Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Left Socialist Revolutionaries Win Backing in Leftist Poll on 1917.

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Socialist Revolutionary Party.

There is a popular  quiz, circulated at the moment on Facebook,  on “Who are you in 1917 Russia? Take our test, “Political Compass of the Revolution,” to find out who you would have been 100 years ago – an Anarchist, a Cadet, a Right SR, a Bolshevik or a member of the Black Hundreds.”

No doubt important international leaders of the proletariat, like Tariq Ali, Alex Callinicos, Lindsey Germain and John Rees, would have found that would have been key advisers of the Bolsheviks, commanders of the Red Army and People’s Commissars.

But many people, and not the least, have found that they would have been Left Socialist Revolutionaries.

This is odd, I’d have expected to turn out a Internationalist  Menshevik.

Or this:

But like many I got, Left SR…..

The SR’s, of all stripes, were in favour of continuing the war.

Apart from that many of their policies were not at all bad.


At the 5th All-Russia Congress of Soviets of July 4, 1918 the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries had 352 delegates compared to 745 Bolsheviks out of 1132 total. The Left SRs raised disagreements on the suppression of rival parties, the death penalty, and mainly, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

Then there was this:

The Left SR uprising or Left SR revolt was an uprising against the Bolsheviks by the Left Socialist Revolutionary Party in July 1918. The uprising started on 6 July 1918 and was claimed to be intended to restart the war with Germany. It was one of a number of left-wing uprisings against the Bolsheviks that took place during the Russian Civil War.

But are there more details on who the left SRs were?

LibCom has this interesting article: Literature and the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries.

Revolutionary organizations in Russia in 1917-1921.

At the peak of the political influence the number of organization members were approaching 200 thousands. The Left SRs supported the autonomy of the workers’ councils and the federal structure of the country. They criticized Bolshevik Party for the establishment of the dictatorship.

A very sad fact is that when people talk about the poets and the writers of Russia who accepted and supported Russian Revolution, they immediately associate them with Bolshevism. But supporting Russian revolution and supporting Bolshevism is two different things.

For example, the poet Yesenin was a member of the PLSR and sympathized with Makhno. Yevgeny Zamyatin is an author of the novel “We”, written in 1920. This book is one of the great anti-utopias of the 20th century, along with the works of George Orwell. Zamyatin was subjected to repression in the Soviet Union because of this book. In this novel anti-state rebels are fighting for the “fourth revolution”, which aims to liberate people from the power of the totalitarian state: an allusion to the concept of the “third revolution”, anti-totalitarian anti-Bolshevik Revolution of the Left Socialist Revolutionaries and anarchists.

In 1919, Zamyatin, along with many well-known artists (Block, Remizov, Ivanov-Razumnik) was arrested during the Left SRs strikes in the factories of Petersburg. The Left SRs were not peaceful legal strikers: their struggle was not limited to economic demands, they fought for free elections to the councils and wanted the elimination of the violent political monopoly of the Bolsheviks. Strikes were carried out by radical methods: factory’s Left SRs militia used weapons. While all of these cultural figures were not related directly to the performances of the Petersburg workers, they had a direct link with the Left SRs.

Since 1916, an informal group of “Scythians” began to form around the famous writer Ivanov-Razumnik, which gravitated toward the left wing of the Socialist Revolutionaries. It included Andrey Beliy, Alexander Blok, Klyuev, Lundberg, Forsh etc. In the years 1919-1924 in Russia the Free Philosophical Association, WOLFILA, was patronized by the Left SRs. It worked even with a wider circle of writers, artists, social thinkers. Some of them cooperated in the newspapers published by the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, “The Banner of Labour” and the magazine “Our Way”.

Of course, we can not say that they were all standing on party positions, although, for example, Ivanov-Razumnik was a member of the Central Committee of PLSR. But all of them in one way or another sympathized with the revolutionary-socialism LSR based on the ideas of self-government and individual freedom. Aleksandr Blok’s poem “Scythians” is a great anthem of the Russian revolution, which is nothing else than a poetic statement of Left SRs program.

If the concept of “revolution” is ever to be cleaned from the USSR flavour, then, perhaps, the work of poets, writers, scientists, philosophers of the Scythians and WOLFILA would become closer and more understandable to many people.

P.S. Important role in the discovery of the influence of the Left SRs on Russian literature belongs to the modern historian Yaroslav Leontiev.

Alexander Blok. The Scythians

Millions are you – and hosts, yea hosts, are we,
And we shall fight if war you want, take heed.
Yes, we are Scythians – leafs of the Asian tree,
Our slanted eyes are bright aglow with greed.Ages for you, for us the briefest space,
We raised the shield up as your humble lieges
To shelter you, the European race
From the Mongolians’ savage raid and sieges.Ages, yea ages, did your forges’ thunder
Drown even avalanches’ roar.
Quakes rent Messina and Lisbon asunder –
To you this was a distant tale – no more.

Eastwards you cast your eyes for many hundred years,
Greedy for our precious stones and ore,
And longing for the time when with a leer
You’d yell an order and the guns would roar.

This time is now. Woe beats its wings
And every adds more humiliation
Until the day arrives which brings
An end to placid life in utter spoliation.

You, the old world, now rushing to perdition,
Yet strolling languidly to lethal brinks,
Yours is the ancient Oedipean mission
To seek to solve the riddles of a sphinx.

The sphinx is Russia, sad and yet elated,
Stained with dark blood, with grief prostrate,
For you with longing she has looked and waited,
Replete with ardent love and ardent hate.

Yet how will ever you perceive
That, as we love, as lovingly we yearn,
Our love is neither comfort nor relief
But like a fire will destroy and burn.

We love cold figures’ hot illumination,
The gift of supernatural vision,
We like the Gallic wit’s mordant sensation
And dark Teutonic indecision.

We know it all: in Paris hell’s dark street,
In Venice bright and sunlit colonnades,
The lemon blossoms’ scent so heavy, yet so sweet,
And in Cologne a shadowy arcade.

We love the flavour and the smell of meat,
The slaughterhouses’ pungent reek.
Why blame us then if in the heat
Of our embrace your bones begin to creak.

We saddle horses wild and shy,
As in the fields so playfully they swerve.
Though they be stubborn, yet we press their thigh
Until they willingly and meekly serve.

Join us! From horror and from strife
Turn to the peace of our embrace.
There is still time. Keep in its sheath your knife.
Comrades, we will be brothers to your race.

Say no – and we are none the worse.
We, too, can utter pledges that are vain.
But ages, ages will you bear the curse
Of our sons’ distant offspring racked with pain.

Our forests’ dark depths shall we open wide
To you, the men of Europe’s comely race,
And unmoved shall we stand aside,
An ugly grin on our Asian face.

Advance, advance to Ural’s crest,
We offer you a battleground so neat
Where your machines of steel in serried ranks abreast
With the Mongolian savage horde will meet.

But we shall keep aloof from strife,
No longer be your shield from hostile arrow,
We shall just watch the mortal strife
With our slanting eyes so cold and narrow.

Unmoved shall we remain when Hunnish forces
The corpses’ pockets rake for plunder,
Set town afire, to altars tie their horses,
Burn our white brothers’ bodies torn asunder.

To the old world goes out our last appeal:
To work and peace invite our warming fires.
Come to our hearth, join our festive meal.
Called by the strings of our Barbarian lyres.

30 January 1918



9 Responses

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  1. Those who don’t do Facebook can go to the source: http://arzamas.academy/materials/1269

    First time I came out as a Menshevik-Internationalist, second time – as Left SR. I think one slight difference in one answer may have swung it. Strange though – I ticked that I strongly disagreed with the idea that the Soviets should take power and still came out as a Left SR… Another point worth considering about the Left SRs is that, compared to other tendencies (not least the Mensheviks of all stripes), they had quite a high proportion of women among their leading figures: Spiridonova, Bitsenko, Kakhovskaya. As for the war, it’s true that the PLSR regarded Brest-Litovsk as a betrayal of the demand for peace without annexations and indemnities, but the only example I have yet found of a Russian socialist publicly raising the possibility of a separate peace with Germany in 1917 (when it was very taboo) is the left SR V Trutovsky at the Petrograd SR conference in April 1917.


    March 7, 2017 at 3:42 pm

  2. The Bolsheviks feared that they would either be a minority or have only a razor-thin majority at the fifth congress of soviets so they stacked the congress with bogus delegates. This eliminated the possibility of peacefully changing the Soviet government’s policies, personnel, and party complexion. The Left SRs responded by resorting to terrorism against Count Mirbach, hoping to sabotage the unpopular Brest-Litovsk treaty. Lenin and co. lied through their teeth and claimed that the Left SRs were trying to overthrow the Soviet government and purged the Left SRs from the fifth congress and the government, creating the world’s first one-party state.

    Prior to 1917, Lenin and the Bolsheviks advocated setting up a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry in the form of a provisional revolutionary government. This temporary government — made up of the party of the revolutionary proletariat (RSDLP) and the party/parties of the bourgeois-democratic peasantry — would wipe out Tsarism, feudalism, and related remnants by force, break up the landed estates, establish and safeguard political liberties, and convene a Constituent Assembly to ratify these radical changes, promulgate a constitution establishing a republic, and set up a permanent government.

    After overthrowing the non-revolutionary provisional government in fall of 1917, Lenin and the Bolsheviks reneged on this scenario and decided not to convene a Constituent Assembly at all. They turned the temporary provisional revolutionary government (the Soviet government) which represented the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry into the permanent government controlled exclusively by the Bolshevik faction of the RSDLP by crushing the representatives of other RSDLP factions (Mensheviks, Menshevik internationalists) and the party of the peasantry, the Left SRs. This they then conveniently called the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ which in reality was anything but the class rule of the proletariat since it meant erecting a state of the old, bourgeois type: special bodies of armed men over and above the population — the Red Army (staffed with Tsarist officers no less) and the Checka, neither of which had any constitutional or legal limits on their power. Lenin elevated this abandonment of republicanism (the sine non qua of democratic governance) in his polemic with Kautsky to a matter of principle and declared that a dictatorship of the proletariat would be “unrestricted by any laws.” On this question Lenin was the renegade, not Kautsky.

    The Bolsheviks should have stuck with their original scenario which would have inevitably resulted in the Left SRs being the dominant element in a worker-peasant democratic republic midwifed by a temporary Soviet government. Perhaps a Left SR-dominated government would’ve been foolish enough to continue the ruinous war, but revolution swept German armies off the battlefield by the end of 1918 anyway and risking the war’s continuation for less than a year seems like a better bet compared what actually resulted from the choices Lenin and the Bolsheviks made: 70 years of Stalinism, untold millions killed, and the gross perversion of Marxism/socialism/communism.


    March 7, 2017 at 5:01 pm

  3. I got Internationalist Menshevik – and was pretty happy with that.

    Amusing to see some of my aging FB Anarchist friends very disappointed that they also turned out to be Internationalist Menshevik and getting worried that they were turning less radical with age. The same disappointment was evident in people who still envisage themselves as hardline Bolsheviks – but have seemingly softened their position.

    alex ross

    March 7, 2017 at 5:32 pm

  4. As I said a surprising number people came out at Left Socialist Revolutionaries, obviously because as democratic socialists there are questions which involve the kind of multiparty pluralist freedoms, not to mention wider authoritarianism, which marked them off from Lenin and the Bolsheviks.

    There is of course the obvious point that some Bolsheviks favoured continuing the war, and opposed signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

    “Ratifying the treaty sparked heated debate within the Communist Party, especially among the so-called Left Communists led by Nikolai Bukharin who backed the idea of a revolutionary war against Germany.”


    People’s War, you refer to in what fell in 1917. I agree – how could one not? – that the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly and the “Soviet democracy” remains the contentious issue.

    “The Bolsheviks justified closing down the Assembly by pointing out that the election did not take into account the split in the SR Party. A few weeks later the Left SR and Right SR got roughly equal votes in the Peasant Soviets. The Bolsheviks also argued that the Soviets were more democratic as delegates could be removed by their electors instantly rather than the parliamentary style of the Assembly where the elected members could only be removed after several years at the next election. The book states that all the elections to the Peasant and Urban Soviets were free and these Soviets then elected the All-Russian Congress of Soviets which chose the Soviet Government, the Second Congress taking place before the Assembly, the Third Congress just after.

    Two more recent books using material from the opened Soviet achieves, The Russian Revolution 1899-1919 by Richard Pipes and A People’s Tragedy by Orlando Figes, give a different version. Pipes argues that the elections to the Second Congress were not fair, for example one Soviet with 1,500 members sent 5 delegates which was more than Kiev. He states that both the SRs and the Mensheviks declared this election illegal and unrepresentative. The books state that the Bolsheviks, two days after the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, created a counter-assembly, the Third Congress of Soviets. They gave themselves and the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries 94% of the seats, far more than the results from the only nationwide parliamentary democratic election in Russia during this time.”


    Andrew Coates

    March 7, 2017 at 6:54 pm

  5. I came out as a Right Socialist Revolutionary who got most votes and seats in the Constituent Assembly according to here.


    John Rogan

    March 7, 2017 at 8:57 pm

  6. The problem around ending the war was that all the Zimmerwaldist socialists were committed to “peace without annexations or indemnities on the basis of self-determination of peoples” – which was only possible if all the warring states were willing to sign up to it. Until then – what was Russia supposed to do? Nobody in 1917 or 1918 had a convincing answer. The ‘revolutionary defencists’ called for continuing the war in alliance with the (imperialist and annexationist) Allies, but could not explain how this would lead to the peace they wanted. The internationalists pointed out the problems with the defencists’ position but had no answer for what Russia should do in the meantime. Some even suggested a separate (revolutionary?) war against all imperialism, which was neither militarily nor financially feasible. And the Bolsheviks were predicting a miracle – the working classes of all other belligerent countries would overthrow their own imperialist rulers as soon as a genuinely democratic peace was proposed by a Soviet government.


    March 7, 2017 at 10:15 pm

  7. Great article Andrew – from an anarchist 💣💥


    March 7, 2017 at 10:16 pm

  8. Strangely enough I also got “Left SR.” I still think I would’ve been a dissident Bolshevik.

    BTW, I highly recommend “The Life and Death of Leon Trotsky,” written by Victor Serge with Natalia Sedova Trotsky. The picture it paints of both the closing of the Constituent Assembly and the Fifth Congress of Soviets varies from the one People’s War is describing.


    March 8, 2017 at 1:27 am

  9. I also recommend My Disillusionment in Russia. Emma Goldman. 1922-23, of her experience in 1920 – 1921.


    Thanks for that reference to the Victor Serge and Natalia Sedova book, Schulman, one I haven’t read.

    Andrew Coates

    March 8, 2017 at 12:59 pm

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