So, after yesterday’s Intro, let us get started with this post by Dmitry Lyskov, who has been writing great pieces in VZGLIAD about the history of events from 100 years ago.
As Lyskov mentioned, the Decree of Peace was the very first act of the new Bolshevik-dominated Soviet government, after they assumed responsibility to administer the former Russian Empire (October/November, 1917). It was an important priority of the Bolsheviks to get Russia out of the war pronto.
Lyskov begins with the anti-war attitude of the Russian peasantry, at the start of the 20th century, which was shown in the earlier war (the Russo-Japanese war of 1905), as well as the big war, World War I. He links this earlier piece of his, concerning the failure of the Stolypin agrarian reforms, and the rebellious attitude of the peasantry, who participated massively in the 1905 Russian Revolution. The disgruntled Russian peasants apparently did not harbor Rah-Rah “patriotic” feelings about the war against Japan. The Romanovs may or may not have had valid geo-political concerns, but the bottom line is, they were unable to sell this war to the masses.
For example, the peasants of the village of Gariali of the Sudzhansky region (Kursk) wrote the following complaint (to the Duma) during their rebellion against the authorities: “Our only means of survival is being able to rent land from our neighboring landowners. But now they have stopped leasing the land, and we don’t know if that will resume. We are sustained by earning wages, but now, because of the war, the work has stopped as well, everything is more expensive, and our taxes have increased…”
Similarly, the peasants of the village of Kazakov (Nizhniy Novgorod) wrote the following complaint: “We subscribed to a newspaper (because there are literate ones among us), and started to read about the war, what is happening over there, and what kind of people the Japanese are. It turns out that they walloped us. And because of that, we will have to pay in full, we peasants and workers, in the form of various taxes…”
Residents of the village of Veshka (Tver) were even more ideologically inclined in their opinions of the Russo-Japanese war: “This ill-fated, ruinous and destructive war must become an issue for all the people, for which it is necessary to gather representatives from the people and inform them about everything that is known about this war. Then we can determine whether or not we should continue it, or seek peace.”
And that was just a regional war. When World War I rolled around, it was way bigger, the defeat was bigger, and the Russian peasantry were even less thrilled with the conflict.
The War To End Wars
At the beginning of WWI, Russia, like the other participants, experienced a wave of flag-waving patriotism. The first regiments marched off to the front with orchestras playing and people running alongside shouting “Hurrah!” But a lot of this patraiotism was just skin deep. White General Anton Denikin was later to pen this plaint: “Blinded by the thunder and crash of the usual patriotic phrases… we overlooked the internal, organic deficiency of the Russian people: A lack of patriotism…. They did not want this war. With the exception of the heated-up military youth craving to be heroes, [most of the people] believed that the government would take all measures to avert actual combat.” Denikin, apparently believing that Russia’s alliance with such back-stabbers as England and France was an act of “self-defense”, went on to lament: “The notion of national self-defense was not understood by the dense masses [literally: the dark people], who went off to war obediently, but without any sense of enthusiasm and without a clear notion of the necessity to make great sacrifices.”
According to Lyskov, Denikin was correct in the sense, that most peasants of this era did not regard the entire Russian Empire as their fatherland; for them, the “fatherland” was mostly just their village and region. And they had little care for the vast geo-political concerns of the Romanovs. As Denikin also noted, the Tambov peasant did not feel any concern that the German soldier would reach his village or do anything to him. [And he was probably right about that: This was WWI not WWII!]
Ordinary Russian peasants simply did not understand why they had to sit in trenches and get killed by incoming artillery strikes.
[Next: the Role of the Socialist parties in the anti-war movement — to be continued]