Arthur Rosenberg 1934

Chapter II: Revolution in Russia, 1893-1914

A crude modernity characterised Tsarist Russia in the eighteenth century. At a time when almost the entire European continent bore the stamp of Absolutism Peter the Great and Catherine II were progressive rulers. And in days that saw the Congress of Vienna, Alexander I could afford to be more liberal in European politics than either Metternich or the King of Prussia.

The scene underwent a change during the reign of his successor, Nicholas I. The ideals of the French Revolution began more and more to penetrate Russia, where they were enthusiastically welcomed by the intelligentsia, which from this time onwards walked step by step with the radical theorists of Western Europe. Moreover, the criticism of existing conditions on the part of the intelligentsia found its justification in the misery of the vast Russian peasantry, which was still cumbered with the chains of serfdom.

Russia in the nineteenth century was still a feudal state. On the one side were the Tsar, the aristocratic landowners, the church, army, police and bureaucracy; on the other were the serfs. Between these two opposing forces stood a numerically small commercial and industrial middle class and a proletariat that was slowly coming into existence. The intelligentsia in Russia played a very important role in hastening the development of events. For the most part the educated and independent radicals were aristocrats by birth. A father would sit in his office as chief of police or governor while his daughter stood at a street corner throwing bombs. The social and intellectual history of the Russian Revolution reveals the very strong suicidal tendency at work in the Russian nobility as a class. Young students of noble birth themselves destroyed all that their fathers had constructed and venerated. The French aristocracy destroyed itself in a similar fashion in the eighteenth century before the outbreak of the French Revolution. As soon as the feudal organisation of the state was felt to be intolerable by the masses, and once the historical development of the ancien régime had publicly revealed itself as outworn, its leaders faded away and opened the doors to revolution.

Tsar Alexander II sought to stem the tide by the so-called liberation of the serfs in the 1860s. The peasants thus acquired legal freedom. Nevertheless, the land itself remained for the most part in the hands of the landowners and the village police were as powerful and brutal after the ‘liberation’ as before. The liberation of the serfs only testified to the strength of the revolutionary movement without solving a single one of the problems confronting Russia. The bomb that blew Alexander II to pieces in 1881 was the revolutionaries’ reply to the comedy of the liberation of the serfs.

Who were the men and women who assassinated the Tsar? They were conspirators belonging to the great and many-sided movement that for close on fifty years, from about 1870 to 1917, constituted the driving force of the Russian Revolution, and manifested itself under every kind of title and organisation. This movement as a whole can best be described as the ‘popular’ or ‘national’ movement. The characteristic common to all Narodniki ('democrats’) was a frenzied hatred of the Tsar and his government and a firm belief in Russia and especially the Russian peasant. Their aim was to overthrow the brutal governmental bureaucracy and replace it by a popular government in which the chief power should rest in the hands of the peasantry, as forming the great majority of the nation and embodying its special characteristics. The last vestiges of communal ownership among the peasantry that had survived the Tsardom and serfdom should perhaps be used to form the foundation of a Russian agrarian socialism. Russia should learn from Western Europe without necessarily adopting its theories in their entirety.

It was clear that the stupid and uneducated Russian peasant could not attain to this knowledge by himself. For this purpose he needed the assistance of the intelligentsia. Hence the self-sacrificing young aristocrats and intellectuals went ‘among the people’ and into the villages in order to indoctrinate the peasantry and prepare the revolution. There thus came into existence the type of educated Russian revolutionary who fought with all the means at his disposal, who did not hesitate to use terrorist methods against the hated representatives of the government, who pursued the same ends in Switzerland and Siberia that he had followed in St Petersburg and Moscow, and who served the cause of the Russian people in prison and on the gallows as well as in the editorial office of a prohibited newspaper and in the deliberations of his party. The ‘popular’ movement created the professional Russian revolutionary who knew no other end in life except revolution, and who was ready to sacrifice his life in the popular cause. This type, however, was very far removed from the peasant. The finest characteristic of the ‘democrats’, who subsequently became generally known as ‘Social Revolutionaries’, and other groups allied with them, was their revolutionary heroism. Their weakness lay in their confused ideology. They refused obstinately to recognise that Russia could not remain for ever an agrarian paradise in the midst of a modern capitalistic world. And they could return no answer to the question as to what change would be wrought in Russia by modern industrialism.

The romanticist policy of the Social Revolutionaries was blind to facts and sought either to ignore capitalism in Russia, or to exclude it. In the 1880s and 1890s, however, industries rapidly arose on a large scale that were called into being by the military requirements of the Tsarist government and under the stimulation of foreign capitalists. The modern employer appeared at the side of the old half-Asiatic type of Russian merchant. Out of the villages came an industrial working class that at first maintained a bare existence under miserable conditions and then began to fight against their exploiters.

The greater the importance for Russia of the industrial and proletarian problem the greater was the interest displayed by a part of the Russian intelligentsia in socialism and Marxism. Since public and legal activity on the part of Russian socialists in associations or trade unions was forbidden by the Tsarist police, an illicit Social-Democrat Party came into existence.

There is a surprising resemblance between Russia in 1895 and Germany in 1845. In both countries a middle-class revolution was imminent; the majority of the population was engaged in agrarian pursuits, although industry was increasing; the governmental system was the object of intense hatred on the part of all courageous and independent thinkers; and in both countries the majority of the nation was filled with an overwhelming desire for liberty. In Germany the youthful disciples of Hegel appealed to the nation to aid them in realising their philosophical ideals in the same way that in Russia the intelligentsia turned to the masses in the hope of stirring them into rebellion against the Tsar. Finally, the mass of the population in both countries, and especially the working class, was politically ignorant and incapable of acting independently without receiving guidance from another source.

For this reason all the conditions preceding the revolutionary Marxism of 1848 made their appearance again in the Russia of 1895. The inculcation into Russia of Marxism in its original form nevertheless presented grave difficulties. For Russia in the 1890s did not make acquaintance with Marxism in the form of the ‘Union of Communists’ but in the great labour parties — especially the German Social-Democrat Party — of the Second International. A twofold development of Russian socialism thus became possible: either through alliance with contemporary Central and Western European labour movements or in a revival of the original Marxism of 1848. In choosing the latter path Lenin created the Bolshevism that stands in sharp contrast to Western European Social-Democracy and that claims with some justification to have resurrected the old revolutionary Marxism.

Lenin was descended from an ennobled family of Russian state officials. His brother took part in a conspiracy against the life of the Tsar and was executed. Lenin himself was filled with the same fiery hatred of Tsarism. Although he admired the heroism of the Narodniki, Lenin could not join the Social Revolutionary movement since his logical mind and scientific education prevented his sympathising with the vague and sentimental ideals of the ‘democrats’. He recognised that Russia could not escape industrialisation and that Marxism as a scientific system towered above the fantastic notions of the Narodniki. He saw his mission as the task of allying a number of clear-thinking, realist and determined revolutionaries with the industrial proletariat. It was only in this way that Tsarism could be defeated. Lenin thus took over from the Narodniki the organisation of revolutionary ‘cells’ which live among the masses and are entrusted with the task of influencing and directing them. To await a spontaneous uprising of the masses would mean that revolution would be postponed for ever.

The development of Russian Social-Democracy took the same course that had been followed by the Social Revolutionary parties. Enthusiastic young revolutionaries in the 1880s and 1890s went among the industrial workers instead of the peasants. Armed with the writings of Marx and Engels, they abandoned their luxurious homes in the fashionable districts of St Petersburg and Moscow and went to live in the slums of the working-class districts where they ‘discovered’ the proletariat. At first they contented themselves with winning the confidence of the working class by means of night-schools and free instruction, before attempting to inculcate them with socialism.

What a different picture from that presented at the same time by the socialist labour parties in Western Europe! It was, nevertheless, the same method that had been followed half a century before by Marx and Engels in order to win over the German manual workers in Paris and Brussels to the revolution.

The further development of the infant Social-Democrat Party in Russia depended now upon what they decided on as their principal aim. Two courses were open to them: to lay the greatest emphasis in their work either upon the special class interests of the workers — the social and political questions of wages, hours of work, conditions of work, housing, etc — or upon the political struggle against the Tsarist government. If they chose the former course, then the industrial workman became the decisive factor in the movement. The right of each individual member of the organisation to vote would be preserved and the revolutionary impetus would be weakened. If, however, they adopted the second course, the professional revolutionaries would have control of the movement and the ordinary workman would have to obey them. Under the first of these two alternatives it might indeed have been possible to achieve a partial legal existence for socialism even under the Tsarist regime. The second alternative meant a life and death struggle with the Tsarist government after the fashion of the struggle waged by the Narodniki terrorists.

Lenin unhesitatingly decided upon the second course. In 1902 he wrote:

We often say that the workman does not possess an inherent socialist democratic feeling and that this must be inculcated in him from without. Yet the history of every country shows that the working class is capable by itself of attaining trade-union consciousness, that is to say, of attaining to the conviction of the necessity to unite in trade unions, to fight against employers, to demand the passing of this or that law by the government in the interests of the working class, etc. The theories of socialism have developed from the philosophical, historical and economic theories that have been the offspring of the brains of the educated elements in the propertied classes — the intelligentsia. Even the founders of modern scientific socialism — Marx and Engels — belonged socially to the middle-class intelligentsia. The theory of social-democracy in Russia arose in a similar manner and wholly independent of the tremendous growth of the labour movement. It came into being as the natural and inevitable consequence of the intellectual development of the revolutionary socialist mind.

Lenin continued:

The workman can only grow class-conscious outside the influence of the economic struggle and of his relations with his employer. The only sphere in which this knowledge can be gained is that of the relations between all classes in the state and the government — the sphere of the interplay of relationships between all classes. It is for this reason that the question ‘What is to be done to make the workman politically intelligent?’ cannot always be answered with the simple reply that satisfies many practical minds: ‘Associate with and teach the workmen.’ In order to make the working class politically intelligent Social-Democrats must go into all classes of the community and must send out divisions of their army in all directions.

Lenin firmly rejected the type of labour movement which he called trade unionism after the English trade unions that were then specially typical of this movement. It was not enough that the proletariat should fight for their own class interests. The Russian Social-Democrats must introduce their propaganda and carry on their agitation in all classes of the community and especially among the peasantry. The daily discontent of the workman with factory conditions, etc, must be developed into a general dissatisfaction with Tsarism as the source of all evils.

Again Lenin wrote:

We possess neither a parliament nor freedom of assembly. Nevertheless we are able to hold meetings of workmen who wish to listen to a Social-Democrat. We must, however, manage to hold meetings for all classes desirous of hearing what a democrat has to say. For he who forgets that ‘communists support every revolutionary movement’, and that we are therefore bound to make clear to the people the common task of democracy without for a moment concealing our socialist convictions, is no true Social-Democrat. Nor is he a Social-Democrat who forgets his duty to go a step ahead of all others in the formulation, provocation and solution of every general democratic problem. [1]

Lenin regarded Social-Democracy as the great leader of the Russian nation in its struggle for freedom. If, however, that was to be its task, then it could only adopt one form of organisation — the close, strongly-disciplined party of professional revolutionaries. The great mass of the working class should be influenced by the party without being members of it. In Lenin’s eyes a labour party in the Western European sense of the term was impossible in Russia for the simple reason that the police forbade it. The real reason was of another and deeper nature: such a party would not be able to carry out its revolutionary task. Russian Social-Democracy must not be inspired by the ideas of a trade-union secretary but by those of a tribune of the people. Let us listen once again to the voice of Lenin speaking in 1902:

Our principal failure in the matter of organisation has been that through our dilettantism we have lowered the prestige of the revolution in Russia. Weak and undecided in questions of principle, possessed of a narrow mental outlook, excusing his own dilatoriness by the unruliness of the masses, incapable of drawing up broad and daring plans, inexperienced and clumsy in the pursuit of his profession, that is, the fight with the political police, a man who can respect his opponents and who reminds one of a trade-union official rather than a tribune of the people — such a man, I tell you, is no revolutionary but only a contemptible amateur. No professional revolutionary need feel himself insulted by these bitter words; they apply to myself above all others in so far as inadequate organisation is in question. I was an active member of an organisation that was busied with far-reaching plans and every individual member of that organisation suffered heavily from the consciousness that we were only amateurs, at a time when it is possible to say in a variation of the well-known phrase: ‘Give us organised revolutionaries and we will liberate Russia!’

Marx would have been in complete agreement with these sentiments of the youthful Lenin, which were, nevertheless, rejected by a large number of the Russian socialists. Out of their refusal to follow Lenin arose two opposing parties within the framework of Russian socialism in general. The first believed that the Russian Social-Democrat Party should be a labour party whose object was the improvement of the social condition of the proletariat. This did not mean that they were not to participate in the political struggle with Tsarism. Since, however, the approaching Russian revolution could only be a middle-class revolution, the rate of its progression must be determined by the middle class itself. The second and opposing party believed that the Social-Democrats should become a secret society of professional revolutionaries whose task it would be to persuade the proletariat to seize control of the middle-class revolution.

These two tendencies in Russian Social-Democracy first became evident at the congress of the party which was held in London in 1903. In those days Russian socialists could only carry on their deliberations undisturbed in foreign countries. The split came over the wording of Paragraph I of the party rules. Lenin proposed that this should read: ‘Anyone is a member of the party who participates in the organisation of the party.’ Martov introduced a counter-proposal which ran: ‘Anyone working under the supervision of the party is a member of the party.’ Russian Social-Democracy split into two groups over this to all intents and purposes not very important difference of opinion. In the voting that followed, Lenin’s proposal received a couple more votes than that of Martov out of a total of some three dozen voters. From that day onwards his supporters called themselves the Majoritarians (Bolsheviks), while those of Martov styled themselves Minoritarians (Mensheviks). A small handful of Russian refugees in London thus made world history by their hair-splitting; for that day was the birthday of Bolshevism.

What was the actual difference between the proposal of Lenin and that of Martov? Socialists and their sympathisers in the Russia of those days were divided almost of necessity into two groups: the active party workers who prosecuted the political work of the party in secret; and the far greater number of those who sympathised with them and supported them as far as lay in their power without giving up their own private activities. If Martov’s proposal had been adopted, this vast body of sympathisers would have automatically become members of the party in so far as they — students or workmen — worked regularly for the party and under its supervision. As members of the party these would have the right to determine the policy of the party and the appointment of its executive officers. Lenin’s proposal was of quite a different nature. He deprived this large body of sympathisers of all influence over the fortunes of the party. In Lenin’s eyes the party meant the small circle of active conspirators — and nobody else. Even in the then unfavourable conditions obtaining in Russia Martov wanted to uphold the principle of the right of self-determination for the masses. Lenin was of a directly contrary opinion. Martov was anxious to give to Russian Social-Democracy the character of a Western European labour movement. Lenin utterly repudiated any such proposal. Certain sentences out of one of Lenin’s speeches to the congress serve to reveal clearly his attitude at this time. His words were directed against Trotsky, who had taken the part of the Mensheviks in the discussion over the wording of paragraph I:

Comrade Trotsky [said Lenin] shows that he has completely misunderstood the basic idea of my pamphlet What Shall Be Done?, by saying that the party has no conspiratorial organisation. Others have also reproached me similarly... He has forgotten that the party is only an advance post and the leader of the great mass of the working class which in its entirety, or virtually in its entirety, works under the supervision and direction of the party organisation without, however, belonging or being able in its entirety to belong to the party. Let us consider the conclusions arrived at by Comrade Trotsky in consequence of his fundamental misunderstanding. He said that if after numbers of workmen had been arrested all were to declare that they were not members of the party our party would be shown up in a singular light. Is it not in fact the exact contrary? Do not the arguments of Comrade Trotsky show up in a singular light? He deplores what every more or less experienced revolutionary should applaud. If hundreds and thousands of workmen who had been arrested in the course of strikes and demonstrations were to prove that they were not members of party organisations, this would only demonstrate the efficiency of our organisation and that we have properly understood our task of forming a more or less small circle of conspiratorial leaders and of indoctrinating as many of the proletariat as possible with the ideals of the movement.

Here were two wholly opposed worlds. In the eyes of Trotsky and Martov the politically active workmen and the party are identical. Lenin looked upon the party as a secret and directive power that stood behind and above the workers. In the course of the debate Lenin said less about the fact that his proposal would mean the exclusion of the proletariat from the party itself than that he refused to accord the honour of membership of the party to weak-kneed intellectuals who refused to take any risks. This, however, does not in any way alter the nature of Lenin’s fundamental reason for opposing Trotsky and Martov.

Lenin did not look upon workpeople as being of little account. He was firmly convinced that the future belonged to the proletariat and he welcomed former factory-hands among the ranks of the professional revolutionaries. In his eyes, however, the immediate task of the Russian proletariat was to assist in achieving a middle-class revolution. Everything else was secondary to this political aim.

Notwithstanding many attempts to restore the unity of the Russian Socialist Party the breach between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks remained until 1917 and continues to the present day. It is true that the simple socialist workman in Russia only thought of himself as a Social-Democrat until 1917 and did not attach much importance to the differences of opinion between the various groups within the Socialist Party. The leaders of the movement both at home and abroad nevertheless remained opposed to each other despite a few temporary resolves to reunite. For his own part Lenin devoted himself from 1903 onwards to organising a revolutionary party in accordance with his own ideas. In 1905 Bolshevism received its baptism of fire.

The Russian Revolution in 1905 did not begin as the result of an order on the part of a party executive. It began in a sense directly contrary to Lenin’s wishes with a spontaneous upheaval of the masses. The nation revolted after the defeat of Russia in the Russo-Japanese War had undermined the authority of the Tsarist government. Lenin himself was under no illusion as to the real character of the uprising. His widow tells in her Memories of Lenin how Lenin said in October 1905: ‘I would postpone the revolution until the spring. But we shall not be asked.’ The revolution began with the ‘Bloody Sunday’ on which the St Petersburg workmen under the leadership of the priest Gapon demonstrated before the Tsar’s palace. The troops fired upon the demonstrators. A thousand dead bodies covered the square. All Russia rose in fury. Every month of that year until December was filled with strikes and demonstrations on the part of workmen and civil servants, with peasant revolts and with mutinies in the army and navy. The Tsar was forced to concede Russia a parliament — the Duma. The zenith of the revolution was reached in the great strike in December of the Moscow workmen; this was broken by the government. From that moment the revolution was a failure. The bravery of the revolutionary workpeople was not of itself sufficient to achieve the downfall of the Tsar. Peasant revolts and the mutinies in the army and navy were too sporadic and too lacking in cohesion to prove successful. The government was able to restore discipline in the armed forces and to suppress the peasantry. The efforts of the workmen were thereby deprived of all prospect of success.

Lenin recognised clearly the true character of the revolution in 1905:

The peculiarity of the Russian Revolution consisted in the fact that while from a social standpoint it was middle-class and democratic, it was proletarian in its choice of weapons. It was middle-class and democratic because the democratic republic was its immediate aim, which it sought to achieve with its own strength. It sought to achieve the eight-hour day, the confiscation of the vast estates of the nobility — in a word, all that the middle-class revolution in France in 1792-93 had in great part accomplished. At the same time the Russian Revolution was proletarian not only in the sense that the proletariat formed the advance-guard of the revolution and gave it its leaders, but also because that specially proletarian weapon — the strike — was the chief means used to stir up the masses and was the outstanding characteristic of the wave-like progression of the decisive events.

Of the last months of the revolution Lenin wrote:

The proletariat formed the head of the movement. It had taken upon itself the task of achieving an eight-hour day by revolutionary means. The battle-cry of the St Petersburg proletariat was: ‘Eight-hour day and arms!’ The steadily increasing number of workmen realised that the fate of the revolution could and would be decided only by force of arms.

In those days the workmen of St Petersburg were the most intelligent and most revolutionary element in the Russian nation. If their object were the eight-hour day, it served to show that they were prepared to accept the continued existence of their employers after a successful revolution and that they looked upon the revolution as a middle-class revolution.

The two Social-Democrat groups (Bolsheviks and Mensheviks) took part in the revolution beside the Social Revolutionaries (Narodniki) without paying any regard to the differences of opinion between their leaders. It cannot be shown that the Bolsheviks in 1905 worked harder and exercised a greater influence over the masses than did the other socialist and revolutionary groups. It was, indeed, the Mensheviks who took the initiative that led to the establishment of the famous workmen’s council in St Petersburg in October 1905. In truth there was in those days no special group of revolutionaries who could lay claim to a monopoly of political wisdom. The working class was for the most part revolutionary in a general sense and not inclined to divide itself into groups. And this was still more true of the peasantry, soldiers, civil servants and students.

On the subject of the creation of the workmen’s council in St Petersburg Trotsky writes:

Although the Social-Democrat organisation only held together a few hundred workmen in secret and only exercised any considerable political influence over a few thousand workmen in St Petersburg, it nevertheless contrived to set an aim before the masses by illuminating their primitive experience with the searchlight of political thought. Their strength was not, however, sufficient to enable them to unite hundreds of thousands of men and women through a living bond with their organisation because the greater part of their work was accomplished in conspiratorial ‘cells’ that were concealed from the eyes of the masses. The organisation of the Social Revolutionaries was paralysed in a similar manner and was rendered still more impotent through infirmity and want of resolution. The establishment of a non-party organisation was rendered indispensable by the rivalry between the two Social-Democrat groups as well as by the conflict between these two groups and the Social Revolutionaries.

The council of workers’ delegates in St Petersburg was so constituted that every five hundred workers were represented by a delegate. The great industries elected their delegates according to this principle, whilst the lesser industries were combined for the purposes of an election. The trade unions were also represented in the council, which was a revolutionary fighting organisation for the purpose of accomplishing the downfall of Tsarism. At that time nobody thought that a system of workers’ councils would come to take the place of the Russian parliament. All Russian revolutionaries, including the Bolsheviks, were unanimous in 1905 in thinking that after a successful revolution an all-Russian constituent national assembly elected on the widest possible suffrage would be called upon to determine the destinies of the nation. The workers’ council was only intended as a means towards the realisation of the national assembly and not as a substitute for it.

In an article dated 25 November 1905 Lenin set forth his views on the system of workers’ councils. His views at that time were wholly different from those he subsequently entertained in 1917. The committee of the workers’ council in St Petersburg had just refused a request from the anarchists to be represented on the council — a refusal which Lenin upheld for the following important reason:

There can be no question that if one desired the soviet of workers’ delegates to be a workers’ parliament or the executive of a self-governing proletariat, the refusal to admit the anarchists was wrong. Although the influence of the anarchists over our working classes is fortunately slight, there can be no doubt that they can reckon a certain number of workmen among their supporters... The fact that the anarchists, who repudiate political warfare, themselves wish to enter an institution devoted to conducting such a warfare only serves to illustrate once more the tactics and unstable attitude to life of the anarchists. Of course it is true that instability is no ground for exclusion from a parliament or the executive of a self-governing organisation.

Lenin looked upon the workers’ council ‘neither as a workers’ parliament nor the organ of a proletarian system of self-government — indeed in no sense an organ of self-government — but as a fighting organisation for the attainment of a definite aim’. In consequence of a temporary agreement this militant organisation was the common property of the Russian Social-Democrats, the Social Revolutionaries, and the non-party revolutionary working men. The Russian Revolution was carrying on its fight ‘for urgent democratic demands recognised and approved by the overwhelming majority of the nation’. Since the anarchists disapprove of political reform, they have no place in the fighting union that ‘carries out our democratic revolution'; and were they admitted to it they would only prove an obstacle and a disintegrating influence. It is clear that the basic principle of the soviet — the right to self-determination of the proletariat, including the non-party revolutionary working men — could easily be reconciled with Menshevism and scarcely reconciled at all with Bolshevism. Lenin refused absolutely to believe that spontaneous action on the part of the proletariat could lead to a real and lasting revolutionary victory. A workers’ council constituted on this model must appear to him as a centre of disintegration. Although the state of affairs in 1905 compelled the Bolsheviks to accept the workers’ council, they themselves would never have established such an organisation.

In his extremely interesting speech in Zürich in January 1917, in commemoration of the twelfth anniversary of the Bloody Sunday in St Petersburg, Lenin contented himself with a few casual words on the subject of the workers’ councils. At the beginning of 1917 the councils still played a secondary part in the revolution in Lenin’s estimation, and it was the experience gained since February 1917 in the new Russian Revolution that caused Lenin radically to alter his view of them.

It is typical of the feeling prevalent in 1905 that the workers’ council in St Petersburg should have elected the young non-party lawyer Nosar-Khrustalev to be its first chairman. Of this election Trotsky says:

Very shrewd and alert in practical matters, clever and forcible as a chairman, a speaker of no special talent, but an impulsive temperament, a man without any political past, and without the bearing of a politician, Khrustalev revealed himself as born for the position to which he was elected at the close of 1905. Although the masses of the working class were revolutionary and possessed of a strong class feeling, they were in the majority not sympathisers with any particular party. What has been said of the council applies equally to Khrustalev: all socialists with a political past were possessed of strong party feelings and the candidature of a member of a definite party would have given rise to dissensions at the establishment of the council.

Thus the St Petersburg proletariat which had entrusted itself to the mysterious adventurer Gapon in January, now in October placed its confidence in the radical Khrustalev who belonged to no party. It is clear that it is impossible to speak of a Bolshevik leadership even among the most advanced Russian workmen at this time. After Khrustalev had been arrested in December his place as chairman of the council was taken by a committee of three of which Trotsky was politically the ablest. On the subject of his opinions on the Russian Revolution — opinions that differ absolutely from those of Lenin — more will be said presently.

As early as the spring of 1905 discussions took place among the leaders of Russian Social-Democracy as to the character of the revolutionary government that would be set up after the downfall of Nicholas II. Events belied these optimistic views. Nevertheless, the discussions are of extreme importance in that they show with great clearness the opinions then held by both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks.

The Mensheviks, whose principal spokesman was Martynov, thought as follows. The Russian Revolution is a middle-class revolution. On the overthrow of the Tsar the constituent national assembly will establish a middle-class republican government entrusted with the task of putting democratic reforms into operation. A socialist Russia is for the time being impossible, owing to the small percentage of industrial workers in the Russian population and the backward economic state of agriculture. Nevertheless, suppose that a few socialists are to be found in the new government — they will be in a position of great delicacy. If they content themselves with the measures of their middle-class colleagues, they will take upon themselves in the eyes of the working class a certain measure of responsibility for all the evil aspects of the capitalist system that will not only continue to exist but will for the first time manifest its full strength; and thus Social-Democracy will be discredited in the opinion of the proletariat. If, however, they continue the socialist battle within the government by demanding strong measures against employers for the protection of the workers, then the government will be forced along the path of socialism against its own will; the middle class will come to fear socialism; and it will be driven into the ranks of the reaction. The working class must of necessity be defeated in a forlorn fight for socialism in a country that is not sufficiently developed for it. The consequence might even be a return to absolutism, which would appear a lesser evil than socialism in the eyes of the middle class. These two dangers could only be avoided by the Social-Democrats through refusal to participate in a provisional revolutionary government. Their task would be to further the revolution by all the means in their power; to leave to the middle-class parties the task of constructing a government after the Tsar’s downfall; and to oppose that government in the capacity of a labour opposition entrusted with the defence of the special interests of the working class.

It is obvious from the foregoing that the Mensheviks were an extreme labour party in the Western European meaning of the term that repudiated any attempt to bridge the gulf between proletariat and middle class and that designated the entry of Social-Democrats into a middle-class government as ‘Jaurès-ism’. This expression ‘Jaurès-ism’ owed its origin to the lively discussions then taking place in the International over the thesis of the French Socialist Jaurès, that the French working class must be prepared to cooperate in a middle-class republican government for the defence of the republic. The intellectuals in the Second International were sharply divided among themselves over this question. The congress of the Second International in Amsterdam rejected Jaurès’ tactics, and it was in the spirit of this decision that the Mensheviks formulated their policy.

Lenin was sharply opposed to this Menshevik policy. His standpoint was one that seemed that of the ‘right’ in comparison to the ‘left'-wing radicalism of the Mensheviks. In reality his views only served to show that for him there existed no differences of opinion within Western European Social-Democracy. His dislike of all forms of non-Russian socialism in 1905 was so profound that confronted with it all disputes over matters of policy between radicals and revisionists disappeared. In 1905 Lenin championed a revolutionary and democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. This was a genuine Marxian conception which could not have been formulated by even the most radical Social-Democrat in the Western Europe of those days. Lenin wrote:

Wherein lies the cause of the Martynov chaos? In mistaken notions of the democratic and the socialist revolution, in forgetfulness of the part played by that section of the people standing between the proletariat and the middle class — the partly lower-middle-class, partly working-class inhabitants of poor districts in the towns and the country, in a misunderstanding of the true meaning of our minimal programme. [This programme contained the demands made by socialism of the middle-class state.] ... It is only necessary to recollect the political and economic reforms contained in their programme — demands for a republic, for the right to carry arms, for the disestablishment of the church, for full democratic liberty, for radical economic reforms. Is it not clear that the fulfilment of these demands is impossible in a middle-class order of society without a revolutionary and democratic dictatorship of the lower classes? Is it not clear that this is not a question of the difference between proletariat and middle class but of the entire lower class which gives the impulse to every democratic revolution? These lower classes are the proletariat with the addition of millions and millions of poor townspeople and villagers whose mode of life is just above that of the very lowest.

The difference between Lenin and all other Social-Democrats consists in his including in his plans, in addition to the proletariat and the middle class, the immensely powerful class lying between them. He believed that this intermediate class under the leadership of the proletariat could be won over to revolutionary democracy although not to socialism. Lenin thus revealed his comprehension of the paradox of a middle-class revolution against the middle class which had been in 1848 the basic principle of Marx and Engels.

Sincere socialists have always been agreed that a national revolution is only possible if supported by the majority of the nation. Among the great powers in 1905 it was only in England that the industrial workers formed the majority of the nation; they were a powerful minority in the United States and Germany; whilst in France, Italy, Russia, Austria-Hungary and Japan they formed only a relatively small minority. Apart from England, where special conditions obtained, the working class could only attain to power by allying themselves to the other classes in the nation. Such an alliance existed, or at least seemed possible, in 1848, under the common banner of democracy. The disappearance of revolution from the Continent about the year 1850 dissolved this alliance. The peasantry and the middle-class townsfolk joined with the middle-class parties or even with agrarian feudalism. It thus came about that extreme socialists in Western Europe saw the ‘one reactionary body’ in everything that was not socialist and proletarian, and any pact concluded with any part of this composite body appeared in their eyes to be tantamount to desertion to the ranks of their class enemy, the middle class.

In contrast to this situation in the rest of Europe there still existed in 1905, in Russia, an enormous intermediate class capable of revolution. This was, above all, true of the millions of peasants. In so far as they were capable of political thought these millions looked upon the Narodniki, Social Revolutionaries, etc, as their mouthpieces. Only if this army of millions could be mobilised would the overthrow of Tsarism be possible in Lenin’s view, since the army was for the most part recruited from the peasantry — and unless it mutinied no revolution could be successful. In company with such allies private property could not indeed be abolished. But the great landlords and the church could be dispossessed of their property, the old Tsarist authority destroyed, and the radical-democratic republic set up in its place. With such an aim in sight, it was not possible to shrink from an alliance with these democratic intermediate classes, even when men like Gapon appeared as leaders of the ‘popular’ movement. If this coalition were to prove victorious, Social-Democracy need have no anxiety in taking over the government in company with revolutionary democracy. Nor need it become fearful if the upper middle class returned to Tsarism and feudalism in its terror of naked democracy; for the working class in alliance with the peasantry, manual workers and soldiers would be capable of destroying such an enemy. It is true that this would not mean the introduction of socialism into Russia, and the country would still be living under the economic laws arising out of the right to private ownership of property. Nevertheless, the establishment of pure democracy would in itself mean a great achievement on the part of the working class and would provide the best foundation for future development along socialist lines. There can be little doubt that in those early days Lenin had already formed in secret the belief that the well-disciplined and purposeful Bolsheviks would be able, within the limits of such a coalition, to oust from power both the vague and romantic Social Revolutionaries, and the weak and helpless Mensheviks. The Bolsheviks would then become sole rulers of the democratic republic.

It is clear that the difference between Bolshevism and Menshevism is not to be defined by such phrases as ‘right’ or ‘left’, ‘radical’ or ‘moderate’. The Mensheviks in 1905 were modern and Western European in their ideas. The Bolsheviks were thinking in the terms of 1848. Only the future could reveal which of the two was right. It alone could show whether the lower middle classes in Russia were prepared to join in a democratic revolution against the middle class as well as against the Tsar. Was not, perhaps, the dictatorship of the working class and the peasantry a mere figment of an overheated imagination? Would not the peasantry repudiate their alliance with the proletariat the moment that they became owners of their farms and therefore citizens? Would not the workman advance still farther along the path that led to socialism the moment he had the reins of government in his hands? Was not Lenin’s theory of democratic stages between the various classes a dream that could not be reconciled with the intensification of class divisions everywhere? These questions could not be answered in 1905.

With brilliant revolutionary eloquence Lenin defended his theory against his Menshevik critics:

Let us take another remark of Iskra [the newspaper of the Mensheviks] on the subject of the war-cry ‘Long live the provisional revolutionary government’. Iskra says significantly: ‘The combination of the words “long live” and “government” is blasphemy.’ Is not that empty phraseology? They talk of overthrowing absolutism and at the same time are afraid to sully their tongues with a salutation to the revolutionary government... Just think of it! The revolt of the St Petersburg workmen has proved victorious. Absolutism has been overthrown. A provisional revolutionary government has been proclaimed. The workmen are joining in cries of ‘Long live the provisional revolutionary government!’ with their weapons still in their hands. Among them stand the staff of the Iskra, turning their tearful eyes up to heaven, beating their breasts in self-righteousness and crying aloud: ‘We thank Thee, O Lord God, that we are not as these sinners and that we do not sully our lips with these words!’ It is a marvel that these people are not afraid to sully their lips with cheers for the republic. The republic presupposes a government and — of this no Social-Democrat has ever been for a moment in doubt — a middle-class government. What then is the difference between cheering for the provisional revolutionary government and for the democratic republic? No. A thousand times No, Comrades! Do not be afraid of defaming yourselves by supporting a republican revolution to the uttermost of your power in common with revolutionary, middle-class democracy... If the Russian working class was able after 9 January, under conditions of political slavery, to mobilise more than a million of the proletariat for a resolute and deliberate collective action, we shall be able under a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship not only to mobilise millions and millions of the non-propertied classes in the towns and in the country but also to make the Russian political revolution the prelude to a European socialist revolution.

For the present Lenin’s hope that the victory of the democratic revolution in Russia would prove the prelude to that of socialism throughout Western Europe was compelled to await fulfilment in the future; for the defeat of the Russian Revolution in 1906-07 made an end to all these plans.

Lenin bore the defeat of his hopes with unshakable calm. Once more he was forced to continue his work beyond the Russian frontier. Throughout the years 1912-14 he directed the activities of his party from his place of refuge in Galicia, close to the Russian frontier. He taught his supporters to fill in the days of the counter-revolution with such activities as were legally permissible. The Bolsheviks published daily newspapers that sought to evade the watchful censorship and they were represented in the Duma by half a dozen deputies. At the same time they organised illegal and subversive associations. They bided their time until the outbreak of the World War in 1914 once again resuscitated the possibility of a Russian Revolution.


1. The word ‘provocation’ is a mistranslation. The standard translation of this passage in What Is To Be Done? is: ‘He is no Social-Democrat who forgets in practice his obligation to be ahead of all in raising, accentuating and solving every general democratic question.’ [MIA note]