Tony Cliff

Lenin 2

Chapter 9
Lenin Lowers the Temperature

At the beginning of April, Lenin was engaged in rearming the party ideologically – in convincing it that the February Revolution was only the first stage of the revolution, that it had to be followed by the proletariat taking state power into its hands. Again and again he repeated that “the workers and the poor peasants ... [are] a thousand times more leftward than the Chernovs and Tseretelis, and a hundred times more leftward than we are.” [1]

Now, during the April Days, as later in the June and July Days, his tactics were those of a firefighter – cooling the enthusiasm of party members, including many of its rank-and-file leaders, for a direct assault on state power; dissuading them from joining the most resolute section of the workers and soldiers who were striving for precisely that – for an immediate overthrow of the provisional government, without taking into account whether the majority of the working class had reached the same position. Lenin was very conscious of the danger of the proletarian vanguard running too far ahead and becoming cut off from the rest of the working class, thus providing a path for the victory of reaction.

The job of fireman was a very difficult one. Many years later, in a speech dealing with the July Days, Krupskaya said:

You know, when it is necessary to agitate in favor of action, that’s easy – But when people want to act and it is necessary to say “No comrades, the barricades must come down ... you’ll have to wait with your uprising,” that is very difficult. And for the Bolsheviks it was very hard to do this. [2]

The April Days

Lenin’s first test in this role of fireman came during the April Days. The events were provoked by Miliukov, minister of foreign affairs in the provisional government. On March 23, he put his program before the press: seizure of Constantinople, seizure of Armenia, division of Austria and Turkey, seizure of northern Persia. [3] The popular reaction was so hostile that Kerensky hastened to announce: “Miliukov’s program is merely his personal opinion.” Tsereteli demanded that the government should make it clear that for Russia the war was exclusively one of defense. The Cadet minister gave way, and on March 27 the government announced

that the aim of free Russia is not domination over other nations, or seizure of their national possessions, or forcible occupation of foreign territories, but the establishment of a stable peace on the basis of the self-determination of peoples. The Russian people does not intend to increase its world power at the expense of other nations.

But the provisional government would be “fully observing at the same time all obligations assumed towards our allies.” [4]

On April 18, on which day May Day was traditionally celebrated, Miliukov sent a note to Russia’s allies. It urged that the peace-loving phrases of the government should not give anyone “any reason to think that the revolution which has taken place will lead to the weakening of Russia’s role in the common struggle of the Allies. ‘Quite the contrary, the general aspiration of the whole people to bring the World War to a decisive victory has only been strengthened’.” [5] This declaration was greeted with widespread protests. Even the Menshevik Rabochaia Gazeta was enraged.

On April 18, on the day when the Russian democracy proclaimed the international brotherhood of peoples and called upon the world democracy to unite in a struggle for peace, on that very day it received a stab in the back from the provisional government ...

This is truly a step of madness, and immediate firm actions on the part of the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies are needed to avert its terrible consequences. [6]

Chkheidze complained bitterly: “Miliukov is the evil genius of the revolution.”

Hardly had the text of the note become known when there was a storm of popular indignation. On April 20, mass demonstrations took place. The demonstrators moved towards the Mariinsky Palace, where the provisional government was sitting, bearing banners with such slogans as, “Down with the provisional government,” “Down with Miliukov,” “Down with the imperialist policy,” “Miliukov, Guchkov, resign!”

The immediate summons to the demonstration was issued not by a party, but by an individual, so the story goes – one F.F. Linde, “scholar, mathematician, philosopher,” a non-party man. He was an anarchist, but at the same time a defensist. He feared that Miliukov’s note could weaken the army by stirring it up. There was only one way to prevent such a disaster. The soviet should take over the foreign affairs of the revolution. This was his aim in calling the demonstration. [7] (Linde was later killed on the southwestern front by his own soldiers while serving as a commissar and attempting to lead them into battle. [8])

“Taking counsel with no one,” says his biographer, “he acted at once, went straight to the Finland regiment, assembled its committee and proposed that they march immediately as a whole regiment to the Mariinsky Palace ... Linde’s proposal was accepted, and at three o’clock in the afternoon a significant demonstration of the Finlanders was marching through the streets of Petrograd with challenging placards.” After the Finland regiment came the soldiers of the 180th Reserve, the Moscow regiment, the Pavlovsky, the Keksgolmsky, the sailors of the 2nd Baltic fleet – 25,000 or 30,000 men in all, and all armed. The commotion spread to the workers’ district; work stopped, and whole factories came out into the streets after the soldiers. [9]

However, the story is not as simple as that. The demonstration was not the handiwork of a single individual. A number of Bolshevik activists did take an active part in the development of the demonstrations on April 20 and during the following few days. On April 21 the demonstrators were out in full force again, and as working-class columns came up against bourgeois processions along the Nevskii Prospect, and were greeted with banners proclaiming support for Miliukov and the provisional government, blood was shed in the streets of the capital for the first time since the Tsar’s fall.

What was the role of Bolshevik Party leaders in the April Days?

The central leadership was not involved in the April movement until it was well under way. On the morning of April 20, an emergency meeting of the Central Committee adopted a resolution written by Lenin, which condemned Miliukov’s note and suggested that only by transferring power to the soviet was the achievement of immediate peace possible. However, the resolution did not call on workers and soldiers to go out into the streets. [10]

Rank-and-file Bolshevik Party members, however, from factory and garrison regiments, did help to bring about the street demonstrations in the first place. On April 20, when the roused masses were gathered at the Mariinsky Palace, some district delegates at the afternoon session of the First Bolshevik Petrograd City Conference appealed for the immediate overthrow of the provisional government and V.I. Nevsky, of the Bolshevik Military Organization, spoke in favor of mobilizing troops, evidently for the seizure of power by the Soviet.

Ludmilla Stal, a long-time Bolshevik and member of the Petersburg Committee, tried to dampen this hotheadedness with the admonition that delegates “should not be further left than Lenin himself,” and the conference delegates ultimately voted to call the workers and soldiers to “organized expressions of their solidarity with the resolution of the Central Committee,” i.e., its cautious first resolution condemning the Miliukov note and suggesting the transfer of power to the Soviet.

At a meeting of the Executive Commission of the Bolshevik Petersburg Committee late the same evening, however, the question of overthrowing the provisional government was reconsidered and evidently attracted increased support. [11]

The only leader of this movement identified in official Soviet accounts is S.Ia. Bogdatev, an outspoken Petersburg Committee member from the Putilov factory and candidate for the Bolshevik Central Committee at the Seventh All-Russian Bolshevik Party Conference. Bogdatev is credited with having prepared a leaflet over the signature of the Petersburg Committee appealing for the immediate overthrow of the provisional government; this was widely circulated on 21 April and was primarily responsible for the sudden appearance among demonstrators of “Down with the provisional government” banners. [12]

Among the most impatient of the Bolsheviks were those of Kronstadt and Helsingfors. A number of Kronstadt sailors came to Petrograd under the leadership of the young Bolshevik officer Raskolnikov, with the aim of overthrowing the provisional government. The Helsingfors Soviet, then under Bolshevik domination, promised “at any moment to support with armed force demands for the overthrow of the provisional government.”

Lenin Uses the Hoses

In a speech to the Petrograd City Conference on April 14, Lenin emphasized that peaceful, patient persuasion was the only legitimate way for Bolsheviks to fight for proletarian power.

The government must be overthrown, but not everybody understands this correctly. So long as the provisional government has the backing of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, you cannot “simply” overthrow it. The only way it can and must be overthrown is by winning over the majority of the Soviets. [13]

Now, during and after the April Days, Lenin was even sharper in opposing “ultra-left” impatience in the party ranks. He voiced his disagreement with the unauthorized activities of the Petersburg Committee and other Bolshevik hot heads in a resolution of the Central Committee adopted on the morning of April 22:

The slogan “Down with the provisional government” is an incorrect one at the present moment, because, in the absence of a solid (i.e., a class-conscious and organized) majority of the people on the side of the revolutionary proletariat, such a slogan is either an empty phrase, or objectively, amounts to attempts of an adventurist character.

We shall favor the transfer of power to the proletarians and semi-proletarians only when the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies adopt our policy and are willing to take the power into their own hands.

April 20 and 21 showed the organizational weakness of the party, the lack of discipline in its ranks. “The organization of our party, the consolidation of the proletarian forces, clearly proved inadequate at the time of the crisis.”

The slogans of the moment are: (1) To explain the proletarian line and the proletarian way of ending the war; (2) To criticize the petty-bourgeois policy of placing trust in the government of the capitalists and compromising with it; (3) To carry on propaganda and agitation from group to group in every regiment, in every factory, and, particularly, among the most backward masses, such as domestic servants, unskilled laborers, etc., since it was their backing in the first place that the bourgeoisie tried to gain during the crisis; (4) To organize, organize, and once more organize the proletariat, in every factory, in every district, and in every city quarter. [14]

At the Seventh All-Russian Bolshevik Party Conference on April 24, Lenin made it clear that the task of marshaling the masses for the overthrow of the provisional government now appeared to him as more complex than it had in the days immediately following his return to Russia:

The government would like to see us make the first imprudent move towards revolutionary action, as this would be to its advantage ... We cannot say that the majority is with us; what we need in the present situation is caution, caution, caution. To base proletarian tactics on subjective desires means to condemn it to failure.

In what did our adventurism consist? It was the attempt to resort to forcible measures. We did not know to what extent the masses had swung to our side during that anxious moment. If it had been a strong swing things would have been different. We advanced the slogan for peaceful demonstrations, but several comrades from the Petrograd Committee issued a different slogan. We cancelled it, but were too late to prevent the masses from following the slogan of the Petrograd Committee. We say that the slogan “Down with the provisional government” is an adventurist slogan, that the government cannot be overthrown now. That is why we have advanced the slogan for peaceful demonstrations. All we wanted was a peaceful reconnoitring of the enemy’s forces; we did not want to give battle. But the Petrograd Committee turned a trifle more to the left, which in this case is certainly a very grave crime. Our organizational apparatus proved weak – our decisions are not being carried out by everyone. Together with the correct slogan “Long live the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies!” stood the incorrect slogan “Down with the provisional government.” At the time of action, to go a “trifle more to the left” was wrong. We regard this as a very serious crime, as disorganization. Had we deliberately allowed such an act, we would not have remained in the Central Committee for one moment. It happened because of the weakness of our organizational apparatus. Yes, there were shortcomings in our organization. [15]

In an article published in Pravda on April 25, Lenin openly admitted the party mistakes. [16]

As always, he insisted that the revolutionary party must be able to learn from its own mistakes, to be severely self-critical. In all his criticism of other Bolsheviks he never forgot that the party leader could not shirk responsibility for all party members.

A political leader is responsible not only for the quality of his leadership but also for the acts of those he leads. He may now and again be unaware of what they are about, he may often wish they had not done something, but the responsibility still falls on him. [17]

This is central to democratic centralism.

Lenin did not hesitate to support the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet in banning demonstrations on April 21. Thus the resolution of the Central Committee of April 22, which he drafted, said:

The resolution of the Petrograd Soviet of April 21 banning all street meetings and demonstrations for two days must be unconditionally obeyed by every member of our party. The Central Committee already distributed yesterday morning, and is today publishing in Pravda, a resolution which states that “at such a moment any thought of civil war would be senseless and preposterous,” that all demonstrations must be peaceful ones, and that the responsibility for violence will fall on the provisional government and its supporters. Our party therefore considers that the above-mentioned resolution of the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies as a whole (and especially the part banning armed demonstrations and shooting in the air) is entirely correct and must be unconditionally obeyed. [18]

There is no doubt at all that at the time the Bolsheviks were in a minority even among the workers of Petrograd. Sukhanov estimates that at the beginning of May the Bolsheviks had a third of the Petrograd proletariat behind them. [19] In some districts, however, they had a majority. In the Soviets of Vyborg and Narva districts and Vasiliev Island, the Bolsheviks were in the majority towards the end of April.

Things were much worse elsewhere. Even as late as the end of June, the Bolsheviks received only 11.66 percent of the votes in the elections to the City Council in Moscow. [20] Only in purely industrial centers like Orekhovo-Zuevo, Ivanovo-Voznesensk, Lugansk, and Tsaritsyn, or in military outposts like Reval and Narva, did the Bolsheviks win such elections. [21] At the All-Russian Congress of Soviets, which met on June 3, there were 105 Bolsheviks out of a total of 777 delegates.

In organizational terms, the Bolsheviks still suffered from a lack of clear demarcation from other parties. At the same time, the masses were swayed by the most contradictory ideas, and their thinking was extremely confused, as one or two examples will illustrate.

A meeting of the Kishenev garrison on May 7 passed a resolution supporting the Soviet of Workers’ and Peasants’ Deputies, calling for the conclusion of peace without annexations and contributions on the basis of the right of nations for self-determination and the transfer of land to the peasants without compensation. At the same time, the meeting declared its support for the provisional government. [22]

Again, the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies of Sudogda (in Vladimirskaia guberniia) declared on May 25 that the war was in the interests of the capitalists, and at the same time declared its support and trust in the socialists who joined the provisional government. [23]

As Lenin summed up the contradictions in the consciousness of the masses at the time in an article called A Disorderly Revolution (Pravda, June 25): “The masses are still looking for the ‘easiest’ way out [of the crisis] – through the bloc of the Cadets with the bloc of Socialist Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks.” [24]

The First Coalition Government

The crisis of the April Days forced the bourgeoisie to look for a wider base for itself, and the Menshevik and SR leaders found themselves impelled to give their support. The idea of a coalition government was very popular indeed. As Trotsky put it,

The masses, in so far as they were not yet for the Bolsheviks, stood solid for the entrance of socialists into the government. If it is a good thing to have Kerensky as a Minister, then so much the better six Kerenskys. The masses did not know that this was called coalition with the bourgeoisie, and that the bourgeoisie wanted to use these socialists as a cover for their activities against the people. A coalition looked different from the barracks and from the Mariinsky Palace. The masses wanted to use the socialists to crowd out the bourgeoisie from the government. Thus two forces tending in opposite directions united for a moment in one. In Petrograd, a series of military units, among them an armored car division friendly to the Bolsheviks, declared in favor of coalition government. The provinces voted for the coalition by an overwhelming majority. [25]

The leaders of the Mensheviks and SRs saw in the coalition government a way of checking Bolshevism. Thus the SR paper, Volia Naroda, on April 29 wrote:

The socialist parties are forced now to choose openly and definitely between joining the provisional government – that is, [rendering] energetic support to the state revolutionary government – and frankly declining – that is, rendering indirect support to Leninism, which disintegrates the country by preparations for civil war and defeat at the front.

There is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of Russian socialists will be able to undertake the responsibility for the future of Russia, will save the country from internal breakdown and from a disgraceful defeat. [26]

On May 1, the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet decided, by a majority of forty-four to nineteen with two abstentions, in favor of the entry of Mensheviks and SRs into a coalition government. The nineteen who voted against were twelve Bolsheviks, three Menshevik-Internationalists, and four SRs. [27]

When the coalition was established, the Menshevik paper, Rabochaia Gazeta, welcomed it with enthusiasm: “[T]he provisional government cut itself off completely from imperialist influences. And it quite definitely enters upon the road for the most rapid achievement of universal peace through international means.” [28]

Alas, in fact, the establishment of the coalition was merely the springboard for a military offensive.

The Offensive

Increasing pressure was being exerted on Russia by the allies to launch a military offensive. Government circles were not unfavorable to the idea. They hoped that such an offensive would take the heat out of the revolution. As the French minister of war, Painlevé, put it: “The German-Russian fraternization had caused such ravages that to leave the Russian army inactive would mean to risk its rapid disintegration.”

Under the banner of the coalition, the enthusiasm of the defensist leaders in the soviet knew no bounds. Thus, on May 6, Izvestiia, the daily paper of the Executive Committee of the soviet, could write:

We know that heavy trials await us on the road to this peace. We know that while the peoples have not as yet awakened and have not risen against their enslavers, our soldiers will have to conduct the hated war with all their energy and courage. But they can now conduct it in the firm belief that their heroic efforts will not be used for evil [ends]. Whether they will be defending themselves at a fortified position, or whether they will be conducting an attack dictated by strategical or tactical considerations, the soldier may now believe that all these military operations are equally serving one and the same goal – the defense of the revolution from destruction and the earliest possible conclusion of universal peace. From now on, they can and must accomplish their military feats in the firm belief that they are acting for a national cause, for the cause of the workers of the whole world. [29]

After a few weeks of preparation, the government decided to launch the offensive. On June 16, Kerensky, Minister of War and the Navy, issued an order to the troops:

Warriors, our country is in danger! Liberty and revolution are threatened. The time has come for the army to do its duty. Your Supreme Commander [General Brusilov], beloved through victory, is convinced that each day of delay merely helps the enemy, and that only by an immediate and determined blow can we disrupt his plans. Therefore, in full realization of my great responsibility to the country, and in the name of its free people and its provisional government, I call upon the armies, strengthened by the vigor and spirit of the revolution, to take the offensive. [30]

The Demonstration That Did Not Take Place: Lenin Wavers

Between the middle of May and the middle of June, increasing government agitation for the offensive, added to the threat of transfer of army units from Petrograd to the front, infuriated the troops in the capital. At a meeting of the Petrograd Military Organization of the Bolshevik Party on May 23, it was reported that the Pavlovsky, Izmailovsky, Grenadier, and First Reserve Infantry regiments, among others, “were ready to go out on their own if a positive decision were not adopted at the center.” [31] A number of soldiers spoke in support of a demonstration against the provisional government, and nobody opposed the idea.

On June 6, N.I. Podvoisky and V.I. Nevsky, leaders of the Bolshevik Military Organization, brought up the question of the demonstration at a joint meeting of the Central Committee, the Military Organization, and the Executive Committee of the Petersburg Committee. [32] Lenin came out strongly in support of the demonstration. Kamenev opposed it. Fedorov, a party moderate, cautioned that the demonstration should be unarmed, to which Nevsky replied that such a demonstration would be “amateurish” if arms were not carried; Cherepanov, of the Military Organization, ended this exchange with the comment, “The soldiers will not demonstrate without arms. The question is settled.” [33]

Kamenev was supported by Zinoviev and Nogin in his opposition to the demonstration. It is interesting that Krupskaya, who rarely opposed her husband, expressed apprehension in regard to the proposed demonstration. “It won’t be peaceful, and so perhaps it should not be started.” [34]

On the same day, the Petersburg Committee also discussed the question of the demonstration. [35] The overwhelming majority of the committee was enthusiastic about it. Only one speaker, V.B. Vinokurov, supported Kamenev, Zinoviev, and Nogin in their stand.

A final incident that spurred the masses on to the demonstration was, on the face of it, a minor one – the threatened eviction on June 7 of the anarchists from their headquarters in Durnovo Villa, previously the property of the Tsarist minister of the interior, in the heart of the Vyborg factory district.

P.N. Pereverzev, minister of justice, issued an order, giving the anarchists twenty-four hours to vacate their headquarters. The anarchists refused to comply, and appealed to the Vyborg factory workers and soldiers to support them. The next day thousands of workers came out on strike, closing twenty-eight factories, and several armed demonstrations took place in the district.

On June 8, a joint meeting of the Central Committee, the Petersburg Committee, and the Military Organization, attended by responsible trade-union and factory representatives, decided on an immediate demonstration by workers and soldiers. [36] Soon after this meeting, the Central Committee, with the added votes of three representatives of the Executive of the Petersburg Committee, resolved to organize a mass demonstration to be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 10. [37] A leaflet issued in the name of the Central Committee, the Petersburg Committee, the Military Organization, the Editorial Board of Pravda, etc., called for a demonstration. Among the slogans suggested were:

Down with the Tsarist Duma!

Down with the State Council!

Down with the ten capitalist ministers!

All power to the All-Russian Soviet of Workers’, Soldiers’, and Peasants’ Deputies!

Re-examine the “Declaration of the rights of the soldier!”

Abolish the “orders” against soldiers and sailors!

Down with anarchy in industry and the lockout capitalists!

Hail the control and organization of industry!

Time to end the war! Let the Soviet of Deputies declare just conditions of peace!

Neither separate peace with Wilhelm, nor secret treaties with the French and English capitalists!

Bread! Peace! Liberty! [38]

On hearing of the Bolshevik plan for a demonstration, the Executive Committee of the Soviet immediately issued a call prohibiting it.

There must not be a single company, a single regiment, a single group of workers on the street.

[There must not be] a single demonstration today.

A great struggle still lies ahead of us. [39]

To add to this pressure on the Bolshevik leadership to call off the demonstration, news came next day of the angry opposition of the Bolshevik delegates to the All-Russian Congress of Soviets, who had not been kept informed of their own Central Committee’s plans. [40] The delegates from the provinces were far to the right of the Petrograd Bolsheviks and were furious about the planned delegation.

One of the members of the Bolshevik delegation, Kuzmin, voiced his personal bitterness at the congress session on June 9: “Comrades, as sad as it may be, I must state: most of us, the Bolshevik representatives here, representatives of three million workers and soldiers, as it turns out, did not even know that all this was being organized. Here I, a representative, only now found out that such a demonstration was being organized.” [41]

But the Bolshevik leadership stuck to its guns. On the night of June 9, a meeting attended by six members of the Central Committee (Lenin, Nogin, Kamenev, Smilga, Zinoviev, and either Sverdlov or Stalin), six members of the Petersburg Committee, and two members of the Military Organization, decided by fourteen votes to two to go ahead with the demonstration. [42]

Semashko, leader of the powerful First Machine Gun regiment, and Rakhia, one of the more extreme Petersburg Committee members, argued that the demonstration, being armed, should be prepared, if necessary, “to seize the railroad stations, arsenals, banks, post office, and telegraph.” [43] However, this plan was not supported by Lenin or the rest of the Bolshevik leadership.

At 2 a.m. on June 10, Lenin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Sverdlov, and Nogin met with representatives of the Bolshevik Soviet delegation at the All-Russian Congress. The latter appealed for the cancellation of the demonstration. On this occasion, no representatives of the Petersburg Committee or the Military Organization were present. The pressure was such that the Central Committee members retreated: Zinoviev, Kamenev, and Nogin voted for canceling the demonstration, and Lenin and Sverdlov abstained. [44] So, hurriedly, the CC issued a cancellation. [45]

In a number of factories, Bolsheviks adopted resolutions censuring the Central Committee. The retreat met with very widespread resentment in the party ranks.

In his memoirs I.P. Flerovsky, a prominent Kronstadt Bolshevik, remembers that at Kronstadt news of the cancellation was greeted with disbelief and fury and that the hours immediately after word of the cancellation was received “were among the most unpleasant” of his life. At the Sixth Congress he reported that “inhuman measures” were necessary to prevent the sailors from responding to Anarchist-Communist appeals (as well as those of some undisciplined Bolsheviks) and immediately rushing to Petrograd. [46]

M.Ia. Latsis noted in his diary and reported to the Petersburg Committee that there were cases of rank-and-file Bolsheviks tearing up their party membership cards in disgust. [47]

The Petersburg Committee members were mostly furious about the leadership’s retreat. On June 11, an emergency meeting of the Petersburg Committee was called in order to hear an explanation from the Central Committee. [48]

Lenin started his speech by acknowledging that the dissatisfaction of many of the members of the Petersburg Committee was fully justified. He explained, however, that:

the Central Committee had no alternative for two reasons: first, we were formally banned from holding the demonstration by the semi-organ of power; secondly, the motive for the ban was stated as follows: “We know that concealed forces of the counter-revolution want to take advantage of your demonstration.” In support of this motive, we were given names, such as that of a general, whom they promised to arrest within three days, and others. And they declared that a demonstration of the Black Hundreds [1*] had been arranged for 10 June with the intention of breaking into our demonstration and turning it into a skirmish. Even in ordinary warfare, it sometimes happens that a planned offensive has to be cancelled for strategic reasons. This is all the more likely to occur in class warfare, depending on the vacillation of the middle, petty-bourgeois groups. We must be able to take account of the situation and be bold in adopting decisions. [49]

For the future, Lenin stated,

The proletariat must reply by showing the maximum calmness, caution, restraint, and organization, and must remember that peaceful processions are a thing of the past.

We must give them no pretext for attack. Let them attack, and the workers will realize that it is an attack on the very existence of the proletariat. But reality is on our side, and it is a moot point whether their attack will succeed – at the front there are the troops, among whom discontent is very strong, and in the rear there is the high cost of living, economic dislocation, and so on. The Central Committee does not want to force your decision. Your right, the right to protest against the actions of the Central Committee, is a legitimate one, and your decision must be a free one. [50]

Volodarsky, in the name of the Executive of the Petersburg Committee, was most harsh in his censure.

The Central Committee acted hastily and thoughtlessly, but the question is when? At the time when it decided to demonstrate or when it cancelled the demonstration? What should we do? ... We must answer three questions: (1) Was it necessary to cancel our demonstration? (2) Is a situation which permits the vacillations of one man to change all decisions permissible in our party? (3) What are our next steps going to be? [51]

Tomsky, also a member of the Executive of the Petersburg Committee, added his criticism:

No matter how we disguise our retreat with the words that we are wise men, that we acted wisely, the fact of our retreat remains. Our congress delegation, which through our own fault was uninformed about our grandiose demonstration, influenced the mood of the Central Committee. Is it permissible for the delegation to pressure the party Central Committee?

In closing, Tomsky summed up his feelings regarding the conduct of the Central Committee, emphasizing the damage that had been done to its prestige.

Nobody will deny, [he asserted] that the Central Committee committed a political mistake – it was guilty of intolerable wavering. It is not important that there is widespread distrust of the Central Committee; what is important is that the faith in the [Central Committee] leadership of those of us who are [Petersburg Committee] executives has been undermined. [52]

I.K. Naumov, secretary of the Bolshevik delegation in the Petrograd Soviet, criticized the party for poor planning, but pointed out that the cancellation had favorable aspects. He suggested that the damage done to faith in the party leadership was not altogether a bad thing: “Let it be completely undermined,” said Naumov, “it is necessary to trust only in oneself and the masses.” [53]

The Menshevik and SR Leaders Intervene

At the same session of the Congress of Soviets that condemned the Bolsheviks, the Menshevik Bogdanov, in the name of the Presidium, moved that an official demonstration should be organized on the coming Sunday, June 18. The Menshevik and SR leaders thought that the Bolsheviks were in retreat, and that they would be able to show them who had the support of the masses. Thus Tsereteli triumphantly addressed the Bolsheviks, especially Kamenev, in an indignantly didactic speech:

Here we have before us now an open and honest review of the forces of the revolution. Tomorrow there will be demonstrating not separate groups but all the working class of the capital, not against the will of the Soviet, but at its invitation. Now we shall all see which the majority follows, you or us. This isn’t a matter of underhand plots but a duel in the open arena. Tomorrow we shall see.

The slogans of the demonstration were chosen by the Menshevik and SR leaders so as to be as popular as possible: “Universal peace,” “Immediate convocation of a constituent assembly,” “Democratic republic.” [54] Not a word about the coalition or the offensive. Lenin asked in Pravda: “And what has become of ‘complete confidence in the provisional government, gentlemen’ ... Why does your tongue stick in your throat?” The compromisers did not dare to call on the masses to express support for the government of which they themselves were members.

On June 13 the Petersburg Committee held an emergency meeting. In the name of the Central Committee, Zinoviev explained to the meeting that the proposed demonstration would provide “a political means for applying pressure on the government.” “We must create a demonstration within a demonstration.” Party members as well as trade unions, factories, and military units should be urged to march under the June 10 slogans, plus some new ones. A number of people present were cool towards the demonstration. After all, they had burned their fingers a few days earlier. [55]

When it came to it, the demonstration on June 18 was massive. About 400,000 people participated: “[I]t was on a magnificent scale. All workers and soldiers in Petersburg took part,” Sukhanov writes.

But what was the political character of the demonstration?

“Bolsheviks again,” I remarked, looking at the slogans, “and there behind them is another Bolshevik column.”

“Apparently the next one too,” I went on calculating, watching the banners advancing towards me and the endless rows going away towards Michael Castle a long way down the Sadovoy.

“All power to the Soviets!” “Down with the ten capitalist ministers!” “Peace for the hovels, war for the palaces!”

In this sturdy and weighty way worker-peasant Petersburg, the vanguard of the Russian and the world revolution, expressed its will. The situation was absolutely unambiguous. Here and there the chain of Bolshevik flags and columns was interrupted by specifically SR and official Soviet slogans. But they were submerged in the mass; they seemed to be exceptions, intentionally confirming the rule. Again and again, like the unchanging summons of the very depths of the revolutionary capital, like fate itself, like the fatal Birnam wood – there advanced towards us: “All power to the Soviets!” “Down with the ten capitalist ministers!”

I remembered the purblind Tsereteli’s fervor of the night before. Here was the duel in the open arena! Here was the honest legal review of forces in an official Soviet demonstration! [56]

“Judging by the placards and slogans of the demonstrators,” wrote Gorky’s paper, “the Sunday demonstration revealed the complete triumph of Bolshevism among the Petersburg proletariat.” [57]

On the same day, mass demonstrations took place all over Russia: in Moscow, Kiev, Minsk, Reval, Riga, Kharkov, Helsingfors, and many other towns. [58] On the following day Lenin wrote:

The demonstration of 18 June was a demonstration of the strength and policy of the revolutionary proletariat, which is showing the direction for the revolution and indicating the way out of the impasse. This is the tremendous historical significance of last Sunday’s demonstration, and its essential difference from the demonstrations during the funeral of the victims of the revolution and on May Day. Then it was a universal tribute to the revolution’s first victory and to its heroes. The people looked back over the first stage of the road to freedom, which they had passed very rapidly and very successfully. May Day was a holiday of hopes and aspirations linked with the history of the world labor movement and with its ideal of peace and socialism.

Neither of the two demonstrations was intended to point the direction for the revolution’s further development, nor could it do so. Neither demonstration put before the people, or raised in the name of the people, specific, definite, and urgent questions as to how and in what direction the revolution should proceed.

In this sense, 18 June was the first political demonstration of action, an explanation of how the various classes act, how they want to and will act, in order to further the revolution – an explanation not given in a book or newspaper, but on the streets, not through leaders, but through the people. [59]

This demonstration said everything that could be said without an uprising. The job of the Bolsheviks was still to go on patiently explaining. On June 22, the Bolshevik press appealed to the garrison: “Do not trust any summons to action in the street.” And Lenin continued to insist on the need to avoid adventurism, to continue to organize and organize, educate and educate.

The socialist proletariat and our party must be as cool and collected as possible, must show the greatest staunchness and vigilance. Let the future Cavaignacs [2*] begin first. Our party conference has already given warning of their arrival. The workers of Petrograd will give them no opportunity to disclaim responsibility. They will bide their time, gathering their forces and preparing for resistance when those gentlemen decide to turn from words to action. [60]




1*. An ultra-reactionary organization created under the patronage of the Tsarist police.

2*. General Cavaignac saved the bourgeoisie from the workers in Paris in June 1848.




1. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.24, p.364.

2. N.K. Krupskaya, Lenin i partita, Moscow 1963, p.118.

3. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, pp.1044-45.

4. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, p.1046.

5. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, p.1098.

6. Browder and Kerensky, vol.3, p.1238.

7. W.S. Woytinsky, Stormy Passage, New York 1961, pp.270-71.

8. Browder and Kerensky, vol.3, p.1858.

9. Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, p.353.

10. Lenin, Works, vol.24, pp.184-85; Sidorov, vol.2, p.726.

11. Sedmaia konferentsiia, p.204.

12. A. Rabinowitch, Prelude to Revolution: The Petrograd Bolsheviks and the July Uprising, Indiana 1968, pp.44-45.

13. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.24, p.146.

14. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.24, p.211.

15. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.24, pp.244-45.

16. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.24, p.223.

17. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.32, p.34.

18. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.24, p.211.

19. Sukhanov, p.323.

20. Kutuzov, vol.2, p.408.

21. O.H. Radkey, The Agrarian Foes of Bolshevism, New York 1958, p.243.

22. Kutuzov, vol.2, p.16.

23. Kutuzov, vol.2, p.163.

24. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.25, p.129.

25. Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, p.374.

26. Browder and Kerensky, vol.3, p.1257.

27. Browder and Kerensky, vol.3, p.1269.

28. Browder and Kerensky, vol.3, p.1282.

29. Browder and Kerensky, vol.3, pp.1283-84.

30. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, p.942.

31. Sidorov, vol.3, pp.483-84.

32. Sidorov, vol.3, p.485.

33. Sidorov, vol.3, p.486.

34. Sidorov, vol.3, p.486.

35. Kudelli, pp.136-45.

36. Kudelli, p.157.

37. Kudelli, p.158.

38. Browder and Kerensky, vol.3, pp.1312-13.

39. Browder and Kerensky, vol.3, p.1314.

40. Kudelli, p.156.

41. Quoted in Rabinowitch, p.264.

42. Kudelli, pp.158-66.

43. M.Ia. Latsis, The July Days in Petrograd: From an agitator’s diary, Proletarskaia revoliutsiia, no.5 (17), 1923.

44. Kudelli, p.158.

45. Pravda, June 10, Sidorov, vol.3, p.498.

46. Rabinowitch, pp.79-80.

47. Latsis, in Proletarskaia revoliutsiia, no.5 (17), 1923; Kudelli, p.164.

48. Kudelli, pp.153-68.

49. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.25, p.79.

50. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.25, pp.80-81.

51. Kudelli, pp.157-58.

52. Kudelli, pp.159-61.

53. Kudelli, p.163.

54. Sidorov, vol.3, p.518.

55. Kudelli, pp.178-84.

56. Sukhanov, pp.416-17.

57. Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, p.463.

58. Sidorov, vol.3, pp.541-51.

59. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.25, pp.109-10.

60. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.25, p.83.


Last updated on 25.10.2007