SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 205 February 2017

Revolution in Russia

The following two articles were written by LEON TROTSKY in New York, where he and his family were in exile. Both were published in the Russian émigré paper Novy Mir (New World). The first article was published on 16 March 1917 (Novy Mir, No.937) – 3 March according to the Julian calendar in use in Russia at the time – the day after the Provisional Government was formed. The second was published on 21 March (No.942) – 8 March old style. They have been translated by Pete Dickenson into English for the first time.

What is happening in Russia will forever go down as one of history’s greatest events. Our children and grandchildren will talk about these days as the beginning of a new era in the story of humanity. The Russian proletariat took up arms against the most criminal of regimes, the most outcast of governments. The people of Petrograd rose against the most dishonest and bloody of wars. The soldiers in the capital stood under the red banner of rebellion and freedom. The tsar’s ministers were arrested. The ministers of the Romanov rulers of old Russia, the organisers of all-Russia despotism, were put in the same prisons that until now opened their wrought-iron gates only for the champions of the people. This fact alone gives a true estimation of the events, their scope and power. The mighty avalanche of revolution is in full flow – no human force will stop it.

According to the wire reports, a Provisional Government is in power, composed of representatives of the Duma majority, under the chairmanship of Rodzianko. (1) This Provisional Government – the executive committee of the liberal bourgeoisie – did not want the revolution, did not bring it about, and is not leading it. Rodzianko and Miliukov (2) have risen to power on the first big wave of the revolutionary tide. More than anything they are afraid of being drowned by it. Occupying the still warm seats of ministers now in solitary confinement, the big chiefs of the liberal bourgeoisie are ready to regard the revolution as over. Such is the idea and hope of all the world’s bourgeoisie. Meanwhile, the revolution is just beginning. Its driving force is not that which elected Rodzianko and Miliukov, nor will the revolution find its leadership in the executive committee of the June the Third Duma. (3) (The telegrams in the American press have mixed up the committee of the Duma and the Provisional Government.)

The emaciated hands of the hungry mothers of starving children were indignantly raised before the palace windows, and the curses of these plebeian women tolled the tocsin bell of revolution. This is where it began. The workers of Petrograd gave a warning signal; hundreds of thousands poured out of the factories and onto the pavements of a city already familiar with barricades. This is the power of the revolution! A general strike shook the mighty organism of the capital, paralysed state power and drove the tsar into one of his gilded dens. This is the revolutionary road! The troops of the Petrograd garrison, as the nearest detachments of the Russian army, responded to the call of the insurgent masses, and made possible the first major gains of the people. The decisive word in the events of the revolution will belong to the revolutionary army.

The dispatches we now have are incomplete. There was a fight. The tsar’s ministers did not leave without a struggle. Telegrams from Sweden talk about blown up bridges, clashes in the streets and uprisings in provincial cities. The bourgeoisie, with their Engelhardt colonels and Gronsky censors, (4) took power, in their own words, to ‘restore order’. The first proclamation of the Provisional Government calls on the people to maintain order and act peacefully. As if the cleansing work is complete, as if the iron broom of revolution has already completely swept away the scum of reaction, which has accumulated for centuries around the Romanov dynasty, covering it in disgrace!

Rodzianko and Miliukov think they have only to begin to speak about order, then immediately peace will come to an aroused Russia. Layer on layer of the country will rise – all the oppressed and destitute, robbed by tsarism and the ruling classes – throughout the vast space of the all-Russia prison-house of nations. The events in Petrograd are only the beginning.

At the head of the Russian masses, the revolutionary proletariat will fulfil its historic task. It will drive out the monarchic and aristocratic reaction from all its sanctuaries, and reach out its hand to the proletariat of Germany and all Europe. For it is necessary to liquidate not only tsarism, but also war. Already, the second wave of the revolution is breaking over the heads of the Rodziankos and Miliukovs, who are preoccupied with the restoration of order and an agreement with the monarchy. From the revolution’s own depths a power will arise – a revolutionary body of the people that will lead to victory. The main battles and the main sacrifices are yet to come. Only after these will there be a full and final victory.

The latest telegrams from London say that Tsar Nicholas wants to abdicate in favour of his son. With this arrangement, reaction and liberalism want to save the monarchy and the dynasty. Too late! Too late! The crimes are too great, the suffering too enormous – and the people’s rage is on too great a scale! Too late for the servants of the monarchy, too late for the liberal suppressors! The avalanche of revolution has been set in motion – no human force can stop it.

1. Mikhail Rodzianko: a leader of the monarchist Octobrist Party in the tsarist-era Duma (parliament).

2. Pavel Miliukov: founder of the Constitutional Democratic Party (known as the Kadets), a liberal party of constitutional monarchists backing Russian involvement in the first world war.

3. The Third of June Duma refers to the regime that took office after that date in 1907, following the suppression of the short-lived Second Duma, which had included some left-wing representation as a result of the 1905 revolution.

4. Colonel Engelhardt, from an old aristocratic family, was appointed governor of Petrograd by the Provisional Government after the February revolution, although he never carried out this function. PP Gronsky was made minister of post and telegraph at the same time.

From whom and how to defend the revolution

Imperialism, here as everywhere, flows from the very basics of capitalist production. In Russia, the development of imperialism was accelerated and aggravated to an extreme extent under the influence of the counter-revolution. We have already discussed this. After the frightened revolutionary bourgeoisie renounced its programme for the deepening of the internal market through the transfer of the landlords’ estates to the peasantry, it turned all its attention to world politics. This expressed very clearly the anti-revolutionary character of our imperialism.

The imperialist bourgeoisie promised the Russian worker – in the case of success – the best wages, and attempted to bribe the tops of the workers in privileged positions in military industries. To the peasantry it promised more land. ‘Whether or not we will get new land’, reasoned the middle peasant, losing hope of getting the landlords’ estates, ‘in any event, there will be fewer of us, therefore I will become freer from the land’.

So, in the most direct sense, the war was a means to distract the masses from the most pressing domestic issues – in the first place, the agrarian. This is one reason why the ‘liberal’ and non-liberal nobility with such zeal support the imperialist bourgeoisie in the conduct of the war. Under the banner of ‘saving the country’ the liberal bourgeoisie is attempting to hold onto leadership over the revolutionary people and, to this end, has in tow not only the patriotic Trudovik Kerensky but, apparently, also Chkheidze, a spokesman of the opportunistic elements of the Social Democracy. (1)

The end of the war, and to be sure the struggle for peace itself, will pose point blank all domestic issues and, above all, that of the land. The agrarian question will drive a deep wedge into the current bloc of the nobility, bourgeoisie and social-patriots. Kerensky must choose between the ‘liberal’ June the Thirdists, who want to plunder the entire revolution for capitalist aims, and the revolutionary proletariat, which unfurls to its fullest extent the programme of the agrarian revolution: ie the confiscation by the people of the lands of the tsars, the landowners, the churches and the monasteries. (2) Kerensky’s personal choice on this is of no significance. This young Saratov lawyer, ‘imploring’ the soldiers at a rally to shoot him if they do not trust him, at the same time as threatening with scorpions the worker-internationalists, counts for very little on the scales of the revolution. Another matter is the peasant masses, the village poor. Bringing them onto the side of the proletariat is the most pressing, the most urgent task.

It would be a crime to attempt to solve this task by adapting our politics to the national-patriotic narrow-mindedness of the countryside. The Russian worker would commit suicide by paying for a connection to the peasantry at the expense of breaking its links with the European proletariat. But there is no political need to do this, we have to hand more powerful weapons. While the current Provisional Government of Lvov-Guchkov-Miliukov-Kerensky, is forced – in the name of preserving its unity – to avoid the agrarian question, we can and must pose it in all its magnitude before the peasant masses of Russia. (3)

After the experience of 1905-07, the Russian bourgeoisie said that, since agrarian reform is impossible, we are for the imperialist war. (4) Referring to the experience of 1914-17, we say to the peasant masses: turn your back on the imperialist war, your face to the agrarian revolution!

This same issue, the land, will play a huge role in uniting the proletarian cadres of the army with the peasant masses. ‘The landlords’ estates and not Constantinople!’ the proletarian soldier will say to the peasant soldier, explaining who the imperialist war serves and for what. And the success of the fight against the war and of our agitation – above all directed at the workers, and then at the peasant and soldier masses – will determine how soon the liberal-imperialist government can be replaced by a revolutionary workers’ government, based directly on the proletariat and the village poor.

Only such a power that does not balk at the onslaught of the masses but, on the contrary, takes it forward, will be able to ensure the destiny of the revolution and of the working class. The creation of such a government is now the main political task of the revolution.

The Constituent Assembly is so far the only revolutionary set-up. What is hidden behind it? What standing orders will this Constituent Assembly be based on? This will depend on its composition. But its composition will depend under what conditions the Constituent Assembly is convened. Rodzianko, Guchkov and Miliukov will make every effort to create a Constituent Assembly in their own image and likeness. The strongest card in their hands will be the slogan of a war of the whole nation against an external enemy. Now they will talk, of course, about the need to preserve ‘the gains of the revolution from defeat at the hands of the Hohenzollerns’. (5) And the Social-Patriots will echo them.

We will say: yes, it should be defended! But in the first place it will be necessary to safeguard the revolution from its internal enemies. Without waiting for a Constituent Assembly, we must sweep away all the monarchical and feudal rubbish from all corners. We need to teach the Russian peasant not to trust the promises of Rodzianko or the patriotic lies of Miliukov. We need to unite the peasant millions against the liberal imperialists under the banner of agrarian revolution and a republic.

To carry out this work in its entirety can only be based on the proletariat, a revolutionary government that removes the Guchkovs and Miliukovs from power. This workers’ government will deploy all the resources of state power to raise to their feet, enlighten and unite, the most backward and dark layers of the toiling masses of town and village. Only with such a government, and with such preparatory work, will the Constituent Assembly not be a cloak for landlord and capitalist interests but a real organ of the people and of the revolution.

But what about the Hohenzollerns, whose army will pose a threat to the victorious Russian revolution? We have already written about this. The Russian revolution represents an immeasurably greater danger for the Hohenzollerns than the appetites and ambitions of imperialist Russia. The sooner the revolution sheds its Guchkov-Miliukov chauvinist mask and reveals its proletarian face, the more powerful will be the echo it receives in Germany, and the lesser will be the possibility for the Hohenzollerns to hunt down and strangle the Russian revolution – they will have enough trouble at home.

And what if the German proletariat doesn’t rise up? What will we do then? You are suggesting that the Russian revolution will go past without leaving a trace in Germany, even if a workers’ government is in power here? This is completely inconceivable.

But all the same? In truth, there is no reason at the moment to be worried about such an incredible assumption. The war has turned Europe into a powder keg of social revolution. Into this powder keg the Russian proletariat is now throwing a lighted torch. To suggest that this torch will not cause an explosion flies in the face of all laws of historical logic and psychology.

But what if, in the coming period, the improbable happened, and a conservative social-patriotic organisation prevented the German working class from rising up against their ruling classes? Then, of course, the Russian working class would defend the revolution with arms in hand. A revolutionary workers’ government would lead a war against the Hohenzollerns, calling on the fraternal German proletariat to rise up against the common enemy.

In exactly the same way, the German proletariat, if it assumed power in the near future, would not only have the ‘right’, but would have the duty to wage war against Guchkov-Miliukov, to help the Russian workers get the better of their imperialist enemy. In either case, a war led by a proletarian government could only come about through armed revolution. It would not be about the ‘defence of the homeland’ but about the defence of the revolution, and spreading it to other countries.

1. Alexander Kerensky at the time was a leader of the populist Trudoviks, a split from the Social Revolutionary party (also known as Socialist Revolutionaries), and supported continuing the war. He later became leader of the Provisional Government until it was overthrown in the October revolution. Nikolay Chkheidze was a prominent member of the Mensheviks, who had verbally opposed the war in 1914 but gradually changed his position to one of support.

2. June the Thirdists refers to supporters of the regime that took power in 1907.

3. Prince Georgy Lvov was prime minister of Russia after the February revolution, and a member of the Constitutional Democratic Party (Kadets). Alexander Guchkov and Mikhail Rodzianko were leaders of the right-wing pro-war Octobrist Party. Pavel Miliukov was the founder and leader of the liberal Kadets, which also supported the war.

4. 1905-07 refers to the Russian revolution of 1905 and its aftermath.

5. Hohenzollern was the family name of the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II.

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