The events of 1905 formed a majestic prologue to the revolutionary drama of 1917. For a number of years, when the reaction was triumphant, the year 1905 appeared to us as a completed whole, as the Russian revolution. Today it has lost that independent nature, without at the same time forfeiting any of its historical significance. The revolution of 1905 grew directly out of the Russo-Japanese War, just as the revolution of 1917 was the direct outcome of the great imperialist slaughter. In this way, both in its origins and in its development the prologue carried within it all the elements of the historical drama whose witnesses and participants we are today. But in the prologue these elements appeared in a compressed, not as yet fully developed form. All the forces engaged in the struggle of 1905 are today illuminated more clearly than before by the light cast back on them by the events of 1917. The Red October, as we used to call it even then, grew after twelve years into another, incomparably more powerful and truly victorious October
Our great advantage in 1905 was the fact that even during this phase of revolutionary prologue, we Marxists were already armed with the scientific method of comprehending historical processes. This enabled us to understand those relations which the material process of history revealed only as a series of hints. The chaotic July strikes of 1903 in the south of Russia had supplied us with material for concluding that a general strike of the proletariat with its subsequent transformation into an armed rising would become the fundamental form of the Russian revolution. The events of January 9, a vivid confirmation of this prognosis, demanded that the question of revolutionary power be raised in concrete fashion. From that moment on, the question of the nature of the Russian revolution and its inner class dynamic became a burning issue among the Russian social democrats of that time.
It was precisely in the interval between January 9 and the October strike of 1905 that those views which came to be called the theory of “permanent revolution” were formed in the author’s mind. This rather high-flown expression defines the thought that the Russian revolution, although directly concerned with bourgeois aims, could not stop short at those aims; the revolution could not solve its immediate, bourgeois tasks except by putting the proletariat into power. And the proletariat, once having power in its hands, would not be able to remain confined within the bourgeois framework of the revolution. On the contrary, precisely in order to guarantee its victory, the proletarian vanguard in the very earliest stages of its rule would have to make extremely deep inroads not only into feudal but also into bourgeois property relations. While doing so it would enter into hostile conflict, not only with all those bourgeois groups which had supported it during the first stages of its revolutionary struggle, but also with the broad masses of the peasantry, with whose collaboration it – the proletariat – had come into power.
The contradictions between a workers’ government and an overwhelming majority of peasants in a backward country could be resolved only on an international scale, in the arena of a world proletarian revolution. Having, by virtue of historical necessity, burst the narrow bourgeois-democratic confines of the Russian revolution, the victorious proletariat would be compelled also to burst its national and state confines, that is to say, it would have to strive consciously for the Russian revolution to become the prologue to a world revolution.
Despite an interruption of twelve years, this analysis has been entirely confirmed. The Russian revolution could not culminate in a bourgeois-democratic regime. It had to hand power over to the working class. In 1905, the working class was still too weak to seize power; but subsequent events forced it to gain maturity and strength, not in the environment of a bourgeois-democratic republic, but in the underground of the Tsarism of June 3. The proletariat came to power in 1917 with the help of the experience acquired by its older generation in 1905. That is why young workers today must have complete access to that experience and must, therefore, study the history of 1905.
As appendices to the first part of this book I have decided to print two articles, one of which (concerning Cherevanin’s book) was published in Kautsky’s journal Neue Zeit in 1908; while the other, devoted to expounding the theory of “permanent revolution” and a polemic against views on this subject which were dominant within Russian social democracy at the time, was published (I believe in 1909) in a Polish party journal whose guiding spirits were Rosa Luxemburg and Leo Jogiches. It seems to me that these articles will not only make it easier for readers to orient themselves in the debate among Russian social democrats during the period directly following the first revolution, but will also shed a reflected light on certain extremely important problems of the present day. The seizure of power in October 1917 was by no means an improvisation as the ordinary citizen was inclined to believe, and the nationalization of factories and plants by the victorious working class was by no means an “error“ of the workers’ government which, it is said, failed to give timely heed to the warning voice of the Mensheviks. These matters were discussed, and were solved in principle, over a period of a decade and a half.
The debate over the character of the Russian revolution had, even during that period, gone beyond the confines of Russian social democracy and had engaged the attention of the leading elements of world socialism. The Menshevik conception of bourgeois revolution was expounded most conscientiously, that is to say, most badly and candidly, in Cherevanin’s book. As soon as it appeared, the German opportunists seized hold of it with glee. At Kautsky’s suggestion I wrote an analytical review of Cherevanin’s book in Neue Zeit. At the time, Kautsky himself fully identified himself with my views. Like Mehring (now deceased), he adopted the viewpoint of “permanent revolution.” Today, Kautsky has retrospectively joined the ranks of the Mensheviks. He wants to reduce his past to the level of his present. But this falsification, which satisfies the claims of an unclear theoretical conscience, is encountering obstacles in the form of printed documents. What Kautsky wrote in the earlier – the better! – period of his scientific and literary activity (his reply to the Polish socialist Ljusnia, his studies on Russian and American workers, his reply to Plekhanov’s questionnaire concerning the character of the Russian revolution, etc.) was and remains a merciless reaction of Menshevism and a complete theoretical vindication of the subsequent political tactics of the Bolsheviks, whom thick-heads and renegades, with Kautsky today at their head, accuse of adventurism, demagogy, and Bakuninism
As my third appendix I print the article The Struggle for Power, published in 1915 in the Paris newspaper Nashe Slovo, which is a presentation of the idea that those political relations which became clearly outlined in the first revolution must find their culmination and completion in the second.
This book lacks clarity on the question of formal democracy, as did the whole movement it describes. And this is not surprising: even ten years later, in 1917, our party was not yet completely clear in its own mind on this question. But this ambiguity, or lack of complete agreement, has nothing to do with matters of principle. In 1917 we were infinitely far removed from the mystique of democracy; we envisaged the progress of revolution, not as the putting into operation of certain absolute democratic norms, but as a war between classes which, for their temporary needs, had to make use of the slogans and the institutions of democracy. At that time, we directly advanced the slogan of the seizure of power by the working class, and we deduced the inevitability of this seizure of power, not from the chances of “democratic” election statistics, but from the correlation of class forces.
Even in 1905 the workers of Petersburg called their Soviet a proletarian government. The name became current and was entirely consistent with the program of struggle for the seizure of power by the working class. At the same time we opposed to Tsarism a developed program of political democracy (universal suffrage, republic, militia, etc.). And indeed we could not have done otherwise. Political democracy is an essential phase in the development of the working masses – with the important proviso that in some cases the working masses may remain in this phase for several decades, whereas in another case the revolutionary situation may enable the masses to liberate themselves from the prejudices of political democracy even before its institutions have come into being.
The state regime of the socialist revolutionaries and Mensheviks (March – October 1917) completely and utterly compromised democracy, even before it had time to be cast in any firm bourgeois-republican mold. And during that time, although having inscribed on our banner: “All power to the Soviets,” we were still formally supporting the slogans of democracy, unable as yet to give the masses (or even ourselves) a definite answer as to what would happen if the cogs of the wheels of formal democracy failed to mesh with the cogs of the Soviet system. During the time in which this book was written, and also much later, during the period of Kerensky’s rule, the essence of the task for us consisted in the actual seizure of power by the working class.
The formal, legalistic aspect of this process took second or third place, and we simply did not take the trouble to disentangle the formal contradictions at a time when the physical onslaught on the material obstacles still lay ahead.
The dispersal of the Constituent Assembly was a crudely revolutionary fulfillment of an aim which might also have been reached by means of a postponement or by the preparation of elections. But it was precisely this peremptory attitude towards the legalistic aspect of the means of struggle that made the problem of revolutionary power inescapably acute; and, in its turn, the dispersal of the Constituent Assembly by the armed forces of the proletariat necessitated a complete reconsideration of the interrelationship between democracy and dictatorship. In the final analysis, this represented both a theoretical and a practical gain for the Workers’ International.
The history of this book, very briefly, is as follows. It was written in Vienna in 1908-1909 for a German edition which appeared in Dresden. The German edition included certain chapters of my Russian book Our Revolution (1907), considerably modified and adapted for the non-Russian reader. The major part of the book was specially written for the German edition. I have now been obliged to reconstruct the text, partly on the basis of sections of the Russian manuscript still in existence, and partly by means of re-translating from the German. In this latter task I have been greatly helped by Comrade Ruhmer, who has done his work with extreme conscientiousness and care. I have revised the whole text and I hope that the reader will not be plagued with those innumerable mistakes, slips, misprints, and errors of all kinds which today are a constant feature of our publications.
12 January 1922