Leon Trotsky



Comrades and Citizens! We don’t want to hear good advice, we want a report. Even Peschekhonov, instead of a report, read a sort of prose poem on the advantages of the Coalition. He said that the Cadet ministers in the Coalition Government had not engaged in any sabotage – God forbid! – they merely sat and waited and said: ”We shall just see how you Socialists betray yourselves.„ And when I said that it is sabotage for a political party, a capitalist party, a very influential party, to enter the Government at a most critical moment in history only to be able to observe from within how the representatives of democracy betray themselves, while, from without, the same Party gives help to Kornilov, Citizen Peschekhonov promised to explain to me the difference between sabotage and policy. But he forgot to keep that promise. Another minister of another Party, a Cadet, drew certain conclusions from his experiences as a minister, but in a more definite political sense. I refer to Kokoshkin. He justified his resignation by saying that the extraordinary powers granted to Kerensky relegated the other ministers to a position in which they were merely the executives of the Minister-President’s orders, and that he himself was not prepared to accept that position.

I say candidly that, as I read those words, I was compelled inwardly to applaud our enemy Kokoshkin. He spoke here with political and with human dignity. At present great differences of opinion exist between us concerning the retiring as well as the future Coalition Ministry [2] But, I ask you, have we any difference of opinion on the Government now in office and now speaking in the name of Russia? I have not heard one speaker here who has claimed the unenviable honour of defending that five-headed monster the Directorate, or its President Kerensky. (Disorder, applause and protests of “Long live Kerensky!”)

You may perhaps remember how another former minister, Tseretelli, spoke from this platform, as an extremely far-seeing man and a diplomat, about his own experience, and said that the people themselves were entirely to blame, for they themselves had raised one inpidual to such a height that they were bound to be deceived. He did not name that inpidual but you will all believe me when I say that he was not referring to Tereschenko.

In the speech which he delivered here Kerensky said in replying to our remarks on the death penalty [3]: “You may condemn me if I sign one single death warrant.”

If the death penalty, the penalty which Kerensky himself once abolished, was necessary, then I ask, how is it possible for Kerensky to tell the Democratic Conference that he will in no circumstances make use of the death penalty? And if he tells us that he believes it to be possible to bind himself not to use the death penalty against the people, then I say that in speaking thus, he has made the introduction of the death penalty an act so frivolous as to be almost criminal. (Cries of “Quite right!”)

This fact reflects the present complete degradation of the Russian Republic. This Republic has neither an authoritative National representation nor a responsible Government. And if we all, although disunited on so many other questions, agree on one point, it is on this, that it is unworthy of any great people, still more of a people who have made a great revolution, to tolerate power being concentrated in the hands of one person and that a person not responsible to the people. (Applause)

Comrades, if many speakers have referred to the fact that at the present period the burden of the government is heavy and oppressive, if they warn the young, inexperienced Russian democracy against taking this burden on their shoulders, then I ask you, what can be said of one single person, who has in any case shown no particular talent either as an army leader or a legislator? (Cries of: “That’s enough!” and “Go on!”)

Comrades, I greatly regret that the point of view which is now being so forcibly expressed in these cries of protest has until now found no articulate expression from this platform. (Disorder and applause)

Not one speaker has ascended this platform and said to us: “Why are you quarreling about the old Coalition, why are you discussing the future Coalition? You have Alexander Kerensky, and that is enough for you!” No one has said that.

(These words of Trotsky aroused a new storm of protest.)

(“I shall be silent until order is restored in this hall,” declared Trotsky in a firm and decisive voice. The President succeeded in restoring order.)

Our party has never laid the responsibility for the present regime on the evil will of any inpidual person. In May, when I spoke at the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, I said: “You, the fighting Parties, are yourselves creating a regime in which a person bearing the greatest responsibility will be compelled, independently of his own wishes, to become the future Russian Bonaparte.” (Disorder and cries of: “Lies! Demagogy!”) Comrades, there can be no demagogy here, for what is being actually said here is only that a tendency towards an autocratic regime follows inevitably from certain political circumstances.

What are those circumstances? We state them as follows: There is in modern society a serious and desperate struggle. Here in Russia, in a period of revolution, when the masses, rising from the depths, are for the first time conscious of themselves as a class, a class bitterly wounded through centuries of oppression, and realising themselves for the first time as political subjects, as legal persons, a class beginning to attack the foundations of private property – at such a time the class struggle assumes a most intense and passionate form. Democracy – what we call democracy – is the political expression of these working masses, the workers, peasants and soldiers. The bureaucracy and the nobility defend the rights of private property. The fight between these two parties is now unavoidable, Comrades, for the revolution has, in the words of the owning classes, liberated the lower ranks of the people. The struggle between these two parties, whether it takes one form or another, is growing more intense and is running that natural course of development which no eloquence and no programmes can resist.

Now that the driving forces of the revolution are separately revealed, a Coalition Government means either the final stage of political senselessness, which cannot last, or the highest degree of fraud on the part of the owning classes who are attempting to deprive the masses of leadership by enticing the best and most influential leaders into a trap, with the object either of leaving the masses – or as they say, the “liberated elements” – to their own resources or else of drowning them in their own blood.

Comrades! The supporters of the Coalition say that a purely capitalist government is impossible. Why is such a government impossible? Minor has maintained that a socialist ministry would be as short-lived and as barren as a Coalition Government. That is not a compliment either to the Coalition Ministry or to a socialist ministry. I ask you: Why couldn’t the government be left entirely to the capitalists? We are told that it is impossible. Comrades Tseretelli contended quite rightly that it would give rise to a civil war. The relations between the masses and the owning classes are therefore so strained that for the owning classes to take over the Government would be the signal for civil war. So sharp, so strained, and so strong are the contradictions between the classes, utterly irrespective of the civil [?] designs of the Bolsheviks<./p>

At such a time, during a historical interregnum, when the owning classes cannot seize power completely and the organs of the people do not dare to seize power, the idea of an arbiter, of a dictator, a Bonaparte, a Napoleon, is born, [4] That is why Kerensky has been able to occupy the position which he now holds. The weakness and indecision of the revolutionary democracy hays created this position for Kerensky. (Applause)

If you repeat the experiment of a Coalition once more, after it has run its natural course, after the Cadets have entered the Coalition twice and left it twice [5] – and there comrades, it must be remarked that the purpose in both cases, that is, in both entering and leaving the Government, was the same, namely, to sabotage the work of the revolutionary government – after you have witnessed the Kornilov affair [6], you would, I firmly believe, be inviting the Cadets to do more than merely repeat the old experiment.

To be sure, it has been said that the Cadet Party as such cannot be accused of participation in the Kornilov rebellion. If I am not mistaken it was comrade Znamensky who told us Bolsheviks-and that not for the first time – ’You protested when we made the whole of your party, as a party, responsible for the movement of July 18th. Do not then repeat the mistake which a few of us made of making all the Cadets ’responsible for Kornilov’s rebellion.’ This comparison, is in my opinion, is slightly inapt: for if the Bolsheviks-whether justly or unjustly is another matter – are accused of initiating the movement of July 16th to 18th, or even of provoking it, there was no talk of an invitation to enter the Government, but of an invitation to enter the Kresty prison. [7] (Laughter)

That, comrades is a small difference which, I hope, even citizen Zarudny will not argue about. We say: If you want to imprison Cadets because of the Kornilov rebellion then don’t do it carelessly but examine the affairs of every single Cadet from all sides. (Laughter and cries of “Bravo”)

But, comrades, if you invite any Party to enter the government, let us say, for example, as a paradox – and only as a paradox – the Bolshevik Party. (Laughter)

Well then, if you want a ministry whose duty it would be to disarm the workers, to remove the revolutionary garrison or to recall the Third Cavalry Corps, then I should say that the Bolsheviks, who are entirely or partly bound up with the movement of July 16th to 18th, are as a whole, as a party, entirely unsuited to this task of disarming Petrograd, the garrison and the workers. (Laughter) For, comrades, although in the 16th to 18th July we did not call the workers out on to the streets, all our sympathies were on the side of the soldiers and workers who were later disarmed and dispersed, we were in complete agreement with their demands, we hated what they hated, we loved what they loved.

(“You arrested Chernov,” cried a voice from the hall.) The speaker answered: If I am not mistaken, Chernov is here, he can confirm it, (Chernov nods his head in agreement) that the violence offered to Chernov was committed not by the demonstrators, but by a small group of obviously criminal persons whose leader I, as a common criminal, met again in the Kresty prison.

But, comrades, that is not the point. If we were only concerned with the Cadet Party and its entry into the Government, the fact that one or the other member of the Cadet Party is hiding her hind the scenes with Kornilov, that Maklakov was at the telephone when Saviknov negotiated with Kornilov, that Roditschev went to the Don district to make political arrangements with Kaledin – these facts are not important, but what is important is the fact that the entire capitalist press in all countries gave expression to the lies and to the thoughts, feelings and wishes of the capitalist class. That is why I say that we cannot possibly consider the question of a coalition.

Victor Chernov is, of course, very optimistic and says “Let us wait,” but, first of all, the question of power is a question of today, and secondly he says, basing his remarks on Marxist theory – which now, by the irony of fate, has become a social revolutionary weapon adapted to the requirements of Social Revolutionaries, the Marxism of Lieber and Dan – the basis of Marxist theory he says, “We must wait, perhaps a new democratic party will develop out of the revolution.” I personally have learnt from Marxism that when the workers enter upon the scene as an independent force, every step they take, far from strengthening bourgeois democracy, weakens it by freeing the mass of the workers from capitalist influence. It has been suggested that we should wait for the rebirth and the strengthening of capitalist democracy, and then form a united front with it. That is the greatest illusion which it is possible to conceive. We do not want to base our hopes, comrades, on the idea that bourgeois democracy in the form in which it existed in capitalist society, can be revived among us.

(Comrade Trotsky gave out the declaration of the Bolshevik fraction. While it was being read, cries of “Why? Why?” were heard from the right side of the hall, referring to the clauses dealing with the immediate necessity of arming the workers. The speaker answer these cries in the following speech.) First, because it will create a real bulwark against the counterrevolution, against a new, stronger Kornilov; secondly, because if a real dictatorship of the revolutionary democracy is established, if this new government were to offer honourable peace, and if this offer were to be rejected, then I declare, in the name of our Party and of the working masses which follow that Party, that the armed workers of Petrograd and of Russia will defend the country of the revolution against the armies of imperialism with a heroism never before witnessed in Russian history. (Trotsky’s last words were drowned in a storm of applause)

What Next? Index


1. The Democratic Conference: Convoked by Kerensky after the Kornilov revolt, met in the Alexander Theatre, Petrograd, September 27 to October 5th. The Conference declared in a favour of a coalition without the Cadets. But, Kerensky nevertheless formed one with individual Cadets. The Bolsheviks participated, and after demanding land to the peasants, workers’ control of industry, denunciation of secret treaties, immediate peace, arming of the people, and self-determination of the nationalities, withdrew from the Conference. The Conference then went on to elect, from its own ranks, a “Pre-Parliament” which lasted until the October Revolution.

2. New Coalition: On August 6th, the two-week old 3rd Coalition was dissolved and a new coalition formed. This lasted till the October insurrection.

3. Capital Punishment was reintroduced by the Provisional Government on 25th July 1917 for military offences.

5 The second resignation of Cadets from the Provisional Coalition Government took place in July 15th-16th, 1917, ostensibly over the granting of autonomy to the Ukraine. They re-entered the new coalition formed by Kerensky on August 6th, Nekrasov becoming Deputy Premier and Finance Minister. For the first resignation see Chapter 6, Note 1.

6. Kornilov Revolt: Commander-in-Chief Kornilov turned against the Provisional Government and the Soviets on September 7th, and marched cavalry in cluding the Caucasian Cossack “Savage Division” against Petrograd. The revolutionary masses soon put down the revolt which lasted only five days, and Kornilov was arrested on the 14th.

7. Chernov was saved from revolutionary mob violence by the personal intervention of Trotsky on July 17th, 1917.

Kresty Prison, in Petrograd was built in 1893 on the American pattern and had accommodation for over a thousand “solitaries”.

Trotsky occupied a cell in this prison from his arrest on 4th August 1917 to 17th September.

What Next? Index

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Last updated on: 9.12.2006