We are socialists!

1906-06-01 - Leon Trotsky


Gentlemen of the bench, gentlemen representatives of the estates! The question of an armed rising — a question which, however strange this may seem to the Special Court, occupied no place whatever on the agenda of the meetings of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies throughout the 50 days of its existence — is the principal object of this court inquiry, as it was of the preliminary investigation. The subject of an armed rising as such not raised or discussed at any of our meetings; more than that, neither was the question of a Constituent Assembly, nor of a democratic republic, nor even of a general strike as such or its fundamental significance as a method of revolutionary struggle, discussed at any meeting. These central issues, which for a number of years were debated first in the revolutionary press and later at various meetings and assemblies, were on no occasion considered by the Soviet. Later I shall explain why this was so, and define the Soviet’s attitude to an armed rising.

But before passing to this matter, which from the court’s viewpoint is the central one, I will permit myself to draw the attention of the Chamber to another question which, compared with the first, is more general but less acute — namely, the question of the Soviet’s use of force in general. Did the Soviet consider itself entitled through the agency of one or another of its organs to use force or repressive measures in certain eases? My answer to this question put in such general terms is: Yes! I know as well as the representative of the prosecution that in any “normally” functioning state, whatever its form, the monopoly of brute force and repression belongs to the state power. That is its “inalienable” right, and of this right it takes the most jealous care, ever watchful lest any private body encroach upon its monopoly of violence. In this way the state organisation fights for its existence. It is enough to have a concrete picture of modern society, that complex and contradictory cooperative system

— for example in a country as vast as Russia — for it to become immediately clear that, given the existing social structure with all its antagonisms, repression is quite inevitable.

We are not anarchists we are socialists. The anarchists call us “Statists,” because we recognise the historical necessity of the state and hence the historical necessity of state repression. But under the conditions created by a political general strike, whose nature consists in the fact that it paralyses the state mechanism — under such conditions the old power which had long outlived its day and against which, precisely, the political strike was directed, found itself ultimately incapable of action, quite unable to regulate and maintain public order, even by the barbaric means which were the only ones at its disposal. Meanwhile, the strike had thrown hundreds of thousands of workers from the factories into the streets, and had freed these workers for public and political life. Who could direct them, who could bring discipline into their ranks? What organ of the old state power? The police? The gendarmerie? The secret police? I ask myself: who? and I can find no answer. No one, except the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies. No one!

The Soviet, which directed this colossal elemental force, saw its immediate task in reducing internal friction to a minimum, preventing excesses and making sure that the inevitable victims of the struggle were as few as possible. And, that being so, the Soviet, in the political strike which had created it, became nothing other than the organ of self-government of the revolutionary masses: an organ of power. It ruled the parts of the whole by the will of the whole. It was a democratic power and it was voluntarily obeyed. But inasmuch as the Soviet was the organised power of the overwhelming majority, it was inevitably compelled to use repressive measures against those elements among the m
asses who brought anarchy into its united ranks.

The Soviet, as a new historical power, as the sole power at a time of total moral, political, and technical bankruptcy of the old apparatus, as the sole guarantee of personal immunity and public order in the best sense of that term, considered itself entitled to oppose its force to such elements. The representatives of the old power, which is wholly based on murderous repression, has no right to speak with moral indignation of the Soviet’s violent methods. The historical power which the prosecutor represents in this court is the organised violence of a minority over the majority. The new power, whose precursor was the Soviet, is the organised will of the majority calling the minority to order. In this distinction lies the Soviet’s revolutionary right to existence, a right that stands above any legal or moral doubt.

The Soviet recognised its right to use repressive measures. But in what cases, and to what degree? We have heard a hundred witnesses on this point. Before passing to repressive measures the Soviet used words of persuasion. That was its true method, and the Soviet was tireless in applying it. By revolutionary agitation, by the weapon of the spoken word, the Soviet continually brought new masses to their feet and subordinated them to its authority. If it met with resistance on the part of ignorant or corrupted groups within the proletariat, it said to itself that the time to render them harmless by physical force would always come soon enough.

As you have seen from the testimony of witnesses, it sought other ways. It appealed to the good sense of factory administrations in calling upon them to stop work, it brought influence to bear on ignorant workers through technicians and engineers who were sympathetic to the general strike. It sent deputies to the workers to “bring them out,” and only in the most extreme cases did it threaten strike-breakers with the use of force. But did it ever actually use force?

Gentlemen of the bench, you have not seen any examples of this in the materials of the preliminary investigation and it proved impossible, despite all efforts, to establish such examples during the court investigation. Even if we were to take seriously those examples of “violence,” comic rather than tragic, that did pass in review before the court (so-and-so entered someone’s apartment without removing his cap, so-and-so arrested someone else by mutual consent…) we need only compare this cap which somebody forgot to remove with the hundreds of heads which the old power so often “removes” by mistake, for the Soviet’s violent actions to assume their proper proportions in our eyes… that is all we want. To reconstruct the events of that time in their true form is our task, and for its sake we, the defendants, have taken an active part in this trial.

Let me pose another question which is of importance to this court. Did the actions and declarations of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies possess a legal basis, in the manifesto of October 17 (30)? What was the relationship between the Soviet’s resolutions on the Constituent Assembly and the creation of a democratic republic and the October manifesto? The question — let me state it bluntly — simply did not occur to us at the time, but today it is undoubtedly of major importance to this court.

We have heard here, gentlemen of the court, the testimony of the witness Lukanin, which struck me personally as extremely interesting and, in some of its conclusions, both pertinent and profound. Among other things, Lukanin said that the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, being a republican body in its slogans, its principles and its political ideals, did actually, directly, and concretely put into effect those freedoms which were proclaimed in principle by the Tsar’s manifesto of October 17 and which those responsible for the manifesto actually fought against with all their strength.

Yes, gentlemen of the bench and gentlemen representatives of the estates! Yes, the revolutionary, proletarian Soviet, actually put into effect and implemented the freedom of speech, the freedom of assembly and personal immunity — all those things that had been promised to the Russian people under pressure of the October strike. Whereas all that the apparatus of the old power could do was to tear these lawful attainments of the people into pieces. Gentlemen of the bench, that is indubitable, objective fact that has already be an income part of history. It cannot be disputed because it is indisputable.

If I am asked, however — and if my comrades are asked — whether we subjectively based our actions and declarations on the manifesto of October 17, we must categorically answer: No. Why? Because we were deeply convinced — and we were not mistaken — that the manifesto of October 17 created no new legal basis whatever, that it did not create the foundations of a new legality, for a new legal system is not created — we are convinced of this, gentlemen of the court — by means of manifestos, but by a real reorganisation of the entire state apparatus. Because we adopted this materialist standpoint, the only correct one, we had no confidence whatever in the immanent force of the manifesto of October 17. And this we openly declared.

But I do not believe that our subjective attitude as party men, as revolutionaries, determines for the court our objective attitude, as citizens of a state, to the manifesto: For the court, inasmuch as it is a court, is bound to see the manifesto as a foundation of a new legality, or else it must cease to exist. We know that in Italy there exists a bourgeois parliamentary republican party operating on the basis of the country’s monarchical constitution. Socialist parties which are revolutionary by their nature legally exist and fight in all civilised countries.

The question is: does the manifesto of October 17 leave any room for us Russian republican socialists? That is the question which the court must answer. The court must say whether we social-democrats were right when we argued that the constitutional manifesto was merely a list of promises which would never be voluntarily fulfilled; whether we were right in our revolutionary criticism of those paper guarantees; whether we were right when we called upon the people to engage in open struggle for true and complete freedom. Were we right, or were we not? Let the court tell us that the manifesto of October 17 is a real legal foundation upon which we republicans could exist as persons of legality, persons who acted within the law, despite our opinions and intentions. Let the manifesto of October 17 tell us here, through the verdict of this court: “You denied my reality, but I exist for you as well as for the rest of the country.”

I have already said that the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies never once raised the question of a Constituent Assembly and the creation of a democratic republic at its meetings; nevertheless, as you have seen from the speeches of working-class witnesses, its attitude to those slogans was clearly defined. How could it be otherwise? After all, the Soviet did not come into being on virgin soil. It was created when the Russian proletariat had already lived through the events of January 9 (22), through Senator Shidlovsky’s commission, through the whole long. too long, school of Russian absolutism. Long before the Soviet existed, the demand for a Constituent Assembly, for universal franchise, for a democratic republic, together with the eight-hour working day, had become the central slogans of the revolutionary proletariat. That is why the Soviet never had occasion to raise these issues as matters of principle: it simply included them in its resolutions as matters which had been decided once and for all. The same, in substance, was also true of the idea of an insurrection.

What is an insurrection, gentlemen of the court? Not a palace revolution, not a military conspiracy, but an insurrection of the working masses! The president of this court addressed the following question to one of the witnesses: did he consider a political strike to be an insurrection? I forget what the witness replied, but I believe and affirm that a political strike, despite the president’s doubts, is indeed, in its substance, an insurrection. That is not a paradox, although it may seem to be one from the point of view of the indictment. I repeat: my notion of an insurrection — and I shall presently demonstrate this — has nothing in common but its name with the construction which the police and the prosecution put on the term. A political strike is an insurrection, I say. For, in point of fact, what is a political general strike? It has only one thing in common with an economic strike — namely, that in both cases workers cease to work. In no other respect do the two resemble one another. An economic strike has a definite, narrow aim, that of bringing pressure to bear upon an employer by putting him, for that purpose, temporarily outside the competitive field. It interrupts work at a factory in order to achieve certain changes within the limits of that factory.

The nature of a political strike is profoundly different. It exerts no pressure on individual employers, it does not as a rule make any specific economic claims; its claims are directed, over the heads of the employers whom it hits so hard, at the state power itself. How, then, does a political strike affect the state power? It paralyses its vital activity. A modern state, even in so backward a country as Russia, is based on a centralised economic organism turned into a single whole by the skeleton of the railways and the nervous system of the telegraph. And although the telegraph, the railway, and all the other attainments of modern technology may not serve Russian absolutism for cultural or economic ends, they are all the more essential to it for the purposes of repression. The railways and the telegraph are irreplaceable weapons for transferring troops from one end of the country to another, uniting and directing the administration’s activities in suppressing sedition.

What does a political strike do? It paralyses the economic apparatus of the state, disrupts communications between separate parts of the administrative machine, isolates the government, and renders it powerless. On the other hand, it politically unites the mass of workers from the factories and plants and opposes this workers’ army to the state power.

Therein, gentlemen of the court, lies the essence of an insurrection. To unite the proletarian masses within a single revolutionary protest action, to oppose them as enemies to the organised power of the state — that, gentlemen of the court, is insurrection as the Soviet understood it and as I understand it too.

We saw such a revolutionary clash between two hostile sides during the October strike which broke out spontaneously, without the Soviet, which occurred before the Soviet, indeed which gave birth to the Soviet. The October strike created “anarchy,” and as a result of that anarchy came the manifesto of October 17. I hope that the prosecution will not deny this, any more than do the most conservative politicians and journalists, including those of the semi-official Novoye Vremya. Only a few days ago Novoye Vremya wrote that the manifesto of October 17 was the result of governmental panic created by the political strike. But if this manifesto is the foundation of the whole new system in force, we must recognise, gentlemen of the court, that our present state system is based on panic, and that the panic, in turn, was based on the political strike of the proletariat. And so you see that a general strike is something more than mere cessation of work.

I have said that a political strike, as soon as it stops being a demonstration, becomes, in substance, an insurrection. It would be more accurate to say that it becomes the principal, most general method of proletariat insurrection: the principal, but not the only method. The method of the political strike has its natural limits. And this became evident as soon as the workers, following the Soviet’s call, resumed work at noon on October 2 (November 3).

The manifesto of October 17 was received with a vote of no confidence; the masses feared, and with good reason, that the government would fail to introduce the promised freedoms. The proletariat saw the inevitability of a decisive struggle and instinctively turned to the Soviet as the centre of their revolutionary power. On the other hand, absolutism, on recovering from its panic, began to reconstruct its half-demolished apparatus and put its regiments in order. As a result it transpired that after the October clash there were two powers: a new, popular power based on the masses — the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies was such a power — and the old, official power based on the army. These two forces could not exist side by side: the strengthening of one threatened the other with extinction.

The autocracy, founded as it is on bayonets, naturally tried to bring the maximum confusion, chaos, and disintegration into the vast process, whose centre was the Soviet, of unifying the popular forces. On the other hand, the Soviet, founded as it was on the confidence, the discipline, the active effort, the unanimity of the working masses, could not fail to understand the terrible threat to popular freedom, civil rights, and personal immunity embodied in the fact that the army and all material weapons of power remained in the same blood-stained hands that had wielded them up to October 17. And so a titanic struggle for influence over the army begins between these two organs of power — the second stage of the growing popular insurrection.

After the mass strike which has opposed the proletariat to the autocracy there arises a powerful movement to bring the army over to the workers’ side, to fraternise with the soldiers, to win over their minds. From this movement naturally springs a revolutionary appeal to the soldiers, on whom absolutism rests. The second November strike was a powerful and splendid demonstration of solidarity between the factory and the barracks. Of course, if the army had gone over to the side of the people, there would have been no need for insurrection. But is a peaceful transition of the army into the ranks of the revolution conceivable? No, it is not. Absolutism is not going to wait with folded arms for the army, freed from every corrupting influence, to become the friend of the people. Before all is lost, absolutism will take the initiative and launch an offensive. Did the Petersburg workers realise this? Yes, they did. Did the proletariat, did the Soviet believe that open conflict between the two sides was inevitable? Yes, it did; it had no doubt of it, it knew, knew for certain, that sooner or later the fatal hour would strike.

Of course if the organisation of popular forces, uninterrupted by any attacks of the armed counter-revolution, had continued to advance along the path on which it had entered under the leadership of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, the old system would have been destroyed without the use of any force whatever. For what did we see?

We saw how the workers rallied around the Soviet, how the peasants’ union, embodying ever-increasing masses of the peasantry, sent its deputies to the Soviet; how the railway and postal unions united themselves with the Soviet; how the organisation of the liberal professions, the Union of Unions, was drawn towards the Soviet; we saw how tolerant, how almost benevolent, was the attitude towards the Soviet even of the factory managements. It was as though the whole nation were making a heroic effort, trying to produce from its very deepest core an organ of power that might really and unchangeably lay the foundations of a new social system pending the convening of a Constituent Assembly. If the old state power had not intervened in this organic effort, if it had not introduced real anarchy into national life, if this process of the organisation of forces had been able to develop in complete freedom, the result would have been a new, reborn Russia, without the use of force and without bloodshed.

But the point is precisely that we never for a moment believed that the process of liberation would follow a smooth course. We knew too well the real nature of the old power. We social-democrats were convinced that, despite the manifesto which looked like a definitive break with the past, the old state apparatus would not withdraw of its own free will, would not hand over power to the people or surrender a single one of its principal positions; we foresaw, and openly warned the nation that absolutism would make many more convulsive attempts to keep such power as it still possessed in its hands and even to regain what it had solemnly relinquished. That is why insurrection, armed insurrection, gentlemen of the court, was inevitable from our point of view. It was and remains a historical necessity in the process of the people’s struggle against the military and police state.

Throughout October and November this idea reigned at all meetings and assemblies, dominated the entire revolutionary press, filled the entire political atmosphere and, in one way or another, was crystallised in the consciousness of every member of the Soviet; and that is why, quite naturally, it formed part of the Soviet’s resolutions, and why, too, there was never any need for us to discuss it.

The tense political situation we inherited from the October strike — a situation in which a revolutionary organisation of the masses struggling for its existence, not founded on legality because legality did not exist, but on strength, which did exist, confronted an armed counter-revolution waiting for its moment of revenge — was, if I may put it that way, the algebraic formula of insurrection. New events merely introduced new numerical values into the formula.

The idea of armed insurrection, the prosecution s superficial conclusions notwithstanding, is not only to be found in the Soviet’s decision adopted on November 27, ie, a week before our arrest, where it is expressed clearly and unequivocally: no, the idea of armed insurrection, in different forms but essentially the same, runs like a red thread from the very beginning of the Soviet’s existence, through all the Soviet’s decisions — in its resolution cancelling the funeral demonstration, its resolution proclaiming the end of the November strike, and in many other resolutions which spoke of armed conflict with the government, and of the final assault or the final battle as an inevitable stage in the struggle.

But what was the Soviet’s own interpretation of these decisions? Did it believe that armed insurrection is an enterprise that can be prepared underground and then brought out, ready-made, into the street? Did it think that insurrection can be acted out in accordance with a preconceived plan? Did the Executive Committee elaborate a technique of street fighting?

No, of course not. And this is bound to puzzle the author of the indictment when faced with a modest few dozen revolvers which, in his eyes, are the only stage properties of an armed rising. But his view is only the view of criminal law, which knows all about conspiratorial associations but cannot understand the concept of a mass organisation, which knows about assassinations and mutinies but does not and cannot know revolution.

The legal concepts on which this trial is based are decades behind the development of the revolutionary movement. The modern working-class movement in Russia has nothing whatever in common with the notion of conspiracy as interpreted by our criminal code — a notion which has not substantially changed since Speransky, who lived at the time of the Carbonari. That is why the attempt to squeeze the Soviet’s activities into the narrow definition of Articles 101 and 102 is so hopeless from the point of view of legal logic.

And yet our activities were revolutionary. And yet we really were preparing for armed insurrection.

An insurrection of the masses, gentlemen of the bench, is not made: it accomplishes itself. It is the result of social relations, not the product of a plan. It cannot be created; it can be foreseen. For reasons which depended on us as little as they did on Tsardom, an open conflict became inevitable. It drew closer day by day. To prepare for it meant, for us, doing everything possible to minimise the casualties of this inevitable conflict.

Did we think that for this purpose we had first of all to lay in stocks of arms, prepare a plan of military operations, assign the participants of the rising to particular places, divide the town up into sectors — in other words, do all the things which the military authorities do in anticipation of “disorders,” when they divide Petersburg up into sectors, appoint colonels in charge of each sector and equip them with a certain number of machine guns and ammunition? No, that is not how we interpreted our role. To prepare for an inevitable insurrection — and, gentlemen of the court, we never prepared an insurrection as the prosecution thinks and says; we prepared for an insurrection — meant to us, first and foremost, enlightening the people, explaining to them that open conflict was inevitable, that all that had been given to them would be taken away again, that only might can defend right, that a powerful organisation of the working masses was necessary, that the enemy had to be met head on, that the struggle had to be continued to the end, that there was no other way. That is what preparing for an insurrection meant to us.

Under what conditions did we think an insurrection might lead us to victory? The condition of the army's sympathy. The first requisite was to bring the army over to our side. To force the soldiers to recognise the shameful role they were playing, to persuade them to work with the people and for the people — that was the first task we set ourselves.

I have already said that the November strike, a disinterested impulse of direct fraternal solidarity with the sailors under threat of the death penalty, also had tremendous political significance in that it drew the army's sympathetic attention towards the proletariat. That is where the prosecutor should have looked for preparations for armed insurrection.

But, of course, a demonstration of sympathy and protest could not, by itself, settle the matter. Under what conditions, then, did we think — and do we think now — that the army can be expected to pass over to the side of revolution? What is the prerequisite for this? Machine guns and rifles? Of course, if the working masses possessed machine guns and rifles they would wield great power. Such power would even largely remove the inevitability of an insurrection. The undecided army would lay down its arms at the feet of the armed people. But the masses did not, do not, and cannot possess arms in large quantities. Does that mean that the masses are doomed to defeat? No, it does not. However important weapons are, it is not in weapons that the most essential strength lies. No, not in weapons. Not the capacity of the masses to kill, but their great readiness to die, that, gentlemen of the court, is what we believe ensures, in the last count, the success of a people's rising.

When the soldiers, sent out into the streets to repress the masses, find themselves face to face with the masses and discover that this crowd, the people, will not leave the streets until it has got what it wants; that it is prepared to pile corpses upon corpses; when they see and are convinced that the people have come out to fight in earnest, to the end — then the soldiers' hearts will falter, as they have always done in all revolutions, for they will be forced to doubt the stability of the order which they serve, they will be forced to believe in the triumph of the people.

It is customary to connect the idea of an insurrection with barricades. Even leaving aside the fact that barricades may loom too large in our notion of a popular rising, we should not forget that a barricade — clearly a mechanical element in the rising — plays, above all, a moral role. In every revolution, the significance of barricades is not at all the same as that of fortresses in a battle. A barricade is not just a physical obstacle. The barricade serves the cause of insurrection because, by creating a temporary barrier to the movement of troops, it brings them into close contact with the people. Here, at the barricades, the soldier hears — perhaps for the fist time in his life — the talk of ordinary honest people, their fraternal appeals, the voice of the people's conscience; and, as a consequence of such contact between citizens and soldiers, military discipline disintegrates and disappears. This ensures a popular rising. And this is and only this, the victory of why, in our opinion, a popular rising has been “prepared,” not when the people have been armed with rifles and guns — for in that case it would never be prepared — but when it is armed with readiness to die in open street battle.

But, of course, the old besieged power, seeing the growth of this great feeling, this readiness to die for the interests of one's country, to give one's life for the happiness of future generations, seeing the masses becoming contaminated by such an enthusiasm as it could never feel or understand for itself — it could not calmly watch the moral regeneration of the people taking place before its eyes. To look on passively would have meant, for the Tsarist government, to let itself be scrapped. That much was clear. What, then, could it do? It had to fight the political self-determination of the people with its last forces, with every means at its disposal. The ignorant army, the Black Hundreds, the secret police, the corrupt press, all had to be sent into action. To set people against one another, to cover the streets in blood, to loot, rape, burn, create panic, lie, cheat and slander, that is what the old, criminal power had to do. And it did these things and is still doing them to this day. If an open conflict was inevitable, it was certainly not we but our mortal enemies who sought to bring it closer.

You have heard here many times that the workers in October and November armed themselves against the Black Hundreds. If one knew nothing of what is happening outside this courtroom it would seem totally incomprehensible how, in a revolutionary country where the vast majority of the population supports the ideals of liberation, where the popular masses openly show their determination to fight to the end, how, in such a country, hundreds of thousands of workers can arm themselves to fight the Black Hundreds who represent a small and insignificant part of the population. Are they, then, so dangerous, these outcasts of society, this scum, whatever their social position? No, of course they are not. The problem would be small if it were only the pitiful gangs of the Black Hundreds that stood in the people's way. But we have heard, not only from the lawyer Bramson who appeared as a witness, but also from hundreds of workers who testified here, that the Black Hundreds are backed by a large number of government aut horities, if not by all of them; that behind the gangs of thugs who have nothing to lose and who stop at nothing — neither an old man's grey hairs, nor a helpless woman, nor a child — there stand agents of the government who undoubtedly organise and arm the Black Hundreds out of the funds of the state budget.

And, finally, did we not know this before the present trial? Did we not read the papers? Did we not hear the reports of eye witnesses, did we not receive letters, did we see nothing with our own eyes? Were we not aware of Prince Urusov’s shattering disclosures? But the prosecution does not believe any of it. It cannot believe it, for if it did it would have to direct its accusations against those whom today it is defending; it would have to admit that a Russian citizen who arms himself with a revolver against the police is acting in the interests of necessary self-defence. But whether the prosecution believes or not in the pogrom activities of the powers-that-be is ultimately unimportant. For this court it is sufficient that we believe in them, that the hundreds of thousands of workers who armed themselves at our call were convinced of them. We believed beyond any doubt that the powerful hand of the ruling clique guides the picturesque activities of the Black Hundreds. Gentlemen of the court, we can see that sinister hand even now.

The prosecution invites us to admit that the Soviet armed the workers for the struggle against the existing “form of government.” If I am categorically asked whether this was so, I shall answer: Yes! Yes, I am willing to accept this accusation, but on one condition only. I do not know if the prosecution and the court will accept my condition.

Let me ask: what does the prosecution mean by “form of government”? Do we really have a form of government? For a long time past the government has not been supported by the nation but only by its military-police-Black Hundreds apparatus. What we have is not a national government but an automaton for mass murder. I can find no other name for the government machine which is tearing into parts the living body of our country. If you tell me that the pogroms, the murders, the burnings, the rapes . if you tell me that everything that happened in Tver, Rostov, Kursk, Siedlee… if you tell that Kishinev, Odessa, Bialystok are the form of government of the Russian Empire — then I will agree with the prosecution that in October and November last we were arming ourselves, directly and immediately, against the form of government of the Russian Empire.