V. I.   Lenin

Between Two Battles

Published: Proletary, No. 26, November 25 (12), 1905. Published according to the text in Proletary.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 9, pages 457-466.
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.README

Geneva, November 15 (N. S.)

The big battle in which the proletariat has engaged tsarism is over. The all-Russia political strike seems to have come to an end almost everywhere. The enemy has made the biggest withdrawal on one flank (Finland), but he has dug himself in on the other (martial law in Poland). In the centre, the enemy has fallen back very little, but holds a strong new position, and is preparing for an even more bloody and more decisive battle. Clashes are taking place along the whole battle line. Both sides are hastening to make good their losses, rally their ranks, get properly organised, and arm themselves as best they can for the next battle.

Such, approximately, is the state of things at present in the theatre of the struggle for freedom. Civil war naturally differs from other kinds of warfare in that the forms of the fighting are far more varied, the strength and the composition of the combatants on both sides are harder to estimate and fluctuate far more, and attempts to conclude peace, or at least an armistice do not originate in those engaged in the fighting, and are most fantastically interwoven with the pattern of military operations.

Lulls in the fighting have a most encouraging effect on the initiative of the “conciliators”. Witte is doing his utmost to pose as such a “conciliator”, both directly and through the agency of the servile press, and is covering up in every possible way his role of tsarism’s diplomatic servant. To the delight of naïve liberals, a government report has acknowledged the participation of the police in Black-Hundred outrages. Press organs that fawn upon the government (Novoye Vremya, for example) are making a pretence of condemning the extremes the reactionaries have gone to, and, of course, the “extremes” of the revolutionaries. Displeased   with the petty stakes involved, extremist representatives of reaction (Pobedonostsev, Vladimir, and Trepov) are leaving the scene. It is partly because of their obtuseness that these people do not realise the importance of this game for the preservation of the greatest power for tsarism, another reason is that they assume—and rightly so— that it is more convenient for them to acquire a free hand, and take part in the same game, but only in another role— that of “independent” fighters for the might of the monarchy, the role of “free” avengers for the “insulted national sentiments of the Russian people”—insulted by the revolutionaries— or, in other words, the role of leaders of the Black Hundreds.

Witte is rubbing his hands in delight at the sight of the “great” successes of the amazingly shrewd game he is playing. He is preserving liberalism’s innocence by pressing ministerial posts upon leaders of the Constitutional-Democrats (even upon Milyukov, as telegraphed by the Temps correspondent), by addressing in his own handwriting a letter to Mr. Struve with an invitation to return to Russia, and by trying to present himself as a “White”, who is equally far removed from both the “Reds” and the “Blacks”. At the same time, he is acquiring, together with innocence, a tidy amount of capital, for he remains head of the tsar’s government, which retains full power and is only awaiting a suitable opportunity to go over to a decisive offensive against the revolution.

Our qualification of Witte, as given in Proletary, is being borne out in full. He is a minister-buffoon in his methods, “talents”, and the ends to which he has been put. With regard to the real forces till now at his disposal, he is a minister of the liberal bureaucracy, since he has not y9t been able to strike a deal with the liberal bourgeoisie. True, the haggling is making gradual progress. The chafferers are bawling out their rock-bottom prices, calling it a deal, but putting off the final agreement until the Zemstvo Congress, which is to meet in a few days, makes its decisions. Witte is trying to win over the bourgeois intelligentsia by extending their voting rights in the Duma elections, providing educational qualificalions and even making paltry concessions to the workers (who are supposed to content themselves   with 21st place in the system of indirect elections “on behalf of the workers”!!); he avers that if only the Duma meets, and if only that body—or at least a minority in it— comes out for universal suffrage, his support for this demand will be fully ensured.

Till now the haggling has led nowhere. The two sides are conducting their talks with no regard for those who are doing the actual fighting, and this cannot but paralyse the efforts of our “honest brokers”. For their own part, the liberal bourgeoisie would willingly accept the State Duma— they were willing to accept it even in a consultative” variant, and already in September rejected an active boycott. However, the essence of the matter is that the revolution has made a tremendous stride forward in the two months that have since elapsed, the proletariat has given important battle, and at once scored its first big victory. The State Duma, that vile and despicable travesty of popular representation, has been buried. It was shattered by the first blow delivered by the mighty onslaught of the proletariat. In the space of a few weeks, the revolution has shown up the short-sightedness of those who wanted to enter the Bulygin Duma, or support those who wanted to do so. The tactics of an active boycott received the most striking confirmation that the tactics of political parties can receive in the thick of a struggle—confirmation in deed, verification in the course of events, recognition as an indubitable fact of that which but yesterday seemed to short-sighted people and cowardly chafferers to be too bold a “leap into the unknown.

The working class has given a good fright to the Duma comedians, such a fright that the latter are afraid to set foot on this rickety and unreliable bridge, are afraid even to test the strength of the “latest”, hasty repairs made by the state botchers. The roles have changed somewhat. Only yesterday Comrades Parvus, Cherevanin and Martov wanted to obtain a revolutionary pledge from those who were about to mount this bridge—a pledge that, in the Duma, they would demand a constituent assembly. Today the place of these Social-Democrats has been taken by Count Sergei Yulyevich Witte, President of the Council of Ministers, who is already giving a “revolutionary” pledge to support   any deputy to the Duma, even if he is the only one, who will demand that a constituent assembly be convoked.

So disgraceful was the showing the liberal bourgeois— the Constitutional-Democrats—made the first time that they were unwilling to repeat the unpleasant experience. They had already got the “election campaign” under way, had our good parliamentarians of Osvobozhdeniye and Russkiye Vedomosti; they had already elected a central commit tee to give guidance to that campaign; they had even set up a law office to advise the public as to whether the Rural Superintendent has the right to disperse peasant electors on his own initiative, or whether he must first ask the governor for permission. In a word, they were making ready to lay themselves down to sleep on the sofa graciously provided to all Russian Oblomovs,[1] when suddenly ... when suddenly the proletariat squared its shoulders and impolitely shook off the Duma and the entire Duma campaign. It is therefore not surprising that the liberal bourgeois are now disinclined to give credence to “revolutionary pledges” made by the suave Count. It is not surprising that they are even less inclined to accept the hand the Count is holding out to them, that they are more and more often glancing leftwards, though their mouths are literally watering at the sight of the wonderful iced cake known as the Duma.

Without any doubt, Witte’s talks with leaders of the liberal bourgeoisie are of serious political significance, but only in the respect that they reconfirm the affinity of the would-be-liberal bureaucracy to those who are defending the interests of capital—only in the respect that they once again show who is out to bury the Russian revolution, and how. These negotiations and deals, however, are not succeeding, for the simple reason that the revolution lives on. The revolution is not only alive, but it is stronger than ever, and is very, very far from having said its last word; it is only beginning to deploy all the forces of the proletariat and the revolutionary peasantry. That is why the buffoon-minister’s talks and deals with the bourgeoisie are so point less; they cannot acquire serious significance at the height of the struggle, when the hostile forces are confronting each other between two decisive battles.

At such a time, the policy of the revolutionary proletariat,   which is conscious of its historic aims, is striving not only for the political but also for the economic emancipation of the working people, without, however, forgetting its socialist aims—the policy of the proletariat must be most firm, clear and definite. To the vicious lies of the minister-buffoon and the obtuse illusions of the liberal and bourgeois democrats regarding a constitution, it must contrapose, more resolutely than ever before, its slogan of the over throw of the tsar’s rule by means of an armed uprising of the whole people. The revolutionary proletariat abhors all cant, and is fighting relentlessly against all and any attempts to obscure the actual state of affairs. In present-day talk about a constitutional regime there is not a single word but that reeks of cant, and not a single sentence that is not a repetition of the old bureaucratic falsehood aimed at saving some remnant or other of the autocratic, serf-owning Russia.

There is talk of liberty, of popular representation; some hold forth on a constituent assembly, but what is being constantly, hourly and minutely lost sight of is that, without serious guarantees, all these fine things are but hollow phrases. A serious guarantee can be provided only by a victorious rising of the people, only by the complete domination of the armed proletariat and the peasantry over all representatives of tsarist power, who, under pressure by the people, have retreated a pace but are far from having yielded to the people, and far from having been overthrown by the people. Until that aim is achieved there can be no real liberty, no genuine popular representation, or a really constituent assembly with the power to set up a new order in Russia.

What is a constitution? A sheet of paper with the people’s rights recorded on it. What is the guarantee of these rights being really recognised? It lies in the strength of those classes of the people that have become aware of those rights, and have been able to win them. Let us then not allow words to delude us—that befits only babblers for bourgeois democracy—let us not for a moment forget that strength is proved only by victory in the struggle, and that we are as yet far from having achieved complete victory. Let us not believe handsome phrases, for we are living through times when an open struggle is going on, when all phrases and promises at once are tested in action, when words? manifestoes,   and promises of a constitution are being used to fool the people, weaken its forces, scatter its ranks, and induce it to disarm. Nothing can be more false than such promises and phrases, and it is with pride that we can say that the proletariat of Russia has matured for the struggle both against brute force and against liberal-constitutional cant. This is borne out by the appeal made by the railwaymen, recently reported in the foreign press (unfortunately we are not in possession of the original). “Collect arms, comrades,” the appeal says, “organise yourselves for the struggle tirelessly, with multiplied energy. It is only by arming and rallying our ranks that we shall be able to defend what has been won, and achieve complete satisfaction of our demands. The time will come when we shall again rise as one man in a new and still more stubborn struggle for full liberty.”

Such are our sole guarantees. Such is the only genuine constitution of a free Russia! Indeed, consider the Manifesto of October 17 and the facts of Russian life: can anything be more instructive than the contrast between this recognition of a constitution by the tsar on paper, and the actual “constitution”, the actual application of the tsar’s power? On the face of it, the tsar’s Manifesto holds out promises of an unequivocally constitutional character. But we have been shown the price of these promises. The person of the individual has been declared inviolate, yet those who are not to the liking of the autocracy remain in prison, in exile or in banishment. Freedom of assembly has been declared, yet the universities, which were the first to create actual freedom of assembly in Russia, have been closed, and their entrances are under police and military guard. The press is free, so therefore the newspaper Novaya Zhizn,[2] spokesman for the interests of the workers, has been confiscated for having published the programme of the Social-Democrats. The places of Black-Hundred ministers have been taken by ministers who have declared that they stand for the rule of law, yet the Black Hundreds are “operating” ever more intensely in the streets with the aid of the police and the military, and citizens of a free Russia who are not to the liking of the autocracy are being shot, beaten up and mauled freely and with impunity.

With such edifying examples before one’s eyes, one must   be blind, or else blinded by class selfishness, to attach any really serious significance at the present time to whether Witte promises universal suffrage, or whether the tsar will sign a manifesto on the convocation of a “constituent” assembly. Even if these “acts” were to take place, they would not decide the outcome of the struggle; nor would they create actual freedom of election agitation, or ensure that a popular assembly of representatives would have a genuinely constituent character. A constituent assembly should give legal shape and parliamentary form to the structure of a new Russia, but before the victory of the new over the old can be consolidated, and to give due form to this victory, actual victory has to be won, the power of the old institutions has to be broken, and the latter have to be swept away, the old edifice has to be levelled to the ground, and the possibility destroyed of any serious resistance on the part of the police and its gangs.

Full freedom of election, and full power for a constituent assembly can be ensured only by the complete victory of the uprising, the overthrow of tsarist rule, and its replacement by a provisional revolutionary government. To this end all our efforts must be directed; the organisation and preparation of an uprising must absolutely stand in the foreground. Only in the measure in which the rising is victorious and in which victory leads to the decisive destruction of the enemy—only in that measure will an assembly of the people’s representatives be a popular one not only on paper, and constituent not only in name.

Down with all cant, all falseness, and all equivocation! War has been declared, fighting has flared up, and what we are now experiencing is but a lull between two battles. There is no half-way. The party of the “Whites” is sheer deception. He who is not for revolution is one of the Black Hundreds. It is not only we that say so. The designation has not been devised by us. The blood-stained stones cry out these words in the streets of Moscow and Odessa, in Kronstadt and the Caucasus, in Poland and Tomsk.

He who is not for revolution is one of the Black Hundreds. He who does not wish to put up with Russian freedom becoming freedom for the police to use violence, subornation, vodka, and treacherous attacks upon unarmed people,   must arm himself and immediately get ready for battle. We must win genuine freedom, not promises of freedom, not scraps of paper about freedom. We must achieve not merely humiliation of the tsar’s power, not only recognition of the people’s rights by that power, but the destruction of that power, since the power of the tsar means the power of the Black Hundreds over Russia. That conclusion does not belong to us either. It has been drawn by the facts of life itself; it is the lesson taught by the events of the times. It is the voice of those who till now have stood aside from any revolutionary doctrine and dare not make a single free step or say a single free word in the street, at a meeting, or at home, without running the imminent and terrible risk of being crushed, tormented or torn to pieces by some gang of adherents of the tsar.

Finally, the revolution has obliged this “popular force” to come into the open—the force of the tsar’s adherents. It has revealed to the general view whom the tsar’s rule banks on, and who really supports that rule. There you have it, this army of ferocious policemen, martinet-trained, half witted soldiers, priests run wild, brutal shopkeepers, and the vodka-dazed riffraff of capitalist society. It is they that now reign in Russia, with the connivance or direct support of nine-tenths of all our governmental institutions. Here it is—the Russian Vendée,”[3] which resembles the French Vendée in the same measure that the “lawful” monarch Nicholas Romanov resembles the adventurer Napoleon. Our Vendée has not yet said its last word either—make no mistake on that score, citizens. It, too, is just beginning to deploy its forces properly. It, too, has its “reserves of combustibles”, accumulated during centuries of ignorance, oppression, serfdom, and police omnipotence. It combines within itself unmitigated Asiatic backwardness with all the loathsome features of the refined methods used to exploit and stultify those that are most downtrodden and tormented by the civilisation of the capitalist cities, and been reduced to conditions worse than those of wild beasts. This Vendée will not vanish at any manifesto from the tsar, or messages from the Synod, or at changes in the upper or lower ranks of the bureaucracy. It can be smashed only by the strength of an organised and enlightened proletariat, for only the proletariat,   exploited as it is, is capable of rousing all that stand below it, awaken In them a sense that they are human beings and citizens, and show them the path of deliverance from all exploitation. Only the proletariat can create the nucleus of a mighty revolutionary army, mighty both in its ideals, its discipline, its organisation, and its heroism In the struggle, a heroism no Vendée can stand up to.

Guided by Social-Democracy, the proletariat has every where begun forming that revolutionary army. Its ranks should be joined by all who do not wish to be in the army of the Black Hundreds. Civil war knows no neutrals. Those who stand aside in it are thereby rendering support, by being passive, to the jubilant Black Hundreds. The armed forces, too, are dividing into a Red army and a Black army. Only a fortnight ago we wrote of the speed with which they are being drawn into the struggle for freedom. The example of Kronstadt was ample proof of this. The government of the scoundrel Witte may have put down the Kronstadt mutiny[4]; it is now shooting down hundreds of sailors who have again raised the red flag—but that flag will fly much higher, for it is the flag of all working people and all the exploited the world over. Let the servile press, like Novoye Vremya, bawl about the troops being neutral; this foul and hypocritical lie will vanish like smoke at every misdeed of the Black Hundreds. The troops cannot be, have never been, and will never be neutral. Today, they are rapidly splitting up into troops that stand for freedom, and troops that stand for the Black Hundreds. We shall accelerate the process. We shall brand all those who are Irresolute and vacillating, all those who balk at the Idea of the immediate formation of a people’s militia (according to the latest reports in the foreign press, the Municipal Council of Moscow has rejected plans for the creation of a people’s militia). We shall multiply our agitation among the masses, and our organisational activities to set up revolutionary detachments. Then the army of the conscious proletariat will merge with the Red detachments of the Russian fighting forces—and then we shall see whether the police’s Black Hundreds will be able to vanquish all the new, young and free Russia!


[1] Oblomov—the main character in the novel Oblomov by the writer I. Goncharov. The name has come to signify routine stagnation and incapacity for action.

[2] Novaga Zhizn (New Life)—the first legal Bolshevik newspaper, published as a St. Petersburg daily from October 27 (November 9) to December 3 (16), 1905. Lenin took over the editorship upon his return to Russia in early November. Novaya Zhizn was the actual central organ of the R.S.D.L.P. Closely associated with the paper were V. Vorovsky, M. Olminsky, and A. Lunacharsky, while Maxim Gorky contributed articles and gave the paper financial aid.

No. 9 of the paper, which appeared on November 10 (23), carried Lenin’s first article “On the Reorganisation of the Party”, which was followed by more than ten articles from his pen. The paper’s circulation reached 80,000, though it was constantly persecuted. Of the 27 issues, 15 were confiscated. It was banned after publication of No. 27 on December 2 (15), No. 28 coming out illegally.

[3] Vendée—a department in France where, during the French bourgeois revolution, a counter-revolutionary insurrection of the ignorant and reactionary peasantry took place, directed against the revolutionary Convention. Staged under religious slogans, the uprising was directed by the counter-revolutionary clergy and landlords.

[4] The mutiny of soldiers and naval ratings in Kronstadt began on October 26 (November 8), 1905. The following demands were put forward by the rebels: convening of a constituent assembly on the basis of universal suffrage; establishment of a democratic republic; freedom of speech, assembly and association; improvement of the conditions of soldiers and ratings. The uprising was put down on October 28 (November 10).

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