First stage of the first revolution
Lenin’s ‘Letter from afar’, as printed in Pravda, March 21 and 22 1917
The first revolution born out of the global imperialist war has broken out. This first revolution, for certain, will not be the last.
The first stage of this first revolution - namely, the Russian revolution of March 1 1917 - judging by the scanty information [at the disposal of the writer of these lines] in Switzerland, has ended. This first stage, for certain, will not be the last stage of our revolution.
How could such a ‘miracle’ happen, that in eight days - the period indicated by Mr Miliukov in his boastful telegram to all Russia’s representatives abroad - a monarchy that has held on for centuries, and that in spite of everything had managed to hold out during three years of the tremendous, nationwide class battles of 1905-07, could utterly collapse?
Miracles in nature or history do not exist, but every abrupt turn in history - and this applies to every revolution - presents such a wealth of content, unfolds such unexpectedly idiosyncratic combinations of forms of struggle and alignment of fighting forces, that to the philistine mind there is much that must appear miraculous.
A combination of a whole series of conditions of world-historic importance was required for the tsarist monarchy to have collapsed in a few days. Let us point out the main ones.
Without the three years of tremendous class battles and the revolutionary energy displayed by the Russian proletariat during 1905-07, the second revolution could not possibly have been so rapid in the sense that its initial stage was completed in a few days. The first revolution (1905) deeply ploughed the soil, uprooted age-old prejudices, awakened millions of workers and tens of millions of peasants to political life and political struggle and revealed to each other - and to the whole world - all classes (and all the principal parties) of Russian society in their true character and in the actual alignment of their interests, their forces, their modes of action and their immediate and ultimate aims. This first revolution, and the succeeding period of counterrevolution (1907-14), laid bare the very essence of the tsarist monarchy, brought it to its “utmost limit”, exposed all the rottenness and vileness, all the cynicism and corruption of the tsar’s clique, with that monster, Rasputin, at its head. It exposed all the bestiality of the Romanov family - those pogrom-mongers who drenched Russia in the blood of Jews, workers and revolutionaries, those ‘first among equals’ of the landlords, controlling millions of dessiatines of land and ready for any brutality, for any crime, for the ruination and crushing of any number of citizens, all for the sake of preserving this ‘sacred right of property’ for themselves and their class.
Without the revolution of 1905-07 and the counterrevolution of 1907-14, there could not have been that clear ‘self-definition’ of all classes of the Russian people and of the peoples inhabiting Russia - a definition of the relation of these classes to each other and to the tsarist monarchy, which manifested itself during the eight days of the February-March revolution of 1917. This eight-day revolution was ‘performed’, if we may use a metaphorical expression, as though after a dozen major and minor rehearsals; the ‘actors’ knew each other, their parts, their places and their setting in every detail, through and through, down to any more or less significant nuance in political tendencies and ways of operating.
For the first and great revolution of 1905, which the Guchkovs and Miliukovs and their hangers-on condemn as a “mighty mutiny”, led after 12 years to the “brilliant”, the “glorious” Revolution of 1917 - the Guchkovs and Miliukovs have proclaimed it “glorious” because it has given them the power (so far). But this required a great, mighty and all-powerful ‘stage manager’, capable, on the one hand, of vastly accelerating the course of world history and, on the other, of giving birth to worldwide crises of unparalleled intensity - economic, political, national and international. Apart from an extraordinary acceleration of world history, there were also needed particularly abrupt turns, in order that at one such turn the cart of the filthy and blood-stained Romanov monarchy should be overturned ata stroke.
This all-powerful ‘stage manager’, this mighty accelerator was the global imperialist war.
Now it can no longer be doubted that this war is a worldwide one, for the USA and China have already been half-dragged in today, and will be fully involved tomorrow.
Now it can no longer be doubted that this war is imperialist on both sides. Only the capitalists and their hangers-on, the social-patriots and social-chauvinists, [A] can deny or suppress this fact. Both the German and the Anglo-French bourgeoisie are waging the war for the plunder of foreign countries and the crushing of small nations, for financial supremacy over the world and the sharing and resharing of colonies, and in order to save the doomed capitalist regime by fooling and disuniting the workers of the various countries.
It was objectively inevitable that the imperialist war should have immensely accelerated and intensified to an unprecedented degree the class struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, and then transform itself into a civil war between hostile classes.
This transformation has begun with the February-March revolution of 1917, whose first stage showed us, firstly, a joint blow at tsarism struck by two forces: one, the whole of bourgeois and landlord Russia, with all her unenlightened hangers-on and all her very enlightened managers, the British and French ambassadors and capitalists, and the other, the Soviet of Worker [and Soldier] Deputies [B].
These three political camps, these three fundamental political forces - (1) the tsarist monarchy, the head of the feudal landlords, the head of the old bureaucracy and of the high military command; (2) bourgeois and landlord Octobrist-Cadet Russia, with the petty bourgeoisie [C] in its wake; (3) the Soviet of Worker [and Soldier] Deputies, which is looking to make the entire proletariat and the entire mass of the poorest population its allies - these three fundamental political forces fully and clearly revealed themselves even in the eight days of the ‘first stage’ and even to an observer so remote from the scene of events as the present writer, who is obliged to content himself with meagre foreign press dispatches.
But before dealing with this in greater detail I must return to the part of my letter devoted to a factor of prime importance: namely, the worldwide imperialist war.
The war shackled the belligerent powers, the belligerent groups of capitalists, the ‘bosses’ of the capitalist system, the slave-owners of the capitalist slave system, to each other with chains of iron. One bloody clot - such is the social and political life of the historical moment we are now living through.
The socialists who went over to the bourgeoisie at the outbreak of the war - all these Davids and Scheidemanns in Germany, these Plekhanovs, Potresovs, Gvozdevs and co in Russia - clamoured loud and long against the ‘illusions’ of the revolutionaries, against the ‘illusions’ of the Basel Manifesto, against the ‘farcical dream’ of transforming the imperialist war into a civil war. They sang praises in every key to the strength, tenacity and adaptability allegedly revealed by capitalism - the very ones who helped the capitalists ‘adapt’, tame, fool and disunite the working classes of the various countries!
But ‘he who laughs last laughs best’. The bourgeoisie has been unable to delay for long the revolutionary crisis to which the war has given birth. This crisis is growing with irresistible force in all countries, beginning with Germany, which is experiencing “brilliantly organised hunger”, as an observer who recently visited that country put it, and ending with England and France, where hunger is also looming, but where organisation reveals much less ‘brilliance’.
It was natural that the revolutionary crisis should have broken out before anywhere else in tsarist Russia, where the disorganisation was the most appalling and the proletariat was the most revolutionary (not by virtue of any special qualities, but because of the living tradition of ‘05’). This crisis was precipitated by the series of extremely severe defeats sustained by Russia and her allies. The defeats shook up the entire old apparatus of government, the entire old order, and roused the anger of all classes of the population against it; they embittered the army, wiped out a very large part of the old body of commanders, composed of backward gentry and an exceptionally rotten officialdom, and replaced it with a young and buoyant one of a predominantly bourgeois, socially mobile, and petty bourgeois origin. [D]
But, while the defeats in the war were a negative factor that hastened the explosion, the ties between Anglo-French finance capital, Anglo-French imperialism and Russian Octobrist-Cadet capital was a factor that hastened this crisis. [E]
This highly important aspect of the situation is, for obvious reasons, hushed up by the Anglo-French press and maliciously emphasised by the German. We who are Marxists must soberly look truth in the face and not allow ourselves to be confused either by the lying officialese, the sugary diplomatic and ministerial lies, of the first group of imperialist belligerents, or by the sniggering and smirking of their financial and military rivals from the other belligerent group. The whole course of events in the February-March revolution clearly shows that the British and French embassies, with their agents and ‘connections’, who had long been making the most desperate efforts to prevent ‘separate’ agreements and a separate peace between Nicholas the Second (but let us hope and strive to make him ‘the last’) and Wilhelm II, directly [F] [strove] to remove Nicholas Romanov.
Let us not harbour any illusions. [G]
That the revolution succeeded so quickly and - seemingly, at the first superficial glance - so ‘radically’ is due only to the fact that, as a result of an extremely unique historical situation, absolutely dissimilar currents, absolutely heterogeneous class interests, absolutely contrary political and social strivings have merged together, and merged in a strikingly ‘harmonious’ manner. Indeed, the plot of the Anglo-French imperialists, who impelled Miliukov, Guchkov and co to seize power for the purpose of continuing the imperialist war, for the purpose of conducting the war still more ferociously and obstinately, for the purpose of slaughtering fresh millions of Russian workers and peasants in order that the Guchkovs might obtain Constantinople, the French capitalists Syria, the British capitalists Mesopotamia, and so on. This on the one hand. On the other, there was a profound proletarian and mass popular movement of a revolutionary character (a movement of the entire poorest population of town and country) for bread, for peace, for real freedom.
[H] The revolutionary workers [and soldiers] [I] have destroyed to its foundations the infamous tsarist monarchy. They are neither elated nor dismayed by the fact that at certain brief historical moments of an exceptional combination of circumstances they are aided by the struggle of Buchanan, Guchkov, Miliukov and co to replace one monarch by another [J].
Thus, and only thus, did matters stand. Thus, and only thus, must be the view of the politician who does not fear the truth, who soberly weighs the balance of social forces in the revolution, who appraises every ‘current situation’ not only from the standpoint of all its present, ephemeral peculiarities, but also from the standpoint of the more fundamental motives, the deeper interrelations of the interests of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, both in Russia and throughout the world.
The workers [and soldiers] of Petrograd, like the workers [and soldiers] of the whole of Russia, self-sacrificingly fought the tsarist monarchy - fought for freedom, land for the peasants, and for peace against the imperialist slaughter. To continue and intensify that slaughter, Anglo-French imperialist capital hatched court intrigues, set up conspiracies [K], incited and encouraged the Guchkovs and Miliukovs, and fixed up a ready-made new government, which in fact did seize power after the very first blows delivered to tsarism by the proletarian struggle.
[L] This government is not a fortuitous assemblage of persons.
It consists of the representatives of the new class that has risen to political power in Russia, the class of capitalist landlords and bourgeoisie which has long been ruling our country economically. This class, not only during the revolution of 1905-07, but also during the counterrevolutionary period of 1907-14, and finally - and with especial rapidity - during the war period of 1914-17, was quick to organise itself politically, taking over control of the local government bodies, and public education, and congresses of various types, and the duma, and the war industries committees, and so on. This new class was already ‘almost completely’ in power by 1917, and therefore the first blows to tsarism were sufficient to bring it to the ground and clear the way for the bourgeoisie. The imperialist war, which required an incredible exertion of effort, so accelerated the development of backward Russia that we have ‘at one stroke’ (actually just seemingly at one blow) caught up with Italy, England and almost with France: we have obtained a government based on a ‘coalition’, a ‘national’ (ie, one adapted for carrying on the imperialist slaughter and for fooling the people) and a ‘parliamentary’ one.
Side by side with this government - which as regards the present war is essentially the agent of the billion-dollar ‘firm’, ‘England and France’ - there has arisen a [new] [M], unofficial, undeveloped and still comparatively weak worker government, which expresses the interests of the proletariat and the whole poorest urban and rural population. This is the Soviet of Worker [and Soldier] Deputies in Petrograd [N].
Such is the actual political situation, which we must first endeavour to establish with the greatest possible objective precision, in order that we may base Marxist tactics on the only solid foundation upon which they should be based - the foundation of facts.
The tsarist monarchy has been smashed, but not finally destroyed.
The Octobrist-Cadet bourgeois government, which wants to fight the imperialist war “to the end”, and which in reality is the agent of the financial firm, ‘England and France’, is forced to promise the people the maximum of liberties and sops compatible with the preservation of this government’s power over the people and the possibility of continuing the imperialist slaughter.
The Soviet of Worker [and Soldier] Deputies is [O] the embryo of a worker government, the representative of the interests of all the poorest masses of the population - ie, of nine-tenths of the population - striving for peace, bread and freedom.
The conflict of these three forces determines the situation that has now arisen, a situation that is transitional from the first to the second stage of the revolution. [P]
If there is to be a real struggle against the tsarist monarchy, if freedom is to be guaranteed in fact and not merely in words, not in the promises of the phrase-mongers [Q] [of liberalism], it is necessary, not that the workers support the new government, but that this government ‘support’ the workers! For the only guarantee of freedom and of the destruction of tsarism to the end is arming the proletariat, the strengthening, extending and developing of the role, significance and strength of the Soviet of Worker [and Soldier] Deputies.
All the rest is mere phrases and lies, self-deception on the part of the politicos of the liberal and radical camp [R].
Help, or at least do not hinder, the arming of the workers - and freedom in Russia will be invincible, the monarchy unrestorable, the republic secure.
[S] [Otherwise the people will be deceived. Promises are cheap; promises cost nothing.] All bourgeois politicos in all bourgeois revolutions use promises to ‘nourish’ the people and fool the workers.
Ours is a bourgeois revolution - therefore the workers must support the bourgeoisie, [T] [say the worthless politicians from the camp of the liquidators.]
Ours is a bourgeois revolution, we Marxists say - therefore the workers must open the eyes of the people to the deception practised by the bourgeois politicos, teach them to put no faith in words, to depend entirely on their own strength, their own organisation, their own unity and their own arms.
The government of the Octobrists and Cadets, of the Guchkovs and Miliukovs, is unable - even if it sincerely desired this [U] - to give either peace or bread or freedom.
It cannot give peace because it is a war government, a government for the continuation of the imperialist slaughter, a government [V] [of conquest that has not uttered one word to renounce the tsarist policy of the conquest of] Armenia, Galicia and Turkey, of capturing Constantinople, of reconquering Poland, Courland, Lithuania, etc. It is a government bound hand and foot by Anglo-French imperialist capital. Russian capital is merely a branch of the worldwide ‘firm’ that manipulates hundreds of billions of roubles and is called ‘England and France’.
It cannot give bread because it is a bourgeois government. At best, it can give the people ‘hunger organised with genius’, as Germany has done. But the people will not accept famine. The people will discover, and probably very soon, that there is bread and that it can be obtained, but not otherwise than by methods that do not respect the sanctity of capital and land ownership.
It cannot give freedom because it is a landlord and capitalist government that fears the people [W].
In another article, we will speak of the tasks of our short-term tactical conduct towards this government. In it, we shall explain the peculiarity of the present situation - a transition from the first to the second stage of the revolution - and why the slogan, the ‘task of the day’, at this moment must be: Workers, you have performed miracles of proletarian and popular heroism, in thecivil war against tsarism. You must perform miracles of proletarian and popular organisation in order to prepare for your victory in the second stage of the revolution.
Confining ourselves for the present to an analysis of the class struggle and the alignment of class forces at this stage of the revolution, we have still to put the question: who are the proletariat’s allies in this revolution?
It has two allies: first, the broad mass of the semi-proletarian and, in part, of the small-peasant population, who number scores of millions and constitute the overwhelming majority of the population of Russia. For this, mass peace, bread, freedom and land are essential. It is inevitable that to a certain extent this mass will find itself under a certain influence of the bourgeoisie, and particularly of the petty bourgeoisie, to which it is most akin in its conditions of life, vacillating between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The cruel lessons of war - and they will be all the more cruel, the more vigorously the war is prosecuted by Guchkov, Lvov, Miliukov and co - will inevitably push this mass towards the proletariat, compel it to follow the proletariat. We must now take advantage of the [X] freedom of the new order and of the Soviets of Worker [and Soldier] Deputies to enlighten and organise this mass first of all and above all. Soviets of Peasant Deputies and Soviets of Agricultural Workers - here is one of the [Y] [most essential] tasks. We will thereby strive not only for the agricultural workers to establish their own separate soviets, but also for the propertyless and poorest peasants to organise separately from the well-off peasants. The special tasks and special forms of organisation urgently needed at the present time will be dealt with in the next letter.
Second, the ally of the Russian proletariat is the proletariat of all the belligerent countries and of all countries in general. At present this ally is to a large degree crushed by the war, and all too often the European social-chauvinists speak in its name - those who, like Plekhanov, Gvozdev and Potresov in Russia, have gone over to the bourgeoisie. But the liberation of the proletariat from their influence has progressed with every month of the imperialist war, and the Russian revolution will inevitably hasten this process tremendously.
With these two allies, the proletariat, using the peculiarities of the present transitional moment, can and will proceed, first, towards the achievement of a democratic republic and complete victory of the peasantry over the landlords [Z], and then towards socialism, which alone can give peace, bread and freedom to the peoples devastated by war
Key to edits
A: or - if instead of general critical definitions we use political names familiar in Russia - only the Guchkovs and Lvovs, Miliukovs and Shingarevs, on the one hand, and only the Gvozdevs, Potresovs, Chkhenkelis, Kerenskys and Chkheidzes, on the other,
B: [The Pravda version changes “Soviet of worker deputies” to “Soviet of Worker and Soldier Deputies” here and throughout the article (later instances are not flagged). Furthermore, the Pravda version does not contain the following words: “which has begun to win over the soldier and peasant deputies”.]
C: (of which Kerensky and Chkheidze are the principal representatives)
D: Those who, grovelling to the bourgeoisie or simply lacking backbone, howled and wailed about ‘defeatism’ are now faced by the fact of the historical connection between the defeat of the extremely backward and barbarous tsarist monarchy and the beginning of the revolutionary conflagration.
E: by means of out-and-out organisation of a plot against Nicholas Romanov.
F: organised a plot along with the Octobrists and Cadets, along with a section of the generals and the officer staff of the army and the St Petersburg garrison, especially
[The passage is replaced by the word, “strove”]
G: Let us not make the mistake of those who - like certain ‘OC’ supporters or ‘Mensheviks’ who are oscillating between the Gvozdev-Potresov line and internationalism and who only too often slip into petty bourgeois pacifism - are now ready to extol ‘agreement’ between the workers’ party and the Cadets, ‘support’ of the latter by the former, and so on. In conformity with the old (and by no means Marxist) doctrine that they have learned by rote, they are trying to throw a veil over the plot of the Anglo-French imperialists, along with the Guchkovs and Miliukovs, aimed at removing the ‘chief warrior’, Nicholas Romanov, and putting more energetic, fresh and more capable warriors in his place.
H: It would simply be foolish to speak of the revolutionary proletariat of Russia ‘supporting’ Cadet-Octobrist imperialism, which has been ‘patched up’with English money and is as abominable as tsarist imperialism.
I: [From the passage, “were destroying, have destroyed already to a considerable degree and will continue to destroy”, the Pravda version retains only “have destroyed”.]
J: monarch and also preferably a Romanov!
K: with the officers of the guards
L: This new government, in which Lvov and Guchkov of the Octobrists and Peaceful Renovation Party, yesterday’s abettors of Stolypin the Hangman, control the posts of real importance, the crucial posts, the decisive posts, the army and the bureaucracy - this government, in which Miliukov and the other Cadets serve mostly for decoration, for a signboard, for sugary professorial speeches, and the ‘Trudovik’ Kerensky plays the role of a balalaika for gulling the workers and peasants -
M: [In the Pravda version, the word “new” replaces the word “chief” in Lenin’s original.]
N: which is seeking ties with the soldiers and peasants, and also with the agricultural workers, with the latter particularly and primarily, of course, more than with the peasants
O: an organisation of workers,
P: The antagonism between the first and second force is not profound, it is temporary - the result solely of the present conjuncture of circumstances, of the abrupt turn of events in the imperialist war. The entire new government is monarchist, for Kerensky’s verbal republicanism simply cannot be taken seriously, is not worthy of a statesman and, objectively, is political chicanery. The new government has not succeeded in finishing off the tsarist monarchy, has already begun to make a deal with the landlord Romanov dynasty. The bourgeoisie of the Octobrist-Cadet type needs a monarchy to serve as the head of the bureaucracy and the army in order to protect the privileges of capital against the working people.
He who says that the workers must support the new government in the interests of the struggle against tsarist reaction (and apparently this is being said by the Potresovs, Gvozdevs, Chkhenkelis and also, all evasiveness notwithstanding, by Chkheidze) is a traitor to the workers, a traitor to the cause of the proletariat, to the cause of peace and freedom. For actually, precisely this new government is already bound hand and foot by imperialist capital, by the imperialist policy of war and plunder, has already begun to make deals (without consulting the people!) with the dynasty, is already working to restore the tsarist monarchy, is already soliciting the candidature of Mikhail Romanov as the new kinglet, is already taking measures to prop up the throne, to substitute for the legitimate (lawful, ruling by virtue of established law) monarchy a Bonapartist, plebiscite monarchy (ruling by virtue of a fraudulent popular vote).
Q: [The Pravda version replaces the words, “Miliukov and Kerensky” with the “of liberalism”.]
R: conman swindles
S: Otherwise the Guchkovs and Miliukovs will restore the monarchy and grant none, absolutely none of the ‘liberties’ they promised.
[Instead, the following words appear: “Otherwise the people will be deceived. Promises are cheap; promises cost nothing.”]
T: say the Potresovs, Gvozdevs and Chkheidzes, as Plekhanov said yesterday.
[Instead, the following words appear: “ say the worthless politicians from the camp of the liquidators”.]
U: (only infants can think that Guchkov and Lvov are sincere) to give the people
V: of plunder, one that wants to plunder
[Instead, the following words appear: “of conquest that has not uttered one word to renounce the tsarist policy of the conquest of”.]
W: and has already begun to make deals with the Romanov dynasty
Y: [In the Pravda version, “most essential” replaces “most serious” in Lenin’s original.]
Z: instead of the Guchkov-Miliukov semi-monarchy.