THE Russian Revolution of 1905 proved again the truth which underlay the action of the French in the Paris Commune, namely, that from then on every major war would be followed by revolution, just as every successful revolution would have to be met by war on the part of the old order.

In 1903 all signs pointed to a great movement forward on the part of the workers throughout Russia. The Czar was forced into a number of concessions. A surge of strikes broke out with a corresponding growth of revolutionary activity. Even the Zubatoff police unions were becoming transformed into genuine workers’ organizations.

At this point the disastrous Russo-Japanese War occurred and demonstrated anew the terrible criminality and reactionary character of Czarism. By now, discontent was rife among all classes and, with the assassination of von Plehve, the Liberals began openly to express themselves in the form of banquets where they passed resolutions, while the Zemstvos sent in petitions for a constitution. Peasant revolts began to flare up all over Russia.

Then came the events of January 9, 1905. A great general strike having occurred in St. Petersburg, the workers decided, under the leadership of a priest, Father Gapon, to present a petition of their grievances to their “Little Father,” the Czar. Donning their best clothes and in the most peaceful manner, the people staged on that fateful Sunday a tremendous gathering before the Winter Palace of the Czar.

Their petition began. “Sovereign, we the workers, with our wives and children and our helpless old parents, have come to you to ask for justice and protection. We are reduced to want; we are oppressed; we are overworked beyond our strength; we are cursed at, we are not considered as men, but are treated like slaves who must either endure their lot or keep silent. We have been patient, but we are being driven deeper and deeper into an abyss of poverty, slavery and ignorance. Despotism and absolutism are crushing us, choking us. Our strength is failing, Sovereign. The limit of endurance has been reached; the terrible moment is at hand when death seems preferable to the prolongation of unbearable torture.” (*1) Although a priest led the way, the language was that of revolutionary groups who had convinced the workers to present a large number of demands, the chief of them being for amnesty, civil liberty, separation of Church and State, the eight-hour day, a normal wage, and progressive transfer of the land to the people. But, above all, the petition asked for the convocation of a Constituent Assembly, to be elected by free, universal suffrage not based upon property.

In solemn language the petition declared, “Here are the principal demands we are submitting to you. Give your orders and pledge yourself to grant them—and you will make Russia powerful and glorious, you will impress your name upon our hearts, in our children’s and grandchildren’s hearts, forever. If you refuse to hear our entreaty—we shall die here, on this spot, in front of your palace. Two roads only lie open to us—either to freedom and happiness or to the grave. Tell us, Sovereign, which we must choose; we shall follow it without a word, even though it be the road of death. Let our life be sacrificed for Russia worn out with torments. We shall not regret the sacrifice; we shall offer it voluntarily.” (*2)

And indeed the sacrifice was made. Out from their hiding places came the government troops, shooting the people down on all sides. The number of dead ran into the hundreds, the wounded into the thousands. After this massacre the workers came no more with petitions and prayers, but with bullets and curses. As with the Paris Commune, the action began with patriotic motives (following the defeat of the country in the Japanese War) and beseeching the most modest and humble requests. It ended with the red flag flying for communism. When the news of the massacre flashed around, the whole nation stood horrified. From one end of the land to the other a grandiose wave of strikes shook the very body of the nation, spreading to 122 cities and localities and drawing nearly one million persons into its swing. The railway workers took the initiative, and the railroads became the route for the epidemic to spread until it included innumerable trades. Without a definite plan, often without even formulating any demand, interrupting itself and beginning over again, guided by the sole instinct of solidarity, the general strike prevailed in the country for nearly two months. Sporadic fighting erupted everywhere. All progressive groups now looked upon the government only as a monster to be destroyed. The demand for a Constitution and a Constituent Assembly grew louder and more threatening. It was now clear that revolution was inevitable.

On the heels of the assassination of von Plehve, the government had put forth the so-called conciliator of the people, Sviatopolk Mirsky, to make a pretense of liberality. Enamored with the genial Mirsky, the liberals had declared there was no need for revolution. After the events of January, 1905, the liberals had to realize that any softening of Czarist rule only opened the way for the demands of the proletariat and for the revolution itself.

The question that faced the Russian social-democrats most acutely in the light of the impending events was: What should be the attitude of the revolutionary workers to the other classes, such as the bourgeois liberals who were also opposed to the Czar? The Mensheviks proposed the following fundamental thesis: The Dictatorship of the Proletariat was impossible. The revolution would have to be a bourgeois one, even in spite of the bourgeoisie and, although the workers had to participate in the revolt, they must turn the power over to the capitalists and be content to remain as a minority pushing capitalism forward until the time became ripe, years later, for the proletarians to establish socialism.

They argued that if the proletariat took power it would be because it was the strongest and best prepared class, but, once it took power, it could not limit itself to capitalist forms, but would have to transform society on socialist lines in order to solve such questions as factory exploitation and unemployment. Thus the victorious proletariat would proceed inevitably to set up its own dictatorship. But since such a dictatorship was premature in Russia, where the workers were but a small minority of the population, this attempt by the proletariat could lead only to a tremendous blood bath, a new Paris Commune on a Gargantuan scale.

Nor could the workers, according to the Mensheviks, seize power in alliance with the petty bourgeoisie, since then the former would have to carry out the program of petty property and act against their own interests. In any event, the mere attempt of the workers to take power would drive the bourgeois property owners back into absolutism. Therefore it were better for the proletariat to renounce the task and to let the capitalists take the power. Since the revolution could be only a bourgeois democratic one, the bourgeoisie itself should lead the way and, if it vacillated, the working class should compel the wealthy to take the helm.

Thus the Mensheviks, while calling themselves socialist, shrank from taking leadership in the revolution and wanted the proletariat to surrender to the bourgeoisie. Against this idea both the Bolsheviki and the Centrist grouping, headed by Trotsky and Parvus, were strongly opposed. According to Parvus (and Trotsky allowed himself to be identified with this view), (*3) the workers were to raise the slogan “Down with the Czar and for a Workers’ Government,” and were to seize the power and establish a socialist government. In this fashion, Parvus overlooked the great fact that it was the peasantry who composed the enormous bulk of the revolutionary elements against Czarism. Their shibboleths, “Down with the Czar and for a Workers’ Government,” contained no mention of the peasantry except to ask that class to yield its property in favor of nationalization and socialism under the leadership of the proletariat. Such a course truly would have led to a repetition of the Paris Commune, wherein the city would be isolated from the countryside and put down by rural troops.

A third point of view was expressed by Lenin and the Bolsheviks. With Trotsky they agreed that the workers were to lead the revolution; that, having done so and having sacrificed the lives of many on the barricades, the workers could not be asked to give up power to another class. The Bolsheviks proposed, however that there be established, not the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, but the joint democratic-dictatorship of the workers and peasants. In a rather vague manner, the Bolsheviks were working out a sort of intermediate form.

Several matters had to be cleared up before the revolutionary movement could advance farther. First, clarification was needed as to what was meant by the term democratic-dictatorship and wherein it differed from democracy. Democracy, in its fullest expression, is a type of state wherein everyone can express himself freely, can vote, and can elect representatives to the government. Lenin proposed to limit this democracy so that only those favoring democracy, namely the Parties of the people, the Socialists, the Social-Revolutionaries and such, would be allowed to vote and agitate; those who favored a return to the Czar and to absolutism, or who would restrict the franchise of the people, would not be allowed to vote. The democratic parties would establish a dictatorship and ruthlessly put down by force all counter-revolutionary and anti-democratic organizations. Here then was a most important distinction between the ordinary form of democracy and the form called the democratic-dictatorship. Under ordinary capitalist democracy, it was really the bourgeoisie and private property that controlled; under the open “democratic-dictatorship” there was to be established the dictatorship of the workers and peasants.

The next question that had to be solved in this connection was whether any distinctions among the peasantry should be recognized. As the revolutionary events grew nearer, Lenin reformulated his slogan to call for the democratic-dictatorship of the workers and poor peasants in alliance with the middle peasants. The poor peasants were to be part of the dictatorship; the middle peasants were to be befriended, although having no decisive control in the events. The other sections of agrarians, the kulaks or rich peasants, the landlords and the capitalist owners of large estates were to be fought bitterly.

However, what Lenin and the Bolsheviks left unclear, and what Trotsky and Parvus brought out most forcibly, was the point as to the relationship of the workers to the peasants in the democratic-dictatorship of both. In short, within the mechanism of the State, which of the two groups would dominate? Would the workers limit themselves to the demands of the poor peasants and restrain themselves from marching to socialism, thus letting the poor peasantry have the leadership, or would the opposite prevail? Trotsky pointed out, as had also the Mensheviks for that matter, that the workers, once having grasped power, never would allow themselves to be cheated of their goal, that the proletariat would be forced to move towards socialism; what in reality would be established would be, not the democratic-dictatorship of two classes, with the peasantry equal to the workers, but the dictatorship of the proletariat, which would move to socialism but move in such a way as to maintain the friendliest contact with the masses of poor peasants who would support the city workers, while the middle peasants would be neutralized.

This, indeed, is what actually happened in the course of the revolutions of 1905 and 1917, and both Lenin and Trotsky came closer to each other’s viewpoint as the events progressed. The mistake of Trotsky was that, in his formulations, he left little intimation to the peasantry that a friendly alliance would be open for them and that the workers would proceed towards socialism gradually, and only after convincing the poorest peasantry of each step of the way. The strong point of Lenin’s formula was that it stressed that alliance. On the other hand, Lenin did not make it sufficiently clear that, within the alliance of both classes, it would be the workers and not the peasants that would lead, that the workers could not limit their dictatorship by the dictates of private property, but would move on irresistibly to make the revolution permanent. Both Lenin and Trotsky were in basic agreement but emphasized different aspects of the same problem. As a matter of fact, a democratic-dictatorship is a regime impossible for any length of time. It can only be a transition, either towards the dictatorship of the capitalist or towards the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The Mensheviks, like other representatives of the Second International, were not able to appreciate the dialectical connections between the democratic and the socialist revolutions. They conceived of the two periods as though cleft by a deep abyss and could not comprehend how they could merge. The merit of both Lenin and Trotsky was that they understood how a revolution, originally democratic, could be turned into a socialist one to end capitalism.

The Mensheviks were of the opinion that socialist revolutions were not possible in agrarian countries, that the private property of the peasants was irretrievably bound up with bourgeois ownership and imperialism. The Mensheviks professed to believe also that the proletarian revolution could come only in the most highly industrialized countries like Germany, England, and the United States. In Russia and Asia, the masses would have to wait hundreds of years, perhaps, until capitalism could uproot the peasants and expropriate them. Only when capitalism had become predominant all over the world would the socialist revolution be possible in each country. The Bolsheviks on the contrary affirmed that it was false to abandon the peasantry to the bourgeoisie, that the peasants could be won as allies and fighters for the victory of the workers, since the enemy of both groups was the same bourgeois class of imperialists.

Not only did the Menshevik viewpoint underestimate the ripeness of the world proletariat and its ability to win other sections to its side, but it failed to appreciate that socialism could not be victorious even in the most industrial country unless the world as a whole was ready for it. If the world were not ready for worker’s rule as a whole, then, should the workers take power even in a Germany, they would have to meet a united capitalist world in merciless war, and would go down in defeat. Thus, the same arguments that proved that the proletarian revolution was unripe in Russia would make it hazardous in Germany as well. The alternative was to declare that socialism could be built in one country alone, that socialist countries and capitalist countries could co-exist peacefully, side by side, capitalism going quietly and peacefully into the grave. Such a theory was left for Stalin to enunciate later. Even the worst opportunists of the Second International did not go so far.

It appears, however, that the whole world is becoming ripe for socialist victory. This became clearer after the World War. One of the contributions of Lenin in his study of imperialism was to point out how capitalism had in reality dominated the entire world, and that, in the era of imperialism, it was entering into its period of decline, a period which would convulse all countries. Under such circumstances it might become imperative for the workers in a less industrialized country to go into immediate action. The most recently created working class could often stand on the shoulders of movements that had gone before. There was a basic law of uneven development through which capitalism worked. It was quite possible that, should the workers and peasants in Russia sweep into power, a conflagration would start throughout Europe that would consume capitalism and, in turn, drive the Russian revolution farther than it ordinarily could go.

Thus Lenin believed “Due to our efforts, the Russian revolution will become a movement not only of a few months’ duration, but a movement lasting many years, so that it will lead, not merely to a few paltry concessions on the part of ruling sovereigns, but to the complete overthrow of these rulers. And if we succeed in doing that—then … the revolutionary conflagration will spread all over Europe; the European workers languishing under bourgeois reaction will rise and in their turn show us ‘how to do it’; then the revolutionary wave in Europe will sweep back into Russia and convert the epoch of a few revolutionary years into an epoch of several revolutionary decades… .” (*4)

The strategy of working with the peasantry in order to form a democratic-dictatorship implied that, should such a provisional government arise, the proletariat would exist in a government which might have a majority of private proprietors in control. This, argued the Mensheviks, only could discredit the workers as it had discredited the socialists in France who had supported Millerand’s entrance into the Cabinet. In this way the Mensheviks tried to attack the position of the Bolsheviks from the Left, as though Lenin were forgetting the necessity of keeping the proletariat independent from the petty bourgeoisie.

The answer of the Bolsheviks was that, while it was certainly not correct for socialists to belong to a bourgeois government fighting socialism, as was the case with Millerand in France, such a situation was not to be confused with one wherein the proletariat was participating with the revolutionary bourgeois democracy in a democratic revolution and in the transitional democratic regime essential for the complete accomplishment of such a revolution. The democratic-dictatorship meant putting into effect the minimum program of the revolutionists, namely, the arming of the people, a republic, democratic liberty, and certain economic reforms. In such a transition regime, the proletarian representative in the government would be in a far better position to drive the revolution forward to the Left than were he voluntarily to exclude himself. Of course the workers had to march separately from the petty bourgeois revolutionists, but both columns could strike together at the same enemy.

Although to overthrow the autocracy a revolutionary provisional government was absolutely necessary, according to the Mensheviks, the social-democrats could not participate in such a government. To the Bolsheviks, such action was perfectly correct, since proletarian participation in the provisional government was not in order to establish socialism immediately nor to bolster up capitalism but rather to drive the revolution by degrees forward to the Left. Should the proletariat refuse to take, with the peasants, joint responsibility for the revolution, such refusal would result either in the isolation of the peasantry and its defeat or in the sharpest antagonisms between the proletariat and the peasantry. Similarly, were the proletariat to enter into a sharp head-on collision with the peasantry in the fight for socialism, such impact would spell disaster for the revolution by driving the peasantry into the hands of the bourgeois-Czarist reaction.

In line with these questions was the additional one as to what the socialists could do to help the revolution. Here, too, the sharpest differences arose between the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks. To the Mensheviks, the revolution was to be an entirely spontaneous process, unleashing itself as events unfolded; their policy was simply to follow the events in an agitational manner. They drew no distinction between a revolution and an insurrection.

Lenin, on the contrary, carefully distinguished the period of general propaganda for the revolution from the later period when the question of insurrection was a practical reality. By no means was he willing merely to follow the actions of the masses, making a fetish of “spontaneity.” The Bolsheviks could not create a revolution, just as they could not create a labor movement, but they could help to organize the insurrection so that it would have some sort of plan, just as they could help to organize a strike. “A popular revolution cannot be arranged beforehand, that is true… . But if we have really prepared for the popular rebellion, and if that rebellion is possible because of the changes that have been brought about in social relations, then it is quite possible to fix the time for such a rebellion.” (*5) Constantly Lenin stressed the point that the role of the vanguard was not the same as that of the masses, but rather that the former had the duty of organizing, preparing, and leading the latter and must not drift along with spontaneous chaos which could result eventually only in the defeat of the workers.

While the Mensheviks were carrying out agitation and relying on the spontaneity of the masses, the Bolsheviks were not merely agitating, but also working out their plans. First it was necessary to urge the arming of the masses. “We must have arms at the very outset of the insurrection; with this end in view, we must organize the pillaging of armourers and, wherever possible, of arsenals. To achieve this it is necessary first of all to have an armed force, not necessarily a numerous one, and men who could immediately distribute the arms and give instruction in their use; the importance of having contacts with soldiers and officers, with arsenal workers … cannot be overrated."(*6)

“Armed insurrection does not, as a rule, develop according to plan, as the people is not an army and the revolutionaries, unfortunately, are not captains. Nevertheless, it is possible to be prepared to a certain extent. Each local branch must draw up beforehand a strategical plan of its city and its surroundings, so as to know where resistance should be offered, where barricades should be erected and where they would be unnecessary, where it would be more convenient to cut the means of communication … where the arms shops and stores and the quarters of the commanding officers are situated… . The release of prisoners from jail, the confiscation of governmental funds, and the speedy organization of courts martial to try spies are desirable from the very outset of the insurrection… .” (*7)

While the Mensheviks shrank from helping the proletarian insurrection, they heartily advocated a policy not to antagonize the liberals but rather to push them forward. In line with this, Menshevik demonstrations took the form of rallies before the liberal municipal councils and Zemstvos to press their demands. Lenin, on the contrary, urged demonstrations before the prisons, the police censor’s office, and the police stations, since the demonstrations were not for the purpose of pushing forward the liberals but rather of rallying the people to overthrowing Czarism. The attack must be made first of all upon the government.

This wide difference of approach of the two groups was expressed strikingly in the Congresses held separately in April of 1905 by the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks. At the Menshevik Congress, it was decided that the socialists must drive the revolution forward, but must not organize it and must not aim at sharing power in the provisional government except where the revolution should spread to European countries more or less ripe for socialism. On the other hand the Bolshevik Congress, really the Third Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party, adopted Lenin’s ideas. While the Mensheviks were fearful of offending the liberal bourgeoisie, the Bolsheviks cultivated the friendship of the peasants and struggled against the bourgeoisie. “The proletariat must carry the democratic revolution to its logical end, and in so doing, must bring over to its side the masses of the peasantry in order to break the power of resistance of the autocracy and to paralyze the instability of the bourgeoisie. The proletariat must bring about a social revolution, and in so doing, must bring over to its side the masses of the semi-proletarian elements of the population in order to break the power of resistance of the bourgeoisie and to paralyze the instability of the peasantry and petty bourgeoisie.” (*8)


By October, 1905, another formidable strike wave broke out. This time it was the printing trade, the Moscow compositors, who touched the match to the flame. They went on strike demanding an increase in their piece rates, with pay for punctuation marks. This apparently insignificant question was to lead to nothing less than an assault on the ancient bastilles of absolutism. On October 7, the compositors of St. Petersburg went on a sympathy strike, and the strike spread to other industries. After a brief lull, the railway workers, always the stormy petrels of the 1905 events, declared a general strike, demanding the eight-hour day, civil liberties, amnesty, and the Constituent Assembly.

Where the telegraph workers were not ready to join, the strikers cut wires and uprooted poles. They tore up railroad ties and placed cars across bridges. By the tenth of October, traffic was almost at a standstill on all lines out of Moscow. By the twelfth, all work was stopped on the St. Petersburg branch. The strike spread rapidly to the rest of the country. Soon seven hundred and fifty thousand railroad workers were on strike. Nothing remained standing before this tornado of a general strike; it closed shops and mills, stores, offices, and courts. On October 10 a general political strike was declared in Moscow, Kharkov, and Reval. Six days later at least forty cities were affected. Barricades were erected in Kharkov, Ekaterinoslav, and Odessa.

The paralysis of economic life, the uselessness of the telephone and telegraph, the failure of the mail, the demoralization of the stock exchange, the immobility of the railroads, all had their effect. The excitement which gripped the entire country shattered the front of reaction, and the Czar yielded. Frightened by the growing revolutionary events, he made certain minimum concessions. In the Manifesto of October 17 he granted a sort of constitution and agreed to call a Duma. (*9) There would be two Houses, the upper House to be appointed by the Czar, the lower House to be elective; the franchise was to be strictly limited to the rich and to be administered through three elaborate stages. The Duma was to have no real power but was to meet only one and one-half to two months during the year to "advise" the Czar. Such miserable concessions could merit only the decided contempt of the people. Far from appeasing the masses, it nevertheless showed the Czar was weakening, and whetted their appetite for more.

For the first time was demonstrated what a tremendous weapon the general strike, born of modern industry, was to become in the hands of the proletariat. The leadership of the workers in the struggle now became indisputable. It is true that some professionals, lawyers, doctors, and engineers had also struck, and that the most revolutionary group among the intellectuals, the students, long had been accustomed to use the strike in their struggles against autocratic repression. However, the liberals in the Zemstvos, the bourgeois opposition, played no role in the events. The revolution against Czarism was being made by the proletariat. The great extent of the battles made it clear that the possibilities for power lay in the hands of the workers of industry. Furthermore, the struggle was now centered in the cities; the old populist idealization of the countryside was henceforth no longer possible.

Although the October strike had shaken the old regime tremendously, nothing in the political situation was changed; the power remained where it had been. The general strike thus exposed its limitations. It could weaken the ruling classes and lay the basis for a change of power, but much more was necessary actually to bring about this change. Certain tasks of revolution, however, from now on clearly were defined: to organize the countryside and unite it with the cities; to get into closer contact with the army, and to arm the workers.

The general strike came into use as a great proletarian weapon in 1905; a new form of revolutionary proletarian organization also appeared, the soviet. On October 13 took place in the halls of the Institute of Technology the first gathering of the future Soviet of Petersburg. There were only thirty or forty delegates present. At the second session, forty large mills were represented, two factories and three unions (the printers, store clerks, and office clerks). From the beginning, the Soviet was proletarian, based on industry and the unions. Eventually, in the fifty days of its existence, its numbers were to grow to nearly 600, representing 147 factories and mills, 34 workshops, and 16 unions. A majority of the delegates, or 351, came from the metal industry; thus heavy industry is seen to play the predominant role in the revolution in Petersburg. Although the Soviet represented about two hundred thousand souls, the scope of its influence politically was much broader. Insofar as it was the undisputed proletarian organ, and as the proletariat then comprised about 53 per cent of the population, it can be said that the Soviet represented the majority of the city. The enemies of the Soviet were all representatives of capitalist robbery, brokers, entrepreneurs, merchants, and exporters ruined by the general strike, the hangers-on of court life, the high bureaucracy, with their lackeys and their kept women, everything that was connected with the cupidity, brutality, and debauchery of a big capital.

“What was the essential character of this institution which so quickly won such an important place in the revolution and so distinctively marked the height of its power?”

“The Soviet organized the working masses, directed the strikes and demonstrations, armed the workers, protected the population against pogroms. But other revolutionary organizations filled the same task before it, side by side with it and after it; yet they did not have the influence the Soviet enjoyed. The secret of this influence is this: this assembly comes forth organically from the proletariat in the course of the direct struggle, predetermined by events, which the working class conducts for the conquest of power. The proletarians on the one hand and the reactionary press on the other gave the Soviet the title of ‘proletarian government,’ and indeed the fact is that this organization is nothing else but the embryo of a revolutionary government. The Soviet realized the power to the extent that the revolutionary force of the workers’ quarters guaranteed it; it struggled directly for the conquest of power to the extent that the power still remained in the hands of the military police monarchy.” (*10)

The Soviet did not need to worry about conciliating various classes, and thus had no democratic shame of two chambers. Neither had it a paid bureaucracy. It was a nonpartisan organization which linked up the scattered elements of the workers as no one political party could do. Symbolizing the interests of the workers as a whole, it could digest and maintain in its ranks the representatives of the different workers’ parties, whose function was to throw light on the political significance of events, to propose the correct slogans and to stiffen the struggle. The Soviet was much broader than the parties.

Although, at the height of the October strike, the Czar had not resorted to the army to crush the movement (not out of humanitarianism but from sheer demoralization and helplessness), the inevitable reaction was not slow in coming. “The Soviet liquidated the October strike in somber days; the tears of slaughtered innocents, the curses of mothers, the death rattle of old men, and the groans of despair rose to heaven from all parts of the country. Countless cities and localities were turned into a veritable hell. The smoke of incendiary fires darkened the sun’s rays, flames consumed entire streets, with the houses and their inhabitants. The old regime was taking revenge for the humiliations it had undergone.”

“Everywhere it gathered its cohorts in every corner, in every hut, in every shack. In this army we see the little shopkeeper and the down-and-out, the cafe’ owner and the cafe’ habitue’, the stable boy, and the police spy, the professional thief and the occasional offender, the petty artisan and the pimp, the obscure starving peasant, and the new comer from the countryside deafened by the noise of the factory. Stark misery, darkness, and venal debauchery place themselves at the orders of rapacious privilege and high anarchy.” (*11)

In these October days of the Czar’s revenge, there were three to four thousand people killed in one hundred cities, and ten thousand more mutilated and injured. The President of the American Federation of Labor sent a telegram to Count Witte urging the Russian workers to resist the pogroms which were threatening their newly acquired liberties. This, Witte hid in a secret drawer. But, in many cities, the workers organized armed bands which heroically resisted the Black Hundreds. In Petersburg, although preparations for a pogrom were made openly, and the vigilante bands harassed Jews, students, and worker agitators, yet the atrocity did not occur. The soviets and the workers’ parties armed their members as best they could. All metal shops worked overtime to turn out weapons of any sort they could produce. On the evening of October 29, at the meeting of the Soviet, one deputy after another got up and brandished his sword, his knife, his black-jack. A night patrol was organized which paced the city streets in groups of ten. The regular troops fired on this workers’ militia, but by that time the danger of the pogrom was averted.

In fighting censorship, too, the workers took matters into their own hands and won. Of twenty thousand typesetters, not one could be found to set up the Czar’s Manifesto. But the papers of the social-democracy which printed this Manifesto with their own commentaries came out in great numbers. The Soviet sent its deputies to compel the reactionary and bourgeois papers to go to press without submitting their proofs to the censor. So was the age-long censorship lifted. One hundred thousand copies of a manifesto signed by a so-called “group of workers” and inciting the people against “the new Czars” (the social-democrats) were confiscated. The circulation of the revolutionary press grew by leaps and bounds. In Petersburg appeared two social-democratic papers, one with a subscription list of fifty thousand, the other soon reaching a circulation of one hundred thousand. In the province, people clamored for papers from the capital and also set up their own papers. The Soviet, too, wanted to issue a paper, but had no press. This was no difficulty, however; a group of delegates was sent to take possession of a large printing press, the management was declared under arrest, and reliable printers were sent in. In a few hours Isvestia, ["News"] of the Soviet, appeared.

The employers had maintained a certain neutrality during the October strike, had refused the services of the Cossacks in Moscow, and had even paid the workers their wages for the time on strike, hoping to see an expansion of business under a legal regime. But their hopes were not realized. Far from being calmed by the Czar’s Manifesto, the masses became more and more independent and threatening. The answer of the soviet to the October 17 Manifesto was a decision to continue the general strike. The pressing need of money above all drove the capitalists into the arms of the government. They were rewarded. Money flowed freely from the banks, and the employers lined up as the most resolute enemies of the soviet. The Radical, intellectual petty bourgeoisie in the meantime played a pitiable role. At the height of the October strike, these elements came together and organized the Kadet (Constitutional-Democrat) Party, which declared their Platonic solidarity with the general strike. They were isolated and without influence, however, and could only wait helplessly.

November saw a renewal of the general strike, this time in solidarity with the military revolt which had taken place in Kronstadt in protest against the regime of martial law which had been declared throughout Poland and against the death sentences of the leaders of the Kronstadt revolt. Count Witte, the Czar’s minister at that time, addressed a tearful telegram to the workers, begging them to go back to work. To this the soviet made the following answer:

“The Soviet of Workers Deputies, after hearing Count Witte’s telegram to his ‘brother workers,’ expresses first its extreme astonishment at the lack of manners of the Czar’s favorite in calling the workers of Petersburg ‘brothers.’ The proletarians have no bond of relationship with Count Witte.

“On the question at issue, the Soviet declares:

"1. Count Witte urges us to take pity upon our wives and children. The Soviet of Workers Deputies in reply urges all workers to count how many new widows and orphans are crowding the ranks of the working class since the day Count Witte took power.

"2. Count Witte mentions the gracious solicitude of the Sovereign for the working people. The Soviet of Workers Deputies recalls to the memory of the proletariat of Petersburg Bloody Sunday of January 9th.

"3. Count Witte begs us to give him the ‘necessary time’ and promises to ‘do everything possible’ for the workers. The Soviet of Workers Deputies knows that Witte has already found time enough to give Poland over to the military executioners and the same Soviet does not doubt that Count Witte will do everything possible to crush the revolutionary proletariat.

"4. Count Witte says he is a well-meaning man who sympathizes with us. The Soviet of Workers Deputies declares it has no need of the sympathy of the Czar’s favorites. It demands a people’s government based on universal, equal, direct, and secret suffrage.” (*12)

In the audacious tones of this answer we can see how far the working class had traveled since the days of humble petitions in January preceding.

The strike was successful: the government retreated and for the moment calm returned. Now that the workers had returned to the back-breaking, brain-destroying toil of industry, they became conscious that their most crying immediate need was for shortening the hours of work. This they proceeded to obtain in their own way. Several big shops in Petersburg, through their shop committees, took a secret vote, and the workers themselves carried out the decision to stop work after eight hours. The movement quickly spread. But this time the enemy knew how to strike too. First the state industries, then the private shops, instituted a lock-out. Thousands of workers were thrown on the streets. Although some sections of the workers wanted to continue the struggle, particularly the ill-paid women textile workers, yet the majority of the Soviet decided it was expedient to yield.

Simultaneously a general strike raged in Poland and led to local insurrections. Under such conditions, even the liberals decided to boycott the elections, although the Union of Unions, with liberal employees at the head, condemned the Duma while the majority of the Congress of Zemstvos insisted on a real constitutional monarchy.

The struggle on the countryside had followed its own course. Widespread revolts took place, the movement becoming deeper and more violent after the October strike, when the example of the cities had penetrated into the remote villages. Especially militant were the peasants in the central part of the country where land was scarce and famine a common experience. The struggle took on various forms: strikes of the agricultural laborers, boycott by the peasants of work on the lord’s domain, refusal to recognize the administrative powers and to pay taxes.

In one province the peasants appropriated from the owner’s barns whatever grain and supplies they needed. Elsewhere they went in great crowds from one demesne to another with their wagons and took what they felt to be their share of the crops. The owners and managers were terrified and fled. In the same province, a struggle took place to reduce the rents, the peasant communes themselves setting the prices. Meanwhile, at the Bezukov monastery, the peasants seized fifteen thousand desiatins of land for which they refused to pay, declaring it was the monks’ business to pray and not to meddle in real estate. But the most violent events took place in Saratov province, where owners were forced to flee before the red flames consuming their manorial homes. The peasants adjudicated the land to the Mir, as well as the money which was seized from the landlord’s house. Altogether throughout the country about two thousand manors were destroyed, at an estimated money loss of twenty-nine million rubles for the proprietors.

For all these actions, Social-Democratic propaganda, carried on in the country for several years, had paved the way. And yet the peasant revolt was the release of a primitive tide, the result of generations of sufferings endured, rather than a movement of clear ideology and purpose. However, the peasants recently had formed their organization, the Peasants Union, which held a second meeting on November 6. The methods of action proposed ranged from peaceful meetings to armed insurrection. Three days before the Congress met, the government had published a Manifesto announcing the abolition of repurchase taxes on land and increasing the resources of the Peasants’ Bank. On November 12 the Congress convened, and on November 14 its office force in Moscow was arrested. Not long afterward, the Ministry of the Interior issued an announcement that the peasant revolt must be put down by no matter what means. And now the horrors of the Pogroms in the cities spread to the villages throughout Russia.

So far, the role of the armed forces had not become decisive. As the revolution drew to its height, this question was to be solved. At last, the disorders spread to the soldiers and sailors. There had already taken place in June a revolt on the armored cruiser “Prince Potemkin,” provoked by the presence of worms in the decayed meat which was served in the crews’ mess. During the October strike, great mass meetings of soldiers and sailors had been held. When the armed forces were forbidden to attend the workers’ gatherings, meetings were organized in the courtyards of the soldiers’ and sailors’ barracks. At Sebastopol on the Black Sea, the barracks were open day and night to the representatives of the social-democrats, the officers not daring to protest. The plan was to create a soldiers’ and sailors’ soviet and link up the military struggle with that in the cities. When the commandant of the fortress Nepluev arrived with General Sedelnikov, Chief of the Division, the sailors arrested both, disarmed them, and locked them up in the barracks. Later, however, they were released. A great demonstration of soldiers and sailors passed through the city. The sailors persuaded the machine gun company to get their guns out of sight … later, however, the machine guns reappeared. In the meantime, the “Potemkin” had hoisted the Red Flag.

A committee composed of soldier and sailor delegates with a few representatives of the social-democratic party was in control of the military and naval revolt. Although the arrested officers of the Brest regiment had demoralized the soldiers in the barracks with drink and debauchery, nevertheless it was necessary to go ahead with the revolt. Declarations of solidarity were received from another cruiser, and from two destroyers. A telegram came from the Czar ordering the rebels to lay down their arms within twenty-four hours. The officer bringing this telegram was kicked out. Patrols of sailors kept perfect order in Sebastopol. A certain Lieutenant Schmidt, retired naval officer who had become popular as a speaker in the sailors’ and soldiers’ meetings, was made the military head. At once the following telegram was sent to the Czar:

“The glorious Black Sea fleet, keeping sacred faith with the people, demands from you the immediate convocation of a Constituent Assembly, and will no longer obey your ministers.

Commandant of the Fleet,

Citizen Schmidt.” (*13)

The inevitable answer from Petersburg came: “Crush the revolt.” The city and fortress were occupied by troops, and the rebel vessels were subjected to terrific bombardment. For hours the battle went on. More than two thousand men were taken prisoner. The soldiers, who had never been definitively compromised from the beginning, abandoned the sailors, fired on the sailors’ barracks, and the revolt was crushed.(*14)


During this period the Mensheviks proposed to utilize the electoral campaign in order to establish semi-legal workers’ committees of agitation to exert pressure on the enfranchised groups to fight for the convocation of a constitutional assembly. These workers’ committees were to conduct their own plebiscite and to elect a network of organs to operate as though they constituted a revolutionary self-government which could dictate its will to all the other groups. The Mensheviks substituted this tactic for the active boycott and demonstration strike.

The Bolsheviks on their side ridiculed as purely utopian the idea of electing workers’ committees for the establishment of another government before the insurrection occurred. What was necessary were demonstrations, active boycotts, the breaking up of Czarist election meetings, political strikes, etc. Only after the revolution was on its way could a dual government be considered. The principal revolutionary slogan was to be armed insurrection to establish a provisional government to carry out the following program: convocation of a national constituent assembly, arming of the people, institution of political liberties, establishment of cultural and political liberty for all oppressed and disfranchised nationalities, adoption of the eight-hour day, and the formation of peasant committees for confiscation of land and securing agrarian reforms.

As a matter of fact, the Mensheviks had hit upon a proposal which actually was to be carried out by the Russians when they spontaneously set up the soviet as a dual government to the official State. Here also, it seemed, was a verification of the theory of reliance merely upon the spontaneity of the masses, since the soviets were foreseen by no party, even by the Bolsheviks who had talked of organizing and laying plans. The ingenuity and initiative of the masses surprised all Parties. Nevertheless, the position of the Mensheviks was untenable in spite of their apparent theoretical triumph. The fact is that the Mensheviks had called for the setting up of these self-government bodies, not as part of the insurrection, but as a substitute for the active boycott of the Bulygin Duma. Thus whatever may have been progressive in the Menshevik proposals was rendered nugatory by their anti-insurrectionary program. Conversely, Lenin, who had insisted most of all on the need for the insurrectionary struggle against Czarism, on destruction of the old before construction of the new, nevertheless thoroughly understood the importance of the soviets when they appeared and at once called upon them to take full power into their hands. To Lenin, the soviets were not primarily institutions of government, but organs of civil war.

It must not be imagined that the views of Lenin were the views of all the Bolsheviks. On the contrary, Lenin’s insistence on the need for preparing the armed insurrection, a revolutionary army, and a provisional revolutionary government, and for making these points the central part of the strategy of the Bolsheviks met with the opposition of the majority of the Central Committee of the Party who believed these plans were premature and advocated them conditionally, according to the degree of preparation. In August, 1905, the Central Committee significantly omitted the term “insurrection” from its resolutions. Swiftly following events nevertheless amply exposed the vacillating character of the Bolshevik Central Committee and the correctness of Lenin’s views.

Soon after the decision of the Central Committee to oppose Lenin’s unconditional call for revolt there took place the unprecedented general strike in October, 1905, throughout all Russia. To appease the masses, the Czar now changed the consultative Duma to a legislative one elected by a wider franchise. In the course of the strike, new organs of the masses, the soviets, sprang up, elected directly by the workers in the factories and in the neighborhoods, and taking in all, regardless of political affiliations. In the light of this event, both Mensheviks and Bolsheviks came together and formed a Federal Council. Within the soviets, the question was raised of the relation of the soviets to the social-democrats. Although the Federal Council wanted to secure the soviets’ acceptance of the social-democratic program, the majority of the delegates, despite the fact that they themselves were social-democrats, refused to open the question. This was a fortunate decision, since to bring the matter before the soviets in such an abstract manner would have split the unity of the workers.

All this time Lenin had been unable to be present at the scene of action. At last, by November 12, he reached Russia from Switzerland and at once the situation changed sharply. He forcibly drove home the tremendous importance of the soviets, not as workers’ parliaments, which the Mensheviks believed they were, but as united-front bodies for the seizure of power, which indeed they had become. Lenin insisted that the soviet be recognized as the fighting organ of the working class, without distinction of Party. On their side, the soviets did nothing to antagonize the socialists, but permitted each of the main parties, Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, and Social-Revolutionaries to have three delegates each with consultative voice and vote. Incidentally, a preponderance of the soviet delegates belonged to these Parties. The only ones excluded from direct invitation were the anarchists, because of their wretched traditions in the First International and because they did not believe in any organization nor in the establishment of a workers’ State.

With the arrival of Lenin, the Bolshevik Party began to adhere to a more revolutionary position. After losing control of the Iskra in 1903, the Bolsheviks had put out a paper, Vperiod (Forward) in 1904 and, with the outbreak of the events in 1905, issued Proletarii. Now they were growing so fast that they could print a daily paper, Novaya Zhizn (New Life). Lenin saw to it that the paper became truly a communist sheet. Half of the editorial staff, especially the decayed literateur and liberal intellectual types, were removed, and for the first time appeared the slogan, “Workers of the World, Unite.” This is eloquent testimony to the mess of opportunism that existed within the ranks of the Bolsheviks themselves. Here, too, 1905 was to be but a prelude for 1917.

All through November and December of 1905, the proletarian vanguard tried to broaden and deepen the strike movement. In St. Petersburg, the soviet called on all to withdraw their savings from the banks, so as to cause a financial panic, and to refuse to pay taxes. After their many strike actions, however, the skilled workers of St. Petersburg, who were in the lead of the movement, found themselves too weary to be able to carry on actual insurrection. A major part of the army was not in support of the strikers. The proletarians were isolated from the peasantry. Liberal society, now deeply frightened, hastened to support the cause of law and order. The St. Petersburg factories were of the heavy metal type which had been subsidized extensively by the Czar and the owners of which, quite satisfied with the concessions the Czar had been forced to grant, were intimately in support of the aristocracy.

The situation was somewhat different in Moscow where the factories, mostly textiles, were not so closely connected with the State and government, and whose owners desired still greater concessions. There the workers came out in actual insurrection from the eighth to the seventeenth of December. Barricades were thrown up in the streets but here, too, the mass of workers had become fatigued and did not support the small minority of active revolutionists. Nonetheless, the vanguard manned the barricades with small groups and carried out a new style of guerrilla fighting that wearied the picked troops of the Czar, far superior in numbers, and forced the government to send in heavy reinforcements. However, not supported by St. Petersburg and abandoned by the petty bourgeoisie, the Moscow proletariat was bound to succumb and the insurrection was doomed.

In Moscow, the soviets and other organizations were insufficiently prepared for the insurrection. Even the soviet executive of the combat units did not participate in the street fighting. While there were one hundred and fifty thousand strikers at the time, there were only fifteen hundred barricade fighters. The strike had become an insurrection due to the organization of the counter-revolution by the government, and spontaneously the events had proceeded from strikes and demonstrations to single barricades, from single barricades to the mass construction of barricades and to street fighting against the troops. Over the heads of the organizations the mass proletarian struggle had become transformed from a strike into an insurrection. As is always the case, practice ran ahead of theory, and the proletariat sensed sooner than its leaders the change in the objective conditions of the struggle which demanded a transition from the strike to insurrection. The instructions to set up barricades came belatedly, after the workers had done so themselves. The leadership failed to use the masses of workers who were eager to fight.

Although the revolt failed, it would be incorrect to conclude that the workers should not have taken up arms. On the contrary, their mistake consisted in not having taken up arms more aggressively. They failed to realize sufficiently that they had to make a physical fight to win over the troops to their side. There should have been far better fraternization of the workers with the troops. At times the soldiers were wavering and could have been won over by energetic action. The revolutionists failed to realize the need for determined attack. Also, the extermination of certain military officers and officials would have enabled the workers to win over troops at critical moments.

Now that the movement had been put down and the leaders arrested, the government was in a position to increase its repressive measures. The Czar repudiated his promises and the Duma was again reduced to merely a consultative body. The question then arose: what policy should the social-democrats take in regard to the new Duma? The discussion involved the question whether the revolution was exhausted or whether the present period was but a lull before a new spurt forward.

Naturally the Mensheviks came out for participation in the election, for full parliamentary activity wherever possible, and for full attention to the bourgeoisie wherever alliances could be made. As now the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks had established their common paper, Izvestia (News) of the Party the discussion raged in the common organ of both factions. Lenin insisted that again the Duma be boycotted for the reason that the revolution was not yet exhausted, but only temporarily repressed.

In 1905, as in 1848 in France, the government had provoked the armed uprising when the workers were not sufficiently prepared nor organized, and reaction had been triumphant, regardless of the heroism of the proletariat. Yet there was this distinction between 1848 and 1905: The defeat in Paris meant defeat in all of France; by no means was this the case in Russia, since the Moscow defeat was not necessarily decisive for the workers of St. Petersburg, Kiev, Odessa, Warsaw, Lodz, and other places. Again, in 1848 the peasantry had been on the side of reaction, but not in 1905, and the Bolsheviks estimated that peasant revolts were bound to break out again shortly. The revolution of 1848 had been induced by the crisis of 1847 which became liquidated with the return of prosperity. In Russia, however, the present regime could lead only to an accentuation of the crisis which had been hovering over the country for a long time. Added to all this, a new financial panic was approaching, a new agrarian famine was impending, and the country’s structure had been weakened by the strikes.

If the revolution really had become exhausted, Lenin felt it was the duty of the social-democrats to announce this fact and to adapt their tactics accordingly. In that case, he was in favor of participating in the elections of the Duma, of putting the legal Party to the forefront, and of abandoning the plans for continuing the insurrection. Also there should then occur an end to arming of the people, and the workers should try to make alliances with the democratic liberals in parliamentary activity. “Then we must regard the task of organizing trade unions as being a first-class Party task, as in the previous historical period we regarded the task of armed rebellion.” (*15)

On the other hand, should this be but a lull between two revolutionary waves, then the task of the revolutionists and workers was to carry the democratic revolution to the end, the central and immediate political task being to create the armed forces for rebellion. “In that case it is necessary to prepare for rebellion by means of guerrilla attacks, for it would be ridiculous to ‘prepare’ merely by enrollments and drawing up lists.” (*16) All revolutionary slogans should be retained and offensive operations organized. All of these views were threshed out at the Fourth Congress of the Russian Party, a unity Congress of both Mensheviks and Bolsheviks taking place in April, 1906. By this time it had become clear that the sporadic peasants’ revolts that had broken out had remained isolated from the workers’ attempts and that, because the revolutionary activity had not been coordinated sufficiently in city and country, both sections temporarily had been defeated. Lenin was now in agreement with the tactics of participation in the elections of the new consultative Duma as the best that could be done under the circumstances. Still the Bolsheviks were not willing to admit that they had made an error previously in urging the boycott. (*17) While the Mensheviks called for support of the Duma against the Czarist bureaucracy, the Bolshevik faction, which still kept its ranks intact, (*18) urged that the rural and urban petty bourgeoisie be broken away from the Kadets at the head of the Duma.

Now it was time for the Czar to take the next step in reaction. As he attacked the Duma, that body retreated to Finland and, in a Manifesto, prohibited the collection of taxes, enrollment of recruits, loans, etc. Under the pressure of the Bolsheviks, the Central Committee of the Social- Democratic Party issued an appeal to the army, navy, and peasants, declaring the government illegal and calling on the peasantry to take possession of the land, and on the soldiers to refuse to fire. The tactics of the Bolsheviks were to fuse the strikes into a general one, to stimulate and unite the peasant revolts and mutinies and co-ordinate them into one grand struggle on all fronts. While they had given up the idea of boycott, they called attention to the fact that work within the Duma was subordinated to other forms of struggle, strikes, insurrections, etc.

The year 1906 was marked by great tumult throughout the countryside. In this period the Bolsheviks decided to carry on a regular guerrilla warfare against the government, or rather to participate in what was already raging. The Bolsheviks even organized groups for the expropriation of wealthy private and governmental institutions so as to secure funds. The Mensheviks were horrified at this and at the Fourth Congress passed a resolution demanding the immediate liquidation of these groups of “partisans.” The Bolsheviks supported the terrorism on principle, on the ground that such actions disorganized the reactionaries and educated the revolutionists. They insisted, however, that these operations be carried on under strict Party control, and then only where the attacks could be made safety and without being misunderstood either by the labor movement or the local public. There was a further necessity to conduct a relentless struggle against the gangs of the Black Hundreds. The Bolsheviks here in practice disobeyed the decision of the Fourth Congress and maintained their fighting groups on the ground that this was the only way to fight the terrorism of the Czar.

By the end of 1906, the Bolsheviks were advocating a series of rear guard struggles to enable the workers to resist the ever intensifying repressions of the autocracy. In coming out for guerrilla warfare and conspiratorial terrorism during the period when the Bolsheviks believed the masses had been put down only temporarily, Lenin showed his acuteness as a revolutionary strategist. The Russians had gone through many forms of struggle, and he considered it incorrect to make a fetish of any one of them.

According to Lenin, during the period of retreat and lull it was perfectly proper to encourage individuals or small groups, whether social-democratic or “partisan,” to assassinate government officials and to confiscate funds from the government or the wealthy, even though these were tactics generally employed by the slum proletariat and by anarchists. Part of the funds were sent to the Party, especially the large expropriations, while small amounts went for the upkeep of the group. Lenin laid down the conclusion that “Guerrilla warfare is an inevitable form of struggle when the mass movement has reached the stage of rebellion and when more or less prolonged intervals of time intervene between the ‘big battles’ of the civil war.” (*19)

The concrete reality was that guerrilla warfare was a factor of the times and an instrument which the masses themselves were employing effectively; the question, therefore, was not whether the social-democrats should initiate this form of struggle or make it the principal weapon in its arsenal, but rather what attitude should the social-democrats take to a conflict already going on, whether they should participate or not. To this Lenin replied, “Social-democracy has no universal means of struggle which would separate the proletariat, as by a Chinese wall, from the sections that stand a little above or a little below it. At different times Social-Democracy employs different methods, always applying them under strictly defined ideological and organizational conditions.” (*20)

Correlated to this question was the policy of individual terror. The Mensheviks had shrunk from such a form of struggle as anarchistic; the Bolsheviks did not hesitate to adopt it wherever it would further the needs of the struggle. To Lenin, terror was a form of military operations that might be usefully applied or might be essential in certain moments of the battle, and under certain conditions. Terror never could become the regular means of warfare, but, at best, only one of the methods of the final onslaught. In other words, individual terror, in and of itself, was to be condemned but was justifiable as part of mass terror, which in turn was but one of the methods by which the masses conquered and held power. For example, it would be manifestly proper to start an insurrection by assassinating the governor or blowing up of the State House, while ordinarily such actions were to be condemned, yet in the light of the civil war that was presumptively indicated, they might constitute the only type of signal that the masses could understand, informing the discontented that the die was definitely cast and that the combat was on. Such a policy might help to demoralize the enemy and to hearten the revolutionary forces at a critical moment, or might be a demonstration to compel the conflict to go on to the bitter end.


After the events of 1905, reaction once more sat securely in the saddle. The Witte Duma was dissolved, the electorate much cut down, and a new futile Duma installed. The revolutionary forces, disheartened and pessimistic, began to disintegrate and the members tended to abandon the conspiratorial struggle and to adopt forms of idealism and religion, or to emphasize sexual questions. This was called Seninism after its representative Senin. The old generation was tired; the new generation had not yet come to maturity.

The Bolsheviks made the most energetic fight against Seninism in personal conduct, against God building and idealism in philosophy, and liquidationism in politics. They reaffirmed the Marxist view that religion never could be a private matter for individuals in the Party, as the Mensheviks claimed, although of course it was wrong to emphasize religious divisions which would divert the workers from the real issues.

Religion was not merely a product of ignorance, as bourgeois atheists maintained, but had its roots in the social and material environment of which it was a part. Religion had existed before the class struggle was known, in the days of primitive tribal communism. Then it served as a system of cosmology, as a rationale to explain such phenomena as lightning, death, dreams, or mental and physical diseases. With primitive people, religion was highly materialistic; the gods, feared and unknown, were conceived as similar to human beings with homologous lusts and passions. Religion was basically the reflection of the fact that man could not control, rather was a victim of, natural forces which he did not understand.

As society progressed, religion came to rationalize ethical customs important to the tribe and race, and, with the advent of private property and the State, this ethical part of religion became of the utmost social importance as a means by which the State could control the oppressed classes. For the masses, on the other hand, religion with its dreams of a future, better life, was the drug which dulled them to their sufferings in this world—as Karl Marx put it, “Religion is the moan of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” (*21)

The ruling classes embraced religion in order to give a supernatural backing to their creed of rendering unto Caesar what was Caesar’s and to keep the masses docile and meek. The Church became an intimate part of the State apparatus.

With the development of capitalism, definite atheistic trends arose. Science broke away from the Church; thus, religion was no longer a cosmological system satisfying to the intelligent. Attempts were made also to separate ethics from religion and to work out a system of morality upon the basis of utilitarianism and a scientific analysis of social laws. All that was left to the Church was the dry-as-dust scaffolding of theosophy, mumbo-jumbo of gods and angels. The Church belonged no longer to this world.

And yet the ruling classes needed the Church and religion, not merely because it helped them to control the masses, but also because even the rulers were in no position to explain the events of nature and of society. They could not explain crises and depressions, wars and revolutions, nor the laws of social change. And in proportion as the capitalists became victims of their own social system, of price fluctuations, of their own national chauvinisms, and of the very improvements in their technique of production, they could not emancipate themselves from their religious fetters. Science comes to a blind alley under capitalism; only the proletarian will release science and enable it really to flourish.

The working class turned to atheism, not so much through books as in the course of its functioning in the class struggle. In strike times, the worker found the Church ranged against him. Since he produced all that was good and beautiful in the world, unlike his employer he was not mystified as to how he earned his daily bread and he did not find it necessary to thank God or some other creator for it. He himself was the creator. While the petty bourgeois would limit religion to love ("God is Love") because he needed to conciliate all classes, placed as he was between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, the proletariat as it fought capitalism and the State had to contest all systems of social control, including the material institution of the Church and its rationale of religion.

The best way for the communist to turn the workers from religion, therefore, was not to subject them to abstract preachments but to involve them in the class struggle itself and there to clarify the material issues before them. “A Marxist must be a materialist, that is an enemy of religion, but from the materialist and dialectical standpoint, i.e., he must conceive the fight against religion not as an abstraction, not on the basis of pure theoretical atheism, equally applicable to all times and conditions, but concretely, on the basis of the class struggle which is actually going on and which will train and educate the masses better than anything else.” (*22)

On the other hand, while it was possible to break down the prejudices of religion in backward workers by mass struggles, emphasizing material issues, yet religious workers could not belong to the revolutionary vanguard. The Bolsheviks, unlike the Socialist Parties of the West, insisted that ardent religionists had no place in their ranks. It was easy for the Russians to reach this conclusion since, there, Church and State were linked into one, and the struggle against the State was extremely severe and ruthless. The Bolsheviks were ready to take in individual religious workers, provided they were willing to read and to study and were amenable to change, but such religious people were not fit to assume leadership in the organization. Certainly ministers and those who preached religion could not be allowed in the organization.

During the period of retreat in Russia, from 1906 to 1910, this whole problem became acute. Some of the social-democrats interpreted socialism as their “religion” so literally that they actually bolstered up faith in religion generally. Lenin, on the other hand, wanted to throw such people out of the Party and succeeded in doing so until the theoretical supporters of God gave up their myth-building and abided by the line of the Party. Thus the Bolsheviks were able early to cleanse their ranks of those who ideologically yielded to reaction and mysticism; the Mensheviks, on the contrary, having a far greater number of intellectuals and petty bourgeois elements in their ranks, were broken to pieces by such tendencies. (*23)

The chief struggle within the social-democratic movement during the period was against liquidationism, marked by the tendency to repudiate the class struggle and the leadership of the workers in it, and expressed organizationally in resignations from the Party and in the columns of the legal press and, in the legal labor organizations, in a struggle against the need for a secret revolutionary organization. At the same time another deviation arose, to which was given the name of Otsovism. The Otsovists desired to maintain the boycott of the Duma on the ground that it was a sham parliament and, in the period of reaction, a worthless instrument. While Lenin wanted to center the activity of the Party upon parliamentarism, the Otsovists declared the chief task was military preparation and the training of instructors for future battles. The Otsovists therefore were Leftist groups which were opposed, for example, to the liquidation of the expropriation groups to which the Bolsheviks had finally agreed in 1909, after such groups had degenerated greatly and the basis for their continued operations had disappeared.

According to Lenin, just as the Mensheviks and liquidators had lost their head in one direction, the Otsovists had lost their bearings in another and also did not know how to work in periods of reaction. Lenin averred: “It is precisely amidst acute and growing reaction, when the mechanical force of reaction really breaks our contacts with the masses, hampers our efforts to carry on sufficiently extensive work, and weakens the Party, that the specific task of the Party is to utilize the parliamentary weapon, not because the parliamentary struggle is higher than other forms of struggle—but because it really is lower than the other forms which draw even troops into the mass movement, which give rise to mass strikes, insurrection, etc. Why should the use of this lower form of struggle become the specific task of the Party (i.e., the one distinguishing the given period from other periods) ? Because the stronger the force of the reaction and the weaker the ties with the masses, the more urgent becomes the task of preparing the mind of the masses (and not the task of direct action), of utilizing the channels of propaganda and agitation created by the old regime (and not the direct attack of the masses upon the old regime itself).” (*24)

However, in the struggle against the Otsovists, against the God Builders and other groups, Lenin, while urging their expulsion from the Bolshevik faction, was not desirous of expelling them from the Party itself. To Lenin the Party was no rigid instrument in which everyone had to think exactly alike on every question. On the contrary, within the framework of the Party program there could arise great and sharp divergences which yet could be confined within one organization under certain conditions.

It was inevitable that a mass party should attract to itself a certain number of camp followers of various shades. There was nothing alarming or abnormal in this so long as the proletarian element managed to assimilate them and knew them for what they were. But it would be an entirely different thing were they to control the organization.

“To break away from a fraction is not the same as breaking away from the Party. Those who have left our fraction are by no means deprived of the possibility of working in the Party. They will either remain ‘unattached,’ i.e., outside the fraction, and in that case they will be absorbed in the general work of the Party, or they will try to establish a new fraction, which they have a perfect right to do if they desire to defend and develop their special shade of views and tactics; in that case the whole Party will very quickly see the manifestations of those tendencies, whose ideological significance we tried to appraise above.” (*25)

Thus, when the Otsovists, expelled from the Bolshevik faction, wanted to form a faction of their own, Lenin emphasized their right to do so, since they represented a distinct tendency at the time as when their place was still among the social-democrats. Here, then, must be noted an important point in the Lenin theory of a Communist Party. While the Party must insist on an adherence to a definite platform and policy, within limits it was certainly possible for the inevitable different shadings within the Party to gather into factions, to have their own caucuses, and so on.

In 1903 the Bolsheviks had obtained a majority in the Social-Democratic Labor Party of Russia. During the events of 1905, when they worked together with the Mensheviks, they lost that majority but did not break from the Party. By 1907, with the heavy losses which the Mensheviks suffered through liquidationism, the Bolsheviks were able to regain the majority, but by that time they had become convinced that the Mensheviks were class enemies of the workers. The formal split, however, did not occur until 1912 when, with the revival of the movement, the liquidators were expelled, and the Mensheviks finally separated organizationally from the Bolsheviks.

When the Mensheviks were in the majority in 1905, Lenin insisted on freedom of factional conflict, freedom of discussion and criticism of the central committee, the rights of the local organizations. At the same time, however, he stood for democratic centralism and strict party discipline. The problem was how to obtain freedom for criticism and yet maintain discipline and unity in action, at the same time recognizing that there are times when discipline and organizational unity must be broken, that is, when the leaders of the party became opportunists and traitors to their class. It becomes a very fine question where to draw the line, since both strict discipline and factional splits become necessities at different times.

Lenin’s theories of democratic centralism provided for full discussion before and after the action, but for complete unity during the course of the action. While it was true that without organization the strength of the proletariat was nothing, and the essence of organization lay in unity in action, it was also true that it was possible for the Party to embark on a wrong course of action. Only full discussion could determine when this had happened. Organization without ideas was an absurdity. Consequently, without the freedom of discussion and criticism, the proletariat did not recognize unity of action. For that reason, intelligent workers must never forget that sometimes serious violations of principles could occur which make the break-off of organizational relations absolutely necessary. Thus Lenin, who was for the strictest of disciplines, understood also the limitations of such discipline and knew when to break it.

In the Bolshevik Party there was a voluntary intelligent discipline based on the principle that the interests of the proletarian revolution and of the Communist Party stood above all. “We must always bear in mind that the army (our Party) of six hundred thousand men must be the vanguard of the working class, that without iron discipline it will be impossible to fulfill our task. The fundamental condition for the maintenance and preservation of our strict discipline is loyalty. All the old methods and resources for creating discipline have been destroyed. At the basis of all our activity we have laid only a high degree of thoughtfulness and intelligence. This has enabled us to maintain a discipline that stands higher than the discipline of any other State, and which rests on a basis totally different from that upon which the discipline of capitalist society is barely maintained, if it is maintained at all.” (*26)

Later, in dealing with the October, 1917, Revolution, Lenin wrote that one of the principal conditions of the success of the Bolsheviks was their iron discipline plus the fullest and unreserved support of advanced, sensible, honest, devoted, influential workers capable of leading and inspiring the working class. “The Dictatorship of the Proletariat is the fiercest and most merciless war of the new class against its most powerful enemy, the bourgeoisie, whose power of resistance increases tenfold after its overthrow, even though overthrown in only one country. The power of the bourgeoisie rests not alone upon international capital, upon its strong international connections, but also upon the force of habit, on the force of small industry of which unfortunately there is plenty left, and which daily, hourly, gives birth to capitalism and bourgeoisie spontaneously and on a large scale.” (*27) To Lenin, the experience of the triumphant proletarian dictatorship proved that unqualified centralization and strictest discipline of the proletariat were among the principal conditions for the victory over the bourgeoisie.

“Upon what rests the discipline of the Revolutionary Party of the proletariat? How is it controlled? How is it strengthened? Firstly, by the class consciousness of the proletarian vanguard and, by its devotion to the Revolution, by its steadiness, spirit of self-sacrifice and heroism. Secondly, by its ability to mix with the toiling masses, to become intimate and to a certain extent, if you will, to fuse itself with the proletarian masses primarily but also with the non-proletarian toilers. Thirdly, by the soundness of the political leadership, carried on by this vanguard, and by its correct political strategy and tactics, based on the idea that the workers by their own experience must convince themselves of the soundness of this political leadership strategy and tactics. Without all these conditions, discipline in a Revolutionary Party, really capable of being a Party of the advanced class whose object is to overthrow the bourgeoisie and transform society, is impossible of realization. Without these conditions, all attempts to create discipline result in empty phrases, in mere contortions. On the other hand, these conditions will not arise suddenly. They are created through long effort and bitter experience. Their creation is facilitated by correct revolutionary theory, which, in its turn, is not dogmatic, but which forms itself in its finality only through close connection with the practice of the real mass and true revolutionary movement.” (*28)

Thus discipline was irretrievably connected with the correctness of the political line of the party. Should the party be leading the masses against the revolution, by all means was it necessary to break from such an organization and to build up a revolutionary one.

Between this extreme duty of split and the one of unconditional obedience there were numerous intermediate positions. If the Central Committee of the Party was committing isolated acts detrimental to the masses, then it was the duty of the genuine communist to raise his voice in criticism. Where the Central Committee was guilty of a whole series of such acts which were no longer merely isolated but were bound together into a tendency, there the criticism could begin to take a more hostile tone. When the tendency developed into a regular deviation from revolutionary communism, it became the duty of the communist to fight against such deviation by means of organized criticism in the form of a faction.

But the logic of factional fighting leads to a split. Such factions should not split away from the party so long as the party is putting up a correct battle on the whole and has a scientific program in spite of its inconsistent deviations. Where, however, the deviation is becoming the main line and the Central Committee is really on the road to counter-revolution, then it is imperative for the faction to prepare for and organize the split from the party. Here is the limit of discipline, where loyalty to the class conflicts with loyalty to the instrument of the class, the party. In such cases, the class must always prevail.

On the other hand, the Central Committee must create such a regime that both discussion and criticism in full be permitted. Nor can the Central Committee act upon the formation of factions so as to expel them automatically. Factions are bound to arise in every mass party. The world moves on; some of the members of the party stand still, others follow ideologically the real movement and are ready with new proposals. It is most natural for each grouping to band itself together and to conduct struggles for control of the party according to their views. Such an internal life of the party, far from being detrimental, is a sure sign that the party is alive and sensitive to the new events. What is to be condemned is unprincipled factional fighting where cliques struggle for power. This is a sure sign that the organization has nothing to do with the revolution but is a breeding place for careerists and all sorts of counter-revolutionary elements within the working class, those who substitute their own future for that of their organization or for the welfare of their class.

In a Leninist organization, the Central Committee is bound to tolerate the faction where the faction abides by the discipline of the majority and insures unity in action and where the program of that faction is on the whole identical with that of the party itself. Where, however, the faction has passed beyond that stage and is trying to bring into the ranks of the communists a program fit only for opportunists or enemy elements, then there is nothing left for such a Party to do but to expel the faction.

Here, then, was the basis and the limitations of discipline among the Bolsheviks. The-Bolshevik Party under Lenin was able to be the vehicle to accomplish the revolution precisely because it tested out all its elements in all sorts of struggles, not merely in Russia, but abroad, and allowed the freest discussion of all communist elements within its ranks. The Bolshevik leaders, forced to emigrate to other countries, were able to overcome national provinciality and to realize very rich international experiences.

In their practical history, the Russians went through a wide revolutionary experience, embracing a great variety and rapidity of shifting forms, adaptable to legal and to illegal work, to peaceful and stormy periods, to parliamentary and terrorist activity, to open and underground organizations, to small circles and large masses. Through these experiences they were able to steel themselves for the events of 1917.

In preparation for their great achievements of 1917 the Bolsheviks had to go through several stages. In the years prior to 1905 there raged the bitter fight on questions of program and tactics. In these fights, the class was able to forge an adequate program for itself. In the period of the Revolution, from 1905 to 1907, all the programs and tactics were tested out. Strikes of unprecedented extent and acuteness arose, first economic, then political, finally turning into insurrections led by soviets. Here also was tested out the relationship of the workers to the peasants. Without the general rehearsal of 1905, the victory of 1917 would have been impossible. But it was not enough to go through the period of preparation and action, it was also necessary to experience defeat and depression, when demoralization, schism, dispersal of forces, renegacy, pornography, took the place of revolutionary politics. It was really in this period of defeat and retreat that the political Party of Lenin became hardened and tested the most. It was in this period that the phrase-mongers were most sharply exposed and could be expelled from the ranks while the organization was prepared for the new advances that would be made.

After 1910, the movement began slowly to revive; it became active again in 1912. Now, because of their hard work in the period of retreat, the Bolsheviks were able to drive back the Mensheviks and succeeded in co-ordinating illegal forms of work with the obligatory utilization of all legal possibilities. By the time of the imperialist war, the Bolsheviks were prepared to take a revolutionary position against the Second International and to take advantage of the first break that should occur in the ranks of the Czarist absolutism. When the great Russian State began to crumble, as a result of the War, and the Revolution of 1917 began, they were ready.


1. See L. D. Trotsky. 1905, p. 68.

2. The same, p. 69.

3. Afterward, Trotsky declared that the views were those of Parvus alone, but this explanation came rather late.

4. Selections from Lenin, II, 63-64.

5. The same, pp. 16-17.

6. The same, pp. 41-42.

7. The same, p. 42.

8. The same, pp. 102-103.

9. Called the Bulygin Duma after the Czar’s minister.

10. L. D. Trotsky. 1905, p. 211.

11. The same, p. 115.

12. Trotsky: 1905, pp. 146-147.

13. Trotsky: 1905, p. 176.

14. It is significant that the Navy has led popular revolts in a number of important instances, not only in the Russian Revolution of 1905, but in the German Revolution of 1918, the Russian Revolution of 1917, the French revolutionary ferment after the War, the Spanish Revolutionary events of 1936, etc. This can be traced to numerous causes. The sailors have occupations in the main similar to workmen, their conditions are generally bad, they live close together and can communicate their ideas to each other easily; they travel around and get to compare the lot of their people with those abroad while they are seldom given the functions of coming into conflict with their own countrymen. Thus the Naval forces are often ripe for subversive propaganda during revolutionary moments and are generally not the strongest or most reliable troops for reaction.

15. Selections from Lenin, II, 172.

16. The same, pp. 173-174.

17. Much later Lenin did declare that he had erred in continuing the boycott after the objective circumstances had changed. See his "Left” Communism, an Infantile Disorder, p. 44. (Toiler edition.)

18. And put out its own papers (Volya, Vperiod and Echo).

19. Selections from Lenin, II, 221.

20. The same, p. 225.

21. Karl Marx: Selected Essays, p. 12.

22. Selections from Lenin, II, 277.

23. At the 1907 Convention it was revealed that 52 per cent of the Mensheviks were intellectuals and only 6 per cent of the Bolsheviks.

24. Selections from Lenin, II, 311-312.

25. The same, pp. 300-301.

26. Lenin on Organization, p. 33.

27. V. I. Lenin: "Left” Communism, an Infantile Disorder, p. 6.

28. The same, pp. 6-7.