Tony Cliff

Trotsky: Towards October 1879-1917

15. Towards the insurrection

THIS CHAPTER will deal with the turn of the Bolshevik Party towards the armed insurrection. In this Trotsky’s role was far less significant than Lenin’s: after all Trotsky was a new recruit to the party and could not have very great influence over its leadership. Lenin’s role was crucial. Hence this is far more a chapter in the political biography of Lenin than of Trotsky.

Lenin calls up the insurrection

As soon as the Bolsheviks gained control of the Soviets of Petrograd and Moscow Lenin said: ‘Our hour has come.’ Sometime between 12 and 14 September Lenin wrote a letter entitled The Bolsheviks must Assume Power. It was addressed both to the party’s central committee and to its Petrograd and Moscow committees. The Bolsheviks could seize power, he argued,

... because the active majority of revolutionary elements in the two chief cities is large enough to carry the people with it, to overcome the opponent’s resistance, to smash him, and to gain and retain power. For the Bolsheviks, by immediately proposing a democratic peace, by establishing the democratic institutions and liberties which have been mangled and shattered by Kerensky, will form a government which nobody will be able to overthrow. [1]

A day or two later Lenin wrote another letter to the central committee, on ‘Marxism and Insurrection’. In it he compared the situation prevailing in mid-September with that during the July Days. His aim was to overcome the inertia of the Bolshevik leadership, which, having bent the stick in one direction in July, was too conservative and timid to change course now. The Bolsheviks were right not to have taken power in July, but now things were different, Lenin argued.

The urgency of the issue, of the need to take immediate steps towards the seizure of power, was so overwhelming that Lenin left no stone unturned in his efforts to convince, and if need be, to circumvent the Central Committee. Party formalities dwindled in significance under such momentous conditions. This explains the tone of his letter of 27 September to I.T. Smilga, the young chairman of the Regional Committee of the Army, Navy and Workers of Finland. Smilga was only 25, but a veteran Bolshevik – he had been a party member for ten years, five of which he had spent in administrative exile. At the Sixth Congress of the Bolshevik Party (July 1917), he had been elected to the central committee. Lenin called on Smilga to act: to use his control over troops in Finland and the Baltic fleet to organise an uprising, seize power. [2]

On 29 September Lenin wrote a document entitled The Crisis is Ripe which was in the nature of a declaration of war on the central committee – which was dragging its feet on the issue of insurrection. He put forward a plan for a military campaign to seize power.

The Bolsheviks are now guaranteed the success of the insurrection: we can (if we do not ‘wait’ for the Soviet Congress) launch a surprise attack from three points – from Petrograd, from Moscow and from the Baltic fleet ... we are technically in a position to take power in Moscow (where the start might even be made, so as to catch the enemy unawares). [3]

To increase the pressure he was applying, Lenin went beyond criticising the leaders of the party. As an expression of protest he resigned from the central committee:

I am compelled to tender my resignation from the central committee which I hereby do, reserving for myself freedom to campaign among the rank-and-file of the party and at the party congress. [4]

The records do not show what happened next. In any event Lenin did not leave the central committee.

A couple of days later, on 1 October, Lenin wrote another letter to the central committee, the Moscow and Petrograd committees and the Bolshevik members of the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets. The Moscow Soviet should take power into its hands:

Victory in Moscow is guaranteed, and there is no need to fight. Petrograd can wait. The government can not do anything to save itself; it will surrender. [5]

On 2 October Lenin wrote to the Petrograd city conference, repeating his plan for armed insurrection, to start from Moscow as a base:

We must appeal to the Moscow comrades, persuade them to seize power in Moscow, declare the Kerensky government deposed, and declare the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies in Moscow the provisional government of Russia in order to offer immediate peace and save Russia from the conspiracy. Let the Moscow comrades raise the question of the uprising in Moscow immediately. [6]

In an article titled Advice of an Onlooker and written on 8 October, Lenin addressed the comrades assembling at the Congress of the Northern Soviets, and developed Marx’s idea that ‘insurrection is an art.’ He sketched a military plan for the seizure of power. What was needed, Lenin wrote, was

... a simultaneous offensive on Petrograd, as sudden and as rapid as possible, which must without fail be carried out from within and from without, from the working-class quarters and from Finland, from Reval and from Kronstadt, an offensive of the entire navy ... [7]

On 10 October the celebrated meeting of the central committee took place at which Lenin flatly posed the question of the armed insurrection, and won. Eleven of the 21 members of the central committee were present (plus one candidate member). There were ten votes in favour (nine, plus the one candidate) and two (Zinoviev and Kamenev) against.

Immediately after the meeting, Zinoviev and Kamenev issued a statement which they circulated among the members of the Petrograd committee, the Moscow committee, the Moscow regional committee, and the regional Finnish committee, arguing against the central committee decision.

Central committee resistance to Lenin’s call

On 16 October, that is, nine days before the insurrection, the central committee still showed signs of nervousness, hesitation and vacillation. The minutes of the enlarged meeting of the central committee (which included members of the executive commission of the Petersburg committee, the Military Organisation, the Petrograd Soviet, the leaders of the Bolsheviks in the trade unions, the factory committees, the Petrograd area committee and the railwaymen) are really astonishing. It is hard to believe that with such leadership the revolution would emerge victorious.

On 18 October a bombshell exploded. Kamenev, in association with Zinoviev, published an article in a non-party paper, Gorky’s Novaia Zhizn, attacking the idea of insurrection. Lenin was beside himself with rage. The same day he wrote a letter to the central committee demanding the expulsion of the two blacklegs.

Lenin found it very hard to convince the central committee members of the need for insurrection. It was as though the days when Kamenev, Stalin and others-12 March to 5 April – supported the Provisional Government and the war, had returned. Again the committee appears to have been too passive, too compromising in its attitude towards the Menshevik and Social Revolutionary leaders, too accommodating toward the Provisional Government. Admittedly the relentless criticisms of Lenin on the one hand, and pressure from the rank-and-file workers on the other, had forced the central committee to change course radically in April. But conservatism and the urge to adapt are not eliminated by a single instance of admitting one’s error. Lenin had to overcome his lieutenants again and again. Insurrection demands the greatest daring, and the conservatism of leadership, therefore, appeared in an even more extreme form now than in April. The April Theses had not been accepted by all members of the central committee. The April conference had elected nine members to the central committee, of whom four – Kamenev, Nogin, Miliutin and Fedorov – were right-wingers who opposed the Lenin’s theses. Now, in addition to these four, the opposition to the insurrection was strengthened by Zinoviev, Rykov and Lunacharsky, while a number of other central committee members prevaricated.

How can we explain the vacillation of the party leadership both in April and in September-October?

First of all, every party, including the most revolutionary, inevitably produces its own organisational conservatism – without routine there is no stability. In a revolutionary situation, tradition must be combined with initiative and daring. Both routinism and initiative are most concentrated in the top leadership of the party. In addition, even the most revolutionary party is subject to pressure from alien social forces. The main psychological support of the social status quo is the belief of the petty bourgeoisie, and through its influence many of the workers, that the oppressed classes are intrinsically inferior, ignorant and impotent. To isolate a revolutionary party from bourgeois public opinion, to cut any link with the bourgeois and petty bourgeois milieu, to insulate the party from these alien influences, was a goal for which Lenin fought all of his life. But no party can free itself completely from the pressure of the petty bourgeois environment.

The sharpest turning point, at which the pressure of bourgeois disbelief in the potential of the oppressed is also most strongly exerted, is the moment when the revolutionary party has to progress from the work of preparation, of propaganda, agitation and organisation to the immediate struggle for state power, to the armed insurrection.

A revolutionary party develops over a whole historical period, during which experience convinces its members that on the whole the correlation of class forces is such as to give the capitalist class power over the working class. While the workers may be stronger in individual parts of the battlefield, on the whole they are weaker than their opponents. If this were not the case, the rule of the capitalists would be long past. Any revolutionary party that did not control its impatience over the years in the light of this fact would condemn itself to adventurism and to its own destruction. But the moment comes – and this is the meaning of revolution – when the habit of considering the enemy as stronger becomes the main obstacle on the road to victory. This conservative attitude expressed itself in the opposition of Zinoviev and Kamenev to the corning insurrection: ‘At this moment the most harmful thing of all would be to underestimate the enemy’s strength and overestimate our own,’ wrote Zinoviev and Kamenev on 11 October.

Another serious obstacle hinders the attempt to turn the party sharply towards insurrection: the state of mind of the proletariat on the eve of the armed uprising. The masses may be waiting, listless and not ready for spontaneous action. In Russia the experience of April, June, July and the Kornlov episode brought the masses to the conclusion that isolated, uncoordinated actions were useless. Between the exuberant mood of the early days and the confidence born out of the well-led, relentless struggle of the masses, directed by a clear revolutionary leadership, there was a pause, a lull.

The role of the slogan of ‘Democratic Dictatorship’

We have described above the role of the slogan ‘For the Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry’ in the Bolsheviks’ struggle against Tsarism since 1905. Let us now look at the influence of that slogan of the Bolsheviks’ past in the critical days of Lenin’s struggle to move the central committee to accept the immediate need for insurrection.

The Bolsheviks had 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 the democratic 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 mediaevalism.

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 all nations), confiscation of the landed estates, and an eight-hour working day.’ [8]

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 coming, proletarian revolution.

Lenin’s strength was that for him the democratic dictatorship was a dynamic, hence concretely developed concept. It was an algebraic formula that needed the insertion of more precise arithmetic qualities. It was not a supra-historical abstraction, but a guide to action.

Now history relentlessly imposed the alternative: either victory of the counter-revolution or a victorious revolution culminating in the dictatorship of the proletariat.

In spite of Lenin’s dynamic viewpoint, the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry became, after February, a brake on the struggle for workers’ power, and was used again and again inside the Bolshevik Party between February and October by opponents of Lenin’s fight to start the insurrection.

The party adapts to Constitutionalism

The debate on the insurrection was largely confined to the top circles of the Bolshevik Party – the central committee, the Petrograd and Moscow committees, the Military Organisation, and so on – and was kept hidden from public view. But one expression of the conflict among the Bolshevik leaders on the issue of the insurrection was public: their attitude to the Democratic Conference and the Pre-Parliament convened by the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries.

The Menshevik and Social Revolutionary leaders decided to call a Democratic Conference on 14-19 September, in order to paper over the cracks in the government and attempt to demonstrate the existence of popular support for the government. It was intended to be a rival to the Congress of Soviets. The compromising leaders were trying to create a new base for themselves, by an artificial combination of different kinds of organisations. The delegacies were apportioned very arbitrarily, but they followed one rule: that the organisations of the higher strata of society were far better represented than the lower. The zemstvos and cooperatives enormously outweighed the Soviet. Before the Democratic Conference closed, it appointed a permanent Council of the Republic, or Pre-parliament, from among its members, which was to represent the nation until the Constituent Assembly met.

The debate amongst the Bolshevik leaders on whether or not to participate in these institutions hinted at a more fundamental debate on whether or not the armed insurrection should be carried out.

Lenin thought that revolutionaries ought to participate in parliamentary institutions only so long as the immediate overthrow of the regime was not on the agenda. Now any support for Bolshevik participation in those institutions was tantamount to opposition to the insurrection, and he called on the Bolsheviks not to participate in them. The Bolshevik leadership did not heed his argument, and adopted a compromising attitude. The minutes of the central committee of 21 September reported:

On the subject of the Democratic Conference, it is decided not to withdraw from it but merely to recall members of our party from the Praesidium. Where the Pre-Parliament is concerned, a decision not to go into it was passed by nine votes to eight, but since the vote was divided almost equally, the final decision was referred to the party meeting being organised right now from the group gathered at the Democratic Conference. Two reports by comrade Trotsky and comrade Rykov are planned.

At the meeting, participation in the Pre-Parliament was approved by 77 votes to 50, a decision which the central committee also confirmed. [9]

Lenin was so angry that he proposed to call an emergency party conference, advancing as a platform the boycott of the Pre-Parliament. Henceforth all his letters and articles hammer at a single point: we must not go into the Pre-Parliament but out into the streets – to struggle for power. The emergency conference was unnecessary: Lenin’s pressure had the required effect both in the central committee and in the Bolshevik fraction to the Pre-Parliament.

Lenin singled Trotsky out for praise for his sharp opposition to participation in the Pre-Parliament:

Trotsky was for the boycott. Bravo, Comrade Trotsky!

Boycottism was defeated in the Bolshevik group at the Democratic Conference.

Long live the boycott! [10]

At last on 5 October the central committee bent to Lenin’s will and resolved, with only one dissenting voice – Kamenev’s, to withdraw from the Pre-Parliament on its first day. Trotsky succeeded in convincing the Bolshevik delegates to the Pre-Parliament that they should boycott this body – again with only one vote against.

On 7 October Trotsky read out a fighting statement at the Pre-Parliament. This was probably the first time he appeared as the main Bolshevik spokesman. Sukhanov describes the scene:

There was a sensation in the hall. For most of the bourgeoisie the famous leader of the bandits, idlers and hooligans was still a novelty.

‘The officially stated aim of the Democratic Conference,’ Trotsky began, ‘was the elimination of the personal regime that fed the Kornilov revolt, and the creation of a responsible government capable of liquidating the war and promoting the convocation of a Constituent Assembly at the appointed time. Meanwhile, behind the back of the Democratic Conference, directly contrary results have been achieved by way of the backstage deals of Citizen Kerensky, the Cadets and the Social Revolutionary and Menshevik leaders. A government has been formed in and around which both avowed and clandestine Kornilovites play the leading role. The non-responsibility of this government [to the Council of the Republic] has been formally established. The Council of the Russian Republic has been declared a consultant body. Propertied elements have come into the Provisional Council in numbers to which, as all elections throughout the country indicate, they are not entitled. Despite this it is precisely the Cadet Party that has made the government independent of the Council of the Republic. Propertied elements will undoubtedly occupy a much less favourable position in the Constituent Assembly than in the Provisional Council. The government cannot help but be responsible to the Constituent Assembly. If the propertied elements were really preparing for the Constituent Assembly in a month and a half, they would have no grounds for defending the non-responsibility of the government now. The whole point is that the bourgeois classes have set themselves the goal of preventing the Constituent Assembly ...’

There was an uproar. Shouts from the right: ‘Lies!’ Trotsky tried to show complete indifference and didn’t raise his voice. ‘In the fields of industry, agriculture and supply the policy of the government and the possessing classes is aggravating the havoc produced by the war. The propertied classes, who provoked the uprising, are now moving to crush it and are openly steering a course for the bony hand of hunger, which is expected to strangle the revolution and the Constituent Assembly first of all.

‘Nor is foreign policy any less criminal. After forty months of war the capital is threatened by mortal danger. In response to this a plan has been put forward for the transfer of the government to Moscow. The idea of surrendering the revolutionary capital to German troops does not arouse the slightest indignation amongst the bourgeois classes; on the contrary it is accepted as a natural link in the general policy that is supposed to help them in their counter-revolutionary conspiracy.’

The uproar grew worse. The patriots leaped from their seats and wouldn’t allow Trotsky to go on speaking. Shouts about Germany, the sealed car and so on. One shout stood out: ‘Bastard!’ I make the point now that throughout the revolution, both before and after the Bolsheviks, neither in the Tauride, nor in Smolny, however stormy the sessions and however tense the atmosphere, there was never once such an outcry at the meetings of our rank and file. But it was enough for us to come into the fine society of the Marian Palace, the company of polished lawyers, professors, financiers, landowners, and generals, for the tavern atmosphere of the bourgeois State Duma to revive immediately.

The chairman called the meeting to order. Trotsky was standing there as though none of this were any concern of his, and finally found it possible to go on.

‘We, the Bolshevik fraction of the Social-Democratic Party, declare that with this government of national treachery and this “Council” we –’

The uproar took on an obviously hopeless character. The majority of the right got to their feet with the obvious intention of stopping the speech. The chairman called the speaker to order. Trotsky, beginning to lose his temper, and speaking by now through the hubbub, finished:

‘– that we have nothing in common with them. We have nothing in common with that murderous intrigue against the people which is being conducted behind the official scenes. We refuse to shield it either directly or indirectly for a single day. In leaving the Provisional Council we call upon the workers, soldiers, and peasants of all Russia to be stalwart and courageous. Petersburg is in danger, the revolution is in danger, the nation is in danger. The government is intensifying that danger. The ruling parties are increasing it. Only the nation can save itself and the country. We appeal to the people: Long live an immediate, honourable democratic peace, all power to the Soviets. All land to the people, long live the Constituent Assembly!’ [11]

All the Bolsheviks stood up and walked out of the assembly hall to the accompaniment of shouts ‘Go to your German trains!’

The dramatic withdrawal of the Bolsheviks from the Democratic Conference could have only one clear meaning: ‘... there was only one road for [the Bolsheviks] out of the Pre-Parliament’, writes Sukhanov, ‘– to the barricades. If they cast away the “electoral ballot”, they must take up the rifle.’ [12]

Turning their backs on the Pre-Parliament signified a turn towards insurrection, argued Lenin and Trotsky. The Petrograd Soviet’s report on the Bolshevik withdrawal from the Pre-Parliament ended with the cry ‘Long live the direct and open struggle for revolutionary power in the country!’ That was on 9 October. The same day the Petrograd Soviet accepted Trotsky’s proposal to form a Military Revolutionary Committee to be presided over by Trotsky as president of the Soviet. This would be the general staff of the insurrection.

Lenin adopts the right strategy, wrong tactics

While Lenin was proved absolutely correct on the strategic decision, the need for an armed insurrection to seize power, his technical suggestions, the details of the plans he drafted, were very defective.

Let us consider the suggestion that the revolution should be started in Moscow. He thought that in Moscow the insurrection could be carried out almost without bloodshed. As matters turned out, even after the success of the uprising in Petrograd on 25 October, the Moscow Bolsheviks found the going extremely difficult. The insurrection there took much longer – eight days of bloody battle – and entailed far greater sacrifice.

It was astonishing that Lenin should think of Moscow as the starting place for the insurrection. First of all the Moscow proletariat was dispersed amongst smaller factories and was far more backward than the Petrograd proletariat. [13] The engineers who were the vanguard of the working class had only a quarter of their Petrograd numbers; in Petrograd metalworkers as a whole made up 41.5 per cent of all workers (in 1914); in Moscow the figure was 15.3 per cent (in 1913). [14] The workers of Moscow were far less purely proletarian than the workers of Petrograd: up to 40 per cent had plots of land in the countryside, and 22.8 per cent owned their plots. (The corresponding figures for Petrograd were 16.5 and 7.8 per cent). [15]

Moscow’s strike record was far behind that of Petrograd. During the period 1895-1916 government statistics recorded 17.6 strikes for every Petrograd worker, but only 3.5 for each Moscow province worker. [16] During the war less than 9 per cent of the workers involved in political strikes were in Moscow, whereas 74 per cent were in Petrograd. [17] Koenker explains:

Much of this difference can be explained by the different industrial composition of the two capitals. The dominant industry in St Petersburg was metalworking, and metallists were by far the most active strikers: for every hundred Russian metalworkers an average of fifty-six struck each year between 1895 and 1916. The corresponding figure for textile workers, predominant in Moscow province, was 25 per hundred, and for food workers, another big Moscow industry, only seven of one hundred workers struck each year. These industrial differences can be explained in part by low wages and high numbers of women in the less strike-prone industries, but the net result was that Moscow was, by and large, a backwater of the strike movement ... the industries with the greatest number of skilled, well-paid, literate, and urban workers ... led the strike movement. [18]

During the months of the 1917 revolution,

...Petrograd set the pace, and Moscow, from the February days to the Soviet seizure of power in October, lagged behind. February street demonstrations occurred in Moscow only after the news arrived that the old regime in Petrograd had collapsed. Angry demonstrations in June in the capital, where workers and soldiers demanded radical solutions to the problems of war and political power, were echoed in Moscow only by hastily organised neighbourhood rallies. The July days, which provoked armed confrontations in Petrograd between revolutionary soldiers and workers and defenders of the Provisional Government, brought forth in Moscow a small procession of unarmed Bolsheviks taunted by larger crowds of local citizens. [19]

The July events were particularly instructive. In Petrograd on 3 July some 400,000 workers and soldiers demonstrated. What was the picture in Moscow?

When the Moscow Committee of the Bolshevik Party learned of the demonstrations in Petrograd, they voted reluctantly to join their comrades and called for workers to march to the centre to demand Soviet power. The march was scheduled for six o’clock on the evening of 4 July.

By all accounts the demonstration was a pathetic affair. Columns of demonstrators were harassed on their way to the city centre by groups of ‘drunken hooligans’. By ten o’clock that evening, only a few hundred marchers had actually reached Skobelev Square in front of Soviet headquarters, and these were outnumbered by a hostile crowd who jeered and insulted the small band of Bolsheviks. After some brave speeches, the demonstrators moved off – retreated, actually – to Bolshevik party headquarters nearby, to tend their wounds and assess the damage the July days had done to their party. [20]

The Moscow garrison was also much more backward than that of Petrograd. It was more isolated from the front. In addition, the troops in Petrograd had experienced the baptism of the February revolution, while in Moscow they had not had to fight for that victory. Further, the revolutionary spirit of the Petrograd garrison was fanned by the threat to transfer regiments to the front. The Moscow garrison was not subjected to this pressure.

The subjective element – the Bolshevik Party leadership – was also far weaker in Moscow than in Petrograd:

... the character of revolutionary leadership for all parties in Moscow differed from that in Petrograd. The latter capital was a centre of political power, and naturally, leading politicians gravitated to that centre, leaving Moscow and other regional centres with second-level activists or people whose local ties were more important to them than being in the centre of revolutionary activity. So political leadership in Moscow was marked by a restraint and moderation ... [21]

Nogin, the Bolshevik chairman of the Moscow Soviet, opposed the October insurrection. ‘The Moscow party committee in fact had opposed an armed insurrection all along.’ [22] It was only on 25 October that a Military Revolutionary Committee was established in Moscow and this consisted, at first, of four Bolsheviks, two Mensheviks, and one United Internationalist. The Mensheviks openly declared that they were joining the Military Revolutionary Committee in order to obstruct its work (they soon withdrew from it). In Petrograd the Military Revolutionary Committee had existed since 9 October.

... Moscow Bolsheviks reluctantly made preparations to support the rising in the capital city ... the indecision ... prolonged the struggle for power in Moscow. For ten days, starting on 25 October, local power hung in the balance ... Street skirmishing between pro-government military cadets (junkers) and revolutionary soldiers began on the night of 27 October with an exchange of fire in Red Square. [23]

In Petrograd the armed insurrection was carried out in two instalments: the first at the beginning of October, when the Petrograd regiments, obeying the decision of the Soviet, refused to carry out orders from headquarters; the second on 25 October, when only a minimal and supplementary insurrection was required. But in Moscow the insurrection took place in a single step, and this was probably the main reason why it was protracted and bloody. [24] In Moscow 500 Bolshevik supporters died during the insurrection, compared with a total of only six in Petrograd. [25] Had the insurrection begun in Moscow, prior to the action in Petrograd, it would have dragged on far longer, and would have been even much more bloody, and the outcome would have been very much in doubt. This could have had a decisive effect on the prospects of the revolution altogether.

As we have mentioned, Lenin put pressure on Smilga, head of the regional committee of Soviets in Finland, to launch an assault on the Provisional Government, using troops stationed there, with backing from the Baltic fleet. This was bound to have ended in catastrophe, burying all hope of an insurrection. Thank heaven this scheme never got off the ground.

No less erroneous was Lenin’s idea that the uprising should be prepared and carried out through party channels and in the name of the party, and should be sanctioned by the Congress of Soviets only after victory had been achieved.

How can we explain Lenin’s tactical wrong-footedness in the face of his brilliant grasp of the strategy of the insurrection?

Having been in hiding for 111 days, from 6 July until 25 October, and out of touch with the practicalities of the situation, he could not judge them correctly. It is also possible that his emphasis on the strategic decision – his accustomed stick-bending – made it difficult for him to grasp the particulars. Concentrating on the key link, on the strategic choice, and absent from the scene of the struggle, Lenin was almost bound to make serious tactical miscalculations.

Suspecting that the leadership was procrastinating and using the excuse of the coming Congress of Soviets to delay the insurrection, Lenin looked for direct action that would not allow the leadership to temporise. His justified suspicion of the central committee’s tardiness in itself led to his distortion of the tactics needed.

Nonetheless, Lenin’s role in preparing the Bolshevik party for the insurrection was crucial. As Trotsky put it a few years after the event:

Had Lenin not sounded the alarm, had there not been all this pressure and criticism on his part, had it not been for his intense and passionate revolutionary mistrust, the party would probably have failed to align its front at the decisive moment. For the opposition among the party leaders was very strong, and the staff plays a major role in all wars, including civil wars. [26]


1. Lenin, Works, volume 26, page 19.

2. Lenin, Works, volume 26, page 72.

3. Lenin, Works, volume 26, page 83.

4. Lenin, Works, volume 26, page 84.

5. Lenin, Works, volume 26, page 141.

6. Lenin, Works, volume 26, page 146.

7. Lenin, Works, volume 26, pages 180-1.

8. Lenin, Works, volume 21, page 33.

9. 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), page 67; hereafter referred to as CC Minutes.

10. Lenin, Works, volume 26, page 57.

11. Sukhanov, pages 538-40; see also Trotsky, Sochineniia, volume 3, book 1, pages 287-93 and 321-3.

12. Sukhanov, page 541.

13. G.S. Ignatiev, Oktiabr 1917 goda v Moskve (Moscow 1964), page 4.

14. D. Koenker, Moscow Workers and the 1917 Revolution (Princeton 1981), page 25.

15. P.S. Volubuev, Proletariat i Burzhuaziia Rossii v 1917 godu (Moscow 1964), pages 25-6.

16. Koenker, page 76.

17. A. Sidorov, The Labour Movement in Russian during the years of the Imperialist War, in M.N. Pokrovsky (editor) Ocherki po istoriioktiabrskoi revoliutsii (Moscow-Leningrad 1927), volume 1, page 287.

18. Koenker, pages 76-7.

19. Koenker, page 94.

20. Koenker, pages 122-3.

21. Koenker, page 95.

22. Koenker, page 342.

23. Koenker, page 332.

24. Trotsky, The Lessons of October, in Trotsky, The Challenge of the Left Opposition 1923-25, page 246.

25. Voprosy istorii KPSS, number 6, 1967, page 21.

26. Trotsky, The Lessons of October, in The Challenge of the Left Opposition 1923-25, page 240.

Last updated21 July 2018