Leon Trotsky

The History of the Russian Revolution

Volume One: The Overthrow of Tzarism

Chapter 9
The Paradox of
the February Revolution

The insurrection triumphed. But to whom did it hand over the power snatched from the monarchy? We come here to the central problem of the February revolution: Why and how did the power turn up in the hands of the liberal bourgeoisie?

In Duma circles and in bourgeois “society” no significance was attributed to the agitation beginning the 23rd of February. The liberal deputies and patriotic journalists were assembling in drawing rooms as before, talking over the questions of Trieste and Fiume, and again confirming Russia’s need of the Dardanelles. When the decree dissolving the Duma was already signed, a Duma commission was still hastily considering the question of turning over the food problem to the city administration. Less than twelve hours before the insurrection of the battalions of the Guard, the Society for Slavic Reciprocity was peacefully listening to its annual report. “Only when I had returned home on foot from that meeting,” remembers one of the deputies, “I was struck by some sort of awesome silence and emptiness in the usually lively streets.” That awesome emptiness was forming around the old ruling classes and already oppressing the hearts of their future inheritors.

By the 26th the seriousness of the movement had become clear both to the government and to the liberals. On that day negotiations about a compromise were going on between the czar’s ministers and members of the Duma, negotiations from which even subsequently the liberals never lifted the curtain. Protopopov states in his testimony that the leaders of the Duma bloc demanded as formerly the naming of new ministers from among people enjoying social confidence: “This measure perhaps will pacify the people.” But the 26th created, as we know, a certain stoppage in the development of the revolution, and for a brief moment the government felt firmer. When Rodzianko called on Golytsin to persuade him to resign, the Premier pointed in answer to a portfolio on his desk in which lay the completed edict dissolving the Duma, with the signature of Nicholas but without a date. Golytsin put in the date. How could the government decide upon such a step at the moment of growing pressure from the revolution? Upon this question the ruling bureaucrats long ago arrived at a firm conviction. “ Whether we have a bloc or not, it is all the same to the workers’ movement. We can handle that movement by other means, and up till now the Ministry of the Interior has managed to deal with it.” Thus Goremykin had spoken in August 1915. On the other hand, the bureaucracy believed that the Duma, in case of its dissolution, would not venture upon any bold step. Again in August 1915, in discussing the question of dissolving a discontented Duma, the Minister of the Interior, Prince Sherbatov, had said: “The Duma will hardly venture upon direct disobedience. The vast majority are after all cowards and are trembling for their hides.” The prince expressed himself none too nicely, but in the long run correctly. In its struggle with the liberal opposition, then, the bureaucracy felt plenty of firm ground under its feet.

On the morning of the 27th, the Deputies, alarmed at the mounting events, assembled at a regular session. The majority learned only here that the Duma had been dissolved. The news seemed the more surprising as on the very day before they had been carrying on peace negotiations with the ministers. “And nevertheless,” writes Rodzianko with pride, “the Duma submitted to the law, still hoping to find a way out of the tangled situation, and passed no resolution that it would not disperse, or that it would illegally continue its sessions.” The deputies gathered at a private conference in which they made confessions of impotence to each other. The moderate liberal Shidlovsky subsequently remembered, not without a malicious pleasure, a proposal made by an extreme left Kadet, Nekrasov, a future colleague of Kerensky, “ to establish a military dictatorship handing over the whole power to a popular general.” At that time a practical attempt at salvation was undertaken by the leaders of the Progressive Bloc, not present at this private conference of the Duma. Having summoned the Grand Duke Mikhail to Petrograd, they proposed to him to take upon himself the dictatorship, to “impel” the personal staff of the government to resign, and to demand of the czar by direct wire that he “grant” a responsible ministry. In those hours, when the uprising of the first Guard regiments was beginning, the liberal bourgeoisie were making a last effort to put down the insurrection with the help of a dynastic dictator, and at the same time at the expense of the revolution to enter into an agreement with the monarchy. “The hesitation of the grand duke,” complains Rodzianko, “contributed to the letting slip of the favourable moment.”

How easily a radical intelligentsia believes whatever it wants to, is testified by a non-party socialist, Sukhanov, who begins in this period to play a certain political rôle in the Tauride Palace. “They told me the fundamental political news of those morning hours of that unforgettable day,” he relates in his extensive memoirs: “The decree dissolving the State Duma had been promulgated, and the Duma had answered with a refusal to disperse, electing a Provisional Committee.” This is written by a man who hardly ever left the Tauride Palace, and was there continually button-holing his deputy friends. Miliukov in his history of the revolution, following Rodzianko, categorically declares: “There was adopted after a series of hot speeches a resolution not to leave Petrograd, but no resolution that the State Duma should as an institution ‘not disperse,’ as the legend runs” “Not to disperse” would have meant to take upon themselves, however belatedly, a certain initiative. “Not to leave Petrograd” meant to wash their hands of the matter and wait to see which way the course of events would turn. The credulousness of Sukhanov has, by the way, mitigating circumstances. The rumour that the Duma had adopted a revolutionary resolution not to submit to the czar’s decree was slipped in hurriedly by the Duma journalists in their information bulletin, the only paper published at that time owing to the general strike. Since the insurrection triumphed during that day the deputies were in no hurry to correct this mistake, being quite willing to sustain the illusions of their “left” friends. They did not in fact undertake to establish the facts of the matter until they were out of the country. The episode seems secondary, but it is full of meaning. The revolutionary ro1e of the Duma on the 27th of February was a complete myth, born of the political credulity of the radical intelligentsia delighted and frightened by the revolution, distrusting the ability of the masses to carry the business through, and eager to lean as quickly as possible toward the enfranchised bourgeoisie.

In the memoirs of the deputies belonging to the Duma majority, there is preserved by good luck a story of how the Duma did meet the revolution. According to the account of Prince Mansyrev, one of the right Kadets, among the deputies who assembled in great numbers on the morning of the 27th there were no members of the præsidium, no leaders of parties, nor heads of the Progressive Bloc: they already knew of the dissolution and the insurrection and had preferred as long as possible to refrain from showing their heads. Moreover, at just that time they were, it seems, negotiating with Mikhail about the dictatorship. “A general consternation and bewilderment prevailed in the Duma,” says Mansyrev. “Even lively conversations ceased, and in their place were heard sighs and brief ejaculations like ‘It’s come,’ or indeed frank expressions of fear for life.” Thus speaks a very moderate deputy who sighed the loudest of all. At two o’clock in the afternoon, when the leaders had found themselves obliged to appear in the Duma, the secretary of the præsidium brought in the joyful but ill-founded news: “The disorders will soon be put down, because measures have been taken.” It is possible that by “measures” was meant the negotiations for a dictatorship, but the Duma was downcast and awaited a decisive word from the leader of the Progressive Bloc. “We cannot adopt any decision at the present moment,” Miliukov announced, “because the extent of the disorders is unknown to us; likewise it is unknown upon which side a majority of the local troops, workers and social organisations will take their stand. It is necessary to gather accurate information about this, and then will be time enough to judge the situation. At present it is too soon.” At two o’clock in the afternoon of February 27 it is still for liberalism “too soon”! “Gather information” means wash your own hands and await the outcome of the struggle. But Miliukov had not ended his speech – which, by the way, he began with a view to ending in nothing – when Kerensky came running into the hall in high excitement: An enormous crowd of people and soldiers is coming to the Tauride Palace, he announces, and intends to demand of the Duma that it seize the power in its hands! The radical deputy knows accurately just what the enormous crowd of people is going to demand. In reality it is Kerensky himself who first demands that the power shall be seized by a Duma which is still hoping in its soul that the insurrection may yet be put down. Kerensky’s announcement is met with “general bewilderment and dismayed looks.” He has however not finished speaking when a frightened Duma attendant, rushing in, interrupts him: the advanced detachment of the soldiers has already reached the Palace, a detachment of sentries stopped them at the entrance, the chief of the sentries, it seems, was heavily wounded. A minute later it transpires that the soldiers have entered the Palace. It will be declared later in speeches and articles that the soldiers came to greet the Duma and swear loyalty to it, but right now everything is in mortal panic. The water is up to their necks. The leaders whisper together. We must get a breathing space. Rodzianko hastily introduces a proposal, suggested to him by somebody, that they form a Provisional Committee. Affirmative cries. But they all want to get out there as quickly as possible. No time for voting. The president, no less frightened than the others, proposes that they turn over the formation of the committee to the council of elders. Again affirmative cries from the few still remaining in the hall. The majority have already vanished. Such was the first reaction of the Duma, dissolved by the czar, to the victory of the insurrection.

At that time the revolution was creating in the same building only in a less showy part of it, another institution. The revolutionary leaders did not have to invent it; the experience of the Soviets of 1905 was forever chiselled into the consciousness of the workers. At every lift of the movement, even in, wartime, the idea of soviets was almost automatically reborn. And although the appraisal of the ro1e of the soviets was different among Bolsheviks and Mensheviks – the Social Revolutionaries had in general no stable appraisals – the form of organisation itself stood clear of all debate. The Mensheviks liberated from prison, members of the Military-Industrial Committee, meeting in the Tauride Palace with leaders of the Trade Union and Co-operative movements, likewise of the right wing, and with the Menshevik deputies of the Duma, Cheidze and Skobelev, straightway formed a “Provisional Executive Committee of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies,” which in the course of the day was filled out principally with former revolutionists who had lost connection with the masses but still preserved their “names.” This Executive Committee, including also Bolsheviks in its staff summoned the workers to elect deputies at once. The first session was appointed for the same evening in the Tauride Palace. It actually met at nine o’clock and ratified the staff of the Executive Committee, supplementing it with official representatives from all the socialist parties. But not here lay the significance of this first meeting of representatives of the victorious proletariat of the capital. Delegates from the mutinied regiments made speeches of greeting at this meeting. Among their number were completely grey soldiers, shell-shocked as it were by the insurrection, and still hardly in control of their tongues. But they were just the ones who found the words which no orator could find. That was one of the most moving scenes of the revolution, now first feeling its power, feeling the unnumbered masses it has aroused, the colossal tasks, the pride in success, the joyful failing of the heart at the thought of the morrow which is to be still more beautiful than today. The revolution still has no ritual, the streets are in smoke, the masses have not yet learned the new songs. The meeting flows on without order, without shores, like a river at flood. The Soviet chokes in its own enthusiasm. The revolution is mighty but still naïve, with a child’s naïveness.

At the first session it was decided to unite the garrison with the workers in a general Soviet of Workers’ arid Soldiers’ Deputies. Who first proposed this resolution? It probably arose from various, or rather from all sides, as an echo of that fraternisation of workers and soldiers which had this day decided the fate of the revolution. From the moment of its formation the Soviet in the person of its Executive Committee, begins to function as a sovereign It elects a temporary food commission and places it in charge of the mutineers and of the garrison in general. It organises parallel with itself a Provisional revolutionary staff – everything was called provisional in those days – of which we have already spoken above. In order to remove financial resources from the hands of the officials of the old power, the Soviet decides to occupy the State Bank, the Treasury, the Mint and the Printing Office with a revolutionary guard. The tasks and functions of the Soviet grow unceasingly under pressure from the masses. The revolution finds here its indubitable centre. The workers, the soldiers, and soon also the peasants, will from now on turn only to the Soviet. In their eyes the Soviet becomes the focus of all hopes and all authority, an incarnation of the revolution itself. But representatives of the possessing classes will also seek in the Soviet, with whatever grindings of teeth, protection and counsel in the resolving of conflicts.

However, even in those very first days of victory, when the new power of the revolution was forming itself with fabulous speed and inconquerable strength, those socialists who stood at the head of the Soviet were already looking around with alarm to see if they could find a real “boss.” They took it for granted that power ought to pass to the bourgeoisie. Here the chief political knot of the new régime is tied: one of its threads leads into the chamber of the Executive Committee of workers and soldiers, the other into the central headquarters of the bourgeois parties.

The Council of Elders at three o’clock in the afternoon, when the victory was already fully assured in the capital, elected a “Provisional Committee of Members of the Duma” made up from the parties of the Progressive Bloc with the addition of Cheidze and Kerensky. Cheidze declined, Kerensky wiggle-waggled. The designation prudently indicated that it was not a question of an official committee of the State Duma, but a private committee of a conference of members of the Duma. The leaders of the Progressive Bloc thought to the very end of but one thing: how to avoid responsibility and not tie their own hands. The task of the committee was defined with meticulous equivocation: “The restoration of order and conducting of negotiations with institutions and persons.” Not a word as to the kind of order which those gentlemen intended to restore, nor with what institutions they intended to negotiate. They were not yet openly reaching out their hands toward the bear’s hide: what if he is not killed but only badly wounded? Only at eleven o’clock in the evening of the 27th, when, as Miliukov acknowledged, “the whole scope of the revolutionary movement had become clear, did the Provisional Committee decide upon a further step, and take in its hands the power which had fallen from the hands of the government.” Imperceptibly the new institution had changed from a committee of the members of the Duma to a committee of the Duma itself. There is no better means of preserving the state juridical succession than forgery. But Miliukov remains silent about the chief thing: the leaders of the Executive Committee of the Soviet, created during that day, had already appeared before the Provisional-Committee and insistently demanded that it take the power into its hands. This friendly push had its effect. Miliukov subsequently explained the decision of the Duma Committee by saying that the government was supposed to be sending loyal troops against the insurrectionists, “and on the streets of the capital it threatened to come to actual battle.” In reality the government was already without troops, the revolution was wholly in the past Rodzianko subsequently wrote that in case they had declined the power, “the Duma would have been arrested and killed off to the last man by the mutinied troops, and the power would gave gone immediately to the Bolsheviks.” That is, of course, an inept exaggeration, wholly in the character of the respected Lord Chamberlain; but it unmistakably reflects the feelings of the Duma, which regarded the transfer of power to itself as an act of political rape.

With such feelings the decision was not easily arrived at. Rodzianko especially stormed and vacillated, putting a question to the others “What will this be? Is it a rebellion or not a rebellion?” The monarchist deputy Shulgin answered him, according to his own report: “There is no rebellion in this at all; take the power as a loyal subject ... If the ministers have run away somebody has got to take their place ... There may be two results: Everything quiets down – the sovereign names a new government, we turn over the power to him. Or it doesn’t quiet down. In that case if we don’t take the power, others will take it, those who have already elected some sort of scoundrels in the factories ...” We need not take offence at the low-class abuse directed by the reactionary gentleman toward the workers: the revolution had just firmly stepped on the tails of all these gentlemen. The moral is clear: if the monarchy win we are with it; if the revolution wins, we will try to plunder it.

The conference lasted long. The democratic leaders were anxiously waiting for a decision. Finally, Miliukov came out of the office of Rodzianko. He wore a solemn expression. Approaching the Soviet delegation Miliukov announced: “The decision is reached, we will take the power ...” “I did not inquire whom he meant by we,” relates Sukhanov with rapture, “I asked nothing further, but I felt with all my being, as they say, a new situation. I felt that the ship of the revolution, tossed in the squall of those hours by the complete caprice of the elements, had put up a sail, acquired stability and regularity in its movements amid the terrible storm and the rocking.” What a high-flying formula for a prosaic recognition of the slavish dependence of the petty bourgeois democracy upon capitalistic liberalism! And what a deadly mistake in political perspective. The handing over of power to The handing over of power to the liberals not only will not give stability to the ship of state, but, on the contrary, will become from that moment a source of headlessness of the revolution, enormous chaos, embitterment of the masses, collapse of the front, and in the future extreme bitterness of the civil war.

If you look only backward to past ages, the transfer of power to the bourgeoisie seems sufficiently regular: in all past revolutions who fought on the barricades were workers, apprentices, in part students, and the soldiers came over to their aside. But afterwards the solid bourgeoisie, having cautiously watched the barricades through their windows, gathered up the power. But the February revolution of 1917 was distinguished from former revolutions by the incomparably higher social character and political level of the revolutionary class, by the hostile distrust of the insurrectionists toward the liberal bourgeoisie, and the consequent formation at the very moment of victory of a new organ of revolutionary power, Soviet, based upon the armed strength of the masses. In these circumstances the transfer of power to a politically isolated and unarmed bourgeoisie demands explanation.

First of all we must examine more closely the correlation of forces which resulted from the revolution. Was not the Soviet democracy compelled by the objective situation to renounce the power in favour of the big bourgeoisie? The bourgeoisie itself did not think so. We have already seen that it not only did not expect power from the revolution, but on the contrary foresaw in it a mortal danger to its whole social situation. “The moderate parties not only did not desire a revolution,” writes Rodzianko, “but were simply afraid, of it. In particular the Party of the People’s Freedom, ‘the Kadets,’ as a party standing at the left wing of the moderate group, and therefore having more than the rest a point of contact with the revolutionary parties of the country, was more worried by the advancing catastrophe than all the rest.” The experience of 1905 had too significantly hinted to the liberals that a victory of the workers and peasants might prove no less dangerous to the bourgeoisie than to the monarchy. It would seem that the course of the February insurrection had only confirmed this foresight. However formless in many respects may have been the political ideas of the revolutionary masses in those days, the dividing line between the toilers and the bourgeoisie was at any rate implacably drawn.

Instructor Stankevich who was close to liberal circles – a friend, not an enemy of the Progressive Bloc – characterises in the following way the mood of those circles on the second day after the overturn which they had not succeeded in preventing: “Officially they celebrated, eulogised the revolution, cried ‘Hurrah!’ to the fighters for freedom, decorated themselves with red ribbons and marched under red banners ... But in their souls, their conversations tête-à-tête, they were horrified, they shuddered, they felt themselves captives in the hands of hostile elements travelling an unknown road. Unforgettable is the figure Rodzianko, that portly lord and imposing personage, when, preserving a majestic dignity but with an expression of deep suffering despair frozen on his pale face, he made his way through a crowd of dishevelled soldiers in the corridor of the Tauride Palace. Officially it was recorded: The soldiers have come to support the Duma in its struggle with the government. But actually the Duma had been abolished from the very first day. And the same expression was on the faces of the members of the Provisional Committee of the Duma and those circles which surrounded it. They say that the representatives of the Progressive Bloc in their own homes wept with impotent despair.”

This living testimony is more precious than any sociological research into the correlation of forces. According to his own tale, Rodzianko trembled with impotent indignation when he saw unknown soldiers, “at whose orders is not recorded” arresting the officials of the old régime and bringing them to the Duma. The Lord Chamberlain turned out to be something in the nature of a jailer in relation to people, with whom he had, to be sure, his differences, but who never the less remained people of his own circle. Shocked by his “arbitrary” action Rodzianko invited the arrested Minister Sheglovitov into his office, but the soldiers brusquely refused to turn over to him the hated official. “When I tried to show my authority”, relates Rodzianko, “the soldiers surrounded their captive and with the most challenging and insolent expression pointed to their rifles, after which more ado they led Sheglovitov away I know not where.” Would it be possible to confirm more absolutely Sankevichís assertion that the regiments supposedly coming to support the Duma, in reality abolished it?

The power was from the very first moment in the hands of the soviet – upon that question the Duma members less than anybody else could cherish that illusion. The Octobrist deputy Shidlovsky, one of the leaders of the Progressive Bloc, relates how, “The Soviet seized all the Post and Telegraph bureaux, the wireless, all the Petrograd railroad stations, all the printing establishments, so that without its permission it was impossible to send a telegram, to leave Petrograd, or to print an appeal.” In this unequivocal characterisation of the correlation of forces, it is necessary to introduce one slight correction: the “seizure” of the Soviet of the telegraph, railroad stations, printing establishments, etc., meant merely that the workers and clerks in those enterprises refused to submit to anybody but the Soviet.

The plaint of Shidlovsky is admirably illustrated by an incident which occurred at the very height of the negotiations about the power between the leaders of the Soviet and the Duma. Their joint session was interrupted my an urgent communication from Pskov, where after his railroad wanderings the czar had now come to a stand, stating that they wanted Rodzianko on the direct wire. The all-powerful President of the Duma declared that he would not go to the telegraph office. Look here, youíve got the power and the sovereignty,” he continued excitedly. “you can, of course, arrest me Ö maybe you are going to arrest us all, how do we know?” This happened on the 1st of March, less than twenty-hours after the power was “taken over” by the Provisional Committee with Rodzianko at its head.

How did it happen then that in such a situation the liberals turned out to be in power? How and by whom were they authorised to form a government as the result of a revolutionary which they had dreaded, which they had resisted, which they tried to put down, which was accomplished by masses completely hostile to them, and accomplished with such audacity and decisiveness that the Soviet of Workers and Soldiers arising from the insurrection became the natural, and by all unequivocally recognised, master of the situation?

Let us listen now to the other side, to those who surrendered the power. “The people did not gravitate toward the State Duma,” writes Sukhanov of the February days, “they were not interested in it, and never thought of making it either politically or technically the centre of the movement.” This acknowledgement is the more remarkable in that its author will soon devote all his force to getting the power handed over to a committee of the Sate Duma. “Miliukov perfectly understood,” says Sukhanov further, speaking of the negotiations of March, “that the Executive Committee was in a perfect position either to give the power to the bourgeois government, or not to give it.” Could it be more categorically expressed? Could a political situation be clearer? And nevertheless Sukhanov, in direct contradiction to the situation and to himself, immediately adds: “The power destined to replace czarism must be only a bourgeois power ... we must steer our course by this principle. Otherwise the uprising will not succeed and the revolution will collapse.” The revolution will collapse without Rodzianko!

The problem of the living relations of social forces is here replaced by an a priori scheme and a conventional terminology: and this is the very essence of the doctrinairism of the intelligentsia. But we shall see later that this doctrinairism was by no means Platonic: it fulfilled a very real political function, although with blindfolded eyes.

We have quoted Sukhanov for a reason. In that first period the inspirer of the Executive Committee was not its president, Cheidze, an honest and limited provincial, but this very Sukhanov, a man, generally speaking, totally unsuited for revolutionary leadership. Semi-Narodnik, semi-Marxist, a conscientious observer rather than a statesman, a journalist rather than a revolutionist, a rationaliser rather than a journalist – he was capable of standing by a revolutionary conception only up to the time when it was necessary to carry it into action. A passive internationalist during the war, he decided on the very first day of the revolution that it was necessary just as quickly as possible to toss the power and the war over to the bourgeoisie. As a theorist – that is, at least in his feelings of the need that things should be reasoned out, if not in his ability to fulfil it – he stood above all the then members of the Executive Committee. But his chief strength lay in his ability to translate into a language of doctrinairism the organic traits of all that many-coloured and yet nevertheless homogeneous brotherhood: distrust of their own powers, fear of the masses, and a heartily respectful attitude toward the bourgeoisie. Lenin described Sukhanov as one of the best representatives of the petty bourgeoisie, and that is the most flattering thing that can be said of him.

Only in this connection it must not be forgotten that the question is here of a new capitalist type of petty bourgeoisie, of industrial, commercial and bank clerks, the functionaries of capital on one side, and the workers’ bureaucracy on the other – that is of that new middle caste, in whose name the well known German social democrat Edward Bernstein undertook at the end of the last century a revision of the revolutionary conceptions of Marx. In order to answer the question how a revolution of workers and peasants came to surrender the power to the bourgeoisie, it is necessary to introduce into the political chain an intermediate link: the petty bourgeoisie democrats and socialists of the Sukhanov type, journalists and politicians of the new middle caste, who had taught the masses that the bourgeoisie is an enemy, but themselves feared more than any thing else to release the masses from the contradiction between the character of the revolution and the character of the power that issued from it, is explained by the contradictory character of this new petty bourgeois partition wall between the revolutionary masses and the capitalist bourgeoisie. In the course of further events the political ro1e of this petty bourgeois democracy of the new type will fully open before us. For the time being we will limit ourselves to a few words.

A minority of the revolutionary class actually participates in the insurrection, but the strength of that minority lies in the support, or at least sympathy, of the majority. The active and militant minority inevitably puts forward under fire from the enemy its more revolutionary and self-sacrificing element. It is thus natural that in the February fights the worker-Bolshevik occupied the leading place. But the situation changes the moment the victory is won and its political fortification begins. The elections to the organs and institutions of the victorious revolution attract and challenge infinitely broader masses than those who battled with arms in their hands. This is true not only of general democratic institutions like the city dumas and zemstvos, or later on, the Constituent Assembly, but also of class institutions, like the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies. An overwhelming majority of the workers, Menshevik, Social Revolutionary and non-party, supported the Bolsheviks at the moment of direct grapple with czarism. But only a small minority of the workers understood that the Bolsheviks were different from other socialist parties. At the same time, however, all the workers drew a sharp line between themselves and the bourgeoisie. This fact determined the political situation after the victory. The workers elected socialists, that is, those who were not only against the monarchy, but against the bourgeoisie. In doing this they made almost no distinction between the three socialist parties. And since the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries comprised infinitely larger ranks of the intelligentsia – who came pouring in from all sides – and thus got into their hands immediately an immense staff of agitators, the elections, even in shops and factories, gave them an enormous majority. An impulse in the same direction, but an incomparably stronger one, came from the awakening army. On the fifth day of the insurrection the Petrograd garrison followed the workers. After the victory it found itself summoned to hold elections for the Soviet. The soldiers trustfully elected those who had been for the revolution against monarchist officers, and who knew how to say this out loud: these were volunteers, clerks, assistant surgeons, young war-time officers from the intelligentsia, petty military officials – that is, the lowest layers of that new middle caste. All of them almost to the last man inscribed themselves, beginning in March, in the party of the Social Revolutionaries, which with its intellectual formlessness perfectly expressed their intermediate social situation and their limited political outlook. The representation of the garrison thus turned out to be incomparably more moderate and bourgeois than the soldier masses. But the latter were not conscious of this difference: it would reveal itself to them only during the experience of the coming months. The workers, on their part, were trying to cling as closely as possible to the soldiers, in order to strengthen their blood-bought union and more permanently arm the revolution. And since the spokesmen of the army were predominantly half-baked Social Revolutionaries, this fact could not help raising the authority of that party along with its ally, the Mensheviks, in the eyes of the workers themselves. Thus resulted the predominance in the soviets of the two Compromise parties. It is sufficient to remark that even in the soviet of the Vyborg district the leading ro1e in those first times belonged to the worker-Mensheviks. Bolshevism in that period was still only simmering in the depths of the revolution. Thus the official Bolsheviks, even in the Petrograd Soviet, represented an insignificant minority, who had moreover none too clearly defined its tasks.

Thus arose the paradox of the February revolution. The power was in the hands of the democratic socialists. It had not been seized by them accidentally by way of a Blanquist coup; no, it was openly delivered to them by the victorious masses of the people. Those masses not only did not trust or support the bourgeoisie, but they did not even distinguish them from the nobility and the bureaucracy. They put their weapons at the disposal only of the soviets. Meanwhile the socialists, having so easily arrived at the head of the soviets, were worrying about only one question: Will the bourgeoisie, politically isolated, hated by the masses and hostile through and through to the revolution, consent to accept the power from our hands? Its consent must be won at any cost. And since obviously a bourgeoisie cannot renounce its bourgeois programme, we, the “socialists,” will have to renounce ours: we will have to keep still about the monarchy, the war, the land, if only the bourgeoisie will accept the gift of power. In carrying out this operation, the “socialists,” as though to ridicule themselves, continued to designate the bourgeoisie no otherwise than as their class enemy. In the ceremonial forms of their worship was thus introduced an act of arrant blasphemy. A class struggle carried to its conclusion is a struggle for state power. The fundamental character of a revolution lies in its carrying the class struggle to its conclusion. A revolution is a direct struggle for power. Nevertheless, our “socialists” are not worried about getting the power away from the class enemy who does not possess it, and could not with his own forces seize it, but, just the opposite, with forcing this power upon him at any cost. Is not this indeed a paradox? It seems all the more striking, because the experience of the German revolution of 1918 did not then exist, and humanity had not yet witnessed a colossal and still more successful operation of this same type carried out by the “new middle caste” led by the German social democracy.

How did the Compromisers explain their conduct? One explanation had a doctrinaire character: Since the revolution is bourgeois, the socialists must not compromise themselves with the power – let the bourgeoisie answer for itself. This sounded very implacable. In reality, however, the petty bourgeoisie disguised with this false implacability its obsequiousness before the power of wealth, education, enfranchised citizenship. The right of the big bourgeoisie to power, the petty bourgeois acknowledged as a right of primogeniture, independent of the correlation of forces. Fundamentally we had here the same almost instinctive movement which has compelled the small merchant or teacher to step aside respectfully in the stations or theatres to let a Rothschild pass. Doctrinaire arguments served as a compensation for the consciousness of a personal insignificance. In only two months, when it became evident that the bourgeoisie was totally unable with its own force to keep the power thus delivered to it, the Compromisers had no difficulty in tossing away their “socialistic” prejudices and entering a coalition ministry – not in order to crowd out the bourgeoisie but, on the contrary, in order to save it – not against its will but, on the contrary, at its invitation, which sounded almost like a command. Indeed, the bourgeoisie threatened the democrats, if they refused, to let the power drop on their heads.

The second argument for refusing the power, although no more serious in essence, had a more practical appearance. Our friend Sukhanov made the most of the “scatteredness” of democratic Russia: “The democrats had at that time no stable or influential organisations, party, professional or municipal.” That sounds almost like a joke! Not a word about the soviets of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies from this socialist who is acting in the name of the soviets. As a matter of fact, thanks to the tradition of 1905, the soviets sprang up as though from under the earth, and immediately became incomparably more powerful than all the other organisations which later tried to compete with them (the municipalities, the co-operatives, and in part the trade unions). As for the peasantry, a class by its very nature scattered, thanks to the war and revolution it was exactly at that moment organised as never before. The war had assembled the peasants into an army, and the revolution had given the army a political character! No fewer than eight million peasants were united in companies and squadrons, which had immediately created their revolutionary representation and could through it at any moment be brought to their feet by a telephone call. Is this at all similar to “scatteredness”?

You may say to be sure, that at the moment of deciding the question of power, the democracy did not know what would be the attitude of the army at the front. We will not raise the question whether there was the slightest basis for fearing or hoping that the soldiers at the front, worn out with the war, would want to support the imperialist bourgeoisie. It is sufficient to remark that this question was fully decided during the next two or three days, which the Compromisers passed in the backstage preparation of a bourgeois government. “The revolution was successfully achieved by the 3rd of March,” concedes Sukhanov. In spite of the adherence of the whole army to the soviets, the leaders of the latter continued with all their strength to push away the power: they feared it the more, the more completely it became concentrated in their hands.

But why? How could those democrats, “socialists,” directly supported by such human masses as no democracy in history ever had behind it – masses, moreover, with a considerable experience, disciplined and armed, and organised in soviets – how could that all-powerful and apparently inconquerable democracy fear the power? This apparently intricate enigma is explained by the fact that the democracy did not trust its own support, feared those very masses, did not believe in the stability of their confidence in itself, and worst of all dreaded what they called “anarchy,” that is, that having seized the power, they might along with the power prove a mere plaything of the so called unbridled elements. In other words, the democracy felt that it was not called to be the leader of the people at the moment of its revolutionary uprising, but the left wing of a bourgeois order, its feeler stretched out toward the masses. It called itself, and even deemed itself “socialistic,” in order to disguise not only from the masses, but from itself too, its actual rôle: without this self-inebriation it could rot have fulfilled this rôle. This is the solution of the fundamental paradox of the February revolution.

On the evening of March 1, representatives of the Executive Committee, Cheidze, Steklov, Sukhanov and others, appeared at a meeting of the Duma Committee, in order to discuss the conditions upon which the soviets would support the new government. The programme of the democrats flatly ignored the question of war, republic, land, eight-hour day, and confined itself to one single demand: to give the left parties freedom of agitation. An example of disinterestedness for all peoples and ages! Socialists, having all the power in their hands, and upon whom alone it depended whether freedom of agitation should be given to others or not, handed over the power to their “class enemy” upon the condition that the latter should promise them ... freedom of agitation! Rodzianko was afraid to go to the telegraph’ office and said to Cheidze and Sukhanov: “You have the power, you can arrest us all.” Cheidze and Sukhanov answered him: “Take the power, but don’t arrest us for propaganda.” When you study the negotiations of the Compromisers with the liberals, and in general all the incidents of the interrelation of the left and right wings at the Tauride Palace in those days, it seems as though upon that gigantic stage upon which the historic drama of a people is developing, a group of provincial actors, availing themselves of a vacant corner and were playing out a cheap quick-change vaudeville act.

The leaders of the bourgeoisie, we must do them justice, never expected anything of the kind. They would surely have less dreaded the revolution if they had counted upon this kind s from its leaders. To be sure, they would have miscalculated even in that case, but at least together with the latter. Fearing, nevertheless, that the bourgeoisie might not agree to take the power on the proposed conditions, Sukhanov delivered a threatening ultimatum: “Either we or nobody can control the elements ... there is but one way out – agree to our terms.” In other words: accept the programme, which is your programme; for this we promise to subdue for you the masses who gave us the power. Poor subduers of the elements!

Miliukov was astonished. “He did not try to conceal,” remembers Sukhanov, “his satisfaction and his agreeable astonishment.” When the Soviet delegates, to make it sound more important, added that their conditions were “final,” Miliukov even became expansive and patted them on the head with the remark: “Yes, I was listening and I was thinking how far forward our workers’ movement has progressed since the days of 1905 ...” In the same tone of the good-natured crocodile the Hohenzollern diplomat at Brest-Litovsk conversed with the delegates of the Ukranian Rada, complimenting them upon their statesman-like maturity just before swallowing them up. If the Soviet democracy was not swallowed up by the bourgeoisie, it was not Miliukov’s fault, and no thanks to Sukhanov. The bourgeoisie received the power behind the backs of the people. It had no support in the toiling classes. But along with the power it received a simulacrum of support second-hand. The Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, lifted aloft by the masses, delivered as if from themselves a testimonial of confidence to the bourgeoisie. If you look at this operation of formal democracy in cross-section you have a picture of a twofold election, in which the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries play the technical rôle of a middle link, that is, Kadet electors. If you take the question politically, it must be conceded that the Compromisers betrayed the confidence of the masses by calling to power those against whom they themselves were elected. And finally from a deeper, more social point of view, the question presents itself thus: the petty bourgeois parties, having in everyday circumstances shown an extraordinary pretentiousness and satisfaction with themselves, as soon as they were raised by a revolution to the heights of power, were frightened by their own inadequacy and hastened to surrender the helm to representatives of capital. In this act of prostration is immediately revealed the terrible shakiness of the new middle caste and its humiliating dependence upon the big bourgeoisie. Realising or only feeling that the power in their hands would not last long anyway, that they would soon have to surrender it either to the right or the left, the democrats decided that it was better to give it today to the solid liberals than tomorrow to the extreme representatives of the proletariat. But in this view also, the rôle of the Compromisers, in spite of its social conditioning, does not cease to be a treachery to the masses.

In giving their confidence to the socialists the workers and soldiers found themselves, quite unexpectedly, expropriated politically. They were bewildered, alarmed, but did not immediately find a way out. Their own betrayers deafened them from above with arguments to which they had no ready answer, but which conflicted with all their feelings and intentions. The revolutionary tendencies of the masses, even at the moment of the February revolution, did not at all coincide with the Compromise tendencies of the petty bourgeois parties. The proletariat and the peasantry voted for the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries not as compromisers, but as opponents of the czar, the capitalists and the landowners. But in voting for them they created a partition-wall between themselves and their own aims. They could not now move forward at all without bumping into this wall erected by themselves, and knocking it over. Such was the striking quid pro quo comprised in the class relations as they were uncovered by the February revolution.

To this fundamental paradox a supplementary one was immediately added. The liberals agreed to take the power from the hands of the socialists only on condition that the monarchy should agree to take it from their hands. During the time when Guchkov, with the monarchist Shulgin, already known to us, was travelling out to Pskov to save the dynasty, the problem of a constitutional monarchy was at the centre of negotiation between the two committees in the Tauride Palace. Miliukov was trying to convince the democrats who had come to him with the power in the palms of their hands, that the Romanovs could now no longer be dangerous, that Nicholas, to be sure, would have to be removed, but that the czarevich Alexei, with Mikhail as regent, could fully guarantee the welfare of the country: “The one is a sick child, the other an utterly stupid man.” We will add also a characterisation which the liberal monarchist Shidlovsky gave of the candidate for czar: “Mikhail Alexandrovich has tried every way possible to avoid interfering in any affairs of state, devoting himself wholeheartedly to horse-racing.” A striking recommendation, especially if it were repeated before the masses. After the flight of Louis XVI to Varennes, Danton proclaimed in the Jacobin Club that once a man is weak-minded he can no longer be king. The Russian liberals thought on the contrary that the weak-mindedness of a monarch would serve as the best possible decoration for a constitutional régime. However, this was a random argument calculated to impress the mentality of the “left” simpletons a little too crude, however, even for them. It was suggested to broad circles of the liberal Philistines that Mikhail was an “Anglomaniac” – without making clear whether in the matter of horseracing or parliamentarism. But the main argument was that they needed a “customary symbol of power.” Otherwise the people would imagine that anarchy had come.

The democrats listened, were politely surprised and tried to persuade them ... to declare a republic? No. Only not to decide the question in advance. The third point of the Executive Committee’s conditions read: “The Provisional Government shall not undertake any steps which would define in advance the future form of government.” Miliukov, made of the question of the monarchy an ultimatum. The democrats were in despair. But here the masses came to their help. At the meetings in the Tauride Palace absolutely nobody, not only among the workers, but among the soldiers, wanted a czar, and there was no means of imposing one upon them. Nevertheless, Miliukov tried to swim against the current, and to save the throne and dynasty over the heads of his left allies. In his history of the revolution he himself cautiously remarks that towards the end of the 2nd of March the excitement produced by his announcement of the Regency of Mikhail “had considerably increased.” Rodzianko far more colourfully paints the effect upon the masses produced by this monarchist manoeuvre of the liberals. The moment he arrived from Pskov with the czar’s abdication in favour of Mikhail, Guchkov, upon the demand of the workers, went from the station to the railroad shops to tell what had happened, and having read the act of abdication he concluded: “Long live the Emperor Mikhail!” The result was unexpected. The orator was, according to Rodzianko, immediately arrested by the workers, and even apparently threatened with execution. “He was liberated with great difficulty, with the help of a sentry company of the nearest regiment.” Rodzianko, as always, exaggerates a little, but the essence of the matter is correctly stated. The country had so radically vomited up the monarch that it could not ever crawl down the people’s throat again. The revolutionary masses did not permit even the thought of a new czar.

Facing such a situation the members of the Provisional Committee sidled away from Mikhail one after another – not decisively, but “until the Constituent Assembly” and then we shall see. Only Miliukov and Guchkov stood out for monarchy to the end, continuing to make it a condition of their entering the cabinet. What to do? The democrats thought that without Miliukov it was impossible to create a bourgeois government, and without a bourgeois government to save the revolution, Bickerings and persuasions went on without end. At a morning conference on March 3, a conviction of the necessity of “persuading the grand duke to abdicate” – they considered him czar then, after all! – seemed to gain the upper hand completely in the Provisional Committee. The left Kadet Nekrasov even drew up a text of the abdication. But since Miliukov stubbornly refused to yield, a decision was finally reached after further passionate quarrels: “Both sides shall present before the grand duke their opinions and without further argument leave the decision to the grand duke himself.” Thus an “utterly stupid man,” to whom his older brother overthrown by the insurrection had tried, in conflict even with the dynastic statute, to slip the throne, unexpectedly became the super-umpire on the question of the state structure of the revolutionary country. However improbable it may seem, a betting competition had arisen over the fate of the state. In order to induce the duke to tear himself away from the stables for the throne, Miliukov assured him that there was an excellent possibility of collecting outside of Petrograd a military force to defend his rights. In other words, having barely received the power from the hands of the socialists, Miliukov advanced a plan for a monarchist coup díetat. At the end of the speeches for and against, of which there were not a few, the grand duke requested time for reflection. Inviting Rodzianko into another room Mikhail flatly asked him: Would the new authorities guarantee him only the crown, or also his head? The incomparable Lord Chamberlain answered that he could only promise the monarch in case of need to die with him. This did not at all satisfy the candidate. Coming out to the deputies after an embrace with Rodzianko, Mikhail Romanov “pretty firmly” declared that he would decline the lofty but risky position offered to him. Here Kerensky, who personified in these negotiations the conscience of the democracy, ecstatically jumped up from his chair with the words: “Your Highness, you are a noble man!” – and swore that from that time on he would proclaim this everywhere. “Kerensky’s grandiloquence,” comments Miliukov dryly, “harmonised badly with the prose of the decision just taken.” It is impossible to disagree. The text of this interlude truly left no place for pathos. To our comparison with a vaudeville played in the corner of an ancient amphitheatre, it is necessary to add that the stage was divided by screens into two halves: in one the revolutionises were begging the liberals to save the revolution, in the other the liberals were begging the monarchy to save liberalism.

The representatives of the Executive Committee were sincerely perplexed as to why such a cultured and far-sighted man as Miliukov should be obstinate about some old monarchy, and even be ready to renounce the power if he could not get a Romanov thrown in. Miliukov’s monarchism, however, was neither doctrinaire, nor romantic; on the contrary, it was a result of the naked calculation of the frightened property-owners. In its nakedness indeed lay its hopeless weakness. Miliukov the, historian, might, it is true, cite the example of the leader of the French revolutionary bourgeoisie, Mirabeau, who also in his day strove to reconcile the revolution with the king. There too at the bottom it was the fear of the property-owners for their property: the more prudent policy was to disguise it with the monarchy, just as the monarchy had disguised itself with the church. But in 1789 the tradition of kingly power in France had still a universal popular recognition, to say nothing of the fact that all surrounding Europe was monarchist. In clinging to the king the French bourgeoisie was still on common ground with the people – at least in the sense that it was using against the people their own prejudices. The situation was wholly different in Russia in 1917. Aside from the shipwreck of the monarchist régime in various other countries of the world, the Russian monarchy itself had been irremediably damaged already in 1905. After the 9th of January, Father Gapon had cursed the czar and his “serpent offspring.” The Soviet of Workers’ Deputies of 1905 had stood openly for a republic. The monarchist feelings of the peasantry, upon which the monarchy itself had long counted, and with references to which the bourgeoisie camouflaged its own monarchism, simply did not exist. The militant counter-revolution which arose later, beginning with Kornilov, although hypocritically, nevertheless all the more demonstratively, disavowed the czarist power – so little was left of the monarchist roots in the people. But that same revolution of 1905, which mortally wounded the monarchy, had undermined forever the unstable republican tendencies of the “advanced” bourgeoisie. In contradicting each other, these two processes supplemented each other. Feeling in the first hours of the February revolution that it was drowning, the bourgeoisie grabbed at a straw. It needed the monarchy, not because that was a faith common to it and the people; on the contrary, the bourgeoisie had nothing left to set against the faith of the people but a crowned phantom. The “educated” classes of Russia entered the arena of the revolution not as the announcers of a rational state, but as defenders of medieval institutions. Having no support either in the people or in themselves, they sought it above themselves. Archimedes undertook to move the earth if they would give him a point of support. Miliukov was looking for a point of support in order to prevent the overthrow of the landlord’s earth. [1] He felt in this operation much nearer to the calloused Russian generals and the hierarchs of the orthodox church, than to these tame democrats who were worried about nothing but the approval of the liberals. Not being in a position to break the revolution, Miliukov firmly decided to outwit it. He was ready to swallow a great deal: civil liberty for soldiers, democratic municipalities, Constituent Assembly, but on one condition: that they should give him an Archimedian point of support in the form of monarchy. He intended gradually and step by step to make the monarchy the axis of a group of generals, a patched-up bureaucracy, princes of the church, property-owners, all those who were dissatisfied with the revolution, and starting with a “symbol,” to create gradually a real monarchist bridle for the masses as soon as the latter should get tired of the revolution. If only he could gain time. Another leader of the Kadet Party, Nabokov, explained later what a capital advantage would have been gained if Mikhail had consented to take the throne: “The fatal question of convoking a Constituent Assembly in war time would have been removed.” We must bear those words in mind. The conflict about the date of the Constituent Assembly occupied a great place between February and October, during which time the Kadets categorically denied their intention to delay the summoning of the people’s representatives, while insistently and stubbornly carrying out a policy of postponement in fact. Alas, they had only themselves to rely on in this effort: the monarchist camouflage they never got. After the desertion of Mikhail, Miliukov had not even a straw to grab.


1. In Russian, the words earth and land are the same. [Trans.]

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Last updated on: 125 December 2014