Tony Cliff

Lenin 2

Chapter 6
From the February Revolution to Dual Power

The February Revolution

In 1917, on the traditional day for commemorating Bloody Sunday (January 9), workers from 114 enterprises, some 137,500 in all, came out on strike. This was not an exceptional event. However, in the last week of February a new, much wider and deeper strike movement developed. It resulted from a lockout at the Putilov works, and from the dwindling bread supply.

On February 18, workers in one section of the Putilov works put forward a claim for a 50 percent wage increase. When the management refused to concede their demand they began a sit-down strike. On February 21, they were sacked. The strike spread to other sections, and on February 22, the management announced the closure of the whole plant for an indefinite period. This meant that thirty thousand well-organized workers were on the streets. The lockout at Putilov made a substantial contribution to the rapid spread of the strike movement.

As for the bread supply – in Petrograd in mid-February, only ten days’ supply of flour remained. The regional military commander, General S.S. Khabalov decided, along with municipal authorities, to set up a rationing system. The people learned of it, and the following morning, February 16, there were long queues in front of the bakers’ shops and outside all the food stores. The stores, emptied within a few hours, closed their shutters. Crowds gathered and windows were broken. During the following days, such incidents recurred again and again.

February 23 was International Women’s Day. After speeches in the factories, crowds of women poured into the streets, clamoring for bread. Here and there red flags appeared with the slogan, “Down with the autocracy.”

A secret okhrana report vividly described the events of February 23 and 24:

On February 23 at 9 a.m., the workers of the plants and factories of the Vyborg district went on strike in protest against the shortage of black bread in bakeries and groceries; the strike spread to some plants located in the Petrograd, Rozhdestvenskii and Liteinyi districts, and in the course of the day 50 industrial enterprises ceased working, with 87,534 men going on strike.

At about 1 p.m., the workmen of the Vyborg district, walking out in crowds into the streets and shouting “Give us bread,” started at the same time to become disorderly in various places, taking with them on the way their comrades who were at work and stopping tramcars; the demonstrators took away from the tram drivers the keys to the electric motors, which forced 15 tramway trains to quit the lines and retire to the Petrograd tramway yard.

The strikers, who were resolutely chased by police and troops summoned [for this purpose], were dispersed in one place but quickly gathered in other places, showing themselves to be exceptionally stubborn; in the Vyborg district order was restored only toward 7 p.m. [1]

The next day, the workers’ movement had not abated. Thus a memorandum from the okhrana compiled later in the evening of February 24 stated:

The strike of the workers which took place yesterday in connection with the shortage of bread continued today; in the course of the day 131 enterprises with 158,583 workers shut down.

After arriving in the morning at their plants, the workers of the enterprises which had decided to go on strike departed after short discussions, partly to their homes and partly to the streets, where they perpetrated disorders ...

In this way the crowd quickly increased to two to three thousand men. At the corner of the Bolshoi Prospect and Grebetskaia Street the demonstrators were met by a detail of police, which, being small in number, was unable to stop the movement and had to let them go on. On the Kamennoostrovskii Prospect the crowd was dispersed by Cossacks and mounted police.

The demonstrators included a large number of students ...

At about 9 a.m., after arriving at work, 3,500 workers of the “Aivaz” plant gathered on the premises of the automobile section and organized a meeting at which speakers who had arrived from the outside expressed their discontent with the government and called the workers to unite and to make an energetic demonstration demanding from the Duma the elimination of the present government; at the same time they emphasized that if they acted, they would be supported not only by workmen but also by various employees, by those of the railways, of the tramways, of the telegraph and of the post office. The demands should be accompanied by demonstrations, but no destruction should be perpetrated. They should proceed on the streets in separate groups, not in crowds, and they should try to reach the Duma by 3 p.m. In conclusion, a resolution demanding the removal of the government was adopted. A crowd of about 3,000 workmen moving along the Nevskii Prospect stopped at house no.80 and listened to a speaker who called for the overthrow of the existing regime and proposed that they gather next day, 25 February, at 12 noon near the Kazan Cathedral.

In the communication of the police sergeant, on the basis of which the above event is reported, it was added: “The Cossacks, who stood close to the crowd, did not disperse it.” There are other communications regarding the “inactivity” of Cossacks and soldiers. [2]

The next day, on February 25, the okhrana report expressed even greater alarm, pointing out that troops, and even Cossacks, were not ready to suppress the workers.

On 25 February a crowd of about 6,000 workmen proceeding from the Bolshoi Samsonievskii Prospect along Botkinskaia Street toward Nizhnii Novgorod Street was met by Cossacks and a detail of police; present on horseback was Shalfeev, Chief of Police of the 5th District. The crowd dragged him down from the horse and began to beat him with sticks and an iron hook used to switch railway points; policemen fired into the crowd (evidently the Cossacks were inactive) and the shots were returned from the crowd. The Chief of Police was seriously wounded and was taken to a military hospital.

The crowd is still on the spot. Details are being ascertained ...

On ... 25 February, the report of the superintendence of the Vasilevskii district’s 1st precinct to the Commander of the Finland Guard regiment’s reserve battalion – a copy of which was delivered to the okhrana – also speaks of the inactivity of the Cossacks. The report advised of the disorders which occurred on the 25th on Vasilevskii Island, disorders which were suppressed by the police and the soldiers of the Finland regiment, while “the platoon of the 1st Don Cossack regiment, which arrived at the spot, did not take any measures for the restoration of order ...”

If resolute measures are not taken to quell the disorders, barricades might be erected on Monday.

It should be noted that, among the military units summoned for the purpose of suppressing the disorders, one may observe [cases of] fraternization with the demonstrators, and some units even manifest approval, encouraging the mob by saying “press harder.” If the moment were to be lost and the leadership taken by the upper layer of the revolutionary underground, events would assume very wide proportions. [3]

On February 26, for the first time, there appears in an okhrana report a direct description of a soldier’s mutiny:

Police Sergeant Kharitonov reported that at 6 p.m. the 4th company of the Pavlovsk Guard regiment, in an outburst of indignation against their [regimental] training detachment, which had been detailed to the Nevskii Prospect, and which had fired at the crowd after leaving its barracks which are located in the riding school of the court stables, proceeded toward the Nevskii Prospect under the command of a non-commissioned officer with the intention of removing [the details of the training detachment] from their posts; however, on its way, in the vicinity of the Church of Christ the Savior, the 4th company met a mounted patrol of 10 policemen; the soldiers abused the policemen, calling them “pharaohs,” and firing several volleys at them, killing one policeman and one horse, and wounding one policeman and one horse. Then the soldiers (of the 4th company) returned to the barracks, where they staged a mutiny. Colonel Eksten came to put it down and was wounded by one of the soldiers; his hand was cut off; later a detachment of the Preobrazhenskii Guard regiment was summoned; it disarmed and surrounded the mutineers.

On February 26, General Khabalov received a peremptory telegram from the Tsar, worded as follows: “I command you to suppress from tomorrow all disorders on the streets of the capital, which are impermissible at a time when the fatherland is carrying on a difficult war with Germany.”

The Tsar’s order caused a sharp change in the tactics of the military authorities in Petrograd. Hitherto the use of firearms had been avoided. Now Khabalov gave his subordinate officers instructions to fire on crowds that refused to disperse after warning. The regime took a gamble. If the troops obeyed, the revolutionary movement would be crushed. But what if they did not?

To increase their show of resolute action, the police arrested about a hundred people on the night of February 26, including five members of the Petersburg Committee of the Bolshevik Party. On the surface, the course of events on that day, which was a Sunday, represented a victory for the government. There was firing on the crowds in four separate places in the central part of the city; and on Znamenskaia Square, a detachment of the Volinskii regiment used machine guns as well as rifles, with the result that about forty people were killed and a similar number wounded. Towards the evening there was an outburst of rebellion in one company of the Pavlov regiment; but it was put down with the aid of other troops, and the ringleaders imprisoned in the fortress of Peter and Paul. [4]

The next day, however, the mutiny in the army spread. This mutiny, that was to transform the prolonged street demonstrations into a victorious revolution, started in the very unit that had inflicted the heaviest losses on the demonstrating workers the day before – the Volinskii regiment. During the night the soldiers discussed their impressions of the day’s shootings, and agreed that they would no longer fire on the crowd. When Captain Lashkevich appeared in the barracks of the detachment on the morning of February 27, he was greeted with shouts of “We will not shoot.”

An okhrana report tells the story:

At 9 a.m. Police Sergeant Liubitskii reported that the training detachments of the Volinskii regiment have revolted at no.13/15 of the Vilna Alley, and Captain Lashkevich, who was in charge of the cadres, was killed by a rifle shot; later the Litovskii regiment revolted; it is stationed in the barracks at Kirochnaia Street, where it started to plunder the arsenal, removing cartridges and rifles in automobiles; the part of the Preobrazhenskii regiment which is stationed in these barracks joined them.

Police Sergeant Liubitskii reported that at 12 noon in the Preobrazhenskii regiment (Kirochnaia Street no.37) the soldiers killed Colonel Bogdanovich, commander of the regiment, because he had refused to distribute cartridges and weapons; groups of these soldiers scattered in the directions of the Nevskii Prospect, the Duma and the Vyborg district, where the arsenals of this regiment are located; they sent soldiers by horse and by car to all the other military units for the purpose [of inciting to] mutiny other units as well. Shooting has started. The crowds on Gospitalnaia, Paradnaia and other streets are very large. [5]

According to N.N. Sukhanov, an honest eyewitness and excellent chronicler of the revolution, some twenty-five thousand soldiers had left their barracks to mingle with the crowd while the rest of the garrison – altogether 160,000 strong – were not prepared to actually suppress the workers. [6] According to another source, as many as 70,000 soldiers joined the 385,000 workers on strike on February 27. [7]

February 28 brought the final collapse of the Tsarist forces: the last remaining “loyal” troops surrendered; the fortress of Peter and Paul capitulated without firing a single shot; and the Tsar’s ministers were either arrested or else surrendered to the new authorities.

A Spontaneous Revolution

The revolution was completely spontaneous and unplanned. As Trotsky correctly states: “[N]o one, positively no one – we can assert this categorically upon the basis of all the data – then thought that February 23 was to mark the beginning of a decisive drive against absolutism.” [8]

Sukhanov observes: “Not one party was preparing for the great upheaval.[9]

Similarly a former director of the okhrana stated that the revolution was “a purely spontaneous phenomenon, and not at all the fruit of party agitation.” [10]

The worker leader, Kaiurov, of the Vyborg District Committee of the Bolsheviks, who took a very active part in the February Revolution, testified that on February 23 “no one thought of such an imminent possibility of revolution.” When on February 22 some women workers met to discuss the organization of International Women’s Day the next day, Kaiurov advised them to refrain from hasty action.

But to my surprise and indignation, on 23 February, at an emergency conference of five persons in the corridor of the Erikson works, we learned from comrade Nikifor Ilyin of the strike in some textile factories and of the arrival of a number of delegates from the women workers, who announced that they were supporting the metal workers.

I was extremely indignant about the behavior of the strikers, both because they had blatantly ignored the decision of the District Committee of the party, and also because they had gone on strike after I had appealed to them only the night before to keep cool and disciplined.

With reluctance, [writes Kaiurov] the Bolsheviks agreed to this [spreading of the strike] and they were followed by other workers – Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries. But once there is a mass strike, one must call everybody into the streets and take the lead. [11]

It was not until February 25 that the Bolsheviks came out with their first leaflet calling for a general strike – after 200,000 workers had already downed tools!

The same day, Shliapnikov, the leading Bolshevik in Petrograd, refused to supply arms to the insistent workers: “I decisively refused to search for arms at all, and demanded that the soldiers should be drawn into the uprising, so as to get arms for all the workers. This was more difficult than to get a few dozen revolvers; but in this was the whole program of action.” [12] Was Shliapnikov far-seeing, or afraid of taking responsibility?

To return again to Kaiurov: he could write, long after the events, “Absolutely no guiding initiative from the party centers was felt ... The Petersburg Committee had been arrested, and the representative of the Central Committee, Comrade Shliapnikov, was unable to give any directives for the coming day.”

Sunday, February 26, was relatively quiet. The factories were closed, so that the strength of the masses could not be gauged. The workers could not assemble in the factories as they had done on the preceding days, and that hindered the demonstration. Quite naturally, rank-and-file leaders like Kaiurov could not assess the mood of the people. And so on the evening of the same Sunday he came to the conclusion that “the revolution is petering out. The demonstrators are disarmed. No one can do anything to the government now that it has taken decisive action.”

Corroboration of the spontaneous nature of the February Revolution comes from another source – the okhrana. On February 26, one of its agents, whose pseudonym was “Limonin,” an agent inside the Bolshevik Party, reported:

The movement which has started has flared up without any party preparing it and without any preliminary discussion of a plan of action. The revolutionary circles began to react only toward the end of the second day when the desire to develop the success of the movement to the widest limits possible became noticeable ... The general attitude of the non-party masses is as follows: the movement started spontaneously, without any preparation, exclusively on the basis of the food crisis. [13]

One must hasten to say that the revolution’s spontaneity does not mean that its participants and rank-and-file leaders lacked political ideas. Trotsky asked the question: Who led the February Revolution? And he gave the following accurate reply:

We can then answer definitely enough: Conscious and tempered workers educated for the most part by the party of Lenin. But we must here immediately add: This leadership proved sufficient to guarantee the victory of the insurrection, but it was not adequate to transfer immediately into the hands of the proletarian vanguard the leadership of the revolution. [14]

The Bourgeoisie is Afraid to Take Power

Throughout its history the Russian bourgeoisie proved to be cowardly and counter-revolutionary. Sazonov, the Tsarist foreign minister, assessed it accurately when he said, at a session of the Council of Ministers on August 26, 1915, “Miliukov [the Cadet leader] is the greatest bourgeois, and he fears a social revolution more than anything else. And, in general, the majority of the Cadets are trembling for their fortunes.” [15]

Even during the days of February 25-27, while Tsarism was under the severest popular attack, the bourgeoisie still tried to avoid the revolution and to come to terms with the monarchy. Sukhanov wrote:

As far as the leading circles were concerned, all their thoughts and efforts boiled down, not to shaping the revolution, or joining it and trying to make themselves the crest of the wave, but exclusively to avoiding it. Attempts were being made at deals with Tsarism; the political game was in full swing. All this was not only independent of the popular movement but at its expense and obviously aimed at its destruction.

At this moment the position of the bourgeoisie was quite clear: it was a position on the one hand of keeping their distance from the revolution and betraying it to Tsarism, and on the other of exploiting it for their own manoeuvres. [16]

However, this position could no longer be maintained when it became clear on February 27 and 28 that the revolution was victorious. Now the capitalists tried to loot the revolution they had not supported.

As a matter of fact, at that moment [writes Sukhanov] Miliukov, and in his person the whole of propertied Russia, was confronted by a genuinely tragic problem ... as long as Tsarism was not conclusively done for, it was necessary to cling to it, support it, and construct any domestic or foreign program of national liberalism on the basis of it. This was understood by every bourgeois element with any experience at all.

But what was to be done when Tsarism had almost fallen beneath the blows of the popular movement but its final fate was not known? Obviously, the natural solution was to maintain neutrality until the last minute and not burn one’s boats. But in practice it was clear that there had to be definite limits to neutrality, beyond which neutrality itself would burn the boats on one side and perhaps on both. Here one must be specially clear-sighted, supple and agile.

But the real tragedy began later. What was to be done after the popular revolution had wiped Tsarism off the face of the earth? To take the power out of the hands of Tsarism was natural. To make an alliance with Tsarism to smash the revolution, if it tried to sweep away both the bourgeoisie and Tsarism in the same breath, was even more natural and absolutely inevitable. But what if, on the one hand, Tsarism was hopeless, and on the other the possibility of standing at the head of the revolution was not excluded? What if some prospect of “using” it developed? What was to be done then? Take the power out of the hands of the revolution and the democracy after they had become masters of the situation? [17]

On February 27, Rodzianko, a big landlord and thorough monarchist, went to the Tsar to seek a compromise: with a new Tsar, perhaps the Tsarevich Aleksei with his uncle Michael as regent, or if need be Michael himself as Tsar. But this came to nothing. Nikolai abdicated and offered the crown to his brother, but the latter was not ready to take it without guarantees for his safety, which could not be given at such a time. So the monarchy was ended.

I don’t know whom Rodzianko consulted in the name of the Duma and the propertied classes [writes Sukhanov], but in any case it had become clear in those hours that the tactic of vanquishing the revolution through a united front with the forces of Tsarism had perhaps already become rather riskier than the tactic of vanquishing the democratic movement by trying to exploit the revolution and keep it in check by leading it. [18]

... [O]ur bourgeoisie ... betrayed the people not the day after the overturn but even before the overturn took place: it hadn’t started a revolution with the intention of turning against the people at an opportune moment, but had been dragged by the hair into the movement when the people’s revolution had already developed to its full extent. This bourgeoisie of ours left no room for doubt as to its goals. [19]

Unfortunately for the bourgeoisie, before the Tsar had even abdicated a new institution was born – the Soviet of Petrograd. In the space of a few days there was no town in Russia that did not have a soviet. By March 22, seventy-seven soviets were in touch with the Petrograd Soviet (not counting the soldier soviets and the factory soviets). [20]

The Soviet Has the Power

On Friday evening, February 24, elections to a Soviet of Workers’ Deputies were already being held in the factories of Petrograd. Thus the soviet was born even before the final victory of the February Revolution.

By February 28, Sukhanov writes,

the real power, was in its [the Soviet’s] hands, insofar as there was any authority at all at that time. And this was obvious to every man in the street.

Formally the power belonged to the Duma Committee ... But theirs was only a paper, or if you like a “moral” power ... in these crucial hours of convulsion it was absolutely unable to govern.

The only organization that could restore “order and normal life in the city” was the soviet,

which was beginning to acquire control over the masses of the workers and soldiers. It was clear to everyone that all effective workers’ organizations were at the disposal of the Soviet, and that it was for it to set in motion the immobilized tramways, factories, and newspapers, and even to restore order and safeguard the inhabitants from violence. [21]

A month later, at the end of March, things were no different.

The popularity and authority of the Soviet went on growing like a snowball amongst the urban and rural masses ... not only in these masses but also in political circles and state institutions – there was taking root an awareness of the Soviet’s real power and potentialities, and of the helplessness of the government and its agencies.

The official government machine, in one part after another, began idling more and more. Independently of what either side desired, the official mechanism was being supplanted by the Soviet. [22]

The soviet was to remain the greatest power in the land until the end of the February regime.

But the Bourgeoisie Should Have Power ...

For the Menshevik leaders it was axiomatic that power should be in the hands of the bourgeoisie, as, according to their “Marxism” this was preordained by the immutable laws of history.

Even Sukhanov, who was on the extreme left, internationalist wing of Menshevism, was a complete slave to this assumption. Thus, before the February Revolution it was clear to him that:

The government that was to take the place of Tsarism must be exclusively bourgeois ... The entire available state machinery, the army of bureaucrats, the Zemstvos and municipalities, which had had the cooperation of all the forces of the democracy, could obey Miliukov, but not Chkheidze. There was, however, and could be, no other machinery. [23]

If anyone dared to lift a finger against the bourgeoisie, it would be pushed into a counter-revolutionary stance, which would result in the defeat of the revolution.

The whole of the bourgeoisie as one man would have thrown all the strength it had in the scales on the side of Tsarism and formed with it a strong and united front – against the revolution. It would have roused up against the revolution the entire middle class and the press ... In these circumstances a socialist seizure of power would mean the inevitable and immediate failure of the revolution. [24]

To add to the impossibility of overthrowing the bourgeoisie came the war. Only the bourgeoisie could deal with foreign policy. It was, Sukhanov says,

out of the question to add an immediate radical change in foreign policy, with all its unforeseeable consequences, to all the difficulties of a revolution ... It seemed to me absolutely indispensable to lay the problems of foreign policy temporarily on the shoulders of the bourgeoisie, in order to create the possibility of a struggle for the most rapid and painless liquidation of the war under a bourgeois government that was carrying on the military policy of the autocracy ... It was clear then a priori that if a bourgeois government and the adherence of the bourgeoisie to the revolution were to be counted on, it was temporarily necessary to shelve the slogans against the war ... In general the solution of the problem of power seemed to me self-evident ... Power must go to the bourgeoisie. [25]

The Leaders of the Soviet Beg the Bourgeoisie to Take Power

The Soviet had all the power in its hands, but was bound by its leaders’ policy to transfer it to the liberal bourgeoisie. Tsereteli, the strongman of the Mensheviks in the Soviet, explained the “necessity of a compromise with the bourgeoisie. There can be no other road for the revolution. It’s true that we have all the power, and that the government would go if we lifted a finger, but that would mean disaster for the revolution.” [26] And so the soviet leaders begged the liberal leaders to take power. They threatened them with dire consequences if they did not. They promised to stop the excesses of the masses and to place self-imposed restrictions on the soviet itself.

Sukhanov explains:

We must be wary of confronting them [the capitalists] with any demands which might make them consider the experiment not worthwhile and turn to other methods of consolidating their class rule.

We must make every effort not to “disrupt the combination,” and therefore limit ourselves to a minimal, really indispensable program on just what concrete conditions should the power be entrusted to Miliukov’s government?

In essence I thought there was just one such condition: the assurance of complete political freedom in the country, an absolute freedom of organization and agitation. [27]

The Soviet had the power to rule but was ready to give it up, if only the capitalists would give their word not to lock the Soviet up and gag it. Its leaders begged, cajoled, threatened ... They did everything they could to make the bourgeoisie take power.

Sukhanov “threatened” Miliukov, the leader of the bourgeoisie, on February 27:

At this moment, a few rooms away, the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies is assembling. The success of the popular uprising means that within a few hours all the effective real power in the state, or at least in Petersburg, if not the government itself, will be in its hands. With the capitulation of Tsarism it is the Soviet that will be master of the situation. At the same time popular demands in such circumstances will inevitably be expanded to the most extreme limits. The movement does not have to be driven along by anyone just now – it is already running downhill too fast without that. But confining it within definite bounds would require enormous efforts. Besides, any attempt to keep the popular demands within set limits would be quite risky; it might discredit the controlling groups of the democracy in the eyes of the masses. The movement might turn into an uncontrollable explosion of elemental forces. [28]

A couple of days later, as a member of a delegation from the executive of the Soviet, Sukhanov told the provisional government: “The Soviet ... would leave the formation of a provisional government to the bourgeois groups, on the view that this followed from the existing general situation and suited the interests of the revolution.” [29]

What was the provisional government’s reaction?

Miliukov had taken very accurate bearings. He understood that without an accord with the Soviet no government could either arise or remain in existence. He understood that it was entirely within the power of the Ex. Com. [of the Soviet] to give authority to a bourgeois regime or withhold it. He saw where the real strength lay, he saw in whose hands were the means of assuring to the new government both the indispensable conditions for work and its very existence ... As for the “minimal” nature of our demands and the general attitude taken by the ... Ex. Com., Miliukov had not expected such “moderation” and “good sense.” He was agreeably surprised by our general attitude towards the question of power and felt the greatest satisfaction at the ... solution of the problem of war and peace as it affected the formation of the government. He didn’t even think of concealing his satisfaction and pleasant surprise.

And Miliukov said, “Yes, I was thinking as I listened to you how far our working-class movement has advanced since 1905.” [30]

The Bourgeoisie Takes Power From the Revolution That It Detests

V.B. Stankevich, who moved in bourgeois circles, describes the mood of those circles after the revolution:

Officially they celebrated, eulogized the revolution, cried “Hurray!” to the fighters for freedom, adorned themselves with red ribbons, and marched under red banners – Everyone said, We, our revolution, our victory, and our freedom. But in their hearts, in their tête-à-têtes they were horrified, trembled, felt themselves prisoners of a hostile elemental force that was traveling an unknown road. Unforgettable is the figure of Rodzianko, that portly lord and imposing personage, when, preserving a majestic dignity but with an expression of deep suffering despair frozen on his pale face, he made his way through a crowd of disheveled soldiers in the corridor of the Tauride Palace. [1*] Officially it was recorded: The soldiers have come to support the Duma in its struggle with the government. But actually the Duma had been abolished from the very first day. And the same expression was on the faces of all the members of the Provisional Committee of the Duma and those circles which surrounded it. They say that the representatives of the progressive bloc in their own homes wept with impotent despair. [31]

The testimony of V.V. Shulgin, a member of the Fourth Duma and supporter of the provisional government, is even more revealing. In his memoirs he writes:

This constant outpouring of humanity brought in sight new faces but, no matter how many there were, they all had a kind of stupid, animal, even devilish appearance. God, how ugly it looked! So ugly that I gritted my teeth. I felt pained and helpless and bitterly enraged.

Machine guns! That’s what I wanted. I felt that only the tongues of machine guns could talk to the mob, and that only machine guns and lead could drive back into his lair the frightful beast. This beast was no other than His Majesty the Russian people. That which we feared, tried to avoid at all costs, was before us. The revolution had begun.

If we only had machine guns. But we could not have any. Our great stupidity and irreparable mistake was that we had not prepared any real force. If we had had even a single regiment on whom to depend, a single general with determination, the situation might have been different. But we had neither the one nor the other ... and what’s more we could not have either. At this time Petrograd had no dependable troops left or perhaps it had not had any as yet ... Officers! We will talk about them later. At this time, no one even thought of looking to “officers” companies’ for support. [32]

There was no love lost between the provisional government and the Soviet; it was purely a marriage of convenience. Detesting the Soviet from which it received state power, the provisional government nevertheless ground its teeth and accepted its support.

This may have seemed to it a sorry turn of events [wrote Sukhanov], nevertheless it was the lesser evil and the only way out for the bourgeoisie. It was vital to acquire all the attributes of power – even at the price of a compromise, even at a very high price. For this there was only one real means.

This was – a formal marriage to the petty-bourgeois Soviet majority. Love was absent – but there was clear and obvious calculation. In itself the Soviet was not, of course, desirable; but it was a question of the dowry. And as a dowry the Soviet would bring the army, the real power, immediate confidence and support, and all the technical means of administration. [33]

Why Did the Soviet Leaders Deliver Power to the Provisional Government?

How can one explain the fact that a victorious revolution, which made the workers and soldiers the masters of the situation, did not overthrow the bourgeois order? Why did the leaders of the Soviet deliver power to the liberal bourgeoisie?

To refer only to the ideology of Menshevism, which saw the revolution as a bourgeois revolution, would not be enough. Neither could the paradox be explained by the fact that the Socialist Revolutionaries (and with them the Mensheviks) spoke about “revolutionary democracy” – as being neither bourgeois nor socialist – thus emptying the political regime of social content. Why did these ideas prevail? The answer lies in the preponderance at the beginning of the revolution of the petty-bourgeois masses – peasants in the main – led by intellectuals, and the immaturity of the revolution.

The basis of representation in the Soviet gave the advantage to the soldiers – the peasants in uniform. There was one delegate from each company of soldiers, as against one delegate for each thousand workers. Originally the companies in question had been those of the swollen reserve regiments, each with a thousand or more soldiers, but soon every company, regardless of size, was sending one delegate to the Soviet. As a result the 150,000 troops in the garrison had double the representation of the 450,000 workers in the city. [34] The soldiers therefore had four to five times more representatives than the workers in proportion to their numbers; there were two thousand soldiers and eight hundred workers in the soviet. [35]

Among the workers, again, those from smaller plants were very much better represented than those from larger ones. The large factories, with 87 percent of the workers of Petrograd, had 484 delegates to the soviet, while the others, with 13 percent of the workers, had 422 delegates. [36] [2*]

And who represented the soldiers? Mainly petty-bourgeois intellectuals. This is how Sukhanov describes the soldiers’ representatives in the Soviet immediately after the February Revolution:

Most of these soldiers’ and officers’ delegates made a right-democratic, or purely philistine, or simply Cadet-minded mass. In part they were people of the liberal professions and of liberal views who had hastily fastened on some kind of socialist label, indispensable in the Soviet democratic organizations; but in part they were really soldiers put forward by soldiers’ organizations in accordance with the prevailing war-mongering moods. Most of them clustered around the SR core. [38]

The SR (Socialist Revolutionary) Party, by far the largest in the soviet, attracted masses of petty-bourgeois and even bourgeois elements.

They were the petty-bourgeois democracy – peasants, shopkeepers, cooperators, minor officials, the third estate, the great mass of the indigent intelligentsia ... This, the largest party, had attracted into itself both some of the temperamental upper bourgeoisie and some of the effusively liberal landowners, and in the footsteps of the highly popular new War Minister, Kerensky, solid masses of military people – regular officers and even generals – had begun to enter the party. Two and a half months before, presumably, not one of the latter would have hesitated to shoot or hand over to the executioner any passer-by he even suspected of being an SR. [39]

Dual Power

However, a regime based on dual power is bound to be very unstable. Inherent in it is the likelihood of civil war between the two state powers. How can one contain both in the midst of a rising revolutionary crisis? To this, the left Menshevik Sukhanov tried to give a theoretical answer.

One must imagine all the complexity of the position of a victorious and profoundly democratic revolution which had made the proletariat the actual masters of the situation, while at the same time leaving untouched both the foundations of the bourgeois order and even the formal authority of the old ruling classes; one must understand all the complexity and contradictoriness of this position created by the revolution in order to appreciate how difficult, crucial, and ticklish the labor problem was at this period, and what experience, firmness, tact, and skill it required, between the hammer and the anvil, between the protesting rebellious workers and the employers, endlessly threatening strikes and lockouts. [40]

There could be only one answer to the problem raised by dual sovereignty, if it were to be preserved: one power – the Soviet – would have to subordinate itself to the other – the provisional government. And this was exactly what the Menshevik and SR leaders strove to do.

There were widespread demands for peace, land, and bread amongst the masses. The government could not and would not grant them. And in this class struggle the Soviet was on the side of the government. It passed off the government’s sabotage as the realization of the program, while it exhorted the masses to tranquility and loyalty. That is, the Soviet was fighting against the people and the revolution and for the policy of the bourgeois government. [41]

The capitalists knew they were impotent. “The provisional government has no real power at its disposal,” Guchkov, the minister of war, wrote to General Alekseev, on March 9,

and its decrees are carried out only to the extent this is permitted by the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. The Soviet controls the most important elements of real power, such as the army, the railways, the post and telegraphs. It is possible to say flatly that the provisional government exists only as long as is allowed by the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. In particular, it is now possible to give only those orders which do not radically conflict with the orders of the above-mentioned Soviet. [42]

The Soviet “was obliged to apply all its energies to hand over to the government the totality of its power and lay it at its feet. This was the Soviet ‘line’.” [43]

And what was the banner under which the army of the petty-bourgeoisie marched behind the bourgeoisie? The answer: democracy. The Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary leaders in Russia in 1917 only confirmed what Engels had written in a letter to Bebel on December 11,1884, about the role of “pure democracy”:

[W]hen the moment of revolution comes, of its acquiring a temporary importance as the most radical bourgeois party ... and as the final sheet-anchor of the whole bourgeois and even feudal regime ... the whole reactionary mass falls in behind it and strengthens it; everything which used to be reactionary behaves as democratic. In any case our sole adversary on the day of the crisis and on the day after the crisis will be the whole collective reaction which will group itself around pure democracy, and this, I think, should not be lost sight of. [44]

Lenin Explains

Lenin, unlike Sukhanov and other Mensheviks, did not fall for a futile explanation of the fate of the revolution in terms of some suprahistorical schema, that the revolution was bourgeois because of immutable laws that made it so. For Lenin the key was action. In a pamphlet written at the beginning of April, called The Tasks of the Proletariat in Our Revolution, he explained that the compromisers controlled the Soviet as a result of: (1) the immaturity of the revolution, and (2) the weight of the petty-bourgeois mass.

[The revolution] drew unprecedentedly vast numbers of ordinary citizens into the movement ... millions and tens of millions of people, who had been politically dormant for ten years and politically crushed by the terrible oppression of Tsarism and by inhuman toil for the landowners and capitalists, have awakened and taken eagerly to politics. And who are these millions and tens of millions? For the most part small proprietors, petty-bourgeois, people standing midway between the capitalists and the wage workers. Russia is the most petty-bourgeois of all European countries.

A gigantic petty-bourgeois wave has swept over everything and overwhelmed the class-conscious proletariat, not only by force of numbers but also ideologically; that is, it has infected and imbued very wide circles of workers with the petty-bourgeois political outlook. [45]

The petty-bourgeoisie tended to trust the capitalists:

An attitude of unreasoning trust in the capitalists – the worst foes of peace and socialism – characterizes the politics of the popular masses in Russia at the present moment; this is the fruit that has grown with revolutionary rapidity on the social and economic soil of the most petty-bourgeois of all European countries. This is the class basis for the “agreement” between the provisional government and the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. [46]

As a result of the influence of the petty-bourgeoisie, power was given to the bourgeoisie.

The highly important feature of the Russian revolution is the fact that the Petrograd Soviet of Soldiers’ and Workers’ Deputies, which ... enjoys the confidence of most of the local Soviets, is voluntarily transferring state power to the bourgeoisie and its provisional government, is voluntarily ceding supremacy to the latter, having entered into an agreement to support it. [47]

The result was dual power.

This dual power is evident in the existence of two governments: one is the main, the real, the actual government of the bourgeoisie, the “Provisional Government” of Lvov and Co., which holds in its hands all the organs of power; the other is a supplementary and parallel government, a “controlling” government in the shape of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, which holds no organs of state power, but directly rests on the support of an obvious and indisputable majority of the people, on the armed workers and soldiers. [47]

But it could not last long.

The dual power merely expresses a transitional phase in the revolution’s development, when it has gone farther than the ordinary bourgeois-democratic revolution, but has not yet reached a “pure” dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. [48]

The February Revolution failed to overthrow capitalism not because of some suprahistorical law of Menshevik “Marxism,” but because of the immaturity of the revolution, i.e., the lack of class consciousness and organization of the proletariat. As Lenin put it in his April Theses [see chapter 7]:

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 organization of the proletariat, is in the hands of the bourgeoisie – to its second stage, which must place power in the hands of the proletariat and the poorest sections of the peasants. [49]

The February Revolution led to the establishment of the provisional government headed by Prince Lvov and consisting mainly of Cadets and Octobrists. Its most important personalities were Miliukov (Foreign Affairs) and Guchkov (War). Kerensky, as minister of justice, was the only “socialist” in it. It had the support of the compromisist leaders of the Soviet – the Socialist Revolutionaries, whose main leader was V. Chernov, and the Mensheviks, whose main leader at the time was N.S. Chkheidze.



1*. Where both the Duma’s Provisional Committee – and later the provisional government – and the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies held their meetings.

2*. The same under-representation of the large factories and over-representation of the small ones occurred in the Soviets of other cities. Thus in Moscow the twenty giant enterprises (like Guzhon, Dynamo, etc.) with seventy-two thousand workers, were represented in the soviet by sixty delegates, while the small enterprises (less than four hundred workers each) also with seventy-two thousand workers, had more than one hundred delegates. [37]




1. Browder and Kerensky, vol.1, p.34.

2. Browder and Kerensky, vol.1, pp.34-35.

3. Browder and Kerensky, vol.1, pp.35-36.

4. Chamberlin, vol.1, p.77.

5. Browder and Kerensky, vol.1, pp.38-39.

6. N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917: A Personal Record. London 1955, p.36.

7. I.A. Aluf, On some problems of the February Revolution, Voprosy istorii KPSS, no.1, 1967.

8. Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, p.122.

9. Sukhanov, p.5.

10. General E.K. Klimovich, Padenie Tsarskogo rezhima, Leningrad 1927, vol.1, p.98.

11. V. Kaiurov, Six days of the February Revolution, Proletarskaia revoliutsiia, no.1 (13), 1923.

12. A.G. Shliapnikov, Semnadtsatyi god, Moscow-Petrograd 1923, vol.1, p.86.

13. Browder and Kerensky, vol.1, pp.37-38.

14. Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, p.171.

15. Cherniavsky, p.199.

16. Sukhanov, p.18.

17. Sukhanov, pp.54-55.

18. Sukhanov, p.67.

19. Sukhanov, p.77.

20. V.V. Kutuzov, ed., Velikaia Oktiabrskaia Sotsialisticheskaia Revoliutsiia – Khronika Sobytii, Moscow 1957, vol.1, p.219.

21. Sukhanov, pp.85-86.

22. Sukhanov, p.308.

23. Sukhanov, pp.6-7.

24. Sukhanov, p.8.

25. Sukhanov, pp.8-9, 12.

26. Sukhanov, p.258.

27. Sukhanov, p.105.

28. Sukhanov, pp.55-56.

29. Sukhanov, p.119.

30. Sukhanov, pp.124-25.

31. V.B. Stankevich, Vospominaniia, 1914-19 gg, Berlin 1920, pp.70-71.

32. V.V. Shulgin, Dni, Belgrade 1925; Colder, pp.263-64, 270.

33. Sukhanov, p.330.

34. Shliapnikov, Semnadtsatyi god, vol.1, pp.193-94.

35. A.L. Sidorov et al., eds., Velikaia oktiabrskaia Sotsialisticheskaia revoliutsiia: Dokumenty i materialy, Moscow 1957, vol.1, p.283.

36. M. Ferro, The Russian Revolution of February 1917, London 1972, p.169.

37. A.V Lukashev, The struggle of the Bolsheviks for a revolutionary policy in the Moscow soviet of workers’ deputies during the dual power, Voprosy istorii KPSS, no.8, 1967.

38. Sukhanov, p.228.

39. Sukhanov, pp.346-47.

40. Sukhanov, p.167.

41. Sukhanov, p.327.

42. Shliapnikov, Semnadtsatyi god, vol.2, p.236.

43. Sukhanov, p.326.

44. K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Correspondence, 1846-1895, London 1941, pp.433-34.

45. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.24, pp.61-62.

46. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.24, p.62.

47. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.24, p.60.

48. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.24, p.61.

49. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.24, p.22.


Last updated on 26 July 2018