Leon Trotsky

The History of the Russian Revolution

Volume One: The Overthrow of Tzarism

Chapter 16
Rearming the Party

HOW EXPLAIN Lenin’s extraordinary isolation at the beginning of April? How in general could such a situation arise, and how was the rearming of the Bolshevik staff accomplished?

From the year 1905 the Bolshevik Party had waged a struggle against the autocracy under the slogan “Democratic Dictatorship of the proletariat and the Peasantry.” This slogan as well as its theoretical background, derives from Lenin. In opposition to the Mensheviks, whose theoretician, Plekhanov, stubbornly opposed the “mistaken idea of the possibility of accomplishing a bourgeois revolution without the bourgeoisie,” Lenin considered that the Russian bourgeoisie was already incapable of leading its own revolution. Only the proletariat and peasantry in close union could carry through a democratic revolution against the monarchy and the landlords. The victory of this union, according to Lenin, should inaugurate a democratic dictatorship, which was not only not identical with the dictatorship of the proletariat, but was in sharp contrast to it, for its problem was not the creation of a socialist society, nor even the creation of forms of transition to such a society, but merely a ruthless cleansing of the Augean stables of medievalism. The goal of the revolutionary struggle was fully described in three militant slogans: Democratic Republic, Confiscation of the Landed Estates, Eight-Hour Working Day – colloquially called the three whales of Bolshevism, by analogy with those whales upon which according to an old popular fable the earth reposes.

The question of the possibility of a democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry hinged upon the question of the ability of the peasantry to accomplish their own revolution – that is, to put forward a new government capable of liquidating the monarchy and the landed nobility. To be sure, the slogan of democratic dictatorship assumed also a participation in the revolutionary government of workers’ representatives. But this participation was limited in advance by the rôle attributed to the proletariat as ally on the left in solving the problems of the peasant revolution. The popular and even officially recognised idea of the hegemony of the proletariat in the democratic revolution could not, consequently, mean anything more than that the workers’ party would help the peasantry with a political weapon from its arsenal, suggest to them the best means and methods for liquidating the feudal society, and show them how to apply these means and methods. In any case, to speak of the leading rôle of the proletariat in the bourgeois revolution did not at all signify that the proletariat would use the peasant uprising in order with its support to place upon the order of the day its own historic task-that is, the direct transition to a socialist society. The hegemony of the proletariat in the democratic revolution was sharply distinguished from the dictatorship of the proletariat, and polemically contrasted against it. The Bolshevik Party had been educated in these ideas ever since the spring of 1905.

The actual course of the February revolution disrupted this accustomed schema of Bolshevism. It is true that the revolution was accomplished by a union of the workers and peasants. The fact that the peasants functioned chiefly in the guise of soldier’s did not alter this. The behavior of the peasant army of czarism would have had decisive import even if the revolution had developed in peace times. So much the more natural if in war time these millions of armed men at first completely concealed the peasantry. After the victory of the insurrection the workers and soldiers were bosses of the situation. In that sense it would seem possible to say that a democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants had been established. But as a matter of fact, the February overturn led to a bourgeois government, in which the power of the possessing classes was limited by the not yet fully realised sovereignty of the workers’ and soldiers’ soviets. All the cards were mixed. Instead of a revolutionary dictatorship – i.e. the most concentrated power-there was established the flabby régime of the dual power, in which the feeble energy of the ruling classes was wasted in overcoming inner conflicts. Nobody had foreseen this régime. And indeed one cannot demand from a prognosis that it indicate not only the fundamental tendencies of development, but also accidental conjunctions. “Who ever made a great revolution knowing beforehand how to carry it through to the end?” asked Lenin later. “Where could you get such knowledge? It is not to be found in books. There are no such books. Our decisions could only be born out of the experience of the masses.”

But human thought is Conservative, and the thought of to stand by the old formula and regarded the February revolution, notwithstanding its obvious establishment of two incompatible régimes, merely as the first stage of a bourgeois revolution. At the end of March Rykov sent to Pravda from Siberia, in the name of the Social Democrats, a telegram of greeting to the victory of the “national revolution,” whose problem was “the winning of political liberty.” All the leading Bolsheviks – not one exception is known to us – considered that the democratic dictatorship still lay in the future. After this Provisional Government of the bourgeoisie “exhausts itself,” then a democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants will be established as the forerunner of the bourgeois parliamentary régime. This was a completely erroneous perspective. The régime which issued from the February revolution not only was not preparing a democratic dictatorship, but was a living and exhaustive proof of the fact that such a dictatorship was impossible. That the compromising democracy did not accidentally, through the light-mindedness of Kerensky and the limited intelligence of Cheidze, hand over the power to the liberals, is demonstrated by the fact that throughout the eight months following, it struggled with all its force to preserve the bourgeois government. It repressed the workers, peasants and soldiers, and on the 25th of October it fell fighting at its post as ally and defender of the bourgeoisie. Moreover it was clear enough from the beginning, when the democracy, with gigantic tasks before it and the unlimited support of the masses, voluntarily renounced the power, that this was not due to political principles or prejudices, but to the hopelessness of the situation of the petty bourgeoisie in the capitalist society – especially in a period of war and revolution, when the fundamental life problems of countries, peoples and classes are under decision. In handing Miliukov the sceptre, the petty bourgeoisie said: “No, I am not equal to these tasks.”

The peasantry, lifting on its shoulders the conciliatory democracy, contains in itself in a rudimentary form all the classes of bourgeois society. Along with the petty bourgeoisie of the cities – which in Russia, however, never played a serious rôle – it constitutes that protoplasm out of which new classes have been differentiated in the past, and continue to be differentiated in the present. The peasantry always has two faces, one turned towards the proletariat the other to the bourgeoisie. But the intermediary, compromising position of “peasant” parties like the Social Revolutionaries, can be maintained only in conditions of comparative political stagnation; in a revolutionary epoch the moment inevitably comes when the petty bourgeoisie is compelled to choose. The Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks made their choice from the first moment. They destroyed the “democratic dictatorship” in embryo, in order to prevent it from becoming a bridge to the dictatorship of the proletariat. But they thus opened a road to the latter – only a different road, not through them, but against them.

The further development of the revolution must obviously proceed from new facts, not old schemas. Through their representatives the masses were drawn, partly against their will, partly without their consciousness, into the mechanics of the two power régime. They now had to pass through this in order to learn by experience that it could not give them either peace or land. To recoil from the two-power régime henceforward meant for the masses to break with the Social Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks. But it is quite evident that a political turning of the workers and soldiers toward the Bolsheviks, having knocked over the whole two-power construction, could now no longer mean anything but the establishment of a dictatorship of the proletariat resting upon a union of the workers and peasants. In case the popular mass had been defeated, only a military dictatorship of capital could have risen on the ruins of the Bolshevik Party. “The democratic dictatorship” was impossible in either case. In looking toward it, the Bolsheviks had actually to turn their faces toward a phantom of the past. It was in this position that Lenin found them when he arrived with his inflexible determination to bring the party out on a new road.

Lenin himself, to be sure, did not replace the formula of democratic dictatorship by any other formula, even conditional or hypothetical, until the very beginning of the February revolution. Was he correct in this? We think not. What happened in the party after the revolution revealed all too alarmingly the belatedness of that rearming – which moreover in the given situation no one but Lenin himself could have carried through. He had prepared himself for that. He had heated his steel white hot and re-tempered it in the fires of the war. In his eyes the general prospect of the historic process had changed; the shock of the war had sharply advanced the possible date of a socialist revolution in the West. While remaining for Lenin still democratic, the Russian revolution was to give the stimulus to a socialist revolution in Europe, which should then drag belated Russia into its whirlpool. Such was Lenin’s general conception when he left Zurich. The letter to the Swiss workers which we have already quoted says: “Russia is a peasant country, one of the most backward of European countries. Here socialism cannot immediately conquer, but the peasant character of the country, with enormous tracts of land remaining intact in the hands of the nobility, can, on the basis of the experience of 1905, give enormous scope to a bourgeois-democratic revolution in Russia, and make our revolution a prologue to the worldwide socialist revolution, a step leading to it.” In this sense Lenin now first wrote that the Russian proletariat will begin the socialist revolution.

Such was the connecting link between the old position of Bolshevism, which limited the revolution to democratic aims, and. the new position which Lenin first presented to the party in his theses of April 4. This new prospect of an immediate transition to the dictatorship of the proletariat seemed completely unexpected, contradictory to tradition, and indeed simply would not fit into the mind. Here it is necessary to remember that up to the outbreak of the February revolution and for a time after Trotskyism did not mean the idea that it was impossible to build a socialist society within the national boundaries of Russia (which “possibility” was never expressed by anybody up to 1924 and hardly came into anybody’s head). Trotskyism meant the idea that the Russian proletariat might win the power in advance of the Western proletariat, and that in that case it could not confine itself within the limits of a democratic dictatorship but would be compelled to undertake the initial socialist measures. It is not surprising, then, that the April theses of Lenin were condemned as Trotskyist.

The counter-arguments of the old Bolsheviks developed along several lines. The principal quarrel was about the question whether the bourgeois-democratic revolution was finished. Inasmuch as the agrarian revolution was not yet complete, the opponents of Lenin justly asserted that the democratic revolution as a whole was not finished, and hence, they concluded, there is no place for a dictatorship of the proletariat, even though the social conditions of Russia render it possible in general at a more or less proximate date. It was in this way that the editors of Pravda posed the question in the passage we have already cited. Later on, in the April conference, Kamenev repeated this: “Lenin is wrong when he says that the bourgeois democratic revolution is finished ... The classical relics of feudalism, the landed estates, are not yet liquidated ... The state is not transformed into a democratic society ... It is early to say that the bourgeois democracy has exhausted all its possibilities.”

“The democratic dictatorship is our foundation stone” – this was Tomsky’s argument – “We ought to organise the power of the proletariat and the peasants, and we ought to distinguish this from the Commune, since that means the power of the proletariat alone.”

Rykov seconded him: “Gigantic revolutionary tasks stand before us, but the fulfillment of these tasks does not carry us beyond the framework of the bourgeois régime.”

Lenin saw, of course, as clearly as his opponents that the democratic revolution was not finished, that, on the contrary without really beginning it had already begun to drop into the past. But from this very fact it resulted that only the rulers of a new class could carry it through to the end, and that this could be achieved no otherwise but by drawing the masses out from under the influence of the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries – that is to say, from the indirect influence of the liberal bourgeoisie. The connection of those parties with the workers, and especially with the soldiers, was based on the idea of defence – “defence of the country” or “defence of the revolution.” Lenin, therefore, demanded an irreconcilable opposition to all shades of social patriotism. Separate the party from the backward masses, in order afterwards to free those masses from their backwardness. “We must abandon the old Bolshevism,” he kept repeating. “We must make a sharp division between the, line of the petty bourgeoisie and the wage worker.”

At a superficial glance it might seem that the age-old enemies had exchanged weapons. The Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries now represented a majority of the workers and soldiers, and seemed to have realised that political union of the proletariat and peasantry which Bolshevism had always been advocating against the Mensheviks. Lenin was demanding that the proletarian vanguard break away from this union. In reality, however, both sides remained true to themselves. The Mensheviks, as always, saw their mission in supporting the liberal bourgeoisie. Their union with the Social Revolutionaries was only a means of broadening and strengthening this support. On the contrary, the break of the proletarian vanguard with the petty bourgeois bloc meant the preparation of a union of the workers and peasants under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party – that is, the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Another argument against Lenin was derived from the backwardness of Russia. A government of the working class inevitably means a transition to socialism, but economically and culturally Russia is not ripe for this. We must carry through the democratic revolution. Only a socialist revolution in the West can justify a dictatorship of the proletariat here. This was Rykov’s argument at the April conference. That the cultural-economic condition of Russia in itself was inadequate for the construction of a socialist society was mere ABC to Lenin. But societies are not so rational in building that the dates for proletarian dictatorships arrive exactly at that moment when the economic and cultural conditions are ripe for socialism. If humanity evolved as systematically as that, there would be no need for dictatorship, nor indeed for revolutions in general. Living historic societies are inharmonious through and through, and the more so the more delayed their development. The fact. that in a backward country like Russia the bourgeoisie had decayed before the complete victory of the bourgeois régime, and that there was nobody but the proletariat to replace it in the position of national leadership, was an expression of this in harmony. The economic backwardness of Russia does not relieve the working class of the obligation to fulfil its allotted task, but merely surrounds this task with extraordinary difficulties. To Rykov, who kept repeating that socialism must come from countries with a more developed industry, Lenin gave a simple but sufficient answer: “You can’t say who will begin and who finish.”

In 1921, when the party – still far from bureaucratic ossification – was appraising its past as freely as it prepared its future, one of the older Bolsheviks, Olminsky, who had played a leading part in the party press in all stages of its development, raised the question: How explain the fact that the February revolution found the party on the opportunist path, and what permitted it thereafter to turn so sharply to the path of October? The author correctly found the source of the party’s going astray in March in the fact that it held on too long to the “democratic dictatorship.” “The coming revolution must be only a bourgeois revolution ... That was,” says Olminsky, “an obligatory premise for every member of the party, the official opinion of the party, its continual and unchanging slogan right up to the February revolution of 1917, and even some time after.” In illustration Olminsky might have referred to the fact that Pravda, even before Stalin and Kamenev – that is under the “left” editorship, which included Olminsky himself declared on March 7, as though mentioning something that goes without saying: “Of course there is no question among us of the downfall of the rule of capital, but only of the downfall of the rule of autocracy and feudalism.” From this too short aim resulted the March captivity of the party to the bourgeois democracy.” Whence then the October revolution?” asks the same author. “How did it happen that the party, from its leaders to its rank-and-file members, so suddenly renounced everything that it had regarded as fixed truth for almost two decades?”

Sukhanov, speaking as an enemy, raises the question differently. “How did Lenin manage to outwit and conquer his Bolsheviks?” It is true that Lenin’s victory within the party was not only complete, but was won in a very short time. The party enemies indulged on this theme in a good deal of irony as to the personal régime in the Bolshevik Party. Sukhanov himself answers the question he had raised wholly in the heroic spirit: “Lenin, the genius, was a historic authority – that is one side of it. The other is that there was nobody and nothing in the party besides Lenin. A few great generals without Lenin amounted to as little as a few gigantic planets without the sun (I here omit Trotsky who was not then within the ranks of the Order).” These curious lines attempt to explain the influence of Lenin by his influentialness, as the capacity of opium to produce sleep is explained by its soporific powers. Such an explanation does not, of course, get us forward very far. Lenin’s actual influence in the party was indubitably very great, but it was by no means unlimited. It was still subject to appeal even later, after October, when his authority had grown extraordinarily because the party had measured his power with the yardstick of world events. So much the more insufficient are these mere personal references to his authority in April 1917, when the whole ruling group of the party had already taken up a position contradictory to that of Lenin.

Olminsky comes much nearer to answering the question when he argues that, in spite of its formula of bourgeois democratic revolution, the party had in its whole policy toward the bourgeoisie and the democracy, been for a long time actually preparing to lead the proletariat in a direct struggle for power. “We (or at least many of us)” – says Olminsky – “were unconsciously steering a course toward proletarian revolution, although thinking we were steering a course toward a bourgeois democratic revolution. In other words we were preparing the October revolution while thinking we were preparing the February.” An extremely valuable generalization, and at the same time the testimony of an irreproachable witness!

In the theoretical education of the revolutionary party there had been an element of contradiction, which had found its expression in the equivocal formula “democratic dictatorship” of the proletariat and peasantry. Speaking on the report of Lenin to the conference, a woman delegate expressed the thought of Olminsky still more simply: “The prognosis made by the Bolsheviks proved wrong, but their tactics were right.“

In his April theses which seemed so paradoxical, Lenin was relying against the old formula upon the living tradition of the party – its irreconcilable attitude to the ruling classes and its hostility to all half-way measures – whereas the “old Bolsheviks” were opposing a still fresh although already outdated memory to the concrete development of the class struggle. But Lenin had a too strong support prepared by the whole historic struggle of the Bolsheviks against the Mensheviks. Here it is suitable to remember that the official Social Democratic programme was still at that time common to the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, that the practical tasks of the democratic revolution looked the same on paper to both parties. But they were by no means so in action. The worker-Bolsheviks immediately after the revolution took the initiative in the struggle for the eight hour day; the Mensheviks declared this demand untimely. The Bolsheviks took the lead in arresting the czarist officials; the Mensheviks opposed “excesses.” The Bolsheviks energetically undertook the creation of a workers’ militia; the Mensheviks delayed the arming of the workers, not wishing to quarrel with the bourgeoisie. Although not yet overstepping the bounds of bourgeois democracy, the Bolsheviks acted, or strove to act however confused by their leadership – like uncompromising revolutionists. The Mensheviks sacrificed their democratic programme at every step in the interests of a coalition with the liberals. In the complete absence of democratic allies, Kamenev and Stalin inevitably hung in the air.

This April conflict between Lenin and the general staff of the party was not the only one of its kind. Throughout the whole history of Bolshevism, with the exception of some episodes which in essence only confirm the rule, all the leaders of the party at all the most important moments stood to the right of Lenin. This was not an accident. Lenin became the unqualified leader of the most revolutionary party in the world’s history, because his thought and will were really equal to the demands of the gigantic revolutionary possibilities of the country and the epoch. Others fell short by an inch or two, and often more.

Almost the whole ruling circle of the Bolshevik Party for months and even years before the revolution had been outside the active work. Many had carried away into jails and exile the oppressive recollections of the first months of the war, and had lived through the wreck of the International in solitude or in small groups. Although in the ranks of the party they had manifested a sufficient receptivity to those thoughts of revolution which had attracted them to Bolshevism, in isolation they were not strong enough to resist the pressure of the surrounding milieu and make an independent Marxist appraisal of events. The enormous shift of opinion in the masses during the two and a half years of war had remained almost outside their field of vision. Nevertheless the revolution had not only dragged them out of their isolation, but immediately placed them, thanks to their prestige, in a commanding position in the party. They were often much closer in mood to the “Zimmerwald” intelligentsia than to the revolutionary workers in the factories.

The “Old Bolsheviks” – who pretentiously emphasised this appellation in April 1917 – were condemned to defeat because they were defending exactly that element of the party tradition which had not passed the historic test. “I belong to the old Bolshevik Leninists,” said Kalinin, for instance, at the Petrograd conference of April 14, “and I consider that the old Leninism has not by any means proved good-for-nothing in the present peculiar moment, and I am astonished at the declaration of Comrade Lenin that the old Bolsheviks have become an obstacle at the present moment.” Lenin had to listen to many such offended voices in those days. However, in breaking with the traditional formula of the party, Lenin did not in the least cease to be a “Leninist.” He threw off the worn-out shell of Bolshevism in order to summon its nucleus to a new life.

Against the old Bolsheviks Lenin found support in another layer of the party already tempered, but more fresh and more closely united with the masses. In the February revolution, as  we know, the worker-Bolsheviks played the decisive rôle. They thought it self-evident that that class which had won the victory should seize the power. These same workers protested stormily against the course of Kamenev and Stalin, and the Vyborg district even threatened the “leaders” with expulsion from the party. The same thing was to be observed in the provinces. Almost everywhere there were left Bolsheviks accused of maximalism, even of anarchism. These worker-revolutionists only lacked the theoretical resources to defend their position. But they were ready to respond to the first clear call. It was on this stratum of workers, decisively risen to their feet during the upward years of 1912-14, that Lenin was now banking. Already at the beginning of the war, when the government dealt the party a heavy blow by arresting the Bolshevik faction of the Duma, Lenin, speaking of the further revolutionary work, had demanded the education by the party of “thousands of class conscious workers, from among whom in spite of all difficulties a new staff of leaders will arise.”

Although separated from these workers by two war fronts, and almost without communication, Lenin had never lost touch with them. “Let the war, jails, Siberia, hard labour, shatter them twice, ten times, you cannot destroy that stratum. It is alive. It is imbued with revolutionism and anti-chauvinism.”

In his mind Lenin had been living through the events along ,with these worker-Bolsheviks, making with them the necessary inferences – only broader and more boldly than they. In his struggle with the indecisiveness of the staff and the broad officer layer of the party, Lenin confidently relied on its under-officer layer which better reflected the rank-and-file worker-Bolshevik.

The temporary strength of the social-patriots, and the hidden weakness of the opportunist wing of the Bolsheviks, lay in the fact that the former were basing themselves on the temporary prejudices and illusions of the masses, and the latter were conforming themselves to these temporary prejudices and illusions. The chief strength of Lenin lay in his understanding the inner logic of the movement, and guiding his policy by it. He did not impose his plan on the masses; he helped the masses to recognize their own plan. When Lenin reduced all the problems of the revolution to one – “patiently explain” – that meant it was necessary to bring the consciousness of the masses into correspondence with that situation into which the historic process had driven them. The worker or the soldier, disappointed with the policy of the Compromisers, had to be brought over to the position of Lenin and not left lingering in the intermediate stage of Kamenev and Stalin.

Once the Leninist formulas were issued, they shed a new light for the Bolsheviks upon the experience of the past months and of every new day. In the broad party mass a quick differentiation took place – leftward and leftward,- toward the theses of Lenin. District after district adhered to them,” says Zalezhsky, and by the time of the all-Russian party conference on April 24, the Petersburg organization as a whole was in favour of the theses”.

The struggle for the rearming of the Bolshevik ranks, begun on the evening of April 3, was essentially finished by the end of the month. [1] The party conference, which met in Petrograd April 24-29, cast the balance of March, a month of opportunist vacillations, and of April, a month of sharp crisis. By that time the party had grown greatly, both quantitatively and in a political sense. The 149 delegates represented 79,000 party members, of whom 15,000 lived in Petrograd. For a party that had been illegal yesterday, and was today anti-patriotic, that was an impressive number, and Lenin several times called attention to it with satisfaction. The political physiognomy of the conference was immediately defined by the election of a præsidium of five members. It did not include either Kamenev or Stalin, the chief culprits March misfortune.

Although for the party as a whole the debated questions were already firmly decided, many of the leaders, still clinging to the past, continued at this conference in opposition, or semi-opposition, to Lenin. Stalin remained silent and waited. Dzerzhinsky, in the name of “many,” who “did not agree in principle with the theses of the spokesman,” demanded that a dissenting report be heard from “the comrades who have along with us experienced the revolution in a practical way.” This was an evident thrust at the emigrant character of the Leninist theses. Kamenev did actually make a dissenting report in defence of the bourgeois democratic dictatorship. Rykov, Tomsky, Kalinin, tried to stand more or less by their March positions. Kalinin continued to advocate a coalition with the Mensheviks in the interests of the struggle with liberalism. The prominent Moscow party worker, Smidovich, hotly complained in his speech that “every time we speak they raise against us a certain bogey in the form of the theses of Comrade Lenin.” Earlier, when the Moscow members were voting for the resolutions of the Mensheviks, life had been a good deal more peaceful.

As a pupil of Rosa Luxemburg, Dzerzhinsky spoke against the right of nations to self-determination, accusing Lenin of protecting a separatist tendencies which weakened the Russian proletariat. To Lenin’s answering accusation of giving support to Great-Russian chauvinism, Dzerzhinsky answered: “I can reproach him (Lenin) with standing at the point of view of the Polish, Ukrainian and other chauvinists.” This dialogue is not without a political piquancy: the Great-Russian Lenin accuses the Pole, Dzerzhinsky, of Great-Russian chauvinism directed the Poles, and is accused by the latter of Polish chauvinism. Politically Lenin was in the right in this quarrel. His policy on nationalities entered as a most important constituent element into the October revolution.

The opposition was obviously on the wane. It did not muster more than seven votes on the questions under debate. There was, however, one curious and sharp exception, touching the international relations of the party. At the very end of the conference, in the evening session of April 29, Zinoviev introduced in the name of his commission a resolution: “To take part in the international conference of Zimmerwaldists designated for May 18 (at Stockholm).” The report says: “Adopted by all votes against one.” That one was Lenin. He demanded a break with Zimmerwald, where the majority had been decisively with the German Independents and neutral pacifists of the type of the Swiss, Grimm. But for the Russian circles of the party, Zimmerwald had during the war become almost identified with Bolshevism. The delegates were not yet ready to give up the name of Social Democrat or break with Zimmerwald, which remained moreover in their eyes a bond with the masses of the Second International.

Lenin tried at least to limit participation in the coming conference to an attendance for informational purposes. Zinoviev spoke against him. Lenin’s proposal was rejected. He then voted against the resolution as a whole. Nobody supported him. That was the last splash of the “March” tendency a clinging to yesterday’s position, a fear of “isolation.” The Stockholm Conference, however, was never held – a result of those same inner diseases of Zimmerwald, which had led Lenin, to break with it. His unanimously rejected policy of boycott was thus realised in fact.

The abruptness of the turn in the policy of the party was obvious to all. Schmidt, a worker-Bolshevik, afterward People’s Commissar of Labour, said at the April conference: “Lenin gave a different direction to the character of the work.” According to Raskolnikov – writing, to be sure, several years later – Lenin in April 1917 “carried out an October revolution in the consciousness of the party leaders ... The tactic of our party is not a single straight line, but makes after the arrival of Lenin a sharp jump to the left.” The old Bolshevik, Ludmila Stahl, more directly and also more accurately appraised the change. “All the comrades before the arrival of Lenin were wandering in the dark,” she said, at the city conference on the 14th of April. “We know only the formulas of 1905. Seeing the independent creative work of the people, we could not teach them ... Our comrades could only limit themselves to getting ready for the Constituent Assembly by parliamentary means, and took no account of the possibility of going farther. In accepting the slogans of Lenin we are now doing what life itself suggests to us. We need not fear the Commune, and say that we already have a workers’ government; the Commune of Paris was not only a workers’, but also a petty bourgeois government.” It is possible to agree with Sukhanov that the rearming of the army “was the chief and fundamental victory of Lenin completed by the first days of May.” Sukhanov, it is true thought that Lenin in this operation substituted an anarchist for a Marxist weapon.

It remains to ask – and this is no unimportant question, although easier to ask than answer: How would the revolution gave developed Lenin if Lenin had not reached Russia in April 1917? If our exposition demonstrates and proves anything at all, we hope it proves that Lenin was not a demiurge of the revolutionary process, that he merely entered into a chain of objective historic forces. But he was a great link in that chain. The dictatorship of the proletariat was to be inferred from the whole situation, but it had still to be established. It could not be established without a party. The party could fulfil its mission only after understanding it. For that Lenin was needed. Until his arrival, not one of the Bolshevik leaders dared to make a diagnosis of the revolution. The leadership of Kamenev and Stalin was tossed by the course of events to the right, to the Social Patriots: between Lenin and Menshevism the revolution left no place for intermediate positions. Inner struggle in the Bolshevik Party was absolutely unavoidable. Lenin’s arrival merely hastened the process. His personal influence shortened the crisis. Is it possible, however, to say confidently that the party without him would have found its road? We would by no means make bold to say that. The factor of time is decisive here, and it is difficult in retrospect to tell time historically. Dialectic materialism at any rate has nothing in common with fatalism. Without Lenin the crisis, which the opportunist leadership was inevitably bound to produce, would have assumed an extraordinarily sharp and protracted character. The conditions of war and revolution, however, would not allow the party a long period for fulfilling its mission. Thus it is by no means excluded that a disoriented and split, party might have let slip the revolutionary opportunity for years. The rôle of personality arises before us here on a truly gigantic scale. It is necessary only to understand that rôle correctly, taking personality as a link in the historic chain.

The “sudden” arrival of Lenin from abroad after a long absence, the furious cry raised by the press around his name, his clash with all the leaders of his own party and his quick victory over them – in a word, the external envelope of circumstance – make easy in this case a mechanical contrasting of the person, the hero, the genius, against the objective conditions, the mass, the party. In reality, such a contrast is completely one-sided. Lenin was not an accidental element in the historic development, but a product of the whole past of Russian history. He was embedded in it with deepest roots. Along with the vanguard of the workers, he had lived through their struggle in the course of the preceding quarter century. The “accident” was not his interference in the events, but rather that little straw with which Lloyd George tried to block his path. Lenin did not oppose the party from outside, but was himself its most complete expression. In educating it he had educated himself in it. His divergence from the ruling circles of the Bolsheviks meant the struggle of the future of the party against its past. If Lenin had not been artificially separated from the party by the conditions of emigration and war, the external mechanics of the crisis would not have been so dramatic, and would not have overshadowed to such a degree the inner continuity of the party’s development. From the extraordinary significance which Lenin’s arrival received, it should only be, inferred that leaders are not accidentally created, that they are gradually chosen out and trained up in the course of decades, that they cannot be capriciously replaced, that their mechanical exclusion from the struggle gives the party a living wound, and in many cases may paralyse it for a long period.


1. [Note on p.307.]

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Last updated on: 25 December 2014