Rosa Luxemburg

The Revolution in Russia


Written: January/February 1905.
First Published: February 8, 1905
Source: Zeitschrift fòr die Interessen der Arbeiterinnen, no.3, February 8th, 1905.
Transcription/Markup: Dario Romeo and Brian Baggins.
Online Version: Rosa Luxemburg Internet Archive ( 2000.

On January 22nd in Petersburg [January 9th according to the Russian used Julian calender], the first mass revolutionary rising of the Russian proletariat against absolutism was put down ‘victoriously’ by the terrorist government, that is, it was drowned in the blood of thousands of defenceless workers, in the blood of the murdered men, women and children of the people [Bloody Sunday]. It is possible that – at least in Petersburg itself – a lull in the revolutionary movement has set in. The tidal wave is now surging from Petersburg, from the north, down over the huge empire, and is engulfing, one after another, all the great industrial cities of Russia. Anyone who had expected the revolution to triumph at one blow, anyone in Petersburg who, following the ‘victory’ of the policy of blood and iron, might now wish to abandon himself, depending on whose side him takes, to a pessimistic defeatism or to a premature exultation at the restoration of ‘order’ – such a person would only prove that the history of revolutions with its inner iron laws has for him remained a sealed book.

It took an eternity – at least when measured against revolutionary impatience and against the agony of the Russian people – for the fire of revolution to kindle into a bright blaze beneath the centuries-old ice-coating of absolutism. It might and surely will take a very long period of terrible struggles, alternating between popular victories and defeats, exacting innumerable victims, before the bloodthirsty beast of absolutism – dangerous still, even as it writhes in its death-throes – is beaten down once and for all. We must make ready for a revolutionary epoch in Russia counted in years, not in days and months, similar to the great French Revolution.

And yet, all lovers of civilization and freedom, that is, the international working class, can rejoice from the bottom of their hearts. The cause of freedom has now been won in Russia; the cause of international reaction has now, on January 22nd, on the streets of Petersburg, had its bloody Jena. For on this day the Russian proletariat burst on the political stage as a class for the first time; for the first time the only power which historically is qualified and able to cast Tsarism into the dustbin and to raise the banner of civilization in Russia and everywhere has appeared on the scene of action. The guerrilla war against absolute power in Russia has lasted for almost a century. As early in 1825, there was a revolt in Petersburg instigated by the sons of the highest of aristocracy, by officers attempting to shake off the chains of despotism. The monuments to this abortive and cruelly suppressed rising can still be found in the snowfields of Siberia, where dozens of the noblest victims were buried for all eternity. Secret conspiratorial societies and attempted assassinations increased during the 1850s, but again ‘order’ and terror triumphed over the band of desperate fighters. During the 1870s, a strong party of the revolutionary intelligentsia was formed which aspired, with the support of the peasant masses, to bring about a political revolution by means of systematic, terroristic assassination attempts on the Tsar. It soon became apparent, however, that the peasant masses of the time were an inert element and quite unsuitable for revolutionary movements. Similarly, the assassination of the Tsar proved to be a quite powerless weapon for doing away with Tsarism as a ruling system.

Following the defeat of the terrorist movement in Russia in the 1880s, both Russian society and the lovers of freedom in Western Europe were seized by a profound defeatism. The ice-block of absolutism appeared to be unmovable and the social condition of Russia seemed hopeless. And yet precisely at this moment in Russia was born the movement whose result was to be January 22nd of this year; that moment was – Social Democracy.

From the 1860s and following its serious defeat in the Crimean war, Russian Tsarism made a desperate attempt to transplant Western European capitalism into Russia. The bankrupt absolute regime, for fiscal and military purposes, needed railways and telegraphs, iron and coal, machines, cotton and cloth. The absolute regime nurtured capitalism by all the methods of pillaging the people and by the most ruthless policy of protective tariff – and this unconsciously dug its own grave. It lovingly nursed the exploiting capitalist class – and thus produced a proletariat outraged at exploitation and suppression.

The role for which the peasantry had proved itself incapable became the historical task of the urban, industrial working class in Russia, and this class became the pillar of the movement for freedom and revolution. The untiring underground work of enlightenment performed by Russian Social Democracy brought about in a few years what a century of the most valiant revolts by the intelligentsia could not, namely the shaking of the foundations of the old stronghold of despotism.

All the oppositional and revolutionary forces in Russian society can now make themselves felt: the elementary, confused outrage of the peasant, the liberal dissatisfaction of the progressive nobility, the thrust towards freedom of the educated intelligentsia, of the professors, man of letters and lawyers. Based on the revolutionary mass movement of the urban proletariat, and marching along behind it, they can all lead a great army of fighting people, one people, against Tsarism. But the power and the future of the revolutionary movement lies entirely and exclusively in the class-conscious Russian proletariat, since only they know what it is to sacrifice their lives by the thousand on the battlefield of freedom. And though at first the leaders of the rising might be chosen fortuitously, though the rising might be clouded outwardly by all kinds of illusions and traditions – it is reality the results of the enormous amount of political enlightenment which has been propagated invisibly among the Russian working class in the past two years by Social-Democratic agitation.

In Russia, as in the whole world, the cause of freedom and social progress now lies with the class-conscious proletariat. It is in very good hands!

Last updated on: 1.12.2008