The Russian Revolution and Its Significance
Source: The Class Struggle, Vol. I, No. 1, May-June, 1917
The Russian Revolution and Its Significance By N. Bucharin The Class
Struggle, Vol. I, No. 1, May-June, 1917 The first Russian revolution of 1905
was the expression of a gigantic conflict between the growing forces of
production on the one hand and reactionary, industrial and political
conditions in Russia on the other. A rapidly growing capitalism demanded the
freedom of the inner market, the failure of the Russian Japanese war having
made the extension of foreign markets impossible. But the home market was
equally unresponsive. The predominating element among the Russian people is
its peasantry, whose demands and whose buying power represented the basis
for all further capitalistic development. They were equal, it is true, but
equal in misery. A pauperized, not a proletarian nation of farmers, peasants
who remained on their farms, did not go into the cities, and paid enormous
sums for their little rent farms to the semi-feudal gentry landlords.
Nobility landlordism on one hand, hungry pauper tenantry on the other--such
were the conditions in the agrarian sections of Russia. Capitalistic farm
production had taken root only on the extreme outskirts of the nation, in
the Baltic provinces and in southern Russia. But its extent was
So the objective "purpose" of the Revolution was the creation
of a home market, and the abolition of unbearable political conditions.
The downfall of the Revolution meant only the postponement of the great
social catastrophe and the possibility of a higher ultimate stage of
Nevertheless the proletarian blood that flowed in 1905 was by no means
shed in vain. The old autocracy gave place to a new pseudo-constitutional
regime, presenting a certain (though very limited) opportunity to conduct
the broader work of revolutionary education among the proletariat.
But even from a purely economical point of view, the first Revolution
had consequences that are not unimportant. It was followed by fundamental
changes in the national industrial structure, and by a consequent
readjustment of class relations.
The large landlords, terrorized by the revolting farmers, sold their
possessions, either directly to their tenants or through the agency of
so-called "farmers' banks" (Krestjansky Bank), the government
institution that, as a rule, functioned as the business agency of the
nobility. In this way a small part of the possessions of the great landed
nobility passed into the hands of the wealthier farmers. By his so-called
agrarian reform programme, Stolypin, the Czarist minister, dissolved the
old "Mir" (peasant communities), and divided the community lands
in such a way that the best portions everywhere fell into the hands of a
thin strata of agricultural bourgeoisie. The result was a visible
strengthening of this new class, whose members organized everywhere on a
But the status of the great landholders, too, had changed. The modern
capitalist wing grew stronger, a phenomena that may be attributed mainly
to altered conditions in the world market. The price of wheat and rye were
advancing almost hourly. It became more profitable to produce by modern
capitalistic methods; the old primitive system went into discard. So
agrarian capitalism gained a firm foothold in Russia.
All these changes kept step with the changes that were taking place on
the industrial field. "Our" industries before the Revolution had
been rather peculiarly constituted. "We" had, on the one side, a
primitive system of fragmentary, disorganized, small scale production, on
the other, gigantic undertakings which frequently employed 15,000 to
20,000 laborers and employees. After the Revolution the concentration of
capital advanced in leaps and bounds. In the era of the counter-revolution
mighty manufacturers' associations, employers' associations, trusts,
syndicates and combinations, banking houses and banking corporations came
into existence. In Russia, to-day, monopolization in a few branches of
industry is very large indeed; so, for instance, the sugar, the metal, the
naphtha, the textile and the coal mining industries, are in the hands of a
few syndicates. Thus there grew up in Russia the mighty power of the
united bourgeois organizations, the power of financial capital,
interested mainly in export and trade.
The Revolution did not create a home market, it is true. This but
increased the profit hunger of "our" financiers. Protected by
outrageous protective tariffs that enabled them to sell comparatively
cheaply in the world market, the Russian capitalist began to sell his
wares in Persia, in the Balkans, in Asia Minor, etc., and even in the Far
East. Bank operations were augmented, state loans to China, Persia, etc.,
arranged; transactions that were diametrically opposed to the interests of
English, French and German capital were the order of the day.
The first Revolution itself, as we have seen, resulted in no radical
upheaval. But the greatest economic phenomena of the counter-revolutionary
period is the growth of financial capitalism and its policy of
expansion, or Imperialism.
Two classes were emerging out of the social chaos, the liberal
bourgeoisie, which gradually developed into an imperialistic bourgeoisie,
and the proletariat. During the first Russian Revolution the specific
characteristics of the Revolution were already quite evident, although the
objective content of the Revolution was wholly in harmony with capitalism.
The demands made by the masses were characteristically bourgeois, and
purely democratic and republican in their nature; even the economic
reforms were compatible with the interests of capitalism--as, for
instance, the eight hour day, the confiscation of land, and others. But
though the Revolution of 1905 was the bourgeois-democratic
Revolution of Russia, the motive power behind this upheaval was by no
means the liberal bourgeoisie, but the proletariat, and the revolutionary
peasantry who fought in the struggle under the control of the proletariat.
This seeming contradiction may be explained by the fact that the Russian
revolution came too late, came in an epoch in which the proletariat had
already become a mighty factor in social struggles. So our Liberalism was
condemned to a vascillating position, between Revolution and Czarism, a
policy that finally resulted in the betrayal of the whole revolution. In
the most critical period of the revolution, the liberals were already
The outbreak of the war almost completely laved the Russian movement.
It was the signal of an outbreak, in the ranks of the bourgeoisie
(including its liberal as well as its radical elements), an indescribable
patriotic fervor. The policy of conquest carried on by the nobility and
the landowners was in accord with the thieving plans of the group which
controlled the high finance of the nation. Mr. Miljukoff had long been
singing the praises of the bloody policy of the Czar's government in
Persia and in the Balkan States. Thus the Russian civil peace was born,
though a large part of the proletariat was actively and unalterably
opposed to it.
But the calculations of the new liberal class were, after all, at
fault. The Czarist administration, in spite of the most energetic support
of the Liberals, proved ineffectual on every hand. Corruption, systematic
thievery, complete disorganization of the whole administration apparatus
became more and more apparent. The needs of warfare had practically ruined
the rickety economic organism of Russian national economy. Instead of
increasing the production of foodstuffs the territory under cultivation
was reduced. The strength of the whole nation was drawn off from
productive labor and a shortage in a number of important articles of
Chaos reigned in the finances of the state. Securities for enormous war
loans and the payment of interest, staggering sums necessary to pay for
all kinds of war manufacturies, all these the Czarist government attempted
to cover by a promiscuous printing of paper money. This course was
followed, naturally, by a steady depreciation in the value of paper money,
until it was worth hardly 50 per cent. of its face value. This meant an
unbearable increase in the cost of living. High prices, in Russia, during
the war, were caused, therefore, not only by actual shortage of supplies,
not only by monopoly speculations, but also, to no small degree, by the
ruinous financial policy of the government.
At the same time the collapse of the whole transportation augmented the
general calamity by bringing about a complete disorganization of the home
market. For lack of means of transportation the sale of products was
limited to countless small markets in the immediate locality in which they
Increased taxes were another consequence of the war; all attempts to
tax the wealthier classes as well were pushed back upon the shoulders of
the proletariat and the peasantry by means of increased prices,
intensified labor and the overthrow of the miserable Russian "labor
Upon this "economic foundation" was built up a corresponding "political
The central administration, civil as well as military, was in the hands
of Rasputin, the Czar, and their followers, the clique of slovenly,
religious, superstitious, degenerate idiots and court thieves, who had
always looked upon the Russian nation as their family property. The local
administration was everywhere in the hands of autocratic governors who
ruled their territories like the Satraps of the ancient Orient.
The story of a session of the magistracy of Moscow, in which a serious
discussion as to the size of the bribe necessary to persuade the railroad
officials of Russia to secure the transportation of Siberian meat to
Moscow was the order of business, shows to what lengths corruption had
"Civil peace" in Russia, as in all other countries, was
rather peculiar. It meant, in effect, a system of gagging and oppression
such as Russia had not known since the failure of the first Revolution.
The labor press was suspended, labor unions dissolved, striking workers
were sent to the front, were thrown into prison or summarily shot. In
Iranovo-Wosnesensk alone more than 100 workers were killed. Proletariat
and the peasantry were segregated on the battlefields and mechanically
slaughtered. That Russia has been able to hold out against the Central
Powers so long is due alone to its almost inexhaustible reservoir of
These circumstances, which proved that the Czarist regime was unable to
realize even its own plans of usurpation, not to mention those of its
liberal supporters, called forth the opposition of the liberal
imperialists. The downtrodden and suffering proletariat cast its lot under
the banner of civil war, assisted by large groups among the peasantry.
The liberal bourgeoisie (the Cadettes and the Octobrists) and with them
the social-patriots, who are but their subservient vassals, were organized
mainly in Semstwo and in municipal units. They flirted with Grand Duke
Nikolai, with their democratic allies, with the ruling circles within the
army. In the Duma the so-called "progressive block" was formed,
as the parliamentary expression of the imperialistic bourgeoisie.
Their opposition was, as a matter of fact, rather innocent. They stood
by the maxim, "No infraction of the law." In the words of Mr.
Miljukoff, "If victory means revolution, I want no victory."
Not so the proletarian masses. In spite of the "pacifying"
manifesto of a few social patriotic traitors, the proletarian "Avantguarde"
developed an intense revolutionary activity. Street demonstrations,
strikes, the general strike and revolts of workers and military groups
that fraternized with them were the methods used in the struggle. These
mass actions paved the way for the final overthrow of the Czarist regime.
The first wave of the second revolution shattered the Russian throne.
The first step in the Revolution has been taken; the social structure
of the state machine has been changed, a new class has come into power.
The old, semi-feudal, noble, landowning class is overthrown. In its place
stand the new rulers, the modern, capitalist bourgeoisie.
But the second step will inevitably follow: the transformation of the
fatherland of the Gutschkoff-Miljukoff into the fatherland of the
How did it happen that the Imperialists won the victory,
although they were anything but revolutionary? The answer is plain.
Everything points to a compromise between the ruling classes. The
revolution was not yet strong enough to overthrow the capitalist system;
it has only effected a shifting of the elements within the bourgeoisie as
a whole, has placed the more progressive wing at the helm, by pushing
aside the reactionary nobility.
But the revolution is steadily growing. Even now, while these lines are
being written, there exist in Petrograd two governments, one, that of the
Imperialist bourgeoisie, which was jubilantly greeted by the bourgeois
classes of the other allied nations; the other, the governmental machine
of the proletariat, the workingmen's and soldiers' council.
The struggle between the working class and the Imperialists is
inevitable. Even the reforms that have been proclaimed by the provisional
government were concessions made out of fear of the threats of the
proletariat. But the liberal government will not be in a position to
fulfill the programme that has been forced upon it. The high cost of all
necessaries of life and the growing burden of taxation can be decreased to
a measurable degree only by the liquidation of the war, by confiscation,
by the annulment of state debts, by taxation of the possessing classes, by
fixing hours of labor and wages, by organizing public works, etc.
But Miljukoff and his class must pay the debts they have incurred to
the English, the French and the American bankers. They must defend the
principle of private property, must continue the policy of usurpation, a
policy that is suicidal at the present stage of complete disorganization.
So the new government is staggering toward bankruptcy, to clear the way
for the proletariat.
But the conquest of political power by the proletariat will, under the
existing circumstances, no longer mean a bourgeois revolution, in which
the proletariat plays the role of the broom of history. The proletariat
must henceforth lay a dictatorial hand upon production, and that is the
beginning of the end of the capitalist system.
A lasting victory of the Russian proletariat is, however, inconceivable
without the support of the west European proletariat. And this support is
fully guaranteed by the present international situation. To be sure, the
Russian Revolution has its specific abnormalities. But it is, as a product
of the world war, only a part of the coming world revolution of the
proletariat, whose first step it represents.
Wars and revolutions are the locomotives of history, one of our
Socialist teachers once said. And the present war was destined to produce
the revolution. The ruin of all national economy and with it the greatest
conceivable concentration of capital, the formation of gigantic units of
production, the adoption of state capitalism, the advance of great masses
upon the scene of history--and the unbearable sufferings of these masses.
The oppression of the people--and its armament--all of these conflicts
must find their solution in a gigantic catastrophe.
More than 100 years ago, when the French bourgeoisie had cut off the
head of its king, it lighted the torch of revolution in Europe. This was
the signal for a whole series of capitalist revolutions. To-day the
bourgeoisie stands at its grave. It has become the citadel of reaction.
And the proletariat has come to destroy its social order.
The call to arms to this great upheaval is the Russian Revolution. Well
may the ruling classes tremble before a communist revolution. The
proletariat has nothing to lose but its chains; it has a world to gain.