Leon Trotsky

Political Letter II


Written: 1905.
Source: First published in Iskra n. 93, 17 March 1905.
Translated: Olga Gluschenko.
Online Version: http://web.mit.edu/fjk/www/Trotsky/Permanent/chapter14.html.
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Orestes P.
Copyleft: Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

Iskra n. 93. This article written by Trotsky was a continuation of his Political Letter I published in Iskra n. 90. The first part was devoted to assessing the results of the Russo-Japanese War, the ever-growing conflict between the government and all the classes of the people was described there as well. It did not cause any public objections from the Editorial office of Iskra. Trotsky ended this article with the following foresight: After January, 9 you can not stop the revolution. It leads us to the culminating point without caring about the military secret, openly and loudly, mocking the routine of life and dissipating its hypnosis. It prepares all-Russian uprising.

So, our task is not only to unleash the revolution but also to prepare the conditions for its victory. This issue was considered in the leading article in Iskra n. 87. So we can even go further and say: no need to unleash the revolution because it is already unleashed and the goal is just to prepare its victory. But how? By adding the elements of the political and technical organization to the unleashed revolutionary situation. In short it means to organize a revolution. So that issue was considered in the article by Comrade Parvus named Results and Prospects. At first the Editorial office considered it as a pure misunderstanding but later accepted it and now this article became highly cited.

There is no dispute, you can write a very interesting article on Marxism revealing the point that you can not make a revolution as for example a kettle or a piece of chintz but when the revolution is already in process, when the revolutionaries should care not only about the outbreak but also about its results, only then the writings will be practical and fruitful: how to prepare a favorable outcome that is how to organize a revolution. Yes, how to organize a revolution?

The revolution is not the same thing as the uprising. You can write one or even two perfect articles on this subject. Revolution is a difficult sometimes very long historical process that results in transferring political power to a new social force. An armed uprising is only a technical point which may be or may not be a part of the revolution. That is indisputable. But that is definitely that we will not be good if we do not realize that our revolution, the one that takes place now requires this technical point and it can not go further without an uprising. So, we should organize a revolution. The next stage of the revolution is the uprising of the people – we need to organize a rebellion.

It is no doubt that the people’s uprising is not the same thing as the conspiracy. Of course only for revolutionary romanticist to have a plan for a conspiracy means to have the rebellion encrypted. Of course the French revolutionaries of ’40s were fantasists and alchemists. But does this mean that now in March 1905 preparing the uprising in Russia is alchemy and science fiction? Well, of course not. The leading article War Notes of Iskra n. 87 is the proof of it as well as the Russian proletariat which showed the gap of revolutionary energy and revolutionary tenacity. It ran quickly the prologue of the Great Russian Revolution and now it is preparing for an uprising.

Now our political and technical activities should be focused on people’s uprising. Every individual, spontaneously arising mass meeting should be infiltrated with the idea of the necessity of simultaneous all-Russian meeting. Everything should serve to achieve one goal: the proclamation, speech, interest circles. There should be vivid and continuous connection between the cities built on the idea of approaching a moment when everyone will have to rise to rebellion. Each committee should put forward a new authority: military one. This authority will grow and develop rapidly and during the rebellion it will completely subdue the rest.

Of course despite our intolerance we do not seek to monopolize in our ranks the preparation and the uprising itself. For such claims we should have a huge surplus of forces which we do not have at all. We will say to every revolutionary and to every revolutionary squad that will be willing to take over any part of the military operation you are very welcome. The issue described in the leading article n. 85 was quite accurate. Unfortunately they forgot to add that there was no one on the revolutionary field except us. And this sad fact will deprive us of the opportunity to show in any way the quality of revolutionary hospitality. It is no need to wait the revolutionary radicals. Revolution loomed, rebellion is on the way but we are alone. If we are strong the revolution will be strong in organizational points, and if we are weak the revolution is organizationally weak. But for us the revolution will be deprived of organization and guiding elements. The revolution has a lot of surprises but these surprises are subjected to the general laws. We have no social ground for Jacobin democracy, we always understood it, we ourselves are the product of this fact and it is due to our victorious struggle against the populists and ... our almost complete revolutionary loneliness. G. Gapon was one of the most brilliant surprises of the revolution but he is not all-powerful. His idea turned out to be literally mayflies and now he has no choice but to join to one of the socialist parties which existed before and which in a sense prepared his appearance. The choice of George Gapon is not difficult because there is only one party.

Maybe from some other abstract (in another sense) point of view it can be argued that it would be very good if we have the leading Jacobin party with the prospect of the dictatorship in the future and with the obligation to carry out the dirty work of the revolution in the present and we would save purely political leadership over the proletariat. But we do not, and the dirty work should be done in any way and we need to take it by ourselves because we are honest revolutionaries so it means to monopolize it. The implementation of this dirty revolutionary work, the uprising organization becomes our main political duty.

The main slogan of our campaign is National Constituent Assembly. This requirement opposed to the requirement of the Zemsky Sobor (Assembly of the Land) played a huge role. For liberal skeptics the requirement of the Constituent Assembly was just a naive revolutionary utopia and now it became the slogan for the great number of the people, now it has a meaning even for liberals . As a result the opposition requirement of the Zemsky Sobor became the slogan. The proletariat will rise immediately not only against the tsarist regime but also against the dominant groups which will deal with the tsarist government based on the manifesto and rescript on February, 18: to consult with the tsar on how to crush the revolution. After January, 9 the peace constitutional agreement became reactionary utopia and there was no need to deny the fact of revolution. History put on the waiting list, in order of urgency, a question of a peaceful compromise with the government and the issues of the people’s uprising which will crush and wipe out the tsarist system of government. At the time when the bureaucracy set up commissions to solve the problem specified in the rescript on February, 18: that is when and how to convene an anonymous assembly (Zemsky Sobor)? Our task is to explain to the people who are confident of the relentless war declaration in the manifest of February 18 – who and how to convoke the Constituent Assembly?

When our party promoted the idea of the Constituent Assembly we asked the question to whom is addressed this requirement. In fact it was addressed to the people but formally it was addressed to the tsarist government or even to the Provisional Government. Today this answer is not enough. Today the revolutionary people that accepted our requirement should know to whom they address it to or to be more precisely where is the executive body of the people’s will for the convening of the Constituent Assembly? Now after the 9th of January on the eve of the uprising which we are seeking for there is no room for doubt. We will win the Constituent Assembly by the uprising and it will be convened by the Provisional Government. That is our response.

We need to promote among the people the idea of the Provisional Government in order to arm the masses with the certain requirements to the Provisional Government. The reorganization of the bureaucratic police and military apparatus, the expulsion of all the bloodthirsty villains, replacing them with so-called friends of the people and arming of the people at public expense these are the issues that should firstly be carried out by the Provisional Government and which will make it possible to work without hindrance for the representatives of the people. In short disarmament of the revolution should precede the Constituent Assembly convocation. The Provisional government is a government of the revolutionary people that faces the militant opposition.

Once again: if we believe in the inevitability of revolutionary renewal of Russia, if we believe in the imminent rebellion and strive for it, if we want to win this rebellion that means we want to form a revolutionary Provisional Government. Our direct and immediate responsibility is to convey the idea of what unconscious historical process will bring to us. Our direct and immediate responsibility is to raise the slogan: Long live the Provisional Government!

Who makes up the Provisional Government? Those who were supported by the masses, that is the ones who will lead them in decisive days of the revolution. The ones who believe in miracles, who consider the revolution to be able to turn quickly into Jacobin democracy, those have a right to think that the Provisional Government will be its heritage. But at the same time they can oppose the slogan: Long live the Provisional Government! because of the anti-revolutionary prejudices. We say: long live the democratic republic though we know that it will be bourgeois. We say: long live the sovereignty of the people though we know that with the power of the historical logic the sovereignty of the people will be only semi-mystical, multi-juridical protection for the political domination of the bourgeoisie.

But just as a democratic republic and the sovereignty of the people is very revolutionary slogans along with absolutism and the sovereignty of the Romanovs so the idea of a provisional revolutionary government, bourgeois as opposed to the tsarist government, means the enormity of the revolution, final break with monarchical tradition and therefore it should be promoted by us at this critical moment. Of course when we will have bourgeois revolutionary government instead of tsarist one we will expose before the people without any mercy its narrowness and the proletariat will lead it forward under guard, will protect it and will force it to fulfill its responsibilities.

But let’s look back and ask ourselves: where are the conscious revolutionary elements standing outside the proletariat which could be on the crest of the revolution? They do not exist and will never be. Each new step will result in the tide of faith and courage in the hearts of our liberals and so-called democrats. After all they are growing up. But they only grow up and the proletariat grows. It develops self-confidence, perseverance, tenacity, and distrust for candidates to leadership wonderful political qualities! Local and banqueting sessions during which a worker was interviewed (not always friendly) by the representative of Zemstvo and by the so-called liberals they gave to the workers the essential political lessons and showed them distrust to the leaders. Of course thousands of proletarians already made political choice but there still remains millions of people who were exited to unleash a revolution. But the way to these millions lay only through tens of thousands because they are the core of their class and their influence in the revolutionary era is quickly growing.

The proletariat influence on the event is growing less quickly. If the renovation of Russia followed the path of compromises and deals, then our working class could hardly imagine its role which it has now. The revolution put forward the proletariat and gives hegemony to it. What important role plays the strike in the current situation! It approximately corresponds to the place which the proletariat is having in a revolution.

The victory of the uprising as well as the triumph of the revolution can be achieved only by the proletariat. The other groups of the urban population and the peasantry will play its own role in the revolution so they will follow the proletariat, will support them and will facilitate their work. Neither peasantry nor intelligentsia will play the same revolutionary role as proletariat!

For us, the Social Democrats, hopefully it is not just words. Therefore the composition of the Provisional Government will mainly depend on the proletariat. To be more precisely, if the uprising wins a decisive victory then the power will be given to those who led the proletariat.

It means nothing but the fact that the revolutionary development involves the proletariat and therefore our party with its temporary political power.

If we decide to give it up then primarily we need to abandon the tactics designed to:

  1. the revolutionary development of the events
  2. the leading role of the proletariat
  3. the leadership of our Party in the proletariat.

Of course we will not refuse any of that. And since we are the most consistent of all the political parties we will not refuse the conclusions which we made before.

Let’s take an example. The election to Shidlovsky commission had a sad ending for the government because about 400 people represented the proletariat of St. Petersburg. There were a dozen among 400 with the most authoritative and popular workers of St. Petersburg. The election resulted in a strike. The strike may go into rebellion. Rebellion can lead to victory. Victory will result in the formation of the Provisional Government. Workers – the Social Democrats assigned to be a part of Shidlovsky commission may get into the Provisional Government. What requirements will submit the Party to them as to its members? Will they refuse to join the Provisional Government? Or if they join they will pretend to be bourgeois radicals? No, it will require that:

  1. they will provide the majority
  2. they work under its control.

And in order to ensure that the Party could provide an actual control it should arm the masses with the specific requirements to the Provisional Government. To do this it is necessary to popularize the idea of the Provisional Government.

I finish my Letter with the slogans which, as follows from the above considerations, should be focused on our revolutionary work:


From the editors: As the reader can see from the previous article (Revolutionary Perspectives" and from the feuilleton The next step we do not share the views in this letter written by our constant worker Comrade T.

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Last updated on: 26.3.2013