22) Ian, "Russkie rabochie," 457.

(23) The First Guild was the highest group of merchants in the Russian Empire.--Trans.

(24) F. D. Bobkov, "Iz zapisok byvshego krepostnogo cheloveka," in Vospomittaniia russkikh krest'ian XVIII--pervoi polvviny XIX veka, ed. V. A. Koshelev (Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2006), 575-655.

(25) B. N. Mironov, Blagosostoianie naseleniia i revoliutsii v imperskoi Rossii: XVIII--nachalo XX veka, 2nd ed. (Moscow: Ves' mir, 2012), 587.

(26) V. V. Stepanov, ed., Chislennost' i sostav rabochikh v Rossii na osnovanii dannykh pervoi vseobshchei perepisi naseleniia Rossiiskoi imperii 1897g., 2 vols. (St. Petersburg: N. L. Nyrkin, 1906), i-xx.

(27) Obshchii svodpo imperii rezul 'tatov razrabotki dannykh pervoi vseobshchei perepisi naseleniia, proizvedennoi 28 ianvaria 1897g., 2 vols. (St. Petersburg: N. L. Nyrkin, 1905), 16-22, 64-67.

(28) Fabrichno-zavodskaia promyshlennost' v period 1913-1918 gg., 3 vols., 2: Professional 'naia perepis' (Moscow: Tsentral'noe statisticheskoe upravlenie, 1926).

(29) Gor'kii, Mat', 141, 312-14.

(30) F. Zimbardo and M. Liaipe, Sotsial'noe vliianie (St. Petersburg: Piter, 2000), 248, 249, 251, 264.

(31) Mironov, Rossiisknia imperiia, 2:797-813.

(32) Paleologue relies on data gathered from the 1897 all-Russian census, which reported that 21 percent of the population was literate. Paleologue, Ambassador's Memoirs, vol. 3, chaps. 9-10 (http://www.alexanderpalace.org/mpmemoirs/3_9.html; http://www.alexanderpalace. org/mpmemoirs/3_10.html).

(33) V. V. Rozanov, Apokalipsis nashego vremeni (St. Petersburg: Azbuka, 2001) (http://www.vehi.net/rozanov/apokal.html).

(34) Paliologue, Ambassador's Memoirs, vol. 3, chap. 11 (http://www.alexanderpalace.org/ mpmemoirs/3_ll.html). The reference to the ceremony on 5 April 1917 is in vol. 3, chap. 10.

(35) U. G. Rozenberg, "Predstavleniia liberalov o rabochikh Rossii i ikh interesakh," in Rabochie i intelligentsiia Rossii, 341.

(36) Iu. Latynina, "Sobstvennost' est' krazha?," in Russkaia filosofiia sobstvennosti:XVIII--XXvv., ed. K. Isupovand I. Savkin (St. Petersburg: Ganza, 1993), 427-44.

(37) V. Iu. Cherniaev, "Rabochii kontrol' i al'ternativy ego razvitiia v 1917 g." in Rabochie i rossiiskoe obshchestvo: Vtoraia polovina XIX- nachalo XX v. Sbornik statei i materialov, posviashchennyipamiati O. N. Znamenskogo, ed. S. I. Potolov (St. Petersburg: Glagol, 1994), 164-77.

(38) Sidney Hook, Revolution, Reform, and Social Justice: Studies in the Theory and Practice of Marxism (New York: New York University Press, 1975), 87-88; Keep, Russian Revolution, 469-70; von Laue, Why Lenin? Why Stalin?, 127; Sobolev, Oktiabr'skaia revoliutsiia, 186-91.

(39) V. I. Lenin, Zamechaniia na sochineniia Klausevitsza "O voine" (Moscow: Gospolitizdat, 1939), 1-40.

(40) Pushkareva, Trudovye konflikty i rabochee dvizhenie, 444-45.

(41) Boris Mironov, The Standard of Living and Revolutions in Russia, 1700-1917, ed. Gregory Freeze (New York: Routledge, 2012), 405-54.

(42) L. S. Kaminskii, "Smertnost' i semeinoe sostoianie naselcniia," in Sovetskaia demografiia za 70 let: Iz istorii nauki, ed. T. V. Riabushkin (Moscow: Nauka, 1987), 229-38.

(43) According to Rashin, there were 5.7 times more men than women in the workers' ranks in this period (Formirovanie rabochego klassa Rossii, 218).

(44) Mironov, Rossiiskaia imperiia, 1:700.

(45) J. A. Goldstone, Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 11-12; P. V. Turchin, Istorieheskaia dinamika: Naputi k teoreticheskoi istorii (Moscow: LKI, 2007), 173-76, 257-59.

(46) B.N. Mironov, Strastipo revoliutsii: Nravy v rossiiskoi istoriografii v vek informatsii (Moscow: Ves' mir, 2013), 189-202.

(47) Mironov, Rossiiskaia imperiia, 1:407-42.

(48) Orchakova, "Anarkhisty v politicheskoi zhizni Rossii," 134-64.

(49) Mironov, Blagosostoianie naseleniia, 617-20.

(50) V. V. Stepanov, ed., Raspredelenie rabochikh iprislugipogruppam zaniatii ipo mestu rozhdeniia na osnovanii dannykh pervoi vseobshehei perepisi naseleniia Rossiiskoi imperii 28 ianvaria 1897g. (St. Petersburg: N. L. Nyrkin, 1905); Mironov, Rossiiskaia imperiia, 3:133-34.

(51) Joan Neuberger, Hooliganism: Crime, Culture, and Power in St. Petersburg, 1900-1914 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 85-94, 255-71.

(52) Gor'kii, Mat', 6. English text from Maxim Gorky, Mother (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1911), 4-5, via Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3783/ 3783-h/3783-h.htm). No translator given.

(53) James C. Davies, When Men Revolt and Why (New York: Free Press, 1971). Quotation from Davies, "Toward a Theory of Revolution," American Sociological Review 27, 1 (1962): 5-19, here 6.

(54) V. I. Lenin, "Proshchal'noe pis'mo k shveitsarskim rabochim," Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 5th ed., 55 vols. (Moscow: Politizdat, 1962), 31:92.

(55) E. I. Martynov, Politika i strategiia (Moscow: Finansovyi kontrol', 2003), 222.
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