V. I.   Lenin

The First Victory of the Revolution

Published: Proletary, No. 24, November 7 (October 25), 1905. Published according to the text in Proletary as verified against the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 9, pages 427-434.
Translated: The Late Abraham Fineberg and Julius Katzer
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2004). 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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Geneva, November 1 (October 19)

Late Monday night the telegraph brought Europe the news of the tsar’s Manifesto of October 17. The Times correspondent wired: “The people have won the day. The Emperor has surrendered. The autocracy has ceased to exist.” Friends of the Russian revolution living in distant Baltimore (U.S.A.) expressed themselves differently in a cable they sent to Proletary: “Congratulations on the first great victory of the Russian revolution.”

The latter appraisal of the events is undoubtedly far more accurate. We have every reason to be jubilant. The concession made by the tsar is indeed a great victory for the revolution, but this victory is still a long way from deciding the fate of the entire cause of liberty. The tsar is far from having surrendered. The autocracy has by no means ceased to exist. It has merely retreated, leaving the field of battle to the enemy; it has retreated after an exceedingly heavy battle, but it has not yet been defeated by a long ways It is mustering its forces, and the revolutionary people have still to solve many important military problems before they will be able to carry the revolution to real and final victory.

October 17 will go down in history as one of the great days of the Russian revolution. On this day the nation-wide strike, the like of which the world had never before seen, reached its climax. The mighty arm of the proletariat, which. was raised in an outburst of heroic solidarity all over Russia, brought the entire industrial, commercial and   administrative life of the country to a standstill. It was the lull before the storm. Reports, one more alarming than the other, began pouring in from various big cities. The troops were wavering. The government refrained from taking repressive measures, the revolutionaries had not yet launched any serious open attacks, but insurrection was erupting on all sides.

At the eleventh hour the tsarist government decided to yield, realising that an explosion was inevitable, that already under no circumstances was it at all capable of gaining a full victory, but was very likely to suffer complete defeat. Trepov is reported as having said, “First there will be blood shed, and then a constitution.” The inevitability of a constitution could no longer be doubted, even if the uprising were suppressed, so the government decided that it was better to avoid the risk of serious and general bloodshed, for tsarist rule would be swept away altogether in the event of the victory of the people.

We know only an infinitesimal portion of that information possessed by the government on Monday, October 17, which compelled it to evade a desperate battle and yield. The local and central authorities strained every effort to hold up or curtail messages about the alarming progress of the uprising, but even the scanty, random and curtailed reports that found their way into the European press leave no doubt that this was a genuine uprising, capable of inspiring mortal fear in the tsar and his ministers.

The forces of tsarism and of the revolution are equally balanced, we wrote a week ago, on the basis of the first news of the country-wide political strike. Tsarism was no longer strong enough to crush the revolution; the revolution was not yet strong enough to crush tsarism. But with such an equilibrium of forces, all delay was fraught with the greatest danger to tsarism, for delay was bound to cause the troops to waver.

The uprising was spreading. Blood was already being spilt all over Russia. The people were fighting at the barricades, from Revel to Odessa, from Poland to Siberia. In isolated and small encounters the troops were victorious. but at the same time tidings of a new and unprecedented phenomenon began to come in, a phenomenon plainly testifying   to the military impotence of the autocracy. This was the news of the negotiations between the tsarist troops and the insurgent people (Kharkov), the news of the withdrawal of troops from cities (Kharkov, Revel) as the only way to restore tranquillity. Negotiations with the insurgent people, the withdrawal of troops—that is the beginning of the end. Better than any arguments it proves that the military authorities were aware of the extreme precariousness of their position. It shows that disaffection among the troops has spread to a truly formidable extent. Scattered news items and rumours seeped through to the foreign press. In Kiev soldiers who had refused to fire were arrested. Similar cases occurred in Poland. In Odessa the infantry were confined to their barracks, the authorities fearing to bring the men out into the streets. In St. Petersburg unrest was beginning to manifest itself in the navy, and it was re ported that the guards regiments were totally unreliable. As for the Black Sea Fleet, it has been impossible to this very day to ascertain the whole truth. On October 17, telegrams were already reporting that rumours of a new mutiny in this fleet were very persistent, that all telegrams were being intercepted by the authorities, who resorted to every means in an attempt to prevent reports of the events from spreading.

If we bring together all these fragmentary reports we cannot but arrive at the conclusion that even from a purely military standpoint the autocracy’s position was desperate. It was still suppressing isolated outbreaks, its troops were still taking barricades here and there, but these isolated encounters merely served to inflame passions, merely in creased indignation, merely accelerated a mightier general outbreak, which the government particularly dreaded, since it could no longer rely on the army.

The Enemy declined a pitched battle. He retreated, abandoning the battlefield to the revolutionary people—retreat ed to new positions, which he considers better fortified, and where he hopes to rally more reliable forces, weld them together and infuse a new spirit into them, and choose a better moment for an offensive.

This appraisal of the great day of October 17 is confirmed by a number of relatively “unbiased” reports in the European bourgeois press.

On the one hand, the European bourgeoisie is sighing with relief. The tsar’s Manifesto promises a regular constitution; the Duma is invested with legislative powers; no law can come into force prior to approval by the people’s representatives, ministerial responsibility has been granted; civil liberties have been granted—inviolability of the person, freedom of conscience, speech, assembly and association. The stock exchange is hastening to express fuller confidence in Russia’s finances. Russian securities, which have been falling for the last few days, are now going up. The foreign bankers who fled from revolutionary St. Petersburg are promising to return within a fortnight. In the constitution the European bourgeoisie sees a pledge of “peaceful” minor concessions, which will wholly satisfy the propertied classes without at the same time allowing the revolutionary proletariat to acquire “too much” freedom.

On the other hand, even the liberal bourgeois cannot but see that the tsar’s Manifesto contains only hollow words, mere promises. Who nowadays will believe promises alone? Are not all these phrases about inviolability of the person and freedom of speech sheer mockery when the prisons are still packed with so-called political offenders, and the censorship is still operating? What kind of people will carry out the tsar’s promise? The Witte government, which is rumoured to include Kuzmin-Karavayev, Kosich, Koni? This government will not even be one of the liberal bourgeoisie. It will only be a government of the liberal bureaucracy, which has so often been defeated by the reactionary Court clique. Can it be that the people have spilt their blood in the struggle for liberty only to have to rely on the liberal bureaucrats, who confine themselves to mere words and promises?!

No, tsarism is still far from having surrendered. The autocracy has by no means fallen as yet. Many great battles will still have to be fought by the revolutionary proletariat, and the first victory will help it to rally its forces and enlist new allies in the struggle..

“The very success of the cause of freedom,” The Times correspondent wrote the day the Manifesto was proclaimed, “will only stimulate the reactionary elements to greater activity, and so long as the army remains under its present   chiefs Russia cannot be safe from the possibility of a pronunciamento.” “It is ... doubtful whether the forced surrender of the government in the very midst of a revolutionary upheaval can be regarded otherwise than as a signal for further strife.” “It is not known whether the bureaucracy has been ousted from its citadel or whether it has merely retreated from its advance positions,” say the bourgeois optimists, although the facts show clearly that the “citadel” of the autocracy is still quite intact.

The enforced nature of the concession is what most of all disturbs the moderate bourgeois. Le Temps, organ of the ruling money-bags of France, waxed highly indignant over “anarchy”, and showered abuse and slander on the organisers of the all-Russia political strike and its participants. Though satisfied by the tsar’s constitutional promises as such, this newspaper now remarks with concern: “Instead of acting on his own initiative, the tsar contended himself with signing the ’instructions’ of the liberal opposition. This is a poor method, lending the subsequent reforms an enforced nature, the nature of something fragmentary and sudden. This method places the government at odds with itself and sets a premium on violence. Unfortunately, it is only too clear that matters had reached a point where there was no other way out of the impasse into which the government had been led. Let us pass a wet sponge over the nature of this capitulation—capitulation not only to the constitutionalists, moderate souls, who should have been heeded sooner, but capitulation to a strike and revolution.”

No, gentlemen of the bourgeoisie, the workers will never forget the enforced nature of the tsar’s capitulation! The workers will never forget that it was only by force, by the force of their organisation, their unanimity and their mass heroism, that they wrested from tsarism a recognition of liberty in a paper manifesto; and only in this way will they win real liberty for themselves.

We stated above that the enemy retreated, abandoning the battlefield to the revolutionary proletariat. We must add now: the retreating enemy is being hard pressed. On Monday, October 17, the tsar’s Manifesto was issued. On Tuesday, October 18, according to a Wolff Press Agency report, a Manifesto of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour   Party was issued in St. Petersburg in a huge number of copies. It declares that the struggle of the proletariat will by no means cease as a result of the tsar’s Manifesto. It must be the proletariat’s tactics to take advantage of rights granted under the force of its blows, to arrange workers’ meetings to decide the question of the continuation of the strike, to organise a militia to protect revolutionary rights, and to put forward the demand for a full amnesty. At mass meetings Social-Democratic speakers are urging the con vocation of a constituent assembly. According to telegrams, the Strike Committee[1] is demanding an amnesty and the immediate convocation of a constituent assembly elected on the basis of universal and direct suffrage.

Their revolutionary instinct at once prompted the St. Petersburg workers to adopt the right slogan—energetic continuation of the struggle, and utilisation of the newly-won positions for a continued onslaught and the actual destruction of the autocracy. The struggle continues. Meetings are being held ever more frequently and are being attended by larger number of people. The joy and the legitimate pride evoked by the first victory are not hampering the new organisation of forces for the purpose of carrying the revolution to completion. Its success depends on still broader sections of the people being won over to the side of liberty, on their enlightenment and organisation. The working class has shown its titanic might in the all-Russia political strike, but there is still much to be done among the back ward sections of the urban proletariat. While establishing a workers’ militia—the only bulwark of the revolution— while preparing ourselves for new and even more determined struggles, while upholding our old slogans, we must also pay special attention to the army. The tsar’s enforced con cession was bound to give rise to the greatest wavering in its ranks, and now we must attract the soldiers to workers’ meetings, intensify our agitation in the barracks, extend our liaisons with officers, creating, alongside of the revolutionary army of workers, cadres of class-conscious revolutionaries among the troops as well, troops which only yesterday were most loyal to the tsar and are now on the verge of becoming a people’s army.

The revolutionary proletariat has succeeded in neutralising   the army, after paralysing it in the great days of the general strike. It must now work to bring the army completely over to the side of the people.

The revolutionary proletariat has brought about the first great victory of the urban revolution. It must now broaden and deepen the foundations of the revolution by extending it to the countryside. To raise the peasantry to the level of conscious defence of the cause of liberty, to demand that serious measures be taken in the interests of the peasantry, and to prepare in the countryside a movement which, in conjunction with the advanced urban proletariat, will deal the final blow at the autocracy and win complete and genuine liberty—such is Russian Social-Democracy’s next task.

The success of the revolution depends on the size of the proletarian and peasant masses that will rise in its defence and for its consummation. Revolutionary war differs from other wars in that it draws its main reserves from the camp of its enemy’s erstwhile allies, erstwhile supporters of tsarism, or people who blindly obeyed tsarism. The success of the all-Russia political strike will have a greater influence over the minds and hearts of the peasants than the confusing words of any possible manifestoes or laws.

When the Russian revolution was just getting under way, the liberal bourgeoisie occupied the whole political fore ground; such was the situation a year ago.

The revolution asserted itself when the urban working class appeared on the scene on January 9.

The revolution won its first victory when the proletariat of all the nations of Russia rose as one man and made the tsar’s throne tremble, the throne that had caused such incalculable distress to all the nations, and most of all to the toiling classes of all the nations.

The revolution will deal the enemy the final blow and sweep the throne of the blood-thirsty tsar from the face of the earth, when the workers rise once more, with the peasantry following their lead.

And further, the Russian revolution has another reserve. Gone are the times when nations and states could live isolated from one another. Look—Europe is already stirring. Its bourgeoisie is disconcerted and prepared to give millions   and billions to stop the conflagration in Russia. The rulers of the militarist European powers are contemplating military assistance for the tsar. Kaiser Wilhelm has already dispatched several cruisers and destroyers to establish direct links between the German militarists and Peterhof. European counter-revolution is holding out a hand to Russian counter-revolution.

Just you try, citizen Hohenzollern! We too have a European reserve of the Russian revolution. This reserve is the international socialist proletariat, the international revolutionary Social-Democratic movement. The workers of the whole world are hailing the victory of the Russian workers with enthusiasm and, conscious of the close links between the various contingents of the international army of socialism, are themselves preparing for the great and decisive struggle.

You are not alone, workers and peasants of all Russia! If you succeed in overthrowing, crushing and destroying the tyrants of feudal, police-ridden, landlord and tsarist Russia, your victory will serve as a signal for a world struggle against the tyranny of capital, a struggle for the complete, economic as well as political emancipation of the toilers, a struggle for the deliverance of humanity from destitution, and for the realisation of socialism.


[1] The reference is to the St. Petersburg Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, which arose as the united strike committee during the October All-Russia political strike. On October 13 (26), St. Petersburg workers elected their representatives to the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies so as to give leadership to the strike. In point of organisation the Soviet took shape on October 17 (30), when the provisional executive committee was elected.

The first Soviets of Workers’ Deputies arose out of the strike movement even prior to the October general strike. In May 1905 a Soviet was formed in Ivanovo-Voznesensk, and a month later in Kostroma, while in September Soviets of Deputies were formed in Moscow by workers in individual trades, such as printers and tobacco workers. These first Soviets were already marked by a trend towards functions wider than those of strike committees, so that when the October strike broke out and a Soviet was formed in St. Petersburg they gave an impetus to the appearance of Soviets in other parts of the country. Shortly before the December insurrection in Moscow, the Moscow Soviet of Workers’ Deputies came into being, the example being followed in Kiev, Kharkov, Rostov-on-Don, Odessa, Nikolayev, Ekaterinoslav, Vladikavkaz, Revel, Novoros siisk, Saratov, Chita, Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk, Baku, and elsewhere.

In defiance of all the institutions of the tsar’s government, the Soviets issued their own decrees, orders and instructions, and on their own authority they introduced the eight-hour working day and instituted democratic liberties.

The Bolsheviks everywhere entered the Soviets, and wherever they succeeded in gaining dominant influence the Soviets became militant centres for the mobilisation of revolutionary forces, where preparations for an insurrection were made and carried out. Thus, the Moscow Soviet was the headquarters of the December insur rection, and in Krasnoyarsk and Novorossiisk the Soviets took over power. The St. Petersburg Soviet “was weakest as an organ of the new power” (Lenin). Leadership in that Soviet was seized by the Mensheviks, so that it could not perform its main task—become the organ of an armed uprising and of the struggle for the overthrow of the autocracy.

Lenin, who developed the theory of the Soviets, regarded them as a mass political organisation of the working class, as organs of insurrection, and embryos of a new revolutionary system of rule.

The Bolsheviks differed sharply from the Mensheviks on the question of the role and significance of the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies. The Mensheviks belittled the role of the Soviets, reducing them merely to organs of local self-government. In their practical activities, the Mensheviks limited the functions of the Soviets to the defence of the workers’ economic interests.

The Soviets of 1905, one of the greatest historic gains of the working class, were the prototype of Soviet power as established in 1917.

On the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies see the following articles by Lenin: “Our Tasks and the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies”; “Resolution of the Executive Committee of the St. Petersburg Soviet of Workers’ Deputies on Measures for Counteracting the Lockout, Adopted on November 14 (27), 1905”; “The Provocation that Failed”; “The Dying Autocracy and New Organs of Popular Rule”; “Socialism and Anarchism”; “The Socialist Party and Non-Party Revolutionism”; “The Victory of the Cadets and the Tasks of the Workers’ Party”, etc.

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