The Denouement is At Hand

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The forces are in equilibrium, we wrote a fortnight ago,[1] when the first news of the all-Russia political strike came in, and it was becoming evident that the government dare not make immediate use of its military forces.

The forces are in equilibrium, we repeated a week ago,[2] when the Manifesto of October 17 was the latest in the political news, betokening to the whole people and to the world at large that tsarism was in the grip of irresolution, and was in retreat.

However, equilibrium of forces in no way precludes a struggle; on the contrary it makes the struggle more acute. The sole purpose of the government’s retreat is, as we have already said, to enable it to choose what it considers a new and a more favourable situation for a battle. The proclamation of the “liberties” that adorn the scrap of paper known as the Manifesto of October 17 is merely an attempt to prepare the moral conditions for a struggle against the revolution, while Trepov, at the head of the all-Russia Black Hundreds, prepares the material conditions for that struggle.

The denouement is at hand, the new political situation is taking shape at breath-taking speed, one that marks only revolutionary epochs. In words, the government has begun to fall back, but in deed it has immediately begun to prepare for an offensive. Promises of a constitution have been followed by the most brutal and ugly acts of violence, which have seemed purposely designed to give the people a still more striking object lesson of the real significance of the autocracy’s real power. The contrast between promises, words and scraps of paper, on the one hand, and the facts of reality on the other has become infinitely more manifest. Events have begun to provide telling confirmation of a truth we long ago proclaimed to our readers, and shall repeat over and over again, namely, that until tsarism’s actual power is overthrown, all its concessions, and even a constituent assembly, are a phantom, a mirage, a piece of deception.

The revolutionary workers of St. Petersburg made this perfectly clear in one of those daily bulletins[3] that have not yet reached us, but are being referred to more and more frequently by foreign newspapers, astounded and frightened by the might of the proletariat. “We have been granted freedom of assembly,” the strike committee has written (we are translating from the English back into the Russian, so some inaccuracy is of course inevitable in the rendering), “but our meetings are surrounded by soldiers. We have been granted freedom of the press, but censorship continues. Freedom of learning has been promised, but the University is occupied by troops. Inviolability of the person has been promised, but the prisons are packed with arrested people. We have been granted Witte, but Trepov still exists. ’We have been granted a constitution, but the autocracy still exists. We have been granted everything, but we have nothing.”

The “Manifesto” has been suspended by Trepov. The constitution has been held up by Trepov. The real significance of the liberties granted has been clarified by the selfsame Trepov. The amnesty has been mangled by Trepov.

But who is this Trepov? Is he some extraordinary personality, whose removal is of special significance? Nothing of the kind. He is just a most ordinary policeman, who is doing the autocracy’s everyday work, with the military and the police at his disposal.

Why is it that this most ordinary policeman and his routine “job” have suddenly acquired such extraordinary importance? It is because the revolution has made immense progress, and had brought the denouement closer. Led by the proletariat, the people are becoming politically more mature with every day, nay with every hour, or, if you will, not by the year but by the week. While to a people that was politically asleep, Trepov was just a most ordinary policeman, to a people that has grown aware that it is a political force, he has become insufferable, for he personifies all the brutality, criminality and senselessness of tsarism.

Revolution teaches. It provides all classes of the people and all the nations of Russia with excellent object lessons on the subject of the nature of a constitution. Revolution teaches by bringing to the fore the immediate and pressing political tasks, in their most manifest and compelling forms; it compels the masses to realise these tasks, and makes the people’s very existence impossible, without fulfilment of these tasks; it unmasks the worthlessness of all and sundry pretences, evasions, promises and acknowledgements. “We have been granted everything, but we have nothing.” Indeed, we have been “granted” only promises, since we have no real power. We have come close to liberty, have compelled all and sundry, even the tsar, to acknowledge the need for liberty. What we want, however, is not recognition of that need, but liberty itself. What we want is not a scrap of paper with promises of legislative powers for the people’s representatives, but actual sovereignty of the people. The closer we approach that sovereignty, the more intolerable its absence becomes. The more tempting the tsar’s manifestoes are, the more unbearable is his rule.

The struggle is approaching its denouement, the answer to the question whether actual power is to remain with the tsar s government. As for recognition of the revolution, it has now been generally recognised. It was recognised quite long ago by Mr. Struve and the Osvobozhdeniye gentry. It is now recognised by Mr. Witte and by Nicholas Romanov. “I promise you anything you wish,” says the tsar, “only let me retain power, let me fulfil my own promises.” That is the gist of the tsar’s Manifesto, and it obviously had to spark off a determined struggle. “I grant you everything except power,” tsarism declares. “Everything is illusory except power,” the revolutionary people reply.

The real significance of the seeming senselessness into which Russian affairs have fallen lies in tsarism’s desire to deceive the people and evade revolution by striking a bargain with the bourgeoisie. The tsar is making ever greater promises to the bourgeoisie, in the hope that the propertied classes, to the man, will at last turn towards “law and order”. However, whilst that “law and order” is exemplified in the excesses of Trepov and his Black Hundreds, the tsar’s appeal seems likely to remain a voice crying in the wilderness. The tsar stands in need of both Witte and Trepov in equal measure—Witte to attract some, and. Trepov to intimidate others; Witte for promises, and Trepov for action; Witte for the bourgeoisie, and Trepov for the proletariat. Before our eyes there is again unfolding, only this time on a far higher level of development, a scene the same as that witnessed at the beginning of the Moscow strikes—the liberals are doing the negotiating, while the workers are doing the fighting.

Trepov has an excellent understanding of his role and his real significance. He may have been somewhat too precipitate for the diplomatic Witte, but then he has been afraid of being left behind by the rapid development of the revolution. He has been even obliged to make haste, for he realises that the forces at his disposal are on the wane.

Simultaneously with its Manifesto on the Constitution, the autocracy has begun to take steps to preclude a constitution. The Black Hundreds have got down to work in a way Russia has never seen before. Reports of massacres, pogroms, and acts of unparalleled brutality are pouring in from all parts of the country. The white terror is rampant. Wherever they can, the police are inciting and organising the dregs of capitalist society for pillage and violence, plying the scum of the urban population with liquor, staging anti-Jewish pogroms, exhorting to violence against “students” and rebels, and helping in “giving a lesson” to Zemstvo members. Counter-revolution is working at full blast. Trepov has proved worthy of his salt. Machine-guns are opening fire (Odessa), eyes are being put out (Kiev), people are being hurled from the upper storeys into the streets below, houses are being taken by assault and then sacked, fires are started and nobody allowed to put them out, and those who dare offer resistance to the Black Hundreds are being shot down. From Poland to Siberia, from the shores of the Gulf of Finland to the Black Sea—the picture is the same.

But simultaneously with this spate of Black-Hundred brutality, this orgy staged by the autocracy, these last convulsions of the tsarist monster, fresh onslaughts are being launched by the proletariat, which, as always, only appears to quieten down after each upsurge of the movement. In actual fact, it is only mustering its forces and preparing to deal. a decisive blow. For reasons already mentioned, police atrocities in Russia have acquired a character quite different from that of the past. Parallel with the outbursts of Cossack vengeance and Trepov’s vindictiveness, the power of the tsar is disintegrating apace. This is to be seen in the provinces, in Finland, and in St. Petersburg; it is apparent in places where the people are the most downtrodden and the least developed politically, in the marginal areas with a non-Russian population, as well as in the capital, which promises to become a scene of the revolution’s greatest drama.

Indeed, compare the following two telegraph messages, which we quote from a Vienna bourgeois liberal newspaper[4]: “Tver. The premises of the Zemstvo were attacked by a mob in the presence of Governor Sleptsov. After a siege the mob set fire to the building. The firemen refused to extinguish the flames, while the troops stood by without taking any measures to curb the ruffians.” (Of course we cannot vouch for the absolute accuracy of this particular report, but it is an undeniable fact that similar things, and others a hundred times worse, are being perpetrated on all sides.) “Kazan. The police have been disarmed by the people. Arms taken from the police have been distributed among the population. A people’s militia has been set up. Perfect order prevails.”

Is not a comparison of these two reports instructive? In one case there is vengeance, atrocities, and pogroms; in the other, the tsar’s authority has been overturned and a victorious uprising organised.

Finland presents a similar picture, only on a far greater scale. The tsar’s viceroy has been expelled, and the lackey senators removed by the people. The Russian gendarmes are being driven out and are trying to take reprisals (a telegram from Haparanda, dated November 4, N. S.) by damaging railway communications. In such cases armed detachments of the people’s militia are sent to arrest the disorderly gendarmes. A meeting of Tornio citizens has decided to organise the import of weapons and free literature. Thou sands and tens of thousands in town and countryside are enrolling in the Finnish militia. The Russian garrison of a strong fortress (Sveaborg) are reported to have expressed sympathy with the insurgents, and turned the fortress over to the people’s militia. Finland is rejoicing. The tsar is making concessions. He is prepared to summon the Diet, has repealed the unlawful manifesto of February 15, 1899, and has accepted the “resignation” of the senators ousted by the people. Meanwhile, Novoye Vremya is advising the government to blockade all Finnish ports, and to crush the uprising by armed force. According to foreign press reports, numerous Russian troops have been quartered in Helsingfors (it cannot be ascertained to what extent they can be relied on to crush the uprising). There are reports that Russian warships have entered the inner harbour of Helsingfors.

St. Petersburg. Here Trepov is wreaking vengeance for the rejoicings of the revolutionary people (over the concessions wrested from the tsar). Atrocities are being perpetrated by the Cossacks, and massacres are on the increase. The police are openly organising the Black Hundreds. The workers intended to hold a gigantic demonstration on Sunday, November 5 (October 23), to pay public homage to their heroes, their comrades who had fallen in the struggle for liberty. For its part, the government prepared a gigantic blood-bath. It was preparing for St. Petersburg something similar to what had already taken place on a smaller scale in Moscow (the massacre at the funeral of Bauman, the workers’ leader). Trepov wanted to take advantage of the situation before his forces were weakened by part of them being dispatched to Finland, and while the workers were preparing to demonstrate, not to fight.

The St. Petersburg workers saw through the enemy’s scheme, and the demonstration was called off. The workers’ committee decided that the final battle should not take place at the time Trepov deigned to choose. The committee were quite right in thinking that a number of reasons (including the uprising in Finland) made postponement of the struggle disadvantageous to Trepov and advantageous to us. Meanwhile arming of the people has proceeded apace, and propaganda in the army has met with remarkable success. A hundred and fifty ratings of the 14th and the 18th Naval Depots are stated to have been arrested, and during the last week and a half ninety-two reports are said to have been submitted concerning sympathy for revolutionaries shown by officers. Handbills calling on soldiers to go over to the side of the people are being distributed even among patrols “guarding” St. Petersburg. Freedom of the press, which was promised within limits prescribed by Trepov, is being extended to a greater degree by the mighty arm of the revolutionary proletariat. According to messages in the foreign press, only those St. Petersburg newspapers came out on Saturday, October 22 (November 4), which accepted the workers’ demand that they ignore the censorship. Two St. Petersburg German-language papers that wished to remain “loyal” (i.e., servile) could not come out. From the moment the St. Petersburg strikers’ union, but not Trepov, began to determine the bounds of legality, the “legal” papers began speaking up in extremely bold tones. “The strike has been only suspended,” reads a cable to the Neue Freie Presse of October 23 (November 5). “The strike, it is reported, will be resumed when the time for a final blow at the old order arrives. Concessions no longer make the least impression on the proletariat. The situation is highly dangerous. Revolutionary ideas are gaining an increasing hold on the masses. The working class feels that it is master of the situation. Those who are afraid of impending disaster are beginning to leave the city [St. Petersburg].”

The denouement is at hand. The victory of the people’s uprising is not far off now. Revolutionary Social-Democracy’s slogans are being put into effect with unexpected rapidity. Let Trepov go on dashing to and fro between revolutionary Finland and revolutionary St. Petersburg, between the revolutionary marginal areas and the revolutionary provinces. Let him try to choose a single safe place for untrammelled military operations. Let the tsar’s Manifesto be circulated more widely; let the news of the events in the revolutionary centres become more widespread—that will win us new supporters, and bring fresh vacillation and disintegration into the dwindling ranks of the tsar’s adherents.

The all-Russia political strike has performed its tasks excellently by furthering the uprising, by inflicting frightful wounds on tsarism, and by frustrating the disgusting comedy of the disgusting State Duma. The general rehearsal is over. The indications are that we are now on the eve of the drama itself. Witte is wallowing in a spate of words, while Trepov is wallowing in rivers of blood. The tsar is running short of promises he might yet make, while Trepov is running short of Black-Hundred forces he might send into the final battle. The ranks of the army of revolution are swelling all the time. Its forces are being steeled in individual engagements, and the red flag is rising higher and higher over the new Russia.

  1. See pp. 394-95 of this volume.—Ed.
  2. See p. 428 of this volume.—Ed.
  3. Lenin is referring to Izvestia Sovieta Rabochikh Deputatov (Bulletin of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies)—official organ of the St. Petersburg Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, published from October 17 (30) till December 14 (27), 1905. It was made up and printed by the workers at the print-shops of various bourgeois newspapers. In all, ten issues appeared, the eleventh being confiscated by the police while it was being printed.
  4. The reference is to the Neue Frete Presse, a liberal-bourgeois newspaper, published in Vienna from 1864 onwards.