Written: September 15, 1924.
Source: The Errors of Trotskyism, May 1925.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2007. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.
I. The Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry: February and October
II. The Fight with the War and Defencism
III. The April Conference
IV. July Days and After
V. Concerning October Events
VI. The October Rising
VII. Yet Again about the Soviets and the Party
VIII. A Word or Two About this Book
Although the October Revolution has proved a success, it has still not obtained that consideration in our press which is its due. Not a single book has yet appeared which gives a general view of the October upheaval, which presents those points of policy and organisation that are of greatest moment. Furthermore, not even the rough materials—documents of utmost importance—which characterise in a direct way the particular aspects of preparation for that upheaval, or the upheaval as such—have vet been published. A good many many historico-revolutionary and party-historical documents and materials, bearing upon the pre-October period are being issued and a good deal of material which refers to the October period is being published, but “October” itself is getting very much less attention. The change having been accomplished, we decided, as it were, that we should not have to go through it again. It seemed to us that no direct and immediate advantage could accrue for the work of further construction that cannot possibly be deferred, from an attempt to study “October,” the conditions of the immediate preparations for it; the accomplishment of it; and the consolidation of it during the first few weeks. Such an estimate, while semi-consciously made, is, however, profoundly erroneous; and, moreover, is limited by the element of nationalism. While it is true that we shall not have to repeat the October experience, it does not at all follow that there is nothing to learn from that experience. We are a part of the International, and the proletariat in other lands has still yet to solve its “October” problem, and last year we have had quite enough evidence to convince us that even so far as the most advanced Communist parties of the West are concerned, our “October” experience has not only not assumed a bodily form, but that these parties are indeed not really acquainted with the actual facts of the case.
It can, of course, be said that old party differences are bound to be stirred up by the study of “October” and even by the publication of material relating to “October.” Such a view of the matter is, however, not worth considering. The conflict of opinions in 1917 was no doubt of a very profound nature and not by any means accidental. But to turn them now, after the lapse of several years, into weapons of attack against those who were at that time mistaken would be a miserable affair. Still less permissible would it be to keep silence, on personal grounds, concerning matters of the October revolution which are of the greatest importance and which are international in character.
We met with two severe defeats in Bulgaria last year. In the first place, the party allowed a moment most propitious for revolutionary activity to escape for reasons of a doctrinaire-fatalistic nature. That moment was the rising of the peasants after the June upheaval of Tsankov. In the second place, when the party tried to make good the mistake by throwing itself in the September rising, it did so without any preparatory political activity and without the requisite organisation. The Bulgarian revolution ought to have been an introduction to the German revolution. Unfortunately the ill-starred Bulgarian introduction led to still worse issues in Germany itself. There we have it demonstrated, in a classical manner, during the second part of last year, how possible it is to let a perfectly exceptional revolutionary situation of a universally historical character escape. Once more, however, neither last year’s Bulgarian nor German experience has received a sufficiently full and concrete estimation. Last year the present author traced out a scheme in which the events in Germany would develop (see East and West, chapters At the Turning Point and The Stage through which We are Passing). All that took place since that day has wholly and entirely substantiated that scheme. No one else has attempted any other explanation. But schemes are not enough. What we need is a concrete presentation, packed full of real material, of last year’s events in Germany which would show forth in all its concreteness the causes of the severest historical defeat.
It is difficult, however, to talk of analysing Bulgarian or German events, when we have not, up to the present, given a politically and tactically elaborated picture of the October revolution. We have not made clear to ourselves what we have accomplished, or in what way we have accomplished things. When October was over, it seemed, in the heat of things, that in Europe events would develop of their own accord and, at the same time, in so brief a period as to have no time for any theoretical mastering of the lessons of October. But it appears that the absence of a party which is able to direct a proletarian revolution, renders such a revolution itself impossible. By an elemental rising the proletariat cannot seize power. All that an elemental rising of the workers could do in a so highly industrialised and highly civilised a country like Germany (in November, 1918), it seems, was to transfer power into the hands of the bourgeoisie. The propertied class is able to take up the power which has been knocked out of the hands of another propertied class by relying on its wealth, its culture, and all the many connections it has with the old state machine. But the proletariat has nothing to put in place of its party. It is only with the middle of 1921 that the period of giving the proper form to the construction of Communist parties really begins (the struggle for the masses, the united front, etc.). The tasks or “October” had moved away, and along with this the study of October also moved away. Last year has brought us again face to face with the problems of the proletarian revolution. The time has really arrived when all the documents should be collected, the materials published, and the study of them begun.
We are well aware, of course, that every nation, every class and even that every party learns, as a rule, from its own experience. That does not mean, however, that the experience of other countries, classes and parties is of very little importance. Had we not studied the great French Revolution, the revolution of ’48, and the Paris Commune, we should never have brought about the October revolution, even if the experience of 1905 was ours. And that “national” experience of ours we have managed to get through in dependence on the results of previous revolutions and continuing their historical course. After that the whole period of counter-revolution was taken up with the study of the lessons and results of 1905. Meanwhile, in regard to the triumphant revolution of 1917, we have done no such work—no, not a tenth part of it. We are not living, forsooth, in times of reaction, or in emigration. On the other hand no comparison is in any way possible between the powers and resources which we wield at the present time and those years of hardship. All that is needful is to place clearly and accurately the task of studying the October revolution both on a party scale as well as on the scale of the International as a whole. All that is needful is that the whole party, and particularly its rising generations, should work through step by step the experience of October which gave the supreme, the incontestable and the irrevocable justification of the past and opened wide the gates of the future. Last year’s German lesson is not a serious reminder only, it is also a warning full of menace.
It can, of course, be argued that even the most earnest acquaintance with the march of the October revolution would not have been a guarantee that our German party would prove victorious. But so trite and essentially philistine an argumentation as this cannot carry us a single step forward. No one argues that the study of the October revolution is in itself sufficient for victory in other countries, but it is quite possible that circumstances might occur when everything that is necessary for a revolution is in existence, with the exception of a far-seeing and resolute party leadership based on a grasp of the laws and methods of revolution. Such, indeed, was the situation in Germany a year ago. That may be repeated in other countries. But for the study of the laws and methods of a proletarian revolution there is, up to the present time, no more important and profound source than our October experience. Leaders of Communist parties in Europe who had not critically, and in all its concreteness, wormed through the history of the October overthrow, would be like a commander-in-chief who, preparing in the present circumstances for new wars, had not acquainted himself with the strategical, tactical and technical experience of the latest imperialist war. Such a commander-in-chief would inevitably doom his army to future defeat.
The fundamental instrument of a proletarian revolution is the party. On the grounds of our experience, even if for the length of one year—February, 1917 to February, 1918—and on the ground of the further experience in Finland, Hungary, Italy, Bulgaria, and Germany, the inevitability of a party crisis, while passing from preparatory revolutionary activity to a direct struggle for power, can be established almost in the character of an unalterable law. Speaking generally, crises within the Party arise either as an approach to a revolutionary change or as an outcome of it, whenever there is a serious turn in the party’s direction. Obviously, this must be so, for every period of a party’s development has special features of its own, and makes a demand for definite ways and methods of action. A change of tactics means, to a greater or lesser degree, a break with such ways and methods. Here then is found the direct and proximate root of friction and crises which occur within the party.
“It fairly frequently happens,” wrote Lenin, in July, 1917, “that when a sharp turn occurs in the course of history, even the most advanced parties find it difficult, for some time at least, to adapt themselves to the new situation. They repeat those watchwords which were true yesterday, but which are quite void of meaning to-day, which have ‘suddenly’ lost their meaning to the degree in which the sharp turn taken by history was itself ‘sudden.’”
Here then it is where danger is likely to arise. Should the turning taken be too sharp or too sudden, and should the preceding period have gathered in too many elements of inertia and conservatism in the bodies which direct the party, then the party will show itself unable to fulfil its leadership at the moment of greatest responsibility for which it was preparing itself during a stretch of years or of decades. The crisis consumes the party, and the movement as such passes on—to defeat.
Then there is the pressure of other political forces upon the revolutionary party. In every particular period of its development the party works out those methods which are necessary to counteract and resist them. When a change of tactics takes places and when the consequent regrouping and friction within the party follow, there occurs an attendant decline in the party’s power of resistance. Thus there is always the possibility that the internal groupings of the party, which have grown up on account of the necessity of a change of tactics, may pass far beyond their original basis and serve as a support of various class tendencies. In plainer words—the party which does not keep step with the historical tasks of its own class, becomes, or runs the risk of becoming, an indirect tool in the hands of other classes.
If what was said is true in relation to every serious change of tactics, then it is all the more true in respect of great strategical changes. By tactics of policy we understand, using the analogy of military acts, the art of conducting particular operations. By strategy, we understand the art of conquest, i.e., the seizing of power. As a rule we drew no such distinction prior to the war in the period of the Second International, confining ourselves only to the conception of social-democratic tactics. This was by no means an haphazard procedure. Social-democracy held to parliamentary, trade union, municipal, co-operative and such like tactics. But the question of uniting every power and resource—every kind of force—in order to sustain a victory over the enemy was really not raised in the period of the Second International since the struggle for power was not raised as a practical problem. It was the 1905 revolution which, after a long interval, raised, for the first time, the fundamental or the strategical questions of a proletarian struggle. And in doing so it procured immense advantages for the Russian revolutionary Social-Democrats, i.e., the Bolsheviks. The great period of revolutionary strategy began in 1917, first in Russia, and later on throughout the whole of Europe. Strategy does not, however, abolish tactics: problems of trade unionism, of parliamentary action, etc., do not disappear from our field of vision, but now receive a new significance, as the subsidiary methods of a combined struggle for power. Tactics are subordinated to strategy.
If tactical changes usually lead to friction within the party, how much more severe and profound must be the friction produced by a change of strategy. And the acutest change occurs when the proletarian party moves away from the stage of preparation, of propaganda, of organisation, and of agitation to the direct struggle for power, to an armed rising against the bourgeoisie. Everything in the party which is indecisive, sceptical, conciliatory, capitulatory, menshevist, objects to the rising, and seeks theoretical formulas for its opposition and finds them at hand among yesterday’s opponent—opportunists. This fact we shall have to face more than once.
The final examination and selection of the party’s weapon prior to the decisive struggle, took place during the period of February to October, on the basis of the widest possible agitational and organisational work among the masses. In and after October, that weapon was tested in a gigantic historical act. To commence now, several years after October, to estimate various points of view in regard to revolution in general and the Russian revolution in particular, and at the same time to evade the experience of 1917, would signify a pursuit of barren scholasticism, and in no sense a Marxian analysis of policy. This would be like carrying on a discussion on the advantages of various systems of swimming, while stubbornly refusing to look at the river where these systems are followed by the bathers. No better verification of ideas on revolution exists than the application of them at the very time of the revolution, just as a system of swimming is best of all verified when the swimmer jumps into the water.
The occurrence and issues of the October revolution struck a relentless blow at the scholastic parody of Marxism, very widespread in Russian Social-Democratic quarters, which began, to a certain extent with the “Emancipation of Labour” group, and which found its most finished expression among the Mensheviks. The substance of this pseudo-Marxism lay in this. It changed Marx’s conditional and limited conception, namely, that “the foremost countries show to those which are less advanced the form their future development is to take,” into an absolute super-historical law, as Marx would say, and sought to establish upon the basis of that law the tactics of the party of the working class. Under such circumstances, no mention could, of course, be made of any struggle of the Russian proletariat for power so long as the most economically developed countries had not created the necessary “precedent.” That every less advanced country finds certain lines of its future in the history of the most advanced countries, is, of course, no longer a matter of debate, but to speak of any repetition in its entirety is to talk at random. On the contrary, the more capitalist economy acquired a world character, the more unique became the position of the less advance, countries in which the less advanced elements were associated with the latest achievements of capitalist development. In his preface to “The Peasants’ War,” Engels wrote, “at a certain point which does not necessarily arrive simultaneously everywhere, nor to the same degree of development, the bourgeoisie begins to observe, that its proletarian companion becomes of stature taller than itself.” By the march of historical development, the Russian bourgeoisie had to make that observation earlier and more completely than all the others. It was even before 1905 that Lenin characterised the uniqueness of the Russian revolution by the formula of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. That formula, as later events showed, can only be regarded as meaning a stage in the direction of the Socialist dictatorship of the proletariat in reliance upon the peasantry. Lenin’s presentation of the problem, revolutionary and dynamic through and through, was wholly and entirely opposed to the Menshevist scheme, according to which Russia could only pretend to a repetition of the history of the leading nations, having the bourgeoisie in power and social democracy in opposition. In some circles of our party, however, that formula of Lenin was accented not on the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasants, but on its democratic, as opposed to its Socialist, character. So once more, this meant that in Russia, a country which was not so advanced as other countries, only a democratic revolution was conceivable. The Socialist revolution was to begin in the West. We could only take the path of Socialism after England, France and Germany. But such a way of dealing with the question inevitably led to Menshevism. This became perfectly clear in 1917 when the problems of the revolution were not a matter of prognosis, but of action.
To take up, amidst the actual conditions of the revolution, the position of democracy, pushed to its logical conclusion, in opposition to Socialism, as “being premature” would have meant, politically speaking, to move away from the proletarian to the petty bourgeois position, to pass over to the left flank of a national revolution.
The February Revolution taken by itself was a bourgeois revolution. But as a bourgeois revolution it was rather belated and void of any permanence. Torn asunder by contradictions, which straightaway found their expression in a dualist power, it had either to pass into an immediate step to a proletarian revolution—that is what happened—or, under some sort of a bourgeois-oligarchic regime throw Russia back into a semi-colonial existence. Consequently, the period which succeeded the February revolution can be regarded in a double sense, either as a period of consolidatory development, or consummation of the “democratic” revolution, or, as a period of preparation for the proletarian revolution. The first view was taken not only by the Mensheviks and S.R.’s, but by a certain, section of the leading members of our own party. With this difference, that the latter really tried to push the democratic revolution as far as possible left-ward. But the method was essentially one and the same—“pressure” on the bourgeoisie in power, yet seeing to it that such a pressure should not go beyond the bounds of a bourgeois democratic regime. If that policy had prevailed, the development of the revolution would have moved away from our party and all that we should in the long run have secured would have been a rising of the masses of workers and peasants without any party guidance. In other words, there would have been a repetition of the July days on a colossal scale, i.e., not as an episode but as a catastrophe.
It is perfectly obvious, that the immediate result of such a catastrophe would have been the destruction of the party. That shows how deep the differences of opinion were.
The influence of the Mensheviks and S.R.’s during the first period of the revolution was not, of course, a matter of chance. It reflected an abundance of petty bourgeois masses—peasants in the main—among the people, and the immaturity of the revolution itself. And it was this very immaturity of the revolution, amid the quite peculiar conditions which the war brought about, which placed into the hands of the petty bourgeois revolutionaries the leadership, or at least, the semblance of leadership which came to this, that they defended the historical rights of the bourgeoisie to power. That, however, in no sense implies that the Russian revolution could have taken no other course than that it took from February to October, 1917. The course which was taken was due not only to class relations, but to the temporary circumstances caused by the war. In virtue of the war, the peasants were organised and armed in the form of a many-millioned army. Before the proletariat succeeded to organise itself under its own banner so as to carry the village masses along with it, the petty bourgeois revolutionaries found a natural mainstay in the masses of the peasants whom the war had made rebellious. By the weight of this many-millioned army, upon which, indeed, everything was in direct dependence, the petty bourgeois revolutionaries exerted pressure on the proletariat and carried them along in the first instance. That on the very same class principles the march of the revolution could have been other than it was, is best of all demonstrated by the events which preceded the war. In July, 1914, Petrograd was shaken by revolutionary strikes. Things had gone so far as to cause open street conflicts. The absolute leadership of that movement belonged to the underground organisation, and to the legal press of our party. Bolshevism increased its influence in a direct struggle against adjustments and the petty bourgeois parties in general. The further advance of the movement would have meant first of all an increase of the Bolshevist party. The Soviets of the workers’ deputies in 1914—if things had gone so far as Soviets—would probably have been Bolshevist in the first days. The arousing of the village would have gone on under the direct and indirect leadership of the town Soviets which were guided by the Bolsheviks. That does not mean certainly that the S.R.’s would have straightaway disappeared from the village. No. In all probability the first stage of the peasant revolution would have proceeded under the nationalist banner. But the development of events, to which we have referred, would have forced the nationalists themselves to push forward their left-wing and to seek a point of contact with the Bolshevist Soviets of the towns. The immediate issue of the rising would in such a case also have depended, of course, in the first instance, on the attitude and conduct of the army which was bound up with the peasants. It is impossible, and there is no need to guess from an anecdote, whether the movement of 1914-1915 would have proved victorious if the war had not broken out and introduced a new gigantic link into the chain of development. There is, however, a good deal which goes to prove that had a triumphant revolution unfolded along the path which began with the events of July, 1914, then the overthrow of Tsarism would probably have meant that the revolutionary worker Soviets would have had immediate access to power and that by the agency of the left nationalists they would have drawn (in the first days!) the masses of the peasants within their own orbit.
The revolutionary movement which had been developing was interrupted by the war—first retarding and afterwards giving extraordinary acceleration to it. A perfectly exceptional basis—not only social, but also organisational—was created by the war, for the petty bourgeois parties, by means of the many-millioned army. For in regard to the peasantry, the peculiarity is dust this, that with all their multitudinousness, it is difficult to form them into an organised base. The petty bourgeois parties who had taken their stand on the shoulders of a prepared organisation, that is the army, overawed the proletariat and beclouded them with the idea of “defencism.” That is why Lenin at once made a fierce pronouncement against the old rallying cry of “the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasants,” which under the new circumstances, had come to mean the conversion of the Bolshevist party into a left flank of the defencist bloc. The chief concern which Lenin had before him was how to bring the proletarian vanguard from the quagmire of “defencism” into a clear place. For it was only on that condition that the proletariat could become—in the next stage—the nucleus around which the rural working masses were to group. But in that case what was to become of the democratic revolution, or, more correctly, of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasants? Lenin showed no mercy in rebutting those “old Bolsheviks,” “who,” he said, “on more than one occasion played a sad part in the history of our party, repeatedly babbling the formula they learned, instead of studying the unique character of new and living reality.” “The need is to keep in step not with old formulas, but with new reality.” “Will Comrade Kamenev’s old Bolshevist formula that ‘the bourgeois democratic revolution is not over’ take hold of this reality?” “No,” he answers, “the formula has grown old. It is of no use whatever. It is dead. The effort to resurrect it will be futile.”
True, Lenin occasionally remarked that the Soviets of workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ deputies during the first period of the February revolution to a certain degree did embody the revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasants. That is true in so far as the Soviets generally embodied power. But as Lenin on more than one occasion explained, the Soviets of the February days possessed only semi-power. They supported the power of the bourgeoisie bringing only a semi-oppositional “pressure” to bear upon it. And it was just this indeterminate state which did not allow them to get out of the democratic coalition of workers, peasants and soldiers. As far as forms of government are concerned, that coalition tended to dictatorship, to the measure in which it did not rely on proper governmental relatives, but upon armed force and direct revolutionary judgment. However, it fell short of dictatorship by several heads. It was precisely in this democratic amorphism of a semi-power coalition of workers, peasants and soldiers, that the instability of the assenting Soviets consisted. They had either entirely to cease to be, or they had to take real power into their hands. But they could only take power not in the capacity of a democratic coalition of workers and peasants, representative of various parties, but in the capacity of a dictatorship of the proletariat directed by a single party, a proletarian dictatorship which, beginning with the semi-proletarian sections of the peasants, would carry along with it the masses of the peasants. In other words, the democratic worker-peasants could only be designated as an immature form of power which had not advanced to real power, as a tendency rather than as a fact. Any further advance to power could only have been made by breaking the democratic covering, by confronting the majority of the peasants with the necessity of following the workers by giving to the proletariat the opportunity to realise class dictatorship, and thereby laying down as an immediate task—along with a full and ruthlessly radical democratisation of social relationship—a purely Socialist invasion of the workers’ government into the sphere of capitalist property rights. Those who, under such circumstances, continued to stand by the formula of “democratic dictatorship,” as a matter of fact refused power and led the revolution into a blind alley.
The main point of contention around which all else turned was the question whether to fight or not to fight for power; to take power or not to take power. This in itself shows that we were faded not with an episodic divergence of opinions, but with the tendencies which had to do exclusively with a matter of principle. One of these tendencies, the principal one, was proletarian, and led to the path of world revolution, the other was “democratic,” i.e., petty bourgeois and led in the final sequence to the subordination of proletarian policy to the requirements of reformist bourgeois society. These two tendencies came into hostile collision throughout the whole of 1917, whenever any essential question was dealt with. It is the revolutionary period, indeed—i.e., the time when the party’s accumulated capital is put into immediate circulation—which could not avoid opening and really disclosing divergence of such a character. These two tendencies will more than once manifest themselves to a greater or lesser degree, with this or that kind of modification, in the revolutionary period of all countries. If by Bolshevism—when we look at its salient and essential part—is to be understood, such a training, such a tempering, such an organising of the proletarian vanguard so as to become able with weapon in hand to seize power; and, if by social democracy is to be understood reformist opposition activity within the limits of bourgeois society, and an adaptation to its lawfulness, i.e., the actual training of the masses to recognise in their mind and heart the inviolability of the bourgeois state, then it is perfectly clear that even within the Communist party, which does not come out of the oven of history fully baked at once, the struggle between Social-Democratic tendencies and Bolshevism is bound to become most glaringly, openly and unmaskedly revealed at a time of immediate revolution when the question of power becomes the point at issue.
The task of the conquest of power was put before the party only after the arrival of Lenin in Petrograd, i.e., on the fourth day of April. But even from that moment the line which the party took was no mean one, and undivided which no one could oppose. In spite of the decision of the conference in April, 1917, the opposition to the revolutionary course—hidden or open—pervades the entire period of preparation.
The study of the process of divergent views between February and the consolidation of the October revolution, is not only of extraordinary interest as regards theory, but it has an immeasurably practical significance.
The discord which showed itself at the Second Congress in 1903, Lenin described in 1910 as an “anticipation” a delight to come. It is very important to search through these divergences of view, beginning with the sources of their origin, i.e., in 1903, or even earlier than that, for example with “economism.” But such a study acquires a meaning only when it is carried on to finality, and when it covers that period in which the differences were put to the test, i.e., the October period.
Within the limits of the space at our disposal, we cannot, of course, undertake an exhaustive investigation of every stage of the struggle. But we feel that it is necessary, even in part, to fill in that deplorable blank which exists in our literature in respect of the most important period in the development of our party.
The question of power, as we said, lies at the heart of the differences. This is as a rule, the touchstone whereby the character of revolutionary parties (and not only of revolutionary) is determined. In close dependence on the question of power there is the question of the war which arises and is decided at this period. We shall consider both problems according to the main chronological landmarks: the position of the party and of the party’s press in the first period subsequent to the overthrow of Tsarism, before the arrival of Lenin; the struggle around the theses of Lenin; the April conference; the results of the July days; Kornilovism; the Democratic conference and the pre-Parliaments; the problem of an armed rising and the seizure of power (September-October), the question of a “homogenous” Socialist Government.
Such a study of the differences will, we hope, enable us to arrive at conclusions which might be of importance even to other parties of the Communist International.
The overthrow of Tsardom in February, 1917, undoubtedly meant a stupendous leap forward. But to take February within the limits of February—i.e., to take it not as a step to October—it would merely mean that Russia was approximating to the type, shall we say, of bourgeois republican France. The petty bourgeois revolutionary parties, as is their wont accepted the revolution of February neither as a bourgeois one, nor as a step towards a Socialist revolution, but as something which in itself had some “democratic” value. On this notion they built up an ideology of revolutionary defencism. They did not defend the domination of any class as such, but “revolution” and “democracy.” But even in our own party the revolutionary thrust of February led to an extraordinary confusion of political perspective. As a matter of fact, in March Pravda stood a great deal nearer to the position of revolutionary defencism, than to the position which Lenin took.
“When one army faces another army”—we read in one of the editorial articles—“the most absurd policy would be for one of them to lay down arms and go home.” Such a policy would not be a policy of peace, but a policy of enslavement, a policy which a free people would repudiate with indignation. No, it will hold firmly to its position, meeting bullet with bullet, and shell with shell. That is inevitable. We must not allow any disorganisation of the fighting forces of the revolution. What is here dealt with is not a class dominating or oppressed, but a “free people”; not classes fighting for power, but a free people “holding to its post.” Ideas and formula are throughout defencist. Further on in the same article we read, “our motto is not the disorganisation of the revolutionary army and of the army which is becoming revolutionary, nor it is the empty cry ‘down with the war!’ Our motto is the bringing of pressure (!) to bear on the Provisional Government for the purpose of forcing it openly, in the face of the world’s democracy (!) to make, without fail, an attempt (!) to incline (!) all the countries at war to commence immediate negotiations for the cessation of hostilities. Until then everyone (!) remains at his fighting post (!)” The programme of pressure on the imperialist government so as to “incline” it to a pious course of action was the Kautsky-Ledebour programme of Germany, the Jean Longuet programme of France, and the MacDonald programme of England, but in no way the programme of Bolshevism. The article concludes not only with a “warm welcome” of the celebrated manifesto of the Petrograd Soviet, “To all the nations of the world” (a manifesto which is pervaded through and through with the spirit of revolutionary defencism) but it refers to the solidarity of the editorial board with the obviously defencist resolutions of two Petrograd meetings. Suffice it to say that one of these resolutions states: “If the democracies of Germany and Austria will not hear our voice (i.e.., the voice of the Provisional Government and of the conciliationist Soviet—L. T .) then we shall defend our country to the last drop of blood.”
The article which we have quoted is not an exception. On the contrary, it quite accurately expresses the position of Pravda prior to Lenin’s return to Russia. Thus, in the next number of the paper, in the article “concerning the war” although “the manifesto to all peoples,” is to some extent criticised, yet these words occur: “It is impossible not to welcome yesterday’s proclamation of the Council of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies of Petrograd to the nations of the whole world, summoning them to force their governments to bring the slaughter to an end.To the question, “Where should a way out of the war be sought?” The following answer is given: “The way out, is the path of pressure on the Provisional Government with the demand that it should announce its willingness to begin immediate negotiations for peace.”
It is quite easy to give not a few of such like quotations of a hiddenly—defencist, of a masked-conciliatory nature. But at that very time, nay, a week earlier Lenin himself, who had not yet managed to tear himself out from his cage in Zurich, smashed in his “Letters from Afar” (the majority of which never reached Pravda) suggestions of any concession to defencism and coalition. Catching a glimpse of revolutionary events from the distorted mirror of the capitalist press, he wrote on March 8th (21): “Under no circumstances must the fact be hidden from oneself or from the people that this government desires to continue the imperialist war, that it is an agent of British capitalism, that it wants to restore the monarchy and strengthen the dominion of landowners and capitalists.” And on March 12th (25) he wrote: “To address a proposal for the conclusion of a democratic peace to this government is just the same as to preach a sermon on virtue to people who maintain houses of ill-fame.” At the time when Pravda was calling for “pressure” on the Provisional Government in order to compel it to make a stand for peace “in the face of the democracy of the world,” Lenin was writing: “An appeal to the Guchkov-Miliukov Government with a proposal quickly to conclude an honourable, democratic, neighbourly peace is just the same as an appeal made by a kindly village “batzushka” to landowners and dealers to live “godly” lives, to love one’s neighbours, and to offer the right cheek when one smites on the left cheek.”
On April 4th, the day after his arrival at Petrograd, Lenin took a definite stand against the position of Pravda on the question of war and peace. He wrote: “No support whatever to the Provisional Government, an exposure of the entire deception of all its promises, particularly in regard to its renunciation of annexations. Disclosure in place of an inadmissible, illusion-sowing “demand,” in order that this government, the government of capitalists should cease to be imperialist.” It is needless to point out that the proclamation of the conciliators of March 14th, which evaded such congratulatory expressions on the part of Pravda, Lenin characterised as nothing else than “splendid” and “confused.” It is the height of hypocrisy to appeal to other nations to break with their banners and at the same moment to form a coalition government with the banners of one’s own country. “The Centre,” says Lenin, in a scheme for a platform, “is all the time vowing and swearing, that they are Marxists, Internationalists, that they are for peace, for every kind of “pressure” on the government, for every kind of “demand” to their government that it should “declare” the people’s will for peace.”
But it may be replied, on a first glance, does a revolutionary party refuse “pressure” on the bourgeoisie and on its government? Certainly not. Pressure on a bourgeois government is the path of reform. A Marxist revolutionary party does not reject reforms. But the path of reform is of use in regard to secondary and not to essential matters. You cannot by reforms obtain power. You cannot by bringing “pressure” to bear force the bourgeoisie to alter its policy on a matter with which its entire fate is intertwined. The war created a revolutionary situation by the very fact that it left no room for any reformist “pressure.” All that could be done was to go the whole way with the bourgeoisie, or to raise the masses against it so as to tear the power from out of its hands. In the first case the bourgeoisie would have given some kind of sop in regard to home policy, on condition that the foreign policy of imperialism obtained unqualified support. It was on this very account that Socialist reformism transformed itself into Socialist imperialism with the commencement of the war. It was on this very account that the really revolutionary elements were forced to begin to create a new International.
The point of view of Pravda is not proletarian revolutionary, but democratic defencist, although it is defencist by a half. We have brought Tsarism down. We shall bring pressure to bear on the democratic power. The latter must propose peace to the peoples of the world. If the democracy of Germany is not able to bring due pressure to bear on its government, then we shall defend our “homeland” to the last drop of blood. The bringing about of peace was not made an independent task of the working class, which was called upon to accomplish it over the head of the bourgeois Provisional Government. This was not done because the conquest of power by the proletariat was not made a practical revolutionary task. For the simple reason that the one cannot be separated from the other.
The speech which Lenin made at the railway station in Finland, about the Socialist character of the Russian revolution fell like a bomb on many party leaders. A polemic contest between Lenin and the adherents of “accomplishing a democratic revolution” began from the very first day.
The armed April demonstration which had as its cry, “Down with the Provisional Government,” became the object of an acute conflict. That episode gave ground to some representatives of the right wing to charge Lenin with Blanquism: the overthrow of the Provisional Government which was at the time upheld by the Soviet majority, could only be brought about by having the majority of the workers on our side. From a formal point of view, the accusation might not have lacked conclusiveness, but as a matter of fact, there was not a shadow of Blanquism in Lenin’s April policy. The whole question as far as he was concerned lay just in this, how far did the Soviets continue to reflect the real feeling of the masses, and was not the party deceiving itself by taking up a position in accordance with the Soviet majority. The April demonstration which went “more left” than was expected, was a reconnoitring sally for proving the feeling of the masses and the relation between them and the Soviet majority. The reconnoitre led to the conclusion that a long work of preparation was necessary. We see how roughly Lenin handled the Kronstadters who took the risk and declared against recognition of the Provisional Government. Those who opposed a struggle for power took a totally different course of action. At the party conference in April, Comrade Kamenev complained thus: “In Pravda, No. 19, a resolution was first proposed by comrades (evidently Lenin is meant—L.T.) for the overthrow of the Provisional Government, and it was printed before the last crisis, but later on this watchword was set aside as tending to disorganisation, as being adventurous. That means that our comrades have learnt a lesson in the course of the crisis. The resolution which is now proposed (i.e., the resolution proposed by Lenin—L.T.) repeats the mistake.” That way of putting the case is host highly significant. Lenin having made the reconnoitre, put down the cry of an immediate overthrow of the Provisional Government, but he put it aside only for a week or a month in dependence of the rapidity with which the revolt of the masses against the conciliationists would grow. The opposing side, however, looked upon the cry itself as a blunder. In Lenin’s temporary retreat there was not a hint as to a change of line. He proceeded not on the idea that the democratic revolution was still unfinished, but exclusively on the idea that the masses for the present were still unable to overthrow the Provisional Government, and that, therefore, everything had to be done to make the working class capable to overthrow the Provisional Government on the following day.
The whole of the party’s April conference was devoted to the fundamental question whether we were moving forward to the seizure of power in the name of a Socialist revolution or whether we were helping (somebody) to finish the democratic revolution. It is a regrettable fact that we are still without a printed report of the April Conference, and scarcely any congress in our party’s history can compare with the April, 1917, Conference, in regard to its exceptional and immediate bearing on the destiny of the revolution.
Lenin took up the following position, an irreconcilable struggle against defencism and defencists; the getting hold of the majority in the Soviets; the overthrow of the Provisional Government; the seizure of power through the Soviets; a revolutionary peace policy, and a programme of a Socialist revolution within the country and an international revolution outside the country. In counterpoise to this, as we know, the opposition took the standpoint of finishing the democratic revolution by bringing pressure to bear on the Provisional Government, while the Soviets remained the organs of “control” over the bourgeois power. From this proceeds quite another, an incomparably more conciliatory, attitude to defencism.
One who was opposed to Lenin’s position expressed himself in this way at the April Conference: “We speak of the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies as the organising centres of our strength and power. That designation itself shows that they constitute a bloc of petty bourgeois and proletarian forces, before whom the unfinished tasks of bourgeois democratic still stand. Had the bourgeois democratic revolution been accomplished, such a bloc could not have existed, the proletariat would have waged a revolutionary war against the bloc. We, however, look upon these Soviets as centres for the organisation of power. That means that the bourgeois revolution is still uncompleted, is not yet outlived, and I believe that we ought all to recognise the fact that if this revolution had been fully accomplished, the power would really have passed into the hands of the proletariat.” (Comrade Kamenev’s speech.)
The hopeless schematism of this argument is perfectly clear. Why, the very point of the case is that there can never be a “full accomplishment of this revolution” without a change of the bearers of power. What the speech just quoted ignores is the cardinal class element of the revolution. The tasks of the party are not inferred from the real grouping of class forces, but from a formal definition of the revolution as bourgeois or as bourgeois democratic. We must form a bloc with the petty bourgeoisie and exercise control over the bourgeois power up to the time when the bourgeois revolution will have been brought to an end. Obviously this is a Menshevist scheme. Limiting, in a doctrinnaire fashion, the tasks of the revolution by its designation (a “bourgeois” revolution) it was impossible to do ought else but to arrive at a policy of control over the Provisional Government, and to make a demand that the Provisional Government should put forth a peace programme without any annexations, etc. By finishing the democratic revolution was understood a number of reforms by means of the Constituent Assembly, while the Bolshevist party has assigned to it the role of the left wing in the Constituent Assembly. The cry, “All Power to the Soviets” was quite lost in such a conception of the real subject. The best, most consecutive, most reflective exponent of the case at the April Conference was the late lamented Nogin, who also belonged to the opposition. “The most important functions of the Soviets will fall away in the process of development. A whole host of administrative functions will be transferred to urban, rural and other institutions. If we examine the further development of the structure of the State we cannot deny that the Constituent Assembly will be convoked, and Parliament after that . . . . The issue, therefore, is this, that the most important functions of the Soviet will by degrees the off. That, however, does not mean that the Soviets will ignominiously end their existence. It only means that they will hand over their functions. While these Soviets exist, the Republic-Commune will not come into being amongst us.”
Finally, a third opponent approached the subject from the point of view that Russia was not ready for Socialism. “If we put forth the cry of a proletarian revolution, can we reckon on the support of the masses? Russia is the most petty bourgeois country of Europe. It is impossible to count upon the sympathy of the masses in a Socialist revolution. Hence, in so far as the party will take up the standpoint of a Socialist revolution, so far will it become a propagandist circle. The push to a Socialist revolution must be given from the West.” Further, “Where will the sun of the Socialist revolution rise? Looking at all the circumstances, at the common level of life, I think that it is not we who will initiate the Socialist revolution. Neither the forces nor the objective conditions for such a task exist amongst us. To the West, however, the problem means almost nothing more than the overthrow of the Tsardom meant to us.”
Not all the opponents of Lenin’s point of view came to the conclusion of Nogin at the April Conference. But the logic of events forced them all to accept these conclusions a few months later, just before October. The question within our party stood ultimately thus: Either to assume the leadership of the proletarian revolution, or to become the opposition in a bourgeois parliament. It is perfectly obvious that the second position was essentially the Menshevist position, or to speak more correctly, the position which the Mensheviks were obliged to discharge after the February revolution. As a matter of fact, in the course of many years, the Menshevist woodpeckers pecked out the following, that the coming revolution must be bourgeois in character, that the government of the bourgeois revolution must only perform bourgeois tasks, that social-democracy cannot take upon itself the tasks of bourgeois democracy, and while “pushing the bourgeoisie to the left” must remain in the character of an opposition. Martynov developed the theme with a particularly tedious profoundness of thought. When the bourgeois revolution of 1917 arrived, the Mensheviks soon became the government. Of all their “principles” all that remained was the political deduction that the proletariat would not dare to seize power. Yet it is perfectly evident, that those Bolsheviks which exposed Menshevist ministerialism, and at the same time stood out against the seizure of power by the proletariat actually shifted to the pre-revolutionary position of the Mensheviks.
The revolution made political thrusts in a twofold direction: those of the right became Kadets, the Kadets became republicans against their will. That constitutes a formal thrust leftward. The S.R.’s and the Mensheviks become the bourgeois ruling party. That is a thrust to the right. By such means does bourgeois society try to create for itself a new column of power, stability and order. While the Mensheviks pass from a formal Socialist position to a vulgar democratic position, the right wing of the Bolsheviks moves to a formal Socialist position, i.e., to the position which the Mensheviks occupied on the previous day.
The same re-grouping of forces occurred as regards the question of the war. The bourgeoisie, on the deduction of certain doctrinaires, dejectedly drawled the refrain—no annexations, and no indemnities—all the more so because there was very little hope of any annexations. The 1llensheviks and the Zimmerwaldian S.R.’s who had criticised the French Socialists because they defended their bourgeois republican fatherland, themselves straightaway became defencists so soon as they felt themselves to be in a bourgeois republic. From a passive internationalist position, they moved to an active patriotic position. Simultaneously with this, the Bolshevist right-wing took the passive internationalist position—“the pressure” on the Provisional Government for the purpose of a democratic peace “without annexation and without indemnities.” In that way, therefore, the formula of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasants fell to pieces, both theoretically and politically, at the April Conference, and two antagonistic points of view stood out—namely, a democratic point of view, under the cover of formal Socialist reservations, and a social revolutionary point of view, or the truly Bolshevist, the Lenin point of view.
The principles of the party, were put right by the decisions of the April Conference, but the disagreements between the heads of the party were not removed. With the march of events, those discordances could not fail to assume a more and more concrete shape, and to become most acute when a more decisive moment of the revolution arrived, that is in October. The attempt to organise a demonstration on June 10th, which Lenin initiated, was denounced as an adventure by the very same comrades who were dissatisfied with the character of the April demonstration. The June 10th demonstration was prohibited by the Congress of Soviets and so did not take place. But the party had its revenge on June 18th. The general demonstration at Petrograd which the concillationists rather imprudently initiated, passed almost wholly under the watchwords of Bolshevism. Then further, the Government, too, wanted to have its way. At the front, an idiotically light-headed attack commenced. The moment was decisive. Lenin warned the party against imprudent action. In Pravda of June 21st, he writes: “Comrades, a demonstration at this juncture would be inexpedient. We have now to live through a whole new stage in our revolution.”
However, the July days arrived. Those days form an important landmark both on the path of the revolution, as well as on the path of discordances within the party.
The decisive moment in the movement of July was the moment when the Petrograd masses, of their own will, made an attack. Lenin, no doubt, put to himself questions such as these: has not the time arrived? has not the feeling of the masses grown beyond their Soviet enclosure? Are not we, who are hypnotised by Soviet legalism, running the risk of lagging behind the attitude which the masses have taken, and indeed of being severed from them.
There is every probability that some comrades, who sincerely believed that they did not differ from Lenin in their estimate of the situation, did initiate certain purely military occurrences during the month of July. Lenin afterwards remarked: “We have committed a good many follies during July.” But all that happened really meant, that a new and more extensive reconnaisance at a new and higher stage of the movement had been carried through. We had to retreat and that badly. To the party, in so far as it was preparing to rise and seize power, the events of July appeared, as they did to Lenin, merely as an occurrence in which we paid dearly for our earnest efforts to find out what forces we possessed and what forces the enemy had, but it was not an occurrence which should make us deviate from our course of action. To those comrades, on the other hand, who were opposed to the policy of seizing power, the July episode was bound to appear as a harmful adventure. The right elements of the party increased their mobilisation. Their criticism became more decisive. There was, of course, a corresponding change in the tone of resistance. Lenin wrote: “All these whinings, all these arguments, that ‘there was no need’ to take part (in the attempt to give a ‘peaceful and organised’ character to the more than lawful discontent and revolt of the masses!) either amount to recreancy as far as Bolsheviks are concerned, or they are the usual manifestations of customary apprehension and confusion as far as the petty bourgeois is concerned.”
The use of the word “recreancy” at a time like that lit up the divergence of views with a tragic light. As time goes on that ominous word becomes more and more frequent.
The opportunist attitude to the problem of power and to the war naturally produced a corresponding attitude to the International. The members of the right tried to get the party to take part at the Stockholm conference of Socialist patriots. On August 16th, Lenin wrote: “The speech which Comrade Kamenev made at the central executive committee on August 6th, cannot fail to escape the opposition of those Bolsheviks who are loyal to their party and to their principles.” And further on, referring to the phase that over the Stockholm Conference, the banner of revolution, as it were, was beginning to float; he wrote: “This is the emptiest rhetoric in the spirit of Chernov and Tseretelli. This is a crying untruth. No, not the banner of revolution, but the banner of bargains, of agreements, of anmesties of Socialist-imperialists, of bankers’ negotiations for the division of annexations—such indeed is the banner which is beginning to float over Stockholm.”
The way to Stockholm was really. the way to the Second International, as taking part in the Pre-parliament was the path to a bourgeois republic. Lenin was for boycotting the Stockholm Conference as later on he was for boycotting the Pre-Parliament. In the very heat and fire of the struggle he did not for a single moment forget the task of creating a new Communist International.
It was by April 10th that Lenin began to speak on behalf of changing the party—s name. All expressions to the contrary, he swept aside: “That is the argument of routine, the argument of lethargy, the argument of inertia.” He insisted: “It is time to throw off the dirty garment. It is time to put on clean linen.” Yet so strong was the opposition of the heads of the party that a whole year had to pass by—in the course of which all Russia threw off the dirty garments of bourgeois dominion—before the party could make up its mind to change its name—having returned to the tradition of Marx and Engels. This history of renaming the party is really a symbolic expression of the part which Lenin played throughout the whole year of 1917. At the moment when history was taking the sharpest turn, he was all the while carrying on a tense warfare against the day that is gone and on behalf of the day that is to come. But “yesterday” bearing the banner of tradition put up a resistance which at times showed extraordinary strength.
The Kornilov occurrences, which pushed things forward in our favour, for a time, mitigated the discordances—mitigated, but did not abolish them. During those days, the right wing showed tendencies to get into touch with the Soviet majority on the basis of defending the revolution, and partly the homeland. The attitude of Lenin to such a step is shown in his letter to the executive committee at the beginning of September. He wrote: “My conviction is that all those who slide down as far as defencism or (like other Bolsheviks) a bloc with the S.R.’s; or a supporting of the Provisional Government, fall into a state which is void of principle. This is more than incorrect action. It is a lack of principle. We shall become defenders only after the passage of power to the proletariat.” And further on, “We should not even at this time support the Government of Kerenskv. To do so is to act without principle. They ask, ‘shall we not fight against Kornilov?’ Why, certainly! But that is not one and the same thing. Here there is a boundary line which certain. other Bolsheviks cross, who fall into ‘conciliationism,’ who allow themselves to be carried away by the stream of events.”
The next stage in the evolution of divergent views was the Democratic Conference (September 14th-22nd) and the Pre-parliament (October 7th) which sprung from it. The object which the Mensheviks and S.R.’s had in view was to bind the Bolsheviks with the lawfulness of the Soviets, and afterwards, in a painless manner change that lawfulness into a bourgeois-parliamentary lawfulness. This was welcomed by the right. We have already listened to their description of the next development of the revolution. The Soviets will hand over their functions by degrees to the proper institutions—to the dumas; the zemstvos; the trade unions, and lastly, to the Constituent Assembly, and having done so they will disappear. The Pre-parliament was to have directed the political mind of the masses away from the Soviets, as “temporary” institutions which had outlived their time, to the Constituent Assembly as the crowning work of the democratic revolution. In the meantime, in the Soviets of Petrograd and Moscow, the Bolsheviks were already in the majority. Our influence in the army grew not day by day, but hour by hour. It was no longer a question of prognosis and forecasts. It was a question of selecting a course of action, literally, for the next day.
The conduct of the wholly worn-out conciliationist parties at the democratic conference assumed the form of pitiable abjectness. The proposal which we brought in to abandon the Democratic Conference demonstratively as something doomed to destruction, met with the decisive opposition of the right elements of the fraction who at that time still held the high places of influence. The encounters on this question were introductory to the struggle which arose upon the question of boycotting the Pre-parliament. On September 24th, i.e., after the Democratic Conference, Lenin wrote: “The Bolsheviks should have left as a protest and so as not to submit to the trap of drawing away the mind of the people from serious questions, by means of the Conference.” The discussions in the Bolshevist fraction of the Democratic Conference in regard to the question of boycotting the Pre-parliament had an exceptional importance, although the theme was of a comparatively limited nature. In reality it was the most extensive and outwardly successful attempt of the right-wing to turn the party into the path of “finishing the democratic revolution.” It seems that no stenograms of the discussions were made, anyhow they have not been preserved. As far as I am aware, even secretarial notes have so far not been brought to light. Some materials, which are extremely meagre, have been found among my papers by the editors of this volume. Comrade Kamenev unfolded an argument which later on, and in a more sharply defined and precise form constituted the subject matter of a certain letter by Kamenev and Zinoviev to the party organisations (October 11th). But it was Nogin who dealt with the question as most of all a matter of principle: the boycott of the Pre-parliament is a call to a rising, i.e., to a repetition of the July days. Certain comrades proceeded to act on the general basis of the parliamentary tactics of social-democracy. As nearly as possible this is an expression of their views: “No one would dare to suggest a boycott of parliament. But here is a proposal that we should boycott an institution which is very much like it simply because it bears the name of Pre-parliament.”
The essential opinion which the right wing held, was that the revolution inevitably led from the Soviets to bourgeois parliamentarism, and that the Pre-parliament was a natural prelude to the latter, and that, therefore, there was no good reason for refusing to take part in the Pre-parliament if once we were preparing to occupy the left benches in parliament. It was necessary to finish the democratic revolution and “to get ready” for the Socialist revolution. But how to get ready? Why through the school of bourgeois parliamentarism? Surely the most advanced countries show to the less advanced what future is to be theirs. The overthrow of the Tsardom is thought of in a revolutionary way, just as it really happened, but the conquest of power by the proletariat is conceived in a parliamentary way, on the principles of a finished democracy. Long years of a democratic regime must form the interval between a bourgeois revolution and a proletarian revolution. The struggle for participation in the Pre-parliament was a struggle for the “Europeanisation” of the workers’ movement, for bringing it most quietly into the channel of a democratic “struggle for power,” i.e., into the channel of social democracy. The fraction of the Democratic Conference which numbered above a hundred individuals, was in no way different—especially in those days—from a party congress. The bigger part of that fraction was in favour of participation in the Pre-parliament. That very fact ought to have produced an alarm. And from that moment Lenin actually began to sound an alarm without any break.
During the days of the Democratic Conference, Lenin wrote: “To take up an attitude to the Democratic Conference as to a parliament would be on our part a supreme blunder, the greatest parliamentary cretinism, for even if it did proclaim itself a parliament and the sovereign parliament of the revolution, all the same it cannot decide anything. Decision lies outside of it, in the workers’ quarters of Petrograd and Moscow.”
How Lenin estimated the importance of participation or non-participation in the Pre-parliament can be seen in many of his declarations, and specially in his letter to the Central Committee of September 29th, in which he speaks of “such crying blunders of the Bolsheviks, as the scandalous decision to participate in the Pre-parliament.” That decision manifested to him those very democratic illusions and petty bourgeois vacillations in the contest with which he formed and defined his own conception of a proletarian revolution. It is not at all true that many years must intervene between the bourgeois and the proletarian revolutions. It is not at all true that the only, or the main, or the compulsory school of preparation for the conquest of power is the school of parliamentarism. It is not at all true that the way to power runs unavoidably through bourgeois democracy. All this is bare abstraction, doctrinaire schemes, the political role of which is only one object—to bind the proletarian vanguard hand and foot, to make of it, by means of the “democratic state mechanism, a shadow of the bourgeoisie in political opposition.” That is all that Social-Democracy is.
The policy of the proletariat must be directed not according to academic schemes, but in accordance with the real current of the class struggle. Not to go into the Pre-parliament, but to organise a rising and to tear out the power. All else will follow. Lenin having set forth the boycott of the Pre-parliament as a platform, proposed to call together a special congress of the party. From this time forward all his letters and articles strike one note only: not to be in the Pre-parliament, the “revolutionary” tail of conciliationists, but to get out in the streets and fight for power!
An extraordinary Congress appeared to be unnecessary. The pressure which Lenin brought to bear secured the necessary transfer of forces to the left, both in the Central Committee and in the Pre-parliament fraction. The Bolsheviks withdrew from it on the 10th of October. A conflict arose in Petrograd between the Soviet and the Government about the dispatch of garrison troops, which were Bolshevist-inclined, to the front. The Army Revolutionary Committee, the lawful Soviet organ of revolt was formed on October 16th. The rightwing of the party sought to delay the development of events. The struggle of tendencies within the party, like the struggle of classes within the country, entered on its decisive phase. The position of the right-wing found its best illustration as regards principle, in the letter bearing the title “On the Present Moment,” signed by Zinoviev and Kamenev. The letter, written on October 11th, i.e., two weeks before the great change, and circulated among the important organisations of the party, takes a definite stand against the resolution for an armed rising which the Central Committee had passed. With a caution against under-estimating the enemy, and at the same time amazingly under-estimating the forces of revolution, and even denying the existence of a fighting disposition on the part of the masses (two weeks before October 25th! the letter goes on to say: “It is our profound conviction that to declare an armed rising at this time means not simply to stake the fate of our party, but the fate of the Russian and International revolution.” But if a rising and a seizure of power are out of the question, then what? The letter answers this question with quite sufficient clearness and care: “By means of the army, by means of the workers, we hold a revolver at the head of the bourgeoisie,” and with a revolver at its head, it cannot break up the Constituent Assembly. “The chances of our party at the elections to the Constituent Assembly are excellent. . . . The influence of Bolshevism is on the increase . . . With right tactics we can manage to get a third and more of the seats in the Constituent Assembly.” Thus, the letter openly takes the line of an “influential” opposition in the bourgeois Constituent Assembly. This purely Social-Democratic procedure expresses itself under the following guise: “The Soviets which have got into the very heart of things cannot be destroyed. It is only on the Soviets that the Constituent Assembly can base its revolutionary work. The constituent Assembly and the Soviets, this is the compound form of state institutions to which we are moving.” It is extraordinarily interesting in characterising the whole course taken by the right, that the theory of a “compound” state, consisting of a Constituent Assembly and Soviets was about one and a half or two years later on repeated in Germany by Rudolph Hilferding, who was also fighting against the seizure of power by the proletariat. The Austro-German opportunist did not realise that be was plagiarising. The letter, “On the Present Moment” contests the assertion that the majority of the Russian people are with us. It regards the majority in a purely parliamentarian sense. “Most of the workers of Russia are for us,” says the letter, “and a considerable number of soldiers, but as for the rest the case is questionable. We are quite sure that if an election to the Constituent Assembly were, for instance, now to take place, the majority of the peasants would vote for the S.R.’s. Well, is this an accident?” Here we see the main, root mistake, due to a failure to grasp the fact that the peasants can have mighty revolutionary interests of their own, and that they might strain every nerve to solve them, but that they cannot take an independent political position. They might vote either for the bourgeoisie, by means of its S.R. agency, or they might actively join the proletariat. And it was just on our policy that the question depended as to which one of these two possibilities would materialise. If we went to the Pre-parliament, to be the influential opposition (having a third, or more seats) of the Constituent Assembly, we would in doing so place the peasantry, almost mechanically, in such a position in which it would be bound to seek the satisfaction of its interests by means of the Constituent Assembly, that is not through the opposition, but through its majority. On the other hand, the seizure of power by the proletariat immediately created the revolutionary lines for a peasant struggle against the landlord and official.
To use words which come most readily in this connection, the letter shows both an under-estimate and an over-estimate of the peasants: an underestimate of its revolutionary possibilities (under a proletarian direction), and an over-estimation of its political independence. This two-fold error, under-estimating and over-estimating the peasants at one and the same time, is, in turn, due to an under-estimate of one’s own class and its party, i.e., to the Social-Democratic approach to the proletariat. Here, there is nothing surprising. All shades of opportunism, in the last account, amount to an incorrect estimate of revolutionary forces and the possibilities of the proletariat.
In speaking against the seizure of power, the letter frightens the party with the prospects of a revolutionary war. “The soldiers support us not on the cry of war, but on the cry of peace, if we, after securing power at this time, are the only ones, in view of the position throughout the world, who shall find it necessary to wage a revolutionary war, the bulk of the soldiers will run away from us. We shall, of course, have the best part of the young soldiers, but the mass of the soldiers will depart.” This argument is highly instructive. We see here, the kind of reasoning which was carried on in favour of signing the peace of Brest-Litovsk. In the present case, however, the reasoning is against the seizure of power. It is quite evident that the position which found expression in the letter, “On the Present Moment,” made it very much easier for the upholders of the views expressed in the letter, to accept the peace of Brest-Litovsk. All that we need say here is what we said elesewhere. Not the temporary capitulation at Brest-Litovsk taken as such, in isolation, marks the political genius of Lenin, but only if October is taken in conjunction with Brest-Litovsk.
That should never be forgotten.
The working class struggles and becomes continually more and more aware that the enemy has the pull over it. This is seen at every step. The enemy possesses wealth, power, all the means of intellectual pressure, all the instruments of repression. This habit of thought that the foe has an excess of power is a part of the daily life and work of the revolutionary party in the preparative period. The results of any carelessness or premature action are a severe reminder of the superior power of the enemy. However, a moment comes when the habit of regarding the enemy as stronger becomes the greatest hindrance to conquest. To-day’s weakness of the bourgeoisie hides itself so to say, under the shadow of its yesterday’s strength. “You underestimate the power of the enemy!” On this line all those elements which are opposed to an armed rising group themselves together. Everyone who wishes to do more. than speak of a rising—our opponents to a rising wrote a fortnight before the victory—“is bound to weigh up soberly the chances it has. Here we feel it our duty to say that at the present moment the most harmful step to take would be to under-estimate the forces of the enemy and to over-estimate one’s own forces. The enemy has greater forces than appears. Petrograd decides. But the enemy of the proletarian party has accumulated at Petrograd considerable forces—five thousand Junkers, splendidly equipped, and organised, who desire, and who, in virtue of their class position, are able to fight; then a staff; shock troops; cossacks; a good portion of the garrison; a very great deal of artillery placed fan-wise round about Petrograd. Then the enemy with the help of the Central Executive Committee is almost sure to try to bring troops from the front.” (“On the Present Moment.”)
Obviously in the case of civil war, it is not a question of merely the counting up of battalions, but of a preliminary calculation of their consciousness. That being the case, such a calculation can never prove to be complete and precise. Even Lenin reckoned that the enemy possessed serious forces at Petrograd and proposed that the rising should begin in Moscow, where, in his view, it ought to have passed without bloodshed. Such peculiar mistakes of foresight are quite unavoidable in the best of circumstances, and it is wiser to count on less favourable conditions. The point that interests us just now, however, is the amazing over-estimate of the enemy’s strength, a complete distortion of every calculation at a time when the enemy as a matter of fact, was already without any armed force.
That matter, as the German experience proved, is of immense importance. So long as the cry of a rising had for the leaders of the German Communist Party chiefly, if not wholly, an agitational meaning, they, as a matter of course, ignored the question of the enemy’s armed forces (Reichswehr, Fascist divisions, police). It seemed to them that, the tide of revolutionary feeling which was rising Without a break would in itself decide the question of war. But when the matter came close up, these very comrades who thought that the enemy’s armed force was a myth, fell at once into another extreme, they took on faith all the figures of the armed forces of this bourgeoisie, they carefully added them together with the Reichswehr and police forces, then they rounded the amount off to a half a million or more, and so obtained a compact mass armed to the very teeth, which was quite sufficient to paralyse their own forces. There is no doubt at all, that the forces of the German counterrevolution were considerable, and in every sense better organised and prepared than our own Kornilovites and semi-Kornilovites. But then the active forces of the German revolution were also different. The proletariat forms the. preponderating majority of the population in Germany. In our own case the matter in the first instance, at least, was decided by Petrograd and Moscow. A rising in Germany would at once have had dozens of mighty proletarian centres. Under such circumstances, the armed strength of the enemy would not have seemed so terrible as in the statistical round figures. Anyhow, those tendencious calculations which were made and are made after the German defeat in order to justify the policy which led to the defeat, must be categorically repudiated. Our Russian example has in this connection a unique signification: two weeks before our bloodless triumph in Petrograd—and we could have gained it two weeks earlier—experienced politicians of the party saw arrayed against us junkers desirous and able to fight; shock troops, cossacks, a large part of the garrison, artillery set out like a fan, and troops coming from the front. But in actuality what did it all come to? Why it all meant nothing, just nil. Imagine for a moment that those who opposed a rising had carried the day, both in the party and in its Central Committee. The place of the Chief Command in a civil war is perfectly obvious. In such a case the revolution would beforehand have been doomed to destruction—had not Lenin appealed to the party against the Central Committee, saying that he was preparing to act, and no doubt he would have succeeded. But it is not every party that has a Lenin in similar circumstances. It is not hard to imagine how history would have been written if the Central Committee had triumphed in refusing to fight. The official historians would no doubt have put the matter in this way, the rising in October, 1917, was the purest madness; and they would have furnished the reader with upsetting statistics of Junkers, cossacks, shock troops, artillery distributed like a fan, and bodies moving from the front. Such forces, not verified in the fire of a rising would have appeared incomparably more dreadful than the case actually proved to be. That is the lesson which every revolutionary should engrave on his mind.
The persistent, tireless, uninterrupted pressure which Lenin exerted on the Central Committee during September-October, was due to his constant anxiety lest the moment should be allowed to slip away. Nonsense, said the right-wing, our influence will grow and grow. Who was right? And what does it mean to let the moment slip away? Here we come to the point of the question where the Bolshevist estimate of the ways and methods of the revolution, active, strategic, practicable through and through, comes in greatest conflict with the Social-Democratic Menshevist estimate pervaded throughout by fatalism. What does it mean to let slip the moment? The most favourable condition for a rising was presented, it seems, then when the relation of forces showed a maximum movement in our favour. What is meant here by this relation of forces, is, of course, in the realm of consciousness, i.e., concerning the political superstructure, and not concerning the base which can be taken more or less as unchanging through all the epochs of the revolution. On one and the same economic basis, in one and the same class division of society, the relation of forces change in dependence on the attitude of the proletarian masses, the shattering of their illusions, the accumulation of their political experience, the weakening of the confidence of the intermediate classes and groups in the powers of the State, and finally the decline of the latter’s confidence in itself. During revolution all these processes work at a rapid rate. The whole art of tactics consisted in this, to seize the moment when conditions were most propitious for us. The Kornilov revolt at last led to such a state of things. The masses having lost faith in the parties of the Soviet majority, saw plainly the danger of counter-revolution. They thought that the moment had now come when it was the Bolsheviks’ turn to find a way out of the difficulties Neither the elemental break up of the governmental power, nor the elemental flow of impatient and demanding faith of the masses in the Bolsheviks could be a prolonged state of things. The crisis had to be decided one way or another. Now or never! said Lenin.
To this the right wing replied:
“To put the question of the passage of power into the hands of the proletariat, as Now or Never, would be a profound historical injustice. No. The party of the proletariat will grow, its programme will become more and more clear to the wide masses. It is only one way that can destroy its success that is if in the present circumstances it initiates a resistance. . . . Against such a ruinous policy we raise the voice of warning.”—(“On the Present Moment.”)
This fatalistic optimism needs most careful study. You will find nothing either national or individual in it. It was only a year ago that we witnessed the same tendency in Germany. Under such a fatalism of expectancy what is really hidden is an indecisiveness and even an incapacity for action, but it disguises itself with a comforting forecast of the future. We shall, so to say, become more and more influential. The further we go the more will our power grow. What an utter delusion! The power of a revolutionary party grows only up to a certain moment, after that the process can pass in the opposite direction. The hopes of the masses as a result of the passivity of the party are changed into disillusion, while the foe recovers from panic and makes use of the disillusionment of the masses. A decisive turn of such a kind all observed in Germany in October, 1923. And we in Russia were not far from a similar turn of events in the Autumn of 1917. All that was necessary was possibly to let a few more weeks pass by. Lenin was right. It was a case of now, or never.
But the final and strongest reasoning of the opponents to a rising was as follows: “But the point which decides everything is this. Is there really among the workers and soldiers of the city such a feeling that they see their salvation only by fighting in the streets, that they long to get out into the streets? No. There is no such disposition on their part. The pressure of a fighting disposition, wanting to get out into the streets, on the part of the great masses of the poor of the city could serve as a guarantee that the attempt it initiated would draw even the larger and more important organisations (the railwaymen, the postmen’s union, etc.), among whom our influence is weak. But since there is no such disposition even in the workshops and barracks, it would be self-deception to try and draw any conclusion.”—(“On the Present Moment.”)
These words were written on October 11th, and they acquire quite an unusual and ominous importance when we remember that the German comrade who directed the party in explaining last year’s withdrawal from the fight, referred to the fact that the masses did not desire to engage in combat. Just so. A victorious rising will, generally speaking, be most guaranteed then when the masses have succeeded to get sufficient experience not to throw themselves headlong into a fight, but will wait and demand a leadership which is decisive and able to fight. In October, 1917, the working masses at least, the leading sections of them came to the strong conviction, on the ground of the experience of the rising in April, of the July days, and of the Kornilov affair, that it was no longer a case of particular elemental protestation, no longer a case of reconnnaissance, but of a determined stand for the seizure of power. The attitude of the masses becomes correspondingly more concentrated, more critical, more deep. The transition from a happy, illusory, elemental state of feeling, to a more critical frame of mind, meant, of course, that a revolutionary marking of time became inevitable. Such a progressive crisis in the disposition of the masses can be overcome in one way only, that is by a party having a proper policy, in other words, it has above all to be actually ready and able to guide the uprising of the proletariat. On the contrary, a party which for a long time carried on a revolutionary agitation, having plucked the masses out of the power of the conciliationists, and then when it was raised to the top by the faith of these masses, begins to waver, argue, use subtleties and wait—such a party would paralyse the activity of the masses, would disillusion them, and be their ruin. It would destroy the revolution and when it accomplished the havoc, it could turn round and say that there had not been sufficient activity on the part of the masses. That, to be sure, was the issue to which the letter (“At the Present Moment”) led. Happily, under the leadership of Lenin, our party managed to get rid of such an attitude on the part of those who stood at the head of its affairs. It was because of that fact alone that it succeeded to accomplish a victorious transformation.
All that remains now to be done—after we have characterised the nature of the political problems connected with the preparation of the October Revolution, and after we have tried to explain the root idea of the discordances that arose on that ground—is to give, though only in a summary fashion, the most important conflicts within the party during the last decisive weeks.
The decision for an armed rising was passed by the Central Committee on October 10th. The letter “At the Present Moment” which is analysed above, was dispatched to the most important organisations of the party oil the 11th of October. A week before the great change, i.e., on October 18th, Kamenev had a letter in Novaya Zhign in which he says: “Not Only I and Comrade Zinoviev, but a number of comrades, practical men, feel that to initiate an armed rising just now, while the present relative state of forces prevails, independently of the Congress and a few days before it is called together, would prove to be an inadmissible step which would ruin both the proletariat and the revolution,”—(Novaya Zhign, No. 156, 18th October, 1917.) On October 25th, power was seized at Petrograd, and the Soviet Government was set up. A number of responsible members left the Central Committee of the party and the Council of People’s Commissars on November 4th, and they put forth an ultimatum demanding the creation of a coalition government consisting of Soviet parties. “Apart from this,” they wrote, “only one course is left open —the preservation of the purely Bolshevist government by the aid of political terror.” But in another document of the same moment, “We cannot be responsible for the ruinous policy of the Central Committee which has been introduced in spite of the will of an immense part of the workers and soldiers who long for the quickest possible cessation of the bloodshed between the separate sections of democracy. For this reason we put off from ourselves the title of members of the Central Committee, in order to have the right openly to state our opinion to the masses of workers and soldiers and call upon them to support our cry, “All hail to the Government of Soviet Parties! Immediate agreement on this condition!” We see, therefore, that those who were against an armed rising and the seizure of power, as being an adventure, stood up, after the rising was successfully carried through, for the returning of the power to those parties, in the fight against which, the proletariat conquered power. For what reason was the victorious Bolshevist party to return the power —and the question was, the return of power —to the Mensheviks and the S.R.’s? To this the opponents replied: “We think that the setting up of such a government is necessary for the prevention of further bloodshed; an imminent famine, the break-up of the revolution by Kaledinities, the securing of the convocation of he Constituent Assemble within the period specified, and the actual carrying through of the programme of peace passed by the All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Soldiers’ and Workers’ Deputies.)  In other words, it was a case of finding a way through Soviet gates to bourgeois parliamentarism. If the revolution refused to go through the Pre-parliament and made a channel for itself through “October.” then its business was, according to the formula of the opposition, to save the revolution from dictatorship, by the help of Mensheviks and S.R.’s and guide it into the channel of a bourgeois regime. It was really nothing more nor less than the liquidation of October. An agreement on such conditions was, of course, out of the question. On the day following—November 5th—still another letter, on the same lines, was published. “In the name of party discipline, I cannot remain silent when Marxists, in spite of reason and in defiance of the course of things, are not disposed to pay attention to objective conditions, which imperatively dictate to us, under the threat of a crash, to come to an agreement with all Socialist parties. . . I cannot, in the name of party discipline, give myself to the worship of personality and make political agreement with all Socialist parties which support our essential demands, dependent on the presence of this or that person in the ministry, and for that reason prolong bloodshed even for a single minute.”—(Rabotchaya Gazeta, No. 204, 5th November, 1917). In conclusion, the writer of the letter—Losovsky—urges the necessity of fighting for the party congress in order to decide whether “the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party of Bolsheviks will remain the Marxist party of the working class, or whether it will finally take a course which has nothing in common with revolutionary Marxism.”—(Rabotchaya Gazeta, No. 204, 5th November, 1917.)
The situation really looked hopeless. Not only the bourgeoisie and landlords, not only this so-called “revolutionary democracy” which still was in the possession of a great number of leading organisations (the Railway Union’s Executive, the Army Committees, the Governmental employees, etc.), but the most influential members of our own party, the members of the Central Committee and of the Council of People’s Commissars, condemned aloud the effort of the party to remain in power, so that it might carry through its programme. The situation might be regarded as hopeless, we say, if one did not look beneath the mere surface of events. What then remained? To accept the demands made by the opposition would have meant liquidating October. In that case, there was no reason at all why it was carried through. Only one course was left; to go forward and count upon the revolutionary will of the masses. In Pravda of November 7th, appeared the decisive declaration of the Central Committee of our party. It was written by Lenin and carried through with real revolutionary passion, expressed in clear, common, incontestable formulæ, addressed to party members in the mass. The proclamation put an end to any doubts which might exist as regards the future policy of the party and of its Central Committee: “Shame be on all whose faith is small; on all who hesitate; on all who doubt; on all who let the bourgeoisie frighten them, or who have given way to the cries of its direct or indirect accomplices. Among the masses of workers and soldiers of Petrograd, Moscow and elsewhere, not a shadow of hesitation exists. United and solid as one man our party stands as guard of the Soviet power, of the interests of all toilers, above all those of the workers and the poorest peasants.”—(Pravda, No. 732, (113), 20 (7), November, 1917.)
The most acute party crisis was overcome. However, the minor struggle was still not over. The line of battle remained the same. Its political significance, however, declined more and more. We find a most interesting testimony in an address which Uritsky read at the session of the Petrograd Committee of our Party on December 12th, in regard to the summoning of the Constituent Assembly. “The discordances in our party are not new. It is just the same tendency which was noticeable at an earlier time in regard to the question of a rising. Some comrades hold the opinion now that the Constituent Assembly should be the crown of the revolution, as it were. They take the position of conventionalism. They say that we should take care not to commit any tactless act. They are Opposed to the fact that members of the Constituent Assembly, viz., Bolsheviks, should have the control of the convocation, the relation of forces, and so on. They look at things purely formally, not reckoning that from the very fact of such a central crisis the picture of events which are now taking place in regard to the Constituent Assembly, but taking that into consideration, we find it possible to mark the situation, as it relates to the Constituent Assembly. Our point of view is this, we are fighting for the interests of the workers and the poorest peasants, but the point of view of these few comrades is this, we are making a bourgeois revolution which should be crowned by a Constituent Assembly.”
The dissolving of the Constituent Assembly turned out to be not only the end of a big chapter in the history of Russia, but also the end of a none the less important chapter in the history of our party. Having overcome the internal party antagonisms, the workers’ party not only took possession of power, but also retained that power within its own hands.
In September—at the time of the Democratic Conference—Lenin insistently called for an immediate rising. He wrote:
“To take the proper Marxian attitude to a rising as an art, we must without any delay organise a staff for the forces which are in revolt; distribute: the forces; place the most loyal troops at points of greatest importance; surround the Alexander Theatre; occupy the Peter-Paul fortress; arrest the government and General Staff; and send to the junkers and “the wild division” such detachments as are ready to perish rather than allow the enemy to move to the centre of the city. We must mobilise the armed workers and call them to a last desperate effort, we must seize at one stroke both the telegraph and telephone, and locate our staff of revolt at the chief telephone exchange, and establish telephone connections with all mills, barracks and central points of the struggle, and so forth. To say all this is simply to illustrate the point that it is impossible at this juncture to remain a true Marian, to remain loyal to the revolution apart from treating a rising as an art.” (Lenin’s Workers, vol. xiv., part 2, p. 140.)
This manner of stating the case pre-supposes that a rising would be prepared for and carried subsequently party lines, and that victory would subsequently be celebrated by the Congress of Soviets. But the Central Committee did not adopt the suggestion. The rising was directed along Soviet channels, and was linked up by means of agitation, with the Second Congress of Soviets. When the difference is carefully explained it will, of course, be seen that we have to do not with a question of principle, but with a purely technical problem, yet, naturally, one of very great practical importance.
It has already been pointed out that the postponement of a rising made Lenin intensely anxious. Lenin regarded the agitation which, on account of the vacillations of the Party leaders, connected a political change with the approaching Second Cone gross of Soviets as a delay which could not be tolerated, as a yielding to hesitation, as an indecisive loss of time—really almost a criminal act. That idea he expresses again and again after the end of September. On September 29th he writes as follows:
“A tendency, or view, prevails at the Central Committee in which the leaders of the Party share, which favours the Congress of Soviets and is against the immediate seizure of power, against an immediate rising. This tendency or view has to be fought.”
At the beginning of October, he wrote:
“It is a crime to delay. It is a childish playing with formality to wait for the Congress of Soviets, a trifling game of formality, a betrayal of the revolution.”
In the propositions for the Petrograd Conference of October 8th, he said:
“Constitutional illusions and hopes for the Congress of Soviets must be fought. The pre-conceived notion that we are bound to wait for it must be rejected.” And, lastly, on October 24th, Lenin wrote:
“It is clear as daylight that to delay a rising now is truly something which looks very much like death.”
And further on:
“Revolutionaries, who might be (and mist certainly would be) victorious to-day would never be forgiven by history if they procrastinate, if they run the risk of losing a great deal to-morrow, if they run the risk of losing everything.”
All these letters, all these phrases which were forged upon the anvil of revolution are of peculiar interest both for showing to us the character of Lenin and for enabling us to form a right appreciation of the state of things at the moment. The feeling at the back of them, that runs through them is a perturbation, a protestation, an indignation against the fatalistic, wailing, Social-Democratic Menshevist attitude to the revolution. It seemed a never-ending business. If time is, as a rule, a matter of consequence in politics, then in war and in revolution it becomes a hundredfold more important. Not everything that can be done to-day can be done to-morrow. To rise, to hurl back the foe; to get hold of power; all that may be possible to-day, but impossible to-morrow. But to seize power means to turn the course of history. That being so, can a lapse of twenty-four hours decide the fate of such an event? Yes, it can. When things have reached the point of an armed rising, then occasions are not measured by the long arshin of policy, but by the short arshin of war. To let slip a week or so, a day or so, sometimes just one day, means under certain circumstances to surrender the revolution, to capitulate. Had not Lenin sounded the tocsin, had be not exercised pressure, had there not been his criticism, his passionate revolutionary suspicion, the Party, you may be sure, would not have been able to straighten out its front at the decisive moment, because the opposition of the leaders was very strong, and the Chief Staff plays an important part in the fortunes of war —in the case of civil war as well. At the same time, it is perfectly clear, that the preparation for and carrying out of the rising under cover of preparing for the Second Congress of Soviets, and under the watchword of defending it, put into our hands incalculable advantage. From the very moment in which we, the Petrograd Soviet, made our protest against the order of Kerensky for sending two-thirds of the garrison to the front, an armed rising so far as we were concerned practically began. Lenin, who was not in Petrograd at that moment did not appreciate that fact at its full worth. So far as my memory serves there is not in all his letters of that period a single reference to that event. But three-fourths, if not more, of the issue of the rising of October 25th were already predetermined at the moment of our opposition to the despatch of the Petrograd garrison troops, at the moment when we set up the Revolutionary Military Committee (October 16th, and appointed our own commissaries at all army sections and institutions, thereby completely isolating not only the Staff of the Petrograd Military Circuit, but also the Government. Practically speaking this meant that we had an armed rising—an armed, though bloodless rising of the Petrograd regiments against the Provisional Government—under the direction of the Revolutionary Military Committee and under the watchword of Prepare for and Defend the Second Congress of Soviets at which the problem in respect of power was ultimately to be decided. Lenin’s counsel was that the rising should begin in Moscow. There, he thought, it would be carried through without bloodshed. But Lenin at that time was not in the open, and, therefore, he could not make a proper estimation of that radical change which had taken place not only in our feelings, but also in the organisation of all the military rank and file after the “pacific” rising of the city garrison in the middle of October. From the moment when, upon the command of the Revolutionary Military Committee, the battalions refused to leave the city, and did not leave, a victorious revolt, hardly covered over by the remains of the bourgeois democratic state, was in existence in the capital. The rising of the 25th of October was of the nature of a sequel, and that is why it writ through with so little pain. In Moscow, on the other hand, the struggle was of a much more protracted and sanguinary character, notwithstanding the fact that the power of the Council of People’s Commissaries had already been confirmed at Petrograd. It is quite obvious that if a rising had started in Moscow prior to the revolt at Petrograd, it would then have been inevitably still more protracted and with very uncertain issues. And a defeat in Moscow would have had the worst effects on Petrograd. It does not, of course, mean that a victory could not have been secured along that path. But the path along which events actually moved, turned out to be much more economical, advantageous and well-achieved.
It was possible for us to time more or less precisely, the seizure of power at the moment of the Second Congress of Soviets for the very reason that the “pacific” almost “legal” armed rising was by three-fourths, if not by nine-tenths an accomplished fact—at least in Petrograd. We speak of the rising as “legal,” because it arose out of the “normal” conditions of the duality of authority. While the conciliationists reigned in the Petrograd Soviet it happened more than once that the Soviet verified or corrected the decision of the Government. That fact entered as it were into the constitution of what is historically known as the “Kerensky regime,” when authority passed into our, Bolshevik, hands, we simply continued and strengthened the methods of duality of authority, we took it upon ourselves to verify the order for the dispatch of the garrison troops. In so doing we masked, under the traditions and methods of the legality of dual authority, the actual rising of the Petrograd garrison. Further, by formally referring, in our agitation, the problem of power to the Second Congress of Soviets we extended and deepened the traditions of dual authority which had already been brought into existence and laid down the lines of Soviet legality for a Bolshevist rising on an all-Russian scale.
We did not lull the masses to sleep with any illusions of Soviet constitutionalism, because under the fighting cry of a struggle for the Second Congress we won over to our side the weaponed revolutionary army and organised and consolidated it. And at the same time we succeeded, to a greater degree than we could expect, to catch in the trap of Soviet legality our enemies, the conciliationists. It is always a great danger to use political guile, all the more so at a time of revolution—for, to be sure, it is not the enemy whom you will deceive, but it is the masses who are following you whom you will confuse. If our “guile” succeeded to the full, it was not because of any artifice of ingenuity on the part of the extremely clever strategists bent on the avoidance of civil war, but because it arose naturally out of the disintegration of the conciliationists’ regime, out of its clamant contradictions. The Provisional Government wanted to shake itself free of the garrison troops. The troops did not want to go to the front. To that natural desire we imparted a political expression, a revolutionary purpose, a camouflage of “legality.” In so doing we secured an exceptional unanimity within the garrison, and brought it into the closest contact with the workers of Petrograd. As far as our enemies were concerned, they were disposed to regard the Soviet camouflage as a thing of substance because their position was hopeless and their thoughts confused. They wanted to be received and we afforded them the full gratification of their desire.
The struggle for Soviet legality went on between its and the conciliationists. The feeling among the masses was that the source of power were the Soviets. From the Soviets sprang were sky, Tseretelli and Skobelev. But we, likewise, stood in closest association with the Soviets because of our essential and manifest fighting formula: “All Power to the Soviets.” The bourgeoisie traced its continuity of legality to the State Duma; the conciliationists traced it to the Soviets, but for the purpose of bringing the Soviets to nought, we also traced the continuity of legality to the Soviets, but our object was to give power to the Soviets. The conciliationists were still unable to break up the Soviet succession and hastended to build a bridge between it and pre-Parliamentarism. With this object in view they convoked the Democratic Conference and created the pre-Parliament. The participation of the Soviets in the pre-Parliament, so to say, imparted a sanction to this cause of procedure. The conciliationists tried to hook the revolution with the bait of Soviet legality, and, having got hold of it, to drag it into the channel of bourgeois parliamentarism.
Nor did we for a single moment lose sight of the utility of Soviet legality. When the Democratic Conference ended we tore out of the conciliationists an acquiescence to the convocation of the Second Congress of Soviets. That Congress brought them many serious embarrassments. In the first place they could not take a stand against the convocation, not having broken with Soviet legality, and in the second place they could not fail to see that the Congress, composed as it was, held out nothing that was likely to be of benefit to them.
We, however, appealed with all the greater insistence to the Second Congress as the governing entity of the country, and conducted all our preparatory labours so as to support and defend the Congress of Soviets against the inevitable attacks of the counter revolution. If the bait which the conciliationists used was Soviet legality by means of the Pre-parliament arising out of the Soviets, our bait, also, was that same Soviet legality—but by means of the Second Congress of Soviets. To arrange an armed rising under the bald fighting formula of the seizure of power by the party is one thing, but to prepare for and then carry through a rising under the fighting formula of defending the rights of the Congress of Soviets, is quite another thing. Hence, the reference of the question concerning the assumption of power to the Second Congress of Soviets dial not in any sense involve any naive expectations that the Congress, in itself, could determine the problem of power. To make Soviet form into such a fetish was a thing quite alien to us. All the work that was necessary—not only the political, but organising and military—technical work also—went on in full force. But the legality, camouflage of the work, was always the same reference to the coming Congress which should decide the question of power. In attacking all along the line we kept up the appearance of defensive action. The Provisional Government, on the other hand—if it had only decided seriously to defend itself—ought to have attacked the Congress, and to have interdicted its convocation, but in doing so would have furnished its opponents with a motive—most unfavourable to itself—for an armed rising. Further, we not only placed the Provisional Government in a political plight, but made their slow and lazy minds still more sleepy. These people seriously believed that as far as we were concerned, it was all a matter of Soviet parliamentarism, of a new congress where a new resolution concerning power would be introduced—in the style of the resolutions of the Soviets of Petrograd and Moscow—and then the government, having referred the question to the Pre-Parliament and the coming Constituent Assembly would make its bow to us and put us into a ridiculous position. The incontestable testimony of Kerensky shows in what direction the mind of the wisest of the middle class sages moved. In his memoirs, he relates how on October 25th, at midnight, stormy disputations went on in his room between himself, Dan, and others in regard to the rising which at the time was in full swing. Says Kerensky:
“First of all, Dan informed me that they were much better acquainted with the course of things than I, and that I was exaggerating the occasion under the influence of communications supplied to me by my ‘reactionary staff.’ He then further told me that the resolution of the majority of the Soviets of the Republic, which were unwelcome ‘to the ambition of the government,’ was a most useful one, and essential for bringing about ‘a change of attitude on the part of the masses’; that its effects were ‘already making themselves felt,’ and that now the influence of Bolshevist propaganda would ‘rapidly decline.’ On the other hand, he stated, that the Bolsheviks themselves, in negotiations with the leaders of the Soviet majority, declared that they were ready to submit to the will of the majority of the Soviets, that they were prepared to take all measures ‘to-morrow indeed’ for quelling the rising ‘which flared up apart from their desire and without this sanction.’ In conclusion Dan pointed out that the Bolsheviks would disband their military staff ‘on the morrow’ (it is always to-morrow!). He informed me that all the measures which I had taken for the suppression of the rising would only ‘vex the masses’ and that I, generally, by my ‘interference’ only ‘hinder the representatives of the majority of the Soviets from successfully conducting negotiations with the Bolsheviks for the liquidation of the rising. . . .’ To make the picture complete, it should be added that just at the time when Dan was making that remarkable communication to me, armed detachments of the ‘Red Guard’ were occupying governmental buildings one after another. And almost immediately after the departure of Dan and his colleagues from the Winter Palace, Kartashev, the Minister for Worship, was arrested in Million Street, on his way home from a sitting of the Provisional Government, and straight away taken to Smolny, whither Dan was returning to continue peaceful conversations with the Bolsheviks. It has to be confessed that the Bolsheviks acted at that time with great energy and with no less skill. At the time when the rising was in full blast, and when the “Red troops” were operating all over the city, certain Bolshevik leaders, appointed for the purpose, not unsuccessfully compelled the representatives of ‘revolutionary democracy’ to see without seeing, and to hear without hearing. All the night long, these artful men went on disputing about formulas, as to which of them should, as it were, be made the foundation of reconciliation and a means towards a stoppage of the rising. By the method of ‘negotiations’ the Bolsheviks succeeded to gain an immense amount of time in their favour. The fighting forces of the S.R.’s and Mensheviks were not mobilised in time. But, of course, this had to be demonstrated!” (A. Kerensky, From Afar, pp. 197-198.)
Just so! It had to be demonstrated! The conciliationists, as this picture shows were wholly and fully caught with the bait of Soviet legality. Kerensky’s supposition that Bolsheviks were, so to say, specially appointed to mislead the Mensheviks and the social revolutionaries in respect of the coming stoppage of the rising is, as a matter of fact, not a correct one What really occurred was, that those Bolsheviks who actually wanted a cessation of the rising and who believed in the formula of the Socialist government produced by an agreement of parties, took the most active part in the negotiations. Objectively, however, these parliamentarians did do a certain service to the rising—feeding with their own illusions, the illusions of the enemy. But this service to the revolution they were enabled to render just because the Party, in spite of their counsels and cautions pressed forward the rising with unabating energy, and carried it on to its final issue.
Yet to turn such an extensive, enveloping movement into a success, a conflux of extraordinary events—great and small—was necessary. In the first place, what was needed was an army which had no inclination for any further fighting.
The whole march of the revolution—particularly in the first stages of it—from February to October inclusive, would have assumed, as we have said already, an entirely different form, if we had not had in the country a many-millioned peasant army which was broken up and discontented at the time of the revolution. On such conditions only could it become possible to make the Petrograd garrison experiment a success, and that made the October victory an ultimate certainty. There is no way by which this peculiar set of circumstances—a “bloodless” and a well-nigh unnoticed rising, and a defence of Soviet legality against the Kornilov attacks—can be reduced to any kind of law. On the contrary, it may be quite confidently asserted that the experiment will never and nowhere be repeated in a like form. Nevertheless, a careful study of it is needful. It will tend to widen the horizon of every revolutionary, in having shown to him the many ways which can be used when once the object in view is clear, the position correctly estimated, and when there is a determination to carry through the struggle to its conclusion.
The rising in Moscow was of a much more protracted nature, and was attended with considerably greater sacrifices. This is largely due to the fact that the Moscow garrison was not subjected to such a revolutionary preparation as was the garrison at Petrograd, in connection with the question of dispatching battalions to the battlefront. We said so once, and all say it again, that the armed rising of Petrograd took place in two parts—in the first half of October, when the Petrograd regiments, in submission to the Soviet resolution, which accorded fully with their own feelings, refused with impunity to carry out the order of the Chief Command; and on October 25th, when all that was necessary was only a small additional rising which cut the navel of that order of government, set up by the February revolution. But in Moscow the rising took place at one go. That, to be sure, is the chief cause of its protracted nature. But along with that was another cause and that was, an insufficient determination on the part of the leaders What we saw in Moscow was an oscillation from military action to negotiations and back from negotiations to military action. If the hesitation of leaders, of which the followers became aware, is a dangerous course in politics, speaking generally, it becomes a deadly danger at the time of an armed rising. The ruling class loses faith in its power (no hope of victory need be entertained on any other term), but the instrument of government is still within its grasp. The task of the revolutionary class is to get possession of the instrument of government. To do so it must have confidence in its own powers. When once the Party has led the workers to the path of a rising it has to draw from this the necessary deductions. “In war you must be warlike.” On such an occasion hesitation and procrastination are less allowable than at any other time. War’s measure is the short arshin. To mark time, even for a few short hours, restores confidence to those who are in authority and takes it away from those who have risen. That in turn immediately determines the relation of forces by which the issues of a rising are decided. The march of the military events of Moscow in their conjunction with political leadership should, step by step, be studied from this angle of observation.
Very important reference could further be mad, to certain points which indicate the peculiar conditions under which the civil war proceeded. There is, for example, the complicating element of nationality. A study of such a character, based on a careful working through of the materials in existence, should greatly enrich our conception of the mechanism of civil war and thus, render more easy the elaboration of certain methods, rules, and ways, of a sufficiently general character, so as to constitute a sort of “law” of civil war. While, however, anticipating any private deductions of such a research, it can be stated that the march of the civil war in the provinces was very largely predetermined by its results in Petrograd, in spite of the fact that it was delayed in Moscow. The old machine of state was partly broken by the revolution of February. In such a condition, the Provisional Government inherited it, without being able either to make it new or strong. Consequently, in the period of February to October, the state machine functioned merely as a relic of bureaucratic inertia. It was the custom of the bureaucratic. province to do as Petrograd does. This the provinces did in February, and repeated in October. The fact that we made ready for the overthrow of a regime which did not manage to get established, proved to be our greatest advantage. The “February” government wavered in the extreme, and had not the least confidence in itself. That fact made our work very easy. It nourished the self-confidence both of the revolutionary masses and of the Party itself.
A similar state of things existed in German, and Austria after November 9th, 1915. But the Social-Democrats of those countries repaired the cracks of the state machine and helped the regime of bourgeois-republicanism to get established. But even now the regime cannot be looked upon as a form of stability, although it has celebrated its sixth birthday. As for other capitalist countries, the advantage of the proximity of a proletarian revolution to a bourgeois revolution will in their case be lacking. Their “February” is long past. Certainly a good deal of feudal lumber still lingers on in England. There need be no talk of an independent bourgeois revolution there. When the proletariat comes into power the broom will soon sweep out the feudal remains. What the proletarian revolution has to deal with in Western Europe is the fully established bourgeois state. That, however, does not imply that an order which is stable has to be dealt with, since the very possibility of a proletarian rising signifies that the process of the break up of capitalism has gone very far indeed. If our October revolution was in conflict with a state machine which failed to get consolidated after February, the rising in other countries will be in antagonism with a state machine which is professedly going to pieces.
It may be assumed—as was pointed out at the Fourth Congress of the Comintern—that in old capitalist countries the “pre-October” resistance of the bourgeoisie will, as a general rule, be much greater than we have found it to be, the proletarian victory will be much more difficult. Yet, on the other hand, when once the proletariat secures power, then the position in which it will find itself will at once be a great deal more stable and sure than ours was on the day after “October.” Our civil war became a real thing only after the proletariat secured the power in the chief urban and industrial centres and lasted for the first three years of Soviet rule. There is every indication that in Central and Western Europe the securing of power will be very much more difficult, yet when once the proletariat has the power, its hands will be far more free than ours were. Of course, all such ideas are purely hypothetical. A good deal will depend upon the order of succession with which the revolution will take place in the various countries of Europe what possibilities of military intervention will exist, what the economic and military strength of the Soviet Union will be at the time, etc., etc. Anyhow, the fundamental, and as we think, incontrovertible belief, that the process of conquering power will encounter, in Europe and America, a very much more serious, stubborn and carefully thought out resistance on the part of the dominant classes, than the one with which we were faced, makes it an all the greater obligation for us, to view an armed rising and civil war in general, as an art.
Both in 1905 and in 1917 our Soviets of Workers’ Deputies sprang from the workers’ movement as such and became its national form of organisation, at a certain stage of the struggle.
The young European parties, however, who more or less accept the Soviets as a “doctrine” or “principle,” are always in danger of looking at the Soviets as a kind of fetish, or as an element of the revolution which is an end in itself. Admitted that Soviets have certain great advantages in the sense of organisation in the struggle for power, it is, nevertheless, quite probable that there will be cases when a rising will proceed on the basis of some other form of organisation, such as factory and workers’ committees; trade unions; and so forth, and that Soviets will emerge either in the very process of the rising, or when it has gained the victory.
After the July days, Lenin began to wage a struggle against making the organisational form of the Soviets into a fetish—and that episode is full of instruction. When, during July the social revolutionary and Menshevist Soviets became organisations which openly drove the soldiers towards the line of attack and which held down the Bolsheviks, the workers’ movement was bound to find for itself, other ways and- channels of action. Lenin pointed to the factory and workers’ committee as an organisation of the struggle for power (see for example, the Recollections of Comrade Ordjonikidze). The movement would most probably have taken that line if the Kornilov attack had not forced the Conciliationist Soviets to defend themselves; and that afforded to the Bolsheviks an opportunity to put fresh revolutionary life into the Soviets and bring them into close touch with the masses by means of the left, that is to say, the Bolshevist, wing.
Internationally regarded, the problem is of immense importance. This was shown by the recent experiment in Germany. It was just in Germany where Soviets were on several occasions organising for the purpose of a rising, without a rising taking place for the purpose of getting power, without ever succeeding to do so. What did that lead to? To this. The movement of the proletarian and semi-proletarian masses in 1923 began to group itself around factory and workers’ committees. Now these committees at the bottom really functioned in the same way as our Soviets did during the period which immediately preceded the struggle for power. But meanwhile there were some comrades who, during August-September, wanted the immediate formation of Soviets in Germany. A long and heated discussion on the subject took place. The proposal, however, was turned down. And rightly so. Seeing that the factory and works’ committees were the converging centres of the revolutionary masses, Soviets at that preliminary period would have only been an overlapping organisation without having any real meaning. All that they would have done would have been to draw away interest from the material aspects of the rising (army, police, armed hundreds, railways, etc.), and fix it on questions concerning a self-sufficient form of organisation. Furthermore, the formation of Soviets as Soviets before a rising, and apart from any immediate tasks connected with a rising would have meant one thing, and one thing only, a plain declaration, “We mean to attack you.” The government, obliged to “endure” the factory and works’ committees as being centres of great masses, would have struck at the first Soviet, as an official organ for an “attempt” to seize power. The Communists would have been compelled to defend the Soviets as a purely organisational affair. The decisive contest would not have proceeded for the sake of seizing power, and not for the defence of any material position, nor would it have happened at a moment chosen by us—when a rising would have taken place as a result of a mass movement—no, the struggle would have burst out for the sake of a form of organisation, on behalf of the Soviet “banner,” at a moment chosen by the enemy, and by him forced upon us. At the same time, it is quite obvious, that all the preparatory work for a rising could have successfully been carried on under the organisational form of factory and works’ committees which haul already managed to become mass organisations, and which continued to become larger and stronger, and left the party freedom of movement in respect of the date of a rising. No doubt Soviets would have emerged at the proper moment of time. But it is not at all certain that they would have appeared under the conditions referred to, as the direct organisations of a rising, in the very fire of the conflict, because it would have meant that two revolutionary centres would have been set up at a critical moment. “Horses must not be swopped when crossing a stream,” runs the English proverb. It is very probable that when a victory had been secured in the most decisive places of the country that Soviets would everywhere have begun to be set up. In any event, a triumphant rising would inevitably have led to the creation of Soviets as organs of power.
The fact must not be lost sight of that our Soviets appeared at the “democratic” stage of the revolution, they were, so to say, legalised at that stage. Later on we became their inheritors and made use of them. In the proletarian struggles of the West, such things will not be repeated. In the West Soviets will in most cases arise in response to the call of the Communists, and they will consequently be the direct organs of a proletarian rising. Of course, it is quite possible that the disintegration of the bourgeois state will have gone a good way before the proletariat will be able to take over the power. This wi11 naturally create a condition for the formation of Soviets as the open organisations to prepare for a rising. That, however, will scarcely be the general course of things. It is more likely that there will be cases when it will be only possible to form Soviets in the very last days as the immediate organs of the rising of the masses. And, in conclusion, it is quite probable that there will be instances where Soviets will arise after the rising has passed its crisis, and even as a result of it as the organs of the new power. All these various possibilities should be kept in view in order not to fall into the snare of making a fetish out of an organisation, and so as not to change the Soviets from what then should be, namely an adaptable, vital form of the struggle into an organizational “principle,” forcing its way into the movement from without and interfering with the proper course of its development.
Our newspapers have recently been discussing the question as to the uncertainty of the door through which the proletarian revolution will enter into England—will the door be the Communist Party, or the trade unions? This way of stating the problem, pretending as it does to a wide view of history, is radically wrong and dangerous because it blots out the chief lesson of the last few years. If as a result of the war there has not been a victorious revolution, then it is simply due to the fact that not enough Parties were in existence. That inference applies to Europe as a whole, but it may be worked out more concretely when the fate of the revolutionary movement in various countries is kept in mind. As regards Germany, the case in this respect, is perfectly clear. Both in 1918 and in 1919, the German revolution might have secured a victory if there had been the due party leadership. We saw this for instance, in 1917, in regard to Finland. There the revolutionary movement developed under peculiarly favourable circumstances under the ægis and direct military assistance of revolutionary Russia. But the Finnish party proved to be Social-Democrats as far as its controlling majority was concerned, and so it wangled the revolution. Not less evident is the lesson of the experiment in Hungary. The Hungarian Communists along with the left Social-Democrats did not conquer power, but took it over from the hand of the frightened bourgeoisie. Triumphing without a contest, and without a conquest the Hungarian revolution proved in the very first acts as quite void of any fighting leadership. The Communist Party merged with the Social-Democratic Party, showing thereby that it was not really a Communist Party, and consequently, incapable, in spite of the fighting spirit of the Hungarian proletariat to maintain the power which it secured with such comparative ease. Without a party, apart from a party, in circumvention of a party, by substitution of a party, the proletarian revolution cannot hope to secure a victory. This is what the last ten years chiefly teach. The British trade unions may to be sure, become a mighty lever of the proletarian revolution. For example, they may, in certain circumstances, and for a given period, even replace workers’ Soviets. But this they cannot do apart from the Communist Party, still less in spite of the party, but only on condition that Communist influence became a decisive element in the trade unions. For this conclusion, i.e., the relative role and influence of the party in the proletarian revolution—we have paid too big a price to put it lightheartedly on one side, or in any way to lessen the significance of it.
Consciousness, clearness of purpose, definiteness of method played a much less important part in the revolutions of the bourgeoisie than they are destined to play and actually do play in the revolution of the proletariat. At that time, the dynamic forces of the revolution were also the masses of the people, but they were much less organised and conscious than they are at the present time. The leadership lay in the hands of the various groups of the bourgeoisie which had at its disposal wealth, education and all the organisations connected with these privileges (towns, universities, press, etc.). Bureaucratic monarchism put tap a defence as experience required. It acted in a tentative manner. The bourgeoisie seized the opportunity whenever it could—having taken advantage of the movement of the classes below—to throw its whole social weight into the balance of the struggle and seized the reins of power. What marks off the proletarian revolution is the fact that the proletariat enters into it not merely as paramount force of attack, but also—in the person of its vanguard—as a force which directs the struggle. That part which in a bourgeois revolution was played by the economic might of the bourgeoisie, by its culture, by its municipalities and universities, can in the proletarian revolution be played by the workers’ Party and by that alone. The role of the party has become all the more important, seeing that the self-consciousness of the enemy has advanced to an immeasurably higher degree. In the course of its domination through the centuries the bourgeoisie has worked out a school of politics which proved to be incomparably higher than the school of the old bureaucratic monarchy. If parliamentarism was to a certain extent the workers’ preparatory school of revolution, it was to the bourgeoisie to a much greater extent, the school of counter-revolutionary strategy. It is enough to say that by means of parliamentarism the bourgeoisie has managed to bring up Social-Democracy which to-day has become the chief bulwark of private property. The epoch of the social revolution in Europe, as the first chapters of it have shown, will be an era not only of strenuous and ruthless struggles, but of fights well planned and calculated—struggles much more thoroughly organised than was our struggle in 1917.
Hence we are obliged to approach the problem of civil war, and particularly of an armed rising, from a quite different point of view than the one now existing. We repeat Marx’s utterance, which Lenin frequently repeated that a rising is an art. This idea, however, 1s quite a hollow phrase when Marx’s formula is not accompanied by a study of the fundamental elements of the art of civil war on the basis of the vast experiences which have accumulated during the last few years, We have frankly to admit that in the superficial attitude taken to the problems of an armed rising, it is evident that the force of the Social-Democratic tradition has not yet been overcome. The party which pays superficial attention to the problems of civil war, hoping that in the hour of need every thing will somehow fall into a proper arrangement, will most assuredly sustain a defeat. What we need is to work through in a collective manner, the experiences of the proletarian struggles from 1917 onwards.
The history of the Party groupings in the course of 1917, which we have been describing, is at the same time in a very real sense, part and parcel of the experience of the civil war, and is in our judgment, of immediate significance to the policy of the Communist International as a whole. What we said before, we say again, that the study of the differences of opinion need not be and must not be regarded as an effort directed against those comrades who were pursuing a wrong policy. On the other hand, it cannot be admitted, that because not all the members of the Party kept in step with the revolutions of the proletariat, therefore, the greatest, chapter in the history of the Party should be blotted out. The Party can know and must know its past in entirety, in order to make a correct estimate of it, and to assign a proper significance to every particular part of it. A revolutionary party has its tradition made not by hushing things up but by a clear criticism of things.
History has furnished our party with perfectly incomparable revolutionary advantages. The traditions of the heroic struggle against the Tsardom, the habits and ways of revolutionary self-sacrifice, connected with circumstances of under ground activity, a wide theoretical working through of the revolutionary experiences of mankind, the struggle against the Narodniks, the struggle against the conciliationists, the mighty experience of the 1905 revolution, the theoretical labour in studying that experience during the years of counter revolution, the examination of problem, arising out of the international workers’ movement from the angle of the revolutionary lesson of 1905—it is that which in its totality gave to our Party an exceptional temper, a supreme theoretical penetration, and an unexampled revolutionary expanse. Notwithstanding all this, even in such a Party, as far as its leaders were concerned, a group of experienced revolutionaries, old Bolsheviks, was formed, before the moment of decisive action, which was in sharp opposition to the proletarian upheaval, and which in the most critical period of the revolution, roughly from February, 1917, to February, 1918, adopted, in all matters of consequence an essentially Social-Democratic position. To save the Party and the revolution from the supreme confusion which arose from such a state of things, Lenin’s exceptional influence on the Party, unprecedented even at that time, became necessary. This must under no circumstances be forgotten if we “It the Communist parties of other countries to learn something from us. The problem of the choice of leaders is a matter or quite exceptional importance to the parties of Western Europe. The experience of the never occurring October in Germany is a clamant example. However, the choice has to be conducted from the standpoint of revolutionary action. During the last few years, Germany has shown many instances in which the leaders of the party were put to the test at the time of a direct struggle. Without such a criterion everything remains precarious. During these years, France was much poorer in respect of even partial revolutionary commotions, but even in the political life of that country some flashes of civil war broke forth, as when the Executive Committee of the Party and the trade union leaders were obliged to take action in regard to acute matters which brooked no delay (e.g., the violent meeting of January 11th, 1924). A careful study of such acute occurrences will supply irreplaceable material for the estimation of party leadership, the conduct of particular party organisation, and of the directing activity of particular workers of the Party. To ignore lessons such as these, not to draw the necessary deductions in respect of the choice of people, means, to invite inevitable disaster, because a victory of the proletarian revolution is not possible apart from a penetrating, resolute, and courageous party leadership.
A party, even the most revolutionary party, cannot escape the creation of a conservative feeling in regard to organisation, otherwise it would be without the necessary stability. It is all a question of degree. The vitally necessary dose of conservatism should, in a revolutionary party be united with a perfect freedom from routine, with an initiative to form new adjustments, with a spirit of practical daring. These qualities are most of all tested when changes occur in the course of history. We have already heard the words of Lenin, that it frequently happens when parties, even the most revolutionary, continue to follow yesterday’s course of action at a time when the position of affairs has passed through a sharp change, and when new duties have arisen in consequence, and in doing so become or threaten to become a hindrance to revolutionary development. Both the conservatism of the party and the revolutionary initiative of the party find their most concentrated expressions in the organisation of party leadership. However, the Communist parties of Europe have still to face the most severe “change”—the change from preparative activity to the seizure of power. This change is of a most exacting, undelayable, responsible and formidable character. To let the moment slip, means the greatest defeat that can overtake a party.
The experience of the European struggles, above all of the struggles in Germany, during the last few years, seen in the light of our own experience, makes it evident that there are two types of leaders who are disposed to hold back the party at the very moment when it is necessary that it should take a supreme leap forward. First, there are the leaders who are, as a rule, disposed to see along the path of revolution first and foremost difficulties, hindrances and impediments, and to judge every situation with a preconceived, though not always a conscious intention to refrain from action. In their case, Marxism is turned into a method of establishing the impossibility of revolutionary action. The purest product of this type are the Russian Mensheviks. But the type as such is wider than Menshevism, and at the most critical moment, and in the most responsible position it suddenly manifests itself in the most revolutionary party. Secondly, there is the type which is distinguished by its superficial agitational character. These representatives see no difficulty, no obstacle till it strikes them on the face. The skill to get over real difficulties by the aid of plausible phrases, to show a lofty optimism (“the sea is but knee deep”) whenever a vexed problem has to be faced, very quickly passes into an opposite quality when then time for real action comes. The first type, the revolutionary who makes mountains of molehills, sees in the difficulties connected with the seizure of power, simply the heap and culmination of all those difficulties which he has been wont to see all along his path. To the second type, the shallow optimist, the difficulties of revolutionary action are always a sudden event. During the preparatory period the conduct of the one differs from the conduct of the other. The first is sceptical and too much reliance in a revolutionary sense should not be placed on him. The other, on the contrary, may prove to be a rampaging revolutionary. When, however, the time arrives that decisive action is called for, those two are both hand in hand in their opposition to a rising. And when all is said and done, the whole preparatory activity is only of value to the degree in which it renders the party and above all its directing organisations able to determine the time of a rising and take such a rising in hand. For the task of the Communist Party is the capture of power for the purpose of reconstructing society.
Frequent references have recently been made both by word and pen, to the need of “Bolshevising” the Comintern. This is a task that cannot be disputed or delayed, and a special urgency attaches to it after the terrible lessons of Bulgaria and Germany a year ago. Bolshevism is not a doctrine (i.e., not only a doctrine), but a system of revolutionary training for a change brought about by the proletariat. What does it mean to Bolshevise Communist parties? It means such a training of them, it means their making a choice of such guiding and controlling persons who shall not drift about hither and thither when the time of their “October” comes. “That is the whole of Hegel, of book wisdom, and the meaning of all philosophy.”
The first stretch of the “democratic” revolution runs from the change in February to the crisis which took place in April, which was solved on May 5th, by the setting up of a Coalitionist government wherein the Mensheviks and the Narodniks entered. Throughout all that first stage, the author of the present volume played no part whatever, since he arrived at Petrograd only on May 5th, on the very eve when the Coalition government was created. This first stage of the revolution and of its prospects is expounded in articles which were written in America. I believe that in everything which is of an essential character, the articles will be in perfect agreement with that analysis of the revolution which Lenin presented in his “Letters from Afar.”
From the moment of my arrival in Petrograd, my activity went on in entire consonance with the Executive Committee of the Bolsheviks. The lines which Lenin laid down for the conquest of power by the proletariat, I, of course, wholly and entirely accepted. As regards the peasants, there was not a shade of difference between Lenin and myself—he had by that time completed the first stage against the right Bolsheviks, and their cry of “the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasants.” Before my formal admission into the party, I took part in drawing up a number of decisions and documents issued in the name of the party. The only reason which delayed my formal entrance into the party for three months was a desire to hasten the fusion of the Bolsheviks and the best elements of the Inter-regional (Mezhrayan) organisation—and in general of revolutionary internationalists. This policy, likewise, I carried on with the full consent of Lenin.
The editor of this book has drawn my attention to one of my articles written at that time in favour of unification, which contains a reference to the organisational “cliquishness” of the Bolsheviks. One of these deep thinking pundits, such as Comrade Sorin, will not delay, of course, to deduce this phrase directly from the differences of view regarding the first paragraph of the Statutes. To start a quarrel about this matter, after I made confession by word and by act, of my actual and big mistakes in organisation, seems to me to be unnecessary. A less perverted reader will, however, find a much more simple and immediate explanation of the phrase in question, which I used in the actual conditions of the time. Among the Inter-regionist workers there remained from the past a very strong distrust in the organisational policy of the Petrograd committee. Arguments drawn from “cliquishness” with references to all sorts of “wrongdoings” as is usually the case in such circumstances, were in common use amongst the Inter-regionists. I refuted this in an article in the following way: Cliquishness as an inheritance from the past does exist, but if it is to diminish, the Inter-regionists will have to bring their separate existence to an end.
My purely polemical “proposition” to the First Congress of Soviets to constitute a government out of twelve Peshekhonovites has been expounded by someone—by Sukhanov it seems—either as a special inclination on my part towards Peshekhonov, or as a particular policy, distinct from that of Lenin. This is very curious. When our party demanded that the Soviets, led by Mensheviks and S.R.’s should take power, it “demanded” in that very act a ministry of Peshekhonovites. In the long run, no difference of principle really existed between Peshekhonov, Chernov and Dan. They were all of the same advantage in making easy the transfer of power from the bourgeoisie to the proletariat. Maybe Peshekonov was slightly better acquainted with statistics, and made a better business impression than Tseretelli or Chernov. A dozen Peshekhonovites meant a government of a dozen representatives of the petty bourgeois democracy instead of a coalition. When the Petrograd masses led by our party raised the cry: “Down with the ten capitalist ministers!” a meant that they demanded that the places of these ministers should be filled by Mensheviks and Narodniks. “Drive out the Cadets!” You, sirs, the bourgeois democrats, take the power into your own hands. Put twelve (or as many as there are) Peshekhonovites into the government, and we promise you as far as it is possible to “peacefully” remove you from your posts when the hour will strike. And strike it should very soon.” There was no special line of action here. It was the self-same line of action which Lenin himself formulated more than once.
It seems to me that there is need to emphasise specially the precaution of the editor of this volume, Comrade Lentsner. The bulk of the speeches contained in this volume is not based on stenographic notes, even defective ones, but on the accounts of the reporters of the conciliationist press which are mixed up with a great deal of ignorance and malice. A cursory perusal of a few of these documents made me wave on one side my first intention to correct and supplement them to a certain extent. Let them stop as they are. They, too, are a kind of document of the epoch, albeit “from the other side.”
The present book would not have seen the light apart from the careful and capable work which Comrade Lentsner gave to it (the notes are by him) and of his coadjutors, Comrades Heller, Kryzhanovsky, Rovensky, and I. Rumer. I wish here to express my gratitude to them. I should like particularly to mention the great efforts made by my very close collaborator, M. S. Glazman, in preparing this and other of my books. I pen these lines with feelings of profound sorrow for the exceptionally tragic death of this splendid comrade, worker and man.
15th September, 1924.
1. Vide Works, vol. xiv., section 2, page 12.
2. Vide N. Lenin’s Collected Works, vol. xiv., part 1, pp. 28 to 33.
3. Pravda, No. 10, March 18th, 1917. “No Secret Diplomacy.”
4. Pravda, No. 9, March 5th, 1917.
5. Pravda,, No. 10, March 16th, 1917.
6. “Protelarskaya Revolutsia,” No. 7 (30), p. 299 and p. 243.
7. Batzushka—dear little holy father; that is, a parson.
8. Proletarskaya Revolatsia, pp. 224-45.
9. Lenin’s Works, vol. xiv., part 1, page 18.
10. Lenin’s Works, vol. xiv., part 1, page 52.
11. Lenin’s works, vol. xiv., part 1, page 276.
12. Lenin’s Works, vol. xiv., part 2, page 23.
13. Lenin’s Works, vol. xiv., part 2, page 56 and page 57.
14. Apparently a reference to names has been omitted here as the following case of the sentence shows—L.T.
15. Lenin’s Works, vol, xiv., part 2, page 95.
16. Lenin’s Works, vol. xiv., part 2, page 144.
17. Lenin’s Works, vol. xiv., part 2, page 138.
18. Oktyabrsky Perevorot. “Arkhiv Revolutsii,” 1917, pp. 407-410.
19. Oktyabrsky Perevorot. “Arkhiv Revolutsii,” 1917, pp. 407-410.
20. Vide, L. Trotsky, “Problems of Civil War,” Pravda, September 6th, 1924, No. 202.
Last updated on: 18.11.2007