Gregory Zinoviev

A Five-Years’ Lesson

Source: The Living Age, Vol. 315—Number 4083, 1922.
Originally Published: Die Rote Fahne, November 7, 1922.
Online Version: Zinoviev Internet Archive, April 2006
Transcription/HTML Markup: Brian Reid

La Commune, one of the most important papers at the time of the Paris Commune, said, in anticipation of that proletarian uprising: ‘The Commune was not fighting for the Republic, but for the Revolution.’ That was an unusually pertinent remark. It is the more notable because it was published on March 31, 1871, two weeks before the actual outbreak of the revolt. Yes, it was not the Republic but the Revolution that was the issue. The object was no bourgeois-republican upsetting of the Government, but the beginning of a true proletarian emancipation. It was a movement that by its profundity and by its historical significance for the first time attained the dignity of a real Revolution.

If that was true of the Paris Commune, it was still more true of our great Russian Revolution. If we summarize the results of the first half-decade of Soviet rule, we can probably claim for our Revolution the definition of that Paris journal. We in Russia did not fight for a Republic, but for a Revolution. ‘All traditions were ground under foot. Something unprecedented happened in the world. A Government existed in which there was not a single member of the ruling class.’ It was thus that Arthur Arnault characterized the uprising at Paris; and Lavrov says in his famous book on the Commune: —

The Revolution of 1871 was determined, for the first time in history, to place at its head ‘unknown people’ from the masses. The Paris Commune of 1871 was the first organization of society in the world that was controlled and managed by manual workers.

And in spite of all the blunders and all the failures that attended their administration of the Commune, they proved that the working classes can furnish men competent to manage the affairs of the community, men who performed their duties as well as the ‘intelligentsia’ functionaries who hitherto regarded governing as their specialty. . . . When we compare the legislation of the Commune with the decrees of Parliaments and Cabinets that are drafted by practised and trained statesmen, we find it practically free from criticism. Bookbinders, locksmiths, and journeymen-goldsmiths proved to be as competent in such matters as the graduates of our higher educational institutions, who had been trained under statesmen and politicians. During its short existence, the Paris Commune punctured for all time the illusion that bourgeois education is an indispensable qualification for holding public office. . . . The great days of March 1871 were the first occation when the proletariat not only made a revolution but also led it.

With far better right can our great Russian proletarian Revolution apply these words to itself. The difference between the Paris Commune and the Russian Soviet Government is the difference between the child and the adult. The Paris Commune survived seventy-two days, and was drowned in the blood of its best sons. The victorious Russian Revolution celebrates its fifth birthday under conditions that that prove beyond question that its worst trials are over and that the eventual victory of the workers is assured.

The great Russian Revolution has also produced much that is transient and accidental. Such a titanic river, plunging ahead at full flood, inevitably casts mud, and wreckage, and putrid bodies upon its bank. But the Russian proletarian Revolution has also given the world much that is uncontestably eternal and immortal.

The immortal element in our Revolution is first and foremost the fact that it has changed completely the mentality of the masses. Our Revolution is above all great in having destroyed the fetich authority of the bourgeois State. The revolutionary hurricane swept away the last remnant of that mystical reverence that still enhaloed in the eyes of the ‘lower’ classes the mystery of government. The hard-working proletariat of Russia saw with their own eyes how a State is built, how a Government comes into being. And no matter what struggles and trials our people have been forced to undergo during these five years, they have retained intact their instinctive conviction that they are the real creators of the new Government, that they are the subjects and not merely the objects of social regulation.

For five years ‘unknown people’ have ruled one sixth of the earth’s surface. locksmiths and bookbinders’ have held the reins of government. They have run our factories, and works, our mines, our railroads, our townships and counties, our provinces — many of which are greater than whole states in Western Europe, — and all Russia.

There was much gnashing of teeth when Comrade Lenin declared that the proletarian Revolution would qualify every kitchen-maid to administer a public office. Look around you, doubting Thomases! Has this prophecy not come true? Do not manual laborers now fill our public offices? Of whom do our Soviets consist if not of manual workers?

‘But Russia has no Soviets!’ shout our opponents at every street corner.

‘Your Soviets are mere fiction!’

Have we no Soviets, then? They tell us that merely because our Soviets are not like bourgeois Parliaments. Their ideal is a bourgeois Parliament. Are there no Soviets? They tell us that in the fifth year of Soviet rule, when Soviets have become the very flesh and blood of the nation!

‘There are no Soviets’! I would that these gentlemen might have seen the last election of the Petrograd Soviet, when, in this great reviving proletarian metropolis, there was not a single laborer, not a single laborer’s wife, not a single wage-earner, not a single kitchen-maid, not a single youthful worker who did not participate in one way or another in the election of the Soviet.

The immortal element in the Russian Revolution consists in the fact that the mass of the people, millions and tens of millions of workers, have been converted from mere objects of Government into makers of Government. This fact alone created a new Russia, tapped inexhaustible fountains of human energy, raised up a new generation of young men and women, and filled our laborers with such eagerness and daring as the world has never before witnessed. Former revolutions shook the throne of Tsars; but we were the first to overthrow for all ages to come the throne of the bourgeoisie. For the first time in the history of mankind there has existed for five years, to the mortal terror of our enemies — aye, there has lived and grown stronger — not a republic in the bourgeois definition of this word but the revolution, the great proletarian Revolution.

In many countries with an advanced labor movement, both in Europe and in America, the working people are better educated, they stand on a higher cultural level, than our Russian workers. But our Russian proletariat possesses, on this fifth birthday of the Soviet Government, a tremendous advantage over all its workingmen comrades in the rest of the world. This advantage is that our laboring people already have the practical experience of the first proletarian Revolution. Not only have they seen how revolutions are made, but they have made one, themselves. In this respect they stand a head higher than any other working people in the world. If you look sharply, you will discover in the eyes of the most backward Russian weaver, illiterate navvy, or clumsy apprentice, a spark of enlightenment that does not yet illumine the eyes of proletarians in those countries where a proletarian Revolution has not yet occurred. This spark, this flash of illumination, was born of the victory of the proletarian Revolution. This something expresses the whole reality of these great years of change — the whole heroism of these titanic, hallowed years. They saw all, they lived through all, they conquered the bourgeoisie. They, these suffering Russian workingmen and workingwomen, are in this sense more enlightened than the workers of any bourgeois country.

But this does not mean that in times to come, when the workers of the more progressive nations have conquered their bourgeoisie, they may not overtake the Russian proletariat also in this respect. Only men who have a machine in their bosoms instead of a heart can fail to see this immortal element in the Russian Revolution. Moreover, this practical experience makes the Russian proletariat the pioneer, the advance guard of the international labor movement. It has given the Russian workers the power to lead, for several years, the whole Communist International.

Which serves the other — Russia the World Revolution, or World Revolution Soviet Russia? Our enemies never cease asking this question. Some busy themselves with it, seeking maliciously to sow discord in our midst, others merely because they are stupid. You wise owls! Which serves which? The foundation the roof, or the roof the foundation? Study the puzzle a longer!

A tiny but at heart an immeasureably great practical experience of the Paris Commune made the uprising of the Paris proletariat fifty-one years ago immortal. That was the example it gave to the working people of the whole world of how the bourgeoisie is to be overthrown. The magnificent example given by the Bolshevist Revolution for five years bestows, in an incomperably higher degree, immortality upon the achievement of the Russian working classes. The Russian proletarian revolution — whatever skeptics and those weak in the faith may say — lives in the heart of the working people of the whole world. It is for them a model which they will try to copy. It is their battle-cry, their hope, their guiding star. In a word, the immortal element of the Russian Revolution lies in the fact that it is the beginning of the World Revolution.


Back to Zinoviev Archive
Back to Marxist Writers Archive