62) The Fifth (London) Congress

The conduct of the Duma fraction gave rise to considerable discontent at rank-and-file level. This was one of the reasons for calling the Fifth (London) Congress. Throughout the months of February and March, 1907, the Party’s attention was concentrated on preparations for the Congress. As could be expected, the agenda was polarized between conflicting resolutions presented by the Bolshevik and Menshevik factions. The Congress was originally going to be held in Denmark, but the tsarist authorities leaned on the government in Copenhagen and persuaded it to refuse permission. They then attempted to hold it across the water in Malmö, but the Swedish government made it clear they were not welcome, so they had to pack their bags yet again. The Congress eventually ended up in London, where it took up residence in the Brotherhood nondenominational Church in Southgate Road, Whitechapel, which, by an irony of history, belonged to those arch-enemies of revolutionism, the right-wing reformist Fabian Society.358

“I can still see vividly before me,” recalled Gorky many years later, “those bare wooden walls unadorned to the point of absurdity, the lancet windows looking down on a small, narrow hall which might have been a classroom in a poor school.”359

In such inauspicious surroundings, the revolutionaries gathered to hammer out the fate of the Russian Revolution.

At seven o’clock in the evening of April 30 the Fifth Congress opened. It lasted almost three weeks, until May 19, 1907. It was a critical meeting. Despite the difficult conditions, this was the most representative gathering of Russian Social Democracy yet. There were no fewer than 303 delegates, as well as a further 39 with consultative vote. There was one delegate for every 500 party members (a total of 150,000 members in 145 party organizations), of which 100 were from the RSDLP, eight organizations of the Polish and Lithuanian Social Democrats, plus seven Latvian and 30 Bundist groups. These were the battle-hardened troops of the revolution. Although most were still in their twenties, there was scarcely anyone who had not served their apprenticeship in prison and exile. Since the previous congress, 12 months earlier, the Russian section of the Party had increased from 31,000 to 77,000 members, i.e., two and a half times. However, these figures must be treated with caution. The sharpness of the factional struggle led both sides to inflate the figures of membership. Even bearing this in mind, it is clear that the Party had continued to grow, even in the period of reaction, reflecting, not the mood of the masses, but the radicalization of a layer of the most conscious workers and students. For the same reason, the party’s left wing grew at a faster rate than the right wing.

The factional lineup was balanced on a knife’s edge. At the beginning of 1906, Bolsheviks and Mensheviks in St. Petersburg were almost equal. But in the interval between the first and second Dumas, the Bolsheviks began to pull ahead. By the time of the second Duma, Trotsky recalls, they had “already won complete dominance among the advanced workers.”360 This shift was reflected in the composition of the London Congress. The Stockholm Congress had been Menshevik; the London Congress was Bolshevik. At the previous congress, the breakdown had been 13,000 Bolsheviks and 18,000 Mensheviks (one delegate for every 300 party members). Now the situation was different. Of the full delegates, 89 were Bolsheviks, 88 Mensheviks.

This was the most remarkable galaxy of talent ever assembled at a Social Democratic congress. Plekhanov, Martov, Axelrod, Deutsch, and Dan were brilliant exponents of the Menshevik cause. The Bolshevik delegates included, among others, Lenin, Bogdanov, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bubnov, Nogin, Shaumyan, Lyadov, Pokrovsky, Tomsky. Gorky, the well-known writer, who was close to the Bolsheviks, was also present. Trotsky, recently escaped from exile, attended as a non-factional Social Democrat. There was also a young Georgian known as Ivanov who had no voice in the proceedings, as he had no credentials from any recognized party organization in the Caucasus, which was represented by Shaumyan—later murdered by the British intervention forces in Baku—and Mikha Tskhakaya, who travelled with Lenin in the famous “sealed train” in 1917. This silent visitor called Ivanov later gained notoriety under the name of Stalin. But at this stage he was unknown in Party circles outside his local area and his presence at the congress passed completely unnoticed.

A major factor was the participation of the non-Russian parties, which generally stood on the left, thus giving the Bolsheviks an overall majority. Among the delegates from Poland and Lithuania were Rosa Luxemburg, Markhlevsky, and Tyszka (Jogiches), who formed part of a closely knit group of 44 which swung the congress sharply to the left. Felix Dzerzhinsky, the future head of the Cheka, was to have been part of the Polish delegation but had been arrested en route. The equally radical Latvian Social Democrats were headed by another future leader of the Cheka and Red Army, Hermann Danishevsky. The changed composition of the congress was duly noted by the Police Department, which reported that “the Menshevik groups in their present state of mind do not present as serious a danger as the Bolsheviks.” They also included the following appraisal:

“Among the orators who in the course of discussion spoke in defense of the extreme revolutionary point of view were Stanislav (Bolshevik), Trotsky, Pokrovsky (Bolshevik), Tyszka (Polish Social Democrat); in defense of the opportunist point of view—Martov and Plekhanov,” (leaders of the Mensheviks). “There is clear intimation,” the Okhrana agent continued, “that the Social Democrats are turning toward revolutionary methods of struggle . . . Menshevism, which blossomed thanks to the Duma, declined in due time, when the Duma demonstrated its impotence, giving ample scope to Bolshevik, or rather, to extreme revolutionary tendencies.”361

The verbatim account of this Congress makes fascinating reading. Here we have the first real debate between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks on tactics and strategy. Compared to this, the differences at the Second Congress appear to be a mere anticipation—as, indeed, they were. Even the debates on the nationalization versus municipalization of the land at the Stockholm Congress did not really get to the heart of the problem, which emerged with absolute clarity at the Fifth Congress. On the agenda were reports from the Central Committee and the Duma fraction; the Party’s attitude to the bourgeois parties; the question of a Labor Congress; the Duma; the trade unions; the partisan movement; unemployment; the economic crisis; the lockout; organizational questions; the International Congress, and work in the army.

Martov opened the Congress with the Central Committee report. Since the outgoing CC was overwhelmingly dominated by the Mensheviks, Bogdanov gave a counterreport stating the Bolshevik point of view. The Congress thus opened with a heated discussion. But in contrast to the previous Congress, the Mensheviks were now on the defensive. When Plekhanov in his opening address assured the delegates that there were no revisionists in the Party, Lenin bent down, convulsed with silent laughter. Nearly everyone present at this Congress belonged to one faction or another, and this fact was reflected in the election of the presidium. This was composed of five delegates, one from each organized group. The Mensheviks chose Dan, the Bundists Medem, the Latvians Azis-Rozin, the Poles Tyszka, and the Bolsheviks Lenin. The Mensheviks showed their spiteful attitude from the outset by calling Lenin’s credentials into question. At this, the congress exploded, with delegates shouting and waving their fists at each other. Order was restored when the Mensheviks withdrew their objections, but the opening set the stage for the rest of the congress.


358 The venue was only one of several ironies associated with this Congress. An even more amusing incident relates to the way the Congress was financed. The Party being, to all intents and purposes, bankrupt, the revolutionaries were compelled to seek a loan. This was finally arranged by Gorky through the mediation of the English socialist, George Lansbury, with an English soap manufacturer. The loan was due to be repaid by January 1, 1908. Probably the lender was not unduly surprised when not a penny arrived. However, the debt was not forgotten. After the October Revolution, the Soviet government, through the services of Krassin, its ambassador in London, returned the money to the lender’s heirs, who, no doubt utterly astonished, returned the letter acknowledging the debt, signed by all the participants in the congress!

359 Ibid., 146.

360 Trotsky, Stalin, 89.

361 Trotsky, Stalin, 89 in both quotes.

63) The Debate on the Bourgeois Parties

The key question which conditioned everything else was the attitude to the bourgeois parties. This question was thoroughly debated at the Congress. Four people led off on this subject—Lenin, Martynov, Rosa Luxemburg, and Abramovich. Lenin, who spoke first, highlighted the central importance of this issue:

The question of our attitude to the bourgeois parties is the nub of the differences in matters of principle that have long divided Russian Social Democracy into two camps. Even before the first major successes of the revolution, or even before the revolution—if it is permissible to express oneself in this way about the first half of 1905—two distinct points of view on this question already existed. The disputes were over the appraisal of the bourgeois revolution in Russia. The two trends in the Social Democracy agreed that this revolution was a bourgeois revolution. But they parted company in their understanding of this category, and in their appraisal of the practical and political conclusions to be drawn from it. One wing of the Social Democracy—the Mensheviks—interpreted this concept to mean that the bourgeoisie was the motive force in the bourgeois revolution, and that the proletariat could occupy only the position of the “extreme opposition.” The proletariat could not undertake the task of conducting the revolution independently or of leading it.

Lenin accepted that

the aims of the revolution that is now taking place in Russia do not exceed the bounds of bourgeois society . . . But from this it does not at all follow that the bourgeoisie is the motive force or leader in the revolution. Such a conclusion would be a vulgarization of Marxism, would be a failure to understand the class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.

And he concludes

that the bourgeoisie can be neither the motive force nor the leader in the revolution. Only the proletariat is capable of consummating the revolution, that is, of achieving a complete victory. But this victory can be achieved only provided the proletariat succeeds in getting a large section of the peasantry to follow its lead.

The Mensheviks complained of the “one-sided hostility” of the proletariat towards liberalism. Lenin replied that the bourgeois liberals did not represent a revolutionary, but a counterrevolutionary force:

The Mensheviks say that our bourgeoisie are “unprepared to fight.” Actually, however, the bourgeoisie were prepared to fight, prepared to fight against the proletariat, to fight against the “excessive” victories of the revolution
. . . To maintain silence at the present time about the counterrevolutionary nature of our bourgeoisie means departing entirely from the Marxist point of view, means completely forgetting the viewpoint of the class struggle.362

In this debate, Rosa Luxemburg was naturally close to Lenin. She poured scorn on the Menshevik argument:

It turns out that this revolutionary liberalism striving for power, to which we are urged to adapt the tactics of the proletariat, and to please which they are ready to restrict the proletariat’s demands, this revolutionary Russian liberalism exists not in reality, but in the imagination, it is an invention, it is a phantom. (Applause.) And this policy, erected on a lifeless schema and on invented relations and not taking into account the special tasks of the proletariat in this revolution, calls itself “revolutionary realism.”363

Trotsky moved an amendment which Lenin commented on favorably. Here for the first time, Trotsky had the opportunity of expounding his views on the revolution before the Party. His speech in the debate on the attitude to the bourgeois parties, for which he was given only 15 minutes, was twice commented on by Lenin, who emphatically agreed with the views expressed by Trotsky, especially his call for a Left Bloc against the liberal bourgeoisie:

“These facts,” commented Lenin, “are sufficient for me to acknowledge that Trotsky has come close to our views. Quite apart from the question of ‘uninterrupted revolution,’ we have solidarity on fundamental points in the attitude towards the bourgeois parties.’”

On Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution, Lenin was not prepared to commit himself. But on the fundamental question of the tasks of the revolutionary movement, there was complete agreement. The differences between the positions of Lenin and Trotsky will be dealt with later. That these differences were regarded by Lenin as secondary was again revealed at the Congress when Trotsky moved an amendment to the resolution on the attitude towards the bourgeois parties. Lenin spoke against the amendment on the grounds, not that it was wrong, but that it added nothing fundamental to the original: “It must be agreed,” he said, “that Trotsky’s amendment is not Menshevik, that it expresses the ‘very same,’ that is, Bolshevik, idea.”364 365 Lenin’s resolution on the attitude towards the bourgeois parties was passed by Congress.

Despite the identity of views on the analysis of the tasks of the revolution, Trotsky still attempted to steer a course in between the rival factions in a vain attempt to prevent a fresh split. “If you think,” he said at the Congress, “that a schism is unavoidable, wait at least until events, and not merely resolutions separate you. Do not run ahead of events.” Trotsky made the mistake of trying to reconcile the irreconcilable, attempting to mediate between the two factions. On the basis of the experience of 1905, Trotsky believed that a fresh revolutionary upheaval would have the effect of pushing the best elements among the Mensheviks, in particular, Martov, to the left. His main concern was to hold the forces of Marxism together in a difficult period, to prevent a split which would have a demobilizing effect on the movement. This was the essence of Trotsky’s “conciliationism,” which prevented him from joining the Bolsheviks in this period. In later years Trotsky was honest in admitting his mistake. Commenting on this, Lenin wrote:

A number of Social Democrats in that period sank into conciliationism, proceeding from the most varied motives. Most consistently of all was conciliationism expressed by Trotsky, about the only one who tried to provide a theoretical foundation for that policy.

The extreme differences that now separated the right and left wings were brought out into the open at the Fifth Congress, which did not resolve them. The factional centers continued to exist and increasingly went their own way. The Bolsheviks had their own center including Lenin and the Central Committee members, plus, among others, Krassin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, and Rykov. As so often happened, political differences found their expression in organizational questions. Even before the congress Axelrod, Larin, and others had been canvassing the idea of a so-called Labor Congress. Faced with the swift advance of reaction, the right wing Mensheviks advocated the closing down of the Party’s illegal organizations and the setting up of a broad Labor organization including the SRs, anarchists, nonparty people, “and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all.” But they overlooked one little detail. The establishment of a “legal” organization in Russia in 1907 was not at all the same as the establishment of a mass Labour Party in Britain under conditions of bourgeois democracy. Under the given conditions, this proposal represented an opportunist adaptation to the norms established by the triumphant reaction. It would have meant in essence dissolving the activists into the mass of nonparty, unorganized workers, an aim, incidentally, which has since been pursued by the right-wing labor leaders in Britain and other countries.

This proposal was also rejected by the Congress. This by no means signified the abandonment of the aim of creating a real mass workers’ party. But the way to do this is not to water down the party to the lowest common denominator, but to conduct a stubborn struggle to win the mass of the workers in action to the revolutionary program. Having first won and educated the advanced layer of the class, it was necessary to find a road to the masses. The way to link up with the masses was by conducting patient work in the mass organizations, starting with the trade unions. The Party must not dissolve itself into the mass, but fight to win leadership of the unions.

A further point of difference concerned the relations between the Party and its parliamentary representatives. The Mensheviks defended the independence of the Duma fraction from the Central Committee. This was also rejected by Congress, which insisted that its public representatives must be under the control of the Party. The conduct of the Social Democratic deputies in the Duma—all Mensheviks at this time—came in for some bitter criticism, and the Congress carried a Bolshevik resolution criticizing the Duma fraction. Finally the old dual leadership was abolished. Henceforth, only the Central Committee was to lead the Party. A 12-man CC was elected: five Bolsheviks (Goldenberg, Rozhkov, Dubrovinsky, Teodorovich, and Nogin), four Mensheviks (Martynov, Zhordania, Isuv, and Nikorov), two Poles (Warski and Dzerzhinsky) and one Lett (Danishevsky). The other three, consisting of the representatives of the Bund and the Latvian Social Democrats, were elected after the congress.


362 LCW, The Fifth Congress of the RSDLP, vol. 12, 456, 457, 458, and 462–63.

64) The Permanent Revolution

At this point, it is necessary to outline the main tendencies that crystallized in the Russian Social Democracy before 1914 on the central question of the nature and tasks of the Russian Revolution. The most important theory that emerged on this question was the theory of the permanent revolution. This theory was first developed by Trotsky, in collaboration with the German-Russian left Social Democrat, Alexander Helfand (alias Parvus), as early as 1904. The permanent revolution, while accepting that the objective tasks facing the Russian workers were those of the bourgeois democratic revolution, nevertheless explained how in a backward country in the epoch of imperialism, the “national bourgeoisie” was inseparably linked to the remains of feudalism on the one hand and to imperialist capital on the other and was therefore completely unable to carry through any of its historical tasks.

The rottenness of the bourgeois liberals, and their counterrevolutionary role in the bourgeois-democratic revolution, was already observed by Marx and Engels. In his article The Bourgeoisie and the Counterrevolution (1848), Marx writes:

The German bourgeoisie has developed so slothfully, cravenly, and slowly that at the moment when it menacingly faced feudalism and absolutism it saw itself menacingly faced by the proletariat and all factions of the burgers whose interests and ideas were akin to those of the proletariat. And it saw inimically arrayed not only a class behind it but all Europe before it. The Prussian bourgeoisie was not, as the French of 1789 had been, the class which represented the whole of modern society vis-à-vis the representatives of the old society, the monarchy and the nobility. It had sunk to the level of a sort of social estate, as distinctly opposed to the crown as to the people, eager to be in the opposition to both, irresolute against each of its opponents, taken severally, because it always saw both of them before or behind it; inclined from the very beginning to betray the people and compromise with the crowned representative of the old society because it itself already belonged to the old society.

The bourgeoisie, Marx explains, did not come to power as a result of its own revolutionary exertions, but as a result of the movement of the masses in which it played no role:

The Prussian bourgeoisie was hurled to the height of state power, however not in the manner it had desired, by a peaceful bargain with the crown, but by a revolution.366

Even in the epoch of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in Europe, Marx and Engels mercilessly unmasked the cowardly, counterrevolutionary role of the bourgeoisie, and emphasized the need for the workers to maintain a policy of complete class independence, not only from the bourgeois liberals, but also from the vacillating petty bourgeois democrats:

“The proletarian, or really revolutionary party,” wrote Engels, “succeeded only very gradually in withdrawing the mass of the working people from the influence of the democrats, whose tail they formed in the beginning of the revolution. But in due time the indecision, weakness, and cowardice of the democratic leaders did the rest, and it may now be said to be one of the principal results of the last years’ convulsions, that wherever the working class is concentrated in anything like considerable masses, they are entirely freed from that democratic influence which led them into an endless series of blunders and misfortunes during 1848 and 1849.”367

Strictly speaking, Marx was not correct in attributing a revolutionary role to the bourgeoisie even in 1789. The bourgeois revolution in France was not carried out by the bourgeoisie, which wanted to reach a compromise with the monarchy, but by the revolutionary petty bourgeoisie, whose political representatives were the Jacobins, and the semiproletarian masses of Paris and the other big cities. The role of the masses in the French revolution was brilliantly described by the anarchist Kropotkin in his history of the revolution. It has been amply documented in our own times by historians like George Rudé. The Great French Revolution of 1789–93 only succeeded to the degree that it pushed aside the representatives of the conservative big bourgeoisie in the National Assembly and, basing itself on the masses, carried out the most radical measures which, at the flood tide of the revolution, even began to go beyond the limits of the bourgeois-democratic task and threaten private property. At this point, the revolution halted and was thrust back by the Thermidorian reaction and then Bonapartism. The plebeian masses were defeated and driven from positions which they were unable to defend precisely because the objective conditions for socialism were absent. Only a capitalist development was possible. Under the revolutionary banner of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, by which the masses were induced to fight their battles for them, the wealthy merchants and men of property climbed to power and then delivered the coup de grâce to the revolutionary aspirations of those who had shed their blood for the revolution.

A similar tale can be told of the bourgeois revolution that took place in seventeenth-century England. The bourgeoisie, represented in Parliament by the Presbyterians, did everything in its power to arrive at a deal with Charles I. The royalist counterrevolution was defeated, not by the big merchants of the City of London, but by Cromwell’s New Model Army, which based itself on the Yeomen farmers of East Anglia and the nascent proletarian elements in London, Bristol, and the other towns and cities that fought for the parliamentary cause. Here too, the bourgeoisie showed itself to be incapable of carrying out its own revolution. In order to succeed, Cromwell had to sweep them aside and rouse the petty bourgeois and plebeian masses into action. True, once the monarchist reaction had been smashed, Cromwell turned on the radical wing (the “Levellers” and “Diggers”) who, even at this stage, were drawing communist conclusions and calling private property into question. In so doing, Cromwell was merely recognizing the indisputable bourgeois character of the revolution. Indeed, it could have no other character at this time in history. But that does not alter the equally indisputable fact that the victory of the bourgeois revolution in England, even at this early period, was not accomplished by the bourgeoisie, but against it.

The arguments of Marx and Engels in relation to Germany in 1848 were still more applicable to Russia at the turn of the century. The stormy development of industry had transformed the face of Russian society forever. But, in the first place, this development was confined to a small number of areas, namely the area around Moscow and St. Petersburg, western Russia (including Poland) and the Urals, and oil-rich Baku. The proletariat grew rapidly and became the decisive force from the 1890s onwards. But this did not alter the generally backward character of Russia, which had many of the features of a semifeudal, and, to some extent, semicolonial country. The development of industry was not a natural, organic outgrowth of Russian society, but the result of massive foreign investment from France, Britain, Germany, Belgium, and America. The Russian bourgeoisie, like the German bourgeoisie which Marx and Engels had castigated in 1848, had come on the stage of history too late, its social base was too weak, and above all its fear of the proletariat too strong for it to be able to play a progressive role. The fusion of industrial with landed capital, and the dependence of both upon the banks; the dependence on foreign capital was precisely what ruled out the possibility of a successful bourgeois-democratic revolution in Russia.

In all of Lenin’s speeches and writings, the counterrevolutionary role of the bourgeois-democratic liberals is stressed time and time again. However, up until 1917, he did not believe that the Russian workers would come to power before the socialist revolution in the West—a perspective that only Trotsky defended before 1917, in his remarkable theory of permanent revolution. This was the most complete answer to the reformist and class collaborationist position of the right wing of the Russian workers’ movement, the Mensheviks. The two-stage theory was developed by the Mensheviks as their perspective for the Russian Revolution. It basically states that, since the tasks of the revolution are those of the national democratic bourgeois revolution, the leadership of the revolution must be taken by the national democratic bourgeoisie.

Trotsky, however, pointed out that by setting itself at the head of the nation, leading the oppressed layers of society (urban and rural petty bourgeoisie), the proletariat could take power and then carry through the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution (mainly the land reform and the unification and liberation of the country from foreign domination). However, once having come to power, the proletariat would not stop there, but would start to implement socialist measures of expropriation of the capitalists. And as these tasks cannot be solved in one country alone, especially not in a backward country, this would be the beginning of the world revolution. Thus the revolution is “permanent” in two senses: because it starts with the bourgeois tasks and continues with the socialist ones, and because it starts in one country and continues at an international level.

Lenin agreed with Trotsky that the Russian liberals could not carry out the bourgeois-democratic revolution, and that this task could only be carried out by the proletariat in alliance with the poor peasantry. From 1905 until 1917, on the fundamental question of the attitude to the bourgeoisie, Lenin’s position was close to that of Trotsky, and, in fact, identical. This was publicly acknowledged by Lenin at the Fifth (London) Congress, as we have seen. Following in the footsteps of Marx, who had described the bourgeois “democratic party” as “far more dangerous to the workers than the previous liberals,” Lenin explained that the Russian bourgeoisie, far from being an ally of the workers, would inevitably side with the counterrevolution.

“The bourgeoisie, in the mass,” he wrote in 1905, “will inevitably turn towards the counterrevolution, and against the people, as soon as its narrow, selfish interests are met, as soon as it ‘recoils’ from consistent democracy (and it is already recoiling from it!).”

What class, in Lenin’s view, could lead the bourgeois-democratic revolution?

There remains “the people,” that is, the proletariat and the peasantry: the proletariat alone can be relied on to march on to the end, for it goes far beyond the democratic revolution. That is why the proletariat fights in the forefront for a republic and contemptuously rejects stupid and unworthy advice to take into account the possibility of the bourgeoisie recoiling.368

Where Lenin differed from Trotsky was on the issue of the possibility of the Russian workers coming to power before the workers of Western Europe. Up to 1917, only Trotsky thought that this would happen. Even Lenin ruled this out, insisting that the Russian Revolution would have a bourgeois character. The working class, in alliance with the poor peasants, would overthrow the autocracy and then carry out the most sweeping program of bourgeois-democratic measures. At the heart of Lenin’s program was a radical solution of the land problem, based on the confiscation of the landlords’ estates and land nationalization. However, as Lenin explained many times, the nationalization of the land is not a socialist, but a bourgeois demand, aimed at the landed aristocracy. He repeated on dozens of occasions that the Russian Revolution would stop short of carrying out the socialist tasks, since, as everyone agreed, the objective conditions for building socialism were absent in Russia. But Lenin’s case did not rest there. Lenin was always an uncompromising internationalist. His whole perspective was based on the international revolution, of which the Russian Revolution was only a small part.

The Russian workers and peasants would overthrow tsarism and carry out the most radical version of the bourgeois-democratic revolution. This would then provide a powerful impetus to the workers of Western Europe, who would carry out the socialist revolution. Then, by uniting their efforts with those of the French, German and British workers, the Russian workers could transform their bourgeois-democratic revolution into a socialist one:

But of course it will be a democratic, not a socialist dictatorship. It will be unable (without a series of intermediary stages of revolutionary development) to affect the foundations of capitalism. At best, it may bring about a radical redistribution of landed property in favor of the peasantry, establish consistent and full democracy, including the formation of a republic, eradicate all the oppressive features of Asiatic bondage, . . . lay the foundation for a thorough improvement in the conditions of the workers and for a rise in their standard of living, and—last but not least—carry the revolutionary conflagration into Europe.

Lenin’s position is absolutely clear and unambiguous: the coming revolution will be a bourgeois revolution, led by the proletariat in alliance with the peasant masses. The best that can be expected of it is the fulfillment of basic bourgeois-democratic tasks: distribution of land to the peasants, a democratic republic, etc. This, of necessity, since any attempt to “affect the foundations of capitalism” would bring the proletariat into conflict with the mass of peasant small proprietors. Lenin hammers the point home: “The democratic revolution is bourgeois in nature. The slogan of a general distribution, or ‘land and freedom’ . . . is a bourgeois slogan.”369 And for Lenin, no other outcome was possible on the basis of a backward, semifeudal country like Russia. To talk about the “growing over” of the democratic dictatorship to the socialist revolution is to make nonsense of Lenin’s whole analysis of the class correlation of forces in the revolution. Lenin explained his attitude towards the role of the proletariat in the bourgeois democratic revolution in hundreds of articles.

We are incomparably more remote than our Western comrades from the socialist revolution; but we are faced with a bourgeois-democratic peasant revolution in which the proletariat will play the leading role.370

In what sense did Lenin refer to the possibility of socialist revolution in Russia? In the above quotation from Two Tactics, Lenin asserts that the Russian Revolution will not be able to affect the foundations of capitalism “without a series of intermediary stages of revolutionary developments.”

From all this, it is clear that Lenin ruled out the possibility of a socialist revolution in Russia before the workers had taken power in Western Europe. He maintained this view right up until February 1917, when he abandoned it and adopted a position which was essentially the same as Trotsky’s. However, even when Lenin had the perspective of a bourgeois revolution in Russia (in which the proletariat would play the leading role) he explained the dialectical relation between the Russian Revolution and the international revolution. The bourgeois-democratic revolution in Russia will, he wrote,

last but not least carry the revolutionary conflagration into Europe. Such a victory will not yet by any means transform our bourgeois revolution into a socialist revolution; the democratic revolution will not immediately overstep the bounds of bourgeois social and economic relationships; nevertheless, the significance of such a victory for the future development of Russia and of the whole world will be immense. Nothing will raise the revolutionary energy of the world proletariat so much, nothing will shorten the path leading to its complete victory to such an extent, as this decisive victory of the revolution that has now started in Russia.371

Lenin’s internationalism here stands out boldly in every line. For Lenin, the Russian Revolution was not a self-sufficient act, a “Russian Road to Socialism!” It was the beginning of the world proletarian revolution. Precisely in this fact lay the future possibility of the transformation of the bourgeois-democratic revolution into the socialist revolution in Russia. Neither Lenin, nor any other Marxist, seriously entertained the idea that it was possible to build “socialism in a single country,” much less in a backward, Asiatic, peasant country like Russia. Elsewhere Lenin explains what would be ABC for any Marxist, that the conditions for a socialist transformation of society were absent in Russia, although they were fully matured in Western Europe. Polemicizing against the Mensheviks in Two Tactics, Lenin reiterates the classical position of Marxism on the international significance of the Russian Revolution:

The basic idea here is one repeatedly formulated by Vperyod [i.e., Lenin’s paper], which has stated that we must not be afraid . . . of Social Democracy’s complete victory in a democratic revolution, i.e., of a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry, for such a victory will enable us to rouse Europe; after throwing off the yoke of the bourgeoisie, the socialist proletariat in Europe will in its turn help us to accomplish the socialist revolution.372

This is the crux of Lenin’s prognosis of the coming revolution in Russia: the revolution can only be bourgeois-democratic (not socialist) but, at the same time, because the bourgeoisie is unfit to play a revolutionary role, the revolution can only be carried out by the working class, led by the Social Democracy, which will rouse the peasant masses in its support. The overthrow of tsarism, the uprooting of all traces of feudalism, and the creation of a republic will have a tremendously revolutionizing effect on the proletariat of the advanced countries of Western Europe. But the revolution in the West can only be a socialist revolution, because of the tremendous development of the productive forces built up under capitalism itself, and the enormous strength of the working class and the labor movement in these countries. Finally, the socialist revolution in the West will provoke further upheavals in Russia, and, with the assistance of the socialist proletariat of Europe, the Russian workers will transform the democratic revolution, in the teeth of opposition from the bourgeoisie and the counterrevolutionary peasantry, into a socialist revolution.

Thus, at this stage [i.e., after the final victory of the “democratic dictatorship”], the liberal bourgeoisie and the well-to-do peasantry plus partly the middle peasantry organize counterrevolution. The Russian proletariat plus the European proletariat organize revolution.

In such conditions the Russian proletariat can win a second victory. The cause is no longer hopeless. The second victory will be the socialist revolution in Europe.

The European workers will then show us “how to do it,” and then together with them we shall bring about the socialist revolution.373

Here and on dozens of other occasions Lenin expressed himself with the utmost clarity that the victory of “our great bourgeois revolution . . .
will usher in the era of socialist revolution in the West.”374 No matter how the matter is presented, nothing can alter the fact that, in 1905, Lenin not only rejected the idea of the “building of socialism in Russia alone” (the very idea would not have entered his head), but even the possibility of the Russian workers establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat before the socialist revolution in the West.

Trotsky always considered Lenin’s position to be progressive in relation to that of the two stages theory of the Mensheviks, but also pointed out its shortcomings. In 1909 he wrote:

It is true that the difference between them in this matter is very considerable: while the antirevolutionary aspects of Menshevism have already become fully apparent, those of Bolshevism are likely to become a serious threat only in the event of victory.

These prophetic lines have often been taken out of context by Trotsky’s Stalinist critics, but in fact they accurately express what occurred in 1917, when Lenin came into conflict with the other Bolshevik leaders precisely over the slogan of the “Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry,” which Lenin abandoned in favor of a policy that was identical with that of the permanent revolution. When this book was published after the revolution, Trotsky wrote in a footnote:

This threat, as we know, never materialized because, under the leadership of Comrade Lenin, the Bolsheviks changed their policy line on this most important matter (not without inner struggle) in the spring of 1917, that is, before the seizure of power.375

From a materialist point of view, the final test of all theories is found in practice. All the theories, programs and perspectives that were advanced and passionately defended by the different tendencies in the Russian labor movement concerning the nature and motor force of the revolution were subjected to the acid test in the events of 1917. At this point, the line separating Trotsky from Lenin dissolves completely. The line of Lenin’s Letters From Afar and his April Theses is absolutely indistinguishable from that which we read in Trotsky’s articles published in Novy Mir, written at the same time, but thousands of miles away in America. And, as Trotsky had warned in 1909, the counterrevolutionary side of the theory of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry only became evident in the course of the revolution itself, when Kamenev, Zinoviev, and Stalin used it against Lenin to justify their support for the bourgeois Provisional Government. An open split developed between Lenin and the other leaders of the Party who, in effect, accused him of—Trotskyism.

In point of fact, the correctness of the theory of the permanent revolution was triumphantly demonstrated by the October Revolution itself. The Russian working class—as Trotsky had predicted in 1904—came to power before the workers of Western Europe. They carried out all the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, and immediately set about nationalizing industry and passing over to the tasks of the socialist revolution. The bourgeoisie played an openly counterrevolutionary role, but was defeated by the workers in alliance with the poor peasants. The Bolsheviks then made a revolutionary appeal to the workers of the world to follow their example. Lenin knew very well that without the victory of the revolution in the advanced capitalist countries, especially Germany, the revolution could not survive isolated, especially in a backward country like Russia. What happened subsequently showed that this was absolutely correct. The setting up of the Third (Communist) International, the world party of socialist revolution, was the concrete manifestation of this perspective.

The situation is clearer still today. The national bourgeoisie in the colonial countries entered into the scene of history too late, when the world had already been divided up between a few imperialist powers. It was not able to play any progressive role and was born completely subordinated to its former colonial masters. The weak and degenerate bourgeoisie in Asia, Latin America, and Africa is too dependent on foreign capital and imperialism to carry society forward. It is tied with a thousand threads, not only to foreign capital, but with the class of landowners, with which it forms a reactionary bloc that represents a bulwark against progress. Whatever differences may exist between these elements are insignificant in comparison with the fear that unites them against the masses. Only the proletariat, allied with the poor peasants and urban poor, can solve the problems of society by taking power into its own hands, expropriating the imperialists and the bourgeoisie, and beginning the task of transforming society on socialist lines.

Had the Communist International remained firm on the positions of Lenin and Trotsky, the victory of the world revolution would have been assured. Unfortunately, the Comintern’s formative years coincided with the Stalinist counterrevolution in Russia, which had a disastrous effect on the Communist Parties of the entire world. The Stalinist bureaucracy, having acquired control in the Soviet Union, developed a very conservative outlook. The theory that socialism can be built in one country—an abomination from the standpoint of Marx and Lenin—really reflected the mentality of the bureaucracy, which had had enough of the storm and stress of revolution and sought to get on with the task of “building socialism in Russia.” That is to say, they wanted to protect and expand their privileges and not “waste” the resources of the country in pursuing world revolution. On the other hand, they feared that revolution in other countries could develop on healthy lines and pose a threat to their own domination in Russia, and therefore, at a certain stage, sought actively to prevent revolution elsewhere. Instead of pursuing a revolutionary policy based on class independence, as Lenin had always advocated, they proposed an alliance of the Communist Parties with the “national progressive bourgeoisie” (and if there was not one easily at hand, they were quite prepared to invent it) to carry through the democratic revolution, and afterwards, later on, in the far distant future, when the country had developed a full-fledged capitalist economy, fight for socialism. This policy represented a complete break with Leninism and a return to the old discredited position of Menshevism—the theory of the two stages.


366 K. Marx, The Bourgeoisie and the Counterrevolution, in MESW, vol. 1, 140–41 and 138.

367 F. Engels, Revolution and Counterrevolution in Germany, MESW, vol. 1, 332.

368 LCW, Two Tactics of SD in the Democratic Revolution, vol. 9, 98 in both quotes.

369 Ibid., 56–67 and 112.

370 LCW, The Social Democratic Election Victory in Tiflis, vol. 10, 424 (my emphasis).

371 LCW, Two Tactics of SD in the Democratic Revolution, vol. 9, 57

372 Ibid., 82 (my emphasis).

373 LCW, The Stages, the Trend, and the Prospects of the Revolution, vol. 10, 92.

374 LCW, Victory of Cadets and Tasks of Workers’ Party, vol. 10, 276 (my emphasis).

375 Trotsky, Our Differences, in 1905, 332 and footnote of same page.

65) The June 3 Coup

The 1905 Revolution in reality had lasted for two and half years. But by the summer of 1907, the last flickering embers of revolt were extinguished. Deprived of a leadership in the towns, the peasant revolt inevitably resolved itself into a series of uncoordinated and aimless uprisings which could be put down one by one. With every reverse of the mass movement, the self-confidence of the regime was reinforced. Finally, on June 3, convinced of the impotence of the Cadets and the waning of the peasant movement, Stolypin decided to dismiss the second Duma and arrest the Social Democratic fraction. Immediately after the Fifth Congress finished, Stolypin challenged the Duma by demanding the expulsion of the 55 Social Democratic deputies, and the arrest of 16 of them. On the night of June 2, without waiting for the Duma’s response, he proceeded to carry out the arrests. The next day the Duma itself was suspended. A new electoral law was drafted that was even worse than the previous one. When it finally convened, the Third Duma was the parliament of open reaction. Even Count Witte admitted in his memoirs that:

The new electoral law excluded from the Duma the voice of the people, i.e., the voice of the masses and their representatives, and gave a voice only to the powerful and the obedient.

Kerensky, who was a Trudovik deputy in the Third Duma, comments:

The electoral law of June, 1907, practically eliminated the participation of peasants and workers from the towns and villages. In the provinces the elections were virtually handed over to the moribund gentry, and in the larger towns the right of quasi-universal suffrage was also suppressed; the number of deputies was cut down, and half the seats were assigned under a curial system to an insignificant minority of the property-owning bourgeoisie. Representation of the non-Russian nationalities was reduced. Poland, for example, was allowed to send only 18 deputies to the Third Duma (and the fourth), as opposed to the 53 representatives sent to the first and second Dumas, and the Muslim population of Turkestan was excluded entirely.

The people’s representatives elected under Stolypin’s law were rightly called Russia’s “distorting mirror.” The left-wing parties making up the majority in the first and second Dumas practically vanished in the Third Duma of 1907–12, which, moreover, contained only 13 members of the Labor Group (Trudoviks) and 20 Social Democrats. The Social Revolutionaries boycotted the elections. The Cadets, the party of the liberal intellectuals, had dropped from their dominant position to the role of “His Majesty’s loyal opposition,” with 54 seats.

Out of 442 members of parliament, the reactionary parties (the Black Hundreds, Octobrists, and Cadets) had 409. The working class had only 19 deputies (Social Democrats) and the Trudoviks, only 14. A vastly different situation to that of the second Duma. Yet, as Lenin pointed out, this reactionary Duma at least had the merit of expressing the real situation in the country. Here was the real face of the Black Hundred autocracy, without its liberal mask.

“Fifty seats,” Kerensky comments, “were taken by the reactionary Union of the Russian People, which was subsidized from special funds available to the secret police and was patronized by the tsar and Grand Duke Nicholas. These deputies, under the guidance of three very able men—Markov, Purishkevich, and Zamyslovsky—tried to sabotage the Duma from within by incessantly causing truble. Along with these, 89 seats were given to a completely new party called the Nationalists. They were returned by and large from the western and southwestern provinces, which had been torn by feuding between the Russian, Polish, Lithuanian, and Jewish sections of the population as far back as could be remembered. The gap between the Cadets and the right wing was filled by the 153 Octobrist deputies, of whom there had hardly been any at all in the first two Dumas. They thus comprised slightly more than a third of the total membership of the Duma.”

The leading figure in this Duma was the Octobrist Guchkov, a big Moscow industrialist whose party represented the reactionary big bourgeoisie and landowners, but deemed it expedient to distance themselves from the ruling clique:

Guchkov, Khomyakov, Shidlovsky, and the other leaders of the Octobrist Party knew full well the danger to the country of the morbid atmosphere surrounding the tsar. Well aware that they could not rely on the weak-willed tsar, they firmly rejected all of Stolypin’s tempting invitations to join the government. They preferred to keep watch on the activity of the official government by applying the statutory rights of the Duma Budget Commission, to support it in the struggle against the irresponsible and powerful influence of the Rasputin clique in court circles, and to try to improve the country’s military and economic position through regular legislation.376

The Cadets effectively played the role of second fiddle to the Octobrists in the Third Duma. In turn, Guchkov leaned over backwards to support Stolypin against the court reactionaries, as the lesser evil. For their part, the Mensheviks looked towards the Cadets, also as the lesser evil. However, Stolypin was really the firmest supporter of the autocracy. His reforms were intended to preserve the rule of the Romanovs, while crushing the revolution underfoot. In this way, the “lesser evil” becomes imperceptibly transformed into the greatest evil for the revolutionary cause. Guchkov, the representative of Russian big business, expressed his fervent loyalty to the autocracy by wholeheartedly embracing the cause of imperialism and militarism at a time when the international scene was already darkened by the clouds of impending war. The Duma vied with the government to show who was more patriotic. On June 9, 1908, speaking in a debate on the army estimates, Guchkov spoke of “our buried military glory.” As a result of this cringing and fawning, the Third Duma was permitted to live out its full term of five years, until the election of the Fourth Duma in 1912.

Paradoxically, Stolypin’s position in the new Duma was no better than before. Playing the role of Bonapartist, maneuvering between the different classes and parties, he had no firm point of support. Not a single party in the Duma backed him consistently. The strengthening of the right wing weakened him because the conservatives and the court clique hated him as a dangerous radical. The tsar, not noted either for political acumen or personal gratitude, became increasingly distant from his faithful minister. Although he had concentrated great power in his hands, Stolypin’s life was constantly in danger, and he knew it. He wore a bulletproof vest and was always surrounded by bodyguards, but that did not save him. On the night of September 1, 1911, Stolypin turned up for a special gala performance of Rimski Korsakov’s opera Tsar Saltan, in Kiev, which the tsar also attended. During an interval, a young man in evening dress walked up to him and shot him twice. Theatrical to the end, Stolypin made the sign of the cross over Nicholas before collapsing. He died four days later. His last public utterance was “I am happy to die for the tsar,” which was ironical since, by this time, Nicholas could not stand the sight of him. The student who did the deed was a Social Revolutionary turned police informer called Bogrov. He was executed without delay, and kept incommunicado beforehand, so no questions could be asked. Many people suspected that the assassination was the work of the secret police in cahoots with the court clique who hated Stolypin. This is most probable. The deepening crisis of society reflected itself in splits and clique struggles at the top. In a setup like the tsarist-Rasputin regime, political intrigue and assassination were inseparable travelling companions.

During this period, the fortunes of the revolutionary movement seemed to reach their nadir. Once again, the Party was reduced to difficult and dangerous underground work. Waves of arrests decimated the Party organizations. In the summer of 1907, all the Social Democratic Duma deputies were arrested. The workers were indignant, but by this time had not the strength to react. The reaction flexed its muscles and felt its own strength. For three long years, in 1908–10, it rained blows on the defeated labor movement. “The incessant mass arrests led to the destruction of one Party branch after another, until the Party practically ceased to exist,” writes the Menshevik Eva Broido. “The trade unions, too, suffered havoc; hundreds of their branches were dissolved and the formation of new ones was made extremely difficult.”377

As the most militant wing of the RSDLP, the Bolsheviks suffered proportionately greater losses. Their organizations in Petersburg suffered no fewer than 15 mass arrests of leaders in this period. Its leading committee was arrested six times. In Moscow, the area committee was arrested 11 times. The same situation prevailed everywhere. Each time the committees were reorganized, but in ever smaller numbers, and with less experienced people. However, there was at least one advantage. Most of those who stepped into the breach were workers. For the first time the Party committees were genuinely proletarian in composition. These worker cadres kept the illegal Party alive in conditions of extreme adversity. By contrast, many of the intellectuals became demoralized and fell away.

In 1908 Lenin noted in a letter to Gorky:

The significance of the intellectuals in our Party is declining; news comes from all sides that the intelligentsia is fleeing the Party. And a good riddance to these scoundrels. The Party is purging itself from petty-bourgeois dross. The workers are having a bigger say in things. The role of the worker-professionals is increasing. All this is wonderful.378

It would appear that Gorky was upset by Lenin’s comments, since in a subsequent letter he hastened to reassure him:

I think that some of the questions you raise about our differences of opinion are a sheer misunderstanding. Never, of course, have I thought of “chasing away the intelligentsia,” as the silly syndicalists do, or of denying its necessity for the workers’ movement. There can be no divergence between us on any of these questions.379

Under these conditions, a process of selection was inevitable: unstable intellectuals left in droves, succumbing to the prevailing mood of reaction. By late 1907, the Petersburg Party had only about 3,000 members, not all active. Many of the best leaders were in jail or exile, their place taken by second-line leaders like Stalin, who began to make a name for himself at this time as an organizer. Stalin’s rapid advance to a leading position can easily be explained by the fact that, with the extreme shortage of capable people from Russia, Lenin eagerly pounced on any newcomer who seemed promising. Stalin had a certain flare for organization, but no more than many other Bolshevik committeemen. Indeed, Stalin was a typical committee-man: tough, practical, and capable of displaying energy under certain conditions, but narrow in outlook. Stalin’s whole political career showed that, without Lenin’s guiding hand, he was devoid of any real political understanding, let alone theoretical depth. This is shown by the fact that Stalin continued to organize expropriations when the revolutionary wave had long ebbed and the counterrevolution was in full swing. Such tactics could have done serious damage to the Party if Lenin had not put a stop to them in time.

The new conditions demonstrated the necessity for combining illegal work with all manner of legal and semilegal work. Only in this way was the Party able to maintain links with the masses. The forces at its disposal had been seriously depleted. By late 1908, about 900 Party members were abroad. But these numbers do not tell the whole story. Revolution, as Trotsky pointed out, is a mighty devourer of human energy. Many of the most experienced cadres were languishing in tsarist prisons or Siberian exile. Many of those that remained were traumatized, disoriented, mentally and physically exhausted. Cases of suicide were not uncommon, especially among the youth, who believed that the defeat signified the final liquidation of the revolution. Under such circumstances moods of pessimism and despair can quickly find an expression in all manner of ways, from open apostasy and desertion to various forms of political deviation—to the left as well as to the right. Frustration leads to moods of impatience and the search for panaceas and short cuts. This can express itself either in opportunist adaptation to the existing conditions or ultraleft adventures. Such phenomena, apparently extreme opposites, are in fact head and tail of the same coin.

At this time, Lenin found himself in a particularly difficult position. While the Party remained formally united, in practice the two factions functioned independently, a fact that was sharply revealed by the opposing policies pursued by the different factions on the Central Committee. The Menshevik members (Zhordania and Ramishvili) did not conduct underground work, since their entire strategy was to liquidate the underground Party and confine their activities to what was permitted by the tsarist authorities. The work of maintaining the illegal Party organization inside Russia thus depended on the Bolsheviks on the CC (Dubrovinsky, Goldenberg, Nogin). But the latter were conciliators who by no means agreed with Lenin’s demand for an implacable struggle against the Menshevik CC members.

Under the circumstances, the formation of an organized tendency within the united Party was inevitable. The Bolshevik factional center was established in 1907. There was nothing in the party rules to stop the publication of factional newspapers, so Lenin decided to go ahead. Despite all difficulties, the Bolshevik “center” managed to produce its own paper, Proletary (1906–9). Lenin edited the paper, which, among other collaborators, included Maxim Gorky, who also played an important role in raising funds. In the traditions of old Iskra, Proletary maintained correspondence with party organizations in the interior. Because of the problems of illegality, many other titles appeared in order to confuse the censor. There was the Sotsial-Demokrat, and a number of local party papers. At first, Lenin tried to set up an underground headquarters in Finland where the movement for national independence made it more difficult for the Russian authorities to re-establish complete control, but the arm of the Okhrana was long and the Bolshevik leader only narrowly escaped arrest. Once again Lenin had to make plans for exile.


376 Kerensky, Memoirs, 101–2 and 104.

377 E. Broido, Memoirs, 136.

378 LCW, Letter to Maxim Gorky, February 7, 1908, vol. 34, 379.

379 LCW, To Maxim Gorky, February 13, 1908, ibid., 385.