Nikolai Bukharin

The Russian Revolution and Its Significance

Source: The Class Struggle, Vol. I, No. 1, May-June, 1917
Transcribed by: Sally Ryan
HTML Markup: Mathias Bismo

The first Russian revolution of 1905 was the expression of a gigantic conflict between the growing forces of production on the one hand and reactionary, industrial and political conditions in Russia on the other. A rapidly growing capitalism demanded the freedom of the inner market, the failure of the Russian Japanese war having made the extension of foreign markets impossible. But the home market was equally unresponsive. The predominating element among the Russian people is its peasantry, whose demands and whose buying power represented the basis for all further capitalistic development. They were equal, it is true, but equal in misery. A pauperized, not a proletarian nation of farmers, peasants who remained on their farms, did not go into the cities, and paid enormous sums for their little rent farms to the semi-feudal gentry landlords. Nobility landlordism on one hand, hungry pauper tenantry on the other--such were the conditions in the agrarian sections of Russia. Capitalistic farm production had taken root only on the extreme outskirts of the nation, in the Baltic provinces and in southern Russia. But its extent was comparatively unimportant.

So the objective "purpose" of the Revolution was the creation of a home market, and the abolition of unbearable political conditions. The downfall of the Revolution meant only the postponement of the great social catastrophe and the possibility of a higher ultimate stage of development.

Nevertheless the proletarian blood that flowed in 1905 was by no means shed in vain. The old autocracy gave place to a new pseudo-constitutional regime, presenting a certain (though very limited) opportunity to conduct the broader work of revolutionary education among the proletariat.

But even from a purely economical point of view, the first Revolution had consequences that are not unimportant. It was followed by fundamental changes in the national industrial structure, and by a consequent readjustment of class relations.

The large landlords, terrorized by the revolting farmers, sold their possessions, either directly to their tenants or through the agency of so-called "farmers' banks" (Krestjansky Bank), the government institution that, as a rule, functioned as the business agency of the nobility. In this way a small part of the possessions of the great landed nobility passed into the hands of the wealthier farmers. By his so-called agrarian reform programme, Stolypin, the Czarist minister, dissolved the old "Mir" (peasant communities), and divided the community lands in such a way that the best portions everywhere fell into the hands of a thin strata of agricultural bourgeoisie. The result was a visible strengthening of this new class, whose members organized everywhere on a co-operative basis.

But the status of the great landholders, too, had changed. The modern capitalist wing grew stronger, a phenomena that may be attributed mainly to altered conditions in the world market. The price of wheat and rye were advancing almost hourly. It became more profitable to produce by modern capitalistic methods; the old primitive system went into discard. So agrarian capitalism gained a firm foothold in Russia.

All these changes kept step with the changes that were taking place on the industrial field. "Our" industries before the Revolution had been rather peculiarly constituted. "We" had, on the one side, a primitive system of fragmentary, disorganized, small scale production, on the other, gigantic undertakings which frequently employed 15,000 to 20,000 laborers and employees. After the Revolution the concentration of capital advanced in leaps and bounds. In the era of the counter-revolution mighty manufacturers' associations, employers' associations, trusts, syndicates and combinations, banking houses and banking corporations came into existence. In Russia, to-day, monopolization in a few branches of industry is very large indeed; so, for instance, the sugar, the metal, the naphtha, the textile and the coal mining industries, are in the hands of a few syndicates. Thus there grew up in Russia the mighty power of the united bourgeois organizations, the power of financial capital, interested mainly in export and trade.

The Revolution did not create a home market, it is true. This but increased the profit hunger of "our" financiers. Protected by outrageous protective tariffs that enabled them to sell comparatively cheaply in the world market, the Russian capitalist began to sell his wares in Persia, in the Balkans, in Asia Minor, etc., and even in the Far East. Bank operations were augmented, state loans to China, Persia, etc., arranged; transactions that were diametrically opposed to the interests of English, French and German capital were the order of the day.

The first Revolution itself, as we have seen, resulted in no radical upheaval. But the greatest economic phenomena of the counter-revolutionary period is the growth of financial capitalism and its policy of expansion, or Imperialism.

Two classes were emerging out of the social chaos, the liberal bourgeoisie, which gradually developed into an imperialistic bourgeoisie, and the proletariat. During the first Russian Revolution the specific characteristics of the Revolution were already quite evident, although the objective content of the Revolution was wholly in harmony with capitalism. The demands made by the masses were characteristically bourgeois, and purely democratic and republican in their nature; even the economic reforms were compatible with the interests of capitalism--as, for instance, the eight hour day, the confiscation of land, and others. But though the Revolution of 1905 was the bourgeois-democratic Revolution of Russia, the motive power behind this upheaval was by no means the liberal bourgeoisie, but the proletariat, and the revolutionary peasantry who fought in the struggle under the control of the proletariat. This seeming contradiction may be explained by the fact that the Russian revolution came too late, came in an epoch in which the proletariat had already become a mighty factor in social struggles. So our Liberalism was condemned to a vascillating position, between Revolution and Czarism, a policy that finally resulted in the betrayal of the whole revolution. In the most critical period of the revolution, the liberals were already completely contra-revolutionary.

The outbreak of the war almost completely laved the Russian movement. It was the signal of an outbreak, in the ranks of the bourgeoisie (including its liberal as well as its radical elements), an indescribable patriotic fervor. The policy of conquest carried on by the nobility and the landowners was in accord with the thieving plans of the group which controlled the high finance of the nation. Mr. Miljukoff had long been singing the praises of the bloody policy of the Czar's government in Persia and in the Balkan States. Thus the Russian civil peace was born, though a large part of the proletariat was actively and unalterably opposed to it.

But the calculations of the new liberal class were, after all, at fault. The Czarist administration, in spite of the most energetic support of the Liberals, proved ineffectual on every hand. Corruption, systematic thievery, complete disorganization of the whole administration apparatus became more and more apparent. The needs of warfare had practically ruined the rickety economic organism of Russian national economy. Instead of increasing the production of foodstuffs the territory under cultivation was reduced. The strength of the whole nation was drawn off from productive labor and a shortage in a number of important articles of consumption followed.

Chaos reigned in the finances of the state. Securities for enormous war loans and the payment of interest, staggering sums necessary to pay for all kinds of war manufacturies, all these the Czarist government attempted to cover by a promiscuous printing of paper money. This course was followed, naturally, by a steady depreciation in the value of paper money, until it was worth hardly 50 per cent. of its face value. This meant an unbearable increase in the cost of living. High prices, in Russia, during the war, were caused, therefore, not only by actual shortage of supplies, not only by monopoly speculations, but also, to no small degree, by the ruinous financial policy of the government.

At the same time the collapse of the whole transportation augmented the general calamity by bringing about a complete disorganization of the home market. For lack of means of transportation the sale of products was limited to countless small markets in the immediate locality in which they were produced.

Increased taxes were another consequence of the war; all attempts to tax the wealthier classes as well were pushed back upon the shoulders of the proletariat and the peasantry by means of increased prices, intensified labor and the overthrow of the miserable Russian "labor laws."

Upon this "economic foundation" was built up a corresponding "political superstructure."

The central administration, civil as well as military, was in the hands of Rasputin, the Czar, and their followers, the clique of slovenly, religious, superstitious, degenerate idiots and court thieves, who had always looked upon the Russian nation as their family property. The local administration was everywhere in the hands of autocratic governors who ruled their territories like the Satraps of the ancient Orient.

The story of a session of the magistracy of Moscow, in which a serious discussion as to the size of the bribe necessary to persuade the railroad officials of Russia to secure the transportation of Siberian meat to Moscow was the order of business, shows to what lengths corruption had gone.

"Civil peace" in Russia, as in all other countries, was rather peculiar. It meant, in effect, a system of gagging and oppression such as Russia had not known since the failure of the first Revolution. The labor press was suspended, labor unions dissolved, striking workers were sent to the front, were thrown into prison or summarily shot. In Iranovo-Wosnesensk alone more than 100 workers were killed. Proletariat and the peasantry were segregated on the battlefields and mechanically slaughtered. That Russia has been able to hold out against the Central Powers so long is due alone to its almost inexhaustible reservoir of cannon fodder.

These circumstances, which proved that the Czarist regime was unable to realize even its own plans of usurpation, not to mention those of its liberal supporters, called forth the opposition of the liberal imperialists. The downtrodden and suffering proletariat cast its lot under the banner of civil war, assisted by large groups among the peasantry.

The liberal bourgeoisie (the Cadettes and the Octobrists) and with them the social-patriots, who are but their subservient vassals, were organized mainly in Semstwo and in municipal units. They flirted with Grand Duke Nikolai, with their democratic allies, with the ruling circles within the army. In the Duma the so-called "progressive block" was formed, as the parliamentary expression of the imperialistic bourgeoisie.

Their opposition was, as a matter of fact, rather innocent. They stood by the maxim, "No infraction of the law." In the words of Mr. Miljukoff, "If victory means revolution, I want no victory."

Not so the proletarian masses. In spite of the "pacifying" manifesto of a few social patriotic traitors, the proletarian "Avantguarde" developed an intense revolutionary activity. Street demonstrations, strikes, the general strike and revolts of workers and military groups that fraternized with them were the methods used in the struggle. These mass actions paved the way for the final overthrow of the Czarist regime. The first wave of the second revolution shattered the Russian throne.

The first step in the Revolution has been taken; the social structure of the state machine has been changed, a new class has come into power. The old, semi-feudal, noble, landowning class is overthrown. In its place stand the new rulers, the modern, capitalist bourgeoisie.

But the second step will inevitably follow: the transformation of the fatherland of the Gutschkoff-Miljukoff into the fatherland of the proletariat.

How did it happen that the Imperialists won the victory, although they were anything but revolutionary? The answer is plain. Everything points to a compromise between the ruling classes. The revolution was not yet strong enough to overthrow the capitalist system; it has only effected a shifting of the elements within the bourgeoisie as a whole, has placed the more progressive wing at the helm, by pushing aside the reactionary nobility.

But the revolution is steadily growing. Even now, while these lines are being written, there exist in Petrograd two governments, one, that of the Imperialist bourgeoisie, which was jubilantly greeted by the bourgeois classes of the other allied nations; the other, the governmental machine of the proletariat, the workingmen's and soldiers' council.

The struggle between the working class and the Imperialists is inevitable. Even the reforms that have been proclaimed by the provisional government were concessions made out of fear of the threats of the proletariat. But the liberal government will not be in a position to fulfill the programme that has been forced upon it. The high cost of all necessaries of life and the growing burden of taxation can be decreased to a measurable degree only by the liquidation of the war, by confiscation, by the annulment of state debts, by taxation of the possessing classes, by fixing hours of labor and wages, by organizing public works, etc.

But Miljukoff and his class must pay the debts they have incurred to the English, the French and the American bankers. They must defend the principle of private property, must continue the policy of usurpation, a policy that is suicidal at the present stage of complete disorganization. So the new government is staggering toward bankruptcy, to clear the way for the proletariat.

But the conquest of political power by the proletariat will, under the existing circumstances, no longer mean a bourgeois revolution, in which the proletariat plays the role of the broom of history. The proletariat must henceforth lay a dictatorial hand upon production, and that is the beginning of the end of the capitalist system.

A lasting victory of the Russian proletariat is, however, inconceivable without the support of the west European proletariat. And this support is fully guaranteed by the present international situation. To be sure, the Russian Revolution has its specific abnormalities. But it is, as a product of the world war, only a part of the coming world revolution of the proletariat, whose first step it represents.

Wars and revolutions are the locomotives of history, one of our Socialist teachers once said. And the present war was destined to produce the revolution. The ruin of all national economy and with it the greatest conceivable concentration of capital, the formation of gigantic units of production, the adoption of state capitalism, the advance of great masses upon the scene of history--and the unbearable sufferings of these masses. The oppression of the people--and its armament--all of these conflicts must find their solution in a gigantic catastrophe.

More than 100 years ago, when the French bourgeoisie had cut off the head of its king, it lighted the torch of revolution in Europe. This was the signal for a whole series of capitalist revolutions. To-day the bourgeoisie stands at its grave. It has become the citadel of reaction. And the proletariat has come to destroy its social order.

The call to arms to this great upheaval is the Russian Revolution. Well may the ruling classes tremble before a communist revolution. The proletariat has nothing to lose but its chains; it has a world to gain.