Leon Trotsky



Opposition and Revolution

* * *

Far from restoring order, the Tsar’s manifesto helped to reveal the full extent of the contradiction between the two poles of Russian society: the reactionary pogrom mentality of the nobility and bureaucracy, and the workers’ revolution. During the first days, or rather hours, it looked as though the manifesto had not made any difference to the mood of the most moderate elements of the opposition. But it only looked that way. On October 18 the so-called Ironfounders’ Consultative Office, one of capital’s most powerful organizations, wrote to Count Witte:

“We must say it straight out: Russia believes only in facts; her blood and her poverty will no longer allow her to believe in words.” Putting forward the demand for a full amnesty, the Office “noted with especial pleasure” that demonstrative violence on the part of the revolutionary masses had been extremely limited and that they had proceeded with unheard-of discipline.

Without being, according to its own declaration, a supporter “in theory” of universal franchise, the Office had arrived at the conviction that “the working class, which has demonstrated with such force its political consciousness and party discipline, must participate in popular self-government.”

All this was generous and broad-minded, but, alas, extremely short-lived. To say that it was a purely cynical gesture would be too crude. Undoubtedly illusion played an important part in the matter: capital still had some hope that far-reaching political reform might immediately allow the fly-wheel of industry to turn unhindered. This explains the fact that a large part of the entrepreneurs, if not the majority, adopted an attitude of friendly neutrality towards the October strike itself. There was almost no closing down of plants. The owners of engineering works in the Moscow region decided to refuse the services of cossacks. But the most usual expression of sympathy towards the political aims of the struggle was the payment of wages throughout the period of the October strike. While awaiting the flowering of industry under a “rule of law,” the liberal entrepreneurs were perfectly prepared to enter this expenditure under the heading of special production costs. However, as capital paid the workers for these strike days it made it abundantly clear that it was doing so for the last time. The power of the workers’ action had shown them the necessity of being on guard. Capital’s fondest hopes remained unrealized: the movement of the masses did not calm down after the manifesto; on the contrary, with every passing day it displayed more and more clearly its strength, its independence, its socially revolutionary character. While the plantation owners of the sugar industry were threatened with confiscation of their lands, the capitalist bourgeoisie was compelled as a whole to retreat before the workers step by step, raising their wages and shortening the working day.

Besides the fear of the revolutionary proletariat, which reached fever pitch during the two last months of 1905 there were narrower but no less acute interests which drove capital towards an immediate alliance with the government. In the first place there was the prosaic but irresistible need for money, and the object of the entrepreneurs’ concupiscence as well as of their attacks was the State Bank. This institution served as the hydraulic press for the autocracy’s “economic policy” of which Witte had been the grand master during the decade of his financial rule. On the bank’s operations, and together with these, on the minister’s views and sympathies, the life and death of the largest industrial undertakings depended. Unconstitutional loans, the discounting of fantastic bills, widespread favoritism in the sphere of economic policy, these and other factors greatly contributed towards turning capital into an oppositional force. But when, under the triple effect of war, revolution, and economic crisis, the bank reduced its operations to a minimum, many capitalists found themselves in a really tight spot. They no longer cared tuppence for general political perspectives; they needed money, at whatever cost. “We don’t believe in words,” they told Count Witte at 2:00 A.M. on October 19 “give us facts.” Count Witte plunged his hand into the cash-box of the State Bank and gave them “facts.” A lot of facts.

The volume of discounts rose abruptly – 138.5 million roubles in November and December 1905 as against 83.1 million for the same period in 1904. Credits to private banks rose to an even greater extent – 148.2 million roubles on December 1, 1905 as against 39 million in 1904. All other operations underwent a similar increase. “Russia’s blood and poverty,” advanced, as we have seen, as a slogan by a capitalist syndicate, were duly taken into account by Witte’s government. The result was the setting up of the “Union of October 17.” This party was born not so much from a political maneuver, as from an ordinary bribe. From the first, the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies encountered a resolute and conscious enemy in the entrepreneurs organized in their professional or political unions.

But while the Octobrists at least adopted a clearly anti-revolutionary position from the start, the most pathetic political role during those days was played by the party of lower-middle-class and intellectual radicals. Six months later this party was to put on an extraordinary show of false classical pathos on the stage of the Tauride Palace. We have in mind the Kadet Party.

The constituent congress of the Constitutional-Democratic Party (Kadets) was in progress at the very peak of the October strike. Less than half the delegates turned up for the congress; the rest had been immobilized by the railway strike. On October 14 the new party defined its attitude to the events as follows: “In view of our complete agreement with the claims being made, the party considers it its duty to declare its full solidarity with the strike movement. It categorically (categorically!) rejects the notion of achieving its aims by means of negotiations with the representatives of power. It will do everything to prevent a clash, but, should this fail, it declares in advance that its sympathy and its support are on the side of the people.” Three days later the Tsar’s manifesto was signed. The revolutionary parties at last escaped from the curse of clandestinity and, before they had time to wipe the blood and sweat off their foreheads, plunged headlong among the popular masses, appealing to them and uniting them for the struggle. It was a time of greatness, when the heart of the people was forged anew by the hammer of the revolution.

What were the Kadets, those frock-coated politicians, those tribunes of the rural assemblies, to do in such a situation? They passively waited for the constitutional waters to start flowing. There was a manifesto, but there was no parliament. And they did not know when and how it would come, or whether it would come at all. Their secret dream was to save the revolution from itself, but they could not see any means of doing so. They did not dare to venture forth to the popular meetings. Their press revealed their flabbiness and pusillanimity. It was not widely read. Thus at this most testing period of the Russian revolution the Kadets found themselves outside active political life. A year later, fully admitting this fact, Milyukov tried to justify his party – not for failing to throw its weight into the balance on the side of revolution, but for not attempting to stop the revolution. “Any protest, even by a party such as the Constitutional-Democratic Party,” he wrote at the time of elections to the second Duma, “would have been completely impossible during the last months of 1905. Those who now reproach the party for failing to protest at the time, by organizing meetings, against the revolutionary illusions of Trotskyism ... do not understand, or have forgotten the mood of the democratic audiences who were attending the public meetings.” Such is the “popular” party’s self-vindication: it did not dare to confront the people, lest the people were put off by its ugly face.

The Union of Unions played a less unworthy role during this period. The radical intelligentsia actively helped to make the October strike general. By organizing strike committees and sending deputations on their behalf, it stopped the activities of establishments outside the workers’ direct sphere of influence. In this way work was stopped in rural and town councils, banks, offices, courts, schools, even in the Senate. The financial aid offered by the left wing of the intelligentsia to the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies also played a not unimportant role. Nevertheless the picture of the titanic role of the Union of Unions created by the bourgeois press in Russia and the West appears absurd if we consider its activities in the public arena. The Union of Unions took care of the revolution’s supplies, and, at best, it acted as an auxiliary fighting unit. It never claimed a leading position.

Indeed, could it have done so? The Union’s typical member was and remained the same old educated philistine, his wings clipped by history. The revolution aroused him and raised him higher than himself. It left him without his daily newspaper, put out his electric light, and on the darkened wall it wrote in letters of fire the names of new and great, though vague, ideals. He wanted to have faith, but he did not dare. Perhaps we shall obtain a better insight into the drama of his soul if we look at him, not while he is writing a radical resolution, but while seated at his own tea table.

The day after the end of the strike I went to see a family of my acquaintance which lived in the normal urban atmosphere of lower-middle-class radicalism. The program of our party, which had just been printed on large sheets of paper, hung on the dining-room wall; it had appeared as a supplement to the first issue of the social-democrats’ newspaper published after the strike. The whole family was in a state of excitement.

“Well, well ... not bad!”

“What isn’t bad?”

“How can you ask? Your own program! Just read what it says here.”

“I’ve had occasion to read it more than once.”

“Listen to me then. It literally says: ‘The party sets as its immediate political objective the overthrow of the Tsar’s autocracy’ ... you hear me, overthrow! ... ‘and its replacement by a democratic republic’ ... a republic! Do you understand what that means?”

“I think I do.”

“But this has been printed legally, this is sold openly under the eyes of the police, you can buy it for five kopecks outside the Winter Palace! The overthrow of the Tsar’s autocracy, retail price five kopecks! Just try and beat that!”

“And do you like it?”

“What does it matter whether I like it or not, we aren’t talking about me. It’s they, down there in Peterhof, who have to face it now. Let me ask you: do they like it?”

“I doubt it.”

The pater familias was the most excited of all. Only two or three weeks previously he had hated social democracy with the blind hatred of the petty bourgeois steeped in populist prejudices from early youth; today his feelings towards it were entirely different, a mixture of worship and dread.

“This morning we were reading this same program in the office of the Imperial Public Library. The same issue of the paper was delivered there, you know. You should just have seen those gentlemen! The director asked his two deputies and myself into his office, locked the door and read the program out loud to us from A to Z. I give you my word of honor, we all hadn’t any breath left. ‘What do you say to this?’ the director asks me.”

“‘What do you say to it, Sir?’ I reply.”

“‘You know,’ he says, ‘I’ve lost the use of my tongue. A little while ago it was a crime to criticize a policeman in a newspaper. Today they’re openly telling His Imperial Majesty: get out! These people don’t care a hang about etiquette, no, they certainly don’t. Whatever they think, they say.’ Then one of the deputies said, ‘The writing is a bit heavy, isn’t it, they want a lighter style.’ The director looked at him over the top of his glasses, ‘This isn’t a Sunday feature, my dear sir, this is the program of a party.’ And do you know the last thing they said, these gentlemen in the Public Library? They asked each other: How does one join the social-democratic party? How do you like that?”

“I like it very much.”

“Well ... how does one really join?” my host asks, a little hesitantly.

“Nothing could be simpler. The main condition is that you endorse the program. Then you join your local organization and you pay your dues regularly. You like the program, don’t you?”

“Damn it, it’s not bad at all, nobody could deny that. But what do you think of the present position? Only mind you, don’t speak as the editor of a social-democratic paper, but absolutely frankly. Of course it’s a long way yet to a democratic republic, but the constitution’s there, isn’t it?”

“No, in my view the republic is much closer and the constitution much further away than it seems to you.

“But what have we got now, damn it all? Isn’t it a constitution?”

“No, it’s merely a prologue to martial law.”

“What? Nonsense. That’s your newspaperman’s jargon. You can’t believe what you’re saying. It’s wild talk.”

“No, it’s the purest realism. The revolution’s strength and boldness are growing. Look at what is happening in the factories, in the streets. Look at the sheet of paper you’ve pinned to your wall. You wouldn’t have put it there a fortnight ago. Now let me ask you what you asked me a moment ago: what do they in Peterhof think about it all? They’re still alive, you know, and they want to go on living. And they’ve still got the army. Are you by any chance hoping that they’ll surrender without a fight? No, believe me, before they go they’ll put all they’ve got into action, down to the last bayonet.”

“And the manifesto? The amnesty? They’re facts, aren’t they?”

“The manifesto is only the proclamation of a momentary truce, only a breathing space. And the amnesty? From your windows you can see the spire of the Peter and Paul Fortress; it’s still standing pretty solidly. And Kresty Prison too. And the Secret Political Police Department. You doubt my frankness, but let me tell you this: I personally am perfectly eligible for amnesty, but I’m in no hurry to resume legal status. Until the whole business is over I’ll go on living on my false passport. The manifesto has not changed either my status in law or my tactics.”

“But perhaps in that case, you fellows ought to follow a more cautious policy?”

“Such as?”

“Such as refrain from talking about the overthrow of the autocracy.”

“Do you mean to say you think that if we use a more polite form of language, Peterhof will agree to a republic and the confiscation of lands?”

“Hmm ... I think, after all, you’re exaggerating.” “We shall see. Good-bye. I’m off to a meeting of the Soviet. But what about joining the party? You need only say the word, we’ll sign you up in no time.” “Thank you, thank you ... there’s plenty of time ... the situation is so uncertain ... we’ll have another talk ... Good-bye and all the best!”

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Last updated on: 25.11.2006