C L R James
The World Revolution 1937-1936

Chapter 3



BEFORE THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR WAS OVER MARX HAD written that a war between France and Germany meant of necessity war between Germany and Russia, unless previously a revolution broke out in Russia. "If they take Alsace-Lorraine, then France with Russia will arm against Germany. It is superfluous to point out the disastrous consequences."

Engels by 1895 could trace the full consequences of this division of Europe, intensified by the development of Capitalism, the ensuing scramble for domination of the continent, which spread, when Europe became too small, to Asia and Africa. It would be a war, he foretold, of positions and varied success on the French frontier, attack and capture of Polish frontiers on the Russian border, and a revolution in Petersburg "which will at once make the gentlemen who are conducting the war see everything in an entirely different light." Between fifteen and twenty million armed men would slaughter one another and lay waste Europe as never before, and this would lead either to the immediate victory of Socialism or leave behind such a heap of ruins that the old Capitalist society would become more impossible than ever before. Socialism might be set back for ten or fifteen years, but would then conquer in a more speedy and thorough fashion. But much as he hoped otherwise, Engels had at last realised the full corruption of the German Social Democracy. A European war would smash it to pieces, and throw back the movement twenty years. But the new party that must inevitably arise in the end from these conditions would in all the countries of Europe be free from a host of vacillations and pettinesses "which to-day hem in our movement on every side." Not in Germany alone but "in all the countries of Europe." It was the Third International.

Between 1897 and 1912 the Second International at conference after conference passed resolutions calling for international action of the working-class against war. A special conference was called at Basle in 1912 to prepare for the imminent war danger. All words, and words only. On August 4th, 1914, the Second International split into its component parts, each section of the belligerent nations going with its own bourgeoisie, except the Russian party (Bolsheviks and a wing of the Mensheviks) and some small parties in the Balkan countries.


Lenin was in Galicia in August, 1914. He was arrested on August 8, and released on August 19, as an enemy of Tsarism. On the 28th he left for Switzerland, reached Berne on September 5 and on that very day wrote his first article on the ideological and political collapse of the old international and the necessity for the new. It is these things that distinguish the great Marxist from all the peddling Social Democrats and the blundering Third International of to-day.

The future international, he said, must "realistically and irrevocably " free itself of the "bourgeois trend in socialism," by which he meant collaboration with the national bourgeoisie, instead of reliance on the international proletariat. By October he was full of confidence. "The proletarian international has not perished, and will not perish. The working masses will overcome all obstacles and create a new International ... long live a proletarian International free from opportunism." And later in the same month, "the Second International has died ... long live the Third International."

From that time on he devoted himself to preparing its theoretical foundation. Look through his works between September, 2924, and March, 1917. Though he was still almost entirely responsible for the direction of his party, his writings on the international situation and in what way the new International must differ from the old overshadow his writings on Russia. He brushes aside the responsibility of individuals and, ranging over the whole Socialist movement in Europe, traces the social basis of the bourgeois trend in Socialism, or as he called it opportunism. He seeks to split the true internationalists from those who have destroyed the international working-class movement by following their own bourgeoisie. He explains that by the collapse of the Second International he means its collapse as a revolutionary force. He appeals for a programme which will call on the workers to build a Marxian international openly and without the opportunists: "Only such a programme showing that we believe in ourselves, that we believe in Marxism, that we declare a life and death struggle against opportunism, would sooner or later secure for us the sympathy of the real proletarian masses." Never was any doctrinaire leader better served by the teeming heterogeneous millions of every country, and he won their support because he believed in them. He could not have got it otherwise.

When the International would be formed neither he nor any one else could say. It was a revolutionary duty to work for it, and the first necessity was a clear programme which would not compromise on a single aspect of Marxian Socialism.

The immediate issue was, however, the war. He formulated his policy without hesitation or equivocation. Startling as it appeared at first, it flowed inevitably from his political background. The workers had no business fighting each other. The enemy was in your own country. Peace, but peace by revolution, by fighting the class-war against your own bourgeoisie, by turning the imperialist war into civil war. [1] The war was not for democracy or any such impudent deception, fit only for Liberals and Social Democrats. Was Tsarist Russia fighting for democracy? It was a war for the redivision of colonies and spheres of influence. Any imperialist peace would therefore be a mockery. To lead the masses to expect a democratic peace, without annexations and with self-determination for nations, was bourgeois lying or petty-bourgeois ignorance and stupidity. Peace, but peace by revolution. The slogan of peace without the call for revolution was a preacher's slogan. When the revolution would come no one could say. Cautious as ever, he said that it might be during this first imperialist war or during the one which would certainly follow it. The task was to work to that end. To refuse to enter the army was a rejection of the struggle. When there was no revolutionary situation and you were given a ballot box –take it. To-morrow when you were given a rifle, it was your business to take this weapon of death and destruction. "Do not turn to the sentimental whiners who are afraid of war. Much has been left in the world that must be destroyed by fire and iron for the liberation of the working-class. When the revolutionary situation was at hand these useful weapons were to be used against your own government and your own bourgeoisie." To the objection that the masses were not ready for these ideas he replied with his old conception of the difference between the working-class party and the working-class: "the slogans of the class-conscious vanguard of the workers (revolutionary Socialist democracy) are one thing and the elemental demands of the masses quite another," and, another profound revolutionary maxim: "It is never too early to tell the proletariat the truth about its own condition." History would bring the masses. Meanwhile he sought to unite all who remained true to Marxism to lay the foundations of the new revolutionary international. Without it the unity and cohesion of the working-class struggle against Capitalism was impossible. Not that he sought the universal overthrow of each national Capitalism at the same time. The uneven development of Capitalism, the peculiarities of the class struggle in each individual country, would bring the conflict to a decisive issue sooner in certain countries than in others. Each national party would have to lead the struggle against its own bourgeoisie. But the national party must be built on the international Marxist foundation, so that the growth of the national party meant the growth of the International.


But having stated his principles and his programme so that the simplest-minded worker, whether he accepted or rejected them, would at least have no doubts as to their meaning, Lenin set out to seek allies, "however vacillating, however temporary," for his views. And in his approach to those elements in the Second International who were moving, however slowly, to his own position and the position of his party, he showed yet another side of Leninism, its flexibility of tactic without which its programmatical rigidity would have doomed it to a dangerous and perhaps fatal sterility. The Second International, as we have seen, had not been homogeneous in its adherence to its own bourgeoisie. But even in those national organisations which had shepherded the workers to the slaughter, opposition had early shown itself. It ranged from those very close to revolutionary internationalism on the left to pacifists who abjured violence of any sort; behind the banner of anti-war a motley crowd will always march. As the full horror of the war unfolded itself, these began to seek some concrete means of checking the murderous savagery that was being enacted all over the world in the name of civilization.

In January, 1915, a conference of women Socialists met at Berne. Lenin sent his wife and some others to represent the Bolshevik Party. The conference rejected the revolutionary programme of the Bolshevik women (which Lenin had, of course, written) and passed a "miserable pacifist" resolution. Lenin's delegation refused to sign it and withdrew. In September, 1915, Came the conference of anti-war Socialists at Zimmerwald, which Lenin attended at the head of the Bolshevik delegation. His resolution condemning the Second International and calling for peace by revolution and civil war was rejected by nineteen votes to twelve, and the Bolshevik delegation signed a compromise resolution. [2] In his paper Lenin openly faced the doubts as to whether the Central Committee was right in signing this manifesto, suffering as it did from "lack of consistency and from timidity." He put the case to the Russian workmen that it was. At the conference the Bolsheviks did not hide one iota of their views, slogans nor tactics. Their writings were distributed. "We have broadcasted, are broadcasting and shall broadcast our views with no less energy than our manifesto." After all, the manifesto, with all its shortcomings, was a step forward. "It would be sectarianism to refuse to take this step together with the minority of the German, French, Swedish, Norwegian and Swiss Socialists, when we retain full freedom and a full possibility to intrigue unceasingly and to struggle for more...."

That was the Leninist method; an inflexible rigidity in theory and organisation, put a willingness to combine for specific purposes with any other group once his independence for action and criticism was not tied. Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg had early called for the new international, but Trotsky refused to accept Lenin's uncompromising demand that each Socialist should fight for the defeat of his own country. He still sought to bring together the various fractions of the party. He talked about peace without annexations. He maintained his theory of the Permanent Revolution. On all these points, particularly the first three, Lenin was violent in his denunciation of Trotsky. Yet he again asked Trotsky to write for his paper. Trotsky again refused.

The Second Internationalists, now violently pro-war, excelled the Capitalists in patriotic wrath against Zimmerwald, but events were steadily flogging waverers towards Lenin's position. In April, 1916, there was another conference at Kienthal. The cruelty and rapacity of the imperialist statesmen were now plain to all who wanted to see, and the Kienthal conference passed a resolution which stated that Socialism was the only way out. It called upon the proletariat to fight, but though it criticised strongly the jingoists of the Second International it hesitated to break with them. Though the conference condemned bourgeois pacifism, it shirked the simple call, "Turn the imperialist war into civil war." But the revolutionary left, under the leadership of Lenin, convinced of the necessity of a break and the formation of a new International, had consolidated itself. The rest was now merely a matter of time. Then suddenly the steady left-ward tendency in the international working-class movement exploded in the Russian revolution. Lenin's tactics at once changed. When he had been in Russia a few weeks, and seven months before October, the Zimmerwaldists proposed another conference. Lenin refused to have anything to do with them, and was in a minority of one in his own party for so doing. As the Bolsheviks without Lenin had failed to understand the necessity of immediately working in the Soviets in 1905, so now they failed to understand that the revolution in Russia had made it necessary to break with the vacillating Zimmerwaldists, that from the higher plane of the Russian Revolution the Bolshevik Party was now dominant, and if it could lead the Russian workers to victory would be able to impose its own terms for the fight against war. His followers did not understand his method then. They do not understand it yet.

In January, 1917, Lenin delivered a lecture on the 1905 revolution to an audience of young Swiss workers. He concluded with what is perhaps the most representative passage in his writings during the war. In it we see the range of his conceptions, the caution and precision with which he expressed them, his passionate convictions and his almost inhuman impersonality.

"Very often we meet West Europeans who argue about the Russian Revolution as if events, relationships and methods of struggle in that backward country have very little resemblance to West European relationships, and, therefore, can hardly have any practical significance.
"There is nothing more erroneous than such an opinion.
"No doubt the forms and occasions for the impending battles in the coming European revolution will differ in many respects from the forms of the Russian revolution.
"Nevertheless, the Russian revolution-precisely because of its proletarian character–in that particular sense of which I have spoken [3] –was the prologue to the coming European revolution. Undoubtedly the coming revolution can only be a proletarian revolution in the profounder sense of the word; a proletarian, Socialist revolution also in its content. The coming revolution will show to an even greater degree, on the one hand, that only stern battles, only civil wars, can free humanity from the yoke of capital; on the other hand, that only class-conscious proletarians can and will come forth in the role of leaders of the vast majority of the exploited.
"The present grave-like stillness in Europe must not deceive us. Europe is charged with revolution. The monstrous horrors of the imperialist war, the suffering caused by the high cost of living, engender everywhere a revolutionary spirit; and the ruling classes, the bourgeoisie with its servitors, the governments, are more and more moving into a blind alley from which they can never extricate themselves without tremendous upheavals.
"Just as in Russia, in 1905, a popular uprising against the Tsarist government commenced under the leadership of the proletariat with the aim of achieving a democratic republic, so, in Europe, the coming years, precisely because of this predatory war, will lead to popular uprisings under the leadership of the proletariat against the power of finance capital, against the big banks, against the Capitalists; and these upheavals cannot end otherwise than with the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, with the victory of Socialism.
"We of the older generation may not live to see the decisive battles of this coming revolution. But I can, I believe, express the strong hope that the youth which is working so splendidly in the Socialist movement of Switzerland, and of the whole world, will be fortunate enough not only to fight, but also to win, in the coming proletarian revolution." [4]

He was only forty-six at the time and in good health. "We of the older generation may not live to see the decisive battles of this coming revolution." He was never rhetorical. Three months after he heard that Tsarism had been overthrown and he prepared for the international proletarian revolution.


There is no exaggeration here. Lenin in January had seen that, in case of the collapse of Tsarism, the most probable Government would be a Government of Miliukov, the right-wing Liberal, and Kerensky, that most mischievous type, the left-wing Liberal with a Socialist colouring. When the news actually did reach him that such a Government had been formed, there are his letters to tell us exactly what his ideas were. The very first letter, March 16th, written to A. M. Kollontai, says: "Never again [5] along the lines of the Second International. ... Republican propaganda, war against imperialism, revolutionary propaganda, as heretofore, agitation and struggle for an international [5] proletarian revolution and for the conquest of power by the 'Soviets of Workers' deputies...."'

On the next day he hammered again at the two cardinal principles of his life–the independence of the party and the international character of the Socialist revolution: "In my opinion our main task is to guard against getting entangled in foolish attempts at 'unity' with the social-patriots (or what is still more dangerous, with the wavering ones, and the Organisation Committee, Trotsky and Co.) and to continue the work of our own [6] party in a consistently international spirit." [6] Lenin knew his colleagues, knew how easy was the descent into nationalism.

The international revolution would begin with the inevitable second revolution in Russia. The people had not made a revolution to get rid of Tsarism. They wanted land, bread, peace and freedom. But the Miliukov Government was a bourgeois Government. It could not give the peasants the land because that would ruin the banks on whose stability bourgeois life depended; it could not give peace because it was bound by financial ties to the war-making bourgeoisie of Western Europe; it could not give bread because bread could only be got by revolutionary measures against the landlords and capitalists, and these measures a Government of landlords and capitalists would not take; it could not give freedom because it was a Government of the propertied classes and was afraid of the people.

In his first letter Lenin still speaks of a democratic republic. But his mind travelled fast. On March 20th he had not yet left the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. "Our revolution is a bourgeois revolution, therefore the workers must support the bourgeoisie, say the worthless politicians among the liquidators. Our revolution is a bourgeois revolution, say we Marxists, therefore the workers must open the eyes of the people to the deceptive practices of the bourgeois politicians, must teach the people not to believe in words, but to depend wholly on their own strength, on organisation, on their own unity, and on arms."

Rut during that night he definitely changed his mind (there were hints in the previous letters). In this third of the Letters from Afar, March 21st, he writes: "We need revolutionary power, we need (for a certain period of transition) the State.

"We need the State but not the kind needed by the bourgeoisie, with organs of power in the form of police, army bureaucracy, distinct from and opposed to the people. All bourgeois revolutions have merely perfected this government apparatus, have merely transferred it from one party to another." In those few words was the end of his long struggle with Trotsky's Permanent Revolution. If the State was to be merely for a period of transition, then it meant that he had thrown over the conception of a period of bourgeois democracy and the development of Russian Capitalism. The transitional Government, during the period when the development of productive forces would gradually make a State unnecessary, could only be the dictatorship of the proletariat. Why had he changed? It was because he was now confident that the Russian Revolution, coming in the middle of the greatest crisis Capitalism had ever known, would most certainly place the proletariat in power in one or more of the advanced countries of Western Europe. Thus the Russian proletariat, reinforced, would be able not only to capture the power but to hold it. Trotsky in America, whither he had been deported from Europe, writing for a Russian emigre paper, was making identical analyses based on the theory he had so pertinaciously maintained against all comers for twelve years.


We shall go in some detail into the course of the Russian Revolution. As Lenin told the delegates to the Second Congress of the International, the great theses which were laid down during those early congresses were but the heritage of Marx and Engels enriched by the revolutionary experiences of the Bolshevik party, particularly in 1905 and 1917.

Under the strain of the imperialist war, Russia, the weakest Capitalist State, had cracked first. As usual the cracks had begun from above. Not only were the Liberal bourgeoisie hostile to the incompetence of Tsarism, but Tsarism, owing to the crisis, was itself split, and one section had murdered Rasputin, the guiding star of the other. But all the ruling classes feared the proletariat of Petersburg, Moscow and the revolutionary towns in the south. The Liberal bourgeoisie were willing to criticise Tsarism but dreaded the consequences of overturning it. Thus they merely made their own overthrow the more certain and complete. In March the workers, led chiefly by unknown Bolsheviks who had been through 1905, had read the Bolshevik daily paper and Lenin's writings, came out into the streets, and with the infallible instinct of masses in revolution set themselves to win over the soldiers. By standing their ground before the charges of the Tsarist police and the Cossacks they showed the revolutionary elements in the army that this was not a demonstration but a struggle for power, which they could join with the hope of ridding themselves of the than on the civilian masses. The revolution triumphed and the workers and soldiers, remembering 1905, immediately elected a council of representatives of the factories and of the soldiers–the Soviets. The workers, in gratitude for the help of the army, gave a great number of deputies to the soldiers, and these, politically inexperienced, elected chiefly Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, members of that party which had long claimed to represent the interests of the peasants. An Executive Committee consisting chiefly of Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries was elected.


The Menshevik view of the place of the bourgeoisie in the Russian Revolution we know. The Social Revolutionaries shared it, Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries being determined believers in democracy. So that with the proletariat and the soldiers behind them, with the whole force of the Russian people in their hands, the Executive Committee of the Soviet, some of them men who had suffered hard labour under Tsarism and had shown conspicuous personal bravery and courage, could do no better than seek out a committee of the Tsarist Duma and offer the Government to a group of landlords and industrialists, who were quaking with fear at their helplessness before the revolution. All that these democrats asked in return was freedom to make propaganda. By this means they would urge" the Government and "bring pressure to bear" upon it.

The revolutionary workers especially those of the Vyborg district, the proletarian centre of Petersburg, were bitterly angry when they heard what had been done. So hostile were the workers to the propertied classes that they refused to allow any member of the Soviet to participate in the Government. Kerensky, from his reputation as a radical lawyer, had been elected a member of the Soviet, but broke Soviet discipline to gain the highest ambition of this kind of politician–a place in a bourgeois Government.


All this was astonishing enough. But the history of the Social Democracy since the war shows that this cowardice is organic. What was far more astonishing, and is of enormous significance for the history of the Third International, is that the acknowledged leaders of Lenin's party, men who after his death were to play a dominating part in shaping the policy of the Soviet Union and of the International, took up an almost identical position with the Menshevik Executive Committee. What Lenin meant to Bolshevism, unpalatable as this may be to some Marxists, is proved by the fact that not a single Bolshevik leader, in a party trained to lead the workers, could give the correct lead until Lenin came. Stalin and Kamenev, coming to Petrograd from Siberian prisons, voted for the manifesto which promised the support of the Russian Revolution to the Entente. Misusing Lenin's doctrines of control from the centre, in the manner which had always kept Trotsky hostile to it, they exercised their authority as members of the Central Committee, removed Molotov and Shliapnikov, the editors of Pravda, the Bolshevik daily paper, and took over the direction themselves. Pravda despite sentimentality and confusion had been vaguely following Lenin's instructions to refuse any support to the Capitalist Provisional Government. The revolution had merely put another Capitalist Government into power; the revolutionary Social Democracy would seek to overthrow it. Stalin and Kamenev therefore did not have the responsibility of finding a policy. It was there already. But they reversed Lenin's policy, and under their direction Pravda promised to support the Provisional Government in so far as it carried out the policy of the Executive Committee of the Soviet, composed for the most part of Lenin's lifelong political enemies, who no sooner had the power than they ran to give it to the bourgeoisie. Lenin's years of insistence on the international nature of the revolution, his long struggle against the Mensheviks as being penetrated by bourgeois ideas leading inevitably to nationalism and subservience to the bourgeoisie, all had passed them by. The international proletariat for Stalin then, as to-day, was not a living reality, but a shadowy abstraction. It proves once more that a purely intellectual conviction of international revolution is a rare thing among men, that Lenin was Lenin precisely because of this conviction, and that without him there would not have been in March 1917 that combination of organisation and Marxism which led the Russian workers to victory.

But what is so difficult for intellectuals to understand is the natural instinct of revolutionary workers. In the course of class-struggle against their employers they accumulate such hostility that at moments when the struggle reaches open warfare, the support of their own bourgeoisie is impossible and they turn instinctively to internationalism. It is this instinctive internationalism to which theoretical Marxism must give organisation and direction. To the Menshevism of Stalin and Kamenev the Petersburg workers reacted violently. They demanded the expulsion of Kamenev and Stalin from the party. The committee of the Petrograd Bolsheviks protested to the Bureau of the Central Committee of the party. The former editors were reinstated with the new-comers as associate editors. [7] Lenin, caged in Geneva, raged furiously at this betrayal. What would have happened if he had never been able to leave there? Despite his political backwardness Stalin, as future events were to show, was, after Lenin, the most powerful personality in the Bolshevik party. He retreated after the rebuff administered by the Petrograd workers; but at the session of March 29 of the party conference Stalin urged support of the Provisional Government. "In so far as the Provisional Government consolidates the advance of the revolution, to that extent we support it; but to the extent that the Provisional Government is counter-revolutionary, support of it is inadmissible." He recommended at that same session support of the Kraskojarsk Resolution, which called for support of the Provisional Government in so far as it carried out the wishes of the people. The revolution was a month old. Stalin and Kamenev were still hankering after the Miliukov Government. Tseretelli, one of the Menshevik leaders of the Soviet, made a proposal of unity to the Bolsheviks. Stalin was in favour. "We ought to accept. It is necessary to make precise proposals as to the lines on which we can unite. Unity is possible along the lines of Zimmerwald-Kienthal." Molotov expressed doubts. Stalin silenced him. For Stalin the gulf which separated Lenin's view of the future development of the revolution and the Menshevik view was of no significance whatever. "There is no need to run to meet or to forestall disagreements. Without disagreements, there is no party life. In the bosom of the party we shall overcome the minor disagreements." [8] He had then been a member of the party some fifteen years. The fierce implacable Bolshevik, the revolutionary of the school of Lenin, the man of steel, all this is pure myth. Stalin is implacable, but against rivals in the party. From 1917 to the present day, whenever faced with a choice between the international proletariat and the bourgeoisie, the test of the revolutionary leader, he has always chosen the bourgeoisie. Nor was he alone; a majority of the old Bolsheviks was with him. They defended this reversion to Menshevism by sticking to Lenin's old formula of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. The revolution was a bourgeois-democratic one, and could go no further. Any step beyond would lead to the dictatorship of the proletariat, which was the Permanent Revolution of Trotsky.

The result of this was an immense confusion in the Bolshevik Party. The Mensheviks, at first frightened of Lenin's insistence that the necessity to overturn your own Government still remained, now rejoiced openly at this new commonsense and unexpected moderation in the Bolsheviks. In the more backward provinces Bolsheviks and Mensheviks drew closer together. At the very end of March, as we have seen, at their All-Russian Conference, the Bolsheviks voted for a resolution supporting the Provisional Government.


Lenin arriving in Petrograd in early April recognised quite clearly that not only the deputies in the Soviets and the petty-bourgeoisie, but the rank and file of the masses shared the illusions of those whom the revolution had lifted to power. They had to be won for the international Socialist revolution. For the time being it was enough to consolidate his own party. He was confident that he could win the Bolshevik workers of Petrograd and through them bring to heel "those old Bolsheviks who already more than once have played a sad role in the history of our party by stupidly repeating a formula learnt by heart instead of studying afresh the new actual situation." He knew them well. Zinoviev had worked closely with him for years, and from August, 1914, had assisted in all his writings on the War, but he was no sooner in Petrograd than he edged over to Stalin, Kamenev, Kalinin and the others. But as later years were to prove they were no match for Stalin, far less for Lenin. When Lenin put forward his policy, the majority of political Petrograd, from the members of his Central Committee to the British Ambassador, thought him quite literally mad. But in one month the party had adopted his policy. He redrafted the programme, and to emphasize the break with everything Menshevik he proposed to change the name of the party from the Russian Social Democratic Party to the Communist Party of Russia.


The revolutionary situation had arrived and he now had his party ready, organised and disciplined, the fruit of his long struggle from 1903. Marxists believe in the predominant role of the objective forces of history, and for that very reason are best able to appreciate the progressive or retarding influence of human personality. For the moment it is sufficient to state our belief that without Lenin there would have been no October revolution, and another Tsar might have sat in the Kremlin.

Lenin fought for the slogan, "All power to the Soviet," of which his own party was but 13 per cent. He knew the Mensheviks too well to think that they would ever do anything else except "urge" and "bring pressure to bear" on the Provisional Government. But, if the Bolsheviks knew that, the masses did not know it, and merely to tell them was not sufficient: they would have to see it for themselves. Therefore, "All power to the Soviet," and let the leaders expose themselves. For the time being, "patiently explain, in simple language." Among all the millions of Russia the Bolshevik Party in March was only 25,000 strong; [9] in the Putilov works of 30,000 men, the heart of the Russian Revolution, there were only thirty Bolsheviks. But they had at their head a master in the art of insurrection, and the discipline and cohesion of the party he had built up was such that from him through his party to the Russian people radiated all the wisdom and knowledge and insight which he had learnt from his masters and developed in his profound studies of history and of revolution. But the process was not one-sided. From his party, rooted in the factories, the Trade Unions, wherever there were groups of workers, came back to him the moods of the masses and the stages they had reached in understanding the real development of events. In April he proposed a demonstration–to test the feeling and temper of revolutionary Petrograd. It showed him that the moment was not yet. The masses still trusted in the leaders of the Soviet, and the power of the Soviet rested on the masses. He therefore repudiated the very thought of insurrection, for no workers' party could preach insurrection against revolutionary workers. When a working woman helped him on with his coat and said laughingly that, if he were Lenin, she would help to murder him, he pondered long and deeply over this manifestation of working-class feeling. Near the end of April some of the Bolsheviks raised the slogan of "Down with the Provisional Government." Lenin checked them sternly. The masses were not ready yet to take action on such a slogan, and if advanced it might lead to adventurism and the disorganisation of the more advanced workers. And day by day, as he knew it would, the Provisional Government exposed itself and the temper of the people rose. It would not take steps to give the land, it would not stop the war but organised an offensive "in defence of the revolution." The Capitalist Government would not take the drastic measures against Capitalism necessary to feed the population. Instead the capitalists profiteered, prices soared, strikes spread, the capitalists replied with the lock-out and sabotaged whatever feeble measures the Government proposed for the improvement of the situation. Under the pressure of the masses and its incapacity to solve the problems of the day, the Provisional Government began to break, and strengthened itself by bringing in members of the Executive Committee of the Soviet. Thus Kerensky, ready to go on with the war and not prepared to touch property, and therefore acceptable (for the time being) to the bourgeoisie, full of revolutionary phrases and therefore acceptable to the awakening but as yet politically unconscious masses, was of necessity forced to higher and higher power. Another source of confusion for the Provisional Government and the Second Internationalists of the Soviet was the national question. Second Internationalists of all sorts combine an indefatigable capacity for passing resolutions on the self-determination of nations with a readiness to support their own bourgeoisie in keeping in subjection Indians, Egyptians, Africans, Irish, Palestinian Arabs, Chinese and Moors. The self-determination of these Socialists is limited very strictly by the needs of their own Capitalism. Tsarism held in subjection parts of Poland, Finland, Georgia and numerous other subject nationalities. Lenin had maintained as a general principle the rights of all small nations to self-determination, even to the extent of splitting away from the Tsarist empire. The March revolution proclaimed liberty; the subject nationalities interpreted this liberty to mean liberty to govern themselves as they pleased. The Provisional Government, representing Russian Capitalism with powerful interests in all these countries, understood this liberty to be strictly subordinated to the Russian imperialism which had changed its name but not its nature. Between Finland, Georgia, etc., and the Provisional Government violent conflicts arose. The leaders of the Soviet, just like their counterparts in Western Europe, gave national freedom in words but in deeds supported the Government. The Bolsheviks supported the demands of the subject nationalities, fought for them and gained the interest and support of the nationalist masses.

By July the workers and soldiers and sailors, maddened by the continuance of the war that they had made a revolution to stop, and the incapacity of the Government to substantiate the promises of the revolution, marched to the Executive Committee and demanded "Down with the minister Capitalists!" They were ready to seize power that day. Lenin and the Bolsheviks knew that they could hold Petrograd, but that the country as a whole was not yet ripe. Yet the masses were on the streets and ready for action. The party, as a party, must put itself at the head of the demonstration, but only in order to prevent the workers making the mistake of seizing power too soon. There was a serious clash, there was shooting, and the movement swung backwards. "Now they will shoot us down one by one," said Lenin, "This is the right time for them." But decayed classes cannot produce men and parties able to act in such a situation. Yet Kerensky's Government, with Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries in it, opened an attack on the Bolsheviks. The Bolshevik Press was smashed, Lenin and Zinoviev had to fly for their lives, Trotsky and other leading revolutionaries were put into gaol, and reactionary gangs beat up and murdered Bolsheviks in the streets. For the moment the situation seemed almost hopeless. The Executive Committee was triumphant at the apparent rout of the Bolshevik. But before he was arrested Trotsky had noticed hopeful signs in the canteen at Smolny, the Soviet headquarters. "The canteen was in charge of a soldier named Grafov. When the baiting of the Bolsheviks was at its worst, when Lenin was declared a German spy and had to hide in a hut, I noticed that Grafov would slip me a hotter glass of tea or a sandwich better than the rest, trying meanwhile not to look at me. He obviously sympathised with the Bolsheviks but had to keep it from his superiors. I began to look about me more attentively. Grafov was not the only one: the whole lower staff of the Smolny–porters, messengers, watchmen–were unmistakably with the Bolsheviks." Lenin and Trotsky had their eyes fastened on the masses; Tseretelli, Dan and Cheidze had theirs fixed on the bourgeoisie. It is the difference between the proletarian revolutionary and the bourgeois intellectual, between Marxism and Revisionism, between the Workers' Front and the Popular Front, between Trotskyism and Stalinism.

Nothing now could change the situation but an insurrection. Lenin, not certain of gaining a majority of in the Soviet, therefore changed the slogan: the factory committees." There the influence of the Executive Committee would be less. But at this point counter-revolution appeared. Property, taking advantage of the reaction against the July days and the inevitable confusion of a Government half-liberal half-Socialist, was about to make its last desperate effort under the Cossack General Kornilov. Kerensky, bestriding the bourgeoisie and the proletariat like a paper-colossus, intrigued with Kornilov, but the negotiations breaking down at the last minute he turned to the Soviet, and it is here that we have the crowning stroke of Lenin's strategic genius, the classical example of the policy of the United Front.


The Executive Committee of the Soviet were represented in the Government which was persecuting his party. Lenin dared not come out of hiding. Yet he called on his party to form joint committees of action with the Menshevik Soviet and fight side by side with them and with Kerensky against the counter-revolution. The letter in which he outlined the tactic shows his capacity for maneuvering without compromising his own position, his care that the masses should understand. In tactical skill as well as world-wide strategy his hand was equally sure.

"Even now, we must not support the revolution of Kerensky. It would be a failure of principle. How then, it will be said, must Kornilov not be fought?–Certainly, yes. But between fighting Kornilov and supporting Kerensky there is a difference....
"We wage and shall continue to wage war on Kornilov, but we do not support Kerensky; we unveil his feebleness. There there is a difference. That difference is subtle enough, but most essential, and it must not be forgotten.
"In what, then, does our change of tactics following on the Kornilov rising consist?
"In this: that we modify the form of our struggle against Kerensky. Without diminishing the least bit in the world our hostility, without withdrawing a single one of the words we have pronounced against him, without renouncing our intention to beat him, we declare that consideration must be given to the circumstances of the moment, that we shall not concern ourselves at the present with overthrowing Kerensky, that we shall now conduct the struggle against him in another way by emphasising to the people (and it is the people who are engaged in fighting Kornilov) the weakness and vacillalions of Kerensky. That we were already doing previously. But now it is this which comes to the forefront of our plan of campaign, and therein lies the change.
"Another change: at this moment we place equally in the forefront of our plan of campaign the reinforcing of our agitation for that might be called 'partial demands.' Arrest Miliukov, we say to Kerensky; arm the Petrograd workers; bring the troops from Krondstadt, from Viborg and from Helsingfors to Petrograd; dissolve the Duma; arrest Rodzianko; legalise the handing over of the big estates to the peasants, establish working-class control of cereals and manufactured products, etc. And it is not only to Kerensky that we should put these claims; it is not so much to Kerensky as to the workers, soldiers and peasants who have been carried away by the struggle against Kornilov. They must be carried further, they must be encouraged to demand the arrest of the generals and officers who side with Kornilov; we must insist that they immediately claim the land for the peasants, and we must suggest to them the necessity of arresting Rodzianko and Miliukov, of dissolving the Imperial Duma, of closing down the Rech and other bourgeois newspapers and bringing them before the courts. It is particularly the Left Social-Revolutionaries who must be pushed in this direction.
"It would be erroneous to believe that we are turning away from our principal objective; the conquest of power by the proletariat. We have, on the contrary, got considerably nearer to it, but indirectly, by a flanking movement. We must at the very same moment agitate against Kerensky-but let the agitation be indirect rather than direct–but insisting on an active war against Kornilov. Only the active development of that war can lead us to power, but of that we must speak as little as possible in our agitation (we keep it well in mind that even to-morrow events may compel us to take power, and that then we shall not let it go). In my opinion, these points should be communicated in a letter (a private one) to our agitators, to our propagandists, training groups and schools, and to the members of the Party in general. ..."

And we have an unforgettable picture of Krupskaya supervising the duplication of these letters, scrupulous over every comma, so that the Bolshevik agitators might be able to put Lenin's precise ideas clearly before the eager masses and weld them for the revolution.

Trotsky walked straight from prison to the Committee of the Soviet which had helped to put him there, in order to organise the defence of Petrograd. Kornilov's force disappeared. Lenin, still in hiding, again offered to support the leaders of the Soviet if they would take the power from the Provisional Government. Lenin had early called for the arming and drilling of the workers, but still he hoped that these leaders would take the power without bloodshed, which they could easily have done. But they would not. Lacking Lenin's faith in the international proletariat, they feared isolation and could only urge the Liberal bourgeoisie to do something while they warned the Bolsheviks against violence. Ramsay MacDonald during the General Strike testified as to his faith in the ancient British constitution. Tseretelli, even before Russia had a constitution, was prepared to abide by it. Ex-Prime Minister and ex-convict, the political type is the same. Only historical materialism, which sees these men as the product of their social environment, can charitably explain them.

The Kornilov episode, however, had made the masses see clearly what the Bolshevik party had preached so steadily and so patiently. The Bolsheviks gained a majority in the Soviets at last. Again the slogan was changed: All power to the Bolshevik Soviet. Lenin, studying carefully the situation all over Russia, judged that the moment was near. He called on the Central Committee to organise the actual insurrection. But the Central Committee, now that the moment was approaching, for which so much labour and thought had been expended and so much suffering heroically borne, wavered. Zinoviev and Kamenev were openly against, Kalinin said yes, "but in a year's time." Lenin, still in hiding, threatened to resign and to appeal for insurrection over the heads of the Central Committee to the masses. He knew that the temper of the masses for an insurrection lasts over a period of weeks at most, sometimes only for a few days, after which it ebbs away. And he knew also that there was no question of a democratic republic for Russia. For once the spirit of the people, wearied by deception and disappointment, had subsided, the counter-revolution would grow stronger day by day, and end in the destruction of the revolution. The chance, if any, of a bourgeois-democratic republic (and that could only have been temporary) had been thrown away by the leaders of the Soviet when they handed the power to the Provisional Government. Hut many members of the Central Committee could not see this. Zinoviev and Kamenev carried their resistance into the open, writing against the insurrection in a non-Bolshevik paper. Zinoviev wrote against it in Pravda of October 20. This article was accompanied by an editorial note which stated solidarity with Zinoviev and Kamenev. Sokolnikov, one of the editors, stated that he had no part in it. The other editor was Stalin. The Central Committee was thrown into confusion. Kamenev resigned; he and Zinoviev were forbidden to carry on agitation against the policy of the Central Committee. Stalin opposed this and offered his resignation from the editorial board. The Central Committee at that critical time refused to accept it. What would these: men do when Lenin died, if they acted like this when he was merely in hiding?

But Trotsky, now a member of the party, other leading revolutionaries, and the bulk of the party and the Petrograd masses were unreservedly for the revolution and ready to follow. Lenin had his way. The insurrection achieved an almost bloodless victory in Petrograd; there was fighting later in Moscow and other regions in Russia, but on the first night of the insurrection, power was in Bolshevik hands. The next night Lenin broadcast a decree informing the peasants that all land was now the property of the State and to seize it and divide it among themselves pending legislation. And when, a few days later, the Commander-in-Chief of the army refused to obey his orders to make overtures for peace, he ordered the soldiers to shoot or bayonet their officers and fraternise with the Germans.


It may seem here that we have given too much prominence to Lenin. The foundation and maintenance of Bolshevism, the theoretical preparation for the Third International, the October revolution, we have made them centre around him. In all of them he was the driving force, theoretician and organiser. The October revolution is the beginning of twenty years of such tense history as no age has seen. Now Lenin, it is true, did not make the October revolution. We have pointed out and emphasised heavily enough the inevitability in history which enabled Marx and Engels to foresee the first world war, the revolution in Petersburg, the death of the Second International, the inevitable rise of a Third International. So far Historical Materialism. It was within those limits that the most gifted of individuals had to work. But Trotsky, who played so great a part in the revolution, has stated categorically: "You know better than I that had Lenin failed to reach Petrograd in April, 1917, there would have been no October revolution." [10] In addition to the fact of the revolution it might have been a failure or a success. Lenin ensured its success. Trotsky was capable of both the strategy and tactics. Could he have brought the party with him? It is doubtful. And without October the Third International might have taken many years to come. It might have taken a very different form. That the International came so quickly and in the way it did was due to the work of Lenin. He could not have done it without the party, but it was he who made the party. When he was in hiding, Trotsky led the Bolshevik Party, not only with immense vigour and executive skill, but with a brilliance of appeal and personality which not even Lenin could have equaled. As we have seen, his analysis of perspectives was more correct than Lenin's. But though the actual revolution brought them together, Lenin to Trotsky on the theoretical appraisement, and Trotsky to Lenin on the organisational question (he joined the party in July), yet without Lenin it is, to say the least, extremely doubtful what road the Bolshevik Party would have ultimately taken after the March revolution. It is not only the road the party has taken since Lenin died which encourages us to think the worst, it is what they did even while he was there to watch them. In this short chronicle Stalin appears only as making grave mistakes. A chronicle ten times as large would have little else to add. Except that he delivered a report at the Sixth Congress when most of the other leaders were in hiding or out of Petrograd, it is difficult to find in chronicles of the time any trace of his share in the October revolution. [11] Not only were they incapable themselves; they could not recognise capability in other men. When Trotsky arrived in Petersburg in May, and was still outside the Bolshevik Party, Lenin, now having no quarrel with Trotsky over the Permanent Revolution, and remembering Trotsky's work in 1905, proposed to the Central Committee that Trotsky should be made the editor of Pravda. The Central Committee refused. To Lenin's urgent plea they replied with his own arguments against organisational unity–a unity they had been quite prepared to forget on the far greater question of the international revolution. They were many of them men of ability and character. Lenin's superiority, the breadth of his spirit, his knowledge of men, his tolerance, enabled him to use them all. But who knows how far the judgment of his colleagues by so clear-sighted a man was responsible for his tenacious advocacy of central control? It is when we watch the role in 1917 of those who became dominant after Lenin's death that we can see the germs of the future failures and ultimate collapse of the Third International. The absence of Lenin, different social relations in Russia, would bring out and fortify, not in new men, but in these reputed internationalists, those Menshevik tendencies which after fourteen years of preparatory work had to be crushed by Lenin, almost single-handed, in the very heat of the long-awaited revolution.


[1] No Lenin, no Bolshevism. What record is there of leading Bolsheviks who adopted this position? Trotsky did not, and opposed Lenin's policy fiercely. Stalin has the lid clamped down on any views he may have expressed. Rakovsky opposed Lenin. Doubtless they were all "against the war," as millions of people are to-day.

[2] It was written by Trotsky.

[3] Only in the sense that the proletariat would lead it. The view that this would lead in Russia to the proletarian revolution with a Socialist content. Lenin at this time was still opposing as one of Trotsky's heresies.

[4] Lenin's Selected Works, Martin Lawrence, vol. iii., pp. 18-19. The quotation exactly expresses his limited conception of the Russian revolution even at this time.

[5] Italics his own.

[6] Italics his own.

[7] Shliapnikov, The Year 1917, Vol. ii, 1925. This whole period is dealt with comprehensively and with the necessary references in No. 46-47,.Jan.-Feb., 1933, Of La Lutte de Classes, the French Trotskyist monthly.

[8] March Conference of the Party. Session of April 1, p. 32. See La Lutte de Classes, Ibid., p. 31.

[9] One account says only 12,000.


[11] The curious reader is invited to get a selection of histories of the revolution (except those published in Russia since about 1927) and look up Stalin's name in the index.

Contents | next excerpt