Leon Trotsky

Lenin Before October

(April 1924)

Written: April 1924.
Source: From the Arsenal of Marxism, Fourth International, Vol.13 No.1, January-February 1952, pp.11-16.
Online Version: Trotsky Internet Archive, March 2009.
Translated: John G. Wright.
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.


In commemoration of the Twenty-Eighth Anniversary of Lenin’s death we publish below one more chapter from Leon Trotsky’s reminiscences, On Lenin, which he finished in April 1924 and which were published in book form the same year by the State Publishing House, Moscow.

As eye-witness, leading participant and Lenin’s closest collaborator in the entire period of the Russian Revolution of 1917, Trotsky was in a better position than anybody else to evaluate the personality and historical role of Lenin In the lines that follow the reader will find the living Lenin and not the petrified ikon into which the Stalinists have sought to transform Lenin. Further, the attentive reader will find corroborative proof of how decisive for the fate of the proletarian victory in Russia was Lenin’s arrival in April 1917 from abroad, his subsequent re-arming of the Bolshevik Party, and his incomparable guidance of the Bolsheviks to the assumption of power against the recurring sluggishness, dilatoriness and outright opposition of the most prominent Party Chiefs, in particular of Stalin, who was at that time in alliance with Zinoviev, Kamenev and others.

In addition to illuminating the critical stages of the Great Russian Revolution through the person of Lenin, Trotsky’s 1924 reminiscences cast light on the beginnings of the Stalinist counter-revolution which reached its first climactic point immediately after Lenin’s death. Suppression of key historical documents, in preparation lor the wholesale falsification that was to follow in later years, had already begun by 1924.

Kamenev, as editor of the First Russian Edition of Lenin’s Collected Works, played a central role in the trickery of “omitting” important documents, in particular, Lenin’s letter to the Bolshevik Central Committee on the internal party dispute over participation in Kerensky’s Pre-Parliament, on the eve of October. Lenin backed the “boycottist” minority, headed by Leon Trotsky. Lenin’s praise of Trotsky – “Bravo, Comrade Trotsky!” – was the principal reason for the suppression of this important letter in 1924. This decision was made by the then ruling Triumvirate (“Troika”) of Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin. They had set themselves the task of fabricating a “special” Trotsky line as against that of Lenin, and simultaneously of blotting out from the record the real line of political opposition to Lenin, in which they themselves – and not Trotsky – were personally involved. In this respect, the document below also helps set the historical record straight. The translation from the Russian original is by John G. Wright. – Ed.

* * *

That Lenin arrived in Petersburg and had come out against the war and against the Provisional Government at workers’ meetings, I learned from American newspapers at Amherst, a concentration camp for German prisoners in Canada. The interned German sailors began to take an immediate interest in Lenin, whose name they had come across for the first time in the news dispatches. These were all men avidly waiting for the war to end; it would open for them the gates of this prison camp. They listened with utmost attention to every voice raised against the war. Up to this time they had known of Liebknecht. But they had been told time and again that Liebknecht was a paid agent of the Entente. Now they learned of Lenin. They learned from me of Zimmerwald and Kienthal. Lenin’s anti-war speeches won many of them over to Liebknecht.

In my passage across Finland I was able for the first time to obtain current Russian newspapers and in them found dispatches reporting the entry of Tseretelli, Skobelev and other “socialists” into the Provisional Government. The situation was thus made perfectly clear. With Lenin’s April 4 Theses I acquainted myself on the second or third day after reaching Petersburg. These theses were just what the revolution ordered. Lenin’s article, The First Stage of the First Revolution, which he had sent much earlier Irom Switzerland, I read in Pravda much later.

Even today one may, as one should study most attentively, and therewith profit politically from these early and extremely shadow-like issues of Pravda. Against the background of, its columns in which the revolution was being simulated, Lenin’s Letter From Afar stands out with all of its concentrated force. Completely calm and theoretico-expository in tone, this article resembles a huge, tightly coiled spring of steel, which was presently destined to unwind and, as it expanded, to encompass the entire content of the revolution.

Bolsheviks and “Internationalists” in 1917

I arranged with Comrade Kamenev, on one of the first days after my arrival, for a visit with the editorial board of Pravda. Our first meeting must have taken place on May 5 or May 6. I told Lenin that there was nothing separating me from his April Theses and from the entire course followed by the Party since his arrival; and that I was personally faced with the choice of immediately entering the Party organization “as an individual,” or of trying to bring along with me the best section of those who stood for unity in the [Mezhrayontsy – Inter-District] organizations in Petersburg. This organization numbered about 1,000 workers and contained many precious revolutionary forces: Uritsky, Lunacharsky, Joffe, Vladimirov, Manuilsky, Karakhan, Yurenev, Posern, Litkens, and others. Antonov-Ovseyenko had by that time already joined the Party; so did Sokolnikov, I believe. Lenin did not express himself categorically in favor of either course. He found it necessary, above everything else, to acquaint himself more intimately with the situation and the men. Lenin did not exclude collaboration, of one sort or another, with Martov and generally with the section of Menshevik-Internationalists just returned from abroad. Along with this it was necessary to see how the mutual relations among and with the “Internationalists” would turn out in practice. In view of our tacit agreement, I, for my part, did not try to force the natural development of events. We had one and the same policy. At meetings of workers and soldiers I used, from the first day of my arrival, the formula of “We Bolsheviks and Internationalists,” and inasmuch as the constant repetition of this conjunction “and” kept burdening my speech, I soon abbreviated it to: “We Bolshevik-Internationalists.” The merger politically thus preceded the organizational fusion. [1]

Lenin’s Effect on the Reformists

I visited Pravda’s editorial staff two or three times, at the most critical moments before the July days. In these initial meetings, and more so, after the July days, Lenin gave the impression of most intense concentration, and awe-inspiring inner composure – all this under an outer shell of complete calm and “prosaic” simplicity. Kerenskyism in those days appeared all-powerful. Bolshevism was regarded as an “insignificant little handful.” The Party itself was not as yet cognizant of the power it would generate on the morrow. And at the same time Lenin confidently led the Party toward its supreme tasks ...

Lenin’s speeches at the First Soviet Congress (June 1917) aroused anxious bepuzzlement among the SR-Menshevik majority. They sensed dimly that this man was taking aim at some long-range target. But to discern this target was beyond them. And these little citizens of the revolution kept asking themselves: “Who is he? What is he? Simply a maniac? Or is this an historical projectile of explosive force never known before?”

Lenin’s speech at the Soviet Congress where he argued the necessity of clapping 50 or so capitalists in jail was, if you like, not an “oratorical” success. It was nonetheless of exceptional significance. Comparatively few Bolsheviks in the audience gave the speaker a brief applause as he left the platform with the look of a man who had not spoken everything he had in mind, nor perhaps, had at all said what he wanted to say in a way he should have liked to ... But just the same, a breath of the unusual swept over the hall. It was the breath of the future, felt momentarily by everyone, as bewildered looks accompanied this mnn, so commonplace and yet so enigmatic.

Who is he? What is he? After all, did not Plekhanov in his paper say that Lenin’s first speech on the revolutionary soil of Petersburg was the raving of a man in fever? After all were not the delegates, elected by the masses, in their large majority members of the SRs and the Mensheviks? After all, did not Lenin’s views evoke sharp antagonism among the Bolsheviks themselves?

An Apparent Contradiction

On the one hand, Lenin demanded a complete break not only with bourgeois liberalism but also with every variety of defensism. Inside his own Party he organized a struggle against these “old Bolsheviks, who,” as Lenin said, “had already, more than once played a melancholy role in the history of our Party, and who are now thoughtlessly repeating a formula learned by heart instead of studying the peculiarities of the new, living reality.” (Lenin, Collected Works, First Russian edition, vol. XIV, part 1, p. 28.) From a superficial point of view Lenin was thereby weakening his own Party. And, at the same time, he declared, on the other hand, at the Soviet Congress: “It is not true that there is no party in Russia which is ready today to take upon itself the whole power: there is such a party. Our Party.”

Isn’t there, after all, a monumental contradiction between the position of a “propaganda circle” which differentiates itself from everybody else, and this public claim to assume power over this entire vast country, so shaken to its foundations? And so the Soviet Congress did not understand in the least what this strange man wanted, nor what he hoped for, this ice-cold fanatic, writing little articles for a little newspaper. And there was laughter – when at the Soviet Congress, Lenin declared with beautiful simplicity, which was taken for simplemindedness by authentic simpletons: “Our Party is ready to assume power, the whole power.” “You may laugh all you want to,” said Lenin. He knew that he who laughs last, laughs best. Lenin loved this French saying, because he was firmly determined to have the last laugh. And he went on calmly to prove that it was necessary, as a beginning, to clap in jail 50 to 100 of the biggest millionaires and to proclaim to the people that we regard all capitalists as bandits and that Tereschenko was no better than Miliukov, only a bit more foolish. Terrible, astounding, deadly-simple ideas! And this representative of a small section of the Soviet Congress, a tiny minority which, from time to time applauded him discreetly, told the whole Congress: “Are you afraid of assuming power? Not we. We are ready to take it.” In answer there naturally came – laughter. Laughter which at that moment was almost condescending, but somewhat troubled, just the same

“Put More of a Squeeze on the Bourgeoisie”

And for his second speech Lenin selected the dreadfully simple words from some peasant’s letter to the effect that it is necessary to put more of a squeeze on the bourgeoisie so as to make it burst at all the seams; then the war would come to an end. But that if we did not put such strong pressure on the bourgeoisie, everything would go to pot. And this simple, naive quotation – is this the whole program? Mow can this fail to puzzle? And again there comes a trickle of laughter, condescending and troubled. And, in fact, these words “put more of a squeeze on the bourgeoisie” do not carry much weight, taken abstractly as the program of a propaganda group. However, the puzzled audience failed to understand that Lenin had faultlessly overheard the growing squeeze of history upon the bourgeoisie and knew that as a consequence of this squeeze the bourgeoisie would inescapably “burst in all its seams.”

It was not without reason that Lenin had explained to Citizen Maklakov (a Russian liberal) in May that “the ‘country’ of workers, peasant-poor, and poorest peasants is a thousand times farther to the Left than the Chernovs and Tseretellis” and “a hundred times farther to the Left than our own Party.” Therein is the fountain-source of Lenin’s tactics. Through the newly-fresh, but already quite turgid, democratic pellicle, he had deeply probed this “country of workers, peasant-poor, and poorest peasants.” And it showed itself ready to carry out the greatest of revolutions. But the country was not yet able to express this, its readiness in political terms. Those parties which continued to speak in the name of workers and peasants, were deceiving them. Our Party was as yet not known at all to millions of workers and peasants; they had not yet discovered it as the articulator of all their aspirations, and at the same time our Party did not as yet understand its own potential dynamism and was in consequence a “hundred times” to the Right of the workers and peasants. It was necessary to level off the one with the other.

It was necessary for the many-millioned masses to discover the Party, and for the Party to discover the many-millioned masses. It was necessary not to rush too far ahead, but also urgent not to lag behind. It was necessary to keep on explaining patiently and persistently. What had to be explained were very simple things: “Down With the Ten Capitalist Ministers!” The Mensheviks refuse? So be it. Down with the Mensheviks! They laugh? There is a season for everything ... He laughs best who laughs last.

Sverdlov and His Role

I recall proposing a motion to the effect that the Soviet Congress place first on its agenda the question of the offensive then being prepared at the front against the Germans. Lenin approved of this idea, but evidently wanted to discuss it first with other members of the Central Committee. To the first session of the Soviet Congress, Comrade Kamenev brought a draft Bolshevik declaration on this offensive, hastily sketched by Lenin. I do not know if this document has been preserved. The text – I no longer recall the reasons for it – proved unsuited for the Congress, so far as both the Bolshevik and Internationalist deputations were concerned. Among those who objected to the text was also Posern, whom we had chosen to bring the matter up on the floor. I hastily drafted another text which was used. The organizational side of presenting this declaration was, if I am not mistaken, in the hands of Sverdlov, whom I met for the first time during this Soviet Congress. He was chairman of the Bolshevik Soviet fraction.

Although short and slight of build, which gave the impression of poor health, Sverdlov’s figure was notable, emanating quiet strength. Me presided quietly and smoothly, without any noise or backfire, just like a perfectly functioning motor. The secret was not, naturally, in the art of presiding 6ut in this, that Sverdlov was thoroughly acquainted with the composition of the gathering and knew exactly what he wanted. Every session was preceded by his conferring with individual delegates, by interrogations, here and there by admonitions. Even before a session convened, Sverdlov had a general idea of the lines it would follow. But even without preliminary conferences, he knew better than anybody else just what the attitude of this or that worker would be toward the issue under discussion. The number of comrades of whose political horizon he had a clear conception was very large considering the size of our Party at the time. Me was a born organizer and arranger. Every political question presented itself to him first of all in its specific organizational form, as a question of reciprocal relations between individuals and groupings inside our Party; and of reciprocal relations between the Party as a whole and the masses. Into algebraic formulas he instantly and almost automatically introduced arithmetical numbers. So far as revolutionary action was concerned, he thereby furnished a most important verification of political formulas.

Lenin’s Evaluation of Opponents

Following the cancellation of the June 10 demonstration, when the atmosphere of the First Soviet Congress became white-hot, with Tseretelli threatening to disarm the Petersburg workers, I along with Comrade Kamenev went to Pravda’s editorial offices; and there after a brief exchange of views, I drafted at Lenin’s suggestion an address of the Bolshevik Central Committee to the Executive Committee of the Soviet Congress.

At this meeting Lenin made a few remarks concerning Tseretelli, while commenting upon Tseretelli’s speech (on June 11): “He was once a revolutionist; how many years he spent in prison! And now this complete renunciation of his own past.” There was nothing political in these words; they were spoken not for political effect, but came simply as the product of a fleeting reflection upon the sad fate of a former prominent revolutionist. Lenin’s voice was tinged with regret, with umbrage, but he spoke laconically and dryly, for nothing was so repugnant to him as the slightest hint of sentimentality and psychological slobbering.

On the 4th or 5th of July, as I recall, I met Lenin (along with Zinoviev?) in the Tauride Palace. Our offensive had been beaten back. Among the ruling circles malignant rancor against the Bolsheviks had reached its peak. “Now they will shoot us down,” said Lenin. “It is the most advantageous moment for them.” His basic thought was to sound retreat and go underground to the extent that this might prove necessary. It was one of the abrupt turns of Lenin’s strategy, based as always on a swift appraisal of the situation. Later, in the days of the Third Congress of the Communist International, Vladimir Ilyich happened to say: “In July we did many foolish things.” He was referring here to the premature military action, to the over-aggressive forms of the July demonstration, neither of which corresponded at the time to our forces on the national scale. All the more remarkable was the sober resoluteness with which on July 4-5 he weighed the situation not only from the side of the revolution but also that of the counterrevolution, and came to the conclusion that “for them” it was just the time to shoot us down. Fortunately, our enemies still lacked both such consistency and resolution. They confined themselves to the chemical concoctions of Pereversev (the then Minister of Justice). It is quite likely, though, that had they succeeded in the first days following the July demonstration to lay their hands on Lenin, they, that is, their officer clique, would have treated Lenin exactly as less than two years later, the German officers dealt with Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg.

Facing Savage Attacks of Reaction

There was no definitive decision made at the foregoing meeting to hide or to go underground. Kornilovism was gathering momentum gradually. Personally, I put in public appearances for two or three days and spoke at some Party and organizational conferences on the topic: What to do? The savage attack upon the Bolsheviks seemed insurmountable. The Mensheviks labored might and main to extract maximum profit from a situation that had been created not without their own personal intervention.

Once I had to speak, I recall, in the library of the Tauride Palace, at some meeting of trade union representatives. There were altogether a score or so present, that is, the top union leadership. The Mensheviks dominated. I argued for the necessity of the trade unions to protest against the charge that the Bolsheviks were in any way tied up with German militarism. My recollections of this meeting are hazy, but I do remember quite exactly two or three joyfully malignant faces, verily pleading that their ears be boxed ...

The reign of terror meanwhile intensified. Arrests went on. A few days were spent by me, in hiding, at Comrade Larin’s home. Then I began going out again, made my appearance at the Tauride Palace and was shortly imprisoned. My release came already in the days of the Kornilov monstrosity and of the incipient Bolshevik flood-tide. By this time we had succeeded in consummating the entry of the pro-unity (Inter-District) tendency into the Bolshevik Party. Sverdlov suggested that I meet with Lenin who was then still in hiding. I no longer recall who guided me to the hide-out in a worker’s flat (was it not Rakhia perhaps?) where I met Vladimir llyich. Also present was Kalinin, whom V.I. (Lenin) kept questioning in my presence concerning the mood of the workers; whether they were ready for a fight, whether they would go to the end, whether it was possible to take power, and so on.

Lenin’s Mood at the Turn of the Tide

What was Lenin’s frame of mind at the time? If one were to characterize it in a couple words, one would have to say that it was a mood of restrained impatience and deep anxiety. He saw clearly that the moment was nearing when everything would have to be poised on a razor’s edge and at the same time it seemed to him, and not without good reason, that among the top Party circles all the necessary conclusions were not being drawn. The conduct of the Central Committee he regarded as too passive and dilatory. Lenin did not consider it possible to return openly to work, because he justifiably feared that his arrest would consolidate and even strengthen the dilatory mood among the Party chiefs, and this would unavoidably lead to letting slip of an exceptional revolutionary situation ... This was the reason why Lenin’s vigilance in these days and weeks reached its climax, as did his pouncing upon every sign of “Fabian strategy,” every intimation of dilatoriness and indecision. He demanded an immediate start toward correctly organized conspiratorial work: Let us catch the enemy by surprise and wrest the power – and then we shall see. This, however, provides a subject for a more detailed and independent study.

The future biographer of Lenin will have to treat with and pay the utmost attention to the very fact of Lenin’s return to Russia, and his coming in touch with the mass of the people. Except for a brief interlude in 1905, Lenin had spent more than a decade and a half in foreign exile. All this while, his sense of reality, his sensitivity to the living, toiling human being did not become enfeebled. but had, on the contrary, grown stronger owing to the activity of his theoretical thought and his creative imagination. From sporadic, chance meetings and observations he caught on the wing and recreated the likeness of the whole. Nonetheless he had lived an exile’s life during that period of his life when he completely matured for his coming historical role. He arrived in Petersburg with fully finished revolutionary generalizations, in which was summed up his entire life’s socio-theoretical and practical experience.

Hardly did he set foot on Russian soil, than he issued the slogan of the socialist revolution. But this marked only the beginning of the verification, by the living experience of the awakened toiling masses of Russia, of everything that Lenin had accumulated, thought out to the end, and made his own. Lenin’s formulas withstood the test. More than this, only here in Russia, in Petersburg, did these formulas become filled with day-to-day, invincible concreteness and thereby with insuperable power. It was now no longer necessary to recreate a panoramic likeness of the whole by way of reconstructing it from separate, more or less accidental specimens. The whole made itself known, speaking with all the tongues of the revolution. And here Lenin showed, and perhaps felt fully for the first time himself, to what measure he possessed the ability to hear the still chaotic voice of the awakening masses. With what profound organic contempt did he watch the mouse-play of the leading parties of the February revolution, these waves of “mighty” public opinion which ricocheted from one newspaper to the next; with the same contempt he watched anli noted the myopia, the narcissism, the noisy loquacity, in brief – Official, February Russia.

Attuned to the Rumbling of Revolution

Behind this scene, set with democratic decorations, he heard the rumbling of events of an entirely different order. Whenever skeptics used to call his attention to all the great difficulties in the way, to the mobilization of bourgeois public opinion, the existence of the elemental petty-bourgeois mass, he would set his jaws, and his prominent cheekbones would jut out more angularly than ever. This was a sign that he was holding himself back from telling these skeptics, clearly and pointedly, what he really thought of them. He saw and understood the obstacles no less than others did, but he apprehended. lucidly, tangibly, nay, physically those titanic forces accumulated by history that were now ripping into the open in order to cast aside all the obstacles. He saw, he heard and apprehended, before all the Russian worker, whose class had grown in numbers, who had not yet forgotten the experience of 1905, who had behind him the school of war, who had passed through its illusions as well as through the tinsel and lie of defensism, and who was ready now for the greatest of sacrifices, and for exertions never seen before.

Lenin physically felt the soldier, stunned by three years of hellish slaughter – meaningless, aimless – and now, awakened by the thunder of the revolution, preparing to pay back for all these meaningless sacrifices, all those humiliations and cuffs on the ear by way of an explosion of raging hate that spares nothing. Lenin heard the mouzhik, who still dragged the century-old chains of serfdom, and who now thanks to the upheaval caused by the war, sensed for the first time the possibility of settling accounts, terribly, ruthlessly, with the oppressors, the slaveholders, the gentry, the nobility. The Mouzhik was still helplessly milling around hesitating to choose between Chernov’s bunkology and his own “measures,” i.e., the great agrarian mutiny. The soldier still kept shifting from one foot to the other, seeking for pathways in between patriotism and frantic desertion. The workers still listened, but already mistrustfully and semi-hostilely, to the last tirades of Tseretelli. Already the steam gurgled impatiently in the boilers of Kronstadt warships.

The sailor, combining in his person the razor-edged hate of the workers and the muffled bear-like wrath of the mouzhik; the sailor, seared by the flames of the horrible slaughter, was already dumping overboard all those who in his eyes personified the various species of feudalistic, bureaucratic and military oppression. The February revolution was about to jump the track and roll over the embankment.

The rags and patches of Czarist legality were gathered up by the Compromisist saviors, smoothed out, sewn together and converted into the thin pellicle of democratic legality. But underneath it, everything gurgled and seethed, all the wrongs of the past sought for outlets; hatred toward the cop on the beat, toward the police captain, the district inspector, the chief of police, the police commissioner, the registrar, the manufacturer, the usurer, the landowner, the parasite, the lily-handed one, the reviler, the face-slapper – this hatred prepared a revolutionary eruption, greatest on record.

It was this that Lenin heard and saw; it was this that he felt physically with invincible clarity, with absolute conviction, when, after a long absence, he came in touch with this land seized by paroxysms of the revolution.

Grime-Covered Workers in Ballerina’s Palace

“You little fools, you petty braggarts, you dolts, you think that history is made in drawing rooms where upstart democrats rub elbows with titled liberals; where yesterday’s nonentites from among provincial lawyers hastily learn the art of bowing and kissing little hands of illustrious ladies? You little fools! You little braggarts! You dolts! History is being made in the trenches where, intoxicated by the nightmarish fumes of war, the soldier plants his bayonet in an officer’s belly and then rides the freight-train tops, deserting to his native village there to let the red cock loose over the manor house. Does this barbarism offend your souls? Don’t burn yourselves out with anger. History has this to say to you: You are welcome to all I have ... These are merely the end-products of everything that had gone before. You seriously imagine that history is made in your Contact Commissions? Nonsense, infant prattle. Delusions! Cretinism! History, for your information, has this time chosen as its trial laboratory the palace of Kshesinskaia, the dancer, former mistress of a former Czar. And from here, from this structure-symbol of Old Russia, history is preparing to liquidate your entire Petersburgish-Czaristic, bureaucratico-noble, landlord-bourgeois rot and indecency. Hither, to this palace of a former Imperial ballerina, are streaming grime-covered factory delegates, greyish, pock-marked and lice-ridden foot-messengers from the trenches, and from here they spread all over the land the new, prophetic words.”

The Ministers-in-Woe of the revolution met in council after council on how to restore this palace to its lawful owner. Bourgeois, SRist, Menshevist papers bared in rage their rotten teeth because Lenin, from Kshesinskaia’s balcony, broadcast the slogans of the socialist revolution. But these belated efforts were to no avail. They added neither to Lenin’s hate of Old Russia, nor to his will to settle accounts with it. The first as well as the second had already approached its limit. On Kshesinskaia’s balcony, stood the same Lenin who two months later was to hide in a haystack, and who, within a few weeks, was to assume the post of Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars.

Party Moods and the Masses

Seeing all this, Lenin also saw that inside the Party itself there existed a conservative resistance – at first not so much political as psychological in character – to that great leap which had to be made. Lenin watched with anxiety the widening lack of correspondence between the moods of a section of Party chiefs and the millions of workers. He was not satisfied for a moment with the formal adoption of the armed-uprising formula by the Central Committee, he knew the difficulties of transition from word to deed. With all the force and resources at his command he strove to subject the Party to the pressure of the masses and the Party’s Central Committee to the pressure of its rank and file. He summoned individual comrades to his place of refuge, gathered reports, checked them, arranged for cross-interrogations, and in every conceivable way, from below, from deep inside, by circuitous paths and in every criss-cross way, he sped his slogans into the Party in order to confront the top Party circles with the need to act and go the limit.

Unbounded Faith in Masses

To form a correct estimate of Lenin’s conduct in this period, it is essential to establish one thing, namely: that he had unbounded faith in the desire and ability of the masses to accomplish the revolution; but he did not have the same confidence in regard to the Party staff. And at the same time Lenin understood with a clarity beyond all clarity that there was not a minute to lose. A revolutionary situation cannot be arbitrarily preserved, like a vegetable, until the moment when the Party is ready to make use of it. We have seen a similar experience recently in Germany. Not so long ago we had to listen to a view that if we had not taken power in October, we would have done so two or three months later. A gross delusion! Had we not taken power in October, we would not have taken it at all. Our strength prior to October lay in the uninterrupted flow of the masses to us, the influx of those who believed that this Party would do what the rest had failed to do. If the masses had perceived any vacillation on our part at this moment, any delay, any discrepancy between our word and our deed, then in the course of the next two or three months, the masses would have ebbed away from us, just as they previously did from the SRs and the Mensheviks. The bourgeoisie would have gained a breathing spell and would have used it to conclude a peace. The relation of forces could have changed drastically, and the proletarian overturn would have been postponed to an indefinite future. It was just this that Lenin understood, apprehended and felt. From this sprang his alarm, his mistrust and his fierce pressure which proved to be the salvation of the revolution.

Inner-Party Disagreements Flare

The inner-party disagreements which flared stormily in the October days, had already manifested themselves in a preliminary way during several prior stages of the revolution. The first collision, the most principled one but still calmly theoretical in tone, arose immediately upon Lenin’s arrival. It was the conflict over his (April 4) theses. The second muffled clash occurred in connection with the armed demonstration of April 20. The third – around the projected armed demonstration of June 10. The “moderates” held that Lenin wanted to foist an armed demonstration upon them with a view toward an uprising.

The next and much sharper conflict flared up in connection with the July days. The differences broke into the press. A further stage in the development of this internal struggle was reached on the question of the Pre-Parliament. This time in the Party’s parliamentary fraction two groupings collided breast to breast. Were any minutes taken of this session? Were these minutes preserved? I do not know. But these debates are unquestionably of extraordinary interest. Two tendencies were delineated quite clearly: the one, in favor of taking power; the other, in favor of playing an oppositional role in the Constituent Assembly. The partisans of boycotting the Pre-Parliament were in the minority, but it was a minority almost as large as the majority. To these debates in the fraction and the decision adopted by it (in favor of participating in the Pre-Parliament) Lenin, from his hide-out, reacted swiftly by way of a letter to the Central Committee. This letter, in which Lenin declared himself, in more than vigorous terms, in solidarity with the boycotters of the “Buligynite Duma” of Kerensky-Tseretelli, I have been unable to locate in the second part of Volume XIV of Lenin’s Collected Works. (The Buligyn Duma was convened by the Czar in 1905 in order to try to head off the then unfolding revolution.) Has this extremely valuable document been preserved?

Probings and Reconnoiterings

The differences reached their highest tension immediately before the October stage, when under discussion was the final adoption of the course toward the uprising and the setting of a date for it. And finally, even after the October 25 overturn, the differences grew sharp in the extreme over the question of a government in coalition with the other socialist parties.

It would be interesting in the maximum degree to reconstruct, down to the last detail, Lenin’s role on the eve of April 20, on the eve of June 10, and of the July days. “We did many foolish things in July,” Lenin used to say later in private conversations and, as I recall, he repeated it at a conference with the German delegation on the March events in Germany in 1921. Of what did these “foolish things” consist? Of vigorous, or rather over-vigorous probings; of active, or rather much too active reconnoiterings. Without such reconnoiterings, from time to time, we could have fallen behind the masses. But on the other hand, as everybody knows, an active reconnoitering action may sometimes pass involuntarily into a general battle. This was almost the case in July. But the signal for retreat was given in plenty of time. And in those days the enemy lacked the courage to force matters to a showdown. And it was by no means accidental that this courage was lacking. Kerenskyism is half-and-half by its very nature; and this cowardly Kerenskyism tended to paralyze Kornilovism all the more, the more Kerenskyism itself stood in fear of Kornilovism.

April 1924


1. N.N. Sukhanov in his history of the Russian Revolution erects a special political line, allegedly mine, as against Lenin’s line. But Sukhanov happens to be a notorious “erector.” – L.T.

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Last updated on: 26 March 2009