V. I.   Lenin

The Revolutionary Army and the Revolutionary Government

Published: Proletary, No. 7, July 10 (June 27), 1905. Published according to the text in Proletary. Checked with the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 8, pages 560-568.
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.
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The uprising in Odessa and the siding of the armoured cruiser Potemkin with the revolution marked a further big step forward in the development of the revolutionary movement against the autocracy. Events have confirmed with amazing rapidity the timeliness of the calls to insurrection and to the formation of a provisional revolutionary government, which were addressed to the people by the class-conscious spokesmen of the proletariat as represented by the Third Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party. The new outbreak of the revolutionary conflagration throws light on the practical significance of these calls and makes us determine more precisely the tasks of the revolutionary fighters in the present situation in Russia.

The armed uprising of the people is maturing and is organising itself before our very eyes under the impact of the spontaneous course of events. It was not so very long ago that the only manifestation of the people’s struggle against the autocracy was revolts–unconscious, unorganised, spontaneous, sometimes wild outbreaks. But the labour movement, as the movement of the most advanced class, the proletariat, rapidly outgrew this initial stage. The goal-conscious propaganda and agitation carried on by the Social-Democrats had their effect. Disturbances gave way to organised strike struggles and political demonstrations against the autocracy. The brutal military reprisals of the past few years have “educated” the proletariat and the common people of the towns, and have prepared them for higher forms of revolutionary struggle. The criminal and ignominious war into which the autocracy has plunged the   people filled the cup of their endurance to overflowing. The crowds began to offer armed resistance to the tsarist troops. Real street fighting, barricade battles, started between the people and the troops. Quite recently the Caucasus, Lodz, Odessa, and Libau have shown us examples of proletarian heroism and popular enthusiasm. The struggle grew into an insurrection. Even the tsar’s troops gradually began to see that they were being made to play the shameful role of executioners of freedom, of henchmen of the police. And the army began to waver. At first isolated cases of insubordination, outbreaks among reservists, protests from officers, propaganda among the soldiers, refusal of some companies and regiments to shoot at their own brothers, the workers. Then—the siding of part of the army with the uprising.

The tremendous significance of the recent events in Odessa lies precisely in the fact that, for the first time, an important unit of the armed force of tsarism—a battle ship—has openly gone over to the side of the revolution. The government made frantic efforts and resorted to all possible tricks to conceal this event from the people, to stifle the mutiny of the sailors from the outset. But to no avail. The warships sent against the revolutionary armoured cruiser “Potemkin” refused to fight against their comrades. By spreading throughout Europe the report that the Potemkin had surrendered and that the tsar had ordered the revolutionary armoured cruiser to be sunk, the autocratic government only completed its disgrace in the eyes of the entire world. The squadron has returned to Sevastopol, and the government is hastening to disband the crews and to disarm the warships; reports are current of wholesale resignations of officers of the Black Sea Fleet; a fresh mutiny broke out on the armoured cruiser Georgi Pobedonosets, which had surrendered. The sailors are also rising in Libau and in Kronstadt; clashes with the troops are becoming more frequent; sailors and workers are fighting the troops on the barricades (in Libau). The foreign press reports mutinies on a number of other warships (the Minin, the Alexander II, and others). The tsarist government finds itself without a navy. The most that it has been able to achieve so far is to hold back the fleet from actively going over to the side of   the revolution. Meanwhile, the armoured cruiser Potemkin remains an unconquered territory of the revolution, and what ever its fate may be, the undoubted fact and the point of highest significance is that here we have the attempt to form the nucleus of a revolutionary army.

No reprisals, no partial victories over the revolution can diminish the importance of this event. The first step has been taken. The Rubicon has been crossed. The siding of the army with the revolution has impressed itself as a fact upon the whole of Russia and the entire world. The events in the Black Sea Fleet will inevitably be followed by further and still more energetic attempts to form a revolutionary army. It is our task now to give the utmost support to these efforts, to explain to the broadest masses of the proletariat and the peasantry the nation-wide significance of a revolutionary army in the struggle for freedom, to assist various units of this army to unfurl the popular banner of freedom, the banner capable of attracting the masses and rallying the forces that will crush the tsarist autocracy.

Outbreaks— demonstrations—street fighting—units of a revolutionary army—such are the stages in the development of the popular uprising. Now at last we have reached the final stage. This does not mean, of course, that the movement in its entirety has advanced to this new and higher stage. No, there is still a good deal of backwardness in the movement; in the Odessa events there are unmistakable signs of old-time rioting. But it does mean that the advance waves of the elemental flood have already reached the very threshold of the absolutist “stronghold”. It does mean that the advanced representatives of the popular masses have themselves arrived, not as a result of theoretical reasoning, but under the impact of the growing movement, at new and higher tasks of the struggle, the final struggle against the enemy of the Russian people. The autocracy has done everything to prepare this struggle. For years it has provoked the people to an armed struggle with its troops, and now it is reaping what it sowed. The units of the revolutionary army are springing up out of the army itself.

The task of these units is to proclaim the insurrection, to give the masses military leadership, as essential in civil war as in any other war; to create strong points for the open   mass struggle; to spread the uprising to neighbouring districts; to establish complete political freedom, if only at first in a small part of the country; to embark on the revolutionary transformation of the decayed absolutist system; and to give full scope to the revolutionary creative activity of the masses, who participate but little in this activity in time of peace, but who come to the forefront in revolutionary epochs. Only by clearly understanding these new tasks, only by posing them boldly and broadly, can the units of the revolutionary army win complete victory and become the strong points of a revolutionary government. And a revolutionary government is as vitally essential at the present stage of the popular uprising as a revolutionary army. The revolutionary army is needed for military struggle and for military leadership of the masses against the remnants of the military forces of the autocracy. The revolutionary army is needed because great historical issues can be re solved only by force, and, in modern struggle, the organisation of force means military organisation. Besides the remnants of the autocracy’s military forces there are the military forces of the neighbouring states for whose support the tottering Russian Government is already begging, of which later.[1]

The revolutionary government is needed for the political leadership of the masses, at first in that part of the country which has been wrested from tsarism by the revolutionary army, and later in the country at large. The revolutionary government is needed for the immediate launching of the political reforms, for the sake of which the revolution is being made—the establishment of a revolutionary self-government of the people, the convocation of a truly popular and truly Constituent Assembly, and the introduction of “liberties” without which there can be no true expression of the people’s will. The revolutionary government is necessary for the political unification and the political organisation of the insurgent section of the people ,which has actually and finally broken away from the autocracy. Of course, that political organisation can only be provisional, just as the revolutionary government, which has taken power in   the name of the people in order to enforce the will of the people and to act through the instrumentality of the people, can only be provisional. But this work of organisation must start immediately, and it must be indissolubly combined with every successful step of the uprising; for political consolidation and political leadership cannot be delayed for a single moment. Immediate political leadership of the insurgent people is no less essential for the complete victory of the people over tsarism than the military leadership of its forces.

No one who is at all capable of forming a judgement can doubt the eventual outcome of the struggle between the supporters of the autocracy and the masses of the people. Yet we must not shut our eyes to the fact that the serious struggle is only beginning, that there are great trials in store for us. Both the revolutionary army and the revolutionary government are “organisms” of so high a type, they demand institutions so complicated and a civic consciousness so developed, that it would be a mistake to expect a simple, immediate, and perfect fulfilment of these tasks from the outset. No, we do not expect that; we are able to appreciate the importance of the slow, steady, and often imperceptible work of political education which Social-Democrats have always conducted and always will conduct. But we must not allow what in the present circumstances would be still more dangerous—a lack of faith in the powers of the people. We must remember what a tremendous educational and organising power the revolution has, when mighty historical events force the man in the street out of his remote corner, garret, or basement and make a citizen out of him. Months of revolution sometimes educate citizens more quickly and fully than decades of political stagnation. The task of the class-conscious leaders of the revolutionary class is always to march ahead of it in the matter of education, to explain to it the meaning of the new tasks, and to urge it forward towards our great ultimate goal. The failures inevitably involved in our further attempts to form a revolutionary army and a provisional revolutionary government will only teach us to meet these tasks in practice; they will serve to draw the new and fresh forces of the people, now lying dormant, to the work of solving them.

To take the military aspect. No Social-Democrat at all familiar with history, who has studied Engels, the great expert on this subject, has ever doubted the tremendous importance of military knowledge, of military technique, and of military organisation as an instrument which the masses of the people, and classes of the people, use in resolving great historical conflicts. Social-Democracy never stooped to playing at military conspiracies; it never gave prominence to military questions until the actual conditions of civil war had arisen.[2] But now all Social-Democrats have advanced the military questions, if not to the first place, at least to one of the first places, and they are putting great stress on studying these questions and bringing them to the knowledge of the masses. The revolutionary army must apply the military knowledge and the military means on the practical plane for the determination of the further destiny of the Russian people, for the determination of the most vital and pressing question—the question of freedom.

Social-Democracy has never taken a sentimental view of war. It unreservedly condemns war as a bestial means of settling conflicts in human society. But Social-Democracy knows that so long as society is divided into classes, so long as there is exploitation of man by man, wars are inevitable. This exploitation cannot be destroyed without war, and war is always and everywhere begun by the exploiters themselves, by the ruling and oppressing classes. There are wars and wars. There are adventurist wars, fought to further dynastic interests, to satisfy the appetite of a band of freebooters, or to attain the objects of the knights of capitalist profit. And there is another kind of war—the only war that is legitimate in capitalist society—war against the people’s oppressors and enslavers. Only utopians and philistines can condemn such a war on principle. Only the bourgeois betrayers of freedom can stand aloof from such a war in Russia today, the war for the people’s freedom. The proletariat in Russia has started   that great war of liberation, and it will, go on with it, forming units of a revolutionary army, reinforcing the units of the soldiers or sailors that have come over to its side, enlisting the peasants, imbuing the new citizens of Russia, formed and steeled in the fire of civil war, with the heroism and enthusiasm of fighters for the freedom and happiness of all mankind.

The task of establishing a revolutionary government is as new, as difficult, and as complicated as the task of the military organisation of the revolutionary forces. But this task, too, can and must be fulfilled by the people. In this matter, too, every partial failure will lead to an improvement in methods and means, to the consolidation and extension of the results. The Third Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. outlined in its resolution the general conditions for dealing with this new task; it is now time to consider and prepare the conditions for its practical realisation. Our Party has a minimum programme, a complete programme of the changes that are immediately achievable within the framework of the democratic (i.e., bourgeois) revolution, and which the proletariat needs in its further struggle for the triumph of the socialist revolution. But this programme contains basic demands, as well as partial demands that follow from the basic ones or are assumed. In every attempt to establish a provisional revolutionary government it is important to advance precisely the basic demands in order to show to the whole of the people, even to the most unenlightened masses, in brief formulation, in sharp and clear outline, the aims of this government and its tasks that are of significance to the entire people.

There are, in our view, six such fundamental points that must become the political banner and the immediate programme of any revolutionary government. They should enlist the sympathy of the people for that government and should be regarded as the most urgent task, upon the accomplishment of which the whole revolutionary energy of the people must be concentrated.

The six points are: (1) a Constituent. Assembly of all the people, (2) arming of the people, (3) political freedom, (4) complete freedom for the oppressed and disfranchised nationalities, (5) the eight-hour day, and (6) peasant revolutionary   committees. Of course, this is only a tentative list, representing the headings, the designations, of a series of changes that are required immediately for winning the democratic republic. We do not claim that the list is complete. We merely want to stress the importance of certain basic tasks. The revolutionary government must strive to secure the support of the masses, of the mass of the working class and of the peasantry; short of doing this, it will not be able to maintain itself; without the revolutionary activity of the people it will be a mere nothing, worse than nothing. It is our duty to warn the people against the adventurism of high-sounding but absurd promises (like immediate “socialisation”, which even its advocates do not under stand), while at the same time we must propose changes that are really practicable at the present moment and really necessary for strengthening the cause of the revolution. The revolutionary government must rouse the “people” and organise its revolutionary activity. Complete freedom for the oppressed nationalities, i. e., the recognition, not only of their cultural, but of their political, self-determination; the introduction of urgent measures for the protection of the working class (the eight-hour day as the first in a series of such measures), and lastly, the guarantee of serious measures, without regard for the egotistic interests of the land lords, in favour of the mass of the peasantry—such, in our opinion, are the chief points that every revolutionary government must especially emphasise. We shall not discuss the first three points, which are too obvious to require comment. Nor shall we discuss the need for practically implementing reforms even in a small territory, one, for instance, that has been wrested from tsarism; practical implementation is a thousand times more important than manifestos, and, of course, a thousand times more difficult. We merely wish to draw attention to the fact that it is necessary now, without delay, to spread by every possible means a correct idea of our general and immediate tasks. We must know how to appeal to the people—in the true sense of the word—not only with a general call to struggle (this suffices in the period preceding the formation of the revolutionary government), but with a direct call for the immediate implementation   of the most essential democratic reforms, for their independent realisation without delay.

The revolutionary army and the revolutionary government are two sides of the same medal. They are two institutions equally necessary for the success of the uprising and for the consolidation of its results. They are two slogans which must be advanced and explained as· the only consistent revolutionary slogans. There are many people today who call themselves democrats; however, many are called, but few are chosen. There are many spokesmen of the “Constitutional-Democratic Party”; but in so-called “society”, in the would-be democratic Zemstvos, there are few true democrats, men who are sincerely in favour of the complete sovereignty of the people and are capable of waging a life-and-death struggle against the enemies of that sovereignty, the defenders of the tsarist autocracy.

The working class is free of the cowardice, the hypocritical half-heartedness that is characteristic of the bourgeoisie as a class. The working class can and must be fully and consistently democratic. The working class has proved its right to the role of vanguard in the democratic revolution by the blood it has shed on the streets of St. Petersburg, Riga, Libau, Warsaw, Lodz, Odessa, Baku, and many other cities. It must prove equal to this great role at the present decisive moment too. While never for a moment forgetting their socialist goal, their class and Party independence, the class-conscious representatives of the proletariat, the members of the R.S.D.L.P., must come forward before the whole of the people with the advanced democratic slogans. For us, for the proletariat, the democratic revolution is only the first step on the road to the complete emancipation of labour from all exploitation, to the great socialist goal. All the more quickly, therefore, must we pass this first stage; all the more decisively must we settle accounts with the enemies of the people’s freedom; all the louder must we proclaim the slogans of consistent democracy: a revolutionary army and a revolutionary government.


[1] See pp. 568-72 of this volume—Ed.

[2] Cf. Lenin, “The Tasks of the Russian Social-Democrats”, p.23, on the untimeliness (in 1897) of the question concerning the methods of decisive attack upon tsarism. (First published in pamphlet form, Geneva, 1898. See present edition, Vol. 2, pp. 342-43.—Ed.)—Lenin

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