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(en) This January marked the 100th anniversay of the Russian

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>(iain.mckay-A-zetnet.co.uk)
Date Sat, 22 Jan 2005 14:20:56 +0100 (CET)

Revolution of 1905.
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The revolt started on January 22 when a peaceful, mildly reformist,
protest march in St. Petersburg was shoot at by troops with more than
1,000 killed or injured. This day became known as "Bloody Sunday." Rather
than squelch the protests, the repression fanned the flames of rebellion.
All across Russia, different sections of the people moved
into active protest. The peasants and workers joined with
the middle classes, intelligentsia and (minority)
national groups against the abolutism and oppression of
the Tzarist monarchy. Each class had different aims
however. However, the two forces which played the leading
part in the revolution were the workers and peasants, who
raised economic and political demands while the middle-
classes sought mostly the latter.

Unrest was spread as the year progressed, reaching peaks
in early summer and autumn before climaxing in October.
There were naval mutinies at Sevastopol, Vladivostok and
Kronstadt, peaking in June, with the mutiny aboard the
Battleship Potemkin. Strikes took place all over the
country and the universities closed down when the whole
student body complained about the lack of civil liberties
by staging a walkout. Lawyers, doctor, engineers, and
other middle-class workers established the Union of
Unions and demanded a constituent assembly.

In the countryside, there were land-seizures by the
peasantry (including the looting the larger estates) and
a nation-wide Peasant Union was created. In the towns,
the workers act of resistance was the strike. There was a
general strike in St. Petersburg immediately after Bloody
Sunday. Over 400,000 workers were involved by the end of
January. The strikes spread across the country and
continued throughout the year. In the process new forms
of working class self-organisation were created. These
were councils made up of workers delegate, the famous

While the soviets were created by workers to solve their
immediate problems (for example winning the strike, the
eight-hour day, working conditions) their role changed.
They quickly evolved into an organ of the general and
political representation of workers, raising political
demands. Needless to say, their potential as a base for
political agitation were immediately recognised be
revolutionaries, and although they were not involved in
the early stages both the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks
attempted to gain influence in them. However, as
Kropotkin put it, the general strike was the key
development as "the working men again threw the weight of
their will into the contest and gave quite a new turn to
the movement. A strike of bakers broke out at Moscow in
October, and they were joined in their strike by the
printers. This was not the work of any revolutionary
organisation. It was entirely a working men's affair, but
suddenly what was meant to be a simple manifestation of
economical discontent grew up, invaded all trades, spread
to St. Petersburg, then all over Russia, and took the
character of such an imposing revolutionary manifestation
that autocracy had to capitulate before it."

The first soviet (which is Russian for council) was
established in Ivanovna-Voznesensk during the 1905
Textile Strike. It began as a strike committee but
developed into an elected body of the town's workers.
Over the next few months Soviets of Workers Deputies were
established in around 60 different towns. On October
13th, the more famous St. Petersburg Soviet of Workers'
Deputies was created out of the 'Great October Strike' on
the initiative of the printers' strike committee in order
to better co-ordinate the strike.

This was Russia's first political general strike, lasting
from September to October 30th. Although strikes had been
common in Russia in the years leading up to 1905, this
powerful weapon of direct action effectively paralysed
the whole country. The October strike started in St.
Petersburg and quickly spread to Moscow and soon the
railwaymen strike paralysed the whole Russian railway
network. "A new weapon, more terrible than street
warfare, had thus been tested and proved to work
admirably," observed Kropotkin.

The soviets had challenged the power of Nicholas II and
the general strike forced him to issue the October
Manifesto, with its parliament, freedom of the press,
assembly and association. They failed to remove him from
power and he quickly reneged on his promises. By
December, Trotsky and the rest of the executive committee
of the St. Petersburg Soviet were arrested (a Bolshevik
putsch in Moscow that month failed as it was disorganised
and uncoordinated). The revolt was over. Tsarism was to
remain in power until February 1917 when a similar wave
of mass protests finally drove it from power.

Anarchism, Marxism and 1905
On the face of it, the 1905 Russian Revolution was a
striking confirmation of key anarchist ideas. The use of
direct action, the general strike, the creation of organs
of working class self-management in the form of soviets
were all practical examples of what anarchists had been
arguing for decades. While the actual numbers of
anarchists involved was small, the events themselves were
a spontaneous confirmation of anarchist theory.

Unsurprisingly, Marxists disagree. Rather than confirm
anarchist ideas, they stress the opposite.To see whether
this is true or not, we need to look at what anarchists
had to say about the general strike and the soviets. Once
we do, we discover that 1905 had far more in common with
anarchism than Marxism. Moreover, as well as confirming
anarchist ideas it was only the anarchists who drew the
correct conclusions from it, conclusions which Marxists
only came to in 1917.

The General Strike
The anarchists embraced the general strikes in Russia as
a confirmation of their long held ideas on revolutionary
change. Marxists had a harder task as such ideas were
alien to mainstream Social Democracy. Yet faced with the
success and power of a general strike, the more radical
Marxists (like Rosa Luxemburg) had to incorporate it into
their politics.

Yet they faced a problem. The general strike was
indelibly linked with such hearsays as anarchism and
syndicalism. Had not Engels himself proclaimed the
nonsense of the general strike in his (diatribe) "The
Bakuninists at work"? Had his words not been repeated ad
infinitum against anarchists (and radical socialists) who
questioned the wisdom of social democratic tactics, its
reformism and bureaucratic inertia?

The Marxist radicals knew that Engels would again be
invoked to throw cold water over any attempt to adjust
Social Democracy politics to the economic power of the
masses as expressed in mass strikes. The Social
Democratic hierarchy would simply dismiss them as
"anarchists." This meant that Luxemburg was faced with
the problem of proving Engels was right, even when he was

She did so in an ingenious way. Like Engels himself, she
simply distorted what the anarchists thought about the
general strike in order to make it acceptable to Social
Democracy. Her argument was simple. Yes, Engels had been
right to dismiss the "general strike" idea of the
anarchists in the 1870s. But today, thirty years later,
Social Democrats should support the general strike (or
mass strike, as she called it) because the concepts were
different. The anarchist "general strike" was utopian.
The Marxist "mass strike" was practical.

To discover why, we need to see what Engels had argued in
the 1870s. Engels, mocked the anarchists (or
"Bakuninists") for thinking that "a general strike is the
lever employed by which the social revolution is
started." He accusing them of imagining that "one fine
morning, all the workers in all the industries of a
country, or even of the whole world, stop work, thus
forcing the propertied classes either humbly to submit
within four weeks at most, or to attack the workers, who
would then have the right to defend themselves and use
the opportunity to pull down the entire old society."

He stated that at the September 1 1873 Geneva congress of
the anarchist Alliance of Social Democracy, it was
"universally admitted that to carry out the general
strike strategy, there had to be a perfect organisation
of the working class and a plentiful funds." He noted
that that was "the rub" as no government would stand by
and "allow the organisation or funds of the workers to
reach such a level." Moreover, the revolution would
happen long before "such an ideal organisation" was set
up and if they had been "there would be no need to use
the roundabout way of a general strike" to achieve the

Rosa Luxemburg repeated Engels arguments in her essay
"The Mass Strike" in order to show how her support for
the general strike was in no way contrary to Marxism. Her
"mass strike" was different from the anarchist "general
strike" as mocked by Engels as it was dynamic process and
could not be seen as "one act, one isolated action" which
overthrows the bourgeoisie. Rather, the mass strike to
the product of the everyday class struggle within
society, leads to a direct confrontation with the
capitalist state and so it was "inseparable from the

The only problem with all this is that the anarchists did
not actually argue along the lines Engels and Luxemburg
claimed. Take, for example, Bakunin who saw the general
strike as a dynamic process for as "strikes spread from
one place to another, they come close to turning into a
general strike. And with the ideas of emancipation that
now hold sway over the proletariat, a general strike can
result only in a great cataclysm which forces society to
shed its old skin." He raised the possibility that this
could "arrive before the proletariat is sufficiently
organised" and dismissed it because the strikes expressed
the self-organisation of the workers for the "necessities
of the struggle impel the workers to support one another"
and the "more active the struggle becomes . . . the
stronger and more extensive this federation of
proletarians must become." And so strikes "indicate a
certain collective strength already" and "each strike
becomes the point of departure for the formation of new

Bakunin also rejected the idea that a revolution could be
"arbitrarily" made by "the most powerful associations."
Rather they were produced by "the force of
circumstances." Nor did he think that all workers needed
to be organised, arguing that a minority (perhaps "one
worker in ten") needed to be organised and they would
influence the rest so ensuring "at critical moments" the
majority would "follow the International's lead."

Which is what happened in 1905. Clearly Bakunin's ideas
are totally at odds with Engels assertions on what
anarchist ideas on the general strike were about.

But what of the "Bakuninists"? Again, Engels account is
false. Rather than the September 1873 Geneva congress
being, as he claimed, of the (disbanded) Alliance of
Social Democracy, it was (in fact) a meeting of the non-
Marxist federations of the First International. Contra
Engels, anarchists did not see the general strike as
requiring all workers to be perfectly organised and then
passively folding arms "one fine morning." The Belgian
libertarians who proposed the idea at the congress saw it
as a tactic which could mobilise workers for revolution,
"a means of bringing a movement onto the street and
leading the workers to the barricades." Moreover,
anarchists rejected the idea that it had "to break out
everywhere at an appointed day and hour" with a
resounding "No!" In fact, they did "not even need to
bring up this question and suppose things could be like
this. Such a supposition could lead to fatal mistakes.
The revolution has to be contagious."

Perhaps this is why Engels did not bother to quote a
single anarchist when recounting theory on this matter
(as in so many others!)? The real question must be when
will Marxists realise that quoting Engels does not make
it true?

Clearly, the "anarchist" strategy of overthrowing the
bourgeoisie with one big general strike exists only in
Marxist heads, nowhere else. Once we remove the
distortions promulgated by Engels and repeated by
Luxemburg, we see that the 1905 revolution and
"historical dialectics" did not, as Luxemburg claim,
validate Engels and disprove anarchism. Quite the reverse
as the general strikes in Russia followed the anarchist
ideas of a what a general strike would be like quite

Little wonder, then, that Kropotkin argued that the 1905
general strike "demonstrated" that the Latin workers who
had been advocating the general strike "as a weapon which
would irresistible in the hands of labour for imposing
its will" had been "right." However, without becoming an
insurrection, the limits of the general strike were
exposed in 1905. Unlike the some of the syndicalists in
the 1890s and 1900s, this limitation was understood by
the earliest anarchists. Consequently, they saw the
general strike as the start of a revolution and not as
the revolution itself. Thus Kropotkin recognised the
general strike as "a powerful weapon of struggle" about
also stressed the need for the soviets to function as
"battle organisations" rallying the workers and peasants
for "the insurrectionary general strike."

The Soviets
The soviets were the other key development in the 1905
revolution. They were composed of democratically elected
workers from factories, subject to instant recall if they
did not carry out their mandated tasks. They were born
from the momentum of the struggle itself and played a
crucial role in extending and developing the strike wave.
Although most soviets only functioned for a short period,
their importance should not be underestimated. Created by
the workers themselves, they were their first taste of
direct democracy and self-government. The bourgeois
democracy of the Duma paled in comparison to them.

This aspect of the revolution also confirmed anarchist
ideas. Since the 1860s Bakunin had argued that "the
Alliance of all labour associations" would "constitute
the Commune." The "Revolutionary Communal Council" would
be made up of "delegates . . . invested will binding
mandates and accountable and revocable at all times."
These would federate by "delegat[ing] deputies to an
agreed place of assembly (all . . . invested will binding
mandated and accountable and subject to recall), in order
to found the federation of insurgent associations,
communes and provinces." In other words a system of
workers' councils created by the revolution itself was at
the core of Bakunin's anarchism.

Unsurprisingly, Russian anarchists greeted the soviets
with enthusiasm as non-party,
non-ideological battle organisations of the working
class. Kropotkin argued that anarchists should take part
in the soviets as long as they "are organs of the
struggle against the bourgeoisie and the state, and not
organs of authority." In this, they shared common ground
with many Marxists who also saw them as organs of

However, unlike Marxists, anarchists when further and saw
these organisations created by the struggle against
oppression as being the framework of a free society. One
anarchist group likened them, as non-party mass
organisations, to the central committee of the Paris
Commune of 1871. Another related "the institution of the
Soviet to the organisation of the 'revolutionary commune'
as the anarchists perceived it." Another group concluded
in 1907 that the revolution required "the proclamation in
villages and towns of workers' committees with soviets of
workers' deputies . . . at their head." Clearly the
Russian anarchists saw the soviets as a concrete example
of Bakunin's revolutionary ideas and had no hesitation in
placing them at the heart of their revolutionary vision.

Marxists, on the other hand, had a difficult time
grasping the soviet's wider significance. Nothing like
the soviets could be found in the writings of Marx and
Engels. Orthodox Marxism looked at the conquest of state
power by means of a bourgeois republic by universal
suffrage. At best, Marxists argued that an insurrection
to create a republic was acceptable. Faced with the
soviets, while seeing them as some sort of trade union
body, no Marxist theoretician argued that they could
provide the framework of a socialist society.

This can be seen from Lenin. When the anarchists applied
to November 1905 to the Executive Committee of the Soviet
to be represented along the socialist parties, they were
rejected. The EC argued that "in the whole of
international practice, congresses and socialist
conferences have never included representatives of the
anarchists, since they do not recognise the political
struggle as a means for the achievement of their ideals"
and because "only parties can be represented, and the
anarchists are not a party." Lenin considered this "to
be in the highest degree correct." However, "if we were
to regard the Soviet of Workers' Deputies as a workers'
parliament or as an organ of proletarian self-government,
then of course it would have been wrong to reject the
application of the anarchists." For Lenin, the soviet "is
not a labour parliament and not an organ of proletarian
self-government, nor an organ of self-government at all,
but a fighting organisation for the achievement of
definite aims."

Clearly, the development of the soviets were a striking
confirmation of anarchist theory on revolution. It was
twelve years later that Marxists came to the same
conclusion anarchists had reached in the 1860s and had
seen confirmed by the 1905 Russian Revolution -- but with
significant (and fatal) differences. Rather than see them
as organs of popular democracy, the Marxists saw them
simply as a stepping stone to party power. This
perspective was evident in 1905.

The Bolsheviks
While Leninists have been analysing the 1905 revolution,
its soviets and general strike in some detail, one aspect
of the revolution fails to be discussed in such detail.
This is the Bolshevik hostility to the soviets and the
fact that it was the Mensheviks who took the lead in
supporting them and, ultimately, gained the upper hand in

Indeed, if the Bolsheviks had got their way the soviets
of 1905 would have been a mere blip in the struggle.
Opposing them because the soviets pushed aside the party
committee and thus led to the "subordination of
consciousness to spontaneity," the Bolsheviks argued that
"only a strong party along class lines can guide the
proletarian political movement and preserve the integrity
of its program, rather than a political mixture of this
kind, an indeterminate and vacillating political
organisation such as the workers council represents and
cannot help but represent." Thus the soviets could not
reflect workers' interests because they were elected by
the workers!

The Bolsheviks gave the soviets an ultimatum: accept the
programme and leadership of the Bolsheviks and then
disband as being irrelevant! The soviets ignored them.
This Bolshevik assault on the soviets occurred across the
country. Thus the underlying logic of Lenin's vanguardism
ensured that the Bolsheviks played a negative role with
regards the soviets which, combined with "democratic
centralism" ensured that it was spread far and wide. Only
by ignoring their own party's principles and staying in
the Soviet did rank and file Bolsheviks play a positive
role in the revolution. This divergence of top and bottom
would be repeated in 1917.

Lenin, to his credit, opposed this once he returned from
exile. However, he did so only to gain influence for his
party. In 1907 he concluded that while the party could
"utilise" the soviets "for the purpose of developing the
Social-Democratic movement," the party "must bear in mind
that if Social-Democratic activities among the
proletarian masses are properly, effectively and widely
organised, such institutions may actually become

Unsurprisingly, few Leninists mention the Bolshevik
hostility to the soviets (at best, only in passing).
Perhaps because the fundamentally anti-democratic and
elitist perspective it portrayed came to the fore after
the Bolsheviks had seized power in 1917 for, in 1918, the
"strong party" did indeed make the soviets "superfluous"
-- by systematically disbanding any soviet elected with a
non-Bolshevik majority.

Given the Bolshevik failure in 1905, perhaps it is
unsurprising that Leninists rewrite the history on it.
Trotsky, for example while admitting that the Bolsheviks
"adjusted themselves more slowly to the sweep of the
movement" and that the Mensheviks "were preponderant in
the Soviet," tries to save vanguardism by asserting that
"the general direction of the Soviet's policy proceeded
in the main along Bolshevik lines." Ironically he mocks
the claims of Stalinists that Stalin had "isolated the
Mensheviks from the masses" by noting that the "figures
hardly bear [the claims] out."

For all the Leninist accounts of the 1905 revolution
claiming it for their ideology, the facts suggest that it
was anarchism, not Marxism, which was vindicated by it.
Luxemburg was wrong. The "land of Bakunin's birth"
provided an unsurpassed example of how to make a
revolution precisely because it applied (and confirmed)
anarchist ideas on the general strike and workers'
councils. Marxists (who had previously quoted Engels to
dismiss such things) found themselves repudiating aspect
upon aspect of their dogma to remain relevant. When Rosa
Luxemburg tried to learn the lessons of the revolt, her
more orthodox opponents simply quoted Engels back. This
required her, like Engels, to grossly distort anarchist
ideas to make acceptable to Social Democracy. In 1917,
Lenin did the same in "State and Revolution."

Today's Marxists, like Luxemburg, simply regurgitate
Engels' inaccurate diatribe without bothering to see what
anarchism actually argues for. Perhaps unsurprisingly,
given that the 1905 revolution confirmed anarchist theory
just as much as, say, the one in 1917 or the descent of
Social Democracy into reformism. And perhaps it is the
fact that the anarchist analysis has been confirmed time
and again (usually at the expense of Marxism) is why
Marxists so regularly distort our ideas?

One last thing. The Russian anarchists were badly
organised and simply not up to the task of influencing
the mass strike movement in 1905. Instead the socialist
parties (primarily the Mensheviks) took the lead and,
consequently, lumbered the movement with Marxist dogmas
(like the idea that the workers had to aid the bourgeois
in creating a capitalist republic or that political
action was the means of emancipation). It is fair to say
that faced with a mass protest movement today, the
British anarchist movement would be hard pressed to
influence it even as it was applying libertarian ideas in
practice. That situation needs to change. There is little
point in being theoretically right when you cannot apply
those ideas in practice.


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