Socialist Revolutionary Party SRP
Socialist Revolutionary Party (SRP)
the largest of the petit bourgeois parties in Russia from 1901 to 1922. In the course of development of the Russian revolutionary movement, the Socialist Revolutionaries (SR’s) underwent a complex evolution from petit bourgeois revolutionary politics to cooperation with the bourgeoisie (after the February Revolution of 1917) and, in effect, to an alliance with the counterrevolutionary bourgeoisie and landed gentry (after the October Revolution of 1917).
The SRP was founded in late 1901–early 1902 through the merging of several Populist groupings, such as the Southern Socialist Revolutionary Party, the Northern Union of Socialist Revolutionaries, the Agrarian Socialist League, and the Union of Socialist Revolutionaries Abroad. At the time of its founding, the SRP was headed by M. A. Natanson, E. K. Breshko-Breshkovskaia, N. S. Rusanov, V. M. Chernov, M. R. Gots, and G. A. Gershuni. No general party program was adopted by the SR’s during the early years. Their views and demands were reflected in the pages of the newspaper Revoliutsionnaia Rossiia, the magazine Vestnik russkoi revoliutsii, and the collection On Questions of Program and Tactics (1903).
The theoretical views of the SR’s were an eclectic blend of Populism and revisionism, or Bernsteinism. According to V. I. Lenin, the SR’s “are trying to patch up the rents in the Narodnik ideas with bits of fashionable opportunist ‘criticism’ of Marxism” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 11, p. 285). For the SR’s, the main social force was the “laboring people”—namely, the peasantry, the proletariat, and the democratic intelligentsia. Objectively, their thesis of the “unity of the people” meant a denial of the class differences between the proletariat and the peasantry and of the antagonisms among the peasants themselves. The interests of the “laboring” peasantry were considered by the SR’s to be identical to the interests of the proletariat.
The SR’s maintained that the division of society into classes is chiefly characterized by the sources from which income is derived; their main emphasis was on distribution relations rather than on the Marxist doctrine of relations to the means of production. They promoted the notion of the socialist nature of the “laboring” peasantry—that is, the village poor and the middle peasants. Denying the leading role of the proletariat in the bourgeois-democratic revolution, the SR’s regarded the democratic intelligentsia, the peasantry, and the proletariat as the moving forces of the revolution, in which the peasantry was assigned the major role. The SR’s failed to understand the bourgeois nature of the impending revolution, interpreting the peasant movement against the vestiges of serfdom as a socialist movement.
The SRP’s program, written by V. M. Chernov and adopted at the party’s first congress (December 1905-January 1906), called for the establishment of a democratic republic, regional autonomy, political freedoms, universal franchise, the convocation of a constituent assembly, and the adoption of labor legislation, a progressive income tax, and the eight-hour workday. The basis of the SRP’s agrarian program was the demand for socialization of the land; in the context of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, this demand was of a progressive nature, since it envisioned the revolutionary liquidation of the landed gentry’s ownership of land and the transfer of such land to the peasants. The agrarian program of the SR’s earned them influence and support among the peasants during the Revolution of 1905–07.
In matters of tactics the SR’s adopted the Social Democrats’ methods of mass agitation among the proletariat, the peasantry, and the intelligentsia (mainly among students). But one of the SRP’s chief methods of struggle was individual terror, as carried out by the conspiratorial Fighting Organization, which was virtually independent of the Central Committee. The Fighting Organization was first headed by G. A. Gershuni, who founded it in late 1901; from 1903 it was headed by E. F. Azef (who turned out to be an agent provocateur), and from 1908 by B. V. Savinkov. Between 1902 and 1906, several major acts of terror were carried out by members of the Fighting Organization: D. S. Sipiagin, minister of internal affairs, was assassinated by S. V. Balmashev; V. K. Pleve, minister of internal affairs, by E. S. Sozonov; and the Grand Duke Sergei Aleksandrovich by I. P. Kaliaev.
During the Revolution of 1905–07, the Socialist Revolutionary peasant druzhinas launched a campaign of “agrarian terror” in the villages—for example, setting fire to country estates, seizing the landlords’ property, and cutting down forests. The fighting druzhinas of the SRP and of the other parties jointly participated in the armed uprisings of 1905–06 and in the “partisan war” of 1906. The SRP’s “Military Organization” was active in the army and in the navy.
At the same time, the SR’s tended to vacillate in the direction of liberalism. In 1904 they concluded an agreement with the Union of Liberation and participated in the Conference of the Opposition and Revolutionary Organizations, held in Paris and attended only by representatives of bourgeois and petit bourgeois groups. The SR’s viewed the election of 37 of their deputies to the Second State Duma as a great victory for the revolution. Terrorist activities were suspended while the First and Second Dumas were in session.
In the Duma, the SR’s wavered between the Social Democrats and the Constitutional Democrats, or Kadets. From 1902 to 1907 the SR’s were, in essence, the left wing of petit bourgeois democracy. The SRP’s Utopian theories, its adventuristic tactics of individual terror, and its vacillations between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie were criticized by the Bolsheviks; under certain conditions, however, the latter made temporary agreements with the SR’s in view of their participation in the people’s common struggle against tsarism.
Because they were essentially petit bourgeois in nature, the SR’s lacked internal unity. This characteristic, which marked the party from its very beginning, led to the split of 1906, when the SRP’s right wing seceded to form the party of the Popular Socialists, while the extreme left wing split off to form the Union of Socialist Revolutionary Maximalists. During the period of reaction (1907–10), the SRP experienced a severe crisis. Demoralized by the unmasking of Azef as an agent provocateur in 1908, the party in effect broke up into separate organizations, whose main forces were given over to terror and expropriations. Propaganda and agitation among the masses were practically stopped. Most of the SRP’s leaders became social chauvinists during World War I.
The February Revolution of 1917 effected the political awakening of the great mass of the petite bourgeoisie, leading to a sharp increase in the influence and size of the SRP (nearly 400,000 members in 1917). The SR’s and the Mensheviks were in the majority in the executive committees of the soviets of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies in various cities, including Petrograd, as well as in the soviets of peasants’ deputies and in the land committees. Interpreting the February Revolution as an ordinary bourgeois revolution and rejecting the slogan “All Power to the Soviets,” the Central Committee of the SRP came out in support of the Provisional Government; A. F. Kerensky, A. D. Avksent’ev, V. M. Chernov, and S. L. Maslov joined the government. The SRP postponed a decision on the agrarian question until the convocation of the Constituent Assembly and openly sided with the bourgeoisie during the July Days of 1917, thus cutting itself off from the great mass of working people. Only the urban petite bourgeoisie and the kulaks continued to support the SRP.
The conciliationist policy of the party’s Central Committee led to a new split and to the secession of the left wing, which in December 1917 formed the independent party of Left Socialist Revolutionaries.
After the October Revolution of 1917 the right-wing SR’s launched an anti-Soviet campaign in the press and in the soviets; they set up underground organizations, and some of the SR’s, including A. R. Gots, joined the Committee to Save the Homeland and the Revolution. On June 14, 1918, the SR’s were expelled from the All-Russian Central Executive Committee for counterrevolutionary activity. During the Civil War of 1918–20 the right-wing SR’s engaged in the armed struggle against Soviet power and helped organize conspiracies and revolts in Yaroslavl, Rybinsk, and Murom. The reconstituted Military Organization launched a campaign of terror against the leaders of the Soviet state; V. Volodarskii and M. S. Uritskii were assassinated, and V. I. Lenin was wounded on Aug. 30, 1918.
In the summer of 1918, pursuing the demagogic policy of the “third force” (between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie), the SR’s helped organize various counterrevolutionary “governments,” such as the Committee of Members of the Constituent Assembly in Samara, the Provisional Siberian Government, the Supreme Administration of the Northern Oblast in Arkhangel’sk, and the Transcaspian Provisional Government. The nationalists among the SR’s adopted counterrevolutionary positions; the Ukrainian SR’s joined the Central Rada, the SR’s of Transcaucasia supported British intervention and bourgeois nationalism, and the Siberian oblastniki cooperated with A. V. Kolchak. In the summer and fall of 1918 the SR’s were the chief organizers of the petit bourgeois counterrevolution; their policy paved the way for the assumption of power by the bourgeois and landowners’ counterrevolutionary regimes—for example, the Kolchak regime, the Denikinshchina, and the other White Guard regimes—which, once in power, disbanded the Socialist Revolutionary “governments.”
In 1919–20 the SRP suffered a new split, provoked by the total failure of the “third force” policy. In August 1919 some of the SR’s, including K. S. Burevoi, V. K. Vol’skii, and N. K. Rakitnikov, formed a group called The People and entered into negotiations with the Soviet powers with regard to joint action against Kolchak. The extreme right-wing SR’s, such as N. D. Avksent’ev and V. M. Zenzinov, openly allied themselves with the White Guards.
After the White armies were routed, the SR’s again assumed the leadership of the domestic counterrevolution; under the slogan “Soviets Without Communists,” they organized the Kronstadt Anti-Soviet Rebellion of 1921, the Antonov Revolt, and the West Siberian Revolt of 1921. In 1922, after the suppression of the revolts, the SRP definitively fell apart, having lost any kind of mass support. Some of its leaders emigrated and founded various anti-Soviet centers abroad; others were arrested. The rank and file of the SRP withdrew from political activity. The All-Russian Congress of Former Rank-and-File Members of the SRP, held in Moscow in March 1923, adopted a resolution dissolving the party and expressed the hope that its members would join the RCP(B). Local conferences of former SR’s, held throughout the country in May and June, confirmed the decisions of the congress. The trial of the right-wing SR’s, held in Moscow in 1922, revealed the party’s crimes against the workers’ and peasants’ state and was the means by which the basically counterrevolutionary nature of the SRP was finally unmasked.
REFERENCESLenin, V. I. “Pochemu sotsial-demokratiia dolzhna ob”iavit’ reshitel’nuiu i besposhchadnuiu voinu sotsialistam-revoliutsioneram.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 6.
Lenin, V. I. “Revoliutsionnyi avantiurizm.” Ibid. (See also Index Volume, part 1, pp. 645–49.)
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V. V. GARMIZA