THIS was the most important year in the life of the country and of Joseph Djugashvili’s generation of professional revolutionists. As a touchstone, that year tested ideas, parties, men.
At Petersburg, now called Petrograd, Stalin found a state of affairs he had not expected. Bolshevism had dominated the labor movement prior to the war’s outbreak, especially in the capital. In March, 1917, the Bolsheviks in the Soviet were an insignificant minority. How had that happened? The impressive mass that had taken part in the movement of 1911-1914 actually amounted to no more than a small fraction of the working class. Revolution had made millions, not mere hundreds of thousands, spring to their feet. Because of mobilization, nearly forty per cent of these workers were new. The old-timers were at the front, playing there the part of the revolutionary yeast; their places at the factories were taken by nondescript newcomers fresh from the country, by peasant lads and peasant women. These novices had to go through the same political experiences, however briefly, as the vanguard of the preceding period. The February Revolution in Petrograd was led by class-conscious workers, Bolsheviks mostly, but not by the Bolshevik Party. Leadership by rank-and-file Bolsheviks could secure victory for the insurrection but not political power for the Party.
Even less auspicious was the state of affairs in the provinces. The wave of exultant illusions and indiscriminate fraternization, coupled with the political naiveté of the recently-awakened masses, swept in the natural conditions for the flourishing of petty bourgeois socialism, Menshevism and Populism. Workers— and following their lead, the soldiers, too—were electing to the soviet those who, at least in words, were opposed not only to the monarchy but to the bourgeoisie as well. The Mensheviks and the Populists, having gathered very nearly all of the intellectuals into their fold, had a countless number of agitators at their disposal, all of them proclaiming the need of unity, fraternity and other equally attractive civic virtues. The spokesmen for the Army were for the most part the Essars, those traditional guardians of the peasantry, which alone sufficed to bolster that party’s authority among the proletarians of recent vintage. Hence, the dominance of the compromisers’ parties seemed assured—at least, to themselves.
Worst of all, the course of events had caught the Bolshevik Party napping. None of its tried and trusted leaders were in Petrograd. The Central Committee’s Bureau there consisted of two workingmen, Shlyapnikov and Zalutsky, and one college boy, Molotov. The “manifesto” they issued in the name of the Central Committee after the victory of February called upon “the workers of plants and factories, and the insurrectionary troops as well, immediately to elect their chosen representatives to the provisional revolutionary government.” However, the authors of this “manifesto” themselves attached no practical significance to this call of theirs. Furthest from their intentions was the launching of an independent struggle for power. Instead, they were getting ready to settle down to the more modest role of a Leftist opposition for many years to come.
From the very beginning the masses repudiated the liberal bourgeoisie, deeming it no different from the nobility and the bureaucracy. It was out of the question, for example, that either workers or soldiers should vote for a Kadet. The power was entirely in the hands of the Socialist Compromisers, who had the backing of the people in arms. But, lacking confidence in themselves, the Compromisers yielded their power to the bourgeoisie. The latter was detested by the masses and politically isolated. The régime based itself on quid pro quo. The workers, and not only the Bolsheviks, looked upon the Provisional Government as their enemy. Resolutions urging the transfer of governmental power to the Soviets passed almost unanimously at factory meetings. The Bolshevik Dingelstead, subsequently a victim of the purge, has testified: “There was not a single meeting of workers that would have refused to pass such a resolution proposed by us …” But, yielding to the pressure of the Compromisers, the Petrograd Committee of the Bolshevik Party stopped this campaign. The advanced workers tried their utmost to throw off the tutelage on top, but they did not know how to parry the learned arguments about the bourgeois nature of the revolution. Several shades of opinion clashed in Bolshevism itself, but the necessary inferences from the various arguments were not drawn. The Party was in a state of abysmal chaos. “No one knew what were the slogans of the Bolsheviks,” the prominent Saratov Bolshevik Antonov subsequently recalled, “It was a most distasteful spectacle.”
The twenty-two days that elapsed between Stalin’s arrival from Siberia [Sunday, March 12/2s] and Lenin’s from Switzerland [Monday, April 3/16] are exceptionally significant for the light they throw on Stalin’s political complexion. He was suddenly thrust into a wide-open field of action. Neither Lenin nor Zinoviev was yet in Petrograd. Kamenev was there, the Kamenev compromised by his recent behavior in court and generally renowned for his opportunistic tendencies. There was also young Sverdlov, scarcely known in the Party, more of an organizer than a politico. The furious Spandaryan was no more: he had died in Siberia. As in 1912, so now again Stalin was for the time being, if not the leading, at least one of the two leading, Bolsheviks in Petrograd. The disoriented party expected clear instructions. It was no longer possible to evade issues by keeping still. Stalin had to give answers to the most urgent questions—about the Soviets, the government, the war, the land. His answers were published; they speak for themselves.
As soon as he reached Petrograd, which was one vast mass meeting in those days, Stalin went directly to Bolshevik headquarters. The three members of the Central Committee Bureau, assisted by several writers, were deciding Pravda ’s complexion. Although the Party leadership was in their hands, they went about the job helplessly. Letting others crack their voices addressing workers’ and soldiers’ meetings, Stalin entrenched himself at headquarters. More than four years ago, after the Prague conference, he had been co-opted into the Central Committee. Since then much water had run over the dam. But the exile from Kureika had the knack of keeping his hold on the Party machine: he still regarded his old mandate as valid. Aided by Kamenev and Muranov, he first of all removed from leadership the “Leftist” Central Committee Bureau and the Pravda editorial board. He went about it rather rudely, the more so since he had no fear of resistance and was in a hurry to show that he was boss.
”The comrades who arrived,” Shlyapnikov wrote later, “were critical and negative in their attitude toward our work.” They did not find fault with its colorlessness and indecisiveness, but, on the contrary, with its persistent effort to draw the line between themselves and the Compromisers. Like Kamenev, Stalin stood closer to the Soviet majority. Pravda, after passing into the hands of the new editorial board, declared as early as March 15 (28) that the Bolsheviks would resolutely support the Provisional Government “in so far as it fights reaction or counter-revolution”. The paradox of this declaration was that the only important agent of counter-revolution was the Provisional Government itself. Stalin’s stand on war showed the same mettle: as long as the German Army remained subservient to its Emperor, the Russian soldier should “staunchly stand at his post, answering bullet for bullet and salvo for salvo”. As if all there was to the problem of imperialism was the Emperor! The article was Kamenev’s, but Stalin raised not the slightest objection to it. If he differed at all from Kamenev in those days, it was in being more evasive than his partner. “All defeatism,” Pravda explained, “or rather what the venal press stigmatized by that name under the aegis of tsarist censorship, died the moment the first revolutionary regiment appeared on the streets of Petrograd.” This was an outright disclaimer of Lenin, who had preached defeatism out of reach of the tsarist censorship, and at the same time a reaffirmation of Kamenev’s declaration at the trial of the Duma fraction. But on this occasion it was countersigned by Stalin. As for “the first revolutionary regiment,” all its appearance meant was a step from Byzantine barbarism to imperialist civilization.
”The day the transformed Pravda appeared …” recounts Shlyapnikov, “was a day of triumph for the Defensists. The whole Tauride Palace, from the businessmen of the Duma Committee to the Executive Committee, the very heart of revolutionary democracy, buzzed with but one news item—the triumph of the moderate and sensible Bolsheviks over the extremists. In the Executive Committee itself we were greeted with malicious smiles … When that issue of Pravda reached the factories, it created confusion and indignation among our Party members and sympathizers, spiteful satisfaction among our opponents . .. The indignation in the outlying districts was stupendous, and, when the proletarians found out that Pravda had been taken in tow by three of its former managing editors recently arrived from Siberia, they demanded the expulsion of the latter from the Party.”
Shlyapnikov’s account was retouched and softened by him in 1925 under the pressure of Stalin, Kamenev and Zinoviev, the “triumvirate” that then ruled the Party. Yet it does record clearly enough Stalin’s initial steps in the arena of the Revolution and the reaction to them of class-conscious workers. The sharp protest of the Viborgites, which Pravda was soon obliged to publish in its own columns, forced the editorial board henceforth to formulate its opinions more circumspectly but not to change its policy.
Soviet politics was shot through and through with compromise and equivocation. The great need of the masses was above all to find someone who would call a spade a spade; that is, of course, the sum and substance of revolutionary politics: Everybody shied from that, for fear of upsetting the delicate structure of dual power.
The greatest amount of falsehood accumulated around the war issue. On March 14 (27) the Executive Committee proposed to the Soviet its draft of the manifesto “To the Peoples of the World.” This document called upon the workers of Germany and Austria-Hungary to refuse “to serve as a tool of conquest and violence in the hands of kings, landowners and bankers.” But the Soviet leaders themselves had not the slightest intention of breaking with the kings of Great Britain and Belgium, the Emperor of Japan, or the bankers and landowners, their own and those of all the Entente countries. The newspaper of the Minister of Foreign Affairs Miliukov noted with satisfaction that “the appeal is blossoming into an ideology shared by us and our allies.” That was quite right—and quite in the spirit of the French Socialist ministers since the outbreak of war. During practically the very same hours, Lenin was writing to Petrograd by way of Stockholm that the revolution was threatened with the danger of having the old imperialist policy camouflaged behind new revolutionary phrases. “I shall even prefer to split with anyone at all in our Party rather than yield to social-patriotism …” But in those days Lenin’s ideas did not have a single champion.
Besides marking a victory for the imperialist Miliukov over the petty bourgeois democrats, the unanimous adoption of this manifesto by the Petrograd Soviet meant the triumph of Stalin and Kamenev over the Left Wing Bolsheviks. All bowed their heads before the discipline of patriotic hypocrisy. “We welcome wholeheartedly,” Stalin wrote in Pravda, “the Soviet’s appeal of yesterday … This appeal, if it reaches the broad masses, will undoubtedly bring back hundreds and thousands of workers to the forgotten slogan: Workers of the world, unite! “ There was really no lack of similar appeals in the West, and all they did was to help the ruling classes preserve the mirage of a war for democracy.
Stalin’s article on the manifesto is not only highly revealing as to his stand on this particular issue but also of his way of thinking in general. His organic opportunism, forced by time and circumstance to seek temporary cover in abstract revolutionary principles, made short shrift of these principles when it came to an issue. He began his article by repeating almost word for word Lenin’s argumentation that even after the overthrow of tsarism, Russia’s participation in the war would continue to be imperialistic. Nevertheless, when he came to draw his practical conclusions, he not only welcomed the social-patriotic manifesto with equivocal qualifications but, following Kamenev’s lead, rejected out of hand revolutionary mobilization of the masses against war. “First of all,” he wrote, “it is undeniable that the bare slogan, ‘Down with War!’ is utterly inapplicable as a practical solution …..And his suggested solution was: “pressure on the Provisional Government with the demand that it immediately express its readiness to start peace negotiations …” With the aid of friendly “pressure” on the bourgeoisie, to whom conquest was the whole purpose of the war, Stalin wanted to achieve peace “on the basis of the self- determination of nations.” Since the beginning of the war Lenin had been directing his hardest blows against precisely this sort of philistine utopianism. No amount of “pressure” can make the bourgeoisie stop being the bourgeoisie: it must be overthrown. But Stalin stopped short before this conclusion, in sheer fright—just like the compromisers.
No less significant was Stalin’s article, “On the Abolition of National Limitations.” [in Pravda, April 7 (March 25), 1917.] His basic idea, acquired from propagandist pamphlets as far back as Tiflis Seminary days, was that national oppression was a relic of medievalism. Imperialism, viewed as the domination of strong nations over weak ones, was a conception quite beyond his ken. “The social basis of national oppression,” he wrote, “the force that inspires it, is the degenerating landed aristocracy … In England, where the landed aristocracy shares its power with the bourgeoisie … national oppression is softer, less inhuman, provided of course we do not take into consideration the special consideration that during the war, when the power passed into the hands of the landlords, national oppression increased considerably (persecution of the Irish, the Hindus).” The absurd assertions with which his article bristles—that supposedly racial and national equality is secure in the democracies; that in England during the war the power had passed to the landlords; that the overthrow of the feudal aristocracy would mean the abolition of national oppression—are shot through and through with the spirit of vulgar democratism and parochial obtuseness. Not a word to the effect that imperialism was responsible for national oppression on a scale of which feudalism was utterly incapable, if only because of its indolent provincial make-up. In theory he had not moved forward since the beginning of the century; more than that, he seemed to have entirely forgotten his own work on the national question, written early in 1913 under Lenin’s fescue.
”To the extent that the Russian Revolution has won,” the article concluded, “it has already created actual conditions [for national freedom] by having overthrown the sovereignty of feudalism and serfdom …” As far as our author was concerned the Revolution was already completely a thing of the past. In prospect, quite in the spirit of Miliukov and Tseretelli, were “the drafting of laws” and “their statutory ratification.” Yet still untouched was not only capitalistic exploitation, the overthrow of which had not even occurred to Stalin, but even the ownership of land by the landed gentry, something he himself had designated as the basis of national oppression. The government was run by Russian landlords like Rodzianko and Prince Lvov. Such was—hard though it is to believe even now!—Stalin’s historical and political slant a mere ten days before Lenin was to proclaim the course toward socialist revolution.
The All-Russian Conference of Bolsheviks, convoked by the Central Committee Bureau, opened in Petrograd on March 28, simultaneously with the conference of representatives of Russia’s most important Soviets. Although fully a month had elapsed since the Revolution, the Party was still in the throes of utter confusion, which was further enhanced by the leadership of the past two weeks. Differentiation of political trends had not yet crystallized. In exile that had needed the arrival of Spandaryan; now the Party had to wait for the arrival of Lenin. Rabid chauvinists like Voitinsky and Eli’ava, among others, continued to call themselves Bolsheviks and took part in the Party Conference alongside those who considered themselves internationalists. The patriots vented their sentiments far more explicitly and boldly than the semi-patriots, who constantly backed down and apologized. Since a majority of the delegates belonged to the Swamp [middle-of-the-roaders of unstable views], their natural spokesman was Stalin. “We all feel alike about the Provisional Government,” said the Saratov delegate Vassilyev. “There are no differences as to practical steps between Stalin and Voitinsky,” Krestinsky chimed in with pleasure. The very next day Voitinsky joined the Mensheviks and seven months later he led a detachment of Cossacks against the Bolsheviks.
It seems that Kamenev’s behavior at the trial had not been forgotten. It is possible that there was also talk among the delegates about the mysterious telegram to the Grand Duke. Perhaps Stalin took the trouble to remind others of these errors by his friend. Anyway, it was not Kamenev but the far lesser known Stalin who was delegated to present the chief political report, on the policy toward the Provisional Government. The protocol record of that report has been preserved; it is a priceless document to historians and biographers. Its subject was the central problem of the revolution—the relations between the Soviets, directly supported by the armed workers and soldiers, and the bourgeois government, existing only by the grace of the Soviet leaders. “The government,” said Stalin in part, “is split into two organs, neither of which has full sovereignty … The Soviet has indeed taken the initiative in revolutionary changes; the Soviet is the sole revolutionary leader of the insurgent people— the organ that controls the Provisional Government. The Provisional Government has undertaken the task of actually fortifying the achievements of the revolutionary people. The Soviet mobilizes the forces and exercises control, while the Provisional Government, balking and bungling, takes upon itself the role of defender of those achievements of the people which the latter have already actually made.” This excerpt is worth a whole program!
The reporter presented the relationship between the two basic classes of society as a division of labor between two “organs”. The Soviets, i.e., the workers and soldiers, make the Revolution; the government, i.e., capitalists and liberal landed gentry, “fortify” it. During 1905-1907 Stalin himself wrote over and over again, reiterating after Lenin: “The Russian bourgeoisie is antirevolutionary; it cannot be the prime-mover, let alone the leader, of the Revolution; it is the sworn enemy of revolution, and a stubborn struggle must be waged against it.” Nor was this guiding political idea of Bolshevism in any sense nullified by the course of the February Revolution. Miliukov, the leader of the liberal bourgeoisie, said at the conference of his party a few days before the uprising: “We are walking on a volcano … Whatever the nature of the government—whether good or bad—we need a firm government now more than ever before.” When the uprising began, notwithstanding the resistance of the bourgeoisie, there was nothing left for the liberals to do except take their stand on the ground prepared by its victory. It was none other than Miliukov who, having declared only yesterday that a Rasputinite monarchy was better than a volcanic eruption, was now running the Provisional Government which, according to Stalin, was supposed to be “fortifying” the conquests of the revolution but which actually was doing its utmost to strangle it. To the insurgent masses the meaning of the Revolution was in the abolition of the old forms of property, the very forms the Provisional Government was defending. Stalin presented the irreconcilable class-struggle which, defying all the efforts of the Compromisers, was straining day after day to turn into civil war, as a mere division of labor between two political machines. Not even the Left Menshevik Martov would have put the issue in such fashion. This was Tseretelli’s theory —and Tseretelli was the oracle of the Compromisers—in its most vulgar expression: “moderate” and more “resolute” forces perform in an arena called “democracy” and divide the act between them, some “conquering” and others “fortifying”. Here ready-made for us is the formula of future Stalinist policy in China (1924-1927), in Spain (1934-1939) as well as generally in all his ill- starred “popular fronts”.
”It is not to our advantage to force the course of events now,” the reporter continued, “accelerating the secession of the bourgeois layers … We have to gain time by checking the secession of the middle bourgeois layers, in order to get ready for the struggle against the Provisional Government.” The delegates listened to these arguments with vague misgivings. “Don’t frighten away the bourgeoisie” had ever been Plekhanov’s slogan, and in the Caucasus, Jordania’s. Bolshevism attained its maturity in fierce combat with that trend of thought. It is impossible to “check the secession” of the bourgeoisie without checking the proletariat’s class struggle; essentially, both are merely the two aspects of the same process. “The talk about not frightening away the bourgeoisie …” Stalin himself had written in 1913, shortly before his arrest, “evoked only smiles, for it was clear that the task of the Social-Democracy was not merely ‘to frighten away’ the very same bourgeoisie but to dislodge it in the person of its advocates, the Kadets.” It is even hard to understand how any old Bolshevik could have so forgotten the fourteen-year-old history of his faction as to resort at the most crucial moment to the most odious of Menshevik formulae. The explanation is to be found in Stalin’s way of thinking: he is not receptive to general ideas, and his memory does not retain them. He uses them from time to time, as they are needed, and casts them aside without a twinge, almost as a reflex. In his 1913 article he was referring to Duma elections. “To dislodge” the bourgeoisie meant merely to take mandates away from the liberals. The present reference was to the revolutionary overthrow of the bourgeoisie. That was a job that Stalin relegated to the remote future. For the present, quite like the Mensheviks, he deemed it necessary “not to frighten them away.”
After reading the Central Committee’s resolution, which he had helped to draw up, Stalin declared rather unexpectedly that he was not in complete accord with it and would rather support the resolution proposed by the Krasnoyarsk Soviet. The secret significance of this maneuver is not clear. On his way from Siberia Stalin might have had a hand in drafting the resolution of the Krasnoyarsk Soviet. It is possible that, having sensed the attitude of the delegates, he thought it best to edge away from Kamenev ever so little. However, the Krasnoyarsk resolution ranked even lower in quality than the Petersburg document: “… to make completely clear that the only source of the Provisional Government’s power and authority is the will of the people, to whom the Provisional Government must wholly submit, and to support the Provisional Government … only in so far as it pursues the course of satisfying the demands of the working class and of the revolutionary peasantry.” The nostrum brought out of Siberia proved quite simple: the bourgeoisie “must wholly submit” to the people and “pursue the course” of the workers and peasants. Several weeks later the formula of supporting the bourgeoisie “in so far as” was to become the butt of general ridicule among Bolsheviks. But already several of the delegates protested against supporting the government of Prince Lvov: the very idea ran too drastically counter to the whole tradition of Bolshevism. Next day the Social-Democrat Steklov, himself a supporter of the “in so far as” formula, and at the same time as a member of the “contact commission” close to the ruling spheres, was careless enough at the conference of the Soviets to draw such a dismal picture of the Provisional Government’s actual machinations—opposition to social reforms, efforts on behalf of the monarchy and annexations—that the conference of Bolsheviks recoiled in alarm from the formula of support. “It is now clear,” was the way the moderate delegate Nogin expressed the feeling of many others, “that it is not support we should be discussing but counter-action”. The Left Wing delegate Skrypnik expressed the same thought: “Much has changed since Stalin’s report of yesterday … The Provisional Government is plotting against the people and the revolution … yet the resolution speaks of support.” The crestfallen Stalin, whose appraisal of the situation could not stand the test of time even to the extent of twenty-four hours, moved “to instruct the committee to alter the clause about support.” But the conference went one better: “By a majority against four, the clause about support is stricken from the resolution.”
One might think that henceforth the reporter’s whole schema about the division of labor between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie would be cast into oblivion. Actually, only the phrase was stricken from the resolution, not the thought. The dread of “frightening away the bourgeoisie” remained. In substance the resolution was an appeal exhorting the Provisional Government to wage “the most energetic struggle for the total liquidation of the old regime” at the very time it was busy waging “the most energetic struggle” for the restoration of the monarchy. The conference did not venture beyond friendly pressure on the liberals. No mention was made of an independent struggle for the conquest of power—if only for the sake of democratic objectives. As if intent upon exposing in the most lurid light the true spirit behind the resolutions passed, Kamenev declared at the conference of Soviets, which was going on simultaneously, that on the issue of power he was “happy” to add the vote of the Bolsheviks to the official resolution which had been moved and sponsored by the Right Menshevik leader Dan. In the light of these facts, the split of 1903, made permanent by the Prague conference of 1913, must have seemed a mere misunderstanding.
Hence it was not by chance that at the next day’s session the Bolshevik conference was deliberating the proposal of the Right Menshevik leader Tseretelli to merge the two parties. Stalin reacted to this in the most sympathetic manner: “We ought to do it. It is necessary to define our proposals as to the terms of unification. Unification is possible along the line of Zimmerwald-Kienthal.” The reference was to the “line” of two socialist conferences in Switzerland at which moderate pacifists had been preponderant. Molotov, who two weeks earlier had been punished for his Leftism, came out with timid objections: “Tseretelli wants to unite divergent elements … Unity along that line is wrong …” “More resolute was Zalutsky’s protest: “Only a philistine can be motivated by the mere desire for unity, not a Social-Democrat … It is impossible to unite on the basis of superficial adherence to Zimmerwald-Kienthal … It is necessary to advance a definite platform.” But Stalin, who had been dubbed a philistine, stuck to his guns: “We ought not to run ahead and anticipate disagreements. Party life is impossible without disagreements. We will live down these trivial disagreements inside the Party.” It is hard to believe one’s eyes: Stalin declared differences with Tseretelli, the inspirer of the dominant Soviet bloc, to be petty disagreements that could be “lived down” inside the Party. The discussion took place on April first (Apr. 14, o.s.). Three days later Lenin was to declare war unto death against Tseretelli. Two months later Tseretelli was to disarm and arrest Bolsheviks.
The conference of March, 1917, is extraordinarily important for insight into the state of mind of the Bolshevik Party’s leading members immediately after the February Revolution—and particularly of Stalin as he was upon his return from Siberia after four years of brooding on his own. He emerges from the scanty chronicle of the protocols as a plebeian democrat and oafish provincial forced by the trend cf the times to assume the Marxist tinge. His articles and speeches of those weeks cast a faultlessly clear light on his position during the years of war: had he drawn the least bit toward Lenin’s ideas during his Siberian sojourn, as memoirs written twenty years after the fact avow, he could not have gotten as hopelessly stuck in the morass of opportunism as he did in March, 1917. Lenin’s absence and Kamenev’s influence made it possible for Stalin to show himself at the outbreak of the revolution for what he really was, revealing his most deeply rooted traits—distrust of the masses, utter lack of imagination, short-sightedness, a penchant for the line of least resistance. These characteristics continued to reassert themselves in later years whenever Stalin had occasion to play a leading role in important developments. That is why the March conference, at which Stalin revealed himself so utterly as a politician, is today expunged from Party history and its records are kept under lock and key. In 1923, three copies were secretly prepared for the members of the “triumvirate”—Stalin, Zinoviev, Kamenev. Only in 1926, when Zinoviev and Kamenev joined the opposition against Stalin, did I manage to procure from them this remarkable document, which enabled me to have it published abroad in Russian and English.
But after all, this record does not differ in any essential from his Pravda, articles and merely supplements them. Not a single declaration, proposal, protest in which Stalin more or less articulately counterposed the Bolshevik point of view to the policy of the petty bourgeois democrats has come down to us from those days. An eye-witness of those times, the Left Wing Menshevik Sukhanov —author of the already-mentioned manifesto, “To the Toilers of the World”— wrote in his invaluable “Notes On The Revolution”: “In addition to Kamenev, the Bolsheviks then had Stalin on the Executive Committee … During his nondescript tenure … [he] made—and not only on me—the impression of a gray spot which was occasionally dimly apparent and left no trace. There is really nothing more that can be said about him.” For that description, which was admittedly rather one-sided, Sukhanov later paid with his life.
On the third [ 16] of April, having traversed belligerent Germany, Lenin, Krupskaya, Zinoviev and others crossed the Finnish border and arrived in Petrograd … A group of Bolsheviks headed by Kamenev had gone to meet Lenin in Finland. Stalin was not one of them, and that little fact shows better than anything else that there was nothing even remotely resembling personal intimacy between him and Lenin. “The moment Vladimir Ilyich came in and sat down on the couch,” relates Raskolnikov, an officer of the Navy and subsequently a Soviet diplomat, “he opened up on Kamenev: ‘What have you people been writing in Pravda ? We saw several issues and were very angry with you …’ “ During his years of working with Lenin abroad Kamenev had grown quite used to such cold showers. They did not deter him from loving Lenin, even from worshiping him, all of him, his passion, his profundity, his simplicity, his witticisms, at which Kamenev laughed before they were uttered, and his handwriting, which he involuntarily imitated. Many years later somebody remembered that on the way Lenin had asked about Stalin. That natural question (Lenin undoubtedly inquired about all the members of the old Bolshevik staff) later served as the starting point for the plot of a Soviet motion picture.
An observant and conscientious reporter of the revolution wrote the following about Lenin’s first public appearance before the foregathered Bolsheviks: “I shall never forget that speech which, like thunder, shook and astonished not only me, a heretic who had accidentally wandered in, but even all the faithful. Decidedly, no one expected anything of the kind.”
It was not a question of oratorical thunder, with which Lenin was sparing, but of the whole trend of his thought. “We don’t want a parliamentary republic, we don’t want a bourgeois democracy, we don’t want any government except the Soviet of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Poor Peasants’ Deputies!” In the coalition of socialists with the liberal bourgeoisie—i.e., in the “popular front” of those days—Lenin saw nothing but treason to the people. He jeered fiercely at the fashionable phrase “revolutionary democracy,” which lumped into one workers and petty bourgeoisie, Populists, Mensheviks and Bolsheviks. The compromisist parties which ruled in the Soviets were not allies to him but irreconcilable enemies. “That alone,” remarks Sukhanov, “sufficed in those days to make the hearers’ heads spin!”
The Party was as unprepared for Lenin as it had been for the February Revolution. All the criteria, slogans, turns of speech accumulated during the five weeks of revolution were smashed to smithereens. “He resolutely attacked the tactics of the leading Party groups and individual comrades prior to his arrival,” wrote Raskolnikov, referring first and foremost to Stalin and Kamenev. “The most responsible Party workers were on hand. Yet even to them Ilyich’s speech was something utterly new.” There was no discussion. All were too stunned for that. No one wanted to expose himself to the blows of this desperate leader. In corners, they whispered among themselves that Ilyich had been too long abroad, that he had lost touch with Russia, that he did not understand the situation, and worse than that, that he had gone over to the position of Trotskyism. Stalin, yesterday’s reporter at the Party Conference, was silent. He realized that he had made a frightful mistake, far more serious than on that occasion at the Stockholm Congress when he had defended land division, or a year later, when for a while he was one of the boycottists. Decidedly, the best thing to do was to make himself scarce. No one cared to know Stalin’s opinion on the question anyway. Subsequently, no one could remember anything, for his memoirs, about what Stalin did during the next few weeks.
Meantime Lenin was far from idle: he surveyed the situation with his sharp eyes, tormented his friends with questions, sounded out the workers. The very next day he presented the Party with a short résumé of his views. These came to be the most important document of the revolution, famous as “The Theses of April Fourth”. Lenin was not only unafraid “to frighten away” liberals but even members of the Bolshevik Central Committee. He did not play hide and seek with the pretentious leaders of the Bolshevik Party. He laid bare the logic of class war. Casting aside the cowardly and futile formula, “in so far as,” he confronted the Party with the task of seizing the government. But first and foremost it was necessary to determine who was the enemy. The Black Hundred Monarchists cowering in their nooks and corners were of no consequence whatever. The staff of the bourgeois counter-revolution was made up of the central committee of the Kadet Party and the Provisional Government inspired by it. But the latter existed by grace of the Social-Revolutionists and the Mensheviks, who in their turn held power because of the gullibility of the masses. Under these conditions, application of revolutionary violence was out of the question. First of all the masses had to be won. Instead of uniting and fraternizing with the Populists and the Mensheviks, it was necessary to expose them before the workers, soldiers and peasants as agents of the bourgeoisie. “The real government is the Soviet of Workers’ Delegates … Our Party is a minority in the Soviet … That can’t be helped! It is up to us to explain—patiently, persistently, systematically—the erroneousness of their tactics. As long as we are a minority, our job is to criticize in order to undeceive the masses.” Everything in that program was simple and reliable and every nail was driven in firmly. These theses bore only one single signature: “Lenin”. Neither the Party Central Committee nor the editorial board of Pravda would countersign this explosive document.
On that very Fourth of April Lenin appeared before the same Party Conference at which Stalin had expounded his theory of peaceful division of labor between the Provisional Government and the Soviets. The contrast was too cruel. To soften it, Lenin, contrary to his custom, did not subject the resolutions that had been passed to analysis but merely turned his back on them. He raised the conference to a much higher plane. He forced it to see new perspectives—perspectives at which the makeshift leaders had not even guessed. “Why didn’t you seize power?” the new reporter demanded, and proceeded to recapitulate the current explanations: the revolution was presumably bourgeois; it was only in its initial stage; the war created unforeseen difficulties; and the like. “That’s all nonsense. The point is that the proletariat is not sufficiently conscious and not sufficiently organized. That should be admitted. The material force is in the hands of the proletariat, but the bourgeoisie is wide awake and ready.” Lenin shifted the issue from the sphere of pseudo-objectivism, where Stalin, Kamenev and others tried to hide from the tasks of the revolution, into the sphere of awareness and action. The proletariat failed to seize power in February, not because seizure of power was forbidden by sociology, but because their failure to seize power enabled the Compromisers to deceive the proletariat in the interests of the bourgeoisie—and that was all! “Even our Bolsheviks,” he continued, so far without mentioning any names, “display confidence in the government. That can be explained only by intoxication with the revolution. This is the end of socialism … If that’s the case, I cannot go along. I would rather remain in a minority.” It was not hard for Stalin and Kamenev to recognize the reference to themselves. The entire conference understood to whom the speech referred. The delegates had no doubt that Lenin was not joking when he threatened to break away. This was a far cry from the “in so far as” formula and from the generally homespun policy of the preceding days.
The axis of the war issue was no less resolutely shifted. Nicholas Romanov had been overthrown. The Provisional Government had half promised a republic. But did this change the nature of the war? France had long been a republic, and more than once. Yet its participation in the war remained imperialistic. The nature of war is determined by the nature of the ruling class. “When the masses declare that they do not want any conquests, I believe them. When Guchkov and Lvov say that they do not want any conquests—they are liars.” This simple criterion is profoundly scientific and at the same time understandable to every soldier in the trenches. Lenin then delivered a direct blow, calling the Pravda by its right name. “To demand from a government of the capitalists that it should repudiate annexation is nonsense, crying mockery …” These words struck directly at Stalin. “It is impossible to end this war without a peace of violence unless capitalism is overthrown.” Yet the Compromisers were supporting the capitalists, and Pravda was supporting the Compromisers. “The appeal of the Soviet—not a single word of it has a semblance of class consciousness. It is all phrasemongering.” The reference is to the very manifesto that had been welcomed by Stalin as the voice of internationalism. Pacifist phrases, while preserving the old alliances, the old treaties, the old aims, were meant only to deceive the masses. “What is unique for Russia is the incredibly rapid transition from uncontrollable violence to the most subtle deception.” Three days ago Stalin had declared his readiness to unite with Tseretelli’s party. “I hear,” said Lenin, “that there is a unification tendency afoot in Russia: unity with a Defensist is treason to Socialism. I think that it is better to remain alone, like Liebknecht, one against a hundred and ten!” It was no longer permissible even to bear the same name as the Mensheviks, the name of Social Democracy. “I propose for my part that we change the Party name, that we call ourselves the Communist Party.” Not a single one of the participants of the conference, not even Zinoviev, who had just arrived with Lenin, supported this proposal, which seemed a sacrilegious break with their own past.
Pravda, which continued to be edited by Kamenev and Stalin, declared that Lenin’s theses were his personal opinion, that the Central Committee Bureau did not share his opinion, and that Pravda itself pursued its old policy. That declaration was written by Kamenev. Stalin supported him in silence. He would have to be silent for a long time. Lenin’s ideas seemed to him the phantasmagoria of an émigré, yet he bided his time to see how the Party machine would react. “It must be openly acknowledged,” wrote subsequently the Bolshevik Angarsky, who had passed through the same evolution as the others, “that a great many of the Old Bolsheviks .. . maintained the Old Bolshevik opinions of 1905 on the question of the character of the Revolution of 1917 and that the repudiation of these views was not easily accomplished.” As a matter of fact, it was not a question of “a great many of the Old Bolsheviks” but of all of them without exception. At the March conference, at which the Party cadres of the entire country met, not a single voice was heard in favor of striving to win the power for the Soviets. All of them had to re-educate themselves. Out of the sixteen members of the Petrograd Committee, only two supported the theses, and even they did not do it at once. “Many of the comrades pointed out,” Tsikhon recalled, “that Lenin has lost contact with Russia, did not take into consideration present conditions, and so forth.” The provincial Bolshevik Lebedev tells how in the beginning the Bolsheviks condemned Lenin’s agitation, “which seemed Utopian and which was explained by his prolonged lack of contact with Russian life.” One of the inspirers of such judgments was undoubtedly Stalin, who always had looked down at the “émigrés”. Several years later Raskolnikov recalled that “the arrival of Vladimir Ilyich laid down a sharp Rubicon in the tactic of our Party. It must be acknowledged that prior to his arrival there was decidedly great chaos in the Party … The task of taking possession of the power of the State was conceived of as a remote ideal … It was considered sufficient to support the Provisional Government with one or another kind of qualification … The party had no leader of authority capable of welding it together into a unit and leading it.” In 1922 it could not have occurred to Raskolnikov to see Stalin as the “leader of authority.” Wrote the Ural worker Markov, whom the revolution had found at his lathe, “Our leaders were groping until the arrival of Vladimir Ilyich … Our Party’s position began to clarify with the appearance of his famous theses.” “Remember the reception given to Vladimir Ilyich’s April Theses,” Bukharin was saying soon after Lenin’s death, “when part of our own Party looked upon them as a virtual betrayal of accepted Marxist ideology.” This “part of our own Party” consisted of its entire leadership without a single exception. “With Lenin’s arrival in Russia in 1917,” wrote Molotov in 1924, “our Party began to feel firm ground under its feet .. . Until that moment it had merely felt its way weakly and uncertainly…. The Party lacked the clarity and resoluteness required by the revolutionary moment …” Earlier than the others, more precisely and more clearly, did Ludmilla Stahl define the change that had taken place: “Until Lenin’s arrival all the comrades wandered in darkness …” she said on April 4 , 1917, at the time of the sharpest moment of the Party crisis. “Seeing the independent creativeness of the people, we could not help taking it into consideration … Our comrades were content with mere preparations for the Constituent Assembly through parliamentary methods and did not even consider the possibility of proceeding further. By accepting Lenin’s slogans we shall be doing that which life itself urges us to do.”
The Party’s rearmament of April was a hard blow to Stalin’s prestige. He had come from Siberia with the authority of an Old Bolshevik, with the rank of a member of the Central Committee, with the support of Kamenev and Muranov. He too began with his own kind of “rearmament,” rejecting the policy of the local leaders as too radical and committing himself through a number of articles in Pravda, a report at the conference, and the resolution of the Krasnoyarsk Soviet. In the midst of this activity, which by its very nature was the work of a leader, Lenin appeared. He came into the conference like an inspector entering a classroom. After having heard several sentences, he turned his back on the teacher and with a wet sponge wiped off the blackboard all of his futile scrawls. The feelings of astonishment and protest among the delegates dissolved in the feeling of admiration. But Stalin had no admiration to offer. His was a sharp hurt, a sense of helplessness and green envy. He had been humiliated before the entire party far worse than at the closed Crakow conference after his unfortunate leadership of the Pravda . It was useless to fight against it. He, too, now beheld new horizons at which he had not even guessed the day before. All he could do was to grit his teeth and keep his peace. The memory of the revolution brought about by Lenin in April, 1917, was stamped forever on his consciousness. It rankled. He got hold of the records of the March Conference and tried to hide them from the Party and from history. But that in itself did not settle matters. Collections of the Pravda for 1917 remained in the libraries. Moreover, those issues of Pravda came out in a reprint edition —and Stalin’s articles spoke for themselves. During the first years of the Soviet régime innumerable reminiscences about the April crisis filled all the historical journals and the anniversary issues of newspapers. All this had to he gradually removed from circulation, counterfeited, and new material substituted. The very word, “rearmament” of the Party, used by me casually in 1922, became subject in time to increasingly ferocious attacks by Stalin and his satellite historians.
True, as late as 1924, Stalin still deemed it the better part of wisdom to admit, with all due indulgence for himself, the error of his ways at the outset of the revolution: “The Party …,” he wrote, “accepted the policy of pressure by the Soviets on the Provisional Government in the question of peace, and did not at once decide to take a forward step … toward the new slogan of power to the Soviets … That was a profoundly erroneous position, for it multiplied pacifist illusions, poured water into the mill of defensism and hampered the revolutionary education of the masses. I shared that erroneous position at that time with other comrades in the Party and repudiated it completely only in the middle of April, after subscribing to Lenin’s theses.” This public admission, necessary in order to protect his own rear in the struggle against Trotskyism, which was then beginning, proved too circumscribing two years later. In 1926 Stalin categorically denied the opportunist character of his policy in March, 1917—”This is not true, comrades, this is gossip!”—and admitted merely that he had “certain waverings … but who among us did not have momentary waverings?” Four years later, Yaroslaysky, who in his capacity as historian mentioned the fact that Stalin at the beginning of the revolution had assumed “an erroneous position,” was subjected to ferocious persecution from all sides. It was no longer permissible so much as to mention the “passing waverings”. The idol of prestige is a voracious monster! Finally, in the “history” of the Party edited by himself Stalin ascribes to himself Lenin’s position, reserving his own views as the portion of his enemies. “Kamenev and certain workers of the Moscow organization, as for example, Rykov, Bubnov, Nogin,” proclaims this remarkable history, “stood on the semi-Menshevik position of conditional support for the Provisional Government and the policy of the Defensists. Stalin, who had just returned from exile, Molotov and others, together with the majority of the Party, defended the policy of no confidence to the Provisional Government, came out against defensism,” and the like. Thus, by way of gradual change from fact to fiction, black was transformed into white. This method, which Kamenev called “doling out the lie,” runs through Stalin’s entire biography, finding its culminating expression, and at the same time its collapse, in the Moscow trials.
Analyzing the basic ideas of the two factions of the Social Democracy in 1909, I wrote: “The anti-revolutionary aspects of Menshevism are already apparent in all their force; the anti-revolutionary characteristics of Bolshevism are a threat of tremendous danger only in the event of a revolutionary victory.” In March, 1917, after the overthrow of Tsarism, the old cadres of the Party carried these anti-revolutionary characteristics of Bolshevism to their extreme expression: the very differentiation between Bolshevism and Menshevism appeared to have been lost. Imperative was a radical rearmament of the Party. Lenin, the only man big enough for the job, accomplished that in the course of April. Apparently, Stalin did not want to come out publicly against Lenin. But neither did he come out for him. Without much ado he shook clear from Kamenev, just as ten years before he had deserted the Boycottists and just as at the Cracow Conference he quietly abandoned the Conciliators to their fate. He was not in the habit of defending any idea that did not promise immediate success. The conference of the Petrograd organization was in session from the fourteenth to the twenty- second of April. Although Lenin’s influence already predominated, the debates were pretty sharp now and then. Among those who participated were Zinoviev, Tomsky, Molotov and other well known Bolsheviks. Stalin did not even show up. Obviously, he sought to be forgotten for a while.
The All-Russian Conference convened in Petrograd on April twenty-fourth. It was supposed to clear up any matters left over from the March conference. About 150 delegates represented 79,000 Party members, of whom 15,000 were in the capital. This was not at all a bad record for an anti-patriotic party that had emerged from the underground only yesterday. Lenin’s victory became clear from the very start, with the elections to the presidium of five members, for among those elected were neither Kamenev nor Stalin, the two men responsible for the opportunist policy in March. Kamenev had sufficient courage to demand the privilege of a minority report at the conference. “Recognizing that formally and factually the classic remnant of feudalism, the ownership of land by the landed gentry, has not yet been liquidated … it is too soon to assert that bourgeois democracy has exhausted all of its possibilities.” Such was the basic thought of Kamenev and of Rykov, Nogin, Dzerzhinsky, Angarsky and others. “The impetus for social revolution,” Rykov was saying, “should have come from the West.” The democratic revolution has not ended, the orators of the opposition insisted, supporting Kamenev. That was true. However, the mission of the Provisional Government was not to complete the revolution but to reverse its course. Hence it followed that the democratic revolution could be completed only under the rule of the working class. The debates were animated yet peaceful, since in all essentials the issue had been decided beforehand and Lenin did everything possible to make his opponents’ retreat easy.
During these debates Stalin came out with a brief statement against his ally of yesterday. In his minority report Kamenev had argued that since we were not calling for the immediate overthrow of the Provisional Government, we must demand control over it; otherwise the masses would not understand us. Lenin protested that the proletariat’s “control” of a bourgeois government, especially under revolutionary conditions, would either be fictitious or amount to no more than mere collaboration with it. Stalin decided this was a good time to register his disagreement with Kamenev. To provide some semblance of an explanation for the change in his own position, he took advantage of a note issued on the nineteenth of April by Minister of Foreign Affairs Miliukov. The latter’s extreme imperialist frankness literally drove the soldiers into the street and caused a government crisis. Lenin’s conception of the revolution was based on the interrelationship of classes, not on some isolated diplomatic note, which differed little from other acts of the government. But Stalin was not interested in general ideas. All he needed was some obvious pretext in order that he might make his shift with the least damage to his vanity. He was “doling out” his retreat. At first, as he put it, “it was the Soviet that outlined the program, while now it is the Provisional Government.” After Miliukov’s note “the government is advancing upon the Soviet, while the Soviet is retreating. After that to speak of control is to speak nonsense.” It sounded strained and false. But it turned the trick: Stalin managed thus to separate himself in time from the opposition, which got only seven votes when the ballots were cast.
In his report on the question of national minorities, Stalin did whatever he could to bridge the gap between his March report, which saw the source of national oppression solely in the landed aristocracy, and the new position, which the Party was now assimilating. “National oppression,” he said, unavoidedly arguing against himself, “is not only supported by the landed aristocracy but also by another force—the imperialistic groups, which apply the method of enslaving nations learned in the colonies to their own country as well …” Moreover, the big bourgeoisie is followed by “the petty bourgeoisie, part of the intellectuals and part of the labor aristocracy, who also enjoy the fruits of this robbery.” This was the very theme Lenin had so persistently harped upon during the war years. “Thus,” his report continued, “there is a whole chorus of social forces that supports national oppression”. In order to put an end to this oppression, it was necessary “to remove this chorus from the political scene”. By placing the imperialistic bourgeoisie in power, the February Revolution certainly did not lay the ground for the liberation of national minorities. Thus, for example, the Provisional Government resisted with all its might all efforts to broaden the autonomy of Finland. “Whose side should we take? It is clear that it must be the side of the Finnish people . ..” The Ukrainian Pyatakov and the Pole Dzerzhinsky came out against the program of national self-determination as Utopian and reactionary. “We should not advance the national question,” Dzerzhinsky was saying naively, “since that retards the moment of social revolution. I would therefore suggest that the question of Poland’s independence should be removed from the resolution.” “The social democracy,” Stalin replied, “in so far as it pursues a course directed toward a socialist revolution, should support the revolutionary movement of the nationalities against imperialism.” Here for the first time in his life Stalin said something about “a course directed toward a socialist revolution”. The sheet of the Julian calendar that day bore the date: April 29, 1917.
Having assumed the prerogatives of a congress, the Conference elected a new Central Committee, which consisted of Lenin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Milutin, Nogin, Sverdlov, Smilga, Stalin, Fedorov; and the alternates: Teodorovich, Bubnov, Glebov-Avilov and Pravdin. Of the 133 delegates, for some reason only 109 took part in the secret balloting with full vote; it is possible that part of them had already left town. Lenin got 104 votes (was Stalin perhaps one of the five delegates who refused to support Lenin?), Zinoviev 101, Stalin 97, Kamenev 95. For the first time Stalin was elected to the Central Committee in the normal party way. He was going on 38. Rykov, Zinoviev and Kamenev were about 23 or 24 when first elected by party congresses to the Bolshevik general staff.
At the Conference an attempt was made to leave Sverdlov out of the Central Committee. Lenin told about it after the latter’s death, treating it as his own glaring mistake. “Fortunately,” he added, “we were corrected from below”. Lenin could hardly have had any reason for opposing Sverdlov’s candidacy. He knew him only through correspondence as a tireless professional revolutionist. It is not unlikely that the opposition came from Stalin, who had not forgotten how Sverdlov had had to straighten things out after him in Petersburg and reorganize Pravda ; their joint life in Kureika had merely enhanced his enmity. Stalin never forgave anything. He apparently tried to take his revenge at the conference and in one way or another, we can only guess how, managed to win Lenin’s support. But his attempt did not succeed. If in 1912 Lenin met with the resistance of the delegates when he tried to get Stalin onto the Central Committee, he now met with no less resistance when he tried to keep Sverdlov off. Of the members of this Central Committee elected at the April Conference, only Sverdlov managed to die a natural death. All the others—with the exception of Stalin himself—as well as the four alternates, have either been officially shot or have been done away with unofficially.
Without Lenin, no one had known what to make of the unprecedented situation; all were slaves of old formulae. Yet clinging to the slogan of democratic dictatorship now meant, as Lenin put it, “actually going over to the petty bourgeoisie”. It may well be that Stalin’s advantage over the others was in his lack of compunction about going over and his readiness for rapprochement with the Compromisers and fusion with the Mensheviks. He was not in the least hampered by reverence for old formulae. Ideological fetishism was alien to him: thus, without the least remorse he repudiated the long-held theory of the counterrevolutionary role of the Russian bourgeoisie. As always, Stalin acted empirically, under the pressure of his natural opportunism, which has always driven him to seek the line of least resistance. But he had not been alone in his stand; in the course of the three weeks before Lenin’s arrival, he had been giving expression to the hidden convictions of very many of the “Old Bolsheviks”.
It should not be forgotten that the political machine of the Bolshevik Party was predominantly made up of the intelligentsia, which was petty bourgeois in its origin and conditions of life and Marxist in its ideas and in its relations with the proletariat. Workers who turned professional revolutionists joined this set with great eagerness and lost their identity in it. The peculiar social structure of the Party machine and its authority over the proletariat (neither of which is accidental but dictated by strict historical necessity) were more than once the cause of the Party’s vacillation and finally became the source of its degeneration. The Party rested on the Marxist doctrine, which expressed the historical interests of the proletariat as a whole; but the human beings of the Party machine assimilated only scattered portions of that doctrine according to their own comparatively limited experience. Quite often, as Lenin complained, they simply learned ready-made formulae by rote and shut their eyes to the change in conditions. In most cases they lacked independent daily contact with the laboring masses as well as a comprehensive understanding of the historical process. They thus left themselves exposed to the influence of alien classes. During the War, the higher-ups of the Party were largely affected by compromisist tendencies, which emanated from bourgeois circles, while the rank and file Bolshevik workingmen displayed far greater stability in resisting the patriotic hysteria that had swept the country.
In opening a broad field of action to democratic processes, the revolution was far more satisfying to “professional revolutionists” of all parties than to soldiers in the trenches, to peasants in villages and to workers in munition factories. The obscure underground men of yesterday suddenly became leading political figures. Instead of parliaments they had Soviets, and there they were free to argue and to rule. As far as they were concerned, the very class contradictions that had caused the revolution seemed to be melting away under the rays of the democratic sun. That was why almost everywhere in Russia Bolsheviks and Mensheviks joined hands. Even where they remained apart, as in Petrograd, the urge for unity was decidedly compelling in both organizations. At the same time, in the trenches, in the villages and in the factories, the chronic antagonisms assumed an ever more open and more intense character, foreboding civil war instead of unity. As often happens, a sharp cleavage developed between the classes in motion and the interests of the party machines. Even the Bolshevik Party cadres, who enjoyed the benefit of exceptional revolutionary training, were definitely inclined to disregard the masses and to identify their own special interests with the interests of the machine on the very day after the monarchy was overthrown. What, then, could be expected of these cadres when they became an all-powerful state bureaucracy? It is unlikely that Stalin gave this matter any thought. He was flesh of the flesh of the machine and the toughest of its bones.
But by what miracle did Lenin manage in a few short weeks to turn the Party’s course into a new channel? The answer should be sought simultaneously in two directions—Lenin’s personal attributes and the objective situation. Lenin was strong not only because he understood the laws of the class struggle but also because his ear was faultlessly attuned to the stirrings of the masses in motion. He represented not so much the Party machine as the vanguard of the proletariat. He was definitely convinced that thousands from among those workers who had borne the brunt of supporting the underground Party would now support him. The masses at the moment were more revolutionary than the Party, and the Party more revolutionary than its machine. As early as March the actual attitude of the workers and soldiers had in many cases become stormily apparent, and it was widely at variance with the instructions issued by all the parties, including the Bolshevik. Lenin’s authority was not absolute, but it was tremendous, for all of past experience was a confirmation of his prescience. On the other hand, the authority of the Party machine, like its conservatism, was only in the making at that time. Lenin exerted influence not so much as an individual but because he embodied the influence of the class on the Party and of the Party on its machine. Under such circumstances, whoever tried to resist soon lost his footing. Vacillators fell in line with those in front, the cautious joined the majority. Thus, with comparatively small losses, Lenin managed in time to orient the Party and to prepare it for the new revolution.
Every time that the Bolshevik leaders had to act without Lenin they fell into error, usually inclining to the Right. Then Lenin would appear like a deus ex machina and indicate the right road. Does it mean then that in the Bolshevik Party Lenin was everything and all the others nothing? Such a conclusion, which is rather widespread in democratic circles, is extremely biased d hence false. The same thing might be said about science. Mechanics without Newton and biology without Darwin seemed to amount to nothing for many years. This is both true and false. It took the work of thousands of rank and file scientists to gather the facts, to group them, to pose the problem and to prepare the ground for the comprehensive solutions of a Newton or a Darwin. That solution in turn affected the work of new thousands of rank and file investigators. Geniuses do not create science out of themselves; they merely accelerate the process of collective thinking. The Bolshevik Party had a leader of genius. That was no accident. A revolutionist of Lenin’s makeup and breadth could be the leader only of the most fearless party, capable of carrying its thoughts and actions to their logical conclusion. But genius in itself is the rarest of exceptions. A leader of genius orients himself faster, estimates the situation more thoroughly, sees further than others. It was unavoidable that a great gap should develop between the leader of genius and his closest collaborators. It may even be conceded that to a certain extent the very power of Lenin’s vision acted as a brake on the development of self-reliance among his collaborators. Nevertheless, that does not mean that Lenin was “everything” and that the Party without Lenin was nothing. Without the Party Lenin would have been as helpless as Newton and Darwin without collective scientific work. It is consequently not a question of the special sins of Bolshevism, conditioned presumably by centralization, discipline and the like, but a question of the problem of genius within the historical process. Writers who attempt to disparage Bolshevism on the grounds that the Bolshevik Party had the good luck to have a leader of genius merely confess their own mental vulgarity.
The Bolshevik leadership would have found the right line of action without Lenin, but slowly, at the price of friction and internal struggles. The class conflicts would have continued to condemn and reject the meaningless slogans of the Bolshevik Old Guard. Stalin, Kamenev and other second-raters had the alternative of giving consistent expression to the tendencies of the proletarian vanguard or simply deserting to the opposite side of the barricades. We must not forget that Shlyapnikov, Zalutsky, Molotov, tried to take a more Leftist course from the very beginning of the revolution.
However, that does not mean that the right path would have been found anyway. The factor of time plays a decisive role in politics—especially, in a revolution. The class struggle will hardly bide its time indefinitely until the political leaders discover the right thing to do. The leader of genius is important because, in shortening the learning period by means of object lessons, he enables the party to influence the development of events at the proper moment. Had Lenin failed to come at the beginning of April, no doubt the Party would have groped its way eventually to the course propounded in his “Theses”. But could anyone else have prepared the Party in time for the October denouement? That question cannot be answered categorically. One thing is certain: in this situation—which called for resolute confrontation of the sluggish Party machine with masses and ideas in motion—Stalin could not have acted with the necessary creative initiative and would have been a brake rather than a propeller. His power began only after it became possible to harness the masses with the aid of the machine.
It is hard to trace Stalin’s activities during the next two months. He was suddenly relegated to a third-rate position. Lenin himself was now directly in charge of the Pravda editorial board day in and day out—not merely by remote control, as before the War—and Pravda piped the tune for the whole Party. Zinoviev was lord and master in the field of agitation. Stalin still did not address any public meetings. Kamenev, half-hearted about the new policy, represented the Party in the Soviet Central Executive Committee and on the floor of the Soviet. Stalin practically disappeared from that scene and was hardly ever seen even at Smolny. Sverdlov assumed paramount leadership of the most outstanding organizational activity, assigning tasks to Party workers, dealing with the provincials, adjusting conflicts. In addition to his routine duties on the Pravda and his presence at sessions of the Central Committee, Stalin was given occasional assignments of an administrative, technical or diplomatic nature. They are far from numerous. Naturally lazy, Stalin can work under pressure only when his personal interests are directly involved. Otherwise, he prefers to suck his pipe and bide his time. For a while he felt acutely unwell. Everywhere he was superseded either by more important or more gifted men. His vanity was stung to the quick by the memory of March and April days. Violating his own integrity, he slowly reversed the trend of his thoughts. But in the final reckoning it was a half-hearted turn.
During the stormy “April days,” when the soldiers went out into the streets in protest against Miliukov’s imperialistic note, the Compromisers were busy as always with exhortations addressed to the government and soothing promises addressed to the masses. On the twenty-first the Central Executive Committee sent one of its Pastoral telegrams, under the signature of Chkheidze, to Kronstadt and to other garrisons, conceding that Miliukov’s militant note was undeserving of approval, but adding that “negotiations, not yet concluded, have begun between the Executive Committee and the Provisional Government” (by their very nature these negotiations could never come to an end). [It continued], “recognizing the harm of all scattered and unorganized public appearances, the Executive Committee asks you to restrain yourself,” and so forth.
From the official protocols we note, not without surprise, that the text of the telegram was composed by a commission that consisted of two Compromisers and one Bolshevik, and that this Bolshevik was Stalin. It is a minor episode (we find no important episodes pertaining to him throughout that period), but decidedly a typical one. The reassuring telegram was a classic little example of that “control” which was an indispensable element in the mechanics of dual power. The slightest Bolshevik contact with that policy of futility was denounced by Lenin with particular vehemence. If the public appearance of the Kronstadtites was not opportune, the commission should have told them so in the name of the Party, in its own words, and not taken upon itself responsibility for the “negotiations” between Chkheidze and Prince Lvov. The Compromisers placed Stalin on the commission because the Bolsheviks alone enjoyed any authority in Kronstadt. This was all the more reason for declining the appointment. But Stalin did not refuse it. Three days after the telegram of reassurance, he spoke at the Party conference in opposition to Kamenev, selecting none other than the controversy over Miliukov’s note as particularly cogent proof that “control” was senseless. Logical contradictions never disconcerted that empiricist.
At the conference of the Bolshevik military organizations in June, after the basic political speeches by Lenin and Zinoviev, Stalin reported on “the nationalist movement in the nationalist regiments.” In the active army, influenced by the awakening of the oppressed nationalities, there was a spontaneous regrouping of army units in accordance with nationality. Thus there sprang up Ukrainian, Mussulman, Polish regiments, and the like. The Provisional Government openly combated this “disorganization of the army,” while here, too, the Bolsheviks came out in defense of the oppressed nationalities. Stalin’s speech was not preserved. But it could hardly have added anything new.
The First All-Russian Congress of Soviets, which opened on the third of June, dragged on for almost three weeks. The score or two of Bolshevik delegates from the provinces, lost in the mass of Compromisers, constituted a group far from homogeneous and still subject to the moods of March. It was not easy to lead them. It was to this Congress that an interesting reference was made by a Populist already known to us, who had at one time observed Koba in a Baku prison. “I tried in every way to understand the role of Stalin and Sverdlov in the Bolshevik Party,” wrote Vereshchak in 1928. “While Kamenev, Zinoviev, Nogin and Krylenko sat at the table of the congress praesidium, and Lenin, Zinoviev and Kamenev were the main speakers, Sverdlov and Stalin silently directed the Bolshevik Fraction. They were the tactical force. It was then for the first time that I realized the full significance of the man.” Vereshchak was not mistaken. Stalin was very valuable behind the scenes in preparing the Fraction for balloting. He did not always resort to arguments of principle. However he did have the knack of convincing the average run of leaders, especially the provincials. But even on that job the pre-eminent place was Sverdlov’s, who was permanent chairman of the Bolshevik Fraction at the Congress.
Meantime, the Army was being treated to “moral” preparation for the offensive, which unnerved the masses at home as well as at the front. The Bolshevik Fraction resolutely protested against this military venture and predicted a catastrophe. The Congress majority supported Kerensky. The Bolsheviks decided to counter with a street demonstration, but while this was being considered differences of opinion arose. Volodarsky, mainstay of the Petrograd Committee, was not sure that the workers would come out into the streets. The representatives of the military organizations insisted that the soldiers would not come out without arms. Stalin thought it “a fact that there is ferment among the soldiers, while there is no such definite mood among the workers,” yet he nevertheless supposed that it was necessary to offer resistance to the Government. The demonstration was finally set for Sunday, June tenth. The Compromisers were alarmed and in the name of the Congress forbade the demonstration. The Bolsheviks submitted. But frightened by the bad impression of their own interdict against the masses, the Congress itself appointed a general demonstration for the eighteenth of June. The result was unexpected: all the factories and all the regiments came out with Bolshevik placards. An irreparable blow had been struck at the authority of the Congress. The workers and soldiers of the capital sensed their own power. Two weeks later they attempted to cash in on it. Thus developed the “July Days,” the most important borderline between the two revolutions.
On May fourth Stalin wrote in Pravda : “The Revolution is growing in breadth and depth … The provinces are marching at the head of the movement. Just as Petrograd marched in front during the first days of the Revolution, so now it is beginning to lag behind.” Exactly two months later the “July Days” proved that the provinces were lagging considerably behind Petrograd. What Stalin had in mind when he made his appraisal were the organizations, not the masses. “The Soviets of the capital,” Lenin observed as early as the April conference, “are politically more dependent upon the bourgeois central government than the provincial Soviets.” While the Central Executive Committee tried with all its might to concentrate the power in the hands of the government, the Soviets in the provinces, Menshevik and Essar in their composition, in many cases took over the local governments against their will and even attempted to regulate economic life. But the “backwardness” of the Soviet institutions in the capital was due to the fact that the Petrograd proletariat had advanced so far that the radicalism of its demands frightened the petty bourgeois democrats. When the July demonstration was under discussion, Stalin argued that the workers were not eager for the fray. That argument was disproved by the July Days themselves, when, defying the proscription of the Compromisers and even the warnings of the Bolshevik Party, the proletariat poured out into the street, shoulder to shoulder with the garrison. Both of Stalin’s mistakes are notably characteristic of him: he did not breathe the air of workers’ meetings, was not in contact with the masses and did not trust them. The information at his disposal came through the machine. Yet the masses were incomparably more revolutionary than the Party, which in its turn was more revolutionary than its committeemen. As on other occasions, Stalin expressed the conservative inclinations of the Party machine and not the dynamic force of the masses.
By the beginning of July Petrograd was already completely on the side of the Bolsheviks. Acquainting the new French Ambassador with the new situation in the capital, the journalist Claude Anet pointed across the Neva to the Vyborg district, where the largest factories were concentrated. “There Lenin and Trotsky reign as masters.” The regiments of the garrison were either Bolshevik or wavering in the direction of the Bolsheviks. “Should Lenin and Trotsky desire to seize Petrograd, who will deter them from it?” The characterization of the situation was correct. But it was not yet possible to seize power because, notwithstanding what Stalin had written in May, the provinces lagged considerably behind the capital.
On the second of July, at the All-City Conference of the Bolsheviks, where Stalin represented the Central Committee, two excited machine gunners appeared with the declaration that their regiments had decided to go out into the street immediately, fully armed. The conference went on record against this move. Stalin, in the name of the Central Committee, upheld this decision of the conference. Thirteen years later Pestkovsky, one of Stalin’s collaborators and a repentant oppositionist, recalled this conference. “There I first saw Stalin. The room in which the conference was taking place could not hold all those present: part of the public followed the course of the debates from the corridor through the open door. I was among that part of the public, and therefore, I did not hear the report very well … Stalin appeared in the name of the Central Committee. Since he spoke quietly, I did not make out much of what he said from the corridor. But there was one thing I noticed: each of Stalin’s sentences was sharp and crisp, his statements were distinguished by their clarity of formulation …”
The members of the conference parted and went to their regiments and factories in order to restrain the masses from a public demonstration. “About five o’clock,” Stalin reported after the event, “at the session of the Central Executive Committee I declared officially in the name of the Central Executive Committee at the conference that we decided not to come out.” Nevertheless, the demonstration developed by about six o’clock. “Did the Party have the right to wash its hands … and stand apart? … As the party of the proletariat we should have intervened in its public demonstration and given it a peaceful and organized character, without aiming at armed seizure of power.” Somewhat later Stalin told about the July Days at a Party congress: “The Party did not want the demonstration, the Party wanted to bide its time until the policy of the offensive at the front should be discredited. Nevertheless, the elemental demonstration, evoked by the chaos in the country, by the orders of Kerensky, by the dispatch of detachments to the front, took place.” The Central Committee decided to make the demonstration peaceful in character. “To the question posed by the soldiers whether it was permissible to go out armed, the Central Committee answered no. But the soldiers said that it was impossible to go out unarmed … that they would take their arms only for self-defense.”
At this point, however, we come across the enigmatic testimony of Dyemyan Byedny. In a very exultant tone, the poet laureate told in 1929 how in the quarters of the Pravda Stalin was called to the telephone from Kronstadt and how in reply to the question asked of him, whether to gó out with arms in hand or without arms, Stalin replied: “Rifles? … You comrades know best! … As for us scribblers we always take our arms, pencils, everywhere with us … As for you and your arms, you know best! …” The story was probably stylized. But one senses a grain of truth in it. In general, Stalin was inclined to underestimate the readiness of the workers and soldiers to fight: he was always mistrustful of the masses. But wherever a fight started, whether on a square in Tiflis, in the Baku prison, or on the streets of Petrograd, he always strove to make it as sharp in character as possible. The decision of the Central Committee? That could always be cautiously turned upside down with the parable about the pencils. However, one must not exaggerate the significance of that episode. The question probably came from the Kronstadt Committee of the Party. As for the sailors, they would have gone out with their arms anyway.
Without developing into an insurrection, the July Days broke through the framework of a mere demonstration. There were provocative shots from windows and rooftops. There were armed clashes without plan or clear purpose but with many killed and wounded. There was the accidental half-seizure of the Fortress of Peter and Paul by the Kronstadt sailors, there was the siege of the Tauride Palace. The Bolsheviks proved themselves complete masters in the capital, yet deliberately repudiated the insurrection as an adventure. “We could have seized power on the Third and Fourth of July,” Stalin said at the Petrograd Conference. “But against us would have risen the fronts, the provinces, the Soviets. Without support in the provinces, our government would have been without hands and feet.” Lacking a direct goal, the movement began to peter out. The workers returned to their factories, the soldiers to their barracks. There remained the problem of the Peter and Paul Fortress, still occupied by the Kronstadtites. “The Central Committee delegated me to the Peter and Paul Fortress,” Stalin has told, “where I managed to persuade the sailors present not to accept battle … As a representative of the Central Executive Committee I went with the [Menshevik] Bogdanov to [the Commanding Officer] Kozmin. He was ready for battle … We persuaded him not to resort to armed force … It was apparent to me that the Right Wing wanted blood in order to teach a ’lesson’ to the workers, soldiers and sailors. We made it impossible for them to attain their wish.” Stalin was able to carry out such a delicate mission successfully only because he was not an odious figure in the eyes of the Compromisers: their hatred was directed against other people. Besides, he was able, like no one else, to assume in these negotiations the tone of a sober and moderate Bolshevik who avoided excesses and was inclined to compromise. He surely did not mention his advice about “the pencils” to the sailors.
In the teeth of the obvious facts, the Compromisers proclaimed the July demonstration an armed uprising and accused the Bolsheviks of conspiracy. When the movement was already over, reactionary troops arrived from the front. In the press appeared news, based on the “documents” of the Minister of Justice Pereverzev, that Lenin and his collaborators were outright agents of the German General Staff. Then began days of calumny, persecution and rioting. The Pravda offices were demolished. The authorities issued an order for the arrest of Lenin, Zinoviev and others responsible for the “insurrection”. The bourgeois and Compromisist press ominously demanded that the guilty surrender themselves to the hands of justice. There were conferences in the Central Committee of the Bolsheviks: should Lenin appear before the authorities, in order to give open battle to the calumny, or should he hide? Would the matter go as far as a court trial? There was no lack of wavering, inevitable in the midst of such a sharp break in the situation.
THE YEAR 1917 211
The question of who “saved” Lenin in those days and who wanted to “ruin” him occupies no small place in Soviet literature. Dyemyan Byedny told some time ago how he rushed to Lenin by car and argued with him not to imitate Christ who “gave himself up into the hands of his enemies”. Bonch-Bruyevich, the former office manager of the Sovnarkom [People’s Council of Commissars], completely contradicted his friend by telling in the press how Dymyan Byedny passed the critical hours at his country place in Finland. The implication that the honor of having convinced Lenin “belonged to other comrades” clearly indicates that Bonch was obliged to annoy his close friend in order to give satisfaction to somebody more influential.
In her reminiscences Krupskaya states: “On the 7th I visited Ilyich at his quarters in the apartment of the Alliluyevs together with Maria Ilyinichna [Lenin’s sister]. This was just at the moment when Ilyich was wavering. He marshalled arguments in favor of the necessity to appear in court. Maria Ilyinichna argued against him hotly. ‘Gregory [Zinoviev] and I have decided to appear. Go and tell Kamenev about it,’ Ilyich told me. I made haste. ‘Let’s say good-bye,’ Vladimir Ilyich said to me, ’we may never see each other again.’ We embraced. I went to Kamenev and gave him Vladimir Ilyich’s message. In the evening Stalin and others persuaded Ilyich not to appear in court and thereby saved his life.”
These trying hours were described in greater detail by Ordzhonikidze. “The fierce hounding of our Party leaders began … Some of our comrades took the point of view that Lenin must not hide, that he must appear … So reasoned many prominent Bolsheviks. I met Stalin in the Tauride Palace. We went together to see Lenin …” The first thing that strikes the eye is the fact that during those hours when “a fierce hounding of our Party leaders” was going on, Ordzhonikidze and Stalin calmly meet at the Tauride Palace, headquarters of the enemy, and leave it unpunished. The same old argument was renewed at Alliluyev’s apartment: to surrender or to hide? Lenin supposed that there would be no open trial. More categorical than any other against surrender was Stalin: “The Junkers [military students, equivalent of West Pointers] won’t take you as far as prison, they’ll kill you on the way …” At that moment Stassova appeared and informed them of a new rumor—that Lenin was, according to the documents of the Police Department, a provocateur. “These words produced an incredibly strong impression on Lenin. A nervous shudder ran over his face, and he declared with the utmost determination that he must go to jail.” Ordzhonikidze and Nogin were sent to the Tauride Palace, to attempt to persuade the parties in power to guarantee “that Ilyich would not be lynched … by the Junkers.” But the frightened Mensheviks were seeking guarantees for themselves. Stalin in his turn reported at the Petrograd Conference: “I personally posed the question of making a declaration to Lieber and Anissimov [Mensheviks, members of the Soviet Central Executive Committee], and they replied to me that they could not give guarantees of any kind.” After this feeler in the camp of the enemy, it was decided that Lenin should leave Petrograd and hide securely underground. “Stalin undertook to organize Lenin’s departure.”
To what extent the opponents of Lenin’s surrender to the authorities were right was proved subsequently by the story of the officer commanding the troops, General Polovtsev. “The officer going to Terioki [Finland] in hopes of catching Lenin asked me if I wanted to receive that gentleman whole or in pieces … I replied with a smile that people under arrest very often try to escape.” For the organizers of judicial forgery it was not a question of “justice” but of seizing and killing Lenin, as was done two years later in Germany with Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. Stalin was more convinced than the others of the inevitability of a bloody reprisal; such a solution was quite in accord with his own cast of thought. Moreover, he was far from inclined to worry about what “public opinion” might say. Others, including Lenin and Zinoviev, wavered. Nogin and Lunarcharsky became opponents of surrender in the course of the day, after having been in favor of it. Stalin held out more tenaciously than others and was proved right.
Let us see now what the latest Soviet historiography has made of this dramatic episode. “The Mensheviks, the Essars and Trotsky, who subsequently became a Fascist bandit,” writes an official publication of 1938, “demanded Lenin’s voluntary appearance in court. Also in favor of it were those who have since been exposed as enemies of the people, the Fascist hirelings Kamenev and Rykov. Stalin fought them tooth and nail,” and so on. As a matter of fact, I personally took no part in those conferences, since during those hours I was myself obliged to go into hiding. On the tenth of July, I addressed myself in writing to the Government of the Mensheviks and Essars, declaring my complete solidarity with Lenin, Zinoviev and Kamenev, and on the twenty-second of July I was arrested. In a letter to the Petrograd Conference Lenin deemed it necessary to note particularly that “during the difficult July days (Trotsky) proved himself equal to the situation.” Stalin was not arrested and was not even formally indicted in this case for the very simple reason that he was politically non-existent as far as the authorities or public opinion were concerned. During the fierce persecution of Lenin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, myself and others, Stalin was hardly ever mentioned in the press, although he was an editor of Pravda and signed his articles. No one paid the slightest attention to these articles and no one was interested in their author.
Lenin hid at first in Alliluyev’s apartment, then moved to Sestroretsk, where he stayed with the worker Emelyanov, whom he trusted implicitly and to whom he refers respectfully without mentioning him by name in one of his articles. “At the time of Vladimir Ilyich’s departure for Sestroretsk—that was in the evening of July eleventh—Comrade Stalin and I,” relates Alliluyev, “escorted Ilyich to the Sestroretsk station. During his sojourn in the tent at Razliv, and later in Finland, Vladimir Ilyich sent notes to Stalin through me from time to time. The notes were brought to me at my apartment; and, since it was necessary to answer them immediately, Stalin moved in with me in the month of August and lived with me in the very room in which Vladimir Ilyich hid out during the July days.” Here he evidently met his future wife, Alliluyev’s daughter Nadezhda, who was a mere adolescent at the time. Another of the veteran Bolshevik workers, Rahia, a Russified Finn, told in print how Lenin instructed him on one occasion “to bring Stalin the next evening. I was supposed to find Stalin in the editorial offices of Pravda . They talked very long.” Along with Krupskaya, Stalin was during that period an important connecting link between the Central Committee and Lenin, who undoubtedly trusted him completely as a cautious conspirator. Besides, all the circumstances naturally pushed Stalin into that role: Zinoviev was in hiding, Kamenev and I were in jail, Sverdlov was in charge of all the organizational work. Stalin was freer than others and less in the eye of the police.
During the period of reaction after the July movement, Stalin’s role grew considerably more important. Pestkovsky wrote in his apologetic reminiscences about Stalin’s work during the summer of 1917: “The laboring masses of Petrograd knew Stalin very little then. Nor was he seeking popular acclaim. Having no talent as an orator, he avoided addressing mass meetings. But no Party conference, no serious organizational conclave got along without a political speech by Stalin. Because of that, the Party activists knew him well. When the question arose about Bolshevik candidates from Petrograd to the Constituent Assembly, the candidacy of Stalin was advanced to one of the foremost places upon the initiative of the Party activists.” Stalin’s name in the Petrograd list was in the sixth place … As late as 1930, in order to explain why Stalin did not enjoy popularity, it was still deemed necessary to point out that he lacked “the oratorical talent”. Now such an expression would be utterly impossible: Stalin has been proclaimed the idol of the Petrograd workers and a classic orator. But it is true that, although he did not appear before the masses, Stalin, alongside of Sverdlov, carried out in July and August extremely responsible work at headquarters, at conclaves and conferences, in contacts with the Petersburg Committee, and the like.
Concerning the leadership of the Party during that period, Lunarsharsky wrote in 1923: “… Until the July days Sverdlov was, so to speak, at the chief headquarters of the Bolsheviks, in charge of all that happened, together with Lenin, Zinoviev and Stalin. During the July days he advanced to the forefront.” That was true. In the midst of the cruel devastation which fell upon the Party that little dark man in eye-glasses behaved as if nothing untoward had happened. He continued to assign people to their tasks, encouraged those who needed encouragement, gave advice, and when necessary gave orders. He was the authentic “General Secretary” of the revolutionary year, although he did not bear that title. But he was the secretary of a party whose unchallenged political leader, Lenin, remained underground. From Finland Lenin sent articles, letters, drafts of resolutions, on all the basic questions of policy. Although the fact that he was at a distance led him not infrequently into tactical errors, it enabled him all the more surely to define the Party’s strategy. The daily leadership fell to Sverdlov and Stalin, as the most influential members of the Central Committee remaining at liberty. The mass movement had in the meantime weakened considerably. Half of the Party had gone underground. The preponderance of the machine had grown correspondingly. Inside of the machine, the role of Stalin grew automatically. That law operates unalterably through his entire political biography and forms, as it were, its mainspring.
It was the workers and soldiers of Petrograd who suffered the direct defeat in July. In the final reckoning, it was their impetuousness that was smashed to pieces against the relative backwardness of the provinces. The defeatist mood among the masses of the capital was therefore deeper than anywhere else. But it lasted only a few weeks. Open agitation was resumed in the middle of July, when at small meetings in various parts of the city three courageous revolutionists appeared: Slutsky, who was later killed by the White Guards in Crimea; Volodarsky, killed by the Essars in Petrograd; and Yevdokimov, killed by Stalin in 1936. After losing accidental fellow-travelers here and there, by the end of the month the Party again began to grow.
On the twenty-first and twenty-second of July an exceptionally important conference, which remained unnoticed by the authorities and by the press, was held in Petrograd. After the tragic failure of the adventurous offensive, delegates from the front began to arrive at the capital more and more often with protests against the suppression of liberties in the army and against continuation of the war. They were not admitted to the Central Executive Committee, because the Compromisers had nothing to tell them. The soldiers from the front got acquainted with one another in the corridors and reception rooms, and exchanged opinions on the grandees of the Central Executive Committee in vigorous soldierly words. The Bolsheviks, who had the knack of insinuating themselves everywhere, advised the bewildered and irate delegates to confer with the workers, soldiers and sailors of the capital. The conference that thus originated was attended by representatives of 29 front-line regiments, of 90 Petrograd factories, of Kronstadt sailors and of several surrounding garrisons. The front-line soldiers told about the senseless offensive, about the carnage, and about the collaboration between the Compromisist commissars and the reactionary officers, who were again getting cocky. Although most of the front-line soldiers continued to regard themselves as Essars, the sharply-worded Bolshevik resolution was passed unanimously. From Petrograd the delegates went back to the trenches as matchless agitators for a workers’ and peasants’ revolution. It would seem that the leading roles in the organization of this remarkable conference were played by Sverdlov and Stalin.
The Petrograd Conference, which had tried in vain to keep the masses from demonstrating, dragged on, after considerable interruption, until the night of the twentieth of July. The course of its activities sheds considerable light on Stalin’s role and his place in the Party. The organizational leadership on behalf of the Central Committee was borne by Sverdlov, who unpretentiously and without any false airs of modesty, left the sphere of theories and important questions of policy to others. The conference was mainly concerned with appraising the political situation as it developed after the havoc of July. Volodarsky, leading member of the Petrograd Committee, declared in the very beginning: “On the current moment only Zinoviev can be the reporter … It would be well to hear Lenin …” No one mentioned Stalin. The conference, cut short by the mass movement, was resumed only on the sixteenth of July. By that time Zinoviev and Lenin were in hiding, and the basic political report fell to Stalin, who appeared as a substitute for Zinoviev. “It is clear to me,” he said, “that at the given moment the counter-revolution has conquered us. We are isolated and betrayed by the Mensheviks and the Essars, lied about
The reporter’s chief point was the victory of the bourgeois counterrevolution. However, it was an unstable victory; as long as the war continued, as long as the economic collapse had not been overcome, as long as the peasants had not received their land, “there are bound to be crises, the masses will repeatedly come out into the streets, and more, there will be bolder battles. The revolution’s peaceful period is over …” Hence the slogan, “All power to the Soviets,” was no longer practical. The Compromisist Soviets had helped the militaristic bourgeois counter-revolution to crush the Bolsheviks and to disarm the workers and soldiers, and in that way they themselves had forfeited actual power. Only yesterday they could have removed the Provisional Government with a mere decree; within the Soviets the Bolsheviks could have secured power in simple by-elections. But now this was no longer possible. Aided by the Compromisers, the counter-revolution had armed itself. The Soviets themselves had become a mere camouflage for the counter-revolution. It would be silly to demand power for these Soviets! “It is not the institution, but what class policy an institution pursues that matters.” Peaceful conquest of power was out of the question now. There was nothing left to do but prepare for an armed uprising, which would become possible as soon as the humblest villagers, and with them the soldiers at the fronts, turned toward the workers. But this bold strategic perspective was followed by an extremely cautious tactical directive for the impending period. “Our task is to gather forces, to strengthen the existing organizations and to restrain the masses from premature demonstrations … That is the general tactical line of the Central Committee.”
Although quite elementary in form, this report contained a thoroughgoing appraisal of the situation that had developed within the last few days. The debates added comparatively little to what the reporter had said. In 1927 the editorial board of the protocols recorded: “The basic propositions of this report had been agreed upon jointly with Lenin and developed in accordance with Lenin’s article, ‘Three Crises,’ which had not yet had time to appear in print.” Moreover the delegates knew, most likely through Krupskaya, that Lenin had written special theses for the reporter. “The group of the conferees,” declares the protocol, “requested that Lenin’s theses be made public. Stalin stated that he did not have the theses with him …..The demand of the delegates is all-too understandable: the change in orientation was so radical that they wanted to hear the authentic voice of their leader. But Stalin’s reply is incomprehensible: had he simply left the theses at home, they could have been presented at the next session; however, the theses were never delivered. The impression thus created was that they had been hidden from the conference. Even more astonishing is the fact that the “July Theses,” quite unlike all the other documents written by Lenin in the underground, have not been published to this day. Since the only copy was in Stalin’s possession, we must presume that he lost them. However, he himself said nothing about having lost them. The editorial board of the protocols expresses the supposition that Lenin’s theses were composed by him in the spirit of his articles, “Three Crises” and “About Slogans,” written before the conference but published after it at Kronstadt, where there was still freedom of the press. As a matter of fact, a juxtaposition of texts shows that Stalin’s report was no more than a simple exposition of these two articles, without a single original word added by him. Evidently Stalin had not read the articles themselves and did not suspect their existence; but he used the theses, which were identical with the articles in the tenor of their thought, and that circumstance sufficiently explains why the reporter “forgot” to bring Lenin’s theses to the conference and why that document was never preserved. Stalin’s character makes that hypothesis not only admissible but unavoidable.
Inside the conference committee, where a fierce struggle was going on, Volodarsky, who refused to admit that the counter-revolution had won a decisive victory in July, gathered a majority. The resolution that had now emerged from the committee was no longer defended before the conference by Stalin but by Volodarsky. Stalin made no demand for a minority report and took no part in the debate. There was confusion among the delegates. Volodarsky’s resolution was finally supported by 28 delegates against 3, with 28 not voting. The group of Vyborg delegates excused their abstention from voting by the fact that “Lenin’s theses had not been made public and the resolution was not defended by the reporter.” The hint at the improper hiding of the theses was plain enough. Stalin said nothing. He had sustained a double defeat, since he had evoked dissatisfaction with his concealment of the theses and could not secure a majority for them.
As for Volodarsky, he continued to defend in substance the Bolshevik schema for the Revolution of 1905: first, the democratic dictatorship.; then the inevitable break with the peasantry; and, in the event of the victory of the proletariat in the West, the struggle for the socialist dictatorship. Stalin, supported by Molotov and several others, defended Lenin’s new conception: the dictatorship of the proletariat, resting on the poorest peasants, can alone assure a solution of the tasks of the democratic revolution and at the same time open the era of socialist transformations. Stalin was right as against Volodarsky,- but he did not know how to prove it. On the other hand, in refusing to recognize that the bourgeois counter-revolution had won a decisive victory, Volodarsky was proved right against both Lenin and Stalin. That debate was to come up again at the Party Congress several days later. The conference ended with passing an appeal written by Stalin, “To All the Toilers,” which read in part: “… The corrupt hirelings and cowardly calumniators dare openly to accuse the leaders of our Party of ‘treason’ … Never before have the names of our leaders been as dear and as close to the working class as now when the impudent bourgeois rabble is throwing mud at them!” Besides Lenin, the chief victims of persecution and calumny were Zinoviev, Kamenev and myself. These names were especially dear to Stalin “when the bourgeois rabble” threw mud at them.
The Petrograd Conference was in the nature of a rehearsal for the Party Congress that convened on the twenty-sixth of July. By that time nearly all the district Soviets of Petrograd were in the hands of the Bolsheviks. At the headquarters of the trade unions, as well as in factory and shop committees, the influence of the Bolsheviks had become dominant. The organizational preparation for the Congress was concentrated in Sverdlov’s hands. The political preparation was guided by Lenin from underground. In letters to the Central Committee and in the Bolshevik press, which began to come out again, he shed light on the political situation from various angles. He it was who wrote the drafts of all the basic resolutions for the Congress, carefully weighing all the arguments at clandestine meetings with the various reporters.
The Congress was called “Unifying,” because in it was to take place the fusion into the Party of the Petrograd Inter-district [Mezhrayonnaya ] organization, to which belonged Joffe, Uritsky, Ryazanov, Lunarcharsky, Pokrovsky, Manuilsky, Yurenev, Karakhan and I, as well as other revolutionists who in one way or another entered into the history of the Soviet Revolution, “During the years of the War,” states a footnote to Lenin’s Works, “the Inter-districters [Mezhrayontsy ] were close to the Bolshevik Petersburg Committee.” At the time of the Congress the organization numbered about 4,000 workers.
News of the Congress, which met semi-legally in two different working class districts, got into the newspapers. In government circles there was talk of breaking it up. But when it came to a showdown, Kerensky decided that it would be more sensible not to butt into the Vyborg District. As far as the general public was concerned, the people in charge of the Congress were unknown. Among the Bolsheviks at the Congress who subsequently became famous were Sverdlov, Bukharin, Stalin, Molotov, Voroshilov, Ordzhinikidze, Yurenev, Manuilsky … The praesidium consisted of Sverdlov, Olminsky, Lomov, Yurenev and Stalin. Even here, with the most prominent figures of Bolshevism absent, Stalin’s name is listed in the last place. The Congress resolved to send greetings to “Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Lunarcharsky, Kamenev, Kollontai and all the other arrested and persecuted comrades.” These were elected to the honorary praesidium. The 1938 edition records only Lenin’s election.
Sverdlov reported on the organizational work of the Central Committee. Since the April Conference the Party had grown from 8o,000 to 240,000 members, i.e., had tripled in size. The growth, under the blows of July, was a healthy one. Astonishing because of its insignificance was the total circulation of the entire Bolshevik press—a mere three hundred and twenty thousand copies for such a gigantic country! But the revolutionary set-up is electric: Bolshevik ideas made their way into the consciousness of millions.
Stalin repeated two of his reports—on the political activity of the Central Committee and on the state of the country. Referring to the municipal elections, at which the Bolsheviks won about twenty per cent of the vote in the capital, Stalin reported: “The Central Committee … did its utmost to fight not only the Kadets, the basic force of the counter-revolution, but likewise the Mensheviks and Essars, who willy-nilly followed the Kadets.” Much water had gone under the bridge since the days of the March Conference, when Stalin had considered the Mensheviks and the Essars as part of “the revolutionary democracy” and had relied on the Kadets to “fortify” the conquests of the Revolution.
Contrary to custom, questions of war, social patriotism, the collapse of the Second International and the groupings inside of world socialism, were excerpted from the political report and assigned to Bukharin, since Stalin could not make head or tail of international matters. Bukharin argued that the campaign for peace by way of “pressure” on the Provisional Government and the other governments of the Entente had suffered complete collapse and that only the overthrow of the Provisional Government could bring an early approach to a democratic liquidation of the war. Following Bukharin, Stalin made his report on the tasks of the Party. The debates were carried on jointly on both reports, although it soon became apparent that the two reporters were not in agreement.
”Some comrades have argued,” Stalin reported, “that, because capitalism is poorly developed in our country, it is utopian to pose the question of the socialist revolution. They would have been right, had there been no war, no collapse, had not the very foundations of national economy gone to pieces. But today these questions of intervention in the economic sphere are posed in all countries as imperative questions …” Moreover, “nowhere did the proletariat have such broad organizations as the Soviets … All this precludes the possibility that the laboring masses should refrain from intervening in economic life. Therein is the realistic foundation for posing the question of the socialist revolution in Russia.”
Amazing is the obvious incongruity of his main argument: if the weak development of capitalism makes the program of socialist revolution utopian, then the demolition of the productive forces through war should not bring the era of socialism any closer but on the contrary make it more remote than ever. As a matter of fact, the tendency to transform the democratic revolution into the socialist one is not grounded in the demolition of the productive forces through war, but in the social structure of Russian capitalism. That tendency could have been perceived—as indeed it was—before the war and independently of it. True, the war accelerated the revolutionary process in the masses to an immeasurably more rapid tempo, but it did not in the least change the social content of the revolution. However, it should be added that Stalin cribbed his argument from some isolated and undeveloped remarks of Lenin, whose purpose was to get the old cadres used to the need of rearming.
During the debates, Bukharin tried partly to defend the old Bolshevik schema: in the first revolution the Russian proletariat marches shoulder to shoulder with the peasantry, in the name of democracy; in the second revolution—shoulder to shoulder with the European proletariat, in the name of socialism. “What is the sense of Bukharin’s perspective?” Stalin retorted. “According to him, we are working for a peasant revolution during the first stage. But that cannot … fail to coincide with the workers’ revolution. It is impossible that the working class, which is the vanguard of revolution, should at the same time fail to fight for its own demands. Therefore, I consider Bukharin’s schema light-minded.” This was absolutely right. The peasant revolution could not win otherwise than by placing the proletariat in power. The proletariat could not assume power, without beginning the socialist revolution. Stalin employed against Bukharin the very same reflections which, expounded for the first time in the beginning of 1905, were branded “utopian” until April, 1917. But in a few years Stalin was to forget these arguments which he voiced at the Sixth Congress; instead, jointly with Bukharin he was to revive the “democratic dictatorship” formula, which would have an important place in the program of the Comintern and play a fatal role in the revolutionary movement of China and other countries.
The basic task of the Congress was to change the key-note from peaceful transition of power to the Soviets to preparedness for armed insurrection. To do that, it was first of all necessary to understand the shift in the correlation of forces that had taken place. Its general direction was obvious—from the people to the bourgeoisie. It was far more difficult to determine the extent of the change: only another open clash between the classes could measure the new correlation of forces. This test came toward the end of August with General Kornilov’s revolt, which made it immediately clear that the bourgeoisie continued to have no support either among the people or the army. The July shift was consequently superficial and episodic in character; nevertheless it was real enough. Henceforth, it was unthinkable to suggest peaceful transition of power to the Soviets. Formulating the new course, Lenin was above all concerned with making the Party face the changed correlation of forces as resolutely as possible. In a certain sense he resorted to deliberate exaggeration: it is more dangerous to underestimate the enemy’s forces than to overestimate them. But an overdrawn appraisal would have made the Congress balk, just as it had done at the Petrograd Conference—especially, because of Stalin’s oversimplified expression of Lenin’s ideas.
”The situation is clear,” Stalin was saying. “No one talks any more about dual authority. The Soviets, which were once a real force, are now merely powerless organs for rallying the masses.” Certain of the delegates were absolutely right in protesting that the triumph of the reaction in July was temporary, that the counter-revolution had not won and that dual authority had not yet been abolished to the advantage of the bourgeoisie. Stalin replied to these arguments as he had done at the Conference, with the stock phrase: “Reaction does not occur during revolution.” As a matter of fact, the orbit of every revolution is made up of exceptional curves of ascent and descent. Counter-jolts by the enemy, or resulting from the very backwardness of the masses themselves, which render the régime more acceptable to the needs of the counter-revolutionary class, bring forth reaction, without yet displacing those in power. But the victory of the counter-revolution is quite another matter: that is inconceivable without the passing of power into the hands of another class. No such decisive transition took place in July. To this very day, Soviet historians and commentators continue to copy Stalin’s formula from book to book, without asking themselves this question: if the power had passed into the hands of the bourgeoisie in July, why did the bourgeoisie have to resort to an uprising in August? Until the July events, under the régime of dual authority the Provisional Government was a mere phantom while real power reposed in the Soviet. After the July events, part of the real power passed from the Soviet to the bourgeoisie, but only a part: dual authority did not disappear. That was the very thing that subsequently determined the character of the October Revolution.
”Should the counter-revolutionaries manage to last a month or two,” Stalin said further, “it would be only because the principle of coalition has not been abolished. As the forces of the revolution develop, explosions will occur, and the moment will come when the workers will arouse and rally around themselves the strata of the poor peasantry, raise the banner of the workers’ revolution and start the era of socialist revolution in the West.” Let us note: the mission of the Russian proletariat is to start “the era of socialist revolution in the West.” That was the Party formula for the ensuing years. In all essentials Stalin’s report gives the correct appraisal of the situation and the correct prognosis—Lenin’s appraisal and prognosis. But, as usual, his report lacks elaboration of thought. The orator asserts and proclaims; he never proves or argues. His appraisals are made by rule of thumb or taken ready-made; they do not pass through the laboratory of analytic thinking and there is no indication of that organic connection between them which in itself generates the necessary arguments, analogies and illustrations. Stalin, as a polemicist, is given to reiterating propositions already expressed, at times in the form of aphorisms, which assume as already proved the very things that need proving. Often the arguments are spiced with churlishness, especially in the peroration, when there is no need to fear an opponent’s rebuttals.
In a 1938 publication concerning the Sixth Congress, we read: “Lenin, Stalin, Sverdlov, Dzerzhinsky and others were elected members of the Central Committee.” Only three dead men are named side by side with Stalin. Yet the protocols of the Congress inform us that 21 members and to alternates were elected to the Central Committee. In view of the Party’s semi-legality the names of persons elected by secret ballot were not announced at the Congress, with the exception of the four who had received the largest number of votes. Lenin –133 out of a possible 134, Zinoviev –132, Kamenev –131, Trotsky –131. Besides them the following were elected: Nogin, Kollontai, Stalin, Sverdlov, Rykov, Bubnov, Artem, Uritsky, Milutin, Berzin, Dzerzhinsky, Krestinsky, Muranov, Smilga, Sokolnikov, Sha’umyan. The names are arranged in the order of the number of votes received. The names of eight alternates have been definitely established: Lomov, Joffe, Stassova, Yakovleva, Dzhaparidze, Kisselev, Preobrazhensky, Skrypnik.
The Congress ended on the third of August. The next day Kamenev was liberated from prison. From then on he not only spoke regularly in Soviet institutions but exerted an unmistakable influence on the Party’s general policy and on Stalin personally. Although in varying degrees both of them had adapted themselves to the new line, it was not so easy for them to rid themselves of their own ’mental habits. Wherever possible, Kamenev rounded out the sharp angles of Lenin’s policy. Stalin did not object to that; he merely kept out of harm’s way. An open conflict flared up on the issue of the Socialist conference in Stockholm, the initiative for which had come from the German Social-Democrats. The Russian patriots and compromisers, inclined to grasp at any straw, saw in that conference an important means of “fighting for peace”. But Lenin, who had been accused of connections with the German General Staff, came out resolutely against participation in this enterprise, which was obviously sponsored by the German Government. At the session of the Central Executive Committee of August sixth Kamenev openly came out for participation in the conference. It did not even occur to Stalin to come to the defense of the Party position in the Proletarian (which was then Pravda ’s name). Instead, Stalin held back from publication Lenin’s sharp article against Kamenev, which appeared only after a delay of ten days and only because of its author’s persistent demands, reinforced by his appeal to other members of the Central Committee. Nevertheless, even then, Stalin did not come out openly in support of Kamenev.
Immediately after Kamenev’s liberation a rumor was launched in the press by the democratic Ministry of Justice to the effect that he had had some connections with the Tsarist secret police. Kamenev demanded an investigation. The Central Committee commissioned Stalin “to discuss with Gotz [one of the Essar leaders] a commission in the case of Kamenev.” He had been given similar assignments in the past: “to discuss with the Menshevik Bogdanov the case of the Kronstadtites, “to discuss” with the Menshevik Anissimov guarantees for Lenin. Remaining behind the scenes, Stalin was more suitable than others for all sorts of delicate assignments. Besides, the Central Committee was always sure that in discussions with opponents Stalin would not let anyone pull the wool over his eyes.
 Bukharin’s name is missing from this list—C. M.
”The reptilian_ hissing of the counter-revolution,” wrote Stalin on August thirteenth about the calumny against Kamenev, “is again becoming louder. The disgusting serpent of reaction thrusts its poisonous fang from round the corner. It will sting and slink back into its dark lair …” and so forth in the typical style of his Tiflis “chameleons”. But the article is interesting not only stylistically. “The infamous baiting, the bacchanal of lies and calumnies, the shameless deception, the low-grade forgery and falsification,” the author continued, “assume proportions hitherto unknown in history … At first they tried to smear the tested revolutionary fighters as German spies, and that having failed, they want to make them out Tsarist spies. Thus they are trying to brand those who have devoted their entire conscious life to the cause of the revolutionary struggle against the Tsarist regime as … Tsarist varlets … The political meaning of all this is self-evident: the masters of the counter-revolution are intent at all cost to render Kamenev harmless and to extirpate him as one of the recognized leaders of the revolutionary proletariat.” It is a pity that this article did not figure in Prosecutor Vyshinsky’s material during Kamenev’s trial in 1936.
On August 30, Stalin published without a word of reservation an unsigned article by Zinoviev, “What Not To Do,” which was obviously directed against preparations for the insurrection. “It is necessary to face the truth: in Petrograd there are now many circumstances favorable to the emergence of an insurrection typified by the Paris Commune of 1871.” Without mentioning Zinoviev, Lenin wrote on September third: “The reference to the Commune is very superficial and even foolish … The Commune could not at once offer to the people all that the Bolsheviks can offer them when they become the government: namely, land to the peasants, immediate peace proposals.” The blow at Zinoviev rebounded at the editor of the newspaper. But Stalin kept silent. Anonymously, he was ready to support any Right Wing polemic against Lenin. But he was careful not to involve himself in it. At the first sign of danger he stepped aside.
There is practically nothing to say about Stalin’s newspaper work during that period. He was the editor of the central organ, not because he was a writer by nature, but because he was not an orator and simply did not fit into any public activity. He did not write a single notable article; did not pose a single new question for discussion; did not introduce a single slogan into general circulation. His comments on events were impersonal, and strictly within the framework of current Party views. He was a Party functionary assigned to a newspaper, not a revolutionary publicist.
The revival of the mass movement and the return to activity of the Central Committee members who had been temporarily severed from it, naturally threw Stalin out of the position of prominence he held during the July congress. From then on, his activities were carried on in obscurity, unknown to the masses, unnoted by the enemy. In 1924 the Commission on Party History published a copious chronicle of the revolution in several volumes. The 422 pages of the fourth volume, dealing with August and September, record all the happenings, occurrences, brawls, resolutions, speeches, articles in any way deserving of notice. Sverdlov, then practically unknown, was mentioned three times in that volume; Kamenev, 46 times; I, who spent August and the beginning of September in prison, 31 times; Lenin, who was in the underground, 16 times; Zinoviev, who shared Lenin’s fate, 6 times; Stalin was not mentioned even once. Stalin’s name is not even in the index of approximately 50o proper names. In other words, throughout those two months the press did not take cognizance of anything he did or of a single speech he spoke and not one of the more or less prominent participants in the events of those days mentioned his name even once.
Fortunately, it is possible to trace Stalin’s role in the life of the Party, or rather of its headquarters staff, more or less closely through the protocols of the Central Committee for seven months (August, 1917 to February, 1918), which have been preserved but which, true enough, are incomplete. During the absence of the political leaders, Milutin, Smilga, Glebov, figures of little influence but better fit for public appearances than Stalin, were delegated to the various conferences and congresses. Stalin’s name seldom occurs in Party decisions. Uritsky, Sokolnikov and Stalin were delegated to organize a committee for elections to the Constituent Assembly. The same three were delegated to draft the resolution on the Stockholm Conference. Stalin was delegated to negotiate with a printshop about re-establishing the central organ. He was on still another committee for drafting a resolution, and the like. After the July congress Stalin’s motion to organize the work of the Central Committee on the principle of “strict allocation of functions” was passed. However, that motion was easier to write than to execute: the course of events was to continue for some time to confound functions and to upset decisions. On the second of September the Central Committee designated editorial boards for the weekly and monthly journals, in both of which Stalin participated. On the sixth of September—after my liberation from prison—Stalin and Ryazanov were replaced on the editorial board of the theoretical journal by Kamenev and me. But that decision, too, remained only in the protocol. As a matter of fact, both journals published only one issue each, and the actual editorial board was quite different from the one designated.
On the fifth of October the Central Committee appointed a committee to prepare a Draft Party Program for the forthcoming convention. That committee was made up of Lenin, Bukharin, myself, Kamenev, Sokolnikov and Kollontai. Stalin was not included in it, not because there was any opposition to his candidature, but simply because his name never occurred to anyone when it was a matter of drafting a theoretical Party document of prime importance. But the program committee never met—not even once. Quite different tasks were on the order of the day. The Party won the insurrection and came to power without having a finished program. Even in purely Party matters, events did not always dispose of people in correspondence with the foresight and plans of the Party hierarchy. The Central Committee designated editorial boards, committees, groups of three, of five, of seven, which, before they could meet, were upset by new events, and everybody forgot yesterday’s decision. Besides, for reasons of conspiracy, the protocols were securely hidden away, and no one ever referred to them.
Rather strange was Stalin’s comparatively frequent absence. He was absent six times from 24 sessions of the Central Committee for August, September and the first week of October. The list of participants for the other six sessions is not available. This lack of punctuality is all the more inexcusable in Stalin’s case, because he took no part in the work of the Soviet and its Central Executive Committee and never spoke at public meetings. He himself evidently did not attach the importance to his own participation in the sessions of the Central Committee which is ascribed to him nowadays. In a number of cases his absence was undoubtedly explained by hurt feelings and irritation: whenever he cannot carry his point he is inclined to sulk in hiding and dream of revenge. Noteworthy is the order in which the presence of Central Committee members at its sessions was recorded in the protocol: September 13th: Trotsky, Kamenev, Stalin, Sverdlov and others; September i 5th: Trotsky, Kamenev, Rykov, Nogin, Stalin, Sverdlov, and others; September 10th: Trotsky, Uritsky, Bubnov, Bukharin, and others (Stalin and Kamenev absent); September 21st: Trotsky, Kamenev, Stalin, Sokolnikov, and others; September 23rd: Trotsky, Kamenev, Zinoviev, and so forth (Stalin absent). The order of the names was not of course regulated and was sometimes violated. Yet it was not accidental, especially when we consider that in the preceding period, when Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoviev were absent, Stalin’s name was occasionally listed in first place. These are, of course, trifling matters. But there is nothing bigger to be found with reference to Stalin; besides, these trifles mirror impartially the Party’s life from day to day and Stalin’s place in it.
The greater the sweep of the movement, the smaller is Stalin’s place in it and the harder it is for him to stand out among the ordinary members of the Central Committee. In October, the decisive month of the decisive year, Stalin was less noticeable than ever. The truncated Central Committee, his only substantial base, was itself devoid of innate self-confidence during those months. Its decisions were too often nullified through outside initiative. On the whole, the Party machine never felt itself firmly grounded in the revolutionary turmoil. The broader and deeper the influence of Bolshevism’s slogans, the harder it was for the committeemen to grasp the movement. The more the Soviets fell under the influence of the Party, the less of a place did the machine find for itself. Such is one of the paradoxes of revolution.
Transferring to 1917 conditions that crystallized considerably later, when the waters of the floodtide had receded inside the banks, many historians, even quite conscientious ones, tell the story as if the Central Committee had directly guided the policy of the Petrograd Soviet, which became Bolshevik about the beginning of September. As a matter of fact, that was not the case. The protocols undoubtedly show that, with the exception of several plenary sessions in which Lenin, Zinoviev and I participated, the Central Committee did not play a political role. It did not assume the initiative in a single important issue. Many of the Central Committee decisions for that period remained hanging in the air, having clashed with the decisions of the Soviet. The most important resolutions of the Soviet were transformed into action before the Central Committee had the time to consider them. Only after the conquest of power, the end of the civil war, and the establishment of a stable regime, would the Central Committee little by little begin to concentrate the leadership of Soviet activity in its hands. Then would come Stalin’s turn.
On the eighth of August the Central Committee launched a vigorous campaign against the Government Conference convoked by Kerensky in Moscow, which was crudely manipulated in the interests of the bourgeoisie. The conference opened on the twelfth of August under the stress of the general strike of protest by the Moscow workers. Not admitted to the conference, the Bolsheviks found a more effective expression for their power. The bourgeoisie was frightened and furious. Having surrendered Riga to the Germans on the twenty- first, Commander-in-Chief Kornilov started his march on Petrograd on the twenty-fifth, intent on a personal dictatorship. Kerensky, who had been deceived in his calculations about Kornilov, declared the Commander-in-Chief “a traitor to the fatherland”. Even at that crucial moment, on the twenty-seventh of August, Stalin did not show up at the Soviet Central Executive Committee. Sokolnikov appeared there in the name of the Bolsheviks. He proclaimed the readiness of the Bolsheviks to come to terms about military measures with the organs of the Soviet majority. The Mensheviks and the Essars accepted the offer with thanks and with gritting of teeth, for the soldiers and workers were now following the Bolsheviks. The rapid and bloodless liquidation of the Kornilov mutiny completely restored the power the Soviets had partly lost in July. The Bolsheviks revived the slogan, “All Power to the Soviets!” In the press Lenin proposed a compromise to the Compromisers: let the Soviets take power and guarantee complete freedom of propaganda, and the Bolsheviks would take their stand entirely on the ground of Soviet legality. The Compromisers bellicosely rejected a compromise with the Bolsheviks. They continued to seek their allies on the Right.
The high-handed refusal of the Compromisers only strengthened the Bolsheviks. As in 1905, the preponderance which the first wave of revolution brought to the Mensheviks soon melted in the atmosphere of the sharpening class struggle. But unlike its tendency in the First Revolution, the growth of Bolshevism now corresponded to the rise rather than the decline of the mass movement. The same essential process assumed a different form in the villages: a Left Wing split off from the Essar Party, which was dominant among the peasantry, and tried to march in step with the Bolsheviks. The garrisons of the large cities were almost entirely with the workingmen. “Indeed, the Bolsheviks worked hard and tirelessly,” testified Sukhanov, a Left Wing Menshevik. “They were among the masses at the lathe, daily, constantly … The mass lived and breathed with the Bolsheviks. It was in the hands of the Party of Lenin and Trotsky.” It was in the hands of the Party, but not in the hands of the Party’s machine.
On the thirty-first of August the Petrograd Soviet for the first time passed a political resolution of the Bolsheviks. Trying hard not to yield, the Compromisers decided on a new test of strength. Nine days later the question was put point-blank in the Soviet. The old praesidium and the coalition policy received 414 votes with 519 opposed and 67 not voting. The Mensheviks and the Essars reaped the harvest of their policy of compromise with the bourgeoisie. The Soviets greeted the new coalition government they organized with a resolution which I, as its new president, introduced. “The new government .. . will enter the history of the revolution as the government of civil war … The All-Russian Congress of Soviets will organize a genuinely revolutionary government.” That was an outright declaration of war against the Compromisers who had rejected our “compromise”.
The so-called Democratic Conference, convoked by the Soviet Central Executive Committee, ostensibly to offset the Government Conference but actually to sanction the same old thoroughly rotten coalition, opened in Petrograd on the fourteenth of September. The Compromisers were getting frantic. A few days earlier Krupskaya had gone on a secret trip to Lenin in Finland. In a railroad coach full of soldiers the talk was not about coalition but about insurrection. “When I told Ilyich about this talk of the soldiers, his face became thoughtful; later, no matter what was under discussion, that thoughtfulness did not leave his face. It was clear that he was saying one thing and thinking of something else—the insurrection and how best to prepare for it.”
On the day the Democratic Conference opened—(the silliest of all the pseudo- parliaments of democracy)—Lenin wrote to the Party Central Committee his famous letters, “The Bolsheviks Must Take Power” and “Marxism and the Insurrection”. This time he demanded immediate action: the rousing of regiments and factories, the arrest of the government and the Democratic Conference, the seizure of power. Obviously the plan could not be carried out that very day; but it did direct the thinking and activity of the Central Committee into new channels. Kamenev insisted on a categorical rejection of Lenin’s proposal —as disastrous! Fearing that these letters might circulate through the Party as well as in the Central Committee, Kamenev gathered six votes in favor of destroying all copies except the one intended for the archives. Stalin proposed “to send the letters to the most important organizations and to suggest their discussion”. The latest commentary declares that the purpose of Stalin’s proposal was “to organize the influence of local Party Committees on the Central Committee and to urge it to carry out Lenin’s directives”. Had such been the case, Stalin would have come right out in defense of Lenin’s proposals and would have countered Kamenev’s resolution with—his own! But that was far from his thought. Most of the committeemen in the provinces were more Rightist than the Central Committee. To send them Lenin’s letters without the Central Committee’s endorsement was tantamount to expressing disapproval of them. Stalin’s proposal was made to gain time and in the event of a conflict to secure the possibility of pleading that the local Committees were balking. The Central Committee was paralyzed by vacillation. It was decided to defer the question of Lenin’s letters to the next session. Lenin was awaiting the answer in frenzied impatience. But Stalin did not even put in an appearance at the next session, which met no sooner than five days later, and the question of the letters was not even included in the order of the day. The hotter the atmosphere, the colder are Stalin’s maneuverings.
The Democratic Conference resolved to organize in agreement with the bourgeoisie some semblance of a representative institution, to which Kerensky promised to grant consultative rights. What should be the Bolshevik attitude toward this Council of the Republic or Pre-Parliament, became at once a crucial issue of tactics among the Bolsheviks: should they participate in it, or should they ignore it on their way to the insurrection? As reporter of the Central Committee at the forthcoming Party Fraction of the Democratic Conference, I proposed the idea of a boycott. The Central Committee, which divided almost in half on this debatable question (nine for the boycott and eight against), referred the question for decision to the Fraction. To expound the contradictory points of view “two reports were proposed: Trotsky’s and Rykov’s.” “As a matter of fact,” Stalin insisted in 1925, “there were four reporters: two for the boycott of the Pre-Parliament (Trotsky and Stalin) and two for participation (Kamenev and Nogin).” This is almost right: when the Fraction decided to terminate the debates, it decided to allow one more representative to speak for each side: Stalin on behalf of the boycottists and Kamenev (but not Nogin) for those favoring participation. Rykov and Kamenev received 77 votes; Stalin and 1-50. The defeat of the tactic of the boycott was delivered by the provincials, whose separation from the Mensheviks was quite recent in many parts of the country.
Superficially it might seem that the differences were of minor importance. As a matter of fact, the underlying issue was whether the Party was to prepare to play the part of the Opposition in a bourgeois republic or whether it was to set itself the task of taking power by storm. Stalin later recalled his role as a reporter because of the importance this episode had assumed in the official historiography. The obliging editor added of his own accord that I had come out for “a middle of the road position.” In subsequent editing my name has been entirely deleted. The new history proclaims: “Stalin came out resolutely against participation in the Pre-Parliament.” But in addition to the testimony of the protocols, there is also Lenin’s testimony. “We must boycott the Pre-Parliament,” he wrote on the twenty-third of September. “We must go … to the masses. We must give them a clear and correct slogan: kick out the Bonapartist Kerensky gang and his fake Pre-Parliament.” Then a footnote: “Trotsky was for the boycott. Bravo, Comrade Trotsky!” But, of course, the Kremlin has officially prescribed the elimination of all such sins from the new edition of Lenin’s Works.
On the seventh of October the Bolshevik Fraction demonstratively walked out of the Pre-Parliament. “We appeal to the people. All Power to the Soviets!” This was tantamount to calling for insurrection. That very day at the Central Committee session it was decreed to organize an Information Bureau on Fighting the Counter-Revolution. The deliberately foggy name covered a concrete task: reconnaissance and preparation of the insurrection. Sverdlov, Bubnov and I were delegated to organize that Bureau. In view of the laconic nature of the protocol and the absence of other documents, the author is compelled to resort to his own memory at this point. Stalin declined to participate in the Bureau, suggesting Bubnov, a man of little authority, in place of himself. His attitude was one of reserve, if not of skepticism, toward the idea itself. He was in favor of an insurrection. But he did not believe that the workers and soldiers were ready for action. He lived isolated not only from the masses, but even from their Soviet representation, and was content with the refracted impressions of the Party machine. So far as the masses were concerned, the July experiences had not passed without a trace. Actually blind pressure had disappeared; cautiousness had replaced it. On the other hand, confidence in the Bolsheviks was already colored with misgivings: will they be able to do what they promised? The Bolshevik agitators were complaining at times that they were being somewhat cold- shouldered by the masses. As a matter of fact, the masses were getting tired of waiting, of indecisiveness, of mere words. But in the machine this tiredness was frequently described as “absence of fighting mood”. Hence the tarnish of skepticism on many committeemen. Besides, even the bravest of men is bound to feel a little chill in the pit of the stomach just before an insurrection. This is not always acknowledged, but it is so. Stalin himself was in an equivocal frame of mind. He never forgot April, when his wisdom of a “practico” was so cruelly disgraced. On the other hand, Stalin trusted the machine far more than the masses. On all the most important occasions he insured himself by voting with Lenin. But he showed no initiative in support of the resolutions passed, refrained from directly tackling any decisive action, protected the bridges of retreat, influenced others as a dampener, and in the end missed the October Revolution because he was off on a tangent.
True, nothing came of the Bureau on Fighting the Counter-Revolution, but it was not the fault of the masses. On the ninth, Smolny got into a new sharp conflict with the Government, which had decreed the transfer of the revolutionary troops from the capital to the front. The garrison rallied more closely than ever around its protector, the Soviet. At once the preparation of the insurrection acquired a concrete basis. Yesterday’s initiator of the Bureau transferred all his attention to the creation of a military staff in the Soviet itself. The first step was taken that very day, on the ninth of October. “For counter-action against the attempts of the General Staff to lead the revolutionary troops out of Petrograd,” the Executive Committee decided to launch the Military Revolutionary Committee. Thus, by the logic of things, without any discussion in the Central Committee, almost unexpectedly, the insurrection was started in the Soviet arena and began to recruit its Soviet general staff, which was far more effective than the Bureau of the Seventh of October.
The next session of the Central Committee, with the participation of Lenin in a wig, took place on the tenth of October. It achieved historical significance. The crux of the discussion was Lenin’s motion, which proposed armed insurrection as the pressing practical task. The difficulty, even for the most convinced supporter of insurrection, was the question of time. As far back as the days of the Democratic Conference the compromisist Central Executive Committee, under the pressure of the Bolsheviks, had set the twentieth of October as the date for the Congress of the Soviets. Now there was complete assurance of a Bolshevik majority at that congress. At least in Petrograd, the insurrection had to take place before the twentieth; otherwise, the Congress would not be in position to seize the reins of government and would risk being dispersed. It was decided at the Central Committee session, without recording it on paper, to begin the insurrection in Petrograd about the fifteenth. There was, therefore, something like five days left for preparations. Everybody felt that this was not enough. But the Party was a prisoner of the date it had itself imposed upon the compromisers on a different occasion. My announcement that the Executive Committee had decided to organize a military staff of its own did not produce a great impression, because it was more a matter of plan than of fact. Everybody’s attention was concentrated on polemics with Zinoviev and Kamenev, who resolutely argued against the insurrection. It seems that Stalin either did not speak at all at this session, or limited himself to a brief remark; at any rate, in the protocols there is no trace of anything he might have said. The motion was passed by ten votes against two. But misgivings about the date remained with all who took part.
Toward the very end of that session, which lasted until way past midnight, on the rather fortuitous initiative of Dzerzhinsky, it was decreed “to organize for the political guidance of the insurrection a bureau consisting of Lenin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Trotsky, Stalin, Sokolnikov and Bubnov.” This important decision, however, led nowhere: Lenin and Zinoviev continued in hiding, Zinoviev and Kamenev became irreconcilably opposed to the decision of October tenth. “The Bureau for the Political Guidance of the Insurrection” did not meet even once. Only its name has been preserved in a pen and ink postscript to the desultory protocol written in pencil. Under the abbreviated name of “the seven” this phantom bureau entered into the official science of history.
The job of organizing the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Soviet went on apace. Of course, the lumbering machinery of Soviet democracy precluded any decided spurt. Yet very little time was left before the Congress. Not without reason did Lenin fear delay. At his request another session of the Central Committee was convoked on the sixteenth of October, with the most important Petrograd organizers present. Zinoviev and Kamenev persisted in their opposition. Formally their position had become stronger than ever:.six days had passed and the insurrection had not begun. Zinoviev demanded that the decision be postponed until the Congress of the Soviets met, in order “to confer” with the delegates from the provinces: deep in his heart he was hoping for their support. Passions ran high during the debate. For the first time Stalin took part in this discussion. “Expediency must decide the day of the insurrection,” he said, “That alone is the sense of the resolution … What Kamenev and Zinoviev propose leads objectively to opportunity for the counter-revolution to organize itself; if we continue to retreat without end, we shall lose the revolution. Why not ourselves name the day and the circumstances, so as not to give the counter-revolution an opportunity to organize itself?” He was defending the Party’s abstract right to choose its moment for the blow—when the problem was to set a definite date. Had the Bolshevik Congress of Soviets proved incapable of seizing the reins of government there and then, it would have merely compromised the slogan, “All Power to the Soviets!” by turning it into a hollow phrase. Zinoviev insisted: “We must tell ourselves frankly that we will not attempt an insurrection during the next five days.” Kamenev was driving at the same point. Stalin did not meet this issue directly; instead, he wound up with the startling words: “The Petrograd Soviet has already taken the road to insurrection by refusing to sanction the removal of the troops.” He was simply reiterating the formula, which had nothing to do with his own abstract speech, that had been recently advocated by the leaders of the Military Revolutionary Committee. But what was the meaning of “being already on the road to insurrection”? Was it a matter of days or of weeks? Stalin cautiously refrained from making that specific. He was not clear in his own mind about the situation.
The resolution of October tenth was indorsed by a majority of twenty votes to two, with three abstaining. However, nobody had answered the crucial question of whether the decision that the insurrection in Petrograd had to take place prior to the twentieth of October was still valid. It was hard to find that answer. Politically the resolve to have the insurrection before the Congress was absolutely right. But too little time was left for carrying it out. The session of October sixteenth never did manage to reconcile that contradiction. But at this point the compromisers came to the rescue: the very next day, for reasons of their own, they decided to postpone the opening of the Congress, which they hadn’t wanted anyway, to the twenty-fifth of October. The Bolsheviks received this unexpected postponement with an open protest but with secret gratitude. Five additional days completely solved the difficulties of the Military Revolutionary Committee.
The Central Committee protocol and the issues of Pravda for the last few weeks prior to the insurrection trace Stalin’s political career against the background of the insurrection fully enough. Just as before the war he had formally sided with Lenin while at the same time seeking the support of the conciliators against the émigré “crawling on the wall,” so now too he aligned himself with the official majority of the Central Committee while simultaneously supporting the Right opposition. As always, he acted cautiously; however, the sweep of events and the acuteness of the conflicts compelled him from time to time to venture farther than he would have liked.
On the eleventh of October, Zinoviev and Kamenev published in Maxim Gorky’s newspaper a letter against the insurrection. At once the situation among the leaders of the Party became exceedingly acute. Lenin stormed and fumed in the underground. In order to be free to spread his views about the insurrection, Kamenev resigned from the Central Committee. The question was discussed at the session of October twentieth. Sverdlov made public Lenin’s letter which castigated Zinoviev and Kamenev as strikebreakers and demanded their expulsion from the Party. The crisis was unexpectedly complicated by the fact that on that very morning Pravda published a declaration by the editorial board in defense of Zinoviev and Kamenev: “The sharpness of the tone of Comrade Lenin’s article does not alter the fact that in the main we continue to share his opinion.” The central organ deemed it proper to find fault with “the sharpness” of Lenin’s protest rather than with the public stand of two Central Committee members against the Party decision on the insurrection and moreover expressed its solidarity with Zinoviev and Kamenev “on fundamentals”. As if at that moment there was anything more fundamental than the question of the uprising! The Central Committee members rubbed their eyes with amazement.
Stalin’s only associate on the editorial board was Sokolnikov, the future Soviet diplomat and subsequently a victim of the “purge”. However, Sokolnikov declared that he had nothing whatever to do with writing the editorial rebuke of Lenin and considered it erroneous. Thus Stalin alone—in opposition to the Central Committee and his own editorial colleague—supported Kamenev and Zinoviev as late as four days before the insurrection. The Central Committee restrained its indignation only because it was apprehensive about extending the crisis.
Continuing to maneuver between the protagonists and opponents of insurrection, Stalin went on record against accepting Kamenev’s resignation, arguing that “our entire situation is inconsistent”. By five votes, against Stalin’s and two others, Kamenev’s resignation was accepted. By six votes, again against Stalin’s, a resolution was passed, forbidding Kamenev and Zinoviev to wage their fight against the Central Committee. The protocol states: “Stalin declared that he was leaving the editorial board.” In his case it meant abandoning the only post he was capable of filling in the circumstances of revolution. But the Central Committee refused to accept Stalin’s resignation, thus precluding the development of another rift.
Stalin’s behavior might seem inexplicable in the light of the legend that has been created around him; but as a matter of fact, it is quite in line with his inner make-up. Distrust of the masses and suspicious cautiousness force him, in moments of historical decisions to retreat into the shadows, bide his time and, if possible, insure himself coming and going. His defense of Zinoviev and Kamenev was certainly not motivated by sentimental considerations. In April Stalin had changed his official position but not his mental make-up. Although he voted with Lenin, he was far closer in his feelings to Kamenev. Moreover, dissatisfaction with his own role naturally inclined him to align himself with others who were dissatisfied, even if politically he was not in complete accord with them.
All of the last week preceding the insurrection Stalin maneuvered between Lenin, Sverdlov and me on the one hand, and Kamenev and Zinoviev, on the other. At the Central Committee session of October twenty-first he restored the recently upset balance by proposing that Lenin be appointed to prepare the theses for the forthcoming Congress of Soviets and that I be appointed to prepare the political report. Both of these motions passed unanimously. Had there been then any disagreements at all between me and the Central Committee—a canard invented several years later—would the Central Committee upon Stalin’s initiative have entrusted me with the most important report at the most crucial moment? Having thus insured himself on the Left, Stalin again retreated into the shadows and bided his time.
The biographer, no matter how willing, can have nothing to say about Stalin’s participation in the October Revolution. Nowhere does one find mention of his name—neither in documents nor the numerous memoirs. In order somehow to fill in this yawning gap, the official historiographer implies his participation in the insurrection by connecting the insurrection with some mysterious party “center” that had presumably prepared it. However, no one tells us anything about the activity of that “center,” the place and the time of its sessions, the means it employed in directing the insurrection. And no wonder: there never was any such “center”. But the story of this legend is noteworthy.
At the October sixteenth conference of the Central Committee with some of the leading Petrograd Party organizers it was decided to organize “a military revolutionary center” of five Central Committee members. “This center,” states the resolution hastily written by Lenin in a corner of the hall, “will become a part of the Revolutionary Soviet Committee”. Thus, in the direct sense of the decision, “the center” was not designed for independent leadership of the insurrection but to complement the Soviet staff. However, like many other improvisations of those feverish days this idea was fated never to be realized. During the very hours when, in my absence, the Central Committee was organizing a new “center” on a piece of paper, the Petrograd Soviet, under my chairmanship, definitely launched the Military Revolutionary Committee, which from the moment of its origin was in complete charge of all the preparations for the insurrection. Sverdlov, whose name appeared first (and not Stalin’s name, as is falsely recorded in recent Soviet publications) on the list of the “center” members, worked before and after the resolution of October sixteenth in close contact with the Chairman of the Military Revolutionary Committee. Three other members of the “center,” Uritsky, Dzerzhinsky and Bubnov, were drawn into work for the Military Revolutionary Committee, each of them individually, as late as October twenty-fourth, as if the resolution of October sixteenth had never been passed. As for Stalin, in line with his entire policy of behavior at that period, he stubbornly kept from joining either the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet or the Military Revolutionary Committee, and did not appear at any of its sessions. All of these circumstances are easily established on the basis of officially published protocols.
At the Central Committee session of October twentieth the “center” created four days before was supposed to make a report about its work or at least mention that it had begun working: only five days remained before the Congress of Soviets, and the insurrection was supposed to precede the opening of the Congress. Stalin was too busy for that. Defending Zinoviev and Kamenev, he submitted his resignation from the editorial board of Pravda at that very session. But not one of the other members of the “center” present at the session—Sverdlov, Dzerzhinsky, Uritsky—bothered to drop even a hint about it. The protocol record of the October sixteenth session had evidently been carefully put away, in order to hide all traces of Lenin’s “illegal” participation in it, and during the ensuing four dramatic days the “center” was all the easier forgotten because the very need of any such supplementary institution was absolutely excluded by the intense activity of the Military Revolutionary Committee.
At the very next session, on October twenty-first, with Stalin, Sverdlov and Dzerzhinsky present, there was again no report about the “center” and not even any mention of it. The Central Committee carried on as if there had never been any resolution whatever passed about a “center”. Incidentally, it was at this session that it was decided to put ten more prominent Bolsheviks, among them Stalin, onto the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet for the purpose of improving its activity. But that was just another resolution that remained on paper.
Preparations for the insurrection proceeded apace, but along an entirely different channel. The actual master of the capital’s garrison, the Military Revolutionary Committee, was seeking an excuse for openly breaking with the Government. That pretext was provided on October twenty-second by the officer commanding the troops of the district when he refused to let the Committee’s commissars control his staff. We had to strike while the iron was hot. The Bureau of the Military Revolutionary Committee, Sverdlov and I participating, decided to recognize the break with the garrison staff as an accomplished fact and to take the offensive. Stalin was not at this conference. It never occurred to anyone to call him. Whenever the burning of all bridges was at stake, no one mentioned the existence of the so-called “center”.
The Central Committee session that directly launched the insurrection was held at Smolny, now transformed into a fortress, on the morning of October twenty- fourth. At the very outset a motion of Kamenev’s was passed: “No member of the Central Committee may absent himself from Smolny today without special dispensation.” The report of the Military Revolutionary Committee was on the agenda. At that very moment when the insurrection began there was no mention of the so-called “center”. The protocol states: “Trotsky proposed that two members of the Central Committee be placed at the disposal of the Military Revolutionary Committee for maintaining contact with the post and telegraph operators and the railway men; a third member to keep an eye on the Provisional Government.” Dzerzhinsky was assigned to the post and telegraph operators, Bubnov to the railwaymen. Sverdlov was delegated to keep a watchful eye over the Provisional Government. Further: “Trotsky proposed the establishment of a reserve staff in the Peter and Paul Fortress and the assignment of one member of the Central Committee there for that purpose. Resolved: ‘Sverdlov delegated to maintain constant contact with the Fortress.’ “ Thus three members of the “center” were for the first time placed at the direct disposal of the Military Revolutionary Committee. Naturally, that would not have been necessary had the “center” existed and been occupied with preparing the insurrection. The protocol records that a fourth member of the “center,” Uritsky, made some practical suggestions. But where was the fifth member, Stalin?
 Kamenev had meantime been reinstated as a member of the Central Committee.—L. T.
Most amazing of all is the fact that Stalin was not even present at this decisive session. Central Committee members obligated themselves not to leave Smolny. But Stalin did not even show up in the first place. This is irrefutably attested to by the protocols published in 1929. Stalin never explained his absence, either orally or in writing. No one made any issue of it, probably in order not to provoke unnecessary trouble. All the most important decisions on conducting the insurrection were made without Stalin, without even the slightest indirect participation by him. When the parts were being assigned to the various actors in that drama, no one mentioned Stalin or proposed any sort of appointment for him. He simply dropped out of the game. Did he perhaps run his “center” from some secret hiding place? But all the other members of the “center” stayed continually at Smolny.
During the hours when the open insurrection had already begun Lenin, who was aflame with impatience in his isolation, appealed to the district leaders: “Comrades! I am writing these lines on the evening of the twenty-fourth … I assure you with all my strength that now everything hangs by a thread, that we are confronted with issues which cannot be decided by conferences or by congresses (not even by Soviet Congresses), but exclusively by the struggle of the armed masses …” It is perfectly clear from this letter that until the very evening of October twenty-fourth Lenin knew nothing about the launching of the offensive by the Military Revolutionary Committee. Contact with Lenin was chiefly maintained through Stalin, because he was one of those in whom the police showed not the slightest interest. Unavoidable is the inference that having failed to come to the Central Committee session in the morning and having stayed away from Smolny throughout the rest of the day, Stalin did not find out that the insurrection had already begun and was in full swing until rather late that evening. Not that he was a coward. There is no basis for accusing Stalin of cowardice. He was simply politically non-committal. The cautious schemer preferred to stay on the fence at the crucial moment. He was waiting to see how the insurrection turned out before committing himself to a position. In the event of failure he could tell Lenin, and me and our adherents: “It’s all your fault!” One must clearly recapture the red-hot temper of those days in order to appreciate according to its deserts the man’s cool grit or, if you like, his insidiousness.
No, Stalin did not lead the insurrection—either personally or by means of some “center”. In the protocols, reminiscences, countless documents, works of reference, history textbooks published while Lenin was alive, and even later, the so- called “center” was never mentioned and Stalin’s name either as its leader or as a prominent participant in the insurrection in some other capacity was not mentioned by anyone. The Party’s memory passed him by. It was only in 1924 that the Committee on Party History, in the course of collecting all sorts of data, dug up the minutes of the session of October sixteenth with the text of the resolution to organize a practical “center”. The fight against the Left Opposition and against me personally which was then raging called for a new version of Party history and the history of the Revolution. I remember that Serebryakov, who had friends and contacts everywhere, told me once that there was great rejoicing in Stalin’s secretariat over the discovery of the “center”.
”Of what significance could that possibly be?” I asked in astonishment. “They are going to wind something around that bobbin,” the shrewd Serebryakov replied.
Yet even then the matter of the “center” did not go beyond a repeat reprint of the protocol and vague references to it. The events of 1917 were still too fresh in everybody’s memory. The participants of the Revolution had not yet been liquidated. Dzerzhinsky and Bubnov, who were listed as members of the “center,” were still alive. Out of sheer factional fanaticism Dzerzhinsky was, of course, quite capable of agreeing to ascribe to Stalin achievements which the latter did not have to his credit; but he was not capable of ascribing such achievements to himself: that was beyond his power. Dzerzhinsky died in due time. One of the causes of Bubnov’s fall from grace and his liquidation was undoubtedly his refusal to bear false witness. No one else remembered anything about the “center’s” existence. The phantom of the protocol continued to lead its protocolish existence—sans bones or flesh, sans ears or eyes.
That did not preclude it from being turned into the nucleus of a new version of the October Revolution. In 1925 Stalin was already arguing, “It is strange that Comrade Trotsky, the ‘inspirer,’ ‘chief figure,’ and ‘sole leader’ of the insurrection was not a member of the practical center which was called upon to lead the insurrection. How is it possible to reconcile that with the current opinion about Comrade Trotsky’s special role?” The argument was patently illogical: according to the precise sense of the resolution, the “center” was to have become a part of the very same Military Revolutionary Committee of which I was Chairman. Stalin fully exposed his intention of “winding” a new history of the insurrection around that protocol. What he failed to explain was the source of “the current opinion about Trotsky’s special role”. Yet that might be worth considering.
The following is contained under my name in the notes to the first edition of Lenin’s Works: “After the Petersburg Soviet passed into the hands of the Bolsheviks [Trotsky] was elected its President and as such organized and led the insurrection of the 25th of October.” The “legend” thus found a place for itself in Lenin’s Works during their author’s lifetime. It never occurred to anyone to challenge it until 1925. Moreover, Stalin himself at one time paid his tribute to this “current opinion”. In the first anniversary article, in 1918, he wrote: “All the work of practical organization of the insurrection was conducted under the direct leadership of the President of the Petrograd Soviet, Comrade Trotsky. It may be said with certainty that the swift passing of the garrison to the side of the Soviet, and the bold execution of the work of the Military Revolutionary Committee, the Party owes principally and above all to Comrade Trotsky. Comrades Antonov and Podvoisky were Comrade Trotsky’s chief assistants.” Today these words sound like a panegyric. As a matter of fact, what the author had in the back of his mind was to remind the Party that during the days of the insurrection, in addition to Trotsky, there existed also the Central Committee, of which Stalin was a member. But forced to invest his article with at least a semblance of objectivity, Stalin could not have avoided saying in 1918 what he did say. Anyway, on the first anniversary of the Soviet Government he ascribed “the practical organization of the insurrection” to Trotsky. What then was the mysterious role of the “center”? Stalin did not even mention it; it was then still six years before the discovery of the protocol of October sixteenth.
In 1920, no longer mentioning Trotsky, Stalin advanced Lenin against the Central Committee as the author of the erroneous plan for insurrection. He repeated this in 1922, but substituted for Lenin, “one part of the comrades,” and cautiously intimated that he (Stalin) had something to do with saving the insurrection from the erroneous plan. Another two years passed, and it seems that Trotsky was the one who had maliciously invented the canard about Lenin’s erroneous plan; indeed, Trotsky himself proposed the erroneous plan, which was fortunately rejected by the Central Committee. Finally, the “History” of the Party, published in 1938, represented Trotsky as a rabid opponent of the October Revolution, which had really been conducted by Stalin. Parallel to all this occurred the mobilization of all the arts: poetry, painting, the theater, the cinema, suddenly discovered the urge to invest the mythical “center” with the breath of life, although the most assiduous historians were unable to find any trace of it with a magnifying glass. Today Stalin figures as the leader of the October Revolution on the screens of the world, not to mention the publications of the Comintern.
The facts of history were revised in the same way, although perhaps not quite so flagrantly, with regard to all the Old Bolsheviks, time and time again, depending on changing political combinations. In 1917 Stalin defended Zinoviev and Kamenev, in an attempt to use them against Lenin and me and in preparation for his future “triumvirate”. In 1924, when the “triumvirate” already controlled the political machine, Stalin argued in the press that the differences of opinion with Zinoviev and Kamenev prior to October were of a fleeting and secondary character. “The differences lasted only a few days because, and only because, in the person of Kamenev and Zinoviev we had Leninists, Bolsheviks.” After the “triumvirate” fell apart, Zinoviev’s and Kamenev’s behavior in 1917 figured for a number of years as the chief reason for denouncing them as “agents of the bourgeoisie,” until finally it was included in the fatal indictment which brought both of them to the firing squad.
One is forced to pause in sheer amazement before the cold, patient and at the same time cruel persistence directed toward one invariably personal goal. Just as at one time in Batum the youthful Koba had persistently undermined the members of the Tiflis Committee who were his superiors; just as in prison and in exile he had incited simpletons against his rivals, so now in Petrograd he tirelessly schemed with people and circumstances, in order to push aside, derogate, blacken, belittle anyone who in one way or another eclipsed him or interfered with his ambition.
Naturally the October Revolution, as the source of the new régime, has assumed the central position in the ideology of the new ruling circles. How did it all happen? Who led at the center and in the branches? Stalin had to have practically twenty years to impose upon the country a historical panorama, in which he replaced the actual organizers of the insurrection and ascribed to them roles as the Revolution’s betrayers. It would be incorrect to think that he started out with a finished plan of action for personal aggrandizement. Extraordinary historical circumstances invested his ambition with a sweep startling even to himself. In one way he remained invariably consistent: regardless of all other considerations, he used each concrete situation to entrench his own position at the expense of his comrades—step by step, stone by stone, patiently, without passion, but also without mercy! It is in the uninterrupted weaving of intrigues, in the cautious doling out of truth and falsehood, in the organic rhythm of his falsifications that Stalin is best reflected as a human personality and as the leader of the new privileged stratum, which, by and large, has to concoct fresh biographies for itself.
Having made a bad beginning in March, which was not improved in April, Stalin stayed behind the scenes throughout the year of the Revolution. He never knew direct association with the masses and never felt responsible for the fate of the Revolution. At certain moments he was chief of staff, never the commander-in-chief. Preferring to keep his peace, he waited for others to take the initiative, took note of their weaknesses and mistakes, and himself lagged behind developments. He had to have a certain stability of relations and a lot of time at his disposal in order to succeed. The Revolution deprived him of both.
Never forced to analyze the problems of revolution under that mental pressure which is generated only by the feeling of immediate responsibility, Stalin never acquired an intimate understanding of the October Revolution’s inherent logic. That is why his recollections of it are so empirical, scattered and incoordinate, his latter-day judgments on the strategy of the insurrection so contradictory, his mistakes in a number of latter-day revolutions (Germany, China, Spain) so monstrous. Truly, revolution is not the element of this former “professional revolutionist”.
Nevertheless, 1917 was a most important stage in the growth of the future dictator. He himself said later that at Tiflis he was a schoolboy, at Baku he turned an apprentice, in Petrograd he became a craftsman. After four years of political and intellectual hibernation in Siberia, where he descended to the level of the Left Mensheviks, the year of the Revolution, during which he was under the direct leadership of Lenin, in the circle of highly qualified comrades, had immeasurable significance in his political development. For the first time he had the opportunity to learn much that hitherto had been beyond the range of his experience. He listened and observed with malevolence, but sharply and vigilantly. At the core of political life was the problem of power. The Provisional Government, supported by the Mensheviks and the Populists, yesterday’s comrades of the underground, prison and exile, enabled him to look more closely into that mysterious laboratory where, as everybody knows, it is not gods that glaze the pots. The unspannable distance, which in the epoch of Tsarism separated the underground revolutionists from the government, shrank into nothing. The government became something close, a familiar concept. Koba threw off much of his provincialism, if not in habits and customs, at least in the measure of his political thinking. He sensed—keenly, resentfully—what he lacked as an individual, but at the same time he tested the power of a closely knit collection of gifted and experienced revolutionists ready to fight to the bitter end. He became a recognized member of the general staff of the party the masses were bearing to power. He stopped being Koba. He definitely became Stalin.
Last updated on: 7 September 2009