Revolt or revolution? This is the question that European journalists and reporters have been asking themselves in connection with the events in St. Petersburg, which they are reporting to the whole world and attempting to evaluate. Are they rebels or insurgents—the tens of thousands of proletarians against whom the tsarist army successfully took the field? And the foreign papers, though sooner in a position to view the events with “detachment”, with the impartiality of chroniclers, find it difficult to answer the question. They are constantly getting their terms mixed. And small wonder. It is not without reason that a revolution is said to be a successful revolt, and a revolt an unsuccessful revolution. People who witness the beginning of great and momentous events, who can obtain only very incomplete, inexact, and third-hand information of what is taking place, will not, of course, hazard a definite opinion until a timelier moment comes. The bourgeois papers, which continue as of old to speak of revolt, rioting, and disturbances, cannot help seeing the truly national, nay, international, significance of these events. Yet it is this significance which invests events with the character of revolution. And those who have been writing of the last days of the rioting find themselves involuntarily referring to them as the first days of the revolution. A turning-point in Russia’s history has been reached. This is not denied even by the most hidebound of European conservatives, however enthusiastic and. sentimental they may wax over the mighty, unrestricted power of the all-Russian autocracy. Peace between the autocracy and the people is unthinkable. Revolution is not only in the mouths of a few fearless souls, not only of “nihilists”—as Europe persists in calling the Russian revolutionaries—but of every person capable of taking any interest in world politics.
The Russian working-class movement has risen to a higher level in the last few days. It is developing before our very eyes into a national uprising. Naturally, here in Geneva, so damnably far away, we find it exceedingly difficult to keep pace with events. But so long as we have to linger at such an accursed distance, we must try to keep pace with events, to sum them up, to draw conclusions, to draw from the experience of today’s happenings lessons that will be useful tomorrow, in another place, where today “the people are still mute” and where in the near future, in some form or other, a revolutionary conflagration will break out. We must make it the constant job of publicists to write the history of the present day, and to try to write it in such a way that our chronicles will give the greatest possible help to the direct participants in the movement and to the heroic proletarians there, on the scene of action—to write it in such a way as to promote the spread of the movement, the conscious selection of the means, ways, and methods of struggle that, with the least expenditure of effort, will yield the most substantial and permanent results.
In the history of revolutions there come to light contradictions that have ripened for decades and centuries. Life becomes unusually eventful. The masses, which have always stood in the shade and have therefore often been ignored and even despised by superficial observers, enter the political arena as active combatants. These masses are learning in practice, and before the eyes. of the world are taking their first tentative steps, feeling their way, defining their objectives, testing themselves and the theories of all their ideologists. These masses are making heroic efforts to rise to the occasion and cope with the gigantic tasks of world significance imposed upon them by history; and however great individual defeats may be, however shattering to us the rivers of blood and the thousands of victims, nothing will ever compare in importance with this direct training that the masses and the classes receive in the course of the revolutionary struggle itself. The history of this struggle is measured in days. And for good reason some foreign news papers have already started a “diary of the Russian revolution”. Let us, too, start one.