Arthur Rosenberg 1934

Chapter VI: The Bolshevik Revolution and Wartime Communism, 1917-1921

Ever since September 1917 Lenin had been convinced that the Bolshevik Party must achieve power by a revolution. In October, from his hiding-place in Finland, he bombarded the Central Committee of the party with letters and articles demanding a revolution, examining every possibility with the greatest care, and suggesting a solution for every difficulty. These letters are unique in their mixture of burning emotion and cold-blooded reflection. His chief concern was lest the Kerensky government should disappear in an anarchical chaos. For that would mean that the Bolsheviks had missed their opportunity and could never regain it.

Among the party leaders the followers of Zinoviev and Kamenev were opposed to a revolution which promised to result in the isolation of the Bolsheviks, and which therefore seemed to be no more than an experiment that must end in disaster. Nevertheless, Lenin was successful, with Trotsky’s support, in winning over the party for his plan. On 10 (23) October Lenin attended the secret sitting of the Central Committee at which it was resolved that the sole means of saving Russia and the revolution lay in a Bolshevik revolution for the purpose of placing the entire executive authority in the hands of the soviets. Only two votes were cast against a resolution that bound the party to a definite course of action.

On 25 October (old style; 7 November, new style) the All-Russian Congress of Soviets was to meet in Petrograd, and it was anticipated that the Bolsheviks would have a majority in the congress in consequence of the change that had come over public opinion during the summer. If the congress resolved that the whole authority in the state should pass to the soviets, then it must be prepared to take power into its own hands, that is, to overthrow the Kerensky government. Hence 25 October (7 November) would be a decisive day in Russian history. It was clear that it must be the day on which the Bolsheviks raised the standard of revolt.

Both parties made preparations to secure military control of Petrograd on this eventful day. Since the regiments in Petrograd were largely composed of Bolshevik sympathisers, the government ordered a great number of the troops to entrain for the front. If this order had been carried out, the government would have been able to dissolve the Soviet Congress on 25 October (7 November) with the aid of a few companies of storm-troops composed of officers. At the instigation of the Bolshevik Party, however, the Petrograd garrison refused to obey the government’s order. The Petrograd Soviet was entirely under the domination of the Bolshevik Party and proceeded to constitute itself a revolutionary military committee. The entire garrison declared that it would only obey the orders of this committee and not those of the General Staff. Trotsky was the dominating and energising personality among the members of the committee. This decision on the part of the garrison gave the victory to the Bolshevik revolution in Petrograd before a shot had been fired. On 24 October (6 November) the committee seized the central telephone exchange in Petrograd, and during the night other public buildings were occupied by their orders. On 25 October (7 November) the seat of the government in the Winter Palace was seized and the members of the government arrested, with the exception of Kerensky, who saved himself by flight. On the same day the Soviet Congress held its appointed meeting. On receiving the news of the capture of the Winter Palace the minority who supported the Kerensky government rose and left the hall. The majority thereupon proclaimed the assumption of governmental power by the congress in accordance with the Bolshevik plan.

Kerensky made an attempt to collect troops in the neighbourhood of Petrograd and to capture the city by force. He was completely defeated by the Bolshevik troops and left Russia. Within a few weeks the Bolsheviks were masters of Russia and wherever opposition raised its head it was suppressed with ease. Troops, townspeople and the peasants throughout Russia went over to the Bolshevik cause. It is a fact of considerable importance that the Bolshevik revolution was able to base itself upon the sole democratic and national representative body, that is, the Soviet Congress, then existing in Russia. This congress was really elected by the masses. In comparison with it the artificial bodies created by Kerensky lacked popular support. At the close of his tenure of power Kerensky had finally given orders for the holding of elections for a national assembly. Since the date of these elections coincided with that of the Bolshevik revolution, the national assembly had not come into existence at the critical moment.

The Kamenev–Zinoviev group had opposed the Bolshevik insurrection to the last and they continued to be pessimistic even after its victory. On 4 (17) November, Zinoviev and Kamenev resigned their membership of the Central Committee of the party in order to be free to express their own opinions. They demanded that the Bolsheviks should immediately offer to come to an arrangement with the Social Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks in order to construct a government composed of all parties represented in the soviets. Their proposal was supported by a number of the older members of the Bolshevik Party. Lozovsky took their part in an open letter. It is certainly extraordinary that the two men — Lozovsky and Zinoviev — who were subsequently to become respectively Chairmen of the Communist International and the Red Trade Union International (whose entire propaganda was founded upon the October Revolution) should have looked upon this very revolution as a mad adventure at the time of its occurrence.

The situation on 4 (17) November was still obscure. It was still uncertain how the troops at the front and the country at large would react to events in Petrograd. A general strike of officials put a stop to the activity of the new Bolshevik rulers. Every political party and group in Russia had declared itself opposed to the Bolshevik insurrection and their ranks were now joined by an influential group composed of former members of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party itself. The situation did in fact seem hopeless. Trotsky and Lenin nevertheless refused to retreat a single step. On 7 (20) November the Pravda published a remarkable proclamation from the pen of Lenin that ran:

Shame upon all ye of little faith, doubters, fearful ones! Shame upon all ye who let yourselves be terrified by the middle class and upon all ye who hearken to the warnings brought to you directly and indirectly by their accomplices! No shadow however slight of a weakening in morale is discernible in the masses of the workers and soldiers in Petrograd, Moscow and elsewhere. Our party stands firm like a sentry at his post and defends the authority of the soviets and the interests of all toilers and especially of the working men and the poorest peasants.

The situation cleared up rapidly. The extent of the Bolshevik victory throughout the country became evident, the strike of officials collapsed, and the Zinoviev–Kamenev group returned to the party fold. The conduct of Zinoviev and Kamenev in these critical weeks reveals clearly how firmly rooted the ideal of a democratic dictatorship of workers and peasants was in the Bolshevik Party. These old Bolsheviks could not conceive of a Russian revolution as other than a middle-class democratic revolution carried out by a coalition of all democratic and socialist parties. It was in the name of this ideal that they rebelled against Lenin in the very days that are among the greatest in Bolshevik history.

His superb common sense induced Lenin to entrust Zinoviev and Kamenev with the most important tasks after their rebellion without ever reproaching them for their vacillations. In a similar manner Lenin looked upon his years of conflict with Trotsky as ended at the moment when Trotsky declared himself ready to support Lenin’s policy.

The mass sympathies that lay behind the Bolshevik movement in those days served to prevent its political isolation. The chief enemies of the Bolsheviks — the Social Revolutionaries — split up into two groups and the new party of the Left-Wing Social Revolutionaries rendered Soviet Russia great services in the first six months of its existence. It has already been shown that the masses of the peasants were bitterly disappointed with the Kerensky government. They had expected from this Social Revolutionary government that it would dispossess the estate-owners, and it had instead protected them with the authority of the state. The local Social Revolutionary peasant leaders rebelled against the Central Committee of the party and it was not long before the opposition was joined by leading party officials. At the time of the Bolshevik insurrection the Social Revolutionaries split up into a right wing that remained faithful to Kerensky and into a left wing that demanded the expropriation of the estates and the transference of authority in the state to the soviets. On 25 October (8 November), when the All-Russian Soviet Congress was confronted with the necessity of declaring itself for or against the Bolshevik insurrection, the Right-Wing Social Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks left the hall whilst the Left-Wing Social Revolutionaries remained behind with the Bolsheviks and assisted them in building up the new Soviet authority. Certain leaders of the Left-Wing Social Revolutionaries subsequently entered the Council of People’s Commissars — the new revolutionary government. It was not until after their breach with the Bolsheviks over the peace of Brest-Litovsk that the Left-Wing Social Revolutionaries dissolved their coalition with the Bolsheviks and went into irreconcilable opposition.

It was thus possible for Lenin at least in the early months of the Soviet revolution to realise his former programme and to conclude an alliance with a revolutionary and democratic, but not chauvinist, peasant party. While the masses of the troops and the workers went over to Bolshevism in the months of July-October 1917, the majority of the peasants remained Social Revolutionaries. Nevertheless, they changed from Social Revolutionaries friendly to the government into Social Revolutionaries in fanatical opposition to it. It is true that when the various parties put forward their lists of candidates for the election for the National Assembly, shortly before the October Revolution, the Social Revolutionaries were still undivided and both Right-Wing and Left-Wing Social Revolutionaries — Kerensky’s supporters and Lenin’s supporters — appeared together on the same list. The elections for the Constituent Assembly thus led to a singular result. Although he had lost all popularity with the masses of the people, Kerensky obtained a majority of votes. Out of a total of 36 million votes cast in the election the Bolsheviks received nine million, the Mensheviks 700,000 without counting the Caucasus and 1,400,000 including the Caucasus, where they enjoyed much popularity among the Georgians, various middle-class parties five million, and the Social Revolutionaries 21 million. The vast numbers of peasants who voted for the Social Revolutionary candidates did so because they believed they were voting for expropriation of the estates and not out of sympathy for Kerensky. Since, however, Kerensky’s followers almost invariably headed the list of candidates, they obtained their mandates. When the National Assembly met in January 1918, Lenin was determined to oppose it because he did not wish the gains acquired by a successful revolution to be spoilt by a parliamentary majority that did not even truly represent the majority of the nation.

The Soviet government demanded that the National Assembly should recognise the October Revolution and support the new government and its policy. On the rejection of this demand by the majority in the National Assembly, the Bolsheviks and Left-Wing Social Revolutionaries left the hall. The permanent committee of the All-Russian Soviet Congress — the Central Executive Committee — thereupon ordered the dissolution of the National Assembly and this rump parliament was forcibly dispersed. If Lenin had ordered the holding of new elections, there can be no doubt that the Soviet government would have obtained an overwhelming majority at the polls. He did not do so and in the new Russian constitution there was no mention of a parliament. Lenin and the Bolsheviks regarded the soviets as a better expression of democratic government, and to have established a parliament in addition to the All-Russian Soviet Congress would have been superfluous.

The Bolsheviks had promised the Russian nation bread and peace, liberty and land, before their advent to power. They lost no time in seeking to fulfil their promises. The Bolshevik government dismissed all the former officials and officers and placed the executive power wholly in the hands of the soviets. Liberty was thus to become an accomplished fact. The new government placed the factories under the control of the workmen in order to revive production and to supply the towns with food and other necessities of life. They offered to make peace with their external enemies and they authorised the peasants to dispossess the landowners of their estates. How was this programme of the Soviet government carried out in practice? In the first place Lenin’s plan for a supervision of production proved unworkable. Armed workmen intoxicated by their revolutionary victory were not to be kept within the bounds of such a moderate scheme of reform. Instead they took possession themselves of the factories and drove out their employers. Thus Trotsky’s prophecy of spontaneous action on the part of the workers was fulfilled to the letter. This spontaneous action on the part of the workers in the towns and industrial areas at once out-distanced the middle-class revolution.

Lenin gradually reconciled himself to the new situation. The ‘Declaration of the Rights of Industrial and Exploited Peoples’ adopted by the All-Russian Soviet Congress in January 1918, still contains a formula embodying a compromise:

The Soviet law regulating the exercise of control by the workers and the activities of the Supreme National Economic Council is hereby approved as the first step towards the complete acquisition by the Soviet Republic of Workers and Peasants of all factories, works, mines, railways and other means of production and transport, and towards the establishment of the rule of the industrial workers over their exploiters.

Thus the ‘first step’ towards the expropriation of industry was taken on paper at a time when in reality expropriation was already an accomplished fact. And it was not until 28 June (11 July) 1918 that the ‘Decree for the Nationalisation of All Heavy Industries’ was published. It is interesting for the purposes of comparison to note that the decree abolishing the right to private ownership on the part of estate-owners had already been published on the very first day of the revolution, 26 October (8 November) 1917.

In an official Soviet publication entitled Economic Life and Economic Development in Soviet Russia from 1917 to 1920, from the pens of Larin and Kritzmann, it is stated that:

Hardly anyone can now be found to argue that the revolution was organised artificially. It was an irresistible and elemental movement. The moment the political power of the middle class was swept away at the close of 1917, the class feeling of the proletariat was no longer to be restrained by forcible measures and found expression in a forcible expulsion of employers and in confiscation of the factories. A necessary consequence of this action was the breakdown of the former economic organisation and very often the closing down of the factories. The workers who had been appointed by their comrades to manage the factories, and especially those who had been spontaneously placed in authority by their co-workers in the same factory, proved themselves in many cases to be incapable of carrying out their duties for the simple reason that capacity only comes with experience. The work accomplished in the economic sphere by the Soviet authorities consists for the most part in introducing discipline and organisation into the spontaneous movement of the proletarian and peasant masses.

In another place the authors write:

The proletarian solution [of the industrial problem] consisted in the exercise of a control on the part of the workpeople over the employers in such fashion that the employers could not act before receiving the approval of the workers’ council for their proposals. The events of November were an attempt to put this solution into practice. The Soviet decree ordered employers to place their factories under the control of the employees. Meanwhile the system of control by the workers revealed itself to be a half-measure and therefore incapable of execution. The system of control by the workers expressed the growing and at the same time still insufficient authority of the proletariat, that is, the weakness that had not yet been eradicated from the movement. The employer was not willing to conduct his business merely in order that he should teach it to his workpeople (this was the secret aim underlying control by the workers after the events of November). The workers for their part were filled with a hatred of capitalism and were unwilling to remain voluntarily as objects for exploitation. It was for these reasons, and notwithstanding insufficient preparations, that it was found necessary to allow the proletariat to take over the conduct of industry even in cases where there nominally existed a system of control by the workers.

It is clear from this account that the Bolsheviks did not expropriate Russian employers but that it was accomplished as the result of spontaneous action on the part of the workers and against the will of the Bolsheviks. Lenin was thus left with no other alternative than reluctantly to legalise the action of the workers. The Soviet government then set to work to unite the individual expropriated businesses, to establish economic organs of control and management for the various industries, and to attempt in this way to organise production on a systematic basis.

The government found itself confronted with enormous difficulties in its work of reconstruction. The economic condition of Russia had been serious in 1917, and by 1918-19 had reached a catastrophic state. The conclusion of a separate peace deprived Russia of the economic support of the Entente powers and resulted instead in the blockade of her coasts by the Entente fleets and her isolation from the outside world. The Germans occupied the Ukraine in 1918 and Soviet Russia was in consequence cut off from her supplies of coal from the Don Basin and of naphtha from the Caucasus. Lack of raw materials and outworn machinery compelled the majority of Russian industries to close down. Everywhere factories stood idle and factory-hands returned to their native villages. The appalling want of transport and the disorder prevalent throughout the country resulted in a shortage of food-supplies for the towns. The town population of Russia starved from 1918 to 1920. Wealth in the form of valueless paper roubles did not furnish its possessor with the means to improve his condition. All distinctions of class and wealth vanished in the towns. The equality of man was achieved through communism in starvation. The hopes of an economic restoration of Russia which had found expression in Lenin’s pamphlets in the autumn of 1917 had not been realised. But the blame for their failure did not lie with Lenin and his party: it was a consequence of the World War and the destructive civil war which succeeded it in Russia.

Four social classes — estate-owners, wealthy peasants or kulaks, small peasants, and agricultural labourers — inhabited the country districts in Russia at the time of the Bolshevik revolution. Since the abolition of serfdom, and more especially since the 1905 Revolution, the estate-owners had disposed of a part of their property to the wealthier peasants. As a result there had come into existence a class of well-to-do peasants between the poorer peasants and the nobles. These wealthier peasants also acted as village money-lenders. Agricultural labourers were employed both by the wealthier peasants and by those of the estate-owners who still worked their estates. It is, however, true that the great majority of the estates were not directly cultivated by their owners and were rented in smallholdings to poor peasants whose condition — oppressed as they were by all manner of taxes and dues — was miserable in the extreme. It was these small peasants and the agricultural labourers who were the supporters of a social revolution among the country populace. The estate-owners and the wealthier peasants were opposed to revolution. As a result of the revolution the estates were expropriated without exception and the wealthier peasants were also forced to surrender a large part of their land to the poorer peasants. The agricultural labourers as a whole became landed proprietors. Thus two out of the four pre-revolutionary classes in the country population disappeared and the two surviving classes — the rich and poor peasants — tended to merge into one another. When about 1919 the results of the agrarian revolution in Russia began to be perceptible, it was seen that the country was now populated by small peasants each owning approximately the same amount of land. These peasants knew that they had cause to be grateful to the Bolshevik revolution and were prepared to sacrifice their lives in preventing a return to the old conditions. It was the willing assistance of the masses of the peasantry that rendered possible the creation of the Red Army and the victory of the Soviet over the White army. Nevertheless, the peasants remained faithful to their egotistic standpoint in economic questions. Under the Tsars and throughout the war they had often enough suffered the pangs of hunger. Now they wanted to eat their fill and were only prepared to supply food to the towns in return for adequate compensation. Payment in valueless paper roubles failed to tempt the peasants either to produce or to sell their produce.

The Soviet government sent all the wares that could be manufactured by the hastily reorganised Russian factories to the country in exchange for the peasants’ produce. The supply of bread nevertheless continued inadequate for the needs of the town population. The government was therefore obliged to resort to requisitioning in order to feed the Red Army and to obtain at least sufficient food for the factory workers. The peasant lost his pleasure in his new possessions through not being able to make an economic use of them. The lack of money with a fixed value and the absence of free trade prevented him from selling his surplus produce. If, however, he was discovered to be in possession of a surplus, it was forcibly taken from him. Although town and country, peasant and factory-worker, made common cause from 1918 to 1920 against the aristocratic counter-revolution, they were completely separated from each other in a psychological and economic sense; and the Soviet government was not in a position to bridge the gap.

Immediately after its seizure of power the Bolshevik government addressed proposals for peace to all the belligerents. The Entente powers ignored proposals emanating from a ‘traitor’, while Germany and Austria-Hungary were glad to conclude an armistice with Bolshevik Russia and to open in Brest-Litovsk negotiations for peace. The military helplessness of Russia was clearly shown in the course of these negotiations. Her utterly demoralised army fell to pieces. The peasants hurried home to their villages in order to be present at the distribution of the expropriated lands. The German Supreme Command — the real governing authority in Germany — ruthlessly took advantage of Russia’s weakness. A peace was forced upon a defeated Russia that permanently deprived her of the means of existence. The importance of this treaty did not lie in the severance from Russia of Poland, Finland and her Baltic provinces; it lay in her cession of the entire south of Russia — the Ukraine. The loss of the Ukraine meant the loss of Russia’s grain treasury, her most important coal-mines and naphtha springs, and her withdrawal from the Black Sea. The so-called independent Ukraine and all the country up to the Caucasus was occupied by German troops and all that remained to Soviet Russia of territory was shut in on the south and west by German armies. It seemed to be only a matter of time before General Ludendorff gave order for the occupation of Moscow.

A terrible national disaster had thus overwhelmed Russia in the spring of 1918. It is — humanly speaking — not difficult to understand that many influential Bolsheviks and Left-Wing Social Revolutionaries preferred to die fighting rather than to put their signatures to such a peace. Nevertheless, Lenin fought with all his authority and strength for the ratification of the Peace of Brest-Litovsk. He was actuated in doing so by the belief that an unarmed man cannot wage war and that theatrical gestures cannot avail to alter facts. Soviet Russia must accept even terms so drastic as were those of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in order to gain time. The time so gained must be used to strengthen Russia in an economic and military sense and to enable her to wait for the coming revolution in Germany. Ever since he had pronounced himself in favour of an immediate cessation of the imperialistic war Lenin had been forced to take into his calculations the risk of a peace such as the Peace of Brest-Litovsk. The complete collapse of Russia’s defensive resources might confront the new revolutionary government with a situation in which they were powerless. It was to avoid a peace like that of Brest-Litovsk that Kerensky and his followers had prosecuted the war and even risked the notorious July offensive. Anyone refusing to adopt these methods of defence must be prepared to accept the consequences. Thus Lenin’s attitude was completely logical and he succeeded after a heated discussion in persuading the Bolshevik Party that no other policy was possible.

The military defeat of Germany in the summer and autumn of 1918, and the subsequent revolution in November, freed Russia from the German menace. At the same time it increased the danger threatening Soviet Russia from the side of the Entente powers, who had come to regard the Bolshevik state as their enemy since its conclusion of a separate peace with Germany. The Czechoslovakian Legionaries revolted as early as the summer of 1918. These legionaries were composed of Czech soldiers who had been captured when fighting in the Austrian armies and who had subsequently been voluntarily formed into regiments by the Tsarist government. They continued to look upon themselves as a part of the Entente armies and the military weakness of the Soviet government enabled them to establish themselves along the line of the Volga. Here they began to make preparations for marching on Moscow. By dint of extraordinary efforts the Soviet government succeeded in raising and equipping a number of trained troops. Trotsky was appointed People’s Commissar for War and devoted his entire energy to the creation of a Red Army. In September the Red troops captured Kazan and drove the Czechoslovaks away from the Volga. This was the first success won by the Red Army in serious warfare. After the collapse of Germany the Entente powers redoubled their endeavours to defeat Russia. Former Tsarist generals were financed and supplied with munitions of war by England, France and Japan. From the Black Sea and the White Sea, from the Baltic and the Pacific, White Guards advanced in 1919 with the help of the Entente against Soviet Russia. The most dangerous foes of the Soviet were Admiral Kolchak in the east and General Denikin in the south.

The Civil War was accompanied by the most terrible cruelties. The White Guards endeavoured to intimidate the workers and peasants by mass shootings and terror of all kinds. The Bolsheviks opposed the White Terror with the Red Terror. Wide differences of opinion will always exist as to the forcible methods employed by the Soviet government — mass shootings, etc — in the course of the Civil War. From an historical standpoint, and viewed as a whole, the Russian nation was defending itself at that time against a cruel counter-revolution. After a long struggle that lasted until 1920, and in which fortune favoured now one side and now the other, the Red Army was finally victorious on all fronts. The Soviet government found itself once more in possession of the Asiatic countries which had formed part of the empire of the Tsars. Its power again extended over the Caucasus, the Ukraine and the coasts of the Black Sea. Only Finland, Poland and the Baltic States retained their independence. Moreover, their military successes from 1918 to 1920 gave the Bolshevik government enormous prestige within Russia itself. The stain of Brest-Litovsk had been wiped out. The Russian workers and peasants could pride themselves that they had successfully repulsed the attack of all the imperialistic great powers. From that time onwards ‘Bolshevism’ and ‘Russian Revolution’ were identical terms in the mouths of the masses. The Bolsheviks had fought the decisive battle with the Tsarist officers and the landowners to a triumphant end. Trotsky and Lenin had defeated Kolchak and Denikin. All the other political parties in Russia — liberals, Mensheviks, Social Revolutionaries — were ground to pieces between the two belligerents. The Bolsheviks were animated throughout the Civil War by the principle that whoever was not on their side was against them. Moreover, they succeeded in instilling in the masses the conviction that all non-Bolshevik parties were equally counter-revolutionary.

At the close of the Civil War the revolution in Russia had triumphed over its enemies. At the same time the Russian nation had lost its newly-won freedom as embodied in the soviets and its place had been taken by an omnipotent dictatorship of the Bolshevik Party extending from Petrograd to the Pacific.

The events of 1918 had shown that Soviet Russia depended for its existence upon an efficient army. Such an army demands for its successful operation unity of command and strict discipline. No regiment could fight well if its colonel were forced to consult a dozen soldiers’ councils before giving an order. It was for this reason that Trotsky abolished the soldiers’ councils in building up the Red Army. A number of former Tsarist officers were given posts of command and placed under the control of Bolshevik commissars. A young, truly revolutionary body of officers gradually came into being with the passage of time. The first Red troops consisted of volunteers. Subsequently, however, compulsory military service was enforced. The creation of the Red Army was a vital necessity for Russia in those days. Nevertheless, it marked the first definite and decisive breach with the soviet system. One of the chief benefits of the soviet system, according to Lenin, was the fact that it abolished the army as a separate entity placed in opposition to the civilian populace. But now there was once more in Russia a centralised standing army isolated from the populace and composed in part of professional soldiers. As early as 1918 the local soviets in places where detachments of the Red Army were garrisoned or temporarily quartered could not interfere in any way with the dispositions of the regimental commanders. This meant the reconstruction of an important part of the edifice of the authoritarian middle-class state.

It is worthy of mention that this departure from soviet practice was observed by a great body of Russian opinion and that the creation of the Red Army encountered opposition in the nation itself. In his book entitled The Birth of the Red Army, which was published in 1922, Trotsky wrote:

Left to itself, the peasantry is incapable of creating a centralised army. Nothing is achieved but the formation of local bodies of armed peasants whose primitive ‘democracy’ is customarily used as a cover for the personal dictatorship of their leader. These partisan tendencies reflect peasant nature and found their fullest expression in the Left-Wing Social Revolutionaries and anarchists. At the same time they animated a considerable number of Communists and especially of peasant Communists who had served as soldiers and NCOs... Indignation with the bureaucratic centralisation of Tsarist Russia was a principal cause of the revolution. District administrations, local governments, municipalities, devoted their energies to proving their independence. The ideal of ‘local government’ took on an extraordinarily diverse aspect in the early period [of the revolution]. The Left-Wing Social Revolutionaries and anarchists associated this ideal with reactionary federalist doctrines. In the broad masses of the people it became an inevitable and healthy reaction against a regime that had been opposed to all initiative. At any rate from a certain moment onwards, and in close association with the counter-revolution and the growing danger from abroad, primitive autonomist tendencies became more and more dangerous both in a political and also — and more especially — in a military sense. This question will unquestionably play a great part in the future in Western Europe, and nowhere more so than in France, where prejudices in favour of autonomy and federalism are stronger than in any other country. A speedy liberation from these prejudices on the part of those serving under the banner of revolutionary proletarian centralism is a necessary preliminary to the coming victory over the middle class... The oppositional and ‘left’ (in reality intellectual-agrarian) tendencies sought for themselves a universal theoretical formula to cover the creation of the army. A centralised army was declared to be the army of an imperialistic state. In conformity with its character the revolution must not only break with a war of position (war on definite fronts) but also with a centralised army. The revolution depends solely upon mobility, clever tactics and skill in manoeuvring. Its striking force is the small independent body of troops composed of soldiers from all arms, acting independently of its base, relying upon the sympathies of the populace, attacking the enemy from the rear, etc. In brief, the tactics of guerrilla warfare are raised to the dignity of revolutionary tactics. The experience of the Civil War quickly made away with these prejudices.

Trotsky favoured a centralised Red Army both for reasons of military efficiency and because he saw in it a means by which the chaotic masses of the peasantry might be wrought under the leadership of the socialist proletariat. The enemies of the Red Army were in his eyes ‘reactionary federalists’, anarchists and Left-Wing Social Revolutionaries. He forgot that the Commune in 1871 was the work of anarchical federalists and that the soviet system of 1917 in its essence was also anarchical, anti-state and anti-centralist. ‘Revolutionary proletarian centralism’ may perhaps be necessary in a time of revolution and civil war. Its forebears, however, are the French terrorists of 1793 and it has nothing in common with the soviet system.

The reconstruction of the army was accompanied during the years 1918-20 by a return to state centralisation in all departments of public life. The struggle with the conspirators of the counter-revolution necessitated the creation of a political police endowed with far-reaching powers and a highly centralised organisation. This force was the much-talked-of Cheka that subsequently became known as the GPU. Many wild tales have been told about the activities of this force. It is only necessary here to emphasise the fact that the Cheka has invariably proved itself a trustworthy servant of the centralised state. The Cheka is only an executive organ of the government, that is, of the Bolshevik Party. On no single occasion has the Cheka pursued a different political policy from that of the government, and at no time has it been in possession of a political authority different from that of the party leaders. The responsibility for the actions — good or evil — of the GPU is borne solely by the Bolshevik Party itself and not by some special secret body.

A centralised economic organisation took its place beside the centralised army and centralised police. All three were isolated from the masses of the nation. Every industry, and every branch of an industry, throughout Russia was combined in a trust for the purpose of systematising production. In addition to this trust there were centralised organisations for the control of trade, transport, banking and the entire economic life of the country. Similarly the civil services, justice and education were organised on a centralised basis. All important matters were regulated by government ordinances having the force of law.

In 1917 the local soviets destroyed the old Tsarist state. Now a new and far more powerful state had risen in their midst and had deprived them of all authority beyond that of a parish council. Was not, however, this mighty centralised government machinery at least subject to a democratic control exercised by the All-Russian Soviet Congress? Ever since 1918 it was evident that government by soviets had become an illusion in Russia — an illusion that exists to the present day. It is true that in a formal and constitutional sense the government of Russia is in the hands of the soviets. The lowest organs of governmental authority are the local soviets in the villages and towns. The district and provincial soviets are composed of delegates chosen by the local soviets. The supreme power in the state is vested in the All-Russian Soviet Congress, and in the intervals between its sessions that power is delegated to a committee of the congress — the Central Executive Committee. The Central Executive Committee elects the Council of People’s Commissars. The Council of People’s Commissars is the Russian soviet equivalent for a European cabinet.

This extremely complicated system is in reality only a cloak for the dictatorship of the Bolshevik Party. Free elections are the life-blood of a soviet system of government. The electorate must be left free to choose between various candidates and these candidates must be given every opportunity for placing their views before the electorate at public meetings and in the press. Electoral freedom gradually disappeared in Russia during the Civil War. The first step taken by the Bolsheviks on attaining to power was to suppress the middle-class parties as counter-revolutionary. Next came the prohibition of the Kerensky party, the Right-Wing Social Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks. By the early months of 1918 only two legal political parties remained in existence in Soviet Russia — the Bolsheviks and the Left-Wing Social Revolutionaries. These latter could have secured the support of the revolutionary peasants and organised them into a political force. If that had been done, a two-party system would have been evolved in which the Social Revolutionary Peasant Party would have been a counterweight to a Bolshevik Party composed of the industrial population of the towns. The competition between these two parties would have kept democracy alive within the soviets. Unhappily the tragic fate that overtook the whole Narodniki movement also overtook the Left-Wing Social Revolutionaries. They proved incapable of retaining the strong hold over the peasantry which they had at first possessed and in a short time they had become little more than the camp-followers of the Bolsheviks. After the signature of the peace of Brest-Litovsk the Left-Wing Social Revolutionaries broke up their coalition with the Bolsheviks. After attempted assassinations and revolts on the part of individual Left-Wing Social Revolutionaries in the summer of 1918 had failed to achieve the overthrow of the Bolshevik government, the party was suppressed and within a short time completely dissolved.

From the summer of 1918 until the present day the Bolshevik Party has been the sole political party in Russia enjoying a legal existence. This state of affairs has brought about the death of soviet democracy. In elections for the soviets the choice of the electors is confined to Bolsheviks or independents who are pledged to support the Bolshevik government. Thus all freedom of choice is taken from the elector and he is the prisoner of the government. Every Bolshevik member of the soviet is, moreover, pledged to act in strict accordance with the order of his party leaders. The Bolshevik members of a soviet constitute a ‘Bolshevik cell’ and must invariably vote in conformity with the instructions they receive from the permanent officials of the party. There are in reality two political edifices in Russia that rise parallel to one another: the shadow government of the soviets; and the de facto government of the Bolshevik Party. The local party organisations elect the members of the party congress. The party congress lays down lines of policy and elects the party committee. This party committee exercises a dictatorial control over the entire party organisation. The overthrow of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party would therefore be tantamount to a revolution. Up to the present the party congress has never been successful in overthrowing the Central Committee by a vote of want of confidence.

The Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party is the true Russian government. It takes all important decisions. The Council of People’s Commissars is simply the executive agent of the Central Committee. It was thus that the Bolshevik Party was successful within a few months of the October Revolution in excluding the soviets from the exercise of all real power. In their capacity as organs of the spontaneous will of the masses the soviets were from the very beginning an unwelcome and extraneous element in Bolshevik doctrine. In 1917 Lenin used the soviets to destroy Tsarism. Once that had been accomplished he created his own state machinery after the true Bolshevik pattern, that is, the rule of a small disciplined minority of professional revolutionaries over the great and undisciplined masses. Although from a technical standpoint it would have presented no difficulty, the Bolsheviks nevertheless did not abolish the soviets and instead retained and used them as the decorative outward symbol of their authority. It was through their symbolic use by the Bolsheviks in 1918 and the succeeding years that the soviets were first brought into a position irreconcilable with true democracy. There can be no more truly democratic institution than a real and efficiently working soviet. The Bolshevik soviets, on the other hand, have been since 1918 no more than symbols of the rule of a small minority over the broad masses of the nation. The same fate overtook the ideal of a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. The old ideal of a proletarian dictatorship implied the rule of the great majority of the poor and working-class population over the small minority of the rich and the profiteers — an ideal identical with proletarian democracy. Although the Bolsheviks have called their rule in Russia since 1918 a dictatorship of the proletariat, it is in reality a dictatorship of the Bolshevik Party or — better said — of the Central Committee of the party over the proletariat and the entire nation. Lenin sought to justify this dictatorship of the Bolshevik Party in Russia since 1918 by the existence of the Civil War, and also by the special conditions obtaining in Russia, which rendered it impossible to find any form of compromise between the vast majority of the peasant population and the proletarian minority. Trotsky also excused the policy thus pursued by the Bolsheviks by the necessity for defeating the White Guards and for holding down the peasants.

The membership of the Bolshevik Party in March 1917 did not exceed a few thousand. After the October Revolution the membership rose by hundreds of thousands. The Central Committee consequently took measures to control and to stem the rush of applications for membership. It was clear to them that the great advantages accruing from membership of the dominant party would cause the influx of many possible rivals. Moreover, Trotsky and Lenin were in full agreement in ascribing a great historical importance to the party and its work. Their outlooks were nevertheless not entirely identical. Lenin and the older Bolsheviks identified the party with the ‘Old Guard’ who were now its rulers. Trotsky saw the ‘party’ in the masses of organised workers. This division of opinion was bridged for so long as Lenin with his unrivalled authority stood between the party machine and the vast body of its members. After his death the conflict became acute.

The Bolsheviks stood to the various Russian nationalities in the same relationship as they stood to the soviets after their seizure of power. In loyal adherence to his programme Lenin had accorded complete independence to all the various nationalities in Russia in 1917 and 1918. The Ukrainians, the Caucasian races, the inhabitants of Turkistan, etc, all received autonomous government. They were permitted the unrestricted use of their mother tongues and the free development of their national traditions. Nor was any attempt made to ‘Russify’ them. All these countries became independent Soviet republics that joined the Greater Russia in forming the Union of Soviet Republics. Nevertheless, the real power in all these Soviet republics was in the hands of the local Communist organisations. The local Communist Parties in Georgia, Ukraine, etc, were, and continue to be, subject unconditionally to the authority of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party in Moscow. Although the individual nationalities in Russia retain their cultural independence, they dare not act in any way contrary to the wishes of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party. In the case of the various nationalities in Russia democratic self-government is as much an illusion as it is in Greater Russia itself.

In the years 1918-20 the working class in Russia suffered from famine. The Civil War imposed terrible burdens and sacrifices upon them. Soviet democracy had hardly been won by them before it was lost again. A single gain, however, compensated them for all their suffering and created in them a feeling of intense pride. To preserve this gain they were willing to sacrifice themselves to the uttermost. In the memory of mankind there had always been poor and rich, masters and servants. All these distinctions had been abolished by the common want arising out of the Civil War. The middle class no longer existed. In the towns scattered over the face of Russia all men were equal and must contrive to exist on the same scanty rations. If, indeed, any man was more favoured than his fellow, it was the workman himself. All notions of value had been destroyed. Money had become worthless. Although the peasant could indeed boast in his village that he was the owner of his land, he could in reality make nothing out of his property. He could neither buy nor sell and his produce was requisitioned. It was thus made to appear that Soviet Russia had not only been socialised in the restricted sense, given to the term by Lenin, of the nationalisation of industries, banks, etc, but that the highest type of communism — the equality of rights and uses, the disappearance of class distinctions, and the abolition of money — had been achieved. That he should have lived through the greatest revolution in history appeared in the eyes of the Russian workman like a glorious vision. As soon as the Civil War and the miseries to which it had given rise had passed away the road would be open for the free development of the paradise of a society freed from class distinctions.

The communist intoxication of the Russian proletariat was at once the cause of great strength and great peril to the rulers of Russia. These enthusiastic workmen could be relied upon to accomplish any task in their belief in their historic mission. If, however, their illusions were once shattered by the impact of hard facts, then the consequences would indeed be incalculable. Lenin had not foreseen this development in communism at the time of his accession to power; nor had the transformation of Russian Social-Democracy into the Communist Party been motivated by the ideas underlying this development. Throughout the years 1918-20 the Soviet government did indeed emphasise strongly in its official pronouncements its socialist mission, the destruction of the middle class and the liberation of the workers. Nevertheless, Lenin himself continued to be sceptical as to the positive results that had been achieved. In 1920 Lenin wrote in a critical essay:

In Russia we are experiencing (in the third year after the downfall of the middle class) the first stage in the changeover from capitalism to socialism, or to the lowest type of communism. Class distinctions still exist and will continue to exist for years after the proletariat has achieved power. It is possible that this period will be shorter in England, where there are no peasants though a class of smallholders exists. The destruction of class distinctions implies not only the abolition of the landowner and the capitalist (we have already achieved their destruction with comparative ease), but also that of the small producers who cannot either be destroyed or suppressed, and with whom one must make a compromise. Then they can and must be changed and educated up to new ideas carefully and slowly.

Lenin recognised that the millions of small peasants in Russia continued to exist notwithstanding all the forcible measures employed against them by a militarist communism, and that these small peasants formed part of the middle class and not of the proletarian state. This policy of force directed against the peasants was perhaps necessary in a period of war and famine. It could not be permanently used by the Soviet government. Lenin was prepared to seek a compromise with the peasants after the restoration of peace. There was, however, throughout the years 1918-20 little hope of a cessation of hostilities. The iron hand of German militarism rested heavily upon Russia. After it had been removed danger threatened from the side of the Entente. And all the time the Russian government was confronted in its own country with the presence of millions of untrustworthy peasants. If a great Anglo-French army were one day to march upon Moscow, would the peasant soldiers in the Red Army be willing to fight?

It was thus that the Bolsheviks were led, contrary to their own plans, to create a socialist state in Russia after Trotsky’s model. In doing so they had to face the consequences foreseen by Trotsky, namely, that a Russian proletarian revolution could only be maintained in existence by a proletarian revolution throughout Europe. During the years 1918-20 Lenin and all the leaders of Bolshevism acted in accordance with Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution. They devoted all their energies to promoting revolution in Central and Western Europe in the hope that they would find allies in the victorious revolutionary governments in Europe who would assist them to save the cause of revolution in Russia. Thus in the years 1918-20 the success of the Third International became a matter of life and death for the Bolsheviks.