Bolshevism: The Road to Revolution by Alan Woods

Part Two: The First Russian Revolution

[section 4 of 5]

‘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 colours, 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 burnt.” 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.”[65]

As an answer to the revolutionary movement of the workers, the regime organised bloody pogroms against Jews, socialists and “intellectuals”. In one month following 17 October, 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 organisation 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 centre, 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 … patronised 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.”[66]

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 favour 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.”[67]

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 organised 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 subsidised by the Minister of the Interior to the tune of 70,000 roubles. 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 defenceless 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 honour, 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!”[68]

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 plain-clothes 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 organised 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.”[69] The official report ordered by Witte clearly exposed the role of the police in this butchery, not only organising 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, sympathise with this pogrom!”[70]

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 discrete 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 trouble-makers 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.”[71]

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.”[72]

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-defence in a most concrete and urgent fashion. Not futile appeals to the law, but workers’ self-defence! Defence, first of all, against the Black Hundreds, defence of Jews, Armenians and of intellectuals. Wherever possible, the workers organisations 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’ organisations. 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 organised anti-Jewish pogrom has started’. ‘In spite of the rumours 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 organises 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 pogroms.” 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 who have long been in error as to who it is really responsible for the pogroms. Indict the government openly and publicly; call upon the people to organise a militia and self-defence as the only means of protection against pogroms.”[73]

The bloody wave of pogroms posed the need for workers’ self-defence 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’ organisations. 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’ organisations and also petty bourgeois democratic and nationalist groups—an agreement of all those forces who were prepared to fight in defence 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 defence. However, in warfare the difference between defence and offence 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 demoralised 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.

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 the 9 January, they began to grow rapidly. When V. Frunze, the organiser of the Party committee in the important textile centre 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 organisation 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 amongst 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 organisations directly linked to the Party was made up of “hundreds of thousands of the urban and rural populace”.[74]

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 committee-men 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 committee-men 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 organise 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 democratise 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 semi-legal 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 committee-men, who interpreted organisational principles from a narrow and mechanical point of view. The fact is that there is no cook-book 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 organisation 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 committee-men. 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, sub-districts. 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 committee-men, 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 city-wide 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 sub-districts. 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 organisation always was. Democratic centralism embraces two apparently contadictory 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, favoured the most open and democratic forms of organisation.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 defence 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 organisations in a series of legal and semi-legal organisations—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 non-partisan organisations, often not even aspiring to formal party membership, concentrating on political and general education.”[75] 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 organisations. The task of penetrating the trade unions, a basic unit of working class organisation, was an absolute priority for the Social Democrats. Even the most backward layers were seized by the instinct to get organised. However, it was precisely the weakness of trade unionism in Russia that gave the soviet its colossal authority and strength as the main proletarian organisation. The soviets became the main centre 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 centres, 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 organisational 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 organisations 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 non-party workers. That is after all the essential role of the trade unions. To unite the broadest layers of the class for struggle in defence 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 non-party 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 “non-partyism”. 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 criticised 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 organisations. On this question also the Bolshevik committee-men revealed their lack of understanding of Lenin’s position. Of course the party must fight against “non-party” 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 2 December 1905.

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 organisations 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.[76] 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 organisation tripled in size from 500 to 1,500. In Saratov and Minsk the Party Bolsheviks had 1,000 members by December.[77]

The Bolsheviks were strongest in the North, North-East, 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 “organised Bolsheviks” in 1905. Probably, the Mensheviks had about the same.[78] But in the context of general pre-revolutionary 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 organisations could assemble several thousands of workers, students, soldiers and peasants; but the sphere of its immediate organisational influence took in hundreds of thousands of people in town and countryside.”[79]

The growth of the Bolsheviks was especially rapid in the capital. By the year’s end the St Petersburg organisation 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 organised 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 programme 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 travellers”, as they became known, undoubtedly played a useful role in popularising 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 committee-men 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 (programme, tactical rules, organisational 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 organisations.” 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 committee-men 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 organised expression to the unconscious, or semi-conscious, 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 favour 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 organisations to have one social democratic intellectual to several hundred social democratic workers.”[80] 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.

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 behaviour in court. I must say that of all the social democratic leaders of 1905-06 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 sympathiser 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 organised 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’.”[81]

The full significance of Lenin’s reaction can only be gauged if we realise 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 defence of the Menshevik idea of the bourgeoisie’s hegemony (!) in the forthcoming revolution.”[82] 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 9 January. Trotsky wrote that after 9 January the working class movement ‘slipped into an uprising’. Hence the Constituent Assembly in and for itself could no longer be the fundamental and generalising slogan of the party. After 9 January 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.”[83] 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 polemicises not only against Lenin’s position, but also against the theories of Trotsky and Parvus.[84]

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’.”[85]

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 acknowleged 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.”[86]

Martov, who was supposed to be the paper’s co-editor 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 counter-revolutionary 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.[87] 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’.”[88] 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.”[89]

One of the more senseless slanders directed against Trotsky by the Stalinists is the accusation that he supported the demand for a labour 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 “Labour 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 organisation created by the Workers’ Congress.[90] This idea brilliantly anticipates what actually happened in 1917. Solomon Schwarz, certainly no sympathiser of Trotsky, shows clearly that Trotsky’s idea has nothing in common with the Menshevik idea of a “Labour Congress” i.e. the setting up of a reformist Labour 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 Labour Party or transforming the SDP into such a party.”[91] 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 favourably with the mistaken policies adopted by the Bolshevik committee-men 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!’.”[92]

Finally, at the trial of the 52 members of the St Petersburg Soviet that took place in September 1906, Trotsky turned his defence speech into a brilliant attack on the autocracy and a defence of the right to revolution. “The historical power in whose name the prosecutor speaks in this court,” he thundered, “is the organised violence of a minority over the majority! The new power, whose precursor was the Soviet, represents the organised will of the majority calling the minority to order. Because of this distinction the revolutionary right of the Soviet to existence stands above all juridicial and moral speculations…”[93] In effect, Trotsky was issuing a call for armed uprising from the dock. Having utilised 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 recognising 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 committee-men in St Petersburg which scandalised 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 re-unification 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.”[94]

Lenin, who had returned to Russia on November 4, was now convinced of the need for the immediate re-unification 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 organised workers in both factions.”[95]

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.”[96] 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 an 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 ultra-centralism were irrelevant. The Bolshevik Central Committee and the Menshevik Organisational 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, organised a conference at Tammerfors, Finland, on 12 to 17 December, 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 11 December 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.

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NOTES

[65] Quoted in O. Figes, A People’s Tragedy. The Russian Revolution 1891-1924, p. 203.

[66] O. Figes, op. cit., pp. 198-9 and 196.

[67] Lionel Kochan, Russia in Revolution, pp. 62-3.

[68] Trotsky, 1905, pp. 150-1.

[69] O. Piatnitsky, op. cit., p. 82.

[70] Trotsky, 1905, p. 150, note.

[71] O. Figes, op. cit. pp. 197-8.

[72] Kerensky, The Kerensky Memoirs. Russia and History’s Turning Point, p. 79.

[73] LCW, The Reaction is Taking to Arms, vol. 10. pp. 509 and 510-1 (my emphasis).

[74] Martov and others, Obshchestvennoe Dvizhenie v Rossii v Nachale 20 Veka, vol. 3, p. 575 in both quotes.

[75] Schwarz, op. cit., p. 242.

[76] Surh, op. cit., p. 261, note.

[77] See Istoriya of KPSS, vol. 2, pp. 35, 36 and 116.

[78] See Lane, op. cit., p. 12.

[79] Martov and others, Obshchestvennoe Dvizhenie v Rossii v Nachale 20 Veka, vol. 3, p. 575.

[80] LCW, The Reorganisation of the Party, vol. 10, p. 31, p. 32 (my emphasis), and p. 36, footnote.

[81] A. Lunacharsky, Revolutionary Silhouettes, pp. 60-1 and 60.

[82] V.A. Grinko and others, The Bolshevik Party’s Struggle against Trotskyism (1903-February 1917), p. 58.

[83] F. Dan, op. cit., p. 305.

[84] Martov and others, Obshchestvennoe Dvizhenie v Rossii v Nachale 20 Veka, vol. 3, pp. 553-4.

[85] See Trotsky, My Life, pp. 171-8.

[86] Quoted in Trotsky, My Life, p. 182.

[87] See Martov and others, Obshchestvennoe Dvizhenie v Rossii v Nachale 20 Veka, vol. 3, pp. 592-6.

[88] See A. Ascher, Paul Axelrod and the Development of Menshevism, pp. 241-2.

[89] I. Getzler, Martov, p. 110 (my emphasis).

[90] The quote can be found in Trotsky’s Works in Russian, Sochinyenyie, vol. 2, p. 435.

[91] Schwarz, op. cit., p. 231.

[92] Krupskaya, O Vladimirye Ilyiche, vol. 1, p. 144.

[93] The Age of the Permanent Revolution, p. 59.

[94] Piatnitsky, op. cit., p. 87.

[95] LCW, The Reorganisation of the Party, vol. 10, pp. 37-8.

[96] Quoted in Ascher, op. cit., p. 241.