Leon Trotsky



The Driving Forces of the Russian Revolution

* * *

A population of 150 million people, 5.4 million square kilometers of land in Europe, 17.5 million in Asia. Within this vast space every epoch of human culture is to be found: from the primeval barbarism of the northern forests, where people eat raw fish and worship blocks of wood, to the modern social relations of the capitalist city, where socialist workers consciously recognize themselves as participants in world politics and keep a watchful eye on events in the Balkans and on debates in the German Reichstag. The most concentrated industry in Europe based on the most backward agriculture in Europe. The most colossal state apparatus in the world making use of every achievement of modern technological progress in order to retard the historical progress of its own country.

In the preceding chapters we have tried, leaving aside all details, to give a general picture of Russia’s economic relations and social contradictions. That is the soil on which our social classes grow, live and fight. The revolution will show us those classes at a period of the most intensive struggle. But there are consciously formed associations which intervene directly in a country’s political life: parties, unions, the army, the bureaucracy, the press and, placed above these, the ministers of state, the political leaders, the demagogues and the hangmen. Classes cannot be seen at a glance – they usually remain behind the scenes. Yet this does not prevent political parties and their leaders, as well as ministers of state and their hangmen, from being mere organs of their respective classes. Whether these organs are good or bad is by no means irrelevant to progress and the final outcome of events. If ministers are merely the hired servants of the “objective intelligence of the state,” this by no means relieves them of the necessity of having a modicum of brain inside their own skulls – a fact which they themselves are too often apt to overlook. On the other hand, the logic of the class struggle does not exempt us from the necessity of using our own logic. Whoever is unable to admit initiative, talent, energy, and heroism into the framework of historical necessity, has not grasped the philosophical secret of Marxism. But, conversely, if we want to grasp a political process – in this case, the revolution – as a whole, we must be capable of seeing, behind the motley of parties and programs, behind the perfidy and greed of some and the courage and idealism of others, the proper outlines of the social classes whose roots lie deep within the relations of production and whose flowers blossom in the highest spheres of ideology.

The Modern City

The nature of capitalist classes is closely bound up with the history of the development of industry and of the town. It is true that in Russia the industrial population coincides with the urban population to a lesser extent than anywhere else. Apart from the factory suburbs which, for purely formal reasons, are not included within the boundaries of towns, there exist several dozen important industrial centers in the countryside. Of the total number of existing enterprises, 57 per cent, employing 58 per cent of the total number of workers, are located outside the towns. Nevertheless the capitalist town remains the most complete expression of the new society.

The urban Russia of today is a product of the last few decades. During the first quarter of the eighteenth century Russia’s urban population was 328,000, that is, approximately 3 per cent of the total population of the country. In 1812, 1.6 million people were living in towns, which still represented only 4.4 per cent of the total. In the middle of the nineteenth century the urban population amounted to 3.5 million people, or 7.8 per cent. Finally, according to the census of 1897, the urban population by then already amounted to 16.3 million or approximately 13 per cent of the total. Between 1885 and 1897 the urban population had grown by 33.8 per cent, whereas the rural population had increased by only 12.7 per cent. The growth of individual cities during this period was more dramatic still. The population of Moscow rose from 604,000 to 1,359,000, that is, by 123 per cent. The southern towns – Odessa, Rostov-on-Don, Yekaterinoslav, Baku – developed at an even faster rate.

Parallel with the increase in the number and size of towns, the second half of the nineteenth century saw a complete transformation of the economic role of the town within the country’s internal class structure.

Unlike the artisanal and guild towns of Europe, which fought with energy and often with success for the concentration of all processing industries within their walls, but rather like the towns of the Asian despotic systems, the old Russian cities performed virtually no productive functions. They were military and administrative centers, field fortresses or, in some cases, commercial centers which, whatever their particular nature, drew their supplies entirely from outside. Their population consisted of officials maintained at the expense of the treasury, of merchants, and, lastly, of landowners looking for a safe harbor within the city walls. Even Moscow, the largest of the old Russian cities, was no more than a vast village dependent on the Tsar’s private lands.

The crafts occupied a negligible position in the towns, since, as we already know, the processing industries of the time took the form of cottage industries and were scattered over the countryside. The ancestors of the four million cottage craftsmen listed in the census of 1897 performed the productive functions of the European town artisan but, unlike the latter, had no connection whatever with the creation of manufacturing workshops and factories. When such workshops and factories did make their appearance, they proletarianized the larger part of the cottage craftsmen and placed the rest, directly or indirectly, under their domination.

Just as Russian industry has never lived through the epoch of medieval craftsmanship, so the Russian towns have never known the gradual growth of the third estate in workshops, guilds, communes, and municipalities. European capital created Russian industry in a matter of a few decades, and Russian industry in its turn created the modern cities in which the principal productive functions are performed by the proletariat.

The Big Capitalist Bourgeoisie

Thus large-scale capital achieved economic domination without a struggle. But the tremendous part played in this process by foreign capital has had a fatal impact on the Russian bourgeoisie’s power of political influence. As a result of state indebtedness, a considerable share of the national product went abroad year by year, enriching and strengthening the European bourgeoisie. But the aristocracy of the stock exchange, which holds the hegemony in European countries and which, without effort, turned the Tsarist government into its financial vassal, neither wished nor was able to become part of the bourgeois opposition within Russia, if only because no other form of national government would have guaranteed it the usurers’ rates of interest it exacted under Tsarism. As well as financial capital, foreign industrial capital, while exploiting Russia’s natural resources and labor power, had its political basis outside Russia’s frontiers – namely, the French, English, and Belgian parliaments.

Neither could our indigenous capital take up a position at the head of the national struggle with Tsarism, since, from the first, it was antagonistic to the popular masses – the proletariat, which it exploits directly, and the peasantry, which it robs indirectly through the state. This is particularly true of heavy industry which, at the present time, is everywhere dependent on state activities and, principally, on militarism. True, it is interested in a “firm civil rule of law,” but it has still greater need of concentrated state power, that great dispenser of bounties. The owners of metallurgical enterprises are confronted, in their own plants, with the most advanced and most active section of the working class for whom every sign that Tsarism is weakening is a signal for a further attack on capitalism.

The textile industry is less dependent on the state, and, furthermore, it is directly interested in raising the purchasing power of the masses, which cannot be done without far-reaching agrarian reform. That is why in 1905 Moscow, the textile city par excellence, showed a much fiercer, though not perhaps a more energetic, opposition to the autocratic bureaucracy than the Petersburg of the metalworkers. The Moscow municipal duma looked upon the rising tide with unquestionable goodwill. But when the revolution revealed the whole of its social content and, by so doing, impelled the textile workers to take the path that the metalworkers had taken before them, the Moscow duma shifted most resolutely, “as a matter of principle,” in the direction of firm state power. Counter-revolutionary capital, having joined forces with the counter-revolutionary landowners, found its leader in the Moscow merchant Guchkov, the leader of the majority in the third Duma.

The Bourgeois Intelligentsia

European capital, in preventing the development of Russian artisanal trade, thereby snatched the ground from under the feet of Russia’s bourgeois democracy. Can the Petersburg or Moscow of today be compared with the Berlin or Vienna of 1848, or with the Paris of 1789, which had not yet begun to dream of railways or the telegraph and regarded a workshop employing 300 men as the largest imaginable? We have never had even a trace of that sturdy middle class which first lived through centuries of schooling in self-government and political struggle and then, hand in hand with a young, as yet unformed proletariat, stormed the Bastilles of feudalism. What has Russia got in place of such a middle class? The “new middle class,” the professional intelligentsia: lawyers, journalists, doctors, engineers, university professors, schoolteachers. Deprived of any independent significance in social production, small in numbers, economically dependent, this social stratum, rightly conscious of its own powerlessness, keeps looking for a massive social class upon which it can lean. The curious fact is that such support was offered, in the first instance, not by the capitalists but by the landowners.

The Constitutional-Democratic (Kadet) party, which dominated the first two Dumas, was formed in 1905 as a result of the League of Landed Constitutionalists joining the League of Liberation. The liberal fronde of the Landed Constitutionalists, or zemtsy, was the expression, on the one hand, of the landowners’ envy and discontent with the monstrous industrial protectionism of the state, and, on the other hand, of the opposition of the more progressive landowners, who recognized the barbarism of Russia’s agrarian relations as an obstacle to their putting their land economy on a capitalist footing. The League of Liberation united those elements of the intelligentsia which, by their “decent” social status and their resulting prosperity, were prevented from taking the revolutionary path. The landed opposition was always marked with pusillanimous impotence, and our Most August dimwit was merely stating a bitter truth when, in 1894, he described its political aspirations as “senseless dreams.” Neither were the privileged members of the intelligentsia, those directly or indirectly dependent on the state, on state-protected large capital or on liberal landownership, capable of forming a political opposition that was even moderately impressive.

Consequently, the Kadet party was, by its very origins, a union of the oppositional impotence of the zemtsy with the all-around impotence of the diploma-carrying intelligentsia. The real face of the agrarians’ liberalism was fully revealed by the end of 1905, when the landowners, startled by the rural disorders, swung sharply around to support the old regime. The liberal intelligentsia, with tears in its eyes, was obliged to forsake the country estate where, when all is said and done, it had been no more than a fosterchild, and to seek recognition in its historic home, the city. But what did it find in the city, other than its own self? It found the conservative capitalist bourgeoisie, the revolutionary proletariat, and the irreconcilable class antagonism between the two.

The same antagonism has split to their very foundations our smaller industries in all those branches where they still retain any importance. The craft proletariat is developing in a climate of large-scale industry and differs only little from the factory proletariat. Other Russian craftsmen, under pressure from large-scale industry and the working-class movement, represent an ignorant, hungry, embittered class which, together with the lumpenproletariat, provides the fighting legions for the Black Hundreds demonstrations and pogroms.

As a result we have a hopelessly retarded bourgeois intelligentsia born to the accompaniment of socialist imprecations, which today is suspended over an abyss of class contradictions, weighed down with feudal traditions and caught in a web of academic prejudices, lacking initiative, lacking all influence over the masses, and devoid of all confidence in the future.

The Proletariat

The same factors of a world-historical nature which had transformed Russia’s bourgeois democracy into a head (and a pretty muddled head at that) without a body, also determined the outstanding role of Russia’s young proletariat. But, before we inquire into anything else, how large is that proletariat?

The highly incomplete figures of 1897 supply the following answer:



Mining and processing industries,
transport, building and commercial enterprises



Agriculture, forestry, fisheries and hunting



Day laborers and apprentices



Servants, porters, janitors etc.



Total (men and women)


In 1897, the proletariat, including dependent family members, comprised 27.6 per cent of the total population, that is, slightly over one-quarter. The degree of political activity of separate strata within this mass of workers varies considerably, the leading role in the revolution being held almost exclusively by workers in group A in the table above. It would, however, be a most flagrant error to measure the real and potential significance of the Russian proletariat by its relative proportion within the population as a whole. To do so would be to fail to see the social relations concealed behind the figures.

The influence of the proletariat is determined by its role in the modern economy. The nation’s most powerful means of production depend directly on the workers. Not less than half the nation’s annual income is produced by 3.3 million workers (group A). The railways, our most important means of transport, which alone are able to convert our vast country into an economic whole, represent – as events have shown – an economic and political factor of the utmost importance in the hands of the proletariat. To this we should add the postal services and the telegraph, whose dependence on the proletariat is less direct but nonetheless very real.

While the peasantry is scattered over the entire countryside, the proletariat is concentrated in large masses in the factories and industrial centers. It forms the nucleus of the population of every town of any economic or political importance, and all the advantages of the town in a capitalist country – concentration of the productive forces, the means of production, the most active elements of the population, and the greatest cultural benefits – are naturally transformed into class advantages for the proletariat. Its self-determination as a class has developed with a rapidity unequaled in previous history. Scarcely emerged from the cradle, the Russian proletariat found itself faced with the most concentrated state power and the equally concentrated power of capital. Craft prejudices and guild traditions had no power whatsoever over its consciousness. From its first steps it entered upon the path of irreconcilable class struggle.

In this way the negligible role of artisanal crafts in Russia and of minor industry in general, together with the exceptionally developed state of Russia’s large-scale industry, have led in politics to the displacement of bourgeois democracy by proletarian democracy. Together with its productive functions, the proletariat has taken over the petty bourgeoisie’s historical role as played in previous revolutions, and also its historical claims to leadership over the peasant masses during the epoch of their emancipation, as an estate, from the yoke of the nobility and the state fiscal organization.

The agrarian problem proved to be the political touchstone by which history put the urban political parties to the test.

The Nobility and Landowners

The Kadet (or, rather, former Kadet) program of enforced expropriation of large and medium landholdings on the basis of “just assessments” represents, in the Kadets’ view, the maximum of what can be achieved by means of “creative legislative effort.” But in reality the liberals’ attempt to expropriate the large landed estates by legislative means led only to the government’s denial of electoral rights and to the coup d’état of June 3, 1907. The Kadets viewed the liquidation of the landowning nobility as a purely financial operation, trying conscientiously to make their “just assessment” as acceptable as possible to the landowners. But the nobility took a very different view of the matter. With its infallible instinct it realized at once that what was at stake was not simply the sale of 50 million dessyatins, even at high prices, but the liquidation of its entire social role as a ruling estate; and, therefore, it refused point blank to allow itself to be thus auctioned off. Count Saltykov, addressing the landowners in the first Duma, cried: “Let your motto and your slogan be: not a square inch of our land, not a handful of earth from our fields, not a blade of grass from our meadows, not the smallest twig on a single tree from our forests!” And this was not a voice crying in the wilderness: the years of revolution were precisely the period of estate concentration and political consolidation for the Russian nobility.

During the time of darkest reaction, under Alexander III, the nobility was only one of our estates, even if the first among them. The autocracy, vigilantly protecting its own independence, never for a moment allowed the nobility to escape from the grip of police supervision, putting the muzzle of state control on the maw of its natural greed. Today, on the other hand, the nobility is the commanding estate in the fullest sense of the word: it makes the provincial governors dance to its tune, threatens the ministers and openly dismisses them, puts ultimata to the government and makes sure that these ultimata are observed. Its slogan is: not a square inch of our land, not a particle of our privileges!

Approximately 75 million dessyatins are concentrated in the hands of 60,000 private landowners with annual incomes of more than 1,000 roubles; at a market price of 56 billion roubles, this land produces more than 450 million roubles net profit per annum for its owners. Not less than two-thirds of this sum is the nobility’s share. The bureaucracy is closely linked with land ownership. Almost 200 million roubles are spent annually on maintaining 30,000 officials receiving salaries of more than 1,000 roubles. And it is precisely in these middle and higher ranges of officialdom that the nobility is noticeably preponderant. Lastly, it is once more the nobility which is in full control of the organs of rural local government and the incomes derived therefrom.

Whereas, before the revolution, a good half of the rural administrations were headed by “liberal” landowners who had come to the fore on the basis of their “progressive” activities in the rural sphere, the years of revolution have entirely reversed this situation, so that, as a result, the leading positions are now occupied by the most irreconcilable representatives of the land owners’ reaction. The all-powerful Council of the United Nobility is nipping in the bud all attempts by the government, undertaken in the interests of capitalist industry, to “democratize” the rural administrations or to weaken the chains of estate slavery which bind our peasantry hand and foot.

In the face of these facts, the agrarian program of the Kadets as a basis for legislative agreement has proved hopelessly utopian, and it is hardly surprising that the Kadets themselves have tacitly abandoned it.

The social democrats criticized the Kadet program principally on the grounds of the “just assessment,” and they were right to do so. From the financial viewpoint alone, the purchase of all landed estates bringing in a profit of over 1,000 roubles a year would have added a round sum of 5 to 6 billion roubles to our national debt, which already amounts to 9 billion roubles; which means that interest alone would have begun to swallow up three-quarters of a billion roubles a year. However, what matters is not the financial but the political aspect of the question.

The conditions of the so-called liberation reform of 1861, with the help of the excessive redemption fees paid for peasant lands, in fact compensated the landowners for the peasant “souls” lost (roughly to the extent of one-quarter of a billion roubles, that is, 25 per cent of the total redemption fees). On the basis of a “just assessment” the important historical rights and privileges of the nobility would really have been liquidated; the nobility therefore preferred to adapt itself to the semi-liberation reform, and was quickly reconciled to it. At that time, the nobility showed correct instinct, as it does today when it resolutely refuses to commit suicide as an estate, however “just” the "assessment.” Not a square inch of our land, not a particle of our privileges! Under this banner the nobility has finally acquired dominance over the government apparatus so badly shaken by the revolution; and it has shown that it is determined to fight with all the ferocity of which a governing class is capable in a matter of life or death.

The agrarian problem cannot be solved by means of parliamentary agreement with the landed estate, but only by means of a revolutionary onslaught by the masses.

The Peasantry and the Towns

The knot of Russia’s social and political barbarism was tied in the countryside; but this does not mean that the countryside has produced a class capable, by its own forces, of cutting through that knot. The peasantry, scattered in 500,000 villages and hamlets over the 5 million square versts of European Russia, has not inherited from its past any tradition or habit of concerted political struggle. During the agrarian riots of 1905 and 1906, the aim of the mutinous peasants was reduced to driving the landowners outside the boundaries of their village, their rural area and finally, their administrative area. Against the peasant revolution the landed nobility had in its hands the ready-made weapon of the centralized apparatus of the state. The peasantry could have overcome this obstacle only by means of a resolute uprising unified both in time and in effort. But, owing to all the conditions of their existence, the peasants proved quite incapable of such an uprising. Local cretinism is history’s curse on all peasant riots. They liberate themselves from this curse only to the extent that they cease to be purely peasant movements and merge with the revolutionary movements of new social classes.

As far back as the revolution of the German peasantry during the first quarter of the sixteenth century, the peasantry placed itself quite naturally under the direct leadership of the urban parties, despite the economic weakness and political insignificance of German towns at that time. Socially revolutionary in its objective interests, yet politically fragmented and powerless, the peasantry was incapable of forming a party of its own, and so gave way – depending on local conditions – either to the oppositional-burgher or to the revolutionary-plebeian parties of the towns. These last, the only force which could have ensured the victory of the peasant revolution, were however (although based on the most radical class of the society of that time, the embryo of the modern proletariat) entirely without links with the rest of the nation or any clear consciousness of revolutionary aims. They were without them because of the country’s lack of economic development, the primitive means of transport, and state particularism. Hence the problem of revolutionary cooperation between the mutinous countryside and the urban plebs was nor solved at that time because it could not be solved; and the peasant movement was crushed.

More than three centuries later, correlations of a similar kind were seen again in the revolution of 1848. The liberal bourgeoisie not only did not want to arouse the peasantry and unite it around itself, it actually feared the growth of the peasant movement more than anything else, precisely because this growth would have the primary effect of intensifying and strengthening the position of the plebeian, radical urban elements against the liberal bourgeoisie itself. Yet these elements were still socially and politically amorphous and fragmented and consequently were unable to displace the liberal bourgeoisie and place themselves at the head of the peasant masses. The revolution of 1848 was defeated.

Yet, six decades previously, the problems of revolution were triumphantly resolved in France, precisely through the cooperation of the peasantry with the urban plebs, that is, the proletariat, semi-proletariat, and lumpenproletariat of the time. This “cooperation” took the form of the Convention, that is, of the dictatorship of the city over the countryside, of Paris over the provinces, and of the sans-culottes over Paris.

Under contemporary Russian conditions, the social preponderance of the industrial population over the rural population is incomparably greater than at the time of the old European revolutions, and further, a clearly defined industrial proletariat has replaced the chaotic plebs. One thing, however, has not changed: only a party which has the revolutionary urban masses behind it, and which is not afraid, out of pious respect for bourgeois private property, to revolutionize feudal ownership, can rely on the peasantry at a time of revolution. Today only the Social Democrats are such a party.

The Nature of the Russian Revolution

So far as its direct and indirect tasks are concerned, the Russian revolution is a “bourgeois” revolution because it sets out to liberate bourgeois society from the chains and fetters of absolutism and feudal ownership. But the principal driving force of the Russian revolution is the proletariat, and that is why, so far as its method is concerned, it is a proletarian revolution. Many pedants who insist on determining the historical role of the proletariat by means of arithmetical or statistical calculations, or establishing it by means of formal historical analogies, have shown themselves incapable of digesting this contradiction. They see the bourgeoisie as the providence-sent leader of the Russian revolution. They try to wrap the proletariat – which, in fact, marched at the head of events at all stages of the revolutionary rising – in the swaddling-clothes of their own theoretical immaturity. For such pedants, the history of one capitalist nation repeats the history of another, with, of course, certain more or less important divergences. Today they fail to see the unified process of world capitalist development which swallows up all the countries that lie in its path and which creates, out of the national and general exigencies of capitalism, an amalgam whose nature cannot be understood by the application of historical cliches, but only by materialist analysis.

There can be no analogy of historical development between, on the one hand, England, the pioneer of capitalism, which has been creating new social forms for centuries and has also created a powerful bourgeoisie as the expression of these new forms and on the other hand, the colonies of today, to which European capital delivers ready-made rails, sleepers, nuts and bolts in ready-made battleships for the use of the colonial administration, and then, with rifle and bayonet, drives the natives from their primitive environment straight into capitalist civilization: there can be no analogy of historical development, certainly, but there does exist a profound inner connection between the two.

The new Russia acquired its absolutely specific character because it received its capitalist baptism in the latter half of the nineteenth century from European capital which by then had reached its most concentrated and abstract form, that of finance capital. The previous history of European capital is in no way connected with the previous history of Russia. In order to attain, on its native ground, the heights of the modern stock exchange, European capital had first to escape from the narrow streets and lanes of the artisanal town where it had learned to crawl and walk; it was obliged, in ceaseless struggle with the Church, to develop science and technology, to rally the entire nation around itself, to gain power by means of uprisings against feudal and dynastic privileges, to clear an open arena for itself, to kill off the independent small industries from which it had itself emerged, having severed the national umbilical cord and shaken the dust of its forefathers from its feet, having rid itself of political prejudice, racial sympathies, geographical longitudes and latitudes, in order, then, at last to soar high above the globe in all its voracious glory, today poisoning with opium the Chinese craftsman whom it has ruined, tomorrow enriching the Russian seas with new warships, the day after seizing diamond deposits in South Africa.

But when English or French capital, the historical coagulate of many centuries, appears in the steppes of the Donets basin, it cannot release the same social forces, relations, and passions which once went into its own formation. It does not repeat on the new territory the development which it has already completed, but starts from the point at which it has arrived on its own ground. Around the machines which it has transported across the seas and the customs barriers, it immediately, without any intermediate stages whatever, concentrates the masses of a new proletariat, and into this class it instills the revolutionary energy of all the past generations of the bourgeoisie – an energy which in Europe has by now become stagnant.

During the heroic period of French history we see a bourgeoisie which has not yet realized the contradictions of its own position, a bourgeoisie upon which history has placed the leadership of a struggle for a new order, not only against the outdated institutions of France, but also against reactionary forces in Europe as a whole. The bourgeoisie, personified by all its factions in turn, gradually becomes conscious of itself and becomes the leader of the nation; it draws the masses into the struggle, gives them slogans to fight for, and dictates the tactics of their fight.

Democracy unifies the nation by giving it a political ideology. The people – the petty bourgeoisie, the peasants and the workers – appoint the bourgeoisie as their deputies, and the orders issued to these deputies by the communes are written in the language of a bourgeoisie becoming conscious of its Messianic role. During the revolution itself, although class antagonisms become apparent, the powerful momentum of revolutionary struggle nevertheless consistently removes the most static elements of the bourgeoisie from the political path. No layer is stripped off before it has handed its energy over to the succeeding layers. The nation as a whole continues during all this time to fight for its objectives, using increasingly more radical and decisive means. When the uppermost layers of the property-owning bourgeoisie cut themselves off from the national nucleus which had thus been set in motion, and when they entered into an alliance with Louis XVI, the democratic demands of the nation, now directed against the bourgeoisie as well, led to universal franchise and to the Republic as being the logically inevitable form of democracy.

The great French Revolution was truly a national revolution. But more than that: here, within a national framework, the world struggle of the bourgeois order for domination, for power, and for unimpaired triumph found its classic expression.

By 1848 the bourgeoisie was already unable to play a similar role. It did not want to, and could not, assume responsibility for a revolutionary liquidation of the social order which barred the way to its own dominance. Its task – and this it fully realized – consisted in introducing into the old order certain essential guarantees, not of its own political dominance, but only of co-dominance with the forces of the past. It not only failed to lead the masses in storming the old order; it used the old order as a defense against the masses who were trying to push it forward. Its consciousness rebelled against the objective conditions of its dominance. Democratic institutions were reflected in its mind, not as the aim and purpose of its struggle, but as a threat to its well-being. The revolution could not be made by the bourgeoisie, but only against the bourgeoisie. That is why a successful revolution in 1848 would have needed a class capable of marching at the head of events regardless of the bourgeoisie and despite it, a class prepared not only to push the bourgeoisie forward by the force of its pressure, but also, at the decisive moment, to kick the political corpse of the bourgeoisie out of its way.

Neither the petty bourgeoisie nor the peasantry were capable of this. The petty bourgeoisie was hostile not only to the immediate past, but also to the possible future – to the morrow. Still fettered by medieval relations, but already incapable of resisting “free” industry; still centering itself on the cities, but already yielding its influence to the middle and higher bourgeoisie; sunk in its prejudices, deafened by the roar of events, exploiting and exploited, greedy and impotent in its greed, the provincial petty bourgeoisie was incapable of directing world events.

The peasantry was deprived of independent initiative to a still greater extent. Dispersed, cut off from the cities which were the nerve centers of politics and culture, dull-minded, its intellectual horizons hedged in like its meadows and fields, indifferent towards everything that the cities had created by invention and thought, the peasantry could not assume any leading significance. Appeased as soon as the burden of feudal tithes was removed from its shoulders, it repaid the cities, which had fought for its rights, with black ingratitude: the liberated peasants became fanatics of “order.”

The democratic intellectual, devoid of class force, trotted after the liberal bourgeoisie as after an older sister. It acted merely as its political tail. It abandoned it at moments of crisis. It revealed only its own impotence. It was confused by its contradictions – which had not yet fully ripened – and it carried this confusion with it wherever it went.

The proletariat was too weak and had too little organization, experience, and knowledge. Capitalist development had gone far enough to necessitate the destruction of the old feudal relations, but not far enough to advance the working class, the product of the new production relations, to the position of a decisive political force. The antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie had gone too far to enable the bourgeoisie to assume the role of national leadership without fear, but not far enough to enable the proletariat to grasp that role.

Austria provided a particularly acute and tragic example of this political unreadiness in the revolutionary period. The Vienna proletariat in 1848 gave evidence of selfless heroism and great revolutionary energy. Again and again it faced the fire of battle, driven solely by an obscure class instinct, having no general idea of the objective of the struggle, groping its way blindly from one slogan to the next. Surprisingly, the leadership of the proletariat passed into the hands of the students, the only democratic group which, because of its active nature, enjoyed considerable influence over the masses and, consequently, over the events.

But although the students could fight bravely on the barricades and fraternize sincerely with the workers, they were quite incapable of directing the general progress of the revolution which had handed over to them the “dictatorship” of the streets. When, on the twenty-sixth of May, the whole of working Vienna followed the students’ call and rose to its feet to fight against the disarming of the “academic legion,” when the population of Vienna took de facto possession of the city, when the monarchy, by this time on the run, had lost all meaning, when, under the people’s pressure, the last troops were removed from the city, when it seemed that Austrian state power could be had for the asking, no political force was available to take over. The liberal bourgeoisie consciously did not wish to seize power in so cavalier a fashion. It could only dream of the return of the Emperor, who had betaken himself from orphaned Vienna to the Tyrol. The workers were courageous enough to smash the reaction, but not organized nor conscious enough to become its successors. The proletariat, unable to take over, was equally unable to impel the democratic bourgeoisie – which, as often happens, had made itself scarce at the most crucial moment – to take this historic and heroic action. The situation which resulted was quite correctly described by a contemporary writer in the following terms: “A de facto republic was established in Vienna, but unfortunately, no one saw this . . .” From the events of 1848-49, Lassalle drew the unshakable conviction that “no struggle in Europe can be successful unless, from the very start, it declares itself to be purely socialist; no struggle into which social questions enter merely as an obscure element, and where they are present only in the background; no struggle which outwardly is waged under the banner of national resurgence or bourgeois republicanism, can ever again be successful.”

In the revolution whose beginning history will identify with the year 1905, the proletariat stepped forward for the first time under its own banner in the name of its own objectives. Yet at the same time there can be no doubt that no revolution in the past has absorbed such a mass of popular energy while yielding such minimal positive results as the Russian revolution has done up to the present. We are far from wanting to prophesy the events of the coming weeks or months. But one thing is clear to us: victory is possible only along the path mapped out by Lassalle in 1849. There can be no return from the class struggle to the unity of a bourgeois nation. The “lack of results” of the Russian revolution is only the temporary reflection of its profound social character. In this bourgeois revolution without a revolutionary bourgeoisie, the proletariat is driven, by the internal progress of events, towards hegemony over the peasantry and to the struggle for state power. The first wave of the Russian revolution was smashed by the dull-wittedness of the muzhik, who, at home in his village, hoping to seize a bit of land, fought the squire, but who, having donned a soldier’s uniform, fired upon the worker. All the events of the revolution of 1905 can be viewed as a series of ruthless object lessons by means of which history drums into the peasant’s skull a consciousness of his local land hunger and the central problem of state power. The preconditions for revolutionary victory are forged in the historic school of harsh conflicts and cruel defeats.

Marx wrote in 1852,

Bourgeois revolutions storm swiftly from success to success; their dramatic effects outdo each other; men and things seem set in sparkling brilliance; ecstasy is the everyday spirit; but they are short-lived; soon they have attained their zenith, and a long crapulent depression lays hold of society before it learns soberly to assimilate the results of its storm-and-stress period. On the other hand, proletarian revolutions ... criticize themselves constantly, interrupt themselves continually in their own course, come back to the apparently accomplished in order to begin it afresh, deride with unmerciful thoroughness the inadequacies, weaknesses and paltrinesses of their first attempts, seem to throw down their adversary only in order that he may draw new strength from the earth and rise again, more gigantic, before them, recoil ever and anon from the indefinite prodigiousness of their own aims, until a situation has been created in which all turning back is impossible, and the conditions themselves cry out:

Hic Rhodus, hic salta!

(The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte)

return return return

Last updated on: 13.11.2006