100 years ago: the 1905 revolution in Russia

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One hundred years ago, the proletariat in Russia embarked on the first revolutionary movement of the 20th century, known today as the Russian revolution of 1905. As it was not brought to a victorious conclusion, unlike the October revolution twelve years later, this movement has fallen into almost total obscurity today. This is largely why it has not become the focus of campaigns to denigrate and slander it, as has the Russian revolution of 1917, particularly in the autumn of 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down. Nevertheless, the revolution of 1905 brought with it a whole series of lessons, clarifications and answers to questions presented to the workers movement at the time, without which the revolution of 1917 certainly would not have succeeded. Moreover, although these events took place a century ago, 1905 is much closer to us politically than might be supposed and the generation of revolutionaries of today and tomorrow need to re-appropriate the basic lessons of this first Russian revolution.

The events of 1905 took place as the period of capitalism's decline dawned. This decline was already making its mark, even if only a tiny minority of revolutionaries at the time were able to glimpse its significance in terms of the profound change that was taking place in society and in the conditions of the proletarian struggle. In the course of these events, the working class developed massive movements beyond the factories, across sectors and categories. There were no common demands, nor was there a clear distinction between the economic and the political as had been the case previously with the union struggle on the one hand and the parliamentary struggle on the other. There were no clear directives from the political parties or the unions. For the first time, the movement's dynamic gave rise to the creation of organs, the soviets (or workers' councils), which were to become the form through which the revolutionary proletariat would organise itself and wield power, in Russia in October 1917, and throughout the revolutionary wave that shook Europe in the wake of October.

In 1905 the workers' movement thought that the bourgeois revolution was still on the agenda in Russia because the Russian bourgeoisie did not hold political power but remained subjugated under the feudal yoke of tsarism. However, the leading role taken by the working class in these events was to knock this idea on the head. The reactionary orientation that the parliamentary and union struggle was beginning to adopt, due to the change in period that was taking place, was far from clear and would not become so for some time. But the secondary or completely non-existent role that the unions and parliament played in the movement in Russia that was a first indication of this. The capacity of the working class to take charge of its own future and to organise itself cast doubt on the vision of German Social-Democracy and the international workers' movement as to the tasks of the party, its function of organisation and direction of the working class, and threw new light on the responsibilities of the political vanguard of the working class. Many elements that would later constitute decisive positions of the workers' movement in the phase of capitalist decadence were already present in 1905.

The 1905 revolution was the subject of many writings within the workers' movement at the time and the issues that it raised were hotly debated. Within the context of a short series of three articles, we will concentrate on certain lessons that seem to us to be central for the workers' movement today and still entirely relevant: the revolutionary nature of the working class and its intrinsic ability historically to oppose capitalism and give society a new perspective; the nature of the soviets, "the form, finally discovered, of the dictatorship of the proletariat", as Lenin said; the capacity of the working class to learn from experience, to draw the lessons of its defeats, the continuity of its historic combat and the maturation of the conditions for revolution. In order to do so we will return very briefly to the events of 1905, referring to those who were the witnesses and the protagonists at the time, such as Trotsky, Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg and who were able, in their writings, not only to draw the broad political lessons but also to convey the intense emotion aroused by the struggle in those months.[1]

The Russian revolution of 1905 is a particularly clear illustration of what marxism means when it talks of the fundamentally revolutionary nature of the working class. It shows the capacity of the Russian proletariat to go from a situation in which it was ideologically dominated by the values of capitalist society, to a position in which it developed its self-confidence through a massive movement of struggle, developed its solidarity and discovered its historic strength to the point of creating the organs that enabled it to take control of its future. This is a living example of the material force that the class consciousness of the proletariat becomes when it begins to move. In the years before 1968 the Western bourgeoisie told us that the proletariat had been "bourgeoisified", that nothing could be expected of it anymore. The events of 1968 in France and the whole international wave of struggles that followed them, scathingly gave this the lie. They ended the longest period of counter-revolution in history that had been opened up by the defeat of the international revolutionary wave of 1917-23. Ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the bourgeoisie has never stopped declaring that communism is dead and that the working class has disappeared - and the difficulties experienced by the latter seem to prove them right. The bourgeoisie always has an interest in burying its own historic grave-digger. But the working class still exists - there is no capitalism without the working class and what took place in 1905 in Russia shows us how it can go from a situation of submission and ideological confusion under the capitalist yoke to a situation in which it becomes the subject of history, in which all hope resides, because it contains the future of humanity in its very being.

Brief history of the early steps of the revolution

Before going into the dynamic of the Russian revolution of 1905, we must briefly recall the international and historic context which was the starting point for the revolution. The last decades of the 19th century were characterised by a particularly pronounced economic development throughout Europe. These were the years in which capitalism developed the most dynamically. The countries that were advanced in capitalist terms were trying to expand into the backward regions, both in order to find cheap labour and raw materials and also to create new markets for their goods. It was in this context that tsarist Russia, a country whose economy was still very backward, became the ideal place for the export of a large amount of capital to set up industries of medium and large-scale industry. Within a few decades, the economy was profoundly transformed: "the railways acted as a powerful lever for the country's industrialisation”.[2]. The data on the industrialisation of Russia cited by Trotsky, compared to those of other countries with a more solid industrial structure, such as Germany and Belgium at the time, shows that, although the number of workers was still relatively modest in relation to its huge population (1.9 million compared to 1.56 in Germany and 600,000 in tiny Belgium), nevertheless Russia had a modern industrial structure on a par with the other world powers. Created out of nothing, thanks to mainly foreign capital, capitalist industry in Russia was not created by an internal dynamic but by technology and capital from abroad. Trotsky's data show how the work-force in Russia was much more concentrated than in other countries because it was mostly divided between large and medium enterprises (38.5% in enterprises with over 1000 workers and 49.5% in enterprises between 51 and 1000 workers, whereas in Germany the figures were respectively 10% and 46%). This data on the structure of the economy explains the revolutionary vitality of a proletariat that in other respects was submerged in a profoundly backward country still dominated by a peasant economy.

Moreover, the events of 1905 did not grow out of nothing but were the product of successive experiences that shook Russia from the end of the 19th century onwards. As Rosa Luxemburg shows "the January mass strike was without doubt carried through under the immediate influence of the gigantic general strike, which in December 1904 broke out in the Caucasus, in Baku, and for a long time kept the whole of Russia in suspense. The events of December in Baku were for their part only the last and powerful ramification of those tremendous mass strikes which, like a periodic earthquake, shook the whole of south Russia in 1903 and 1904, and whose prologue was the mass strike in Batum in the Caucasus in March 1902. This first mass strike movement in the continuous series of present revolutionary eruptions is finally separated by five or six years from the great general strike of the textile workers in St. Petersburg in 1896 and 1897".[3]

January 9th, 2005[4] is the anniversary of what is called "Bloody Sunday", which was the beginning of a series of events in old Tsarist Russia that unfolded throughout 1905 and ended in the bloody repression of the Moscow insurrection in December. The activity of the class was practically ceaseless throughout the year although the forms of struggle were not always the same and the struggles were not always of the same intensity. There were three significant moments during this revolutionary year: January, October and December.


In January 1905 two workers were sacked from the Putilov factory in St. Petersburg. A strike movement in solidarity began: a petition for political freedom, the right to education and the 8-hour day, against taxation, etc was drafted, that was to be presented to the Tsar by a massive demonstration. It was the repression of this demonstration that was to become the starting point for the year-long revolutionary conflagration. In fact the revolutionary process in Russia took off in a singular way. "Thousands of workers - not Social-Democrats, but loyal God-fearing subjects - led by the priest Gapon, streamed from all parts of the capital to its centre, to the square in front of the Winter Palace, to submit a petition to the Tsar. The workers carried icons. In a letter to the Tsar, their then leader, Gapon, had guaranteed his personal safety and asked him to appear before the people".[5] In April 1904 Father Gapon had been the inspiration behind an "Assembly of Russian factory and office workers in the city of St. Petersburg", authorised by the government and in collusion with the police officer Zubatov.[6] As Lenin said, the role of this organisation was to contain and control the workers' movement at the time, just as today the same aim is accomplished by different means. But the pressure that had built up within the proletariat had already reached a critical point. "And now the Zubatov movement is outgrowing its bounds. Initiated by the police in the interests of the police, in the interests of supporting the autocracy and demoralising the political consciousness of the workers, this movement is turning against the autocracy and is becoming an outbreak of the proletarian, class struggle". [7] It all took shape when the workers arrived at the Winter Palace to hand their demands to the Tsar and were charged by the troops who "attacked the crowd with drawn swords, fired on the unarmed workers, who on their bended knees implored the Cossacks to allow them to go to the Tsar. Over one thousand were killed and over two thousand wounded on that day, according to police reports. The indignation of the workers was indescribable".[8] The Petersburg workers had appealed to the Tsar, whom they called "Little Father", and they were enraged when he replied to their petition by force of arms. It was this profound indignation on their part that unleashed the revolutionary struggles of January. The working class that began by following Father Gapon and religious icons and addressed their petition to the "Little Father of the people", showed an unforeseen strength with the momentum of the revolution. A very rapid change took place in the state of mind of the proletariat in this period; it is the typical expression of the revolutionary process in which, whatever their beliefs and fears, the proletarians discover and become aware that their unity makes them strong. "A tremendous wave of strikes swept the country from end to end, convulsing the entire body of the nation. According to approximate calculations, the strike spread to 122 towns and localities, several mines in the Donetz basin and to railways. The proletarian masses were stirred to the very core of their being. The strike involved something like a million men and women. For almost two months, without any plan, in many cases without advancing any claims, stopping and starting, obedient only to the instinct of solidarity, the strike ruled the land".[9] Embarking on strike action out of solidarity, without a specific demand to put forward, because "the proletarian mass, counted by millions, quite suddenly and sharply came to realise how intolerable was that social and economic existence",[10] was both an expression of and an active factor in the maturation within the Russian proletariat at the time, of its consciousness that it is a class and that it must confront its class enemy as such.

The general strike in January was followed by a period of continuous struggles for economic demands, that arose and disappeared throughout the country. This period was less spectacular but just as important. "The various undercurrents of the social process of the revolution cross one another, check one another, and increase the internal contradictions (…) not only the January lightning of the first general strike, but also the spring and summer thunderstorms that followed it, played an indispensable part". Although there was "no sensational news from the Russian theatre of war", "the great underground work of the revolution was in reality being carried on without cessation, day-by-day and hour-by-hour, in the very heart of the empire" (ibid). Bloody confrontations took place in Warsaw. Barricades went up in Lodz. The sailors of the battleship Potemkin in the Black Sea mutinied. This whole period prepared the second, stronger period of the revolution.


"This second great action of the proletariat already bears a character essentially different from that of the first one in January. The element of political consciousness already plays a much bigger role. Here also, to be sure, the immediate occasion for the outbreak of the mass strike was a subordinate and apparently accidental thing: the conflict of the railwaymen with the management over the pension fund. But the general rising of the industrial proletariat which followed upon it was conducted in accordance with clear political ideas. The prologue of the January strike was a procession to the Tsar to ask for political freedom: the watchword of the October strike ran away with the constitutional comedy of czarism!

And thanks to the immediate success of the general strike, to the Tsar’s manifesto of October 30, the movement does not flow back on itself, as in January but rushes over outwardly in the eager activity of newly acquired political freedom. Demonstrations, meetings, a young press, public discussions and bloody massacres as the end of the story, and thereupon new mass strikes and demonstrations" (ibid.)

A qualitative change took place in the month of October, expressed by the formation of a soviet in Petersburg, which was to become a landmark in the history of the international workers' movement. With the extension of the print workers' strike to the railway and telegraph sectors, the workers made the decision in a general assembly to form the soviet that would become the central nervous system of the revolution: "The Soviet came into being as a response to an objective need - a need born of the course of events. It was an organisation which was authoritative and yet had no traditions; which could immediately involve a scattered mass of hundreds of thousands of people while having virtually no organisational machinery; which united the revolutionary currents within the proletariat; which was capable of initiative and spontaneous self control".[11] Soviets were then formed in many other cities.

The formation of the first soviets went unnoticed by a large part of the international movement. Rosa Luxemburg who, on the basis of the 1905 revolution, had analysed so masterfully the new characteristics of the proletariat's struggle at the dawn of the new historic period - the mass strike - still considered the unions to be organisational forms of the class.[12] It was the Bolsheviks (though not immediately) and Trotsky who understood the step forward that the formation of these organs represented for the workers' movement, that they were in fact organs for the seizure of power. We will not develop this point here because we plan to deal with it in another article.[13] We will just point out that it is precisely because capitalism was entering its period of decline that the working class was confronted, from that moment on, with the immediate task of overthrowing capitalism. So ten months of struggle, of socialist agitation, of the maturation of consciousness, of the transformation of the balance of forces between the classes, led "naturally" to the creation of organs to wield power.

"On the whole the soviets were quite simply strike committees along the lines of those that have always been formed during wildcat strikes. As the strikes in Russia broke out in the large factories and spread very quickly to the towns and provinces, the workers had to stay in contact permanently. They met and discussed in the workplace, (…) they sent delegates to other factories (…) But these tasks in fact were much broader than in the current strikes. The workers in fact had to free themselves from the weighty oppression of tsarism and were aware that the very foundations of Russian society were being transformed because of their action. It was not just a question of wages but also of all the problems related to society globally. They had to discover for themselves a steady path in various areas and deal with political questions. When the strike was intensified and spread throughout the whole country, which stopped industry and transport short and paralysed the authorities, the soviets were confronted with new problems. They had to organise social life, pay attention to the maintenance of order as well as the efficient functioning of vital public services, in brief, fulfil functions that usually fall to the government. The workers carried out the decisions they made"[14]


"The fermentation after the brief constitutional period and the gruesome awakening finally leads in December to the outbreak of the third general mass strike throughout the empire. This time its course and its outcome are altogether different from those in the two earlier cases. Political action does not change into economic action as in January, but it no longer achieves a rapid victory as in October. The attempts of the czarist camarilla with real political freedom are no longer made, and revolutionary action therewith, for the first time, and along its whole length, knocked against the strong wall of the physical violence of absolutism".[15] Terrified by the movement of the proletariat, the capitalist bourgeoisie lined up behind the Tsar. The government failed to pass the liberal laws that it had promised. The leaders of the Petrograd soviet were arrested. But the struggle continued in Moscow: "The climax of the 1905 Revolution came in the December uprising in Moscow. For nine days a small number of rebels, of organised and armed workers - there were not more than eight thousand - fought against the Tsar's government, which dared not trust the Moscow garrison. In fact, it had to keep it locked up, and was able to quell the rebellion only by bringing in the Semenovsky Regiment from St. Petersburg".[16]

The proletarian character of the 1905 revolution and the dynamic of the mass strike

The main historic elements have been outlined, and we just want to emphasise one point here: the 1905 revolution had just one main protagonist, the Russian proletariat, and its whole dynamic strictly followed the logic of this class. The whole international class movement was expecting a bourgeois revolution in Russia and believed that the central task of the working class was to participate in the overthrow of the feudal state and push for the establishment of bourgeois freedom, as had been the case with the revolutions of 1789 and 1848. However, not only was it the mass strike of the working class that animated the whole of 1905 but its dynamic led to the creation of organs for the power of the working class. Lenin himself was clear enough on this when he said that apart from its "bourgeois democratic" character, due to its "social content", "the Russian revolution was also a proletarian revolution, not only in the sense that the proletariat was the leading force, the vanguard of the movement, but also in the sense that a specifically proletarian weapon of struggle - the strike - was the principal means of bringing the masses into motion and the most characteristic phenomenon in the wave-like rise of decisive events" (ibid). But when Lenin talks of the strike, we mustn't see this as the 4-, 8- or 24-hour actions proposed by the unions today in every country in the world. In fact, what developed in 1905 is what was later called the mass strike, this "ocean of phenomena" - as Rosa Luxemburg characterised it - the spontaneous extension and self-organisation of the proletariat's struggle, would characterise all the great movements of struggle in the 20th century. "The right-wing of the Second International, the majority, surprised by the violence of events, failed to understand anything of what was taking place, but showed its resounding disapproval of and disgust for the development of the class struggle - thus foreshadowing the process which was to lead them into the camp of the class enemy".[17] The left wing, that included the Bolsheviks, Rosa Luxemburg and Pannekoek, was to see the confirmation of its positions (against Bernstein's revisionism[18] and parliamentary cretinism) but it had to undertake a profound theoretical work to fully understand the changed conditions in the life of capitalism - the phase of imperialism and decadence - which determined the change in the aims and the means of the class struggle. But Luxemburg had already outlined the premises: "The mass strike is thus shown to be not a specifically Russian product, springing from absolutism but a universal form of the proletarian class struggle resulting from the present stage of capitalist development and class relations (…), the present Russian Revolution stands at a point of the historical path which is already over the summit, which is on the other side of the culminating point of capitalist society"[19]

The mass strike is not just a movement of the masses, a sort of popular revolt encompassing "all the oppressed" and which would as such be positive if we were to take the word of the leftist and anarchist ideologists. In 1905 Pannekoek wrote: "If you conceive of the masses in a completely general way, the whole people, it seems that, in as far as the different conceptions and desires neutralise one another, what is left is no more than a mass without will, odd, committed to disorder, versatile, passive, oscillating between different impulses, between uncontrolled movements and apathetic indifference - in short, the picture that liberal writers willingly paint of the people (…) They know nothing of classes. On the contrary, the strength of the socialist doctrine is that it has brought order and a framework of interpretation to the infinite variety of human individuality by introducing the principle of the division of society into classes (…). The different classes are identified within historic mass movements and a clear picture of class struggle emerges from the impenetrable fog, with its successive phases of attack, retreat, defence, victory and defeat".[20]

Whereas the bourgeoisie and the opportunists of the workers' movement with it, turned away in disgust from the "incomprehensible" 1905 movement in Russia, the revolutionary left would go on to draw the lessons of the new situation: "…mass actions are a natural consequence of the development of modern capitalism into imperialism, they are increasingly the form of combat that is imposed". "In previous epochs, popular insurrections either had to win a complete victory, or, if they had not the strength to do so, they would fail completely. Our mass actions [of the proletariat] cannot fail; even if we do not get the result that we set ourselves, these actions are not in vain because even temporary retreats contribute to the future victory".[21]

The mass strike is not a ready made recipe as is the "general strike" proposed by the anarchists,[22] it is rather the self-expression of the working class, a way of regrouping its forces in order to develop its revolutionary struggle. "In a word, the mass strike, as shown to us in the Russian Revolution, is not a crafty method discovered by subtle reasoning for the purpose of making the proletarian struggle more effective, but the method of motion of the proletarian mass, the phenomenal form of the proletarian struggle in the revolution". [23] Today we have no direct and concrete of idea what the mass strike is, with the exception, for those who are not too young, of the struggle of the Polish workers in 1980.[24] So we turn once more to Luxemburg, who gives a solid and lucid framework: "the mass strike from that first great wage struggle of the Petersburg textile workers in 1896-97 to the last great mass strike in December 1905, passed imperceptibly from the economic field to the political, so that it is almost impossible to draw a dividing line between them. Again, every one of the great mass strikes repeats, so to speak, on a small scale, the entire history of the Russian mass strike, and begins with a pure economic, or at all events, a partial trade-union conflict, and runs through all the stages to the political demonstration (…) The January mass strike of 1905 developed from an internal conflict in the Putilov works, the October strike from the struggle of the railway workers for a pension fund, and finally the December strike from the struggle of the postal and telegraph employees for the right of combination. The progress of the movement on the whole is not expressed in the fact that the economic initial stage is omitted, but much more in the rapidity with which all the stages to the political demonstration are run through and in the extremity of the point to which the mass strike moves forward (…) the economic and the political factor in the period of the mass strike, far from being completely separated or even mutually exclusive (…) form the two interlacing sides of the proletarian class struggle in Russia".[25] Here Rosa Luxemburg takes up a central aspect of the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat: the inseparable unity between the economic struggle and the political struggle. In contrast to those at the time who said that the political struggle transcends, is the noble aspect (so to speak) of the proletariat's confrontation with the bourgeoisie, Luxemburg explains clearly on the contrary how the economic struggle develops from the economic terrain to the political, then to return with a vengeance to the terrain of the economic struggle. This is all particularly clear when you re-read the texts on the 1905 revolution and on the period of spring and summer. In fact we see how the proletariat began on bloody Sunday with a political demonstration humbly requesting democratic rights and then, not only did it not retreat after the heavy repression but rather came out of it with renewed energy and strength, to mount an assault for the defence of its living and working conditions. This is why in the following months there was an increase in the struggles, "here was the eight-hour day fought for, there piece-work was resisted, here were brutal foremen 'driven off' in a sack on a handcar, at another place infamous systems of fines were fought against, everywhere better wages were striven for and here and there the abolition of homework" (ibid). This period was also of great importance because, as Rosa Luxemburg stresses, it gave the proletariat the possibility of internalising, a posteriori, all the lessons of the prologue to January and of clarifying its ideas for the future. In fact, "the worker, suddenly aroused to activity by the electric shock of political action, immediately seizes the weapon lying nearest his hand for the fight against his condition of economic slavery: the stormy gesture of the political struggle causes him to feel with unexpected intensity the weight and the pressure of his economic chains" (ibid).

The spontaneous nature of the revolution and confidence in the working class

A particularly important aspect of the revolutionary process in Russia 1905 was its markedly spontaneous character. The struggles arose, developed and strengthened. They gave rise to new instruments of struggle such as the mass strike and the soviets without the revolutionary parties of the period managing to keep up with events or even at first, to understand completely the implications of what was happening. The proletariat's strength within the movement in defence of its own interests, is formidable and contains within it an extraordinary creativity. Lenin recognised this in the assessment that he made of the 1905 revolution a year later: "From a strike and demonstrations to isolated barricades. From isolated barricades to the mass erection of barricades and street fighting against the troops. Over the heads of the organisations, the mass proletarian struggle developed from a strike to an uprising. This is the greatest historic gain the Russian revolution achieved in December 1905; and like all preceding gains it was purchased at the price of enormous sacrifices. The movement was raised from a general political strike to a higher stage. It compelled the reaction to go to the limit in its resistance, and so brought vastly nearer the moment when the revolution will also go to the limit in applying the means of attack. The reaction cannot go further than the shelling of barricades, buildings and crowds. But the revolution can go very much further than the Moscow volunteer fighting units, it can go very, very much further in breadth and depth (…) The proletariat sensed sooner than its leaders the change in the objective conditions of the struggle and the need for a transition from the strike to an uprising. As is always the case, practice marched ahead of theory". [26]

This passage of Lenin's is particularly important today given that many of the doubts experienced by politicised elements and, up to a certain point within proletarian organisations, are linked to the idea that the proletariat will never manage to emerge from the apathy in which it sometimes seems to have fallen. What happened in 1905 gives the lie to this idea in a very striking way and the amazement that we feel, when we see that the class struggle was spontaneous, simply expresses an under-estimation of the profound process that takes place within the class, the subterranean maturation of consciousness, which Marx was talking about when he spoke of the "old mole". Confidence in the working class, in its capacity to give a political response to the problems that afflict society, is a primordial question in the present period. After the collapse of the Berlin wall and the bourgeois campaign that followed it around the failure of communism, wrongly assimilated to the infamous Stalinist regime, the working class is experiencing difficulty recognising itself as a class and consequently in identifying itself with an aim, a perspective, an ideal for which to fight. This lack of perspective automatically produces a drop in combativity, it weakens the conviction that it is necessary to fight because you do not fight for nothing but only if you have an objective to attain. This is why today the working class' absence of clarity on its perspective and its lack of confidence in itself are tightly linked together. But it is essentially in practice that such a situation can be overcome, through the direct experience on the part of the working class of its capacities and the need to struggle for a perspective. This is exactly what happened in Russia in 1905, when "within a few months, however, the picture changed completely. The hundreds of revolutionary Social-Democrats ‘suddenly’ grew into thousands; the thousands became the leaders of between two and three million proletarians. The proletarian struggle produced widespread ferment, often revolutionary movements among the peasant masses, fifty to a hundred million strong; the peasant movement had its reverberations in the army and led to soldiers' revolts, to armed clashes between one section of the army and another".[27] This was necessary not only for the proletariat in Russia but also for the world proletariat, including the most developed, the German proletariat:

"In the revolution when the masses themselves appear upon the political battlefield this class-consciousness becomes practical and active. A year of revolution has therefore given the Russian parliament that ‘training’ which thirty years of parliamentary and trade-union struggle cannot artificially give to the German proletariat. (…) And just as surely, on the other hand, will the living revolutionary class feeling, capable of action, affect the widest and deepest layers of the proletariat in Germany in a period of strong political engagement, and that the more rapidly and more deeply, more energetically the educational work of social democracy is carried on amongst them".[28] We can also say, paraphrasing Rosa Luxemburg, that today too in this period of deep economic crisis internationally and in the face of the obvious incapacity of the bourgeoisie to confront the bankruptcy of the capitalist system, an active and lively revolutionary feeling will grip the most mature sectors of the proletariat and that it will do so especially in the more advanced capitalist countries, where the experience of the class has been the richest and the most deeply rooted and where the revolutionary forces, although still weak, are more present. This confidence that we express today in the working class, is not an act of faith, nor is it a blind, mystical confidence, it is based precisely on the history of the class and on its sometimes surprising capacity to re-emerge from its apparent torpor. As we have tried to show, although its true that the processes of the dynamic through which its consciousness matures are often obscure and difficult to understand, it is certain that this class is obliged historically, because of its position in society as both an exploited and revolutionary class, to confront the class which oppresses it, the bourgeoisie. In the experience of this combat, it will re-discover the self-confidence that it lacks today:

"We seem to have an impotent, docile mass, as inert as corpses in the face of the dominant force which is itself well organised and knows what it wants, which manipulates the mass to its liking and then all of a sudden this mass is transformed into organised humanity, able to determine its own fate by exercising its conscious will, able to valiantly confront the old dominant power. It was passive; it has become an active mass, an organism endowed with its own life, cemented and structured of itself, endowed with its own consciousness, its own organs".[29]

Together with the development of the working class' self confidence there is another crucial element of the proletarian struggle: solidarity within its ranks. The working class is the only class which has a real sense of solidarity because within it there is no divergent economic interest - unlike the bourgeoisie, a competitive class, for whom the highest expression of solidarity is expressed only within the national framework or against its historical enemy, the proletariat. Competition within the proletariat is imposed on it by capitalism but the society which it bears within its loins and within its being is a society which ends all divisions, a real human community. Proletarian solidarity is a fundamental arm in the proletarian struggle; it was at the inception of the huge upheavals of 1905 in Russia: "the spark that started the fire was an ordinary conflict between capital and labour: a factory strike. It is interesting to note however that that the strike of 12,000 workers at Putilov, which broke out on Monday 3rd January, was a strike called in the name of proletarian solidarity at the beginning. It was caused by the sacking of 4 workers. 'When the request to reintegrate them was rejected - wrote a Petersburg comrade on 7th January - the factory came to a halt immediately and with complete unanimity'".[30]

It is no accident that today the bourgeoisie tries to distort the notion of solidarity by presenting it under a "humanitarian" form or else with a dressing of "economic solidarity", one of the gimmicks of the new "alternative" "anti-globalisation movement", which is trying to counteract the gradual awareness that is developing in the depths of society about the dead-end that capitalism represents for humanity. Even if the working class as a whole is not yet aware of the power of its solidarity, the bourgeoisie itself has not forgotten the lessons that the proletariat has etched into history.

1905 was a great workers' movement that arose from the depths of the revolutionary soul of the proletariat and showed the creative power of the revolutionary class. Today, in spite of all the blows that the bourgeoisie in its death agony has dealt it, the proletariat retains its capacities intact. It is up to revolutionaries to enable their class to re-appropriate the great experiences of its past history and to tirelessly prepare the theoretical and political terrain for the development of the struggle and the consciousness of the class today and tomorrow.

"In the tempest of the revolution, the proletarian, the prudent father anxious to ensure that he has money coming in, turns into a 'romantic revolutionary', for whom the supreme good - life itself - let alone his material well-being, have but little value in comparison with the ideal of the struggle. So although it is true that in the revolutionary period the direction of the strike tends towards initiating their outbreak and taking them in hand, it is no less true that in other ways the leadership in the strikes falls to the Social-Democracy and its directing organisms. (…) In a revolutionary period Social-Democracy is called upon to give political leadership. The most important 'leadership' task in the period of the mass strike resides in giving slogans for the struggle, in orienting and regulating the tactic of the political struggle in such a way that in each phase and each moment of the combat, the entire force of the proletariat, that is already engaged in battle, is realised and set in motion".[31] During 1905 revolutionaries (called social-democrats at the time) were often surprised, overtaken by the impetuosity of the movement, its newness, and its creative imagination, and they were not always able to supply the slogans, as Luxemburg says, "to each phase, to each moment" and they even made serious mistakes. However, the basic revolutionary work that they carried out before and during the movement, the socialist agitation, the active participation in the struggle of their class, were indispensable factors in the 1905 revolution. Their ability to draw the lessons of these events afterwards prepared the terrain for the victory in 1917.

Ezechiele (5-12-04)

[1] It is not possible within the framework of these articles to evoke all the richness of these events or all of the questions raised and we refer the reader to the historic documents themselves. Likewise, we leave aside a number of points such as the discussion on the bourgeois tasks (according to the Mensheviks), the "democratic-bourgeois" character (according to the Bolsheviks) of the Russian revolution, or "the theory of permanent revolution" (according to Trotsky), which all tend more or less to see the tasks of the proletariat within the national framework imposed by the ascendant period of capitalism. Likewise we can't take up the discussion within German Social Democracy, between Kautsky and Rosa Luxemburg in particular, on the mass strike.

[2] L. Trotsky: 1905.

[3] R. Luxemburg: The Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade Unions, 1906

[4] January 22nd according to the old Julian calendar still in use in Russia at the time.

[5] V.I Lenin: "Lecture on the 1905 revolution", 9th (22nd) January 1917.

[6] Zubatov was a high-ranking police official who founded workers' associations, in agreement with the government, whose aim was to keep conflicts within a strictly economic framework and divert them from any criticism of the government.

[7] V.I Lenin: "The Petersburg strike", in Economic strike and Political strike.

[8] V.I Lenin: "Lecture on the 1905 revolution", idem.

[9] L. Trotsky: 1905.

[10] R. Luxemburg: The Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade Unions.

[11] L. Trotsky: 1905

[12] See our article "Notes on the Mass strike" in International Review n°27, 4th quarter 1985

[13] See also our article "1905 Revolution: Fundamental Lessons for the Proletariat" in International Review n°43, 4th quarter 1985

[14] A. Pannekoek: The workers' councils (drafted in 1941-42)

[15] R. Luxemburg: Mass strike, party and unions.

[16] V.I Lenin: "Lecture on the 1905 revolution".

[17] See our article "The Historic Conditions for the Generalisation of the Working Class Struggle" in International Review no.26, 3rd quarter 1981

[18] Within German Social Democracy, Bernstein promoted the idea of a pacific transition to socialism. His current is referred to as revisionist. Rosa Luxemburg fought against it as an expression of a dangerous opportunist deviation affecting the party in her pamphlet Reform or Revolution

[19] R. Luxemburg: The Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade Unions.

[20] "Marxism and Theology", published in the Neue Zeit in 1905, quoted in "Mass Action and Revolution"

[21] A. Pannekoek: "Mass action and revolution", Neue Zeit in 1912

[22] See our article "The Historic Conditions for the Generalisation of the Working Class Struggle" in International Review no. 26, 3rd quarter 1981

[23] R. Luxemburg: The Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade Unions.

[24] See our articles on Poland 1980 in the International Review.

[25] R. Luxemburg: The Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade Unions.

[26] V.I. Lenin: "Lessons of the Moscow Uprising", 1906.

[27] V.I. Lenin: "Lecture on the 1905 revolution".

[28] R. Luxemburg: The Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade Unions.

[29] A. Pannekoek: "Mass action and revolution", Neue Zeit, 1912

[30] V.I. Lenin: "Economic strike and political strike"

[31] R. Luxemburg: The Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade Unions.


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