This chapter from Leon Trotsky's 1905 is a companion to today's entry on Lenin and the Vanguard Party.
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The history of the Petersburg Soviet of Workers’ Deputies is the history of fifty days. The constituent meeting of the Soviet was held on October 13. On December 3 a meeting of the Soviet was closed down by government troops.
The first meeting was attended by a few dozen persons; by the second half of November the number of deputies had grown to 562, including 6 women. These persons represented 147 factories and plants, 34 workshops and 16 trade unions. The main mass of the deputies – 351 persons – belonged to the metalworkers; these played the decisive role in the Soviet. There were deputies from the textile industry, 32 from the printing and paper industries, 12 from the shop-workers and from office workers and the pharmaceutical trade. The Executive Committee acted as the Soviet’s ministry. It was formed on October 17 and consisted of 31 persons – 22 deputies and 9 representatives of parties (6 from the two social-democrat factions and 3 from the socialist revolutionaries).
What was the essential nature of this institution which within a short time assumed such an important place within the revolution and marked the period of its maximum power?
The Soviet organized the working masses, directed the political strikes and demonstrations, armed the workers, and protected the population against pogroms. Similar work was also done by other revolutionary organizations before the Soviet came into existence, concurrently with it, and after it. Yet this did not endow them with the influence that was concentrated in the hands of the Soviet. The secret of this influence lay in the fact that the Soviet grew as the natural organ of the proletariat in its immediate struggle for power as determined by the actual course of events. The name of “workers’ government” which the workers themselves on the one hand, and the reactionary press on the other, gave to the Soviet was an expression of the fact that the Soviet really was a workers’ government in embryo. The Soviet represented power insofar as power was assured by the revolutionary strength of the working-class districts; it struggled for power insofar as power still remained in the hands of the military-political monarchy.
Prior to the Soviet we find among the industrial workers a multitude of revolutionary organizations directed, in the main, by the social-democratic party. But these were organizations within the proletariat, and their immediate aim was to achieve influence over the masses. The Soviet was, from the start, the organization of the proletariat, and its aim was the struggle for revolutionary power.
As it became the focus of all the country’s revolutionary forces, the Soviet did not allow its class nature to be dissolved in revolutionary democracy: it was and remained the organized expression of the class will of the proletariat. In the struggle for power it applied methods which were naturally determined by the nature of the proletariat as a class: its role in production, its vast numbers, its social homogeneity. More than that, the Soviet combined its struggle for power as the head of all the revolutionary forces with directing independent class activity by the working masses in many different ways; it not only encouraged the organization of trade unions, but actually intervened in disputes between individual workers and their employees. It was precisely because the Soviet, the democratic representative body of the proletariat at a time of revolution, stood at the meeting-point of all its class interests, that it immediately came under the all-determining influence of the social-democratic party. The party now had its chance to make use of all the tremendous advantages of its Marxist training, and because it was able to see its political way clear in the great “chaos,” it succeeded almost without effort in transforming the Soviet – formally a non-party organization – into the organizational instrument of its own influence.
The principal method of struggle used by the Soviet was the political general strike. The revolutionary strength of such strikes consists in the fact that, acting over the head of capital, they disorganize state power. The greater, the more complete the “anarchy” caused by a strike, the nearer the strike is to victory. But on one condition only: the anarchy must not be created by anarchic means. The class which, by simultaneous cessation of work, paralyzes the production apparatus and with it the centralized apparatus of power, isolating parts of the country from one another and sowing general confusion, must itself be sufficiently organized not to become the first victim of the anarchy it has created. The more completely a strike renders the state organization obsolete, the more the organization of the strike itself is obliged to assume state functions. These conditions for a general strike as a proletarian method of struggle were, at the same time, the conditions for the immense significance of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies.
By the pressure of strikes, the Soviet won the freedom of the press. It organized regular street patrols to ensure the safety of citizens. To a greater or lesser extent, it took the postal and telegraph services and the railways into its hands. It intervened authoritatively in economic disputes between workers and capitalists. It made an attempt to introduce the eight-hour working day by direct revolutionary pressure. Paralyzing the activity of the autocratic state by means of the insurrectionary strike, it introduced its own free democratic order into the life of the laboring urban population.
After January 9 the revolution showed that it controlled the consciousness of the working masses. On June 14, by the rising on board the Potemkin Tavrichesky, the revolution showed that it could become a material force. By the October strike it showed that it could disorganize the enemy, paralyze his will, and reduce him to complete humiliation. Finally, by organizing workers’ Soviets throughout the country, the revolution showed that it was able to create organs of power. Revolutionary power can rest only on active revolutionary strength. Whatever one’s views on the further development of the Russian revolution may be, the fact is that no social class except the proletariat has hitherto shown itself capable and ready to support revolutionary power.
The revolution’s first act was the attempted dialogue between the proletariat and the monarchy in the city streets; the revolution’s first important victory was achieved by a purely class weapon of the proletariat, the political strike; finally, the representative body of the proletariat assumed the role of the first embryonic organ of revolutionary power. With the Soviet we have the first appearance of democratic power in modern Russian history. The Soviet is the organized power of the mass itself over its separate parts. It constitutes authentic democracy, without a lower and an upper chamber, without a professional bureaucracy, but with the voters’ right to recall their deputies at any moment. Through its members – deputies directly elected by the workers – the Soviet exercises direct leadership over all social manifestations of the proletariat as a whole and of its individual groups, organizes its actions and provides them with a slogan and a banner.
According to the census of 1897, there were approximately 820,000 “actively employed” persons living in Petersburg, including 433,000 workers and domestic servants. In other words, the proletarian population of the capital amounted to 53 per cent. If we include the non-employed population, we obtain a somewhat lower figure (50.8 per cent) owing to the relatively small size of proletarian families. But in any event the proletariat represented more than half the population of Petersburg.
The Soviet of Workers’ Deputies was not the official representative of the capital’s entire half-million-strong proletarian population; organizationally speaking, it represented approximately 200,000 persons, principally factory and plant workers, and although its political influence, both direct and indirect, extended to a wider circle, very important strata of the proletariat (building workers, domestic servants, unskilled laborers, cab drivers) were scarcely or not at all represented. It cannot be doubted, however, that the Soviet represented the interests of the whole proletarian mass. Even where so-called “Black Hundreds” groups existed in factories, their numbers shriveled day by day and hour by hour. Among the proletarian masses, the political dominance of the Soviet in Petersburg found no opponents but only supporters. The only exceptions might have been among the privileged domestic servants – lackeys of the high-ranking lackeys of the bureaucracy, of ministers, stock-exchange operators and high-class tarts, people with whom conservatism and monarchism is an occupational disease.
Among the intelligentsia, which is so numerous in Petersburg, the Soviet had many more friends than enemies. Thousands of students recognized the political leadership of the Soviet and ardently supported its measures. The professional and civil service intelligentsia, with the exception of those grown hopelessly fat at their desks, was on its side – at least for the time being.
The Soviet’s energetic support of the postal and telegraph strike attracted the sympathetic attention of the lower strata of the civil service. All who were oppressed, dispossessed, honest, life-affirming in the city were consciously or instinctively drawn towards the Soviet.
Who was against it? The representatives of predatory capitalism, stock-exchange operators speculating on rising prices, contractors, merchants, and exporters ruined by the strikes, suppliers of bullion, the gang ensconced in the Petersburg duma (that householders’ syndicate), the higher bureaucracy, poules de luxe whose keep formed part of the state budget, highly paid, highly decorated public men, the secret police – all that was coarse, dissolute, and doomed to death.
Between the Soviet’s supporters and its enemies stood the politically indeterminate, hesitant, or unreliable elements. The most backward groups of the petty bourgeoisie, not yet drawn into politics, had not had time to grasp the role and significance of the Soviet. The labor-employing craftsmen were frightened and alarmed: in them, the petty property-owner’s detestation of strikes fought with vague expectations of a better future.
The unsettled professional politicians from intellectual circles, radical journalists who did not know what they wanted, democrats riddled with skepticism, were peevishly condescending towards the Soviet, counted its mistakes on their fingers and generally made it understood that if only it was they who stood at the head of the Soviet, the proletariat’s happiness would be assured forevermore. Such gentlemen’s excuse is their impotence.
In any case the Soviet was, actually or potentially, the organ representing the overwhelming majority of the population. Its enemies among the population would have been no threat to its dominance had they not been supported by absolutism, still alive and supported in its turn by the most backward elements of the muzhik army. The Soviet’s weakness was not its own weakness but that of any purely urban revolution.
The period of the fifty days was the time of the revolution’s greatest power. The Soviet was its organ of struggle for power. The class character of the Soviet was determined by the sharp class division of the urban population and the profound political antagonism between the proletariat and the capitalist bourgeoisie, even within the historically limited framework of the struggle against absolutism. After the October strike the capitalist bourgeoisie consciously attempted to slow down the revolution; the petty bourgeoisie proved too weak to play an independent part; the proletariat had unchallenged hegemony over the urban revolution, and its own class organization was its weapon in the struggle for power.
The strength of the Soviet grew as the government became increasingly demoralized. Non-proletarian circles became more and more sympathetic towards it as the old state power showcd itself to be by comparison more and more helpless and confused.
The mass political strike was the Soviet’s principal weapon. Because it established direct revolutionary links between all groups of the proletariat and supported the workers of all enterprises with the authority and force of the entire working class, it gained the power of stopping the country’s economic life. Although ownership of the means of production continued to remain in the hands of the capitalists and the state, and although state power continued to remain in the hands of the bureaucracy, the actual running of the national means of production and communication – at least so far as the possibility to interrupt the regular functioning of economic and state life was concerned – lay in the hands of the Soviet. It was precisely this ability of the Soviet, an ability proved in practice, to paralyze the economy and to introduce anarchy into the life of the state, that made the Soviet what it was. Given these facts, to seek ways of ensuring the peaceful coexistence of the Soviet and the old regime would have been hopelessly utopian. Yet all criticisms of the Soviet’s tactics, if we lay bare their real content, proceed from just this fantastic idea: after October, the Soviet should have refrained from all offensive action and should have concentrated on organizing the masses on the ground won from absolutism.
But what was the nature of the October victory?
It cannot be disputed that as a result of the October campaign absolutism repudiated itself “in principle.” But it had not really lost the battle; it merely refused to engage. It made no serious attempt to use its rural army against the mutinous, striking towns. Naturally it was not for reasons of humanity that it refrained from making such an attempt; quite simply, it was deeply discouraged and robbed of its composure. The liberal elements in the bureaucracy, awaiting their chance, achieved preponderance at a moment when the strike was already on the wane, and published the manifesto of October 17, that abdication “in principle” of absolutism. But the whole material organization of the state – the civil service hierarchy, the police, the courts of law, the army – still remained the undivided property of the monarchy. What could, what should the Soviet’s tactics have been under such conditions? Its strength consisted in the fact that, supported by the productive proletariat, it was able (insofar as it was able) to deprive absolutism of the possibility of operating the material apparatus of its power. From this viewpoint the Soviet’s activity meant the organizing of “anarchy.” Its continuing existence and development meant the consolidating of “anarchy.” Prolonged coexistence was an impossibility. The future conflict was, from the very start, the material core of the half-victory of October.
What was there left for the Soviet to do? Pretend that it did not see the conflict as inevitable? Make believe that it was organizing the masses for the future joys of a constitutional regime? Who would have believed it? Certainly not absolutism, and certainly not the working class.
The example of the two Dumas was to show us later how useless outwardly correct conduct – empty forms of loyalty – are in the struggle against absolutism. In order to anticipate the tactics of “constitutional” hypocrisy in an autocratic country, the Soviet would have had to be made of different stuff. But where would that have led? To the same end as that of the two Dumas: to bankruptcy.
There was nothing left for the Soviet to do but recognize that a clash in the immediate future was inevitable; it could choose no other tactics but those of preparing for insurrection.
What could have been the nature of such preparations, if not to develop and consolidate precisely those of the Soviet’s qualities which enabled it to paralyze the life of the state and which made up its strength? Yet the Soviet’s natural efforts to strengthen and develop those qualities brought the conflict inevitably nearer.
The Soviet was increasingly concerned with extending its influence over the army and the peasantry. In November the Soviet called upon the workers to express actively their fraternal solidarity with the awakening army as personified by the Kronstadt sailors. Not to do this would have been to refuse to extend the Soviet’s strength. To do it was a step towards the coming conflict.
Or was there perhaps a third way? Perhaps the Soviet, together with the liberals, could have appealed to the so-called “statesmanship” of the authorities? Perhaps it could and should have found the line that divided the rights of the people from the prerogatives of the monarchy, and stopped this side of that sacred boundary? But who could have guaranteed that the monarchy, too, would stop on its side of the demarcation line? Who would have undertaken to organize peace, or even a temporary truce, between the two sides? Liberalism? On October 18 one of the Soviet’s deputations proposed to Count Witte that, as a sign of reconciliation with the people, the troops might be with drawn from the capital. “It is better to stay without electricity and water than without troops,” the Minister replied. Obviously the government had no intention of disarming.
What was the Soviet to do? Either it had to withdraw, leaving the matter in the hands of the chamber of conciliation, the future State Duma, which is what the liberals really wanted; or it had to prepare to hold on with armed power to everything that had been won in October, and, if possible, to launch a further offensive. We now know only too well that the chamber of conciliation was transformed into an arena of new revolutionary conflict. Consequently the objective role played by the first two Dumas only confirmed the truth of the political forecast on which the proletariat constructed its tactics. But we need not look so far ahead. We can ask: who or what was to guarantee the very coming into existence of that “chamber of conciliation,” whose destiny was never to conciliate anyone? The same “statesmanship” of the monarchy? Its solemn promises? Count Witte’s word of honor? The zemtsy’s visit to Peterhof, where they were received at the back door? The warning voice of Mr. Mendelssohn? Or, finally, the so-called “natural course of events” on whose shoulders liberalism piles all the tasks that history would impose on the initiative, intelligence, and strength of liberalism itself?
But if the December clash was inevitable, did not the reason for December’s defeat lie in the composition of the Soviet? It has been said that the Soviet’s fundamental flaw was its class nature. In order to become the organ of “national” revolution, the Soviet should have broadened its structure, so that representatives of all the strata of the population might find their place within it. This would have then stabilized the Soviet’s authority and increased its strength. But is that really so?
The Soviet’s strength was determined by the role of the proletariat in a capitalist society. The Soviet’s task was not to transform itself into a parody of parliament, not to organize equal representation of the interests of different social groups, but to give unity to the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat. The principal weapon in the Soviet’s hands was the political strike – a method unique to the proletariat, which is the class of wage labor. The homogeneity of its class composition eliminated internal friction within the Soviet and rendered it capable of revolutionary initiative.
By what means could the Soviet’s composition have been broadened? The representatives of the liberal unions might have been invited to join; this would have enriched the Soviet with the presence of twenty or so intellectuals. Their influence in the Soviet would have been proportional to the role played by the Union of Unions in the revolution, that is, it would have been infinitely small.
What other social groups might have been represented in the Soviet? The zemstvo congress? The trade and industrial organizations?
The zemstvo congress met in Moscow in November; it discussed the question of its relations with Witte’s ministry, but the question of relations with the workers’ Soviet never even entered its head.
The Sevastopol rising occurred when the zemstvocongress was in session. As we have seen, this immediately caused the zemtsy to swerve to the right, so that Mr. Milyukov was obliged to reassure them with a speech roughly to the effect that the insurrection, God be thanked, had already been suppressed. What could have been the form of any revolutionary cooperation between these counter-revolutionary gentlemen and the workers’ deputies who saluted and supported the Sevastopol insurgents? No one has yet given an answer to this question. One of the half sincere, half-hypocritical tenets of liberalism is the demand that the army should remain outside politics. In contrast to this, the Soviet employed tremendous energy in trying to draw the army into revolutionary politics. Or should the Soviet perhaps have had such infinite trust in the Tsar’s manifesto that it left the army entirely in Trepov’s hands? And, if not, where was the program on whose basis cooperation with the liberals might have been conceivable in this vitally important field? What could have been these gentlemen’s contribution to the Soviet’s activities, if not one of systematic opposition, endless debate, and internal demoralization? What could they have given us other than their advice, which we knew anyway by reading the liberal press? It may be that “statesmanship” really was the prerogative of the Kadets and the Octobrists; nevertheless the Soviet could not transform itself into a club for political polemics and mutual indoctrination. It had to be, and remained, an organ of struggle.
What could the representatives of bourgeois liberalism and bourgeois democracy have added to the Soviet’s strength? How could they have enriched its methods of struggle? It is enough to recall the role they played in October, November, and December, enough to know how little resistance these elements were to offer to the dissolution of their own Duma, to understand that the Soviet was entitled to, that it was duty bound to remain a class organization, that is, an organ of struggle. Bourgeois deputies might have made the Soviet more numerous, but they were absolutely incapable of making it stronger.
By the same token we reject those purely rationalist, unhistorical accusations which argue that the Soviet’s irreconcilable class tactics hurled the bourgeoisie back into the camp of order. The labor strike, which showed itself to be a mighty weapon of revolution, also introduced “anarchy” into industry. This was enough in itself to make oppositional capital put the slogan of public order and continuing capitalist exploitation above all the slogans of liberalism.
The employers decided that the “glorious” (as they called it) October strike had to be the last – and organized the anti-revolutionary Union of October 17. They had sufficient reason for doing so. Each of them had ample opportunity to discover in his own factory that the political gains of the revolution go hand in hand with the consolidation of the workers’ stand against capital. Certain politicians think that the main trouble with the struggle for the eight-hour day was that it caused the final split in the opposition and turned capital into a counter-revolutionary force. These critics would like to put the class energy of the proletariat at the disposal of history without accepting the consequences of the class struggle. It goes without saying that the unilateral introduction of the eight-hour day was bound to produce a violent reaction on the part of the employers. But it is puerile to believe that without this particular campaign the capitalists’ rapprochement with Witte’s capitalist stock-exchange government would not have taken place. The unification of the proletariat as an independent revolutionary force placing itself at the head of the popular masses and offering a constant threat to “public order” was argument enough in favor of a coalition between capital and the authorities.
True, during the first phase of the revolution, when it manifested itself in spontaneous scattered outbursts, the liberals tolerated it. They clearly saw that the revolutionary movement shook the foundations of absolutism and forced it towards a constitutional agreement with the ruling classes. They put up with strikes and demonstrations, adopted a friendly attitude towards revolutionaries, and criticized them only mildly and cautiously. After October 17, when the conditions for the constitutional deal were already written down, and it seemed that all that was left was to put them into effect, the revolution’s further work obviously undermined the very possibility of such a deal between the liberals and the authorities. From then on the proletarian masses, united by the October strike and organized within themselves, put the liberals against the revolution by the very fact of their existence. The liberals felt that the Moor had done his work  and should now quietly go back to his lathe. The Soviet, on the contrary, believed that the main struggle lay ahead. Under such circumstances any revolutionary cooperation between the capitalist bourgeoisie and the proletariat was out of the question.
December follows from October as a conclusion follows from a premise. The outcome of the December clash is to be explained, not by isolated tactical errors, but by the decisive fact that the mechanical forces of reaction proved greater than that of the revolution. The proletariat was defeated in the insurrection of December and January, not by its own mistakes, but by a more real quantity: the bayonets of the peasant army.
Liberalism, it is true, is of the opinion that deficiency of fire power should in all circumstances be answered by speed of leg power: it regards retreat at the moment of decision as the most truly courageous, mature, pondered and effective tactic. This liberal philosophy of desertion made an impression on certain littérateurs in the ranks of social-democracy itself, who, in retrospect, posed the question: if the proletariat’s defeat in December was due to the insufficiency of its forces, did not its error consist precisely in the fact that, not being sufficiently strong for victory, it accepted battle? To this we can reply: if battles were engaged only in the certainty of victory, there would be no battles fought in this world. A preliminary calculation of forces cannot determine in advance the outcome of revolutionary conflicts. If it could, the class struggle should have long since been replaced by bookkeeping. That is what, a little while ago, the treasurers of certain trade unions were dreaming of. But it turned out that even with the most modern system of accounting it is impossible to convince capitalists by evidence extracted from a ledger, and that arguments based on figures must, in the end, be supported by the argument of a strike.
And however well everything is calculated in advance, every strike gives rise to a whole series of new facts, material and moral, which cannot be foreseen and which eventually decide the outcome of the struggle. Now imagine that such a trade union, with its precise accounting methods, has been swept aside; extend the strike over the entire country and give it a great political aim; put state power and the proletariat face to face as immediate enemies; surround both with allies – real, potential, or imaginary; add the indifferent strata of the population, ruthlessly fought for by both sides; add the army, whose revolutionary elements emerge only in the turmoil of events; add exaggerated hopes on the one hand and exaggerated fears on the other, both being very real factors; add the paroxysms of the stock exchange and all the complex effects of international relations – and you will obtain the climate of the revolution. Under such circumstances the subjective will of a party, even a “dominant” party, is only one of the factors involved, and not by any means the most important one.
In revolution, even more than in war, the moment of battle is determined less by calculations on either side than by the respective position of both the opposition armies. It is true that in war, owing to the mechanical discipline of armies, it is sometimes possible to lead an entire army away from the field of battle with out any engagement taking place; yet in such cases the military commander must still ask himself whether the strategy of retreat will not demoralize his troops and whether, by avoiding today’s battle, he is not preparing the ground for a more disastrous one tomorrow. General Kuropatkin might have a great deal to say on that point. But in a developing revolutionary situation a planned retreat is, from the start, unthinkable. A party may have the masses behind it while it is attacking, but that does not mean that it will be able to lead them away at will in the midst of the attack. It is not only the party that leads the masses: the masses, in turn, sweep the party forward. And this will happen in any revolution, however powerful its organization. Given such conditions, to retreat without battle may mean the party abandoning the masses under enemy fire.
Of course the social democrats, being the “dominant” party, might have refused to accept the reaction’s challenge in December and, to use the same Kuropatkin’s happy expression, might have “withdrawn to previously prepared positions,” that is, into clandestinity. But by doing so it would merely have enabled the government, in the absence of any generalized resistance, to smash the legal and semi-legal workers’ organizations (which the party itself had helped to create), one by one. That would have been the price paid by social democracy for the doubtful privilege of being able to stand aside from the revolution, philosophize about its mistakes, and work out faultless plans whose only disadvantage is that they are produced at a moment when no one any longer wants them. It is easy to imagine how this would have assisted the consolidation of links between the party and the masses!
No one can assert that the social democrats speeded up the conflict. On the contrary, it was on their initiative that the Petersburg Soviet, on October 22, canceled the funeral procession so as not to provoke a clash without first trying to make use of the confused and hesitant “new regime” for widespread agitational and organizational work among the masses. When the government made its over-hasty attempt to re-establish control over the country and, as a first step, proclaimed martial law in Poland, the Soviet maintained purely defensive tactics and did nothing to carry the November strike to the stage of open conflict; instead, it turned the strike into a protest movement and contented itself with the tremendous moral effect of this on the army and the Polish workers.
But if the party, because of its awareness of the need for organizational preparedness, evaded battle in October and November, in December this consideration no longer applied. Not (needless to say) because such preparedness had already been achieved, but because the government – which also had no choice – had opened the battle by destroying all the revolutionary organizations created in October and November. If, under those conditions, the party had decided to refuse to give battle once again, and even if it had been able to withdraw the revolutionary masses from the open arena, it would only have been preparing the ground for insurrection under still less favorable conditions: namely the absence of a sympathetic press and all mass organizations, and in the demoralized atmosphere which inevitably follows a retreat.
Marx wrote :
In revolution as in war it is absolutely necessary at the decisive moment to stake everything, whatever the chances of the struggle. History does not know a single successful revolution that does not testify to the correctness of this proposition ... Defeat after persistent struggle is a fact of no less revolutionary significance than an easily snatched victory ... In any struggle it is absolutely inevitable that he who throws down the glove runs the risk of being defeated; but is that a reason to declare oneself defeated from the start and to submit without drawing the sword?
Anyone who commands a decisive position in a revolution and surrenders it instead of forcing the enemy to venture an attack deserves to be regarded as a traitor. (Karl Marx, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany.)
In his well-known Introduction to Marx’s The Class Struggles in France, Engels left a way open for serious misunderstandings when he balanced the new possibilities of victory arising from the evolution of the class composition of the army against the military-technological difficulties of insurrection (rapid railway transport of troops, the destructive power of modern artillery, the broad streets of modern towns). On the one hand Engels made a very one-sided assessment of the significance of modern techniques in revolutionary risings and, on the other hand, he did not consider it necessary or convenient to explain that the evolution of the class composition of the army can become politically significant only when there is a direct confrontation between the army and the people.
A word on both sides of the question . The decentralized nature of revolution necessitates the continual transfer of troops. Engels says that, thanks to the railways, garrisons can be more than doubled within twenty-four hours. But he overlooks the fact that a genuine mass rising inevitably presupposes a railway strike. Before the government can begin to transfer its armed forces, it must – in ruthless combat with the striking personnel – seize the railway line and rolling stock, organize traffic, and restore the destroyed track and blown-up bridges. The best rifles and sharpest bayonets are not enough for all this; and the experience of the Russian revolution shows that even minimal success in this direction requires incomparably more than twenty-four hours.
Further, before proceeding to the transfer of armed forces, the government must know the state of affairs in the country. Telegraph speeds up information to an even greater extent than the railways speed up transport. But, here again, a rising both presupposes and engenders a postal and telegraph strike. If the insurrection is unable to bring the postal and telegraph personnel over to its side – a fact that would bear witness to the weakness of the revolutionary movement! – it can still overturn the telegraph poles and cut the wires. Although this is detrimental to both sides, the revolution, whose principal strength by no means resides in an automatically functioning organization, stands to lose far less than the state.
The telegraph and the railways are, without any question, powerful weapons in the hands of the modern centralized state. But they are double-edged weapons. And while the existence of society and the state as a whole depend on the continuance of proletarian labor, this dependence is most obvious in the case of the railways and the postal and telegraph service. As soon as the rails and wires refuse to serve, the government apparatus is fragmented into separate parts without any means of transport or communication (not even the most primitive ones) between them. That being so, matters may go a very long way before the authorities succeed in “doubling” a local garrison.
Side by side with the transfer of troops, an insurrection confronts the government with the problem of transport for military supplies. We already know the difficulties which a general strike creates in this respect; but to these should be added the further risk that military supplies may be intercepted by the insurgents. This risk becomes the more real, the more decentralized the character of the revolution and the larger the masses drawn into it. We have seen workers at Moscow stations seize weapons being transported to some distant theater of operations. Similar actions occurred in many places. In the Kuban region insurgent cossacks intercepted a transport of rifles. Revolutionary soldiers handed ammunition over to insurgents, etc.
Of course, when all is said and done, there can be no question of a purely military victory by the insurgents over the government troops. The latter are bound to be physically stronger, and the problem must always be reduced to the mood and behavior of the troops. Without class kinship between the forces on both sides of the barricades, the triumph of the revolution, given the military technology of today, would be impossible indeed. But on the other hand it would be a most dangerous illusion to believe that the army’s “crossing over to the side of the people” can take the form of a peaceful, spontaneous manifestation. The ruling classes, confronted with the question of their own life or death, never willingly surrender their positions because of theoretical considerations concerning the class composition of the army.
The army’s political mood, that great unknown of every revolution, can be determined only in the process of a clash between the soldiers and the people. The army’s crossing over to the camp of the revolution is a moral process; but it cannot be brought about by moral means alone. Different motives and attitudes combine and intersect within the army; only a minority is consciously revolutionary, while the majority hesitates and awaits an impulse from outside. This majority is capable of laying down its arms or, eventually, of pointing its bayonets at the reaction only if it begins to believe in the possibility of a people’s victory. Such a belief is not created by political agitation alone. Only when the soldiers become convinced that the people have come out into the streets for a life-and-death struggle – not to demonstrate against the government but to overthrow it – does it become psychologically possible for them to “cross over to the side of the people.”
Thus an insurrection is, in essence, not so much a struggle against the army as a struggle for the army. The more stubborn, far-reaching, and successful the insurrection, the more probable – indeed inevitable – is a fundamental change in the attitude of the troops. Guerrilla fighting on the basis of a revolutionary strike cannot in itself, as we saw in Moscow, lead to victory. But it creates the possibility of sounding the mood of the army, and after a first important victory – that is, once a part of the garrison has joined the insurrection – the guerrilla struggle can be transformed into a mass struggle in which a part of the troops, supported by the armed and unarmed population, will fight another part, which will find itself in a ring of universal hatred. We have seen in the Black Sea Fleet, in Kronstadt, in Siberia, in the Kuban region, later in Sveaborg and in many other places that when the class, moral, and political heterogeneity of the army causes troops to cross over to the side of the people, this must, in the first instance, mean a struggle between two opposing camps within the army. In all these cases, the most modern weapons of militarism – rifles, machine guns, fortress and field artillery, battleships – were found not only in the hands of the government but also in the service of the revolution.
On the basis of the experience of Bloody Sunday, January 9, 2905, a certain English journalist, Mr. Arnold White, arrived at the brilliant conclusion that if Louis XVI had had a few batteries of Maxim guns at his disposal, the French Revolution would not have taken place. What pathetic superstition to believe that the historical chances of revolutions can be measured by the caliber of rifles or the diameter of guns! The Russian revolution showed once more that people are not ruled by rifles, guns, and battleships: in the final analysis, rifles, guns, and battleships are controlled by people.
On December 11, the Witte-Durnovo ministry, which by that time had become the Durnovo-Witte ministry, published an electoral law. At a time when Dubasov, the dry-land admiral, was restoring the honor of St. Andrew’s flag in the streets of Presnya, the government hastened to open up a legal path for reconciliation between the property-owning public on the one hand and the monarchy and bureaucracy on the other. From that moment on, the struggle for power, though revolutionary in essence, developed under the guise of constitutionalism.
In the first Duma the Kadets passed themselves off as the leaders of the people. Since the popular masses, with the exception of the urban proletariat, were still in a chaotically oppositional mood, and since the elections were boycotted by the parties of the extreme left, the Kadets found themselves masters of the situation in the Duma. They “represented” the whole of Russia: the liberal landowners, the liberal merchants, the lawyers, doctors, civil servants, shopkeepers, shop assistants, partly even the peasants. Although the Kadet leadership remained, as before, in the hands of landowners, professors, and lawyers, the party, under pressure from the interests and needs of the countryside which relegated all other problems to the background, turned to the left. Thus we come to the dissolution of the Duma and the Vyborg manifesto, which was later to cause so many sleepless nights to the liberal windbags.
The Kadets were returned to the second Duma in smaller numbers but, as Milyukov admitted, they now had the advantage of being backed, not merely by the discontented man-in-the-street, but by the voter who wanted to dissociate himself from the left, that is, to give his vote more consciously to the anti-revolutionary platform. Whereas the main mass of land owners and representatives of large capital had crossed over into the camp of active reaction, the urban petty bourgeoisie, the commercial proletariat, and the rank-and-file intelligentsia now voted for the left-wing parties. A part of the landowners and the middle layers of the urban population followed the Kadets. The representatives of the peasants and workers stood to the left of them.
The Kadets voted for the government plan for army recruitment, and promised to vote for the budget. In exactly the same way they would have voted for new loans to cover the state deficit and, without hesitation, would have assumed responsibility for the autocracy’s old debts. Golovin, that pathetic figure in the speaker’s chair, embodying all the impotence and insignificance of liberalism, said after the Duma had been dissolved that the government ought to interpret the Kadets’ behavior as its own victory over the opposition. He was perfectly right. Under such circumstances one might have thought there were no grounds for dissolving the Duma; yet it was dissolved. This proves that there exists a stronger force than the political arguments of liberalism. That force is the inner logic of revolution.
In the struggle with the Kadet-dominated Duma the government was filled more and more with a sense of its own power. It saw this pseudo-parliament, not as a historical challenge that demanded a solution, but as an assembly of political opponents who had to be rendered harmless. A handful of lawyers for whom politics was rather like making a plea before a high court appeared to be rivals of the government and claimants to power. Their political eloquence oscillated between legal syllogisms and pseudo-classical phrase-mongering. In the debate on the subject of courts-martial the two parties were brought face to face. The Moscow lawyer Maklakov, in whom the liberals saw the man of the future, applied annihilating legal criticism to martial justice and, with it, to the government’s entire policy. “But courts-martial are not a legal institution,” Stolypin replied. “They are a weapon of struggle. You want to prove that this weapon is not consistent with the law? Well, it is consistent with expediency. Law is not an aim in itself. When the existence of the state is threatened, the government is not only entitled but is duty bound to leave legal considerations aside and to make use of the material weapons of its power.”
This reply, which expresses not only the philosophy of the government coup but also that of the popular rising, caused extreme embarrassment to the liberals. “What an unheard-of admission!” cried the liberal journalists, vowing for the thousand and first time that right is stronger than might.
Yet their entire policy was designed to convince the government of the contrary. They retreated again and again. In order to save the Duma from dissolution they abdicated all their rights, thus proving beyond dispute that might is stronger than right. Under such conditions the government was bound to feel tempted to continue using its weapons of power to the end.
The second Duma was dissolved. Now conservative national-liberalism, personified by the Union of October 17, appears as the successor of the revolution. The Kadets see themselves as the heirs to the revolution’s tasks. The Octobrists were in actual fact the heirs of the Kadets’ appeasement tactics. However furtively contemptuous the Kadets were to the Octobrists, the latter drew the only logical conclusions from the Kadets’ own premise: if you do not get your support from the revolution, you have to get it from Stolypin’s constitutionalism.
The third Duma gave the Tsarist government 456,535 army recruits, although the promised reforms in Kuropatkin’s and Stessel’s Department of Defense amounted to no more than new epaulettes, collar-tabs, and shakos. It approved the budget of the Ministry of Home Affairs which handed 70 per cent of the country over to the satraps who used the emergency laws like a hangman’s noose, and left the remaining 30 per cent free to be hanged and garrotted on the basis of “normal” laws. It accepted all the basic provisions of the famous ukase of November 9, 1906, issued by the government on the basis of Paragraph 87. Its purpose was to skim off a layer of solid property owners from the peasantry, and to leave all the rest to the process of natural selection in the biological sense of that term. In place of the expropriation of landowners’ lands for the benefit of the peasantry, the reaction put the expropriation of community-owned peasant lands for the benefit of the kulaks. “The law of November 9,” said one of the extreme reactionaries of the third Duma, “has enough explosive gas in it to blow up the whole of Russia.”
Driven into a historical cul-de-sac by the irreconcilable attitudes of the nobility and the bureaucracy, who once more emerged as the unlimited masters of the situation, the bourgeois parties are looking for a way out of the economic and political contradictions of their position – in imperialism. They seek compensation for their domestic defeats in foreign affairs – in the Far East (the Amur railway), Persia, and the Balkans. The so-called “annexation” of Bosnia and Herzegovina was greeted in Petersburg and Moscow with the deafening clatter of all the old ironware of patriotism. And the Kadet party, which, of all the bourgeois parties, claimed to be the most opposed to the old order, now stands at the head of militant “neo-Slavism”; the Kadets are hoping that capitalist imperialism will solve the problems left unsolved by revolution. Driven to de facto abandonment of any idea of confiscating the landowners’ lands and of any democratization of the social system – which means the abandonment of any hope of creating, by means of a farming peasantry, a stable domestic market for capitalist development – the Kadets transfer their hopes to foreign markets. For success to be achieved in that direction, strong state power is needed; and the liberals find themselves compelled to give active support to Tsarism as the actual holder of such power. The oppositionally-tinted imperialism of the Milyukovs merely serves as a kind of ideological cosmetic for that revolting mixture of autocratic bureaucracy, brutal landlordism and parasitic capitalism that is at the very core of the third Duma.
The situation which has arisen as a result of all this may yet lead to the most unexpected consequences. The same government that buried the reputation of its strength in the waters of Tsushima and the battlefields of Mukden; the same government that suffered the terrible sequel of its adventurist policies, now unexpectedly finds itself patriotically trusted by the “nation’s” representatives. It acquires, without difficulty, half a million new soldiers and half a billion roubles for its current military expenditure; and, in addition, it receives the Duma’s support for its new adventures in the Far East. More than that: by right and left, by the Black Hundreds and the Kadets, it is actually reproached because its foreign policy is not active enough! The logic of events thus drives the government on to the hazardous path of fighting for the restoration of its world prestige. Who knows? Perhaps, before the fate of the autocracy is finally and irrevocably decided in the streets of Petersburg and Warsaw, it will be put to the test once more on the banks of the Amur or the coast of the Black Sea.
1. A reference to a line in Schiller’s play The Conspiracy of Fiesta in Genoa: “The Moor has done his work, the Moor may go.” (Trans.)
2. In point of fact this text was written by Engels in Marx’s name. (Author)
3. It should be stated very clearly, however, that Engels in his Introduction had in mind only German affairs, whereas our considerations are based on the experience of the Russian revolution. (This not very convincing note was inserted in the German text purely for censorship reasons. Author)