Leon Trotsky

The History of the Russian Revolution

Volume One: The Overthrow of Tzarism

Volume 1: Appendix II
(to the chapter Re-arming the Party)

In a New York daily paper, Novy Mir, published for the Russian workers in America, the author of this book attempted an analysis and a prognosis of the development of the revolution on the basis of the scant information supplied by the American press. “The inner history of the developing events,” wrote the author on March 6, 1917 (old style), “is known to us only in fragments and hints which have crept into the official despatches.” The series of articles devoted to the revolution begins on February 27 and breaks off on March 14 with the departure of the author from New York. We reproduce below a series of excerpts from these articles in chronological order, which will give an idea of the views of the revolution with which the author arrived in Russia on May 4.


“The disorganised, compromised, disintegrated government at the top, the army shaken to the depths, the discontent, uncertainty and fear among the ruling classes, deep bitterness in the popular masses, the numerically developed proletariat tempered in the fire of events – all this gives us the right to say that we are witnessing the beginning of the second Russian revolution. Let us hope that many of us will be participants in it.”


“The Rodziankos and Miliukovs have begun talking too soon about law and order; not tomorrow will tranquillity descend on billowing Russia. Stratum after stratum now, the country will arise – all the oppressed, destitute, robbed by czarism and the ruling classes – throughout the whole measureless space of the whole Russian prison of the people. The Petrograd events are only beginning. At the head of the popular masses the Russian revolutionary proletariat will fulfill its historic task: it will drive out the monarchical and aristocratic reaction from all its refuges, and stretch out its hand to the proletariat of Germany and all Europe. For it is necessary to liquidate not only czarism, but also the war.”

“Now the second wave of the revolution will roll over the heads of the Rodziankos and Miliukovs, busy with their attempts to restore order and come to terms with monarchy. From its own depths the revolution will produce its government, a revolutionary organ of the people marching to victory. Both the chief battles and the chief sacrifices are in the future, and only after them will come complete and genuine victory.”


“The long-restrained discontent of the masses has broken to the surface so late, on the 32nd month of the war, not because there stood before the masses a police bulwark, very much shaken during the war, but because all the liberal institutions and organs including their social-patriotic hangers-on, have exercised an enormous political pressure upon the less conscious layers of the workers, suggesting to them the necessity of ’patriotic’ discipline and order.”

“Now only (after the victory of the insurrection) came the turn of the Duma. The czar tried at the last moment to disperse it. And it would have submissively dispersed ‘following the precedent of former years,’ if it had been able to. But the capitals were already in the control of the revolutionary people, that same people who, against the will of the liberal bourgeoisie, come out into the street to fight. The army was with the people. And if the bourgeoisie had not made an attempt to organise their power, a revolutionary government would have issued from the midst of the insurrectionary worker masses. That Duma of June 3 would never have ventured to snatch the power from the hands of czarism, but it could not help making use of the created interregnum: the monarchy had temporarily disappeared from the face of the earth and a revolutionary power was not yet created.”


“An open conflict between the forces of revolution at whose head stands the city proletariat, and the anti-revolutionary liberal bourgeoisie temporarily in power, is absolutely inevitable. You can, of course – and the liberal bourgeois and mountain socialist of the philistine type are heartily busy about it – pile up many pitiful words on the subject of the immense advantages of national unity over class split. But nobody has yet succeeded with such incantations in removing social contradictions and stopping the natural development of a revolutionary struggle.”

“Already at this moment, immediately, the revolutionary proletariat ought to oppose its revolutionary institutions, the soviets of workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ deputies, to the executive institutions of the Provisional Government. In this struggle the proletariat, uniting around itself the rising popular masses, ought to make its direct goal the conquest of power. Only a revolutionary workers’ government will have the will and ability, even during the preparation for a Constituent Assembly, to carry out a radical democratic clean-up throughout the country, reconstruct the army from top to bottom, convert it into a revolutionary militia and demonstrate in action to the lower ranks of the peasants that their salvation lies only in supporting a revolutionary workers’ régime.”


“While the clique of Nicholas II held the power, dynastic and reactionary aristocratic interests had the last word in foreign policy. For just this reason in Berlin and Vienna they were continually hoping for a separate peace with Russia. But now the interests of naked imperialism are inscribed on the governmental banners. ‘The czar’s government is no more,’ the Guchkovs and Miliukovs are telling the people, ‘Now you must pour out your blood for the all-national interests.’ But by national interests the Russian imperialists mean the getting back of Poland, the conquest of Galicia, Constantinople, Armenia, Persia. In other words, Russia now takes her place in the joint ranks of imperialism with other European states, and first of all with her allies, England and France.”

“The proletariat of Russia cannot possibly reconcile the transition from a dynastic aristocratic imperialism to a purely bourgeois régime with this butchery. The international struggle against the world butchery and imperialism is now our task more than ever before.”

“The imperialist boast of Miliukov – to crush Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey – now plays perfectly into the hands of the Hohenzollerns and Hapsburgs, Miliukov will now play the role of a garden scarecrow in their hands. Before the new imperialistic-liberal government undertakes reforms in the army, it will help the Hohenzollern raise the patriotic spirit and restore the ‘national unity’ of the German people, now cracking in all its seams. If the German proletariat should get the right to think that the whole Russian people, and among them the chief force of the revolution – the Russian proletariat – stands behind its new bourgeois government, that would be a terrible blow to our colleagues, the revolutionary socialists of Germany.”

“It is the straight duty of the revolutionary proletariat of Russia to show that behind the evil imperialist will of the liberal bourgeoisie there is no strength, for it has no support in the worker masses. The Russian revolution ought to reveal its authentic face before the whole world – that is, its irreconcilable hostility not only to the dynastic aristocratic reaction, but to liberal imperialism.”


“Under the banner ‘Salvation of the Country’ the liberal bourgeois is trying to keep the revolutionary leadership of the people in his hands, and with this aim is dragging after him on a tow-line not only the Trudovik Kerensky, but evidently also Cheidze, representative of the opportunist elements of the social democracy.”

“The agrarian question will drive a deep wedge into the present aristocratic bourgeois social-patriotic bloc. Kerensky will have to choose between the ‘liberal,’ the 3rd of June[1] men, who want to steal the whole revolution for capitalist goals, and the revolutionary proletariat, which will unfold to its full width the programme of agrarian revolution – that is, confiscation in behalf of the people of the czarist, landlord, appanage, monastery and church lands. What personal choice Kerensky makes will make no difference ... It is another matter with the peasant masses, the rural lower ranks. To bring them over to the side of the proletariat is the most urgent unpostponable task.”

“It would be a crime to try to accomplish this task (the bringing over the peasantry) by adapting our policy to the national-patriotic limitedness of the village: the Russian worker would commit suicide if he paid for his union with the peasant at the price of a breaking of his ties with the European proletariat. But there is no political need for this; we have a more powerful weapon in our hands: whereas the present Provisional Government[2] and the ministry of Lvov, Guchkov, Miliukov, Kerensky, are compelled – in the name of a preservation of their unity – to side-step the agrarian question, we can and must present it in its full stature before the peasant masses of Russia.

“‘Since agrarian reform is impossible, we are for the imperialist war,’ said the Russian bourgeoisie after the experience of 1905-07.

“‘Turn your back to the imperialist war, opposing to it the agrarian revolution!’ we will say to the peasant masses, referring to the experience of 1914-17.

“This same question, the land question, will play an immense role in uniting the proletarian cadres of the army with its peasant depths. ‘The land of the landlords, and not Constantinople.’ the soldier proletarian will say to the soldier peasant, explaining to him whom and what the imperialist war is serving. And upon the success of our agitation and struggle against the war – above all among the workers, and in the second place among the peasant and soldier masses – will depend the answer to the question how soon the liberal imperialist government can be replaced by a revolutionary workers’ government resting directly upon the proletariat, and the rural lower ranks adhering to it.”

“The Rodziankos, Gochkovs, Miliukovs will bend all their efforts to get a Constituent Assembly in their image. The strongest trump in their hand will be the slogan of the common national war against an external enemy. They will now talk, of course, about the necessity of defending the ‘conquests of the revolution’ against destruction by the Hohenzollerns. And the social patriots will join the song.”

“‘If we had something to defend’ we will say. The first thing is to insure the revolution against the domestic enemy. We must, without waiting for the Constituent Assembly, sweep out the monarchic and feudal rubbish to the last corner. We must teach the Russian peasant not to trust the promises of Rodzianko and the patriotic lies of Miliukov. We must unite the peasant millions against the liberal imperialists under the banner of agrarian revolution and the republic. Only a revolutionary government relying on the proletariat, which will remove the Guchkovs and Miliukovs from power, can carry out this work to the full. This workers’ government will bring into play all the instruments of state power in order to raise to their feet, educate, and unite the most backward and dark depths of the toiling masses of the city and village.”

“‘And if the German proletariat does not rise? What shall we do then?’ That is, you assume that the Russian revolution can go by without affecting Germany – even in case our revolution puts a workers’ government in power? But surely that is utterly improbable.
‘Yes, but suppose it happens?’ If the improbable should happen, if the conservative social-patriotic organisation should prevent the German working class from rising against its ruling classes in the coming epoch, then of course the Russian working class would defend its revolution with arms in its hands. The revolutionary workers’ government would wage war against the Hohenzollerns, summoning the brother proletariat of Germany to rise against the common enemy. In exactly the same way the German proletariat, if in the coming epoch it came to power, would not only have the ‘right,’ but would be obliged, to wage war against Guchkov and Miliukov in order to help the Russian worker settle accounts with his imperialist enemy. In both these situations the war conducted by a proletarian government would be only an armed revolution. It would be a question not of the ‘defence of the government,’ but of the defence of the revolution, and its transplantation into other countries.”

It is hardly necessary to demonstrate that in the above extended excerpts from popular articles to be read by workers, the same view of the development of the revolution is expounded as that which found its expression in Lenin’s Theses of April 4.

In connection with the crisis which the Bolshevik Party went through in the first two months of the February revolution, it is not superfluous to adduce here a quotation from an article written by the author of this book in 1909 for the Polish journal of Rosa Luxemburg:

“If the Mensheviks, starting from the abstraction ‘Our revolution is a bourgeois revolution,’ arrive at the idea of adapting the whole tactic of the proletariat to the conduct of the liberal bourgeoisie, even to the point of a conquest by it of the state power, then the Bolsheviks, starting from an equally bare abstraction ‘a democratic and not a socialist dictatorship,’ will arrive at the idea of a bourgeois democratic self-limitation of the proletariat in whose hands the governmental power will be found. To be sure, the difference between them on this question is very considerable: while the anti-revolutionary sides of Menshevism are expressed in their full strength even now, the anti-revolutionary traits of Bolshevism threaten a great danger only in the case of a revolutionary victory.”

After 1923 those words were widely used by the epigones in their struggle against “Trotskyism.” As a matter of fact they give – eight years before the event – a perfectly accurate characterisation of the conduct of the present epigones in the case of a revolutionary victory.

The party issued from the April crisis with honour, having settled accounts with the “anti-revolutionary traits” of its right flank. For this reason the author in 1922 supplemented the passage quoted above with the following remark:

“This, as is well known, did not happen, because under the leadership of Lenin Bolshevism carried out (not without inner struggle) its intellectual rearmament upon this all-important question in the spring of 1917 – that is, before the conquest of power.”

Lenin, in April 1917, in his struggle with the opportunist tendencies of the dominant layer of the Bolsheviks, wrote:

“The Bolshevik slogans and ideas in general are completely confirmed, but concretely things have shaped themselves other wise than anybody (no matter who) could have expected – more originally, uniquely, variously. To ignore, to forget this fact would mean to be like those ‘old Bolsheviks’ who have more than once already played a pitiful role in the history of our party, meaninglessly repeating a formula learned by rote instead of studying the unique living reality. Whoever talks now only of a ‘revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ is lagging behind Life. He has by that very fact gone over actually to the bourgeoisie against the proletarian class struggle. Him we must put away in the archives of ‘Bolshevik’ pre-revolutionary curiosities (you might call them the archives of the ‘old Bolsheviks’).”


1. Members of the Duma which issued from the state overturn of June 3, 1907.

2. By Provisional Government the American press meant Provisional Committee of the Duma.

Appendix I    |    History of the Russian Revolution    |    Appendix III

Last updated on: 1 February 2018