V. I.   Lenin

The Russian Revolution and the Tasks of the Proletariat



And so, what objective facts have we to go by in solving this problem? There are a number of superficial and conspicuous facts that would seem to support the opinion that the directly revolutionary “form of the movement” is completely exhausted, that a new insurrection is impossible, and that Russia has entered the era of paltry bourgeois quasi-constitutionalism. That a turn has taken place among the bourgeoisie is beyond doubt. The landlords have deserted the Cadets and have joined the Union of October Seventeenth. The government has already granted a two-chamber “Constitution”. Martial law, arrests and other punitive measures make possible the convening of a sham Duma. Insurrection in the towns has been suppressed, and the peasant movement in the spring may prove to be isolated and impotent. The landlords are selling out their estates, and that means that the bourgeois, “orderly” section of the peasantry is growing. That a mood of dejection prevails after the suppression of the insurrection is a fact. Lastly, it must not be forgotten that it is easier and cheaper, so to speak, to predict the de feat of revolution in general than to predict its revival; for at present power is on the side of reaction, and in “most cases”, up to now, revolutions have finished unfinished.

What evidence is there that supports an opposite opinion? We will allow this question to be answered by K. Kautsky, whose sober views and ability calmly, practically and thoroughly to discuss topical and acute political problems are   known to all Marxists. Kautsky expressed his opinion soon after the suppression of the Moscow insurrection, in an article entitled “The Chances of the Russian Revolution”. This article has appeared in Russian—of course, mutilated by the censor (in much the same way as was the Russian translation of another splendid essay by Kautsky, The Agrarian Question in Russia).

Kautsky does not attempt to dodge the difficult problem. He does not try to get rid of it by uttering empty phrases about the revolution in general being invincible, about the proletarian class being always and constantly revolutionary, etc. No, he bluntly puts the concrete historical question of the chances of the present democratic revolution in Russia, here and now. Without beating about the bush, he starts his article by stating that since the beginning of 1906 hardly any news other than sad has been received from Russia, which “might give rise to the opinion that the revolution has been utterly suppressed and is at its last gasp”. It is not only the reactionaries that are exultant over this, but also the Russian liberals, writes Kautsky, showering on these heroes of the “coupon”[1] a string of contemptuous epithets that they fully deserve (evidently Kautsky has not yet been converted to Plekhanov’s theory that Russian Social-Democrats should “value the support of the non-proletarian opposition parties”).

And so Kautsky analyses in detail this naturally, plausible opinion. That there is an outward resemblance between the defeat of the Moscow workers in December and the defeat of the Paris workers in June (1848) is beyond doubt. In both cases the armed uprising of the workers was “provoked” by the government at a time when the working class was not yet sufficiently organised. In both cases reaction triumphed despite the heroic resistance of the workers. What conclusion does Kautsky draw from this? Does he repeat Plekhanov’s pedantic admonition that it was wrong to take up arms? No. He does not hasten to indulge in cheap and short sighted moralising after the event. He studies the objective facts that can reply to the question whether the Russian revolution is completely crushed or not.

Kautsky sees four radical points of difference between the defeat of the proletariat in Paris in 1843 and the defeat of the   proletariat in Moscow in 1905. First, the defeat of Paris was the defeat of the whole of France. Nothing like this can be said about Moscow. The workers of St. Petersburg, Kiev, Odessa, Warsaw and Lodz are not defeated. They have been exhausted by the frightfully hard, twelve months’ struggle; but their spirit has not been broken. They are gathering their strength to renew the struggle for freedom.

Secondly, an even more essential difference is that in France, in 1848, the peasants were on the side of reaction, whereas in Russia, in 1905, the peasants are on the side of the revolution. Peasant revolts are in progress. Whole armies are engaged in crushing these revolts. These armies are devastating the country as only Germany was devastated during the Thirty Years’ War.[2] Military reprisals cow the peasants for a time; but they only aggravate their poverty and make their conditions more desperate. They, like the devastation caused during the Thirty Years’ War, will inevitably rouse larger and larger masses who will be compelled to declare war on the existing system, who will prevent the restoration of peace in the country, and will join every insurrection.

The third and extremely important difference is the following. The way for the revolution of 1848 was paved by the crisis and famine of 1847. The reaction was strengthened by the termination of the crisis and a period of industrial prosperity. “The present reign of terror in Russia, however, must inevitably lead to an aggravation of the economic depression which has been weighing on the country for years.” The full effects of the famine of 1905 will yet be felt within the next few months. The suppression of a revolution represents civil war on the very greatest scale, war against the whole people. This war is costing no less than a foreign war, and besides is devastating the home country, not some foreign land. Financial collapse is imminent. Moreover, the new trade agreements threaten particularly severe con sequences for Russia, and may even give rise to a world economic crisis. Thus the longer the reign of reactionary terror lasts, the more desperate will become the economic position of the country and the more will anger against the hated regime grow. “Such a situation,” says Kautsky, “will make any powerful movement against tsarism invincible.   And there will be no lack of such a movement. The Russian proletariat, which has already given, so many great proofs of its heroism and devotion, will see to that.”

The fourth difference that Kautsky points out is of particular interest for Russian Marxists. Nowadays, unfortunately, we hear a lot of inane, virtually and purely Cadet, snickering over “Brownings” and “fighting squads”. No one has the courage and straightforwardness, of which Marx gave such an example, to say that insurrection is impossible; and that it is no use making further preparations for it. But people here are very fond of snickering over military operations by revolutionaries. They call themselves Marxists, but prefer to shirk the task of analysing the military aspect of insurrection (to which Marx and Engels always attached great importance[3]) by declaring with the inimitable majesty of a doctrinaire: “It was wrong to take up arms....” Kautsky behaves differently. Few as the facts about the insurrection at his disposal have been, he nevertheless tries to analyse the military aspect of the question as well. He tries to appraise the movement as a new form of struggle devised by the masses, unlike our revolutionary Kuropatkins,[4] who appraise a battle according to the rule: if they’re giving something away, take it; if there’s a fight on, run; if you’re beaten, well, you shouldn’t have taken up arms!

Both the June fighting in Paris,” says Kautsky, “and the December fighting in Moscow were barricade fighting. But the former was a disaster; it marked the end of the old barricade tactics. The latter marked the beginning of new barricade tactics. And consequently we must revise the opinion which Engels expressed in his “Introduction” to Marx’s Class Struggles, that the period of barricade fighting is over for good.[5] Actually, only the period of the old barricade tactics is over. This is what the Moscow fighting showed, when a handful of insurgents managed to hold out for two weeks against superior forces armed with all the resources of modern artillery.”

That is how Kautsky speaks. He does not sing a requiem for the insurrection because the first attempt failed. He does not grumble over the failure, but studies the birth and growth of a new and higher form of struggle, examines the significance of the disorder and discontent among the troops, the assistance the workers received from the townspeople, the combination of the mass strike with insurrection. He   studies the way in which the proletariat is learning the art of insurrection. He revises obsolete military theories, and there by calls upon the whole Party to analyse and assimilate the experience of Moscow. He regards the whole movement as a transition from strike to insurrection, and tries to grasp how the workers should combine the two for the purpose of achieving success.

Kautsky concludes his article as follows: “Such are the lessons of Moscow. How far they will influence the forms of the struggle in future, it is impossible, as yet, to foresee from here [i.e., from Germany]. Indeed, in all preceding manifestations of the Russian revolution so far we have seen spontaneous outbreaks of the unorganised masses; none of these were planned or prepared beforehand. Probably this will continue to be the case for some time.

But while it is impossible, as yet, definitely to predict the forms that the struggle will assume in the future, all the signs are that we must expect further battles, that the present ominous [unheimliche] stillness is merely the calm be fore the storm. The October movement made the masses in town and country conscious of their power. Then the reaction in January hurled them into an abyss of torment. Here everything in flames them, arouses their anger, and they are ready to pay any price, however high, to escape. Soon the masses will rise again and attack with mightier force than ever! Let the counter-revolution celebrate its triumph over the bodies of the heroes who fell in freedom’s cause. The end of this triumph is approaching: the red dawn is rising, the proletarian revolution is at hand.”


[1] (Mr.) Coupon—a synonym of capital and the capitalists, used by writers in the eighties and nineties of the nineteenth century. It was coined by the Russian author Gleb Uspensky, who first used it in his sketches entitled Grave Sins.

[2] Thirty Years’ War (1618-48)—a war that resulted from an aggravation of the antagonisms between various alignments of European states, and took the form of a struggle between Protestants and Catholics. It hogan with a revolt in Bohemia against the tyranny of the Hapsburg monarchy and the onslaught of Catholic reaction. The states which then entered the war formed two camps. The Pope, the Spanish and Austrian Hapsburgs and the Catholic princes of Germany, who rallied to Catholicism, opposed the Protestant countries— Bohemia, Denmark, Sweden, the Dutch Republic, and a number of German slates that had accepted the Reformation. The Protestant countries were hacked by the French kings, enemies of the Hapsburgs. Germany became the chief battle field and object of military plunder and predatory claims. The war, which at first was in the nature of resistance to the reactionary forces of feudal-absolutist Europe, developed, particularly from   1635 onwards, into a series of invasions of Germany by rival foreign conquerors. It ended in 1648, with the signing of the Peace of Westphalia, which reaffirmed the political dismemberment of Germany.

[3] See Frederick Engels, “Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany” (New York Daily Tribune, April 17, 1852-September 18, 1852 and the “Introduction” to Karl Marx, The Class Struggles in France 1848 to 1850 (Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, Moscow, 1955. pp. 130-34).

[4] Kuropatkin, A. N. (1848-1925)–tsarist general, commander-in-chief of the Russian armed forces in the Far East in 1904-05.

[5] The reference is to Frederick Engels’s “Introduction” to Karl Marx, The Class Struggles in France 1848 to 1860. Vorwärts, which published the “Introduction” in 1895, eliminated, without the author’s knowledge, all the more important formulations concerning the class struggle of the proletariat, and thus produced a distorted text. For details of this, see Frederick Engels’s letters of April 1 and 3, 1895 (Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1955, pp. 568-69).

The opportunist leaders of the German Social-Democrats look advantage of the document to justify their policy of renouncing the revolution, rejecting the necessity of insurrection and barricade fighting by the proletariat, and to uphold conciliatory tactics.

The “Introduction” was first published in full in the Soviet Union—see Karl Marx, The Class Struggles in France 1848 to 1850, Moscow and Leningrad, 1930. Besides, it was included in Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, Moscow, 1958, pp. 118-38.

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