[OPE-L] The 1905 Revolution - marking the centenary

From: Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM
Date: Thu Jan 13 2005 - 17:41:36 EST

The following article reminded me of an important anniversary.

Are there any countries today that are in a situation comparable
to 1905 in Russia?

In solidarity, Jerry

----- Original Message -----
From: "cort greene" <cortgreene@excite.com>
Sent: Monday, January 10, 2005 6:58 PM
Subject: [A-C] The 1905 Revolution - marking the centenary

 In Defence of Marxism- http://www.marxist.com
The 1905 Revolution - marking the centenary
By Rob Sewell

"In the history of revolutions there come to light contradictions that have
ripened for decades and centuries. Life becomes unusually eventful. The
masses, which have always stood in the shade and have therefore often been
ignored and even despised by superficial observers, enter the political
arena as active combatants. The masses are learning in practice, and before
the eyes of the world are taking their first tentative steps, feeling their
way, defining their objectives, testing themselves and the theories of all
their ideologists. These masses are making heroic efforts to rise to the
occasion and cope with the gigantic tasks of world significance imposed upon
them by history." (Lenin, Revolutionary Days, January 1905)
The 9th January (22th January in the Gregorian calendar) marks the centenary
of one of the greatest events of the twentieth century. The stormy events of
1905 formed the majestic prologue to the revolutionary drama of 1917, and
were described famously by Lenin, as the "dress rehearsal" for the October
revolution. Revolution puts parties and individuals to the acid test and
clarifies programmes, ideas and perspectives. In reality, the success of
1917 was due in very large measure to the experience acquired by the
generation in the 1905 revolution.
The 1905 Revolution was no surprise to the Russian Marxists, who had long
predicted the revolutionary movement of the Russian masses. Yet when
revolution came, the sweep and scale of events was truly historic.

"Events of the greatest historical importance are developing in Russia",
wrote Lenin a few days after the massacre of Bloody Sunday. "The proletariat
has risen against Tsarism... Events are developing with astonishing
rapidity. The general strike in St. Petersburg is spreading. All industrial,
public, and political activities are paralysed... The revolution is
The 1905 Revolution was a product of the accumulation of contradictions deep
in Russian society. Tsarism was in a blind impasse and could not develop
society any further. The emergence of the proletariat placed revolution on
the order of the day. But there were more immediate causes that produced the
spark of revolution. The events of 1905 grew directly out of the
Russo-Japanese war, just as the revolution of 1917 was the direct outcome of
the First World War. The military defeats of Tsarism, combined with the
intolerable burdens imposed by the regime on the backs of the masses, was
the final straw that broke the camel's back.
Tsarist Russia had long been the most reactionary power in Europe. Ruled by
a feudal autocracy, capitalist development had come late to Russia.
Capitalism had been largely imported from the West and artificially grafted
onto backward economic and social relations. Unlike its counterparts in the
West, the Russian bourgeoisie was extremely weak and incapable of carrying
through a bourgeois-democratic revolution that would create a modern
democratic republic. In fact, rather than play a revolutionary role, it
played a counter-revolutionary one. The bourgeoisie was terrified of the
masses, and while seeking "reforms", it above all sought protection from the
Old Order. Everything fell to the newly-emerging Russian proletariat to
carry through a revolutionary struggle against Tsarism. But the struggle
would not end there. As Trotsky explained in his brilliant theory of
Permanent Revolution, which he developed largely from the experience of
1905, the workers would fight to come to power, carry through the bourgeois
tasks and then proceed to the socialist tasks. The revolution would
inevitably break through national confines and become part of the chain of
world socialist revolution.
The leading role of the proletariat in the coming revolution, as explained
by both Lenin and Trotsky, was confirmed in the events of 1905. It was the
first time that the Russian working class had decisively entered upon the
stage of history and attempted to take its destiny into its own hands.

"In the revolution whose beginning history will identify with the year
1905", wrote Trotsky, "the proletariat stepped forward for the first time
under its own banner in the name of its own objectives."

Father Gapon
The tsarist dictatorship, the burden of war, as well as the harsh conditions
in the factories, drove discontent in the working class to new levels. This
reached its climax with the explosive strike at the Putilov arms factory in
December 1904. A sea change was taking place in the working class, as
strikes spread from industry to another. It represented the ferment that
preceded the explosion. However, the 1905 Revolution finally erupted over an
incident: with the presentation of a petition to the tsar on 9th January.
Led by a priest, Father Gapon, a peaceful demonstration of some 140,000
marched to the Winter Palace to appeal for help from the tsar, known
affectionately as the "Little Father".

"Sire, our strength is at an end! The limit of our patience has been
reached; the terrible moment has come for us when it is better to die than
to continue suffering intolerable torment."
But their pleas fell on deaf ears. Instead of sympathy, the demonstration
was faced with a massacre - some 4,600 people were killed or wounded by
government troops - and went down in history as "Bloody Sunday". The savage
reaction of the regime transformed the situation within 24 hours. The pent
up revolutionary energy of the masses finally exploded.
Marx explained that the revolution sometimes needs the whip of the
counterrevolution to drive it forward. The massacre of January 1905 acted as
such a revolutionary catalyst. The cry went up everywhere: "Arms! Arms!"

"The working class", wrote Lenin from exile, "has received a momentous
lesson in civil war: the revolutionary education of the proletariat made
more progress in one day than it could have made in months and years of
drab, humdrum, wretched existence. The slogan of the heroic St Petersburg
proletariat, 'Death or Freedom!' is reverberating throughout Russia."
On 10th January barricades were erected in Petersburg. Within a week,
160,000 workers had struck work. Strikes quickly spread to other areas. In
January around 400,000 workers went on strike throughout Russia. The
revolutionary wave swept through Poland and the Baltic states, Georgia,
Armenia, and Central Russia.
The tsarist autocracy took fright. Rather than teaching the workers a
lesson, they had provoked a revolution! "The vast majority of people seemed
to go mad", wrote Count Witte in his memoirs. But all revolutions appear as
madness to those it seeks to sweep aside. On 18th February, under pressure
of a growing strike movement, the tsar issued his first Manifesto, hinting
at a constitution and reforms. Of course, this concession "from above" was
simply a manoeuvre, aimed at splitting the movement and defusing the
situation. But the movement continued and intensified.
The Russian social democracy - both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks - originally
met with hostility from the masses before 9th January. Now, for the first
time they connected with the mass movement and their influence grew by leaps
and bounds.
Conditioned by years of clandestinity, Lenin urged the Bolsheviks to
immediately open up their ranks. "We need young forces. I am for shooting on
the spot anyone who presumes to say that there are no people to be had. The
people in Russia are legion: all we have to do is to recruit young people
more widely and boldly, more boldly and widely, and again more boldly
without fearing them. This is a time of war."
He went on: "Get rid of all the old habits of immobility, of respect for
rank, and so on. Form hundreds of circles of Vperyod-ists [the Bolshevik
paper] from among the youth and encourage them to work at full blast."

"To sum up", he said, "we must reckon with the growing movement, which has
increased a hundredfold, with the new tempo of the work, with the freer
atmosphere and the wider field of activity. The work must be given an
entirely different scope. Methods of training should be refocused from
peaceful instruction to military operations. Young fighters should be
recruited more boldly, widely, and rapidly into the ranks of all and every
kind of our organisations. Hundreds of new organisations should be set up
for the purpose without a moment's delay. Yes, hundreds; this is no
hyperbole, and let no one tell me that it is 'too late' now to tackle such a
broad organisational job. No, it is never too late to organise."
These remarks were aimed at the "committee-men", the professional
revolutionaries who ran the party and who had, in reality, a contempt for
its working-class followers. They wanted to continue the methods of the
underground period, which were now completely out of date.
How very different is this Lenin from the caricatures drawn by bourgeois
academics and Stalinist commentators alike, who portray him as a ruthless
party dictator, a conspirator, who, fearing the masses, held on to power at
all costs.
At the same time, Lenin poured scourn on the liberals with their illusions
in peaceful constitutional reform, as well as the Mensheviks who clung to
their coat-tails. The question was poised point blank: to arm the workers
and overthrow Tsarism. This was the urgent task facing the revolutionary
Throughout the spring and summer the pendulum swung continually to the left.
While the workers of Petersburg took a breather, the provinces rose up in
struggle. Strikes took on an increasingly political character and there was
mutiny in the Black Sea fleet. The threat of revolution at home forced the
regime to end the war with Japan.
Alongside peace with Japan, the authorities announced a new Manifesto in
August, promising a new parliament, or Duma. However, the proposals gave the
vote to the landlords and urban middle class, but disenfranchised the bulk
of the population. Given the revolutionary conditions, the Bolsheviks
correctly came out for a boycott of the elections. They explained only the
overthrow of Tsarism by the revolutionary actions of the masses could
prepare the ground for genuine democracy.
A new revolutionary impulse came in the autumn, beginning with a print
strike in Moscow that quickly spread to the railways. "This small event",
wrote Trotsky, "set off nothing more or less than the all-Russian political
strike - the strike which started over punctuation marks and ended by
felling absolutism."
By October, there was a general strike on the railways involving some
750,000 workers. The movement became generalised and again raised the
question of power. On 10th October, a political general strike was
proclaimed in Moscow, Kharkov, and Revel; the next day in Smolensk, Kozlov,
Yekaterinoslav and Lodz; in a few days the strike was declared in Kursk,
Byelgorod, Samara, Saratov, Poltava, Petersburg, Orsha, Minsk, Odessa, Riga,
Warsaw and elsewhere. "The October strike", noted Trotsky, "was a
demonstration of the proletariat's hegemony in the bourgeois revolution and,
at the same time, of the hegemony of the towns in an agricultural country."

"In its extent and acuteness," Lenin explained later, "the strike struggle
had no parallel anywhere in the world. The economic strike developed into a
political strike, and later into insurrection."
Terrified of the revolution, "Nicholas the Bloody" was forced to make
concessions and sign a new Manifesto on 17th October. "Herod's got his tail
between his legs", remarked a worker. But the Manifesto solved nothing, only
to detach the liberals from the tailcoat of the revolution. However, with
Tsarist concessions came bloody repression. This was the time of General
Trepov's famous order: "No blank volleys, and spare no bullets." An orgy of
reaction was unleashed by the Black Hundred gangs, resulting in up to 4,000
people murdered and a further 10,000 injured in pogroms. The experience
demonstrated, above all, the need for the revolution to arm itself in its
own self-defence. In Petersburg, the Soviet organised the arming of the
proletariat and the setting up of workers' militias.
The revolution brought the proletariat to its feet. It raised its
class-consciousness and self esteem. Above all, it gave rise to
self-organisation in the form of the Soviet of Workers' Deputies,
established on 13th October.

"The Soviet came into being", wrote Trotsky, "as a response to an objective
need - a need born out of the course of events. It was an organisation which
was authoritative and yet had no traditions; which could immediately involve
a scattered mass of hundreds of thousands of people while having virtually
no organisational machinery; which united the revolutionary currents within
the proletariat; which was capable of initiative and spontaneous
self-control - and most important of all, which could be brought out from
underground within twenty-four hours."
The initiative for the Soviet organisation came from the St Petersburg
Mensheviks. Trotsky had a similar idea when he arrived from Finland. The
general strike needed an extended strike committee to coordinate things, and
the Soviet played this key role by drawing in delegates from the factories
(one delegate for every 500 workers). To have the necessary authority in the
eyes of the masses, it had to be based upon the broadest representation.
Astonishingly, the Soviet was rejected by a part of the Bolshevik leadership
who were in Petersburg, fearing it as a rival political organisation to the
party. They even went to the Soviet with a resolution: either accept the
full revolutionary programme of social democracy or disband! This sectarian
attitude towards the Soviet, which resulted in the Bolshevik faction failing
to gain a leading position in the events, lasted until Lenin arrived in
Of all the revolutionary leaders of the social democracy, it was Trotsky who
played the most prominent role in 1905. By this time none of the main
leaders had returned from exile. Martov only returned to Russia after 17th
October; Lenin on 4th November. Trotsky, on the other hand, had arrived in
Kiev in February.
Lunacharsky, who was one of Lenin's closest collaborators at the time,
recalled: "His [Trotsky's] popularity among the Petersburg proletariat at
the time of his arrest [in December] was tremendous and increased still more
as a result of his picturesque and heroic behaviour in court. I must say
that of all the social democratic leaders of 1905-6 Trotsky undoubtedly
showed himself, despite his youth, to be the best prepared. Less than any of
them did he bear the stamp of a certain kind of émigré narrowness of outlook
which, as I have said, even affected Lenin at that time. Trotsky understood
better than all the others what it means to conduct the political struggle
on a broad, national scale. He emerged from the revolution having acquired
an enormous degree of popularity, whereas neither Lenin nor Martov had
effectively gained any at all. Plekhanov had lost a great deal, thanks to
his display of quasi-Cadet tendencies. Trotsky stood then in the very front
Since the split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks in 1903, Trotsky had
broken with the Mensheviks and attempted to unite both factions. On
political questions, however, Trotsky was very close to Lenin. On Lenin's
return to Russia, he took up the need for the re-unification of the two
wings of the social democracy - the RSDLP.

Undated poster on the 1905 revolution
Trotsky was only 26 when he became president of the St Petersburg Soviet.
The first brief chairman of the Soviet, the Menshevik sympathiser G S
Khrustalyov was an accidental figure, like Father Gapon. Trotsky wrote the
most important declarations and resolutions of the Soviet, and was the
natural replacement after Khrustaloyov's arrest. "Well, Trotsky has earned
it by his brilliant and unflagging work", commented Lenin.
Trotsky thrived in the leadership of the St Petersburg proletariat. He
immediately connected with the revolution and threw himself into its work.
He took over the tiny Russian Gazette and transformed it into a fighting
organ. As a result, its circulation rose from 30,000 to 500,000. Closed down
by the government, Trotsky put his efforts into a new political organ,
Nachalo (The Beginning), which was a great success. He also wrote editorials
for the Izvestia (The News), the official organ of the Soviet, as well as
its manifestos and resolutions.

"The fifty-two days of the existence of the first Soviet", wrote Trotsky,
"were filled to the brim with work - the Soviets, the Executive Committee,
endless meetings, and three papers. How we managed to live in this whirlpool
is still not clear, even to me."
While the October manifesto produced concessions, they were of a partial and
temporary nature. The Soviet's response was to continue the general strike.
However, the strike had lost its momentum and the decision was made to end
the strike on 21st October. But this was no solemn act. Hundreds of
thousands marched with the Soviet at its head demanding amnesty, which was
partially granted.
Once more, feeling the lull in the struggle, the counter-revolution reared
its ugly head. Pro-tsarist demonstrations were organised, led by clergy and
bishops. The bands played "God Save the Tsar", the hymn of the pogromists.
Police directed crowds of hooligans in the wrecking of Jewish homes and
shops. Some 3,500-4,000 people were killed and as many as 10,000 maimed in
100 towns. Thanks to the workers no pogroms took place in St Petersburg, but
workers' detachments were steadily dispersed and arms confiscated. The
manifesto and amnesty concessions represented only a momentary truce,
nothing more.
In Kronstadt, on 26th and 27th October a mutiny flared up. Martial law was
declared a day later and the mutiny was crushed. Many revolutionary soldiers
and sailors were threatened with execution. Pressure mounted on the Soviet
to act against this open provocation. The Soviet issued an appeal for a
general strike on 2nd November, under the slogans: "Down with court-martial!
Down with the death penalty! Down with martial law in Poland and throughout
The success of the appeal surpassed all expectations. Once again the
authorities were wrong-footed and conceded that there would be no court
martial. Given that the struggles nationally were on the wane, the leaders
of the Soviet decided to end the strike on 7th November. However, the return
to work was undertaken with the same degree of spirit and unity as when it
It was a turning-point for the revolution as a whole. The St Petersburg
proletariat after ten months of tremendous exertions were finally exhausted.
On 3rd December, the whole of the St Petersburg Soviet was arrested. The
life of the Petersburg Soviet had come to an end.
Fifty-two members of the St Petersburg Soviet were finally placed on trial
in September 1906, on the charge of "preparing an armed uprising" against
the existing "form of government". From the dock, Trotsky defiantly turned
his speech into an attack on the autocracy and a defence of the Soviet and
the revolution. "The historical power in whose name the prosecutor speaks in
this court is the organised violence of the minority over the majority! The
new power, whose precursor was the Soviet, represents the organised will of
the majority calling the minority to order. Because of this distinction the
revolutionary right of the Soviet to existence stands above all juridical
and moral speculations..."
For now, with the arrest of the Petersburg Soviet, the revolutionary
initiative moved to Moscow. On 2nd December a mutiny had broken out in the
Moscow Rostov regiment, but was suppressed. Nevertheless, despite this
setback, the mood in the factories was reaching fever pitch. They were
prepared for resolute action, even some layers proposing armed insurrection.
This mood affected the Moscow Soviet, which declared a general strike on 7th
December. But under the circumstance, everyone knew this to be a vote for an
insurrection. The appeal for solidarity from Petersburg had partial success,
with 83,000 coming out on strike.
The spark for the insurrection in Moscow was a government provocation -
troops were sent to disperse workers' meetings. There were clashes and
barricades were thrown up as a general strike began to spread. Despite this
advance there was vacillation in the Soviet leadership and the
counter-revolution struck back. This provoked the masses further and an
armed uprising broke out. Barricades were thrown up throughout the city and
there was extensive street fighting. Unfortunately, the government troops
remained loyal and the insurrection was eventually put down. The Moscow
defeat constituted a heavy blow to the revolution.
Although defeated, the struggle had not been in vain. Without this
experience, the October Revolution would not have been possible. The
experienced served to crystallise the political differences between
Bolshevism and Menshevism. Plekhanov's famous remark that "they should not
have taken up arms!" was the plea of one who was moving away from
revolution. Lenin in reply, stated that "On the contrary, we should have
taken up arms more resolutely, energetically and aggressively; we should
have explained to the masses that it was impossible to confine ourselves to
a peaceful strike, that a fearless and relentless armed struggle was
indispensable." The Mensheviks were increasingly looking to the liberal
bourgeoisie to lead the (bourgeois) revolution, while Lenin, Trotsky and the
Bolsheviks were relying on the working class for leadership. Eventually,
this would place the Mensheviks on the wrong side of the barricades in the
October Revolution of 1917.
In conclusion, it is appropriate to finish with a quote from Trotsky's book,
1905: "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 3rd June. 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."
January 10, 2005
See also:

Bolshevism: the Road to Revolution by Alan Woods (1999)
The Year 1905 by Leon Trotsky (1907)
Revolutionary Days by V.I. Lenin (January 1905) arxist.com   "...Like
revolution, war forces life, from top to bottom, away from the beaten
track.But revolution directs its blows against the established power.War, on
the contrary, at first strengthens the state power which in the chaos
engendered by war,appears to be the only firm support and then undermines
it..." Leon Trotsky

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Fri Jan 14 2005 - 00:00:01 EST