43) ‘Nicholas the Bloody’

At the present moment, when it has become fashionable to present the image of Tsar Nicholas in the most attractive and humane colors, it is perhaps as well that we remind ourselves of the real character and role of the man known to his contemporaries as “Nicholas the Bloody.” We refer specifically to the attitude of the Little Father to the activities of the pogromists. From the beginning of his reign, Nicholas showed his willingness to resort to violence at the slightest pretext. In 1895, the year following his accession, the tsar telegraphed to a grenadier regiment that had distinguished itself in suppressing workers’ disorders: “Highly satisfied with the calm and bold conduct of the troops during the factory riots.” In 1905 he reacted in the same spirit: “Terror must be met with terror,” he wrote to his mother in December 1905, in commending the brutal repression of the Baltic peasants. “Orlov, Richter, and the others are doing very good work. Many seditious bands have been dispersed, their homes and property burned.” A little while later, on hearing that Riga had been captured, and that Captain Richter had hanged the chief agitators, the tsar commented: “Fine fellow!” In 1907 Bernard Pares, author of one of the best-known English histories of Russia, asked a Russian peasant what he thought of what had occurred during the previous five years. After a moment’s thought the peasant replied: “Five years ago there was a belief [in the tsar] as well as fear. Now the belief is all gone and only the fear remains.”260

As an answer to the revolutionary movement of the workers, the regime organized bloody pogroms against Jews, socialists, and “intellectuals.” In one month following October 17, anything up to 4,000 people were murdered, and a further 10,000 injured in bloody pogroms. Many Social Democrats perished in these attacks, notably the Bolshevik leader, Nikolai Bauman, who was murdered in Moscow shortly after being released from prison. Bauman’s funeral turned into a mass workers’ demonstration. The coffin was carried through the streets accompanied by a band playing revolutionary songs.

The party leaders followed with wreaths, red flags and heavy velvet banners, bearing the slogans of their struggle in ornate gold. They were flanked by an armed militia of students and workers. And behind them row upon row of mourners, some 100,000 in all, marched ten abreast in military formation. This religious-like procession continued all day, stopping at various points in the city to pick up reinforcements. As it passed the Conservatory it was joined by a student orchestra, which played, over and over again, the funeral dirge of the revolution: You Fell Victim to a Fateful Struggle. The measured heaviness of the marchers, their melancholy music and their military organization filled the streets with dark menace. As night fell, thousands of torches were lit, making the red flags glow. The graveside orations were emotional, defiant and uplifting. Bauman’s widow called on the crowds to avenge her husband’s death and, as they made their way to the city center, sporadic fighting broke out with Black Hundred gangs.

There were many other cases of people brutally tortured and murdered by the Black Hundred gangs financed and armed by the authorities as auxiliaries of the state. It is not difficult to prove the link between the pogroms and the authorities, from the local police chief right up to the tsar. Nicholas took a personal interest in the work of the Union of the Russian People which was behind the Black Hundreds. The direct connection between Nicholas and the Black Hundreds is not in doubt, as a recent history points out:

The tsar and his supporters at the court . . . patronized the Union, as did several leading Churchmen, including Father John of Kronstadt, a close friend of the royal family, Bishop Hermogen, and the monk Iliodor. Nicholas himself wore the Union’s badge and wished its leaders “total success” in their efforts to unify the “loyal Russians” behind the autocracy. Acting on the tsar’s instructions, the Ministry of the Interior financed its newspapers and secretly channelled arms to it.261

The tsar’s anti-Semitism is well documented:

He had a particular animus for the Jews. When Stolypin, the chairman of the Council of Ministers 1906–11, proposed to relax certain restrictions imposed on the Jews in the Pale of Settlement, the tsar replied: “In spite of the most convincing arguments in favor of an affirmative decision in this matter, an inner voice ever more insistently confirms that I should not take this decision upon myself. So far my conscience has never deceived me. Therefore in this case also, I intend to follow its dictates.” Not for nothing did the tsar become a member of the anti-Semitic Union of the Russian People, subscribe to the Union’s funds and receive its president, Dr. Dubrovin, on friendly terms. He had no sympathy for the victims of the pogroms that followed the publication of the Manifesto of October 1905. On the contrary, he saw in them a revolt against “the impertinence” of the socialists and revolutionaries.262

The Jews suffered terrible atrocities at the hands of the Black Hundred gangs, liberally plied with vodka and egged on by the police. And these horrors were organized at the top. At the police headquarters in Petersburg, thousands of leaflets were produced, inciting violence against the Jews for ruining Russia, calling upon the populace to “tear them to pieces and kill them all.” General Trepov personally edited the leaflet, which was subsidized by the Minister of the Interior to the tune of 70,000 rubles. The most brutal pogrom took place in Odessa where 800 Jews were murdered, 5,000 wounded, and more than 100,000 rendered homeless. The lumpenproletariat, the scum of society, protected by the forces of the state, was incited to commit the most unspeakable atrocities against defenseless people.

“The doss-house tramp is king,” wrote Trotsky.

A trembling slave an hour ago, hounded by police and starvation, he is now himself an unlimited despot. Everything is permitted to him, he is capable of anything, he is master of property and honor, of life and death. If he wants to, he can throw an old woman out of a third-floor window together with a grand piano, he can smash a chair against a baby’s head, rape a little girl while the entire crowd looks on, hammer a nail into a living human body . . . He exterminates whole families, he pours petrol over a house, transforms it into a mass of flames, and if anyone attempts to escape, he finishes him off with a cudgel. A savage horde comes into an Armenian almshouse, knifing old people, sick people, women, children . . . There exist no tortures, figments of a feverish brain maddened with alcohol and fury, at which he need ever stop. He is capable of everything. God save the tsar!263

The Bolshevik Piatnitsky who was in Odessa at the time recalls what happened:

There I saw the following scene: a gang of young men, between 25 and 20 years old, among whom there were plainclothes policemen and members of the Okhrana, were rounding up anyone who looked like a Jew—men, women and children—stripping them naked and beating them mercilessly
. . . We immediately organized a group of revolutionaries armed with revolvers . . . we ran up to them and fired at them. They ran away. But suddenly between us and the pogromists there appeared a solid wall of soldiers, armed to the teeth and facing us. We retreated. The soldiers went away, and the pogromists came out again. This happened a few times. It became clear to us that the pogromists were acting together with the military.264

The official report ordered by Witte clearly exposed the role of the police in this butchery, not only organizing the lumpenproletarian mobs and supplying them with vodka, but directing them to places where Jews were hiding and even participating directly in the massacre of men, women, and children. The governor of Odessa, Neidgart, admitted that “the crowds of hooligans engaged in wrecking and robbing, greeted him enthusiastically.” Baron Kaulbars, commander of the local troops, addressed the police with a speech beginning with the words: “Let’s call a spade a spade. Let’s admit that all of us, in our hearts, sympathize with this pogrom!”265

It cannot be argued that the tsar knew nothing of the pogroms, although, naturally, his links with the Black Hundreds were kept on a suitably discreet level. But Nicholas was well aware of what was going on, and approved of it, as his private correspondence reveals. On October 27 he wrote to his mother:

My Dearest Mama . . .

I’ll begin by saying that the whole situation is better than it was a week ago . . . In the first days after the Manifesto the subversive elements raised their heads, but a strong reaction set in quickly and a whole mass of loyal people suddenly made their power felt. The result was obvious, and what one would expect in our country. The impertinence of the socialists and revolutionaries had angered the people once more; and because nine-tenths of the trublemakers are Jews, the people’s anger turned against them. That’s how the pogroms happened. It is amazing how they took place simultaneously in all the towns of Russia and Siberia . . . Cases as far apart as Tomsk, Simeropol, Tver, and Odessa show clearly what an infuriated mob can do; they surrounded the houses where the revolutionaries had taken refuge, set fire to them, and killed everybody trying to escape.266

Kerensky confirms the blatant complicity between the pogrom-mongers and the authorities, including the tsar:

Shcheglovitov was encouraged in his attitude by the tsar, who was irreconcilable in political matters. His policy in the pogrom trials involving members of the Union of the Russian People [that is, the Black Hundreds, the forerunners of the fascists] was revealing. Among the documents of the Extraordinary Commission of Inquiry into the Activities of Former Ministers and Dignitaries set up by the Provisional Government is a statement made by Lyadov, department head at the Ministry of Justice. Lyadov asserted that among the appeals for pardon that were considered in his department, the tsar invariably approved those submitted by members of the Union of the Russian People and rejected those submitted by revolutionaries.267

How to fight the pogromists? Certainly not by appealing to the police and judiciary who, as we have seen, were behind the Black Hundreds. The wave of pogroms posed a question of self-defense in a most concrete and urgent fashion. Not futile appeals to the law, but workers’ self-defense! Defense, first of all, against the Black Hundreds, defense of Jews, Armenians, and of intellectuals. Wherever possible, the workers organizations came together and attempted to combat the racist gangs. On such issues, it is necessary to draw in the representatives of the revolutionary petty bourgeoisie and the oppressed minorities, but always under the leadership of the workers’ organizations. Trust only in your own forces! The working class must fight fascism with its own methods! That was the position of Lenin, who, in an article on a pogrom in Bielostok, explains the Bolshevik policy.

Here are a few excerpts from a telegram received from a Bielostok elector, Tsirin: “A deliberately organized anti-Jewish pogrom has started.” “In spite of rumors that have been circulated, not a single order has been received from the ministry all day today!” “Vigorous agitation for the pogrom has been carried on for the past two weeks. In the streets, particularly at night, leaflets were distributed calling for the massacre, not only of Jews, but also of intellectuals. The police simply turned a blind eye to all this.

The old familiar picture! The police organizes the pogrom beforehand. The police instigates it; leaflets are printed in government printing offices calling for a massacre of the Jews. When the pogrom begins, the police is inactive. The troops quietly look on at the exploits of the Black Hundreds. But later this very police goes through the farce of prosecution and trial of the pogromists.” Lenin denounces the farce of government investigations and enquiries and poses the alternative in revolutionary terms: “Indict the culprits in unequivocal terms—it is your direct duty to the people. Don’t ask the government whether measures are being taken to protect the Jews and to prevent pogroms, but ask how long the government intends to shield the real culprits, who are members of the government. Ask the government whether it thinks that the people will long be in error as to who it is really responsible for the pogroms. Indict the government openly and publicly; call upon the people to organize a militia and self-defense as the only means of protection against pogroms.268

The bloody wave of pogroms posed the need for workers’ self-defense in a very concrete fashion. The question of armed struggle was a matter of life and death for the working class and the revolution. These activities, however, had nothing in common with the tactic of individual terrorism or “urban guerrillaism.” This was no secret conspiracy carried out by small groups of terrorists behind the backs of the workers, but a conscious revolutionary strategy linked to the masses. The fighting squads were closely linked to the Soviets and other workers’ organizations. Legal workers’ clubs set up rifle ranges where workers learned to handle arms under the noses of the police. For their part, the Bolsheviks pressed for the formation of a united front involving the unity in action of all workers’ organizations and also petty bourgeois democratic and nationalist groups—an agreement of all those forces who were prepared to fight in defense of the gains of the revolution and against the Black Hundreds.

Here and there the workers’ fighting squads inflicted defeats against the pogromists. In his memoirs, Piatnitsky describes the horrific pogrom against the Jews in Odessa, and the formation of a united front of Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, Bundists, Dashnaks (Armenian nationalists), and supporters of Paol-Zion—a group set up in 1905 which attempted to combine Zionism with Marxism, a section of which joined the Bolshevik Party after the October Revolution. Armed detachments were sent to try to defend the Jews. Initially they succeeded in driving off the racist mobs, before coming up against the army and police whose superior forces compelled them to retreat, with some loss of life. Armed struggle was posed initially in terms of defense. However, in warfare the difference between defense and offense is of a relative character. A successful defensive struggle can be transformed into an offensive action. In Kharkov the fighting squads erected barricades and the demoralized troops surrendered without a fight. In Yekaterinoslav the workers fought back against the Cossacks with home made bombs, killing several. In Chita they succeeded in freeing political prisoners, including sailors from the Black Sea Fleet. These partial skirmishes were preparing the way for the decisive showdown between the working class and the autocracy which Lenin knew to be inevitable.


260 Quoted in O. Figes, A People’s Tragedy. The Russian Revolution 1891–1924, 203.

261 O. Figes, A People’s Tragedy, 198–99 and 196.

262 Lionel Kochan, Russia in Revolution, 62–63.

263 Trotsky, 1905, 150–51.

264 O. Piatnitsky, Zapiski Bol’shevika, 82.

265 Trotsky, 1905, 150, note.

266 O. Figes, A People’s Tragedy, 197–98.

267 Kerensky, The Kerensky Memoirs. Russia and History’s Turning Point, 79.

268 LCW, The Reaction is Taking to Arms, vol. 10. 509 and 510–11 (my emphasis).

44) Opening up the Party

At the start of the year, both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks were really sects with next to no influence in the masses. But after January 9, they began to grow rapidly. When V. Frunze, the organizer of the Party committee in the important textile center of Ivanovo-Voznesensk, arrived in the town in May, he found “not less than between 400 and 500 activists,” mainly local workers. Martov says that there were 600 Bolsheviks there in mid-1905, the biggest committee in the central industrial region. The same author claims that the Party up to October could count the membership of its underground organization in “a few tens of thousands of workers, and a few thousand soldiers and peasants.” By September the Social Democratic agitation was already getting an echo not only among strikers but at mass meetings, in the universities, and the most radical slogans began to obtain support. However, its sphere of influence including workers participating in organizations directly linked to the Party was made up of “hundreds of thousands of the urban and rural populace.”269

The rapid growth of the party’s influence in the masses made it necessary to adapt its methods and structures to allow for rapid growth. The struggle to build the Party and to extend its influence over the broadest possible layers of the class now assumed the character of a race against the clock. In a series of internal conferences held in the autumn, Lenin insisted on the opening up of the Party, and the introduction of the elective principle from top to bottom, in order to change the composition of the committees, with an influx of fresh new workers and youth. Pressure had to be applied on the committeemen through the free airing of fresh views and criticisms from below and, where necessary, by the replacement of some of the older and conservative elements by new people who were capable of reflecting the real mood of the class. Throughout 1905, Lenin was impatient at the slowness with which the committeemen inside Russia had turned to the masses and made use of the enormous opportunities that opened up. After the October Manifesto, the conditions for Party work radically changed. Freedom of assembly and the press had been won, as well as the right to organize in unions. Everywhere there was a ferment of ideas and discussion. On all sides, the workers and the youth were seeking a vehicle with which to express their instinctive aspirations to change society.

Old methods and habits of thought die hard. Throughout the whole course of 1905 there was a sharp struggle over the need to open up the party and democratize the internal structures. It should be borne in mind that up until the autumn of 1905 the Party was still underground. But with the changed political climate the Party had to adapt its work to legal and semilegal conditions and to spend all its energies towards the penetration of the masses. In such a situation the old narrow circle mentality with its corresponding structures had to give way to broader based Party branches.

Lenin insisted repeatedly on the need to throw the Party open to workers and youth. This, however, often met with resistance from the committeemen, who interpreted organizational principles from a narrow and mechanical point of view. The fact is that there is no cookbook to determine the structures and rules of a revolutionary party. The party structures and rules must change with changing circumstances. The elective principle and internal democracy cannot be viewed in the same light for an underground organization and a party that seeks to gain a mass base in conditions of legality. Underground work necessarily imposes certain limitations on internal democracy, but only such that can be justified by the demands of security. In the autumn of 1905 Lenin demanded the opening up of the party. This was mainly because of the change in the objective conditions, but not entirely. The experience of the previous period had given him serious concern at the narrowness of the Bolshevik committeemen. The experience of the mistake over the Soviet had now convinced him of the urgent need for a shake up of the party and an increase of its working class composition. The party activists must find common ground and a common language with the masses, not cut themselves off from them.

The party’s structures had to be radically altered to take account of the new conditions. Many factory branches were set up to underline the new turn. The newly founded factory branches held open meetings. The Lessner factory branch recorded an attendance of 70 workers at one such meeting. The district committees in big industrial areas were split into smaller units, subdistricts. Further, a number of areas established workers’ clubs, either on a district or factory basis. In a series of internal conferences held in the autumn of 1905, the elective principle was introduced from top to bottom. This was a way of securing greater participation by the workers in the running of the party, but it was also a means of exerting pressure on the committeemen, of allowing fresh views and criticism to come from below and, if necessary, change the composition of the committees through an influx of fresh, new workers, so that the voice of the workers and their class instincts and experience in struggle could be heard and set its stamp on the party’s activities. A further development was the holding of citywide aggregates, where the entire membership could get together and discuss the work. The district committees in big industrial areas were split into smaller units covering subdistricts. In some areas, the city committee even drew up their own rules in line with the special conditions prevailing in their areas. This was the case, for example, in Petersburg and Ivanovo-Voznesensk.

From all this we can see how extremely flexible Lenin’s conception of organization always was. Democratic centralism embraces two apparently contradictory ideas—centralism and democracy. But in any strike, we see how both ideas can be combined in practice: the fullest freedom of discussion until a decision is taken, but after that, the fullest degree of unity in action. At certain moments in its history, the Bolshevik Party laid heavy stress on centralism, for example, during the long periods when it was forced to work in underground conditions. But in periods when they were permitted to work in “normal” legal conditions, the Bolsheviks, as we see here, favored the most open and democratic forms of organization. The revolutionary party is a living organism, not a lifeless fossil. At some stages in its history the Bolshevik Party has laid emphasis on its centralist aspect but at other times the democratic element took precedence. Legal work opened up far broader vistas for agitational work and propaganda. Whereas previously the party press has reached a relatively small number of workers, it could now reach the masses with legal journals, meetings and other means. Meetings were held under the watchful eye of the party defense squads in workers’ clubs, libraries and other public premises.

In the course of 1905, and especially after the October Manifesto, big opportunities opened up for work in the mass organizations in a series of legal and semilegal organizations—trade unions, embryonic factory committees, insurance societies, etc. In relation to the workers’ clubs, set up in the “days of freedom,” Schwarz writes:

The workers and social democratic workers’ clubs were mostly nonpartisan organizations, often not even aspiring to formal party membership, concentrating on political and general education.270

The Mensheviks originated this work. Their club at the Baltic Works in Petersburg had a membership of 120. Following their example, the mainly Bolshevik Vyborg district set up a club with 300 members. Normal membership for clubs of this type seems to have been around 200–300, at least in Moscow and Petersburg.

One indication of the growing revolutionary movement was the rapid mushrooming of trade union organizations. The task of penetrating the trade unions, a basic unit of working class organization, was an absolute priority for the Social Democrats. Even the most backward layers were seized by the instinct to get organized. However, it was precisely the weakness of trade unionism in Russia that gave the Soviet its colossal authority and strength as the main proletarian organization. The Soviets became the main center of activity and to some extent displaced the trade unions in 1905. Nevertheless, trade unions still remained an important field of work, especially for the more skilled workers. This was particularly true in the big industrial centers, notably in Moscow and Petersburg. However, the Bolsheviks were often slow to take advantage of the possibilities, preferring to concentrate on the well-worn and familiar areas of narrow circle life. Lenin repeatedly protested against this organizational routinism. In this field also the Mensheviks had a head start over the Bolsheviks, much to Lenin’s dismay. The Mensheviks took initiatives setting up trade union organizations in Petersburg, Moscow, Saratov, Baku, Odessa, etc. The trade unions very quickly moved on to Social Democratic traditions. In general, the Social Revolutionaries were not in the running. However, naturally within the trade unions there were many nonparty workers. That is after all the essential role of the trade unions: to unite the broadest layers of the class for struggle in defense of its own interests. The task for socialists is to fight for influence within them, gain a majority, and to exert influence over the broadest layers of the class.

There were many nonparty trade unions, particularly in the south and Volga region. In the west the Bund and the Mensheviks predominated. Moscow was a Bolshevik stronghold. The only reason why the Mensheviks could seize the initiative in Moscow was because the local Bolsheviks initially had a wrong position on the trade unions. They tried to set up separate trade unions with a definite party political identity and justified this with the aim of fighting against “nonpartyism.” For example, they set up a Bolshevik trade union among the bakers, technicians, and fitters and turners. This was a radically false position which was subsequently criticized by Lenin in his celebrated work “Left-Wing” Communism: an Infantile Disorder, where he explicitly states that it is wrong for Marxists to try to split the trade unions and establish “revolutionary” unions separated from the mass organizations. On this question also, the Bolshevik committeemen revealed their lack of understanding of Lenin’s position. Of course, the party must fight against “nonparty” trends, but the trade unions must embrace all sections of the working class irrespective of party affiliations. The only political trend that should be excluded from the trade unions are the fascists. Lenin wrote an article along these lines in Novaya Zhizn’ on December 2, 1905.


269 Martov and others, Obshchestvennoe Dvizhenie v Rossii v Nachale 20 Veka, vol. 3, 575 in both quotes.

270 Schwarz, Revolution of 1905, 242.

45) The Party Press

It is impossible to say exactly what the numerical strength of the party was in 1905. If we take the figures for St. Petersburg, Martov calculates that, in the first half of 1905, the Mensheviks had 1,200–1,300 workers, and the Bolsheviks several hundred. By October, the two organizations had about the same number (which he does not give, but was clearly a lot more). In other words, the Bolsheviks gained proportionately more. Other writers differ. V.I. Nevsky calculates the worker membership of both factions in St. Petersburg as only between 890 and 1,000 at the end of the spring.271 However, in the following months, the membership experienced a rapid increase. By the end of the summer, the Moscow Bolsheviks numbered 1,035. The Riga Bolsheviks had, by the spring, 250 members and a presence in 25 factories, although the Mensheviks still had a majority there. The Ivanovo-Voznesensk committee doubled in the first half of the year, from 200 to 400; Voronezh went from 40 to 127; Nizhny Novgorod from 100 to 250, and Minsk from 150 to 300. Thereafter, the growth was explosive. Despite the incomplete and probably inexact nature of these figures, the overall picture of extremely rapid growth, doubling and trebling the membership in a few months, comes across clearly. By the end of the year, the Nizhny Novgorod organization tripled in size from 500 to 1,500. In Saratov and Minsk the Party Bolsheviks had 1,000 members by December.272

The Bolsheviks were strongest in the North, Northeast, the Central Industrial Region, the Volga, and the Urals. The Mensheviks also grew, but their influence was greatest in the South—Tiflis, Kutais, Batum, Guri in the Caucasus, which was now a Menshevik stronghold—and the West. According to one recent estimate, there were about 8,400 “organized Bolsheviks” in 1905. Probably, the Mensheviks had about the same.273 But in the context of general prerevolutionary ferment, the party’s sphere of influence was far wider. The scope for action was vastly increased after the issuing of the October Manifesto. Martov recalls that:

All in all, throughout this period, on the eve of the October days, the Social Democracy in the ranks of the illegal organizations could assemble several thousands of workers, students, soldiers, and peasants; but the sphere of its immediate organizational influence took in hundreds of thousands of people in town and countryside.274

The growth of the Bolsheviks was especially rapid in the capital. By the year’s end the St. Petersburg organization reached a figure of 3,000, a ten-fold increase in the course of one year. This numerical growth was accompanied by an internal transformation by a rapid influx of fresh, young workers onto the leading bodies at local and provincial level. These were the “natural leaders” of the working class thrown up by the revolution itself. Lenin could justifiably claim “in the spring of 1905 our party was a union of underground circles; by the autumn it has become the party of millions of the proletariat.” This was no exaggeration. The workers actually organized in the party could be numbered in tens of thousands. But there was a vast periphery of hundreds of thousands crying out for socialist ideas and who considered themselves as Social Democrats.

The advent of legal conditions also created vast scope for the party press. The old illegal press was hopelessly inadequate in this situation. Ten days after the tsar’s Manifesto was published, the first issue of the Bolshevik paper Novaya Zhizn’ came out. The paper was published legally in the name of Gorky’s wife Maria Fedorovna Andreyeva. The editor was a poet, Minsky. This, however, was a front for the real editorial board with Krassin and Gorky in charge until Lenin himself assumed control after his return in November. Such precautions were very necessary. While theoretically a “legal” journal, Novaya Zhizn’ was published under the eagle eye of the censor. When the first issue carried the RSDLP program it was swiftly confiscated. Novaya Zhizn’ became the de facto official mouthpiece of Bolshevism up to its closure in early December. Its circulation was between 50,000 and 80,000, a major achievement for a party which only a month or so earlier had been underground.

On Gorky’s advice, the Bolsheviks entered into contact with liberal publishers who helped launch the venture. As usual, Gorky played an indispensable role in obtaining financial backing for the journal from well-to-do writers and intellectuals. Under the impact of revolution, many writers and poets, who would hitherto never have dreamed of participating in revolutionary politics, became actively involved with the Bolsheviks through the party press. Well-known poets and writers, like Balmont, Leonid Andreyev, and of course Gorky himself, contributed articles and money. The degree to which they were actually absorbed by the party is questionable. However, these “fellow travelers,” as they became known, undoubtedly played a useful role in popularizing and spreading the influence of Bolshevik ideas. Although the paper appeared under the name of bourgeois journalists, it was in fact the official organ of the party at this period. There were also other legal Bolshevik papers in the provinces: Borba and Vperyod in Moscow, Kavkazky Rabotchy Listok in Tbilisi, etc. The Bolsheviks also collaborated in other legal publications run by bourgeois liberals and Mensheviks and in general made use of any platform that gave their ideas a broader audience.

The Mensheviks still had a more powerful apparatus, more money and resources, better facilities for transport and literature and more big names than the Bolsheviks. On the other hand, their membership was looser and less disciplined than that of the Bolsheviks, who attracted the most militant and class conscious workers and youth. But there was still much to be done and time was running out. Lenin continuously hammered home the need to win the masses. In his first article in Novaya Zhizn’ written shortly after his return to Russia in early November, Lenin yet again laid heavy stress on the need to open up the party. In answer to the committeemen who opposed this on the grounds that it would lead to a dilution of the party, Lenin wrote:

Danger may be said to lie in a sudden influx of large numbers of non-Social Democrats into the Party. If that occurred, the Party would be dissolved among the masses, it would cease to be the conscious vanguard of its class, its role would be reduced to that of a tail. That would mean a very deplorable period indeed. And this danger could undoubtedly become a very serious one if we showed any inclination towards demagogy, if we lacked party principles (program, tactical rules, organizational experience) entirely, or if these principles were feeble and shaky. But the fact is that no such “ifs” exist. We Bolsheviks have never shown any inclination towards demagogy . . . we have demanded class-consciousness from those joining the Party, we have insisted on the tremendous importance of continuity in the Party’s development, we have preached discipline and demanded that every Party member be trained in one or another of the Party organizations.

But having given due weight to the need to build on strong foundations, Lenin goes on to stress the other side of the equation in terms designed to put the narrow-minded committeemen in their place:

The working class is instinctively, spontaneously Social Democratic, and more than ten years of work put in by Social Democracy has done a great deal to transform this spontaneity into consciousness. Don’t invent bugaboos, comrades! Don’t forget that in every live and growing party there will always be elements of instability, vacillation, wavering. But these elements can be influenced, and they will submit to the influence of the steadfast and solid core of Social Democrats.

Once again, Lenin sharply repudiates the pernicious idea that socialist consciousness must be introduced into the working class “from without.” The workers, he insists, are “instinctively, spontaneously” socialist. The task of the revolutionaries is to give a conscious and organized expression to the unconscious, or semiconscious, aspirations of the workers to change society. Time and again in this period Lenin hammers home the need to open up the party, to recruit rapidly the new layers of workers and youth who are entering the struggle, to learn to speak the same language as the workers, to link up the activity of the small group of cadres with the activity of the newly awakened masses. That same Lenin who argued in favor of restricting the membership in 1903, now wrote the following: “At the Third Congress of the Party I suggested that there be about eight workers to every two intellectuals in the Party committees. How obsolete that suggestion seems today! Now we must wish for new Party organizations to have one social democratic intellectual to several hundred social democratic workers.”275 It is true that some who called themselves Bolsheviks never understood what Lenin was driving at—and that remains true to this day. But that is hardly Lenin’s fault. Even the most beautiful aria can be ruined by a singer who is tone-deaf.


271 Surh, 1905 in St. Petersburg, 261, note.

272 See Istoriya of KPSS, vol. 2, 35, 36, and 116.

273 See Lane, Roots of Russian Communism, 12.

274 Martov and others, Obshchestvennoe Dvizhenie v Rossii v Nachale 20 Veka, vol. 3, 575.

275 LCW, The Reorganization of the Party, vol. 10, 31, 32 (my emphasis), and 36, footnote.

46) Trotsky in 1905

Of all the leaders of the Social Democracy, it was Trotsky who played the most prominent role in 1905. Lunacharsky, who was one of Lenin’s closest collaborators at the time, recalls that:

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 behavior 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 rank.

Trotsky was only 26 when he first became president of the St. Petersburg Soviet. The first chairman of the Petersburg Soviet, the lawyer and Menshevik sympathizer G.S. Khrustalyov-Nosar, was, like Father Gapon, an accidental figure who played no independent role. In reality, the leading role in the Soviet was played by Trotsky, who became chairman after Khrustalyov’s arrest in November. Trotsky wrote most of the proclamations and manifestos of the Soviet and gained enormous popularity with the workers. Lunacharsky recalls that Trotsky “held himself apart not only from us but from the Mensheviks too. His work was largely carried out in the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies and together with Parvus he organized some sort of separate group which published a very militant and very well-edited small and cheap newspaper, Nachalo.” And he adds:

I remember someone saying in Lenin’s presence: “Khrustalyov’s star is waning and now the strong man in the Soviet is Trotsky.” Lenin’s face darkened for a moment, then he said: “Well, Trotsky has earned it by his brilliant and unflagging work.”276

The full significance of Lenin’s reaction can only be gauged if we realize that precisely on this decisive question—the attitude to the Soviet—the Petersburg Bolsheviks made a fundamental error, which lost them the opportunity of winning the majority of active workers in the capital. The mistakes of the Petersburg Bolsheviks allowed the Mensheviks to gain a majority in the Soviet. Since the break with the Mensheviks one year earlier, Trotsky had attempted to maintain an independent position between the Bolshevik and Menshevik factions. This earned him a number of justified rebukes from Lenin. However, despite the sharp differences over the question of unity—differences which, in any case, became increasingly irrelevant in the course of the year—there can be no doubt that on all political questions, Trotsky’s position was very close to that of Lenin. This is well attested to by writers from both the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks.

Despite these well-known facts, the Stalinist historians attempted to describe Trotsky in 1905 as a “Menshevik,” as we read in the following, fairly typical, extract: “Trotsky’s denial of a revolutionary democracy (?) was in effect defense of the Menshevik idea of the bourgeoisie’s hegemony (!) in the forthcoming revolution.”277 This is entirely false. The differences which separated Trotsky from the Mensheviks as early as February 1904 are attested to unambiguously by the Menshevik leaders themselves. From late 1904 onwards, Trotsky and the German Left Social Democrat Parvus worked out a body of ideas which were later to provide the basis for Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution. We will deal with the nature of this theory and the position of Lenin and the Mensheviks later. But first, let us put the record straight.

Trotsky, too, had a basic divergence of views with Iskra [the Menshevik organ] on the political conclusions to be drawn from the situation created by January 9. Trotsky wrote that after January 9 the working class movement “slipped into an uprising.” Hence the Constituent Assembly in and for itself could no longer be the fundamental and generalizing slogan of the party. After January 9 it was necessary to prepare for an armed uprising and the replacement of the tsarist government by a Revolutionary Provisional Government that alone could convoke a Constituent Assembly.278

These are the words of the Menshevik leader Fyodr Dan, written at a time when he and Trotsky were bitter political enemies. The basic ideas contained here, based on Trotsky’s pamphlet, Till the Ninth of January, are in complete agreement with the general position defended by Lenin. In his history of the Russian Social Democracy, Martov polemicizes not only against Lenin’s position, but also against the theories of Trotsky and Parvus.279

Perhaps the most impressive achievement made by Trotsky was the publication of a mass revolutionary daily paper. With the assistance of Parvus, he took over the former liberal paper Ruskaya Gazeta, changed the name to Nachalo (The Beginning), and transformed it into a popular and militant workers’ paper with a low price (one kopeck). Its circulation shot up from 30,000 to 100,000, reaching a staggering 500,000 by December. Nachalo, theoretically the organ of the Mensheviks replacing the defunct Iskra, in practice was controlled by Trotsky. It had a much bigger circulation than Novaya Zhizn’. Kamenev, who was one of the editors of Novaya Zhizn’, described to Trotsky the scene at the railway stations as his train passed:

The demand was only for revolutionary papers. “Nachalo, Nachalo, Nachalo,” came the cry of the waiting crowds. “Novaya Zhizn’” and then “Nachalo, Nachalo, Nachalo.” “Then I said to myself, with a feeling of resentment,” Kamenev confessed, “they do write better in Nachalo than we do.”280

The political line of Nachalo had nothing in common with Menshevism and on all the basic questions was identical with Lenin’s positions, a fact that was warmly acknowledged by Lenin many years later. Up to October it was still possible to argue for at least episodic agreement with the bourgeois liberals; thus in the first issue of Novaya Zhizn’ the editors still harked back to Plekhanov’s old slogan “March separately, strike together!” However, from abroad Lenin constantly hammered home his essential mistrust towards the liberals and warned that they would inevitably sell out. In the sixth issue of Novaya Zhizn’ Kamenev was already writing along different lines, arguing that any attempt to nominate a government of liberals behind the backs of the workers would be rejected and that the workers would have to overthrow such a Provisional Government. This was exactly what happened in 1917. In the following issue, number seven, an article by N. Minsky stated “between the bourgeois and Social Democratic policy there is not, nor can there be, even external, formal points of coincidence.” On this central question Nachalo’s position was identical to that of Lenin. Thus, when the first issue of Trotsky’s Nachalo appeared, it was warmly welcomed by the Bolshevik Novaya Zhizn’, which wrote:

The first number of Nachalo has come out. We welcome a comrade in the struggle. The first issue is notable for the brilliant description of the October strike written by Comrade Trotsky.281

Martov, who was supposed to be the paper’s coeditor together with Trotsky, frequently objected to its line, but was unable to get Trotsky to change it. In his history of the period, he lists a whole series of differences. For example, when Struve tried to enter into negotiations with the liberal bureaucrat Witte, Nachalo savagely attacked him as “an agent of Witte.” The leading article of Nachalo issue 8 stated that “the revolution has outrun its first phase, the Zemstvo opposition has recoiled and become a counterrevolutionary force.” Referring to this, a disgruntled Martov remarked that this formula was totally “at variance with the traditional conception of Menshevism.” And he complained that the line of Nachalo was identical to that of the Bolsheviks, citing a long list of offending articles.282 The Menshevik leader Dan wrote a grumbling letter to Kautsky:

In St. Petersburg they founded a newspaper, Nachalo, which succeeded Iskra, and throughout November and December 1905 it carried the most radical pronouncements, hardly distinguishable from those in the Bolshevik paper, Novaya Zhizn.’283

Martov’s biographer, Israel Getzler, makes the same point: “Thus Martov found himself in a minority on Nachalo which had become a propagator of Trotskyism rather than of Menshevism.”284

One of the more senseless slanders directed against Trotsky by the Stalinists is the accusation that he supported the demand for a labor congress. This deliberately distorts Trotsky’s position. In July 1906, writing from prison, Trotsky produced a pamphlet advocating a National Congress of Soviets. This idea was later caricatured by the Stalinists to announce that Trotsky supported the Menshevik idea of a “Labor Congress.” In his pamphlet entitled Our Tasks in the Struggle for a Constituent Assembly, Trotsky sets forth three basic demands: 1) local soviets of workers’ deputies; 2) an all-Russian Congress and 3) an all-Russian Workers’ Soviet as a permanent organization created by the Workers’ Congress.285 This idea brilliantly anticipates what actually happened in 1917. Solomon Schwarz, certainly no sympathizer of Trotsky, shows clearly that Trotsky’s idea has nothing in common with the Menshevik idea of a “Labor Congress,” i.e., the setting up of a reformist labor party:

From his argumentation it is clear, however, that Trotsky meant the all Russian Soviet to be “permanent” only for the duration of the revolution. Axelrod’s version of the Workers’ Congress was broader, more complex, and closely related to the idea of either creating a vast new Labor Party or transforming the SDP into such a party.286

And he adds in a footnote to page 234:

In all of its short existence (November 13–December 3) Nachalo did not carry a single article that even incidentally discussed the problem of a Workers’ Congress.

Despite the sharpness of the polemical struggle in the previous period, Lenin had a high opinion of Trotsky’s achievements, which contrasted favorably with the mistaken policies adopted by the Bolshevik committeemen inside Russia prior to Lenin’s return. Thus Krupskaya, in the second Russian edition of her memoirs, in a passage which, along with much else, has been deleted from all subsequent editions, quotes from a letter written by Lenin in September, which has also not seen the light of day:

In the September letter written to “Augustus,” Ilyich wrote: “To wait until you get complete agreement with the CC or among the agents is sheer utopia. We don’t want a coterie but a Party, dear friend!” In the same letter, replying to an indignant complaint that our people had been printing Trotsky’s leaflets, Ilyich wrote: “. . . They are printing Trotsky’s leaflets . . . dear me . . . there’s nothing wrong with that provided the leaflets are tolerable and have been corrected!’287

Finally, at the trial of the 52 members of the St. Petersburg Soviet that took place in September 1906, Trotsky turned his defense speech into a brilliant attack on the autocracy and a defense of the right to revolution.

“The historical power in whose name the prosecutor speaks in this court,” he thundered, “is the organized violence of a minority over the majority! The new power, whose precursor was the Soviet, represents the organized will of the majority calling the minority to order. Because of this distinction the revolutionary right of the Soviet to existence stands above all juridicial and moral speculations . . .”288

In effect, Trotsky was issuing a call for armed uprising from the dock. Having utilized the trial for the purpose of agitation, the main objective had been achieved. When the court refused the prisoners’ demand to interrogate a senator who had set up a printing press to disseminate pogromist literature, they staged a protest that forced the judges to expel them from the courtroom and sentence them in their absence.

While recognizing Trotsky’s role, Lenin was irritated by Trotsky’s stubborn refusal to join the Bolsheviks, although there was no principled disagreement—a fact that Lenin attributed to personal vanity. This was not the case. The main thing that prevented Trotsky from joining the Bolsheviks was the conduct of the Bolshevik committeemen in St. Petersburg, which scandalized and repelled him. This explains his reluctance to join Lenin’s faction and his insistence on reunification of the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, who had turned sharply left and had shown a more flexible attitude to the Soviet than the local Bolsheviks. In later years, the question of “conciliationism” was the issue that sharply divided Lenin and Trotsky, but in 1905 even that difference was soon swept to one side.

The general upswing of the movement inevitably gave rise to a powerful desire for unity among the mass of the workers. The trend towards the unification of the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks became irresistible after October. In mid-November the Odessa Social Democrats voted in a general assembly of 1,500 to unify both factions. The same thing happened in Saratov and Tver. In Moscow and St. Petersburg the local committees and groups were already working together in a kind of a federal structure even before October. All over the country, branches of both factions passed resolutions demanding unity. Piatnitsky describes how when the Odessa Social Democrats received the proposal for reunification from the CC it was:

met with a warm response from among the party members, the Mensheviks as well as the Bolsheviks. That was easy to understand: that our few available forces were weak and scattered had become evident to every Party member during the pogrom . . . It was obvious to the committee that the proposal of union would be passed by a great majority at the Party meetings of both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, for wherever the advocates of immediate unity spoke they were supported almost unanimously.289

Lenin, who had returned to Russia on November 4, was now convinced of the need for the immediate reunification of the two wings of the RSDLP. His change of heart was no accident. Apart from the fact that the whole situation demanded it, he was now struggling to correct the sectarian errors of the Bolsheviks on the Soviet, the internal regime, and other questions. Probably Lenin believed that unification would help him overcome these sectarian deviations. But the main reason was the pressure from the ranks and the fact that the continuation of the split was holding up the Party’s growth.

“It is no secret to anyone that the vast majority of Social Democratic workers are exceedingly dissatisfied with the split in the Party and are demanding unity,” he wrote. “It is no secret to anyone that the split has caused a certain cooling-off among Social Democratic workers (or workers ready to become Social Democrats) towards the Social Democratic Party . . . Hence it is now possible not only to urge unity, not only to obtain promises to unite, but actually to unite—by a simple decision of the majority of organized workers in both factions.”290

Of course, there could be no question of unity if there were differences of principle. Trotsky’s paper, Nachalo, played a big role in ensuring the possibility of unity on a principled basis. Under the impact of the revolution, even the Menshevik leaders began to move to the left, at least in words. Thus Fyodr Dan wrote to Kautsky in November 1905: “We live here as though in a state of intoxication. The revolutionary air affects people like wine.”291 It should be noted that the Petersburg Mensheviks were far to the left of the Menshevik leadership in exile, and moved further to the left under the influence of Trotsky and Parvus. In the course of the revolution, the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks in the capital had drawn closer together. By the autumn they had already established a joint committee. Both Nachalo and Novaya Zhizn’ defended the restoration of unity. The Bolshevik central committee, with Lenin present, passed a unanimous resolution to the effect that the split was merely the result of the conditions of exile life, and that the development of the revolution itself had removed the basis for the split in the RSDLP.

Both sides made concessions. The Mensheviks now accepted Lenin’s formula for paragraph one of the party rules. This was rather ironic, since the Bolsheviks had already opened up and loosened their internal regime in accordance with the new conditions. The old arguments about conspiracy and ultracentralism were irrelevant. The Bolshevik Central Committee and the Menshevik Organizational Committee had also established a federative structure and were negotiating for unification. Both fractions were to call their own conference preparing the way for a unity Congress as soon as possible. In preparation for unification, the Bolsheviks called for a joint conference, but the Mensheviks preferred to call their own conference in November, whereupon the Bolsheviks, too, organized a conference at Tammerfors, Finland, on December 12 to 17, while the workers of Moscow were locked in a desperate struggle with the forces of reaction. In view of the highly charged situation, there was a need for a greater emphasis on tightening up security and strengthening the underground apparatus. On December 11 a new electoral law was announced. The Tammerfors conference came out for the active boycott of the Duma, based on the perspective of the imminence of an armed uprising. The logic of this position is clear. Generally speaking it is only permissible to boycott a parliament when you are in a position to overthrow it and offer something superior in its stead. On all sides the symptoms of revolutionary upheaval were in evidence. Between late October and early December the country was affected by strikes, peasant uprisings, mutinies in the Army and Navy, uprisings in Georgia and the Baltic.


276 A. Lunacharsky, Revolutionary Silhouettes, 60–61 and 60.

277 V.A. Grinko and others, The Bolshevik Party’s Struggle against Trotskyism (1903–February 1917), 58.

278 F. Dan, Origins of Bolshevism, 305.

279 Martov and others, Obshchestvennoe Dvizhenie v Rossii v Nachale 20 Veka, vol. 3, 553–54.

280 See Trotsky, My Life, 171–78.

281 Quoted in Trotsky, My Life, 182.

282 See Martov and others, Obshchestvennoe Dvizhenie v Rossii v Nachale 20 Veka, vol. 3, 592–96.

283 See A. Ascher, Paul Axelrod and the Development of Menshevism, 241–42.

284 I. Getzler, Martov, 110 (my emphasis).

285 The quote can be found in Trotsky’s Works in Russian, Sochinyenyie, vol. 2, 435.

286 Schwarz, Revolution of 1905, 231.

287 Krupskaya, O Vladimirye Ilyiche, vol. 1, 144.

288 The Age of Permanent Revolution, 59.

289 Piatnitsky, Zapiski Bol’shevika, 87.

290 LCW, The Reorganization of the Party, vol. 10, 37–38.

291 Quoted in Ascher, Paul Axelrod, 241.