V. I.   Lenin

The Lessons of the Moscow Events

Published: Proletary, No. 22, October 24 (11), 1905. Published according to the text in Proletary.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 9, pages 376-387.
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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The rising tide of revolutionary enthusiasm among the Moscow proletariat, so vividly expressed in the political strike and in the street fighting, has not yet subsided. The strike continues. It has to some extent spread to St. Peters burg, where the compositors are striking in sympathy with their Moscow comrades. It is still uncertain whether the present movement will subside and await the next rise of the tide, or whether it will be of a sustained character. But certain results of the Moscow events, and very instructive ones at that, are already apparent, and it would be worth while to dwell on them.

On the whole, the movement in Moscow did not attain the pitch of a decisive battle between the revolutionary workers and the tsarist forces. It consisted only of small skirmishes at the outposts, part perhaps of a military demonstration in the civil war, but it was not one of those battles that determine the outcome of a war. Of the two suppositions we advanced a week ago, it is apparently the first that is being justified,, namely, that what we are witnessing is not the beginning of the decisive onslaught, but only a rehearsal. This rehearsal has nevertheless fully revealed all the characters in the historical drama, thus spotlighting the probable—and in part even inevitable— development of the drama itself.

The Moscow events were inaugurated by incidents which at first glance appear to have been of a purely academic character. The government conferred partial “autonomy”, or alleged autonomy, on the universities. The professorate were granted self-government, and the students were granted the right of assembly. Thus a small breach was forced in the general system of autocratic-feudal oppression. New revolutionary currents immediately swept into this breach with unexpected force. A miserable concession, a paltry reform, granted with the object of blunting the edge of the political antagonisms and of “reconciling” robbers and robbed, actually served to stimulate the struggle tremendously, and increase the number of its participants. Workers flocked to the students’ gatherings, which began to develop into popular revolutionary meetings, where the proletariat, the foremost class in the struggle for liberty, predominated. The government was outraged. The “respectable” liberals who had received professorial self-government began to scurry back and forth between the revolutionary students and the government of police rule and the knout. The liberals made use of liberty in order to betray liberty, restrain the students from extending and intensifying the struggle, and appeal for “order”—this in the face of the bashi-bazouks and Black Hundreds, the Trepovs and the Romanovs! The liberals made use of self-government so as to do the work of the butchers of the people, and to close the University, that holy sanctuary of “science” permitted by the knout-wielders, which the students defiled by allowing the “rabble” to enter it for discussion of questions “unauthorised” by the autocratic gang. The self-governing liberals betrayed the people and liberty, because they feared carnage in the University. They were punished in exemplary fashion for their contemptible cowardice. By closing the revolutionary University they opened the way to revolution in the streets. Wretched pedants that they are, they were ready to jubilate in concert with rascals like Glazov over the fact that they had managed to extinguish the conflagration in the school. But as a matter of fact they only started a conflagration in a huge industrial city. These manikins on stilts forbade the workers to go to the students, but they only drove the students to the revolutionary workers. They appraised all political matters from the standpoint of their own chicken coop, which reeks of age-old hidebound officialism. They implored the students to spare this chicken coop. The first fresh breeze—the manifestation of the free and youthful revolutionary elements—was enough for the chicken coop to be forgotten, for the breeze freshened and grew into a   blast against the tsarist autocracy, the prime source of all officialism and all the humiliations heaped upon the Russian people. And even now, when the first danger has passed and the storm has clearly subsided, the lackeys of the autocracy still quake at the mere recollection of the chasm that yawned before them during the days of bloodshed in Moscow. “It is not yet a conflagration, but that it is arson is already beyond question,” mutters Mr. Menshikov in the servile Novoye Vremya (of September 30). “It is not yet a revolution... but it is already the prologue to a revolution.” “‘It is on the move,’ I [Mr. Menshikov] argued in April. And what frightful strides ‘it’ has since made! The popular element has been stirred to its very depths....”

Yes, the Trepovs and the Romanovs, together with the treacherous liberal bourgeoisie, have got themselves into a predicament. Open the University—and you provide a platform for popular revolutionary meetings, and render invaluable service to the Social-Democrats. Close the University down—and you open the way for a street struggle. And so our knights of the knout dash to and fro, gnashing their teeth. They reopen Moscow University, pretending that they want to allow the students to maintain order them selves during street processions; they turn a blind eye to revolutionary self-government of the students, who are dividing into Social-Democrats, Socialist-Revolutionaries, etc., thus bringing about proper political representation in the student “parliament” (and, we are confident, will not confine themselves to revolutionary self-government, but will immediately and in dead earnest set about organising and equipping contingents of a revolutionary army). Together with Trepov, the liberal professors are dashing to and fro, hastening one day to persuade the students to be more moderate, and the next day to persuade the knout-wielders to be more lenient. The scurryings of both of these give us the greatest satisfaction; they show that a fine revolutionary breeze must be blowing if the political-commanders and the political turncoats are staggering about on the upper deck in such a lively manner.

But besides legitimate pride and legitimate satisfaction, true revolutionists must derive something else from the Moscow events—an understanding of the social forces operating   in the Russian revolution and just how they operate, and a clearer idea of the forms they take when they operate. Call to mind the political sequence of the Moscow events, and you will see a remarkably typical picture of the whole revolution, one that is characteristic of the class relation ships. Here is the sequence: a small breach is forced in the old order; the government tries to mend the breach with petty concessions, illusory “reforms”, etc.; instead of calming down, the struggle becomes even more acute and wide spread; the liberal bourgeoisie wavers and dashes from one thing to another, urging the revolutionists to desist from revolution, and the police to desist from reaction; headed by the proletariat, the revolutionary people arrive on the scene, and the open struggle gives rise to a new political situation; the conflict shifts to the newly won battlefield—a more elevated and broader field—a new breach is made in the enemy strongholds, and in that way the movement proceeds to an ever higher plane. A general retreat on the part of the government is taking place before our eyes, as Moskovskiye Vedomosti aptly remarked recently. A certain liberal newspaper[1] rather cleverly added: a retreat under cover of rearguard action. On October 3 (16) the St. Petersburg correspondent of the liberal Berlin Vossische Zeitung wired to his paper about his interview with Trepov’s chef de cabinet. As the police underling told the correspondent: “You cannot expect the government to follow a consistent plan of action, since every day brings with it events that could not have been foreseen. The government is obliged to manoeuvre. Force cannot crush the present movement which may last for two months or two years.

Indeed the government’s tactics have now become quite clear. They indubitably lie in manoeuvring and retreating under cover of rearguard action. Such tactics are quite correct from the standpoint of the autocracy’s interests. It would be a grievous error and a fatal illusion for revolutionists to forget that the government can still continue to retreat for a very long time to come, without losing what is most essential. The example of the abortive, unfinished semi-revolution in Germany, in 1848—an example to which we shall return in the next issue of Proletary, and which we shall never tire of recalling—shows   that even if it retreats so far as to convoke a (nominally) constituent assembly, the government will still retain sufficient strength to defeat the revolution in the final and decisive battle. That is why, in studying the Moscow events, the most recent in a long series of conflicts in our civil war, we must soberly consider the developments, prepare with the maximum of energy and persistence for a long and desperate war, and be on our guard against such allies that are already turncoat allies. When absolutely nothing decisive has as yet been won, when the enemy still has an enormous area. for further advantageous and safe retreats, when battles are becoming ever more serious—confidence in such allies, attempts to conclude agreements with them or simply to support them on certain conditions may prove not only stupid but even treacherous to the proletariat.

Indeed, was the liberal professors’ behaviour before and during the Moscow events fortuitous? Was it an exception, or is it the rule for the entire Constitutional-Democratic Party? Does this behaviour express the individual peculiarities of a given group of the liberal bourgeoisie, or does it express the fundamental interests of this entire class in general? Among socialists there can be no two opinions on these questions, but not all socialists know how to consistently pursue genuinely socialist tactics.

For a clearer understanding of the gist of the matter, let us take the liberals’ own exposition of their tactics. They avoid coming out against the Social-Democrats or even speaking directly about them in the columns of the Russian press. But here is an interesting report in the Berlin Vossische Zeitung, which undoubtedly is more outspoken in its expression of the liberals’ views:

"Extremely stormy student disturbances have reoccurred both in St. Petersburg and in Moscow since the very beginning of the academic year, although autonomy has been granted—belatedly, it is true—to the universities and other higher educational institutions. Moreover, in Moscow these disturbances are accompanied by a wide spread workers’ movement. These disturbances indicate that a new phase has begun in the Russian revolutionary movement. The course of the student meetings and their resolutions show that the students have adopted the watchword of the Social-Democratic leaders to convert the universities into popular meeting places, and thus spread   revolution among wide sections of the population. The Moscow students have already shown how this is being put into effect: they invited to the University premises such large numbers of workers and other persons who have no connection with the University that the students themselves were in a minority. It stands to reason that such a state of affairs cannot go on for long under the existing conditions. The government will close the universities rather than tolerate such meetings. This is so obvious that at first glance it appears inconceivable that the Social-Democratic leaders could have issued such a watchword. They knew perfectly well what this would lead to, but what they wanted was for the government to close the universities. For what purpose? Simply because they intend to hinder the liberal movement by all available means. They admit that they are not strong enough to effect any major political action with their own forces; therefore the liberals and radicals must not do anything either, for that would allegedly only harm the socialist proletariat. The latter must win its rights for itself. The Russian Social-Democratic Party may take great pride in these ’inflexible’ (unbeugsame) tactics, but they must appear very short-sighted to any unprejudiced observer; they will scarcely lead Russian Social-Democracy to victories. It is quite incomprehensible what it will gain by the closing of the universities, which is inevitable if the present tactics continue. On the other hand, it is of the utmost importance to all progressive parties that there should be no interruption in the work of the universities and higher schools. The protracted strikes of students and professors have already caused great damage to Russian culture. It is imperative that academic work be resumed. Autonomy has enabled the professors to conduct their classes freely. That is why the professors of all universities and higher schools are agreed that it is necessary to start tuition once more and in energetic fashion. They are exerting all their influence to persuade the students to abandon their efforts to give effect to the Social-Democratic watchword.”

Thus, the struggle between bourgeois liberalism (the Constitutional-Democrats) and the Social-Democrats has taken definite shape. Do not hinder the liberal movement! Such is the slogan so splendidly expressed in the article quoted above. What does this liberal movement amount to? It is a retrograde movement, for the professors use and desire to use the freedom of the universities not for revolutionary propaganda, but for counter-revolutionary propaganda; not to fan the conflagration, but to extinguish it; not to extend the field of battle, but to draw the masses away from decisive struggle and induce them to collaborate peacefully with the Trepovs. With the struggle becoming more acute, the “liberal” movement (as we have seen in practice) has become marked by desertion from revolution to reaction. Of course,   the liberals are, in a way, useful to us, since they introduce vacillation into the ranks of the Trepovs and other lackeys of Romanov. This good, however, will’ be outweighed by the harm they cause by bringing vacillation into our ranks, unless we make a clean break with the Constitutional-Democrats, and brand every hesitant step they take. Their knowledge, or, more frequently, their sense of their dominant position in the existing economic system has led the liberals to aspire to dominate the revolution as well. They say that each step aimed at continuing, extending and intensifying the revolution and taking it farther than the most ordinary patchwork is a “hindrance” to the liberal movement. Fearful for the fate of the so-called freedom of the universities granted by Trepov, they are today fighting against revolutionary freedom. Fearful for the legal “freedom of assembly” which the government will grant tomorrow in a police-distorted form, they will hold us back from using these assemblies for genuinely proletarian aims. Fearful for the fate of the State Duma, they already displayed wise moderation at the September Congress, and continue to display it now by combating the idea of a boycott; why, they say, you must not hinder us from getting things done in the State Duma!

It must be confessed that, to the shame of Social-Democracy, there have been opportunists in its ranks who fell for this bait by reason of their doctrinaire and lifeless distortion of Marxism! They argue that the revolution is a bourgeois one and therefore ... therefore we must retrace our steps in the measure the bourgeoisie succeeds in obtaining concessions from tsarism. To this day the new Iskrists have not seen the real significance of the State Duma, because they are themselves drawing back and therefore naturally do not notice the Constitutional-Democrats’ regression. That the Iskrists have already retraced their steps since the promulgation of the State Duma Act is an indisputable fact. Prior to the State Duma Act they never thought of placing the question of an agreement with the Constitutional-Democrats on the order of the day. After the State Duma Act they (Parvus, Cherevanin and Martov) raised this question, and not merely as a matter of theory, but in an immediately practical form. Prior to the State   Duma Act they presented quite stringent conditions to the democrats (right up to co-operation in arming .the people, etc.). After the State Duma Act they immediately reduced the conditions, confining themselves to a promise to convert the Black-Hundred or the liberal Duma into a revolutionary one. Prior to the State Duma Act the reply their official resolution gave to the question as to who should convoke the popular constituent assembly was: either, a provisional revolutionary government or a representative institution. After the State Duma Act they deleted the provisional revolutionary government, and they now say: either “democratic” (like the Constitutional-Democrats?) “organisations of the people” (?), or ... or the State Duma. We thus see in fact how the new-Iskrists are guided by their magnificent principle: the revolution is a bourgeois revolution—therefore, comrades, watch out lest the bourgeoisie recoil!

The Moscow events, which for the first time since the State Duma Act have shown the real nature of the Constitutional-Democrats’ tactics at grave political junctures, have also shown that Social-Democracy’s opportunist appendage, which we have described, is inevitably being transformed into a mere appendage to the bourgeoisie. We have just said: a Black-Hundred or a liberal State Duma. To an Iskra supporter these words would appear monstrous, for he considers distinction between a Black-Hundred State Duma and a liberal State Duma highly important. But these selfsame Moscow events have disclosed the fallaciousness of this “parliamentary” idea, which had been so inappropriately advanced in a pre-parliamentary period. The Moscow events have shown that the liberal turncoat has actually played the part of a Trepov. The closing of the University, which would have been decreed by Trepov yesterday, has been carried out today by Messrs. Manuilov and Trubetskoi. Is it not clear that the “Duma” liberals will also scurry back and forth between Trepov and Romanov, on the one hand, and the revolutionary people on the other? Is it not clear that the slightest support for liberal turncoats is something befitting only political simpletons?

Under a parliamentary system it is often necessary to support a more liberal party against a less liberal one. But during a revolutionary struggle for a parliamentary system it   is treachery to support liberal turncoats who are “reconciling” Trepov with the revolution.

The events in Moscow have revealed in practice the alignment of social forces that Proletary has spoken of so many times: the socialist proletariat and the vanguard of revolutionary bourgeois democracy have waged a struggle, while the liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie has conducted negotiations. Therefore, fellow-workers, study the lessons of the Moscow events, and do so most attentively. For it is in this way, and inevitably so, that matters will take their course throughout the whole of the Russian revolution. We must rally more solidly than ever in a genuinely socialist party, which shall consciously express the interests of the working class, and not drift along in the wake of the masses. In the struggle we must place reliance only on revolutionary democrats, permit agreements with them alone, and carry out these agreements only on the field of battle against the Trepovs and Romanov. We must bend every effort to rouse, in addition to the students, who are the vanguard of revolutionary democracy, also those broad masses of the people whose movement is not only democratic in a general way (today every turncoat calls himself a democrat), but a genuinely revolutionary movement—namely, the masses of the peasantry. We must remember that the liberals and Constitutional-Democrats, who are bringing vacillation into the ranks of supporters of the autocracy, will inevitably strive in every way to bring vacillation into our ranks as well. Only an open revolutionary struggle which consigns all liberal chicken coops and all liberal Dumas to the rubbish heap will be of serious and decisive consequence. There fore, prepare for ever new battles, without losing a single moment! Arm as best you can; immediately form squads of fighters who will be prepared to battle with devoted energy against the accursed autocracy; remember that tomorrow or the following day events will certainly call you to rise in revolt, and the question now is only whether you will be able to take prepared and united action, or whether you will be caught off your guard and disunited!

The events in Moscow have once again and for the hundredth time confuted the sceptics. They have shown that we are still inclined to underestimate the revolutionary   activity of the masses. They will bring round many of those who have already begun to waver, who have begun to lose faith in the idea of an uprising after the conclusion of peace and the granting of a Duma. No, it is precisely now that the uprising is gaining ground and increasing in intensity with unparalleled rapidity. Let us all be at our posts when the imminent explosion comes, one in comparison with which both January 9 and the memorable Odessa days will seem mere child’s play.


[1] The reference is to the liberal-bourgeois newspaper Rus which came out at intervals in St. Petersburg between 1903 and 1908 under various names, such as Bus (Russia), Molva (Hearsay), and Dvadtsaty Vek (The Twentieth Century).

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