Leon Trotsky


The Farce of Dual Power

(June 1917)

The war conditions are twisting and obscuring the action of the internal forces of the Revolution. But none the less the course of the Revolution will be determined by these same internal forces, namely, the classes.

The revolution which has been gathering strength from 1912 on, was, at first, broken off by the war, and later, owing to the heroic intervention of an infuriated army, was quickened into an unprecedented aggressiveness. The power of resistance on the part of the old regime had been, once for all undermined by the progress of the war. The political parties which might have taken up the function of mediators between the monarchy and the people suddenly found themselves hanging in the air, owing to powerful blows from below, and were obliged at the last moment to accomplish the dangerous leap to the secure shores of the Revolution. This imparted to the Revolution, for a time, the outward appearance of complete national harmony. For the first time in its entire history, bourgeois liberalism felt itself “bound up” with the masses – and it is this that must have given them the idea of utilizing the “universal” revolutionary spirit in the service of the war.

The conditions, the aims, the participants of the war did not change. Guchkov and Miliukov, the most outspoken of the imperialists on the political staff of the old regime, were now the managers of the destinies of revolutionary Russia. Naturally, the war, the fundamental character of which remained the same as it had been under Czarism – against the same enemy, with the same allies, and the same international obligations – now had to be transformed into a “war for the Revolution.” For the capitalist classes, this task was equivalent to a moblization of the Revolution, and of the powers and passions it had stimulated, in the interests of imperialism. The Miliukovs magnanimously consented to call the “red rag” a sacred emblem – if only the working masses would show their readiness to die with ecstasy under this red rag, for Constantinople and the Straits.

But the imperialist cloven hoof of Miliukov was sticking out too plainly. In order to win over the awakened masses and guide their revolutionary energy into the channel of an offensive on the external front, more intricate methods were required – but, chiefly, different political parties were needed, with platforms that had not yet been compromised, and reputations that had not yet been sullied.

They were found. In the years of counter-revolution, and particularly in the period of the latest industrial boom, capital had subjected to itself and had mentally tamed many thousands of revolutionists of 1905, being in no wise concerned about their Labourite or Marxist “notions”. And among the “Socialistic” intellectuals there were therefore rather numerous groups whose palms were itching to take part in the checking of the class struggle and in the training of the masses for “patriotic” ends. Hand in hand with the intelligentsia, which had been brought into prominence in the counter-revolutionary epoch, went the compromise-workers, who had been frightened definitely and finally by the failure of the 1905 Revolution, and had since then developed in themselves the sole talent of being agreeable to all sides.

The opposition of the bourgeois classes to Czarism – upon an imperialist foundation, however – had, even before the Revolution, provided the necessary basis for a rapprochement between the opportunist Socialists and the propertied classes. In the Duma, Kerensky and Chkheidze built up their policy as an annex to the progressive bloc and the “Socialistic” Gvozdievs and Bogdanovs merged with the Guchkovs on the War Industry Committees. But the existence of Czarism made an open advocacy of the “government” patriotism standpoint very difficult. The Revolution cleared away all obstacles of this nature. Capitulating to the capitalist parties was now called “a democratic unity”, and the discipline of the bourgeois state suddenly became “revolutionary discipline,” and finally, participation in a capitalist war was looked upon as a defence of the Revolution from external defeat.

This nationalist intelligentsia, which the social-patriot Struve had prophesied, invoked and trained, in his paper Vyekhi, suddenly met with an unexpectedly generous support in the helpessness of the most backward masses of the people, who had been forcibly organized as an army.

It was only because the Revolution broke out in the course of a war that the petty bourgeois elements of city and country at once automatically took on the appearance of an organized force, and began to exert, upon the personnel of the Council of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Delegates, an influence which could have been far beyond the powers of these scattered and backward classes in any but war times. The Menshevik-populist intelligentsia found in this great number of backwoods, provincial, for the most part as yet hardly awakened persons, a support that was at first entirely natural. By leading the petty bourgeois classes on to the path of an agreement with capitalist liberalism, which had again beautifully demonstrated its inability to guide the masses of the people independently, the Menshevik-populist intelligentsia, through the pressure of the masses, acquired a certain position even among the proletarian sections, which had been momentarily relegated to a secondary position by the numerical impressiveness of the army.

It might at first seem that all class contradictions had been destroyed, that all social fixtures had been patched up with fragments of a populist-Menshevik ideology, and that, thanks to the “constructive labours”of Kerensky, Chkheidse and Dan, a national Burgfrieden [1] truce between the classes had been realized. Therefore, the unparalleled surprise and wonder when an independent proletarian policy again asserted itself, and therefore the savage, in truth, disgusting wail against the revolutionary Socialists, the destroyers of the universal harmony.

The petty bourgeois intellectuals, after they had been raised by the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Delegates to heights for which they were entirely unprepared, were frightened more by the idea of responsibility than by anything else, and therefore respectfully handed over their power to the capitalist-feudal government which had issued forth from the womb of the Duma of June 3. The organic terror of the petty bourgeois in the presence of the sanctity of state power, which was transparent in the case of the populists (Labourites), was veiled, in the case of the Menshevik-patriots, by doctrinaire notions as to the inadmissibility of having Socialists assume the burden of power in a bourgeois revolution.

Thus there came about the “dual power”, which might with much more truth be termed a Dual Impotence. The bourgeoisie assumed authority in the name of order and of a war for victory; yet, without the Soviets, it could not rule; the latter’s relation to the government was that of an awed half-confidence, combined with a fear lest the revolutionary proletariat might, in some unguarded gesture, upset the whole business.

The cynically provocative foreign policy of Miliukov brought forth a crisis. Being aware of the full extent of the panic in the ranks of the petty bourgeois leaders when confronted with problems of power, the bourgeois party began availing itself, in this domain, of downright blackmail: by threatening a government strike, that is, to resign any participation in authority, they demanded that the Soviet furnish them with a number of decoy Socialists, whose function in the coalition ministry was to be the general strengthening of confidence in the government on the part of the masses, and, in his way, the cessation of “dual power.”

Before the pistol-point of ultimatum, the Menshevik patriots hastened to slough off their last vestiges of Marxist prejudice against participation in a bourgeois government, and brought on to the same path the Labourite “leaders” of the Soviet, who were not embarrassed by any super-cargo of principle or prejudice. This was most manifest in the person of Chernov, who came back from the Zimmerwald and Kienthal Conferences where he had excommunicated Vandervelde, Guesde and Sembat out of Socialism – only to enter the ministry of Prince Lvov and Shingariev. To be sure, the Russian Menshevik patriots did point out that Russian ministerialism had nothing in common with French and Belgian ministerialism, being an outgrowth of very exceptional circumstances, as had been foreseen in the resolution against ministerialism of the Amsterdam Socialist Congress (1904). Yet they were merely repeating, in parrot fashion, the arguments of French and Belgian ministerialism, while they continued constantly invoking the “exceptional nature of the circumstances”. Kerensky, under whose wordy theatricality there are nevertheless, some traces of reality, very appropriately classed Russian Ministerialism in the same category as that of Western Europe, and stated in his Helsingfors speech, that thanks chiefly to him, Kerensky, the Russian Socialists had in two months travelled a distance that it had taken the West-European Socialists ten years to accomplish. Truly, Marx was not wrong when he called revolution the locomotive of history!

The coalition government had been sentenced by History before it was established. If it had been formed immediately after the downfall of Czarism, as an expression of the “revolutionary unity of the nation”, it might possibly have held in check, for a time, the struggle of the forces of the Revolution. But the first government was the Guchkov-Miliukov governnment. It was permitted to exist only long enough to expose the full falsity of “national unity” and to awaken the revolutionary resistance of the proletariat against the bourgeois propaganda to prostitute the Revolution in the interests of Imperialism. The obviously makeshift coalition ministry could not, under these circumstances, stave off a calamity; it was itself destined to become the chief bone of contention, the chief source of schism and divergence in the ranks of “revolutionary democracy.” Its political existence – for of its “activities” we shall not speak – is simply one long dissolution, decently enveloped in vast quantities of words.

To contend against a complete breakdown on the economic and, particularly, on the food question, the Economic Department of the Executive Committee of the Soviets worked out a plan for an extensive system of state management in the most important branches of industry. The members of the Economic Department differ from the political managers of the Soviet not so much in their political tendencies as in a serious acquaintance with the economic situation of the country. For this very reason they were led to conclusions of a profoundly revolutionary character. The only thing their structure lacks is the driving force of a revolutionary policy. The government, for the most part capitalist, could not possibly give birth to a system that was diametrically opposed to the selfish interests of the propertied classes. If Skobeley, the Menshevik Minister of Labour, did not understand this, it was fully understood by the serious and efficient Konovaloy, the representative of trade and industry.

Konovalov’s resignation was an irreparable blow to the coalition ministry. The whole bourgeois press gave unmistakeable expression to this fact. Then began anew the exploitation of the panic terror of the present leaders of the Soviet: the bourgeoisie threatened to lay the babe of power at their door. The “leaders” answered by making believe that nothing special had happened. If the responsible representative of capital has left us, let us invite M. Buryshkin. But Buryshkin ostentatiously refused to have anything to do with surgical operations on private property. And then began the search for an “independent” minister of commerce and industry, a man behind whom stood nothing and nobody, and who might serve as an inoffensive letter-box, in which the opposing demands of labour and capital might be dropped. Meanwhile the economic expenses continue on their course, and the government activity assumed the form, chiefly, of the printing of paper-money, assignats.

Having as his senior colleagues, Messrs. Lvov and Shingariev, it turned out that Chernov was prevented from revealing, in the domain of agrarian matters, even the radicalism of words only, which is so characteristic of this typical representative of the petty bourgeoisie. Fully aware of the role that was assigned to him, Chernoy introduced himself to society as the representative, not of the agrarian revolution, but of agrarian statistics! According to the liberal bourgeois interpretation, which the Socialist ministers also made their own, revolution must be suspended among the masses in a passive waiting for the convocation of the Constituent Assembly, and as soon as the Social-Revolutionists enter the ministry of the land-holders and manufacturers, the attacks of the peasants against the feudal agricultural system are stigmatized as anarchy.

In the field of international policy, the collapse of the “peace programmes” proclaimed by the coalition government came about more swiftly and more catastrophically than could possibly have been expected. M. Ribot, the Premier of France, not only categorically and unceremoniously rejected the Russian peace formula and pompously reiterated the absolute necessity of continuing the war until a “complete victory” should be secured, but also denied the patriotic French Socialists their passports to the Stockholm Conference, which had been arranged with the cooperation of M. Ribot’s colleagues and allies, the Russian Socialist Ministers. The Italian Government, whose policy of colonial conquests has always been distinguished by exceptional shamelessness, by a “Holy Egotism”, replied to the formula of a “peace without annexations” with its separate annexation of Albania. Our government, and that includes the Socialist ministers, held up for two weeks the publication of the answers of the Allies, evidently trusting in the efficacy of such petty devices to stave off the bankruptcy of their policy. In short order, the question as to the international situation of Russia, the question of what it is that the Russian soldier should be ready to fight and die for, is still just as acute as on the day when the portfolio of Minister of Foreign Affairs was washed from the hands of Miliukov.

In the Army and Navy Department, which is still eating up the lion’s share of the national powers and of the national resources, the policy of prose and rhetoric holds undisputed sway. The material and psychological causes for the condition of the army are too deep to be disposed of by ministerial prose and poetry. The substitution of General Srussilov for General Alexeyev meant a change of these two officers, no doubt, but not a change in the army. The working up of the popular mind and of the army into an “offensive”, and then the sudden dropping of this catchword in favour of the less definite catchword of a “preparation for an offensive”, show that the Army and Navy Ministry is still as little capable of leading the nation to victory, as M. Tereschenko’s Department was of leading the nation to peace.

The picture of the impotence of the Provisional Government reaches its climax in the labour of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which, to use the words of the most loyal Soviet of Peasants’ Delegates, “with partiality” filled the offices of the local administrations with feudal landholders. The efforts of the active portion of the population which gain for them the communal self-governments, by right of conquest, and without waiting for the Constituent Assembly, are immediately stigmatized in the state-police jargon of the Dans as anarchy, and are greeted by the energetic opposition of the government which, by its very composition, is fully protected against all energetic action when it is really of creative character.

In the course of the last few days, this policy of general bankruptcy has found its most repulsive expression in the Kronstadt incident.[2]

The vile and out-and-out corrupt campaign of the bourgeois press against Kronstadt, which is for them the symbol of revolutionary internationalism and of distrust in the government coalition, both of which are emblems of the independent policy of the great masses of the people, not only took possession of the government and of the Soviet leaders, but turned Tseretelli and Skobolev into ring-leaders in the disgusting persecution of the Kronstadt sailors, soldiers and workers.

At a moment when revolutionary internationalism was systematically displacing patriotic Socialism in the factories and workshops and among the soldiers at the front, the Socialists in the ministry, obedient to their masters were risking the hazardous game of overthrowing the revolutionary proletarian advance-guard with one single blow, and thus preparing the “psychological moment” for the session of the All Russian Congress of Soviets. To rally the peasant-petty bourgeois democracy around the banner of bourgeois liberalism that ally and captive of Anglo-French and American capital, politically to isolate and “discipline” the proletariat – that is now the principal task in the realization of which the government bloc of Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionists is expending all its energies. An essential part of this policy is found in the shameless threats of bloody repressions and the provocations of open violence.

The death agony of the coalition ministry began on the day of its birth. Revolutionary Socialism must do everything in its power to prevent this death agony from terminating in the convulsion of civil war. The only way to do this is not by a policy of yielding and dodging, which merely whets the appetite of the fresh-baked statesmen, but rather a policy of aggressive action all along the line. We must not permit them to isolate themselves: we must isolate them. We must answer the wretched and contemptible actions of the Coalition government by making clear even to the most backward among the labouring masses the full meaning of this hostile alliance which masquerades publicly in the name of the Revolution. To the methods of the propertied classes and of their Menshevik-Social Revolutionist appendage in dealing with the questions of food, of industry, of agriculture, of war, we must oppose the methods of the proletariat. Only in this way can liberalism be isolated and a leading influence be assured to the revolutionary proletariat over the urban and rural masses. Together with the inevitable downfall of the present government will come the downfall of the present leaders of the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Delegates. To preserve the authority of the Soviet as a representative of the Revolution, and to secure for it a continuance of its functions as a directive power, is now within the power only of the present minority of the Soviet. This will become clearer every day. The epoch of Dual Impotence, with the government able and the Soviet not daring, is inevitably culminating in a crisis of unheard-of severity. It is our part to husband our energies for this moment, so that the question of power may be met with in all its proportions.

June 1917



1. “Party Truce”. At the outbreak of the First World War, the German Social Democracy declared a “Burgfieden” truce with the bourgeoisie and gave up all opposition to the Kaiser’s Government. The French Socialists had their “L’Union Sacrée”or Sacred Union of the Nation.

2. Early in June the sailors of the Baltic Fleet and the Kronstadt masses generally rose against the Provisional Government: the mildest epithet used against them, in the Russian and foreign press, was “anarchists”. The Kronstadt Council of Workers and Soldiers had, by a vote of 210 to 40, repudiated the Provisional Government, declaring that it recognized only the authority of the Petrograd Council. This action was distorted into an attempt to secede from Russia. The Baltic sailors were an active revolutionary force in all stages of the Revolution – against Czarism, against the Provisional Government, and in the overthrow of Kerensky by the Bolsheviks. – L.C.F.

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Last updated on: 11.12.2006