V. I.   Lenin

Revolution and Counter-Revolution

Published: Proletary, No. 17, October 20, 1907. Published according to the text in Proletary.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 13, pages 114-122.
Translated: Bernard Isaacs
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
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In October 1905, Russia was at the peak of the revolutionary upsurge. The proletariat swept away the Bulygin Duma and drew the mass of the people into an open struggle against the autocracy. In October 1907, we are apparently at the lowest ebb of the open mass struggle. But the period of decline that set in after the defeat of December 1905 brought with it not only a flowering of constitutional illusions, but a complete shattering of these illusions. After the dissolution of the two Dumas and the coup d’état of June 3, the Third Duma, which is to be convened, clearly puts an end to the period of belief in peaceful cohabitation between the autocracy and popular representation and ushers in a new epoch in the development of the revolution.

At a moment like the present, a comparison between the revolution and counter-revolution in Russia, between the period of revolutionary onslaught (1905) and that of counter-revolutionary playing with a constitution (1906 and 1907) suggests itself as a matter of course. Such a comparison is implicit in any attempt to define a political line for the immediate future. Contrasting “errors of the revolution” or “revolutionary illusions” with “positive constitutional work” is the keynote of present-day political literature. The Cadets shout about it at their pre-election meetings. The liberal press chants, howls, and rants about it. We have here Mr. Struve, vehemently and spitefully venting his annoyance on the revolutionaries because hopes of a “compromise” have totally collapsed. We have here Milyukov, who, for all his mincing manners and Jesuitism, has been forced by events to arrive at the clear,accurate and—above all—truthful statement: “the enemies are on the left”. We have here publicists in the vein of Tovarishch, such as Kuskova, Smirnov, Plekhanov, Gorn, Yordansky, Cherevanin, and others who denounce the October-December struggle as folly, and more or less openly   advocate a “democratic” coalition with the Cadets. The real Cadet elements in this turbid stream express the counter-revolutionary interests of the bourgeoisie and the boundless servility of intellectualist philistinism. As for the elements which have not yet sunk quite to the level of Struve, their dominant feature is failure to understand the connection between revolution and counter-revolution in Russia, an inability to see everything we have experienced as an integral social movement developing in accordance with its own inner logic.

The period of revolutionary onslaught demonstrated in action the class composition of Russia’s population and the attitude of the different classes towards the old autocracy. Events have now taught everyone, even people who are utter strangers to Marxism, to reckon the chronology of the revolution from January 9, 1905, that is, from the first consciously political movement of the masses belonging to a single definite class. When the Social-Democrats, from an analysis of Russia’s economic realities, deduced the leading role, the hegemony of the proletariat in our revolution, this seemed to be a bookish infatuation of theoreticians. The revolution confirmed our theory, because it is the only truly revolutionary theory. The proletariat actually took the lead in the revolution all the time. The Social-Democrats actually proved to be the ideological vanguard of the proletariat. The struggle of the masses developed under the leadership of the proletariat with remarkable speed, much faster than many revolutionaries had expected. In the course of a single year it rose to the most decisive forms of revolutionary onslaught that history has ever known—to mass strikes and armed uprisings. The organisation of the proletarian masses went forward with astonishing speed in the course of the struggle itself. Other sections of the population, comprising the fighting ranks of the revolutionary people, followed the proletariat’s lead and began to organise. The semi-proletarian mass of various kinds of non-manual workers began to organise, followed by the peasant democracy, the professional intelligentsia, and so on. The period of proletarian victories was a period of growth in mass organisation unprecedented in Russian history and vast even by European standards.   The proletariat at that time won for itself a number of improvements in working conditions. The peasant mass won a “reduction” in the arbitrary power of the landlords and lower prices for the lease and sale of land. All Russia won a considerable degree of freedom of assembly, speech, and association, and made the autocracy publicly renounce its old practices and recognise the constitution.

All that the liberation movement in Russia has won up to now was won entirely and exclusively by the revolutionary struggle of the masses headed by the proletariat.

The turning-point in the struggle began with the defeat of the December uprising. Step by step the counter-revolution passed to the offensive as the mass struggle weakened. During the period of the First Duma this struggle was still formidably manifest in the intensification of the peasant movement, in widespread attacks upon the nests of the semi-feudal landlords, and in a number of revolts among the soldiers. The reaction attacked slowly at that time, not daring to carry out a coup d’état straightaway. Only after the suppression of the Sveaborg and Kronstadt revolts of July 1906 did it act more boldly, when it introduced the regime of military tribunals, began piecemeal to deprive the population of their franchise (the Senate interpretations[1]), and, finally, surrounded the Second Duma completely with a police siege and overthrew the whole notorious constitution. All self-established free organisations of the masses were replaced at that time by “legal struggle” within the framework of the police constitution as interpreted by the Dubasovs and Stolypins. The supremacy of the Social-Democrats gave place to the supremacy of the Cadets, who predominated in both Dumas. The period of decline in the movement of the masses was a period of peak development for the Party of the Cadets. It exploited this decline by coming forward as the “champion” of the constitution. It upheld faith in this constitution among the people with all its might and preached the need to keep strictly to “parliamentary” struggle.

The bankruptcy of the “Cadet constitution” is the bankruptcy of Cadet tactics and Cadet hegemony in the emancipatory struggle. The selfish class character of all the talk by our liberals about “revolutionary illusions” and the   “errors of the revolution” becomes patently obvious when we compare the two periods of the revolution. The proletarian mass struggle won gains for the whole people. The liberal leadership of the movement produced nothing but defeats. The revolutionary onslaught of the proletariat steadily raised the political consciousness of the masses and their organisation. It set increasingly higher aims before them, stimulated their independent participation in political life, and taught them how to fight. The hegemony of the liberals during the period of the two Dumas lowered the political consciousness of the masses, demoralised their revolutionary organisation, and dulled their comprehension of democratic aims.

The liberal, leaders of the First and Second Dumas gave the people a splendid demonstration of slavish legal “struggle”, as a result of which the autocratic advocates of serfdom swept away the constitutional paradise of the liberal wind-bags with a stroke of the pen and ridiculed the subtle diplomacy of the visitors to ministerial ante-rooms. The liberals have not a single gain to show throughout the Russian revolution, not a single success, not .a single attempt, at all democratic, to organise the forces of the people in the struggle for freedom.

Until October 1905, the liberals sometimes maintained a benevolent neutrality towards the revolutionary struggle of the masses, but already at that time they had begun to oppose it, sending a deputation to the tsar with abject speeches and supporting the Bulygin Duma not out of thoughtlessness, but out of sheer hostility to the revolution. After October 1905, all that the liberals did was to shame fully betray the cause of the people’s freedom.

In November 1905, they sent Mr. Struve to have an intimate talk with Mr. Witte. In the spring of 1900, they undermined the revolutionary boycott, and by refusing to speak out openly against the loan for Europe to hear, helped the government to obtain millions of rubles for the conquest of Russia. In the summer of 1900, they carried on backdoor haggling with Trepov[2] over ministerial portfolios and fought the “Left”, i. e., the revolution, in the First Duma. January 1907 saw them running again to the police authorities (Milyukov’s call on Stolypin). In the spring   of 1907, they supported the government in the Second Duma. The revolution exposed the liberals very quickly and showed them in their true counter-revolutionary colours.

In this respect the period of constitutional hopes served a very useful purpose as far as the people were concerned. The experience of the First and Second Dumas has not only made them realise how utterly contemptible is the role that liberalism plays in our revolution. It has also, in actual fact, quashed the attempt at leadership of the democratic movement by a party which only political infants or senile dotards can regard as being really constitutionally “democratic”.

In 1905 and the beginning of 1906, the class composition of the bourgeois democrats in Russia was not yet clear to everyone. Hopes that the autocracy could be combined with actual representation of more or less broad masses of the people existed not only among the ignorant and downtrodden inhabitants of various out-of-the-way places. Such hopes were not absent even in ruling spheres of the autocracy. Why did the electoral law in both the Bulygin and the Witte Dumas grant a considerable degree of representation to the peasantry? Because belief in the monarchist sentiments of the countryside still persisted. “The muzhik will help us out”—this exclamation of an official newspaper in the spring of 1906 expressed the government’s reliance on the conservatism of the peasant mass. In those days the Cadets were not only not aware of the antagonism between the democracy of the peasants and bourgeois liberalism, but even feared the backwardness of the peasants and desired only one thing—that the Duma should help to convert the conservative or indifferent peasant into a liberal. In the spring of 1906, Mr. Struve expressed an ambitious wish when he wrote, “the peasant in the Duma will be a Cadet”. In the summer of 1907, the same Mr. Struve raised the banner of struggle against the Trudovik or Left parties, which he regarded as the main obstacle to an agreement between bourgeois liberalism and the autocracy. In the course of eighteen months the slogan of a struggle for the political enlightenment of the peasants was changed by the liberals to a slogan of struggle against a “too” politically educated and demanding peasantry!

This change of slogans expresses as plainly as can be the complete bankruptcy of liberalism in the Russian revolution. The class antagonism between the mass of the democratic rural population and the semi-feudal landlords proved to be immeasurably deeper than the cowardly and dull-witted Cadets imagined. That is why their attempt to take the lead in the struggle for democracy failed so quickly and irrevocably. That is why their whole “line” aimed at reconciling the petty-bourgeois democratic mass of the people with the Octobrist and Black-Hundred landlords was a fiasco. A great, though negative, gain of the counter-revolutionary period of the two Dumas was this bankruptcy of the treacherous “champions” of the “people’s freedom”. The class struggle going on below threw these heroes of ministerial ante-rooms overboard, turned them from claimants to leadership into ordinary lackeys of Octobrism slightly touched up with constitutional varnish.

He who still fails to see this bankruptcy of the liberals, who have undergone a practical test of their worth as champions of democracy, or at least as fighters in the democratic ranks, has understood absolutely nothing of the political history of the two Dumas. Among these people the meaningless reiteration of a memorised formula about supporting bourgeois democracy becomes counter-revolutionary snivelling. The Social-Democrats should have no regrets at the shattering of constitutional illusions. They should say what Marx said about counter-revolution in Germany: the people gained by the loss of its illusions.[3] Bourgeois democracy in Russia gained by the loss of worthless leaders and weak-kneed allies. So much the better for the political development of this democracy.

It remains for the party of the proletariat to see to it that the valuable political lessons of our revolution and counter-revolution should be more deeply pondered over and more firmly grasped by the broad masses. The period of onslaught on the autocracy saw the deployment of the forces of the proletariat and taught it the fundamentals of revolutionary tactics; it showed the conditions for the success of the direct struggle of the masses, which alone was able to achieve improvements of any importance. The long period during which the proletarian forces were prepared,   trained, and organised preceded those actions of hundreds of thousands of workers which dealt a mortal blow to the old autocracy in Russia. The sustained and imperceptible work of guiding all the manifestations of the proletarian class struggle, the work of building a strong and seasoned party preceded the outbreak of the truly mass struggle and provided the conditions necessary for turning that outbreak into a revolution. And now the proletariat, as the people’s fighting vanguard, must strengthen its organisation, scrape off all the green mould of intellectualist opportunism, and gather its forces for a similar sustained and stubborn effort. The tasks which history and the objective position of the broad masses have posed before the Russian revolution have not been solved. Elements of a new, national political crisis have not been eliminated, but, on the contrary, have grown deeper and wider. The advent of this crisis will place the proletariat once more at the head of the movement of the whole people. The workers’ Social-Democratic Party should be prepared for this role. And the soil, fertilised by the events of 1905 and subsequent years, will yield a harvest tenfold richer. If a party of several thousand class-conscious advanced members of the working class could rally a million proletarians behind it at the end of 1905, then today, when our Party has tens of thousands of Social-Democrats tried and tested in the revolution, who have become still more closely linked with the mass of the workers during the struggle itself, it will rally tens of mil lions behind it and crush the enemy.

Both the socialist and the democratic tasks of the working-class movement in Russia have been focused much more sharply and brought to the fore more urgently under the impact of revolutionary events. The struggle against the bourgeoisie is rising to a higher stage. The capitalists are uniting in national associations, are leaguing themselves more closely with the government, and are resorting more often to extreme methods of economic struggle, including mass lock-outs, in order to “curb” the proletariat. But only moribund classes are afraid of persecutions. The more rapidly the capitalists achieve successes the more rapidly does the proletariat grow in numbers and unity. The economic development of both Russia and the whole world is a   guarantee of the proletariat’s invincibility. The bourgeoisie first began to take shape as a class, as a united and conscious political force during our revolution. All the more effectively will the workers organise into a united class all over Russia. And the wider the gulf between the world of capital and the world of labour, the clearer will be the socialist consciousness of the workers. Socialist agitation among the proletariat, enriched by the experience of the revolution, will become more definite. The political organisation of the bourgeoisie is the best stimulus to the definitive shaping of a socialist workers’ party.

The aims of this party in the struggle for democracy can henceforth be considered controversial only among the sympathising” intellectuals, who are making ready to go over to the liberals. For the mass of the workers these aims have been made tangibly clear in the fire of revolution. The proletariat knows from experience that the peasant masses are the basis and the only basis of bourgeois democracy as a historical force in Russia. On a national scale the proletariat has already acted as leader of this mass in the struggle against the semi-feudal landlords and the autocracy and no power can now deflect the workers’ party from its right path. The role of the liberal Party of the Cadets, who, under the flag of democracy, guided the peasantry under the wing of Octobrism, is now played out, and the Social-Democrats, in spite of individual whiners, will continue their work of explaining this bankruptcy of the liberals to the masses, explaining that bourgeois democrats cannot do what they want to do unless they disentangle themselves once for all from their alliance with the lackeys of Octobrism.

No one at this stage can tell what forms bourgeois democracy in Russia will assume in the future. Possibly, the bankruptcy of the Cadets may lead to the formation of a peasant democratic party, a truly mass party, and not an organisation of terrorists such as the Socialist-Revolutionaries have been and still are. It is also possible that the objective difficulties of achieving political unity among the petty bourgeoisie will prevent such a party from being formed and, for a long time to come, will keep the peasant democracy in its present state as a loose, amorphous, jelly like Trudovik mass. In either case our line is one: to hammer.   out the democratic forces by merciless criticism of all vacillations, by uncompromising struggle against the democrats joining the liberals, who have proved their counter revolutionariness.

The farther reaction goes, the more violent does the Black-Hundred landlord become; the more control he gets over the autocracy, the slower will be Russia’s economic progress and her emancipation from the survivals of serfdom. And that means, all the stronger and wider will class-conscious and militant democracy develop among the masses of the urban and rural petty bourgeoisie. All the stronger will be the mass resistance to the famines, tyrannies, and outrages to which the peasantry is doomed by the Octobrists. The Social-Democrats will see to it that, when the democratic struggle inevitably breaks out with new force, the band of liberal careerists called the Cadet Party does not once again divide the democratic ranks and spread discord among them. Either with the people or against the people, that is the alternative that the Social-Democrats have long put to all claimants to the role of “democratic” leaders in the revolution. Up to now not all Social-Democrats have been able to pursue this line consistently; some of them even believed the liberals’ promises, others closed their eyes to the liberals’ flirting with the counter-revolution. Now we already have the educational experience of the first two Dumas.

The revolution has taught the proletariat to wage a mass struggle. The revolution has shown that the proletariat is able to lead the peasant masses in the struggle for democracy. The revolution has united the purely proletarian party still more closely by casting out petty-bourgeois elements from it. The counter-revolution has taught the petty-bourgeois democrats to give up seeking for leaders and allies among the liberals, who are mortally afraid of the mass struggle. On the basis of these lessons of history we can boldly say to the government of the Black-Hundred landlords: continue along the same line, Mr. Stolypin and Co.! We shall reap the fruits of what you are sowing!


[1] Senate interpretations—interpretations of the Law of December Ii (24), 1905 governing elections to the Duma issued by the Senate on the eve of the elections to the Second Duma. By these interpretations the Senate deprived further groups of the population of the franchise.

[2] Trepov, D.F.—Governor-General of St. Petersburg, notorious for inspiring Black-Hundred outrages and for his brutal suppression of the revolution of 1905.

[3] See Karl Marx, “The Prussian Counter-Revolution and the Prussian Judicial Caste” (Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Werke, Bd. 6, S. 138, Berlin, Dietz Verlag, 1959).

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