THE War broke the workers' revolutionary movement in Russia just as it was reviving. Its power and energy had been revealed by strikes and barricade fighting in St. Petersburg during M. Poincare's visit in July 1914. As everywhere else, mobilisation and the state of war stifled at first all tendencies to open opposition. The policy of the great socialist parties of the belligerent countries in rallying to the "union sacree" caused profound disturbance in the various strata of Russian socialism.
Nevertheless, Mensheviks and Bolsheviks in the Duma agreed without difficulty on a common declaration, though in equivocal terms, refusing to vote war credits. Their rapprochement was soon ended by the differences between the emigre theorists.
Plekhanov, influenced by Jules Guesde, adopted the patriotic point of view in favour of the Allies as champions of democratic progress against the reactionary Central Empires. Thus he broke irretrievably with the socialist revolution. This was also the attitude of many Social-Democrats, especially among the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries. Some Bolsheviks, won over by the general state of mind in France, joined the army as volunteers. Even anarchists, following the example of Kropotkin, to whom the heritage of the French Revolution appeared to be menaced by "German militarism," put the necessity of an Entente victory before their anarchist principles.
But Lenin, opposed to "defensism," immediately declared for "defeatism" in its extreme form, unconditional and pushed to its final consequences. In his Social-Democrat, his pamphlets, his manifestoes, he characterised the world struggle as a "war of capitalist brigandage," a "war between slaveholders for the division of the slaves and the strengthening of their chains," a "war between slave-raiders in dispute over their 'cattle.' " From this standpoint he urged the socialists of each country to contribute to the defeat of their own Government, to encourage fraternisation on all fronts, to "transform the Imperialist War into a Civil War." With Rosa Luxemburg and Martov he had secured the adoption at the International Socialist Congress at Stuttgart in 1907 of a motion for "utilising the economic and political crisis engendered by war for agitation among the lowest stratum of the population and to precipitate the fall of capitalist domination"; he took the resolution seriously, not retreating from what he had then proposed. In any case the defeat of Russia, that is to say, of Tsarism, was in his eyes the "lesser evil."
Alone in holding a point of view so definite and so directly contrary to any other, he called the "defensists" the "Tsar's Socialists" as Marx had called the followers of Lassalle, "Socialists of the King of Prussia," and, joining battle on the European arena, he denounced the bankruptcy of the Workers' International, abused all the patriotic socialists as traitors, condemned the socialist pacifists and the platonic internationalists as being stained with chauvinism and more or less conscious accomplices of the former. For him real solidarity of the proletariat implied hostility to national defence under the given conditions, without distinction of camps, and demanded revolt both against war and the bourgeois regime. Finally he demanded the foundation of a new International. Throughout the War he continued to develop these themes, which separated him for ever from all other socialists. But he persisted no less in declaring himself an incorruptible democrat: "Socialism is impossible without democracy, in two senses; (I) the proletariat cannot accomplish the socialist revolution if it is not prepared for it by the struggle for democracy; (2) Socialism victorious cannot maintain its victory and lead humanity to the extinction of the State unless it fully realises democracy."
Between the two extremes of "defensism" and "defeatism" there were many intermediate stages of opinion. Trotsky and Martov, with most of the leading personalities in revolutionary internationalismRosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, Franz Mehring, Rakovsky and Riazanovdeclared against national defence, but in favour of a peace without victors or vanquished; they had no intention of breaking with socialists like Kautsky, who remained verbally faithful to the common principles, while adopting a practical compromise with the partisans of the "union sacree." Trotsky supported the demand for a peace without reparations or annexations, with national self-determination, and sketched the outline of a United States of Europe. Lenin mercilessly attacked these "Centrists" of all shades and harassed them with criticism and appeals; he reproached them with hesitation, equivocation, eclecticism, and compromise, though for tactical reasons he spared Rosa Luxemburg and praised the exemplary courage of Liebknecht. He was uncompromising in regard to Trotsky above all, precisely because Trotsky was politically so close to him.
As for Stalin, it was impossible to know what he was thinking during these years of exile. Deprived of Lenin's guidance, did he share the ideas of his leader? The gap in his biography, the complete absence of documentation, the disappearance of every vestige of correspondence or signs of intellectual activity on his part are significant. In this connection and from the Bolshevik standpoint which Stalin claimed to represent, Trotsky was justified in asking for a reckoning:
It is impossible that in four years Stalin should have written nothing on the essential question of the War, of the International, or of the revolution.... It is clearly true that if a single line of Stalin's had advocated the necessity of "defeatism" or the need for a new International, that line would long since have been printed, photographed, translated into all languages and enriched by learned commentaries by Academies and Institutes. But such a line is not to be found.
Stalin has not only suppressed his writings of this period, but sees to it that they are not brought forward by anyone else. In the voluminous collection Katorga y Ssylka (Fortress and Deportation), a review devoted to former prisoners and political exiles, whose pages are open to the slightest recollections of the survivors of the Tsarist terror, especially if they can mention an important personage, Stalin's name does not occur.
Other historical publications, full of documents and memoirs, fail to mention him. The case is unique in Russia, and justifies the most unfavourable deductions.
In default of political indications, there is a reticent statement on Stalin in Siberia by his comrade in exile, Sverdlov, one of the principal non-emigre Bolsheviks. According to letters of his published before Stalin's rigorous personal censorship was imposed, relations soon became difficult between the two exiles at Kureyka. They lived in the same peasant's hut and hunted together. At first Sverdlov liked Stalin as "a good companion, but found him too individualist in daily intercourse." Soon "we knew one another too well," he wrote; "in exile and prison conditions the naked man appears in all his meanness." They ended by separating, and saw less and less of one another. Sverdlov got a transfer to another place in the district; without exactly formulating grievances against Stalin, his correspondence shows the latter as impossible to live with.
Stalin ended by being isolated, occasionally seeing, and that at long intervals, Spandarian, an Armenian Bolshevik who has not published any memoirs. One of his present subordinates, Shumiatsky, who was an exile in the same colony, describes him as a "defeatist" from the first, and in a pamphlet on Turukhansk he has described the solitary hunter and fisherman equipped with a variety of nets, hawks, guns, traps, snares and baskets. · · "He cut wood, cooked his food, and found time to work at his writings." These must be the writings which Trotsky asked for so insistently. But Sverdlov says he does not even know whether Stalin did the least bit of intellectual work in exile.
A letter from Lenin in November 1915 which asks for Koba's real name shows that if Stalin's name was forgotten his strong personality was not. Perhaps the question concerned some scheme of escape. But a careful watch was kept on the Kureyka trapper. In 1917 Sverdlov mentions twenty exiles in the district who were called up for military service; Stalin was on the list but the infirmity in his left arm saved him.
Russia must have been in great straits for men before avowed revolutionaries were summoned to the army where they would certainly preach indiscipline. More than fifteen millions of men had been mobilised. But the losses were disastrous; want of arms and munitions, an inadequate munitions industry, disintegrated transport, fraud in provisioning the army, incapacity in the High Command, bureaucratic paralysis, and administrative corruption, drove the army to slaughter. In 1917 the dead already numbered two million and a half; there were three million wounded and prisoners. Hospitals and ambulance stations were overflowing with the sick. Waste of human life could not compensate for the moral and material inferiority of the troops, the disorder and debauchery in the rear.
The longer the War went on, the less comprehensible were its aims to the people who were its victims. Patriotic enthusiasm was dead, suspicion haunted the regiments renewed after each defeat, irritation and despair preyed on the exhausted soldiers, "blind martyrs," weary of fighting with bayonets against machine-guns and urged on by flogging; there were more than a million deserters and mutineers in 1917.
At home the position of the autocracy was no better; the fall in agricultural production due to the successive levies of millions of adult labourers, the deterioration of the railways, the requirements of the armies, profiteering and blockade little by little paralysed the provisioning of the towns. Fuel and raw material were lacking in the factories, most of which were on war work. Anarchy in the administration prevented any rational utilisation of resources. In the Zemstvos and in various charitable organisations, "enlightened society" tried in vain to make good the State failures. Depreciation of the rouble and the rise in prices reduced wages, and made life more and more difficult for the workers who were driven to strike in self-defence. Statistics show an increasing number of strikes; police reports give reiterated warnings of revolution. Exasperation in the army was matched with general hostility to Tsarism.
At the same time, Court scandals and the blind policy of the reigning camarilla, shook the last supports of the regime. The degenerate sovereigns, surrounded by adventurers, charlatans and madmen, dominated by a drunken and lascivious monk, discouraged their most faithful servants. In spite of the most disinterested advice and the most alarming symptoms, Nicholas II defended the stupid measures of his chosen Ministers against the wishes of a Duma, which was itself a reactionary body. In vain the parties of the Right loyally denounced "occult forces," corruption and treason in the ruling cliques. Even members of the Imperial family resigned themselves to participation in palace plots to depose the Tsar to save the monarchy. Grand-Dukes and generals were preparing coups d'e'tat. The assassination of Rasputin was merely a sinister auxiliary operation. The intrigues of the Germanophile aristocratic clique in favour of a separate peace with Germany drove the nationalist bourgeoisie to carry out their preventive planthe abdication of the Tsar and the installation of a regency.
But catastrophe was to overtake "His Majesty's Opposition in their interminable preparations. At the beginning of 1917, cold and hunger brought popular discontent to a climax and forced events. Bread was scarce in St. Petersburg in February. The workers struck again and again, women provoked street demonstrations, the army hesitated to obey orders against the demonstrators, and then joined resolutely in the movement of protest, as the French Guard did in 1789; insurrection was in being. In "a hundred hours" absolutism, which found practically no defenders, was irresistibly swept away. The servile Duma, overwhelmed, was compelled to form a provisional government. On the same day the Workers' Soviet, soon extended by the admission of the soldiers, was improvised in the capital. Two rival authorities marshalled themselves simultaneously on the ruins of the old regime, which had tumbled to pieces almost without a struggle under the pressure of practically the whole population. The insurrection cost less than fifteen hundred victims, including wounded. The provinces unanimously followed the capital.
Of the Commune in 1871 Benoit Malon has observed: "Never had revolution surprised the revolutionaries more." Once more the revolution had begun without the help of professional revolutionaries. No socialist party had urged or guided the masses in revolt. The principal deputies, from Rodzianko to Chkheidze, with Guchkov, Miliukov and Kerensky between the two extremes, submitted in their various fashions to the accomplished fact. The Petrograd proletariat, left to its own devices, instinctively realised the first elements of success by fraternising with the peasant soldiery. Of their own accord they took by assault the police offices and forced open the doors of the prisons. Their elite, veterans of the 1905 struggle, though they were matured by continuous activity, had small training in socialism, and needed outside direction in the chaos. Deprived of their recognised leaders, either deported or in exile, they abandoned the nominal power to the privileged classes, to the partisans of constitutional monarchy preoccupied with the maintenance of the dynasty to safeguard their own privileges. Kerensky, a recent convert to the Social Revolutionary Party, a typical representative of the confused ideas of a transitional period, was the "hostage of democracy" in the Provisional Government of which Miliukov was the governing spirit. The Petrograd Soviet did not dare to assert its pre-eminence or even demand a republic. But this voluntary effacement did not deprive it of the effective hegemony which was assured to it by the confidence of the armed workmen and above all of the soldiers, its sworn defenders. Prikaz No. 1 had put the army at its disposal. The dyarchy, a singular combination of two powers, immediately developed into a sullen antagonism of irreconcilable forces.
The transformation of the imperialist War into civil war, was brought about, as Lenin said, by the logic of circumstances, not by propaganda. Neither Bolshevik appeals nor any other reached the Russian people. "Defeatism," widely spread during the Crimean War and still more in the course of the Manchurian campaign, found less direct echo this time in the people and in the army where it was vaguely latent. Seconded by his wife, Krupskaya, and by his adjutant, Zinoviev, Lenin inspired in Switzerland an intransigent isolated group, without offshoots. At the international conferences of Zimmerwald (1915) and Kienthal (1916) summoned by the Swiss and Italian Socialist parties, he formed a little group of intellectuals known as "the Left," opponents of all pacifism, and of any conciliation with the official International. No workers' group supported his effort, unknown outside a very narrow circle of international revolutionaries. Alone, he repudiated the appellation of Social-Democrat to substitute that of Communist. Alone, he wished to create without delay a Third International. Alone, in accordance with Clausewitz's maxim on war, "the continuation of politics by other means," and in agreement with the Marxian formula of force as the "accoucheur of society in labour," he regarded civil war as the inevitable prolongation of the policy of the class struggle. But his hopes dwindled and a month before the February Revolution he ended a speech at Zurich on this sad note: "We, the older ones, will not perhaps live to see the decisive battles of the coming revolution...."
He was in correspondence with the docile group of Duma Bolsheviks, all five imprisoned or exiled. The Central Committee of the Party had only one representative, himself, at liberty, unless Zinoviev is included. Of seven members of the Bolshevik Committee at Petrograd, three were discovered to be police agents, who sabotaged all its work.
The agent provocateur, Malinovsky, was then in Germany in a prisoners' camp, where he was lecturing on the Erfurt socialist programme. A few copies of the works of Lenin and Zinoviev, afterwards published under the title Against the Current, were brought in through Scandinavia. Cut off from their master, his disciples were lost. They were hardly distinguishable from other revolutionaries in the first enthusiasms of the revolution. The Petrograd Pravda, edited by modest militants, Molotov and Shliapnikov, had difficulty in striking out a line of its own, though it tried to show how Left it was by printing old sayings of Lenin's dating from 1905. The Social-Democrat, at Irkutsk, published articles by Ordjonikidze, Yaroslavsky and Petrovsky, whose Bolshevism closely resembled Menshevism. In the provinces many Social-Democratic groups incorporated the two sections.
The revolution took the revolutionaries unawares, though they had long foreseen its imminence, just as war had surprised the socialists, though they had announced and denounced it long before. Lenin rapidly recovered his wits. At the beginning he telegraphed to his friends from Zurich to put forward the modest demand for immediate elections to the Petrograd municipality. His programme contained three fundamental demands: a democratic republic, the eight-hour day, confiscation of the large landed estatesidentical with the Menshevik demands. He confirmed his 1914 utterance: "We desire at all costs a Great Russia proud, republican, democratic, independent and free, which, in her relations with her neighbours, will apply the human principle of equality, not the feudal principle of privilege." But he was soon adjuring his followers to refuse confidence to the Provisional Government, to oppose the policy of the leaders of the Petrograd Soviet in that matter. His Letters from Afar, sent from Switzerland, dealing with the "first stage of the first revolution" to issue from the War, speak of the Soviet as the "embryo of a Workers' Government" and conclude by urging the necessity of conquering the Democratic Republic, "as a step towards socialism."
Trotsky looked at the situation as it developed in much the same fashion. He was opposed to "defeatism," which he regarded as nationalism turned inside out, to the call for civil war, preferring a call for peace, and to the extreme policy of schism practised by the Bolsheviks, but he nevertheless foresaw the course of events dimly discerned by Lenin. He had broken with Martov, who was too hesitating for him. He had published in Paris, under various titles, an internationalist paper which came up against the censorship, and led to his expulsion from France. This was after he had been convicted in Germany for a revolutionary pamphlet and before he was forced to leave Spain, where the secret police pursued him vindictively. Many Bolsheviks saw no difference between his attitude and Lenin's: "The Social-Democrat published by Lenin and Zinoviev in Switzerland, the Paris Goloss suppressed by the French police and changed into Nashe Slovo, directed by Trotsky, will be for the future historian of the Third International the essential elements from which was forged the revolutionary ideology of the international proletariat," wrote Manuilsky, a Bolshevik of the Left, six years afterwards. After emigrating to America, Trotsky collaborated in the Novy Mir of New York, with a young Bolshevik then unknown, N. Bukharin, and a brilliant convert from Menshevism, Alexandra Kollontai, who had recently joined Lenin. For him, too, events in Russia were a stage towards the socialist revolution, a prelude to social revolution in Europe.
Bolsheviks in Russia had no such bold ideas. Absorbed in action, they shared the collective illusion of a mob drunk with easy victory. From Perm, Lenin received this telegram: "Fraternal greeting. Start to-day for Petrograd. Kamenev, Muranov, Stalin." The liberated exiles were on their way. Lenin was unaware that Kamenev had shortly before signed another telegram, in the name of a popular meeting held in Siberia, congratulating the Grand-Duke Michael on having renounced the throne, pending the decision of the future Constituent Assembly. On their arrival in the capital, Muranov, Kamenev and Stalin, the first three leaders restored to the Bolshevik section, took over the direction of Pravda on their own authority. Stalin, delegated by the Central Committee of his party, that is by himself and a few close comrades, entered the executive committee of the Soviet without erection either by the workers or the soldiers. History drew him from his subterranean activity and gave him the opportunity of working in the light of day.
War incontestably played a great part in the development of our revolution. It materially disorganised absolutism; it disintegrated the army; it emboldened the mass of the inhabitants. But, happily, it did not create the revolution, and that is fortunate, because a revolution born of war is impotent; it is the product of extraordinary circumstances, rests upon exterior forces and shows itself incapable of maintaining the positions conquered.
THESE words of Trotsky's, in Our Revolution, referred to the Revolution of 1905 and to the Russo-Japanese War.
Lenin did not attribute to his Party any imaginary merit; he recognised in the War the determining factor of the revolt of 1917, but without deducing from that connection the impotence of the revolution: "The fire of revolution was fed by the ignorance and terrible sufferings of Russia, by all the conditions created by the War," he said, adding on another occasion: "Our revolution was engendered by the War; without it we should have all the capitalists in the struggle arrayed against us." Later he laid emphasis on the indifference of the mass of the population with regard to frontiers and on the absence of national sentiment: "It was easy to begin the revolution in such a country. It was easier than lifting a pen. But it would be vain to hope to undertake a revolution in a country where capitalism is flourishing without hard work and preparation."
The War made possible the co-operation between workers and peasants which was lacking in 1905. Moreover, it had developed certain industries and accentuated the concentration of the proletariat in Petrograd and Moscow. The gaps created by mobilisation and the immense slaughter were met by a flow of peasants into the large towns. This new uneducated working class, without settled or conservative traditions, but also without technical knowledge or political education, was a blank Sheet of revolutionary temperament for any party capable of interpreting its aspirations, aspirations fundamentally clear but confused in their outward manifestations.
The workers had been claiming for a long time a better Standard of living and democratic privileges; the peasants coveted land in the possession of parasites; the soldiers wanted peace. But these same soldiers were for the most part peasants greedy for land; the workmen were no less interested in peace, the peasants in liberty. Moreover, the oppressed nationalities of the Empire hungered for autonomy and national independence. The mass of the people, unanimous for certain imperious necessities, waited impatiently for the Constituent Assembly to satisfy these vital requirements.
The Provisional Government, representing the interests and ideas of an infinitesimal minority, without contact with the people or experience of power, proved incapable of comprehending the urgency of the popular demands, and still more of beginning to resolve the problems laid down. They neither assured bread for the workers, nor peace for the soldiers, nor the liberty of self-determination to the nationalities. The convocation of the Assembly was fixed for a vague and distant date under the pretext of first passing a model electoral law. The economic crisis grew more and more acute.
The Petrograd Soviet, regarded by the workers as the authentic organ of democracy in spite of its amorphous constitution, and invested by tacit gratitude with prestige over "all the Russias," sought a compromise between "demagogy" and "reaction." Mensheviks were in a majority in the executive. There were only a handful of Bolsheviks. Georgian Social Democracy, with Chkheidze as President from the beginning, and soon with Tseretelli, back from Siberia, and the most influential of the leaders, took the first place once more. On the Executive Committee, unanimous in declaring themselves as Zimmerwaldians, the internationalists Sulihanov and Steklov formed the Left Wing together with little known Bolsheviks, before the advent of Kamenev and Stalin.
In his Notes on the Revolution, prolix but sincere and vivacious, and used by all historians who have dealt with this period, Sukhanov gives in these terms the impression made by Stalin:
Of the Bolsheviks, with the exception of Kamenev, only Stalin figured in the Executive Committee. He was one of the central figures of the Bolshevik Party, and consequently one of the few individuals holding (and still holding) in his hands the fate of the revolution and the State. Why this was so I do not undertake to say: strange are the influences among the higher circles, far removed from the people, irresponsible, and little known! But in any case, as far as Stalin was concerned, there was reason for perplexity. The Bolshevik Party~, in spite of the low level of its "officers' corps," its ignorant and casual rank and file, possesses a number of notable personalities suitable for leadership in its general staff. Stalin, during his meagre activity on the Executive Committee, impressed me, and not me alone, as a colourless personage acting sometimes in a dull and evasive way. In fact there is little more to say about him.
Stalin's role in the Executive Committee left in fact no trace in its minutes or in its archives. But the part he played at the head of the Party is known from articles in Pravda and from the works of Shliapnikov, a Bolshevik militant turned memoir-writer.
After brusquely evicting the management of the paper without taking any notice of the organisation or of the cadres, solely on the strength of his membership in the Central Committee by simple co-optation, Stalin imposed on the Party organ the policy known as "conditional defensism." According to this point of view, the Provisional Government might count on Bolshevik support in so far as its policy conformed to the views of the Menshevik-Social Revolutionary Soviet. Kamenev served as theorist in this volte-face, Muranov defended it as a deputy, and Stalin held the de facto command. This minor coup d'e'tat, very illustrative of "professional revolutionary" methods with regard to the Party, subject to the will of a clandestine clique of management, unknown to all and elected by nobody, roused great indignation among subordinates who had not yet acquired the habit of blind obedience. Shliapnikov describes its first repercussions as follows:
March 15th, the day of the appearance of the first number of the "reformed" Pravda, was a day of rejoicing for the "defensists." The whole of the Tauride Palace, from the members of the Committee of the Duma to the Executive Committee, the heart of revolutionary democracy, was full of the newsthe victory of the moderate, reasonable Bolsheviks over the extremists. Even in the Executive Committee we were met with venomous smiles. It was the first and the only time that Pravda won the praise of "defensists" of the worst type.
In the factories, this number of Pravda produced stupefaction among the adherents of our Party and its sympathisers, and the sarcastic satisfaction of our enemies. In the Petrograd Committee, at the Bureau of the Central Committee and on the staff of Pravda, many questions were received. What was happening? Why had our paper left the Bolshevik policy to follow that of the "defensists"? But the Petrograd Committee was taken unawares, as was the whole organisation, by this coup d'e'tat, and was profoundly displeased, accusing the Bureau of the Central Committee. Indignation in the workers' suburbs was very strong, and when the proletarians learnt that three former directors of Pravda, just come from Siberia, had taken possession of the paper, they demanded their expulsion from the Party.
Especially in the Vyborg quarter, the "reddest" in the capital, the expulsion of Stalin and his two associates was demanded. After violent debates, all three were disavowed and reproved by the superior Party tribunal, and the former staff were reinstated with the addition of some newcomers. The Bolshevik Party was not yet organised on the military model, and the opinion of the rank and file could make itself felt. Warned by his unfortunate first effort in high politics, Stalin thought it prudent to abandon Kamenev, author of the condemned article, and to take a position a little more to the Left, but still not far removed from Menshevism. The formation of a small group more frankly Right Wing made it possible to class him with the "centrists." The truth is that he was for conciliation, as against Bolshevism, before the arrival of Lenin.
According to his On the Road to October Stalin had written so far only three articles. The first, on the Soviets, "upheld the necessity of a democratic republic for all the inhabitants of Russia" (without distinction of class). The second, on the War, proposes "pressure on the Provisional Government" for the opening of peace negotiations (a Menshevik idea). The third, on the conditions of revolutionary victory, enumerates three: the formation of an All-Russian Soviet as the future organ of power, the arming of the workers, and the early convocation of the Constituent Assembly. A fourth article, against Federalism, which appeared immediately after Lenin's arrival, reflects on the subject of nationalities the hesitations and contradictions of Bolshevism, which was definitely hostile to federalism a very short time before imposing it as an indispensable solution.
In fact Stalin was in complete agreement with every statement which committed the Party, as much with the programme article of Pravda repudiating "defeatism," as with the action of the Bolshevik fraction in the Soviet, which joined in the unanimous voting on fundamental questions where their principles demanded that they should keep their distance. The Bolshevik representatives had even approved, at a Soviet Conference at the beginning of April, a resolution supported by Dan, the Menshevik theorist who had returned from Siberia, "not to hamper the Provisional Government"such was their line of conduct. In the provinces, unified Social-Democratic Committees reconciled the "enemy brothers" in the general confusion.
In Switzerland, Lenin raged at the confusion of his fraction under this bad leadership. After his Letters from Afar he wrote in a threatening tone: "Our Party would completely disgrace itself, would commit political suicide if it were lured by such deception ... unqualifiedly condemn ... any connection with those inclining towards Social-Patriotism...." He recalls to a sense of duty Kamenev, his closest comrade and the strongest representative of the state of mind which he condemns, and warns him to be on his guard against all the conciliators, including Stalin. At last, just as his patience was exhausted, he succeeded in returning to Russia, crossing Germany with a group Of emigres, whence the legend of the "sealed car."
The idea was not Lenin's but Martov's. In face of the refusal Of the Governments of London and Paris to allow the political exiles to be repatriated after the revolution, the only possible route was through Germany or Scandinavia. The Swiss Socialists negotiated the journey as an exchange of civil prisoners, and all the proscribed Russian revolutionaries were able to profit by it, including the patriots. Lenin's example was followed by many of his adversaries. Miliukov's journal at the time said politely: "A socialist leader as universally known as Lenin ought to enter the arena, and we can only hail his arrival in Russia, whatever may be our opinion of his political doctrine."
Lenin arrived in the middle of a Bolshevik conference and found his Party completely off the rails. He was "more Left than our Left" wrote Shliapnikov. Alone in his conception of the coming deepening of the Russian Revolution by the dictatorship of the proletariat, in correlation with European revolution, he had to win over to his ideas his own pupils before attempting to convince the masses (even Zinoviev was inclined to join Kamenev and Stalin in the group of "old Bolsheviks" opposed to the intransigent policy of their master). He immediately attacked the position of the provisional directors of the Party, and, published, under his single signature, the April Theses, which became famous in Russia, and formed the point of departure for a new development of Bolshevism.
These theses declared the impossibility of a democratic peace without first overthrowing capitalism; proposed fostering fraternisation among the soldiers at the front; fixed the present moment as the transition towards the seizure of power by the proletariat and the poorer peasants; and advocated the future republic of soviets, the suppression of the police, of the standing army, of a professional civil service, the nationalisation of the land, control of production by the workers, and the fusion of the banks into one undertaking controlled by the State; within the Party itself they proposed a revision of the programme, a change of name and the foundation of a new International. Lenin expounded them at the Bolshevik Conference in session at the time of his arrival.
In this same assembly, Stalin had already defended an absolutely contrary point of view. He imagined a sort of division of functions between the Provisional Government and the proletariat:
Power is divided between two organisations, neither of which has complete power....The Soviet of Workers' and Peasants' Deputies mobilises the forces, and exercises control; the Provisional Government, though reluctantly and with many deviations, consolidates the conquests already realised in fact by the people. Such a situation has its negative as well as its positive side; it is not now to our advantage to force events, or to accelerate the process of detachment from the bourgeois classes, which must inevitably separate themselves from us in the end....
Like the Mensheviks he proposed support of the Provisional Government, "in so far as it consolidates the advance of the revolution." Krestinsky was able to state: "There is no practical difference between Stalin and Voytinsky." The latter was about to join the Mensheviks.
The Conference had before it a resolution of Tseretelli's in favour of Social-Democratic unity. Stalin approved. "We ought to accept. It is indispensable to settle the line of agreement. Unity is possible on the Zimmerwald-Kienthal principles." To the faint objections raised by Molotov, he replied: "We have neither to anticipate nor to prevent differences. Without differences there is no life in the Party. Within the Party we shall overcome our minor disagreements." Lenin appeared in time to upset these proposals by the uncompromising declaration:
Even our own Bolsheviks show confidence in the Government. This can be explained only by the dazing effect of the revolution. It is the death of socialism. You, comrades, have faith in the Government. In that case our ways must part. I would rather be in the minority. One Liebknecht is worth more than a hundred and ten "defensists" of the Steklov and Chkheidze type. If you sympathise with Liebknecht, and extend even one finger (to the "defensists") you are betraying international socialism.
Not only did Lenin refuse any understanding with the Mensheviks, but he resolutely took the offensive by proposing the adoption of the name of Communist Party. "But," he said, "in order to change one's linen one must take off the soiled and put on clean." He imagined socialism to be already in a state of schism in all countries; and thought that the Zimmerwald Left existed in every country. And he cut short the ceremony, congratulations and speeches: "We have done with compliments and resolutions; it is time to get down to work, to proceed to serious business." He again explained his views to an audience composed of both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. There was more laughter than hooting, more scorn than indignation, and the general opinion was that Lenin was ridiculous rather than dangerous. Some thought he was raving; others were glad to see Bolshevism discredited by its chief. Goldenberg, a former Bolshevik, " exclaimed: "Bakunin's place has long been vacant in the Russian Revolution. Now it is occupied by Lenin. We have just listened to the negation of Social-Democratic doctrine and of scientific Marxism. Lenin, leader of our Party, is dead. A new Lenin, an anarchist Lenin, is born."
Stalin stood aloof, but Kamenev, on behalf of the Old Bolsheviks, tried to refute the April Theses, unacceptable because they sought to rush the transformation of the bourgeois revolution into the socialist revolution, and were contrary to the classic formulas of Bolshevism. Lenin replied by indicating the unforeseen circumstances of the situation, especially the duality of power in Russia and the international situation, and by advising revision of the old catchwords. "We are not Blanquists, partisans of the seizure of power by a minority." They had to fight for preponderance in the soviets, to strive to win over the toiling masses.
In vain Kalinin, another supporter of the Kamenev-Stalin group, said shortly afterwards: "I belong to the old school of Leninist Bolsheviks, and I think that the Old Leninism has by no means shown itself inapplicable to the actual situation. I am astounded that Lenin should denounce the Old Bolsheviks as a hindrance to-day." Lenin did not hesitate to attack "these 'Old Bolsheviks,' who more than once have played a sorry part in the history of our Party, stupidly repeating a formula learned by heart, instead of studying the peculiarities of new living reality ."
This formula was "the dictatorship of the workers and peasants," long opposed by Bolsheviks to the "permanent revolution" and the "workers' government" of Trotsky, Parvus and Rosa Luxemburg. Without abjuring it after the event, Lenin thought the hour had come for a further advance: "Bolshevik ideas and slogans have been generally confirmed by history; but, as to the concrete situation, things have turned out to be different, more original, more unique, more multi-coloured than could have been anticipated by anyone."
The occasion seemed to him a suitable one to give the rigid "Old Bolsheviks" a lesson in applied Marxism:
The Marxist must take cognisance of living reality, of the actual facts of the time, and he must not continue clinging to the theory of yesterday, which, like every theory, at the best only outlines the main and general, only approximately embracing the complexity of life. He added: A Marxist must proceed not from the possible, but from the real.
Since the soviets were the organisation of the majority of the people, Lenin declared himself "against any adventurism in the seizure of power by a workers' government, against any Blanquist coup," and in favour of a "conscious intervention of the majority," in the sense of the coming dictatorship of the proletariat, the power of the soviets.
A fortnight later, a radical change of front had taken place, for Lenin's general plan corresponded closely to the rapid development of the situation. Resolutions passed at public meetings everywhere, demanding peace and land, and hostile to the Provisional Government, showed the strength of the popular current opposed to the half-measures, tergiversations, and theoretical subtleties of a temporising socialism. The surrounding atmosphere put an effective pressure on the Party from all sides. Moreover, the Old Bolsheviks were overwhelmed by new young adherents; the organisation had 80,000 members by the time of its conference in the early days of May. Lenin had got his men in hand, imposed his theses, and forced the Right to retreat. Kamenev, Kalinin, Rykov, and Tomsky were wasting their time in defending Old Bolshevism. Kalinin in vain demanded union with the Mensheviks. But Lenin was still absolutely alone in recommending rupture with any indecisive socialist tendency whatever, even with the internationalism of the Zimmerwald majority.
Stalin made haste to submit. At the May conference, he put in a report on the question of nationalities, his special subject, in agreement with Lenin's ideas, in which the main point formulated the recognition of the right of nationalities to separate from the dominating State; he had to meet opposition from the Left, inspired by Rosa Luxemburg, and represented by Dzerzhinsky, Pyatakov and Bukharin, who feared to see the Party declare in favour of regional chauvinism and encourage separatist reactionary tendencies. He confined himself to repeating what Lenin had said. There is nothing in the report to indicate his future.
Seven years later, in a preface to the collection, On the Road to October, Stalin thought it necessary to give retrospective explanations of his political relations with Kamenev, the most un-Bolshevik of the Bolsheviks, who, before the telegram to the Grand-Duke Michael, had already repudiated Leninism at the trial of the Bolshevik deputies to the Imperial Duma. "The first three articles," he wrote cautiously:
... reflect certain hesitations felt by the majority of our Party on the questions of peace and of the power of the soviets; they belong to the period March-April 1917. It was a time of rapid break with old traditions. The earlier platform of the direct overthrow of the Government no longer corresponded with reality.... A new orientation of the Party was required. It is not surprising if the Bolsheviks, dispersed by Tsarism in prisons and in exile and only just permitted to assemble from all parts of Russia to prepare a new programme, were not able immediately to determine their course. It is not at all surprising that, in seeking a new orientation, the Party was brought up against the questions of peace and the power of the soviets. It required Lenin's celebrated April Theses to enable the Party to move forward energetically on a new path....This mistaken position I held with the majority of the Party, but I left them at the end of April to adopt the Lenin Theses....
Fresh confirmation of an observation essential for the comprehension of the course of the revolution: Bolshevism was non-existent without Lenin.
THE Provisional Government, in a state of permanent crisis, impotent to disentangle the contradictory elements in the March Revolution, or even to diminish the tension, exhausted one by one the various expedients for prolonging its factitious life. Neither the Premiership of Kerensky after that of Prince Lvov, nor the successive resignations of Ministers after Miliukov's sensational departure, nor the pseudo-dictatorial Directory after the Liberal-Socialist Coalition, resolved the question of power. They were so many stages of attrition and discredit before the final catastrophe.
All the visible phenomena of economic decadence under the old regime persisted and developed in catastrophic fashion: scarcity of commodities, debasement of the currency, rising prices, paralysis of transport, closing of factories, with their social consequencesgrowing destitution, insecurity, strikes and unrest. The number of deserters from the disintegrated army was to be doubled before October. Reference of the agrarian question to an indefinitely postponed Constituent Assembly meant that vast areas were unsewna certain menace of famine. The soldiers at the Front, fearing a division of land in their absence, returned en masse to the villages without permission. The peasants began to pillage the great estates, and to seize cattle. Everywhere alarming symptoms increased.
Nevertheless, the bourgeoisie persisted in its hopeless policy. In a country whose army, in process of dissolution, could hardly maintain the defensive and whose people were devoid, not only of desire of conquest, but of any patriotic sentiment, Miliukov's avowed intention was to annex Constantinople and Armenia, and dismember Austria-Hungary and Turkey showing thereby the political immaturity of his class, so weak in Russia owing to the preponderance of foreign capital.
Tied to this bourgeoisie, the Social Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks did everything to lose the confidence of the proletariat and the army, the moving forces of the revolution, and to disappoint the rural districts. Their participation in a government which perpetuated a state of affairs universally execrated, and their repeated compromises with those immediately responsible for the existing chaos, gave the Bolshevik Party the monopoly of expressing the aspirations of the impatient masses.
The Party of Social Revolutionaries, less and less socialist and revolutionary, more and more rhetorical and sterile, became a "grandiose nullity," as it was currently called in allusion to its temporarily large numbers. An energetic Left detached itself from the main body to act on parallel lines with the Bolsheviks with a view to "deepening" the revolution. Traditional Social-Democracy, steeped in western ideas, sought an impossible equilibrium by parliamentary methods unsuited to the time and place; on its Left, Martov and the group of internationalist Mensheviks criticised severely the majority and its tacticians, Dan and Tseretelli. The Bolsheviks, more homogeneous and better disciplined, trained to collective action led by a chief who was a realist, at once pliable and firm, prompt in manoeuvre and unwavering in principles, lost no time in taking advantage of an exceptionally favourable situation and of the repeated errors of their rivals.
Fighting under the simple and attractive slogan of "All power to the Soviets," a phrase which went home everywhere, they won day by day more support among the poor, the poor whom Kerensky in despair called the "populace" and the "soldiery," factory workers, Kronstadt sailors, Lett fusiliers and Finnish machine-gunners. In May, states Sukhanov, a third of the Petrograd proletariat were on their side. Their advance was continuous. At the first Congress of the Soviets, in June, they had only 105 delegates as against 285 Social-Revolutionaries and 248 Mensheviks; the provinces moved more slowly than the capital. But in the Petrograd Soviet, their fraction was strengthened at every by-election. The district soviets, beginning with that of Vyborg, passed into their hands. Entire military units, the principal factories, among them the Putilov works, with 50,000 workmen, answered their call.
By the return of Trotsky, and with the assistance of the Social-Democratic organisation known as "Inter-District," grouping dissident Mensheviks and Bolsheviks, they had received new strength. Trotsky, who found it more difficult than Lenin to get back to Russia, had been arrested at sea by the English, was interned near Halifax and viras only liberated on the demand of the Petrograd Soviet. He did not arrive until May. He still hoped for the unity of the Social-Democratic fractions, but changed his mind when he was on the spot. The gulf between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks was thenceforward impassable, in spite of a common theoretical programme. On the other hand his conception of the "permanent revolution" and Lenin's new strategy were convergent. Although he had feared the sectarian spirit of a fraction subject to the "Ilyich regime," he thought he could discern a "debolshevisation of Bolshevism." The old differences seemed to be smoothed down and identity of view on immediate aims complete. The "Inter-District" group was one with the Bolsheviks in action before merging with the Party in July 1917. Beside Trotsky, there were ex-Mensheviks such as Joffe, Uritsky, Volodarsky and Karakhan, with Old Bolsheviks of the Left such as Lunacharsky and Manuilsky. Other former Mensheviks, Alexandra Kollontai, Larin and Antonov, rallied to Bolshevism, an example followed later by Chicherin, Steklov and others. Riazanov, "outside of fractions," did the same.
The name of Trotsky was coupled with that of Lenin in the press and the minds of the public, both in and out of Russia. The two personified to the world the growing plebeian movement on the march. Lenin, rarely seen, handled the Party tiller surely and well, and made full use of the band of "professional revolutionaries," at the same time elaborating the theoretical justification of his tactics. Trotsky always present at meetings within doors or in the streets, untiring speaker and writer, galvanised the crowd and recruited the legions for the final Struggle. The phrase "Lenin and Trotsky," as the embodiment of social purpose, engraved itself in memory and history. Ultimately people even wrote "Lenin-Trotsky."
The two former adversaries understood one another better in the great day of civil war than in the chiaro-oscuro of the emigration and were mutually complementary.
In the way Trotsky spoke of Lenin the attachment of the disciple is visible. At that time Lenin had behind him thirty years of militant work in the service of the proletariat, and Trotsky twenty. All trace of the differences of the pre-war period had disappeared. There was no difference between the tactics of Lenin and Trotsky. This rapprochement, signs of which had appeared during the war, had become clearly defined from the moment of Leon Davidovich's arrival in Russia. Immediately after his first speeches we, old Bolsheviks, Leninists, felt that he was one of us.
These are the words of Raskolnikov, a Bolshevik of the old guard.
Lenin fully appreciated his rival: "No one would think of disputing a candidature such as that of L. D. Trotsky," he wrote with regard to the Bolshevik list of candidates to the Constituent. And on another occasion, in connection with the reconciliation of the various socialist parties: "Trotsky has been saying for a long time that unity is impossible. Trotsky grasped the fact, and, since then, there has been no better Bolshevik." This disinterested sentiment was probably not shared in Lenin's immediate circle by those, Stalin among others, who felt they were eclipsed by the newcomer. The ruling nucleus in the Party formed a close brotherhood, and the rise of Trotsky to the top was unprecedented. Possibly the germ of certain personal rivalries dates from this moment. But it could not mature in the atmosphere of the collective struggle for power. Lenin justified his adoption of the political and tactical formula of the speedy advent of the dictatorship of the proletariat by the imminence of the social revolution in the advanced countries of Europe. In his view the Russian Revolution was inseparable from the coming of European socialism. "The victory of Social-Democracy," he wrote as early as 1905, "will make it possible for us to rouse Europe to revolt, and the socialist proletariat of the West will throw off the yoke of the bourgeoisie, and in its turn will help us to achieve the socialist revolution." The World War, then recently stoked up by the intervention of the United States, confirmed him in his belief in the near approach of universal civil war, in which the Russian episode would only be the first stage.
Kautsky, in a study on Slavs and the Revolution, published in Iskra in 1902, pointed out the displacement of the revolutionary centre from the West to the East, and predicted the role of the Slavs as its vanguard: "Russia, which has in great measure received her revolutionary impetus from the West, is now perhaps ready to serve the West in her turn as a source of revolutionary energy." The Russian Revolution would cleanse the vitiated atmosphere in which the European workers' movement, handicapped by parliamentarism, stagnated. After 1905 the same writer predicted as a result of the Russo-Japanese War a revolutionary era in Asia and in the Moslem world; his prediction was verified two years later in Turkey, next year in Persia, and two years later still in China. Signs of revolt were evident in India and in Northern Africa. Lenin on the other'hand expected the war to result in European revolution, without which socialism would be impracticable in Russia.
With the optimism characteristic of all pioneers, he had always over-estimated the revolutionary capacity of the Occidental proletariat at any given time, and miscalculated the resources and the capacity of capitalism to resist. In 1914 his illusions about German socialism were so strong that he refused to believe that the Social-Democrats in the Reichstag had voted war credits, and thought the number of Vorwärts containing the news was faked, until he was compelled to accept the evidence. He reacted the more violently in the opposite sense, alone even in the International, against the old socialist parties moulded by bourgeois legality; the conclusions he drew were the inevitability and the necessity of new workers' parties, of a new Communist International, whose role would be to end the War by the overthrow of capitalism. There can be no doubt that his tactics in Russia would have been less radical if he had not reckoned with such certainty on the aid of European revolution.
His war-cry, "All power to the Soviets," is not to be understood as indicating a hasty ambition to seize the State organisation which he intended to destroy and replace, for reformist socialism was then dominant in the soviets. But he looked further ahead, foreseeing the rise of his Party assisted by the bankruptcy of the "Louis Blancs" of the moment. Moreover, he never lost sight of the danger latent in the enormous mass of the peasantry, capable of submitting to the most extreme reaction: "Let us be on our guard against the possibility of the alliance of the peasantry with the bourgeoisie," he said, facing the worst. Her peasants "make Russia the most petit-bourgeois country in Europe." Therefore he advocated, in vain, separate soviets of poor peasants, formed to counterbalance the holders of small and medium holdings. Far from desiring to force historical events, he advised the soviets not to "decree any reform for which the time was not entirely ripe both in the concrete economic circumstances and in the minds of the overwhelming majority of the people."
He did not over-estimate the degree of development of the Russian proletariat, numerically small, "less conscious, less mature than that of any other country." On many occasions he repeated in varying words: "Socialism cannot be victorious immediately or directly in Russia." He ceaselessly exhorted his Party patiently to explain their interests to the ignorant masses. But, attentive to the changing temper of opinion, he was careful to keep pace with the main current: "The country is a thousand times more Left than Chernov or Tseretelli and a hundred times more Left than we are." He was convinced of the necessity of a dictatorship, of a power resting not on law but on force, and he had already amazed the Congress of Soviets by declaring that he and his Party were ready to assume the whole power without sharing it with anyone, at a time when other socialists were shrinking from responsibility. To his mind the soviets represented in a confused fashion the interests of the workers and peasants, but his own Party was alone capable of giving them conscious and logical expression.
After the "July days," when the proletariat and the garrison of Petrograd demonstrated of their own accord in the streets, by way of answer to the disastrous Galician offensive needed by the Allies but decided on by Kerensky with the approval of a majority in the Soviet, he suddenly reversed his tactics, and changed his slogans. The Bolsheviks had not provoked the demonstration, but, seeing it was inevitable, they had decided to make use of it. Severe repression, in which they were the sufferers, followed. Decisive action was premature, and its objective, "All power to the Soviets," was still impracticable. The reactionary parties feared revolt. The headquarters of the Party of the permanent revolution were sacked. Trotsky, Kamenev, Kollontai and others were imprisoned, and Lenin and Zinoviev were obliged to go into hiding. Pretended revelations, fabricated to represent the Bolshevik leaders as in the pay of Germany, though obviously false, made them suspect. The dark days had come.
A whole literature, superficially imposing, is devoted to presenting the spectacle of a nation of over a hundred million souls at the mercy of the venality of a few individuals and a handful of German marks. Quite apart from the incontestable incorruptibility of the principal person concerned, proved by the whole course of his life, the "proofs" in question refute themselves. No distribution of funds has required to be substantiated by such a mass of superfluous documentation, inconceivable except as a demonstration of the non-existent. Moreover Kerensky did not dare to make use of "incriminating documents" of which there is no trace in the archives of the German Reich, made public by the German revolution. Further, Masaryk has disposed of them in his Memoirs: "I do not know what the Americans, the English and the French paid for these documents, but to anyone accustomed to dealing with matters of this kind, their contents alone are sufficient to reveal that our friends had purchased forgeries. There was one proof ad oculos: these documents, alleged to come from different countries, had been typed on the same machine." Thus the machine betrayed the machination.
In his retreat Lenin meditated on the lessons of the failure, and deduced from, it the fact that the cry "All power to the Soviets" had ceased to be correct. Henceforward, they must demand the dictatorship of the proletariat executed through the medium of the Bolshevik Party. Peaceful development of the revolution was made impossible by the fault of the "Louis Blancs" and the "Cavaignacs"; what was required was a war-cry announcing the fight without quarter. He announced with his customary directness: "Not to understand that, is to understand nothing about the essential problems of the moment."
But this was just what the Party did not understand, and the future justified the retention of the old popular formula. In this instance conservative inertia carried the day over the quick mind of the Party chief, who had not time to win over more than the directing circles of the Party to his thesis. Events moved with increasing rapidity, upsetting all reasoned conclusions. In August, Kornilov's abortive coup gave an unhoped-for turn to affairs; the scorned and persecuted Bolsheviks were summoned to help in the struggle against the factious general, the hope of the counter-revolution. They had the tactical sense to accept a socialist coalition in defence of the threatened revolution, and were thus able to take up arms once more and to show themselves in the open. The danger was overcome, but Kerensky's prestige was still more diminished by the suspicious part he had played in the affair and his manifest powerlessness. His socialist allies, who had been in favour of conciliation, lost ground visibly, and the suburbs, the garrison and the crews of the fleet, stimulated by the alarm, went over to the Bolsheviks who had given warning of the event. One by one those imprisoned in July were set at liberty. A new wave of revolution arose in the sea of the masses. Trotsky especially emerged from the affair with increased personal prestige. The moving tale of how he had intervened with the raging mob to save Chernov from lynching was in all mouths. In contrast to the equivocal attitude of Lunacharsky, a Left Bolshevik, whose opportunist behaviour was commented on in the press, he had openly taken part with the vanquished: "I share the principles adopted by Lenin, Zinoviev and Kamenev. I have maintained them in Vperyod and generally in all my public speeches." According to the testimony of his fellows he bore himself heroically before the examining judge. In Lenin's absence the Bolsheviks regarded him as their most eminent exponent, even before his formal enrolment in the Party.
Lenin, who was inclined to attribute to the enemy a decision equal to his own, a similar sense for effective action, had said in July: "Now they will shoot us all. It is their moment." In the same way he had expected to be arrested when he arrived in Russia. He was soon reassured by the turn of events. After the Kornilov affair, he said: "We are extraordinarily near power, but at a tangent." And, by way of compromise, he resumed the old slogan which he had too hastily repudiated: "All Power to the Soviets," the last chance, he said, of securing the peaceful progress of the revolution. What this really meant was "the formation of a government of Social Revolutionaries and of Mensheviks, responsible to the Soviets."
As for Stalin, it is still difficult to assign to him any considerable role without ignoring proportion. Whether calculated or not, this reticence is perhaps characteristic. He assumed administrative work at the headquarters of the Party and of its journals, and was careful to say and do nothing which would commit him irrevocably. Demian Biedny relates with admiration the following example of his method. On the eve of the July demonstration, the Kronstadt sailors telephoned to Pravda to know if they should march with their rifles. Stalin replied: "Rifles? It is for you to decide, comrades. We scribblers always carry our arm, the pencil. As for you, with your arms, it is for you to decide." According to Trotsky, he kept prudently aloof, waiting for an opportunity to display his wisdom. At any rate he was looked upon as one of the principal militants but behind the stage and, lacking originality, he made himself useful by perseverance.
Without Lenin and without the accredited theorists of the Party, the semi-clandestine Social-Democratic Congress of the Bolsheviks was held in July-August under the firm and discreet direction of Sverdlov. It was an assembly which had to confirm past action and to dispatch current business. The work was done by the members of the Central Committee, policy was determined strictly by Lenin's letters and articles. Delegates felt they were executants rather than directing agents. In this restricted task, Stalin played a leading part as mouthpiece of the directing central organisation. Repeating Lenin's instructions he recommended the abandonment of the watchword "All Power to the Soviets." He secured the introduction into the resolution carried of a phrase which is indicative of the temporary hesitation of Bolshevik headquarters: "The Soviets are reaching the end of an agonising struggle to the death, and are perishing through not having seized all power into their hands in time." A serious error, the blame for which rests in the first instance with Lenin; it excludes the possibility of the bolshevisation of the Soviets. Later on, Stalin took undue credit to himself for having resisted the amendment he himself had formulated in the text of the resolution, vague enough in any case to allow of various interpretations: "Full liquidation of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie." This did not supply any practical policy and showed no clear way of attaining power.
At the end of the Sixth Congress, there was a brief, unimpassioned exchange of observations between Stalin and Preobrazhensky on the last words of the resolution. The revolutionary classes, it said, should seize power to advance "in unison with the revolutionary proletariat of advanced countries towards peace and the socialist reconstruction of Society." Preobrazhensky suggested an alternative wording: "Towards peace and, on the advent of proletarian revolution in the west, towards socialism." Stalin opposed, declaring: "It is not excluded that Russia may be the pioneer country in the advance to socialism." An apparently insignificant difference, but one big with future consequences.
For the first time Stalin was confirmed in his functions as a member of the Central Committee by a Congress (his position had been confirmed at the May conference). He was helped by the position he had acquired by co-optation during the mysterious phase of his activity. No one thought of contesting the accomplished fact or questioning the validity of the earlier choice made by Lenin. At that time the Party had more than 175,000 members, but its framework and central organisation were sufficiently hierarchical to assure continuity of direction and organisation. Nevertheless, Trotsky was elected in his absence to the Central Committee by more votes than Stalin, a fact which illustrates the exceptional character of his election.
The official biography does not attribute any remarkable role to Stalin between February and October of this memorable year, but merely praises him for his "complete agreement" with Lenin. As the documents show, the "complete agreement" began in profound divergence, and continued as passive submission. Trotsky in his My Life gives the following estimate of Stalin's personal part in Party politics during the revolution:
Not one of his articles written about that period shows that Stalin made any attempt to estimate his previous policy and win his way to Lenin's stand. He simply kept silent because he had been too much compromised by his unfortunate leadership during the first month of the revolution. He preferred to withdraw into the background. He never made any public appearance to defend Lenin's views; he merely stood back and waited. During the most responsible months of the theoretical and political preparation for the uprising, Stalin simply did not exist in the political sense.
This statement is accurate if by policy is understood general ideas, wide conclusions arising out of theory and programme, plans for the future. But in the narrower sense and on the lower level of daily political action, Stalin was one of the foremost agents in the execution of Lenin's designs. In this respect and within his limitations, he rendered incontestable service to the Party and Lenin appears to have made full use of Stalin's special aptitudes.
"IN SPITE Of great errors and frequent absurdities, the soviets have been the primitive moulds, political and social, in which the torrent of revolutionary lava has been cooled down." These were the words of Kerensky, who assured the British Ambassador that the soviets "would die a natural death." This was practically Stalin's point of view in the "death struggle" of the soviets. The Izvestia of the first Executive Committee also stated that "The soviets are nearing their end." Facts were to give the lie to all these prophets; instead of disappearing the soviets went Bolshevik.
In September the Petrograd Soviet by a majority passed over to the vanquished of July, and elected Trotsky as its President. Those of Moscow, Kiev and the principal towns took the same course. At the municipal elections there was a parallel movement towards Bolshevism and a still stronger one in the army and navy. The Leninists won over the trade unions and the workshop committees. Their party had organised the earliest detachments of Red Guards. In this country in process of dissolution, the only real, active force, determined and disciplined, was at Lenin's disposal.
He was not the man to neglect or to miss the psychological moment. His whole life had been a laborious and detailed preparation for the decisive struggle. He saw that the long-expected hour was approaching and from his hiding-place he studied the news, examined possibilities, and calculated chances and risks. The Bolshevik organisation, his creation, the product of twenty years of work and struggle, had absorbed the most virile and the best elements of the workers' revolutionary movement. Around him were grouped all those who seriously regarded socialism as an immediate necessity, all those who were burning to pass from theory to practice. The Social Revolutionaries of the Left supported him with their increasingly numerous fighting elements. The Menshevik Internationalists, through Martov, appreciated him and were not without hope of future union. His adversaries committed folly on folly, and helped his game. The denouement was undoubtedly at hand.
Provided that the Party, the instrument of his plans, was ready at the supreme moment, the revolution would achieve the last lap. "Counter-revolution or Jacobinism?" So Lenin laid down the historic alternative. The conquest of power became an urgent question. To what end? To realise a "completely democratic republic." Complete democracy was the essential point in the programme.
The soviets, said Lenin, were "a superior type of democracy." There was nothing abstract about the matter: "Power to the Sovietsthis is the only thing that can secure further progress, gradual, peaceful and smooth, keeping perfect pace with the consciousness and the resolve of the majority of the masses of the people, with their own experience."
He insists especially on the pacific character of this conception:
The pacific character of the revolution would be possible and probable provided that all power rested with the soviets. The struggle of Parties for power may develop peacefully within the soviets on condition that the latter do not give a twist to democratic principles, as for example, by giving one vote to five hundred soldiers as against one for a thousand workers. In a democratic republic these distortions of principle must not be permitted.
This idea recurs repeatedly in his writings at this time, with varying emphasis:
If the soviets assumed power, they could still nowand probably it is the last chanceassure the peaceful development of the revolution, peaceful election by the people of its deputies, peaceful rivalry of the Parties within the soviets, the trying out of the programme of the different Parties, and the transfer of power from one Party to another.
As for the measures to be taken by the sovereign soviets to realise real democracy, they are comprised in the suppression of the police, of the permanent army, of bureaucracy. Invariably, and not once hut a hundred times, Lenin reiterated the definite and categorical promise for the suppression of the police, the army and professional civil servants. The militia, a general army of the people, with officers elected in all ranks, would replace the police and the old army. The functions of the State would be assumed by citizens elected for the purpose, liable to dismissal at all times, whose pay would not exceed that of the workers. "These democratic measures, simple and automatic, by the solidarisation of the interests of the workers and of the majority of the peasants, will serve at the same time as the bridge between capitalism and socialism." The example to be followed was that of the Paris Commune of 1871.
Such are the propositions advocated by him in the Bolshevik press and more strongly justified in his work, The State and Revolution, written in various retreats, where he worked with extraordinary ardour and courage. Simultaneously he examined the economic and political situation in a pamphlet, The Threatening Catastrophe and How to Fight It, in which he advocated workers' control of production, the nationalisation of banks and trusts, the obligation to work. This contains the warning:
War is implacable, it puts the question with merciless sharpness; either overtake the advanced countries and surpass them also economically or perish. It is possible to do this, for we have before us the experiences of a great number of advanced countries; we have available the results of their technique and culture.... Either full steam ahead, or perish. This is how history has put the question.
On the day on which he finished this essay, he addressed to the Central Committee of the Party a letter beginning with these words: "Having obtained a majority in the Soviets of Workers and Soldiers' Deputies of both capitals, the Bolsheviks can and must take power into their hands."
He foresaw that "the Bolsheviks will form a government which nobody will overthrow." It must be done quickly for it was rumoured that Petrograd would shortly be abandoned to the Germans, and a separate peace between England and the Central Powers was also mooted. (There were many panicky rumours at the time.) They must not wait for the Constituent Assembly because, "by surrendering Petrograd, Kerensky and Co. can always destroy the Constituent Assembly. Only our Party, having assumed power, can secure the convocation of the Constituent Assembly." Finally, they must take to heart Marx's words "Insurrection is an art."
This letter was followed by yet another in which Lenin explains why and how insurrection is an art, supporting his argument by the teaching of Marx and Engels, and applies his method to the particular situation. He says notably: "Our victorious insurrection alone will secure the failure of the intrigues for a separate peace," and, if the worst comes, "If our peace offer (general peace) were refused, and we did not even obtain an armistice, we should become ardent partisans of national defence." Then follows practical advice on the creation of a general staff for insurrection, on the distribution of forces, the occupation of strategic points, and the indispensable preliminary operations. Now or never, was the time to use, for the purposes of civil war, the military science learned from the study Of the "masters of war," of Clausewitz, and of the experience of 1905.
How did the Party respond to Lenin's hopes and appeals? The minutes of the Central Committee show that those leaders who were at liberty were far from thinking for themselves of the eventualities so clearly indicated. On receiving pressing messages of this kind, some were convinced by Lenin's arguments, some obeyed out of fidelity, others awaited events, and some took an opposite view. Stalin was one of those who held their hand, though following with the stream. Trotsky, in close agreement with Lenin on the course to be followed, was busy with providing legal cover for insurrection, a condition realisable because of the coincidence of the rising with the Second Congress of Soviets, already won over to the Bolsheviks. Zinoviev and Kamenev, with the tacit approval of some others, thought the seizure of power dangerous and premature, fearing isolation for the Party and the consequences of an adventurous policy.
But Lenin certainly reflected the sentiments of the masses in revolt, especially of the soldiers eager to escape from the nightmare of war. Delegations from the Front were demanding daily the saving intervention of the Soviet; they called on the Bolsheviks to work hard for peace and for the solution of the agrarian question. Rumours of movements in rural Russia caused universal alarm; confiscation of harvests, seizure of land, and armed resistance to Kerensky's measures of repression showed that the patience of the peasants was nearing its end.
The Bolshevik Party had now 240,000 members. Its Right, vague in outline and of varying strength, was inclined to the role of a parliamentary opposition in the representative institutions of the Republic, finally proclaimed in September. The Right secured a decision in favour of participation in the Democratic Conference, arbitrary in composition, summoned by the Government in the interim before the Constituent as a sort of provisional assembly from which the Pre-Parliament would emerge. Trotsky, supported by Stalin, proposed to boycott the latter, but was outvoted. Once more pressure from Lenin was required to drive the Party back to the path of insurrection.
"We should have boycotted the Democratic Conference," cried Lenin in his article "The Errors of our Party": "We all erred by not doing so"; and now they "must boycott the Pre-Parliament." He congratulated Trotsky and encouraged him, he demanded an extraordinary Congress of the Party if need be to reverse the "shameful" decision of the "directing circles." The Central Committee submitted, and the Bolsheviks left the Pre-Parliament after Trotsky had read a threatening declaration. Violent conflict was only a question of hours.
"The crisis is ripe," said Lenin in another article, asserting that "there is no doubt that the beginning of October has brought us to the greatest turning-point in the history of the Russian and, according to all appearances, of the world revolution." He thought he saw "the unimpeachable signs of the great change, indications preluding world revolution" in Italy and Germany. "There is no room for doubts," he wrote, "we are on the threshold of a world proletarian revolution." It is for us, he continued, to begin, because of the advantages, the liberty and the means at our disposal in Russia. The break-up of the reformist socialists and the dizzy progress of the Bolsheviks, indicated at all the elections, precluded hesitation: "With the Left Social Revolutionaries, we have to-day a majority in the Soviets, in the army and in the country."
But there was in the Central Committee of the Party a tendency in favour of "awaiting the Congress of Soviets, against the immediate seizure of power"; it should be overcome; "otherwise the Bolsheviks would cover the themselves with shame for ever, they would be reduced to nothing as a Party." The allusion to Trotsky is clear. To wait for the Congress would be "idiocy" or "treason." We must strike unexpectedly at Petrograd, Moscow, and in the Baltic Fleet. To delay is to lose all....And in order to rouse his too passive principal supporters, Lenin resigned from the Central Committee. For he knew himself to be indispensable.
He did not merely urge them to action; he used the full force of argument in discussion and persuasion. His pamphlet, Will the Bolsheviks Retain State Power? brought over many waverers. In this he refutes one by one current prejudices that if the Bolsheviks seized power they would be unable to retain it. Under cover of replying to the enemy he was really seeking to convert irresolute partisans. In that pamphlet he borrows from the comminatory words of the gospel: "He that doth not work neither shall he eat," and he opposed with assurance the sophisms of his timid followers. If 130,000 landowners were able to govern Russia in the interests of the rich, 240,000 Bolsheviks could administer it in the interests of the poor. There were obviously immense difficulties to be met, but "you cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs." The Bolsheviks will win, for they incarnate "the workers' idea of justice" and "ideas become forces when the masses embrace them."
The Central Committee gave way to these arguments, but with a delay and a slowness exasperating to Lenin, haunted by the idea of losing all by missing the right moment. "Delay becomes positively a crime," said another letter to the directors of the Party. "Temporising is a crime, to wait for the Congress of the Soviets is a childish formality, absurd and disgraceful, it is the betrayal of the revolution.... There must be immediate Insurrection.... Victory is certain at Moscow, where no one can fight us. Petrograd can wait. The Government is powerless, its situation is hopeless; it will yield.... Victory is certain, there are nine chances in ten that it will be won without bloodshed. ... To wait is a crime against the revolution."
Next day Lenin sent his Advice from an Outsider to repeat once more that the seizure of power meant armed insurrection and to recall the Marxist conception of insurrection as an art. Conclusion: "The triumph of the Russian Revolution and of world revolution both depend on two or three days' fighting."
Another letter on the same day to the Bolsheviks in the Regional Congress of the Northern Soviets, urges the offensive: "The hour is so grave that to temporise is really like death." For mutiny in the German Fleet, after many other symptoms, was heralding the world revolution. Three times he repeated: "To temporise means death."
On October 23rd, he returned secretly to Petrograd, and took part in the session of the Central Committee which finally decided on insurrection. The reasons given in support of the revolution were in the first place the "growth of world revolution," the "threat of peace between the imperialist powers," the undoubted "intention of the Russian bourgeoisie and of Kerensky and Co. to surrender Petrograd to the Germans." It is important to make it clear that the historic act was based on three mistaken suppositions. But a just appreciation of the internal situation in Russia was sufficient to ensure its success.
Kamenev and Zinoviev alone had openly resisted Lenin's lead, although their anxiety was shared by many others. They did not think the world proletarian revolution was either so near or so ripe, and refused to stake the whole future on the insurrection card. In fear of "certain defeat," they committed a breach of discipline by disavowing the Party instructions in Gorky's paper, hostile to Bolshevism. Kamenev emphasised the gravity of his disapproval by resigning from the Central Committee. The defection of two of the principal Old Bolsheviks at the very moment of preparation for attack was an ill omen.
But Lenin did not think the loss irreparable. To disciples of this kind he applied Marx's bitter words: "I have sown dragons and reaped fleas." After patiently refuting their thesis, he denounced them constantly as "traitors" when he learnt of their open opposition, invited the Party to exclude the "deserters," these "yellow" men whom he accused of "unbounded infamy" in plain terms. Stalin was foolish enough to try to break the force of the blow by an editorial note in the central organ of the Party: "The sharp tone of Lenin's article does not alter the fact that we remain in agreement on the essential point...." General reprobation compelled his resignation from the staff of the paper, but he knew that the endless difficulties of the moment would prevent its acceptance.
This was not Lenin's gravest cause of alarm. The Congress of Soviets, several times deferred before it was fixed for November 7th, was approaching, and the Central Committee seemed to be awaiting this date before giving the signal of insurrection. Trotsky wanted to associate the two events, but Lenin was anxious to secure the accomplished fact, to execute the technical operation, content to have it politically confirmed later on. Might not Kerensky forestall them, and with the help of a few dependable regiments, upset all his plan? But nothing of the kind happened; an accumulation of unprecedentedly favourable circumstances facilitated the victory of the new revolution.
Everything concurred, as John Reed said, to pour "oil on the Bolshevik fire." Confronted by the most urgent collective tasks, the authorities oscillated endlessly between half-way solutions and ineffective repression; they accumulated miscalculations and errors. The only hope of the disappointed masses found expression in the clear notes of Lenin's programme.
The Government, incapable of taking any step towards peace, responsible for the useless massacre of Galicia, had become an object of hatred to the soldiers. The Bolsheviks, while promoting fraternisation in the trenches, proposed to offer immediately to all belligerents "a democratic peace," without annexations or indemnities. "In case of refusal, we will wage a war of revolution," said Lenin, and Trotsky spoke in the same tone.
The Government persisted in putting off to the Greek Kalends the appeasement of the land hunger; in their absorption in statistics, studies, commissions, and plans, they had lost all authority in the rural districts. The Bolsheviks proposed the immediate reversion of the land to the peasants' soviets, charged with its distribution according to local circumstancesa gigantic expropriation in which every tiller of the soil was interested.
The Government refused to accede to the more and more insistent demands of the nationalities oppressed by Tsarism, and were in open conflict with Finland and the Ukraine. The Bolsheviks proposed to give complete self-determination.
The Government seemed to be accessory to Kornilov's counter-revolutionary coup, and their suspicious conduct in this affair set the military chiefs against them without conciliating anyone else. They lost at one and the same time the support of the forces of the Right and the confidence of the Left. The Bolsheviks had foreseen the renewal of the offensive by the reaction and were foremost in the fight against it. The Government put off the Constituent as if they feared it. The Bolsheviks demanded its immediate convocation. The Government were evidently trying to wreck the meeting of the Congress of Soviets. The Bolsheviks went ahead with it.
As if to complete their unpopularity the Government reinstated the death penalty in the army, they allowed it to be thought that the capital would shortly be transferred to Moscow, and revealed their intention of sending to the front two-thirds of the Petrograd garrison. The Bolsheviks, making clever use of the triple opportunity of overwhelming their adversary, promised to abolish the death penalty, to keep the capital at Petrograd, and to retain the revolutionary garrison there. The Government plans were reduced to vague threats; they merely encouraged and strengthened the opposition. At the end of October the Bolshevik Party numbered about 400,000 members.
The logic of facts worked in the same direction. Economic disintegration imposed on the local soviets intervention in everyday life; they had to transform themselves into directing organisations especially in the provisioning of their districts by means of taxation and requisitions. The Menshevik Soviet of Tiflis, for example, presided over by Jordania, acted as a regional government, and the smallest revolutionary municipalities did the same within their own jurisdiction. The socialisation of certain enterprises seemed the only solution possible to the partial stoppages of production brought about by bellicose employers, to strikes caused by engineers which brought about industrial paralysis. The Soviets of Kaluga, of Tashkent, of Kazan, of Kronstadt and other places did not wait for the Congress of Soviets to decide the question of power.
The conflict with regard to the Petrograd garrison served as a pretext and a bait for the first coup d'etat. The Soviet nominated on October 26th a Military Revolutionary Committee, and placed the movements of troops under its control. Trotsky, president of both committees, therefore held in his hands all the levers. On its side the Bolshevik Central Committee had formed a Political Bureau of seven members charged with the direction of the Party without formalities; Lenin and Trotsky were its brains, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Stalin, Sokolnikov and Bubnov its arms. There was also a "military centre" of five members Sverdlov, Stalin, Bubnov, Uritzky and Dzerzhinskyintroduced into the Military Revolutionary Committee presided over by Trotsky. Thus he had a regular revolutionary general staff.
The final result depended on the army, about whose state of mind there was no doubt. At the beginning of October the officer Dubassov had declared to the Soviet: "The soldiers do not at this moment demand either liberty or land. All they ask is the end of the War. And whatever you may say here they will do no more fighting." At the end of the month, a series of delegates from the Front warned the Soviet Executive Committee: "It is impossible to continue the War in the circumstances of to-day.... The Front lives in feverish expectation of peace"; "Many units demand peace of any kind, even a separate peace"; one of them added: "If it is a disgraceful peace, give us that." At the beginning of November, General Verkhovsky, Minister of War, said in a secret session of the commissions of the Pre-Parliament: "No persuasion has any effect on people who don't see why they should face death and privation.... General disintegration.... Hopeless situation ...there are at least 2,ooo,ooo deserters; the army cannot be fed.... It cannot be sufficiently clothed or shed.... The Staff no longer exist.... Bolshevism continues to dissolve our armed forces.... These actual facts compel us to recognise frankly and openly that we can no longer wage war." The insurrection could count on the support of millions of soldiers.
The Military Revolutionary Committee made its dispositions openly. "The centre of the work of mobilisation was the Petrograd Soviet, which had acclaimed as President Trotsky, the most brilliant tribune of the proletarian insurrection," writes Bukharin.
At the Regional Conference of the Soviets of the North, Trotsky got the following resolution voted:
The country means to survive; the Government must disappear. The soviets have not only the right; they have the necessary force. The time for words is past. The hour has come when only decisive and unanimous action by all the soviets can save the country and the revolution and solve the question of the central power.
At the Petrograd Soviet, Trotsky, who was ubiquitous, declared: "They say we are preparing a general staff for the seizure of power. We make no secret of it." But at the same time he neglected no precaution to deceive and to lull the vigilance of the enemy. To inquiries in the Soviet as to Bolshevik activities, he replied promptly and skilfully: "We are hiding nothing. I declare in the name of the Soviet that we have given no instruction for armed action. But if the course of events should force the Soviet to order action, the workers and soldiers would march like one man." Meanwhile, representatives of the Party were negotiating a compromise with other socialists to gain time.
Kerensky let things slide, or acted without vigour. "The whole of Russia is on our side. There is nothing to fear," he said three days before the coup d'etat. Yet for months attrition had been going on in the Centre parties, to the advantage of the extremes of Right and Left. In the south the reactionaries were beginning to use the Cossacks and to dissolve the soviets. The Kadets were rallying the active forces of social conservatism. Some of them were using wrecking tactics, hoping to dispose of the Bolsheviks easily, after the fall of Kerensky; others preferred German "order" to Russian "disorder." The Social Revolutionaries were no longer a party, but a noisy mob in perpetual confusion. Their Left, definitely detached, served as a prop to Bolshevism. The Mensheviks lost prestige by declaring for peace in principle, but for war in fact. "This policy," says their theorist Voytinsky, "was understood neither by the Allies, nor by Russia." Martov's proposal, supported by the Georgian Mensheviks, was to constitute a "homogenous Socialist Government," including all shades from the Populists to the Bolsheviks, but it came too late and was no longer compatible with the tendencies of the groups to be associated.
"We were certainly weak," writes Trotsky, "in technique and in organisation." But the Bolsheviks were confronted with an even weaker force and they were borne along on the current. According to the same competent authority "the issue of the Revolution of November 7th was already three quarters predetermined when we opposed the removal of the Petrograd garrison." Lenin, in hiding, was less well-informed; that is why he advised beginning with Moscow and was so impatient of delay. Trotsky's explanation is not decisive; in fact, Lenin desired to forestall any defensive measure by the authorities, to confront the Congress of Soviet with the accomplished fact, not with a plan for discussion. "Ever since the battalions, by the order of the Military Revolutionary Committee, refused to leave the city, we have had a scarcely veiled victorious insurrection. .. The insurrection of November 7th had a complementary character." This is Trotsky's view.
This was never Lenin's opinion, as is proved by a last letter to the Central Committee, a unique document in which the intelligence and the will of the chief is concentrated on shouting the order to attack, on the eve of the Congress of Soviets:
It is as clear as can be that delaying the uprising now really means death....With all my power I wish to persuade comrades that now everything hangs on a hair, that on the order of the day are questions that are not solved by conferences, by congresses (even by congresses of soviets!).... We must at any price, this evening, to-night, arrest the Ministers, having disarmed (defeated, if they offer resistance) the military cadets. We must not wait! We may lose everything....Who should seize power? At present this is not important. Let the Military Revolutionary Committee seize it, or "some other institution".... The matter must absolutely be decided this evening, or to-night. History will not forgive delay by revolutionaries who could be victorious to-day (and will surely be victorious to-day), while they risk losing much to-morrow, they risk losing all.... Seizure of power is the point of the uprising; its political task will be clarified after the seizure. It would be disaster or formalism to wait for the uncertain voting of November 7th. The people have the right and the duty to decide such questions not by voting but by force....The crime of the revolutionaries would be limitless if they let go the proper moment. The Government is tottering. We must deal it the death blow at any costs. To delay action is the same as death.
Now or never, said Lenin. At last the Military Revolutionary Committee acted without further delay, and passed from preparation to action.
"The most important points in the city were occupied by us during that night almost without fighting, without resistance, without casualties," writes Trotsky.
Lenin's foresight was justified; no blood was shed in Petrograd, but, contrary to his expectation, there was a sanguinary struggle in Moscow. On the whole the revolution met with no serious obstacles. It took place, as Trotsky says, on the date fixed. On the disputed question of putting off the moment until the Congress of the Soviets, Lenin said afterwards to his comrades of the Central Committee: "Yes, you were right"this is related by Stalin himself three years afterwards in a commemoration address.
The regime of yesterday, represented by the transient figure of Kerensky, fell almost as easily as its predecessor, incarnate in the hereditary Tsar, and for reasons analogous, if not identical. "War gave the power to the proletariat," observed Gorky, following Lenin, "gave it, because none can say that the proletariat itself, with its own hands, seized power."
But even in an extraordinarily favourable situation, the Party had to have capable leaders if full use was to be made of it. Stalin, with a thousand others, said: "All the practical work of organising the insurrection was done under the immediate direction of Trotsky, the president of the Petrograd Soviet. It can be safely asserted that for the rapid desertion of the garrison to the side of the Soviet and for the clever organisation of the Military Revolutionary Committee, the Party is above all and primarily indebted to Comrade Trotsky." As for Lenin, he shines by his own light.
On November 7th, writes Bukharin enthusiastically, "Trotsky, splendid and courageous tribune of the rising, indefatigable and ardent apostle of the revolution, declared in the name of the Military Revolutionary Committee at the Petrograd Soviet, with thunders of applause from those present, that the Provisional Government no longer existed. And as living proof of this fact there appeared in the tribune Lenin, whom the new revolution had liberated from the mystery which had surrounded him." In about six months, the Russian Revolution had brought forth the republic, and in less than nine months the dictatorship of the Bolsheviks. The French Revolution had taken more than three years to install the republic and the dictatorship of the Jacobins.
THE "professional revolutionaries" this time had their part in the victory; without them Lenin would not have brought off the enterprise, nor even have conceived it. If the advent of Bolshevism required for its achievement a concourse of propitious circumstances, a policy of suicide on the part of the possessing classes and the tenacious aberrations of the socialists advocating social conciliationthe intervention of a consciously revolutionary party, relatively conscious of the aims to be reached, was not less necessary. And among these "professional revolutionaries" Stalin was incontestably a prototype. Before he did anything that distinguished him as a political personage he found himself in command of positions in the new State, by sole reason of his fidelity to the victorious group and of his qualities as a soldiersufficient for the immediate task.
In the historical "literature" of documents and memoirs which has accumulated on the October revolution, it is rare to find the name of Stalin. Most of these works never mention him. Only in the minutes of the Party is he listed as member of the committees on which he sat for the daily political administrative work. In these committees, wrote John Reed, "only Lenin and Trotsky were for insurrection"an assertion not to be taken literally but nevertheless containing an element of profound truth. Lenin would never have praised so ardently and unreservedly the now classic work of the American Communist writer, as "an exact and extraordinarily living picture" if he had seen in it any depreciation of the Party to which the "professional revolutionaries" such as Stalin belonged.
"Men make their own history, but not on their own initiative or in circumstances freely chosen." Thus Marx, claimed exclusively by Bolshevism, interprets the objective and subjective data of historical events. Looked at from this point of view, Lenin and Trotsky emerge above the growing mass of their Party to the point of dominating it. Between them and the Party, the "professional revolutionaries" were agents of transmission communicating the impulse and the orientation desired by "the clandestine group of directing minds." In October, Stalin was not yet somebody, but he was something; if his name was unknown, his weight was felt, though merged in the collective authority of the Party. In the unprecedented experience now beginning, the "professional revolutionaries" were to be submitted to the real test, that of the building of the socialist State, the transition to a classless society.
Among them neither Stalin nor any other could foresee the events even of the near future. For some socialists it goes without saying that the conquest of power is not an aim in itself but the indispensable means of realising a programme. In this matter the Party had no clear idea at all; they had to leave it entirely to the directing minds whose views were very uncertain.
Having placed his faith on the world revolution, and that in the immediate future, Lenin had to modify his conception, as a scrupulous theorist, by collaborating in the revision of the Social-Democratic programme, a few days before the coup d'etat. Putting aside as too boastful Bukharin's proposal to suppress the "minimum programme," he wrote: "We do not know how soon after our victory the revolution in the west will come. It is not impossible that we may be at the beginning of a period of reaction.... We don't know and we cannot know." On this point Zinoviev and Kamenev were not wrong in their warnings against the imminence of international revolution. And Riazanov was right in saying, if his words are correctly reported by John Reed: "The European workers will not move."
But even in this event Lenin did not refuse power; what was necessary was to maintain it, while taking the transitional measures leading to socialism. "The definitive victory of socialism is impossible in one country alone," he said three months after the October Revolution, but he still hoped for external reinforcement. Recalling the words of Marx and Engels:: "The French will begin it, and the Germans will complete it," he expressed his conviction with a variant: "Russia has begun, the German, the Frenchman and the Englishman will complete the work, and socialism will conquer." A month later, while affirming that "Our safety, in all difficulties, lies in the pan-European revolution," he went on to say: "The revolution will not come so soon as we expect it. History has proved that. We must admit the fact."
At least he was not under any illusion as to why "Russia had begun." In a speech to the Moscow Soviet, he was to say in April 1918: "It was the fact of our being a backward country that enabled us to be in advance, and we may perish if we do not hold on until the moment when our revolution receives effective help from the revolutions of other countries." This is not an isolated remark on his part. "We are," he said, "a revolutionary detachment of the working class, thrown into the attack not because we are better than other workers, not because the Russian proletariat is superior to the working class in other countries, but only because we were one of the most backward countries in the world." He insisted some months afterwards, in a letter to American workers: "Circumstances have put our detachment in the van, the Russian detachment of the socialist proletariat, not by reason of our merits, but because of the especial backwardness of Russia."
Very similar was the view held by Plekhanov, whose political career was over before the revolution but who was still in full intellectual vigour. In reply to his friends who were inclined to look on the Soviet regime as a short episode he said: "The strength of the Bolsheviks lies in the weariness and ignorance of our people and also in our backward economic conditions. Bolshevism will last many years, and our people will only attain consciousness after this hard lesson. Then there will be an end of Bolshevism. But that day is far off."
Trotsky remained convinced of his theory of the "permanent revolution." He declared to the Congress of Soviets on the morrow of the revolution: "Either the Russian Revolution will bring about a revolutionary movement in Europe, or the European powers will crush the Russian Revolution." The whole of the Central Committee shared this view. "Unless there is a socialist revolution in the west," said one of its members at the beginning of 1918, summing up the general opinion, "our revolution is threatened with disaster." To which Stalin replied: "We also bank on the revolution, but you count in weeks, and we in months." No one reckoned in years.
But the vain expectation of socialist revolution in the west involved tactical errors more and more dangerous for Bolshevism. Lenin, in the absence of any valid forecast of the date, was the first to attempt to explain the delay of other countries. "To pass from one victory to another with such facility," he said, "was easy only because the actual international situation protected us for the moment from imperialism." Elsewhere and under other conditions, things would go differently. "It is much more difficult to begin in Europe," he said: "with us it was infinitely easier to begin, but it will be less easy to continue. In Europe the contrary is the case; once revolution has begun, it will be much easier to go on with it...."
And, recalling the obstinately optimist Bolsheviks of the Left to a sense of realities, he added: "Yes, we shall see the world revolution, but in the meantime it is only a fairy-tale, very attractive, very pretty. I quite understand that children like pretty fairy-tales, but I ask a serious revolutionaryCan he believe in them?"