'World’s workers must unite to achieve peace'

Petrograd Soviet meets at the Taurida Palace, Petrograd, March 1917
Friday, March 31, 2017

One hundred years ago, on March 27, 1917 (March 14 according to the Julian calendar then in use in Russia), the Petrograd Soviet issued the following appeal, “To the Peoples of the World,” calling for a restoration of workers’ unity in the cause of peace.

The Petrograd Soviet emerged out of the February Revolution that year, which succeeded in overthrowing the Tsar. The soviets were based on elected delegates of workers, soldiers and peasants. The October Revolution occured when the Petrograd Soviet, at the behest of the Bolsheviks, voted that all power show pass into Soviet hands, overthrowing the competing Provisional Government.

With the Petrograd Soviet, the moderate socialists dominated until September 1917. They pursued a policy of “revolutionary defensism”, which advocated defending Russia and its revolution against German aggression while calling upon European socialists to pressure their governments to bring about peace.

In contrast, the Bolsheviks argued in their “Mandate for Soviet Elections” that World War I was “a predatory war” being pursued by the ruling class of each country, and that ending it would only be “possible against the will of the present governments, only by tossing out the capitalists and landowners in all countries”.

The policy of the moderate socialists toward the war would not be consistently defined until the return from Siberian exile of Irakli Tsereteli and other Menshevik leaders on April 2 (March 20), 1917.

Therefore, the document below reflects the views in the Soviet at a time when moderate socialists were still open to making concessions to their radical counterparts regarding the Soviet’s position on the war and other issues.

Discussions in the Soviet were crucial to the realignment of leftist forces that occurred in the wake of the February Revolution.

The appeal was translated by Barbara Allen. 

It is the ninth piece in the ongoing “1917: The View from the Streets – Leaflets of the Russian Revolution” series being co-ordinated by Allen and John Riddell. 

It was first published at John Riddell's Marxist Essays and Commentary website and Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.

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To the Peoples of the Entire World 

Comrades, proletarians, and labourers of all countries!

We Russian workers and soldiers, united in the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, send you our heartfelt greetings while announcing a great event. Our Russian democracy has extinguished the centuries-old tsarist despotism.

We now join your family as a member with full rights and as a formidable force in the struggle for our mutual emancipation.

Ours is a great victory for world-wide freedom and democracy. The “policeman of Europe” and the chief buttress of world reaction is no more. Indeed, it has been buried never to rise again.

Long live freedom! Long live the international solidarity of the proletariat and its struggle for final victory!

Our cause has still not fully triumphed. The vestiges of the old order have not yet dispersed. Enemies of the Russian Revolution are gathering their forces against it.

Nevertheless, our gains are enormous. The peoples of Russia will express their will in the Constituent Assembly, which will be convened very soon based on universal, equal, direct and secret suffrage. Already, we can predict with confidence that a democratic republic will triumph in Russia.

The Russian people possess full political freedom. They can now speak authoritatively about the country’s domestic and foreign policy.

Appealing to all the peoples who have been ruined and destroyed in this horrific war, we declare that the time has come to struggle resolutely against aggression by governments of all countries. The time has come for all peoples to resolve the question of war and peace.

Cognisant of its revolutionary strength, Russian democracy declares that it will oppose by all means the ruling classes’ aggressive policy. It calls upon the peoples of Europe to speak and act out jointly and resolutely to foster peace.

We appeal to our brothers, the proletarians of the Austro-German coalition, and above all to the German proletariat.

From the very beginning of the war, we were convinced that by taking up arms against Russian autocracy you were defending European culture from Asian despotism. Many of you believed that this justified your support for the war.

Now this justification no longer exists. Democratic Russia cannot threaten freedom and civilization.

We will firmly defend our own freedom from any kind of reactionary encroachments, whether internal or external. The Russian Revolution will not retreat from the bayonets of the conquerors and will not be crushed by foreign military force.

We call upon you to throw off the yoke of your semi-autocratic order just as the Russian people shook off tsarist despotism. You should refuse to serve as a weapon of invasion and violence in the hands of kings, gentry landowners, and bankers.

Together in friendship we will put a stop to the terrible slaughter, which disgraces humankind and casts a shadow over the great days of the birth of Russian freedom.

Working people of all countries! Across mountains of our brothers’ corpses, across rivers of innocent blood and tears, across smoking ruins of towns and villages, and across lost cultural treasures, we extend to you a fraternal hand and summon you to a renewed and strengthened international unity.

This will secure our future victories and the full emancipation of humanity. 

Proletarians of all countries, unite!

Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies

[First published in Izvestiia, no. 15, March 28 (15), 1917. Reprinted in AG Shlyapnikov, Semnadtsatyi god, volume 2. On Shlyapnikov’s role in the 1917 events, see Barbara C Allen, Alexander Shlyapnikov 1885-1937: Life of an Old Bolshevik.]

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