The time has not yet come for an exhaustive historical appraisal of the Russian revolution; the relations are not yet sufficiently defined; the revolution continues, giving rise to new consequences all the time, and its full significance cannot be taken in at a glance. The book here presented to the reader does not claim to be a historical work; it represents the evidence of a witness and a participant, written while the traces of the events are still fresh in his mind, and illuminated from the author’s party viewpoint – the author being a social democrat  in politics and a Marxist in science. Above all, the author has attempted to make clear to the reader the revolutionary struggle of the Russian proletariat which found its culmination – and, at the same time, its tragic conclusion – in the activities of the Petersburg Soviet of Workers’ Deputies. If he has succeeded in doing this, he will consider his main task to have been fulfilled.
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The introduction is an analysis of the economic basis of the Russian revolution. It covers Tsarism, Russian capitalism, agrarian structure, production forms and relations, and social classes: the landowning nobility, the peasantry, large capital, the petty bourgeoisie, the intelligentsia, the proletariat – in their relationships to one another and to the state. Such is the content of the “introduction,” the purpose of which is to show to the reader in their static form those social forces which, subsequently, will appear before him in their revolutionary dynamic.
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The book makes no claim, either, to any completeness as to factual material. We have deliberately refrained from attempting to give a detailed description of the revolution in the country as a whole; within the limited framework of our work, we could, at best, have furnished a list of facts which might have been useful for reference purposes but would have told nothing of the inner logic of the events nor of the form they actually assumed in life. We chose a different method: having selected those events and institutions which, as it were, summed up the very meaning of the revolution, we have placed the center of the movement – Petersburg – at the center of our narrative. We leave the northern capital only to the extent that the revolution itself shifted its central arena to the shores of the Black Sea (The Red Fleet), to the villages (The Peasant Riots), and to Moscow (December).
Having thus limited ourselves in space, we were compelled also to limit ourselves in time.
We have devoted most of the available space to the last three months of 1905 – October, November, and December – the culminating period of the revolution, which began with the great all-Russian strike and ended with the crushing of the December rising in Moscow.
As to the preceding preparatory period, we have extracted from it two moments which arc essential for an understanding of the progress of events as a whole. In the first place, we have chosen to discuss the brief “era” of Prince Svyatopolk-Mirsky, that honeymoon of rapprochement between the government and “the public,” when trust was the general watchword and when government announcements and liberal leading articles alike were written with pens dipped in a sickening mixture of aniline and treacle. Secondly, we discuss January 9, the Red Sunday unequalled in dramatic horror, when the atmosphere so saturated with mutual confidence was suddenly pierced by the scream of bullets fired from guardsmen’s rifles and shattered forever by the curses of the proletarian masses. The comedy of the liberal spring had come to an end. The tragedy of revolution was beginning.
We pass over in almost complete silence the eight months between January and October. Interesting though that period was in itself, it does not add anything fundamentally new without which the history of the three decisive months of 1905 might not be understood. The October strike was almost as much a direct consequence of the January procession to the Winter Palace as the December rising was a consequence of the October strike.
The final chapter of the historical part sums up the events of the revolutionary year, analyzes the method of revolutionary struggle and gives a brief description of the political developments of the three years that followed. The essential conclusion of this chapter can be expressed thus: La révolution est morte, vive la révolution!
The chapter devoted to the October strike is dated November 1905. It was written during the final hours of the great strike which drove the ruling clique into a blind alley and forced Nicholas II to sign with trembling hand the manifesto of October 17. At the time, this chapter was published as an article in two issues of the Petersburg social-democratic paper Nachalo; it is reproduced here almost without change, not only because it draws the general picture of the strike with a degree of completeness sufficient for our present purpose, but also because by its very mood and tone it is, to some extent, characteristic of the political texts that were published in that period.
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The second part of the book represents an independent whole. It is the history of the court trial of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies and, subsequently, of the author’s exile to Siberia and his escape therefrom. However, there is an inner link between the two parts of the book; not only because at the end of 1905 the Petersburg Soviet of Workers’ Deputies stood at the very center of revolutionary events, but also, and above all, because its collective arrest marked the opening of the era of counter-revolution. One after the other, all revolutionary organizations throughout the country fell victim to the counter-revolution. Systematically, step by step, with ferocious determination and bloodthirsty vengefulness, the victors eradicated every trace of the great movement. And the less they were aware of any immediate danger, the more bloodthirsty became their contemptible vindictiveness. The Petersburg Soviet of Workers’ Deputies was brought before the court in 1906. The maximum sentence passed was privation of all civil rights and exile to Siberia for an unlimited period. The Yekaterinoslav Soviet of Workers’ Deputies was not tried until 1909, but the results were very different: several dozen of the condemned were sentenced to forced labor and thirty-two death sentences were pronounced, of which eight were actually carried out.
After the titanic struggle and the temporary victory of the revolution came the epoch of liquidation: arrests, exiles, attempted escapes, dispersion over the entire world – and therein lies the connection between the two parts of my book. We conclude this preface by expressing our warmest gratitude to Mrs. Zarudnaya-Kavos, the well-known Petersburg artist, who put at our disposal her pencil sketches and pen drawings made during the court trial of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies.