This is, perhaps, the most remarkable piece of political writing the Revolution has produced. Written early in 1906, after the great upheavals of the fall of 1905, at a time when the Russian revolution was obviously going down hill, and autocracy, after a moment of relaxation, was increasing its deadly grip over the country, the essays under the name Sum Total and Prospectives (which we have here changed into a more comprehensible name, Prospects of Labor Dictatorship) aroused more amazement than admiration. They seemed so entirely out of place. They ignored the liberal parties as quite negligible quantities. They ignored the creation of the Duma to which the Constitutional Democrats attached so much importance as a place where democracy would fight the battles of the people and win. They ignored the very fact that the vanguard of the revolution, the industrial proletariat, was beaten, disorganized, downhearted, tired out.
The essays met with opposition on the part of leading Social–Democratic thinkers of both the Bolsheviki and Mensheviki factions. The essays seemed to be more an expression of Trotzky’s revolutionary ardor, of his unshakable faith in the future of the Russian revolution, than a reflection of political realities. It was known that he wrote them within prison walls. Should not the very fact of his imprisonment have convinced him that in drawing a picture of labor dictatorship he was only dreaming?
History has shown that it was not a dream. Whatever our attitude towards the course of events in the 1917 revolution may be, we must admit that, in the main, this course has taken the direction predicted in Trotzky’s essays. There is a labor dictatorship now in Russia. It is a labor dictatorship, not a “dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasants.” The liberal and radical parties have lost influence. The labor government has put collective ownership and collective management of industries on the order of the day. The labor government has not hesitated in declaring Russia to be ready for a Socialist revolution. It was compelled to do so under the pressure of revolutionary proletarian masses. The Russian army has been dissolved in the armed people. The Russian revolution has called the workingmen of the world to make a social revolution.
All this had been outlined by Trotzky twelve years ago. When one reads this series of essays, one has the feeling that they were written not in the course of the first Russian upheaval (the essays appeared in 1906 as part of a book by Trotzky, entitled Our Revolution, Petersburg, N. Glagoleff, publisher) but as if they were discussing problems of the present situation. This, more than anything else, shows the continuity of the revolution. The great overthrow of 1917 was completed by the same political and social forces that had met and learned to know each other in the storms of 1905 and 1906. The ideology of the various groups and parties had hardly changed. Even the leaders of the major parties were, in the main, the same persons. Of course, the international situation was different. But even the possibility of a European war and its consequences had been foreseen by Trotzky in his essays.
Twelve years ago those essays seemed to picture an imaginary world. To-day they seem to tell the history of the Russian revolution. We may agree or disagree with Trotzky, the leader, nobody can deny the power and clarity of his political vision.
In the first chapter, entitled “Peculiarities of Our Historic Development,” the author gives a broad outline of the growth of absolutism in Russia. Development of social forms in Russia, he says, was slow and primitive. Our social life was constructed on an archaic and meager economic foundation. Yet, Russia did not lead an isolated life. Russia was under constant pressure of higher politico-economical organisms — the neighboring Western states. The Russian state, in its struggle for existence, outgrew its economic basis. Historic development in Russia, therefore, was taking place under a terrific straining of national economic forces. The state absorbed the major part of the national economic surplus and also part of the product necessary for the maintenance of the people. The state thus undermined its own foundation. On the other hand, to secure the means indispensable for its growth, the state forced economic development by bureaucratic measures. Ever since the end of the seventeenth century, the state was most anxious to develop industries in Russia. “New trades, machines, factories, production on a large scale, capital, appear from a certain angle to be an artificial graft on the original economic trunk of the people. Similarly, Russian science may appear from the same angle to be an artificial graft on the natural trunk of national ignorance.” This, however, is a wrong conception. The Russian state could not have created something out of nothing. State action only accelerated the processes of natural evolution of economic life. State measures that were in contradiction to those processes were doomed to failure. Still, the rôle of the state in economic life was enormous. When social development reached the stage where the bourgeoisie classes began to experience a desire for political institutions of a Western type, Russian autocracy was fully equipped with all the material power of a modern European state. It had at its command a centralized bureaucratic machinery, incapable of regulating modern relations, yet strong enough to do the work of oppression. It was in a position to overcome distance by means of the telegraph and railroads — a thing unknown to the pre-revolutionary autocracies in Europe. It had a colossal army, incompetent in wars with foreign enemies, yet strong enough to maintain the authority of the state in internal affairs.
Based on its military and fiscal apparatus, absorbing the major part of the country’s resources, the government increased its annual budget to an enormous amount of two billions of rubles, it made the stock-exchange of Europe its treasury and the Russian tax-payer a slave to European high finance. Gradually, the Russian state became an end in itself. It evolved into a power independent of society. It left unsatisfied the most elementary wants of the people. It was unable even to defend the safety of the country against foreign foes. Yet, it seemed strong, powerful, invincible. It inspired awe.
It became evident that the Russian state would never grant reforms of its own free will. As years passed, the conflict between absolutism and the requirements of economic and cultural progress became ever more acute. There was only one way to solve the problem: “to accumulate enough steam inside the iron kettle of absolutism to burst the kettle.” This was the way outlined by the Marxists long ago. Marxism was the only doctrine that had correctly predicted the course of development in Russia.
In the second chapter, “City and Capital,” Trotzky attempts a theoretical explanation to the weakness of the middle-class in Russia. Russia of the eighteenth, and even of the major part of the nineteenth, century, he writes, was marked by an absence of cities as industrial centers. Our big cities were administrative rather than industrial centers. Our primitive industries were scattered in the villages, auxiliary occupations of the peasant farmers. Even the population of our so called “cities,” in former generations maintained itself largely by agriculture. Russian cities never contained a prosperous, efficient and self-assured class of artisans — that real foundation of the European middle class which in the course of revolutions against absolutism identified itself with the “people.” When modern capitalism, aided by absolutism, appeared on the scene of Russia and turned large villages into modern industrial centers almost over night, it had no middle-class to build on. In Russian cities, therefore, the influence of the bourgeoisie is far less than in western Europe. Russian cities practically contain great numbers of workingmen and small groups of capitalists. Moreover, the specific political weight of the Russian proletariat is larger than that of the capital employed in Russia, because the latter is to a great extent imported capital. Thus, while a large proportion of the capital operating in Russia exerts its political influence in the parliaments of Belgium or France, the working class employed by the same capital exert their entire influence in the political life of Russia. As a result of these peculiar historic developments, the Russian proletariat, recruited from the pauperized peasant and ruined rural artisans, has accumulated in the new cities in very great numbers, “and nothing stood between the workingmen and absolutism but a small class of capitalists, separated from the ‘people’ (i.e., the middle-class in the European sense of the word), half foreign in its derivation, devoid of historic traditions, animated solely by a hunger for profits.”
History does not repeat itself. You are free to compare the Russian revolution with the Great French Revolution, yet this would not make the former resemble the latter. The nineteenth century passed not in vain.
Already the year of 1848 is widely different from 1789. As compared with the Great Revolution, the revolutions in Prussia or Austria appear amazingly small. From one viewpoint, the revolutions of 1848 came too early; from another, too late. That gigantic exertion of power which is necessary for the bourgeois society to get completely square with the masters of the past, can be achieved either through powerful unity of an entire nation arousing against feudal despotism, or through a powerful development of class struggle within a nation striving for freedom. In the first case — of which a classic example are the years 1789–1793 — the national energy, compressed by the terrific resistance of the old régime, was spent entirely in the struggle against reaction. In the second case — which has never appeared in history as yet, and which is treated here as hypothetical — the actual energy necessary for a victory over the black forces of history is being developed within the bourgeois nation through “civil war” between classes. Fierce internal friction characterizes the latter case. It absorbs enormous quantities of energy, prevents the bourgeoisie from playing a leading rôle, pushes its antagonist, the proletariat, to the front, gives the workingman decades’ experience in a month, makes them the central figures in political struggles, and puts very tight reins into their hands. Strong, determined, knowing no doubts, the proletariat gives events a powerful twist.
Thus, it is either — or. Either a nation gathered into one compact whole, as a lion ready to leap; or a nation completely divided in the process of internal struggles, a nation that has released her best part for a task which the whole was unable to complete. Such are the two polar types, whose purest forms, however, can be found only in logical contraposition.
Here, as in many other cases, the middle road is the worst. This was the case in 1848.
In the French Revolution we see an active, enlightened bourgeoisie, not yet aware of the contradictions of its situation; entrusted by history with the task of leadership in the struggle for a new order; fighting not only against the archaic institutions of France, but also against the forces of reaction throughout Europe. The bourgeoisie consciously, in the person of its various factions, assumes the leadership of the nation, it lures the masses into struggle, it coins slogans, it dictates revolutionary tactics. Democracy unites the nation in one political ideology. The people — small artisans, petty merchants, peasants, and workingmen — elect bourgeois as their representatives; the mandates of the communities are framed in the language of the bourgeoisie which becomes aware of its Messianic rôle. Antagonisms do not fail to reveal themselves in the course of the revolution, yet the powerful momentum of the revolution removes one by one the most unresponsive elements of the bourgeoisie. Each stratum is torn off, but not before it has given over all its energy to the following one. The nation as a whole continues to fight with ever increasing persistence and determination. When the upper stratum of the bourgeoisie tears itself away from the main body of the nation to form an alliance with Louis XVI, the democratic demands of the nation turn against this part of the bourgeoisie, leading to universal suffrage and a republican government as logically consequent forms of democracy.
The Great French Revolution is a true national revolution. It is more than that. It is a classic manifestation, on a national scale, of the world-wide struggle of the bourgeois order for supremacy, for power, for unmitigated triumph. In 1848, the bourgeoisie was no more capable of a similar rôle. It did not want, it did not dare take the responsibility for a revolutionary liquidation of a political order that stood in its way. The reason is clear. The task of the bourgeoisie — of which it was fully aware — was not to secure its own political supremacy, but to secure for itself a share in the political power of the old régime. The bourgeoisie of 1848, niggardly wise with the experience of the French bourgeoisie, was vitiated by its treachery, frightened by its failures. It did not lead the masses to storm the citadels of the absolutist order. On the contrary, with its back against the absolutist order, it resisted the onslaught of the masses that were pushing it forward.
The French bourgeoisie made its revolution great. Its consciousness was the consciousness of the people, and no idea found its expression in institutions without having gone through its consciousness as an end, as a task of political construction. It often resorted to theatrical poses to conceal from itself the limitations of its bourgeois world — yet it marched forward.
The German bourgeoisie, on the contrary, was not doing the revolutionary work; it was “doing away” with the revolution from the very start. Its consciousness revolted against the objective conditions of its supremacy. The revolution could be completed not by the bourgeoisie, but against it. Democratic institutions seemed to the mind of the German bourgeois not an aim for his struggle, but a menace to his security.
Another class was required in 1848, a class capable of conducting the revolution beside the bourgeoisie and in spite of it, a class not only ready and able to push the bourgeoisie forward, but also to step over its political corpse, should events so demand. None of the other classes, however, was ready for the job.
The petty middle class were hostile not only to the past, but also to the future. They were still entangled in the meshes of medieval relations, and they were unable to withstand the oncoming “free” industry; they were still giving the cities their stamp, and they were already giving way to the influences of big capital. Steeped in prejudices, stunned by the clatter of events, exploiting and being exploited, greedy and helpless in their greed, they could not become leaders in matters of world-wide importance. Still less were the peasants capable of political initiative. Scattered over the country, far from the nervous centers of politics and culture, limited in their views, the peasants could have no great part in the struggles for a new order. The democratic intellectuals possessed no social weight; they either dragged along behind their elder sister, the liberal bourgeoisie, as its political tail, or they separated themselves from the bourgeoisie in critical moments only to show their weakness.
The industrial workingmen were too weak, unorganized, devoid of experience and knowledge. The capitalist development had gone far enough to make the abolition of old feudal relations imperative, yet it had not gone far enough to make the working class, the product of new economic relations, a decisive political factor. Antagonism between bourgeoisie and proletariat, even within the national boundaries of Germany, was sharp enough to prevent the bourgeoisie from stepping to the front to assume national hegemony in the revolution, yet it was not sharp enough to allow the proletariat to become a national leader. True, the internal frictions of the revolution had prepared the workingmen for political independence, yet they weakened the energy and the unity of the revolution and they caused a great waste of power. The result was that, after the first successes, the revolution began to plod about in painful uncertainty, and under the first blows of the reaction it started backwards. Austria gave the clearest and most tragic example of unfinished and unsettled relations in a revolutionary period. It was this situation that gave Lassalle occasion to assert that henceforward revolutions could find their support only in the class struggle of the proletariat. In a letter to Marx, dated October 24, 1849 he writes: “The experiences of Austria, Hungary and Germany in 1848 and 1849 have led me to the firm conclusion that no struggle in Europe can be successful unless it is proclaimed from the very beginning as purely Socialistic. No struggle can succeed in which social problems appear as nebulous elements kept in the background, while on the surface the fight is being conducted under the slogan of national revival of bourgeois republicanism.”
We shall not attempt to criticize this bold conclusion. One thing is evident, namely that already at the middle of the nineteenth century the national task of political emancipation could not be completed by a unanimous concerted onslaught of the entire nation. Only the independent tactics of the proletariat deriving its strength from no other source but its class position, could have secured a victory of the revolution.
The Russian working class of 1906 differs entirely from the Vienna working class of 1848. The best proof of it is the all-Russian practice of the Councils of Workmen’s Deputies (Soviets). Those are no organizations of conspirators prepared beforehand to step forward in times of unrest and to seize command over the working class. They are organs consciously created by the masses themselves to coördinate their revolutionary struggle. The Soviets, elected by and responsible to the masses, are thoroughly democratic institutions following the most determined class policy in the spirit of revolutionary Socialism.
The differences in the social composition of the Russian revolution are clearly shown in the question of arming the people.
Militia (national guard) was the first slogan and the first achievement of the revolutions of 1789 and 1848 in Paris, in all the Italian states and in Vienna and Berlin. In 1846, the demand for a national guard (i.e., the armament of the propertied classes and the “intellectuals”) was put forth by the entire bourgeois opposition, including the most moderate factions. In Russia, the demand for a national guard finds no favor with the bourgeois parties. This is not because the liberals do not understand the importance of arming the people: absolutism has given them in this respect more than one object lesson. The reason why liberals do not like the idea of a national guard is because they fully realize the impossibility of creating in Russia an armed revolutionary force outside of the proletariat and against the proletariat. They are ready to give up this demand, as they give up many others, just as the French bourgeoisie headed by Thiers preferred to give up Paris and France to Bismarck rather than to arm the working class.
The problem of an armed revolution in Russia becomes essentially a problem of the proletariat. National militia, this classic demand of the bourgeoisie of 1848, appears in Russia from the very beginning as a demand for arming the people, primarily the working class. Herein the fate of the Russian revolution manifests itself most clearly.
A revolution is an open contest of social forces in their struggle for political power.
The state is not an end in itself. It is only a working machine in the hands of the social force in power. As every machine, the state has its motor, transmission, and its operator. Its motive power is the class interest; its motor are propaganda, the press, influences of school and church, political parties, open air meetings, petitions, insurrections; its transmission is made up of legislative bodies actuated by the interest of a caste, a dynasty, a guild or a class appearing under the guise of Divine or national will (absolutism or parliamentarism); its operator is the administration, with its police, judiciary, jails, and the army.
The state is not an end in itself. It is, however, the greatest means for organizing, disorganizing and reorganizing social relations.
According to who is directing the machinery of the State, it can be an instrument of profoundest transformations, or a means of organized stagnation.
Each political party worthy of its name strives to get hold of political power and thus to make the state serve the interests of the class represented by the party. Social–Democracy, as the party of the proletariat, naturally strives at political supremacy of the working class.
The proletariat grows and gains strength with the growth of capitalism. From this viewpoint, the development of capitalism is the development of the proletariat for dictatorship. The day and the hour, however, when political power should pass into the hands of the working class, is determined not directly by the degree of capitalistic development of economic forces, but by the relations of class struggle, by the international situation, by a number of subjective elements, such as tradition, initiative, readiness to fight. . . .
It is, therefore, not excluded that in a backward country with a lesser degree of capitalistic development, the proletariat should sooner reach political supremacy than in a highly developed capitalist state. Thus, in middle-class Paris, the proletariat consciously took into its hands the administration of public affairs in 1871. True it is, that the reign of the proletariat lasted only for two months, it is remarkable, however, that in far more advanced capitalist centers of England and the United States, the proletariat never was in power even for the duration of one day. To imagine that there is an automatic dependence between a dictatorship of the proletariat and the technical and productive resources of a country, is to understand economic determinism in a very primitive way. Such a conception would have nothing to do with Marxism.
It is our opinion that the Russian revolution creates conditions whereby political power can (and, in case of a victorious revolution, must) pass into the hands of the proletariat before the politicians of the liberal bourgeoisie would have occasion to give their political genius full swing.
Summing up the results of the revolution and counter-revolution in 1848 and 1849, Marx wrote in his correspondences to the New York Tribune: “The working class in Germany is, in its social and political development, as far behind that of England and France as the German bourgeoisie is behind the bourgeoisie of those countries. Like master, like man. The evolution of the conditions of existence for a numerous, strong, concentrated, and intelligent proletariat goes hand in hand with the development of the conditions of existence for a numerous, wealthy, concentrated and powerful middle class. The working class movement itself never is independent, never is of an exclusively proletarian character until all the different factions of the middle class, and particularly its most progressive faction, the large manufacturers, have conquered political power, and remodeled the State according to their wants. It is then that the inevitable conflict between employer and the employed becomes imminent, and cannot be adjourned any longer.”1 This quotation must be familiar to the reader, as it has lately been very much abused by scholastic Marxists. It has been used as an iron-clad argument against the idea of a labor government in Russia. If the Russian capitalistic bourgeoisie is not strong enough to take governmental power into its hands, how is it possible to think of an industrial democracy, i.e., a political supremacy of the proletariat, was the question.
1 Karl Marx, Germany in 1848. (English edition, pp. 22–23.)
Let us give this objection closer consideration.
Marxism is primarily a method of analysis — not the analysis of texts, but the analysis of social relations. Applied to Russia, is it true that the weakness of capitalistic liberalism means the weakness of the working class? Is it true, not in the abstract, but in relation to Russia, that an independent proletarian movement is impossible before the bourgeoisie assume political power? It is enough to formulate these questions in order to understand what hopeless logical formalism there is hidden behind the attempt to turn Marx’s historically relative remark into a super-historic maxim.
Our industrial development, though marked in times of prosperity by leaps and bounds of an “American” character, is in reality miserably small in comparison with the industry of the United States. Five million persons, forming 16.6 per cent. of the population engaged in economic pursuits, are employed in the industries of Russia; six millions and 22.2 per cent. are the corresponding figures for the United States. To have a clear idea as to the real dimensions of industry in both countries, we must remember that the population of Russia is twice as large as the population of the United States, and that the output of American industries in 1900 amounted to 25 billions of rubles whereas the output of Russian industries for the same year hardly reached 2.5 billions.
There is no doubt that the number of the proletariat, the degree of its concentration, its cultural level, and its political importance depend upon the degree of industrial development in each country.
This dependence, however, is not a direct one. Between the productive forces of a country on one side and the political strength of its social classes on the other, there is at any given moment a current and cross current of various socio-political factors of a national and international character which modify and sometimes completely reverse the political expression of economic relations. The industry of the United States is far more advanced than the industry of Russia, while the political rôle of the Russian workingmen, their influence on the political life of their country, the possibilities of their influence on world politics in the near future, are incomparably greater than those of the American proletariat.
In his recent work on the American workingman, Kautsky arrives at the conclusion that there is no immediate and direct dependence between the political strength of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat of a country on one hand and its industrial development on the other. “Here are two countries,” he writes, “diametrically opposed to each other: in one of them, one of the elements of modern industry is developed out of proportion, i.e., out of keeping with the stage of capitalistic development; in the other, another; in America it is the class of capitalists; in Russia, the class of labor. In America there is more ground than elsewhere to speak of the dictatorship of capital, while nowhere has labor gained as much influence as in Russia, and this influence is bound to grow, as Russia has only recently entered the period of modern class struggle.” Kautsky then proceeds to state that Germany can, to a certain degree, study her future from the present conditions in Russia, then he continues: “It is strange to think that it is the Russian proletariat which shows us our future as far as, not the organization of capital, but the protest of the working class is concerned. Russia is the most backward of all the great states of the capitalist world. This may seem to be in contradiction with the economic interpretation of history which considers economic strength the basis of political development. This is, however, not true. It contradicts only that kind of economic interpretation of history which is being painted by our opponents and critics who see in it not a method of analysis, but a ready pattern.”2 These lines ought to be recommended to those of our native Marxians who substitute for an independent analysis of social relations a deduction from texts selected for all emergencies of life. No one can compromise Marxism as shamefully as these bureaucrats of Marxism do.
2 K. Kautsky, The American and the Russian Workingman.
In Kautsky’s estimation, Russia is characterized, economically, by a comparatively low level of capitalistic development; politically, by a weakness of the capitalistic bourgeoisie and by a great strength of the working class. This results in the fact, that “the struggle for the interests of Russia as a whole has become the task of the only powerful class in Russia, industrial labor. This is the reason why labor has gained such a tremendous political importance. This is the reason why the struggle of Russia against the polyp of absolutism which is strangling the country, turned out to be a single combat of absolutism against industrial labor, a combat where the peasantry can lend considerable assistance without, however, being able to play a leading rôle.3
3 D. Mendeleyer, Russian Realities, 1906, p. 10.
Are we not warranted in our conclusion that the “man” will sooner gain political supremacy in Russia than his “master”?
There are two sorts of political optimism. One overestimates the advantages and the strength of the revolution and strives towards ends unattainable under given conditions. The other consciously limits the task of the revolution, drawing a line which the very logic of the situation will compel him to overstep.
You can draw limits to all the problems of the revolution by asserting that this is a bourgeois revolution in its objective aims and inevitable results, and you can close your eyes to the fact that the main figure in this revolution is the working class which is being moved towards political supremacy by the very course of events.
You can reassure yourself by saying that in the course of a bourgeois revolution the political supremacy of the working class can be only a passing episode, and you can forget that, once in power, the working class will offer desperate resistance, refusing to yield unless compelled to do so by armed force.
You can reassure yourself by saying that social conditions in Russia are not yet ripe for a Socialist order, and you can overlook the fact that, once master of the situation, the working class would be compelled by the very logic of its situation to organize national economy under the management of the state.
The term bourgeois revolution, a general sociological definition, gives no solution to the numerous political and tactical problems, contradictions and difficulties which are being created by the mechanism of a given bourgeois revolution.
Within the limits of a bourgeois revolution at the end of the eighteenth century, whose objective was the political supremacy of capital, the dictatorship of the Sans–Culottes turned out to be a fact. This dictatorship was not a passing episode, it gave its stamp to a whole century that followed the revolution, though it was soon crushed by the limitations of the revolution.
Within the limits of a revolution at the beginning of the twentieth century, which is also a bourgeois revolution in its immediate objective aims, there looms up a prospect of an inevitable, or at least possible, supremacy of the working class in the near future. That this supremacy should not turn out to be a passing episode, as many a realistic Philistine may hope, is a task which the working class will have at heart. It is, then, legitimate to ask: is it inevitable that the dictatorship of the proletariat should clash against the limitations of a bourgeois revolution and collapse, or is it not possible that under given international conditions it may open a way for an ultimate victory by crushing those very limitations? Hence a tactical problem: should we consciously strive toward a labor government as the development of the revolution will bring us nearer to that stage, or should we look upon political power as upon a calamity which the bourgeois revolution is ready to inflict upon the workingmen, and which it is best to avoid?
In case of a victorious revolution, political power passes into the hands of the class that has played in it a dominant rôle, in other words, it passes into the hands of the working class. Of course, revolutionary representatives of non-proletarian social groups may not be excluded from the government; sound politics demands that the proletariat should call into the government influential leaders of the lower middle class, the intelligentzia and the peasants. The problem is, Who will give substance to the politics of the government, who will form in it a homogeneous majority? It is one thing when the government contains a labor majority, which representatives of other democratic groups of the people are allowed to join; it is another, when the government has an outspoken bourgeois-democratic character where labor representatives are allowed to participate in the capacity of more or less honorable hostages.
The policies of the liberal capitalist bourgeoisie, notwithstanding all their vacillations, retreats and treacheries, are of a definite character. The policies of the proletariat are of a still more definite, outspoken character. The policies of the intelligentzia, however, a result of intermediate social position and political flexibility of this group; the politics of the peasants, a result of the social heterogeneity, intermediate position, and primitiveness of this class; the politics of the lower middle class, a result of muddle-headedness, intermediate position and complete want of political traditions — can never be clear, determined, and firm. It must necessarily be subject to unexpected turns, to uncertainties and surprises.
To imagine a revolutionary democratic government without representatives of labor is to see the absurdity of such a situation. A refusal of labor to participate in a revolutionary government would make the very existence of that government impossible, and would be tantamount to a betrayal of the cause of the revolution. A participation of labor in a revolutionary government, however, is admissible, both from the viewpoint of objective probability and subjective desirability, only in the rôle of a leading dominant power. Of course, you can call such a government “dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry,” “dictatorship of the proletariat, the peasantry, and the intelligentzia,” or “a revolutionary government of the workingmen and the lower middle class.” This question will still remain: Who has the hegemony in the government and through it in the country? When we speak of a labor government we mean that the hegemony belongs to the working class.
The proletariat will be able to hold this position under one condition: if it broadens the basis of the revolution.
Many elements of the working masses, especially among the rural population, will be drawn into the revolution and receive their political organization only after the first victories of the revolution, when the revolutionary vanguard, the city proletariat, shall have seized governmental power. Under such conditions, the work of propaganda and organization will be conducted through state agencies. Legislative work itself will become a powerful means of revolutionizing the masses. The burden thrust upon the shoulders of the working class by the peculiarities of our social and historical development, the burden of completing a bourgeois revolution by means of labor struggle, will thus confront the proletariat with difficulties of enormous magnitude; on the other hand, however, it will offer the working class, at least in the first period, unusual opportunities. This will be seen in the relations between the proletariat and the peasants.
In the revolutions of 1789–93, and 1848, governmental power passed from absolutism into the hands of the moderate bourgeois elements which emancipated the peasants before revolutionary democracy succeeded or even attempted to get into power. The emancipated peasantry then lost interest in the political ventures of the “city-gentlemen,” i.e., in the further course of the revolution; it formed the dead ballast of “order,” the foundation of all social “stability,” betraying the revolution, supporting a Cesarian or ultra-absolutist reaction.
The Russian revolution is opposed to a bourgeois constitutional order which would be able to solve the most primitive problems of democracy. The Russian revolution will be against it for a long period to come. Reformers of a bureaucratic brand, such as Witte and Stolypin, can do nothing for the peasants, as their “enlightened” efforts are continually nullified by their own struggle for existence. The fate of the most elementary interests of the peasantry — the entire peasantry as a class — is, therefore, closely connected with the fate of the revolution, i.e., with the fate of the proletariat.
Once in power, the proletariat will appear before the peasantry as its liberator.
Proletarian rule will mean not only democratic equality, free self-government, shifting the burden of taxation on the propertied classes, dissolution of the army among the revolutionary people, abolition of compulsory payments for the Church, but also recognition of all revolutionary changes made by the peasants in agrarian relations (seizures of land). These changes will be taken by the proletariat as a starting point for further legislative measures in agriculture. Under such conditions, the Russian peasantry will be interested in upholding the proletarian rule (“labor democracy”), at least in the first, most difficult period, not less so than were the French peasants interested in upholding the military rule of Napoleon Bonaparte who by force guaranteed to the new owners the integrity of their land shares.
But is it not possible that the peasants will remove the workingmen from their positions and take their place? No, this can never happen. This would be in contradiction to all historical experiences. History has convincingly shown that the peasantry is incapable of an independent political rôle.
The history of capitalism is the history of subordination of the village by the city. Industrial development had made the continuation of feudal relations in agriculture impossible. Yet the peasantry had not produced a class which could live up to the revolutionary task of destroying feudalism. It was the city which made rural population dependent on capital, and which produced revolutionary forces to assume political hegemony over the village, there to complete revolutionary changes in civic and political relations. In the course of further development, the village becomes completely enslaved by capital, and the villagers by capitalistic political parties, which revive feudalism in parliamentary politics, making the peasantry their political domain, the ground for their preëlection huntings. Modern peasantry is driven by the fiscal and militaristic system of the state into the clutches of usurers’ capital, while state-clergy, state-schools and barrack depravity drive it into the clutches of usurers’ politics.
The Russian bourgeoisie yielded all revolutionary positions to the Russian proletariat. It will have to yield also the revolutionary hegemony over the peasants. Once the proletariat becomes master of the situation, conditions will impel the peasants to uphold the policies of a labor democracy. They may do it with no more political understanding than they uphold a bourgeois régime. The difference is that while each bourgeois party in possession of the peasants’ vote uses its power to rob the peasants, to betray their confidence and to leave their expectations unfulfilled, in the worst case to give way to another capitalist party, the working class, backed by the peasantry, will put all forces into operation to raise the cultural level of the village and to broaden the political understanding of the peasants.
Our attitude towards the idea of a “dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry” is now quite clear. It is not a question whether we think it “admissible” or not, whether we “wish” or we “do not wish” this form of political coöperation. In our opinion, it simply cannot be realized, at least in its direct meaning. Such a coöperation presupposes that either the peasantry has identified itself with one of the existing bourgeois parties, or it has formed a powerful party of its own. Neither is possible, as we have tried to point out.
The proletariat can get into power only at a moment of national upheaval, of sweeping national enthusiasm. The proletariat assumes power as a revolutionary representative of the people, as a recognized leader in the fight against absolutism and barbaric feudalism. Having assumed power, however, the proletariat will open a new era, an era of positive legislation, of revolutionary politics, and this is the point where its political supremacy as an avowed spokesman of the nation may become endangered.
The first measures of the proletariat — the cleansing of the Augean stables of the old régime and the driving away of their inhabitants — will find active support of the entire nation whatever the liberal castraters may tell us of the power of some prejudices among the masses. The work of political cleansing will be accompanied by democratic reorganization of all social and political relations. The labor government, impelled by immediate needs and requirements, will have to look into all kinds of relations and activities among the people. It will have to throw out of the army and the administration all those who had stained their hands with the blood of the people; it will have to disband all the regiments that had polluted themselves with crimes against the people. This work will have to be done immediately, long before the establishment of an elective responsible administration and before the organization of a popular militia. This, however, will be only a beginning. Labor democracy will soon be confronted by the problems of a normal workday, the agrarian relations and unemployment. The legislative solution of those problems will show the class character of the labor government. It will tend to weaken the revolutionary bond between the proletariat and the nation; it will give the economic differentiation among the peasants a political expression. Antagonism between the component parts of the nation will grow step by step as the policies of the labor government become more outspoken, lose their general democratic character and become class policies.
The lack of individualistic bourgeois traditions and anti-proletarian prejudices among the peasants and the intelligentzia will help the proletariat assume power. It must not be forgotten, however, that this lack of prejudices is based not on political understanding, but on political barbarism, on social shapelessness, primitiveness, and lack of character. These are all qualities which can hardly guarantee support for an active, consistent proletarian rule.
The abolition of the remnants of feudalism in agrarian relations will be supported by all the peasants who are now oppressed by the landlords. A progressive income tax will be supported by an overwhelming majority of the peasants. Yet, legislative measures in defense of the rural proletariat (farm hands) will find no active support among the majority, and will meet with active opposition on the part of a minority of the peasants.
The proletariat will be compelled to introduce class struggle into the village and thus to destroy that slight community of interests which undoubtedly unites the peasants as a whole. In its next steps, the proletariat will have to seek for support by helping the poor villagers against the rich, the rural proletariat against the agrarian bourgeoisie. This will alienate the majority of the peasants from labor democracy. Relations between village and city will become strained. The peasantry as a whole will become politically indifferent. The peasant minority will actively oppose proletarian rule. This will influence part of the intellectuals and the lower middle class of the cities.
Two features of proletarian politics are bound particularly to meet with the opposition of labor’s allies: Collectivism and Internationalism. The strong adherence of the peasants to private ownership, the primitiveness of their political conceptions, the limitations of the village horizon, its distance from world-wide political connections and interdependences, are terrific obstacles in the way of revolutionary proletarian rule.
To imagine that Social–Democracy participates in the provisional government, playing a leading rôle in the period of revolutionary democratic reconstruction, insisting on the most radical reforms and all the time enjoying the aid and support of the organized proletariat — only to step aside when the democratic program is put into operation, to leave the completed building at the disposal of the bourgeois parties and thus to open an era of parliamentary politics where Social–Democracy forms only a party of opposition — to imagine this would mean to compromise the very idea of a labor government. It is impossible to imagine anything of the kind, not because it is “against principles”— such abstract reasoning is devoid of any substance — but because it is not real, it is the worst kind of Utopianism, it is the revolutionary Utopianism of Philistines.
Our distinction between a minimum and maximum program has a great and profound meaning only under bourgeois rule. The very fact of bourgeois rule eliminates from our minimum program all demands incompatible with private ownership of the means of production. Those demands form the substance of a Socialist revolution, and they presuppose a dictatorship of the proletariat. The moment, however, a revolutionary government is dominated by a Socialist majority, the distinction between minimum and maximum programs loses its meaning both as a question of principle and as a practical policy. Under no condition will a proletarian government be able to keep within the limits of this distinction.
Let us take the case of an eight hour workday. It is a well established fact that an eight hour workday does not contradict the capitalist order; it is, therefore, well within the limits of the Social–Democratic minimum program. Imagine, however, its realization in a revolutionary period, when all social passions are at the boiling point. An eight hour workday law would necessarily meet with stubborn and organized opposition on the part of the capitalists — let us say in the form of a lock-out and closing down of factories and plants. Hundreds of thousands of workingmen would be thrown into the streets. What ought the revolutionary government to do? A bourgeois government, however radical, would never allow matters to go as far as that. It would be powerless against the closing of factories and plants. It would be compelled to make concessions. The eight hour workday would not be put into operation; the revolts of the workingmen would be put down by force of arms. . . .
Under the political domination of the proletariat, the introduction of an eight hour workday must have totally different consequences. The closing down of factories and plants cannot be the reason for increasing labor hours by a government which represents not capital, but labor, and which refuses to act as an “impartial” mediator, the way bourgeois democracy does. A labor government would have only one way out — to expropriate the closed factories and plants and to organize their work on a public basis.
Or let us take another example. A proletarian government must necessarily take decisive steps to solve the problem of unemployment. Representatives of labor in a revolutionary government can by no means meet the demands of the unemployed by saying that this is a bourgeois revolution. Once, however, the state ventures to eliminate unemployment — no matter how — a tremendous gain in the economic power of the proletariat is accomplished. The capitalists whose pressure on the working class was based on the existence of a reserve army of labor, will soon realize that they are powerless economically. It will be the task of the government to doom them also to political oblivion.
Measures against unemployment mean also measures to secure means of subsistence for strikers. The government will have to undertake them, if it is anxious not to undermine the very foundation of its existence. Nothing will remain for the capitalists but to declare a lock-out, to close down factories and plants. Since capitalists can wait longer than labor in case of interrupted production, nothing will remain for a labor government but to meet a general lock-out by expropriating the factories and plants and by introducing in the biggest of them state or communal production.
In agriculture, similar problems will present themselves through the very fact of land-expropriation. We cannot imagine a proletarian government expropriating large private estates with agricultural production on a large scale, cutting them into pieces and selling them to small owners. For it the only open way is to organize in such estates coöperative production under communal or state management. This, however, is the way of Socialism.
Social–Democracy can never assume power under a double obligation: to put the entire minimum program into operation for the sake of the proletariat, and to keep strictly within the limits of this program, for the sake of the bourgeoisie. Such a double obligation could never be fulfilled. Participating in the government, not as powerless hostages, but as a leading force, the representatives of labor eo ipso break the line between the minimum and maximum program. Collectivism becomes the order of the day. At which point the proletariat will be stopped on its march in this direction, depends upon the constellation of forces, not upon the original purpose of the proletarian Party.
It is, therefore, absurd to speak of a specific character of proletarian dictatorship (or a dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry) within a bourgeois revolution, viz., a purely democratic dictatorship. The working class can never secure the democratic character of its dictatorship without overstepping the limits of its democratic program. Illusions to the contrary may become a handicap. They would compromise Social–Democracy from the start.
Once the proletariat assumes power, it will fight for it to the end. One of the means to secure and solidify its power will be propaganda and organization, particularly in the village; another means will be a policy of Collectivism. Collectivism is not only dictated by the very position of the Social–Democratic Party as the party in power, but it becomes imperative as a means to secure this position through the active support of the working class.
When our Socialist press first formulated the idea of a Permanent Revolution which should lead from the liquidation of absolutism and civic bondage to a Socialist order through a series of ever growing social conflicts, uprisings of ever new masses, unremitting attacks of the proletariat on the political and economic privileges of the governing classes, our “progressive” press started a unanimous indignant uproar. Oh, they had suffered enough, those gentlemen of the “progressive” press; this nuisance, however, was too much. Revolution, they said, is not a thing that can be made “legal!” Extraordinary measures are allowable only on extraordinary occasions. The aim of the revolutionary movement, they asserted, was not to make the revolution go on forever, but to bring it as soon as possible into the channels of law, etc., etc. The more radical representatives of the same democratic bourgeoisie do not attempt to oppose the revolution from the standpoint of completed constitutional “achievements”: tame as they are, they understand how hopeless it is to fight the proletariat revolution with the weapon of parliamentary cretinism in advance of the establishment of parliamentarism itself. They, therefore, choose another way. They forsake the standpoint of law, but take the standpoint of what they deem to be facts — the standpoint of historic “possibilities,” the standpoint of political “realism,”— even . . . even the standpoint of “Marxism.” It was Antonio, the pious Venetian bourgeois, who made the striking observation:
Mark you this, Bassanio,
The devil can cite scriptures for his purpose.
Those gentlemen not only consider the idea of labor government in Russia fantastic, but they repudiate the very probability of a Social revolution in Europe in the near historic epoch. The necessary “prerequisites” are not yet in existence, is their assertion.
Is it so? It is, of course, not our purpose to set a time for a Social revolution. What we attempt here is to put the Social revolution into a proper historic perspective.
Marxism turned Socialism into a science. This does not prevent some “Marxians” from turning Marxism into a Utopia.
[Trotzky then proceeds to find logical flaws in the arguments of N. Roshkov, a Russian Marxist, who had made the assertion that Russia was not yet ripe for Socialism, as her level of industrial technique and the class-consciousness of her working masses were not yet high enough to make Socialist production and distribution possible. Then he goes back to what he calls “prerequisites to Socialism,” which in his opinion are: (1) development of industrial technique; (2) concentration of production; (3) social consciousness of the masses. In order that Socialism become possible, he says, it is not necessary that each of these prerequisites be developed to its logically conceivable limit.]
All those processes (development of technique, concentration of production, growth of mass-consciousness) go on simultaneously, and not only do they help and stimulate each other, but they also hamper and limit each other’s development. Each of the processes of a higher order presupposes the development of another process of a lower order, yet the full development of any of them is incompatible with the full development of the others.
The logical limit of technical development is undoubtedly a perfect automatic mechanism which takes in raw materials from natural resources and lays them down at the feet of men as ready objects of consumption. Were not capitalism limited by relations between classes and by the consequences of those relations, the class struggle, one would be warranted in his assumption that industrial technique, having approached the ideal of one great automatic mechanism within the limits of capitalistic economy, eo ipso dismisses capitalism.
The concentration of production which is an outgrowth of economic competition has an inherent tendency to throw the entire population into the working class. Taking this tendency apart from all the others, one would be warranted in his assumption that capitalism would ultimately turn the majority of the people into a reserve army of paupers, lodged in prisons. This process, however, is being checked by revolutionary changes which are inevitable under a certain relationship between social forces. It will be checked long before it has reached its logical limit.
And the same thing is true in relation to social mass-consciousness. This consciousness undoubtedly grows with the experiences of every day struggle and through the conscious efforts of Socialist parties. Isolating this process from all others, we can imagine it reaching a stage where the overwhelming majority of the people are encompassed by professional and political organizations, united in a feeling of solidarity and in identity of purpose. Were this process allowed to grow quantitatively without changing in quality, Socialism might be established peacefully, through a unanimous compact of the citizens of the twenty-first or twenty-second Century. The historic prerequisites to Socialism, however, do not develop in isolation from each other; they limit each other; reaching a certain stage, which is determined by many circumstances, but which is very far from their mathematical limits, they undergo a qualitative change, and in their complex combination they produce what we call a Social revolution.
Let us take the last mentioned process, the growth of social mass-consciousness. This growth takes place not in academies, but in the very life of modern capitalistic society, on the basis of incessant class struggle. The growth of proletarian class consciousness makes class struggles undergo a transformation; it deepens them; it puts a foundation of principle under them, thus provoking a corresponding reaction on the part of the governing classes. The struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie has its own logic; it must become more and more acute and bring things to a climax long before the time when concentration of production has become predominant in economic life. It is evident, further, that the growth of the political consciousness of the proletariat is closely related with its numerical strength; proletarian dictatorship presupposes great numbers of workingmen, strong enough to overcome the resistance of the bourgeois counter-revolution. This, however, does not imply that the overwhelming majority of the people must consist of proletarians, or that the overwhelming majority of proletarians must consist of convinced Socialists. Of course, the fighting revolutionary army of the proletariat must by all means be stronger than the fighting counter-revolutionary army of capital; yet between those two camps there may be a great number of doubtful or indifferent elements who are not actively helping the revolution, but are rather inclined to desire its ultimate victory. The proletarian policy must take all this into account.
This is possible only where there is a hegemony of industry over agriculture, and a hegemony of the city over the village.
Let us review the prerequisites to Socialism in the order of their diminishing generality and increasing complexity.
1. Socialism is not only a problem of equal distribution, but also a problem of well organized production. Socialistic, i.e., coöperative production on a large scale is possible only where economic progress has gone so far as to make a large undertaking more productive than a small one. The greater the advantages of a large undertaking over a small one, i.e., the higher the industrial technique, the greater must be the economic advantages of socialized production, the higher, consequently, must be the cultural level of the people to enable them to enjoy equal distribution based on well organized production.
This first prerequisite of Socialism has been in existence for many years. Ever since division of labor has been established in manufactories; ever since manufactories have been superseded by factories employing a system of machines — large undertakings become more and more profitable, and consequently their socialization would make the people more prosperous. There would have been no gain in making all the artisans’ shops common property of the artisans; whereas the seizure of a manufactory by its workers, or the seizure of a factory by its hired employees, or the seizure of all means of modern production by the people must necessarily improve their economic conditions — the more so, the further the process of economic concentration has advanced.
At present, social division of labor on one hand, machine production on the other have reached a stage where the only coöperative organization that can make adequate use of the advantages of collectivist economy, is the State. It is hardly conceivable that Socialist production would content itself with the area of the state. Economic and political motives would necessarily impel it to overstep the boundaries of individual states.
The world has been in possession of technical equipment for collective production — in one or another form — for the last hundred or two hundred years. Technically, Socialism is profitable not only on a national, but also to a large extent on an international scale. Why then have all attempts at organizing Socialist communities failed? Why has concentration of production manifested its advantages all through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries not in Socialistic, but in capitalistic forms? The reason is that there was no social force ready and able to introduce Socialism.
2. Here we pass from the prerequisite of industrial technique to the socio-economic prerequisite, which is less general, but more complex. Were our society not an antagonistic society composed of classes, but a homogeneous partnership of men consciously selecting the best economic system, a mere calculation as to the advantages of Socialism would suffice to make people start Socialistic reconstruction. Our society, however, harbors in itself opposing interests. What is good for one class, is bad for another. Class selfishness clashes against class selfishness; class selfishness impairs the interests of the whole. To make Socialism possible, a social power has to arise in the midst of the antagonistic classes of capitalist society, a power objectively placed in a position to be interested in the establishment of Socialism, at the same time strong enough to overcome all opposing interests and hostile resistance. It is one of the principal merits of scientific Socialism to have discovered such a social power in the person of the proletariat, and to have shown that this class, growing with the growth of capitalism, can find its salvation only in Socialism; that it is being moved towards Socialism by its very position, and that the doctrine of Socialism in the presence of a capitalist society must necessarily become the ideology of the proletariat.
How far, then, must the social differentiation have gone to warrant the assertion that the second prerequisite is an accomplished fact? In other words, what must be the numerical strength of the proletariat? Must it be one-half, two-thirds, or nine-tenths of the people? It is utterly futile to try and formulate this second prerequisite of Socialism arithmetically. An attempt to express the strength of the proletariat in mere numbers, besides being schematic, would imply a series of difficulties. Whom should we consider a proletarian? Is the half-paupered peasant a proletarian? Should we count with the proletariat those hosts of the city reserve who, on one hand, fall into the ranks of the parasitic proletariat of beggars and thieves, and, on the other hand, fill the streets in the capacity of peddlers, i.e., of parasites on the economic body as a whole? It is not easy to answer these questions.
The importance of the proletariat is based not only on its numbers, but primarily on its rôle in industry. The political supremacy of the bourgeoisie is founded on economic power. Before it manages to take over the authority of the state, it concentrates in its hands the national means of production; hence its specific weight. The proletariat will possess no means of production of its own before the Social revolution. Its social power depends upon the circumstance that the means of production in possession of the bourgeoisie can be put into motion only by the hands of the proletariat. From the bourgeois viewpoint, the proletariat is also one of the means of production, forming, in combination with the others, a unified mechanism. Yet the proletariat is the only non-automatic part of this mechanism, and can never be made automatic, notwithstanding all efforts. This puts the proletariat into a position to be able to stop the functioning of the national economic body, partially or wholly — through the medium of partial or general strikes.
Hence it is evident that, the numerical strength of the proletariat being equal, its importance is proportional to the mass of the means of production it puts into motion: the proletarian of a big industrial concern represents — other conditions being equal — a greater social unit than an artisan’s employee; a city workingman represents a greater unit than a proletarian of the village. In other words, the political rôle of the proletariat is greater in proportion as large industries predominate over small industries, industry predominates over agriculture, and the city over the village.
At a period in the history of Germany or England when the proletariats of those countries formed the same percentage to the total population as the proletariat in present day Russia, they did not possess the same social weight as the Russian proletariat of to-day. They could not possess it, because their objective importance in economic life was comparatively smaller. The social weight of the cities represents the same phenomenon. At a time when the city population of Germany formed only 15 per cent. of the total nation, as is the case in present-day Russia, the German cities were far from equaling our cities in economic and political importance. The concentration of big industries and commercial enterprises in the cities, and the establishment of closer relations between city and country through a system of railways, has given the modern cities an importance far exceeding the mere volume of their population. Moreover, the growth of their importance runs ahead of the growth of their population, and the growth of the latter runs ahead of the natural increase of the entire population of the country. In 1848, the number of artisans, masters and their employees, in Italy was 15 per cent. of the population, the same as the percentage of the proletariat, including artisans, in Russia of to-day. Their importance, however, was far less than that of the Russian industrial proletariat.
The question is not, how strong the proletariat is numerically, but what is its position in the general economy of a country.
[The author then quotes figures showing the numbers of wage-earners and industrial proletarians in Germany, Belgium and England: in Germany, in 1895, 12.5 millions proletarians; in Belgium 1.8 millions, or 60 per cent. of all the persons who make a living independently; in England 12.5 millions.]
In the leading European countries, city population numerically predominates over the rural population. Infinitely greater is its predominance through the aggregate of means of production represented by it, and through the qualities of its human material. The city attracts the most energetic, able and intelligent elements of the country.
Thus we arrive at the conclusion that economic evolution — the growth of industry, the growth of large enterprises, the growth of cities, the growth of the proletariat, especially the growth of the industrial proletariat — have already prepared the arena not only for the struggle of the proletariat for political power, but also for the conquest of that power.
3. Here we approach the third prerequisite to Socialism, the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Politics is the plane where objective prerequisites intersect with subjective. On the basis of certain technical and socio-economic conditions, a class puts before itself a definite task — to seize power. In pursuing this task, it unites its forces, it gauges the forces of the enemy, it weighs the circumstances. Yet, not even here is the proletariat absolutely free: besides subjective moments, such as understanding, readiness, initiative which have a logic of their own, there are a number of objective moments interfering with the policies of the proletariat, such are the policies of the governing classes, state institutions (the army, the class-school, the state-church), international relations, etc.
Let us first turn our attention to the subjective moment; let us ask, Is the proletariat ready for a Socialist change? It is not enough that development of technique should make Socialist economy profitable from the viewpoint of the productivity of national labor; it is not enough that social differentiation, based on technical progress, should create the proletariat, as a class objectively interested in Socialism. It is of prime importance that this class should understand its objective interests. It is necessary that this class should see in Socialism the only way of its emancipation. It is necessary that it should unite into an army powerful enough to seize governmental power in open combat.
It would be a folly to deny the necessity for the preparation of the proletariat. Only the old Blanquists could stake their hopes in the salutary initiative of an organization of conspirators formed independently of the masses. Only their antipodes, the anarchists, could build their system on a spontaneous elemental outburst of the masses whose results nobody can foresee. When Social–Democracy speaks of seizing power, it thinks of a deliberate action of a revolutionary class.
There are Socialists-ideologists (ideologists in the wrong sense of the word, those who turn all things upside down) who speak of preparing the proletariat for Socialism as a problem of moral regeneration. The proletariat, they say, and even “humanity” in general, must first free itself from its old selfish nature; altruistic motives must first become predominant in social life. As we are still very far from this ideal, they contend, and as human nature changes very slowly, Socialism appears to be a problem of remote centuries. This view seems to be very realistic, evolutionistic, etc. It is in reality a conglomeration of hackneyed moralistic considerations.
Those “ideologists” imagine that a Socialist psychology can be acquired before the establishment of Socialism; that in a world ruled by capitalism the masses can be imbued with a Socialist psychology. Socialist psychology as here conceived should not be identified with Socialist aspirations. The former presupposes the absence of selfish motives in economic relations, while the latter are an outcome of the class psychology of the proletariat. Class psychology, and Socialist psychology in a society not split into classes, may have many common features, yet they differ widely.
Coöperation in the struggle of the proletariat against exploitation has developed in the soul of the workingmen beautiful sprouts of idealism, brotherly solidarity, a spirit of self-sacrifice. Yet those sprouts cannot grow and blossom freely within capitalist society: individual struggle for existence, the yawning abyss of poverty, differentiations among the workingmen themselves, the corrupting influence of the bourgeois parties — all this interferes with the growth of idealism among the masses.
However, it is a fact that, while remaining selfish as any of the lower middle class, while not exceeding the average representative of the bourgeois classes by the “human” value of his personality, the average workingman learns in the school of life’s experience that his most primitive desires and most natural wants can be satisfied only on the debris of the capitalist order.
If Socialism should attempt to create a new human nature within the limits of the old world, it would be only a new edition of the old moralistic Utopias. The task of Socialism is not to create a Socialist psychology as a prerequisite to Socialism, but to create Socialist conditions of human life as a prerequisite to a Socialist psychology.
The objective prerequisites of a Social revolution, as we have shown above, have been already created by the economic progress of advanced capitalist countries. But how about Russia? Is it possible to think that the seizure of power by the Russian proletariat would be the beginning of a Socialist reconstruction of our national economy?
A year ago we thus answered this question in an article which was mercilessly bombarded by the organs of both our factions. We wrote:
“The workingmen of Paris, says Marx, had not expected miracles from the Commune. We cannot expect miracles from a proletarian dictatorship now. Governmental power is not almighty. It is folly to think that once the proletariat has seized power, it would abolish capitalism and introduce socialism by a number of decrees. The economic system is not a product of state activity. What the proletariat will be able to do is to shorten economic evolution towards Collectivism through a series of energetic state measures.
“The starting point will be the reforms enumerated in our so-called minimum program. The very situation of the proletariat, however, will compel it to move along the way of collectivist practice.
“It will be comparatively easy to introduce the eight hour workday and progressive taxation, though even here the center of gravity is not the issuance of a ‘decree,’ but the organization of its practical application. It will be difficult, however — and here we pass to Collectivism — to organize production under state management in such factories and plants as would be closed down by their owners in protest against the new law.
“It will be comparatively simple to issue a law abolishing the right of inheritance, and to put it into operation. Inheritances in the form of money capital will not embarrass the proletariat and not interfere with its economy. To be, however, the inheritor of capital invested in land and industry, would mean for a labor government to organize economic life on a public basis.
“The same phenomenon, on a vastly larger scale, is represented by the question of expropriation (of land), with or without compensation. Expropriation with compensation has political advantages, but it is financially difficult; expropriation without compensation has financial advantages, but it is difficult politically. Greater than all the other difficulties, however, will be those of an economic nature, the difficulties of organization.
“To repeat: a labor government does not mean a government of miracles.
“Public management will begin in those branches where the difficulties are smallest. Publicly managed enterprises will originally represent kind of oases linked with private enterprises by the laws of exchange of commodities. The wider the field of publicly managed economy will grow, the more flagrant its advantages will become, the firmer will become the position of the new political régime, and the more determined will be the further economic measures of the proletariat. Its measures it will base not only on the national productive forces, but also on international technique, in the same way as it bases its revolutionary policies not only on the experience of national class relations but also on the entire historic experience of the international proletariat.”
Political supremacy of the proletariat is incompatible with its economic slavery. Whatever may be the banner under which the proletariat will find itself in possession of power, it will be compelled to enter the road of Socialism. It is the greatest Utopia to think that the proletariat, brought to the top by the mechanics of a bourgeois revolution, would be able, even if it wanted, to limit its mission by creating a republican democratic environment for the social supremacy of the bourgeoisie. Political dominance of the proletariat, even if it were temporary, would extremely weaken the resistance of capital which is always in need of state aid, and would give momentous opportunities to the economic struggle of the proletariat.
A proletarian régime will immediately take up the agrarian question with which the fate of vast millions of the Russian people is connected. In solving this, as many another question, the proletariat will have in mind the main tendency of its economic policy: to get hold of a widest possible field for the organization of a Socialist economy. The forms and the tempo of this policy in the agrarian question will be determined both by the material resources that the proletariat will be able to get hold of, and by the necessity to coördinate its actions so as not to drive possible allies into the ranks of the counter-revolution.
It is evident that the agrarian question, i.e., the question of rural economy and its social relations, is not covered by the land question which is the question of the forms of land ownership. It is perfectly clear, however, that the solution of the land question, even if it does not determine the future of the agrarian evolution, would undoubtedly determine the future agrarian policy of the proletariat. In other words, the use the proletariat will make of the land must be in accord with its general attitude towards the course and requirements of the agrarian evolution. The land question will, therefore, be one of the first to interest the labor government.
One of the solutions, made popular by the Socialist–Revolutionists, is the socialization of the land. Freed from its European make-up, it means simply “equal distribution” of land. This program demands an expropriation of all the land, whether it is in possession of landlords, of peasants on the basis of private property, or it is owned by village communities. It is evident that such expropriation, being one of the first measures of the new government and being started at a time when capitalist exchange is still in full swing, would lead the peasants to believe that they are “victims of the reform.” One must not forget that the peasants have for decades made redemption payments in order to turn their land into private property; many prosperous peasants have made great sacrifices to secure a large portion of land as their private possession. Should all this land become state property, the most bitter resistance would be offered by the members of the communities and by private owners. Starting out with a reform of this kind, the government would make itself most unpopular among the peasants.
And why should one confiscate the land of the communities and the land of small private owners? According to the Socialist–Revolutionary program, the only use to be made of the land by the state is to turn it over to all the peasants and agricultural laborers on the basis of equal distribution. This would mean that the confiscated land of the communities and small owners would anyway return to individuals for private cultivation. Consequently, there would be no economic gain in such a confiscation and redistribution. Politically, it would be a great blunder on the part of the labor government as it would make the masses of peasants hostile to the proletarian leadership of the revolution.
Closely connected with this program is the question of hired agricultural labor. Equal distribution presupposes the prohibition of using hired labor on farms. This, however, can be only a consequence of economic reforms, it cannot be decreed by a law. It is not enough to forbid an agricultural capitalist to hire laborers; one must first secure agricultural laborers a fair existence; furthermore, this existence must be profitable from the viewpoint of social economy. To declare equal distribution of land and to forbid hired labor, would mean to compel agricultural proletarians to settle on small lots, and to put the state under obligation to provide them with implements for their socially unprofitable production.
It is clear that the intervention of the proletariat in the organization of agriculture ought to express itself not in settling individual laborers on individual lots, but in organizing state or communal management of large estates. Later, when socialized production will have established itself firmly, a further step will be made towards socialization by forbidding hired labor. This will eliminate small capitalistic enterprises in agriculture; it will, however, leave unmolested those private owners who work their land wholly or to a great extent by the labor of their families. To expropriate such owners can by no means be a desire of the Socialistic proletariat.
The proletariat can never indorse a program of “equal distribution” which on one hand demands a useless, purely formal expropriation of small owners, and on the other hand it demands a very real parceling of large estates into small lots. This would be a wasteful undertaking, a pursuance of a reactionary and Utopian plan, and a political harm for the revolutionary party.
How far, however, can the Socialist policy of the working class advance in the economic environment of Russia? One thing we can say with perfect assurance: it will meet political obstacles long before it will be checked by the technical backwardness of the country. Without direct political aid from the European proletariat the working class of Russia will not be able to retain its power and to turn its temporary supremacy into a permanent Socialist dictatorship. We cannot doubt this for a moment. On the other hand, there is no doubt that a Socialist revolution in the West would allow us to turn the temporary supremacy of the working class directly into a Socialist dictatorship.
In June, 1905, we wrote:
“More than half a century passed since 1848. Half a century of unprecedented victories of capitalism all over the world. Half a century of “organic” mutual adaptation of the forces of the bourgeois and the forces of feudal reaction. Half a century in which the bourgeoisie has manifested its mad appetite for power and its readiness to fight for it madly!
“As a self-taught mechanic, in his search for perpetual motion, meets ever new obstacles and piles mechanism over mechanism to overcome them, so the bourgeoisie has changed and reconstructed the apparatus of its supremacy avoiding ‘supra-legal’ conflicts with hostile powers. And as the self-taught mechanic finally clashes against the ultimate insurmountable obstacle — the law of conservation of energy — so the bourgeoisie had to clash against the ultimate implacable barrier — class antagonism, fraught with inevitable conflict.
“Capitalism, forcing its economic system and social relations on each and every country, has turned the entire world into one economic and political organism. As the effect of the modern credit system, with the invisible bonds it draws between thousands of enterprises, with the amazing mobility it lends to capital, has been to eliminate local and partial crises, but to give unusual momentum to general economic convulsions, so the entire economic and political work of capitalism, with its world commerce, with its system of monstrous foreign debts, with its political groupings of states, which have drawn all reactionary forces into one world-wide co-partnership, has prevented local political crises, but it has prepared a basis for a social crisis of unheard of magnitude. Driving unhealthy processes inside, evading difficulties, staving off the deep problems of national and international politics, glossing over all contradictions, the bourgeoisie has postponed the climax, yet it has prepared a radical world-wide liquidation of its power. It has clung to all reactionary forces no matter what their origin. It has made the Sultan not the last of its friends. It has not tied itself on the Chinese ruler only because he had no power: it was more profitable to rob his possessions than to keep him in the office of a world gendarme and to pay him from the treasury of the bourgeoisie. Thus the bourgeoisie made the stability of its political system wholly dependent upon the stability of the pre-capitalistic pillars of reaction.
“This gives events an international character and opens a magnificent perspective; political emancipation, headed by the working class of Russia, will elevate its leader to a height unparalleled in history, it will give Russian proletariat colossal power and make it the initiator of world-wide liquidation of capitalism, to which the objective prerequisites have been created by history.”
It is futile to guess how the Russian revolution will find its way to old capitalistic Europe. This way may be a total surprise. To illustrate our thought rather than to predict events, we shall mention Poland as the possible connecting link between the revolutionary East and the revolutionary West.
[The author pictures the consequences of a revolution in Poland. A revolution in Poland would necessarily follow the victory of the revolution in Russia. This, however, would throw revolutionary sparks into the Polish provinces of Germany and Austria. A revolution in Posen and Galicia would move the Hohenzollerns and Hapsburgs to invade Poland. This would be a sign for the proletariat of Germany to get into a sharp conflict with their governments. A revolution becomes inevitable.]
A revolutionary Poland, however, is not the only possible starting point for a European revolution. The system of armed peace which became predominant in Europe after the Franco–Prussian war, was based on a system of European equilibrium. This equilibrium took for granted not only the integrity of Turkey, the dismemberment of Poland, the preservation of Austria, that ethnographic harlequin’s robe, but also the existence of Russian despotism in the rôle of a gendarme of the European reaction, armed to his teeth. The Russo–Japanese war has given a mortal blow to this artificial system in which absolutism was the dominant figure. For an indefinite period Russia is out of the race as a first-class power. The equilibrium has been destroyed. On the other hand, the successes of Japan have incensed the conquest instincts of the capitalistic bourgeoisie, especially the Stock Exchange, which plays a colossal rôle in modern politics. The possibilities of a war on European territory have grown enormously. Conflicts are ripening here and there; so far they have been settled in a diplomatic way, but nothing can guarantee the near future. A European war, however, means a European revolution.
Even without the pressure of such events as war or bankruptcy, a revolution may take place in the near future in one of the European countries as a result of acute class struggles. We shall not make computations as to which country would be first to take the path of revolution; it is obvious, however, that class antagonisms have for the last years reached a high degree of intensity in all the European countries.
The influence of the Russian revolution on the proletariat of Europe is immense. Not only does it destroy the Petersburg absolutism, that main power of European reaction; it also imbues the minds and the souls of the European proletariat with revolutionary daring.
It is the purpose of every Socialist party to revolutionize the minds of the working class in the same way as development of capitalism has revolutionized social relations. The work of propaganda and organization among the proletariat, however, has its own intrinsic inertia. The Socialist parties of Europe — in the first place the most powerful of them, the German Socialist party — have developed a conservatism of their own, which grows in proportion as Socialism embraces ever larger masses and organization and discipline increase. Social–Democracy, personifying the political experience of the proletariat, can, therefore, at a certain juncture, become an immediate obstacle on the way of an open proletarian conflict with the bourgeois reaction. In other words, the propaganda-conservatism of a proletarian party can, at a certain moment, impede the direct struggle of the proletariat for power. The colossal influence of the Russian revolution manifests itself in killing party routine, in destroying Socialist conservatism, in making a clean contest of proletarian forces against capitalist reaction a question of the day. The struggle for universal suffrage in Austria, Saxony and Prussia has become more determined under the direct influence of the October strike in Russia. An Eastern revolution imbues the Western proletariat with revolutionary idealism and stimulates its desire to speak “Russian” to its foes.
The Russian proletariat in power, even if this were only the result of a passing combination of forces in the Russian bourgeois revolution, would meet organized opposition on the part of the world’s reaction, and readiness for organized support on the part of the world’s proletariat. Left to its own resources, the Russian working class must necessarily be crushed the moment it loses the aid of the peasants. Nothing remains for it but to link the fate of its political supremacy and the fate of the Russian revolution with the fate of a Socialist revolution in Europe. All that momentous authority and political power which is given to the proletariat by a combination of forces in the Russian bourgeois revolution, it will thrust on the scale of class struggle in the entire capitalistic world. Equipped with governmental power, having a counter-revolution behind his back, having the European reaction in front of him, the Russian workingman will issue to all his brothers the world over his old battle-cry which will now become the call for the last attack: Proletarians of all the world, unite!
The first Council of Workmen’s Deputies was formed in Petersburg, on October 13th, 1905, in the course of the great general October strike that compelled Nicholas Romanoff to promise a Constitution. It represented individual factories, labor unions, and included also delegates from the Socialist parties. It looked upon itself as the center of the revolution and a nucleus of a revolutionary labor government. Similar Councils sprung up in many other industrial centers. It was arrested on December 3d, having existed for fifty days. Its members were tried and sent to Siberia.
Intelligentzia is a term applied in Russia to an indefinite, heterogeneous group of “intellectuals,” who are not actively and directly involved in the industrial machinery of capitalism, and at the same time are not members of the working class. It is customary to count among the Intelligentzia students, teachers, writers, lawyers, physicians, college professors, etc. However, the term Intelligentzia implies also a certain degree of idealism and radical aspirations.
Witte was the first prime-minister under the quasi-constitution granted on October 17th, 1905. Stolypin was appointed prime minister after the dissolution of the first Duma in July, 1906.
Under the minimum program the Social–Democrats understand all that range of reforms which can be obtained under the existing capitalist system of “private ownership of the means of production,” such as an eight hour workday, social insurance, universal suffrage, a republican order. The maximum program demands the abolition of private property and public management of industries, i.e., Socialism.
“Some prejudices among the masses” referred to in this essay is the alleged love of the primitive masses for their Tzar. This was an argument usually put forth by the liberals against republican aspirations.
Lower–Middle-Class is the only term half-way covering the Russian “Mieshchanstvo” used by Trotzky. “Mieshchanstvo” has a socio-economic meaning, and a flavor of moral disapproval. Socially and economically it means those numerous inhabitants of modern cities who are engaged in independent economic pursuits, as artisans (masters), shopkeepers, small manufacturers, petty merchants, etc., who have not capital enough to rank with the bourgeoisie. Morally “Mieshchanstvo” presupposes a limited horizon, lack of definite revolutionary or political ideas, and lack of political courage.
The Village community is a remnant of old times in Russia. Up to 1906 the members of the village were not allowed to divide the land of the community among the individual peasants on the basis of private property. The land legally belonged to the entire community which allotted it to its members. Since 1906 the compulsory character of communal land-ownership was abandoned, yet in very great areas of Russia it still remained the prevailing system of land-ownership.
Besides having a share in the community-land, the individual peasant could acquire a piece of land out of his private means (the seller being usually the landlord) and thus become a small private owner.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14