June 20, 2024

    The Russian Revolution came unexpectedly to everybody but the Social Democrats. Marxism long ago predicted the inevitability of the Russian Revolution, which was bound to break out as a result of the conflict between capitalist development and the forces of ossified absolutism. Marxism estimated in advance the social character of the coming revolution. In calling it a bourgeois revolution, Marxism thereby pointed out that the immediate objective tasks of the revolution consisted in the creation of “normal conditions for the development of bourgeois society as a whole.

    Marxism has proved to be right, and this is now past the need for discussion or proof. The Marxists are now confronted by a task of quite another kind: to discover the ‘possibilities’ of the developing revolution by means of an analysis of its internal mechanism. It would be a stupid mistake to identify our revolution with the events of 1789-93 or 1848. Historical analogies, by which liberalism lives and is nurtured, cannot take the place of social analysis.

    The Russian Revolution has a quite peculiar character, which is the result of the peculiar trend of our whole social and historical development, and which in its turn opens before us quite new historical prospects.

    I. The Peculiarities of Russian Historical Development

    If we compare social development in Russia with social development in the other European countries – bracketing the latter together in respect of that which their history has in common and which distinguishes it from the history of Russia – we can say that the main characteristic of Russian social development is its comparative primitiveness and slowness.

    We shall not dwell here on the natural causes of this primitiveness, but the fact itself remains indubitable: Russian social life has been built up on a poorer and more primitive economic foundation.

    Marxism teaches that the development of the forces of production determines the social-historical process. The formation of economic corporations, classes and estates is only possible when this development has reached a certain level. Estate [1] and class differentiation, which is determined by the development of the division of labour and the creation of more specialized social functions, presupposes that the part of the population employed on immediate material production produces a surplus over and above its own consumption: it is only by alienating this surplus that non-producing classes can arise and take shape. Furthermore, the division of labour among the producing classes themselves is possible only at a certain degree of development of agriculture, capable of ensuring the supply of agricultural produce to the non-agricultural population. These fundamental propositions of social development were already clearly formulated by Adam Smith.

    Hence it follows that, although the Novgorod period of our history coincides with the beginning of the European Middle Ages, the slow pace of economic development caused by the natural-historical conditions (less favourable geographical situation, sparse population) was bound to hamper the process of class formation and to give it a more primitive character.

    It is difficult to say what shape Russian social development would have taken if it had remained isolated and under the influence of inner tendencies only. It is enough to say that this did not happen. Russian social life, built up on a certain internal economic foundation, has all the time been under the influence, even under the pressure, of its external social-historical milieu.

    When this social and state organization, in the process of its formation, came into collision with other, neighbouring organizations, the primitiveness of the economic relations of the one and the comparatively high development of the others played decisive parts in the ensuing process.

    The Russian state, which grew up on a primive economic basis, entered into relations and came into conflict with state organizations built upon higher and more stable foundations. Two possibilities presented themselves: either the Russian State was to succumb in its struggle with them, as the Golden Horde had succumbed in its struggle with the Moscow State, or it was to overtake them in the development of economic relations and absorb a great deal more vital forces than it could have done had it remained isolated. The economy of Russia, however, was already sufficiently developed to prevent the former happening. The State did not break down but started growing under the terrible pressure of economic forces.

    Thus, the main thing was not that Russia was surrounded by enemies on all sides. This alone does not explain the position. Indeed, this would apply to any other European country, except, perhaps, England. In their mutual struggle for existence, these states depended upon more or less identical economic bases and therefore the development of their state organizations was not subject to such powerful external pressure.

    The struggle against the Crimean and Nogai Tatars called forth the utmost exertion of effort. But this was, of course, not greater than the exertion of effort during the hundred years’ war between France and England. It was not the Tatars who compelled Old Russia to introduce firearms and create the standing regiments of Streltsi; it was not the Tatars who later on forced her to form knightly cavalry and infantry forces, but the pressure of Lithuania, Poland and Sweden.

    As a consequence of this pressure on the part of Western Europe, the State swallowed up an inordinately large part of the surplus produce; i.e., it lived at the expense of the privileged classes which were being formed, and so hampered their already slow development. But that was not all. The State pounced upon the ‘necessary product’ of the farmer, deprived him of his livelihood, caused him to flee from the land upon which he had not even had time to settle – and thus hampered the growth of the population and the development of the productive forces. Thus, inasmuch as the State swallowed up a disproportionately large part of the surplus product, it hampered the already slow differentiation between estates; inasmuch as it took away an important part of the necessary product it destroyed even those primitive production bases upon which it depended.

    But in order to exist, to function, and therefore,a bove all, to alienate the part of the social product it required, the State needed a hierarchical organization of estates. This is why, while undermining the economic foundations of its development, it simultaneously strove to force the development of these foundations by Government measures, and – like any other State – strove to turn this development of estates to its own advantage. Milyukov, the historian of Russian culture, sees in this a direct contrast to the history of Western Europe. But there is no contrast here.

    The estates-monarchy of the Middle Ages, which grew into bureaucratic absolutism, constituted a state form reinforcing certain definite social interests and relations. But this state form itself, once it had arisen and was in being, had its own interests (dynastic, court, bureaucratic …) which came into conflict not only with the interests of the lower but even with those of the higher estates. The dominating estates, which constituted the socially indispensable ‘middle wall’ between the masses of the people and the State organization, exercised pressure on the latter and made their own interests the content of the State’s practical activity. At the same time, the State power, as an independent force, also looked upon the interests of the higher estates from its own point of view. It developed resistance to their aspirations and tried to subject them to itself. The actual history of the relations between State and estates proceeded along resultant lines, determined by the correlation of forces.

    A process identical in fundamentals took place in Russia.

    The State strove to make use of the developing economic groups, to subject them to its own specialized financial and military interests. The dominating economic groups, as they arose, strove to use the State to consolidate their advantages in the form of estate privileges. In this play of social forces, the resultant went much more in favour of the State power than was the case in the history of Western Europe. The exchange of services between the State power and the upper social groups, at the expense of the working masses, which finds its expression in the distribution of rights and obligations, of burdens and privileges, was less advantageous to the nobility and clergy in Russia than in the mediaeval estates-monarchies of Western Europe. This is beyond doubt. Nevertheless, it would be a great exaggeration and contrary to all sense of proportion to say that while in the West the estates created the State, in Russia the State power created the estates in its own interests (as Milyukov does).

    Estates cannot be created by State action, by law. Before one or another social group can take shape as a privileged estate with the help of the State power, it must have developed economically with all its social advantages. Estates cannot be manufactured according to a previously established scale of ranks or according to the code of the Legion d’Honneur. The State power can but assist, with all its resources, the elementary economic process which brings forward higher economic formations. As indicated above, the Russian State consumed a comparatively large share of the forces of the nation, thus hampering the process of social crystallization, but it needed this process for its own purposes. It is natural, therefore, that under the influence and the pressure of its more differentiated Western milieu, a pressure that was transmitted through the military-state organization, the State in its turn strove to force the development of social differentiation on a primitive economic foundation. Furthermore, the very need for forcing, caused by the weakness of the social-economic formations, made it natural that the State in its efforts as guardian should have tried to use its preponderant power to direct the very development of the upper classes according to its own discretion. But on the way to the achievement of great success in this direction, the State first found itself baulked by its own weakness and the primitive character of its own organization, which was due, as we have seen, to the primitiveness of the social structure.

    Thus, the Russian State, erected on the basis of Russian economic conditions, was being pushed forward by the friendly, and even more by the hostile, pressure of the neighbouring State organizations, which had grown up on a higher economic basis. From a certain moment – especially from the end of the seventeenth century – the State strove with all its power to accelerate the country’s natural economic development. New branches of handicraft, machinery, factories, big industry, capital, were, so to say, artificially grafted on the natural economic stem. Capitalism seemed to be an offspring of the State.

    From this standpoint it could be said that all Russian science is the artificial product of government effort, an artificial grafting on the natural stem of national ignorance. [2]

    Russian thought, like the Russian economy, developed under the direct pressure the higher thought and more developed economies of the West. Since, owing to the natural-economy character of economic conditions, i.e., the poor development of foreign trade, relations with other countries bore a predominantly State character, the influence of these countries found expression in fierce struggle for the existence of the State before expressing itself in direct economic competition. Western economics influenced Russian economics through the intermediary of the State. In order to be able to survive in the midst of better-armed hostile countries, Russia was compelled to set up factories, organize navigation schools, publish textbooks on fortification, etc. But if the general course of the internal economy of this enormous country had not been moving in this same direction, if the development of economic conditions had not created the demand for general and applied science, all the efforts of the State would have been fruitless. The national economy, which was naturally developing from natural economy to money-commodity economy, responded only to those measures of the Government which corresponded to its development and only to the extent that they corresponded to it. The history of Russian industry, of the Russian currency system, and of State credit, are the best possible evidence for the above opinion.

    ‘The majority of the branches of industry (metal, sugar, petroleum, distilling, even the textile industry),’ writes Professor Mendeleyev, ‘were originated under the direct influence of Government measures, sometimes even with the help of large Government subsidies, but especially because the Government always consciously followed the policy of Protection. In the reign of Alexander, the Government frankly inscribed this policy on its banner … The higher Government circles, fully accepting the principles of Protection in application to Russia, proved to be more advanced than our educated classes as a whole.’ D. Mendeleyev, Towards the Understanding of Russia, St. Petersburg 1906, p.84).

    The learned panegyrist of industrial Protection forgets to add that the policy of the Government was dictated not by any concern to develop industrial forces, but purely by fiscal and in part military-technical considerations. For this reason, the policy of Protection was often opposed, not only to the fundamental interests of industrial development but even to the private interests of various groups of businessmen. Thus, the cotton-mill owners openly declared that ‘the high duties on cotton are being maintained not with a view to encouraging cotton-growing but exclusively for fiscal interests’. As in the ‘creation’ of estates the Government was pursuing, above all, the aims of the State, so also in ‘planting’ industry, its main concern was directed towards the requirements of the State Exchequer. There is no doubt, however, that the autocracy played no small part in transplanting the factory system of production on to Russian soil.

    At the moment when developing bourgeois society began to feel a need for the political institutions of the West, the autocracy proved to be armed with all the material might of the European States. It rested upon a centralized bureaucratic machine which was quite useless for establishing new relations but was able to develop great energy in carrying out systematic repressions. The enormous distances of the country had been overcome by the telegraph, which imparts confidence to the actions of the administration and gives relative uniformity and rapidity to its proceedings (in the matter of repressions). The railways render it possible to throw military forces rapidly from one end of the country to the other. The pre-revolutionary governments of Europe hardly knew railways and telegraphs. The army at the disposal of absolutism was colossal – and if it proved useless in the serious trials of the Japanese War, it was nevertheless good enough for internal domination. Not only the Government of France before the great Revolution, but even the Government of 1848, knew nothing similar to the Russian army of today.

    While exploiting the country to the utmost by means its fiscal and military machine, the Government brought its yearly budget up to the huge figure of two milliard roubles. Supported by its army and its budget, the autocratic government made the European Stock Exchange its exchequer, and the Russian taxpayer thus became a hopeless tributary of this European Stock Exchange.

    Thus, in the eighties and nineties of the nineteenth century, the Russian Government confronted the world as a colossal military-bureaucratic and fiscal – Stock-Exchange organization of invincible power.

    The financial and military might of the absolute monarchy overwhelmed and blinded not only the European bourgeoisie but also Russian liberalism, which lost all faith in the possibility of trying conclusions with absolutism in an open measurement of strength. The military and financial might of absolutism seemed to exclude any chance whatever for the Russian Revolution. But in reality just the opposite proved to be the case.

    The more a government is centralized and the more independent it is of society, the sooner it becomes an autocratic organization standing above society. The greater the financial and military forces of such an organization are, the longer and more successfully can it continue its struggle for existence. The centralized State with its budget of two milliards, its debt of eight milliards and its army of many millions of men under arms, could continue to exist long after it had ceased to satisfy the most elementary needs of social development – not only the needs of internal administration but even the needs of military security, for the maintenance of which it was originally formed.

    The longer such a state of affairs dragged on, the greater became the contradiction between the needs of economic and cultural development and the policy of the Government, which had developed its mighty ‘milliard-fold’ inertia. After the epoch of the ‘great patchwork reforms’ – which not only did not eliminate these contradictions but on the contrary for the first time vividly revealed them – had been left behind, it became ever more difficult, and psychologically ever more impossible, for the Government voluntarily to take the path of parliamentarism. The only way out of these contradictions which its situation indicated to society was through the accumulation of sufficient steam within the boiler of absolutism to burst it.

    Thus, the administrative, military and financial power of absolutism, thanks to which it could exist in spite of social development, not only did not exclude the possibility of revolution, as was the opinion of the liberals. but, on the contrary, made revolution the only way out; furthermore, this revolution was guaranteed in advance an all the more radical character in proportion as the great might of absolutism dug an abyss between itself and the nation. Russian Marxism can justly be proud of having alone explained the direction of this development and foretold its general forms [3], while the liberals fed themselves on the most utopian ‘practicalism’ and the revolutionary ‘Narodniki’ lived on phantasmagoria and a belief in miracles.

    The entire preceding social development made revolution inevitable. What, then, were the forces of this revolution?


    1. i.e., a section of pre-capitalist society possessing formally laid down rights and duties. cf. the ‘third estate’, i.e., those who were neither nobles nor clergy, in pre-revolutionary France. – Trans.

    2. It is sufficient to recall the characteristic features of the original relations between the State and the school to realize that the latter was, at the very least, just as ‘artificial’ product of the State as the factory was. The educational efforts of the State illustrate this ‘artificiality’. Pupils who played truant were put in chains. The whole school was in chains. Study was a form of service. Pupils were paid wages, etc.. etc. – L.T.

    3. Even such a reactionary bureaucrat as Professor Mendeleyev cannot but admit this. Speaking about the development of industry, he observes: ‘The socialists perceived something here and even partly understood it, but went astray, following their Latinism [!], recommending resort to force, pandering to the brutal instincts of the mob and striving toward revolutions and power.’ (Towards the Understanding of Russia, p.120)