The driving forces of the Russian Revolution

Karl Radek (1885–1939) was a Marxist active in the German and Polish socialist movements, and later played a prominent role in the Communist International founded in 1919. This article was written not long after the February revolution of 1917, when mass protests and strikes overturned the tsarist regime, creating two competing centers of power: The soviets of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies, set up by the insurgent workers and soldiers of Petrograd, Moscow and elsewhere; and the Provisional Government, established hastily by bourgeois politicians, which sought to halt the revolution, curtail workers’ power, prevent the redistribution of the landed estates, and continue Russia’s involvement in the World War. The soviets were at first dominated by moderate socialist leaders who offered support to the Provisional Government; but as the revolution progressed, they came under increasing pressure from the left. After the tsar’s fall, the left-wing socialists, the Bolsheviks, with a strong base among factory workers in Petrograd, reoriented their strategy in April, issuing the slogans “All Power to the Soviets,” and “bread, peace, and land.” Under the pressure of events—as the Provisional Government showed its true colors—the soviet leaders came under increasing pressure from below to overthrow the Provisional Government and take power into their own hands.

Radek’s article reprinted here first appeared in English translation in Al Richardson, ed., In Defense of the Russian Revolution: A Collection of Bolshevik Writings, 1917–1923 (London: Porcupine Press, 1995). It was originally published in Germany under the title “Die Triebkräft der Russischen Revolution” (“The driving forces of the Russian Revolution”), in Arbeiterpolitik, II. Jahrgang N. 13 18 (1917), and in Karl Radek, In den Reihen Der Deutschen Revolution 1909–1919 (In the Ranks of the German Revolution), Kurt Wolff Verlag, München, 1921, 43–55. The article was translated by Al Richardson with the assistance of Harry Ratner and Bruce Robinson. The footnotes, largely taken from Richardson’s translation, have been slightly modified here and there.

The soldiers’ revolution

No revolution resembles those that preceded it. Each has a particular identity. This is why we ask every time a revolution breaks out: is it indeed one? We evaluate it with reference to old schemas and we shake our heads with amazement as regards its “abnormalities.” When on January 9, 1905 some hundreds of thousands of workers marched in St. Petersburg to the Tsar’s palace led by a priest, many turned up their noses: What, a revolution led by a priest?

Equally the revolution, which reared its head on February 23, 1917, has now to be evaluated in a critical fashion. What was the significance of the soldiers, who so tumultuously took center stage in the revolution? The Russian revolution of 1905–07 superficially collapsed because it did not succeed in involving the army on the side of the insurgent population.

Even if the underlying reasons for the collapse of the 1905 revolution were diverse, the main reason is the fact that the bourgeoisie passed over to the side of Tsarism; it also resulted from the help that foreign capital provided to the bourgeoisie. Superficially, the revolution was thrown back by the bayonets of the peasants in uniform. But in the revolution of 1917 the soldiers of the St. Petersburg garrison attacked the arsenals, distributed the arms to the people, and exerted the most lively pressure upon the Duma.1 Even the younger generation of the officers was not opposed to it, and moreover, for the time being at least, resistance from the heads of the army, Brusilov, Ruzky, and Evert, was not noticeable.2 Are we not led to believe that the coming over of the masses of the soldiers to the workers took place with the approval of the generals, and that it was a military revolution, a repetition on a larger scale of the revolution of the Young Turks of 1908?3 But it was nothing of the sort. It is first of all necessary to establish one indisputable fact right from the start; namely, that the revolution began with the agitation of the working class, mass strikes, and demonstrations. To begin with, the soldiers fired on them in many places. It was only later that a few regiments came over to the popular masses that were demonstrating, until at last the fire engulfed the whole of the garrison of St. Petersburg.

The soldiers’ uprising followed on from the workers’ revolution; but between the two and a so-called military revolution there was no similarity. A so-called military revolution, such as the Decembrists had envisaged and such as has since occurred in the histories of Spain, Portugal, Greece, and finally Turkey, were coups d’état carried out by the officer corps, the only organized force in these underdeveloped countries.4 The mass of soldiers was normally not at all drawn into the struggle, and whenever this was the case it was only as a brute and passive force commanded by its officers. But in the revolution of 1917 it was the masses of the soldiers who appeared in the first instance, and not the generals. And what did these masses of soldiers represent? The peasants and workers who had lived through the history of the last twelve years, the years of revolution and counterrevolution, the two-and-a-half years of war, and who had been shaken by it to the depths of their being. The workers who already before the war had recovered from the blows of counter-revolution, who just before the unleashing of the war had erected barricades in St. Petersburg, peasants who had been proletarianized by Stolypin’s reforms, and peasants whom the war had snatched from the their homes and their fields—that was the soldiers’ revolution.5 The war may have given a uniform to the majority of the popular masses, but it only strengthened the revolutionary tendencies within them. The opposition between the people and the army was suppressed in that the people became the army during the war. From another point of view, the war also made easier the passing over of a part of the army to the side of the working class. The great losses of officers forced the government to enlist university youth and teachers, etc., into the officer corps. Naturally, these democratic elements could not form a barrier against revolutionary tendencies in the army. It is not necessary to show in detail and at great length that the generals were opposed to these tendencies. Every revolutionary agitation was suppressed in the Russian army by a means as Draconian as in every other army. Naturally the Brusilovs and the Everts were not opposed to a renewal of the government by the liberals, which could contribute to strengthening the conduct of the war. But the generals understood perfectly that a revolution is not a means that would strengthen the conduct of imperialism’s war. And if they were not able to send troops against the rebellious St. Petersburg soldiers it is because they took into account—as general Ruzky told the Tsar, according to an account in the Times—the fact that every regiment they sent to St. Petersburg would pass over to the side of the revolution. The part played by the soldiers in the revolution, which seemed to contradict its popular proletarian character, on the contrary bears testimony to its depth and breadth.

It was not by a command from on high, but by the spark that spread from the street into the barracks that the army was set in motion. And it was this that also determined the character of the insurrection. Even if revolutionary-patriotic elements had influence in the army and had cherished the hope of being able to gain victory over Prussian militarism at the head of revolutionary troops, a proletarian and peasant army would not rise up at the end of thirty-two months of war in order to go on with it for yet another thirty-two months. The part played by the army in the revolution, which seemed to give the revolution a warlike character, was to reinforce the tendencies of the revolution, which worked towards a peace. 

So now we come to the bearers of the imperialist tendencies, those who wished to use the revolution as a means of gaining victory, the imperialist bourgeoisie whose participation in the revolution makes up the second characteristic that distinguishes the year 1917 from the year 1905.

The imperialist revolutionaries

The National-Liberal Muscovite capitalist Guchkov and the conservative Shulgin, representing the great landowners, graciously invited the Tsar to abdicate at Pskov.6 Capitalists trod on each other’s toes in the new revolutionary government. Was this a repetition of the events of January to December 1905, when the capitalists paid the workers their wages for the days of the mass political strike, those selfsame capitalists who flung themselves into the arms of Tsarism when it transpired that the proletariat was beginning to struggle for the eight-hour day after its victory over Tsarism? Or did the bourgeoisie understand that its interests were irreconcilable with those of Tsarism and decide to make a radical revolution? Were not the opportunists within the Russian Social Democracy perhaps right in reaffirming that the revolution would only triumph when the bourgeoisie placed itself at its head? The facts themselves answer these questions.

At the beginning of the 1905 revolution, the bourgeoisie was not fully conscious of its antagonism towards the proletariat. It hoped that the proletariat would pull its chestnuts out of the fire. But during the war years it no longer returned to the follies of its youth. It did not for an instant forget the decade of struggle with the proletariat, and at each stage it anxiously turned round to see if it had not set the proletariat in motion by its conflict with Tsarism. No, the joys, mistakes and aberrations of its adolescent love remained totally forbidden to a bourgeoisie now ten or more years older. Did it therefore conclude a marriage of convenience with the proletarian revolution? Did it therefore perhaps estimate that it would certainly have to make concessions to the proletariat, but that it would obtain power in return? This was not the case either. The bourgeoisie had organized itself powerfully in the course of these last ten years. It had given birth to cartels, joint stock companies, and employer’s associations; in the course of the war it had organized itself into committees of industry and war, and it had put not merely humanitarian work, but also a large part of provisioning of the army into the hands of the Confederation of Cities.7 And it occupied itself with this work, not to support the Tsarist war policy, but because it saw in the world war a means of satisfying its own interests.

We do not find a faction as large as the bourgeoisie of Britain or of Germany behind Russia’s imperialist policy, but it is a greater capitalist fraction than that which supported the war with Japan. The conquest of Constantinople and of Armenia, which would also put an end to Persia’s independence, would not only open up new markets, but thanks to the strengthening of Russia’s position in the world, would also provide the Russian bourgeoisie with favorable conditions for borrowing capital which it needs. Victory over Germany would allow a more advantageous trade agreement to be snatched, in other words, an agreement that would guarantee an even higher monopoly charge under the protection of a strengthened industrial tariff control. The bourgeoisie has been in agreement with Tsarist imperial policy since 1907. Insofar as this involved the state apparatus it saw this as a means of forcing concessions from Tsarism on internal policy. 

The unfolding of the world war showed that if Russian militarism had made much more progress since the Russo-Japanese war than one might have thought possible, the bureaucracy was also still utterly corrupt and incapable of fulfilling the enormous tasks of supplying the front and of organizing the rear.8 In fact, it was the bourgeoisie and its organizations that fulfilled these tasks, as we have already said. Consequently, the bourgeoisie hoped that this state of affairs would also find its political expression. It sought to persuade the bureaucracy as you persuade an unruly horse, but it received kicks in return. It protested, and received kicks once again. Then it decided to take the stubborn animal by the bit. It tried first of all with the help of the Allies, who saw that the Russian bourgeoisie could organize the conduct of the war far better that the Tsarist bandits, and could resist far longer in the struggle against Germany. Buchanan, the British ambassador,9 ostentatiously supported the bourgeois imperialist opposition. According to a public statement in the Manchester Guardian, Lord Milner saw the Tsar to persuade him to make concessions to the bourgeoisie.10 When this step also failed, the bourgeoisie tried to reach an understanding with the liberal admirals and generals to put joint pressure on the Tsar to obtain the nomination of a liberal government. The bourgeoisie did not dream of going any further. A little threat of a little putsch, and His Majesty would return to reason and the war could calmly follow its course, that was the plan. They did not dream of revolution, they did not want it, and they even feared it. Nor did they make one.

On February 25 the bourgeoisie still sought to make peace with the Tsar. To its great disappointment the Tsar did not want any compromise. To this was added yet another factor which outflanked the bourgeoisie: the proletariat and the soldiers, who were fighting Tsarism in the streets on February 23. These put the bourgeoisie in a completely new situation. There was an armed people in St. Petersburg, and the Tsar had fled, in other words, declared war on the bourgeoisie. Should it therefore also reject the help of the people? That would be suicide. The bourgeoisie had a little family chat with the Tsar and entered the revolution.

The proletariat made the revolution in overalls. “The revolution seemed to begin as a soldiers’ uprising supported by the working class, but the Duma firmly and rapidly took power into its hands,” wrote the Times of March 16.11 This judgement of the great British Conservative journal, written very freshly under the impact of events, rings true and gives the lie to the Times which now condemns the Russian working class by saying that it was not it which had taken power and that therefore it must keep quiet and help the bourgeoisie win. The poor Times was deceived when on March 16 it expressed the hope that the most dangerous days had passed, in other words that the revolution had ended.12 It has only just begun, and the working class will play the decisive role in it. That is why it is important to see what it has done to date. From this also will flow the principles of its future policy.

The role of the working class

The driving force of this revolution, like that of 1905, is represented by the working class. The ferment among the petit-bourgeoisie, and the aspirations of the bourgeoisie for power, only formed favorable conditions in which the revolutionary advance of the proletariat could transform itself rapidly into a revolution and straightaway deliver Tsarism a crushing blow. Without the support of the petit-bourgeoisie in town and country the proletariat will not accomplish the revolution. victoriously, and should it defeat the bourgeoisie it could not maintain itself in an agrarian country like Russia for a long period without the aid of the peasants. We are not emphasizing these events in order to set out a perspective of development—that will be the task of other articles—but to show that our conception of the role of the proletariat does not derive from an overestimation of its strength. We know its limits, but that does not prevent the bourgeoisie in 1917 from being as little a driving force of the revolution as it was in 1905, or to deny that today, as previously, this motor force is the working class.

The revolution began in 1905 with the “petition” of the proletariat before the Tsar on January 9, and ended with its defeat in the Moscow uprising of December 1905. In 1906 the proletariat sought to keep the positions conquered in its bloody hands, but the blows with which capital struck it and the Tsarist shootings brought it down. Yet again the working class arose in St. Petersburg when the Social Democratic deputies of the Second Duma were dragged before the Tsarist courts.13 The St. Petersburg proletarians fired their last bullets to tell their trusted representatives: “We are here.” But then the darkness of counterrevolution fell over the proletariat, and it was only from the prisons that news came about the fighters who had been snatched from its ranks. 

And even though a part of the Social Democracy, the Liquidators,14 had capitulated, left the ranks of the party, or rather had admitted that the only task of the Social Democracy was to create all sorts of legal organizations that would gradually allow the working class to take over positions in a Russia which had already completely abandoned the road of bourgeois revolution to take the road of a long bourgeois development, the radical elements in the party, the Bolsheviks, had maintained their revolutionary aims: so long as Tsarism and the bourgeoisie had not satisfied the demands of the peasants it was necessary to maintain the objective of the violent overthrow of Tsarism, to direct the party’s struggle towards the aim and not towards reforms, and only to make use of all legal positions with a view to this end. Between these two points of view, that of the Liquidators who considered that the revolution had ended, and that reforms were the next task, and that of the Bolsheviks, there was a middle position essentially represented by Trotsky. This tendency obviously did not renounce the revolution, but saw the struggle for partial reforms as the means of getting there. When the working class, which had been vanquished in 1905–07, began to lift up its head again in 1912 thanks to the cyclical economic improvement, when after the Lena massacres it took on an insurrectionary character, then the real course of events cut short the struggle within the party.15 The majority of the proletariat that really began to struggle did not adopt as its aim the reform of Tsarism, but its overthrow. It did not even wish to take the struggle for reforms as its point of departure, but went for the throat of Tsarism. In July 1914, in the course of the month preceding the war, Poincaré was able to witness barricades and mass demonstrations in St. Petersburg.16 Perhaps the result of these struggles might only have been to obtain reforms and not victory over Tsarism if the war had not enormously sharpened all the contradictions. But then history will also teach all those who see the way to revolution in the struggle for reforms that it knows also another dialectic: reforms as a result of the yearning for revolution. History has already proved the Bolsheviks to be completely right against the liquidators and the Conciliators.17 The transformation of the majority of the Liquidators into social patriots showed the extent to which the Bolsheviks had been right in their policy of splitting with the Liquidators.

To begin with, the war inhibited the struggle of the working class. The Bolsheviks’ antiwar attitude and their propaganda for revolutionary mass struggle were represented as insignificant by the social patriots abroad: small groups of ideologists embittered against Tsarism who had nothing to lose. But when the news arrived from Russia about the struggles of a ceaselessly growing fraction of the working class, about munition strikes, and about demonstrations, they took them to be symptomatic but in reality insignificant. The Bolshevik slogan, “Not social peace, but civil war!” yet again appeared to the centrist realpolitiker as an exaggeration that life would correct of itself: it would be sufficient for Social Democracy to keep its hands clean and not to assume responsibility. At present Russia is in a civil war in the literal sense of the word. It was unleashed against the will of the bourgeoisie. Under the pressure of the proletariat, the Tsar has been deposed and imprisoned, the policemen of reaction arrested, and the supreme command has been withdrawn from the Grand Duke Nicholas.18 The proletariat immediately brought to life the soviet of workers’ deputies, the instrument of struggle born of the masses in 1905, the direct representation of the class, and armed itself. Against whom? Against the still living forces of the old regime and against the new regime of the bourgeoisie. The new regime was not yet secure against a reactionary conspiracy. In the meantime only the Tsar was vanquished, but democracy had not yet been achieved. Wasn’t it too soon, then, when from that moment on radical Social Democracy armed the people for future struggle, when it put forward other demands which went further, not only within the sphere of a democratic republic, but in the social sphere; when it demanded an eight-hour day for the working class and land for the peasants? Given that these demands were directed not only against the rulers of the past, but also against the present men in power, the Entente press spoke of the counter-revolutionary activity of the Bolsheviks and of the working class in general.19 But one look at the forces of reaction and the external situation of the revolution will show that the revolution would have taken place in vain for the working class and the peasants if it had been declared finished by the Social Democracy.

The tactic of the working class

“Given that Russia has greeted the new regime with joy, it is ridiculous to speak at present of the possibility of the restoration of the domination of reaction; but the extremists [that means the revolutionary Social Democrats—KR] maintain that it is dangerous for the workers to return to the factories and the soldiers to their duty,” the Times correspondent telegraphed on March 20,20 whose dispatches, despite their craftiness, provide the best understanding of the contradictory currents of the revolution. And in an officious note in the Paris Temps of March 2221 we read: “The present government has little to fear from a return to reaction. But it seems that it does have to fear the Socialists, who have revealed themselves to be revolutionaries in the fullest sense of the word.” It is not the old regime but the proletariat that is the danger; such is the slogan that British and French finance capital has given to the Russia bourgeoisie. And this is also its point of view. But too weak to settle accounts so soon with the proletariat, the bourgeoisie seeks to lull it to sleep with the first part of the counterrevolutionary slogan, with the joyful shout: “The old regime is dead!” Reactionary forces have never laid down their arms without the most desperate resistance. The Russian Junkers and bureaucrats would be the last to do this; for years economic development as well as their own carelessness have undermined their basis as large semifeudal landowners; state power is their last lifebelt.22 To the great consolation of the exploiters and bureaucratic brigands, the state is the sole source of money and power. If they do not want to disappear they must fight to the death. They have been shaken by events, but they do not yet see very clearly what they can expect from certain bodies of soldiers. They want to wait until the bourgeoisie, frightened by the growth of the proletarian movement, throws itself into their arms.

Can the proletariat defend itself against this by “level-headedness”? If it now gives up the struggle for bread, peace, and liberty, whilst the present bourgeoisie confers upon it crowns of laurel and is able to maintain itself against the Nokolaievs, then the workers will continue to bleed for imperialism and come out at the end empty-handed.23 There exists only one way to ensure the new regime against the old. It consists of deepening and strengthening the revolution, both socially and politically. The social revolution consists in this: that the proletariat should immediately arm itself, immediately force local city elections, take over the apparatus of administration, put the homeless in the apartments of the rich, and take Draconian measures against war profiteers. The city administrations must straightaway encourage the creation of administrations in the rural areas, incite the peasants to take over the great landed estates, and place at their disposal the means necessary to cultivate the land. It should be the task of great commissions and of the soviets of workers’ deputies to raise openly the following demands: that the factories provide agricultural implements, and that the peasant soldiers are given leave of absence to go home and cultivate their fields. But this is impossible without a halt in any offensive which is supposed to guarantee Persia, Armenia, and the Dardanelles to Russian imperialism, and without any defense action on the German front.24

And that leads on to political demands: an immediate armistice, peace negotiations, an eight-hour day, elections for the Constituent Assembly on the basis of universal suffrage, equal for both men and women, and the arraignment of the Romanovs before the courts.25 Can you imagine any more powerful demands? And in the same way that the struggle for these objectives will advance the combativity of the working class, it will tie the Russian workers and peasants to the revolution’s fortunes to such an extent that reaction would no longer be able to rely on either the backwardness of the peasants or the tiredness of the workers.

But isn’t this the “plan” of those revolutionary alchemists who elaborate recipes in their studies? Anyone who pays close attention to the chaos of telegrams reported from St. Petersburg by the big newspapers will notice that we have only systematized what the radicalized working class had already realized on the spot under the pressure of necessity. Even the soldiers’ demand for the demobilization of the oldest men to allow them to go and cultivate the fields had been reported by the Times on March 24.26

It cannot be otherwise. The proletariat must attempt to exploit the success to its own advantage. And this exploitation of the victory by the proletariat in its own interest is the “anarchy” of “fanaticism,” of “extremism” on the part of “unknown orators” in the soviet of workers’ deputies against whom the Times and Le Temps rail so much. Like Antaeus, it returns to mother earth to gain strength!27And so the retrenchment work of the proletariat will sooner or later lead to a clash with “the new government” of the imperialist bourgeoisie which on this occasion will find itself in the same position as the men of the old regime. At the moment the proletariat does not aspire to the overthrow of the new government, it only seeks to defend itself against those greedy hands who wish to take away from it all the fruits of its victory. But because it does not wish to deliver itself over to the old exploitation which the new government would exercise over it at will, we can surely foresee that the struggle between the proletariat and the new government will be a fight to the death. On this issue depends the consequences unleashed by the Russian Revolution.

The struggle for peace

The question of war and peace stands at the center of all the problems of the revolution. Even if the historic roots of this revolution lie much deeper—it is not only the result of the war, but also of a long process of decomposition in Russia, as well as prolonged revolutionary struggles—the revolution was unleashed by the war. The bourgeoisie went into opposition to Tsarism because it believed that it could direct the war in a more energetic manner, whereas the popular masses arose because they wished to struggle against the terrible consequences of the war. But it is not just because the revolution was born (to begin with) as a result of the war that the problem of the war was placed at the center of all questions. Tsarism has been overthrown, but a new regime has not yet been built. Therefore this question is posed: what will be the effect of the continuation of the war and its outcome upon Russia’s internal structure? Hence all the contradictions and all the antagonisms of the revolution are concentrated upon this one question—peace or war? The imperialist bourgeoisie desires war until victory. It was on account of this hoped-for victory that it revolted against Tsarism, and contributed to the creation of a situation thanks to which the victory of the revolution became possible. And by making propaganda for a war to the finish, it asserts that it is helping the work of democratizing Russia. It is only when Russia will have achieved its imperialist objectives, in the first instance by seizing Constantinople and obtaining a free passage through the Dardanelles, that it will have the perspective of a prosperous economic development without which internal reconstruction is impossible. Only the annihilation of Austria, the defeat of Germany, and the general victory of the Entente would allow the creation of a democratic Europe in which Russia would be protected against the counter-revolutionary attacks of Germany. This is why all those who refuse to associate themselves with Messrs Guchkov and Milyukov’s imperialist war are traitors to the revolution.28

The Russian workers will not allow themselves to be taken in by these snake charmers. To begin with they know Messrs Guchkov and Milyukov, the great liberal capitalist junkers and professors, all too well. The revolution of I 917 has not experienced a honeymoon. All its protagonists carne so closely into contact with each other in the course of the period 1907–16 that none of them surprise each other. It is true that bourgeois liberals of the Milyukov type denounced Tsarism at the time, but they were always ready to conspire with it against democracy; they did not struggle for Tsarism’s overthrow, but for its reform and its modernization. Even on February 28, after the triumph of the revolution. Milyukov declared in favor of a constitutional monarchy, as against a republic. And if in the end the Central Committee of his party, the Cadets declared in favor of a republic, it was only under the growing pressure of the masses; therefore absolutely no reliance can be placed on them.29 Things are even clearer as regards Guchkov and his party, the Octobrists.30 There is not a single infamy committed by Tsarism after 1905 for which this party of big capitalists, the sworn enemies of the proletariat, is not responsible. And these are the defenders of democracy, people capable of directing a war that has as its aim to ensure a republic in Russia? It is only by a mortal struggle with them, a struggle that has the aim of overthrowing them, that democracy can be ensured in Russia. This struggle equally applies to their war aims. Far from forming the conditions for Russia’s prosperous economic development, these war aims represent an obstacle to it; if they are realized they will make Russia bear the heaviest burdens. Constantinople and a free passage through the Dardanelles are valueless for the peaceful development of Russia. If Russia were at peace with Turkey, it could send its ships loaded with cereals throughout the world as far as it wished. The Dardanelles are only necessary to Russia if it is dreaming of a policy of imperialist brigandage, and if it wishes to embark upon adventures in the Mediterranean. But that would mean a gigantic rearmament policy all over again, and new entanglements for the resolution of which millions of Russian workers and peasants would have to give up their lives.

The war aims of the Cadets, like those of the Octobrists, require a war until Europe is bled white, a war that will cause its costs to grow until they become an insufferable burden. And even if this objective should be attained, the Russian workers and peasants will have to prepare themselves for fresh wars. It is obvious that the interests of the Russian Revolution require a mortal struggle against the Cadets and the Octobrists, and against the Provisional Government that pursues their aims.31 However good his subjective intentions, he who sits in this government, as does the petit-bourgeois democrat Kerensky, betrays the revolution: “Obviously we must therefore struggle against imperialist war aims, but we cannot lay down our arms, however, before Prussian militarism and the Hohenzollerns have been defeated. If they emerge from this war unscathed there would be no place for a Russian republic. We will have to defend Russia’s youthful liberty with bayonets until the danger threatening it from outside has been overcome by the victory of the Entente.”

Not only open social patriots, the Plekhanovs abroad and the Potresovs and Chkhenkelis inside Russia, declare this, but even centrists such as the deputy Chkeidze, Skobelev,32 and his supporters who formally accept the Zimmerwald resolutions.33 The majority of the St Petersburg soviet of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies, representing the popular masses of St Petersburg, is of that opinion. The Entente press reports triumphantly: “With the exception of the ‘extremist’ Bolsheviks, who are paid German agents or fanatical fools, all the Russian Socialists are for the continuation of the war which they take to be a defensive war.” And if the social patriots and the centrists could hold on to the majority that they hold for the moment in the soviet of workers’ deputies, the Entente would be right to embrace them; for by their efforts these social patriotic gentlemen along with the centrists not only support the aims of the Entente and of their own imperialism, but also play the game of the Milyukovs and Guchkovs, and consequently of the adversaries of the victory of the revolution and the enemies of the republic. 

These social patriotic and centrist gentlemen declare; “Yes, we are against the war aims of imperialism, we are against shedding the blood of Russian workers and peasants for the conquest of the Dardanelles and Constantinople. We only wish to defend the Russian republic against Prussian bayonets.” All this is very fine. But if the imperialist bourgeoisie remains in power, if the Guchkovs and the Milyukovs maintain the government in their hands, it will not be the wishes of the social patriots and centrists that will prevail, but the war aims of Russian imperialism and of the Entente. If the Entente should win with the help of the Russian social patriots and centrists, it would be imperialism’s victory, and not the peace without annexation and indemnities that the soviet of workers’ deputies proclaims as its aims. But if the Russian workers and peasants were to overthrow the Provisional Government of the imperialist bourgeoisie, were to cancel all the imperialist obligations and alliances that Tsarism has agreed to and the Provisional Government has recognized, then they could say: “We have guaranteed the republic which wants no conquests, and he who is against us is carrying on a war of conquest”; then they could launch an appeal to the proletariat of the entire world for the conclusion of a peace between all peoples. Then the Russian Revolution could say: “A peace of all peoples against imperialism, or rather the year 1793 of the Russian proletariat and peasantry, the struggle of the Russian revolution against all the reactionary forces in the world.”34 We would then see if the conditions for such a revolutionary war existed—we only wish to state that it is really ridiculous to see Chkeidze and Skobelev pretending to be Danton.35 Meanwhile, they are assisting the enemies of the Russian revolution, not only the Girondins but even the monarchists of the Russian Revolution, not only the Cadets but the Octobrists as well.36 For what in practice does the slogan mean that “we are continuing a defensive war?” It only means that the Russian soldiers will continue to pour out their blood for imperialist objectives, and social peace within. The soviet of workers’ deputies may well quarrel every day with the Provisional Government, just as the newspapers report. But it is not allowed to tell the workers, “Struggle for your proletarian rights, as in December 1905!” For if the social patriots and centrists did this, they would considerably damage the conduct of the war, given that munitions production would be disorganized and weakened. If the social patriots and centrists wish to defend the fatherland “for the time being,” they must not push for the immediate democratization of the army and the abolition of the officers’ privileges, for in struggling for these objectives they would weaken the army’s fighting capacity. If the social patriots wish to retain the generals whose elimination would doubtless weaken the present power of the army, they must not say to the peasants: “Take over big feudal landed property immediately.” If they did this, these gentlemen generals, who are closely related to the junkers, would straightaway begin to ask if it was worthwhile defending so ungrateful a fatherland. Let us sum up briefly: the social patriots and the centrists want to defend the republic provisionally under the leader ship of the Guchkovs and Milyukovs, so that youthful Russian liberty may not be vanquished by Prussian militarism. But that liberty can only be assured—the history of every revolution shows—if the working class and peasantry, without waiting for the Constituent Assembly, build democracy from below, take effective power, and root it socially. The social patriots and centrists must abandon this effective protection of the revolution if they wish to continue the war under the leadership of the imperialist bourgeoisie. The revolution that they want to protect is handed over to the enemies of the revolution. There therefore remains but one thing; the struggle for imperialist objectives. But fortunately for the revolution, its logic is stronger than that of the social patriots and centrists. In spite of the efforts of the literal bourgeoisie and its social patriotic and centrist lackeys, the Titan does not allow itself to be tamed.37 As the big press of the Entente reports whilst grinding its teeth, the struggle of the working class to realize democracy, for the eight-hour day, and for the land continues. But the struggle is directed against the prosecution of the war. And it finds its agents in the Sansculottes,38 the vanguard of the Russian Revolution, in the Russian revolutionary internationalist Social Democracy, the Bolsheviks, who are opposed to the momentary wave of republican-revolutionary illusions. And nothing shows better the growth of their power than the peevishness with which they are combated by the Times and Le Temps, the avowed organs of European finance capital.

The fate of the Russian Revolution, of the European upheaval, and of peace in the following period depends upon the fortunes of this proletarian party. The question of its position and its struggle, with which we are going to deal now, coincides with the problem of the perspectives of the Russian Revolution.

The attitude of the Bolsheviks

The Russian revolutionary Social Democrats, the Bolsheviks, who out of all the factions of Russian Socialism have carried out the most energetic and the most effective struggle against Tsarism, who during the period of the unleashing of the counter-revolution continued to work unceasingly for the overthrow of Tsarism, do not have to prove that they wish to defend the revolution against all its enemies, and that they are its most faithful guardians. The Russian revolutionary Social Democrats, who ever since the war was unleashed have demonstrated its imperialist character in the sharpest manner, and who consistently sought at Zimmerwald and Kienthal to engage in a generalized struggle against imperialist governments, stick to this view.39 The Central Powers do not have the slightest illusion on this score.40 However, in politics it is not a question of intentions, but of results, whether they are intended or not. What are the premises of the politics of the Bolsheviks, and what consequences do they have? This question, which is wholly justified, has to be answered.

Internally, the Bolsheviks start off from the principle that the supporters of the Russian Revolution are only to be found in the working class, the poor peasantry and the poor and dissatisfied petit-bourgeoisie—the working class having been and remaining the only truly consistent and conscious vanguard of the revolution—therefore democracy can only be created in Russia in the struggle against big capital. At the stage of development in which Russia finds herself today, when enormous proletarian masses are opposed to concentrated capital, when dissatisfaction reigns in the villages, when young nations are awakening along Russia’s frontiers, Russian capital will attempt to concentrate the maximum power in its hands and slow down the development of democracy.

No confidence can be placed in the parties of the Cadets and the Octobrlsts. The proletariat must create democracy from now on. It will come up against the most determined resistance, not only from Russian capital, but from foreign capital as well. The press of the Entente tries to frighten the Russian revolutionaries with the specter of Prussian bayonets. But Its own press is already insisting upon the fact — see the editions of Figaro — that the providers of foreign funds have the right to insist that order reigns in Russia. There is no need to search far for the reasons: in a capitalist country where a working class exists that is powerful and conscious of its own class interests, democracy means the greatest struggles for the eight-hour day, for decent labor laws, and for political control. All this is already immediately directed against capitalism’s unfettered power—also that of foreign capital, which plays an important role in the Russian economy—and if we take into consideration the fact that Russian capital wishes to conduct an imperialist policy, and that foreign capital is pushing Russia in the same direction, it is clear that the one, like the other, must resist the victory of the revolution. Consequently, the struggle even if only for democracy signifies for the Russian working class a break not only with its own capital, but also the most determined struggle against world capital.

It is a matter of conducting this struggle in a situation where, viewed superficially, there does not exist a united front of world capital, and where the struggle between the capital of the Central Powers and that of the Entente has reached its highest stage. A glance at the situation shows that the next enemy that will prevent and hold back the development of democracy with all its strength will be Russian capitalism itself. It has power at the moment. It is supported by British and French capital. It “needs” the “German danger” to postpone the process of Russia’s democratization in order ultimately to check it. Whoever allies with it is killing the revolution. If the Russian working class submits to the rule of its capitalists, if it limits its proletarian objectives in order to protect the revolution from outside threats, then it will surrender to its internal enemies. If it shows its strength, it will overthrow its internal enemy.

The perspective of a proletarian 1793 provides a reply to the question of the social patriots and the centrists: “Do you want to deliver the Russian Revolution to the foreign enemy?” The Bolsheviks reply: “Neither to the foreign enemy nor to the enemy within!” But just as it is not possible to defeat the revolution’s internal enemy, Russian capital, by allying with the enemy abroad, world capital, it is also not possible to overthrow the enemy abroad by allying with the enemy within. If we were to make common cause with the Guchkovs and Milyukovs for the defeat of Germany, we would not only be helping Anglo-Saxon capital—the strongest part of world capital—to exploit the world, but also to ransack Russia as well. The proletariat can only directly struggle against its own bourgeoisie.

  1. The Duma was a constitutional assembly to be elected along the lines of differential class voting granted by the Tsar in October 1905 to defuse the demand for a democratic parliament.
  2. General Alexei Alexeyevich Brusilov (1853–1926) was Commander-in-Chief of the Southwestern Front in 1916–17; General NV Ruzky (1854–1918) was Commaner-in-Chief of the Northern Front; General AE Evert (1857–1917) was Commander-in-Chief on the Western Front in 1915–17.
  3. The movement of opposition to the autocracy by the Young Turks, important in the Turkish army, provoked a rebellion of the troops in July 1908 under Enver Pasha, and forced the Turkish government to grant a constitution.
  4. The Decembrists were young officers who initiated an attempted coup d’état in 1825, encouraged by the Tsar’s brother with the promise of a constitution.
  5. Count Pyotr Arkadyevich Stolypin (1862–1911) was the Tsar’s Chief Minister and Minister of Finance. By this reform between 1906 and 1910 he neutralized a part of the peasantry by “breaking up” the rural commune to the advantage of a minority.
  6. Vassily Vitalyevich Shulgin (1878–1945) was a right wing Tsarist statesman and writer.
  7. The Confederation of Cities, called the Zemstvos, was a system of provincial and county self-government set up in 1864 and administered by the local gentry. During the war it played an important role in supplying the Russian army.
  8. During the Russo-Japanese war (1904–06) the Russian army and navy sustained a series of humiliating defeats in the Far East.
  9. Sir George William Buchanan (1854–1924) was British ambassador to Russia 1910–24.
  10. Alfred Viscount Milner (1854–1925) was a representative of the Allied Military Mission in Russia.
  11. This date in the Gregorian Calendar corresponds to March 3 in Russia. Until 1817 Russia still adhered to the old Julian Calendar, which by then was thirteeen days behind the modern Gregorian one.
  12. March 3 in Russia.
  13. The members of the Bolshevik fraction in the Duma were arrested during the night of November 4–5, 1914 and were later tried and exiled for their opposition to World War I. [ISR editor’s note: This footnote refers to a the arrest of Bolshevik members of the fourth Duma, which existed from 1912–1917. However, the Second Duma, here discussed by Radek, was dissolved by the Tsar in June 1907.]
  14. The Liquidators were a group of Mensheviks led by A. N. Potresov after 1907 that argued for the liquidation of the illegal organs of the party in order to function solely within the limits of Tsarist legality.
  15. The Tsarist gendarmerie fired upon an unarmed demonstration of strikers at the Lena Goldfield in Siberia on April 4, 2012, triggering a wave of strikes and protest in Russia.
  16. Raymond Nicholas Landry Poincaré (1860–1934), a noted chauvinist and right winger, had been Prime Minister and was later President of France.
  17. The Conciliators, or “Party Bolsheviks,” were a group led by Rykov, Lozovsky, and Sokolnikov who argued for a restoration of party unity with the Mensheviks in 1910.
  18. The Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolayevich (1850–1929) was Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Russian armies from 1914 to August 1915.
  19. The Entente Cordiale entered into by Britain and France in 1904 gave its name to the alliance (also called the Allies) of Britain, France, Russia, Serbia, Japan, Belgium, Italy, Romania, the USA and Greece, which fought in World War I against the Central powers (see note on Central Powers below).
  20. March 7 in Russia.
  21. March 20 in Russia.
  22. The Junkers were the Prussian noble class, which provided officers for the German army and bureaucrats for the state administration. Radek is using this phrase for the Russian nobility to make his account intelligible to a German readership. It should not in this instance be confused with the use of the term junker in Russia for officer cadets.
  23. Nikolayevich, cf. note 18.
  24. The Dardanelles, also called the Bosphorous, was the passage out from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean past Istanbul, the Turkish capital, which had long been coveted by the Tsarist state as a means of expanding in the Near East at the expense of the Turkish empire.
  25. The Romanov’s were the dynasty that had ruled Russia since the seventeenth century.
  26. March 11 in Russia.
  27. Antaeus was the giant in Greek mythology who wrestled with Heracles. He drew strength from his mother, the earth, every time he was thrown down.
  28. Alexander Ivanovich Guchkov was a conservative Russian politician, Chairman of the Third Duma, and Minister of War in the Russian Provisional Government. Pavel Milyukov was the founder of the Constitutional Democratic Party (KD, Cadets). As Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Provisional Government, Milyukov worked to keep Russia’s armies in the World War.
  29. The Constitutional Democratic Party (KD, Cadets) was a bourgeois “liberal” party created in 1905.
  30. A party created by the supporters of the Tsar’s manifesto of October 1906 envisaging a constitutional regime.
  31. The Provisional Government was the capitalist-backed government set up by the Duma after the fall of the Tsar. It was meant to rule Russia until the convocation of an All-Russian Constituent Assembly to decide on a future constitution for the country. Together, the Provisional Government and the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies discussed here by Radek, famously constituted the “dual power” that existed between the February revolution and the October Revolution in 1917.
  32. Georgi Valentinovich Plekhanov (1856–1918) was the pioneer of Marxism in Russia who later gravitated toward Menshevism. He adopted a policy of support for the Russian war effort in World War I, and of support to the Provisional Government in I9I7. Alexander Nikolayevich Potresov (Starover, 1869–1934) was a leading Menshevik who supported the Provisional Government. Arkady Ivanovich Chkhenkeli (1874–1959) was a Menshevik deputy in the Fourth Duma and later a minister in the Menshevik Georgian republic (1918–21). Nikolai Semyonovich Chkeidze (1864–1926) and Matvei Ivanovich Skobelev (1885–1939) were leaders of the Menshevik right wing.
  33. The Zimmerwald  Conference (September 1915) was a gathering in Switzerland of left wing Socialist internationalists opposed to World War I. The Zimmerwald manifesto was written by Leon Trotsky.
  34. In 1793 the French revolutionaries, already at war with much of Europe, received requests from the people of some of the neighboring countries to help them overthrow their feudal rulers. In these circumstances was born the famous slogan: “War to the castle, peace to the cottage!”
  35. Georges-Jacques Danton (1759–94) was the revolutionary leader who galvanized the resistance of France against foreign invasion after the defeat at Valmy.
  36. The Girondins were the moderate faction during the French Revolution that attempted to put a brake upon its progress. Several of them came from the area of Bordeaux, hence their name.
  37. The Titans were the giants of Greek mythology, overthrown by the gods when they began their rule.
  38. The Sansculottes were the Parisian lower classes who played a leading role in the French Revolution.
  39. The Kienthal Conference (April 1916) was the second gathering in Switzerland of left wing Socialist internationalists opposed to World War I.
  40. The Central Powers, so-called because of their position in the middle of Europe, is the name of the alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria which fought in World War I.

Issue #103

Winter 2016-17

"A sense of hope and the possibility for solidarity"

Interview with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
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