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The Lessons of the Revolution

V. I. Lenin

Five years have elapsed since the working class of Russia, in October 1905, dealt the first mighty blow to the tsarist autocracy. In those greet days the proletariat aroused millions of the working people to struggle against their oppressors. In the space of a few months of that year the proletariat won improvements which during decades the workers had been vainly waiting from the “superior authorities”. The proletariat won for the whole Russian people, if only for a short time, something that Russia had never known before—freedom of the press, assembly and association. It swept Bulygin’s fake Duma from its path, extracted from the tsar a manifesto declaring a constitution and made it impossible once and for all for Russia to be ruled without representative institutions.

But the great victories of the proletariat proved to be only semi-victories because the tsarist regime was not overthrown. The December insurrection ended in defeat and the tsarist autocracy began to take back the gains of the working class one by one as the latter’s offensive weakened, as the struggle of the masses declined. In 1906 workers’ strikes, peasants’ and soldiers’ outbreaks were much weaker than they had been in 1905 but were still very formidable nonetheless. The tsar dispersed the First Duma, during which the militancy of the people had begun to mount again, but did not dare to change the electoral law all at once. In 1907 the struggle of the workers grew weaker still, and the tsar, having dispersed the Second Duma, staged a coup d’état (June 3, 1907). He broke all the most solemn promises that he had made not to promulgate laws without the consent of the Duma and changed the electoral law in such a way that the landlords and the capitalists, the party of the Black-Hundred elements and their servitors were assured of a majority in the Duma.

Both the victories and the defeats of the revolution taught the Russian people some great historical lessons. In honouring the fifth anniversary of 1905, let us try to ascertain the main substance of these lessons.

The first and main lesson is that only the revolutionary struggle of the masses can bring about worth-while improvements in the lives of the workers and in the administration of the state. No “sympathy” for the workers on the part of educated people, no struggle of lone terrorists, however heroic, could do anything to undermine the tsarist autocracy and the omnipotence of the capitalists. This could be achieved only by the struggle of the workers them selves, only by the combined struggle of millions, and when this struggle grew weaker the workers immediately began to be deprived of what they had won. The Russian revolution was confirmation of the sentiments expressed in the international hymn of labour:

No saviours from on high deliver,
No trust have we in prince or peer;
Our own right hand the chains must shiver,
Chains of hatred, greed and fear!

The second lesson is that it is not enough to undermine and restrict the power of the tsar. It must be destroyed. Until the tsarist regime is destroyed concessions won from the tsar will never be lasting.

The tsar made concessions when the tide of the revolutionary offensive was rising. When it ebbed, he took them all back. Only the Winning of a democratic republic, the over throw of the tsarist regime, the passage of power into the hands of the people, can deliver Russia from the violence, and tyranny of officialdom, from the Black-Hundred-Octobrist Duma, from the despotic power which the landlords and their servitors wield over the countryside. If the miseries of the peasants and the workers have become even harder to bear now, after the revolution, this is the price they are paying for the fact that the revolution was weak, that the tsarist regime was not overthrown. The year 1905, then the first two Dumas, and their dissolution, taught the people a great deal, taught them above all to fight in common for political demands. At first, upon awakening to political life, the people demanded concessions from the autocracy: that the tsar should convene a Duma, that he should appoint new ministers in place of the old, that die tsar should “grant” universal suffrage. But the autocracy did not and could not agree to such concessions. The autocracy answered the re quests for concessions with bayonets. And then the people began to realise that they would have to fight against the autocratic regime. Now, we may say, this understanding is being driven even more drastically into the heads of the peasants by Stolypin and the reactionary noblemen’s Duma. Yes, they are driving it in and they’ll drive it right home.

The tsarist autocracy has also learned a lesson from the revolution. It has seen that it cannot rely on the faith of the peasants in the tsar. It is now strengthening its power by forming an alliance with the Black-Hundred landlords and the Octobrist industrialists. To overthrow the tsarist autocracy will now require a much more powerful offensive of the revolutionary mass struggle than in 1905.

Is such a much more powerful offensive possible? The reply to this question brings us to the third and cardinal lesson of the revolution. This lesson consists in our having seen how the various classes of the Russian people act. Prior to 1905 many thought that the whole people aspired to freedom in the same way and wanted the same freedom; at least the great majority had no clear understanding of the fact that the different classes of the Russian people had different views on the struggle for freedom and were not striving for the same freedom. The revolution dispelled the mist. At the end of 1905, then later during the First and Second Dumas, all classes of Russian society came out openly. They showed themselves in action, revealing what their true ambitions were, what they could fight for and how strongly, persistently and vigorously they were able to fight.

The factory workers, the industrial proletariat, waged a most resolute and strenuous struggle against the autocracy. The proletariat began the revolution with the Ninth of January and mass strikes. The proletariat carried this struggle to its uttermost limit, rising in armed uprising in December 1905 in defence of the bullet-riddled, knouted and tormented peasantry. The number of workers who went on strike in 1905 was about three million (and with the railwaymen, post-office employees, etc., probably reached four million), in 1906—one million, in 1907—three-quarters of a million. The world had never yet seen a strike movement raised to such a pitch. The Russian proletariat showed what untold forces there are in the masses of the workers when a real revolutionary crisis matures. The strike wave of 1905, the greatest in the world, did not exhaust all the militant forces of the proletariat by a long way. For instance, in the Moscow factory region there were 567,000 factory workers and the number of strikers was 540,000, while in the St. Petersburg factory region, which had 300,000 factory workers, there were a million strikers. This means that the workers in the Moscow area were still far from developing the same stubbornness in the struggle as the St. Petersburg workers. In Livonian Gubernia (city of Riga) there were 250,000 strikers to the 50,000 workers employed there. In other words, each worker on the average struck more than five times in 1905. Now, in all parts of Russia, there cannot be less than three million factory, mining and railway workers and this number is growing year by year. With a movement as strong as in Riga in 1905 they could turn out an army of 15 million strikers.

No tsarist regime could withstand such an onslaught. But everyone understands that such an offensive cannot be evoked artificially in accordance with the desires of the socialists or militant workers. It is possible only when the whole country is convulsed by a crisis, mass indignation and revolution. In order to prepare such an onslaught we must draw the most backward sections of the workers into the struggle, we must devote years and years to persistent, widespread, unflagging propaganda, agitation and organisational work, building up and reinforcing all forms of proletarian unions and organisations.

In militancy the working class of Russia was in advance of all the other classes of the Russian people. The very conditions of their lives make the workers capable of struggle and impel them to struggle. Capital collects the workers in great masses in big cities, uniting them, teaching them to act in unison. At every step the workers come face to face with their main enemy—the capitalist class. In combat with this enemy the worker becomes a socialist, comes to realise the necessity of a complete reconstruction of the whole of society, the complete abolition of all poverty and all oppression. Becoming socialists, the workers fight with self-abnegating courage against everything that stands in their path, first and foremost the tsarist regime and the feudal landlords.

The peasants too during the revolution went into action against the landlords and against the government, but their struggle was much weaker. It has been calculated that a majority of the factory workers (about three-fifths) took part in the revolutionary struggle, in strikes, while undoubtedly only a minority of the peasants took part: in all probability not more than one-fifth or one-fourth. The peasants fought less persistently, more disconnectedly, with less political understanding, at times still pinning their hopes on the benevolence of our Father, the Tsar. In 1905 and 1906 the peasants, properly speaking, only gave the tsar and the landlords a bit of a fright. But frightening them is no use. They must be destroyed, their government—the tsarist government—must be wiped off the face of the earth. Now Stolypin and the Black-Hundred, land lord Duma are trying to create new landlord farmers from the ranks of the rich peasants, to be the allies of the tsar and the Black Hundreds. But the more the tsar and the Duma help the rich peasants to ruin the mass of the peasantry, the more politically conscious does this mass become, the less faith will it preserve in the tsar, the faith of feudal slaves, the faith of downtrodden and ignorant people. Each year that passes swells the ranks of the agricultural labourers in the countryside, they have nowhere to seek salvation except in an alliance with the urban workers for joint struggle. Each year that passes fills the countryside with more ruined peasants, utterly destitute, driven to desperation by hunger. When the urban proletariat rises again, mil lions upon millions of these peasants will throw them selves into the struggle against the tsar and the landlords with greater determination and solidarity.

The bourgeois liberals too took part in the revolution, i.e., the liberal landlords, industrialists, lawyers, professors, etc. They constitute the party of “people’s freedom” (the Constitutional-Democrats or Cadets). They promised the people a whole lot of things and made a lot of noise about freedom in their newspapers. They had a majority in the First and Second Dumas. They held out a promise of gaining freedom by “peaceful means”, they condemned the revolutionary struggle of the workers and peasants. The peasants and many of the peasant deputies (“Trudoviks”) believed these promises and followed humbly and obediently at the heels of the liberals, standing aside from the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat. This was the greatest mistake committed by the peasants (and many townfolk) during the revolution. With one hand, and at that very, very rarely, the liberals assisted the struggle for freedom, while they kept offering the other hand to the tsar, promising to preserve and strengthen his power, to make peace between the peasants and the landlords, to “pacify” the “turbulent” workers.

When the revolution came to the point of a pitched battle with the tsar, the December uprising of 1905, the liberals in a body basely betrayed the freedom of the people and recoiled from the struggle. The tsarist autocracy took advantage of this betrayal of the people’s freedom by the liberals, took advantage of the ignorance of the peasants, who to a large extent believed the liberals, and defeated the insurgent workers. And when the proletariat was defeat ed, no Dumas, no honeyed speeches and promises on the part of the Cadets, could hold back the tsar from abolishing all the vestiges of freedom and restoring the autocracy and the despotic power of the feudal landlords.

The liberals found themselves deceived. The peasants have received a severe but useful lesson. There will be no freedom in Russia as long as the broad masses of the people believe in the liberals, believe in the possibility of “peace” with the tsarist regime and stand aloof from the revolutionary struggle of the workers. No power on earth can hold back the advent of freedom in Russia when the mass of the urban proletariat rises in struggle, brushes aside the wavering and treacherous liberals, and enlists under its banner the rural labourers and impoverished peasantry

And that the proletariat of Russia will rise in such a struggle, that it will take the lead in the revolution again, is warranted by the whole economic situation of Russia, all the experience of the revolutionary years.

Five years ago the proletariat dealt the first blow to the tsarist autocracy. The first rays of freedom gleamed for the Russian people. Now the tsarist autocracy has been restored, the feudal lords are reigning and ruling again, the workers and peasants are everywhere being crushed down again, everywhere the Asiatic despotism of the authorities and infamous maltreatment of the people prevails. But these hard lessons will not have been in vain. The Russian people are not what they were prior to 1905. The proletariat has taught them to fight. The proletariat will bring them to victory.

Published: Rabochaya Gazeta No. 1, October 30 (November 12), 1910.
Published according to the text in Rabochaya Gazeta.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1974], Moscow, Volume 16, pages 296-304.

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