From London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter, No.25, Autumn 2005.
Downloaded with thanks for the LSHG Website.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
We are living in a time of mass movements which originate outside the dead zone of official politics. The Russian revolution of 1905 was like that. In fact, it was the first such movement. The first time ordinary people were involved in stopping a war. The first general strike in history. The first workers’ councils or Soviets, rivalling the power of the established authorities. In short, it was the first modern revolution. If we can learn anything from history, we can learn something from 1905.
This centenary issue of Revolutionary History is based on a unique range of Russian sources translated here for the first time. The 1905 revolution comes to life through its authentic voices: working men and women, sailors, the non-Russian peoples of the empire, and socialists in the three main left-wing parties. Crucial debates in the St. Petersburg Soviet are taken directly from the pages of the first Izvestiya, its illegally-produced bulletin. There are also first-time translations of writings by Rosa Luxemburg at the time and a special study of the extraordinarily revealing strike statistics.
Perhaps the unique thing about 1905 is the extraordinary clarity with which it shows how working-class consciousness can become radicalised.
This work focuses on three simultaneous and closely-linked processes of change.
The first was the way the centralized tsarist state raised the stakes of the struggle at key points, facing the workers with the choice of either responding or knuckling under. These were conscious choices made by millions of workers in the light of their experience of struggle and the resulting level of confidence and courage. So every step of the struggle involved a change in mass consciousness.
The second was the differentiation of the mass workers’ movement, independently of any political party, between militant and moderate poles.
The third was the development of the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, originally factions in the same social-democratic party, into distinct parties which corresponded politically to these two contradictory tendencies inside the mass movement. Historians have sometimes seen parts of this process of change. However, it is usually at the cost of the dynamic relationships between them, hence of the process as a whole.
This is the first major new work in English on the 1905 revolution for 17 years. Overshadowed by the 1917 revolution for many years, 1905 is at last restored to its true importance as the formative experience of a radical age.
Last updated: 29.3.2008