Victor Serge

Year One of the Russian Revolution

V – Summary of the First Months

Written: 1925–1928, Vienna, Leningrad, Dietskoye Seloe.
First Published: L’An 1 de la révolution russe, 1930.
This Version: New International, Vol. XIV No. 7, September 1948, pp. 220–1.
Translation: Dan Eastman.
Transcription: Ted Crawford.
Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The facts presented in this chapter suggest several theoretical observations.

(1) The workers’ and peasants’ revolution completed its first period in January – completed its triumphal march through the country. Everywhere from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean the masses hailed, defended, and extended the revolution irresistibly. The victory was complete, but it ran up against two belligerent imperialist coalitions – the Central Powers and the Allies. The civil war was to continue, or rather flare up again with the support of foreign intervention. Victorious internally, the revolution came face to face with a capitalist world.

The internal victories of the revolution under different conditions at Petrograd, at the Stavka, in the Urals, the Don, the Kuban, in Bessarabia, the Crimea, etc., were astonishingly easy, despite the stubborn resistance of certain elements. The reasons for this facile conquest were evident: the revolution was the work of the most active, the most powerful, and the best-armed section of the population, the majority of the workers and soldiers. Besides, the revolution benefited from the sympathy of the majority of the peasantry. This remarkable unanimity resulted from the concurrence of the bourgeois revolution, which attracted the rural masses by suppressing the feudal landowners, with the beginning of the proletarian revolution. The proletariat consciously finished the work begun by the bourgeoisie in its struggle with the old order for a free capitalist development.

Having finished this work, the proletariat naturally went further, but at a slower pace. The impossibility of wielding power without owning the means of production became evident only later, in the course of the struggle with the bourgeoisie. The great nationalization decrees came several months later as a result of the civil war, rather than as a planned transition to socialism. Reality overweighed theory, overweighed the proletarian policy which foresaw a more rational and less hasty and brutal conquest of the means of production.

(2) For fear of the proletariat, the Russian bourgeoisie was unable to complete its own revolution, that is, to satisfy the peasants by sacrificing the feudal landowners, and this was one of the main causes of its defeat. For fear of the peasantry, it deferred calling the Constituent Assembly under Kerensky and made a bloc with the landowners, the most reactionary class in Russian society, By following after the big bourgeoisie, the petty-bourgeois parties condemned themselves to loss of their popular support. The revolutionary education they had received under the autocracy and the powerful influence on them of the proletariat restrained these parties from falling far enough under the direct influence of the bourgeoisie to support it without reserve. Victimized by their own democratic illusions they tried to follow an independent policy and to found a democratic republic on the French model.

The Bourgeoisie and the Petty Bourgeoisie Separated

More far-sighted and better aware of the strength of the workers, the big bourgeoisie wanted a class dictator, Kornilov. But at the last moment they lost the support of the petty bourgeoisie and left to their own small numbers – as usual there was an enormous disproportion between the number of Russian capitalists and their economic power – the Russian bourgeoisie was doomed to defeat. From November 1917 until spring of 1918 it seemed to be completely vanquished and without forces. It had no leader, no consistent policy, and no serious party. It was completely disorganized. At best a few thousand men, mostly officers led by generals, took up the desperate task of its defense.

The terrified bourgeoisie in the capitals did not even have sense enough to lend any worthwhile support to the armies of Kaledin, Alexeyev and Kornilov, who, being mistrusted by the democratic middle classes, lost every battle to the Red Guard. The ease with which they were defeated can be largely attributed to the refusal of the “advanced” petty bourgeoisie to support them.

The division between the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie laid bare the powerlessness of the capitalists and landowners when left to themselves. Once overcome, they were unable to re-establish themselves by their own unassisted efforts.

(3) So true was the last that a curious regroupment of social forces took place: the bourgeoisie began to follow the petty bourgeoisie, instead of vice versa, as the latter came into sharper conflict with the proletariat.

During the insurrection, the urban petty bourgeoisie, led by socialists, defiantly rallied to the counter-revolution. The rural petty bourgeoisie, composed of middle and rich peasants who were pacified by the land decree, did not follow this movement. After its defeat, the petty bourgeoisie still believed itself revolutionary in its hatred for czarism, its love of democracy, and clung its governmental illusions without daring to try another passage at arms; the experiences of the period from the end of October to the early part of November were too decisive. The failure of the Constituent Assembly was a register of the total political incapacity of the middle classes [1] and confirms our conviction that the only two classes which can decide the destiny of modern society are the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.



1. On this subject Trotsky, wrote in The October Revolution, 1918): “Who would have supported a ministry formed by the majority of the Constituent Assembly? The upper rural classes, the intellectuals and the officials would have lined up behind such a government: at times it would have had the support from the right of the bourgeoisie. But such a government would have had none of the material apparatus of power. In the political centers such as Petrograd it would run up against insurmountable resistance. If under these conditions the Soviets had submitted to the formal logic of democratic institutions and handed over to the party of Chernov and Kerensky, this compromised and futile government would have troubled the political life of the country momentarily only to be overthrown by a new insurrection at the end of a few weeks” – V.S.

Last updated on: 2 August 2018