Alexandra Kollontai December 1917

Why the Bolsheviks Must Win

Source: Alexandra Kollontai: Selected Articles and Speeches, Progress Publishers, 1984;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan for, 2000;
First Published: in Revolt, December, 1917;
Proofed: and corrected by Chris Clayton 2006.

A great and long-awaited event which we Marxists always believed to be inevitable, but which we nonetheless viewed rather as a dream or an ideal of the future rather than as an imminent reality, has at last occurred. [October Revolution]

The Russian proletariat, supported by armed soldiers - and they too are the sons of proletarians or peasants - have seized state power. For the first time in the history of man a state is headed not by the representatives of capital, of the bourgeoisie, but by the vanguard of the fighting proletariat - the left wing of Russian Social-Democracy, the Bolsheviks.

As far back as the February revolution, in Russia, the Bolsheviks realised the inevitability of a clash between the working class, supported by an exhausted peasantry and soldiers wearied to death of war, and the Russian bourgeoisie.

All that the February revolution of 1917 achieved was the overthrow of tsarism and the introduction of those commonly accepted political rights and freedoms recognised by any liberal-bourgeois government (freedom of association and the press, the right to coalition and alliance). The old, bureaucratic, bourgeois spirit that reigned over life in Russia remained unchanged. The former officials remained in all the ministries, the former laws and regulations continued to operate throughout the land, and the only difference was that the former monarchists became the faithful servants first of Milyukov and Guchkov, and then of Kerensky and Tereshchenko.

The major capitalists and industrialists in Russia thought that after the February revolution the danger was past, and that after the overthrow of the tsarist regime, capitalists in Russia would have full freedom of action in order to create in Russia a purely capitalist republic similar to the one in Northern America, where all state power is firmly in the hands of capitalist magnates. Only this summer the Russian bourgeoisie celebrated its victory, and sought by every kind of political intrigue and deceit (and in particular by the formation of a coalition government) to strengthen its position and weaken that of the socialists. It sought to buy over wavering social-patriots such as Tsereteli, Chernov and Avksentyev by promising them a share in government.

At that time there existed in Russia only one party which, from the very beginning of the February revolution, adopted a negative attitude towards the bourgeois-imperialist policies of the Cadets and social-patriots – and that was the Bolshevik Party. As far back as April the Bolsheviks put forward the slogan: “All power to the Soviets!” and repeatedly emphasised that it was essential to end the war. However, the war could only be ended by revolution and the overthrow of the bourgeois-capitalist government. Therefore, anyone who wanted to fight for peace had, at the same time, to fight to seize power. The more resolutely the Bolsheviks supported these slogans, the more savagely they were attacked by their political opponents, by the Cadets and their lackeys from the socialist party – the social-patriots. But the Bolsheviks calmly continued their work, fulfilling their great historical mission.

The Bolsheviks not only found themselves in opposition, flaying the social-patriots and ceaselessly criticising and exposing the harmful essence of imperialism both within and without Russia, but they also sought energetically and persistently to create a basis for the development of a revolutionary workers' movement that would be supported by the popular masses and would not hesitate before open and armed insurrection.

In Petrograd, Moscow and throughout Russia large trade unions were formed with 100 to 200 thousand members (metal workers, textile workers, wood workers, etc.). Then under the leadership of the Bolsheviks, workers' and soldiers' clubs were set up with their own libraries, study courses, cheap canteens, etc. At the same time, the first steps were taken to organise a union of socialist youth, whose membership reached 50 thousand. The Bolsheviks also did a great deal of work among the soldiers at the front in order to strengthen the spirit of internationalism there also. Millions of copies of pamphlets and brochures were distributed which openly set out the problem of war as understood by socialist-internationalists. Bolshevik-led meetings, congresses and conferences were also called for the same purpose.

However, if the Bolsheviks prepared the way for the October Revolution by means of active propaganda and organisational work, it must not be forgotten that it was the objective conditions themselves which created the ground for this second revolution.

The February revolution could remove none of the factors which caused it, namely war, rising prices, famine and privation. At the same time, the Russian bourgeoisie calmly continued their rule.

In July the reactionary trend in the policy of the bourgeoisie (the Cadets) was becoming increasingly obvious. The workers press was banned, Bolsheviks were arrested, and the death penalty was reintroduced for soldiers.

Then came the notorious plot between General Kornilov and the Cadet leaders. From September onwards there were signs of an approaching and increasingly bitter struggle between revolutionary democracy and the liberal bourgeoisie. Now the question was: to whom should republican Russia belong – to the capitalists, or to the workers and poor peasants? The soldiers, weary to death of war, were inclining more and more towards the Bolsheviks, while the Kerensky government was increasingly aggressive...

The dictatorship of the bourgeois parties, or the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat – that was the question facing the Second Congress of Soviets of Workers and Soldiers' Deputies which met in Petrograd on 25 October (old style).

The people came out victorious without either a hard struggle or much bloodshed. The Soviets of Workers took power into their hands. Not one soldier, not one sailor, not one worker supported the government of Kerensky. Only individual groups from the bourgeois camp supported the government. The Congress of Soviets declared: that which we have waited for so long has happened - state power is in the hands of revolutionary democracy, i.e. in the hands of the workers, the poor peasants, the soldiers and sailors! As was to be expected, the first step taken by a truly socialist government was the proclamation of the Decree on Peace.

The People's Commissars immediately set about implementing the programme of the working class. A new spirit emerged. All the old bureaucratic methods and customs were swept away. Self-administration and the principle of election came into operation throughout the country for all posts, including those in the armed forces (even commanders are elected and appointed by the soldiers). All of this is now characteristic of life in Russia.

The new socialist government, the government of workers and peasants, is now taking energetic measures to restore the national economy, finances and industry, which have been totally destroyed. However, even more could have been achieved if it had not been for the bourgeoisie, which looked with hatred and anger at the rule of the 'mob' and did all it could to impede the new work of creation. One example of this is the notorious 'sabotage' by state employees in all the ministries, in state institutions, and even in schools and hospitals. Teachers, doctors, journalists, the whole of the intelligentsia, opposed the workers, the socialist state. As soon as a People's Commissar took office, all state employees immediately, like experienced strikers, stopped work, leaving ministries and other institutions empty. Many schools and hospitals had to be closed as a result of strikes among the teaching and medical staff.

The elderly and orphans were thrown out of the refuges where they had found shelter because the staff refused to accent money to support these institutions from a 'socialist Bolshevik government'!...

Often, when the staff left the ministries, they took with them not only all the documents, but also the keys of the safes and all the money.

Is it therefore surprising that the socialist government, faced with such an unprecedented boycott and sabotage, affecting so adversely innocent members of society, adopted rigorous measures against Cadets and liberals?

However, despite all these difficulties, the Bolshevik government continued its constructive work. Radical social reforms were implemented. Concern was shown for the poorest and most deprived members of the population. Particular care was shown towards those injured during the war. A campaign was mounted against unemployment. Reforms were also carried through in the administration of justice. Severe measures were taken against speculation. Particular attention was paid to school education, and efforts were made to deal with the housing crisis.

It is not at all surprising, therefore, if such policies defending the interests of the masses provoke different reactions to the socialist government among different sections of society. On the one hand, the socialist government faces the hatred, slander and anger of the whole bourgeois class, while, on the other hand, it arouses admiration, genuine devotion and resolute support amongst the workers, soldiers and peasants.

Revolutionary democracy clearly understands and feels that the Bolshevik government is the only correct organ of power for new, democratic Russia. Either Russia will become a bourgeois-capitalist republic (should the Cadets come to power), or under the leadership of the proletariat, it will develop as a purely democratic republic and will gradually create new forms for the national economy and social relations.

Following the October Revolution in Russia, the slogan 'the dictatorship of the proletariat' is no longer a utopia but a reality which all the bourgeois classes in other countries must reckon with. The Russian revolution marked only the beginning of the great struggle to liberate the proletariat from the yoke of capitalism. It is of vital importance for the proletariat of every country that the Bolsheviks should emerge from this struggle victorious. This victory will also deal a lethal blow to world imperialism.