Tony Cliff

Lenin 2

Chapter 7
Lenin Rearms the Party
(Part 2)

At the Finland Station

A number of Lenin’s followers went to meet him in Finland. ‘We had hardly got into the car and sat down,’ writes Raskolnikov, a young naval officer and a Bolshevik, ‘when Vladimir Ilyich flung at Kamenev: “What is that you have written in Pravda? We saw several numbers and really swore at you”.’ [61]

The Petersburg Committee mobilized several thousand workers and soldiers to welcome Lenin at the Finland railway station in the Vyborg district. The description of the official meeting, which took place in the so-called ‘Tsar’s room’ of the Finland station, constitutes a very lively page in Sukhanov’s memoirs:

Behind Shliapnikov, at the head of a small cluster of people behind whom the door slammed again at once, Lenin came, or rather ran, into the room. He wore a round cap, his face looked frozen, and there was a magnificent bouquet in his hands. Running to the middle of the room, he stopped in front of Chkheidze as though colliding with a completely unexpected obstacle. And Chkheidze, still glum, pronounced the following ‘speech of welcome’ with not only the spirit and wording but also the tone of a sermon:

‘Comrade Lenin, in the name of the Petersburg Soviet and of the whole revolution we welcome you to Russia ... But – we think that the principal task of the revolutionary democracy is now the defence of the revolution from any encroachments either from within or from without. We consider that what this goal requires is not disunity, but the closing of the democratic ranks. We hope you will pursue these goals together with us.’

Chkheidze stopped speaking. I was dumbfounded with surprise: really, what attitude could be taken to this ‘welcome’ and to that delicious ‘But —’?

But Lenin plainly knew exactly how to behave. He stood there as though nothing taking place had the slightest connection with him – looking about him, examining the persons round him and even the ceiling of the imperial waiting-room, adjusting his bouquet (rather out of tune with his whole appearance), and then, turning away from the Ex.Com. delegation altogether, he made this reply:

‘Dear comrades, soldiers, sailors, and workers! I am happy to greet in your persons the victorious Russian revolution, and greet you as the vanguard of the worldwide proletarian army ... The piratical imperialist war is the beginning of civil war throughout Europe ... The hour is not far distant when at the call of our comrade, Karl Liebknecht, the peoples will turn their arms against their own capitalist exploiters ... The worldwide socialist revolution has already dawned ... Germany is seething ... Any day now the whole of European capitalism may crash. The Russian revolution accomplished by you has prepared the way and opened a new epoch. Long live the worldwide socialist revolution!’

Appealing from Chkheidze to the workers and soldiers, from the provisional government to Liebknecht, from the defence of the fatherland to international revolution – this is how Lenin indicate the tasks of the proletariat.

It was very interesting! Suddenly, before the eyes of all of us, completely swallowed up by the routine drudgery of the revolution, there was presented a bright, blinding, exotic beacon, obliterating everything we ‘lived by’. Lenin’s voice, heard straight from the train, was a ‘voice from outside’. There had broken upon us in the revolution a note that was not, to be sure, a contradiction, but that was novel, harsh, and somewhat deafening ...

To another Marseillaise, and to the shouts of the throng of thousands, among the red-and-gold banners illuminated by the searchlight, Lenin went out by the main entrance and was about to get into a closed car, but the crowd absolutely refused to allow this. Lenin clambered on to the bonnet of the car and had to make speech.

‘... any part in shameful imperialist slaughter ... lies and frauds ... capitalist pirates ...’ was what I could hear, squeezed in the doorway and vainly trying to get out on to the square to hear first speech ‘to the people’ of this new star of the first magnitude on our revolutionary horizon. [62]

At a meeting later in the evening, Lenin elaborated on the same theme. It shook not only the Mensheviks but even loyal Bolsheviks. As Sukhanov describes it:

I shall never forget that thunder-like speech, which startled and amazed not only me, a heretic who had accidentally dropped in, but all the true believers. I am certain that no one had expected anything of the sort. It seemed as though all the elements had risen from their abodes, and the spirit of universal destruction, knowing neither barriers nor doubts, neither human difficulties nor human calculations, was hovering around Kshesinskaia’s reception-room above the heads of the bewitched disciples. [63]

Lenin said that the Soviet Manifesto bragged to Europe about the successes it had achieved:

it spoke of the ‘revolutionary force of democracy’, of total political liberty. But what kind of force was this, when the imperialist bourgeoisie was at the head of the country? What kind of political liberty, when the secret diplomatic documents were not published, and we couldn’t publish them? What kind of freedom of speech, when all the printing facilities were in the hands of the bourgeoisie and guarded by a bourgeois government! ‘When I was on the way here with my comrades, I thought we should be taken from the station straight to the Peter-Paul. As we see, we turned out to be far from that. But let us not lose hope that we may still not escape it.’

The ‘revolutionary-defencist’ Soviet led by opportunists and social-patriots could only be an instrument of the bourgeoisie. ‘We don’t need a parliamentary republic, we don’t need bourgeois democracy, we don’t need any government except the Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Farm-labourers’ Deputies!’ [64]

Next day at a joint meeting of Bolsheviks, Mensheviks and independents, Lenin’s stand was given a shocked reception. The Menshevik Bogdanov reacted in the following way:

‘This is the raving of a madman! It’s indecent to applaud this claptrap!’ he cried out, livid with rage and contempt, turning to the audience. ‘You ought to be ashamed of yourselves! Marxists!’ [65]

I.P. Goldenberg, a former member of the Bolshevik Central Committee, and soon to join the Mensheviks, declared: ‘Lenin has now made himself a candidate for one European throne that has been vacant for thirty years – the throne of Bakunin! Lenin’s new words echo something old – the superannuated truths of primitive anarchism.’ [66]

Lenin was in no doubt of his isolation among the Bolshevik leaders.

At the beginning of his speech Lenin had definitely said and even emphasized that he was speaking for himself personally, without having consulted his party.

The Bolshevik sect was still in a state of bafflement and perplexity. And the support Lenin found may underline more clearly than anything else his complete intellectual isolation, not only among Social Democrats in general but also among his own disciples. Lenin was supported by no one but Kollontai (a recent Menshevik), who rejected any alliance with those who could not and would not accomplish a social revolution! Her support called forth nothing but mockery, laughter, and hubbub. [67]

Next day, on 4 April, Lenin presented to the Party Conference a short written summary of his views, which under the name of the April Theses turned out to be one of the most decisive documents of the revolution. Three days later these Theses were published in Pravda.

1. In our attitude towards the war, which under the new government of Lvov and Co. unquestionably remains on Russia’s part a predatory imperialist war owing to the capitalist nature of that government, not the slightest concession to ‘revolutionary defencism’ is permissible ...

2. The specific feature of the present situation in Russia is that the country is passing from the first stage of the revolution – which, owing to the insufficient class-consciousness and organisation of the proletariat, placed power in the hands of the bourgeoisie – to its second stage, which must place power in the hand of the proletariat and the poorest sections of the peasants ...

3. No support for the provisional government; the utter falsity of all its promises should be made clear, particularly of those relating to the renunciation of annexations. Exposure in place of the impermissible, illusion-breeding ‘demand’ that this government a government of capitalists, should cease to be an imperialist government ...

4. The masses must be made to see that the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies are the only possible form of revolutionary government, and that therefore our task is, as long as this government yields to the influence of the bourgeoisie, to present a patient, systematic, and persistent explanation of the errors of their tactics, an explanation especially adapted to the practical needs of the masses.
        As long as we are in the minority we carry on the work of criticism and exposing errors and at the same time we preach the necessity of transferring the entire state power to the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies, so that the people may overcome their mistakes by experience.

5. Not a parliamentary republic – to return to a parliamentary republic from the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies would be a retrograde step – but a republic of Soviets of Workers’, Agricultural Labourers’ and Peasants’ Deputies throughout the country, from top to bottom.
        Abolition of the police, the army and the bureaucracy.
        The salaries of all officials, all of whom are elective and displaceable at any time, not to exceed the average wage of a competent worker.

6. The weight of emphasis in the agrarian programme to be shifted to the Soviets of Agricultural Labourers’ Deputies.
        Confiscation of all landed estates.
        Nationalization of all lands in the country, the land to be disposed of by the local Soviets of Agricultural Labourers’ and Peasants’ Deputies. The organization of separate Soviets of Deputies of Poor Peasants. The setting up of a model farm on each of the large estates (ranging in size from 100 to 300 desiatins, according to local and other conditions, and to the decisions of the local bodies) under the control of the Soviets of Agricultural Labourers’ Deputies and for the public account.

7. The immediate amalgamation of all banks in the country into a single national bank, and the institution of control over it by the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies.

8. It is not our immediate task to ‘introduce’ socialism, but only to bring social production and the distribution of products at once under the control of the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies.

9. Party tasks:
        a) Immediate convocation of a party congress;<<BR>         b) Alteration of the party programme, mainly:
                i) on the question of imperialism and the imperialist war;
                ii) on our attitude towards the state and our demand for a ‘commune state’;
                iii) amendment of our out-of-date minimum, programme.
        c) Change of the party’s name.

10. A new International. [68]

The Theses [Sukhanov remembers] were published in Lenin’s name alone; not one Bolshevik organization, or group, or even individual had joined him. And the editors of Pravda for their part thought it necessary to emphasize Lenin’s isolation and their independence of him. ‘As for Lenin’s general schema,’ wrote Pravda, ‘it seems to us unacceptable, in so far as it proceeds from the assumption that the bourgeois democratic revolution is finished and counts on the immediate conversion of that revolution into a socialist revolution.’ [69]

A Complete Break with ‘Democratic Dictatorship’

Lenin’s Letters from Afar and his April Theses marked a complete break with the position he himself had held for many years, defining the Russian revolution as a bourgeois democratic revolution led by the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry.

Since 1905 the Bolshevik Party had waged a struggle against Tsarism under the slogan of ‘the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’. The Bolsheviks argued that the coming revolution would be a bourgeois democratic revolution. By this was meant a revolution resulting from a conflict between the productive forces of capitalism, on the one hand, and Tsarism, landlordism and other relics of feudalism on the other. The task of this dictatorship would not be to create a socialist society, or even the forms transitional to such a society, but to get rid of the dead wood of medievalism.

Lenin did not change this opinion until after the revolution of February 1917. In The War and Russian Social Democracy (September 1914), for example, he was still writing that the Russian revolution must limit itself to ‘the three fundamental conditions for consistent democratic reform, viz., a democratic republic (with complete equality and self-determination for a nations), confiscation of the landed estates, and an 8-hour working day’. [70]

It is clear, moreover, from all Lenin’s writings up to 1917 that he expected a substantial interval to elapse between the coming bourgeois revolution and the proletarian, socialist revolution.

However, as explained elsewhere [71], Lenin poses two different answers to the question: What happens after the victory of the revolution? The first, to be found in his writings between 1905 and 1907, is that there will be a period of capitalist development. The second can be summed up as: Let us take power, and then we shall see:

from the democratic revolution we shall at once and precisely in accordance with the measure of our strength, the strength of the class-conscious and organized proletariat, begin to pass to the socialist revolution. We stand for uninterrupted revolution. We shall not stop half-way. [72]

Now came the February revolution, and the different ingredients of Lenin’s schemas were combined together.

The workers and the soldiers were the bosses. They had the power. To that extent it could be said that the democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants had been achieved. But at the same time the government was in the hands of the bourgeoisie; the nationalization of the land and the right of self-determination, elements central to the programme of the democratic dictatorship, had not been achieved. Life proved much more complicated than Lenin’s schemas of 1905 onwards.

In Letters on Tactics, written between 8 and 13 April, Lenin explained:

Marxism requires of us a strictly exact and objectively verifiable analysis of the relations of classes and of the concrete features peculiar to each historical situation. We Bolsheviks have always tried to meet this requirement, which is absolutely essential for giving a scientific foundation to policy.

‘Our theory is not a dogma, but a guide to action,’ Marx and Engels always said, rightly ridiculing the mere memorizing and repetition of ‘formulas’, that at best are capable only of marking out general tasks, which are necessarily modifiable by the concrete economic and political conditions of each particular period of the historical process. [73]

Before the February-March revolution of 1917, state power in Russia was in the hands of one old class, namely the feudal landed nobility, headed by Nicholas Romanov. After the revolution the power is in the hands of a different class, a new class, namely, the bourgeoisie.

The passing of state power from one class to another is the first, the principal, the basic sign of a revolution, both in the strictly scientific and in the practical political meaning of that term.

To this extent, the bourgeois, or the bourgeois-democratic revolution in Russia is completed.

But at this point we hear a clamour of protest from people who readily call themselves ‘old Bolsheviks’. Didn’t we always maintain, they say, that the bourgeois-democratic revolution is completed only by the ‘revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’? Is the agrarian revolution, which is also a bourgeois-democratic revolution, completed? Is it not a fact, on the contrary, that it has not even started?

My answer is: The Bolshevik slogans and ideas on the whole have been confirmed by history; but concretely things have worked out differently; they are more original, more peculiar, more variegated than anyone could have expected.

To ignore or overlook this fact would mean taking after those ‘old Bolsheviks’ who more than once already have played so regrettable a role in the history of our party by reiterating formulas senselessly learned by rote instead of studying the specific features of the new and living reality.

‘The revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’ has already become a reality in the Russian revolution ... ‘The Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies’ – there you have the ‘revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’ already accomplished in reality ... The person who now speaks only of a ‘revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’ is behind the times, consequently, he has in effect gone over to the petty bourgeoisie against the proletarian class struggle; that person should be consigned to the archive of Bolshevik pre-revolutionary antiques (it may be called the archive of ‘old Bolsheviks’).

Lenin goes on:

Theory, my friend, is grey, but green is the eternal tree of life ... According to the old way of thinking the rule of the bourgeoisie could and should be followed by the rule of the proletariat and the peasantry, by their dictatorship. In real life, however, things have already turned out differently; there has been an extremely original, novel and unprecedented interlacing of the one with the other. We have side by side, existing together, simultaneously, both the rule of the bourgeoisie (the government of Lvov and Guchkov) and a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry, which is voluntarily ceding power to the bourgeoisie, voluntarily making itself an appendage of the bourgeoisie. [74]

The bankruptcy of the ‘old Bolshevik’ formula of ‘democratic dictatorship’ was epitomized in the existence of dual power, as Lenin states in an article of that title:

Nobody previously thought, or could have thought, of a dual power.

What is this dual power? Alongside the provisional government, the government of the bourgeoisie, another government has arisen, so far weak and incipient, but undoubtedly a government that actually exists and is growing – the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.

What is the class composition of this other government? It consists of the proletariat and the peasants (in soldiers’ uniforms). What is the political nature of this government? It is a revolutionary dictatorship, i.e., a power directly based on revolutionary seizure, on the direct initiative of the people from below, and not on a law enacted by a centralized state power. [75]

How far the ‘old Bolshevik’ formula had become a reactionary one Lenin pointed out clearly when he polemicised against Kamenev. Kamenev wrote:

As for Comrade Lenin’s general scheme, it appears to us unacceptable, inasmuch as it proceeds from the assumption that the bourgeois-democratic revolution is completed, and builds on the immediate transformation of this revolution into a socialist revolution.

Lenin rejoined:

There are two big mistakes here.

First. The question of ‘completion’ of the bourgeois-democratic revolution is stated wrongly. The question is put in an abstract, simple, so to speak one-colour, way, which does not correspond to the objective reality. To put the question this way, to ask now ‘whether the bourgeois-democratic revolution is completed’ and say no more, is to prevent oneself from seeing the exceedingly complex reality, which is at least two-coloured. This is in theory. In practice, it means surrendering helplessly to petty-bourgeois revolutionism.

Indeed, reality shows us both the passing of power into the hands of the bourgeoisie (a ‘completed’ bourgeois-democratic revolution of the usual type) and, side by side with the real government, the existence of a parallel government which represents the ‘revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’. This ‘second-government’ has itself ceded power to the bourgeoisie, has chained itself to the bourgeois government.

He summed up:

Is this reality covered by comrade Kamenev’s old Bolshevik formula, which says that ‘the bourgeois-democratic revolution is not completed’?

It is not. The formula is obsolete. It is no good at all. It is dead. And it is no use trying to revive it. [76]

As a matter of fact the concept of ‘democratic dictatorship of proletariat and peasantry’ was found to be a far less clear guide than Trotsky’s formula of the permanent revolution. The latter made it clear that the revolution would not confine itself to bourgeois democratic tasks but must immediately proceed to carry out proletarian socialist measures.

In the event of a decisive victory of the revolution, power will pass into the hands of that class which plays a leading role in the struggle – in other words, into the hands of the proletariat ... The proletariat in power will stand before the peasant as the class which has emancipated it ... The political domination of the proletariat is incompatible with its economic enslavement. No matter under what political flag the proletariat has come to power it is obliged to take the path of socialist policy. It would be the greatest Utopianism to think that the proletariat, having been raised to political domination by the internal mechanism of bourgeois revolution can, even if it so desires, limit its mission to the creation of republican-democratic conditions for the social domination of the bourgeoisie ... The barrier between the ‘minimum’ and the ‘maximum’ programme disappears immediately if proletariat comes to power. [77]

Lenin had repeatedly to learn from experience, to overcome his own ideas of yesterday; he had to learn from the masses. But as had happened many times before when history made sharp turn the old Bolsheviks were not able to make the quick adjustment needed. The party leaders in Russia still believed after February that the task was to establish a democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. Lenin had to repeat again and again ‘We must abandon old Bolshevism.’

The Bolshevik Leaders Oppose the April Theses

The reaction to the April Theses at the 6 April session of the Central Committee was very unfavourable:

Kamenev: In the Theses there is no concrete instruction ... the revolution is bourgeois and not social ... imperialism does lead to socialism, but so long as nothing happens in the West too much burden is imposed on the shoulders of Russia ...

Goloshchekin: What is needed is a platform; the Theses do not supply this.

Shliapnikov: The Theses have two parts. The first part – attitude to the war – completely acceptable. The second part does not give practical slogans ...

Zinoviev: Perplexing ...

Stalin: ... A schema but no facts, hence unsatisfactory. [78]

Even Zinoviev did not side with Lenin, although he had been abroad with Lenin for years and for a number of years shared with him the editorship of the central organ of the Bolsheviks: Sotsial-Demokrat.

Kamenev, a Bolshevik almost from the birth of Bolshevism, as Sukhanov stated, had ‘always stood on its right, conciliationist, passive wing’.

As a political figure Kamenev was undoubtedly an exceptional, though not an independent, force. Lacking either sharp corners, great intellectual striking power, or original language, he was not fitted to be a leader; by himself he had nowhere to lead the masses. Left alone he would not fail to be assimilated by someone. It was always necessary to take him in tow, and if he sometimes balked it was never very violently ... At the beginning of the revolution he jibbed against Lenin, jibbed at the October Revolution, jibbed at the general havoc and terror after the revolution, jibbed on supply questions in the second year of the Bolshevik regime. But – he always surrendered on all points. Not having much faith in himself, he recently (in the autumn of 1918) said to me, in order to justify himself in his own eyes: ‘As for myself, I am more and more convinced that Lenin never makes a mistake. In the last analysis he is always right. How often has it seemed that he was slipping up – either in his prognosis or in his political line! But in the last analysis his prognosis and his line were always justified.’ [79]

Stalin, lacking wide theoretical horizons, adapted himself to the prevailing conservative mood among the leading ‘old Bolsheviks’. His main characteristic was his lack of imagination. Sukhanov writes about him: ‘Stalin ... during his modest activity in the Ex.Com. produced – and not only on me – the impress of a grey blur, looming up now and then dimly and not leaving any trace. There is really nothing more to be said about him.’ [80]

Being among the top leadership of the Bolshevik Party did guarantee that one was free of conservatism, or routinism. V.N. Zalezhsky, a member of the Petrograd Committee, recall ‘Lenin’s theses produced the impression of an exploding bomb.’ Zalezhsky confirms Lenin’s complete isolation after that warm and impressive welcome. ‘On that day [4 April] Comrade Lenin could not find open sympathizers even in our own ranks.’ [81]

‘Many of the comrades pointed out,’ Tsikhon recalled, ‘that Lenin has lost contact with Russia, did not take into consideration present conditions, and so forth.’ The provincial Bolshevik Lebedev tells how in the beginning the Bolsheviks condemned Lenin’s agitation, ‘which seemed Utopian and which was explained by his prolonged lack of contact with Russian life’. [82]

On 8 April the Petersburg Committee rejected Lenin’s April Theses by a vote of 13 to 2 with 1 abstention. [83]

The Enemies of Bolshevism are Full of Glee

The opponents of Bolshevism came to the conclusion Lenin was finished – so mad did his ideas sound, and so isolated was he among his party comrades. Thus Sukhanov remembers:

Skobolev and I strolled about the room, Miliukov came up to us. The conversation turned upon Lenin. Skobolev told Miliukov about his ‘lunatic ideas’, appraising him as a completely lost standing outside the movement. I agreed in general with estimate of Lenin’s ideas and said that in his present guise he was so unacceptable to everyone that now he was not at all dangerous for our interlocutor, Miliukov. However, the future of Lenin seemed different to me: I was convinced that after he had escaped from his foreign academic atmosphere and come into an atmosphere of real struggle and wide practical activity, he would acclimatise himself quickly, settle down, stand on firm ground throw overboard the bulk of his anarchist ‘ravings’. What life failed to accomplish with him, the solid pressure of his party comrades would help with. [84]

Victor Chernov, the leader of the Socialist Revolutionaries, and later a minister in the provisional government, had this to say:

Let us ... not be unduly frightened by Lenin’s political excesses, just because their derivation and character are too clear. The extent of their influence, and consequently also their dangers, will be extremely limited and ‘localized’. [85]

Lenin Wins the Party

In spite of this inauspicious beginning, Lenin was able to win a large proportion of the party to his stand in an astonishingly short time.

The initial victory came at the First Petrograd City Conference (14-22 April). The going was by no means easy. One delegate after another stated his disagreement with Lenin’s Theses.

Shutko declared: ‘Democratic dictatorship of the proletariat, this is fundamental for us. If one wants to support realistically our revolution, it is necessary to organize this democracy.’

Bagdatev, the left extremist secretary of the Bolshevik Committee of the Putilov works, asked: ‘Assuming that the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies took power – what would they do? Social revolution? Obviously not. Obviously we can realize only our minimum programme. However even this cannot be achieved without the socialist revolution in Western Europe.’

Petrikovskii accused Lenin of Blanquism.

Kalinin said: ‘I belong to the old Bolsheviks, Leninists, and I consider that the old Leninism has not by any means proved good-for-nothing in the present peculiar moment, and I’m astonished at the declaration of comrade Lenin that the old Bolsheviks have become an obstacle at the present moment.’

Almost the only delegate who spoke in support of Lenin was Ludmilla Stal. She said:

All the comrades before the arrival of Lenin were wandering in the dark. We knew only the formulas of 1905. Seeing the independent creative work of the people, we could not teach them. I turn now to the comrades of the Vyborg district and propose that they learn the full importance of the moment. Our comrades were only able to see as far as preparing for the constituent assembly by parliamentary means, and took no account of the possibility of going further. In accepting the slogans of Lenin we are now doing what life itself suggests to us. We need not fear the Commune and say that we have already a workers’ government; the Paris Commune was not only a workers’, but also a petty-bourgeois government. [86]

From Stal’s words it is evident that the Vyborg Bolsheviks feared that Lenin’s policy of using Soviet power to move towards socialism would cut the cities off from the peasants, and that 1917 would merely repeat the events of the Paris Commune of 1871. However, their opposition was not stubborn, as they had much in common with Lenin in their approach to the events of the day.

In spite of the apparent lack of support for Lenin at the Petrograd City Conference, practically all the vocal delegates speaking against him, Lenin’s resolution on the attitude to be taken to the provisional government won handsomely: 33 for, 6 against and 2 abstentions. [87] Following the conference, in early May, a new Executive Committee of the Petersburg Committee was elected, the only ‘old’ members it contained being those who had opposed the right-wing majority in March. [88]

Another step towards winning the party was the Seventh All-Russian Conference of the party held on 24-29 April. There was still vocal opposition to the April Theses. Kamenev said:

Lenin is wrong when he says that the bourgeois democratic revolution is finished ... The classical relics of feudalism, the landed estates, are not liquidated ... The state is not transformed into a democratic society ... It is too early to say that bourgeois democracy has exhausted all its possibilities. [89]

Rykov argued:

Where will arise the sun of the socialist revolution? I think that under the present conditions, with our standard of living, the initiation of the socialist revolution does not belong to us. We have not the strength, the objective conditions, for this.

Gigantic revolutionary tasks face us, but the fulfilment of these tasks does not carry us beyond the framework of the bourgeois revolution. [90]

And Bagdatev could say:

Kamenev’s report on the whole anticipated my position. I also find that the bourgeois democratic revolution has not ended and Kamenev’s resolution is acceptable for me ... I think that Comrade Lenin had too early rejected the point of view of old Bolshevism.

At the same time he showed his radicalism by stating:

everywhere and always every day, we have to show the masses that until power has been transferred into the hands of the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, there is no hope for an early end of the war and no possibility for the realization of their programme. [91]

What muddled thinking!

After a long discussion Lenin won decisively. A small right-wing group still spoke in favour of ‘watchful control’ over the provisional government, but the overwhelming majority sided with his call for a struggle for all power to the Soviets. An overwhelming majority of the delegates also sided with him on the question of the war. The conference declared that the war continued to be an imperialist war, and hence the proletariat had to oppose it completely. It condemned ‘revolutionary defencism’ and insisted that the war should end with a democratic peace after power had been transferred to the proletariat. Finally, the conference advocated mass fraternization at the front as a means of stimulating revolution abroad. [92] This resolution was passed nem. con., with 7 abstentions. [93]

Yet Lenin did not have his way on all the issues before the conference. A resolution On the Current Moment was won by only a small margin: 71 for, 39 against, 8 abstentions. [94] A resolution against the coalition government was passed nem. con. with two abstentions. [95] At the very end of the conference, Zinoviev proposed a resolution: ‘To take part in the international conference of Zimmerwaldists designated for 18 May’ (in Stockholm). The report says: ‘Adopted by all votes against one.’ [96] That one was Lenin.

There was a further indication of the fact that Lenin’s victory was not complete. The right wing of the party managed to elect 4 of its number (Kamenev, Nogin, Miliutin and Fedorov) to the new 9-member Central Committee. The other members were Lenin, Sverdlov, Smilga, Zinoviev and Stalin, who by now had veered towards Lenin. The number of votes received by the right-wingers for the Central Committee was quite impressive. The figures were: Lenin, 104; Zinoviev, 101; Stalin, 97; Kamenev, 95; Miliutin, 82; Nogin, 76; Sverdlov, 71; Smilga, 53; Fedorov, 48. [97]

An interesting incident occurred during the elections. There was some opposition to the election of Kamenev. One delegate argued that his behaviour in court at the beginning of the war, when he had tried to ingratiate himself and had given evidence while other Bolshevik defendants refused, and his article in Pravda of 15 March made him unsuitable to be on the Central Committee. Although Lenin had previously attacked Kamenev on just these two issues, he now came to his defence. [98] He knew the importance of the cadres. Kamenev, who had been in the party throughout its existence, was of too much value to be pushed aside. Possibly Lenin’s bad judgement of character played a role here: a few months later, on the eve of the October revolution, he was to demand Kamenev’s expulsion from the party. [2*] Personal grudges were never an element in Lenin’s political relations, with friend or foe.

‘Old Bolshevism’ – an Impediment

So long as Lenin was not at the helm of the party, its course was erratic. Stalin, on issuing a collection of articles of his in 1924, had to admit:

These articles reflect certain waverings of the majority of our party on the questions of peace and the power of the Soviets which occurred, as is known, in March and April 1917 ... It is not surprising that Bolsheviks, scattered by Tsarism in prisons and places of exile, and just able to come together from different ends of Russia in order to work out a new platform, could not immediately understand the new situation. It is not surprising that the party, in search of a new orientation, then stopped halfway in the questions of peace and Soviet power. The famous April Theses of Lenin were needed before the party could come out on the new road with one leap ... I shared this mistaken position with the majority of the party and renounced it fully in the middle of April, associating myself with the April Theses of Lenin. [99]

Lenin, the father of Bolshevism, the man who had shaped the slogan of ‘the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’, and who provided its theoretical support, was the best equipped in April 1917 to overcome its limitations. This slogan restricted the revolution to bourgeois democratic ends. Now, after February, it became an obstacle to any struggle for workers’ power that had to go beyond capitalism; to establish workers’ control in industry and above all to put an end to the imperialist war. Now history relentlessly posed the alternative: either the revolution would be bourgeois-democratic or it should culminate in the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Tradition plays a great role in the revolutionary movement – both positively and negatively. Tradition is necessary to the revolutionary class, as a rich arsenal from which weapons can be borrowed. However, it can be an inhibiting factor: the wrong weapons can be chosen!

How to explain the amazing speed with which Lenin won his victory within the party? How did he manage in less than a month to achieve such substantial success in rearming the party?

It is true that the Bolshevik Party, with years and years of struggle behind it, had selected and steeled its members. But in the process of training, as we have seen throughout the history of Bolshevism, a certain conservatism arose, especially among the committee-men. At practically all sharp turning points, Lenin had to rely on the lower strata of the party machine against the higher, or on the rank and file against the machine as a whole. The proletarian mass often sensed sooner than the leaders the real objective situation and the needs of the class. It was part of Lenin’s greatness that he shared this sense, and found the courage to tell the truth, however unpopular; telling the truth is at the heart of revolutionary politics.

If the Bolshevik Party had been made up of docile rank-and-file members led by an omniscient leader, the whole episode of the rearming of the party in April could not have arisen. As we have seen, before Lenin reached Russia, in Petrograd and above all in the Vyborg District, party members came out with the radical policy of opposition to the war, demanding the overthrow of the provisional government and the establishment of Soviet power. However, Lenin’s role was crucial, because he did not simply reflect these radical views but overcame the conservative elements enshrined in them – the concept of ‘democratic dictatorship’ of which he himself was the author. Even the best of the Vyborg comrades needed the April Theses to overcome the contradictory and equivocal position they held. A revolution, above all, cannot for long suffer inconsistency and equivocation.

Lenin’s Decisive Role

‘How would the revolution have developed if Lenin had not reached Russia in April 1917?’ Trotsky asks, and answers:

If our exposition demonstrates and proves anything at all, we hope it proves that Lenin was not a demiurge of the revolutionary process, that he merely entered into a chain of objective historic forces. But he was a great link in that chain.

... Is it possible, ... to say confidently that the party without him would have found its road? We would by no means make bold to say that. The factor of time is decisive here, and it is difficult in retrospect to tell time historically. Dialectic materialism at any rate has nothing in common with fatalism. Without Lenin the crisis, which the opportunist leadership was inevitably bound to produce, would have assumed an extraordinarily sharp and protracted character. The conditions of war and revolution, however, would not allow the party a long period for fulfilling its mission. Thus it is by no means excluded that a disoriented and split party might have let slip the revolutionary opportunity for many years. [100]

Sukhanov explains how Lenin managed to turn the party rudder as follows:

In practice Lenin had been historically the exclusive, sole, and unchallenged head of the party for many years, since the day of its emergence. The Bolshevik Party was the work of his hands, and his alone. The very thought of going against Lenin was frightening and odious, and required from the Bolshevik mass what it was incapable of giving.

Lenin the genius was an historic figure – this is one side of the matter. The other is that, except Lenin, there was nothing and no-one in the party. The few massive generals without Lenin were nothing, like the few immense planets without the sun (for the moment I leave aside Trotsky, who at that time was still outside the ranks of the order). [101]

It is true that Lenin had remarkable authority among party members, which had been won over many years of struggle. But this authority and Lenin’s success in rearming the party in April are explained not by the backwardness of the Bolsheviks, as claimed by Sukhanov, their enemy, but on the contrary by their strength. Throughout its existence the dynamism of Bolshevism was leading towards the proletarian revolution. One must take into account the dynamic forces which Lenin was relying on and shaping: the proletariat’s fight against Tsarism and against its accomplices, the liberal bourgeoisie; the proletariat’s struggle as the spearhead of the peasantry; the proletariat leading an armed insurrection; the Marxist party fighting for the conquest of power, and so on. In this algebra of revolution, the real value of the unknown or doubtful element in Lenin’s equation – how far the revolution would go beyond the minimum programme – would be decided largely by the development of the struggle itself.

No one but Lenin could have rearmed the party ideologically in the short time the revolution allowed. Referring to the rearming of the Bolshevik Party in April Trotsky wrote:

Had I not been present in 1917 in Petersburg, the October revolution would still have taken place – on the condition that Lenin was present and in command. If neither Lenin nor I had been present in Petersburg, there would have been no October revolution: the leadership of the Bolshevik Party would have prevented it from occurring – of this I have not the slightest doubt! If Lenin had not been in Petersburg, I doubt whether I could have managed to conquer the resistance of the Bolshevik leaders ... But I repeat, granted the presence of Lenin the October revolution would have been victorious anyway. [102]

Even Trotsky, the most talented leader, second only to Lenin in authority in the party during the October revolution and the civil war that followed it, could not have substituted for him. He lacked the authority granted by years of common struggle and membership of the party. After Trotsky returned to Russia in May Lenin again and again tried to persuade his colleagues to grant Trotsky, the brilliant writer, a prominent role in the direction of the Bolshevik press, but to no avail. As late as 4 August the Central Committee elected a chief editorial board for the Bolshevik newspapers made up of Stalin, Sokolnikov and Miliutin. A proposal that Trotsky should join the board when released from prison was defeated by 11 to 10. [103] [3*]

4 August! This was after Trotsky had announced his solidarity with the Bolshevik Party during the July Days, and as a result was in Kresty prison! This was a couple of days after the Sixth Congress had elected him to the Central Committee of the party with a handsome vote; the four who received the highest votes were: Lenin, 133 (out of a possible 134); Zinoviev 132; Trotsky 131; Kamenev 131. [105] It indicates the extent of the prejudices among the top party leaders against the ‘new boy’. They still considered Trotsky as an outsider. Indeed, it was some time before Trotsky regarded himself as a Bolshevik. ‘I cannot describe myself as a Bolshevik. It is undesirable to stick to old labels’, he declared at the very first joint discussion between the Bolsheviks and his group. [106] [4*]

Trotsky was a brilliant general without an army to speak of, while Lenin was the recognized leader of a great party. As an individual Trotsky would make his words heard, but only a massive and well-disciplined party could transform words into deeds. Lenin and he alone was able to rearm the great party of Bolshevism.

The statement ‘No Lenin, no October’ looks like a negation of Marxism, of the materialist interpretation of history. And to the ‘Marxist’ school of Karl Kautsky, Otto Bauer and their like, who castrated Marxism, turning it into a fatalistic scholarly commentary on events, it seems so. However, the heart of Marxism is that man makes history, man is the active subject of social change. And as the working class is not homogeneous, it is up to the advanced section of the class to coalesce in a revolutionary party. Without such a party, there can be no victory of the revolution. Of course the party has to be rooted in the class, has to be taught by the experience of the class and has to lead the class. Unevenness also exists inside the party: between different comrades with different levels of experience, talent and so on. In the struggle the development and selection of cadres for leadership takes place.

Revolutions tend towards centralism because their aim is the taking of state power, and the state is highly centralized. Hence at the moment of the revolution, more than ever before, a decisive role is played by the leadership in the central direction of the revolutionary forces. The initiative of the revolutionary centralist leadership does not negate democracy; on the contrary, it is its dynamic realization. The great revolutionary leader is great because he expresses the needs of the millions, because the slogans he puts forward, the tactics and strategy he uses, fit the needs of the time.

Lenin emerged from the party crisis in April with enormous moral authority; he had the courage to defy the prevailing mood in the party, and, with extraordinary powers of persuasion, to sway his comrades.

Above all, in April Lenin demonstrated his amazing revolutionary imagination when, in the midst of the general euphoria, he stated that he was looking forward to ‘a break-up and a revolution a thousand times more powerful than that of February’. [108]




2*. See Chap.19, A Bombshell.

3*. In fact, on 6 September, on his first appearance at the Central Committee two days after his release from prison, Trotsky was appointed unopposed as one of the party’s chief editors. [104]

4*. Trotsky was a leader of a small group, the Mezhraiontsy, of some 4,000 members. They did not aim to form a party, but to unite the Bolsheviks with the international wings of the Mensheviks. A note in the first edition of Lenin’s Collected Works [107] characterized the Mezhraiontsy as follows: ‘On the war question, the Mezhraiontsy held an internationalist position and in their tactics they were close to the Bolsheviks.’ Their influence was confined to a few working-class districts in Petrograd. Among the leaders of the Mezhraiontsy were a number of people destined to play a central role in the October revolution and the Soviet regime following it: Trotsky, Lunacharsky, Ioffe, Uritsky, Iurenev, Riazanov, Karakhan, Manuilsky and others.




61. F.F. Raskolnikov, Kronstadt i Piter v 1917 godu, Moscow-Leningrad 1925, p.54.

62. Sukhanov, op. cit., pp.272-274.

63. ibid., p.280.

64. ibid., pp.281-282.

65. ibid., p.286.

66. ibid., p.287.

67. ibid., p.287-288.

68. Lenin, Works, Vol.24, pp.21-24.

69. Sukhanov, op. cit., p.289.

70. Lenin, Works, Vol.21, p.33.

71. Cliff, op. cit., pp.205-206.

72. Lenin, Works, Vol.8, p.314.

73. ibid., Vol.24, p.43.

74. ibid., p.44-46.

75. ibid., p.38.

76. ibid., p.50.

77. Results and Prospects, in Leon Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution, London 1962, pp.201, 203, 233-234.

78. Sidorov, op. cit., Vol.2, pp.15-16.

79. Sukhanov, op. cit., p.225-226..

80. ibid., p.230.

81. Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, op. cit., p.326.

82. Trotsky, Stalin, op. cit., p.198.

83. Kudelli, op. cit., p.88.

84. Sukhanov, op. cit., p.288.

85. B&K, Vol.3, p.1210.

86. Sedmaia (Aprelskaia) Vserossiiskaia konferentsiia RSDRP (bolshevikov) (hereafter referred to as Sedmaia konferentsiia), Moscow 1958, pp.14-18.

87. ibid., p.37.

88. Kudelli, op. cit., pp.99-100, 103.

89. Sedmaia konferentsiia, op. cit., p.80.

90. ibid. p.106.

91. ibid., p.91-92.

92. ibid., p.241-243.

93. ibid., p.177.

94. ibid., p.373.

95. ibid., p.195.

96. ibid., p.372.

97. ibid., p.228.

98. ibid., p.322.

99. I.V. Stalin, Na putiakh k Oktobriu, Moscow 1924, p.viii.

100. Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, op. cit., p.343

101. Sukhanov, op. cit., p.290.

102. Leon Trotsky, Diary in Exile, London 1958, pp.53-4.

103. The Bolsheviks and the October Revolution. Minutes of the Central Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (Bolsheviks) August 1917-February 1918, London 1974 (hereafter referred to as CC Minutes), p.11.

104. ibid. p.49.

105. Shestoi sezd RSDRP (bolshevikov), avgust 1917 goda: Protokoly, Moscow 1958 (hereafter referred to as Shestoi sezd), p.252.

106. Leninskii sbornik, Vol.4, p.303.

107. Lenin, Sochineniia, 1st Ed., Vol.14, p.488.

108. Leninskii sbornik, Vol.4, p.290.


Last updated on 25.10.2007