Preface to the Re-Issue
of This Work
Published in Moscow in 1919
Transcribed and HTML markup for the Trotsky Internet Archive, a subarchive of the Marxists’ Internet Archive, by Sally Ryan in 1996.
The character of the Russian Revolution was the fundamental question in relation to which the various ideological trends and political organizations of the Russian revolutionary movement grouped themselves. Even in the social-democratic movement itself this question aroused serious disagreements from the moment events gave it a practical character. From 1904 onwards these differences took the shape of two fundamental trends, Menshevism and Bolshevism. The Menshevik point of view was that our revolution would be a bourgeois revolution, i.e., that its natural consequence would be the transfer of power to the bourgeoisie and the creation of conditions for bourgeois parliamentarism. The point of view of Bolshevism, while recognizing the inevitability of the bourgeois character of the coming revolution, put forward as the task of the revolution the establishment of a democratic republic by means of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.
The social analysis of the Mensheviks was extremely superficial and in essence reduced itself to crude historical analogies – the typical method of ‘educated’ philistines. Neither the fact that the development of Russian capitalism had created extraordinary contradictions at both its poles, reducing the role of bourgeois democracy to insignificance, nor the experience of subsequent events, restrained the Mensheviks from an indefatigable search for ‘true’, ‘real’ democracy, which would place itself at the head of the ‘nation’ and establish parliamentary and so far as possible democratic conditions for capitalist development. Always and everywhere the Mensheviks strove to find signs of the development of bourgeois democracy, and where they could not find them they invented them. They exaggerated the importance of every ‘democratic’ declaration and demonstration, at the same time belittling the forces of the proletariat and the prospects before its struggle. So fanatically did they strive to find this leading bourgeois democracy, in order to secure the ‘legitimate’ bourgeois character of the Russian Revolution alleged to be required by the laws of history, that during the Revolution itself, when no leading bourgeois democracy was to be found, the Mensheviks themselves undertook, with more or less success, to carry out its duties.
Petty-bourgeois democracy without any Socialist ideology, without any Marxian class preparation, could not, of course, have acted differently under the conditions of the Russian Revolution, than did the Mensheviks in the role of the ‘leading’ Party of the February Revolution. The absence of any serious social foundation for bourgeois democracy told on the Mensheviks themselves, because they very soon outlived themselves, and in the eighth month of the Revolution were thrown aside by the class struggle.
Bolshevism, on the contrary, was by no means imbued with faith in the power and strength of revolutionary bourgeois democracy in Russia. From the very beginning, it acknowledged the decisive importance of the working class for the coming Revolution, but as to the programme of the Revolution itself the Bolsheviks limited it at first to the interests of the many millions of peasants, without and against whom the Revolution could not have been carried through to the end by the proletariat. Hence their acknowledgment (for the time being) of the bourgeois-democratic character of the Revolution.
As regards the estimation of the inner forces of the Revolution and its prospects, the author, at that period, adhered neither to one nor to the other of the main trends in the Russian Labour movement. The standpoint he then supported can be outlined as follows: the Revolution, having begun as a bourgeois revolution as regards its first tasks, will soon call forth powerful class conflicts and will gain final victory only by transferring power to the only class capable of standing at the head of the oppressed masses, namely, to the proletariat. Once in power, the proletariat not only will not want, but will not be able to limit itself to a bourgeois democratic programme. It will be able to carry through the Revolution to the end only in the event of the Russian Revolution being converted into a Revolution of the European proletariat. The bourgeois-democratic programme of the Revolution will then be superseded, together with its national limitations, and the temporary political domination of the Russian working class will develop into a prolonged Socialist dictatorship. But should Europe remain inert the bourgeois counter-revolution will not tolerate the government of the toiling masses in Russia and will throw the country back – far back from a democratic workers’ and peasants’ republic. Therefore, once having won power, the proletariat cannot keep within the limits of bourgeois democracy. It must adopt the tactics of permanent revolution, i.e., must destroy the barriers between the minimum and maximum programme of Social Democracy, go over to more and more radical social reforms and seek direct and immediate support in revolution in Western Europe. This position is developed and argued in the work now reissued, which was originally written in 1904-1906.
In maintaining the standpoint of the permanent revolution during a period of 15 years, the author nevertheless fell into error in his estimation of the contending factions of the social-democratic movement. As both of them started out from the standpoint of bourgeois revolution, the author was of the opinion that the divergencies existing between them would not be so deep as to justify a split. At the same time, he hoped that the further course of events would clearly prove the weakness and insignificance of Russian bourgeois democracy, on the one hand, and on the other, the objective impossibility of the proletariat limiting itself to a democratic programme. This he thought would remove the ground from under factional differences.
Having stood outside both of the two factions in the period of emigration, the author did not fully appreciate the very important circumstance that in reality, along the line of the disagreement between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, there were being grouped inflexible revolutionaries on the one side and, on the other, elements which were becoming more and more opportunist and accommodating. When the Revolution of 1917 broke out, the Bolshevik Party constituted a strong centralized organization uniting all the best elements of the advanced workers and revolutionary intellectuals, which – after some internal struggle – frankly adopted tactics directed towards the socialist dictatorship of the working class, in full harmony with the entire international situation and class relations in Russia. As to the Menshevik faction, it had, by that time, just ripened sufficiently to be able to assume, as I said before, the duties of bourgeois democracy.
In offering to the public this reprint of his book at the present time, the author not only desires to explain the theoretical principles which rendered it possible for him and other comrades, who for many years had stood outside the Bolshevik Party, to join their fate with the fate of that party at the beginning of 1917 (such a personal explanation would not provide a sufficient reason for the reprinting of the book), but also to recall the social-historical analysis of the motive forces of the Russian Revolution from which followed the conclusion that the seizure of political power by the working class could and must be the task of the Russian Revolution, long before the proletarian dictatorship had become an accomplished fact. The fact that it is possible for us now to re-issue without alteration this pamphlet written in 1906 and conceived in its fundamental lines already in 1904, is sufficient proof that Marxist theory is not on the side of the Menshevik substitutes for bourgeois democracy but on the side of the party which actually carries out the dictatorship of the working class.
The final test of a theory is experience. Irrefutable proof of our having correctly applied Marxist theory is given by the fact that the events in which we are now participating, and even our methods of participation in them, were foreseen in their fundamental lines some 15 years ago.
As an appendix we reprint an article which was published in the Paris Nashe Slovo for October 17th, 1915, entitled The Struggle for Power. This article had a polemical purpose and was a criticism of the programmatic Letter addressed to ‘Comrades in Russia’ by the leaders of the Mensheviks. In it we drew the conclusion that the development of class relations during the ten years after the revolution of 1905 had yet further undermined the Menshevik hope for a bourgeois democracy, and that thereby, obviously, the fate of the Russian Revolution was more than ever bound up with the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat … In the face of the battle of ideas of all these many preceding years, one must indeed be a blockhead to speak of the ‘adventurism’ of the October Revolution!
Talking of the attitude of the Mensheviks to the Revolution, one cannot but mention the Menshevik degeneration of Kautsky, who in the ‘theories’ of Martov, Dan and Tsereteli now finds the expression of his own theoretical and political decay. After October 1917, we heard from Kautsky that, although the conquest of political power by the working class should be regarded as the historic task of the Social-Democratic Party, nevertheless, as the Russian Communist Party had failed to come to power through the particular door and according to the particular timetable fixed for it by Kautsky, the Soviet Republic ought to be handed over for correction to Kerensky, Tsereteli and Chernov. Kautsky’s reactionary-pedantic criticism must have come the more unexpectedly to those comrades who had gone through the period of the first Russian Revolution with their eyes open and had read Kautsky’s articles of 1905-1906. At that time Kautsky (true, not without the beneficial influence of Rosa Luxemburg) fully understood and acknowledged that the Russian Revolution could not terminate in a bourgeois-democratic republic but must inevitably lead to the proletarian dictatorship, because of the level attained by the class struggle in the country itself and because of the entire international situation of capitalism. Kautsky then frankly wrote about a workers’ government with a social-democratic majority. He did not even think of making the real course of the class struggle depend on the changing and superficial combinations of political democracy.
At that time, Kautsky understood that the Revolution would begin for the first time to rouse the many millions of peasants and urban petty-bourgeoisie and that not all at once but gradually, layer by layer, so that when the struggle between the proletariat and the capitalist bourgeoisie reached its climax, the broad peasant masses would still be at a very primitive level of political development and would give their votes to intermediary political parties reflecting only the backwardness and the prejudices of the peasant class. Kautsky understood then that the proletariat, led by the logic of the revolution toward the conquest of power, could not arbitrarily postpone this act indefinitely, because by this self-abnegation it would merely clear the field for counter-revolution. Kautsky understood then that, once having seized revolutionary power, the proletariat would not make the fate of the revolution depend upon the passing moods of the least conscious, not yet awakened masses at any given moment, but that, on the contrary, it would turn the political power concentrated in its hands into a mighty apparatus for the enlightenment and organization of these same backward and ignorant peasant masses. Kautsky understood that to call the Russian Revolution a bourgeois revolution and thereby to limit its tasks would mean not to understand anything of what was going on in the world. Together with the Russian and Polish revolutionary Marxists, he rightly acknowledged that, should the Russian proletariat conquer power before the European proletariat, it would have to use its situation as the ruling class not for the rapid surrender of its positions to the bourgeoisie but for rendering powerful assistance to the proletarian revolution in Europe and throughout the world. All these world-wide prospects, imbued with the spirit of Marxian doctrine, were not made dependent either by Kautsky or by us upon how and for whom the peasants would vote at the elections to the so-called Constituent Assembly in November and December 1917.
Now, when the prospects outlined 15 years ago have become reality, Kautsky refuses to grant a birth-certificate to the Russian Revolution for the reason that its birth has not been duly registered at the political office of bourgeois democracy. What an astonishing fact! What an incredible degradation of Marxism! One can say with full justice that the decay of the Second International has found in this philistine judgment on the Russian Revolution by one of its greatest theoreticians a still more hideous expression than in the voting of the War credits on August 4, 1914.
For decades Kautsky developed and upheld the ideas of social revolution. Now that it has become reality, Kautsky retreats before it in terror. He is horrified at the Russian Soviet power and takes up a hostile attitude towards the mighty movement of the German Communist proletariat. Kautsky resembles to the life a miserable schoolmaster, who for many years has been repeating a description of spring to his pupils within the four walls of his stuffy schoolroom, and when at last, at the sunset of his days as a teacher, he comes out into the fresh air, does not recognize spring, becomes furious (in so far as it is possible for this schoolmaster to become furious) and tries to prove that spring is not spring after all but only a great disorder in nature, because it is taking place against the laws of natural history. It is well that the workers do not trust even to the most authoritative pedants, but trust the voice of spring!
We, disciples of Marx, together with the German workers, stand by our conviction that the spring of revolution has arrived fully in accordance with the laws of social nature, and at the same time in accordance with the laws of Marxist theory, for Marxism is not a schoolmaster’s pointer rising above history, but a social analysis of the ways and means of the historic process which is really going on.
I have left the text of the two works – that of 1906 and that of 1915 – without any alterations. Originally I intended to supply the text with notes which would bring it up to date; but on looking through the text I had to renounce this intention. If I wanted to go into details, I should have to double the size of the book, for which I have no time at present – and, besides, such a ‘two-storeyed’ book would hardly be convenient for the reader. And, what is more important, I consider that the train of ideas in its main ramifications very nearly approaches the conditions of our time, and the reader who takes the trouble to get more thoroughly acquainted with this book will easily be able to supplement the exposition it gives with the necessary data taken from the experience of the present Revolution.