V. I.   Lenin

The Fall of Port Arthur[1]

Published: Vperyod, No. 2, January 14 (1). 1905. Published according to the text in Vperyod.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 8, pages 47-55.
Translated: Bernard Isaacs and The Late Isidor Lasker
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2003). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
Other Formats:   TextREADME

“Port Arthur has surrendered.

“This event is one of the greatest events in modern history. These four words, flashed yesterday to all parts of the civilised world, create a crushing impression, the impression of an overwhelming and appalling catastrophe, a disaster that beggars description. The moral power of a mighty empire is crumbling, the prestige of a young race is waning before it has had the chance to prove itself. Sentence has been passed upon an entire political system. A long chain of asserted claims has been broken and mighty efforts have been frustrated. True, the fall of Port Arthur had long been predicted, and for a long time people had sought to dismiss it in a few words and to find consolation in ready-made phrases. But the hard, brutal fact shatters all conventional lies. The significance of the disaster cannot be underrated now. For the first time the old world has been humiliated by an irreparable defeat dealt it by the new world, a world mysterious, and, to all appearances, adolescent, which was only yesterday won to civilisation.”

Thus writes a respectable European bourgeois newspaper under the direct impact of the event. Admittedly, it has done more than merely express in trenchant words the sentiments of the entire European bourgeoisie. Through the words of this newspaper speaks the true class instinct of the bourgeoisie of the old world, which is perturbed by the victories of the new bourgeois world and alarmed by the collapse of Russia’s military power, which for a long time had been considered the bulwark of European reaction. Small wonder that even the European bourgeoisie, which has taken no part in the war, feels humiliated and depressed. It had grown so accustomed   to identify Russia’s moral strength with the military strength of the gendarme of Europe. In its eyes the prestige of the young Russian race was inseparably bound up with that of tsarism, that unshakable authority, which strongly safeguarded the existing “order of things”. Small wonder that the disaster which has overtaken the rulers and commanders of Russia seems “appalling” to the whole European bourgeoisie. This disaster implies a tremendous acceleration of world wide capitalist development, a quickening of history’s pace; and the bourgeoisie knows only too well from bitter experience that this means the acceleration of the social revolution of the proletariat. The bourgeoisie of Western Europe fell so secure in the atmosphere of long-lasting stagnation, under the wing of the “mighty Empire”, and now suddenly some “mysterious, adolescent” power dares to disturb this stagnation and shatter this pillar.

Indeed, the European bourgeoisie has cause for alarm. The proletariat has cause for rejoicing. The disaster that has overtaken our mortal enemy not only signifies the approach of freedom in Russia, it also presages a new revolutionary upsurge of the European proletariat.

But why and to what extent is the fall of Port Arthur really an historic disaster?

The first thing that strikes the eye is the effect of this event on the trend of the war. The main objective of the Japanese in this war has been attained. Advancing, progressive Asia has dealt backward and reactionary Europe an irreparable blow. Ten years ago this reactionary Europe, with Russia in the lead, was perturbed by the defeat of China at the hands of young Japan, and it united to rob Japan of the best fruits of her victory. Europe was protecting the established relations and privileges of the old world, its prerogative to exploit the Asian peoples—a prerogative held from time immemorial and sanctified by the usage of centuries. The recovery of Port Arthur by Japan is a blow struck at the whole of reactionary Europe. Russia held Port Arthur for six years and spent hundreds of millions of rubles on the building of strategic railways, harbours,and new towns, on fortifying a stronghold which the en tire mass of European newspapers, bribed by Russia and fawning on Russia, declared to be impregnable. Military commentators write that Port Arthur was as strong as six Sevastopols.   And behold, little Japan,hitherto despised by all, captures this stronghold in eight months, when it took England and France together a whole year to capture Sevastopol. The military blow is irreparable. The question of supremacy on the seas, the main and vital issue of the present war, has been settled. The Russian Pacific fleet, which at the outset was certainly not weaker, if actually not stronger, than the Japanese fleet, has been completely destroyed. The very base for naval operations has been lost, and the only thing left for Rozhdestvensky’s naval squadron is to turn back shamefully after a useless expenditure of more millions, after the great victory of his formidable battleships over the English fishing smacks. It is believed that Russia’s loss in naval tonnage alone amounts to 300,000,000 rubles. More important, however, is the loss of some ten thousand of the navy’s best men, and the loss of an entire army. Many European papers are now trying to minimise the importance of these losses, and their efforts to do so lead them to such ridiculous assertions as that Kuropatkin is now “relieved”, “freed” of his worries over Port Arthur! Russia’s military forces have also been relieved of an entire army. According to the latest English reports, no fewer than 48,000 men have been taken prisoner, and there is no telling how many thousands more were killed in the battles of Kinchow and at the fortress itself. The Japanese are in complete possession of the Liaotung Peninsula; they have acquired a base of operations of incalculable importance for exerting pressure on Korea, China, and Manchuria; they have released for action against Kuropatkin a battle-tried army of from 80,000 to 100,000 strong, reinforced by formidable heavy artillery which, when brought up to the Shaho River, will give them an overwhelming superiority over the main Russian forces.

According to reports in the foreign press, the autocratic government has decided to continue the war at all costs, and to send Kuropathin 200,000 more men. It is highly probable that the war will drag on for a long time, but its hopelessness is already apparent, and all delays will only aggravate the innumerable calamities which the Russian people are suffering because they still tolerate the yoke of the autocracy on their neck. As it is, the Japanese have reinforced their troops after every big battle in less time and in greater numbers   than the Russians. And now that they have achieved complete supremacy on the sea and have utterly annihilated one of Russia’s armies, they will be able to send twice as many reinforcements as the Russians. As it is, the Japanese beat the Russian generals time and again, although the bulk of their best artillery was engaged in siege warfare. Now they have achieved complete concentration of their forces, while the Russians have to fear for Vladivostok, as well as for Sakhalin. The Japanese have occupied the best and most populated part of Manchuria, where they can maintain an army at the expense of the conquered territory and with the help of China, whereas the Russians have to depend more and more upon supplies transported from Russia, and it will soon be impossible for Kuropatkin to increase his army any further, in view of the impossibility of bringing up sufficient sup plies.

But the military debacle which the autocracy has suffered has deeper implications; it signifies the collapse of our entire political system. The days when wars were fought by mercenaries or by representatives of a caste half-isolated from the people have gone for ever. Wars today are fought by peoples; even Kuropatkin, according to Nemirovich-Danchenko, has begun to realise that this is the truth and not a mere copy-book motto. Wars today are fought by peoples; this now brings out more strikingly than ever a great attribute of war, namely, that it opens the eyes of millions to the disparity between the people and the government, which heretofore was evident only to a small class-conscious minority. The criticism of the autocracy by all progressive Russians, by the Russian Social-Democrats, by the Russian proletariat, has now been confirmed in the criticism by Japanese arms, con firmed in such wise that the impossibility of living under the autocracy is felt more and more even by those who do not know what autocracy means, even by those who do know, but yet would maintain it with all their soul. The incompatibility of the autocracy with the interests of social development, with the interests of the entire people (apart from a handful of bureaucrats and bigwigs), became evident as soon as the people actually had to pay for the autocracy with their life blood. Its foolish and criminal colonial adventure has landed the autocracy in an impasse, from which the people can extricate   themselves only by their own efforts and only at the cost of destroying tsarism.

The fall of Port Arthur is a great historic outcome of tsarism’s crimes, which began to reveal themselves at the outset of the war, and which will now reveal themselves more and more extensively and unrestrainedly. After us the deluge! argued all the big and little Alexeyevs,[2] scarcely thinking or believing that the deluge would actually come. The generals and commanders-in-chief proved themselves incompetent non entities. In the expert opinion of an English military observer (in The Times), the whole story of the 1904 campaign was one of criminal neglect of the elementary principles of naval and military strategy. The civil and military bureaucracy proved as parasitic and venal now as in the days of serfdom. The officers proved uneducated, undeveloped, and untrained. They were not in close touch with the soldiers, nor did they enjoy their confidence. The ignorance, illiteracy, and backwardness of the peasant masses became appallingly obvious when they came up against a progressive nation in modern warfare, which requires high-quality manpower as imperatively as does modern technique. Success in modern war fare is impossible without intelligent soldiers and sailors who possess initiative. No amount of endurance or physical strength, no herding of men into solid ranks for mass actions can guarantee superiority in an age of quick-firing small arms and quick-firing cannon, when naval battles are fought with the aid of intricate mechanisms and land actions are fought in extended order. The military might of autocratic Russia has proved to be a sham. Tsarism has proved to be a hindrance to the organisation of up-to-date efficient warfare, that very business to which tsarism dedicated itself so whole heartedly, of which it was so proud, and for which it offered such colossal sacrifices in defiance to all opposition on the part of the people. A whited sepulchre is what tsarism has proved to be in the field of external defence, which was its favourite speciality, so to say. Events have corroborated the opinion of those foreigners who laughed upon seeing hundreds of millions squandered on the purchase and building of splendid warships, and who declared that those expenditures were useless if no one knew how to manipulate such modern vessels, if there were no people with the necessary technical   knowledge to utilise the latest achievements of military engineering. Both the navy and the fortress, the field fortifications and the army proved to be antiquated and utterly useless.

Never before has the military organisation of a country had such a close bearing on its entire economic and cultural system. The military debacle, therefore, could not but precipitate a profound political crisis. Here again, as so often in history,the war between an advanced and a backward country has played a great revolutionary role. And the class-conscious proletariat, an implacable enemy of war— this inevitable and inseverable concomitant of all class rule in general—can not shut its eyes to the revolutionary task which the Japanese bourgeoisie, by its crushing defeat of the Russian autocracy, is carrying out. The proletariat is hostile to every bourgeoisie and to all manifestations of the bourgeois system, but this hostility does not relieve it of the duty of distinguishing between the historically progressive and the reactionary representatives of the bourgeoisie. It is quite understandable, therefore,that the most consistent and staunch representatives of revolutionary international Social-Democracy, such as Jules Guesde in France and Hyndman in England, unequivocally expressed their sympathy with Japan, which is routing the Russian autocracy. Here in Russia, of course, some socialists were found to have muddled ideas on this question, too. Revolutsionnaya Rossiya[3] rebuked Guesde and Hyndman, saying that a socialist could only be in favour of a workers’ Japan, a people’s Japan, and not of a bourgeois Japan. This rebuke is as absurd as blaming a socialist for admitting the progressive nature of the free-trade bourgeoisie as compared with the protectionist bourgeoisie. Guesde and Hyndman did not defend the Japanese bourgeoisie or Japanese imperialism; they correctly noted in this conflict between two bourgeois countries the historically progressive role of one of them. The muddle-headedness of the “Socialists-Revolutionaries” was, of course, an inevitable result of the failure on the part of our radical intelligentsia to understand the class point of view and historical materialism. Neither could the new Iskra help showing muddled thinking. It had quite a lot to say at first about peace at any price. It then made haste to “correct itself”, when Jaurès showed plainly whose interests,   those of the progressive or those of the reactionary bourgeoisie, would be served by a quasi-socialist campaign for peace in general. And now it has ended up with platitudes about the unreasonableness of “speculating” (?!) on a victory of the Japanese bourgeoisie and about war being a calamity “regard less of whether” it ends in the victory or the defeat of the autocracy.

No. The cause of Russian freedom and of the struggle of the Russian (and the world) proletariat for socialism depends to a very large extent on the military defeats of the autocracy. This cause has been greatly advanced by the military debacle which has struck terror in the hearts of all the European guardians of the existing order. The revolutionary proletariat must carry on a ceaseless agitation against war, always keeping in mind, however, that wars are inevitable as long as class rule exists. Trite phrases about peace à la Jaurès are of no use to the oppressed class, which is not responsible for a bourgeois war between two bourgeois nations, which is doing all it can to overthrow every bourgeoisie, which knows the enormity of the people’s sufferings even in time of “peaceful” capitalist exploitation. While struggling against free competition, we cannot, however, forget its progressive character in comparison with the semi-feudal system. While struggling against every war and every bourgeoisie, we must draw a clear line in our agitational work between the progressive bourgeoisie and the feudal autocracy; we must recognise the great revolutionary role of the historic war in which the Russian worker is an involuntary participant.

It was the Russian autocracy and not the Russian people that started this colonial war, which has turned into a war between the old and the new bourgeois worlds. It is the autocratic regime and not the Russian people that has suffered ignoble defeat. The Russian people has gained from the defeat of the autocracy. The capitulation of Port Arthur is the prologue to the capitulation of tsarism. The war is not ended yet by far, but every step towards its continuation increases immeasurably the unrest and discontent among the Russian people, brings nearer the hour of a new great war, the war of the people against the autocracy, the war of the proletariat for liberty. There is good reason for the concern shown by that most sedate and sober European bourgeoisie, which would   heartily sympathise with the granting of liberal concessions by the Russian autocracy, but which stands in mortal fear of a Russian revolution, as the prologue to a European revolution.

“There is a deep-rooted opinion,” writes one such sober organ of the German bourgeoisie, “that it is absolutely impossible for a revolution to break out in Russia. Every kind of argument is used to support this view: the inertness of the Russian peasantry, its faith in the tsar, its dependence on the clergy; the extreme elements among the discontented, it is claimed, constitute a mere handful, who can organise putsches and terrorist attempts, but are absolutely incapable of calling forth a general popular uprising. The broad mass of the discontented, we are told, lack organisation, arms, and— most important of all—the determination to risk their lives. As for the Russian intellectual, he is usually revolutionary-minded only until about the age of thirty, after which he settles down comfortably in some cushy government job, and thus most of the hotheads undergo a metamorphosis and become run-of-the-mill officials.” But now, the newspaper continues, there are many indications of a big change. The revolutionaries are not the only ones now who speak about a revolution in Russia; the topic is even in the mouths of such “unenthusiastic” and solid pillars of law and order as Prince Trubetskoi, whose letter to the Minister of the Interior is now being reprinted by the entire European press. “There is evidently real ground for the fear of a revolution in Russia. True, no one believes that the Russian peasants will take up their pitchforks and go forward to fight for a constitution. But, then, are revolutions made in villages? In modern his tory the big cities long ago became the vehicles of the revolutionary movement. And in Russia it is the cities that are in ferment, from north to south and from east to west. No one will venture to predict the outcome, but it is an incontrovertible fact that the number of people who consider a revolution in Russia impossible is diminishing day by day. And if a serious revolutionary outbreak does occur, it is more than doubtful whether the autocracy, weakened by the war in the Far East, will be able to cope with it.”

Yes, the autocracy is weakened. The most sceptical of the sceptics are beginning to believe in the revolution.   General belief in revolution is already the beginning of revolution. The government itself, by its military adventure, is seeing to its continuation. The Russian proletariat will see to it that the serious revolutionary onset is sustained and extended.


[1] Preparatory materials for the article “The Fall of Port Arthur”— several variants of a plan for the article, numerous jottings from the foreign press, etc—were published in Lenin Miscellany V, 1929, pp. 57-59, Lenin Miscellany XVI, 1931, pp. 37-42, Lenin Miscellany XX VI, 1934, pp. 242-51.

[2] Alexeyev, Y. 1.—admiral, from 1903 the tsar’s viceroy in the Far East.

[3] Revolutstonnaya Rossiya (Revolutionary Russia)—newspaper of the Socialists-Revolutionaries, published from the end of 1900 to 1905; from January 1902 the central organ of the Party of Socialists-Revolutionaries.

Works Index   |   Volume 8 | Collected Works   |   L.I.A. Index
< backward   forward >