Trotsky on the failure of the 1905 Revolution (1930)


In his history of the Russian Revolution, published in exile in 1930, Leon Trotsky reflected on lessons learned from the 1905 Revolution:


“The events of 1905 were a majestic prologue to the revolutionary drama of 1917. For a number of years, when the [tsarist] reaction was triumphant, the year 1905 appeared to us as a completed whole, as the [failed] Russian revolution. Today it has lost that independent nature, without at the same time forfeiting any of its historical significance. The revolution of 1905 grew directly out of the Russo-Japanese War, just as the revolution of 1917 was the direct outcome of the great imperialist slaughter. In this way, both in its origins and in its development, the prologue carried within it all the elements of the historical drama whose witnesses and participants we know today. But in the prologue these elements appeared in… yet fully developed form. All the forces engaged in the struggle of 1905 are today illuminated more clearly than before by the light cast by the events of 1917. The Red October, as we used to call it even then, grew after twelve years into another, incomparably more powerful and truly victorious October…

In the prologue all the elements of the drama were included, but not carried through. The Russo-Japanese war had made Tsarism 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… Although with a few broken ribs, Tsarism came out of the experience of 1905 alive and strong enough.

What changes in these forces were introduced during the eleven years dividing the prologue from the drama? Tsarism during this period came into still sharper conflict with the demands of historical development. The bourgeoisie became economically more powerful… but its power rested on a higher concentration of industry and foreign capital. Impressed by the lessons of 1905, the bourgeoisie became even more conservative and suspicious… The gigantic tasks presented to the proletariat gave rise to an 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.”