Leon Trotsky


Preface to the First Edition

The events of 1905 formed a majestic prologue to the revolutionary drama of 1917. For a number of years, when the reaction was triumphant, the year 1905 appeared to us as a completed whole, as the Russian revolution. Today it has lost that independent nature, without at the same time forfeiting any of its historical significance. The revolution of 1905 grew directly out of the Russo-Japanese War, just as the revolution of 1917 was the direct outcome of the great imperialist slaughter. In this way, both in its origins and in its development the prologue carried within it all the elements of the historical drama whose witnesses and participants we are today. But in the prologue these elements appeared in a compressed, not as yet fully developed form. All the forces engaged in the struggle of 1905 are today illuminated more clearly than before by the light cast back on them by the events of 1917. The Red October, as we used to call it even then, grew after twelve years into another, incomparably more powerful and truly victorious October.

Our great advantage in 1905 was the fact that even during this phase of revolutionary prologue, we Marxists were already armed with the scientific method of comprehending historical processes. This enabled us to understand those relations which the material process of history revealed only as a series of hints. The chaotic July strikes of 1903 in the south of Russia had supplied us with material for concluding that a general strike of the proletariat with its subsequent transformation into an armed rising would become the fundamental form of the Russian revolution. The events of January 9, a vivid confirmation of this prognosis, demanded that the question of revolutionary power be raised in concrete fashion. From that moment on, the question of the nature of the Russian revolution and its inner class dynamic became a burning issue among the Russian social democrats of that time.

It was precisely in the interval between January 9 and the October strike of 1905 that those views which came to be called the theory of “permanent revolution” were formed in the author’s mind. This rather high-flown expression defines the thought that the Russian revolution, although directly concerned with bourgeois aims, could not stop short at those aims; the revolution could not solve its immediate, bourgeois tasks except by putting the proletariat into power. And the proletariat, once having power in its hands, would not be able to remain confined within the bourgeois framework of the revolution. On the contrary, precisely in order to guarantee its victory, the proletarian vanguard in the very earliest stages of its rule would have to make extremely deep inroads not only into feudal but also into bourgeois property relations. While doing so it would enter into hostile conflict, not only with all those bourgeois groups which had supported it during the first stages of its revolutionary struggle, but also with the broad masses of the peasantry, with whose collaboration it – the proletariat – had come into power.

The contradictions between a workers’ government and an overwhelming majority of peasants in a backward country could be resolved only on an international scale, in the arena of a world proletarian revolution. Having, by virtue of historical necessity, burst the narrow bourgeois-democratic confines of the Russian revolution, the victorious proletariat would be compelled also to burst its national and state confines, that is to say, it would have to strive consciously for the Russian revolution to become the prologue to a world revolution.

Despite an interruption of twelve years, this analysis has been entirely confirmed. The Russian revolution could not culminate in a bourgeois-democratic regime. It had to hand power over to the working class. In 1905, the working class was still too weak to seize power; but subsequent events forced it to gain maturity and strength, not in the environment of a bourgeois-democratic republic, but in the underground of the Tsarism of June 3. The proletariat came to power in 1917 with the help of the experience acquired by its older generation in 1905. That is why young workers today must have complete access to that experience and must, therefore, study the history of 1905.

As appendices to the first part of this book I have decided to print two articles, one of which (concerning Cherevanin’s book) was published in Kautsky’s journal Neue Zeit in 1908; while the other, devoted to expounding the theory of “permanent revolution” and a polemic against views on this subject which were dominant within Russian social democracy at the time, was published (I believe in 1909) in a Polish party journal whose guiding spirits were Rosa Luxemburg and Leo Jogiches. It seems to me that these articles will not only make it easier for readers to orient themselves in the debate among Russian social democrats during the period directly following the first revolution, but will also shed a reflected light on certain extremely important problems of the present day. The seizure of power in October 1917 was by no means an improvisation as the ordinary citizen was inclined to believe, and the nationalization of factories and plants by the victorious working class was by no means an “error“ of the workers’ government which, it is said, failed to give timely heed to the warning voice of the Mensheviks. These matters were discussed, and were solved in principle, over a period of a decade and a half.

The debate over the character of the Russian revolution had, even during that period, gone beyond the confines of Russian social democracy and had engaged the attention of the leading elements of world socialism. The Menshevik conception of bourgeois revolution was expounded most conscientiously, that is to say, most badly and candidly, in Cherevanin’s book. As soon as it appeared, the German opportunists seized hold of it with glee. At Kautsky’s suggestion I wrote an analytical review of Cherevanin’s book in Neue Zeit. At the time, Kautsky himself fully identified himself with my views. Like Mehring (now deceased), he adopted the viewpoint of “permanent revolution.” Today, Kautsky has retrospectively joined the ranks of the Mensheviks. He wants to reduce his past to the level of his present. But this falsification, which satisfies the claims of an unclear theoretical conscience, is encountering obstacles in the form of printed documents. What Kautsky wrote in the earlier – the better! – period of his scientific and literary activity (his reply to the Polish socialist Ljusnia, his studies on Russian and American workers, his reply to Plekhanov’s questionnaire concerning the character of the Russian revolution, etc.) was and remains a merciless reaction of Menshevism and a complete theoretical vindication of the subsequent political tactics of the Bolsheviks, whom thick-heads and renegades, with Kautsky today at their head, accuse of adventurism, demagogy, and Bakuninism.

As my third appendix I print the article The Struggle for Power, published in 1915 in the Paris newspaper Nashe Slovo, which is a presentation of the idea that those political relations which became clearly outlined in the first revolution must find their culmination and completion in the second.

This book lacks clarity on the question of formal democracy, as did the whole movement it describes. And this is not surprising: even ten years later, in 1917, our party was not yet completely clear in its own mind on this question. But this ambiguity, or lack of complete agreement, has nothing to do with matters of principle. In 1917 we were infinitely far removed from the mystique of democracy; we envisaged the progress of revolution, not as the putting into operation of certain absolute democratic norms, but as a war between classes which, for their temporary needs, had to make use of the slogans and the institutions of democracy. At that time, we directly advanced the slogan of the seizure of power by the working class, and we deduced the inevitability of this seizure of power, not from the chances of “democratic” election statistics, but from the correlation of class forces.

Even in 1905 the workers of Petersburg called their Soviet a proletarian government. The name became current and was entirely consistent with the program of struggle for the seizure of power by the working class. At the same time we opposed to Tsarism a developed program of political democracy (universal suffrage, republic, militia, etc.). And indeed we could not have done otherwise. Political democracy is an essential phase in the development of the working masses – with the important proviso that in some cases the working masses may remain in this phase for several decades, whereas in another case the revolutionary situation may enable the masses to liberate themselves from the prejudices of political democracy even before its institutions have come into being.

The state regime of the socialist revolutionaries and Mensheviks (March – October 1917) completely and utterly compromised democracy, even before it had time to be cast in any firm bourgeois-republican mold. And during that time, although having inscribed on our banner: “All power to the Soviets,” we were still formally supporting the slogans of democracy, unable as yet to give the masses (or even ourselves) a definite answer as to what would happen if the cogs of the wheels of formal democracy failed to mesh with the cogs of the Soviet system. During the time in which this book was written, and also much later, during the period of Kerensky’s rule, the essence of the task for us consisted in the actual seizure of power by the working class.

The formal, legalistic aspect of this process took second or third place, and we simply did not take the trouble to disentangle the formal contradictions at a time when the physical onslaught on the material obstacles still lay ahead.

The dispersal of the Constituent Assembly was a crudely revolutionary fulfillment of an aim which might also have been reached by means of a postponement or by the preparation of elections. But it was precisely this peremptory attitude towards the legalistic aspect of the means of struggle that made the problem of revolutionary power inescapably acute; and, in its turn, the dispersal of the Constituent Assembly by the armed forces of the proletariat necessitated a complete reconsideration of the interrelationship between democracy and dictatorship. In the final analysis, this represented both a theoretical and a practical gain for the Workers’ International.

The history of this book, very briefly, is as follows. It was written in Vienna in 1908-1909 for a German edition which appeared in Dresden. The German edition included certain chapters of my Russian book Our Revolution (1907), considerably modified and adapted for the non-Russian reader. The major part of the book was specially written for the German edition. I have now been obliged to reconstruct the text, partly on the basis of sections of the Russian manuscript still in existence, and partly by means of re-translating from the German. In this latter task I have been greatly helped by Comrade Ruhmer, who has done his work with extreme conscientiousness and care. I have revised the whole text and I hope that the reader will not be plagued with those innumerable mistakes, slips, misprints, and errors of all kinds which today are a constant feature of our publications.


L. Trotsky
12 January 1922

Preface to the Second Edition

The present edition differs from the first Russian edition in two respects. 1) I have added the speech delivered by the author at the London party congress (1907) concerning the relationship of social democracy (as it then was) with the bourgeois parties involved in the revolution. 2) The volume now includes the author’s reply to Comrade Pokrovsky on the subject of the special features of Russia’s historical development.


10 July, 1922

Preface to the German Edition

The time has not yet come for an exhaustive historical appraisal of the Russian revolution; the relations are not yet sufficiently defined; the revolution continues, giving rise to new consequences all the time, and its full significance cannot be taken in at a glance. The book here presented to the reader does not claim to be a historical work; it represents the evidence of a witness and a participant, written while the traces of the events are still fresh in his mind, and illuminated from the author’s party viewpoint – the author being a social democrat [1] in politics and a Marxist in science. Above all, the author has attempted to make clear to the reader the revolutionary struggle of the Russian proletariat which found its culmination – and, at the same time, its tragic conclusion – in the activities of the Petersburg Soviet of Workers’ Deputies. If he has succeeded in doing this, he will consider his main task to have been fulfilled.

* * *

The introduction is an analysis of the economic basis of the Russian revolution. It covers Tsarism, Russian capitalism, agrarian structure, production forms and relations, and social classes: the landowning nobility, the peasantry, large capital, the petty bourgeoisie, the intelligentsia, the proletariat – in their relationships to one another and to the state. Such is the content of the “introduction,” the purpose of which is to show to the reader in their static form those social forces which, subsequently, will appear before him in their revolutionary dynamic.

* * *

The book makes no claim, either, to any completeness as to factual material. We have deliberately refrained from attempting to give a detailed description of the revolution in the country as a whole; within the limited framework of our work, we could, at best, have furnished a list of facts which might have been useful for reference purposes but would have told nothing of the inner logic of the events nor of the form they actually assumed in life. We chose a different method: having selected those events and institutions which, as it were, summed up the very meaning of the revolution, we have placed the center of the movement – Petersburg – at the center of our narrative. We leave the northern capital only to the extent that the revolution itself shifted its central arena to the shores of the Black Sea (The Red Fleet), to the villages (The Peasant Riots), and to Moscow (December).

Having thus limited ourselves in space, we were compelled also to limit ourselves in time.

We have devoted most of the available space to the last three months of 1905 – October, November, and December – the culminating period of the revolution, which began with the great all-Russian strike and ended with the crushing of the December rising in Moscow.

As to the preceding preparatory period, we have extracted from it two moments which arc essential for an understanding of the progress of events as a whole. In the first place, we have chosen to discuss the brief “era” of Prince Svyatopolk-Mirsky, that honeymoon of rapprochement between the government and “the public,” when trust was the general watchword and when government announcements and liberal leading articles alike were written with pens dipped in a sickening mixture of aniline and treacle. Secondly, we discuss January 9, the Red Sunday unequalled in dramatic horror, when the atmosphere so saturated with mutual confidence was suddenly pierced by the scream of bullets fired from guardsmen’s rifles and shattered forever by the curses of the proletarian masses. The comedy of the liberal spring had come to an end. The tragedy of revolution was beginning.

We pass over in almost complete silence the eight months between January and October. Interesting though that period was in itself, it does not add anything fundamentally new without which the history of the three decisive months of 1905 might not be understood. The October strike was almost as much a direct consequence of the January procession to the Winter Palace as the December rising was a consequence of the October strike.

The final chapter of the historical part sums up the events of the revolutionary year, analyzes the method of revolutionary struggle and gives a brief description of the political developments of the three years that followed. The essential conclusion of this chapter can be expressed thus: La révolution est morte, vive la révolution!

The chapter devoted to the October strike is dated November 1905. It was written during the final hours of the great strike which drove the ruling clique into a blind alley and forced Nicholas II to sign with trembling hand the manifesto of October 17. At the time, this chapter was published as an article in two issues of the Petersburg social-democratic paper Nachalo; it is reproduced here almost without change, not only because it draws the general picture of the strike with a degree of completeness sufficient for our present purpose, but also because by its very mood and tone it is, to some extent, characteristic of the political texts that were published in that period.

* * *

The second part of the book represents an independent whole. It is the history of the court trial of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies and, subsequently, of the author’s exile to Siberia and his escape therefrom. However, there is an inner link between the two parts of the book; not only because at the end of 1905 the Petersburg Soviet of Workers’ Deputies stood at the very center of revolutionary events, but also, and above all, because its collective arrest marked the opening of the era of counter-revolution. One after the other, all revolutionary organizations throughout the country fell victim to the counter-revolution. Systematically, step by step, with ferocious determination and bloodthirsty vengefulness, the victors eradicated every trace of the great movement. And the less they were aware of any immediate danger, the more bloodthirsty became their contemptible vindictiveness. The Petersburg Soviet of Workers’ Deputies was brought before the court in 1906. The maximum sentence passed was privation of all civil rights and exile to Siberia for an unlimited period. The Yekaterinoslav Soviet of Workers’ Deputies was not tried until 1909, but the results were very different: several dozen of the condemned were sentenced to forced labor and thirty-two death sentences were pronounced, of which eight were actually carried out.

After the titanic struggle and the temporary victory of the revolution came the epoch of liquidation: arrests, exiles, attempted escapes, dispersion over the entire world – and therein lies the connection between the two parts of my book. We conclude this preface by expressing our warmest gratitude to Mrs. Zarudnaya-Kavos, the well-known Petersburg artist, who put at our disposal her pencil sketches and pen drawings made during the court trial of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies.


October 1909


Author’s Note

1. At the time this preface was written we still bore the name of social democrats.

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Last updated on: 30.8.2006