Leon Trotsky

The History of the Russian Revolution

Volume Three: The Triumph of the Soviets

Volume 3: Appendix 1
Supplementary Essay: Some Legends of the Bureaucracy

The conception of the October revolution developed in this book was set forth by the author more than once during the early years of the Soviet régime, although to be sure only in its general features. In order to delineate his thought more clearly he sometimes gave it a quantitative expression: the task of the overturn, he wrote, was “three-quarters if not nine-tenths” completed before the 25th of October by the method of “silent” or “dry” insurrection. If you do not give these figures more importance than figures could pretend to in such a matter, the idea itself remains absolutely unquestionable. But since the revaluation of values began, our conception has been bitterly criticised in this particular.

“If on the 9th of October a nine-tenths ‘victorious’ insurrection was already an accomplished fact,” wrote Kamenev, “then how shall we estimate the intellectual capacities of those who were sitting in the Central Committee of the Bolsheviks, and on the 10th of October deciding in heated debates whether to make an insurrection or not, and if so when? What shall we say of the people who assembled on the 16th of October ... and again and again estimated the chances for an insurrection? ... Oh yes, it seems that it was already accomplished on the 9th of October ‘silently’ and ‘legally’ – so silently indeed that neither the party nor the Central Committee knew about it.” This superficially so effective argument, which is canonised in the epigone literature and has politically outlived its author, is in reality an impressive piling up of mistakes.

On the 9th of October the insurrection could not possibly have been a “nine-tenths” accomplished fact, for on that day the question of the transfer of the garrison had just been raised in the Soviet and it was impossible to know how the thing would develop in the future. It was for this reason that on the next day, the 10th, when insisting on the importance of this question of the transfer of the troops, Trotsky had not yet sufficient grounds to demand that the conflict between the garrison and its command form the basis of the whole plan. Only during the next two weeks of stubborn day-by-day work did the chief task of the insurrection – the firm winning over to the people’s side of the government troops – become “three-quarters if not nine-tenths” accomplished. This was not so on the 10th, nor yet even on the 16th of October, when the Central Committee took up for a second time the question of insurrection and when Krylenko did quite definitely present as a key-note the question of the garrison. But even if the revolution had been nine-tenths victorious on the 9th – as Kamenev erroneously presents our thought – this fact could have been reliably ascertained, not by guessing, but only by action – that is, by making an insurrection. The “intellectual capacity” of the members of the Central Committee would not, even in that purely hypothetical case, have been in the least compromised by their participation in heated debates on the 10th and 16th of October. However, even supposing that the members of the Central Committee could have unquestionably assured themselves by an a priori calculation that the victory was actually nine-tenths won, it would still have remained necessary to accomplish the last tenth, and that would have demanded just as much attention as though it were ten-tenths. How many “almost” won battles and insurrections does history present – battles and insurrections which led to defeat only because they were not pushed through in good season to the complete defeat of the enemy! And finally – Kamenev is ingenious enough to forget this too – the sphere of activity of the Military Revolutionary Committee was Petrograd only. However important the capital may have been, the rest of the country did nevertheless exist. And from this point of view the Central Committee had sufficient ground for carefully weighing the chances of the insurrection, not only on the 10th and the 16th, but also on the 26th – that is, after the victory in Petrograd.

Kamenev, in the argument we are discussing, comes to the defence of Lenin. All the epigones defend themselves under this imposing pseudonym. How could Lenin, he asks, have fought so passionately for an insurrection, if it was already nine-tenths accomplished! But Lenin himself wrote at the beginning of October: “It is quite possible that right now we might seize the power without an insurrection.” In other words, Lenin postulated that the “silent” revolution had already taken place before the 9th of October, and moreover not by nine but by ten-tenths. He understood however, that this optimistic hypothesis could only be verified in action. For that reason Lenin said in the same letter: “If we cannot seize power without an insurrection, then we must make an insurrection immediately.” It was this question that was discussed on the 10th and 16th, and on other days.

The recent Soviet histories have completely erased from the October revolution the extremely important and instructive chapter about the disagreements between Lenin and the Central Committee – both upon the basic matter of principle in which Lenin was right, and also upon those particular, but very important, questions upon which the Central Committee was right. According to the new doctrine, neither Lenin nor the Central Committee could make a mistake, and consequently there could have been no conflict between them. In those cases where it becomes impossible to deny that there was a disagreement, it is, in obedience to a general prescription, laid at the door of Trotsky.

The facts speak otherwise. Lenin insisted upon raising an insurrection in the days of the Democratic Conference. Not one member of the Central Committee supported him. A week later Lenin proposed to Smilga to organise an insurrectionary headquarters in Finland, and strike a blow at the government from that point with the sailors. Again ten days later he insisted that the Northern Congress become the starting point of an insurrection. Nobody at the Congress supported this proposal. At the end of September Lenin considered the postponement of the insurrection for three weeks, until the Congress of Soviets, fatal. Nevertheless the insurrection, deferred to the eve of the Congress, was accomplished while the Congress was in session. Lenin proposed that the struggle begin in Moscow, assuming that there it would be resolved without a fight. As a matter of fact, the insurrection in Moscow, notwithstanding the preceding victory in Petrograd, lasted eight days and cost many victims.

Lenin was no automaton of infallible decisions. He was “only” a man of genius, and nothing human was alien to him, therein included the capacity to make mistakes. Lenin said this of the attitude of epigones to the great revolutionists: “After their deaths, attempts are made to convert them into harmless icons, to canonise them, so to speak, to render a certain homage to their names ...” in order thus the more safely to betray them in action. The present epigones demand that Lenin be acknowledged infallible in order the more easily to extend the same dogma to themselves.[1]

What characterised Lenin as a statesman was a combination of bold perspectives with a meticulous estimation of tiny facts and symptoms. Lenin’s isolation did not prevent him from defining with incomparable penetration the fundamental stages and turns of the movement, but it deprived him of the possibility of making timely estimates of episodic factors and temporary changes. The political situation was in general so favourable to an insurrection as to admit several different possibilities of victory. If Lenin had been in Petrograd and had carried through at the beginning of October his decision in favour of an immediate insurrection without reference to the Congress of Soviets, he would undoubtedly have given the carrying out of his own plan a political setting which would have reduced its disadvantageous features to a minimum. But it is at least equally probable that he would himself in that case have come round to the plan actually carried out.

We have given in a separate chapter our estimate of the rôle of Lenin in the general strategy of the revolution. To point our idea in regard to Lenin’s tactical proposals we will add that without Lenin’s pressure, without his urgings, his suggestions, his variant plans, it would have been infinitely more difficult to get over on to the road toward insurrection. Had Lenin been in Smolny during the critical weeks, the general leadership of the insurrection – and that not only in Petrograd but Moscow – would have been on a considerably higher level. But Lenin as an “emigré,” could not take the place of Lenin in Smolny.

Lenin himself felt most keenly of all the inadequacy of his tactical orientation. He wrote on September 24th in Rabochy Put: “The growth of a new revolution is obviously in progress – we know little unfortunately of the breadth and rapidity of this growth.” These words are both a reproach to the party leaders and a complaint of his own lack of information. When recalling in his letter the most important rules of insurrection Lenin did not forget to add: “This is all approximate of course and merely for illustration.” On the 8th of October, Lenin wrote to the Northern Regional Congress of Soviets: “I will try to appear with my advice from the sidelines In case the probable insurrection of the workers and soldiers of Petersburg ... soon takes place, but it has not yet taken place.” Lenin began his polemic against Zinoviev and Kamenev with these words. “A publicist set somewhat aside by the will of destiny from the main line of history constantly incurs the risk of coming in late or being uninformed, especially when his writings are delayed in publication.” Here again a complaint against his isolation together with a reproach to the editors who had delayed the publicist of those articles which they judged too incisive, or had thrown out the prickliest passages. A week before the insurrection Lenin wrote in a conspirative letter to the members of the party: “As to the raising of the question of insurrection now, so near to the 20th of October, I cannot judge from a distance just how much of the thing has been spoiled by the strike-breaking performance (of Zinoviev and Kamenev) in the non-party press.” The words “from a distance” are underlined by Lenin himself.

But how does the epigone school explain the disaccord between the tactical proposals of Lenin and the actual course of the insurrection in Petrograd? It gives to the conflict an anonymous and formless character; or it passes by the disagreements altogether, declaring them unworthy of attention; or it tries to refute facts indestructibly established; or it puts the name Trotsky where Lenin was talking about the Central Committee as a whole or the opponents of insurrection within the Central Committee; or, finally, it combines all these methods, not bothering about whether they are mutually consistent or not.

“The conduct of the October insurrection,” writes Stalin, “may be considered a model of (Bolshevik) strategy. To transgress this requirement (the correct choice of the moment) leads to a dangerous mistake called ‘loss of tempo,’ when the party falls behind the course of events or runs ahead, giving rise to a danger of failure. The attempt of one group of the comrades to begin the insurrection with the arrest of the Democratic Conference in August 1917 must be considered an example of this ‘loss of tempo,’ an example of how not to choose the moment of insurrection.” The designation “one group of the comrades” in these lines means Lenin. Nobody but Lenin proposed that the insurrection begin with the arrest of the Democratic Conference, and nobody supported his proposal. Stalin recommends the tactical plan of Lenin as “an example of how not to choose the moment of insurrection.” But the anonymous form of his account permits Stalin at the same time to deny flatly that there was any disagreement between Lenin and the Central Committee.

Yaroslavsky has a still simpler way of getting out of the difficulty. “It is not a question of particulars, of course,” he writes, “it is not a question whether the insurrection began in Moscow or Petrograd.” The thing is that the whole course of events demonstrated “the correctness of Lenin’s line, the correctness of the line of our party.” This ingenious historian simplifies his task to an extraordinary degree. That October verified the strategy of Lenin, and demonstrated in particular how important had been his April victory over the ruling stratum of “old Bolsheviks,” is indubitable. But if in a general way there is no question about where to begin, when to begin, and how to begin, then, to be sure, nothing is left of the episodic disagreements with Lenin – or for that matter of tactics in general.

In John Reed’s book there is a story that on the 21st of October the leaders of the Bolsheviks held a “second historic conference” at which, as Reed was told, Lenin said: “The 24th of October is too soon to act. We must have an All-Russian basis for the insurrection, and on the 24th not all the delegates will have come to the Congress. On the other hand, the 26th will be too late to act ... We must act on the 25th, the day of the opening of the Congress.” Reed was an extraordinarily keen observer, able to transcribe upon the pages of his book the feelings and passions of the deciding days of the revolution. It was for this reason that Lenin in his day desired that the incomparable chronicle of Reed be distributed in millions of copies in all the countries of the world. But work done in the heat of events, notes made in corridors, on the streets, beside campfires, conversations and fragmentary phrases caught on the wing, and that too with the need of a translator – all these things made particular mistakes unavoidable. This story of a session of October 21st is one of the most obvious mistakes in Reed’s book. The argument about the need of an “All-Russian soviet foundation” for the insurrection could not possibly belong to Lenin, for Lenin more than once described the running after such a foundation as nothing more or less than “complete idiocy or complete betrayal.” Lenin could not have said that the 24th was too early, for ever since the end of September he had considered inadmissible a postponement of the insurrection for one unnecessary day. It might come too late, he said, but “in that matter it is now impossible to be premature.” However, aside from these political considerations – decisive enough in themselves – Reed’s story is refuted by the simple fact that on the 21st there was no “second historic conference” of any kind. Such a conference could not fail to leave traces in the documents and memories of the other participants. There were only two conferences with Lenin present: on the 10th and the 16th. Reed could not have known this. But the documents since published leave no place for the “historic session” of October 21st. The epigone historians have not hesitated, however, to include the obviously erroneous testimony of Reed in all the official publications. By this means they have achieved a specious calendar-coincidence of Lenin’s directives with the actual course of events. To be sure, in doing this the official historians put Lenin in the position of incomprehensibly and hopelessly contradicting himself. But essentially, you must understand, they are not here concerned about Lenin. The epigones have simply converted Lenin into their own historic pseudonym, and are unceremoniously making use of him in order to establish their own infallibility ex post facto.

But the official historians go even farther than this in the business of driving facts into the required line of march. Thus Yaroslavsky writes in his history of the party: “At the session of the Central Committee on the 24th of October, the last session before the insurrection, Lenin was present.” The officially published minutes, containing a complete list of those present, testify that Lenin was absent. “Lenin and Kamenev were delegated to negotiate with the Left Social Revolutionaries,” writes Yaroslavsky. The minutes say that this task was allotted to Kamenev and Berezin. But it ought to be obvious without any minutes that the Central Committee would not have put upon Lenin this secondary “diplomatic” task. That decisive session of the Central Committee took place in the morning. Lenin did not arrive at Smolny until night. A member of the Petrograd committee, Sveshnikov, relates how Lenin “went out somewhere in the evening (of the 24th) leaving a note in his room stating that he had gone at such and such a time. When we learned this we were frightened to death for Ilych.” Only “late in the evening” did it become known in the district that Lenin had gone to the Military Revolutionary Committee.

Most surprising of all, however, is the fact that Yaroslavsky ignores a political and human document of first-class importance: a letter to the leaders of the districts written by Lenin during the hours when the open insurrection had already essentially begun. “Comrades! I am writing these lines on the evening of the 24th ... With all my power I want to convince the comrades that everything now hangs upon a thread, that questions are now in order which will not be decided by conferences, not by congresses (even though congresses of soviets) but solely by the people, by the mass, by the struggle of the armed masses. It is necessary at any possible cost this very evening, this very night, to arrest the government, disarming (vanquishing if they resist) the junkers, etc. ...” Lenin feared to such an extent the irresolution of the Central Committee, that he was trying at the very last moment to organise a pressure on it from below. “It is necessary,” he writes, “that all districts, all regiments, all forces mobilise on the instant and send delegations immediately to the Military Revolutionary Committee, to the Central Committee of the Bolsheviks, with this insistent demand: In no case leave the power in the hands of Kerensky and Co. until the 25th, not in any case – but settle the thing today without fail, this evening or night.” While Lenin was writing these lines, the regiments and districts he was summoning to mobilise for pressure on the Military Revolutionary Committee were already mobilised by the Military Revolutionary Committee for the seizure of the city and the overthrow of the government. From this letter – every line of which quivers with anxiety and passion – it is at least evident that Lenin could not have proposed on the 21st to defer the insurrection until the 25th, nor have been present at the morning session of the 24th when it was decided to take the offensive immediately.

There is in this letter nevertheless a puzzling element. How could it happen that Lenin, in hiding in the Vyborg district, did not know until evening about a decision of such exceptional importance? From the account of Sveshnikov – as also from other sources – it is evident that communications with Lenin were kept up during that day through Stalin. It can only be assumed that, not having appeared at the morning session of the Central Committee, Stalin also did not know until evening of the decision adopted.

The immediate cause of Lenin’s alarm may have been the rumours consciously and persistently circulated during that day from Smolny, that until the decision of the Congress of Soviets no decisive steps would be taken. On the evening of that day, at an emergency session of the Petrograd Soviet, Trotsky said, in his report on the activities of the Military Revolutionary Committee “An armed conflict today or tomorrow is not included in our plan – on the threshold of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets. We think that the Congress will carry out our slogan with greater power and authority. But if the government wants to use that span of life which still remains to it – 24, 48 or 72 hours – in order to take the offensive against us, we will answer with a counter-offensive, blow for blow, steel against iron.” Such was the leitmotif of that whole day. These defensive announcements had for their purpose to lull at the last moment before the blow the none too lively vigilance of the enemy. It was in all probability this manoeuvre which gave Dan his grounds for assuring Kerensky on the night before the 25th that the Bolsheviks had no intention at all of making an immediate insurrection. But on the other hand, Lenin too, if one of these sedative declarations from Smolny happened to reach him, may, in his state of tension and distrust, have taken a military trick for good money.

Ruses form a necessary element of the art of war. It is a bad ruse, however, which may incidentally deceive one’s own camp. Had it been a question of summoning masses wholesale into the streets, those words about the next “72 hours” might have proven a fatal act. But on the 24th the uprising no longer had need of any general revolutionary summons. The armed detachments designated for the seizure of the principal points of the capital were under arms and awaiting from the commanders, who were in telephone communication with the nearest revolutionary headquarters, the signal to attack. In these circumstances the double-edged ruse of the revolutionary headquarters was entirely in place.

Whenever the official investigators run into an unpleasant document they change its address. Thus Yakovlev writes: “The Bolsheviks did not surrender to ‘constitutional illusions,’ but rejected the proposals of Trotsky to accommodate the insurrection necessarily to the Second Congress of Soviets, and seized the power before the opening of the Congress of Soviets.” Just what proposal of Trotsky is here spoken of, where and when it was considered, what Bolsheviks rejected it – of this the author has nothing to say, and not accidentally. We should search in vain among the minutes, or among any memoirs whatever, for any indication of a proposal of Trotsky to “accommodate the insurrection necessarily to the Second Congress of Soviets.” The ground of this assertion of Yakovlev is a slightly conventionalised misunderstanding long ago explained away by no other than Lenin himself.

As is evident from memoirs published long ago, Trotsky had more than once since the beginning of September pointed out to those opposed to insurrection that appointing the date for the Congress of Soviets was for the Bolsheviks equivalent to appointing the insurrection. This did not mean, of course, that the uprising must not occur except upon the decision of the Congress of Soviets – there could be no talk of such childish formalism. It was a question of the outside date, of the impossibility of deferring it to an indefinite time after the congress. Through whom and in what form these disputes in the Central Committee reached Lenin, is not clear from the documents. An interview with Trotsky, who was too much in view of the enemy, would have been too great a risk for Lenin. In his attitude of caution at that time he may therefore have feared that Trotsky would place his emphasis upon the Congress and not upon the insurrection, or in any case that he would not put up the necessary resistance to the “constitutional illusions” of Zinoviev and Kamenev. Lenin may have been anxious also about the new members of the Central Committee little known to him, the former Mezhrayontsi (or fusionists), Joffé and Uritzky. There is direct evidence of this in a speech of Lenin at a session of the Petrogard committee on November 1st after the victory. “The question was raised at the session (of October 10th) about an offensive. I had fears of opportunism from the side of the internationalist-fusionists, but these were dissipated; in our party, however, (certain old) members (of the Central Committee) did not agree. This grieved me deeply.” According to his own words, Lenin became convinced on the 10th that not only Trotsky, but also Joffé and Uritzky, who were under Trotsky’s immediate influence, were decisively in favour of insurrection. The question of dates in general was raised for the first time at that session. When, then, and by whom, was “a proposal of Trotsky” not to begin the insurrection without a preliminary decision of the Congress of Soviets rejected? As though with a special view to enlarge still further the radius of confusion, the official investigators, with their references to an apocryphal decision of October 21st, attribute, as we have seen, exactly the same proposal to Lenin.

At this point Stalin bursts into the argument with a new version which refutes Yakovlev, but along with him also much more. It seems, according to Stalin, that the postponement of the insurrection to the day of the Congress – that is, to the 25th – met no intrinsic objection from Lenin, but the thing was spoiled by the publication in advance of the date of insurrection. Here let us give the floor, however, to Stalin himself: “The mistake of the Petrograd Soviet in openly designating and publishing abroad the date of the insurrection (October 25th) could not be corrected except by an actual insurrection before this legal date of insurrection.” This assertion is disarming in its inconsistency. As though in those disputes with Lenin it was a question of choosing between the 24th and 25th of October! As a matter of fact Lenin wrote almost a month before the insurrection: “To wait for the Congress of Soviets is complete idiocy for it means letting weeks pass. But weeks and even days now decide everything.” Where, and when, and from which side, did the Soviet publish abroad the date of the insurrection? It is difficult even to invent motives which might induce it to perform so nonsensical an act. In reality it was not the insurrection, but the opening of the Congress of Soviets, which was publicly and in advance set for the 25th, and this was done not by the Petrograd Soviet but by the compromisist Central Executive Committee. From this fact, and not from a pretended indiscretion of the Soviet, certain inferences were to be drawn by the enemy: The Bolsheviks, if they do not intend to retire from the scene, must attempt to seize the power at the moment of the Congress. “It flowed from the logic of things,” we wrote subsequently, “that we appointed the insurrection for October 25th. The thing was so understood by the whole bourgeois press.” Stalin has converted his confused recollection of this “logic of things” into an “indiscreet” publishing abroad of the day of the insurrection. It is thus that history is being written.

On the second anniversary of the revolution the author of this book, referring in the sense just explained, to the fact that “the October insurrection was, so to speak, appointed in advance for a definite date, for October 25th, and was accomplished upon exactly that date,” added: We should seek in vain in history for another example of an insurrection which was accommodated in advance by the course of things to a definite date. That assertion was erroneous: The insurrection in Paris of August 10, 1792, was also appointed approximately a week in advance for a definite date, and also not through indiscretion but through the logic of events.

On August 3 the Legislative Assembly resolved that the petitions of the Paris sections demanding the overthrow of the king should be taken up on the 9th. “In thus naming the day of the debate,” writes Jaurés, who has observed many things which escape the attention of the old historians, “it also named the day of the insurrection.” Danton, the leader of the sections, took a defensive position: “if a revolution breaks out,” he insistently declared, “it will be an answer to the treachery of the government.” This handing over of the question by the sections to the consideration of the Legislative Assembly was by no means a “constitutional illusion” It was merely a method of preparing an insurrection, and therewith a legal cover for it. The sections, as is well known, rose in support of their position at the signal of the fire gong with arms in their hands.

The traits of similarity in these two revolutions separated by an interval of 125 years, are by no means accidental. Both insurrections took place not at the beginning of a revolution, but in its second stage, a fact which made them politically far more conscious and deliberate. In both cases the revolutionary crisis had reached a high stage of maturity; the masses were well aware of the irrevocableness and close approach of the uprising. The demand for unity of action forced them to concentrate their attention upon a definite “legal” date as the focus of the approaching events. The leaders subordinated themselves to this logic of the mass movement. When already in command of the political situation, with the victory already almost in their hands, they adopted what seemed to be a defensive position: Provoking a weakened enemy, they laid upon him in advance the responsibility for the approaching conflict. It is in this way that insurrection takes place at a “date appointed in advance.”

These assertions of Stalin, so striking in their inappropriateness – a number of them have been cited in the preceding chapters – show how little he has thought over the events of 1917 in their inner connection, and what summary traces they have left in his memory. How shall we explain this? It is well known that people make history without understanding its laws, just as they digest food without understanding the physiology of digestion. But it would seem that this ought not to apply to political leaders – above all to leaders of a party acting on a programme grounded in science. However, it is a fact that many revolutionists, having taken part in a revolution in prominent positions, reveal very soon after an inability to comprehend the inner meaning of the thing which happened with their direct participation. The extraordinary abundant literature of epigonism gives the impression that these colossal events roll over human brains and crush them as a steam roller would crush arms and legs. To a certain degree this is true; an excessive psychical tension does quickly consume people. Another circumstance, however, is far more important. A victorious revolution radically changes the situation of yesterday’s revolutionists. It lulls their scientific curiosity, reconciles them to rubber-stamp phrases, moves them to estimate past days under the influence of the new interests. Thus a web of bureaucratic legend more and more thickly obliterates the real configuration of events.

In 1924 the author of this book, in his work entitled Lessons of October, tried to explain why Lenin in leading the party to insurrection was compelled to struggle so violently against the right wing represented by Zinoviev and Kamenev. Stalin objected to this: “Were there disagreements at that time in our party? Yes, there were. But these were exclusively practical in character, not withstanding the assertions of Trotsky, who is trying to discover a ‘right’ and ‘left’ wing of the party ...” “Trotsky asserts that in the person of Kamenev and Zinoviev we had in October a right wing of our party ... How did it happen that the disagreement with Kamenev and Zinoviev lasted only a few days? ... There was no split and the disagreements lasted only a few days because, and only because, we had in the person of Kamenev and Zinoviev Leninist-Bolsheviks.” Did not Stalin in exactly the same way seven years earlier – five days before the insurrection – accuse Lenin of excessive sharpness, and assert that Zinoviev and Kamenev stood upon the common ground of “Bolshevism”? Throughout all Stalin’s zig-zags there is a certain thread of consistency, resulting not from a thought-out philosophy but from the general mould of his character. Seven years after the revolution, just as on the eve of the insurrection he conceives the depth of the disagreements in the party in the same vague way.

The touchstone of a revolutionary political leader is the question of the state. In their letter against the insurrection of October 11th Zinoviev and Kamenev wrote: “With correct tactics we can win a third, yes and more than a third, of the seats in the Constituent Assembly ... The Constituent Assembly plus the Soviet, that is the combined type of state institution toward which we are travelling.” The “correct tactics” meant a renunciation of the conquest of power by the proletariat. The “combined type” of state meant a combination of the Constituent Assembly, in which the bourgeois parties would constitute two-thirds, with the soviets, where the party of the proletariat was in command. This type of combined state subsequently formed the basis of Hilferding’s idea of including the soviets in the Weimar constitution. General Lisingen, commandant of the Mark of Brandenburg, in forbidding the formation of soviets on November 7, 1918, on the ground that “institutions of this kind conflict with the existing state order,” showed at least a great deal more penetration than the Austro-Marxists and the German Independent Party.

Lenin gave warning in April that the Constituent Assembly would sink into a subordinate place. However, neither he himself nor the party as a whole ever during the year 1917 formally renounced the idea of democratic representation, it being impossible to declare confidently in advance how far the revolution would go. It was assumed that having seized the power, the soviets would succeed soon enough in winning the army and the peasants so that the Constituent Assembly – especially after a broadening of the electorate (Lenin proposed in particular to lower the voting age to 18) – would give a majority to the Bolsheviks, and merely supply a formal sanction to the soviet régime. In this sense Lenin sometimes spoke of a “combined type” of state – that is, of an accommodation of the Constituent Assembly to the soviet dictatorship. The thing actually developed along different lines. In spite of Lenin’s insistence, the Central Committee could not make up its mind after the conquest of power to postpone for a few weeks the call for the Constituent Assembly – although without this it was impossible either to broaden the electorate or, what is most important, give the peasants a chance to re-define their relation to the Social Revolutionaries and the Bolsheviks. The Constituent Assembly came into conflict with the Soviet and was dissolved. The hostile camps represented in the Constituent Assembly entered upon a civil war which lasted for years. In the system of soviet dictatorship not even a secondary place was found for democratic representation. The question of the “combined type” was withdrawn in fact. Theoretically, however, it retained all its importance, as was subsequently proven by the experiment of the Independent Party in Germany.

In 1924 when Stalin, obedient to the demands of an inner-party struggle, first attempted to make an independent appraisal of the past, he came to the defence of Zinoviev’s “combined state,” supporting himself in this with a reference to Lenin. “Trotsky does not understand ... the peculiarities of Bolshevik tactics when he snorts at the theory of a combination of the Constituent Assembly with the soviets as Hilferdingism,” wrote Stalin in his characteristic manner. “Zinoviev, whom Trotsky is ready to turn into a Hilferdingist, wholly and completely shares the point of view of Lenin.” This means that seven years after the theoretical and political battles of 1917, Stalin had completely failed to understand that with Zinoviev as with Hilferding it was a question of bringing into accord and reconciling the powers of two classes, the bourgeoisie through the Constituent Assembly and the proletariat through the soviets, whereas with Lenin it was question of combining two institutions expressing the power of one and the same class, the proletariat. The idea of Zinoviev, as Lenin explained at the time, was opposed to the very foundation of the Marxian teaching about the state. “With the power in the hands of the soviets,” wrote Lenin against Zinoviev and Kamenev on October 17th, “the ‘combined type’ would be accepted by everybody. But to drag in under the title ‘combined type’ a refusal to transfer the power to the soviets ... is it possible to find a parliamentary expression for that?” We see, then, that in order to evaluate this idea of Zinoviev, which Stalin declares to be “a peculiarity of Bolshevik tactics” supposedly not understood by Trotsky, Lenin found it difficult even to find a parliamentary expression, although he was not distinguished by an excessive squeamishness in these matters. A little over a year later Lenin wrote, applying the same thought to Germany: “The attempt to combine the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie with the dictatorship of the proletariat is a complete renunciation both of Marxism and of socialism in general.” Could Lenin indeed have written otherwise?

The “combined type” of Zinoviev was essentially an attempt to eternalise the dual power – that is, a revival of the experiment completely exhausted by the Mensheviks. And if Stalin in 1924 was still standing on the same ground with Zinoviev on this question, it means that in spite of his adherence to the theses of Lenin, he has nevertheless remained at least half-way true to that philosophy of dual power which he himself developed in his report of March 29, 1917: “The rôles have been divided. The Soviet has in fact taken the initiative in the revolutionary transformation ... The Provisional Government has in fact taken the rôle of fortifier of the conquests of the revolutionary people.” The mutual relations between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat are here defined as a simple division of labour.

During the last week before the insurrection Stalin was obviously manoeuvring between Lenin, Trotsky and Sverdlov, on the one hand, and Kamenev and Zinoviev on the other. That editorial declaration of the 20th which defended the opponents of insurrection against Lenin’s blows, could not – especially from the pen of Stalin – have been accidental. In questions of intra-party manoeuvring he was a past master. Just as in April, after Lenin’s arrival, Stalin cautiously pushed Kamenev forward, and himself waited on the sidelines in silence before again joining battle, so now on the eve of the insurrection he was obviously making ready, in case of possible failure, a retreat along the Kamenev and Zinoviev line. Stalin moved along that road up to the limit beyond which it would have entailed a break with the majority of the Central Committee. That prospect frightened him. At the session of the 21st Stalin repaired his half-destroyed bridge to the left wing of the Central Committee by moving that Lenin prepare the theses upon fundamental questions for the Congress of Soviets and that Trotsky make the political report. Both these motions were unanimously adopted. Having thus insured himself on the left, Stalin at the last moment withdrew into the shadow: he would wait. All the newest historians, beginning with Yaroslavsky, carefully steer around the fact that Stalin was not present at the session of the Central Committee in Smolny on the 24th, and did not take upon himself any function in the organisation of the insurrection! Nevertheless this fact, indisputably established by the documents, characterises better than anything else the political personality of Stalin and his methods.

Since 1924 innumerable efforts have been made to fill up the vacant space representing October in the political biography of Stalin. This has been done by means of two pseudonyms: the “Central Committee” and the “practical centre.” We shall not understand either the mechanics of the October leadership, or the mechanics of the latest epigone legends, unless we now we approach a little more closely the personal staff of the Central Committee of that time.

Lenin, the recognised leader, authoritative for all but, as the facts show, far from a “dictator” in the party, for a period of four months had taken no direct part in the work of the Central Committee, and upon a number of tactical questions was in sharp opposition to it. The most prominent leaders in the old Bolshevik nucleus, standing at a great distance from Lenin but also from those who came after them, were Zinoviev and Kamenev. Zinoviev was in hiding as well as Lenin. Before October Zinoviev and Kamenev had come into determined opposition to Lenin and the majority of the Central Committee. That removed them both from the ranks. Of the old Bolsheviks, Sverdlov had come swiftly to the front, but he was then still a newcomer in the Central Committee. His organising talent developed fully only later during the years of the construction of the soviet state. Dzershinsky, who had recently joined the party, was distinguished by his revolutionary temperament, but made no pretence to independent political authority. Bukharin, Rykov, and Nogin were living in Moscow. Bukharin was considered a gifted but unreliable theoretician. Rykov and Nogin were opponents of the insurrection. Lomov, Bubnov and Miliutin, were hardly counted upon by anybody in deciding big questions; moreover Lomov was working in Moscow, Miliutin was on the road. Joffé and Uritzky had been closely associated in their émigré past with Trotsky, and were working in agreement with him. The young Smilga was working in Finland. This composition and inner situation of the Central Committee sufficiently explains why until Lenin’s return to direct leadership the party headquarters did not play and could not play even in the slightest degree the rôle it was to assume subsequently. The minutes show that the most important questions – that about the Congress of Soviets, the garrison, the Military Revolutionary Committee – were not discussed in advance in the Central Committee and did not issue from its initiative, but arose in Smolny out of the practical activity of the Soviet, and were worked over in the circle of soviet leaders – oftenest with the participation of Sverdlov.

Stalin, generally speaking, did not show up in Smolny. The more decisive the pressure of the revolutionary masses became and the greater the scope assumed by events, the more Stalin would keep in the background, the paler would become his political thought, the weaker his initiative. It was so in 1905; it was so in the fall of 1917. The same thing has been repeated subsequently every time great historic questions have arisen on the world arena. When it became clear that the publication of the minutes of the Central Committee for 1917 only laid bare an October gap in the biography of Stalin, the bureaucratic historians created the legend of the “practical centre.” An explanation of this story – widely popularised during these last years – becomes a necessary element of any critical history of the October revolution.

At the conference of the Central Committee in Lesny on the 16th of October, one of the arguments against forcing the insurrection was to point out that “we have not yet even a centre.” At Lenin’s suggestion the Central Committee decided straightway, at that hasty sitting in a back corner, to make good the lack. The minutes read: “The Central Committee organises a military revolutionary centre consisting of the following members: Sverdlov, Stalin, Bubnov, Uritzky and Dzerzhinsky. This centre becomes a constituent part of the revolutionary Soviet committee.” This resolution, which everybody had forgotten, was first discovered in the archives m 1924. It began to be quoted as a most important historic document. Thus Yaroslavsky wrote: “This organ (and no other) guided all the organisations which took part in the insurrection (the revolutionary military units, the Red Guard).” Those words “and no other” reveal frankly enough the goal of this whole ex post facto construction. But Stalin has written still more frankly: “In the staff of the practical centre summoned to lead the insurrection, Trotsky, strangely enough ... was not included.” In order to be in a position to develop this idea, Stalin was compelled to omit the second half of the resolution: “This centre becomes a constituent part of the revolutionary Soviet committee.” If you bear in mind that the Military Revolutionary Committee was headed by Trotsky, it is not hard to understand why the Central Committee was content with naming the new workers who were to help those already standing in the centre of the work. Neither Stalin nor Yaroslavsky has ever explained, moreover, why the “practical centre” was first remembered in 1924.

Between the 16th and 20th of October, as we have seen, the insurrection conclusively took the soviet road. The Military Revolutionary Committee from the moment of its birth had the direct leadership not only of the garrison, but of the Red Guard, which from October 13th on was subject to the Petrograd Executive Committee. No place remained for any other directing centre. Neither in the minutes of the Central Committee, nor in any other material whatever relating to the second half of October, can you discover the slightest trace of the activity of this supposedly so important institution. Nobody makes a report of its labours; no tasks are allotted to it: its very name is never pronounced by anybody, although its members are present at sessions of the Central Committee, and take part in the decision of questions which ought to come directly within the competence of a “practical centre.”

Sveshnikov, a member of the Petrograd committee of the party, who was almost continually on communication duty in Smolny during the second half of October, must at least have known where to go for practical directions upon the problems of the insurrection. Here is what he writes: “The Military Revolutionary Committee was born: from the moment of its birth the various elements of the revolutionary activity of the proletariat acquired a guiding centre.” Kayurov, well known to us from the February days, tells how the Vyborg district tensely awaited the signal from Smolny: “At nightfall (of the 24th) came the answer of the Military Revolutionary Committee – prepare the Red Guard for battle.” Kayurov at the moment of starting the open insurrection knew nothing of any other centre. One could cite to the same effect the memoirs of Sadovsky, Podvoisky, Antonov, Mekhonoshin, Blagonravov and other direct participants in the uprising. Not one of them remembers that “practical centre” which according to Yaroslavsky is supposed to have guided all the organisations. And finally even Yaroslavsky confines himself in his history to a bare statement of the creation of the centre: of its activity he has not a word to say. The conclusion follows of itself: A directing centre of which those who were directed know nothing, does not exist in the eyes of history.

But still more direct evidence of the fictitiousness of the “practical centre” can be adduced. At a session of the Central Committee on the 20th of October, Sverdlov read a declaration of the Military Organisation of the Bolsheviks, containing, as is evident from the debate, a demand that the leaders of the Military Organisation be brought in when questions of the insurrection were being decided. Joffé moved that this demand be rejected: “Everybody who wants to work can join the revolutionary centre under the Soviet.” Trotsky offered a milder formulation of Joffé’s motion: “All our organisations can join the revolutionary centre and there take up in our faction all questions interesting them.” The decision, which was adopted in this form, shows that there was but one revolutionary centre, that affiliated with the Soviet – that is, the Military Revolutionary Committee. If any other centre for leading the insurrection had existed, somebody ought at least to have remembered about its existence. But nobody remembered it – not even Sverdlov, whose name stood first on the staff of the “practical centre.”

The minutes of October 24th are, if possible, still more instructive upon this point. During the hours immediately preceding the seizure of the city, not only was there no talk of the “practical centre” of the insurrection, but the very resolution creating it had so completely passed into oblivion in the whirlwind of the eight days intervening, that, upon a motion of Trotsky, Sverdlov, Dzerzhinsky and Bubnov, were appointed to be “at the disposal of the Military Revolutionary Committee” – those very members of the Central Committee, who, according to the decision of October 16th, should already and without this motion have become a part of the staff of the Military Revolutionary Committee. The possibility of such a misunderstanding is explained by the fact that the Central Committee, having barely emerged from its underground existence, was still in organisation and methods far from the all-powerful, all-embracing chancellery of recent years. The main part of the equipment of the Central Committee was carried by Sverdlov in his side-pocket.

In those hot times no few episodic institutions were created during the last moments of a session and immediately drowned in oblivion. At the session of the Central Committee on October 7th there was created “a bureau of information on the struggle with the counterrevolution.” That was the cipher-designation of the first organ created for working on the problems of the insurrection. As to its personnel the minutes read: “Three are elected from the Central Committee to the bureau: Trotsky, Sverdlov, Bubnov, and they are directed to create the bureau.” Did this first “practical centre” of the insurrection exist? Obviously not, since it has left no traces. The political bureau created at the session of the 10th also proved unviable and revealed itself in absolutely nothing: doubtful if it met even once. In order that the Petrograd organisation of the party, the direct leader of the work in the districts, should not become separated from the Military Revolutionary Committee, Trotsky, at the suggestion of Lenin, who liked a system of double or triple insurance, was included for the critical week in the highest administrative organ of the Petrograd committee. However, this decision also remained only a paper one: never one session was held with Trotsky present. The so-called “practical centre” met the same fate. As an independent institution it was never intended to exist but it did not exist even as an auxiliary organ.

Of the five men appointed to the staff of the “centre,” Dzerzhinsky and Uritzky entered completely into the work of the Military Revolutionary Committee only after the overturn. Sverdlov played an immense rôle in connecting the Military Revolutionary Committee with the party. Stalin took no part at all in the work of the Military Revolutionary Committee and never appeared at its meetings. In the innumerable documents and testimonies of witnesses and participants, as also in the most recent memoirs, Stalin’s name is not once to be met with.

In the official compendium of the history of the revolution a special volume is devoted to October, grouping, on the basis of days, all the factual information from newspapers, minutes, archives, memoirs of participants, etc. Notwithstanding that this compendium was published in 1925, when the revision of the past was already in full swing, the index at the back of the book accompanies Stalin’s name with only one number, and when we open the book at the corresponding page we find again this same text of the decision of the Central Committee about the “practical centre,” with the mention of Stalin as one of its five members. We should seek in vain in that volume – crowded as it is with even third-class materials – for any information as to just what work Stalin did in October, whether on the stage of the “centre” or off it.

To define the political physiognomy of Stalin in one word, he was always a “centrist” in Bolshevism. That is, he tended organically to occupy an intermediate position between Marxism and opportunism. But this was a centrist who feared Lenin. Any fragment of Stalin’s orbit up to 1924 can always be explained as a product of two forces: his own centrist character and the revolutionary pressure of Lenin. The worthlessness of centrism should reveal itself most fully under the test of great historic events. “Our situation is self-contradictory,” said Stalin on October 20th in justification of Zinoviev and Kamenev. In reality the self-contradictory character of centrism made it impossible for Stalin to occupy any independent position in the revolution. On the other hand, those traits which paralysed him at the great turning point of history – watchful waiting and empirical manoeuvring – must necessarily assure him a genuine ascendancy when the mass movement begins to ebb and the functionary comes to the front with his zeal to consolidate what has been attained – that is, primarily to insure his own position against new disturbances. The functionary, ruling in the name of a revolution, has need of revolutionary prestige. In his capacity as an “old Bolshevik,” Stalin proved the most suitable incarnation of this prestige imaginable. In crowding out the masses the collective functionary says to them: “It is we who did this for you.” He begins to take a free hand not only with the present, but also with the past. The functionary-historian makes over history, repairs biographies, creates reputations. It was necessary to bureaucratise the revolution before Stalin could become its crown.

In the personal destiny of Stalin, which has outstanding interest for a Marxian analysis, we have a new refraction of the law of all revolutions: the development of a régime created by an uprising inevitably passes through periods of ebb and flow measured by years, and in this process the periods of moral reaction bring to the front those figures who by reason of all their fundamental qualities did not play, and could not play, a leading rôle in the times of the revolutionary offensive.

The bureaucratic revision of the history of the party and the revolution is taking place under Stalin’s direct supervision. The sign-posts of this work clearly mark off the stages in the development of the soviet machine. On the 6th of November 1918 (new style), Stalin wrote in an anniversary article in Pravda: “The inspirer of the revolution from beginning to end was the Central Committee of the party headed by Comrade Lenin. Vladimir Ilych was then living in Petrograd in a conspirative apartment in the Vyborg district. On the evening of October 24th he was summoned to Smolny for the general leadership of the movement. All the work of practical organisation of the insurrection was conducted under the immediate leadership of the president of the Petrograd Soviet, Comrade Trotsky. It is possible to declare with certainty that the swift passing of the garrison to the side of the Soviet, and the skilful direction of the work of the Military Revolutionary Committee, the party owes principally and first of all to Comrade Trotsky. Comrades Antonov and Podvoisky were Comrade Trotsky’s chief assistants.”

Neither the author of this book nor, we must imagine, Lenin, who was recovering from a Social Revolutionary bullet, gave attention in those days to this retrospective distribution of rôles and merits. The article stood forth in a new light only some years later when it revealed the fact that Stalin had already, in those difficult autumn months of 1918, been preparing, still with extraordinary caution, a new picture of the party leadership in October. “The inspirer of the revolution from beginning to end was the Central Committee of the party headed by Comrade Lenin.” That phrase is a polemic against those who considered – and quite rightly – that the real inspirer of the insurrection was Lenin, acting to a considerable degree in conflict with the Central Committee. At that period Stalin was still unable to conceal his own October waverings otherwise than under the impersonal pseudonym of the Central Committee. His two following statements – that Lenin was living in a conspirative apartment in Petrograd, and that he was called to Smolny on the evening of the 24th for the general leadership of the movement – were designed to weaken the impression prevailing in the party that the leader of the insurrection had been Trotsky. The subsequent phrases dedicated to Trotsky sound in the political acoustics of today like a panegyric; in reality they were the very least that Stalin could say. They were what he was compelled to say in order to disguise his polemical hints. The complex construction and careful defensive colouring of this “jubilee” article themselves convey no bad impression of the general opinion prevailing in the party at that time.

In this article, by the way, there is absolutely no mention of the practical centre. On the contrary, Stalin categorically asserts that “all the work of practical organisation of the insurrection was conducted under the immediate leadership of ... Trotsky.” But Trotsky, we recall, was not a member of the “practical centre.” We have heard, however, from Yaroslavsky that it was “this organ (and no other) which guided all the organisations which took part in the insurrection.” The solution of this self-contradiction is simple: In 1918 the events were still too fresh in the minds of all, and the attempt to fish up out of the minutes that resolution about a “centre” which never existed could not have been successful.

In 1924 when much was already forgotten, Stalin explained in the following manner why Trotsky was not a member of the “practical centre”: “We must say that Trotsky played no special rôle in the October revolution and could not have done so.” In that year Stalin flatly declared it to be the task of the historians to destroy “the legend of the special rôle of Trotsky in the October insurrection.” How then does Stalin reconcile this new version with his own article of 1918? Very simply: He has forbidden anybody to quote his former article. Historians who try to steer a middle course between the Stalin of 1918 and the Stalin of 1924 are promptly expelled from the party.

There exists however more authoritative testimonies than this first anniversary article of Stalin. In the notes to the official edition of the works of Lenin, under the word Trotsky we read: “After the Petrograd Soviet went Bolshevik he was elected its president and in that capacity organised and led the insurrection of October 25th.” Thus the “legend of the special rôle” was firmly established in the collected works of Lenin during the life of their author.

In the official reference books you can follow from year to year this process of revising the historic material. Thus in 1925, when the campaign against Trotsky was already in full swing, the official yearbook, The Communist Almanac, could still write: “In the October revolution Trotsky took the most active and leading part. In October 1917 he was elected president of the Petrograd Revolutionary Committee which organised the armed insurrection.” In the edition of 1926, in place of this there occurs a brief neutral remark “In October 1917 was president of the Leningrad Revolutionary Committee.” Since 1927 the Stalin school has put forward a brand-new story which has been incorporated in all the soviet textbooks. Being an opponent of “socialism in one country,” Trotsky must have been essentially an opponent of the October revolution, but by good luck there existed the “practical centre” which carried the thing through to a happy ending! The ingenious historian has only neglected to explain why the Bolshevik Soviet elected Trotsky president, and why the same Soviet, guided by the party, placed Trotsky at the head of the Military Revolutionary Committee.

Lenin was not credulous – especially in matters which involved the fate of the revolution. You could never set him at rest with verbal assurances. At a distance he was inclined to interpret every symptom in a bad sense. He finally believed that the thing was being rightly conducted when he saw it with his own eyes – that is, when he arrived in Smolny. Trotsky tells about this in his recollections published in 1924: “I remember the enormous impression it made upon Lenin when he learned that I had called out a company of the Litovsky regiment with a written order to guarantee the publication of our party and soviet papers ... Lenin was in rapture, and expressed his feeling in exclamations, laughter, and rubbing of his hands. Afterward he became more silent, reflected a moment and said: ‘Well, well – it can be done that way too. Just take the power.’ I understood that only at that moment had he finally become reconciled to the fact that we had refused to seize the power by way of a conspirative plot. Up to the last hour he was fearing that the enemy would cut off our road and catch us unaware. Only now ... did he feel at rest and finally sanction the course which events were taking.”

This story too was subsequently disputed. Nevertheless it has indestructible support in the objective situation. On the evening of the 24th Lenin experienced a last gust of alarm, which seized him with such force that he made a belated attempt to mobilise the soldiers and workers for pressure upon Smolny. How violently his mood must have changed when in Smolny a few hours later he found out the actual situation! Is it not obvious that he could not help marking the end of his anxiety, his direct and indirect reproaches addressed to Smolny, at least with a few phrases, a few words? There was no need of complicated explanations. To each of the two meeting face to face in that not altogether ordinary moment, the sources of the misunderstanding were perfectly understandable. And now they were dissolved. No use returning to them. One phrase was enough: “It can be done that way!” That meant: “Maybe I sometimes went too far in urgency and suspicion, but I guess you understand ...” Who wouldn’t understand! Lenin was not inclined to sentimentality. One phrase from him, “It can be done that way,” with a special kind of smile, was plenty enough to set aside the incidental misunderstandings of yesterday and firmly tie the knots of confidence.

Lenin’s mood on the 25th reveals itself with utter clarity in the resolution introduced by him through Volodarsky, in which the insurrection is described as “in rare degree bloodless and in rare degree successful.” The fact that Lenin took upon himself this appraisal of the insurrection, scanty in words as always with him, but very high in substance, was not an accident It was just he himself, the author of “advice from the sidelines,” whom he considered most free to pay a tribute not only to the heroism of the masses, but to the services of the leaders. It is hardly possible to doubt that Lenin had additional psychological motives for this. He had continually feared the too slow course taken by Smolny, and he hastened now to be the first to recognise its advantages as revealed in action.

From the moment Lenin appeared in Smolny he naturally took his place at the head of all the work, political, organisational, and technical. On the 29th an insurrection of junkers took place in Petrograd. Kerensky was moving against Petrograd at the head of a number of Cossack squadrons. The Military Revolutionary Committee was confronted with a task of defence. Lenin guided this work. In his recollections Trotsky writes: “A swift success is as disarming as a defeat. Never to lose sight of the underlying thread of events; after each success to say to yourself, ‘Nothing is yet attained, nothing is yet assured’; five minutes before a decisive victory to carry on with the same vigilance, the same energy and the same high pressure, as five minutes before the beginning of an armed action; five minutes after the victory, and before the first triumphant cries have died away, to say to yourself, ‘The conquest is not yet assured, we must not lose a minute’ – such was the approach, such was the manner of action, such the method of Lenin, such the organic substance of his political character, his revolutionary spirit.”

The above-mentioned session of the Petrograd committee on November 1st, where Lenin spoke of his unjustified fears in regard to the Mezhrayontzi, was devoted to the question of a coalition government with the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries. The right wing, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Rykov, Lunarcharsky, Riazanov, Miliutin and others, insisted upon a coalition after the victory. Lenin and Trotsky spoke decisively against any coalition which should extend beyond the frame of the Second Congress of Soviets. “The disagreements,” declared Trotsky, “were pretty deep before the insurrection – in the Central Committee and wide circles of our party ... The same thing was said then as now after the victorious insurrection! We will have, you see, no technical machinery. The colours were laid on thick then in order to frighten us, just as they are now, in order to prevent our making use of the victory.” Hand in hand with Lenin, Trotsky waged against the partisans of coalition the same struggle which he had waged before against the opponents of insurrection. Lenin said at that same session: “An accord? I can’t talk about it seriously. Trotsky long ago said that a union was impossible. Trotsky understood this, and since that time there has been no better Bolshevik.”

Among the more important conditions of an accord the Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks put forward a demand for the removal from the government of the two figures most hateful to them – “those primarily guilty of the October insurrection, Lenin and Trotsky.” The attitude of the Central Committee and the party to this demand was such that Kamenev, the extreme partisan of an accord – personally ready, even for this concession – considered it necessary to declare at the session of the Central Executive Committee of November 2nd: “It is proposed to exclude Lenin and Trotsky; that proposal would behead our party, and we do not accept it.”

The revolutionary point of view – for insurrection and against coalition with the Compromisers – was called in the workers’ districts “the point of view of Lenin and Trotsky.” These words, as documents and minutes testify, became an every day expression. At the moment of crisis within the Central Committee a large conference of women workers in Petrograd unanimously adopted a resolution hailing “the policy of the Central Committee of our party, led by Lenin and Trotsky.” As early as November 1917 Baron Budberg writes in his diary of “The new duumvirs, Lenin and Trotsky.” When in December a group of Social Revolutionaries decided to “cut off the head of the Bolsheviks,” “it was clear to them,” according to Boris Sokolov, one of the conspirators, that “the most pernicious and important Bolsheviks are Lenin and Trotsky – it is with them we must begin.” During the years of the civil war those two names were always spoken inseparably, as though they were one person. Parvus, once a revolutionary Marxist and afterward a malicious enemy of the October revolution, wrote in 1919; “Lenin and Trotsky – that is a collective name for all those who out of idealism have taken the Bolshevik road ...” Rosa Luxemburg, who severely criticised the policy of the October revolution, applied her criticism alike to Lenin and Trotsky. She wrote: “Lenin and Trotsky with their friends were the first to give an example to the world proletariat. And they still remain the only ones who can exclaim with Hutten: I dared this!”. In October 1918 at the triumphal session of the Central Executive Committee Lenin read a quotation from the foreign bourgeois press. “The Italian workers,” he said, “are acting as though they would let nobody but Lenin and Trotsky travel in Italy.” Such testimonies are innumerable. They recur as a leitmotif throughout the first years of the soviet régime and the Communist International. Participants and observers, friends and enemies, those near and those far away, have tied together the activities of Lenin and Trotsky in the October revolution with so firm a knot that the epigone historians will not succeed either in untying it or chopping it apart.


1. During the Third Congress of the Communist International in order to soften his blows at certain “ultra-Lefts,” Lenin referred to the fact that he himself had made “ultra-Left” mistakes, especially while an émigré, including one during his last “emigration” in Finland in 1917, when he defended a less expedient plan of insurrection than the one actually carried out. This reference to his own mistake was made by Lenin, unless our memory deceives us, also in a letter to the commission of the congress on German affairs. Unfortunately the archives of the Communist International are not accessible to us, and the declaration of Lenin in question has evidently not been published.

Note to Appendices    |    History of the Russian Revolution    |    Appendix II

Last updated on: 1 February 2018