From: Marxist Internet Archive
These words of Lenin are very important in light of recent events in Wisconsin, Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere. It reflects on the role revolutionaries in uprisings.
My young friends and comrades,
Today is the twelfth anniversary of “Bloody Sunday”, which is rightly regarded as the beginning of the Russian revolution.
Thousands of workers—not Social-Democrats, but loyal God-fearing subjects—led by the priest Gapon, streamed from all parts of the capital to its centre, to the square in front of the Winter Palace, to submit a petition to the tsar. The workers carried icons. In a letter to the tsar, their then leader, Gapon, had guaranteed his personal safety and asked him to appear before the people.
Troops were called out. Uhlans and Cossacks attacked the crowd with drawn swords. They fired on the unarmed workers, who on their bended knees implored the Cossacks to allow them to go to the tsar. Over one thousand were killed and over two thousand wounded on that day, according to police reports. The indignation of the workers was indescribable.
Such is the general picture of January 22, 1905—“Bloody Sunday”.
That you may understand more clearly the historic significance of this event, I shall quote a few passages from the workers’ petition. It begins with the following words:
“We workers, inhabitants of St. Petersburg, have come to Thee. We are unfortunate, reviled slaves, weighed down by despotism and tyranny. Our patience exhausted, we ceased work and begged our masters to give us only that without which life is a torment. But this was refused; to the employers everything seemed unlawful. We are here, many thou sands of us. Like the whole of the Russian people, we have no human rights whatever. Owing to the deeds of Thy officials we have become slaves.”
The petition contains the following demands: amnesty, civil liberties, fair wages, gradual transfer of the land to the people, convocation of a constituent assembly on the basis of universal and equal suffrage. It ends with the following words:
“Sire, do not refuse aid to Thy people! Demolish the wall that separates Thee from Thy people. Order and promise that our requests will be granted, and Thou wilt make Russia happy; if not, we are ready to die on this very spot. We have only two roads: freedom and happiness, or the grave.”
Reading it now, this petition of uneducated, illiterate workers, led by a patriarchal priest, creates a strange impression. Involuntarily one compares this naïve petition with the present peace resolutions of the social-pacifists, the would-be socialists who in reality are bourgeois phrase-mongers. The unenlightened workers of pre-revolutionary Russia did not know that the tsar was the head of the ruling class, the class, namely, of big landowners, already bound by a thousand ties with the big bourgeoisie and prepared to defend their monopoly, privileges and profits by every means of violence. The social-pacifists of today, who pretend to be “highly educated” people—no joking—do not realise that it is just as foolish to expect a “democratic” peace from bourgeois governments that are waging an imperialist predatory war, as it was to believe that peaceful petitions would induce the bloody tsar to grant democratic reforms.
Nevertheless, there is a great difference between the two—the present-day social-pacifists are, to a large extent, hypocrites, who strive by gentle admonitions to divert the people from the revolutionary struggle, whereas the uneducated workers in pre-revolutionary Russia proved by their deeds that they were straightforward people awakened to political consciousness for the first time.
It is in this awakening of tremendous masses of the people to political consciousness and revolutionary struggle that the historic significance of January 22, 1905 lies.
“There is not yet a revolutionary people in Russia,” wrote Mr. Pyotr Struve, then leader of the Russian liberals and publisher abroad of an illegal, uncensored organ, two days before “Bloody Sunday”. The idea that an illiterate peasant country could produce a revolutionary people seemed utterly absurd to this “highly educated”, supercilious and extremely stupid leader of the bourgeois reformists. So deep was the conviction of the reformists of those days—as of the reformists of today—that, a real revolution was impossible!
Prior to January 22 (or January 9, old style), 1905, the revolutionary party of Russia consisted of a small group of people, and the reformists of those days (exactly like the reformists of today) derisively called us a “sect”. Several hundred revolutionary organisers, several thousand members of local organisations, half a dozen revolutionary papers appearing not more frequently than once a month, published mainly abroad and smuggled into Russia with incredible difficulty and at the cost of many sacrifices—such were the revolutionary parties in Russia, and the revolutionary Social-Democracy in particular, prior to January 22, 1905. This circumstance gave the narrow-minded and overbearing reformists formal justification for their claim that there was not yet a revolutionary people in Russia.
Within a few months, however, the picture changed completely. The hundreds of revolutionary Social-Democrats “suddenly” grew into thousands; the thousands became the leaders of between two arid three million proletarians. The proletarian struggle produced widespread ferment, often revolutionary movements among the peasant masses, fifty to a hundred million strong; the peasant movement had its reverberations in the army and led to soldiers’ revolts, to armed clashes between one section of the army and another. In this manner a colossal country, with a population of 130,000,000, went into the revolution; in this way, dormant Russia was transformed into a Russia of a revolutionary proletariat and a revolutionary people.
It is necessary to study this transformation, understand why it was possible, its methods and ways, so to speak.
The principal factor in this transformation was the mass strike. The peculiarity of the Russian revolution is that it was a bourgeois-democratic revolution in its social content, but a proletarian revolution in its methods of struggle. It was a bourgeois-democratic revolution since its immediate aim, which it could achieve directly and with its own forces, was a democratic republic, the eight-hour day and confiscation of the immense estates of the nobility—all the measures the French bourgeois revolution in 1792–93 had almost completely achieved.
At the same time, the Russian revolution was also a proletarian revolution, not only in the sense that the proletariat was the leading force, the vanguard of the movement, but also in the sense that a specifically proletarian weapon of struggle—the strike—was the principal means of bringing the masses into motion and the most characteristic phenomenon in the wave-like rise of decisive events.
The Russian revolution was the first, though certainly not the last, great revolution in history in which the mass political strike played an extraordinarily important part. It may even be said that the events of the Russian revolution and the sequence of its political forms cannot be understood without a study of the strike statistics to disclose the basis of these events and this sequence of forms.
I know perfectly well that dry statistics are hardly suit able in a lecture and are likely to bore the hearer. Nevertheless, I cannot refrain from quoting a few figures, in order that you may be able to appreciate the real objective basis of the whole movement. The average annual number of strikers in Russia during the ten years preceding the revolution was 43,000, which means 430,000 for the decade. In January 1905, the first month of the revolution, the number of strikers was 440,000. In other words, there were more strikers in one month than in the whole of the preceding decade!
In no capitalist country in the world, not even in the most advanced countries like England, the United States of America, or Germany, has there been anything to match the tremendous Russian strike movement of 1905. The total number of strikers was 2,800,000, more than two times the number of factory workers in the country! This, of course, does not prove that the urban factory workers of Russia were more educated, or stronger, or more adapted to the struggle than their brothers in Western Europe. The very opposite is true.
But it does show how great the dormant energy of the proletariat can be. It shows that in a revolutionary epoch—I say this without the slightest exaggeration, on the basis of the most accurate data of Russian history—the proletariat can generate fighting energy a hundred times greater than in ordinary, peaceful times. It shows that up to 1905 mankind did not yet know what a great, what a tremendous exertion of effort the proletariat is, and will be, capable of in a fight for really great aims, and one waged in a really revolutionary manner!
The history of the Russian revolution shows that it was the vanguard, the finest elements of the wage-workers, that fought with the greatest tenacity and the greatest devotion. The larger the mills and factories involved, the more stubborn were the strikes, and the more often did they recur during the year. The bigger the city, the more important was the part the proletariat played in the struggle. Three big cities, St. Petersburg, Riga and Warsaw, which have the largest and most class-conscious working-class element, show an immeasurably greater number of strikers, in relation to all workers, than any other city, and, of course, much greater than the rural districts.
In Russia—as probably in other capitalist countries—the metalworkers represent the vanguard of the proletariat. In this connection we note the following instructive fact: taking all industries, the number of persons involved in strikes in 1905 was 160 per hundred workers employed, but in the metal industry the number was 320 per hundred! It is estimated that in consequence of the 1905 strikes every Russian factory worker lost an average of ten rubles in wages—approximately 26 francs at the pre-war rate of exchange—sacrificing this money, as it were, for the sake of the struggle. But if we take the metalworkers, we find that the loss in wages was three times as great! The finest elements of the working class marched in the forefront, giving leadership to the hesitant, rousing the dormant and encouraging the weak.
A distinctive feature was the manner in which economic strikes were interwoven with political strikes during the revolution. There can be no doubt that only this very close link-up of the two forms of strike gave the movement its great power. The broad masses of the exploited could not have been drawn into the revolutionary movement had they not been given daily examples of how the wage-workers in the various industries were forcing the capitalists to grant immediate, direct improvements in their conditions. This struggle imbued the masses of the Russian people with a new spirit. Only then did the old serf-ridden, sluggish, patriarchal, pious and obedient Russia cast out the old Adam; only then did the Russian people obtain a really democratic and really revolutionary education.
When the bourgeois gentry and their uncritical echoers, the social-reformists, talk priggishly about the “education” of the masses, they usually mean something schoolmasterly, pedantic, something that demoralises the masses and instils in them bourgeois prejudices.
The real education of the masses can never be separated from their independent political, and especially revolutionary, struggle. Only struggle educates the exploited class. Only struggle discloses to it the magnitude of its own power, widens its horizon, enhances its abilities, clarifies its mind, forges its will. That is why even reactionaries bad to admit that the year 1905, the year of struggle, the “mad year”, definitely buried patriarchal Russia.
Let us examine more closely the relation, in the 1905 strike struggles, between the metalworkers and the textile workers. The metalworkers are the best paid, the most class-conscious and best educated proletarians: the textile workers, who in 1905 were two and a half times more numerous than the metalworkers, are the most backward and the worst paid body of workers in Russia, and in very many cases have not yet definitely severed connections with their peasant kinsmen in the village. This brings us to a very important circumstance.
Throughout the whole of 1905, the metalworkers strikes show a preponderance of political over economic strikes, though this preponderance was far greater toward the end of the year than at the beginning. Among the textile workers, on the other hand, we observe an overwhelming preponderance of economic strikes at the beginning of 1905, and it is only at the end of the year that we get a preponderance of political strikes. From this it follows quite obviously that the economic struggle, the struggle for immediate and direct improvement of conditions, is alone capable of rousing the most backward strata of the exploited masses, gives them a real education and transforms them—during a revolutionary period—into an army of political fighters within the space of a few months.
Of course, for this to happen, it was necessary for the vanguard of the workers not to regard the class struggle as a struggle in the interests of a thin upper stratum—a conception the reformists all too often try to instil—but for the proletariat to come forward as the real vanguard of the majority of the exploited and draw that majority into the struggle, as was the case in Russia in 1905, and as must be, and certainly will be, the case in the impending proletarian revolution in Europe.
The beginning of 1905 brought the first great wave of strikes that swept the entire country. As early as the spring of that year we see the rise of the first big, not only economic, but also political peasant movement in Russia. The importance of this historical turning-point will be appreciated if it is borne in mind that the Russian peasantry was liberated from the severest form of serfdom only in 1861, that the majority of the peasants are illiterate, that they live in indescribable poverty, oppressed by the landlords, deluded by the priests and isolated from each other by vast distances and an almost complete absence of roads.
Russia witnessed the first revolutionary movement against tsarism in 1825, a movement represented almost exclusively by noblemen. Thereafter and up to 1881, when Alexander II was assassinated by the terrorists, the movement was led by middle-class intellectuals. They displayed supreme self-sacrifice and astonished the whole world by the heroism of their terrorist methods of struggle. Their sacrifices were certainly not in vain. They doubtlessly contributed—directly or indirectly—to the subsequent revolutionary education of the Russian people. But they did not, and could not, achieve their immediate aim of generating a people’s revolution.
That was achieved only by the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat. Only the waves of mass strikes that swept over the whole country, strikes connected with the severe lessons of the imperialist Russo-Japanese War, roused the broad masses of peasants from their lethargy. The word “striker” acquired an entirely new meaning among the peasants: it signified a rebel, a revolutionary, a term previously expressed by the word “student”. But the “student” belonged to the middle class, to the “learned”, to the “gentry”, and was therefore alien to the people. The “striker”, on the other hand, was of the people; he belonged to the exploited class. Deported from St. Petersburg, he often returned to the village where he told his fellow-villagers of the conflagration which was spreading to all the cities and would destroy both the capitalists and the nobility. A new type appeared in the Russian village—the class-conscious young peasant. He associated with “strikers”, he read newspapers, he told the peasants about events in the cities, explained to his fellow-villagers the meaning of political demands, and urged them to fight the landowning nobility, the priests and the government officials.
The peasants would gather in groups to discuss their conditions, and gradually they were drawn into the struggle. Large crowds attacked the big estates, set fire to the manor-houses and appropriated supplies, seized grain and other foodstuffs, killed policemen and demanded transfer to the people of the huge estates.
In the spring of 1905, the peasant movement was only just beginning, involving only a minority, approximately one-seventh, of the uyezds.
But the combination of the proletarian mass strikes in the cities with the peasant movement in the rural areas was sufficient to shake the “firmest” and last prop of tsarism. I refer to the army.
There began a series of mutinies in the navy and the army. During the revolution, every fresh wave of strikes and of the peasant movement was accompanied by mutinies in all parts of Russia. The most well-known of these is the mutiny on the Black Sea cruiser Prince Potemkin, which was seized by the mutineers and took part in the revolution in Odessa. After the defeat of the revolution and unsuccessful attempts to seize other ports (Feodosia in the Crimea, for instance), it surrendered to the Rumanian authorities in Constantsa.
Permit me to relate in detail one small episode of the Black Sea mutiny in order to give you a concrete picture of events at the peak of the movement.
“Gatherings of revolutionary workers and sailors were being organised more and more frequently. Since servicemen were not allowed to attend workers’ meetings, large crowds of workers came to military meetings. They came in thousands. The idea of joint action found a lively response. Delegates were elected from the companies where political understanding among the men was higher.
“The military authorities thereupon decided to take action. Some of the officers tried to deliver ‘patriotic’ speeches at the meetings but failed dismally: the sailors, who were accustomed to debating, put their officers to shameful flight. In view of this, it was decided to prohibit meetings altogether. On the morning of November 24, 1905, a company of sailors, in full combat kit, was posted at the gates of the naval bar racks. Rear-Admiral Pisarevsky gave the order in a loud voice: ‘No one is to leave the barracks! Shoot anyone who disobeys!’ A sailor named Petrov, of the company that had been given that order, stepped forth from the ranks,load ed his rifle in the view of all,and with one shot killed Captain Stein of the Belostok Regiment, and with another wounded Rear-Admiral Pisarevsky. ‘Arrest him!’ one of the officers shouted. No one budged. Petrov threw down his rifle, exclaiming: ‘Why don’t you move? Take me!’ He was arrested. The sailors, who rushed from every side, angrily demanded his release, declaring that they vouched for him. Excitement ran high.
“‘Petrov, the shot was an accident, wasn’t it?’ asked one of the officers, trying to find a way out of the situation.
“‘What do you mean, an accident? I stepped forward, loaded and took aim. Is that an accident?’
“‘They demand your release....’
“And Petrov was released. The sailors, however, were not content with that; all officers on duty were arrested, disarmed, and locked up at headquarters.... Sailor delegates, about forty in number, conferred the whole night. The decision was to release the officers, but not to permit them to enter the barracks again.”
This small incident clearly shows you how events developed in most of the mutinies. The revolutionary ferment among the people could not but spread to the armed forces. It is indicative that the leaders of the movement came from those elements in the army and the navy who had been recruited mainly from among the industrial workers and of whom more technical training was required, for instance, the sappers. The broad masses, however, were still too naïve, their mood was too passive, too good-natured, too Christian. They flared up rather quickly; any instance of injustice, excessively harsh treatment by the officers, bad food, etc., could lead to revolt. But what they lacked was persistence, a clear perception of aim, a clear understanding that only the most vigorous continuation of the armed struggle, only a victory over all the military and civil authorities, only the overthrow of the government and the seizure of power throughout the country could guarantee the success of the revolution.
The broad masses of sailors and soldiers were easily roused to revolt. But with equal light-heartedness they foolishly released arrested officers. They allowed the officers to pacify them by promises and persuasion: in this way the officers gained precious time, brought in reinforcements, broke the strength of the rebels, and then followed the most brutal suppression of the movement and the execution of its leaders.
A comparison of these 1905 mutinies with the Decembrist uprising of 1825 is particularly interesting. In 1825 the leaders of the political movement were almost exclusively officers, and officers drawn from the nobility. They had become infected, through contact, with the democratic ideas of Europe during the Napoleonic wars. The mass of the soldiers, who at that time were still serfs, remained passive.
The history of 1905 presents a totally different picture. With few exceptions, the mood of the officers was either bourgeois-liberal, reformist, or frankly counter-revolutionary. The workers and peasants in military uniform were the soul of the mutinies. The movement spread to all sections of the people, and for the first time in Russia’s history involved the majority of the exploited. But what it lacked was, on the one hand, persistence and determination among the masses—they were too much afflicted with the malady of trustfulness—and, on the other, organisation of revolutionary Social-Democratic workers in military uniform—they lacked the ability to take the leadership into their own hands, march at the head of the revolutionary army and launch an offensive against the government.
I might remark, incidentally, that these two shortcomings will—more slowly, perhaps, than we would like, but surely—be eliminated not only by the general development of capitalism, but also by the present war...
At any rate, the history of the Russian revolution, like the history of the Paris Commune of 1871, teaches us the incontrovertible lesson that militarism can never and under no circumstances be defeated and destroyed, except by a victorious struggle of one section of the national army against the other section. It is not sufficient simply to denounce, revile and “repudiate” militarism, to criticise and prove that it is harmful; it is foolish peacefully to refuse to perform military service. The task is to keep the revolutionary consciousness of the proletariat tense and train its best elements, not only in a general way, hut concretely, so that when popular ferment reaches the highest pitch, they will put themselves at the head of the revolutionary army.
The day-to-day experience of any capitalist country teaches us the same lesson. Every “minor” crisis that such a country experiences discloses to us in miniature the elements, the rudiments, of the battles that will inevitably take place on a large scale during a big crisis. What else, for instance, is a strike if not a minor crisis of capitalist society? Was not the Prussian Minister for Internal Affairs, Herr von Puttkammer, right when he coined the famous phrase: “In every strike there lurks the hydra of revolution”? Does not the calling out of troops during strikes in all, even the most peaceful, the most “democratic”—save the mark—capitalist countries show how things will shape out in a really big crisis?
But to return to the history of the Russian revolution.
I have tried to show you how the workers’ strikes stirred up the whole country and the broadest, most backward strata of the exploited, how the peasant movement began, and how it was accompanied by mutiny in the armed forces.
The movement reached its zenith in the autumn of 1905. On August 19 (6), the tsar issued a manifesto on the introduction of popular representation. The so-called Bulygin Duma was to be created oil the basis of a suffrage embracing a ridiculously small number of voters, and this peculiar “parliament” was to have no legislative powers whatever, only advisory, consultative powers!
The bourgeoisie, the liberals, the opportunists were ready to grasp with both hands this “gift” of the frightened tsar. Like all reformists, our reformists of 1905 could not understand that historic situations arise when reforms, and particularly promises of reforms, pursue only one aim: to allay the unrest of the people, force the revolutionary class to cease, or at least slacken, its struggle.
The Russian revolutionary Social-Democracy was well aware of the real nature of this grant of an illusory constitution in August 1905. That is why, without a moment’s hesitation, it issued the slogans: “Down with the advisory Duma! Boycott the Duma! Down with the tsarist government! Continue the revolutionary struggle to overthrow it! Not the tsar, but a provisional revolutionary government must convene Russia’s first real, popular representative assembly!”
History proved that the revolutionary Social-Democrats were right, for the Bulygin Duma was never convened. It was swept away by the revolutionary storm before it could be convened. And this storm forced the tsar to promulgate a new electoral law, which provided for a considerable increase in the number of voters, and to recognise the legislative character of the Duma.
October and December 1905 marked the highest point in the rising tide of the Russian revolution. All the well-springs of the people’s revolutionary strength flowed in a wider stream than ever before. The number of strikers—which in January 1905, as I have already told you, was 440,000—reached over half a million in October 1905 (in a single month!). To this number, which applies only to factory workers, must be added several hundred thousand railway workers, postal and telegraph employees, etc.
The general railway strike stopped all rail traffic and paralysed the power of the government in the most effective manner. The doors of the universities were flung wide open, and the lecture halls, which in peace time were used solely to befuddle youthful minds with pedantic professorial wisdom and to turn the students into docile servants of the bourgeoisie and tsarism, now became the scene of public meetings at which thousands of workers, artisans and office workers openly and freely discussed political issues.
Freedom of the press was won. The censorship was simply ignored. No publisher dared send the obligatory censor copy to the authorities, and the authorities did not dare take any measure against this. For the first time in Russian history, revolutionary newspapers appeared freely in St. Petersburg and other towns. In St. Petersburg alone, three Social-Democratic daily papers were published, with circulations ranging from 50,000 to 100,000.
The proletariat, marched at the head of the movement. It set out to win the eight-hour day by revolutionary action. “An Eight-Hour Day and Arms!” was the fighting slogan of the St. Petersburg proletariat. That the fate of the revolution could, and would, be decided only by armed struggle was becoming obvious to an ever-increasing mass of workers.
In the fire of battle, a peculiar mass organisation was formed, the famous Soviets of Workers’ Deputies, comprising delegates from all factories. In several cities these Soviets of Workers’ Deputies began more and more to play the part of a provisional revolutionary government, the part of organs and leaders of the uprising. Attempts were made to organise Soviets of Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Deputies and to combine them with the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies.
For a time several cities in Russia became something in the nature of small local “republics”. The government authorities were deposed and the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies actually functioned as the new government. Unfortunately, these periods were all too brief, the “victories” were too weak, too isolated.
The peasant movement in the autumn of 1905 reached still greater dimensions. Over one-third of all the uyezds were affected by the so-called “peasant disorders” and regular peasant uprisings. The peasants burned down no less than two thousand estates and distributed among themselves the food stocks of which the predatory nobility had robbed the people.
Unfortunately, this work was not thorough enough! Unfortunately, the peasants destroyed only one-fifteenth of the total number of landed estates, only one-fifteenth part of what they should have destroyed in order to wipe the shame of large feudal landownership from the face of the Russian earth. Unfortunately, the peasants were too scattered, too isolated from each other in their actions; they were not organised enough, not aggressive enough, and therein lies one of the fundamental reasons for the defeat of the revolution.
A movement for national liberation flared up among the oppressed peoples of Russia. Over one-half, almost three-fifths (to be exact, 57 per cent) of the population of Russia is subject to national oppression; they are not even free to use their native language, they are forcibly Russified. The Moslems, for instance, who number tens of millions, were quick to organise a Moslem League—this was a time of rapid growth of all manner of organisations.
The following instance will give the audience, particularly the youth, an example of how at that time the movement for national liberation in Russia rose in conjunction with the labour movement.
In December 1905, Polish children in hundreds of schools burned all Russian books, pictures and portraits of the tsar, and attacked and drove out the Russian teachers and their Russian schoolfellows, shouting: “Get out! Go back to Russia!” The Polish secondary school pupils put forward, among others, the following demands: (1) all secondary schools must be under the control of a Soviet of Workers’ Deputies; (2) joint pupils’ and workers’ meetings to be held in school premises; (3) secondary school pupils to be allowed to wear red blouses as a token of adherence to the future proletarian republic.
The higher the tide of the movement rose, the more vigorously and decisively did the reaction arm itself to fight the revolution. The Russian Revolution of 1905 confirmed the truth of what Karl Kautsky wrote in 1902 in his book Social Revolution (he was still, incidentally, a revolutionary Marxist and not, as at present, a champion of social-patriotism and opportunism). This is what he wrote:
“...The impending revolution ... will be less like a spontaneous uprising against the government and more like a protracted civil war.”
That is how it was, and undoubtedly that is how it will be in the coming European revolution!
Tsarism vented its hatred particularly upon the Jews. On the one hand, the Jews furnished a particularly high percentage (compared with the total Jewish population) of leaders of the revolutionary movement. And now, too, it should be noted to the credit of the Jews, they furnish a relatively high percentage of internationalists, compared with other nations. On the other hand, tsarism adroitly exploited the basest anti-Jewish prejudices of the most ignorant strata of the population in order to organise, if not to lead directly, pogroms—over 4,000 were killed and more than 10,000 mutilated in 100 towns. These atrocious massacres of peaceful Jews, their wives and children roused disgust throughout the civilised world. I have in mind, of course, the disgust of the truly democratic elements of the civilised world, and these are exclusively the socialist workers, the proletarians.
Even in the freest, even in the republican countries of Western Europe, the bourgeoisie manages very well to combine its hypocritical phrases about “Russian atrocities” with the most shameless financial transactions, particularly with financial support of tsarism and imperialist exploitation of Russia through export of capital, etc.
The climax of the 1905 Revolution came in the December uprising in Moscow. For nine days a small number of rebels, of organised and armed workers—there were not more than eight thousand—fought against the tsar’s government, which dared not trust the Moscow garrison. In fact, it had to keep it locked up, and was able to quell the rebellion only by bringing in the Semenovsky Regiment from St. Petersburg.
The bourgeoisie likes to describe the Moscow uprising as something artificial, and to treat it with ridicule. For instance, in German so-called “scientific” literature, Herr Professor Max Weber, in his lengthy survey of Russia’s political development, refers to the Moscow uprising as a “putsch”. “The Lenin group,” says this “highly learned” Herr Professor, “and a section of the Socialist-Revolutionaries had long prepared for this senseless uprising.”
To properly assess this piece of professorial wisdom of the cowardly bourgeoisie, one need only recall the strike statistics. In January 1905, only 123,000 were involved in purely political strikes, in October the figure was 330,000, and in December the maximum was reached—370,000 taking part in purely political strikes in a single month! Let us recall, too, the progress of the revolution, the peasant and soldier uprisings, and we shall see that the bourgeois “scientific” view of the December uprising is not only absurd. It is a subterfuge resorted to by the representatives of the cowardly bourgeoisie, which sees in the proletariat its most dangerous class enemy.
In reality, the inexorable trend of the Russian revolution was towards an armed, decisive battle between the tsarist government and the vanguard of the class-conscious proletariat.
I have already pointed out, in my previous remarks, wherein lay the weakness of the Russian revolution that led to its temporary defeat.
The suppression of the December uprising marked the beginning of the ebb of the revolution. But in this period, too, extremely interesting moments are to be observed. Suffice it to recall that twice the foremost militant elements of the working class tried to check the retreat of the revolution and to prepare a new offensive.
But my time has nearly expired, and I do not want to abuse the patience of my audience. I think, however, that I have outlined the most important aspects of the revolution—its class character, its driving forces and its methods of struggle—as fully as so big a subject can be dealt with in a brief lecture.
A few brief remarks concerning the world significance of the Russian revolution.
Geographically, economically and historically, Russia belongs not only to Europe, but also to Asia. That is why the Russian revolution succeeded not only in finally awakening Europe’s biggest and most backward country and in creating a revolutionary people led by a revolutionary proletariat.
It achieved more than that. The Russian revolution engendered a movement throughout the whole of Asia. The revolutions in Turkey, Persia and China prove that the mighty uprising of 1905 left a deep imprint, and that its influence, expressed in the forward movement of hundreds and hundreds of millions, is ineradicable.
In an indirect way, the Russian revolution influenced also the countries of the West. One must not forget that news of the tsar’s constitutional manifesto, on reaching Vienna on October 30, 1905, played a decisive part in the final victory of universal suffrage in Austria.
A telegram bearing the news was placed on the speaker’s rostrum at the Congress of the Austrian Social-Democratic Party just as Comrade Ellenbogen—at that time he was not yet a social-patriot, but a comrade—was delivering his report on the political strike. The discussion was immediately adjourned. “Our place is in the streets!”—was the cry that resounded through the hall where the delegates of the Austrian Social-Democracy were assembled. And the following days witnessed the biggest street demonstrations in Vienna and barricades in Prague. The battle for universal suffrage in Austria was won.
We very often meet West-Europeans who talk of the Russian revolution as if events, the course and methods of struggle in that backward country have very little resemblance to West-European patterns, and, therefore, can hardly have any practical significance.
Nothing could be more erroneous.
The forms and occasions for the impending battles in the coming European revolution will doubtlessly differ in many respects from the forms of the Russian revolution.
Nevertheless, the Russian revolution—precisely because of its proletarian character, in that particular sense of which I have spoken—is the prologue to the coming European revolution. Undoubtedly, this coming revolution can only be a proletarian revolution, and in an oven more profound sense of the word: a proletarian, socialist revolution also in its content. This coming revolution will show to an even greater degree, on the one hand, that only stern battles, only civil wars, can free humanity from the yoke of capital, and, on the other hand, that only class-conscious proletarians can and will give leadership to the vast majority of the exploited.
We must not be deceived by the present grave-like stillness in Europe. Europe is pregnant with revolution. The monstrous horrors of the imperialist war, the suffering caused by the high cost of living everywhere engender a revolutionary mood; and the ruling classes, the bourgeoisie, and its servitors, the governments, are more and more moving into a blind alley from which they can never extricate themselves without tremendous upheavals.
Just as in Russia in 1905, a popular uprising against the tsarist government began under the leadership of the proletariat with the aim of achieving a democratic republic, so, in Europe, the coming years, precisely because of this predatory war, will lead to popular uprisings under the leadership of the proletariat against the power of finance capital, against the big banks, against the capitalists; and these upheavals cannot end otherwise than with the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, with the victory of socialism.
We of the older generation may not live to see the decisive battles of this coming revolution. But I can, I believe, express the confident hope that the youth which is working so splendidly in the socialist movement of Switzerland, and of the whole world, will be fortunate enough not only to fight, but also to win, in the coming proletarian revolution.