G. Zinoviev

The Immortal in the Russian Revolution

(7 November 1922)

Source: International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 96, 7 November 1922, pp. 741–743.
On-line Publication: Zinoviev Internet Archive, January 2021.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The periodical La Commune, one of the most important periodicals at the time of the Paris Commune wrote with reference to the revolt of the Paris Communards, that it was not a question of the “Republic” but of the “Revolution”. This was an unusually acute observation. These words are the more remarkable as they were written on the 31st of March 1871, i.e., two weeks after the commencement of the revolt. Yes, that was not the “Republic” but the Revolution; it was not a bourgeois republican uprising, but the beginning of the Proletarian Revolution. It was a movement which in its depth and in its historical significance for the first time merited the name of Revolution.

If that was true with regard to the Paris Commune, it is so much the more true with regard to our Russian Revolution. When we summarize the results of the first five years of the Soviet Power, we must with pride apply the words of the Paris periodical to our Revolution: with us in Russia it is not a question of the Republic, but of the Revolution.

“Tradition was overthrown. Something unexpected happened in the world. Not a single member of the ruling classes sat in the government.” Thus was the Paris Commune characterized by Arthur Arnault. And P.L. Lavrov wrote in his celebrated book on the Paris Commune.

“The Revolution of 1871 decided for the first time in history, to place at its head ‘unknown men’ from out of the people. The Paris Commune of the year 1871 was the first organization of society at whose head there stood Frankl, Varlin and other manual laborers. And in spite of all imperfections and failings in the rule of the Commune, they proved, that the working class can provide men capable of carrying out the functions of society; men who not only discharge their functions so worse than the functionaries from the intelligentsia – who up to now have looked upon administration as their specialty ... In comparison with the decrees of Parliaments and Ministers, which are carefully drawn up by experienced statesmen, the legislation of the Commune scarcely merits any censure. The Bookbinders, the locksmiths, the gold-workers have proven themselves to be as well qualified in these things as the pupils of Lyceums md Colleges who have grown up among statesmen and politicians. I he Paris Commune during its short existence finally destroyed the illusion, that bourgeois education could give any priority for the filling of public positions ... The great March days of 1871 were the first days in which the proletariat not only achieved a revolution, but in which it also stood at its head. This was the first revolution of the proletariat.

These words of Arnault and Lavrov speak of what is immortal in the Paris Commune.

With so much greater right then, can our great Russian Revolution apply these words to itself. The difference between the Paris Commune and the Russian Revolution is the difference between the child and the full grown man. The Paris Commune lived 72 days and died in the blood of its best sons. The victorious revolution in Russia is celebrating its fifth anniversary in a situation which fully guarantees that the hardest times are behind us and that the final victory of the working class is assured.

The great Russian Revolution has also created many transient and incidental things. Such a great river which raises such high waves will throw mud and dirt and rotting corpses on the shore. But the Russian Revolution has also accomplished many things which are eternal and immortal beyond dispute.

The immortal of our Revolution consists before all in that it has transformed the masses of the people. Our great Revolution is great because it has annihilated the fetish of the bourgeois state. The great storm of the Revolution has swept away all the remains of that mysticism which in the eyes of the “lower” masses, envelopes the secret of state power. The working masses of Russia saw with their own eyes how a state is made and how a government is brought about. And whatever hard fate was alloted to our working masses during these five years, one feeling remained in them vital and unchanged: the masses felt themselves to be creators of their new power, as subjects and not as mere objects of the state power.

For five years, “unknown men” have ruled that sixth portion of the earth’s surface known as Russia. “The locksmiths and the bookbinders” hold the power in their hands, in the factories and workshops, in the mines, on the railways, in the districts, counties and provinces (of which many are as large as a whole state), and in the whole of Russia.

What gnashing of teeth there was on the occasion of the well known statement of Lenin that the proletarian revolution will make any kitchen maid capable of governing a state. Look around you, you doubting Thomasses! Is not this prophesy being fulfilled? Are there no manual workers today ruling our state? Of whom do our Soviets consist of if not of manual workers.

But there are no Soviets in Russia – we hear the Mensheviks and other followers of the bourgeoisie on all the street corners shout Your Soviets are only fiction! ...

Have we then no Soviets? They say this to us because our Soviets do not resemble the bourgeois parliaments. Are there no Soviets? They say that to us in the fifth year of the Soviet Power when the Soviets have permeated the flesh and blood of the people.

There are no Soviets!

This gentry may look at the last elections for the Petrograd Soviets where, in this great reviving proletarian city, there was not a single worker, not a single working woman, not a single daily wage worker, not a single kitchen maid, not a solitary youthful worker, who had not in one way or another taken part in the election of the Soviet.

What is immortal in the Russian Revolution consists in this that the masses of the people, millions and tens of millions of workers have been transformed from objects of the State into its creators. It is just this fact which created a new Russia, opened up infinite sources of human energy, educated a new generation of youth, and evoked in our workers such courage and daring as the world never saw before. In former revolutions the thrones of the Tsars were not seldom shaken; but with us in Russia the throne of the bourgeoisie was for the first time overthrown. For the first time in the history of mankind there stands the 5-year-old Revolution, (not bourgeois republic), alive and growing.

In many countries with an advanced labor movement, in Europe and America, the workers are more educated and stand on a higher cultural level than our Russian workers. But our Russian proletarians on the fifth anniversary of the Soviet Power have an enormous advantage over their brothers, the workers of the rest of the world. The advantage is this that our workers possess the practical experience of the first proletarian revolution. They not only saw how the revolution was made, but they made it themselves. In thia sense we stand a head taller than all the rest of the workers of the world. In the glance of the backward Russian weaver, or of the unskilled worker, in the glance of the most unskilled apprentice who has not yet left the vocational school you could easily see – if you would but look – a little spark which does not exist and which cannot exist in the proletarians of those countries which have not yet made their proletarian revolution. This “something”, this spark, was born of the victory of the Proletarian Revolution. This “something” expresses the whole realism of the great revolutionary years, and the whole heroism of the gigantic events of these sacred years. They saw everything, they lived through everything and they vanquished the bourgeoisie, – they, the sorrow-laden Russian working men and women. In this sense our Russian workers are more mature than the workers of the whole bourgeois world. But that does not mean that after some time the workers of the advanced countries will not overtake the Russian proletariat in many fields, – after they have vanquished their bourgeoisie.

Only those who have machines where their hearts ought to be cannot see the immortal in the Russian Revolution.

And this practical experience also makes the Russian proletariat the advance guard of the international labor movement. It is this that in a few years gave the Russian workers the power to become the leaders of the whole Communist International.

Who serves whom? Soviet Russia the world revolution, or the world revolution Soviet Russia? Does the Soviet Power serve the Communist International or the Communist International the Soviet Power? Our enemies never cease to interest themselves in this question, some of them “elaborate” this theme more or less from calumnious intentions, others from simple stupidity. You wise heads? Which serves which? The foundation of a house – the roof, or the roof – the foundation. Ponder over this riddle?

A small but in its nature a great practical experience of the Paris Commune renders the revolt of the Paris Communards immortal, in that they showed to the workers of the whole world for the first time, how the bourgeoisie is to be overthrown. The sublime five years experience of the Bolshevik Revolution renders immortal the revolt of the Russian workers on an incomparably greater scale. The Russian proletarian revolution – whatever the sceptics and incredulous may say – lives in the hearts of the workers of the whole world, it is their model, their summons to fight, their hope and guiding star.

To put it quite shortly: The immortal in the Russian Revolution consists in the fact that it is the beginning of the World Revolution.

Last updated on 7 January 2021