From International Socialism, No.54, January 1973, p.25.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, £4.95
In many ways Trotsky’s writings on the revolution of 1905 are more important than his best known work on 1917. Chiefly because it was in the wake of 1905 that Trotsky’s decisive contribution to Marxism (the theory of Permanent Revolution) was evolved. Thus while 1905 does not have the breadth of the History of the Russian Revolution it has a theoretical unity coupled with a dramatic narrative which make the work an outstanding contribution to Marxist historical writing.
It was here that Trotsky first outlined the role of the proletariat in the backward countries:
‘... the proletariat has taken over the petty bourgeoisie’s historical role as played in the previous revolutions, and also its historical claims to leadership over the peasant masses.’
Particularly interesting in the light of the Stalinist counter revolution and the social nature of Russia after 1930 are Trotsky’s descriptions of the pre-revolutionary bureaucracy, the centralisation and autocracy of the state machine, and his remarks on the peasantry:
‘The agrarian problem in Russia is a heavy burden to capitalism: it is an aid to the revolutionary party and at the same time its greatest challenge: it is the stumbling block for liberalism, and a memento mori for counter-revolution.’
Apart from its theoretical importance 1905 nails a number of slanders of Stalinist and capitalist historians. Trotsky the Menshevik nowhere appears in these pages, indeed what is clear is the uncompromising refutation of the Menshevik view of 1905. Of course the attack on Lenin’s conception of the Russian Revolution (in the essay Our Differences) appears, and its relative correctness is also apparent.
This book is important finally in the power of its description, the clarity of its polemic. The drama of the November strike, the fight for the eight-hour day, the trial of the Soviet and Trotsky’s escape from Siberia are described in turn with drama, ferocity and at the end, humour. The translator has done an excellent job here. In this respect Trotsky is better served than Lenin, who is at the mercy of the Kremlin’s tired hacks.
The price of the book leaves much to be desired. It is worth pointing out that an American paperback edition exists at under half the price.
Last updated on 12.1.2008