Victor Serge

Lenin in 1917

(March/April 1924)

Originally published in French in Faits et Documents, no. 2, 1925:
This version in Revolutionary History, Vol. 5 No. 3.
Translated by Al Richardson.
Transcribed by Alun Morgan.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Part of Serge’s literary activity in the Soviet Union was the translation of Lenin’s Works into French, which he was accused of distorting when his opposition to Stalinism became known abroad; it had been subject to surveillance even before this (cf. Serge’s Memoirs of a Revolutionary, Oxford 1978, p. 273). One of its by-products is this study of Lenin’s politics in 1917, which was published by the Russia Today Society in Britain for the Librairie du Travail (Faits et Documents, no. 2, 1925). We are very grateful to Dave Cotterill, the editor of The Serge-Trotsky Papers (Pluto Press, 1994) for the original of this compact and unusual text, which will come as a something of a shock to those who are inclined to counterpose Serge’s Anarchism to his appreciation of the Russian Revolution. It forms a very useful primer in basic Leninism, which it attempts to recommend to libertarians, making it ideal reading for those naive enough to have been caught up in the Beyond the Fragments ferment a few years ago.

This first English version was translated by Al Richardson and collated against the original by Ian Birchall. To avoid confusion the quotations from Lenin have been rendered in the forms printed in the standard English versions of Lenin’s Collected Works, even where the French context has made this appear rather awkward. Except where expressly indicated, the apparatus of footnotes is our own.

IT is not enough to be a revolutionary and an adherent of Socialism or a Communist in general. You must be able at each particular moment to find the particular link in the chain which you must grasp with all your might in order to hold the whole chain and to prepare firmly for the transition to the next link; the order of the links, their form, the manner in which they are linked together, the way they differ from each other in the historical chain of events, are not as simple and not as meaningless as those in an ordinary chain made by a smith. – V.I. Lenin [1]

The Man and the Year

In order to understand Lenin, the man and his work, it is necessary to place them in context.

The year 1917 is the fourth year of the world war. For over 1,000 days all the able-bodied men of the greatest countries in Europe have been in uniform. The flower of the youth of a continent, an entire generation of young men, has just been mown down. Thirty million men are mobilised. It is the age of the big gun.

The firing lines furrow Europe from the North Sea to the Adriatic, and from the Baltic to the Mediterranean. These are bloody frontiers where thousands of combatants are slaughtered every day. It is a war of trenches, mines, tanks, aircraft, gas, submarine warfare and choking lies. At the front there is the soldier’s death, hemmed in between the court-martial’s firing squad and the enemy barbed wire; in the rear, the sale of his blood and the colourless literature of the communiqué.

In France, 1917 is the year of Clemenceauism, of General Nivelle, of the ‘breakthrough’ offensive on 16 April of the Chemin des Dames, the futile battles of Flanders and Verdun, and the wearying tank battle at Cambrai. [2] Serbia, northern France, Belgium and Poland are so many graveyards. Germany is declaring unrestricted submarine warfare on Britain, torpedoing merchant ships and drowning neutrals. [3] Death stalks the seas. Fighting goes on in Macedonia, Mesopotamia, Palestine and in the forgotten corners of the African bush. The United States is coming into the war. [4] A black army, Hindus, Australians, Canadians and Portuguese: the blood of all the races only goes to make up a single pool and a single stench. America is draining off all that remains of the gold of the belligerents.

There is a break in the Italian front at Caporetto, and a rush of the Austro-Germans on to the Piave. [5] There are Zeppelins over London, Gothas over Paris, Gothas over Venice, and French planes over Stuttgart. The ‘heroes of the air’ on each side of the front are ‘bringing down’ their fiftieth opponent. There are parades and decorations.

In the rear on both sides of the front there are fine profits for the makers of guns and munitions, along with martial law, censorship, the anxiety of women and old people, great poverty, ration books for bread, ration books for coal, and all human life is at the mercy of stupidity and hatred. There is persecution of conscientious objectors in Great Britain, of defeatists in France [6], and of internationalists everywhere. Churches, parties and intellectuals, amongst the Central Empires as amongst the Allies, are preaching the ‘war of attrition’; there is the game of the Socialist ministers, and the infamy of War Socialism …

The entirety of technology is used to destroy the vital forces of the human race and the works of civilisation. Rationally employed, if we are still allowed to use such utopian language, the riches that are used up in explosives would be more than sufficient to provide a decent life for all in a society reborn …

It is the fourth year of the war to divide the world between financial imperialisms.

Now in this black year, the crash of a first imperial collapse suddenly drowns the roar of the guns. Tsarism is on the floor. The fall of the worm-eaten autocracy, whose last inspiration was a lustful fake monk, Rasputin [7], shakes capitalist society to its foundations. From now on the whole problem is to know whether or not the millions of peasants and workers who were joyously unfurling their red flags over there will let themselves be cheated of their hope of complete liberation by a crafty bourgeoisie supported by the Allied powers. The Russian people is asking for peace for all peoples, land to the peasants, and the factories for the workers. But will it get what it wants? From now on all the hopes – and the fears – of the immense majority of the workers and fighters of the world depend on this question.

In fact, as we shall quickly learn, these hopes and fears, from the very first moment of the Russian Revolution, are centred on one man alone, barely known until recently, N. Lenin – Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov. This man is 47 years old and already has a revolutionary past of 30 years. He had felt the shadow of the gallows stretch over his life as an adolescent: Tsar Alexander III’s executioner had hanged his elder brother. [8] At 23 years old in 1893 he had founded one of the first Russian Marxist groups in St Petersburg. For years he lived in exile in Siberia. Around 1903 he showed himself to be an inflexible ‘doctrinaire’ amongst the leaders of the Russian working-class movement with the foundation of Iskra (The Spark), and the split of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party into intransigent Bolsheviks, those of the revolutionary majority, and Mensheviks, those of the opportunist minority. As an émigré in London, Paris, Switzerland, Finland and Cracow, and barely known outside his own party, he worked unceasingly and without respite at his proudly assumed profession of theoretician, propagandist and organiser of the proletariat: in a word, a revolutionary. His party of diehards – freely called ‘fanatics’ in the Socialist International – who were formed, or rather forged, by him, showed him unlimited confidence. He had led this party intelligently during the revolution of 1905. His works on materialist philosophy and political economy provoked discussion, and he was a man of learning. The minutes of international Socialist conferences mention his intransigent activity, but journalists on the lookout for headlines make no mention of him. In Stuttgart in 1907, where he supported Rosa Luxemburg, Hervé [9] was very prominent, but Lenin was barely noticed. But at the time of the worst betrayals in August 1914, when the majority of the celebrities of Socialism, Syndicalism and Anarchism were suddenly converted to the war, Lenin, confident in the future when all seemed lost for a working-class movement enslaved by frenzied patriotism, began to lay down, stone by stone, the foundations of the Third International. At Zimmerwald in 1915 [10] the ‘internationalists’ were even afraid when they heard him quite calmly talking about revolution.

This man, emerging with measured stride in this year of the war from the semi-obscurity of his Zürich émigré abode, is going to lead the first social revolution of modern times with understanding and an unflinching firmness. Within six months he is going to become ‘the most hated and the most beloved man on earth’.

In this twilight of civilisation he brings the proletariat a new reason for living: to win.

Lenin in 1917

It is generally agreed in Russia that one of the great merits of the State Publishing House is the publication of the Collected Works of Lenin in 24 volumes. [11] This work has taken several years. It was necessary to search through a host of illegal publications, which all too often had only been preserved in the police archives, for articles signed with pseudonyms, to identify them, and to collate them. Kamenev [12] describes how Lenin was disdainful of anything that had nothing to do with action, and was so utterly without any literary vanity and so absorbed in the tasks of the day that he failed to acknowledge his past works, and to begin with objected to these researches: ‘Why do it? What has not been written in the course of 30 years? It isn’t worth the trouble!’

We are of a different opinion, convinced that the results will back us up. Lenin’s theoretical works are of an inestimable theoretical, historical and psychological value (they may perhaps even help to construct the psychology of genius). The present study is devoted to Volume 14 alone, which in fact consists of two tomes of 314 and 528 pages. It is his work from 1917, a decisive work. The remarkable little book The State and Revolution belongs to this cycle of works. I will say little about it. This work, which if there were any intellectual good faith amongst the libertarians today, could dispel any ideological misunderstanding between Anarchists and Communists, is already translated into French, and is sufficient in itself. I will only seek to give the reader here an idea of Lenin’s thought during the advance of the Russian proletariat towards the revolution. ‘Thought …’ – I am struck with the inadequacy of the word. Lenin’s thought is action. His articles were dictated by the daily necessity for action, are identical with it, precede, stimulate and justify it. This is what we will discover straightaway to be one of the essential features of this formidable personality: there is no divorce in Lenin between action and thought. He suffers from none of the professional defects of the intellectual. There is never any abstract speculation. There is complete harmony between intelligence and will.

I: The Story of the Sealed Train

‘FOR A revolution to take place’, wrote Lenin in 1915 in The Collapse of the Second International, ‘it is usually insufficient for “the lower classes not to want” to live in the old way; it is also necessary that “the upper classes should be unable” to live in the old way …’ [13] This is exactly what autocratic Russia had come to at the end of 1915. Mr Buchanan, the British ambassador in Petrograd, fearing the defection of Russia from the Allies, devoted himself to the murky intrigues that were to play their part in the March Revolution. [14] It was in agreement with him that Messieurs Milyukov and Guchkov demanded the abdication of Nicholas II. [15] Even before this, according to General Denikin’s memoirs [16], the Russian General Headquarters, dissatisfied with the court, had been thinking of a coup d’état.

The fall of Russian absolutism came as a surprise for the majority of the world’s statesmen; for Lenin it was only the beginning of the striking confirmation of the theory that he had unceasingly repeated since the start of the war, or to be exact, from 1 November 1914: the imperialist war must be transformed into a civil war. The theoretical statement here merges with the slogan, so realistic and voluntarist is the thought. And whilst in St Petersburg Prime Minister Prince Lvov and with him Milyukov and Kerensky [17] are lavishing the most heartening assurances on the Allied ambassadors that the war would be continued and order restored, and are thinking of not abolishing the monarchy in Russia, in Zürich Lenin is preparing to leave.

His return to Russia through Germany has for many years allowed the bourgeois press to elaborate the most mendacious story. However, the very simple truth is demonstrated in an irrefutable fashion by a number of proofs that we may note in passing. Here they are. Since the British government refused permission to the Russian revolutionary émigrés of any party who had taken refuge in Switzerland to return to Russia by sea, the Zürich Evacuation Committee to which they belonged, whether Bolsheviks, Mensheviks or members of the Jewish Bund, decided on the proposal of the Menshevik leader Martov to request transit through Germany. [18] All the telegrams sent to Russia concerning this were, so it seems, intercepted by the Provisional Government. Finally, the Swiss Socialist Fritz Platten [19] concluded an agreement with the German Ambassador in Berne. Transit was granted to the émigrés on the following three conditions:

  1. That all émigrés, whatever their opinion on the war, be granted transit rights.
  2. That their carriage enjoy extra-territorial rights during the journey.
  3. That the émigrés agree to demand that the Russian government send back a number of German internees equal to theirs.

Ten European Socialists, ‘taking account of the obstacles opposed to the repatriation of the Russian internationalists by the governments of the Entente, and of the conditions of their journey through Germany’ approved of this journey in a signed resolution. These 10 Socialists were Paul Hartstein (Paul Levi) (Germany), H. Guilbeaux and F. Loriot (France), Bronski (Poland), F. Platten (Switzerland), Lindhagen (Mayor of Stockholm), and Ström, Türe Nerman, Kilbom and Hansen (Sweden and Norway). [20] Thirty-two émigrés undertook the journey, of whom only 19 were Bolsheviks. The state of mind of the Bolsheviks whilst they were crossing Germany can be judged by these few words taken from a speech by Lenin to the All-Russian Congress of the Bolshevik Party in Petrograd from 24-29 April:

When we were passing through Germany, those gentlemen, the social chauvinists, the German Plekhanovs, tried to get into our carriage, but we told them that we would not allow a single one of them in and that if any one of them did get in they would not get out again without our having a big row. Had a man like Karl Liebknecht been permitted to come to see us, we would certainly have talked matters over with him. [21]

The Thought of Lenin on his Departure from Zürich

Before leaving Zürich Lenin sent a farewell letter to the Swiss comrades. This document, published at the time in the Swiss newspapers, but completely forgotten today, is remarkable on several counts. Before even setting foot on Russian soil, Lenin is already expressing the ideas that he will repeat almost in the same terms in his final speeches on the New Economic Policy in October 1922:

To the Russian proletariat has fallen the great honour of beginning the series of revolutions which the imperialist war has made an objective inevitability … the proletariat of Russia is less organised, less prepared and less class-conscious than the proletariat of other countries …

Russia is a peasant country, one of the most backward of European countries … but the peasant character of the country … may … give tremendous sweep to the bourgeois-democratic revolution in Russia and may make our revolution the prologue to the world Socialist revolution, a step toward it …

In Russia, Socialism cannot triumph directly and immediately. But the peasant mass can bring the inevitable and matured agrarian upheaval to the point of confiscating all the immense holdings of the nobility …

Such a revolution would not, in itself, be Socialism. But it would give a great impetus to the world labour movement … It would enable the city proletariat to develop, on the strength of this influence, such revolutionary organisations as the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies to replace the old instruments of oppression employed by bourgeois states, the army, the police, the bureaucracy; to carry out … a series of revolutionary measures to control the production and distribution of goods. [22]

Do you sense the reserve in these clear prognostications, the wise discrimination between the possible and the impossible, and the anxiety to safeguard against illusions? Compare the text of Lenin’s speech delivered on the occasion of the Fourth anniversary of the October Revolution. [23] You will see with what sureness of touch this revolutionary leader knew how to estimate the power of the social elements unleashed and the limits of this power …

At the same time Lenin sends to the Petrograd Pravda a Letter from Afar, which was published on 21-22 March, eight days before his arrival in Russia. It is a close analysis of the totality of the facts, their antecedents and the forces at work. Already a threatening reference is highlighted. Milyukov has been ‘put in power (for the time being)’. Three great forces are at work: the fallen Tsarist monarchy; the bourgeoisie, the class that has newly come to power; and the soviets, ‘the embryo of a workers’ government’. The proletariat has two allies: the poor peasants and the international working class. The present tasks are ‘to prepare the way for … victory in the second stage of the revolution’, and, for this, ‘first, to the achievement of a democratic republic and complete victory of the peasantry over the landlords … and then to Socialism’. [24]

Such was Lenin’s plan on his departure from Switzerland. On 3 April he alighted in Petrograd, accompanied by G. Zinoviev. [25]

II: By Persuasion

ON 4 April, the day after his arrival, Lenin presents to the militants his theses entitled The Tasks of the Proletariat in the Present Revolution.

Consider how the bourgeois ministers of the Provisional Government are talking about war to the bitter end; how Milyukov is dreaming of the Dardanelles [26]; how the Socialist Revolutionaries are already seeing themselves at the head of a radical republic quite as ‘advanced’ as the French Third Republic in its best days; and that nobody, absolutely nobody, is seeing clearly amid the gathering storm.

Nobody, obviously, apart from this agitator unknown until yesterday in Russian political circles, followed by a small party of ‘fanatics’, of ‘professional splitters’, as moderate Socialists contemptuously describe them, nobody apart from this newcomer – thick set, broad shouldered, with a high bald forehead, a malicious gaze, blue-green eyes, high Asiatic cheeks, and a chin crowned with a thick and short-pointed reddish beard. There is no eloquence. He employs simple gestures that are arresting and convincing. He speaks familiarly, without imagery, without effects, without deliberate pauses, and without inviting applause. You might as well be talking about a robust provincial peasant, as sharp as four men – but a good fellow for all that — showing his skill in the task imposed on him. He alights from the train that has just crossed Europe. And he explains to the Bolshevik workers of Petrograd, who have made the March revolution, the situation he understands better than they do, whose outcome he alone can perceive …

The war is an imperialist conflict, just as it was under Nicholas II; there can be no question of a revolutionary defensive war until there is workers’ power; democratic peace is impossible without the overthrow of capitalism.

The specific feature of the present situation in Russia is that the country is passing from the first stage of the revolution – which, owing to the insufficient class consciousness and organisation of the proletariat, placed power in the hands of the bourgeoisie – to its second stage, which must place power in the hands of the proletariat and the poorest sections of the peasants.

But the Bolshevik Party is in ‘a small minority’ in the soviets. It must therefore confine itself to propaganda and agitation. It will triumph because it is right. It is a farsighted party amongst the parties and the benighted masses. It would be better to follow it!

Soviets are the only revolutionary form of power: ‘Not a parliamentary republic – to return to a parliamentary republic from the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies would be a retrograde step …’ The practical programme is the confiscation of all landed estates; the confiscation of all lands by local peasant soviets; and the amalgamation of all banks into a single national bank under the control of the soviets:

8. It is not our immediate task to ‘introduce’ Socialism, but only to bring social production and the distribution of products at once under the control of the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies …

As far as the party is concerned, a conference must be immediately convened in order to change its programme in the paragraphs concerning imperialism, the war, ‘our attitude towards the state and our demand for a commune-state (after the model of the Paris Commune)’, and also to alter the name of the party, which must now describe itself as Communist, the term Social Democrat having been dishonoured by the treachery of the Second International.

Lenin calmly explains that the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries, parties saturated with a petit-bourgeois ideology, are in a majority amongst the masses as well as in the soviets. But the good faith of the masses is obvious; and it is by persuasion that they can be won. Lenin only provides this slogan: Propaganda! Propaganda! – No violence so long as the bourgeois government has not started it.

However, Yedinstvo (Unity), the organ of the national defencist Social Democrats, is already accusing him of fomenting civil war. Yedinstvo writes: Lenin is ‘raving’. [27]

Striking hard with repeated blows, as is his wont, Lenin unceasingly returns again to all these leading ideas. In his April Letters on Tactics he insists: ‘I not only do not “build” on the “immediate transformation” of our revolution into a Socialist one, but I actually warn against it.’ [28] However: ‘Outside of Socialism there is no deliverance …’ [29]

It is necessary to overthrow the bourgeois government. But we cannot yet overthrow it because the majority of the workers’ councils are supporting it. What is to be done, therefore? To win over the majority: ‘We are not Blanquists, we do not stand for the seizure of power by a minority.’ (The Dual Power, 9 April) [30]

The Example of the Paris Commune

The idea of the revolutionary state to be constructed later takes precise shape in Lenin’s mind. The future Soviet Republic will be inspired by the example of the Paris Commune – as Lenin repeated on several occasions – to create a new type of state whose essential characteristics are:

1. The source of power is not a law previously discussed and enacted by parliament, but the local initiative of the people from below, in their local areas …

2. The replacement of the police and the army, which are institutions divorced from the people and set against the people, by the direct arming of the whole people …

3. Officialdom, the bureaucracy, are either similarly replaced by the direct rule of the people themselves or at least placed under special control; they not only become elected officials, but are also subject to recall at the people’s first demand … [31]

The main fact at present is that dual power already exists. There are two governments. One, the bourgeois one, can do nothing without the other, the workers’ government made up of the soviets, which as yet doesn’t try to do anything …

The leaders of the Petrograd Soviet are Chkeidze, Tsereteli and Steklov (who has not yet gone over to Bolshevism) [32], all of them Mensheviks at whom Lenin scoffs for wanting to follow in the steps of Louis Blanc. But above all they fear a mass revolution. Their entire ambition is limited to putting skilful pressure on the government. Kerensky, the Minister of Justice in the bourgeois cabinet, makes eloquent appearances amongst them. The make-up of this soviet of the early days of the revolution has been depicted in a very lifelike way by N. Sukhanov in his Notes on the Revolution. [33] This unofficial Menshevik chronicler himself also shows the impotence of the legal government which the workers totally disregarded, and the overwhelming and growing power of the council that had been spontaneously formed by the workers. Now Lenin wrote:

Two powers cannot exist in a state. One of them is bound to pass away; and the entire Russian bourgeoisie is already trying its hardest everywhere and in every way to keep out and weaken the Soviets, to reduce them to nought … The dual power merely expresses a transitional phase … [towards the] ‘pure’ dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. [34]

Now, as later, unceasingly looking forward to the seizure of power which he considers certain, even though his party is still only a weak minority, Lenin continues to explain his views on the state. He always does this whilst recalling three essential points: that there is only a difference between the Bolsheviks and the Anarchists over the means, and not over the end; that it is necessary to smash the bourgeois state; that it is necessary to create a new profoundly revolutionary state, the first glimpse of which was given to us by the Paris Commune. The same concepts are to be found in The State and Revolution:

Marxism differs from Anarchism in that it recognises the need for a state and for state power in the period of revolution in general, and in the period of transition from capitalism to Socialism in particular. [35]

In the same document, proposing to substitute the word ‘Communist’ for the words ‘Social Democrat’ in the name of the party, Lenin remarks that the second part of the latter term is ‘scientifically incorrect’: ‘Democracy is a form of state, whereas we Marxists are opposed to every kind of state.’ [36]

At the same time, in The Tasks of the Proletariat in Our Revolution, returning with that consistency of thought that is perhaps his most distinguishing intellectual characteristic, to a subject about which he had written so many times in 1914, 1915 and 1916, about the necessity to build the Third International, Lenin notes ‘the collapse of the Zimmerwald International’, which was not able to decide on a decisive break with the defencist Socialists. He goes over a list of the forces of the future International, ‘the internationalists in deed’, excluding Longuet, Ledebour, Haase and Martov, all of them centrists, and concludes: ‘Our party must not “wait”, but must immediately found a Third International.’ [37]

III: The Gathering Storm – 22 April

AT the same time as following the developments in Lenin’s thought, it is also necessary to keep track of events. But this is an impossible task. I am merely obliged to note in the great maelstrom some facts and some dates that will serve as points of reference. During 22-27 February the autocracy is overthrown in the Petrograd streets. The Petrograd Soviet is set up on 27 February. On 2 March Nicholas II abdicates in favour of the Grand Duke Michael, who in his turn abdicates on the 3rd. [38] On 14 March the Petrograd Soviet launches an appeal to the peoples of the world for a democratic peace. On 18 April Milyukov, the Lvov government’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, addresses a note to the great powers. The Russian government is remaining faithful to its treaties, to imperialism, in other words, whilst hoping for a completely democratic peace, ‘the aspiration of the entire nation to carry the world war to a decisive victory has grown more powerful’. This hypocritical formula is all too clear. He declares in Moscow on 10 April:

The conditions for peace cannot be settled except in complete accord with our allies … the principles accepted by all the Allies cannot be ignored, namely, of the restoration of Poland and Armenia, and the satisfaction of the national aspirations of the Austrian Slavs …

Lenin replies in Pravda on 13 April to these clear statements of the bourgeois statesman with an appeal to the soldiers: ‘Comrades … soldiers … Make it understood that you do not wish to die for the sake of secret conventions concluded by Tsar Nicholas II, and which are still sacred to Milyukov!’ [39]

As far as the war is concerned, Lenin’s ideas are very clear from the first day. In this world conflagration only little Serbia could rightly appeal to the necessity for national defence. The great belligerent powers are fighting for a new division of the world. They are all imperialists and all equally responsible. The duty of revolutionaries is for each to oppose the government of his own country and to prepare the revolution that can result from the war. The Russian Revolution can expect nothing from either the Russian liberal bourgeoisie or the Allied states; it has all to hope for from the workers of the world, and above all from the ‘enemy’, the poor bugger of a German or an Austrian soldier, with whom it is necessary to fraternise in the trenches whenever possible …

The Bolsheviks are the only ones to express unceasingly these obvious truths. They translate into crisp formulae and elevate to a theoretical understanding the deeply felt and precise feelings of the masses, and in the first place of the masses of combatants. What attracts them to Bolshevism is its precision, whereas the Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary Soviet is adopting equivocal formulae, and does not even dare object to the Liberty Loan supported by Plekhanov’s Yedinstvo, Rabochaya Gazeta, Zemlya i Volya and Volya Naroda, in short, the entire press of the ‘revolutionary democracy’. [40]

Milyukov’s note of 18 April to the Allies provokes an immediate crisis. It could be said that at this moment the first wave of the October Revolution is rising with irresistible force from the depths of popular indignation.

‘The cards are on the table’, writes Lenin on 20 April. What is the Soviet going to do? Either the Soviet will give in and tomorrow Milyukov will finish it off; or the Soviet will adopt our course … For the first time his Pravda article ends with these words: ‘Workers and soldiers, you must now loudly declare that there must be only one power in the country – the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies!’ [41]

On 22 April Lenin insists: capitalist governments cannot but wish for annexations. ‘There is no way out – except through the transfer of power to the revolutionary class …’ [42] These are tense days. In Petrograd and Moscow, workers’ demonstrations swarm through the streets. ‘Petrograd is coming to the boil.’ People demonstrate against the war. Others counter-demonstrate. Upon the banners raised above a sea of human beings on the Nevsky Prospect you can read these words in enormous letters: ‘All Power to the Soviets!’ On the corner of Sadovaia Street patriots are firing on ‘anti-patriots’, the first shots of the Civil War. The Soviet at this time, led as always by the Mensheviks, receives the explanations of the government, and declares itself satisfied with them … By 34 votes to 19 the Executive of the Soviet gives a vote of confidence to the Provisional Government … The ‘incident’ is got rid of. These poor politicians, and lamentable Socialists that are they are, have only seen in the events of these days an ‘incident’ to be got rid of by a vote! It is fortunate that there is one clear voice resounding on the sidelines. Lenin says on 23 April:

This is not the first time the petit-bourgeoisie and semi-proletarians have wavered and it will not be the last! The lesson is clear, comrade workers! There is no time to be lost. The first crisis will be followed by others. You must devote all your efforts to enlightening the backward, to making extensive, comradely and direct contact (not only by meetings) with every regiment and with every group …

Rally round your soviets; and within them endeavour to rally behind you a majority by comradely persuasion and by re-election of individual members! [43]

Thus Lenin does not allow himself to be intoxicated by the rise of the demonstrations that have just shaken the Lvov government. His slogan remains: Propaganda! Propaganda! The editorial of Pravda on the same day, unsigned but written by him, ends in these lines in bold type:

We shall favour the transfer of power to the proletarians and semi-proletarians only when the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies adopt our policy and are willing to take the power into their own hands. [44]

IV: And Now the Socialist Ministers

MILYUKOV, having found it impossible to continue, has resigned. On 1 May in all the Russian cities immense popular demonstrations are demanding a democratic peace. The agitation in the country is such that the authority of the Provisional Government everywhere appears to be no more than a formality. Lenin, who is an acute observer of the minute facts of daily life, notes two of deep significance. The workers in Nizhni-Novgorod have abolished the police. A workers’ militia paid for by the factories is maintaining public order. [45] At Yenisisk in Siberia the soviet has taken power. The President of the Council of State, Prince Lvov, sends a commissioner over there. ‘The nominated officials’, decides the Soviet of this little corner proudly, ‘will only take charge over our dead bodies.’ We could note thousands of facts like this. Everywhere in the immense empire such initiatives in their millions are proclaiming the birth of a new society in the decay of the old authorities. The purely bourgeois government of Prince Lvov (in which Kerensky, the Soviet’s official representative, is the only Socialist) gives way on 6 May to a Socialist-bourgeois coalition government, including two Mensheviks (Tsereteli at the Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs, and Skobelev at the Ministry of Labour), and two Socialist Revolutionaries (Chernov at the Ministry of Agriculture, and Kerensky as Minister of War and the Navy). [46] These Socialist ministers promise to their parties and to the workers to work for peace for the peoples, to prepare a solution to the agrarian problem, and to expedite the convening of the Constituent Assembly. The countryside is hopeful. Isn’t Chernov, the leader of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, the party of the agrarian revolution, in power? There is a confused period of popular hopes and disappointments. The Allied ambassadors begin to get disquieted. When will the next Russian offensive be, when?

The Bolsheviks At Work

Every day proves the soundness of our line. To put it through effectively, the proletarian masses must be thrice as well organised as they are now. Every district, every block, every factory, every military company must have a strong, close-knit organisation capable of acting as one man. Each such organisation must have direct ties with the centre, with the Central Committee, and those ties must be strong, so that the enemy may not break them at the first blow; those ties must be permanent, must be strengthened and tested every day and every hour, so that the enemy does not catch us unawares. (Pravda, 25 April) [47]

Lenin presents his motion to modify the programme at the All-Russian Conference of the Bolshevik Party on 24-29 April. Let us take these lines from it, ‘a demand for a democratic proletarian-peasant republic (that is, of a type of state functioning without police, without a standing army)’. [48]

The party wants ‘the dictatorship of the people’. It advocates ‘the abolition of a compulsory national language’, and self-governing and autonomous regions … assessed by the local population’ [49]; ‘the establishment of state control over all banks … the insurance agencies and big capitalist syndicates [50]; ‘the confiscation of all landed estates’ and ‘the immediate transfer of all lands to the peasantry organised in soviets of peasants’ deputies’. The party ‘advises’ the rural workers to transform the big estates into model collective farms. [51]

At the same time a polemic takes place between Lenin and Plekhanov. The whole difference between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks is summed up in it. In the opinion of the old leader of the Russian Social Democracy, ‘the Socialist revolution presupposes prolonged educational and organisational work within the working class’; ‘the objective conditions necessary for a Socialist revolution … do not exist yet’. For these reasons we should resign ourselves to submitting to bourgeois democracy and to continuing the war …

‘Democracy?’, Lenin asks. But whoever says ‘democracy’ means the power of the majority, and we have a majority of peasants who want the land. Can this democracy demand firstly, the nationalisation of the land, secondly, that of the banks, and thirdly, that of the sugar industry? It does demand it. Let us satisfy these demands, and:

After these measures will have been put into effect, further progress towards Socialism in Russia would become fully possible, and given the aid of the more advanced and experienced workers of Western Europe, who have broken with their West-European Plekhanovs, Russia’s real transition to Socialism would be inevitable, and the success of such a transition would be assured. [52]

The Agrarian Question

Here is another polemic. In order to settle the agrarian question, the Finance Minister Shingaryov [53] proposes ‘voluntary agreements to be concluded between peasants and landowners’. Such naivety in a period of revolution is astonishing: this well-intentioned bourgeois does not wish to see the storm. Like Plekhanov, he does not want to make the revolution. He is providing Lenin with the opportunity to make a striking intervention into the first All-Russian Congress of Peasant Deputies on 22 May. Thirty thousand rich landowners in Russia own almost 70 million desyatins (about the size of hectares) [54], which amounts to 2,000 hectares each. On the other hand, according to the latest census, about 10 million poor peasant families own between about 70 and 75 million desyatins, which would work out as seven desyatins per family! A voluntary agreement between the poor and the rich – in other words, the renting out of land – would be neither just nor profitable. The Bolsheviks are in favour of the organised taking over of the ownership of the land by the peasants.

The Socialist Revolutionary Minister Chernov is referring the settlement of the agrarian problem to the Constituent Assembly. Lenin calls upon the peasant, ‘to wait for the Constituent Assembly is out of the question’, the Assembly has the right ‘to institute public ownership of the land’, but: ‘In the meantime, however, right now, this spring, the peasants themselves must decide locally what to do with it.’ [55] In order to take the land the peasant must unite with the worker. Land expropriation is linked to workers’ control of production, universal labour service, and the question of peace:

Farming on individual plots, even if it is ‘free labour on free soil’, is no way out of the dreadful crisis, it offers no deliverance from the general ruin. A universal labour service is necessary, the greatest economy of manpower is necessary, an exceptionally strong and firm authority is necessary, an authority capable of effecting that universal labour service … [56]


This criminal war must be brought to a speedy end, not by a separate peace with Germany, but by a universal peace, not by a capitalist peace, but by a peace of the working masses against the capitalists. [57]

How does this formula of a strong authority and labour service arise with Lenin? It is suggested by the circumstances: there can be no other response to the go-slow by the capitalists, who, motivated by their class instinct, are consciously organising the ruin of the country. [58] At one blow Lenin has refuted all the distortions of his thought made by the opponents of Bolshevism. Wealth-sharers? No. No private expropriation of the land – nationalisation. Anarchist? No. One strong authority, that of the workers. We can sense that he is anxious to understand as well as to be well understood, and we find in him a robust and remarkably ironic common sense which almost identifies him with his peasant audience, whose sympathy he is fighting for with so many opponents. In passing, this real popular leader gives us his rule of thought: it is revealing: ‘Millions of people will never listen to the advice of parties if that advice does not fall in with their experience.’ [59]

The Extent of the Danger Points to a Dictatorship

Let us emphasise that Lenin has just spoken of a strong authority. As a matter of fact, this is for the second or third time, but there is something new here. Pravda on 6 May had already published an article by him entitled with admirable clarity ‘A Strong Revolutionary Government’, stating that ‘only assumption of power by the proletariat … can give the country a really strong and really revolutionary government’, that of the soviets’. [60] Previously in his repeated statements about the necessity for setting up a new revolutionary state, Lenin appeared to want to emphasise above all that it was a matter of a state very different from the old one, in which the masses of the people would exercise a type of direct power. As far as its form was concerned, his concept had something libertarian about it, in the etymological sense of the word. He sometimes uses an untranslatable Russian adjective, vsenarodnoye, of all the people. Obviously, this state must be strong. Moreover, what could be stronger than the revolutionary people in arms? But it was more liberating than strong. Why does it now happen that Lenin now clarifies his thought and stresses the need for a rigorous, strict and forcefully concentrated dictatorship, the like of which we do not even find anticipated in the Paris Commune (sadly, for if it had had a dictatorial party the Commune would certainly have been better defended).

Why? Because of the danger. Famine, unemployment, a financial crisis and a fearful economic catastrophe are on the way. There will be a shortage of raw materials in all the factories. Fuel is running out. Transport is in chaos. Factories are closing down. Many workers no longer have any bread. The rouble has lost its value. A revolution is not a productive period; moreover, the threatened possessing classes are holding back or halting production to gain control of the poor through starvation, and to raise the spectre of famine before everyone’s eyes. Lenin, commenting upon several alarmist articles in The Impending Débâcle on 14 May, concludes: ‘Disaster is imminent … There is only one way out: revolutionary discipline, revolutionary measures by the revolutionary class …’ [61]

Skobelev and the bourgeois minister Kutler [62] are pointing to ‘the immense danger’. Skobelev, with a disconcerting inconsistency, proposes to tax the possessing classes ‘sometimes up to 100 per cent!’ Taxing up to 100 per cent means confiscation. Can a bourgeois government go along the road of confiscations? And that in order to avoid an economic catastrophe for the greater part caused by the possessing classes, who are precisely alarmed by the idea of possible confiscations? Lenin refutes this poor reasoning. Nonsense! What is necessary is ‘to break the opposition of a few hundred thousand of the rich’. Other people envisage the fixing of maximum prices for food, and control over production by the state. But what sort of state have you got, Lenin asks them?

The month of May passes, and the month of June begins under the shadow of an imminent economic catastrophe.

V: The Offensive of 18 June

WE have arrived at a turning point. The Provisional Government of Prince Lvov, with four Socialist ministers, wishes both to govern and to wage war. It blames agitators in the army, revolutionary soldiers and the Kronstadt Soviet, which, moreover, does not allow itself to be intimidated and made to think again. It prepares at the front the offensive demanded in more and more peremptory tones by the Allied ambassadors. An offensive on the eve of an economic catastrophe! Finally, the offensive is suddenly launched ‘in the name of peace’ on 18 June by the War Minister Kerensky. In view of the lack of technical preparation and the unwillingness of the soldiers to fight any longer, it promptly turns into a disaster. [63] In vain do some ‘patriotic’ battalions allow themselves to be mown down by German machine-guns. However, on that very same day a demonstration against the war and the coalition government takes place in Petrograd organised by the Bolshevik Central Committee. The appeal of the Bolsheviks is heard by the masses. It is a success. Forty thousand workers and soldiers march through the streets. Hundreds of red banners carry the Bolshevik slogan, ‘All Power to the Soviets’, to which on three placards the Mensheviks counterpose their slogan: ‘Confidence in the Provisional Government!’ Confidence! They have chosen their moment well. The red tide is rising, still rising, and this time yet higher. In the face of this pathetic confidence, how clear cut are the Bolshevik slogans: ‘Neither a separate peace with Germany, nor secret treaties with the Anglo-French!’, ‘Enough of hesitations … Enough of confidence in the capitalists … Revolutionary Action!’

As always, Lenin shows evidence of a remarkable insight into the masses’ state of mind. On 13 June he affirms that ‘the turning point’ had been reached. ‘The Socialist proletariat and our party must be as cool and collected as possible, must show the greatest staunchness and vigilance. Let the future Cavaignacs begin first.’ [64]

They will be the first to begin, just as Lenin wishes. The Kornilov adventure will be soon. [65] Confident that he will be proved right by what happens in the future, Lenin poses the question: Where do Cavaignacs come from? In fact, the Mensheviks had written to the Bolsheviks: ‘When a real Cavaignac comes, we shall fight in the same ranks with you.’ Cavaignacs only exist, Lenin replied to them on 16 June, thanks to the hesitations of petit-bourgeois parties such as yours. [66]

To this time belongs the incident at the villa of the old minister Durnovo, which had been occupied by the Anarchists and several trade unions. [67] The police of the Provisional Government attempts an unsuccessful attack in the night to dislodge the occupants. This fact is symptomatic: the government wants to show it is up to the situation …

Let us note two articles and a speech of Lenin’s at this time. One of the articles in entitled ‘Jacobins?’, and Lenin here presents the alternative: Either counter-revolution or Jacobinism:

Bourgeois historians see Jacobinism as a fall … Proletarian historians see Jacobinism as one of the highest peaks in the emancipation struggle of an oppressed class. The Jacobins gave France the best models of a democratic revolution and of resistance to a coalition of monarchs against a republic … ‘Jacobinism’ in Europe or on the boundary line between Europe and Asia in the twentieth century would be the rule of the revolutionary class, of the proletariat … supported by the peasant poor and taking advantage of the existing material basis for advancing to Socialism. [68]

The other deals with a question of detail, but it is one of those to which Lenin always attributed enormous importance. He saw ‘the need for an agricultural labourers’ union’, for ‘no “state” will help the rural wage-worker … if he does not help himself’. [69]

The speech delivered at the first All-Russian Congress of Soviets deals with the war. Here Lenin especially draws out the contradictions of those Socialists who wish to continue Nicholas II’s war in a revolutionary manner. And his solution?

We say: No separate peace treaty with any capitalists … We recognise no separate peace treaty with the German capitalists, and we shall not enter into any negotiations. Nor must there be a separate peace treaty with the British and French imperialists. [70]

And one measure has to be taken without delay: to publish the secret treaties.

On 2 July the Constitutional Democrat ministers and the Prime Minister Prince Lvov resign over the Ukrainian question. They would not permit the national autonomy of Ukraine, which they can no longer prevent. [71]

The Bloody July Days

Following the offensive, the Durnovo villa affair and the difficulties in Ukraine, the unpopularity of the Socialist-bourgeois coalition government mounts hourly. The cup overflows in the July Days, the real prologue to the October Revolution. The 40-year-old reservists demand that they be demobilised. It is feared that the reactionary generals will betray Petrograd to the Germans. It is expected that the most ‘red’ regiments from the garrison will be sent to the front. The initiative for an insurrectional demonstration comes from the masses, amongst whom Anarchist groups sometimes perform the role of an active yeast. The Bolsheviks do not believe that the time is ripe for it. On 3 July a machine gun regiment makes for the little palace of Kshesinskaya, a ballerina and favourite of the fallen emperor, which is now occupied by the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party. [72] The soldiers exhort the Bolsheviks to action. Lashevich and Kuraiev [73] reply to them: ‘Not yet!’ They are hissed. Pravda prepares an order to refuse to take part. They fear a trap, a premature revolutionary attempt which would be easy to suppress. But the working-class areas are all moving, and they must follow. At 10 o’clock in the evening the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party decides on a ‘peaceful demonstration’. The demonstration of 4 July is unforgettable. Half a million armed men are shouting that they have had enough of vacillations, and that the revolution must go forward. The Kronstadt sailors have come. The garrison of the Peter-Paul fortress is also demonstrating.

A few shots are exchanged, but revolutionary order is hardly disturbed anywhere. But the Executive Committee of the Soviet refuses to take power. What is to be done? If a revolution were possible without a seizure of power other than in the pathetic brains of libertarian theoreticians, the Petrograd proletarians would have been able to make it on that day. On 5 July there is a spontaneous ebb. The soldiers are returning to the barracks and the workers to the factory when the patriotic troops called up by Kerensky arrive without encountering any resistance. The junkers of the military academies are occupying strategic points in the city. Arrests of ‘agitators’ begin. The Central Executive Committee of the Soviet decides on a ‘dictatorship’ (against whom?), and on disarming workers, soldiers and sailors. Trotsky is arrested. Lenin and Zinoviev go into hiding. Pravda is suppressed. The Soviet will obtain Trotsky’s liberation quite quickly. Lenin will not emerge from illegality until he is elected President of the Council of People’s Commissars on the night of the seizure of the Winter Palace. Beginning from this time, the all-consuming activity of the leader of the party is unceasingly hindered by the preoccupations of clandestinity. Pravda will reappear under a variety of titles.

Repression and Slander

The day after the bloody July Days a campaign of slander begins against the Bolsheviks which can without any exaggeration be described as the greatest of modern times, surely, since the one Pitt financed against the French Revolution. [74] Let us find out from where it originates. Gregory Alexinsky, a political adventurer who had passed through the Bolshevik Party, whose representative he was in the Second Duma, had become a chauvinist during the war, and just before the revolution had been expelled from the editorial board of the Contemporary World, an influential patriotic magazine edited by the Menshevik Zhordansky for his dealings with the minister Protopopov. [75] He was so universally despised by the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries that in spite of his admitted talent they had refused to accept him amongst them until he had ‘proved himself’, and manufactured at the request of the counter-espionage service documents that established the relations of Lenin with Germany … [76] Informed of the projected publication of these forgeries, the Menshevik leader Chkeidze, who was an irreconcilable opponent of the Bolsheviks, indignant at this filthy manoeuvre, promised Stalin he would prevent it on 4 July. The publication, however, took place, and helped to justify a judicial investigation. Once launched, this slander made its way all over the wide world …

Was ‘Peaceful’ Revolution Possible?

The dogs bark, but the revolution goes on. Lenin and Zinoviev hide for three weeks in the woods at Sestroretsk, near Petrograd. They spend their nights in a haystack. Then Lenin manages to cross the Finnish frontier on a railway train posing as a driver. He hides himself in succession in Helsingfors, Vyborg and Petrograd. There is a photograph of him at this time on an identity card issued by a factory committee: he has a rough, angular face with strongly accentuated and prominent cheek bones. To look at it, you would really think that he is one of those Russian peasant-proletarians who has a little bit of Mongol blood in his veins. In his refuge Lenin finishes off a little book that he had begun in Switzerland: The State and Revolution. It is a remarkably fresh example of the continuity of his thought and of the way that his thought fits events. He finishes off the pages he began in his quiet émigré flat in Zürich, vibrantly and logically, whilst he is being hunted by Kerensky’s police.

He also writes other pieces there, no less forceful. On Slogans, published as a pamphlet by the Kronstadt Soviet, is of the highest importance. In it Lenin sums up the lessons of the July events. In it Lenin notably reveals an almost forgotten aspect of his thoughts on revolution. Until then he had admitted the possibility of an almost peaceful revolution, in other words a seizure of power by the soviets, without a split amongst the working class and the middle classes attracted towards it. Obviously, the inevitable resistance of the possessing classes would have to be broken. But the Socialist workers’ parties won over to a petit-bourgeois ideology might have been induced to follow the proletarian revolution instead of adhering to the counter-revolution. Then many misfortunes would have been avoided. Let us recall what Lenin is now writing in his insistent advice: In the soviets, as regards our Socialist opponents, propaganda, persuasion, and his theory of a popular libertarian state. He knew how to confront dire necessity; he also knew how to perceive and make the most of the best possibilities. Beginning from 4 July he writes that the slogan ‘All Power to the Soviets’ ‘has patently ceased to be correct’, for the period of the peaceful sharing of power between the Provisional Government and the soviets has come to an end. Moreover:

What really mattered was that arms were in the hands of the people and that there was no coercion of the people from without … The slogan ‘All Power Must Be Transferred to the Soviets’ was a slogan for the next step, the immediately feasible step, on that peaceful path of development. It was a slogan for the peaceful development of the revolution … [77]

Nobody, in fact, could have opposed the seizure of power by the soviets; and, in the soviets, the struggle between the parties could be almost peaceful. But:

A peaceful course of development has become impossible … The unstable condition of state power has come to an end. At the decisive point, power has passed into the hands of the counter-revolution.

The petit-bourgeois parties, the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, have shown themselves to be accomplices of the bourgeoisie. On 27 February, ‘all classes found themselves united against the monarchy’. After 4 July, all the classes were against the working class. Some put their hopes on the future Constituent Assembly. Constitutional illusions!: ‘Frederick Engels once wrote the state is primarily contingents of armed men with material adjuncts, such as prisons.’ Now at this time the real power is that of the Cossacks, the junkers and the monarchist generals. ‘That power must be overthrown’ – by force.

The whole party must prepare itself for battle. But it must play for time:

It is indisputable that for them to take action and offer resistance at the moment would mean aiding the counter-revolutionaries. It is also indisputable that a decisive struggle will be possible only in the event of a new revolutionary upsurge in the very depths of the masses.

In the coming revolution, the soviets will ‘not be the present soviets, not organs collaborating with the bourgeoisie, but organs of revolutionary struggle against the bourgeoisie’. [78]

VI: A Demagogue: Kerensky

KERENSKY takes over the presidency of the Council of State on 8 July. The third coalition cabinet is strongly influenced by the Socialist Revolutionaries. Avksentiev, one of the great party leaders, has a portfolio in it. Tereshchenko and Nekrasov represent the bourgeoisie there. [79] Sincere Socialists have only one hope: the Constituent Assembly. For good reasons, in a pamphlet The Present Moment, Lenin rejects this illusion, saying that ‘private landownership in Russia cannot be abolished, and this without compensation, except by carrying through a gigantic economic revolution’. Before the consolidation of Soviet power, the Constituent Assembly could do nothing. Either the elections fixed for 30 September would not take place, or the Constituent Assembly would be powerless. The class struggle is the thing that matters, not elections:

For the majority in the state to really decide, definite conditions are required …

Further, a revolution differs from a ‘normal’ situation in the state precisely because controversial issues of state life are decided by the direct class and popular struggle … This fundamental fact implies that in time of revolution it is not enough to ascertain ‘the will of the majority’ – you must prove to be the stronger at the decisive moment and in the decisive place; you must win.

In the long run we know that the problems of social life are resolved by the class struggle in its bitterest and fiercest form – civil war. … it is economics that decide. [80]

During the months that are to follow, up to the October Revolution, Kerensky will be the head of the Provisional Government. With him the bourgeois revolution enters an oratorical phase. The man whom Lenin calls ‘this little chatterbox Kerensky’ believes that he is destined to play History’s foremost parts. As a brilliant lawyer under the old regime, regularly appearing in great political trials, a Socialist Revolutionary ‘workers’’ deputy in the Fourth Duma, Minister of Justice in the first Provisional Government, and as minister on account of great speeches, Kerensky speaks, declaims and gets excited on every occasion. He is a demagogue, with a voice that knows how to inflame, to rise, to shout, and to fade away, with its harmonies still fascinating his audience. He is an incomparable speaker. I have known worthy men, years after having heard him once or twice, who could recall his gestures, his voice and his eyes (‘Oh, his eyes! What a great revolutionary he was!’, a sentimental old spinster told me in Petrograd in 1919.) Having accepted a portfolio in March against the wishes of the Soviet, he hastens to the Tauride Palace, passionately imitates one of Danton’s famous speeches [81]: ‘I will be the Minister of the Revolution!’, rouses an enthusiastic ovation – and keeps his portfolio alongside Mr Milyukov. When the Tsar abdicates, Kerensky, more eloquent than ever, addresses to the dethroned hangman a magnificent phrase, a phrase that so takes hold of the courtiers that Baron Nolde [82] puts it in his memoirs: ‘Deign to think, imperial majesty, that we will bear the precious vase of your power up to the Constituent Assembly without spilling a drop of its content …’ Kerensky is the man of the sickening June offensive. Kerensky is the hysterical speaker of whom Sukhanov, in his Notes on the Revolution, gives so terrible a portrait. [83] When argument fails him on the rostrum, when a rousing phrase can’t make up for it, he staggers, turns pale, and sinks back as though on the verge of a fainting fit. This tribune seems ready to die for the people. When he was staying at the Winter Palace, Kerensky often received people in the Emperor’s library. I have somewhere a photo that shows him in this role of a tragic statesman which he knew so well how to assume, crouching in oriental fashion on a divan, with this face, white, with deep, sombre eyes. He had a cult of the attitude and the phrase. In the fragments of memoirs that he published in Gatchina the words you find most often are ‘I’ and ‘me’. When describing the most serious events, he has phrases like this: ‘In the car I struck up a nonchalant pose.’ During the entire revolution he only struck up poses and recited phrases. And this demagogue took himself for a revolutionary leader. But it is true that he had Savinkov [84] behind him, of whom we will speak later.

The Beginning of Bonapartism

Lenin described Kerensky’s coming to power on 29 July as the beginning of Bonapartism. This is an exact view of the facts: Kerensky is going to prepare the way for Kornilov. Lenin’s formula, as always, is well-balanced:

French history shows us that the Bonapartist counter-revolution developed at the end of the eighteenth century (and then, for a second time, from 1848 to 1852) on the basis of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie, and in turn paved the way for the restoration of a legitimate monarchy. Bonapartism is a form of government which grows out of the counter-revolutionary nature of the bourgeoisie, in the conditions of democratic changes and a democratic revolution. [85]

Whilst the false Eighteenth Brumaire [86] of Kornilov is being put together in shady consultations between the General Staff and the government, Lenin shifts his attention to the deep forces of the revolution: the peasant masses. The Izvestia of the All-Russian Peasant Soviet has published a collection of model demands, drawn up in accordance with 242 memoranda addressed to the first All-Russian Peasant Congress. The peasants want democracy (election of officials, the suppression of the standing army) and the land: expropriation without compensation, nationalisation of the big estates, a ban on hired labour, the equal division of the land amongst the cultivators, and periodic share-outs. Let us note how close this programme of peasant revolution is to Lenin’s. Now the Socialist Revolutionaries pretend to accept it: ‘The Socialist Revolutionaries are deceiving themselves and the peasants precisely by assuming that these reforms, or similar reforms, are possible without overthrowing capitalist rule …’ The ‘utopian petit-bourgeois’ Socialist Revolutionaries are concluding in words a bloc with the peasants, but in reality a bloc with the bourgeoisie. The Socialist Revolutionary Party has betrayed the peasants. From now on the issue is ‘whether the working class is to lead the peasants forward, to Socialism, or whether the liberal bourgeoisie are to drag them back, to conciliation with capitalism’.

The peasant programme can only be implemented by proletarian power, from which the peasants have nothing to fear. Lenin, quoting Engels, states that the idea of expropriating the small cultivators cannot arise for any socialist, and ‘the advantages of mechanised Socialist agriculture will be made clear to them only by force of example’. [87]

Lenin contended that ‘an essential question in any revolution is that of the possession of the state’, or more exactly, of the real power. Now the essential point about the present moment for him is that we are between two dictatorships. The future belongs to the proletariat or to the Bonaparte. There is no middle way. In his polemic with the Menshevik Sukhanov, Lenin shows the daily progress of ‘the Kaledins’. The situation that therefore arises resembles in many respects what Germany went through in September-November 1923. [88] Reaction, having the use of force at its disposal, hesitates, partly hoping to win without recourse to extreme measures:

The Kaledins [89] are no fools. Why should they go right through, forcing their way and risking defeat, when they receive the things they need bit by bit, every day? Meanwhile, the foolish Skobelevs and Tseretelis, Chernovs and Avksentievs, Dans and Liebers [90] shout ‘Triumph for democracy! Victory!’ at every step of the Kaledins forward, seeing as ‘victory’ the fact that the Kaledins, Kornilovs and Kerenskys do not swallow them at once! The root of the evil is that their very economic position makes the petit-bourgeois masses amazingly credulous and ignorant. … a decisive turn at present, far from being ‘easy’, is, on the contrary, absolutely impossible without a new revolution. [91]

These lines date from the very day before Kornilov’s coup d’état.

Savinkov and Kornilov

Born out of the repression of the July riots, Kerensky’s Socialist Revolutionary cabinet is really a government of reaction. The dialectic of the class struggle requires that the Socialists should prepare the way for a more obvious bourgeois reaction. The proletariat is still too strong. It is not enough to smash the masses. They must be deceived as well. After the persecution of the Bolsheviks, energetic measures have been taken, inspired by the High Command and by Savinkov, the Minister of War, with the aim of restoring discipline in the army. The most important of these measures, which is the focus of intense Bolshevik agitation, is the re-establishment of the death penalty in the army. Little by little the powers of the regimental committees are being annulled. Kornilov, the idol of the Russian bourgeoisie, receives his nomination as Generalissimo from Kerensky. He is an energetic soldier of great personal bravery, hard and firmly reactionary. Like the other generals, he sees salvation only in a military dictatorship, and does not hide his opinion. At the Moscow Democratic Conference on 12-14 August [92], Kornilov appears as the future head of state. Boris Savinkov is the Minister of War. A singular and very strong figure, a great political adventurer, a Socialist Revolutionary militant, writer, novelist, and even a bit of a poet, a terrorist and a good organiser, Savinkov is one of the revolutionary movement’s celebrities. For several years at the head of the Combat Organisation of the Socialist Revolutionaries, he has directed the terrorist activity of a party which included such people as Gershuni, Kaliaev, Sazonov and Balmachev. [93] He prepared in detail the execution of Grand Duke Sergei and Prime Minister Von Plehve, one of the autocracy’s most formidable servants [94]; and he himself took part in these activities. He bent down over the body of Von Plehve in the terrified Petrograd street to make sure that he was successful. In all these risky endeavours he was a close collaborator of the agent provocateur Azef [95], another leader of the Combat Organisation. This intrepid terrorist is the author of two novels: What Never Happened and The Pale Horse, 1906, stamped with the most profound moral confusion, in which the futility of the revolutionary project is as though written in blood. He is a professional terrorist, accustomed to executing his enemies as well as deliberately sacrificing the best of his companions in the struggle with basically a total lack of confidence and faith in the revolution. He is very much a man capable of anything, apart from understanding a great mass movement and correctly judging the social forces in front of him. For nothing is further from a revolutionary leader than a dilettante. Savinkov functions as the intermediary between Kornilov and Kerensky. All three of them were of the opinion that a strong authority – their own – must be brought in by the army. [96]

On 26 August Kornilov marched rapidly on Petrograd at the head of his Cossacks. The entire bourgeoisie was waiting for him. The unity of the proletariat is achieved in an instant. Resistance crystallises around the soviets. At the last moment Kerensky, judging the affair ill-conceived, disavowed his accomplice and stripped him of his rank. Bolshevik agitation disorganised the reactionary troops before they had even made contact with the hastily formed Red Guards.

Revolutionary Activity and Compromise

These events did not surprise Lenin. In his Letter to the Central Committee of the RSDLP, Lenin sketches out the tactic of the time, a flexible tactic of the united front – Fight Kornilov, but unmask Kerensky. His conclusion is: ‘We have come very close to it [that is, power], not directly, but from the side.’ [97] Perhaps the revolutionary situation has never been so delicate. The Bolsheviks, who feel themselves to be supported more and more clearly by enormous forces, literally have to manoeuvre. It is necessary to break the offensive of military reaction, and as a result to defend an essentially counter-revolutionary Provisional Government; in one way or the other to defend it today in order to overthrow it tomorrow; and it is necessary each day to speak clearly to the masses in a rather simplistic tone which all too many politicians would pride themselves on ridiculing. This is the time when Lenin is writing his remarkable article of 3 September 1917, On Compromises:

The term compromise in politics implies the surrender of certain demands, the renunciation of part of one’s demands, by agreement with another party … Engels was right when, in his criticism of the Manifesto of the Blanquist Communists (1873), he ridiculed their declaration: ‘No compromises!’ This, he said, was an empty phrase, for compromises are often unavoidably forced upon a fighting party by circumstances, and it is absurd to refuse once and for all to accept ‘payments on account’. The task of a truly revolutionary party is not to declare that it is impossible to renounce all compromises, but to be able, through all compromises, when they are unavoidable, to remain true to its principles, to its class, to its revolutionary purpose, to its task of paving the way for revolution and educating the mass of the people for victory in the revolution.

The compromise Lenin perceived was the last chance to ‘secure the peaceful advance of the whole Russian Revolution’:

The compromise on our part is our return to the pre-July demand of all power to the Soviets and a government of SRs and Mensheviks responsible to the Soviets. Now, and only now, perhaps during only a few days or a week or two, such a government could be set up and consolidated in a perfectly peaceful way. In all probability it could secure the peaceful advance of the whole Russian Revolution …

Lenin emphasises that this opportunity is unique and precious, and that the Bolsheviks are placing no special conditions on their Socialist opponents; that the latter could immediately realise the programme of their political bloc; and that ‘a Commune is inevitable in Russia’. [98]

But he is talking to petit-bourgeois politicians in whose minds social reality has been for a long time replaced by old clichés borrowed from the vocabulary of the Western democracies. The Socialist Revolutionaries hark back to the Constituent Assembly. The Mensheviks evoke with anguish the possible horrors of a civil war. These Socialists are buffeted to and fro between parliamentary utopianism, mixed up with historical reminiscences, and the fear of coups. A few days are sufficient for Lenin to reckon that yet again the democratic parties have shown themselves to be incompetent and cowardly. He replies to the tremblers with brutal contempt. So rivers of blood will flow, so you say, if there is civil war? But in the world war ‘soldiers have already seen rivers of blood!’. [99]

The march to power for Lenin begins from 15-16 September.

VII: The March to Power

NOT a word more on compromises. From now on Lenin’s task is to convince the workers that they can win; that they must win; to explain to them why and how; and to recognise the moment for action.

On 16 September Workers Road published an article by him in which we find these lines:

Summing up the results of the analysis … we arrive at the conclusion that the beginning of the proletariat’s civil war has revealed the strength, the class-consciousness, deep-rootedness, growth and tenacity of the movement. The beginning of the bourgeoisie’s civil war has revealed no strength, no class-consciousness among the masses, no depth whatsoever, no chance of victory …

The bourgeoisie’s resistance to the transfer of the land to the peasants without compensation … is, of course, inevitable. But for such resistance to reach the stage of civil war masses of some kind are necessary, masses capable of fighting and vanquishing the Soviets. The bourgeoisie does not have these masses, and has nowhere to get them. [100]

Today this reasoning seems to have been refuted by a desperate civil war several years long. It was, however, correct. The October Revolution was peaceful on the whole. It was at all events the least bloody and the easiest of History’s revolutions. The Civil War only flared up some months afterwards, thanks to the direct intervention of the foreign imperialisms. The Czechoslovak uprising of summer 1918, in the organisation of which the French Military Mission in Russia played so great a role, was the first important episode in it. [101]

On 26-27 September, over the signature of ‘NK’, the Bolshevik organ publishes an article by Lenin, The Tasks of the Revolution. It is already virtually the programme of a governing party:

The Soviet government must straight away offer to all the belligerent peoples (that is, simultaneously both to their governments and to the worker and peasant masses) to conclude an immediate general peace on democratic terms, and also to conclude an immediate armistice (even if only for three months).

The main condition for a democratic peace is … that every nationality without any exception, both in Europe and in the colonies, shall obtain its freedom and the possibility to decide for itself …

If … as far as we are concerned the war becomes truly forced upon us, it becomes a truly just war of defence.

The domestic programme is limited to a few words: land to the tiller; workers’ control of production and distribution; and the arrest of the leaders of the bourgeois counter-revolution: ‘By seizing full power, the Soviets could still today – and this is probably their last chance – ensure the peaceful development of the revolution.’ It pains Lenin to give up this last chance. If it is allowed to escape: ‘The entire course of the development of the revolution … shows that there is bound to be the bitterest civil war …’ [102]

Something new is happening in the meantime. The soviets are changing. These strongholds of the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries are becoming Bolshevik. New majorities are forming in them. For the first time Bolshevik motions in the soviets are obtaining majorities, on 31 August in Petrograd and 6 September in Moscow. On 8 September the Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary Executives of these two Soviets are dismissed. On 25 September Trotsky is elected President of the Petrograd Soviet; the Bolshevik Nogin [103] is swept to the Presidency of the Moscow Soviet. On 26 September the Tashkent Soviet officially takes power. The troops of the Provisional Government take it back again … The red wave is rising and rising. The Germans have just occupied Riga, which the Lettish sharpshooters – a great number of them Bolsheviks – defended heroically. [104] It is feared in red Petrograd that the military, accused by public rumour of having sabotaged the defence of Riga in order to put the workers’ capital directly at risk, are betraying Petrograd to the Germans. The bourgeois press is zealously emphasising that it is impossible to defend Petrograd, and this is like an invitation addressed to the Kaiser’s generals …

The Signal

It is then, between 14 and 22 September, that Lenin addresses his famous letter to the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party, beginning with the words: ‘The Bolsheviks, having obtained a majority in the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies of both capitals, can and must take state power into their own hands.’ Only a Bolshevik government will satisfy the masses. ‘The majority of the people are on our side.‘ We must move quickly: the surrender of Petrograd to the Germans would make our chances a hundred times less favourable. The moment of the insurrection must be fixed by those who are in direct contact with the masses. Issue to the party the order of the day: the insurrection:

We must remember and weigh Marx’s words about insurrection, ‘Insurrection is an art’, etc. … By taking power both in Moscow and in Petrograd at once (it doesn’t matter which comes first, Moscow may possibly begin), we shall win absolutely and unquestionably. [105]

‘Absolutely and unquestionably’ – these last three words are underlined. The letter is in a laconic style: a signal, an order. It is written at one go, by a hand that doesn’t tremble in any way.

As Lenin was writing it, Kerensky was speaking to the Democratic Conference in Moscow, setting up a new coalition ministry with the bourgeoisie, and forming a Pre-Parliament … [106]

Marxism and Insurrection

Another letter to the Central Committee of the RSDLP follows this one during the same few days, dealing with Marxism and insurrection. Its importance, both theoretical and practical, has to be emphasised. Socialism had forgotten the principles it brings back to our notice for almost half a century, since the Paris Commune. Thus is accomplished, in summary form, in one well-balanced page, the most complete rectification of Socialism. Since the death of Marx nothing more vital, nothing more revolutionary, and nothing more simply impressive has ever been written than this page – and some of the following ones. So I make long quotations from it. At each stage it should be noticed how the careful analysis of facts precedes the practical demand taking its inspiration from an unshakable and firm conviction:

One of the most vicious and probably most widespread distortions of Marxism resorted to by the dominant ‘Socialist’ parties is the opportunist lie that preparation for insurrection, and generally the treatment of insurrection as an art, is ‘Blanquism’ … [107]

Marxists are accused of Blanquism for treating insurrection as an art! Can there be a more flagrant perversion of the truth, when not a single Marxist will deny that it was Marx who expressed himself on this score in the most definite, precise and categorical manner, referring to insurrection specifically as an art

To be successful, insurrection must rely not upon conspiracy and not upon a party, but upon the advanced class. That is the first point. Insurrection must rely upon a revolutionary upsurge of the people. That is the second point. Insurrection must rely upon that turning point in the history of the growing revolution when the activity of the advanced ranks of the people is at its height, and when the vacillations in the ranks of the enemy and in the ranks of the weak, half-hearted and irresolute friends of the revolution are strongest. That is the third point. And these three conditions for raising the question of insurrection distinguish Marxism from Blanquism.

All the necessary conditions are present at this time. It is the first time that this is the case. Lenin looks back over the progress so far, and explains why insurrection was not yet possible on 3-4 July:

1. We still did not have a majority among the workers and soldiers of Petrograd and Moscow. Now we have a majority in both Soviets. It was created solely by the history of July and August, by the experience of the ‘ruthless treatment’ meted out to the Bolsheviks, and by the experience of the Kornilov revolt.

2. There was no country-wide revolutionary upsurge at that time. There is now, after the Kornilov revolt; the situation in the provinces and assumption of power by the Soviets in many localities prove this.

3. At that time there was no vacillation on any serious political scale among our enemies and among the irresolute petit-bourgeoisie. Now the vacillation is enormous. Our main enemy, Allied and world imperialism (for world imperialism is headed by the ‘Allies’), has begun to waver between a war to a victorious finish and a separate peace directed against Russia. Our petit-bourgeois democrats, having clearly lost their majority among the people, have begun to vacillate enormously, and have rejected a bloc, that is, a coalition, with the Cadets.

4. Therefore, an insurrection on 3-4 July would have been a mistake; we could not have retained power either physically or politically. We could not have retained it physically even though Petrograd was at times in our hands, because at the time our workers and soldiers would not have fought and died for Petrograd. There was not at the time that ‘savageness’, or fierce hatred both of the Kerenskys and of the Tseretelis and Chernovs. Our people had still not been tempered by the experience of the persecution of the Bolsheviks in which the Socialist Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks participated.

We could not have retained power politically on 3-4 July because, before the Kornilov revolt, the army and the provinces could and would have marched against Petrograd. Now the picture is entirely different. We have the following of the majority of a class, the vanguard of the revolution, the vanguard of the people, which is capable of carrying the masses with it.

We have the following of the majority of the people, because Chernov’s resignation, while by no means the only symptom, is the most striking and obvious symptom that the peasants will not receive land from the Socialist Revolutionaries’ bloc (or from the Socialist Revolutionaries themselves) …

We are in the advantageous position of a party that knows for certain which way to go at a time when imperialism as a whole and the Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary bloc as a whole are vacillating in an incredible fashion.

Today, ‘the people are close to desperation’. We alone can save it:

Finally, our party alone can, by a victorious insurrection, save Petrograd; for if our proposal for peace is rejected, if we do not secure even an armistice, then we shall become ‘defencists’, we shall place ourselves at the head of the war parties, we shall be the war party par excellence, and we shall conduct the war in a truly revolutionary manner. We shall take away all the bread and boots from the capitalists. We shall leave them only crusts and dress them in bast shoes. [108] We shall send all the bread and footwear to the front. And then we shall save Petrograd.

The resources, both material and spiritual, for a truly revolutionary war in Russia are still immense; the chances are a hundred to one that the Germans will grant us at least an armistice. And to secure an armistice now would in itself mean to win the whole world.

Nor does Lenin ever content himself with indicating the broad general lines of action. His concrete insight looks at the precise detail. It is necessary to draw up a short declaration, he writes, as short and precise as possible, on why we have broken with the parties that have betrayed the revolution. It was to be read out at the Democratic Conference in Moscow [109], and then:

Having … appealed for decisions and not talk, for action and not resolution-writing, we must dispatch our entire group to the factories and the barracks. Their place is there, the pulse of life is there, there is the source of salvation for our revolution, and there is the motive force of the Democratic Conference …

In order to treat insurrection in a Marxist way, that is, as an art, we must at the same time, without losing a single moment, organise a headquarters of the insurgent detachments, distribute our forces, move the reliable regiments to the most important points, surround the Alexandrinsky Theatre, occupy the Peter and Paul Fortress, arrest the General Staff and the government, and move against the officer cadets and the Savage Division those detachments which would rather die than allow the enemy to approach the strategic points of the city. We must mobilise the armed workers and call them to fight the last desperate fight, occupy the telegraph and the telephone exchange at once, move our insurrection headquarters to the central telephone exchange and connect it by telephone with all the factories, all the regiments, all points of armed fighting, etc.

Of course, this is all by way of example, only to illustrate the fact that at the present moment it is impossible to remain loyal to Marxism, to remain loyal to the revolution unless insurrection is treated as an art. [110]

Towards State Capitalism

Perhaps during the same days in which he is writing his urgent letters as insurrectionary leader to the Central Committee of his party, Lenin is working on revising the Bolshevik programme. And the critical study he is writing upon this subject casts a striking light on the range of his thought. He has just given the signal for the march to battle. He remains determined, with overriding zeal, on commanding in action. But on his own in the worker’s room that serves him as a refuge, when he is thinking of the future of the revolutionary party, the coolest realism does not desert him for an instant. Here is proof of it. Bukharin and Sokolnikov [111] quite frankly proposed to drop the minimum programme of the party completely. ‘We have not yet won’, Lenin replied to them: ‘We do not know how soon after our victory revolution will sweep the West. We do not know whether or not our victory will be followed by temporary periods of reaction …’ [112]

Written at the same time, and confronted with an imminent economic débâcle, his pamphlet The Impending Catastrophe And How to Combat It explains the programme with which we are already acquainted – nationalisation of the banks and the capitalist monopolies, abolition of trade secrets, compulsory trade unionisation of industries and shops, rationing and the compulsory organisation of the population into consumer associations. In these pages we shall draw attention to the very clear sketch of the theory of state capitalism which Lenin was later to take up again vigorously in 1921, when inaugurating the New Economic Policy:

… given a really revolutionary-democratic state, state monopoly capitalism inevitably and unavoidably implies a step, and more than one step, towards Socialism! … For Socialism is merely the next step forward from state capitalist monopoly. Or, in other words, Socialism is merely state capitalist monopoly which is made to serve the interests of the whole people and has to that extent ceased to be capitalist monopoly. … it is impossible to advance from monopolies … without advancing towards Socialism …

The dialectics of history is such that the war, by extraordinarily expediting the transformation of monopoly capitalism into state monopoly capitalism, has thereby extraordinarily advanced mankind towards Socialism.

Imperialist war is the eve of Socialist revolution. And this is not only because the horrors of the war give rise to proletarian revolt – no revolt can bring about Socialism unless the economic conditions for Socialism are ripe – but because state monopoly capitalism is a complete material preparation for Socialism … [113]

The Contending Forces

Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power? Lenin wrote this pamphlet at the end of September. It is a model of sensible, close and coldly reasoned dialectics of convincing argumentation – with not a single rhetorical flourish, but an intelligent interpretation of the facts. It deals with force, and with arguments about force. ‘Take power? The Bolsheviks wouldn’t dare!’, the Petrograd Soviet had said. ‘I have already shouted out in reply to Tsereteli that we shall take the power’, says Lenin. And going over the arguments of the pessimists one by one, he refutes them.

The proletariat is not isolated. It has already won for itself the majority of the workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ soviets. This is how the votes of the soviets were distributed at the Moscow Democratic Conference organised by the Socialist Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks: For the coalition of the Socialist and bourgeois parties: workers’ and soldiers’ soviets, 83; peasants’ soviets, 102; total, 185. Against: workers’ and soldiers’ soviets, 192; peasants’ soviets, 70; total, 262. At a conference of the Executive Committees of the soviets held in Petrograd the results were the following: For the Socialist-bourgeois coalition, four provincial peasant soviets; for a purely Socialist coalition, three peasant and two army soviets. Against the coalition with the bourgeoisie, 23 provincial and four army soviets! Lenin notes that the rich provinces (Samara, Taurida and the Black Sea) are voting for. We shall note later that the Civil War there will be very severe. The industrial centres (Vladimir, Riazan, Kostroma and Moscow) also vote for. This is true: but our majority is strong. ‘The real live forces of the democracy are with us.’ What shall we do if we succeed?

Marx, basing himself upon the experience of the Paris Commune, taught that the proletariat cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machine and use it for its own purposes, that the proletariat must smash this machine and substitute a new one for it. [114]

Not all of the mechanism of the capitalist state has to be destroyed. On the contrary, some elements of it are called upon to render precious services to the revolution:

In addition to the chiefly ‘oppressive’ apparatus – the standing army, the police and the bureaucracy – the modern state possesses an apparatus which has extremely close connections with the banks and syndicates, an apparatus which performs an enormous amount of accounting and registration work, if it may be expressed this way. This apparatus must not, and should not, be smashed. It must be wrested from the control of the capitalists; the capitalists and the wires they pull must be cut off, lopped off, chopped away from this apparatus; it must be subordinated to the proletarian soviets; it must be expanded, made more comprehensive, and nation-wide. And this can be done by utilising the achievements already made by large-scale capitalism (in the same way as the proletarian revolution can, in general, reach its goal only by utilising these achievements).

Capitalism has created an accounting apparatus in the shape of the banks, syndicates, postal service, consumers’ societies, and office employees’ unions. Without big banks Socialism would be impossible. The big banks are the state apparatus which we need to bring about socialism, and which we take ready-made from capitalism … [115]

Will the Bolsheviks turn out to be lasting masters of the conquered state? One hundred and thirty thousand landowners governed Russia as absolute masters before the 1905 Revolution. The Bolsheviks are 240 000, and they have received one million votes. They are assured of the support of the active majority of the population. They will call upon the poor to take part in the management of the state. The workers themselves will control the distribution of food and industrial products. The vital force represented by the new power will be invincible … And let us not talk about the calamities of the civil war. Civil war has begun in the countryside through the fault of those who, not wanting the revolution, are refusing the peasants land. Such is Lenin’s argument. [116]

VIII: The Crisis Has Matured

THE Crisis has Matured, he writes on 7 October. Two facts prove this. One is the awakening of the international working-class movement: Liebknecht in Germany, Adler in Austria, and MacLean in Britain: ‘The prisons of Germany, France, Italy and Britain became filled with internationalists.’ There have been military mutinies in Germany. [117] ‘We are on the eve of a world-wide revolution.’ The other fact is the peasant insurrection in Russia itself:

In a peasant country, and under a revolutionary, republican government which enjoys the support of the Socialist Revolutionary and Menshevik parties that only yesterday dominated petit-bourgeois democracy, a peasant revolt is developing. Incredible as this is, it is a fact. [118]

The first fact proves that the Russian social revolution has come just in time. The second proves that the bankruptcy of the reformist parties is complete. The provinces of Tula, Tambov, Riazan and Kaluga are in revolt. The peasants, who were expecting peace and land from the revolution, have been disappointed, and are rising up, seizing the landlords’ harvests and burning their residences. ‘Destroying the peasant insurrection’, warns Lenin, ‘means killing off the revolution.’

The essentially peasant army has become nervous. For a long time they have no longer wanted to fight. The army in Finland and the Baltic fleet have declared against Kerensky. Out of 17,000 soldiers voting in Moscow, 14 000 vote for the Bolsheviks. There is even an increase in this tendency in the capitals. In the elections for the municipal duma in June, the Socialist Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks had obtained 70 per cent of the votes in Moscow. Now they have gone down to no more than 18 per cent. The Kadets, who are the big bourgeois, have grown stronger, going from 17 to 30 per cent. The votes in favour of the Bolsheviks leap from 34 000 to 82 000; they have obtained altogether 47 per cent. Thus there is a collapse of the parties of the centre and a reinforcement of the parties of the extreme right and the extreme left. It is an interlude between two dictatorships: ‘The crisis has matured. The whole future of the Russian Revolution is at stake … The whole future of the international workers’ revolution for Socialism is at stake.’ [119]

Procrastination Is Becoming a Crime

However, the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party is still hesitating in the face of its immense responsibilities. Some votes in it are cast against the insurrection. [120] Lenin, for whom discipline is always living, intelligent and never passive, goes down the road of indiscipline and directly addresses himself to the party committees of Moscow and Petrograd:

Dear Comrades!

Events are prescribing our task so clearly for us that procrastination is becoming positively criminal.

The peasant movement is developing. The government is intensifying its severe repressive measures. Sympathy for us is growing in the army (99 per cent of the soldiers’ votes were cast for us in Moscow, the army in Finland and the fleet are against the government) …

In Germany the beginning of a revolution is obvious, especially since the sailors were shot. The elections in Moscow – 47 per cent Bolsheviks – are a tremendous victory. Together with the Left Socialist Revolutionaries we have an obvious majority in the country.

The railway and postal employees are in conflict with the government. Instead of calling the congress for 20 October, the Lieber-Dans are already talking of calling it at the end of October, etc, etc.

Under such circumstances to ‘wait’ would be a crime.

The Bolsheviks have no right to wait for the Congress of Soviets, they must take power at once. By so doing they will save the world revolution (for otherwise there is danger of a deal between the imperialists of all countries, who, after the shootings in Germany, will be more accommodating to each other and will unite against us), the Russian Revolution (otherwise a wave of real anarchy may become stronger than we are) and the lives of hundreds and thousands of people at the front.

Delay is criminal. To wait for the Congress of Soviets would be a childish game of formalities, a disgraceful game of formalities, and a betrayal of the revolution.

If power cannot be achieved without insurrection, we must resort to insurrection at once. It may very well be that right now power can be achieved without insurrection, for example, if the Moscow Soviet were to take power at once, immediately, and proclaim itself (together with the Petrograd Soviet) the government. Victory in Moscow is guaranteed, and there is no need to fight. Petrograd can wait. The government cannot do anything to save itself; it will surrender. For, by seizing power and taking over the banks, the factories and Russkoye Slovo [121], the Moscow Soviet would secure a tremendous basis and tremendous strength, it would be able to campaign throughout Russia and raise the issue thus: we shall propose peace tomorrow if the Bonapartist Kerensky surrenders (and if he does not, we shall overthrow him). We shall hand over the land to the peasants at once, we shall make concessions to the railway and postal employees at once

It is not necessary to ‘begin’ with Petrograd. If Moscow ‘begins’ without any blood being shed, it will certainly be supported by 1) the army at the front by its sympathy, 2) the peasants everywhere, and 3) the fleet and the troops in Finland, which will proceed to Petrograd.

Even if Kerensky has a corps or two of mounted troops near Petrograd, he will be obliged to surrender. The Petrograd Soviet can wait and campaign for the Moscow Soviet government. The slogan is: Power to the Soviets, Land to the Peasants, Peace to the nations, Bread to the Starving!

Victory is certain, and the chances are 10 to one that it will be a bloodless victory.

To wait would be a crime to the revolution.

Greetings. [122]

On Insurrection Considered as an Art

On 8 October, in his Advice of an Onlooker, Lenin again sums up ‘the rules of insurrection, considered by Marx as an art’:

1. Never play at insurrection, but when beginning it realise firmly that you must go all the way.

2. Concentrate a great superiority of forces at the decisive point and at the decisive moment, otherwise the enemy, who has the advantage of better preparation and better organisation, will destroy the insurgents.

3. Once the insurrection has begun, you must act with the greatest determination, and by all means, without fail, take the offensive. ‘The defensive is the death of every armed rising.’

4. You must try to take the enemy by surprise and seize the moment when his forces are scattered.

5. You must strive for daily successes, however small (one might say hourly, if it is the case of one town) and at all costs retain ‘moral superiority’.

Marx summed up the lessons of all revolutions in respect to armed uprising in the words of ‘Danton, the greatest master of revolutionary policy yet known: de l’audace, de l’audace, encore l’audace’.

Applied to Russia and to October 1917, this means: a simultaneous offensive on Petrograd, as sudden and as rapid as possible, which must without fail be carried out from within and from without, from the working-class quarters and from Finland, from Reval and from Kronstadt, an offensive of the entire navy, the concentration of a gigantic superiority of forces over the 15 000 or 20 000 (perhaps more) of our ‘bourgeois guard’ (the officers’ schools), our ‘Vendée troops’ (part of the Cossacks), etc.

Our three main forces – the fleet, the workers, and the army units – must be so combined as to occupy without fail and to hold at any cost: a) the telephone exchange; b) the telegraph office; c) the railway stations; d) and above all, the bridges.

The most determined elements (our shock forces and young workers, as well as the best of the sailors) must be formed into small detachments to occupy all the more important points and to take part everywhere in all important operations, for example: to encircle and cut off Petrograd; to seize it by a combined attack of the sailors, the workers, and the troops – a task which requires art and triple audacity; to form detachments from the best workers, armed with rifles and bombs, for the purpose of attacking and surrounding the enemy’s ‘centres’ (the officers’ schools, the telegraph office, the telephone exchange, etc.). Their watchword must be: ‘Better to die a man than let the enemy pass!’

Let us hope that if action is decided on, the leaders will successfully apply the great precepts of Danton and Marx.

The success of both the Russian and the world revolution depends on two or three days’ fighting. [123]

On 10 October the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party votes for the immediate preparation of the insurrection by 10 votes to two. The preparation is entrusted to a Political Bureau made up of Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Stalin, Kamenev, Sokolnikov and Bubnov. [124]

Overcoming Hesitations

On 16-17 October comes a new, very long and very persuasive Letter to Comrades, in order to put an end to the hesitations of some of them. At a meeting of the Petrograd Bolsheviks two prominent party militants had opposed the proposal for an immediate insurrection. [125] Lenin repeats and refutes each of the arguments of these ‘sad pessimists’. This seems to be the most serious of them to me: ‘We are becoming stronger every day. We can enter the Constituent Assembly as a strong opposition; why should we stake everything?’ Thus speaks the old Social Democratic gentleman who still lies dormant deep in the consciousness of some Bolsheviks. As if ‘waiting for the Constituent Assembly’ would ‘solve either the question of famine or the question of surrendering Petrograd’ to the Germans! ‘The famine will not wait. The peasant uprising did not wait. The war will not wait. The admirals who have disappeared did not wait …’

‘“Were the Kornilovites to start again, we should show them! But why should we take risks and start?” … And what if the Kornilovites of the second draft will have learned a thing or two?’, replies Lenin:

What if they wait for the hunger riots to begin, for the front to be broken through, for Petrograd to be surrendered, before they begin? … There is no power on earth apart from the power of a victorious proletarian revolution that would advance from complaints and begging and tears to revolutionary action. [126]

And revolutionary action will provide bread. The bourgeoisie will not provide any.

The party no longer discusses anything other than the details of the uprising. Trotsky, fearing that a seizure of power by the party would be received with less sympathy by the masses, insists on linking it with the All-Russian Congress of Soviets on 25 October. Lenin pushes for a decision. Taking up arms on a fixed date means leaving too much scope to the enemy. The action decided on reconciles the two points of view: The uprising will take place on the day of the Congress, but early in the morning, whereas the Soviets will only begin to discuss in the evening, to the sound of shooting.

The last article of Lenin’s to appear before the October Revolution has as its title The Social-Revolutionary Party Cheats the Peasants Once Again, which appeared in The Workers Road of 24-25 October, the same day as the insurrection. In it Lenin notes that the Socialist Revolutionary minister S.L. Maslov [127] has just published the draft of an agrarian law that allows private property in land to remain, and imposes upon the peasants the landlords’ right to rent. In these conditions only part of the private estates would make up a pool of land to lease: ‘The peasants must know that it is only the workers’ party, the Bolsheviks, who are prepared to stand to the last for the interests of the poor peasants and all working people against the capitalists and the landowners.’ [128]

Within two or three days a decree of the Council of Peoples’ Commissars will declare the land the property of the nation of the workers.

On 26 October, the day after the victory in Petrograd, the All-Russian Congress of Soviets – from which the Right Socialist Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks have demonstratively walked out [129] – adopts the two great decrees on peace and land. The decree on peace proposes to all the warring peoples an immediate peace without either annexations or indemnities. The Soviets proclaim peace to the world. The decree on land abolishes private property without compensation. The peasant soviets are ordered to go ahead and confiscate it.

IX: The Left SRs and the Anarchists on 24 October

THE Petrograd uprising takes place on 25 October, old style. [130] Since it is impotent, Kerensky’s Provisional Government puts up almost no resistance to it. For a few hours a women’s battalion defends it. At the first shells fired on the Winter Palace by the cruiser Aurora, which had come up the Neva from Kronstadt, the trembling ministers surrender. They go off to join other ministers, those of the Tsar, in the prison of the Peter-Paul Fortress. Kerensky has taken flight. A very lively battle lasts for a few days in Moscow and ends in the complete victory of the workers and soldiers over the military schools, the students, the bourgeois element and the Right Socialist Revolutionaries.

We have recorded Lenin’s activity day after day. We have watched him guide his party to revolution with a sure step and an imperious gesture. It now seems to us to be self-evident that at this time, amid the revolutionary turmoil and the rapid decay of bourgeois society, that Lenin alone combines a clarity of vision about what is possible with a firm will. [131] This was proved in the event by his striking success. But there are other arguments for us to take up, because they throw into implacable relief the superiority of the revolutionary Marxist over the Left Socialist Revolutionaries and the Anarchists, his brothers-in-arms in October 1917.

Some days before the October Revolution Kamkov, Nathanson and Schreider [132], the leaders of the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, told Trotsky that they would not support the insurrection. Mstislavsky, the excellent Socialist Revolutionary writer, who is one of our best comrades today, has explained in his book Five Days why the Left Socialist Revolutionaries did not want a violent seizure of power at this time. They envisaged the soviet system as ‘essentially anti-political, anti-statist’. In order to achieve this they intended to allow the old bourgeois state to come to an end and decompose of its own accord; their intention was not to take power so as not to be forced to reconstruct the state. [133] We can see how far they were in their revolutionary romanticism from the clear-sighted Jacobinism of Lenin. For no successful defence of the revolution, whether external or internal, is possible without a strong and centralised power.

As for the Anarchists, no less romantic but much more disorientated, they reached the height of confusion. Many went off to fight at the side of the Bolsheviks in the streets of Petrograd and Moscow. Some, like old doctor Atabekian, Kropotkin’s faithful friend [134], were to weep passively over the horrors of civil war. The most authoritative group, in the sense that it was the only one to possess any semblance of doctrine, a valuable collection of militants [135] and a widely distributed journal, Golos Truda, which at one time competed with Pravda in the factories of Petrograd, two or three days before the October Revolution published a declaration which I deeply regret to have to quote here from memory (the original must be in my possession somewhere). [136] The Anarcho-Syndicalists, so it said, foresaw that the uprising could only end in the formation of a new power. Since they were opponents of any power, they would abstain to begin with. But if the toiling masses followed the movement, they themselves would follow the toiling masses … A more complete and pitiful political abdication would be hard to imagine.

Thus the October Revolution, of which Lenin was the organiser and the brains, was essentially very much the work of the Bolsheviks.

The Realist and the Realiser

We have followed Lenin’s thought and activity from the eve of his departure from Zürich to the formation, in the deconsecrated monastery of Smolny – previously a school for the daughters of the nobility – of the Council of Peoples’ Commissars, of which he remained President until his death. From this study, doubtless far too short, for want of wider conclusions which would necessitate a far more extensive work, we can attempt to draw out the most obvious traits of his formidable personality.

We have already observed that he had none of the psychological defects common to the intellectual. Pure theory he rejects. His thought is the beginning, rule and guide to action. His theory is light projected onto the facts, by the dialectical method of scientific reasoning, for action. Or rather, his theory is the expression of the facts, not at all mechanical, and vital (that is, intelligent and active), anticipating in a brilliant synthesis the possible over the real and the willed over the necessary. Lenin is no writer: he only writes out of necessity, exactly what is needed for daily activity, with no more regard for form or style than is absolutely necessary to attain his aim: to convince, to clarify, to refute, to dissuade, or to discredit, as the case may be. His style, bereft of any literary pretensions, has the simple straightforwardness of the spoken word. He launches his arguments forcefully. He repeats them, he obstinately drives them home. You feel that there is always a double internal compulsion in him: that of conviction and that of the drive that completely propels him into action. Lenin, so intransigent a Marxist, is no dogmatist. For is not dogma always the resort of cowardly or weak spirits, incapable of adapting themselves to reality? Now Lenin’s realism is such that a formula that was true yesterday would not keep him under any illusion today if the facts had changed even a little. Formulae never prevent him from seeing reality, a very common defect amongst doctrinaires. To his sense of reality is added an inexhaustible reservoir of good sense which makes old Ilyich the only one who at no point ever loses his head when even the best of those around him get worked up, exaggerate, despair, get tired … And the application he makes of revolutionary Marxism is sufficient to prove how alien the Communist method is to any dogmatism. Lenin is powerfully balanced. We might in passing comment upon his vigour and physical endurance. The job of a revolutionary leader is very hard. In the most precarious of material conditions in 1917 Lenin succeeded in a task of which the 850 pages in Volume 14 of his Collected Works only give us a faint indication. I said that he slept for many days in the haystacks of Sestroretsk. But his internal equilibrium is even more striking, being neither rash nor faint-hearted, but of the greatest boldness when it is necessary. His resistance to all deviations may be passive, moderate or crushing. He has an astonishing self-confidence that is like being aware that he is a genius. From 1914 to 1917, Lenin, the only indomitable revolutionary Marxist in the international Socialist movement, struggles against the current of frenetic patriotism. During the July Days he holds back revolutionary impatience. After Kornilov he proposes compromise. But when the hour comes, he gives the signal for the utmost audacity; and, alone for weeks, every day, untiringly, he cries to his party: It is time to act! Time to act!

The Historians Will Not Have to Lie

Lenin’s Marxist dialectic is a rigorously scientific method of investigation of the social facts to serve as a basis for a method of revolutionary activity, to understand the world in order to change it. Lenin is by nature scientific: his knowledge of social facts, the relations between them, their extent and their causes, is profound. But for him knowledge is only a means to predict, and, through foresight, to act. The greater part of his scholarly predictions have been confirmed by events. He foresaw the role of the proletariat in the Russian Revolution from 1905 onwards. He foresaw the imperialist war from the International Socialist Congress in Stuttgart onwards. He foresaw the revolutions to which the war was going to give birth from 1914 on. He understood the tremendous possibilities, and the limits, of the Russian Revolution when it had hardly begun, in March 1917. Only foresight and will were mingled to such an extent with him, that we often ask when studying the events which of these elements prevails: What are the respective parts played in Lenin’s striking historical success by social necessity and revolutionary action? He triumphed because, as a precise investigator armed with the best of intellectual disciplines, he knew how to discover the ways that history had to follow. But on these ways he made himself the active, intelligent, skilful and willing instrument of history. All technique makes skilful use of some forces of nature against some others. Lenin’s revolutionary technique gave to the Russian proletariat and peasantry a victory that was in no way inevitable.

Plutarch has lied … M. Jean de Pierrefeu, [137] who for several bloody years applied himself to elaborating the official lies of the war, and ended up understanding how base were the glories of that great slaughter, has created witty variations on this theme: the General Staffs did not know how to predict anything, and didn’t know how to achieve what they attempted to foresee; illustrious generals won battles in spite of themselves, or without knowing it; Marshal Foch only succeeded by forgetting all he had ever taught at military school; the plans were never applied, nor were the tactics followed; the wisest captains, in their misunderstanding of modern war, were bent on hoping for the impossible (the theory of the offensive, etc.). We knew without M. Pierrefeu that the heroes of the bourgeoisie in its decline (in other words, its most representative men) had to embody all the lying and all the decadence of their class. But it is a good opportunity for us to contrast with these wretched decorated and celebrated men who are the Great War’s victors or vanquished the first hero of the proletarian revolution, simple old Ilyich. The historian who will create Lenin’s history will not have to lie in order to make him greater.

Lenin won the battle for which he had prepared himself for 15 years. [138] Lenin won it only by remaining faithful to his teaching, thanks to his foresight, his intelligence, and the effectiveness of his methods. To be yet more precise, the October victory is due only to the strict application of the tactics and plans he had thought up since March. In contrast with the absurd strategists of the imperialist war, who never stopped searching for an impossible military conclusion (the Austro-Germans at Verdun, for example, or the Allies in Champagne) [139], the first great strategist of the revolution, far from desiring the impossible, has given us a magisterial lesson in realism, and warned us against exaggerated hopes.

The Strength of Unity

Lenin is all of a piece. The unity of his personality has something terrible about it. To a great extent his power has certainly been the power of unity. [140]

From head to toe, square shouldered, sturdy, sure of himself, slightly rough, with a positive, obstinate mocking and familiar gaze, he was a man who in his words, his gestures and his style showed, and did so completely, that his thought was identical with his activity. When he argued, his two fists hammered home the obvious truth that his eyes had planted in the eyes of the crowd, and that his books and life had printed on their minds. When he was attacking, he launched himself completely against his opponent; his argument, mingled with hatred and contempt, ended in invective. His thought was always animated by a sort of physical violence; the word became a blow, and the phrase knocked you out or illuminated.

His thought, expanded in the course of 30 years into 24 compact volumes, shows the same invincible unity as his personality and his life. From 1903 to 1905, 1914, 1917, 1921, everything stands, and is connected and arranged in a development without significant deviations. To start off with he formed the ‘centralised’ party, the sole party of the revolution, ‘entirely iron-cast in one piece’, according to an expression dear to the Russians. Then he marched towards the revolution as yet invisible in the mists of the future, going quietly along repeating across the wastes of Switzerland, ‘turn the imperialist war into a civil war’; then he led his party in the Russian Revolution, the first stage of the world revolution that will restore unity to the world … The man himself, his entire life, his entire thought, his entire activity, and all his historic work made up an incredible unity.

This giant, hewn from a single block of the most powerful human material, stands for all time as a landmark for the future.

March-April 1924


1. V.I. Lenin, The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government, March-April 1918, Collected Works, Volume 26, Moscow 1977, p. 274.

2. Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929) was Prime Minister of France, and a most ardent supporter of war to the finish during the First World War. General Robert-Georges Nivelle (1856-1924) was responsible for initiating the attempt at a French breakthrough on the Western Front at Chemin des Dames. He was dismissed from his post for his failure on 15 May 1917. The Chemin des Dames offensive with 1.2 million soldiers began on 16 April 1917 on a 50-mile front, and ground to a halt on 5 May with losses of one out of every 10 men. General Haig’s Flanders offensive began on 17 June 1917 and ended in mid-November, by which time the British had lost 300,000 and the Germans 260,000 men. The German General Falkenhayn attempted to bleed the French army white by a massive artillery and infantry attack on Verdun between 21 February and 21 June 1916. German losses amounted to 400,000, and French ones to 500,000. When it failed, Falkenhayn was relieved of his command on 29 August. The Battle of Cambrai, in which the British army penetrated the German lines for the first time with a massive attack of 200 tanks between 20 November and 7 December 1917, caused the loss of some 45,000 men on each side.

3. Germany declared unrestricted submarine warfare on 31 January 1917.

4. The USA entered the war on 6 April 1917.

5. At the Battle of Caporetto (24 October-12 November 1917) the Austrians and Germans broke through the Italian lines and cost the Italian army some 320 000 casualties. A full-scale invasion of Italy was finally halted on a line between Monte Pasubio and the River Piave.

6. For the persecution of British conscientious objectors during the First World War, cf. Ken Weller, Don’t Be a Soldier!, London 1985, and for the treatment of the French anti-war movement, cf. Alfred Rosmer, Le Mouvement ouvrier pendant la guerre, Paris 1936.

7. The Tsarist autocracy was overthrown by a popular insurrection in February 1917; its last strong figure had been the dissolute monk Gregory Efimovich Rasputin (Novykh, 1864-1916), murdered by Prince Yusupov and others shortly before the Tsar fell from power.

8. Lenin’s elder brother Alexander Ulyanov was hanged in May 1887 for his part in a conspiracy against the life of Tsar Alexander III (1881-94).

9. The Seventh International Socialist Congress was held at Stuttgart on 18-24 August 1907. Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) defended the revolutionary content of Marxism when the old leaders of the German SPD abandoned it to support their government in the First World War. Gustave Hervé (1871-1944) had previously been a leader of the left wing of French Socialism, but became a chauvinist during the First World War.

10. The Zimmerwald Conference in Switzerland was an international meeting of left-wing Socialists who opposed the First World War. Its manifesto was written by Trotsky.

11. Serge is referring here to the first Russian language edition of Lenin’s Collected Works, which was assembled under the editorship of Kamenev (note 12). The second edition of 31 volumes was published during 1930-35. The third edition was a straight reprint of it. The fourth edition of 35 volumes was published during the 1940s, with volumes 36 to 45 being published after Khrushchev’s Secret Speech of 1956. The English language edition of 45 volumes used in this article is a translation of this edition. The fifth Russian edition of 55 volumes appeared during the Khrushchev era. A sixth edition was being mooted in the late 1980s, but was abandoned with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

12. Lev Borisovich Kamenev (Rosenfeld, 1883-1936) was one of the Bolshevik leaders responsible for the initial support of the party’s St Petersburg branch for the Provisional Government. Along with Zinoviev, he opposed the Bolshevik seizure of power, and sided with Stalin after Lenin’s death, but then worked with Trotsky in the Joint Opposition. Capitulating to Stalin in 1927, he was executed along with Zinoviev after the first Moscow trial.

13. V.I. Lenin, The Collapse of the Second International, June 1915, Collected Works, Volume 21, Moscow 1977, pp213-4.

14. Sir George William Buchanan (1854-1924) was British Ambassador in Russia from 1910 to 1918. Russia still adhered to the old style (Julian) calendar until 1918. It was 13 days behind the new style (Gregorian) calendar at that time. Hence, according to the Western calendar, the February and October Revolutions occurred in March and November.

15. Pavel Nikolaevich Milyukov (1859-1943) was leader of the Cadet Party and Foreign Minister in the first Provisional Government; Aleksandr Ivanovich Guchkov (1862-1936), a member of the extreme right Octobrists, was Minister of War in the same government. Nicholas II Romanov (1894-1917) was the last of the Tsars, being overthrown by the February Revolution.

16. General Anton Ivanovich Denikin (1872-1947) was commander of the Russian south-western front during the First World War, and afterwards leader of the White army in the same area after the October Revolution.

17. Prince Georgi E. Lvov (1861-1925), a member of the Cadet Party, was the first Prime Minister of the Provisional Government. Alexander Fyodorovich Kerensky (1881-1970) was first of all Minister of Justice, then War Minister and finally the Prime Minister of the Provisional Government.

18. The Bund was the general organisation of the Jewish workers of the Tsarist Empire. Founded in 1897, it played a pioneering role in the formation of Russian Social Democracy. Julius Osipovich Martov (Tsederbaum, 1873-1923) was the leader of the Internationalists, the left wing of the Mensheviks in 1917.

19. Fritz Platten (1883-1942) was a Swiss Socialist who supported Lenin and later became a leading member of the Communist International.

20. Paul Levi (1883-1930) was a supporter of the Spartakusbund and later leader of the German Communist Party. Cf. Revolutionary History, Volume 5, no. 2, Spring 1994. Henri Guilbeaux (1885-1938) was a French revolutionary Syndicalist during the First World War, and a supporter of Zimmerwald, but he became a right-winger in later life. Fernand Loriot (1870-1932) was a left-wing Socialist and trade union leader during the First World War, later International Secretary of the French Communist Party, and for a brief period a supporter of the Left Opposition. Mieczysław G. Bronski (Warshawsky, 1882-1941) was a friend of Lenin and a member of the Social Democratic Party of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania, the party of Rosa Luxemburg. Carl Lindhagen (1860-1946) was a Swedish Social Democrat and internationalist during the First World War, who joined the Communist International in 1919, but was expelled from the Swedish Communist Party two years later for opposing the decisions of the Second World Congress, after which he rejoined the Social Democrats. Frederik Ström (1880-1948) was General Secretary of the Swedish Social Democratic Party, an internationalist during the First World War, and the first General Secretary of the Communist Party after it. He resigned from the party in 1926 and returned to the Social Democracy. Ture Nerman (1886-1969) was a Swedish journalist and prominent left-wing Social Democrat. Karl Kilbom (1885-1961) was an internationalist and leader of the Socialist Youth in Sweden, and later a leader of the Swedish Communist Party. Cf. Revolutionary History, Volume 5, no. 2, Spring 1994, pp. 102-3, n4. Arvid Gilbert Hansen (1984-1966) was the Chairman of the Norwegian Social Democratic youth in 1917. He joined the Norwegian Communist Party in 1923, became a candidate member of the Executive Committee of the Communist International, was an advocate of ultra-left politics during the Third Period, and was expelled from the party in 1949.

21. V.I. Lenin, Report on the Current Situation, 24 April (7 May) 1917, Collected Works, Volume 24, Moscow 1964, p. 238. Georgi Valentinovich Plekhanov (1856-1918) was the pioneer of Marxism in Russia, who passed over to the side of the Entente during the First World War and became a virulent defencist. Karl Liebknecht (1871-1919) was a prominent left-wing German Socialist who opposed the First World War, a founder of the German Communist Party, and was murdered by the Freikorps.

22. V.I. Lenin, Farewell Letter to the Swiss Workers, 26 March (8 April) 1917, Collected Works, Volume 23, Moscow 1964, pp371-2. Serge refers to a speech by Lenin in October 1922:

We must bear in mind that compared with all the countries where fierce capitalist competition is raging, where there are millions and tens of millions of unemployed, and where the capitalists are forming vast combinations and are launching an offensive against the working class – if we compare ourselves with those countries, we are the least cultured, our productivity of labour is the lowest, and we are the least efficient … we are exerting more efforts than any other country to rectify this, we shall succeed in catching up with these countries faster than they ever dreamed possible. This will not be done with fantastic speed, of course it will naturally take us several years of laborious effort to achieve it. (V.I. Lenin, ‘Speech at the Fourth Session of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee, Ninth Convocation’, 9 October 1922, Collected Works, Volume 33, Moscow 1966, pp. 391-2)

23. Lenin said at the end of October 1921:

We have consummated the bourgeois-democratic revolution as nobody had done before. We are advancing towards the Socialist revolution consciously, firmly and unswervingly, knowing that it is not separated from the bourgeois-democratic revolution by a Chinese Wall, and knowing too that (in the last analysis) struggle alone will determine how far we shall advance, what part of this immense and lofty task we shall accomplish, and to what extent we shall succeed in consolidating our victories. [Author’s note] V.I. Lenin, On the Fourth Anniversary of the October Revolution, Pravda, 18 October 1921, Collected Works, Volume 33, pp. 51-2.

24. V.I. Lenin, Letters from Afar, no. 1, 7 (20) March 1917, Collected Works, Volume 23, pp. 298, 299-300, 304, 307-8.

25. Grigorii Yevesyevich Zinoviev (Radomyslsky, 1883-1936) was a Bolshevik leader, co-author with Lenin of Socialism and War, and an opponent of the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917. Along with Kamenev, he sided first with Stalin and then with Trotsky, capitulated to Stalin in 1927, and was executed after the first Moscow Trial.

26. An exit for the Russian fleet from the Black Sea through the Bosphorus (the Dardanelles) had long been a goal of Russian foreign policy.

27. V.I. Lenin, The Tasks of the Proletariat in the Present Revolution, 4 (17) April 1917, Collected Works, Volume 24, pp. 22-5. Yedinstvo (Unity) was the daily paper edited by Plekhanov in 1917 which supported the First World War and the Provisional Government.

28. V.I. Lenin, Letters on Tactics, no. 1, 8 (21) April 1917, Collected Works, Volume 24, p. 52.

29. V.I. Lenin, Blancism, Pravda, 8 (21) April 1917, Collected Works, Volume 24, p. 37. Blancism takes its name from the French Socialist Louis Blanc (1811-82), who advocated compromise with the bourgeoisie as opposed to class struggle against it.

30. V.I. Lenin, The Dual Power, Pravda, 9 (22) April 1917, Collected Works, Volume 24, p. 40. The English translation substitutes Blancism for Blanquism, but we have corrected it here. For Blanquism, cf. note 107 below.

31. V.I. Lenin, The Dual Power, Collected Works, Volume 24, p39.

32. Nikolai Semyonovich Chkeidze (1864-1926) was the Menshevik Chairman of the Petrograd Soviet in 1917 and a supporter of the Provisional Government. Irakli Georgevich Tsereteli (1881-1960) was a Menshevik leader, and a member of the Provisional Government. Yuri Steklov (Nakhamkes, 1873-1937) was on the Executive Committee of the Soviet after February 1917 as a ‘non-party’ revolutionary who attempted to reconcile the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, before passing over to the Bolsheviks after the October Revolution.

33. N.N. Sukhanov (Nikolai Nikolayevich Himmer, 1882-1931?), Zapiski o Revolutsii, seven volumes, Moscow 1922. An abridged English version translated by Joel Carmichael, The Russian Revolution 1917, was first published by Oxford University Press in 1955.

34. V.I. Lenin, The Tasks of the Proletariat in Our Revolution, Collected Works, Volume 24, p. 61.

35. Op. cit., p. 68.

36. Op. cit., p. 85.

37. Op. cit., p. 85. Jean Longuet (1876-1938) was the grandson of Karl Marx, and leader of a pacifist minority in the French Socialist Party during the First World War which refused to break with the chauvinist majority. Georg Ledebour (1850-1947) was a supporter of the Zimmerwald Conference and a founder of the German USPD, but he opposed the fusion of that party with the German Communists. Hugo Haase (1863-1919) was a member of the centre faction of the German SPD during the First World War, and afterwards a leader of the USPD.

38. Grand Duke Mikhail Aleksandrovich (1878-1918) was the brother of Nicholas II, and would have succeeded him after he signed the instrument of abdication, but he was obliged himself to abdicate a few days later.

39. V.I. Lenin, The War and the Provisional Government, Pravda, 13 April 1917, Collected Works, Volume 24, p114.

40. The Liberty Loan was a government scheme to raise money for continuing the war, which was endorsed by leaders of the Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionaries in the Petrograd Soviet. The Rabochaya Gazeta (Workers Gazette) was the Menshevik daily in 1917; Zemlya i Volya (Land and Liberty) was the daily paper of the SRs; and Volya Naroda (Peoples Will) was a daily published in Petrograd by the right wing of the SRs.

41. V.I. Lenin, The Provisional Government’s Note, Pravda, 20 April (3 May) 1917, Collected Works, Volume 24, pp. 189-91.

42. V.I. Lenin, Honest Defencism Reveals Itself, Pravda, 22 April (5 May) 1917, Collected Works, Volume 24, p. 206.

43. V.I. Lenin, Lessons of the Crisis, Pravda, 23 April (6 May) 1917, Collected Works, Volume 24, p. 216.

44. V.I. Lenin, How a Simple Question Can Be Confused, Pravda, 23 April (6 May) 1917, Collected Works, Volume 24, p. 219.

45. V.I. Lenin, A Proletarian Militia, Pravda, 20 April (3 May) 1917, Collected Works, Volume 24, pp. 179-82.

46. Matvei Ivanovich Skobelev (1885-1939) was a leading Menshevik who had been a member of the Duma. He joined the Bolsheviks in 1922. Vladimir Mikhailovich Chernov (1876-1952) was the founder and leader of the SRs, and Minister of Agriculture in Kerensky’s government.

47. V.I. Lenin, Foolish Gloating, Pravda, 25 April (8 May) 1917, Collected Works, Volume 24, pp. 223-4.

48. V.I. Lenin, Resolution on the Question of Revising the Party Programme, Soldatskaya Pravda, 3 (16) May 1917, Collected Works, Volume 24, p. 280.

49. V.I. Lenin, Resolution on the National Question, Soldatskaya Pravda, 3 (16) May 1917, Collected Works, Volume 24, p. 302.

50. V.I. Lenin, Resolution on the Current Situation, Soldatskaya Pravda, 3 (16) May 1917, Collected Works, Volume 24, p. 311.

51. V.I. Lenin, Resolution on the Agrarian Question, Soldatskaya Pravda, 3 (16) May 1917, Collected Works, Volume 24, pp. 291, 293.

52. V.I. Lenin, A Basic Question, Pravda, 21 April (4 May) 1917, Collected Works, Volume 24, pp. 192-5.

53. Andrei Ivanovich Shingarev (1869-1918), a member of the Cadets, was Minister of Agriculture in Prince Lvov’s government and Minister of Finance under Kerensky.

54. One desyatin equals 1.09 hectares or 2.7 acres.

55. V.I. Lenin, An Open Letter to the Delegates of the All-Russian Congress of Peasants’ Delegates, 7 May (published 11 (24) May) 1917, Collected Works, Volume 24, p. 371.

56. V.I. Lenin, Speech on the Agrarian Question, 22 May (4 June) 1917, Collected Works, Volume 24, p. 504.

57. V.I. Lenin, An Open Letter to the Delegates of the All-Russian Congress of Peasants’ Delegates, Collected Works, Volume 24, p. 373.

58. The signs of analogous happenings could be observed in ‘red’ Saxony and Thuringia in September-October-November 1923. The bosses closed the factories, halted production, and deliberately created a famine in order to put the brake on the development of the political movement of the workers, or to provoke a premature social conflict. [Author’s note]

59. V.I. Lenin, Speech on the Agrarian Question, Collected Works, Volume 24, p. 495.

60. V.I. Lenin, A Strong Revolutionary Government, Pravda, 6 (19) May 1917, Collected Works, Volume 24, p. 361.

61. V.I. Lenin, Impending Debâcle, Pravda, 14 (27) May 1917, Collected Works, Volume 24, p. 397.

62. Nikolai Nikolayevich Kutler (1859-1924) had previously been a deputy in the Duma, and was a Kadet minister in the Provisional Government.

63. There were no end of insanities written at the time about the nature of Bolshevik agitation in the army. The peasant soldier did not want to fight any more, and that is a fact; he was quite simply thinking of going home … But as for the Bolsheviks, they held to a firm revolutionary language: ‘Demand … all powers to the Councils of Workers and Soldiers! Immediate proposals for peace without annexations and indemnities to all peoples and all governments …! The confiscation of all war profits! No mutinies, but conscious revolutionary action! So long as the present government is supported by the majority of the people, you have to obey it …! Do not exhaust your strength in mutinies …!’ This good, intelligent and firm language is that of Krylenko’s manifesto to the Eleventh Army. [Author’s note] – Nikolai Vasilyevich Krylenko (1885-1937) was later Minister of Justice in the Bolshevik government.

64. V.I. Lenin, The Turning Point, Pravda 13 (26) June 1917, Collected Works, Volume 25, Moscow 1964, p. 83. General Louis Eugene Cavaignac (1802-1887) was notorious for the brutality with which he slaughtered the French workers in 1848.

65. Lavr Georgevich Kornilov (1870-1920) attempted to march on Petrograd, overthrow the Provisional Government, and annihilate the Bolsheviks during August 1917. For his subsequent career, cf. note 96 below.

66. Cf. V.I. Lenin, The Class Origins of Present-Day and “Future” Cavaignacs, Pravda, 16 (29) June 1917, Collected Works, Volume 25, pp. 93-6. The Mensheviks’ statement about Cavaignac is cited by Lenin from their Rabochaya Gazeta.

67. The villa of the ex-Tsarist minister P.N. Durnovo (1845-1915) had been abandoned, and then occupied by Anarchist-Communists. By the time the state decided to intervene and eject them, numbers of workers’ organisations, such as the Bakers Union, were using it as a headquarters.

68. V.I. Lenin, Can “Jacobinism” Frighten the Working Class?, Pravda, 24 June (7 July) 1917, Collected Works, Volume 25, p. 121.

69. V.I. Lenin, The Need for an Agricultural Labourers’ Union in Russia, Pravda, 25 June (8 July) 1917, Collected Works, Volume 25, pp. 125-6.

70. V.I. Lenin, Speech on the War, 9 (22) June 1917, Collected Works, Volume 25, p. 38.

71. The Party of the Constitutional Democrats, or Kadets, was founded in 1905 by Paul Milyukov. Not only did the Kadets oppose autonomy for Ukraine, the Menshevik-SR leadership of the Petrograd Soviet declared: ‘The revolutionary democracy of Russia stands for the indivisibility of the state … to demand the immediate realisation of all the points of the national programme indicates the inability to make intelligent use of the … revolution … with the result that the country will be no better off than at the start.’

72. Matilda Kshesinskaya (1872-1971) was the greatest ballet dancer of her day, and a former mistress of the Tsar. Her house was commandeered as the Bolshevik headquarters in Petrograd in 1917.

73. Mikhail Lashevich (1884-1928) was a Bolshevik junior officer during the war who won his regiment over to the revolution. He later sided with the Left Opposition. V.N. Kuraiev (1888-1939) was the Bolshevik worker who hid Lenin in 1917. He was later a supporter of the Left-Centre Opposition of Zinoviev and Kamenev.

74. William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806) was Prime Minister of Britain, and a fierce opponent of the French Revolution and Napoleon, paying writers to produce propaganda against them.

75. Nikolai Ivanovich Zhordansky (1876-1928) was a Menshevik and a defencist during the First World War who offered to testify at the trial of the Bolshevik Duma deputies in 1915. He made his peace with the Soviet regime in 1921 and worked for the state publishing house. Aleksandr Dmitriyevich Protopopov (1866-1918) was a protégé of Rasputin and Tsarist Minister of the Interior during the First World War.

76. The Cheka arrested the forger Alexinsky in 1918. Soon at liberty, he even became a Soviet functionary, and succeeded in crossing over to Estonia during Yudenich’s offensive. This pathetic ‘Socialist’, one of Wrangel’s propagandists, continues to serve the Russian counter-revolution in the bourgeois press. He provides the Mercure de France in particular with its Russian reports. [Author’s note] – Grigory Alexeyevich Alexinsky (1879-?) became an extreme social patriot during the First World War; Nikolai Nikolayevich Yudenich (1862-1933) and Baron Petr Wrangel (1878-1928) were White generals who led armies against the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War.

77. Polemicising against Martov, Lenin was to write on this subject again on 19 August: ‘Before 4 July … to transfer full power to the then existing Soviets … could have been done peacefully, without civil war, because there had been no systematic acts of violence against the masses, against the people …’, etc. [Author’s note] – V.I. Lenin, They Do Not See the Wood for the Trees, Proletary, 19 August (1 September) 1917, Collected Works, Volume 25, pp. 252-3.

78. V.I. Lenin, On Slogans, mid-July 1917, Collected Works, Volume 25, pp. 185-9. The reference to Engels is to The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Moscow, pp. 281-2: ‘This public power exists in every state; it consists not merely of armed people but also of material adjuncts, prisons and institutions of coercion of all kinds.’

79. Nikolai Dmitriyevich Avksentiev (1878-1943) was a right-wing SR leader and Minister of the Interior in the Provisional Government. Mikhail Ivanovich Tereshchenko (1888-1958) was Minister of Finance and later of Foreign Affairs in the Provisional Government. He was a prominent financier and sugar magnate. Nikolai Vissarionovich Nekrasov (1879-1940) was a Kadet and a minister in the Provisional Government. He later served under the Soviet government, but was arrested and accused of sabotage in 1930.

80. V.I. Lenin, Constitutional Illusions, Rabochy i soldat, 4 and 5 (22 and 23) August 1917, Collected Works, Volume 25, pp197, 201, 203-4. This article also appeared in a pamphlet, The Present Moment.

81. George-Jacques Danton (1759-1794) was the French revolutionary leader famous for galvanising the resistance of the people after the battle of Valmy with his famous call for ‘Boldness’.

82. Baron Boris Emmanuilovich Nolde (1876-1948) was a Tsarist Professor of Law.

83. Cf. N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917, Princeton, 1983, pp. 30-3.

84. Boris Viktorovich Savinkov (1879-1925) was the head of the terrorist wing of the SRs. He was involved in the Kornilov conspiracy, and later fought the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War.

85. V.I. Lenin, They Do Not See the Wood for the Trees, Proletary, 19 August (1 September) 1917, Collected Works, Volume 25, pp. 258-9.

86. Napoleon III (1808-73) seized power by a presidential coup d’état on 18 Brumaire (9 November) 1851. Cf. Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, 1852.

87. V.I. Lenin, From a Publicist’s Diary, Rabochy, 29 August (11 September) 1917, Collected Works, Volume 25, pp. 280, 281, 284. Lenin’s reference to Engels is to The Peasant Question in France and Germany, K. Marx and F. Engels Selected Works, Volume 2, Moscow 1962, pp. 433-6. The 242 demands to which Serge refers was in fact the agricultural programme of the SRs, which only the Left SRs were willing to fight for, and which Lenin took over en bloc.

88. Cf. Victor Serge, Notes d’Allemagne (1923), Montreui, 1990, pp. 80 ff.

89. Kaledin, the predecessor of Krasnov as Ataman of the Don Cossacks, was then fomenting one of the first counter-revolutionary uprisings in his region. [Author’s note] – Alexei M. Kaledin (1861-1918) was Ataman of the Don Cossacks. General Pyotr Nikolayevich Krasnov (1869-1947) led a similar revolt of the Cossacks during the Russian Civil War.

90. Theodore Ilyich Dan (Gurvich, 1871-1947) was a prominent Menshevik, and Mikhail Isakovich Lieber (Goldman, 1880-1937) was a Menshevik as well as being a leader of the Bund. Lenin often referred to the Menshevik leaders as ‘Lieberdans’.

91. In Lenin’s Collected Works the article from which they are taken is dated 1 September. The text is specific in any case. It is the last article of Lenin written before Kornilov’s offensive against the revolution. [Author’s note] – V.I. Lenin, From a Publicist’s Diary, Rabochy, 1 (14) September 1917, Collected Works, Volume 25, p. 300.

92. The Moscow State Conference was organised by the Provisional Government in order to rally support for itself (the third coalition had just been cobbled together), and to cohere an all-class consensus. Moscow’s Bolsheviks organised a successful general strike on the day that it convened, and the conference merely highlighted the deep divisions within society.

93. Grigorii Andreyevich Gershuni (1870-1908) was an SR who took part in the assassination of D.S. Siapigin, the Tsarist Minister of the Interior, on 2 April 1902, and shot N.M. Bogdanovich, the Governor of Ufa, in 1903; Ivan Platonovich Kaliaev (1877-1905) was the SR who assassinated the Grand Duke Sergei, and was afterwards hanged; Yegor Sazonov (1879-1911) killed Von Plehve (note 94), and committed suicide in prison; Stepan Valerionovich Balmashev (1881-1905) also took part in the killing of Siapigin, and was hanged.

94. Vyacheslav Konstantinovich Von Plehve (1846-1904) was the Tsar’s Chief Minister, and was assassinated in 1904; Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich Romanov, Governor-General of Moscow and uncle of the Tsar, was killed on 4 February 1905.

95. Evno F. Azef (1869-1918) was a notorious agent provocateur and head of the terrorist wing of the SRs. He even directed the planning of the assassination of Von Plehve whilst working for him.

96. Arrested by the Provisional Government, Kornilov soon escaped, sustained a campaign against the Reds in the region of the Don and Kuban, and was killed in 1918 outside Ekaterinodar. Savinkov fomented several conspiracies in Soviet Russia, launched the Yaroslav White rebellion on the orders of the French Ambassador, M. Noulens, took part in the one on the Volga, and then settled in Poland, from where in 1920-21 he continued to direct espionage inside Russia on behalf of the Polish and French governments. He also provided the assassin Bulak-Balakhovich with the means to make raids into Soviet territory. In July 1924, disillusioned with seven years of counter-revolutionary activity in the service of reaction and the foreigner, Savinkov allowed himself to be arrested on Soviet territory. Appearing before the Revolutionary Supreme Court a few days later, he admitted the extent of his defeat and devoted himself to unmasking the intrigues of the counter-revolution. He was condemned to death, and then pardoned. [Author’s note] – Joseph Noulens (1864-1939) was the French Ambassador in Moscow, and later a member of the French Senate. He published his My Mission in Soviet Russia in 1933. Stanislav N. Bulak-Balakhovich joined the Red Army in 1918, but took over his regiment to the Whites later in the year, joined Yudenich for a while, and then collaborated with the Polish invasion of the Soviet Union in 1920.

97. V.I. Lenin, Letter to the Central Committee of the RSDLP, 30 August (12 September) 1917, Collected Works, Volume 25, p. 289.

98. V.I. Lenin, On Compromises, 1 (14) September 1917, Collected Works, Volume 25, pp. 309, 310. The quote by Engels is from Programm der blanquistischen Kommuneflüchtlinge, K. Marx and F. Engels, Werke, Volume 18, Berlin 1962, pp. 528-35.

99. V.I. Lenin, The Russian Revolution and Civil War, Rabochy Put, 16 (29) September 1917, Collected Works, Volume 26, Moscow 1964, p. 40.

100. Op. cit., pp. 35, 37.

101. Around 40,000 Czech soldiers, most of whom had been taken prisoner by the Russians during the First World War, were left stranded on the Trans-Siberian railway by the October Revolution. The Soviet government permitted them to leave the country via Vladivostok, but after a brawl with Hungarian prisoners of war led to them taking over Chelyabinsk on 14 May, it demanded that they be disarmed. The Czechs then staged a revolt, which led to the rapid collapse of Soviet rule along the Trans-Siberian Railway from the Volga eastwards, and permitted the establishment of an SR government in the Volga region and a White regime in Siberia under Kolchak. The French Military Mission was not involved at first, although it soon recognised the usefulness of the revolt.

102. V.I. Lenin, The Tasks of the Revolution, Rabochy Put, 26-27 September (9-10 October) 1917, Collected Works, Volume 26, pp. 62, 63, 67.

103. Viktor Nogin (1878-1924) was a Bolshevik textile worker and Peoples’ Commissar for Industry and Commerce in the first Bolshevik government. His name was removed from the history books during the Stalinist epoch in the USSR.

104. We are reminded that Ludovic Naudeau gave them their due in Le Temps. This wiped out many slanders. [Author’s note]

105. V.I. Lenin, The Bolsheviks Must Assume Power, 12-14 (25-27) September 1917, Collected Works, Volume 26, pp. 19, 21.

106. The Democratic Conference was a repeat run of the State Conference, except that right-wing parties were excluded. Opening on 14 (27) September, it supported the concept of a coalition, but rejected any governmental bloc with the Kadets, thus leaving the issue unresolved. The Pre-Parliament was intended as a stand-in parliament until the Constituent Assembly met.

107. Blanquism takes its name from Louis Auguste Blanqui (1805-1881), who advocated the seizure of power on behalf of the working class by a conspiratorial elite by means of a coup d’état.

108. Lapti are the woven bark shoes of the Russian peasant. [Author’s note]

109. This declaration was read out at the Democratic Conference by Trotsky. The Bolsheviks withdrew after having read it out. [Author’s note]

110. V.I. Lenin, Marxism and Insurrection, 13-14 (26-27) September 1917, Collected Works, Volume 26, pp. 22-5, 27. The Savage Division was a corps of 1350 Caucasian cavalrymen commanded by General Krymov and sent by Kornilov against Petrograd.

111. Nikolai Bukharin (1888-1938) was one of the most popular young theoreticians of the Bolshevik Party. He was later a leader of the Right Opposition, and perished in the purges. Gregory Sokolnikov (1888-1939) was an Old Bolshevik, and later a supporter of the Left-Centre Opposition of Zinoviev and Kamenev.

112. V.I. Lenin, Revision of the Party Programme, 6-8 (19-21) October 1917, Collected Works, Volume 26, p. 171.

113. V.I. Lenin, The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It, 10-14 September 1917, Collected Works, Volume 25, pp. 357-9. For Lenin’s view on state capitalism and the NEP, cf. his article The Tax in Kind:

State capitalism would be a gigantic step forward even if we paid more than we are paying at present … because it is worth paying for ‘tuition’, because it is useful for the workers, because victory over disorder, economic ruin and laxity is the most important thing, because the continuation of the anarchy of small ownership is the greatest, the most serious danger, and it will certainly be our ruin (unless we overcome it), whereas not only will the payment of a heavier tribute to state capitalism not ruin us, it will lead us to Socialism by the surest road. When the working class has learned how to defend the state system against the anarchy of small ownership, when it has learned to organise large-scale production on a national scale along state capitalist lines, it will hold, if I may use the expression, all the trump cards, and the consolidation of Socialism will be assured. In the first place economically state capitalism is immeasurably superior to our present economic system. In the second place there is nothing terrible in it for the Soviet power, for the Soviet state is a state in which the power of the workers and the poor is assured. (V.I. Lenin, The Tax in Kind, 21 April 1921, Collected Works, Volume 32, Moscow 1965, p. 333)

114. Cf. Karl Marx, Letter to Kugelmann, 12 April 1871, The Correspondence of Marx and Engels, London 1934, p. 309: ‘If you look at the last chapter of my Eighteenth Brumaire, you will find that I declare that the next attempt of the French Revolution will be no longer, as before, to transfer the bureaucratic-military machine from one hand to another, but to smash it, and this is the precondition for every real people’s revolution on the continent.’

115. V.I. Lenin, Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?, 1 (14) October 1917, Collected Works, Volume 26, pp. 90, 97-8, 101-2, 105-6.

116. Op. cit., pp. 111, 114-5, 121-3.

117. Karl Liebknecht was arrested and jailed in Germany for a speech against the war on 1 May 1916; John MacLean (1879-1923) was arrested and jailed in Scotland for opposition to the war on 6 February 1916; Friedrich Adler (1879-1937) was arrested and imprisoned on 24 October 1916 for shooting the Austrian Prime Minister, Count Stürghk on 24 October 1916; and after a number of hunger strikes and work stoppages in the German navy, several sailors were arrested in August 1917, two were executed and several others were sentenced to hard labour.

118. V.I. Lenin, The Crisis Has Matured, 29 September (12 October) 1917, Collected Works, Volume 26, p. 74, 77.

119. Op. cit., pp. 80, 82.

120. When the proposal in this letter was placed before the Bolshevik Central Committee on 5 October 1917, Volodarsky and Lashevich had voted against it.

121. Russkoye Slovo (Russian Word) was a liberal daily paper published in Moscow that supported the Provisional Government.

122. V.I. Lenin, Letter to the Central Committee, the Moscow and Petrograd Committees and the Bolshevik Members of the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets, 1 (14) October 1917, Collected Works, Volume 26, pp. 140-1.

123. Clarté has provided a translation of this article by Pierre Pascal in no. 27. [Author’s note] – V.I. Lenin, Advice of an Onlooker, 8 (21) October 1917, Collected Works, Volume 26, pp. 180-1. Pierre Pascal, a descendant of Blaise Pascal, was Serge’s brother-in-law and a supporter of revolutionary Syndicalism in the 1920s, but later became a conservative and an historian of the Roman Catholic Church, cf. Victor Serge, Memoirs of a Revolutionary, Oxford, 1975, pp. 154-5. The Vendée was the region from which emerged the right-wing uprising against the French Revolution on 21 August 1792.

124. Andrei Sergeyevich Bubnov (1883-1940) was an old Bolshevik, a member of the Left Communists in 1918 and of the Left Opposition after it. He was shot in prison.

125. When the enlarged Bolshevik Central Committee debated the resolution on the seizure of power on 16 October 1917, it had been opposed by Zinoviev and Kamenev.

126. V.I. Lenin, Letter to Comrades, Rabochy Put, 19-21 October (1-3 November) 1917, Collected Works, Volume 26, pp. 202-3, 207.

127. Simon L. Maslov (1873-?) was a leader of the right wing of the SRs, and Minister of Agriculture in the third coalition cabinet of the Provisional Government, favouring some degree of compensation for landowners.

128. V.I. Lenin, Socialist-Revolutionary Party Cheats the Peasants Once Again, Rabochy Put, 24 October (6 November) 1917, Collected Works, Volume 26, p. 233.

129. On the withdrawal of the Right SRs and the Mensheviks from the Soviet, cf. L.D. Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution, London 1934, pp. 1153-4.

130. Cf. note 14.

131. Lenin alone, I wrote. This is doubtless not exact in the literal and immediate sense of the word. The masses (the workers and soldiers) were moving spontaneously towards insurrection, which was the ultimate solution to their conflict with the government of the possessing classes. There were a number of militants in every city who supported the seizure of power by the Soviets in October. The majority of the Bolshevik organisations of Moscow and Petrograd greeted with enthusiasm Lenin’s signal, which they had been waiting for and anticipating. Trotsky and the Petrograd Committee were supporters of the uprising very early on. But what made Lenin’s position unique, what made it so that he alone could give the signal, is that he was the founder and recognised leader of the party that was going to direct the struggle; and that after having forged and directed this party for 15 years, he had for eight months of social turmoil led it towards this result with the foresight that we have followed day after day. [Author’s note]

132. Boris D. Kamkov (1885-1938) was a leader of the Left SRs. Mark Nathanson (Shliesner, 1850-1919) was a veteran member of the Narodnya Volya and of the SRs, and opposed the Left SRs’ rebellion against the Soviet government in 1918. Aleksandr Schrieder was deputy to Isaak Steinberg, the Left SR Minister of Justice in the Soviet Government.

133. Cf. some very precise pages by Mstislavsky on the October Revolution in no 27 of Clarté. [Author’s note] – Cf. Sergei Dmitriyevich Mstislavskii (Maslovsky, 1876-1943), Five Days Which Transformed Russia, London 1988.

134. Dr Alexander Atabekian (1868-1940?) was an Anarchist who supported the idea of the free association of autonomous communes, he published Kropotkin’s works, and was arrested during the 1930s. Prince Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) was one of the major theorists of Anarchist Communism and of mutual aid.

135. Voline, A. Shapiro, Grossman-Roshchin, Zhuk and Alfa were then part of it. Like most of the other members of this group, the five revolutionaries whom I have just named have since followed five different paths! Zhuk died for the Soviets. Roshchin is an Anarcho-Marxist. Alfa belongs to the Russian Communist Party, and Voline and Shapiro – who, it should be added, are enemies, or at least bitter opponents of each other – are resolute anti-Communists. [Author’s note] – Vsevolod Mikhailovich Voline (Eikhenbaum, 1882-1945) played a major part in the Anarchist movement during the Russian Revolution, which he described in his book The Unknown Revolution, Montreal 1975. He was deported from the Soviet Union in 1922, and ran Anarkhicheski Vestnik (Anarchist Herald) in Berlin. Alexander Shapiro (1882-1946) was an Anarchist activist and a close associate of Emma Goldman. He left the Soviet Union with her in the early 1920s, and ran Rabochi Put (Workers Way) in Berlin. Both Voline and Schapiro remained committed libertarians until their deaths. Iuda Roshchin (Grossman) was a university lecturer and a veteran Anarchist, the ideologist of ‘motiveless terror’. He went over to the side of the Bolsheviks after 1917, but suffered sporadic harassment, and apparently died just before the purges of the 1930s. Iustin Zhuk was jailed for carrying out an armed robbery of a Kiev sugar factory in 1909, expropriated the Schlüsselburg Gunpowder Works in 1917, sided with the Bolsheviks, and was killed whilst on active service in the Red Army.

136. The Golos Truda (The Voice of Labour) manifesto to which Serge refers is reproduced in Volin, The Unknown Revolution, p. 219.

137. Plutarch (c.45-125 AD) was a Greek author famous for his book of parallel lives glorifying Greek and Roman statesmen. Jean de Pierrefeu’s book Plutarque a menti (Plutarch Lied), a series of essays on the blunders of the First World War, caused a sensation when it was published in Paris in 1923.

138. These lines had been written and appeared in Clarté when L.D. Trotsky’s book Lenin was published in Moscow, from which I take this passage referring to Lenin’s stay in London in 1903:

Lenin went abroad neither as a Marxist ‘generally speaking’, nor in order to devote himself to some ‘general’ literary-revolutionary work, nor for the purpose of carrying on the 20-year-old activities of The Emancipation of Labour. No, he came as a potential leader, as the leader of the revolution which he sensed and perceived was welling up. He came in order to build, in the shortest possible time, an ideological base and organisational framework for that revolution. When I spoke about Lenin’s tense concentration on his goal – concentration which was both passionate and disciplined – I did not see it as an effort to achieve a ‘final triumph’ – no, that would have been too vague and meaningless – but I saw it as a concrete, direct, immediate work toward the practical aim of speeding the outbreak of the revolution and of securing its victory. [Author’s note] – (L.D. Trotsky, Lenin, New York 1971, pp. 68-9)

139. There were two Allied offensives in Champagne in 1915. During the first (February) French and German losses amounted to 90,000 each. In the second (September) France alone lost 130,000 men.

140. What I call here the power of unity, L.D. Trotsky defines as ‘tense concentration on his goal’:

His whole being was geared to one great purpose, and he would make use of any circumstance and disregard all formalities in straining toward his goal – this was indeed Lenin the leader … this most powerful ‘engineer of revolution’, had only one goal before his eyes, and towards this final goal he was pressing, whether in politics or in his theoretical or philosophical studies, in discussions with others or in learning foreign languages. His was perhaps the most determined utilitarianism ever produced in the laboratory of history. [Author’s note] – (L.D. Trotsky, Lenin, pp. 46, 47)

Last updated on 17.3.2011