Before the Storm
|Written||21 August 1906|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 11, pages 133-140.
A month has passed since the State Duma was dissolved. The first wave of armed uprisings and of strikes in an at tempt to support the insurgents, has passed. In some places the zeal of the authorities, who have been employing “emergency” and “special emergency” measures for the defence of the government against the people, is beginning to subside. The significance of the past stage of the revolution is be coming more and more apparent. A new wave is drawing nearer and nearer.
The Russian revolution is proceeding along a hard and difficult road. Every upsurge, every partial success is followed by defeat, bloodshed and outrage committed by the autocracy against the champions of freedom. But after every “defeat” the movement spreads, the struggle becomes more intense, ever larger masses of people are drawn into the fight, more classes and groups of people participate in it. Every onslaught of the revolution, every step forward in organising the militant democrats is followed by a positively frantic attack by the reaction, by another step taken in organising the Black-Hundred elements of the people, and by the increased arrogance of the counter-revolution, desperately fighting for its very existence. But in spite of all these efforts, the forces of reaction are steadily declining. More and more workers, peasants and soldiers, who only yesterday were indifferent, or even sided with the Black Hundreds, are now passing over to the side of the revolution. One by one, the illusions and prejudices which made the Russian people confiding, patient, simple-minded, obedient, all-enduring and all-forgiving, are being destroyed.
Many wounds have been inflicted on the autocracy, but it has yet not been killed. The autocracy is swathed in band ages, but it is still holding out, it is still creaking along, and is even becoming more ferocious as its life-blood oozes away. The revolutionary classes of the people, headed by the proletariat, take advantage of every lull to gather new forces, to strike fresh blows at the enemy, so as to root out at last the accursed canker of Asiatic tyranny and serfdom which is poisoning Russia.
There is no surer means of overcoming faint-heartedness and of refuting all narrow, one-sided, petty and cowardly views on the future of our revolution than by casting a general glance at its past. The history of the Russian revolution is still a short one, but it has sufficiently demonstrated and proved to us that the strength of the revolutionary classes and the wealth of their historical, creative power are far greater than they seem to be in times of calm. Every rising wave of the revolution has revealed an unobtrusive and relatively silent accumulation of forces for the fulfilment of the new and loftier task, and every time the short sighted and timid appraisals of political slogans have been refuted by an outburst of these accumulated forces.
Three main stages of our revolution have become clearly discernible. The first stage was the period of “confidence”, the period of mass pleadings, petitions and declarations about the need for a constitution. The second stage was the period of constitutional manifestoes, acts and laws. The third stage was the beginning of the realisation of constitutionalism, the period of the State Duma. At first the tsar was begged to grant a constitution. Later on the solemn recognition of a constitution was forcibly wrested from the tsar. Now... now, after the dissolution of the Duma, experience teaches us that a constitution bestowed by the tsar, acknowledged by the laws of the tsar, and carried out by the tsarist officials, is not worth a brass farthing.
In each of these periods we see the forefront at first occupied by the liberal bourgeoisie, noisy, bragging, full of narrow, petty-bourgeois prejudices and conceit, cocksure of its “right of inheritance”, patronisingly teaching its “younger brother” the ways of peaceful struggle, of loyal opposition, of harmonising the freedom of the people with the tsarist regime. And on every occasion this liberal bourgeoisie succeeded in confusing some Social-Democrats (of the Right wing), in securing their acceptance of its political slogans and subjecting them to its political leadership. But in reality, obscured by the hullabaloo of the liberals’ political game, the revolutionary forces among the masses grew and matured. In reality, the solution of the political problem which history had brought to the forefront was undertaken each time by the proletarians, who attracted the advanced peasants to their side and came out into the streets, cast aside all old laws and conventions and gave the world new forms and methods of direct revolutionary struggle, and combined means of waging it.
Recall January 9. To everyone’s surprise the heroic action of the workers put an end to the period of the tsar’s “confidence” in the people and the people’s “confidence” in the tsar! At one stroke they raised the whole movement to a new and higher plane! And yet, on the surface, January 9 was a complete defeat. Thousands of proletarians killed and wounded, an orgy of repression, the dark cloud of the Trepov regime hanging over Russia.
The liberals again came to the fore. They organised brilliant congresses, spectacular deputations to the tsar. They clutched with both hands at the sop that was thrown to them, the Bulygin Duma. They already began to growl at the revolution like dogs who have spied a choice titbit, and appealed to the students to go on with their studies and not to meddle in politics. And the faint-hearted among the adherents of the revolution began to say: Let us go into the Duma; after the Potemkin affair an armed uprising is hope less; now that peace has been concluded, militant, mass action is improbable.
The real solution of the next historical problem was again supplied only by the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat. The Manifesto granting a constitution was wrung from the tsar by the all-Russian strike in October. The spirit of the peasants and the soldiers revived, and they turned to wards liberty and light in the wake of the workers. Short weeks of liberty followed, succeeded by weeks of pogroms, Black-Hundred brutality, a terrible sharpening of the struggle, unprecedentedly bloody reprisals against all who had taken up arms in defence of the liberties wrested from the tsar.
The movement was once again raised to a higher stage and yet, on the surface, the proletariat again seemed to have suffered utter defeat. Frantic repression, overcrowded prisons, endless executions, the despicable howling of the liberals dissociating themselves from the uprising and the revolution.
The loyal liberal philistines are again in the forefront. They make capital out of the last remaining prejudices of the peasants, who trust the tsar. They assert that the victory of democracy at the elections will cause the walls of Jericho to fall. They are predominant in the Duma and again begin to behave like well-fed watchdogs towards “beggars”—the proletariat and the revolutionary peasantry.
The dissolution of the Duma marks the end of the hegemony of the liberals, which was holding back and degrading the revolution. The peasants have learned more from the Duma than anyone. Their gain is that they are now losing their most baneful illusions. And the whole people is emerging from the experience of the Duma different from what it was before. As a result of the suffering caused by the failure of the representative body on which so many had placed all their hopes, the people now more definitely appreciate the task ahead. The Duma has enabled them to gauge the forces more precisely; it has concentrated at least some of the elements of the popular movement, it has shown in reality how the different parties act, it has revealed much more vividly to ever wider masses of the people the political character of the liberal bourgeoisie and of the peasantry.
The Cadets were unmasked, the Trudoviks were consolidated—such are some of the most important gains of the Duma period. The pseudo-democracy of the Cadets was branded in the Duma itself scores of times, and that by men who were prepared to trust them. The Russian muzhik has ceased to be a political sphinx. In spite of all distortions of the freedom of election, he has managed to assert himself and has created a new political type, the Trudovik. Hence forth, in addition to the signatures of organisations and parties which were built up in the course of decades, revolutionary manifestoes will bear the signature of the Trudovik Group, which was formed in the course of. a few weeks. The ranks of revolutionary democracy have been reinforced by a new organisation, which, of course, shares a good many of the illusions that are characteristic of the small producer, but which in the present revolution undoubtedly expresses the trend toward a ruthless mass struggle against Asiatic despotism and feudal landlordism.
The revolutionary classes are emerging from the experience of the Duma more united, more closely bound to one another, more capable of undertaking a general onslaught. Another wound has been inflicted on the autocracy. It has become still more isolated. It is still more helpless in the face of the problems which it is quite incapable of solving. And starvation and unemployment are becoming more acute. Peasant revolts are breaking out more and more frequently.
Sveaborg and Kronstadt have revealed the spirit of the army and navy. The uprisings have been suppressed, but the uprising lives, is spreading and gaining strength. Many Black-Hundred elements joined the strike that was called in support of the insurgents. The advanced workers stopped this strike, and they were right to do so, because the strike began to develop into a demonstration, whereas the task was to organise a great and decisive struggle.
The advanced workers were right in their estimate of the situation. They quickly rectified the false strategical move and husbanded their forces for the coming battle. They instinctively understood the inevitability of a strike as part of an uprising and the harmfulness of a strike as a demonstration.
All evidence goes to show that temper is rising. An explosion is inevitable and may be near at hand. The executions in Sveaborg and Kronstadt, the reprisals against the peasants, the persecution of the Trudovik members of the Duma— all this serves only to intensify hatred, to spread determination and concentrated readiness for battle. More audacity, comrades! More confidence in the strength of the revolutionary classes, especially the proletariat, enriched as they now are by new experience; more independent initiative! All the signs indicate that we are on the eve of a great struggle. All efforts must be directed towards making it simultaneous, concentrated, full of that heroism of the masses which has marked all the great stages of the great Russian revolution. Let the liberals cravenly hint at this coming struggle solely for the purpose of threatening the government, let these narrow-minded philistines concentrate the whole force of their “mind and sentiments” on the expectation of a new election—the proletariat is preparing for the struggle; it is unitedly and boldly marching to meet the storm, eager to plunge into the thick of the fight. We have had enough of the hegemony of the cowardly Cadets, those “stupid penguins” who “timidly hide their fat bodies behind the rocks”.
“Let the storm rage louder!”
- Lenin is referring to the manifestoes printed in July 1906 after the dissolution of the First Duma: “To the Army and Navy”, “Manifesto to All the Russian Peasants”, “To the Whole People”. These manifestoes stressed the need for an armed uprising.
- This refers to the uprisings in Sveaborg (see Note 54) and Kronstadt.
The uprising of sailors and soldiers in Kronstadt began on July 19 (August 1), 1906, after news had been received of the up rising in Sveaborg. In the spring and summer of 1906, under the leadership of the Bolsheviks, preparations had gone forward for an armed uprising of workers, soldiers and sailors in Kronstadt. These preparations, however, were considerably complicated by the arrest on July 9 (22) of the large part of the military and workers’ organisation of the RSDLP Nevertheless, with the sup port of the St. Petersburg Committee and its representative, D. Z. Manuilsky, the Bolsheviks continued to make preparations for an armed uprising, at the same time rebuffing the Socialist-Revolutionaries, who had provoked a premature uprising. When the spontaneous Sveaborg uprising broke out the preparations for an armed uprising in Kronstadt had not been completed, but in view of the events in Sveaborg the uprising in Kronstadt had to be begun prematurely. It was headed by the Bolsheviks who tried to make the action as organised as possible. At a signal agreed upon, the struggle was started almost simultaneously by mine layers, sappers and soldiers of the electric-mine company and sailors of the First and Second Naval Divisions; they were joined by part of the armed workers. The government, however, had received information from provocateurs of the time fixed for the uprising and had prepared in advance for the fight. The disorganising activity of the Socialist-Revolutionaries also prevented the uprising from taking a successful course. Towards the morning of July 20 (August 2) the uprising was quelled.
On July 20 (August 2) the St. Petersburg Committee took the decision to carry out a political general strike in support of the Kronstadt and Sveaborg risings, but on the following day news of the suppression of the uprising was received and the decision was rescinded.
The tsarist government savagely punished the insurgents. More than 2,500 of the participants in the Kronstadt uprising were arrested. Courts-martial sentenced 36 men to death; 130 were sent to penal servitude, 316 were imprisoned and 935 transferred to corrective battalions.
- Lenin quotes words from Maxim Gorky’s Song of the Stormy Petrel.