The History of the Russian Revolution
Volume One: The Overthrow of Tzarism
The fundamental and most stable feature of Russian history is the slow tempo of her development, with the economic backwardness, primitiveness of social forms and low level of culture resulting from it.
The population of this gigantic and austere plain, open to eastern winds and Asiatic migrations, was condemned by nature itself to a long backwardness. The struggle with nomads lasted almost up to the end of the seventeenth century; the struggle with winds, bringing winter cold and summer drought, continues still. Agriculture, the basis of the whole development, advanced by extensive methods. In the north they cut down and burned up the forests, in the south they ravished the virgin steppes. The conquest of nature went wide and not deep.
While the western barbarians settled in the ruins of Roman culture, where many an old stone lay ready as building material, the Slavs in the East found no inheritance upon their desolate plain: their predecessors had been on even a lower level of culture than they. The western European peoples, soon finding their natural boundaries, created those economic and cultural clusters, the commercial cities. The population of the eastern plain, at the first sign of crowding, would go deeper into the forest or spread out over the steppe. The more aggressive and enterprising elements of the peasantry in the west became burghers, craftsmen, merchants. The more active and bold in the east became, some of them, traders, but most of them Cossacks, frontiersmen, pioneers. The process of social differentiation, intensive in the west, was delayed in the east and diluted by the process of expansion. “The Tzar of Muscovia, although a Christian, rules a lazy-minded people,” wrote Vico, a contemporary of Peter I. That “lazy” mind of the Muscovites was a reflection of the slow tempo of economic development, the formlessness of class relations, the meagerness of inner history.
The ancient civilisations of Egypt, India and China had a character self-sufficient enough, and they had time enough at their disposal, to bring their social relations, in spite of low productive powers, almost to the same detailed completion to which their craftsmen brought the products of their craft. Russia stood not only geographically, but also socially and historically, between Europe and Asia. She was marked off from the European West, but also from the Asiatic East, approaching at different periods and in different features now one, now the other. The East gave her the Tartar yoke, which entered as an important element into the structure of the Russian state. The West was a still more threatening foe – but at the same time a teacher. Russia was unable to settle in the forms of the East because she was continually having to adapt herself to military and economic pressure from the West. The existence of feudal relations in Russia, denied by former historians, may be considered unconditionally established by later investigations. Furthermore, the fundamental elements of Russian feudalism were the same as in the West. But the mere fact that the existence of the feudal epoch had to be established by means of extended scientific arguments sufficiently testifies to the incompleteness of Russian feudalism, its formlessness, its poverty of cultural monuments.
A backward country assimilates the material and intellectual conquests of the advanced countries. But this does not mean that it follows them slavishly, reproduces all the stages of their past. The theory of the repetition of historic cycles – Vico and his more recent followers – rests upon an observation of the orbits of old pre-capitalist cultures, and in part upon the first experiments of capitalist development. A certain repetition of cultural stages in ever new settlements was in fact bound up with the provincial and episodic character of that whole process. Capitalism means, however, an overcoming of those conditions. It prepares and in a certain sense realises the universality and permanence of man’s development. By this a repetition of the forms of development by different nations is ruled out. Although compelled to follow after the advanced countries, a backward country does not take things in the same order. The privilege of historic backwardness – and such a privilege exists – permits, or rather compels, the adoption of whatever is ready in advance of any specified date, skipping a whole series of intermediate stages. Savages throw away their bows and arrows for rifles all at once, without travelling the road which lay between those two weapons in the past. The European colonists in America did not begin history all over again from the beginning. The fact that Germany and the United States have now economically outstripped England was made possible by the very backwardness of their capitalist development. On the other hand, the conservative anarchy in the British coal industry – as also in the heads of MacDonald and his friends – is a paying-up for the past when England played too long the rôle of capitalist pathfinder. The development of historically backward nations leads necessarily to a peculiar combination of different stages in the historic process. Their development as a whole acquires a planless, complex, combined character.
The possibility of skipping over intermediate steps is of course by no means absolute. Its degree is determined in the long run by the economic and cultural capacities of the country. The backward nation, moreover, not infrequently debases the achievements borrowed from outside in the process of adapting them to its own more primitive culture. In this the very process of assimilation acquires a self-contradictory character. Thus the introduction of certain elements of Western technique and training, above all military and industrial, under Peter I, led to a strengthening of serfdom as the fundamental form of labour organisation. European armament and European loans – both indubitable products of a higher culture – led to a strengthening of tzarism, which delayed in its turn the development of the country.
The laws of history have nothing in common with a pedantic schematism. Unevenness, the most general law of the historic process, reveals itself most sharply and complexly in the destiny of the backward countries. Under the whip of external necessity their backward culture is compelled to make leaps. From the universal law of unevenness thus derives another law which, for the lack of a better name, we may call the law of combined development – by which we mean a drawing together of the different stages of the journey, a combining of the separate steps, an amalgam of archaic with more contemporary forms. Without this law, to be taken of course, in its whole material content, it is impossible to understand the history of Russia, and indeed of any country of the second, third or tenth cultural class.
Under pressure from richer Europe the Russian State swallowed up a far greater relative part of the people’s wealth than in the West, and thereby not only condemned the people to a twofold poverty, but also weakened the foundations of the possessing classes. Being at the same time in need of support from the latter, it forced and regimented their growth. As a result the bureaucratised privileged classes never rose to their full height, and the Russian state thus still more approached an Asiatic despotism. The Byzantine autocratism, officially adopted by the Muscovite tzars at the beginning of the sixteenth century, subdued the feudal Boyars with the help of the nobility, and then gained the subjection of the nobility by making the peasantry their slaves, and upon this foundation created the St. Petersburg imperial absolutism. The backwardness of the whole process is sufficiently indicated in the fact that serfdom, born at the end of the sixteenth century, took form in the seventeenth, flowered in the eighteenth, was juridically annulled only in 1861.
The clergy, following after the nobility, played no small rôle in the formation of the tzarist autocracy, but nevertheless a servile rôle. The church never rose in Russia to that commanding height which it attained in the Catholic West; it was satisfied with the rôle of spiritual servant of the autocracy, and counted this a recompense for its humility. The bishops and metropolitans enjoyed authority merely as deputies of the temporal power. The patriarchs were changed along with the tzars. In the Petersburg period the dependence of the church upon the state became still more servile. Two hundred thousand priests and monks were in all essentials a part of the bureaucracy, a sort of police of the gospel. In return for this the monopoly of the orthodox clergy in matters of faith, land and income was defended by a more regular kind of police.
Slavophilism, the messianism of backwardness, has based its philosophy upon the assumption that the Russian people and their church are democratic through and through, whereas official Russia is a German bureaucracy imposed upon them by Peter the Great. Mark remarked upon this theme: “In the same way the Teutonic jackasses blamed the despotism of Frederick the Second upon the French, as though backward slaves were not always in need of civilised slaves to train them.” This brief comment completely finishes off not only the old philosophy of the Slavophiles, but also the latest revelations of the “Racists.”
The meagerness not only of Russian feudalism, but of all the old Russian history, finds its most depressing expression in the absence of real mediaeval cities as centres of commerce and craft. Handicraft did not succeed in Russia in separating itself from agriculture, but preserved its character of home industry. The old Russian cities were commercial, administrative, military and manorial – centres of consumption, consequently, not of production.. Even, Novgorod, similar to Hansa and not subdued by the Tartars, was only a commercial, and not an industrial city. True, the distribution of the peasant industries over various districts created a demand for trade mediation on a large scale. But nomad traders could not possibly occupy that place in social life which belonged in the West to the craft-guild and merchant-industrial petty and middle bourgeoisie, inseparably bound up with its peasant environment. The chief roads of Russian trade, moreover, led across the border, thus from time immemorial giving the leadership to foreign commercial capital, and imparting a semi-colonial character to the whole process, in which the Russian trader was a mediator between the Western cities and the Russian villages. This kind of economic relation developed further during the epoch of Russian capitalism and found its extreme expression in the imperialist war.
The insignificance of the Russian cities, which more than anything else promoted the development of an Asiatic state, also made impossible a Reformation – that is, a replacement of the feudal-bureaucratic orthodoxy by some sort of modernised kind of Christianity adapted to the demands of a bourgeois society. The struggle against the state church did not go farther than the creation of peasant sects, the faction of the Old Believers being the most powerful among them.
Fifteen years before the great French revolution there developed in Russia a movement of the Cossacks, peasants and worker-serfs of the Urals, known as the Pugachev Rebellion. What was lacking to this menacing popular uprising in order to convert it into a revolution? A Third Estate. Without the industrial democracy of the cities a peasant war could not develop into a revolution, just as the peasant sects could not rise to the height of a Reformation. The result of the Pugachev Rebellion was just the opposite – a strengthening of bureaucratic absolutism as the guardian of the interests of the nobility, a guardian which had again justified itself in the hour of danger.
The Europeanization of the country, formally begun in the time of Peter, became during the following century more and more a demand of the ruling class itself, the nobility. In 1825 the aristocratic intelligentsia, generalising this demand politically, went to the point of a military conspiracy to limit the powers of the autocracy. Thus, under pressure from the European bourgeois development, the progressive nobility attempted to take the place of the lacking Third Estate. But nevertheless they wished to combine their liberal régime with the security of their own caste domination, and therefore feared most of all to arouse the peasantry. It s thus not surprising that the conspiracy remained a mere attempt on the part of a brilliant but isolated officer caste which gave up the sponge almost without a struggle. Such was the significance of the Dekabrist uprising.
The landlords who owned factories were the first among their caste to favour replacing serfdom by wage labour. The growing export of Russian grain gave an impulse in the same direction. In 1861 the noble bureaucracy, relying upon the liberal landlords, carried out its peasant reform. The impotent bourgeois liberalism during this operation played the rôle of humble chorus. It is needless to remark that tzarism solved the fundamental problem of Russia, the agrarian problem, in a more niggardly and thieving fashion than that in which the Prussian monarchy during the next decade was to solve the fundamental problem of Germany, its national consolidation. The solution of the problems of one class by another is one of those combined methods natural to backward countries.
The law of combined development reveals itself most indubitably, however, in the history and character of Russian industry. Arising late, Russian industry did not repeat the development of the advanced countries, but inserted itself into this development, adapting their latest achievements to its own backwardness. Just as the economic evolution of Russia as a whole skipped over the epoch of craft-guilds and manufacture, so also the separate branches of industry made a series of special leaps over technical productive stages that had been measured in the West by decades. Thanks to this, Russian industry developed at certain periods with extraordinary speed. Between the first revolution and the war, industrial production in Russia approximately doubled. this has seemed to certain Russian historians a sufficient basis for concluding that “we must abandon the legend of backwardness and slow growth.”  In reality the possibility of this swift growth was determined by that very backwardness which, alas, continued not only up to the moment of liquidation of the old Russia, but as her legacy up to the present day.
The basic criterion of the economic level of a nation is the productivity of labour, which in its turn depends upon the relative weight of the industries in the general economy of the country. On the eve of the war, when tzarist Russia had attained the highest point of its prosperity, the national income per capita was 8 to 10 times less than in the United States – a fact which is not surprising when you consider that 4/5 of the self-supporting population of Russia was occupied with agriculture, while in the United States, for every one engaged in agriculture, 2½ were engaged in industry. We must add that for every one hundred square kilometres of land, Russia had, on the eve of the war, 0.4 kilometres of railroads, Germany 11.7, Austria-Hungary 7. Other comparative coefficients are of the same type.
But it is just in the sphere of economy, as we have said, that the law of combined development most forcibly emerges. At the same time that peasant land-cultivation as a whole remained, right up to the revolution, at the level of the seventeenth century, Russian industry in its technique and capitalist structure stood at the level of the advanced countries, and in certain respects even outstripped them. Small enterprises, involving less than 100 workers, employed in the United States, in 1914, 35 per cent of the total of industrial workers, but in Russia 17.8 per cent. The two countries had an approximately identical relative quantity of enterprises involving 100 to 1000 workers. But the giant enterprises, above 1000 workers each, employed in the United States 17.8 per cent of the workers and in Russia 41.4 per cent! For the most important industrial districts the latter percentage is still higher: for the Petrograd district 44.4 per cent, for the Moscow district even 57.3 per cent. We get a like result if we compared Russian with British or German industry. This fact – first established by the author in 1908 – hardly accords with the banal idea of the economic backwardness of Russia. However, it does not disprove this backwardness, but dialectically completes it.
The confluence of industrial with bank capital was also accomplished in Russia with a completeness you might not find in any other country. But the subjection of the industries to the banks meant, for the same reasons, their subjection to the western European money market. Heavy industry (metal, coal, oil) was almost wholly under the control of foreign finance capital, which had created for itself an auxiliary and intermediate system of banks in Russia. Light industry was following the same road. Foreigners owned in general about 40 per cent of all the stock capital of Russia, but in the leading branches of industry that percentage was still higher. We can say without exaggeration that the controlling shares of stock in the Russian banks, plants and factories were to be found abroad, the amount held in England, France and Belgium being almost double that in Germany.
The social character of the Russian bourgeoisie and its political physiognomy were determined by the condition of origin and the structure of Russian industry. The extreme concentration of this industry alone meant that between the capitalist leaders and the popular masses there was no hierarchy of transitional layers. To this we must add that the proprietors of the principal industrial, banking, and transport enterprises were foreigners, who realised on their investment not only the profits drawn from Russia, but only a political influence in foreign parliaments, and so not only did not forward the struggle for Russian parliamentarism, but often opposed it: it is sufficient to recall the shameful rôle played by official France. such are the elementary and irremovable causes of the political isolation and anti-popular character of the Russian bourgeoisie. Whereas in the dawn of its history it was too unripe to accomplish a Reformation; when the time came for leading a revolution it was overripe.
In correspondence with this general course of development of the country, the reservoir from which the Russian working class formed itself was not the craft-guild, but agriculture, not the city, but the country. Moreover, in Russia the proletariat did not arise gradually through the ages, carrying with itself the burden of the past as in England, but in leaps involving sharp changes of environment, ties, relations, and a sharp break with the past. It is just this fact – combined with the concentrated oppressions of tzarism – that made the Russian workers hospitable to the boldest conclusions of revolutionary thought – just as the backward industries were hospitable to the last word in capitalist organisation.
The Russian proletariat was forever repeating the short history of its origin. While in the metal industry, especially in Petrograd, a layer of hereditary proletarians was crystallised out, having made a complete break with the country, in the Urals the prevailing type was half-proletarian, half-peasant. A yearly inflow of fresh labour forces from the country in all the industrial districts kept renewing the bonds of the proletariat with its fundamental social reservoir.
The incapacity of the bourgeoisie for political action was immediately caused by its relation to the proletariat and the peasantry. It could not lead after it workers who stood hostile in their everyday life, and had so early learned to generalise their problems. But it was likewise incapable of leading after it the peasantry, because it was entangled in a web of interests with the landlords, and dreaded a shake-up of property relations in any form. The belatedness of the Russian revolution was thus not only a matter of chronology, but also of the social structure of the nation.
England achieved her Puritan revolution when her whole population was not more than 5½ millions, of whom half a million were to be found in London. France, in the epoch of her revolution, had in Paris also only half a million out of a population of 25 million, Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century had a population of about 150 million, of whom more than 3 million were in Petrograd and Moscow. Behind these comparative figures lurk enormous social differences. Not only England of the seventeenth century, but also France of the eighteenth had no proletariat in the modern sense. In Russia, however, the working class in all branches of labour, both city and village, numbered in 1905 no less than 10 million, which with their families amounts to more than 25 million – that is to say, more than the whole population of France in the epoch of the great revolution. Advancing from the sturdy artisans and independent peasants of the army of Cromwell – through the sansculottes of Paris – to the industrial proletarians of St. Petersburg, the revolution had deeply changed its social mechanism, its methods, and therewith its aims.
The events of 1905 were a prologue to the two revolutions of 1917, that of February and that of October. In the prologue all the elements of the drama were included, but not carried through. The Russo-Japanese war had made tzarism totter. Against the background of a mass movement the liberal bourgeoisie had frightened the monarchy with its opposition. The workers had organised independently of the bourgeoisie, and in opposition to it, in soviets, a form of organisation then first called into being. Peasant uprisings to seize the land occurred throughout vast stretches of the country. Not only the peasants, but also the revolutionary parts of the army tended toward the soviets, which at the moment of highest tension openly disputed the power with the monarchy. However, all the revolutionary forces were then going into action for the first time, lacking experience and confidence. The liberals demonstratively backed away from the revolution exactly at the moment when it became clear that to shake tzarism would not be enough, it must be overthrown. This sharp break of the bourgeoisie with the people, in which the bourgeoisie carried with it considerable circles of the democratic intelligentsia, made it easier for the monarchy to differentiate within the army, separating out the loyal units, and to make a bloody settlement with the workers and peasants. Although with a few broken ribs, tzarism came out of the experience of 1905 alive and strong enough.
What changes in the correlation of forces were introduced by the eleven years’ historical development dividing the prologue from the drama? Tzarism during this period came into still sharper conflict with the demands of historic development. The bourgeoisie became economically more powerful, but as we have seen its power rested on a higher concentration of industry and an increased predominance of foreign capital. Impressed by the lessons of 1905, the bourgeoisie had become more conservative and suspicious. The relative weight of the petty and middle bourgeoisie, insignificant before, had fallen still lower. The democratic intelligentsia generally speaking had no firm social support whatever. It could have a transitional political influence, but could play no independent rôle: its dependence upon bourgeois liberalism had grown enormously. In these circumstances only the youthful proletariat could give the peasantry a programme, a banner and leadership. The gigantic tasks thus presented to the proletariat gave rise to a urgent necessity for a special revolutionary organisation capable of quickly getting hold of the popular masses and making them ready for revolutionary action under the leadership of the workers. Thus the soviets of 1905 developed gigantically in 1917. That the soviets, we may remark here, are not a mere child of the historical backwardness of Russia, but a product of her combined development, is indicated by the fact that the proletariat of the most industrial country, Germany, at the time of its revolutionary high point – 1918 to 1919 – could find no other form of organisation.
The revolution of 1917 still had as its immediate task the overthrow of the bureaucratic monarchy, but in distinction from the older bourgeois revolutions, the decisive force now was a new class formed on the basis of a concentrated industry, and armed with new organisations, new methods of struggle. The law of combined development here emerges in its extreme expression: starting with the overthrow of a decayed mediaeval structure, the revolution in the course of a few months placed the proletariat and the Communist Party in power.
In its initial task the Russian revolution was thus a democratic revolution. But it posed the problem of political democracy in a new way. While the workers were covering the whole country with soviets, including in them the soldiers and part of the peasantry, the bourgeoisie still continued to dicker – shall we summon or not summon a Constituent Assembly? In the course of our exposition this question will rise before us in full completeness. Here we wish only to mark the place of the soviets in the historic succession of revolutionary ideas and forms.
In the middle of the seventeenth century the bourgeois revolution in England developed under the guise of a religious reformation. A struggle for the right to pray according to one’s own prayer book was identified with the struggle against the king, the aristocracy, the princes of the church, and Rome. The Presbyterians and Puritans were deeply convinced that they were placing their earthly interests under the unshakeable protection of the divine Providence. The goals for which the new classes were struggling commingled inseparably in their consciousness with texts from the Bible and the forms of churchly ritual. Emigrants carried with them across the ocean this tradition sealed with blood. Hence the extraordinary virility of the Anglo-Saxon interpretation of Christianity. We see even today how the minister “socialists” of Great Britain back up their cowardice with these same magic texts with which the people of the seventeenth century sought to justify their courage.
In France, which stepped across the Reformation, the Catholic Church survived as a state institution until the revolution, which found its expression and justification for the tasks of the bourgeois society, not in texts from the Bible, but in the abstractions of democracy. Whatever the hatred of the present rulers of France for Jacobinism, the fact is that only thanks to the austere labour of Robespierre are they still able to cover their conservative rulership with those formulas with the help of which the old society was exploded.
Each of the great revolutions marked off a new stage of the bourgeois society, and new forms of consciousness for its classes. Just as France stepped over the Reformation, so Russia stepped over the formal democracy. The Russian revolutionary party, which was to place its stamp upon a whole epoch, sought an expression for the tasks of the revolution neither in the Bible nor in that secularised Christianity called “pure” democracy, but in the material relations of the social classes. The soviet system gave to those relations their simplest, most undisguised and transparent expression. The rule of the toilers has for the first time been realised in the soviet system, which, whatever its immediate historic vicissitudes, has penetrated as irrevocably into the consciousness of the masses as did in its day the system of the Reformation or of pure democracy.
1. The assertion is made by Professor M.N. Pokrovsky. See Appendix I.
(To the Chapter Peculiarities of Russia’s Development)
The question of the peculiarities of Russia’s historic development, and, bound up therewith, the question of its future destinies, lay at the bottom of all the debates and groupings of the Russian intelligentsia throughout almost the whole of the nineteenth century. Slavophilism and westernism resolved this question in opposite ways but with similar dogmatism. They were replaced by the theories of the Narodniks and Marxism. Before the Narodnik theory conclusively faded out under the influence of bourgeois liberalism, it long and stubbornly defended the idea of a completely unique course of development for Russia, a detour around capitalism. In this sense the Narodniks continued the Slavophile tradition, purging it however of monarchist-churchly-Pan-Slavic elements, and giving it a revolutionary-democratic character.
In the essence of the matter the Slavophile conception, with all its reactionary fantasticness, and also Narodnikism, with all its democratic illusions, were by no means mere speculations, but rested upon indubitable and moreover deep peculiarities of Russia’s development, understood one-sidedly however and incorrectly evaluated. In its struggle with Narodnikism, Russian Marxism, demonstrating the identity of the laws of development for all countries, not infrequently fell into a dogmatic mechanisation discovering a tendency to pour out the baby with the bath. This tendency is revealed especially sharply in many of the works of the well-known Professor Pokrovsky.
In 1922 Pokrovsky came down upon the historic conception of the author which lies at the basis of the theory of Permanent Revolution, We consider it useful, at least for readers interesting them selves not only in the dramatic course of events but also in revolutionary doctrine, to adduce here the more essential excerpts from our answers to Professor Pokrovsky published in two issues of the central organ of the Bolshevik Party, Pravda, July 1 and 2,1922:
Concerning the Peculiarities of Russia’s Historic Development
Pokrovsky has published an article dedicated to my book: 1905, which demonstrates – negatively, alas! – what a complex matter it is to apply methods of historic materialism to living human history, and what a rubber-stamp affair is often made out of history even by such deeply erudite people as Pokrovsky. The book which Pokrovsky criticises was directly called out by a desire to establish historically and justify theoretically the slogan of the conquest of power by the proletariat, as against the slogan of a bourgeois democratic republic, and also that of a democratic government of the proletariat and the peasantry … This line of thought produced a very great theoretic indignation on the part of no small number of Marxists, indeed an overwhelming majority of them. Those who expressed this indignation were not only Mensheviks, but also Kamenev and Rozhkov (a Bolshevik-historian). Their point of view in broad outlines was as follows: The political rule of the bourgeoisie must precede the political rule of the proletariat; the bourgeois democratic republic must be a prolonged historic schooling for the proletariat; the attempt to jump over this stage is adventurism; if the working class in the West has not yet conquered the power, how can the Russian proletariat set itself this task? etc., etc. From the point of view of this pseudo-Marxism, which confines itself to historical mechanisms, formal analogies, converting historic epochs into a logical succession of inflexible social categories (feudalism, capitalism, socialism, autocracy, bourgeois republic, dictatorship of the proletariat) – from this point of view the slogan of the conquest of power by the working class in Russia must have seemed a monstrous departure from Marxism. However, a serious empirical evaluation of the social forces as they stood in 1903 – 05 powerfully suggested the entire viability of a struggle for a conquest of power by the working class. Is this a peculiarity, or is it not? Does it assume profound peculiarities in the whole historical development or does it not? How does it come that such a task arose before the proletariat of Russia – that is, the most backward (with Pokrovsky’s permission) country of Europe?
And in what consists the backwardness of Russia? Merely in the fact that Russia is belatedly repeating the history of the western European countries? But in that case would it be possible to talk of a conquest of power by the Russian proletariat? This conquest, however (we permit ourselves to remember), was actually made. Where lies the essence of all this? In that the indubitable and irrefutable belatedness of Russia’s development under influence and pressure of the higher culture from the West, results not in a simple repeti tion of the Western European historic process, but in the creation of profound pecaliarities demanding independent study.
This deep uniqueness in our political situation, which led to the victorious October revolution before the beginning of the revolution in Europe, had its roots in the peculiar correlation of forces among the different classes and the state power. When Pokrovsky and Rozhkov quarrelled with the Narodniks or liberals, demonstrating that the organisation and policy of czarism was determined by the economic development and the interests of the possessing classes, they were fundamentally right. But when Pokrovsky tries to repeat this against me, he simply hits the wrong mark.
The result of our belated historic development, in the conditions of the imperialist encirclement, was that our bourgeoisie did not have time to push out czarism before the proletariat had become an independent revolutionary force.
But for Pokrovsky the very question which constitutes for us the central theme of the investigation, does not exist.
Pokrovsky writes: ’To portray the Moscow Russ of the six teenth century on a background of general European relations of that time is an extremely afluring enterprise. There is no better way to refute the prejudices prevailing until now even in Marxist circles about the ‘primitiveness’ of those economic foundations upon which the Russian autocracy arose,” And further: “To present this autocracy in its real historic connections, as one of the aspects of commercial-capitalist Europe … that is an undertaking not only of extraordinary interest to the historian, but also of extraordinary educational importance for the reading public: there is no more radical way of putting an end to the legend of ‘peculiarities’ of the Russian historic process.” Pokrovsky as we see, flatly denies the primitiveness and backwardness of our economic development, and therewith relegates the peculiarities of the Russian historic process to the sphere of legend. And the whole trouble is that Pokrovsky is completely hypnotised by the comparatively broad development of trade noticed by him and also by Rozhkov in sixteenth century Russia. It is hard to understand how Pokrovsky could make such a mistake. You might indeed imagine that trade is the basis of economic life and its infallible measuring rod. The German economist Karl Bucher twenty years ago tried to find in trade (the path between the producer and the consumer) a criterion of the whole economic development. Struve, of course, hastened to transport this “discovery” into the Russian economic science.” At that time the theory of Bücher met a perfectly natural opposition from the Marxists. We find the criteria of economic development in production – in technique and the social organisation of labour – and the path followed by the product from the producer to the consumer we regard as a secondary phenomenon, whose roots are to be found in that same production.
The large scope, at least in a spatial sense, of Russian trade in the sixteenth century – however paradoxical from the standpoint of the Bücher-Struve criterion – is explained exactly by the extraordinary primitiveness of Russian economy. The West European city was a craft-guild and trade-league city; our cities were above all administrative, military, consequently consuming, and not producing, centres. The craft-guild culture of the West formed itself on a relatively high level of economic development when all the fundamental processes of the manufacturing industries had been distinguished from agriculture, and had been converted into independent crafts, had created their own organisations, their own focuses – the cities – and at first a limited (belonging to local districts), but nevertheless stable, market. At the basis of the medieval European city therefore lay a comparatively high differentiation of industry, giving rise to regular interrelations between the city centre and its agricultural periphery. Our economic backwardness, on the other hand, found its expression in the fact that craft, not yet separated from agriculture, preserved the form of home industry. Here we were nearer to India than to Europe, just as our medieval cities were nearer to the Asiatic than the European type, and as our autocracy, standing between the European absolutism and the Asiatic despotism, in many features approached the latter.
With the boundlessness of our spaces and the sparseness of the population (also a sufficiently objective sign, it would seem, of backwardness) the exchange of products presupposed a mediating rôle of trade-capital on the broadest scale. This scale was possible exactly because the West stood at a far higher level of development, had its own innumerable demands, sent out its merchants and its goods, and therewith stimulated our trade turnover with its extremely primitive, and in a certain measure barbarian, economic basis. Not to see this immense peculiarity of our historic development means not to see our whole history.
My Siberian boss (I spent two months entering poods and arshines in his ledger), Jacob Andreievich Chernykh – this was not in the sixteenth century, but at the very beginning of tbe twentieth – enjoyed an almost unlimited rulership within the limits of Kirensky county, thanks to his trade operations. Jacob Andreievich bought up furs from the Tunghuz ahd bought in the parish contributions in kind from the priests of more remote districts, imported calico from the Irbitsk and Nizhni-Novgorod market, and above all supplied vodka. (In the Irkutsk province at that epoch the monopoly had not yet been introduced.) Jacob Andreievich was illiterate, but a millionaire (according to the value of the decimal in those days, not now). His “dictatorship,” as the representative of trade capital, was indubitable. He even always talked of ’my little Tunghuzi.” The city of Kirensk, like Verkholensk and Nizhni-Ilimsk, was a residence of sheriffs and magistrates, kulaks in hierarchical dependence one upon another, all kinds of officials, and a few wretched artisans. An organised handicraft as the basis of city economic life I did not find there, neither guilds, nor guild holidays, nor trade leagues, although Jacob Andreievich counted himself a member of the “second League.” Really this live bit of Siberian reality carries us far deeper into an understanding of the historic peculiarities of Russia’s development than what Pokrovsky says on this subject. That is a fact. The trade operations of Jacob Andreievich extended from the midstream of the Lena and its eastern tributaries to Nizhni-Novgorod and even Moscow. Few trades of Continental Europe can mark off such distances on their maps. However, this trade dictator – this ’king of clubs,” in the language of the Siberian farmers – was the most finished and convincing incarnation of our industrial backwardness, barbarism, primitiveness, sparseness of population, scatteredness of peasant towns and villages, impassable country roads, creating around the counties, districts and villages in the spring and autumn floods a two-months’ swampy blockade, of our universal illiteracy, etc., etc. And Chernykh had risen to his commercial importance on the basis of the Siberian (mid-Lensky) barbarism, because the West – “Rassea,” “Moskva” – was exerting pressure, and was taking Siberia in tow, creating a combination of nomad economic primitiveness with alarm clocks from Warsaw.
The guild craft was the basis of the medieval city culture, which radiated also into the village. Medieval science, scholasticism, religious reformation, grew out of a craft-guild soil. We did not have these things. Of course the embryo symptoms, the signs, can be found, but in the West these things were not signs but powerful cultural economic formations with a craft-guild basis. Upon this basis stood the medieval European city, and upon this it grew and entered into the conflict with the church and the feudal lords, and brought into play against the lords the hand of the monarchy. That same city created the technical premises for standing armies in the shape of firearms.
Where were our craft-guild cities even in a remote degree similar to the western cities? Where was their struggle with the feudal lords? And was the foundation for the development of the Russian autocracy laid by a struggle of the industrial-commercial city with the feudal lord? By the very nature of our cities we had no such struggle, just as we had no Reformation. Is this a peculiarity or is not it?
Our handicraft remained at the stage of home industry – that is, did not split off from peasant agriculture. Our Reformation remained at the stage of the peasant sect, because it found no leadership from the cities. Primitiveness and backwardness here cry to the heavens …
Czarism arose as an independent state organisation (again only relatively independent within the limits of the struggle of living historic forces on an economic foundation), not thanks to a struggle of powerful feudal cities with powerful lords, but in spite of the complete industrial feebleness of our cities and thanks to the feebleness of our feudal lords.
Poland in her social structure stood between Russia and the West, just as Russia stood between Asia and Europe. The Polish cities knew already much more of guild craft than ours did, but they did not succeed in rising high enough to help the kingly power break the barons. The state power remained in the immediate hands of the nobility. The result: complete impotence of the state and its disintegration.
What has been said of czarism relates also to capital and the proletariat. I cannot understand why Pokrovsky directs his rage only against my first chapter dealing with czarism. Russian capitalism did not develop from handicraft through manufacture to the factory, because European capital, at first in the trade form and afterwards in the finance and industrial form, poured down on us during that period when Russian handicraft had not in the mass divided itself from agriculture. Hence the appearance among us of the most modern capitalist industry in an environment of economic primitiveness: the Belgian or American factory, and round about it settlements, villages of wood and straw, burning up every year, etc. The most primitive beginnings and the latest European endings. Hence the mighty rôle of West Europdan capital in Russian industry; hence the political weakness of the Russian bourgeoisie; hence the ease with which we settled accounts with the Russian bourgeoisie; hence our further difficulties when the European bourgeoisie interfered.
And our proletariat? Did it pass through the school of the medieval apprentice brotherhoods? Has it the ancient tradition of the guilds? Nothing of the kind. It was thrown into the factory cauldron snatched directly from the plough. Hence the absence of conservative tradition, absence of caste in the proletariat itself, revolutionary freshness: hence – along with other causes – October, the first workers’ government in the world. But hence also illiteracy, backwardness, absence of organisational habits, absence of system in labour, of cultural and technical education. All these minuses in our cultural economic structure we are feeling at every step.
The Russian state encountered the military organisation of Western nations standing on a higher political and cultural level. Thus Russian capital in its first step ran into the far more developed and powerful capital of the West and fell under its leadership. Thus the Russian working class in its first steps also found ready weapons worked out by the experience of the West European proletariat; the Marxian theory, the trade union, the political party. Whoever explains the character and policy of the autocracy merely by the interests of the Russian possessing classes forgets that besides the more backward, poorer and more ignorant exploiters in Russia, there were the richer and more powerful exploiters in Europe. The possessing classes of Russia had to encounter the possessing classes af Europe, hostile or semi-hostile. This encounter was mediated through a state organisation. Such an organisation was the autocracy. The whole structure and history of the autocracy would have been different if it had not been for the European cities, European gunpowder (for we did not invent it), if it had not been for the European stock markets.
In the last epoch of its existence the autocracy was not only an organ of the possessing classes of Russia, but also of the organisation of European stock markets for the exploitation of Russia. This double rôle again gave it a very considerable independence. A sharp expression of this is the fact that the French Bourse made a loan for the support of the autocracy in 1905 against the will of the party of the Russian bourgeoisie.
Czarism was shattered in the imperialist war. And why? Because it had under it a too low-grade productive foundation (“primitiveness”). In military-technical matters czarism tried to fall in line with more perfected models. It was every way assisted in this by the more rich and cultured Allies. Thanks to this fact czarism had at its disposal the most finished weapons of war, but it had not, and could not have, the capacity to reproduce these weapons and transport then (and the human masses also) on railroads and waterways with sufficient speed. In other words, czarism was defending the interests of the ruling classes of Russia in the international struggle, while relying upon a more primitive economic basis than her enemies and allies.
Czarism exploited this basis during the war mercilessly – devoured, that is to say, a far greater percentage of the national wealth and the national income than her mighty enemies and allies. This fact finds its confirmation on the one hand in the system of war debts, on the other in the complete ruin of Russia …
All these circumstances, which immediately pre-determined the October revolution, the victory of the proletariat and its future difficulties, remain totally unexplained by the commonplaces of Pokrovsky.