Collected and Translated
by MOISSAYE J OLGIN
by MOISSAYE J OLGIN
THIS is an essay of triumph. Written on January 20, 1905, eleven days after the ‘Bloody Sunday,’ it gave vent to the enthusiastic feelings of every true revolutionist aroused by unmistakable signs of an approaching storm. The march of tens of thousands of workingmen to the Winter Palace to submit to the “Little Father” a petition asking for “bread and freedom,” was on the surface a peaceful and loyal undertaking. Yet it breathed indignation and revolt. The slaughter of peaceful marchers (of whom over 5,000 were killed or wounded) and the following wave of hatred and revolutionary determination among the masses, marked the beginning of broad revolutionary uprisings. . .
The most remarkable part of this essay, as far as political vision is concerned, is Trotsky’s prediction that the left wing of the Osvoboshdenie liberals (later organised as the Constitutional Democratic Party) would attempt to become leaders of the revolutionary masses and to “tame” them.
THE history of the Soviet is a history of fifty days. The Soviet was constituted on October 18th; its session was interrupted by a military detachment of the government on December 3rd. Between those two dates the Soviet lived and struggled.
What was the substance of this institution? What enabled it in this short period to take an honourable place in the history of the Russian proletariat, in the history of the Russian Revolution?
The Soviet organised the masses, conducted political strikes, led political demonstrations, tried to arm the workingmen. But other revolutionary organisations did the same things. The substance of the Soviet was its effort to become an organ of public authority. The proletariat on one hand, the reactionary press on the other, have called the Soviet “a labour government”; this only reflects the fact that the Soviet was in reality an embryo of a revolutionary government. In so far as the Soviet was in actual possession of authoritative power, it made use of it; in so far as the power was in the hands of the military and bureaucratic monarchy, the Soviet fought to obtain it.
Prior to the Soviet, there had been revolutionary organisations among the industrial workingmen, mostly of a Social-Democratic nature. But those were organisations among the proletariat; their immediate aim was to influence the masses. The Soviet is an organisation of the proletariat; its aim is to fight for revolutionary power.
At the same time, the Soviet was an organised expression of the will of the proletariat as a class. In its fight for power the Soviet applied such methods as were naturally determined by the character of the proletariat as a class: its part in production; its numerical strength; its social homogeneity.
In its fight for power the Soviet has combined the direction of all the social activities of the working class, including decisions as to conflicts between individual representatives of capital and labour. This combination was by no means an artificial tactical attempt: it was a natural consequence of the situation of a class which, consciously developing and broadening its fight for its immediate interests, had been compelled by the logic of events to assume a leading position in the revolutionary struggle for power.
The main weapon of the Soviet was a political strike of the masses. The power of the strike lies in disorganising the power of the government. The greater the “anarchy” created by a strike, the nearer its victory. This is true only where “anarchy” is not being created by anarchic actions. The class that puts into motion, day in and day out, the industrial apparatus and the governmental apparatus; the class that is able, by a sudden stoppage of work, to paralyse both industry and government, must be organised enough not to fall the first victim of the very “anarchy” it has created. The more effective the disorganisation of government caused by a strike, the more the strike organisation is compelled to assume governmental functions.
The Council of Workmen’s Delegates introduces a free press. It organises street patrols to secure the safety of the citizens. It takes over, to a greater or less extent, the post office, the telegraph, and the railroads. It makes an effort to introduce the eight-hour workday. Paralysing the autocratic government by a strike, it brings its own democratic order into the life of the working city population.
After January 9th the revolution had shown its power over the minds of the working masses. On June 14th, through the revolt of the Potyom’kin Tavritchesky it had shown that it was able to become a material force. In the October strike it had shown that it could disorganise the enemy, paralyse his will and utterly humiliate him.
By organising Councils of Workmen’s Deputies all over the country, it showed that it was able to create authoritative power. Revolutionary authority can be based only on active revolutionary force. Whatever our view on the further development of the Russian revolution, it is a fact that so far no social class besides the proletariat has manifested readiness to uphold a revolutionary authoritative power. The first act of the revolution was an encounter in the streets of the proletariat with the monarchy; the first serious victory of the revolution was achieved through the class-weapon of the proletariat, the political strike; the first nucleus of a revolutionary government was a proletarian representation.
The Soviet is the first democratic power in modern Russian history. The Soviet is the organised power of the masses themselves over their component parts. This is a true, unadulterated democracy, without a two-chamber system, without a professional bureaucracy, with the right of the voters to recall their deputy any moment and to substitute another for him. Through its members, through deputies elected by the workingmen, the Soviet directs all the social activities of the proletariat as a whole and of its various parts; it outlines the steps to be taken by the proletariat, it gives them a slogan and a banner.
This art of directing the activities of the masses on the basis of organised self-government, is here applied for the first time on Russian soil. Absolutism ruled the masses, but it did not direct them. It put mechanical barriers against the living creative forces of the masses, and within those barriers it kept the restless elements of the nation in an iron bond of oppression.
The only mass absolutism ever directed was the army. But that was not directing, it was merely commanding. In recent years, even the directing of this atomised and hypnotised military mass has been slipping out of the hands of absolutism. Liberalism never had power enough to command the masses, or initiative enough to direct them. Its attitude towards mass-movements, even if they helped liberalism directly, was the same as towards awe-inspiring natural phenomenon, earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. The proletariat appeared on the battlefield of the revolution as a self-reliant aggregate, totally independent from bourgeois liberalism.
The Soviet was a class organisation, this was the source of its fighting power. It was crushed in the first period of its existence not by lack of confidence on the part of the masses in the cities, but by the limitations of a purely urban revolution, by the relatively passive attitude of the village, by the backwardness of the peasant element of the army. The Soviet’s position among the city population was as strong as could be.
The Soviet was not an official representative of the entire half million of the working population in the capital; its organisation embraced about two hundred thousand, chiefly industrial workers; and though its direct and indirect political influence was of a much wider range, there were thousands and thousands of proletarians (in the building trade, among domestic servants, day labourers, drivers) who were hardly, if at all, influenced by the Soviet.
There is no doubt, however, that the Soviet represented, the interests of all these proletarian masses. There were but few adherents of the Black Hundred in the factories, and their number dwindled hour by hour.
The proletarian masses of Petersburg were solidly behind the Soviet. Among the numerous intellectuals of Petersburg the Soviet had more friends than enemies. Thousands of students recognised the political leadership of the Soviet and ardently supported it in its decisions. Professional Petersburg was entirely on the side of the Soviet. The support by the Soviet of the postal and telegraph strike won it the sympathy of the lower governmental officials. All the oppressed, all the unfortunate, all honest elements of the city, all those who were striving towards a better life, were instinctively or consciously on the side of the Soviet.
The Soviet was actually or potentially a representative of an overwhelming majority of the population. Its enemies in the capital would not have been dangerous had they not been protected by absolutism, which based its power on the most backward elements of an army recruited from peasants. The weakness of the Soviet was not its own weakness, it was the weakness of a purely urban revolution.
The fifty-day period was the period of the greatest power of the revolution. The Soviet was it’s organ in the fight for public authority.
The class character of the Soviet was determined by the class differentiation of the city population and by the political antagonism between the proletariat and the capitalistic bourgeoisie. This antagonism manifested itself even in the historically limited field of a struggle against absolutism. After the October strike, the capitalistic bourgeoisie consciously blocked the progress of the revolution, the petty middle class turned out to be a nonentity, incapable of playing an independent role. The real leader of the urban revolution was the proletariat. Its class-organisation was the organ of the revolution in its struggle for power.
The struggle for power, for public authority, this is the central aim of the revolution. The fifty days of the Soviet’s life and its bloody finale have shown that urban Russia is too narrow a basis for such a struggle, and that even within the limits of the urban revolution, a local organisation cannot be the central leading body.
For a national task the proletariat required an organisation on a national scale. The Petersburg Soviet was a local organisation, yet the need of a central organisation was so great that it had to assume leadership on a national scale. It did what it could, still it remained primarily the Petersburg Council of Workmen’s Deputies. The urgency of an all-Russian labour congress which undoubtedly would have had authority to form a central leading organ, was emphasised even at the time of the first Soviet. The December collapse made its realisation impossible. The idea remained, an inheritance of the Fifty Days.
The idea of a Soviet has become ingrained in the consciousness of the workingmen as the first prerequisite to revolutionary action of the masses. Experience has shown that a Soviet is not possible or desirable under all circumstances. The objective meaning of the Soviet organisation is to create conditions for disorganising the government, for “anarchy,” in other words for a revolutionary conflict. The present lull in the revolutionary movement, the mad triumph of reaction, make the existence of an open, elective, authoritative organisation of the masses impossible. There is no doubt, however, that the first new wave of the revolution will lead to the creation of Soviets all over the country.
An All-Russian Soviet, organised by an All-Russian Labour Congress, will assume leadership of the local elective organisations of the proletariat. Names, of course, are of no importance; so are details of organisation; the main thing is: a centralised democratic leadership in the struggle of the proletariat for a popular government.
History does not repeat itself, and the new Soviet will not have again to go through the experience of the Fifty Days. These, however, will furnish it a complete program of action.
This program is perfectly clear:
To establish revolutionary cooperation with the army, the peasantry, and the plebeian lower strata of the urban bourgeoisie. To abolish absolutism. To destroy the material organisation of absolutism by reconstructing and partly dismissing the army. To break up the entire bureaucratic apparatus. To introduce an eight-hour workday. To arm the population, starting with the proletariat. To turn the Soviets into organs of revolutionary self-government in the cities. To create Councils of Peasants’ Delegates (Peasants’ Committees) as local organs of the agrarian revolution. To organise elections to the Constituent Assembly and to conduct a pre-election campaign for a definite program on the part of the representatives of the people.
It is easier to formulate such a program than to carry it through. If, however, the revolution will ever win, the proletariat cannot choose another.
The proletariat will unfold revolutionary accomplishment such as the world has never seen.
The history of Fifty Days will be only a poor page in the great book of the proletariat’s struggle and ultimate triumph.