Friday, 23 December 2016

The History of the Russian Revolution - a Summary

"The serious reader will not want a treacherous impartiality ... but a scientific conscientiousness, which for its sympathies and antipathies - open and undisguised - seeks support in an honest study of the facts, a determination of their real connections, an exposure of the causal laws of their movement"


In 1917, one of the greatest events in human history took place when, led by the Bolshevik Party, the workers and peasants of Russia carried through a victorious revolution.

blog, updated for the 100th anniversary in 2017, is a summary of the outstanding "History of the Russian Revolution" written by one of its leaders, Leon Trotsky. It quotes extensively from his book and hopefully does justice to Trotsky's detailed descriptions and arguments.
This account can in no way be seen as a substitute for reading Trotsky's original work. However, I hope it will allow readers who are unable to take the time to study the whole of Trotsky’s book to nevertheless appreciate the ideas and experiences that he sought to explain.  

I hope it not only provides a useful summary of the different events that took place as the revolution developed but also explains the main processes and laws of revolution that socialists can still apply in our present and future struggles.

In keeping with Trotsky, this account does not pretend to present an 'impartial' view of the revolution, since “... the serious and critical reader will not want a treacherous impartiality, which offers him a cup of conciliation with a well-settled poison of reactionary hate at the bottom, but a scientific conscientiousness, which for its sympathies and antipathies - open and undisguised - seeks support in an honest study of the facts, a determination of their real connections, an exposure of the causal laws of their movement ” (Preface to Volume One: p.21)

As a final point, it should be noted that dates are given according to the old style Russian calendar, 13 days behind the international calendar. This means that the 'February Revolution' (Feb.27) actually occurred on March 12 and the 'October Revolution' (Oct.25) on November 7. If this seems confusing, Trotsky asks his readers to "... be kind enough to remember that before overthrowing the Byzantine calendar, the revolution had to overthrow the institutions that clung to it" . (Preface to Volume One: p.22.) 

Martin Powell-Davies, 23 December 2016.

Page numbers refer to the Pluto Press 1979 edition.

Section One - The Overthrow of Czarism


Numbered quotes are listed against each chapter of Volume One of Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution. Page numbers refer to the Pluto Press 1979 edition. 

Preface to Volume One: (1) p.19; (2) p.18; (3) p.19; (4) p.17.

Chapter I: (5) p.27.

Chapter II: (22) p.40; (24) p.52; (25) p.47; (27) p.53; (28) p.54.

Chapter III: (6) p.67; (7) p.72; (20) p.58; (21) p.61; (23) p.64.

Chapter IV: (26) p.74.

Chapter VI: (36) p.99; (40) p.100; (41) p.105-6; (42) p.107; (55) p.112; (56) p.191-2.

Chapter VII: (29) p.123; (30) p.121-2; (31) p.121; (32) p.124; (33) p.128; (34) p.130; (35) p.130; (37) p.133; (38) p.134; (39) p.146; (49) p.139.

Chapter VIII: (46) p.162; (47) p.162; (48) p.163; (50) p.171.

Chapter IX: (11) p.191; (43) p.180; (44) p.180; (51) p.185; (52) p.183; (53) p.184; (54) p.192.

Chapter X: (45) p.210.

Appendix II to Volume One: (18) p.483.

1) The Revolution and the Revolutionary Party

"Without a guiding organisation the energy of the masses would dissipate like steam not enclosed in a piston-box. But nevertheless what moves things is not the piston or the box, but the steam"

Trotsky, Lenin, Kamenev in 1919

The Marxist View of History

Capitalist historians would like workers to believe that society has progressed smoothly towards capitalist 'democracy'. But Karl Marx explained that history can only be understood as the history of bitter class struggles.

Those in control of the means of producing wealth in any society have exploited the labour of other classes for their own benefit. To make sure that they kept their snouts in the trough, this ruling class had organised more and more refined ways of keeping the rest in their places. ‘The state’, including all the means of influencing people's ideas like the press and religion, as well as the blunter weapons of the police, army and similar “armed bodies of men”, ultimately defended the position of the ruling class against the masses.

The development of capitalism had seen these processes reach new heights. The ‘bourgeoisie’ (the capitalist ruling class) had used their control of modern industry and finance to vastly expand production and trade.

In their efforts to get a larger share of riches than their rivals, the capitalists had carved up the world into empires, trampling on the national rights of others and causing untold misery to the poor masses of the colonial world. Yet as capitalism dug its claws deeper into the planet, the limits of the system became more and more exposed.

Increasingly the bosses found themselves without enough profitable markets in which to sell their goods. Economic crises set in more frequently. As new markets became harder to find, the capitalists' rivalry resulted in ever more destructive wars.

Marx explained that capitalism could no longer bring society forward. Further expansion was being held back by the limits of both private property and the division of the world into competing nations. A socialist society, taking into public ownership the big companies that dominate the economy, and introducing conscious democratic planning internationally, had to be built to bring an end to the anarchy of capitalism.

Class, Party and Leadership

Marx pointed to the working-class created by capitalism, ‘the proletariat’ as being the force that could bring about a socialist change. Bound together in the workplaces, workers had the experience of working together needed for united action. They had a common interest in overcoming production for profit and the will and strength to take control of industry - and their own lives.

However, no ruling class had ever given up its privileges without a fight. Society would not be taken forward by hopeful appeals to the capitalists but only by a revolution led by the working-class.

Marxism, acting as the 'memory' of the proletariat, had learnt from the struggles of the past. The exploitation suffered under capitalism would provoke workers and the other oppressed masses to struggle to defend their living standards and fight for a better future. However, there was no certain workers' victory written in the rules of history. It was not enough simply to struggle but what was needed was to know how to win.

A revolutionary party, steeled with the ideas of Marxism, built from the best elements of the working-class, would be needed to explain and guide their class to a successful revolutionary victory.

Trotsky makes a comparison with a steam-engine: "Without a guiding organisation the energy of the masses would dissipate like steam not enclosed in a piston-box. But nevertheless what moves things is not the piston or the box, but the steam" (1).

How a Revolution Unfolds

The history of the Russian Revolution is both a vivid example of the processes described by Marxism and a tremendous confirmation of those ideas.

The way in which the Bolshevik Party, not without its own often bitter internal struggles, was able to successfully lead the Russian masses to the removal of the landlords and capitalists in a nation of 150 million people holds many valuable lessons for socialists today.

Trotsky's analysis in “The History of the Russian Revolution” clearly explains the general processes in society that were going to lead to the revolutionary upheavals of 1917. 

However, Trotsky also explains that a general analysis of the economic and political situation at that time is not enough to explain the sudden change of opinions, the rapid steps forward and the retreats that each day of a revolution brings. These sharp changes can seem quite inexplicable to a casual onlooker. Trotsky explains that they are caused by the mass of people, whose ideas usually lag well behind actual conditions in society, suddenly catching-up in leaps and bounds with the reality and demands of the situation that they are living through. “The masses go into a revolution not with a prepared plan of social reconstruction, but with a sharp feeling that they cannot endure the old regime. Only the guiding layers of a class have a political programme, and even this still requires the test of events, and the approval of the masses. The fundamental political process of the revolution thus consists in the gradual comprehension of a class of the problems arising from the social crisis - the active orientation of the masses by a method of successive approximations" (2).

So, as the masses learn from their experiences, testing out each leader, each party, each programme, the revolutionary party must explain, lead and gain the confidence of the masses, basing its tactics at each stage "upon a calculation of the changes of mass consciousness" (3).

It is this difficult task that the Bolsheviks, not without mistakes, succeeded in carrying out in 1917. Then the supreme moment when the masses sweep aside the old regime by their own actions can be won - " In ordinary times the state … elevates itself above the nation, and history is made by specialists in that line of business - kings, ministers, bureaucrats, parliamentarians, journalists. But at those crucial moments when the old order becomes no longer endurable to the masses, they break over the barriers excluding them from the political arena, sweep aside their traditional representatives, and create by their own interference the initial groundwork for a new regime...The history of a revolution is for us first of all a history of the forcible entrance of the masses into the realm of rulership over their own destiny" (4).

Capitalism’s “weakest link” ?

Like every mass struggle, the Russian Revolution of 1917 not only confirmed Marxist analysis but also sharpened and refined its ideas.

Marxism had always expected the socialist revolution to first begin in an advanced capitalist country like France, Britain or Germany. In these nations, where the bourgeoisie had successfully developed industry to a high level, a revolutionary proletariat should be able to use this productive power to distribute sufficient goods to all in a planned socialist society.

The fact that capitalism instead broke ‘at its weakest link’, in Russia, was a puzzle that even many Marxists were unable to explain. The analysis and explanation of these events worked out by Lenin and Trotsky still holds valuable lessons that socialists must study today in order to guide our own struggles.

Just as Lenin and Trotsky prepared the Bolsheviks for the Russian Revolution by learning from past struggles, such as the 1871 Paris Commune and the failed Russian Revolution of 1905, so Marxists today must learn the lessons of the past so, while not making the mistake of expecting history to repeat itself exactly, we are ready for the battles of the future.

2) The Law of Combined Development

"In order to realise the Soviet state, there was required a drawing together and mutual penetration of two factors belonging to completely different historic species - a peasant war - that is, a movement characteristic of the dawn of bourgeois development - and a proletarian insurrection, the movement signalising its decline. That is the essence of 1917"

Bloody Sunday 1905

Feudalism and Czarism in Russia

The early Russian Marxists like Plekhanov and later Lenin, Trotsky and others in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) were faced with the problem of applying Marxism to the development of backward Russia.

For centuries, Russia seemed stuck in a poverty-stricken feudal regime where the mass of the population lived as poor peasants. They existed in mediaeval conditions, scraping a living on their meagre strips of land but largely working for the benefit of their rich landlords. This serfdom had not been officially abolished until as late as 1861.

Dotted amongst the vast tracts of land, the small cities that developed were mainly commercial and administrative centres, good at trade and consuming wealth but not at producing it.

In earlier centuries, Western cities had developed craft guilds on the basis of artisans and small-scale manufacturing industry. From these the radical bourgeoisie had grown, battling through the religious Reformation and social Revolution against the church and the feudal lords until their capitalist class had conquered power. Russia had no such struggle. Craft remained mainly linked to home industry, not really separated from agriculture and the peasantry.

The Czarist state rose above both the feeble feudal lords and the feeble cities with no strong bourgeois class to challenge its rule. The clergy and the nobility all played their part in supporting the huge Czarist bureaucracy which swallowed up ever greater proportions of the country's wealth.

The Law of Combined Development

However, as Trotsky often explained, such historical backwardness did not mean that Russia would then slavishly retrace the course of the advanced countries in an identical fashion, if a few hundred years late.

In order to try and compete with their international rivals, feudal Russia was forced to adopt some of the advances of the capitalist West and so 'skip over' some of the intermediate stages of development that a mechanical view of Marxism might predict.

Trotsky makes a comparison with indigenous peoples who “throw away their bows and arrows for rifles all at once, without travelling the road which lay between those two weapons in the past” (5).

Like any economically backward nation, Russia's lowly culture was forced to make leaps forward combining the most highly developed achievements of capitalist technique with the society of feudalism and Czarism, so producing a unique relationship of classes.

It was in these peculiarities, described by Trotsky as the "Law of Combined Development", that Marxism found the key to explaining the paradox of the Russian Revolution.

The Law had its clearest expression in the development of Russian industry. Under the influence of first trade and then massive European investment, industry rapidly leapt from peasant backwardness to embrace the latest achievements of capitalist development.

So in 1914, while 80% of the working population were still living on the land carrying out agriculture at the level of the seventeenth–century, some of the most modern factories in the world were to be found in Moscow and the capital Petrograd. 

For example, while in the USA at that time only 18% of industrial workers were employed in giant factories with a workforce of over 1000, in Russia the figure was 41%. In the Petrograd district 44% of industrial workers were to be found in these huge enterprises, in Moscow as many as 57%.

Russia was certainly still far more backward - with a national income per head 8 to 10 times less than in the USA, - but this modern industrial development did not disprove this backwardness, it dialectically completed it.

Workers at the giant Putilov factory (pictured in 1920)
Russia's uneven development had important political results. Firstly, the huge foreign investment meant that Russian industry was largely under the control of European banks and shareholders, particularly those of England and France. About 40% of industrial stocks were controlled by foreigners with the percentage far higher in the more modern sectors and in heavy industry. In their hunger for profits, these foreign capitalists not only did not support political change but often actively opposed it.

Trade and military pressure from the West strengthened the Czarist bureaucracy with which the possessing classes of Europe had to do business. It became a tool of the wishes of the European money markets and the military interests of the West.

The influence of European ideas did have some effect on the more liberal nobles who resented the absolute rule of the Czar. However, little came of their opposition as most of all they feared rousing the peasantry into revolt.

The belated and sudden growth of industry meant that there was no strong Russian bourgeois class to oppose the feudal regime. It also meant there were few middle-class layers to cushion the anger of the masses at the wealth of their exploiters.

However, the class where this sudden development produced the greatest change in political outlook was in the newly forming working-class. In Britain, the proletariat grew gradually through the centuries slowly adapting its ideas to the new environment and developing perhaps a rather conservative tradition. The Russian working-class on the other hand was shaped in a few decades of rapid change where their whole life became a sharp break with the past.

The Russian workers’ movement

Snatched from behind the plough into the cauldron of huge factories, the Russian worker showed a freshness and openness to revolutionary ideas that was rarely found in other countries. In many cities the proletariat was constantly being added to by new reserves from the country, linking the proletariat with the peasantry.

However, there was also another side to the coin. This sudden development also created difficulties for the workers’ movement like illiteracy, political backwardness and lack of organisational traditions.

Nevertheless, here was a workforce fresh to the horrors of modern industrial labour, oppressed by the absolute rule of Czarism, often working in huge factories such as the Putilov factory in Petrograd with 40,000 workmates to live, struggle and discuss with. It is not surprising that a Russian worker could reach bold revolutionary conclusions.

In this rich revolutionary soil, Russian Marxism developed. Confirming their belief in the proletariat, the Russian working-class took a leading role in the early struggles of the 1890s and up to the 1905 revolution.

Battling against the oppressive Czarist state, the youthful Russian proletariat learnt its first steps in a harsh environment. Strikes were forbidden by law, democratic rights virtually unknown. Small underground circles of revolutionists would attempt to hold illegal meetings and demonstrations, and distribute secretly printed or even handwritten leaflets and newspapers, only for the police to quickly uncover the groups.

Like Lenin, Trotsky and many others participating in the movement at this time, the arrested activists would be imprisoned or exiled, so much so that most of their local newspapers rarely got as far as issue number two, let alone number three!

From 1900 onwards Lenin, and other RDSLP leaders who had managed to escape from Russia, produced the newspaper ‘Iskra’ (‘The Spark’) from abroad and successfully smuggled it into Russia.

As in economics, ideas and organisation also followed the Law of Combined Development. Political strikes against government policy became a common weapon of the Russian workers, yet it was still rare in Western Europe.

With the weakness of liberal bourgeois opposition and the scattered and confused nature of the peasant movement, these revolutionary strikes became the battering-ram that the awakening opposition directed against the walls of Czarist rule.

The Russian proletariat adopted the weapons forged through long years of bitter experience by their European counterparts - trade unions, strikes, political parties. But it was ‘backward’ Russia that became the only European country in which a workers’ party supporting Marxism as a doctrine, the ‘Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party,’ or RSDLP, enjoyed powerful support.

What's more, in 1905, it was the Russian proletariat that first invented that key weapon of revolutionary organisation - the workers' council or "soviet".

The 1905 Revolution

The revolutionary events of 1905 were triggered by Russia’s disastrous war with Japan. The defeat had laid bare the rottenness of the Czarist autocracy and its generals. At the beginning of January, a city-wide general strike gripped Petrograd, called in response to the sacking of four trade unionists.

On ‘Bloody Sunday’, January 9th, an unarmed demonstration to the Czar’s Winter Palace was mowed down by his troops, leaving a thousand dead. This only deepened the strike wave which spread across all the main cities in the following months. This was accompanied by peasant land seizures and mutinies in the Black Sea fleet.

Over the course of the year, the factory inspectors reported that over 2.8 million workers participated in strike action, 1.8 million of these in political strikes. (This was out of an inspected workforce of only 1.5 million, those participating in several strikes of course counted more than once.)

Events culminated in the uprising of December 1905. Although defeated, it was an important dress rehearsal for the revolutions of 1917, awakening millions of workers and peasants and leaving important lessons for the future.

The new unheard of level of workers' activity required a new form of organisation - the soviet: the embryo of a workers' government according to Lenin. These workers' councils, invented to organise the general strike and the struggle for power, were an important step forward. Neither was the idea of soviets forgotten. The workers immediately returned to this form of organisation during the revolutionary events of 1917.

Comprising of elected deputies from each section of the workers in struggle, the soviet was a flexible way of judging the mood of the workers, able to rapidly respond to new demands, democratically debate ideas and to provide clear leadership at each stage of the movement.
Trotsky and the 1905 Petrograd Soviet
Trotsky, at that time outside the Bolshevik faction of the RDSLP, became President of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' Deputies and was afterwards exiled to Siberia. Not only the workers, but also the peasants and the revolutionary parts of the army had looked to the soviets for a lead.

The revolutionary forces of 1905 were also to learn from the defeat of the December uprising that the so-called 'liberal' bourgeoisie were not to be trusted. Having taken one look over the precipice of revolution, the capitalists had hurriedly backed away into the camp of reaction. This had left the way clear for the army to bloodily defeat the workers and peasants.

The liberals afterwards spent their time making speeches in the newborn but short-lived 'Duma', an ineffective assembly chosen from the votes of a limited and largely wealthy electorate. They gave their excuses to the monarchy for their insufficient opposition to the revolution, thus alienating themselves further from the masses.

The peasantry and the revolution

The Russian proletariat was such a small minority of the nation that it could only hope to lead a struggle against the Czarist state if it had the mighty support of the poor peasantry. This vast potential ally for the workers was facing a desperate situation thanks to the unequal distribution of land and the backwardness of agriculture.

Trotsky estimated that in 1905 about half of the privately owned land belonged to just 30,000 great landowners - covering an area equivalent to the land of 10 million peasant families. He commented that "these land statistics constitute the finished programme of a peasant war" (6).

Agriculture was held back by the inefficient methods of farming on small peasant plots using outdated technique. Again the law of combined development meant that the peasant had a desperate battle to try and match prices with those set by the productive farming methods of modern agriculture.

However, before history could pass on to more rational and intensive methods, the peasants saw that one last avenue might be open to them. They tried to rescue their situation by forcibly extending their lands at the expense of the landlord.

Scared by the peasant struggles that had accompanied the 1905 crisis, the landlords made some concessions to the better-off peasants through a large-scale selling-off of their land. Then, in 1906, the government introduced a law giving the rich peasants, known as "kulaks" (this was a nickname literally meaning 'fist' in Russian) the right to buy-off sections of the villages' communal land, even if the majority of peasants were against it.

This attack on the poor peasants was described by the then President of the Council of Ministers, Stolypin, as "banking on the strong ones". In other words, the government were trying to create a layer of wealthy capitalist kulak farmers in the country to provide a much needed point of support for the Czar's regime.

However, the measure created far more opposition than it ever gained support for the counter-revolution. It did lead to a boom in agriculture from 1908-12 but only drove the mass of the peasantry further into ruin, unable to compete with the cheap grain that the new farmers could produce.

Many sold up their bits of land to become landless workers adding further explosive material to the proletarian population. Some peasants sought refuge in co-operatives, supported and idealised by the rich "narodnik" intelligentsia, but these proved no solution, real power again belonging to the richest peasants within the 'commune'.

The peculiarities of Russia's combined development left the nation entering the twentieth century with a peasantry demanding a radical agrarian revolution but with the bourgeoisie, who history had given the task of leading such a change in Western Europe, too impotent to play such a role.

Marxism had always explained that the peasantry was divided into rich and poor, with each peasant having primarily their own individual interests at heart. It could not act as an independent revolutionary force like either the bourgeoisie or the proletariat. It vacillated like the rest of this intermediate 'petty-bourgeois' layer, between these two classes looking for leadership.

What was to be unique about the Russian Revolution was that, for the first time in history, the peasantry was to be able to find a lead from a sufficiently strong and revolutionary proletariat. 

As Trotsky explains: "In order to realise the Soviet state, there was required a drawing together and mutual penetration of two factors belonging to completely different historic species - a peasant war - that is, a movement characteristic of the dawn of bourgeois development - and a proletarian insurrection, the movement signalising its decline. That is the essence of 1917" (7).

3) Three concepts of the Russian Revolution

"No one in the Marxist camp, and least of all Lenin, had regarded the peasantry as a factor of socialist development. Without the aid of a proletarian revolution in the West, he reiterated time and again, restoration is unavoidable in Russia. He was not mistaken: the Stalinist bureaucracy is nothing else than the first stage of bourgeois restoration"

The proletariat ...
... and the peasantry

The birth of Bolshevism

In contrast to the distorted Stalinist histories of the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks did not stride unswervingly along a clear and untroubled theoretical path to victory. Just like the proletariat, the leadership of that class has to learn from its experiences and mistakes, sharpening its theoretical weapons at each stage through study and debate.

In parallel with their harsh struggle against the Czarist regime, the Russian revolutionary movement was schooled through an often fierce discussion about the nature of the revolution in a backward country like Russia, a discussion which was to become an extremely significant part of the events of 1917.

The earliest political ideas of the revolutionary movement arose amongst the liberal Russian intellectuals in the mid-19th century. These "Narodniks" (from 'narod', meaning people) looked to the peasantry as the revolutionary section of Russian society and believed that Russia could advance to a form of socialism based on peasant collectives without undergoing a capitalist development.

As Marxism predicted, any movement based on the hope of an independent peasant struggle was doomed to failure and the Narodniks began to disintegrate.

One section turned to the idea of using individual terrorism in the hope of provoking a peasant uprising. The hanging of Lenin’s brother after an assassination attempt on the Czar certainly influenced the young Lenin to reject the ideas of the Narodniks.

Lenin instead turned towards the 'Emancipation of Labour Group' which Plekhanov had set up as a break from Narodnik politics, based on the ideas of Marxism.

After 1900 several of the remaining Narodnik groups formed the "Social - Revolutionaries" (S-R's) a 'socialist' party based largely on the peasantry that was an important factor in the 1917 revolutions.

Plekhanov's group argued that Russia could not advance on some unique historical course of a peasant "democratic" revolution as the Narodniks imprecisely labelled it, but would also have to go through the capitalist stage of development following a “bourgeois " revolution, just as Western European nations had done before. Plekhanov argued that Russia would then be able to expand its industry until the working-class, through its experience of capitalism, was ready to bring about a socialist revolution.

From these Marxist foundations the RSDLP was built and grew in the underground workers movement. In 1903 it met for what was in name its ‘Second Congress’ but was in effect the founding meeting of the Russian mass workers’ party.

As a typical example of the problems of illegal work that the RSDLP faced throughout its early history, with its leaders usually in exile abroad, the 1903 Congress planned for Brussels had to break up in mid-session with the 50-odd delegates forced to reconvene in a London warehouse.

After various wrangles indicative of the inexperienced and rather middle-class nature of the new party, the Congress unexpectedly split into two factions over seemingly insignificant disagreements about the interpretation of Party Rules.

Lenin, leader of the majority "Bolshevik" group was shocked by the events and he did his best to bring about unity with the minority "Menshevik" group. But by 1904 he was forced to admit the existence of two definite tendencies in the RSDLP and formally set up his Bolshevik faction.

Under the impact of events such as the defeated revolution of l905, the two tendencies gradually crystallised out into two distinct political parties. Lenin's Bolsheviks finally made a formal split in 1912, although not until they were confident of the support of a large majority of the organised workers.

Interestingly, since the, Stalinists later vastly exaggerated its significance, Trotsky disagreed with Lenin in the 1903 dispute and so originally found himself in the Menshevik minority but was later in life to honestly admit that Lenin had been right about the organisational issues then under debate.

Trotsky soon broke with the Mensheviks in 1904 over the question that was to mark the central political difference between the two tendencies - the attitude of the revolutionary movement to the liberal bourgeoisie.

Like others in the Party, Trotsky tried to build on the mood for unity created by the experiences of 1905 and campaigned for the two factions to unite while personally taking up an independent position outside both groups.

Trotsky made the mistake of over-estimating the importance of winning over the 'left-wing' of the Mensheviks, whereas Lenin had correctly recognised that the political differences had become insurmountable. Lenin saw that the Party would only be built into a healthy revolutionary force by waging a ruthless political struggle against Menshevik ideas.

However, in the key moments of 1917, Lenin and Trotsky were to find themselves united against the opposition of both the Mensheviks and even some of Lenin's own party leadership in warning of the disastrous results of any alliance of the workers’ movement with the so-called 'liberal' Russian bourgeoisie.

The ideas of Menshevism

Lenin, Trotsky and the Menshevik leaders were all in agreement with the basic idea that Plekhanov had first put forward against the Narodniks - that the immediate character of the coming revolution was "bourgeois".

In other words, the immediate tasks of the revolutionary movement were clearly to overthrow the Czar and to break the power of the feudal landowners in a similar way to the classical bourgeois revolutions of the past like the French Revolution of 1789. However, from this general principle, the two factions of the RSDLP began to draw very different conclusions that were reflected in their actual political activity.

Increasingly after 1905 the Mensheviks began to abandon the struggle, some advocating the dissolution of the underground party while building a comfortable parliamentary niche for themselves in the Duma. The small forces of Bolshevism were left to fight alone alongside the workers during those difficult years of reaction.

Whereas the Bolsheviks were reflecting the pressure of the revolutionary aspirations of the workers and poor peasants, the Mensheviks' tactics reflected the fact that for a layer of middle-class intellectuals a simplified view of Marxism seemed to reassuringly suggest a progressive role for the Russian bourgeoisie.

In reality, from the same starting-point, the two factions were heading down two completely different roads - one to reform, the other to revolution.

The theoretical position of the Mensheviks was based on a crude and mechanical view of Marxism that amounted to the idea that a bourgeois revolution could only be led by the bourgeoisie, with the workers and peasants playing only a supporting role.

According to the Mensheviks, feudalism, capitalism and socialism must follow each other in a clearly defined and well separated succession in every country so that for now any talk of socialism in Russia was not only premature but dangerous adventurism.

Speaking at the 1906 RSDLP Congress, their chief tactician, Axelrod, summed up the position of Menshevism - "The social relations of Russia have ripened only for a bourgeois revolution. We must not even so much as mention the direct fight of the proletariat against other classes for political power. It is fighting for the conditions of bourgeois development. Objective historical conditions doom our proletariat to an inevitable collaboration with the bourgeoisie in the struggle against our common enemy" (8).

At the same Congress, Plekhanov made a point that was to foretell the attitude of the Mensheviks in 1917: - "The seizure of power is compulsory for us when we are making a proletarian revolution. But since the revolution now impending can only be petty-bourgeois we are duty bound to refuse to seize power" (9).

Menshevism, reflecting the thin upper layer of workers and petty officials who had no stomach for the socialist fight, preached collaboration with the liberal bourgeoisie.

For example in 1905, "Iskra", by now in the hands of the Mensheviks, warned: - "When looking at the arena of struggle in Russia, what do we see? Only two powers: Czarist autocracy and the liberal bourgeoisie ... our task consists in the support of the second force ... we must encourage it, and on no account frighten it by putting forward the independent demands of the proletariat" (10). In effect, the workers' movement could only put forward demands that the bosses could agree with!

In the final analysis, Menshevism was a theoretical veneer to justify the cowardice and treachery of the petty-bourgeois intellectuals, in reality a middle layer caught between the proletariat and bourgeoisie. Frightened of revolution, they would always retreat at the critical moment and bow down before the big bourgeoisie, exactly as they did in 1917.

As Trotsky points out, “the petty bourgeois parties, having in everyday circumstances shown an extraordinary pretentiousness and satisfaction with themselves, as soon as they were raised by a revolution to the heights of power, were frightened by their own inadequacy and hastened to surrender the helm to representatives of capital. In this act of prostration is immediately revealed the terrible shakiness of the new middle caste and its humiliating dependence upon the big bourgeoisie" (11).

Lenin’s conception of the revolution

In direct opposition to the Mensheviks, Lenin instead explained that the proletariat should ally itself not with the bosses but rather with the poor peasant masses, and fight for the " democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry" as the only way of purging Russia of its feudal refuse.

By 'dictatorship' Lenin meant not a lack of democracy but that a workers' and peasants' government would have to fight against the desperate resistance of Czarism, the landlords and the bourgeoisie. ‘Democratic’ expressed recognition of the bourgeois, rather than socialist, character of the tasks to be carried out by the revolution.

Lenin was adamant that the Russian bourgeoisie, far from being a friend of the workers, would inevitably side with the counter-revolution. "The bourgeoisie in the mass", wrote Lenin in 1905 "will inevitably turn towards the counter-revolution, towards the autocracy, against the revolution, and against the people, as soon as its narrow, selfish interests are met, as soon as it 'recoils' from consistent democracy (and it is already recoiling from it!)". (12)

Lenin, together with Trotsky, pointed out that it was not tactlessness or rudeness that had driven the bourgeoisie into the camp of reaction in 1905 but their basic class interests.

In a backward country like Russia the weak bourgeoisie had come too late onto the historical scene to lead a bourgeois revolution and, on the contrary, were forced to side with the counter-revolution by their links with the landlords and the imperialists internationally.

The landlords owed the bankers millions of roubles in loans and mortgages. The capitalists could not risk default on these repayments by agreeing to redistribute land to the peasants!

The industrialists themselves often had big landed estates of their own. The feudal landowners in turn had investments in industry. Both sections were also under pressure from foreign investors and military powers to hold back the revolution.

The new layer of capitalist farmers that the regime had created was also bound to be opposed to the demands of the peasantry for a fair distribution of land.

Entangled in this web of interests with the landlords, the bourgeoisie were hardly likely to stir up the peasantry and carry out a thorough-going agrarian reform. However, this was precisely the main task of the 'bourgeois' revolution!

Neither did they want to make too many concessions to democracy and stir up the threatening proletariat even more.

Scared by the events of 1905 and increasingly subservient to the wishes of foreign capital, the bourgeoisie became less and less 'liberal' and increasingly conservative and suspicious of the workers' threat to their economic power.

Whereas the bourgeoisie of France and England had completed their revolutions without too great a threat from below, the Russian bourgeoisie looked over their shoulders at a youthful and revolutionary proletariat numbering at least 10 million, with their families over 25 million-strong.

So, while frustrated by the power of the landlords and the Czarist bureaucracy, the impotent Russian bourgeoisie had to content itself more or less with the status quo.

It was clear, therefore, to Lenin that the basic tasks of the bourgeois revolution such as distribution of land to the peasants - and the building of a democratic republic could not be carried out by the bourgeoisie themselves.

The bourgeois revolution would have to be led by the proletariat in alliance with the peasant masses, spurred to battle under the banner of its own interests. It would require a spirit of fierce hostility towards both the landlords and the bourgeoisie.

However, Lenin warned, this "democratic dictatorship" could go no further in itself. This was because the peasantry, once satisfied with the agrarian reform, would begin to turn against the demands from the workers for anti-capitalist measures.

To Lenin, the peasantry could not be a socialist ally of the workers for it had its own petty-bourgeois interests at heart and would be satisfied with the limited gains of the bourgeois revolution. Writing in 1906 he explained: "The peasantry will win in a bourgeois democratic revolution and thereby will completely exhaust its revolutionism as a peasantry. The proletariat will win in a bourgeois democratic revolution, and thereby will only begin really to unfold its true socialist revolutionism". (13)

Lenin was clear that the workers could not rely on the liberal bourgeoisie. But he also believed that, once the "democratic dictatorship" had been victorious, the proletariat would not then simply have to submit to a peasant counter-revolution.

However, for Lenin the only way to prevent such a retreat, difficult though the task might seem, was as follows (from the 1906 Congress). "The Russian revolution can achieve victory by its own efforts, but it cannot possibly hold and consolidate its gains by its own strength. It cannot do that unless there is a Socialist revolution in the West. Without this condition restoration is inevitable... for the small proprietor will inevitably turn against the proletariat. Our democratic republic has no other reserve than the Socialist proletariat of the West" (14).

So for Lenin, the fate of the revolution was inextricably linked with the world revolution. Marxism had always explained that socialism had to be based on a planned world economy overcoming the artificial barriers of national boundaries. Lenin felt that a bourgeois revolution in Russia could not go on to socialist tasks on its own but could, however, spur on the proletariat of the advanced countries that were ripe for socialist revolution.

In Lenin's internationalist perspective, the allies of the Russian proletariat were not the treacherous bourgeoisie but the workers of the world: - "The Russian proletariat can win a second victory. The cause is no longer hopeless. The second victory will be the socialist revolution in Europe. The European workers will then show us 'how to do it' and then together with them we shall bring about the socialist revolution" (15).

Trotsky’s “permanent revolution”

The two chief conceptions of the Russian revolution were therefore the Mensheviks' support for an alliance with the liberal bourgeoisie as opposed to the Bolsheviks' perspective of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. But there was also a third conception - that of Leon Trotsky.

Trotsky emphatically agreed with Lenin's opposition to Menshevism and also saw the importance of the proletariat relying on its own force.

However, drawing on his analysis of the Law of Combined Development, Trotsky put forward his famous theory of "Permanent Revolution", a theory which was to provide the clearest perspective for the events of 1917.

Just as Russia combined backward feudalism with the latest advances of international capitalism, so the Russian revolution could combine the overthrow of feudalism with a 'permanent' or 'uninterrupted' move to socialist tasks, ending in international revolution.

Trotsky's formulation had an important difference to that of Lenin. Prior to 1917, Lenin’s formula left it unclear as to how far the revolutionary workers in Russia could go beyond implementing just the ‘bourgeois’ tasks of the revolution - summed up in the Bolshevik slogans of ‘Democratic Republic’, ‘Confiscation of the Landed Estates’ and ‘8-hour Working Day’. But Trotsky suggested that the Russian proletariat itself might come to power and, rather than be limited to merely bourgeois tasks, begin the international socialist revolution in Russia itself.

Both leaders recognised the inability of the bourgeoisie to lead the revolution but, rather than putting forward the perspective of the "democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry”, Trotsky drew the conclusion from the 1905 events that, in the given conditions in Russia, it would be possible for the working-class to take power in its own "dictatorship of the proletariat".

Writing in 1906 Trotsky explained: “In an economically more backward country the proletariat may come to power sooner than in a country more advanced capitalistically. The conception of a kind of automatic dependence of the proletarian dictatorship on a country's technical forces and means ... has nothing in common with Marxism. It seems to me that the Russian Revolution will create such conditions that the power may (in the event of victory, must) pass into the hands of the proletariat before the politicians of bourgeois liberalism will find it possible fully to unfold their genius for statecraft". (16).

Trotsky also agreed that the revolution had to be bourgeois but that it would be a mistake to overlook the perspective that "upon coming to power the proletariat would inevitably, with all the logic of its situation, push itself toward the management of the economy, at the expense of the state. Coming into the government not as helpless hostages but as the leading force, the representatives of the proletariat will by virtue of that alone ... place collectivism on the order of the day. At what point in that tendency the proletariat would be stopped will depend on the interrelation of forces, but certainly not on the initial intentions of the proletariat's party" (17).

So, for Trotsky, the proletariat through its own rule could begin the socialist tasks of building a workers' state and taking the means of production from the capitalists, without having to artificially hold back its demands.

At that point however, in agreement with Lenin's internationalist perspective, Trotsky said that the fate of the revolution would rest with the European proletariat who, spurred on by the Russian workers, could come to power. By linking their revolutions, they could together build a socialist federation which could alone protect backward Russia from bourgeois restoration.

Trotsky's main difference with Lenin was that he drew the conclusion that the peasantry could never play an independent role as a class and either had to support the bourgeoisie or the proletariat. He felt that it was, therefore, incorrect to talk of the "democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry" as this suggested that the peasantry could play equally as important a role as the working-class.

For Trotsky only two perspectives were possible - either the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie with the peasants being used as an instrument of reaction, which would fall into the camp of Czarist reaction - or the dictatorship of the proletariat leaning on the peasantry as an instrument of revolution.

Trotsky felt Lenin's conception was too vague, an 'algebraic' formula that, probably intentionally, left history to fill in the unknown of whether peasantry or proletariat would have the dominant role. Trotsky was certain that it had to be the proletariat that dominated.

These differences might seem of a minor nature but Trotsky was confident that only his conception of "permanent revolution" gave a clear perspective. He feared that Lenin's vague formula could, at the critical moment, open the door to Menshevism by suggesting that the workers might need to be held back in case they tried to go too far beyond bourgeois limits.

As early as 1909, Trotsky wrote: "If the Mensheviks, starting from the abstraction 'Our revolution is a bourgeois revolution' arrive at the idea of adapting the whole tactic of the proletariat to the conduct of the liberal bourgeoisie, even to the point of a conquest by it of the state power, then the Bolsheviks starting from an equally bare abstraction 'a democratic and not a socialist dictatorship' will arrive at the idea of a bourgeois democratic self- limitation of the proletariat in whose hands the governmental power will be found. To be sure, the difference between them on this question is very considerable: while the antirevolutionary sides of Menshevism are expressed in their full strength even now, the anti-revolutionary traits of Bolshevism threaten a great danger only in the case of a revolutionary victory" (18).

Trotsky's warnings were to be precisely borne out by the struggles within the Bolshevik party in 1917. Fortunately, Lenin’s own intervention ensured that Bolshevism did not retreat in the hour of revolution. Returning from exile in April, Lenin explained that the old formula had been rendered ‘obsolete’. He managed to steer Bolshevism onto a course which was essentially that first outlined by Trotsky. ‘Permanent Revolution’ became an accepted part of Bolshevik theory after the socialist revolution that it so accurately predicted.

Stalinism and Menshevism

After 1917, the proletariat was able to hang on to power in Russia against an imperialism weakened after the First World War, despite the isolation it faced following the failure of socialist revolutions in Europe.

However, the counter-revolutionary pressure of the peasant masses, that Lenin and Trotsky had feared, now helped give rise to the Stalinist counter-revolution. The attack on ‘Permanent Revolution’ became a hallmark of the bureaucracy's fight against Marxist ideas, now labelled as "Trotskyism".

The banner of international revolution was replaced by the impossible slogan of ‘socialism in one country’. Turning its back on Bolshevism, the Stalinist bureaucracy instead adopted exactly those ideas of the petty-bourgeois Mensheviks of a "two-stage" theory of colonial revolution. The socialist revolution was relegated to a distant future goal while workers in the meantime were urged to content themselves building alliances with the 'liberal bourgeoisie'.

This abandonment of Marxism led to countless tragedies such as the bloody defeat of the Chinese revolution of 1925-7 at the hands of Chiang Kai Shek whose capitalist Kuomintang party had been taken into the Communist International as a sympathising section in 1926. Only Trotsky had voted against.

The colonial revolution became derailed along the distorted lines of ‘Proletarian Bonapartism’ where petty-bourgeois leaders set up totalitarian regimes in the image of Russia instead of the proletariat playing a leading role in fighting for healthy socialist regimes.

In the light of these tragedies, not to mention others such as Spain and Chile, the arguments over these different conceptions of the Russian Revolution can be seen to be not a scholarly debate but a matter of life and death.

Indeed, looking to the later collapse of Stalinism, it is revealing to read Trotsky's words, published in 1941, a year after his assassination: - “After twenty odd years of the new regime the fact remains that prior to the October Revolution, or rather prior to the year 1924, no one in the Marxist camp, and least of all Lenin, had regarded the peasantry as a factor of socialist development. Without the aid of a proletarian revolution in the West, he reiterated time and again, restoration is unavoidable in Russia. He was not mistaken: the Stalinist bureaucracy is nothing else than the first stage of bourgeois restoration " (19).

4) 1905-1917: Downturn and Revival, War and Revolution

"The secret police department reports warned the government ministers that 'the most energetic and audacious element, ready for tireless struggle, for resistance and continual organisation, is that element, those organisations, and those people who are concentrated around Lenin' "
Breadlines in Petrograd

The workers’ movement recovers

After the defeat of the 1905 revolution, the workers struggled valiantly to defend their rights. However, the combination of an industrial recession and the repression of the victorious counter-revolution drove the tired and defeated movement back. By 1910 the number of strikes had fallen back almost to nothing. It was in these years of reaction, where prejudice and scepticism again took hold of the discouraged masses, that the ideas of Menshevism took final shape, leading to the decisive break with the Bolsheviks in 1912.

However, the industrial boom that began in 1910 gave the workers new confidence, healing the memories of past defeats and leading to a new upswing in the movement.

A wave of political strikes against the government broke out in 1912 reaching a crescendo at the beginning of 1914 with over 1 million participants recorded by the factory inspectors in the pre-war months. This was approaching 50% of the entire workforce. The new upswing was not simply a repeat of the 1905 movement but reopened on a higher level, enriched by past experience, and Bolshevism began to rise swiftly on the new revolutionary tide.

The secret police department reports warned the government ministers that "the most energetic and audacious element, ready for tireless struggle, for resistance and continual organisation, is that element, those organisations, and those people who are concentrated around Lenin" (20).

As a matter of interest, the authorities were well-informed about the Bolshevik organisation thanks to secret service infiltrators that had managed, for example, to fill 3 of the 7 places on the Petrograd Bolshevik Committee by 1914!

The agrarian struggle in the villages followed a similar pattern of downturn and then revival although often now diverted into a struggle between rich and poor peasants in the new co-operatives, even reaching the level of armed conflicts over the division of communal land. The big landlords, however, did not totally escape the peasants' anger and land seizures and the burning of harvests and haystacks became more frequent.

By 1914 the atmosphere had reached fever pitch and a revolutionary situation was clearly approaching. However the beginning of the World War cut right across developments. It knocked the movement far backwards, only to powerfully accelerate the march of events later as the war wore on.

The immediate effect on the workers' movement was devastating. Severe penalties were imposed for striking. The workers’ press was closed down. Trade unions and political organisations were brutally repressed.

The Bolsheviks, alone amongst the socialist parties, began after initial hesitation to try and spread anti-war agitation but faced enormous difficulties. In November 1914 the five Bolshevik Duma deputies were arrested, including Kamenev, and sent into exile in Siberia.

Yet these severe sentences provoked hardly a murmur of protest amongst the workers. They were disoriented by the war and the appeals for yet more 'patriotic' production in the factories, not to mention the retreat of nearly all the leaders of the European socialist parties into the camps of their respective national governments in support of the slaughter.

The factory managers, who could hardly show their heads a year before, grew confident while the Bolshevik workers had to keep quiet in fear not only of arrest but also of getting beaten up by other workers. It was as if the war had created a new working-class - and in many ways it had.

The more revolutionary workers had soon been sent to fight at 'the front' and their places taken by politically backward elements from the villages. In Petrograd there was about a 40% change in the workforce.

The Bolsheviks were left without any central organisation, its leaders under arrest or in exile. Local branches were extremely weak and often had no links at all with the workers' districts. Only scattered groups and solitary individuals did anything. Revolutionary ideas were kept alive in small hushed circles in hope of better times to come.

Indeed, the effect of the war was not too long-lasting and by the spring of 1915 the inertness began to slip away. Underneath the surface, the moods of a new explosion had been gradually building up.

The discontent first surfaced in contradictory ways, for example in criticisms that the war was being badly run at the top, but then began to pass over to action. As is so often the case, while the factory workers held back, fearing being sent to the trenches, the less organised sections such as women first felt bold enough to protest.

Food disorders, sometimes riots, broke out over shortages, soon spreading over the whole country. These early battles broke through the lull and led the way to strikes from the organised workers.

The usually grim conditions of the proletariat had sunk even further during the early stage of the war as the bosses drove the numbed workforce harder and harder in their greedy scramble for war profits. Prices had risen far beyond wages and the first strikes, around June 1915, centred on the textile workers, were economic strikes demanding improved conditions.

The protests were stormy after the preceding lull, accompanied with meetings and battles with the police and army in which several workers died. The movement was very raw compared to that of 1912-14, unsurprisingly given the weakness of the workers' organisations and the involvement of new raw layers.

Nevertheless, these struggles were both an important education for these new workers and a warning to the government whose Minister of Justice pointed out - "if there are at present no armed demonstrations of the workers, it is only because they have as yet no organisation" (21).

The Czar's ministers concluded that their only response could be a redoubling of repression against the workers, in particular the Bolsheviks. The big bourgeoisie on the other hand attempted to split the movement by involving elected workers’ representatives on the boards of "Military-Industrial Committees” running the factories.

Using these leaders, often Mensheviks, the bosses hoped to impose a regime of 'industrial patriotism' to hold back the working-class. Despite these moves, the weakened Bolshevik organisation began to revive through the impetus of the strike movement, and began to find their slogans, against the war and the government and for a republic, getting a more sympathetic response.

The strike wave deepened and on the traditional protest-day of January 9th, the eleventh anniversary of the "Bloody Sunday" massacre of workers in 1905, a widespread strike took place whereas almost nothing had occurred in 1915. What was more, to the alarm of the secret police, troops and workers were now often making friendly contacts on demonstrations.

The soldiers and the peasantry

The war had caused chaos in the villages. About 10 million rural workers and 2 million horses had been taken to the front. The weaker homesteads began to find it impossible to survive and by 1916 the middle layer of peasants were also going under.

The mood of opposition grew, perhaps rarely taking the form of open protests as in the cities, but then most of the young active forces of the country had been sent to fight. Nevertheless, the soldiers did not forget the injustice of life in the villages as they crouched in the trenches - that is when they weren't thinking about death.

Russia entered the war to serve the interests of French and British imperialism in defeating the German threat to its "allies'" markets. However, it also hoped to be able to carry out some minor robbery of its own in Turkey, Persia and Galicia (Poland).

In fact, Czarism was to be shattered in the imperialist war. As a further example of its combined development, Russia had at its disposal the latest weapons of war, secured from its allies, but neither the capacity to reproduce them in its factories nor transport them to the front with sufficient speed. Thrown into the horror of modern warfare the Russian armies proved totally incapable of competing with the strong German war machine.

Its only limited successes came against the even more decrepit regime of Austria-Hungary. Out of these came some of the more confident generals that were later to lead the white armies' against the Soviet forces in the civil war following the October revolution.

Russia's only real defence against the invader proved to be the vastness of its open spaces. Universal military service simply reproduced the contradictions and crises of the nation into the army itself. The ignorant and useless commanders exactly mirrored the rotten Russian ruling-class while the peasant soldiers’ total lack of any technical experience meant that they could not master modern military technique.

The first few days of battle soon turned into rout. The reactionary generals took out their anger by attacking the peaceful population and destroying their farms. The War Minister placed his "trust in the impenetratable spaces, impassable mud, and the mercy of Saint Nicholas, Protector of Holy Russia" (22) and simply tried to plug the gaps with greater and more frequent mobilisations.

While the Government sat impotently debating whether or not to remove the holy relics from Kiev, the generals retreated. Of the first 15 million men mobilised in the first year or so of the war, 5½ million were killed, wounded or captured. In all, 2½ million were killed in the war, 40% of the total losses of the "Allies".

The soldiers gathered bitter experience of purposeless manoeuvres on soleless shoes and grew demoralised. Soon the peasant army began to disintegrate and, despite floggings and other brutal punishments, desertions grew. Little by little, the consciousness of the soldiers was changing, the old peasant prejudices disappearing.

The sick and deserted brought their longing for peace back to the cities and villages. The revolutionary elements in the army, drowned at first without a trace, began to get a hearing amongst the growing discontent.

The tide of opposition grows

The economic mess grew worse. The Czarist state demanded more and more of the national wealth to pay for the war effort. The war industries grew enormously using up all available resources and drowning peace-time branches of production.

Nothing came of efforts to plan production since the Czarist bureaucracy and the bourgeois Military-Industrial Committees were fighting each other for control of industry. Much of the skilled workforce had been sent to the front, the mines and factories of Poland were lost, the overloaded transport system threatened to grind to a halt.

Nevertheless, the bourgeoisie lived well on the flood of war profits that came showering down. Enormous fortunes were built out of the bloody mess. The lack of fuel and bread in the capital didn't prevent the court jeweller Faberge from doing record business.

The so-called liberal bourgeoisie, far from being a friend of the poor soldiers, were quite happy getting rich from the slaughter. They even tried to use the military defeats to help tighten their grip on economic power at the expense of the nobility who they began to loudly accuse of being linked by family ties to the German enemy.

As the chaos deepened, the industrialists became less and less willing to grant concessions to the workers, while the government replied to the growing opposition with its usual dose of repression.

The workers’ thoughts began to be driven from the economic plane to the political plane - to the belief that 'if only we all strike at once we can finish the whole thing'. While in 1915 2½ times fewer workers participated in political strikes than in economic ones, in 1916 it was only twice as few. By the first months of 1917, political strikes involved six times as many workers as economic strikes. Petrograd, as usual, took the leading role. The tide of opposition was growing ever higher.

By the end of 1916, inflation was rocketing and was now combined with an actual lack of goods to be bought. A wave of meetings and demonstrations ran through the factories uniting all of the masses' grievances - food supplies, the high cost of living, war, government - into one struggle.

Bolshevik leaflets were being distributed, the general strike slogan gaining support. Cases of fraternisation between certain factories and soldiers were observed by the secret police. The Director of Police noted that, in comparison to 1905: "The mood of opposition has gone very far - far beyond anything to be seen in the broad masses during the above-mentioned period of disturbances" (23).

One group of police officials warned the Czar that the revolutionary parties could now "count on the sympathy of an overwhelming majority of the peasantry, which will follow the proletariat the very moment the revolutionary leaders point a finger to other people's land", and, with some justification, they noted that "the danger and strength of these parties lies in the fact that they have an idea, they have money (!), they have a crowd ready and well organised" (24).

The provinces followed the same stages as Petrograd, if a little more slowly, but by 1917, as the strike movement swung decisively from the economic to the political plane, the role of the capital and the most advanced layers like the metalworkers became increasingly important.

The 'Bloody Sunday' anniversary on January 9th 1917 was met with a strike of 150,000 in Petrograd alone. Over 575,000 workers were reported as being involved in political strikes in just the first two months of the year, the lion's share of them in the capital. In every factory a nucleus of activists was forming, usually around the Bolsheviks. The workers now felt that retreat was impossible.

The capitalists and the monarchy

Faced with this mounting onslaught on their power and privilege, the different parties of the ruling classes had been drawn together to fight their common enemy - the masses.

Already by 1915 the bourgeois deputies in the Duma had united into a majority "Progressive Bloc". To the fore in this capitalist gang was Guchkov, a big Moscow industrialist, who was leader of the party of the big commercial, industrial and landowning bourgeoisie, the Octobrists. Alongside him stood Miliukov, a professor of history, leader of the Kadets, the party of the 'liberal' middle bourgeoisie, intelligentsia and progressive landlords.

Miliukov, leader of the Bloc, warned his party that: "We are treading a volcano ... a carelessly dropped match will be enough to start a terrible conflagration. Whatever the government - whether good or bad - a strong government is needed, now more than ever before" (25).

The bourgeoisie hoped that, under the burden of both external defeats and internal dangers, the Czar would be prepared to allow the capitalists to at least have some say in government.

Even a majority of the Czar's own ministers were prepared to do a deal with the Progressive Bloc to try and take some of the pressure off their hated regime. However, Czar Nicholas the Second had no intention of making even the slightest concession that might suggest he was willing to compromise on centuries of Czarist rule.

A group of extreme right-wing bureaucrats advised the Czar, with some perception, of the dangers of doing deals with the weak and unstable bourgeoisie. They saw any concessions as being just the first step on the slippery slope to mob rule. Their advice was instead a policy of ruthless repression.

This would have been a sensible policy for the reaction if only they could count on the same basis of support as in 1905. Unfortunately for the old regime, history had now moved on and the military forces that they wanted to use to put down rebellion were beginning to be seized by rebellion themselves!

Nevertheless, the Czar's harsh reply to the bourgeoisie's pleas was an order to dissolve the Duma - first in 1915, then, after allowing a brief return, to dissolve it again in 1916.

The bourgeoisie meekly accepted his decisions with hardly a whimper of protest. The Czar's advisers quite rightly banked on the fact that the bourgeoisie were far more worried about the threat from the masses than they were about the Czar's government.

As the crisis deepened the Czar, perhaps in a sense aware that history was about to finally catch up with his outdated regime, reassured himself by becoming more and more indifferent to events around him. He surrounded himself with the mediocrity that he felt at ease with, sacking his cleverer ministers.

The pettiness of his diary clearly reveals the Czar's mentality. For example, on the day of his decision to dissolve the Duma he wrote: “Very busy morning. Half hour late to breakfast with the officers. A storm came up and it was very muggy. Signed a decree dissolving the Duma! Dined with Olga and Petia. Read all evening " (26). An 'exclamation mark' was his only show of emotion at this critical time!!

Meanwhile, the Czarina, Alexandra, propelled to power from a relatively lowly German upbringing, began to have more and more influence over the Czar's decisions. She turned the court circle yet further away from the troubles of the real world and towards the mediaeval superstitions of the other world, relying on the opinions of her own 'Christ' on Earth, Rasputin.

 It is often said that every great revolution begins at the top. As things got ever worse, the crisis in society was reflected in splits in the ruling circles. Blamed for everything by the masses, the autocracy began to blame each other - and increasingly the Czar himself - for their desperate position.

Terrified of revolution, the possessing classes made frantic efforts to save their skins. By now, layers of the bureaucracy and even the nobility were pressing for concessions. As Trotsky notes: "Even the moss-covered stones cried out. But nothing was changed. The monarchy would not let the last shreds of power slip out of its hands" (27).

Like all ruling classes faced with revolution, the monarchy was not prepared to willingly give up power. However, the weak-willed Nicholas could agree to neither a policy of conciliations nor make his mind up about setting up a dictatorship. Instead, his regime drifted further into chaos.

In desperation, talk of a "palace revolution” spread in the upper circles of Petrograd society. In all probability this idea of overthrowing the Czar never went beyond mere words and certainly not as far as concrete plans. Neither the aristocracy nor the bourgeoisie had sufficient determination to take such a step, a step which went against everything they had been brought up to believe. They also feared that it might stir up the masses even more.

In the end they settled for a "little" revolution - the murder of Rasputin. As for the Czar and Czarina, the bourgeoisie only went as far as throwing more mud about their links with Germany.

In reality, it was actually certain bourgeois representatives who sounded out the possibility of a separate peace with Germany, fearing the loss of any remaining economic independence to the "Allies" if Russia should suffer a total military collapse.

All these splits at the top filtered down into the psychology of the masses - and, far from weakening the crisis, they sharpened it. In the army, in the village, in the factories, the masses thought to themselves - if even our rulers have to resort to murder to solve their problems why shouldn't we try to use a little force of our own?

The actions of the ruling layers had an opposite effect to that intended - only spurring on their mortal enemy, the proletariat and poor peasantry.

Despite the opposition of almost every section of society, the Czar held on. Notwithstanding all the mighty speeches of Miliukov and others about ministerial incompetence, the bourgeoisie showed themselves incapable and unwilling to take power, as Lenin and Trotsky had long predicted. The spineless bourgeoisie needed a revolution but were too scared of its consequences to carry it out.

In the last session of the Duma, finally convoked on February 14th 1917, Miliukov warned the workers against "dangerous and bad counsel" issuing from "dark sources" and assured the Czar that the Progressive Bloc "will act with words and words only".

The landowner Rodzianko, President of the Duma, later recalled: "We felt the impotence of the Duma, weariness of a futile struggle" (28). Such was the mood of the “revolutionary” bourgeoisie as they entered the whirlpool of the February Revolution!

5) The February Revolution: February 23rd – 27th 1917

The 23rd of February was International Women's Day. It had not occurred to anyone that it might become the first day of the revolution. The fact is that the February revolution was begun from below, overcoming the resistance of its own revolutionary organisations, the initiative being taken of their own accord by the most oppressed and down-trodden part of the proletariat - the women textile workers"

 The revolution begins

The Russian revolutionary movement, derailed by the outbreak of World War, had gradually revived, until by February 1917 the flood of opposition was threatening to engulf the Czar's regime. "History was picking up the ends of the revolutionary threads broken by the war, and tying them into a knot" (29).

The accumulated effects of class oppression, the high cost of living, the crisis in villages, the bread queues, factory closures, and, with increasing importance, the war, had been building up changes in the consciousness of the masses - what Trotsky calls the "molecular process of revolution". Now the gradually rising pressure was about to suddenly shatter the old order.

The first two weeks of February had seen massive struggles of the working- class in Petrograd. Strikes and meetings went on continuously. The re-opening of the Duma on the 14th coincided with a strike of around 90,000 in Petrograd and with several factories also stopping work in Moscow.

On the 16th, the authorities decided to introduce cards for bread rationing in Petrograd. On the 19th, masses of people, especially women, gathered around the food shops demanding bread. The next day several bakeries were looted and wrecked. The Czar fled from Petrograd to escape from the disorders.

The 23rd of February was International Women's Day. The social-democratic circles had intended to mark this day in a general manner: by meetings, speeches and leaflets. It had not occurred to anyone that it might become the first day of the revolution. The fact is that the February revolution was begun from below, overcoming the resistance of its own revolutionary organisations, the initiative being taken of their own accord by the most oppressed and down-trodden part of the proletariat - the women textile workers, among them no doubt many soldiers' wives. The overgrown bread-lines had provided the last stimulus" (30).

It's far easier to recognise a potential revolutionary situation after the event than before it. On the 22nd even the most militant of the Petrograd District Committees - in the solidly working-class industrial area of Vyborg - had cautioned against mass strikes. They knew that a general strike would have to pose the question of power, that the masses in the streets would come into open conflict with the police and army, and that there might be no turning back. The Vyborg committee felt that the time was not yet ripe, the Bolsheviks too weak and the attitude of the soldiers to the workers too uncertain. However, when on the 23rd the women textile workers, despite all directives, began to strike and appeal for the big battalions of the metalworkers for support, the Vyborg committee saw that they had to agree to action.

In the words of Kayurov, one of the leading worker Bolsheviks in Vyborg: "With reluctance, the Bolsheviks agreed, and they were followed by the workers - Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries. But once there is a mass strike, one must call everybody into the streets and take the lead. The idea of going into the streets had long been ripening among the workers; only at that moment nobody imagined where it would lead" (31).

The first day of the February revolution was not, therefore, a planned attack on Czarist rule, but just a demonstration with indefinite, but certainly limited, perspectives. About 90,000 workers went on strike, centred on the Vyborg district. There were a few encounters with the police but the demonstrations passed off without any real victims, giving the workers more confidence for the next day.

On the 24th the movement doubled. 200,000 workers went on strike, about one half of the industrial workers of Petrograd. The workers went to the factories but to hold meetings, not to work. They then led marches to the city centre.

Yesterday's chief slogan of “Bread!" was now crowded out by "Down with Autocracy!" and "Down with the War!". The reactionary and hated police were met with a hail of stones and pieces of ice when they tried to attack the demonstrators - winning them over was out of the question.

On the other hand, marking a new stage in the revolution, the soldiers were treated differently. Men and women approached them in a friendly manner, trying to bring them over to the workers' side. Gaining confidence from these exchanges, the feeling grew that the mounted Cossacks would not shoot at the crowds - and they didn't.

In a famous incident outside the Erikson factory in Vyborg, 2,500 workers were trapped in a narrow street by the Cossack cavalry. But the horsemen, without openly breaking discipline, rode through the crowd in lines without actually trying to disperse them. As Kayurov recalled: "Some of them smiled and one of them gave the workers a good wink" (32).

The Cossacks, for years one of the most feared sections of the Czar's forces, were among the first to crack. The effect of the war had even taken hold on the Cossacks’ consciousness. They’d had enough of being driven against the people and were prepared to stand aside.

To press forward or to retreat?

Despite the rising tempo, neither the workers' leaders nor the ruling class had yet realised that the decisive crisis was at hand. Both sides had been carefully preparing for the revolution for years but now they were all caught unawares.

The Secret Service had based their plans on a conviction that patriotism was too strong for any insurrection to occur while the war lasted. The military command had worked out a detailed plan for crushing an uprising which they slowly began to put into effect, but with two major defects.

Firstly, like the workers' leaders, they underestimated the speed at which events were developing and perhaps resorted to their harshest measures, like ordering direct shootings at the crowds, too late.

Secondly, and critically, their plan was based on the entire garrison of 150,000 soldiers. In reality, much of this force was made up of reserve units, virtually untrained and open to the agitation of the demonstrators. Perhaps only 10,000 troops could be relied on by the Generals, largely the officer cadets in the military training schools.

As for the Bolshevik leadership, the E.C. didn't make up its mind to issue a leaflet calling for a General Strike until the morning of the 25th. By the time the leaflet was issued, if indeed it ever was, the movement had gone beyond its demands to the stage of an armed uprising! The leaders did not lead, they dragged behind the movement.

By the 25th the strike movement had broadened and become practically general. Around ¼ million workers participated that day, the advanced layers now joined by the backward. Small establishments began to close to join the larger factories.

The battles became more serious with shooting from the mounted police being answered with shots from the crowd itself, and even in one incident by a volley from the Cossacks directed, not at the workers, but at the police.

The heroic Kayurov related how he and several other workers approached the Cossacks for help, with a marvellously calculated appeal to these proud horsemen, caps in their hands. “Brothers - Cossacks, help the workers in a struggle for their peaceable demands!" (33). A few minutes later the crowd were tossing in their arms a Cossack who had cut down a police inspector with his sabre before their very eyes.

Along with these attempts to neutralise the Cossacks, the workers, especially the women, again tried to fraternise with the soldiers, particularly the infantry, often to great effect. However, these promising episodes were matched by other reports of soldiers shooting and killing demonstrators.

The masses on the whole were still unarmed, yet the movement had now reached a new level where things could not be solved just by strikes and protests but by force of arms.

The uprising could not, however, afford to lose momentum for, as Trotsky explains: "A revolutionary uprising that spreads over a number of days can develop victoriously only it case it ascends step by step, and scores one success after another. A pause in its growth is dangerous; a prolonged marking of time, fatal. But even successes by themselves are not enough; the masses must know about them in time, and have time to understand their value. It is possible to let slip a victory at the very moment when it is within arm's reach. This has happened in history" (34).

The government now knew that they had to send the troops into action in deadly earnest. The advanced workers understood it too. The mood of anxiety was added to by the arrest of around 100 revolutionaries during the night of the 25th/26th, including five of the Petrograd committee of the Bolsheviks.

On the dawn of the 26th the militant Vyborg Bolshevik leaders, now left, perhaps luckily for the revolution, effectively in control of the Bolsheviks, met in secret in the allotments at the edge of the city.

Uncertainty gripped them. How could the movement possibly continue now the government were calling on the full armed might of the Czarist state? Even the bold Kayurov felt that the insurrection was dissolving. “The barometer falls so low before the storm” (35)!

The struggle for the soldiers’ heart

In fact the uprising was only just beginning. That very night the movement had gone much farther than its leaders had realised. An objective estimation would show that already Vyborg was effectively in the hands of the insurrection, the police stations wrecked, the officers fled. Other districts were reaching the same point with the police headquarters beginning to lose contact with the rest of its forces in the capital.

The 26th began relatively quietly, falling on a Sunday so that the demonstrating workers could not assemble in the factories as they had done previously. The Czarina, trying to bolster the shaky Nicholas, sent a telegram saying "it is calm in the city ”, but by that evening she had to confess, "things are not going at all well ” (36).

 Slowly the workers had begun to assemble at the city centre until tens of thousands were in the streets. The police report on the day's events, if misrepresenting the workers' friendly attitude to the rank-and-file soldiers, gives a flavour of the demonstrators' defiant mood: "In the course of the disorders it was observed as a general phenomenon, that the rioting mobs showed extreme defiance towards the military patrols. When preliminary shots were fired into the air, the crowd not only did not disperse but answered these volleys with laughter. Only when loaded cartridges were fired into the very midst of the crowd, was it found possible to disperse the mob, the participants in which, however, would most of them hide in the yards of nearby houses, and as soon as the shooting stopped come out again into the street ” (37).

Despite the shots from both police, often now acting as hidden snipers, and from the troops, often the trainee officer squadrons now with strict orders to fire on the crowds, the masses would no longer retreat. At least 40 were killed, many more wounded, but the workers continued to press forward counting on victory at any cost.

The authorities were putting ever greater pressure on the soldiers to attack - but on the other hand the counter-pressure of the workers' appeals was also mounting. The garrison could no longer keep up a friendly neutrality - the choice was to shoot or to mutiny.

"Thus in the streets and squares is waged a ceaseless struggle ... for the heart of the soldiers. In these sharp contacts between working men and women and the soldiers the fate of the government, of the war, of the country, is being decided " (38).

A small but notable incident on the evening of the 26th marked a qualitative development in the struggle. Indignant about reports that a section of its own trainee officers had fired on the workers, a company of the Pavlovsky regiment under the command of a non-commissioned officer had marched to the city centre to recall its training squad. This was no mere mutiny but an act of high revolutionary initiative. The officer, whose name is unknown to history, was one of the many nameless heroes of the February days. However, most of the mutineers were arrested later that night. Now only the victory of the revolution could save them.

Victory of the February revolution

On that evening of the 26th, only hours before victory, the Vyborg leaders were tense. Some even wondered whether it would now be better for the workers to retreat. Even the best of leaders, like Kayurov, can find it hard to judge the balance of forces precisely and, weighed down with a feeling of responsibility for the whole movement, fear making a grave error of judgement.

Amongst the rank-and-file workers, however, there was less reflection, simply a mood that the revolution had begun, that the army would not, or could not, stop them, and that a decisive victory was at hand.

The shootings and deaths had not been enough to discourage the revolutionary masses. On the 27th, to the surprise and alarm of the Government, the workers once more streamed to the factories and in open meetings resolved to continue the struggle. But now that would have to mean armed insurrection.

In Kayurov's house over 40 workplace representatives gathered, the majority, but not all, also speaking for continuing the uprising. In fact, the workers need not have worried so much. Most of the work of the revolution had already been done - the steady pressure of events had now reached the point where the mass of the soldiers were now prepared to side with the revolution.

The soldiers had no feelings of attachment to the monarchy; they had no wish to fight the Germans, still less the Petrograd workers. They just wanted to go home to their villages. But unlike the workers, the revolutionary soldiers could not hold demonstrations to judge the depth of opposition in the barracks.

The soldiers had to wait for the moment when it seemed that they could be sure of victory, certain that the workers were ready to fight to the end and that mutineers would never have to return to the barracks to the retribution of their officers.

This moment had now been reached. The Bolshevik meeting at Kayurov's house was interrupted by the intoxicating news that a soldiers’ insurrection was under way and that the main gaols had already been opened.

The Volynsky regiment were the first to revolt, in the early morning. Even the training squad, the most reliable section for the reaction, had refused to march out and their commander killed. With only the revolution to rely on, the soldiers rushed to neighbouring barracks ‘calling out' other regiments like a flying picket might call out workers to support a strike.

The experiment of the Pavlovsky regiment had not been in vain after all! The soldiers linked up with the Vyborg workers and outlined a plan of action - to seize remaining police stations, disarm the police, free the workers from the police cells and political prisoners from the gaols, defeat the remaining loyal troops in the city centre, and link up with the inactive troops and workers in other districts.

With surprisingly little inner struggle, the mutiny of the regiments began to become an epidemic. A few shots rang out, sometimes from youths excitedly firing one of the many guns seized from the arsenals, but there were few major encounters with armed opposition.

The monarchist command either hid or tore off the Czarist braid and joined the mutiny, usually out of fear but also, for some younger officers, out of genuine hatred for the cruelty and incompetence of the old regime.

Joyful reports of victory flooded in. By noon, even armoured cars flying red flags had come over to the revolution and were spreading terror amongst any remaining opposition. General Khabalov, who had desperately gathered together a regiment of 1,000 "reliable" troops, later explained with dismay: "Something impossible began to happen on that day. The regiment starts, starts under a brave officer but there are no results" (39). In the white-hot atmosphere of Petrograd, even these resolute troops soon drowned in the insurrection.

By the late evening even the notoriously backward Izmailovsky regiment, who had arrested Trotsky in December 1905, had revolted. By nightfall, the garrison of 210,000 had melted away. It no longer existed. In truth, the whole fabric of the regime had decayed to nothing.

On the evening of February 27th, Rodzianko, President of the Duma, had sent the Czar a new telegram ending with the words: "The last hour has come when the fate of the fatherland and the dynasty is being decided". The Czar is recorded as responding: "Again that fat-bellied Rodzianko has written me a lot of nonsense". (40). It wasn't nonsense but outside Petrograd it was scarcely possible to believe that the news coming from the revolutionary capital could be true.

General Ivanov, who had successfully crushed the revolutionary sailors of Kronstadt in 1905, was ordered to march troops from the front to Petrograd to put down the rebellion. Evidently, everybody thought that they had plenty of time in which to act.

Meanwhile, General Khabalov was trying to carry out an order to declare martial law in the capital - but not only did he have no forces to rely on, he couldn't even find paste and brushes to stick up the declaration!

On the 28th Ivanov telegraphed to Khabalov to find out the latest news. Khabalov's reply tells its own story:

Q. How many troops are in order and how many misbehaving? A. I have at my disposal ... four companies of the Guard, five squadrons of cavalry and Cossacks, and two batteries; the rest of the troops have gone over to the revolutionists, or by agreement with them are remaining neutral. Soldiers are wandering through the town singly or in bands disarming officers.

Q. In what parts of the city is order preserved? A. The whole city is in the hands of the revolutionists...

Q. What authorities are governing the different parts of the city? A. I cannot answer this question.

Q. Are all the ministries functioning properly? A. The ministers have been arrested by the revolutionists.

Q. What police forces are at your disposal at the present moment? A. None whatever.

Q. Have many artillery stores have fallen into the hands of the mutineers? A. All the artillery establishment are in the hands of the revolutionists.

Having received this unequivocal illumination as to the real situation, Ivanov called off his mission to save the Czar! Khabalov himself was arrested soon after
”. (41).

The Czar had finally begun to suspect that Rodzianko had not been speaking nonsense. He decided to return in his train to Petrograd to rejoin his family. The railway workers had other ideas. They wouldn't let him pass.

While his train wandered from place to place trying to find a way through, the Czarina was sending telegram after telegram to him. All were returned with the message: “Whereabouts of the addressee unknown”!!

However, the holding-up of his train had taught the Czar far more than any telegram could. Finally, on the night of March 1st, he agreed to send a message to Rodzianko saying that he was prepared to do a deal with the Progressive Bloc.

"But the Czar's clock was way behind. Rodzianko … already buried under a pile of democrats, socialists, soldiers, workers' deputies, replied ‘Your proposal is not enough; it is now a question of the dynasty itself . The anarchy has reached such proportions that I (Rodzianko) was this night compelled to appoint a Provisional Government’ " (42).