XXXIX. THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION (CONTINUED)
THE “July Days” and their aftermath reduced the Provisional Government to a shadow of authority; patently that government was a mere transition, a mere holdover while matters were being settled in the streets. In order to put down the July demonstration, the Executive Committee had been forced to call in the most reactionary troops, the officers of which were supporters of the monarchy and of the bourgeois Kadets. Repeatedly thereafter these officers reminded all and sundry of the fact that, in the days of peril, the Executive Committee of the Soviets, ie., the socialists and other so-called laborites, had called on them, the Cossacks and monarchists, for protection.
The “July Days” had been provoked by the fact that the Kadet ministers in the Provisional Government had tendered their resignations. The only ones remaining at the head of the government were those who were at the head of the soviets. Thus also it would seem that the Bolsheviks had won their point and that the ten capitalist ministers had actually been removed in favor of a completely socialist government. But no! The socialists were to use all their influence to insure that the soviets and the socialists would not take power. They begged the Kadets to return, and, finally, they turned over their resignations to Kerensky, who thereupon formed another coalition government. This time the main Kadet forces were to stay outside the government to prepare their counter-revolutionary blow while the socialists to be retained were to be of a second-rate character, chief leaders who had tendered their resignations, preferring instead to keep their places in the Executive Committee of the Soviets where they could better stop the Bolsheviks.
This action of the socialists must be carefully noted as it becomes a regular part of their technique all over the world in similar cases. So far, never have they taken the power outright, even where the masses are willing to give it to them, but assume office only under such conditions whereby they are in coalition with the capitalists or monarchist reactionaries. Were they to take the power themselves, they would have to bear the full responsibility for the continuation of war, of unemployment, of exploitation and misery; they would then become fully exposed, and their pseudo-Socialism would become laughable. Instead, they adopt another role. They must always be in a position where they can declare that they are still in the minority, that they are doing the best they can but the enemy prohibits their going farther, that they have no power to introduce socialism, etc. In the Russian Revolution under Kerensky they actually had the majority of the seats in the Provisional Government but, by filling it with second-rate characters, they hoped to give the impression that they were not responsible for the criminal actions of the Government of which they were a part.
Now that the masses had been defeated it was the turn of reaction to have its pleasant say. The Kerensky government and the socialists who had fought so diligently for the right of the monarchists to have freedom of speech and of press, now passed vicious legislation against the Bolsheviks, depriving them of their news organs, forcing them into semi-legality, and smashing their headquarters. The land committees of the peasants that were expropriating the landlord were attacked, corporal punishment was re-introduced into the army, and the soldiers’ committees were dealt with by an iron hand.
To put down the Bolsheviks and the masses, the socialists had concentrated all power in the hands of Kerensky and the Provisional Government to which had been subordinated even the Executive Committee of the Soviets. In return, Kerensky, on his part, was to contact actively the reactionary generals at the front for the complete smashing of the soviets. The elections for the Constituent Assembly which still had not been called, and which had been announced for September, were now farther postponed. The leaders of the revolutionary forces, such as Trotsky, Lunacharsky, Krylenko, and others, were arrested, while Lenin went into hiding, as he had done in Czarist days. Throughout the country numerous congresses and conferences were called by monarchist and reactionary bourgeois forces to consolidate their ranks and to put their drive behind that organizer of defeats at the front, General Kornilov, their champion to crush the revolution in the rear. The soldiers who participated in the July demonstration were sent to the front as punishment—there they were to become indefatigable organizers against Kerensky and the Mensheviks—and the workers were partially disarmed. Kornilov, called on to put down the masses, made it plain that not long would he continue to operate under the orders of the Provisional Government. Thus, the conciliators and compromising socialists, having refused to give power to the soviets, were threatened now with being driven out of the Government as well. “In the first Coalition, formed on May 6, the Socialists had been in the minority, but they were in fact masters of the situation. In the ministry of July 24, the Socialists were in a majority, but they were mere shadows of the Liberals.” (*1)
Although Petrograd was silenced momentarily, the revolutionary movement was to be heard in other quarters. In Moscow, despite the fact that the soviet itself forbade any demonstration on August 12, when the State was holding its most important national conference for a mobilization of its forces, there occurred under the call of the Bolsheviks a magnificent demonstration which paralyzed the entire city for the day. Four hundred thousand workers went on strike, forecasting the coming October events. However, this time the Bolsheviks, fearing a repetition of the “July Days,” refused to mobilize the workers in the streets. The masses, with marvelous discipline and solidarity, simply stayed away from work. Now it was clear that Petrograd was not isolated and that everywhere the decks were being cleared for decisive action. The Moscow general strike reverberated throughout the country and similar one-day strikes were organized in many cities. This was a master stroke of the Bolsheviks, one demonstrating their ever growing power.
It was now high time to take drastic action against the Bolsheviks and against the soviets as well. General Kornilov, as Chief of Staff, carefully prepared to attack Petrograd. In this he was supported by Kerensky who in turn had behind him the socialists. All was not smooth, however, between Kerensky and Kornilov. Kerensky wanted to set up a directorate to “save the country” which would leave the civil authorities in control and would later establish a parliament in favor of the bourgeoisie; Kornilov, in turn, after hanging the soviets, would be quite ready to hang Kerensky and reinstitute the monarchy, with or without constitutional limitations. Each faction of the conspiracy distrusted and double-crossed the other.
In preparation for his coup, Kornilov stationed four trustworthy divisions of cavalry outside of Petrograd and prepared his secret organizations to aid them from within. At the same time, an army of provocateurs was trying to stir up the people into some sort of demonstrations, so as to give an excuse for Kornilov to get into action. The Bolsheviks, on their part, were restraining the masses as much as possible, while preparing them for the inevitable civil war. Then Kerensky, at last discovering that his own head was in danger, wired Kornilov to turn over his command to his staff and come to Petrograd. Kornilov, forced into the open, on the twenty-eighth of August began the march against Petrograd. At the same time, the Right Wing ministers resigned from the government so as to demoralize the apparatus and free themselves from the responsibility of attacking Kornilov.
As the reactionary troops marched to destroy Petrograd there arose a new force, namely, the mass of workers. At a special joint session of the Executive Committees of both the workers-soldiers and the peasants’ soviets there had been created a “Committee of Struggle against the Counter-Revolution,” consisting of specially delegated representatives from the three soviet Parties, from both Executive Committees, from the trade union center, and from the Petrograd soviet. Under their pressure, the Kerensky government was compelled to end its wavering and prohibited from longer hindering the direct struggle with Kornilov.
The counter-revolutionary attempt of Kornilov was doomed to failure. With his program he could not rely upon a single detachment of the infantry, but solely upon the Cossacks and mountaineer cavalry troops. The General had no access to the muzhik, the peasant, just as he had none to the worker. Entirely removed from mass support, the Czarist officers were bound to make one blunder after another.
In Petrograd itself there was the greatest intensity of action, “Formally the liquidation of the conspiracy was in the hands of the government, and the Executive Committee co-operated. In reality, the struggle was carried on within totally different channels … the Committee of Defense, also called the Military Revolutionary Committee, was taking action on a vast scale .” (*2) This Committee was composed of the active workers in the soviets. At the moment of peril, the soviets were imbued with new life; the genuine revolutionists, especially the Bolsheviks, took the posts of danger and became the chief reliance in struggle. From now on everyone could see who actually best defended the revolution and who betrayed it.
“Under direct pressure from the Bolsheviks and the organization led by them, the Committee of Defense recognized the desirability of arming individual groups of workers for the defense of the workers’ quarters, the shops, and factories…. The unarmed workers formed companies for trench-digging, sheet-metal fortification, barbed-wire fencing… . The giant Putilov factory became the center of resistance in the Peterhoff district…. The railroad workers tore up and barricaded the tracks in order to hold back Kornilov’s army. War experiences came in handy. Measures were also taken to isolate the center of the conspiracy, Moghiliev, preventing movements both towards and away from headquarters. The postal and telegraph clerks began to hold up and send to the Committee telegrams and orders from headquarters or copies of them…. The printers’ union arranged in a few hours for the issue of Monday’s papers, so as to keep the population in touch with events, and at the same time availed themselves of the most effective of all possible means of controlling the press.” (*3)
The Kornilovists within Petrograd were wiped out wherever found. Officers of reaction were killed in the street. The Kronstadt sailors moved in. The regiments within Petrograd fell in line. The troops of Kornilov now began to find themselves entirely surrounded, their moves disjointed, their ranks penetrated with agitators who told them the truth about the situation. Around these agitators was a steel ring of revolutionists. The vaunted trusted companies of Kornalov began to disintegrate and to dissolve, The counter-revolution was over.
As a reward, the brave Kerensky kept Trotsky and the revolutionary Bolsheviks in jail, while, on the other hand, he actually sent a telegram restoring Kornilov as supreme general in command of all the armies at the front! Eventually, under the pressure of the masses, Kornilov was arrested only to be released by Kerensky at the critical moment when it became necessary to fire openly upon the Bolshevik revolution.
The August counter-revolution was an inevitable counterpart to the “July Days.” It had been relatively easy to put down the masses in July; would it not be just as easy to go a step farther and put an end to their pretensions in August? But the July demonstration had been put down under the pretense that the Bolsheviks were German agents working against both the soviets and the Provisional Government, that is, against the revolution. The Kornilovists did not realize that, although the government itself was a shell, the soviets and the Revolution were solid, and that when they marched to Petrograd not to defend the Revolution but to attack it, they would be shriveled and burnt to a cinder in the hot fires of the Revolution.
The August days were of incalculable importance. Their events cleared the atmosphere and proved invaluable as a rehearsal for the future. They exposed the government as the enemy of the people; they revealed the Bolsheviks as the best fighters; they demonstrated that no half-way measures could be effective. In order to win democracy the people would have to go beyond democracy, towards socialism. If power were not taken by the workers and the peasants, not even the Republic was safe. The Bolsheviks fought to defend Petrograd against Kornilov, not to preserve Kerensky, but to destroy in Kornilov the base of Kerensky. With the defeat of Kornilov, Kerensky stood alone, representing a mere stick of a government, ineffective even against his own removal.
Following the August days, the strength of the Bolsheviks grew by leaps and bounds. Prior to the July demonstration, the Bolsheviks had won the majority of the proletarians in the important factories of the country, as was witnessed by the elections of the shop committees, but, at the same time, the Mensheviks had gained a victory in the soviets and the Social-Revolutionaries in the municipal elections in the Zemstvos and Dumas. Now the Bolsheviks began overwhelmingly to predominate in all the factories and within the more important garrison regiments. They also made the deepest inroads into the soviets and actually became the majority in the key soviets of the land. In the Dumas and Zemstvos, the Bolsheviks rose to a considerable minority.
As the Bolsheviks began to win the majority within the soviets, the Mensheviks and other compromisers withdrew into the Executive Committee of the Soviets and there held out as their last resort. Thus the so-called democrats, the socialists, not only had postponed repeatedly the convocation of a genuine National Assembly, but they began also to postpone the calling of the regular Soviet Congress, which would, surely have removed them. Steadily representing less and less, these “democrats” who had relied upon their provincial majorities until these backward layers had caught up with the capital, now were plotting to retain the power without any elections whatever.
As a counter to the advance of the Bolsheviks in the soviets, the socialists announced the convocation of a “Pre-Parliament,” that is, a hand-selected assembly which was to advise the directorate of Kerensky and to take responsibility for his crimes until the regular Constituent Assembly should be convoked. This would enable the “democrats” further to postpone the regular National Assembly and, at the same time, would allow them to parcel out the voting powers of each group as they themselves saw fit. The Leninists, not without bitter struggle within their own ranks, however, decided to inaugurate a boycott against this hand-picked Pre-Parliament and to come out boldly for the preparation for the seizure of power by the soviets. These struggles were to lead to an actual split in the top ranks of the party on the eve of the insurrection of October 25, 1917.
Immediately following Lenin’s return, a deep change had manifested itself within the Bolshevik party as it orientated towards a Marxist and revolutionary position. Lenin himself had been very careful not to go beyond the needs of the given movement, but proceeded step by step to advance the tactics of the party according to the unfolding of the revolution. He had laid down at first a program, not for the seizure of power by the proletariat nor for socialism, but for the assumption of power by soviets in which the soldiers and peasants were by far superior in numbers to the workers, with demands urging the end of the imperialist war, confiscation of the land by the peasants, and workers’ control over production. Indeed, in many local centers, the workers’ soviets already had taken the ruling power into its hands, had disarmed the bourgeoisie, controlled production and distribution, and had seized the land through land committees.
At the All-Russian Conference of the Bolsheviks in the latter part of April, the first big fight had broken out between Lenin and the Right Wing, represented by Kamenev, Rykov, and others (including Stalin) on the question of moving the revolution forward. The Right Wing took as its refuge the principle which Lenin himself had advanced, namely, the need of a democratic-dictatorship of the workers and peasants. These people insisted that the dual power of Soviet and Provisional-Duma government mutually checking each other represented precisely this sort of a democratic-dictatorship. Were the revolution to go forward, this would mean the establishment of an out-and-out Dictatorship of the Proletariat, which would be adventurism. The Right Wing advocated instead a policy merely to control the Provisional Government, just as, previously, the same elements had wanted to make an alliance with the Mensheviks to drive the government to the Left. The Right Wing also tended to believe that, now that the revolution was raging in Russia, it was proper to continue the War against the German Kaiser, since this would be another form of defeating imperialist war by revolution. They simply desired the promise of the Provisional Government not to use for annexation of the conquered countries any victory it might win in war, but to fight for the freedom of all peoples.
Against this line, Lenin argued that had he proposed indeed the immediate establishment of a proletarian dictatorship and socialism, the argument of skipping stages might be a correct one, but that all he was proposing actually was that the soviets take power, not to introduce socialism, but to fulfill certain democratic needs of the people—confiscation of land, peace, bread, etc. These were the Jacobin demands of the petty bourgeoisie rather than the socialist demands of an advanced proletariat. What was more, the very regime established after February had been a sort of dual rule of workers and peasants, that is, of socialists and private property claims. The property elements were represented in the new Dumas, the new Zemstvos, and in the Provisional Government, where the Social-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks controlled. The proletariat was centered in the soviets. Russia had not in fact passed from Czarism to socialism, but had entered the intermediate stage of democratic-dictatorship which the Bolsheviks had predicted in 1905.
Lenin did not imply, however, that this particular stage must be maintained permanently. Nor did the advance toward the seizure of power by the soviets necessarily bring with it the end of the two-fold rule of workers and peasants. It simply meant that, with the dissolution of the Provisional Government and the Dumas, the peasantry would be divorced from the control of the bourgeoisie and would fall more under the control of the proletariat. It merely signified that the gains of the revolution could be secured and the danger of counter-revolution minimized. It still did not spell socialism.
As a matter of fact, Lenin never proposed that the Bolsheviks should issue the slogan: “Down with the Constituent Assembly,” that is, “Down with Parliament and Up with the Soviets.” On the contrary, it was the bourgeoisie that manifested deadly fear of a republican parliament. For that matter, not until after the days of August did even the Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionaries announce that they really wanted a Republic rather than a Constitutional Monarchy with democratic rights and social reforms. The capitalists in the Provisional Government were strongly against a democratic Republic. This being so, it was natural for the soviets to overthrow the Provisional Government with the demand for a Constituent Assembly on their lips. However, once having taken power, the soviets would see that there was no need for a constituent assembly or a parliament of the western bourgeois variety. Later, the Constituent Assembly forcibly would be dispersed by the soviets as being unnecessary.
Thus, the mere fact that the policy of the Bolsheviks advocated the overthrow of the Provisional Government did not imply that they would abandon the slogan of “Constituent Assembly” as they advocated “All Power to the Soviets.” In the latter slogan, all the Bolsheviks did was to say: Let the people take the power themselves and thus put an end to the little bourgeois clique’s playing in the name of the revolution. “All Power to the Soviets” could be considered a slogan that would throw against the Provisional Government all the mass organizations established for the protection of the revolution. It did not follow necessarily that the soviets were to become the organs of State and government. It was left for the masses themselves to realize this point as the revolution advanced, although, of course, the whole policy of the Bolsheviks was to guide events in that direction.
In short, the advocacy of soviet power was not in order to establish a dictatorship but rather in order to retain the democracy, to maintain the gains of the revolution, to prevent the Germans from conquering the country, etc. When, in the April Days, the Petrograd Committee of the Bolsheviks tried to raise the slogan, “Down with the Provisional Government,” they were sternly rebuked. Instead the demand was issued, “Down with Miliukov and the Right Kadets,” just as later, in July, the demonstration call was “Down with the Ten Capitalist Ministers.”
Soon after his arrival, Lenin had made the point that the Provisional Government could not as yet be called a counter-revolutionary regime. It certainly was not counter-revolutionary from the point of view of the bourgeoisie, and it was premature to call it so from the standpoint of the proletarian and peasant revolution, since no one was sure whether the combined workers and peasants could go farther. That had to be shown step by step through the test of events and the support of the masses for the advanced slogans of the Bolsheviks. It was Lenin who had insisted that the motto must be: “caution, caution, caution.” (*4)
It is well to stress the fact that, as far as possible, the Bolsheviks kept carefully within the framework of the legitimate and the traditional. They had not formed the soviets, but simply had utilized them as superior forms of struggle. They did not call for a Dictatorship of the Proletariat, but only for an end to the intolerable dual power then extant in favor of a broader democracy. In each case, as they advanced against the Provisional Government, it was defensively in order to protect the gains the masses had already won. This was so when the government ordered a new war offensive, when Kerensky tried to move the revolutionary regiments out of Petrograd, and in similar cases. Indeed, Lenin, at one time after the July demonstration, when the Kadets had quit the government, had proposed that the socialists take over the Provisional Government and simply assure free speech and press, in which case the Bolsheviks would guarantee to employ entirely peaceful methods. The fact is, the socialists would not take over the power, even within the framework of the bourgeois provisional regime, just as they refused to give the soviets the power, but insisted that control be in the hands of the capitalists and the landlords.
During the Kornilov insurrection, the matter of support to the Provisional Government again became important to the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks decided to fight Kornilov, but not to support Kerensky. “In what, then, does our change of tactics following on the Kornilov rising consist? In this: that we modify the form of our struggle against Kerensky. Without diminishing the least bit in the world our hostility … without renouncing our intention to beat him, we declare that consideration must be given to the circumstances of the moment, that we shall not concern ourselves at the present with overthrowing Kerensky, that we shall now conduct the struggle against him in another way by emphasizing to the people (and it is the people who are engaged in fighting Kornilov) the weakness and vacillations of Kerensky.” (*5)
The Kornilov attempt at counter-revolution had brought the question of Kerensky’s conspiracy with Kornilov and the vicious nature of the self-appointed Provisional Government sharply to the fore. It made all the more necessary now the seizure of power by the soviets. Even at this stage, the Bolsheviks offered a compromise to the socialists, that the socialists take over the government and give full power to the soviets. Again the Bolsheviks promised that, should the soviets take power, even though under the leadership of the Mensheviks, the Bolsheviks would not plan insurrection, but would try to win the people to their cause peacefully and legally. For revolutionists, this, indeed, was a compromise, since such a government would remain one supporting capitalism, on the whole. Yet, as Lenin pointed out “… it is stupid to condemn oneself never ‘to accept payment of a debt by installments.’ But the duty of a truly revolutionary party is not to proclaim an impossible renunciation of every sort of compromise, but to know throughout all compromises, in so far as such are inevitable, how to remain faithful to its principles, to its class, to its revolutionary goal… .” (*6)
When, however, the socialists refused any such compromise, the Bolsheviks, faced with the necessity of the seizure of power by the proletariat, actually began to consider whether, since the soviets still were dominated by the Right Wing, the revolution could not be organized outside of the soviets. After all, soviets were only one of a number of forms of struggle. There were the trade unions, the shop committees, and other bodies far closer to the proletariat. The soviets had this great value, that they were bodies that were the traditional symbol of the revolution and that embraced far wider strata of the people than the trade unions or factory groups.
The question was really whether the proletariat, by its bold action in solving the problems of the day, would not win the peasantry and middle elements to its side, even though the regular organs of these elements were opposed to the further development of the revolution. Precedent existed wherein the proletariat had carried on even against the soviets for example, when the soviets had opposed the prolongation of the strike movement for the eight-hour day and no one had paid much attention to this decision. Again, when the soviet had banned the general strike in Moscow after the “July Days,” the strike had occurred just the same, with tremendous success. All this really meant that the proletariat as such would yield to no one when it came to specific actions affecting it and it alone. It was an entirely different question, however, whether the shop committees could win enough support for a revolution against the Provisional Government in opposition to the soviets themselves. It would be exceedingly hard to use the slogan, “All Power to the Soviets,” when that very body declared the slogan premature and dangerous. The revolution would then have to take a somewhat different tack and, in doing so, undoubtedly would alienate large groups of soldiers, thus resulting in a parlous situation, especially for the workers in a country as predominantly agrarian as Russia.
Fortunately, the question whether to push the revolution forward outside the soviets was soon solved by the tremendous development toward the Left within the soviets themselves, in favor of the Bolsheviks. From then on, as the Bolsheviks began to win majorities in Petrograd, Moscow, and other key centers, and would sooner or later win the majority in the soviets in every important city, the revolutionists could return safely to their slogan: “All Power to the Soviets.” But this time the slogan had an entirely different content, since power to the Soviets under the Bolshevik policy meant an enormously different thing than under the Mensheviks, who disbelieved in the rule of the workers. Now the traditional slogan meant an actual new revolution, the smashing of the old bourgeois power, and the development of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.
When the Pre-Parliament question was debated before the Bolsheviks, the issues became drawn even more sharply than before between Lenin and Trotsky, on the one hand, and the Right Wing of Kamenev, Rykov, Riazanov, and others. Using the same argument that power to the Soviets and boycott of the Pre-Parliament meant insurrection and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, the Right Wing proposed instead that the Bolsheviks attend the Pre-Parliament and participate constructively in the government actions. This would mean, of course, further camouflaging the government, giving it extra authority, and allowing it to pose as revolutionary. It would also signify before the masses that the Bolsheviks had declared the time was not ripe for the soviets to take power by drastic action. Behind all this argumentation lurked a Menshevik policy, the Right Wing dreaded the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks and the establishment of proletarian rule.
However, just as the Kadets had removed themselves from the government immediately prior to the Kornilov attempt, so was it absolutely y necessary that the Bolsheviks remove themselves from the empty machinery of the government now that they were preparing their own insurrection. The Right Wingers among the Bolsheviks wanted still to “control” the government so as to “push” it toward the people etc. To win their point they put forth the subtle argument that the democratic-dictatorship of the workers and peasants meant a dual government in which there should exist both soviets and parliament, a hybrid form of government intermediary between western bourgeois democracy and future socialism. The Parliament was to be responsible to the soviets which were to have power, but the form of government must be kept as of old.
Against this the Left Wing polemicized sharply. The old machinery could not be used. It was necessary to smash the old bourgeois state and to build a new one, one with machinery fit for the majority to use and not for a minority that wanted to deceive and cheat the people. Once the soviets took power, the whole parliamentary machinery would become entirely useless and must be discarded as part of the old debris of history. Thus the fight between Lenin and Trotsky on the one hand and the Right Wing Bolsheviks on the other hand was in reality the same fight under other forms as between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks.
Trounced in the councils of the Party, the Right Wing now began to spread its defeatism throughout the ranks. Zinoviev refused to take an active part in the work. Stalin sulked in his editorial offices and sabotaged the line of the Party by permitting the oppositional letters of Zinoviev and Kamenev to be published in the official paper, Pravda. Stalin went so far as to offer his resignation as editor of the paper, just before the October days. These Right Wingers with such men as Kalinin, Frunze, Rykov, Manuilsky, Tomsky, and others, were able to do considerable damage until the events of the October insurrection themselves put them straight. (*7) Although some of them actually left the Party on the eve of the insurrection, they soon returned to the fold. (*8)
Because of these serious vacillations at the top of the Bolshevik Party, Lenin strenuously insisted on pressing the date for the insurrection. His slogans were: Power to the soviets; peace for the people; all treaties to be published; no annexations; the right of self-determination; examples to be made in the cases of Ukraine, Finland, Armenia, and other conquered nations. The land was to be given to the peasants, workers’ control was to be established over the factories, the banks and the most important branches of industry were to be nationalized, the counter-revolutionary nests ruthlessly broken up and destroyed, and their presses taken away. Only if the soviets seized the power, Lenin warned, would the revolution proceed without bloodshed, otherwise bloody civil war was inevitable on the part of the reactionists. To meet the Germans who were advancing farther and farther into the country, it was imperative to unleash the whole power of the people. Only the revolutionary movement, not the Czarist generals, actually could defend the country. For this reason, too, the greatest haste was needed.
The first revolution in February was entirely spontaneous. The revolution urged by Lenin was to be planned in every principal point. For the second revolution called for not merely the overthrow of a past system, but for the establishment of an entirely new social order. The Bolsheviks wanted to avoid as much as possible the errors of Blanquism as embodied in the conspiratorial insurrection of a few. They were by far the most “democratic” of the parties. They waited until the time was so ripe that the overwhelming majority of the workers who composed the decisive part of the population had come over to their side. (*9) Indeed, the fears of Lenin were that they were too “democratic,” that they were waiting too long and, in the meantime, the opportunities for victory were slipping by.
Thus the planned insurrection of October, far from being the conspiratorial machinations of a tiny minority, was the deliberate action of a Party behind which stood such an overwhelming part of the toiling population that the insurrection went off like clockwork. There were no vast masses storming the bastilles in Petrograd as in the French Revolution. On every side there were millions held in reserve, disciplined, organized, and ready to go into action, but not called upon to do so. The government fell like rotten fruit from a tree.
Kerensky rushed to the front to gather up a few Cossack detachments, under General Krassnov, to retake Petrograd. But as with Kornilov, so with Kerensky and Krassnov. The troops were stopped by the railway workers’ union. The Cossacks were surrounded on all sides by the forces of the proletariat and the revolutionary regiments, and soon melted away. Only in Moscow was there an uprising against the Bolsheviki by a few thousand military cadets and university students who made a last stand against the red regiments, but the affair was soon over. (*10) The soviets and the Bolsheviks were in power throughout Russia.
With immense enthusiasm, the soviets now set about to solve the tremendous problems that had brought the revolution about. On the burning question of peace, an immediate proposal was wired to all warring peoples and governments to begin negotiations for a just peace. An armistice for three months was proposed. There were to be no annexations or indemnities. All secret treaties were to be annulled. The various belligerent governments responded to this open and honest plea for peace with murderous and cynical proposals of their own. The Entente powers looked upon the declaration of the Russian Bolsheviks as out-and-out treachery to their cause and immediately began the secret mobilization of forces for the military destruction of the Red Army.
Only the German Imperial Government responded to the overtures of the Bolsheviks. In December, 1917, peace parleys were opened up in the course of which there was revealed the type of peace that the Kaiser meant to impose upon the world were he victorious in the War. Boldly the representatives of German imperialism proposed to hack Russia to pieces and to seize immense areas for Germany. These proposals led to bitter resentment among the Russians and caused the ranks of the Bolshevik leadership to become divided into three factions. On one side was the faction headed by Nicolai Bucharin, to whom the peace terms of the Germans were utterly preposterous. It were better to go down with the Red Flag flying, he said, than to yield to such robber terms, especially when it was clear that now, with the entrance of America into the conflict, the German system was doomed. Bucharin uttered the “Leftist” theory that, since the class war was international, it demanded unceasing war against the capitalists of the world with the result that no peace was ever possible. In the heat of the polemic, Bucharin was able to win almost half of the Central Committee.
On the other side was the position of Lenin. It was true that the terms proposed by General von Hoffmann were outrageous, but the Bolsheviks had promised peace, and the country could not stand a continuance of the War. The desertions from the front would only multiply, and the Bolsheviks would be overthrown. Lenin threatened that, if his views were not adopted, he would split the Party and force the peace.
The chief representative of the Bolsheviks at the Peace Conference at Brest Litovsk was Trotsky. His position was between that of Bucharin and of Lenin. Instead of either immediate peace or eternal war with capitalism, Trotsky put forth the viewpoint that peace should be established in fact, but no treaty signed. His slogan was, “Neither War nor Peace,” his idea being that the continued invasion of Russia by Germany would compel the German soldiers to revolt and would thus initiate the world revolution. With such a position, Trotsky could not sign the proposed treaty of the Germans, and he returned to Petrograd for further instructions. When he realized that matters were reaching a split with Lenin, he decided to abstain from voting on the question in order to allow Lenin to secure the majority of the Central Committee. (*11) Rather be wrong with Lenin than right without him, thus precipitating a split in the Bolshevik party, was his position.
As a matter of fact, Lenin was correct in his insistence on peace. The army broke down completely and allowed the Germans to make an unhindered advance within Russia so that, when the peace negotiators resumed their parleys, the terms of Germany were far more onerous. By the Treaty of Brest Litovsk of March 3, 1918, (*12) Russia lost the Baltic provinces, Poland, Ukraine, and part of Trans Caucasia, in all surrendering about one-third of her total population, and, besides, was saddled with a huge indemnity. It was indeed a “Tilsit Peace” for Russia.
Lenin’s principal idea, however, was to secure a necessary breathing space for the consolidation of power and the establishment of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. As events later showed this was the only move possible to save the day for the Russian soviets. The World War dragged on for almost another year and left European capitalism too exhausted to overthrow the Soviet regime. A unique situation was thus created wherein world capitalism was so torn by conflict that it could not stop its own quarrels in order to put down the menace of communism. This was another manifestation of the fact that the capitalist system was doomed to destruction by the new proletarian force.
On the very first day of the Congress of the Soviets it was decreed that private ownership in land thenceforth was abolished. Land no more could be bought, sold, leased, mortgaged, or alienated. All the lands belonged to the nation. The lands of the peasants were not to be confiscated, and some of the big estates were not to be divided, but turned over to the State, with live stock and implements carefully accounted for. For the most part, however, there was to be an equalization of land, and the estates of the nobles were to be seized and partitioned among the peasants according to the number of “eaters” in the family and their capacity to work. This last was the program of the Social-Revolutionaries which Lenin took over almost in toto.
Here, with one fell stroke, the workers demonstrated that they were the closest friends and supporters of the peasants to the end. All the parties had promised this victory to the peasants, but only the proletarian party of the Bolsheviks fulfilled it. By this act, the soviets rallied the immense body of the peasantry to the revolution and were able to effectuate a temporary alliance with the Left Wing of the Social-Revolutionaries to support the revolutionary program.
From the very beginning, Lenin had refused to consider the agrarian problem as a simple one in which the workers’ interests were seen as antagonistic to the property interests of the peasantry. On the contrary, he took pains to divide the peasantry into various categories, each one to be treated differently. At the bottom were the agricultural laborers, not a decisive part of the agrarians, but a considerable minority, intimately bound up with the mass of peasantry. These agricultural laborers were working the modern large-scale farms that had been established by imperialist capital in Russia. Obviously the agricultural proletariat was the closest to the city industrial worker, and Lenin repeatedly emphasized the necessity of organizing this stratum into regular industrial unions and tying them up directly with the others. The large farms upon which they worked were not to be broken up in the main, but were to be turned over to the State and run by the workers, thereby preserving the high technique that had prevailed before.
Next to the agricultural laborers were the semi-proletarians who worked in the city during the winter but returned to their farms in the spring and summer. These elements, too, were friendly, and could be won over to the side of the workers. It was similar with the great mass of desperately poor peasants. They were easily convinced by the actions of the proletariat that only the victory of the soviets could give them the land they so sorely needed, and could satisfy their cry for bread.
Besides these elements there were the strata of middle peasants and, above them, the kulaks. The middle peasants were a minority of the peasantry who were able to make a living by working their own property. The kulak was a farmer who worked his farm with hired laborers. Both of these sections looked enviously on the property of the large landlords. Lenin pointed out that the middle peasants could be neutralized by the policy of the proletariat to allow the land to be seized, and that the kulaks could be separated from the nobles for the same reason. And indeed, this is what actually happened. All sections of the peasantry united to attack the nobility. The result was that the immense majority were able to improve their standing so as to become middle independent peasants who owed their new wealth entirely to the actions of the soviets. The kulaks, who had feared the Bolsheviks, did not hesitate also to put their fingers in the pie and, indeed, invariably plucked out the biggest plums for themselves.
The result of the land decree completely isolated the nobility and Czarist aristocracy, and allowed the revolution to proceed violently throughout the countryside. It is no wonder that the counter-revolution initiated by these aristocratic elements had to attack all the agrarian strata indiscriminately, which in turn only further consolidated the mass of peasantry against them. This was well illustrated by the action of the “Volunteers,” an army formed by Kornilov and Alexeiev that opened up civil war in South Russia, in November, 1917, and continued under Denikin and Alexeiev from April, 1918, to September, 1918, under Denikin until March, 1920, and under Wrangel until September, 1920, when the last remnants were driven out of Russia. “Officers and men alike seemed in general to regard every one who was not in their force as a Bolshevik, and therefore as someone who might be killed or robbed with impunity. When the Army was in retreat, the country was laid waste.” (*13)
The land policy of the Bolsheviks was part of their general strategy to turn the revolution only gradually from the democratic-dictatorship stage toward the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. The first objective was to annihilate the Czarist aristocracy, later to deal with the capitalist elements. Each blow given the Republic by the reactionary forces was regarded as an opportunity to drive the revolution farther ahead.
In the beginning, as we have seen, Lenin was quite willing to adopt practically the whole program of Social-Revolutionaries in dealing with the peasantry, in order to split that party and to win a section of it over to an alliance with the Bolsheviks. This was accomplished. On November 17, a formal agreement was made with the new Party, the Left Social-Revolutionaries, in which the latter party took certain seats in the cabinet and helped to line up even the kulaks behind the regime. To win the support of other elements, especially the Executive Committee of the Railroad Union, composed of Mensheviks and bitter opponents of the Bolsheviks, Lenin proposed a United Socialist Cabinet to include the representatives of other groupings.
Having cast their die with the anti-Bolsheviks, however, the Executive Committee refused to accept this offer of a joint cabinet. When Krassnov was sending his troops to Petrograd and the Moscow counter-revolt broke out, the Executive Committee ordered the railway workers not only to stop the troops of the counter-revolution, but also to refuse to transport the soldiers of the soviets. Such impudent activity in the name of “neutrality” in the fight between the soviets and reaction could not go unpunished. After the Moscow uprising was put down, Lenin stopped all parleys with the railway union “labor leaders.” The last effort to work with the opportunist socialists came to an end.
This new development, however, did not occur without a new crisis being provoked in the party by the Right Wing Bolsheviks. “Rykov resigned his post of Commissar of the Interior and Kamenev gave up the chairmanship of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets.” (*14) The Leninists, however, drove relentlessly forward. The bourgeois papers were suppressed and a powerful secret police force, the Che-ka, was established; the Kadets were proclaimed the enemies of the people; the Constituent Assembly was disbanded as unnecessary at its very first sitting, January 6, 1918.
The workers had been well taken care of. The bourgeois residences of the city were placed under the control of the soviets and the proletarians moved into the apartment houses of the wealthy. In all factories there was established a workers’ control over production. The program of the winter of 1917-18 included the nationalization of the banks, and the repudiation of all debts. Commerce was also nationalized, and the co-operatives were developed as substitutes for private trading. Food was rationed on a class basis.
Many of these measures were provoked by the fact that, owing to the breakdown of economy because of exhaustion by war and the overthrow of Czarism, the country, by the spring of 1918, was on the verge of famine. On all sides the capitalist world was bringing up its heavy artillery to batter down the Soviet regime. After the Treaty of Brest Litovsk, the German army immediately moved into Ukrainia. There an independent Ukrainian Rada, subservient to German imperialism, had been formed, which openly had declared its hostility to the Bolsheviks and, while Russia was starving, had moved food and grain supplies to Germany. (*15) This presented an intolerable situation, one which could be liquidated only by draconic measures and armed conflict.
During the course of the War, three hundred thousand Czech soldiers had been captured by the Russians as war prisoners. As the Czechs were Slavs and never had wanted to fight “Mother Russia,” they were treated especially well and, under the Provisional Government, had been mobilized to be shipped out of the country to the Western Front to fight on French soil against the Germans. By agreement, March 26, 1918, it was decided that an army of these Czechs, some fifty thousand or more, was to be sent to Vladivostok where allied shipping was to convey them to France. However, when the Czechs arrived at the Pacific port they found Japanese and British troops in possession of the city. Instead of being transported to France, the Czechs were re-armed, informed that their brothers were being slaughtered in Russia, and were ordered back by their leaders to seize the Trans-Siberian railroad. Under the influence of army officers headed by Kolchak and members of the Social-Revolutionaries, they turned back from Siberia to fight the Reds. Thus, while the Germans were helping the Ukrainian bourgeois fight Bolsheviks on the West, their so-called bitter enemies, the members of the Entente, were invading Russia on the East, both in a crusade against the Reds.
As in the French Revolution, so in the Russian, ruthless intervention coupled with the foisting of war upon a people bent on peace only rallied the masses still more strongly around the revolutionists and whipped the revolution to more severe measures. The requisitioning of food became absolutely necessary and the wealthy peasants, i.e., the kulaks, were forced to surrender part of their surplus stock. (*16) The kulaks openly resisted, and civil war began on the countryside, the Bolsheviks forming Committees of the Poor in order to struggle against them.
Up to now, the Bolsheviks had not nationalized the factories, nor attempted to establish the Dictatorship of the Proletariat nor to end exploitation. They had formed alliances with other parties and had merely controlled and regulated the capitalist elements. Now, however, they were forced to go farther. On June 14, 1918, the soviets expelled the Mensheviks and the Social-Revolutionaries of the Right and Center for their actions in aiding the enemy. (*17) In their attack against the kulak and their formation of the Poor Committees in the village they were moving towards the elimination of capitalism on the countryside. On February 19, 1918, a Decree on Land Socialization was passed, providing that all persons engaged in agriculture were to be protected by social insurance. The right to use land belonged respectively to the State, to public bodies, to agricultural communes, to co-operatives, to village communities, and only lastly to individuals. This decree was a body blow against the kulaks. Naturally, the Left Social-Revolutionaries would not tolerate all this. They had been violently opposed also to the Brest Litovsk Treaty and were ready to break with the Bolsheviks on this question as well. The Social-Revolutionaries had always spoken in the name of the “people” and had called themselves both socialists and revolutionists; no sooner was capitalism attacked, however, than the Left Social-Revolutionaries broke from the government alliance and declared war on the Leninists. The split occurred in July, 1918, when the Left Social-Revolutionaries, in order to compel the continuance of the war with Germany, assassinated the German Ambassador, Count von Mirbach.
The Bolsheviks now were determined to go the whole route and complete the revolution as far as possible. The Czar and his family were exterminated as a nest of counter-revolution. Thus, only in the summer of 1918, in July, did the Bolsheviks terminate their democratic-dictatorship of the workers and peasants, marked by workers’ control over production, their alliance with the Left Social-Revolutionaries, their alliance with the kulak against the noble, their granting all parties the right to the press and to assemblage and all classes of democracy equal vote. From now on their backs were to the wall. The open Dictatorship of the Proletariat was established, but in friendly alliance with the poor peasantry. The kulak was attacked, the factories were taken over and socialized, the minority of workers was given more votes and power than the vast majority of the peasantry, opposition parties were destroyed, civil war raged against the whole capitalist system.
At this point, the soviets were faced with a peasant war led by the kulaks, with civil war led by the capitalists and Czarist officials, politically aided by the Social-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, and with foreign intervention. Eastern Siberia and Western Ukrainia were occupied by foreign forces. An anti-Bolshevik government was being formed in the Urals by Kolchak, backed up by the Czechs. German troops were in Crimea and Trans-Caucasia. An anti-Bolshevik government was being formed in the North Caucasus supported by Cossacks and the officers of Kornilov. This was the situation in the summer of 1918.
It has been a popular illusion that the socialist revolution began in Russia with the October Revolution. As we have seen, this is indeed far from the truth. The soviets moved very slowly to this conclusion and did not end capitalist exploitation in the factories until the middle of 1918. The October Revolution itself was not bloody, and numerous intermediary groups went along with the Bolsheviks. It was only when the Russian capitalists were attacked that the real violence of the civil war began.
As Lenin himself put it, the revolution of the summer and autumn of 1918 was of far greater significance than that in October, 1917. (*18) “The formation in the villages of the committees of the poor was the turning point, and showed that the working class of the towns, which united last November with all the peasants for the purpose of destroying the chief enemy of free, labouring and Socialist Russia—the landowners—had advanced from that problem to another, much more difficult, historically much higher, and really Socialistic.” (*19) “In other words, having liberated Russia from the yoke of the landowners, it has now proceeded to the creation of a Socialist commonwealth.” (*20)
Lenin knew very well that, in countries of small peasant proprietors, the transition to socialism was impossible without a whole series of gradual, preparatory stages. To him, the October revolution had been devoted mainly to the task of crushing the common enemy of the whole peasant class—the landowners—and thus it had retained its bourgeois setting, and the revolution had been but half finished. By the summer of 1918 it was time to complete that revolution and turn it into a genuine socialist one.
In the struggle against capitalism and for socialism, Lenin tried hard to separate the capitalists of the city from their kulak representatives in the country. Whereas the Bolsheviks had taken over the property of the city factory owners, they did not decree the confiscation of the land of the kulak. They were willing to let him keep his land on the sole condition that he obey the corn monopoly and not enrich himself at the expense of others. This strategy of the Bolsheviks was entirely realistic. Large numbers of the better-situated peasants became partisans to the cause of the soviets, especially after their lands had been invaded by the Whites; when they were forced to choose between White and Red, they chose Red. In the long run, however, the kulak became the most embittered opponent to socialism and one of the most difficult problems the revolution had to face.
We are now ready to ask ourselves the important question: Now that they had gone the whole length in establishing a socialistic regime resting on the proletariat, how could the communists of Russia have hoped to sustain themselves in their abolition of private property in a country peopled predominantly with peasants whose whole lives were based on private property? Were the Leninists really an anti-democratic party based on a small minority of the population like the Blanquists? Will the Russian revolution be but another Paris Commune and go down in blood as premature? What were the forces upon which Lenin relied? After all, it is one thing to overthrow Czarism, it is another to overthrow private property and capitalism; it is one thing to seize power, it is another thing to hold it.
In the first place, there was no thought of such a proposition as the possibility of building socialism in one country. The Bolsheviks of those days believed that the proletariat could take power in Russia, but that this could serve only as a stimulant and cause, compelling the workers of Europe to seize control, which in turn would help the Communists of Russia finally to overcome their difficulties. In December, 1918, Lenin said, “You know that our main hope, our chief security, is the proletariat of Western European and other advanced countries. It is the great buttress of the world-revolution. We firmly believe in it, and the progress of the German Revolution shows us that we are justified.” (*21) At another time he declared, “The absolute truth is that without a revolution in Germany we will perish ." (*22) Again, “Our backwardness has thrust us forward and we will perish if we will not be able to hold out until we meet with the mighty support of the insurrectionary workers of other countries.” (*23)
That Lenin understood the precarious position of Russian communism can be noted in his important speeches as late as 1921. At the Tenth Congress of the Russian Communist Party, in a speech delivered March 15, 1921, Lenin emphasized, regarding a revolution in an agrarian country, “The social revolution in such a country may meet with complete success only under two conditions: 1. It must be supported by the social revolution in one or more of the advanced countries…. 2. There must be an understanding between the proletariat which is the executor of the dictatorship and holds the state power in its hands, and the majority of the population.” (*24) Soon after that, at the Third Congress of the Communist International on July 1921 he reiterated: “It was clear to us that without aid from the international worldwide revolution a victory of the proletarian revolution is impossible. Even before the revolution, and also after it, we thought that the revolution either immediately or at least very soon will come also in other countries, otherwise we will perish. Notwithstanding this conviction, we did our utmost to preserve the Soviet system under any circumstances and at all costs because we know that we are not working only for ourselves but also for the international revolution.” (*25)
Besides counting on the help of the proletarian revolution in the advanced European countries, Lenin depended on the workers’ understanding how to work with and to win the friendship of the peasantry. To maintain an alliance with the peasantry meant that in effect the State could not be a proletarian State but a two-class state, one in which the proletariat was careful not to go too far in its socialization and which existed only on the sufferance of the peasantry. “The working classes must not be deceived… . The small peasant has aims that are not the same as those of the workers." (*26) We are conducting a class struggle and our aim is to abolish classes; so long as there still exist two classes, those of peasants and workers, socialism cannot be realized and an irreconcilable struggle goes on incessantly.” (*27)
In Russia, the peasantry by itself was not able to accomplish its emancipation or even to overthrow Czarism. As an historic class, it had to follow either the proletariat or the bourgeoisie. At first it followed the bourgeoisie, but that class did not and could not live up to its historic role. It was the proletariat alone that was able to satisfy the basic needs of the peasantry and thus to cement an alliance with the countryside in the overthrow of the Provisional government and the establishment of the soviets. Paradoxically, the peasantry did not vote for the Bolsheviks, who had their interests at heart. (*28) And yet the communists operated on the principle that the votes of such a class were not decisive, and took power regardless.
The reasons for the confidence of the Bolsheviks were that, although the towns made up but a minority of the population, they were more important than the countryside and dragged the latter behind them. The question was not whether the city should lead, but rather which class of the city should lead the peasantry, the upper bourgeois crust, or the proletarians? Nor was it necessary to win the majority of the entire population in the cities. What was imperative was to gain the decisive majority at the decisive places. The big factories, the larger soviets, the trade unions as well as the army, for example, were more than half conquered by the Bolsheviks. To win the proletariat, a genuine Communist Party was necessary, of course. “Without a complete and varied preparation of the proletariat by a revolutionary party accompanied by the expulsion and defeat of the opportunist elements, it is absurd to think of the dictatorship of the proletariat.” (*29)
Once the proletariat had been won, that was sufficient even in an agrarian country such as Russia. The proletariat could be victorious without convincing the majority of the population, if that class, after taking power, satisfied the needs of the majority at the expense of the exploiters. The masses of the petty bourgeoisie were constantly vacillating. They needed the fact of the proletarian regime to enable them to compare which class was better, the proletariat or the bourgeoisie. Thus it could be laid down as a social law that the proletariat could win the majority of the population in a peasant country only after it crushed the bourgeoisie, not before. The peasantry needs the power of example; the Russian Revolution bore eloquent witness to that fact. At first, only 10 per cent to 16 per cent were for Bolshevism; when they were given the land, all were for Bolshevism. Later, in the period of War communism, almost all turned against Bolshevism. Finally, when they felt the hand of Kolchak and other White Guardists, most of them became Bolshevist partisans again. Thus, it required two years of acute civil war to teach the peasantry which side they must follow. By no means is the question definitively solved even today.
We have seen that the proletariat made firm allies of the peasants by giving them land, but, by that very act, the Bolsheviks only spread the base for private ownership and control of the means of production, land, still more firmly. Instead of the old differentiations on the countryside (the overwhelming mass of poor and destitute peasants on the bottom and the few agrarian capitalists on the top), the land distribution created a mass of peasant holdings mostly of medium size; that is, the muzhiks now had enough land to till to take care of themselves and their families.
At this point the conflict began to arise between workers moving towards socialism and peasants desirous of retaining their property. The proletariat of Russia found itself surrounded from without by a powerful hostile world of which it was but a relatively small part, economically speaking, while, within, it was but a small fraction of the population faced with an overwhelming mass of peasants, on the one side, and gangs of bureaucrats on the other. Whether the proletariat liked it or not, these classes were bound to resist the course of socialization and to strive for the return of capitalism. The middle peasant wanted to become a kulak and increase his holdings; the kulak wanted to increase the number of workers working for him and exploit them still further. All the peasants desired free trade and the right to sell their products as dear as they could and to buy manufactured materials as cheaply as possible.
To lead the peasantry toward socialism there was necessary the firm control of the proletariat. To secure this control, the election system was so set up that the minority of proletarians had as many votes and more influence than the peasants. Frankly, the workers gave themselves five times the voting power that the peasants received. The Bolsheviks realized very well, after the dictatorship of the proletariat was established, that the class struggle had not ceased by that initial act; on the contrary, peasant commodity economics was automatically establishing new capitalist relations. The only way to end this contradiction was to abolish classes, but the peasantry could be abolished only when some higher method of production than individual land working could be established; this in turn could be done only on the basis of the widespread application of machinery. The fight for socialism then was a fight for machinery and electrical power, a fight for increased productivity.
That Lenin recognized the situation can be seen by his remarks: “There is no doubt that the social revolution in a country where the overwhelming majority of the population consists of small farmers and producers may only be achieved by providing for a number of special transition measures that would be entirely unnecessary in countries in which the wage workers constitute the overwhelming majority in industry and agriculture.” (*30) “The application of tractors and machinery in agriculture on a large scale, the electrification of the whole country, would immediately produce a transformation of the thought of the small peasants.” (*31) “The situation is now this: either we must economically satisfy the medium peasants and consent to a freedom of commodity exchange or it will be impossible to maintain the power of the proletariat in Russia in view of the slowing down of the international revolution.” By no means was the Dictatorship of the Proletariat in a backward agrarian country to abolish private property immediately. As Lenin wrote, there was no Chinese wall between the bourgeois democratic revolution and the socialist one, and one could proceed gradually from one system to the other. Incidentally, it is to be remarked how the Leninists, who had argued for the insurrection and the sharp break with the past politically, also knew how to be gradualists in economics under given circumstances. There was no unbridgeable gap between the worker and the land toiler, the peasant. After the Brest Litovsk Treaty, and until the proletarian revolution could spread, the chief task was to hold the fort. (*32)
In order to attain increased production, machinery and electric power, Lenin was willing to make all sorts of economic concessions to capitalism. Thus, as far back as 1918, foreshadowing the days of the “New Economic Policy” in 1921, he pointed out that, should Russia develop a State capitalism, this would mark a great advance over what was actually existing, for even after the seizure of power by the workers, Russian economy was by no means homogeneous. In the vast tundras of the North, in the taigas of Siberia, in the backward regions of Eurasia and elsewhere, a pre-capitalist patriarchal system of production still prevailed. To this had to be added the petty commodity production of the peasants now in possession of plots of land. Then there were many small factories that could not well be taken over at once by the workers; there were also millions of petty shopkeepers and artisans. All of these groups represented private property and a form of capitalist commodity production.
The big factories had been seized by the workers; thus there was also a socialistic form of production, but this section of Russian economy did not at all represent the main weight of production. The predominant form of economy was petty commodity production; the chief producers were small peasant proprietors. The possession of big factories in certain cities of the land did not by any means mark the end of private property in the means of production. In order to liquidate the peasantry and to win them over to socialism it was necessary for the country to have machinery and for the workers to show the peasants how they could increase their standards of living by supporting proletarian collectivism. If the workers could rapidly increase production and provide the peasantry with cheap and good commodities, if they could organize agrarian collectives and demonstrate how each member of the collective would improve his lot by joining his property with that of his neighbors, the alliance of the workers with the peasantry could be firmly cemented.
Now State capitalism was one form by which the workers could increase their production. State capitalism meant the running of State industries by means of capitalist loans or by means of partnership with big capitalists, through which the latter would ship machinery into Russia. Or it could take the form of concessions by which the State owned and controlled the plants built by private capital and run for profit. In all cases, the capitalists would be getting their profit temporarily, but the Russian workers would be producing commodities, increasing their technique, and tightening their friendship with the peasants.
For these reasons, with the first breathing space that the Bolsheviks received after putting down the initial revolts of Krassnov and of the Czarist Kadets in Moscow, Lenin was advocating the bringing in of foreign capital under guarantees and increasing the productivity of the country. Of course, under Lenin, this introduction of capitalism would have been carefully restricted and guarded. Economically, capitalism was to be allowed to function in certain key industries where it was needed to prepare the way for its own destruction. Politically, capitalism was to have no control at all. Unfortunately, all these plans for the exploitation of capital to bolster up the Dictatorship of the Proletariat came to an end with the gigantic civil war that burst forth throughout the country.
To sum up, it is necessary for us to emphasize that the October Revolution did not bring about immediate end of capitalism. On the contrary, all that it accomplished was the completion of the bourgeois democratic revolution; for that reason, the soviets were supported by the peasantry as a whole, including the capitalist kulak elements, the class divisions on the countryside then being only in embryo and still latent. “At first the Soviets represented the peasantry as a whole, and the result was that the mental backwardness of the poorer peasants placed the leadership in the hands of the village vultures, of the prosperous peasants, of the petty bourgeois intellectuals. This was the period of the predominance of the petty bourgeois Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, whom only fools or turncoats like Kautsky could regard as socialists.” (*33)
The Bolshevik revolution laid the basis for the attack against capitalism. At first the city capitalist was attacked; much later, during the course of the civil war, the attack began against the kulak. Not till November, 1918, did the proletarian revolution pass through the countryside, one year after its advent in the cities, and the kulaks were put down. “If the Bolshevik proletariat in the capitals and large industrial centers had not been able to rally to its side the village poor against the peasant rich, this would have proved Russia’s unripeness for the socialist revolution. The peasantry would then have remained an undivided whole, that is, under the economic, political, and moral leadership of the village vultures, of the rich and the bourgeoisie, and the revolution would not have passed beyond the bourgeois-democratic limits…. On the other hand, if the Bolshevik proletariat had attempted at once, in November, 1917, without waiting or without being able to prepare and to carry through the class cleavage in the village, to decree a civil war or the establishment of Socialism in the villages, had attempted to do without the temporary union with the peasants as a whole, had attempted to do without the necessary concession to the middle peasantry, it would have been a Blanquist distortion of Marxism, an attempt of the minority to impose its will upon the majority, a theoretical absurdity and a display of ignorance of the fact that a common peasant revolution is still a bourgeois revolution, and could not in a backward country be turned into a socialist one without a whole series of transitions and successive stages.” (*34) “With the peasantry to the end of the bourgeois democratic revolution, and with the poorest, the proletarian and semi- proletarian section of the peasantry to the socialist revolution—such has been the policy of the Bolsheviks and such is the only Marxist policy.’’ (*35)
From the very start, the Bolsheviks had enunciated as their program the self-determination of subject nationalities and had propagandized for the right of Poland, Finland, Armenia, and other countries to lead their independent existence. Naturally, with the advent of the Bolshevik revolution, these countries became the scene of a virulent nationalism on the part of the capitalists of these countries who wanted to separate themselves from communistic Russia. Behind this nationalist movement in 1918 stood the German Imperial Army which thereby envisioned great gains for itself. No sooner had Finland declared itself independent than the bourgeoisie invited the Reich to send in troops to defeat the Finnish proletariat and to insure Finland for capitalism and for Germany. Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Esthonia found themselves placed under German military governors. Especially important was German activity in the Ukraine.
Early in the negotiations for peace between the German General Staff and the Russian Government, the Ukrainian bourgeoisie had appeared, clamoring for independence. To secure this, they were willing to submit to any terms; one of the reasons for the final signing of the Treaty of Brest Litovsk was the fact that the Russian soviets were faced with the fact that the Germans had recognized the hastily organized Ukrainian Rada as a legitimate government and had signed a peace treaty with them. There was nothing further for the Russians to do but also to sign. (*36) Ostensibly Ukrainia was now independent, but she immediately opened up war against the soviets. The result was that civil war began between the workers of Ukraine and the Ukrainian bourgeoisie, at the head of which stood the chief, Hetman Skoropadsky, and behind it the German army.
The Russian bourgeoisie, so eager to denounce Lenin as a German agent, soon began to intrigue for German help against the Bolsheviks. “The question of yielding to the Germans and crushing the communists with their help was eagerly discussed in connection with the plan of a monarchical restoration. The idea found favor among the Rights and was supported among the Kadets by P. Miliukov …” (*37)
The Eastern part of the Ukraine, together with the northern Caucasus, had been the great homeland of the Cossacks of the Don and Kuban regions. The Cossacks had been given special privileges by the Czar. They had comfortable, tax-free farms, with horses and supplies granted them. In return, they had to serve the Czar at all times. When the Revolution broke out, these Cossacks returned to their farms. While they had not fought the people, the older elements at least were not at all in sympathy with communism and the soviets. To this region flocked the officers of the Czarist army, and reactionaries, and formed their White Guard Volunteer Army against Bolshevism. The Kuban district was headed by General Krassnov, the Don region by Hetman Kaledin assisted by Kornilov. Between these White Guardist forces and those of the Rada there was this difference, however. The Rada stood for an independent Ukraine, friendly to Germany; the Czarist officers stood for the return of old Russia and the subjugation not only of the communists but also of Ukrainian nationalism. Moreover, these officers had fought the Germans.
Thus the two reactionary armies were divided, and the soviet workers and peasants were able relatively easily to break the forces of the Rada, to drive Skoropadsky out of the country and into Germany and then defeat the troops of Kaledin and Kornilov, the latter being killed, the former committing suicide. Thus by April, 1918, it seemed that everywhere the Bolsheviks would be able to triumph within the territory that was not openly taken from them by the Brest Treaty.
However, this idyllic picture was destined to be destroyed by the intervention of Russia’s former allies in the war. In February and March of 1918, British soldiers were landed in the Murmansk region in the Arctic sea. They were joined by an American force. In June, 1918, the military compelled the local soviet to declare its independence from Moscow and, in August, the foreigners were in possession of the important city of Archangel.
So long as the World War was raging with all its fury in 1918, the Bolsheviks were able to meet and to overcome these comparatively puny blows of world capitalism. The situation changed entirely when the War was over. By January, 1919, the allied forces had stationed thirty thousand troops in the Murmansk district and were marching south, towards the center of Russia. On the West, the Finnish troops, with the aid first of the Germans and later of the victorious powers, were able to defeat the proletarian revolution there and to menace Russia in the Baltic. To the Baltic Sea, a strong British Naval force was sent that destroyed and sank the Russian fleet. (*38) Further south, on the Western Front, three armies threatened the Russians.
First there was the German Imperial Army under Von der Goltz. Although the terms of the peace called for an immediate evacuation of the Baltic provinces which were to become independent countries, the Entente allowed the Germans to hold their advanced positions as a barrier to Bolshevism. Then there was the Russ-German White Guard Army of fifteen thousand under General Bermont, and finally another army under General Yudenitch. It had been hoped that the people of the Baltic provinces also would rally to the anti-Bolshevik crusade, but this hope was doomed. The Soviet Government had from the start declared its willingness to recognize an independent Latvia, Esthonia, and Lithuania, as it had an independent Finland. On the other hand, the capitalists of these small Baltic countries knew very well that, should the Bolsheviks fall, they would be swallowed up again by an imperialist Russia.
The steel ring around the Bolsheviks was tightened still more by events in the Ukraine. On the West, the bourgeois Ukrainian nationalist rebellion was carried on by Petlura; on the East, the forces of the Cossacks were being solidified under the leadership of Denikin. Both of these armies, especially the latter, were aided by enormous supplies as well as troops from the Versailles victors. The French were in possession of Odessa, and everywhere were taking the place of the Germans in mobilizing the counter-revolution.
On the Eastern Front, the forces under Kolchak had reached considerable size. His foreign troops alone have been estimated to have contained fifty-five thousand Czecho-Slovaks, twelve thousand Poles, four thousand Serbs, four thousand Rumanians, two thousand Italians, sixteen hundred British, over seven hundred French, twenty-eight thousand Japanese later increased to seventy-five thousand, seven thousand five hundred Americans and four thousand Canadians. Like those of Denikin in the Southeast, these Siberian forces must have numbered at least half a million in all.
Added to this was the separation of Georgia from Russia by the Mensheviks, the seizure of the Batum-Baku railway by twenty thousand British troops, and the destruction of the Russian naval forces in the Black Sea. Later was to come the seizure of Bessarabia by Rumania and portions of White Russia by Poland.
It must not be imagined that all the forces against the Bolsheviks were united among themselves. Far from it. In 1919, the Polish divisions under Pilsudski declared war against Petlura and seized Eastern Galicia, then claimed by Ukrainia, and a portion of Western Ukraine. (*39) Between Petlura and Denikin there was open hostility, since it was no secret that Denikin meant to restore Czarist control. The French compelled the German army to quit the border provinces, as required under the terms of peace, and they themselves went in to organize the Polish army and the war against Russia. On the eastern front, the Czechs soon became weary of being the tools for the White-Guardists and began to fight to return home. Mutiny broke out among the American and British soldiers in Archangel and among the vessels of the French Black Sea Fleet. In spite of the urgency of the moment, the capitalist classes were yet unable to unite their forces to overcome the common enemy.
The most determined efforts were made in 1919 to crush the soviet regime. On the East, the important city of Tobolsk was taken; in the South, the city of Orel; in the West, Yudenitch was marching to within eight miles of Petrograd. In all, some sixteen armies were fighting at one time. It was then that the Bolsheviks, like the Jacobins in the French Revolution and the Communards in 1871, rose to truly heroic heights. They found their Carnot and Danton combined in Trotsky. Under the leadership of Trotsky, the old worthless Czarist army was replaced by a powerful Red army, each regiment with its political commissars who carried out the revolutionary policy of the communists, inspired by the genius of Trotsky to whom Lenin had given literally carte blanche to go the limit.
Like Napoleon for the bourgeoisie, so Trotsky for the proletariat, became the representative of the cutting edge of a new international class rising to power. As his forces drove their way into the lines of other countries, it was impossible for him to become bound by considerations merely national in character. The military accomplishments of Trotsky were connected with his international revolutionary policies; in both cases he aroused the enmity of communists not so enlightened in outlook nor intransigent in character.
When Zinoviev wanted to abandon Petrograd to the forces of Yudenitch, it was Trotsky who won over Lenin and mobilized the whole proletariat of that city for a counter-attack that defeated the enemy. (*40) When Stalin insisted upon retaining military supplies intended for the whole army for his particular sector, it was Trotsky who opposed him with a bitterness that increased as the war progressed. The military struggle between Stalin and Trotsky hinged on various issues. The first was whether the main attack should be made against Kolchak or against Denikin; here it seemed as though Stalin was more far-sighted: The second issue hinged on what part of the South-eastern front to attack. Here Trotsky countermanded the decision of Stalin (a tactical error which would have proved most costly to the Bolsheviks) to march against the Cossacks in their own territory, instead of marching against the forces of Denikin where the Cossacks would not have fought so strenuously. This was not only a military blunder on the part of Stalin, but above all a profound political error, reflecting a false estimation of the peasantry of the region and of the Cossack forces.
Particularly damaging was Stalin’s part in the Polish war which was to come later. Trotsky had advised against the Polish war but had yielded to Lenin in this matter. In the course of this struggle, the Polish Army was pushed into Warsaw, before the gates of which was decided the mighty question whether Poland would turn Bolshevik and the Russian Revolution be physically connected with the German or whether the bourgeoisie would prevail. For his own reasons, Stalin disobeyed the orders of the General Staff led by Trotsky and marched in such a fashion from Lvov as to render his army unable to withstand the counter blows of the Poles, now under the direction of the brilliant French General Weygand. This, and the foolish march of Budenny’s cavalry, made a disastrous defeat of the Russian Army inevitable, and the Bolsheviks had to withdraw.
If the Bolsheviks themselves could not thoroughly agree, the dissension was still more pronounced outside their ranks. In the Ukraine, for example, there had been organized under the lead of the peasant anarchist, Nestor Makhno, a guerrilla army that proved valuable in fighting Petlura and the Ukrainian nationalists and yet would not subordinate its struggles to the welfare of the Russian Army as a whole; thus in turn it had to be fought by the Bolsheviks for trying to set up a dual regime. All over the country there were partisan armies of peasants sprung up to fight against the return of Czarism and reaction, but armies which would not become incorporated directly into the Red Army.
The reason for peasant hesitation and vacillation was not hard to find. Under the stress of gigantic capitalist pressure against them, the Bolsheviks had been forced to adopt draconic requisitions from the peasantry to sustain themselves. Production fell close to zero. Hunger and sickness gripped the land. All surplus goods were seized for military use. Private ownership was reduced to its narrowest possible limits. Compulsory labor was established for all. Money was abolished. An extreme centralization marked all production and distribution. This was the military communism established by Lenin. It was not much different in form from the expropriations carried on by the Jacobins in the critical days of the French Revolution, but there was this difference in fact: In the French Revolution, the requisitions were carried on by representatives of the peasantry; in the Russian Revolution, it was done in behalf of the cities, in the name of communism and of the abolition of private property in the means of production.
Naturally, the peasantry resisted this policy of the Bolsheviks. But no sooner did they open the gates to the White Guardists and reactionists than they had cause quickly to repent. “There were horrible murders committed, but they were not committed by the Bolsheviks as the world believes. I am well on the side of safety when I say that the anti-Bolsheviks killed one hundred people in Eastern Siberia, to every one killed by the Bolsheviks.” (*41) For the regime inaugurated under Denikin it is sufficient to report his treatment of the Jews, of whom it is estimated close to half a million perished “There were pogroms that lasted a week; … In many populous Jewish communities there were no survivors left to bury the dead, and thousands of Jewish wounded and killed were eaten by dogs … . " (*42)
With such a terrible rule of repression facing them, there was nothing for even the mass of middle peasants to do but to join forces with the Bolsheviks. Everywhere “green” armies, or partisan troops, sprang up that, like Makhno’s forces in the Ukraine, rendered valuable service in harassing the reactionists in ferocious guerrilla warfare in which no quarter was given or asked. What the exact number of casualties was is exceedingly difficult to estimate, but they must have been at least equal to those suffered in the World War itself.
in spite of unheard of difficulties, however, the Bolsheviks were able to survive, and, when the Poles, after their unceasing advance on the Western border of Russia, had marched to Minsk and had engaged in actions resulting in war, they were hurled back to the very gates of Warsaw and barely saved by the military genius of the French general staff. By 1920, victory was with the Leninists.
The termination of the Polish war left the country in a completely wrecked state economically. To the many millions of war dead and the breakdown of economy due to Czarist conduct there had been added the awful casualties and ruin of the most devastating civil war known in history. The foreign interventionists had been driven out and the White Guardists crushed, but at a cost that was destroying the entire nation.
The first to rebel were the peasants in the fall of 1920; unfortunately the needs of the hour were so great that the Bolsheviks did not heed the warning of these events and did not loosen their stringent requisition measures. Then there broke out the Kronstadt revolt among the sailors who had been the chief supporters of the Bolsheviks at critical moments of the Revolution. The Kronstadt rebellion of March 1, 1921 advanced demands that, on the surface, seemed mild but, in reality, challenged the fundamental measures of the Bolsheviks. These demands included the
re-election of soviets by secret voting, free speech for anarchists and Left socialist parties, freedom of meetings for peasant associations, liberty for all socialist political prisoners, and the right of the peasants to have priority of lands over the State farms and communes.
Behind these demands inspired by misery lurked the anarchist propaganda for “Soviets without parties” and the termination of the Dictatorship. Expressing this thought, the Kronstadters actually called for a “Third Revolution.” The Kronstadt revolt was put down with draconic thoroughness, but it served the purpose of reminding the leaders of the Russian Communist Party that it was time to change their policy of military communism which had stripped the peasantry and the petty owners completely bare. Above all it was necessary to increase production, or the entire country would perish.
As a transition measure to the rebuilding of Russian economy, Lenin proposed the abolition of military communism and the substitution of an agricultural tax. Up to now, the peasants had been paying no taxes; instead, all their surplus had been taken away, and trading had been abolished. Now limited trading again would be permitted. Lenin affirmed that the agricultural tax was a form of transition from the peculiar “military communism” made necessary by extreme necessity, ruin and war, for the purpose of a proper socialist exchange of products.(*43)
By March, 1921, Lenin was ready for the next big step, his New Economic Policy (called the “NEP” for short). Now would be brought in all the measures already worked out in 1918 for the enticing of capital back into the Soviet Union so as to build up its economy on a better basis. A moderate and cautious introduction of the policy of concessions was effected that was calculated to improve the state of industry and the condition of the peasantry. Just how far the concessions to capitalism could go had to be determined by the relation of forces, but it was clear that while capitalism could get economic concessions it could make little political headway. The Dictatorship of the Proletariat would be as rigidly enforced as ever.
The task of building up State capitalism side by side with a socialistic regime over the factories already seized was concretized by measures inviting merchants and traders into Russia, and the opening up of a free market. The re-introduction of free trade was the sole measure to rebuild the economy on the countryside and to stimulate peasant production, even though buying and selling on the open market was bound to lead to the formation of kulaks and new capitalist elements ("Nepmen"). The government also began the policy of selling bonds on interest, the funds to go for the purchase of machinery, etc. In every way, the Soviet regime tried to induce wealthy capitalists to build plants in Russia for the State to work at a mutual profit.
On the countryside, the development of co-operatives of small commodity producers was ardently pushed. Lenin had no illusions about these co-operatives of producers, and openly declared that they inevitably would generate petty bourgeois relations, but at least these co-operatives would simplify control over the capitalists and would increase the supply of goods. Entirely different from the concessions to individual capitalists, the co-operatives could also be a transition toward socialism. The concessions were based on large machine industry and granted to a single capitalist or trust by a definite written document not easy to repeal. Besides, transition from State capitalism to socialism was a transition from one form of large scale production to another. It was otherwise with the co-operatives, which was based on small industry and took in many thousands of members on terms that easily could be changed. The transition from co-operatives to socialism was the transition from petty industry to large-scale production, and thus would mark a great forward step in a backward country like Russia.
These changes came just in time to save the Bolshevik regime. Following the military intervention and economic blockade of Soviet Russia by the foreign powers, and owing to the complete breakdown of economy, Russia suffered a terrible famine in 1921-1922 that attained the unbelievable toll of five million deaths from starvation and disease. Added to the war dead and the losses in the civil war, this new and awful blow would have been sufficient to crush any other country and any other force than Russia and the Bolsheviks. By means of the new measures, however, the Russian Revolutionists did manage to survive. A commercial treaty was effected with Great Britain in 1921, and, in 1922, the Treaty of Rapallo was signed with Germany. Affairs thenceforth were brought to a more normal state.
Thus there was prolonged a peculiar equilibrium in international affairs wherein a proletarian regime was able to exist for a number of years side by side with a capitalist world. This mutual coexistence has led to the illusion in some circles that the two parts could work together peacefully for an indefinite, protracted period. What was rather the case was that neither side could for the moment overcome the other; thus both had to tolerate each other.
The shift to the New Economic Policy also brought great changes in the ranks of the advanced workers in the Communist Party. During the course of the civil war, the proletariat had been forced to take up arms and had become quite disused to industrial discipline. In many cases the factories were destroyed or dismantled. In other cases, the workers had met interminably over every question of production, “democracy” being interpreted in such a manner that it spelled perpetual debating with nothing accomplished.
The drive to increase production implied the drive also for centralization and for strict responsibility. Anarchistic tendencies had to be overcome, endless discussions terminated. Instead of responsibilities being scattered through large committees, now there was to be individual responsibility, with one chief director appointed for the factories. Lenin urged “Hold meetings, but administer without the least hesitation, administer more firmly and severely than ever the capitalist did before. Otherwise you will not be able to conquer him.” (*44) There was to be no tolerance of sentimentality, dilettantism, or slacking. The three chief enemies were defined as communist conceit, illiteracy, and bribery.
The shifting of the front from the military arena to that of economics brought out most clearly the basic fact that the technical culture of Russia was extremely low. To build factories required a large stratum of skilled workers and a trained general proletariat. In Russia, however, this was lacking. It was easier for the Russian workers to win on the military front than it was for them to build up a socialistic economy. The management and direction of factories had to be vested in experts who were almost to a man old Czarist professionals, who hated the new regime, and who literally were forced to work by pistols placed at their heads.
Under Trotsky in the Red Army also, thousands of old Czarist officers had been used for the proletarian cause, but always under the closest supervision of the political commissars at the head of which stood Trotsky and Lenin himself. (*45) The task of controlling chemical engineers and industrial experts was a more involved process, one far more difficult for the mass of workers to follow. Since the number of trained skilled workers was inconsiderable in the light of the gigantic tasks before the nation, these experts were able to seize for themselves special privileges and positions and threatened to get out of the control of the workers. It must also be remembered that the civil war had wrought havoc with the trade union movement generally. The majority of the members had volunteered for the front; the unions had become depopulated. This led to a certain bureaucracy and conservatism among the leadership that remained.
The New Economic Policy also introduced individual responsibility in production. Each worker was now to receive wages in proportion to the quantity and quality of his work; at once there became differentiated various layers among the workers. The skilled layers separated themselves from the unskilled and inclined to dominate the posts in the unions. Conditions thereupon tended to become as follows: Experts and specialists in the shop took power into their own hands or were controlled by subservient committees of skilled and specially privileged workers; trade unions were dominated by bureaucrats interested in production rather than in international struggle; the soviets were controlled by intellectuals far removed from the interests of the masses. All this is another way of reiterating the basic general truth that workers who seize power in a backward agrarian country cannot maintain their rule without aid from the workers of advanced countries. Because of the lack of culture prevalent in such agrarian countries, bureaucracy is bound to flourish and gradually to dominate the scene. Within the Communist Party a struggle was sure to arise.
Under Lenin, so long as the world proletariat was advancing in a great revolutionary wave, the struggle could be confined within fraternal patterns. Later, the conflict became sharpened into an aspect of the class struggle, and the Bolshevik Party was split. The first warnings of the struggle appeared immediately after the “NEP” in the guise of a “Workers Opposition.”
The spokesmen of the Workers’ Opposition denounced the new bureaucracy that was arising. They pointed out that the upper layers were arising at the expense of the general mass of labor; the trade unions were being subordinated to a state apparatus; the one-man management was creating a new bureaucracy in the factories; the initiative of the masses was being destroyed; new “NEPmen” and speculators were arising on all sides to restore capitalism. To the Workers’ Opposition the cardinal point was: Who shall develop the creative powers in the sphere of economic reconstruction, the industrial unions or the soviet machine? (*46) If the unions were not given full control, then they would atrophy, the soviets would become more and more subservient to the peasantry and lower middle classes, and the revolution would be in danger.
Soviet industry was administered by the following mechanism: The soviets had created a Supreme Council of National Economy to be in complete charge of soviet economy and to reconstruct and build up industry. This Council had under its control large numbers of bourgeois specialists, engineers, experts and pseudo-experts, to whom the factories were entrusted. Besides this economic set-up, there were the All-Russian Trade Unions in whose hands were the functions of negotiating with the directors placed in charge by the Supreme Council the questions of wages, hours, and working conditions. Third, there was the Labor Commissariat of the Soviet government that looked after the administration of soviet laws in regard to labor conditions in the factories, such as health, sanitation, etc.
The Workers’ Opposition took the position that the direction of economy should be placed in the hands of the Russian unions, the Supreme Council to be retained, but as a subordinate agency to the unions. This would give a real class policy to economic reconstruction. As matters then stood, the Supreme Council was responsible to the soviets which in turn were heavily mixed with peasant and petty bourgeois elements. Besides, if the unions were not given the constructive task of building up economy, they would lose all vital functions and degenerate into mere propaganda clubs.
On this question a different attitude was taken by Trotsky, who wanted to bring the Russian trade unions directly into the State apparatus and thus place them in charge of economic reconstruction really as part of the Supreme Economic Council. Those administrative tendencies which had made Trotsky an excellent Commander-in-Chief of the Red Army here were stretched unduly into the field of trade union life as well.
Against all of these positions was the viewpoint of Lenin, which finally prevailed. The direction of the factories would be controlled by workers’ committees and commissars elected by the unions and the workers in the shops. The unions also were to select the head of the Labor Commissariat, which would be virtually under their control. But the unions were not to be made part of the State apparatus; this connoted a dangerous tendency towards regimentation of the workers and would take the class struggle character away from the unions.
Had the Workers’ Opposition prevailed, there would have been a tendency of the proletariat to separate itself too much from the peasantry, and of the unions to diverge from their Soviet base. Whether this actually would have occurred is another question. It must be remembered that Lenin at one time considered pushing the revolution forward, not through the Soviets, but through other workers organizations. At any rate, the Bolshevik leaders wanted above all to increase production from the existing dangerously low levels. They wished to exert pressure upon the workers to increase production and to discipline them anew. Unless production rapidly augmented, all would be lost, and the Leninists would take no chances on further experimentation. It is another question whether the plan of the Workers’ opposition would have been appropriate after Soviet economy was well on its feet. But, by that time, such proposals had become politically impossible.
On the other hand, it was imperative to keep the unions entirely separate from the State apparatus which was growing steadily with an incubus of bureaucracy. The unions must be free to represent not the State as a whole, but only one class, the workers; in their negotiations with the State directors on hours and wages, this became clear. Above all the unions were to maintain the right to strike. If they were to become part of the State apparatus, as Trotsky proposed, this right to strike in fact would be destroyed; thus the unions as such would be given a mortal blow. It might appear strange that workers would want to strike against a State which theoretically was controlled by the working class but, as Lenin remarked, “Our State is not entirely a ‘workers state’; we also have our peasants. Then our State is bureaucratic. The trade unions must defend the workers against the state bureaucracy.” (*47) In any given instance, a strike meant that the bureaucratic official in charge was really thwarting the will of the workers; the strike would be a scandalous and dramatic way of showing up the bureaucracy, focusing publicity on it.
However wrong the Workers’ Opposition may have been, certainly it served a healthy purpose in bringing forward the tendencies which already were thwarting the rule of the workers. Lenin counted on the Party to check all such tendencies. The Workers opposition replied that the Party itself was being choked with all sorts of alien elements that had joined it only after the victory of Bolshevism was assured. And they called for the expulsion from the Party of all non-workers who had joined after 1919; in the future, all persons who were to be admitted first had to go to work in a factory and obtain first hand general labor experience. Lenin himself not much later was to issue stern warnings against the opportunists who had crept into the Bolshevik ranks and to threaten the expulsion of 99 per cent of the Mensheviks who had changed color and joined the Bolsheviks after the seizure of power.
The Workers’ Opposition was correct in its stern strictures against the rise of bureaucracy in the Soviet Union. However, it failed to realize that the roots of bureaucracy lay in the backward condition of the country and in the failure of the world revolution to support the Soviet regime. Before his death, Lenin, too, railed at the symptoms of bureaucracy appearing around him. He noted the complete failure of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection, headed by Stalin, to change that situation. He found Stalin himself engaged in placing his men by appointments at all key positions of the Party. Finally, in desperation, he tried to strike hard at the Stalinist Party bureaucracy, but the blow fell too late and, although he called for Stalin’s removal from his post as Secretary of the Party, by that time Lenin was paralyzed and on his death bed. The task was left to Trotsky to handle. And Trotsky failed.
1. L. D. Trotsky: History of the Russian Revolution, II, 126-127.
2. The same, II, 228.
3. The same, II, 230-231.
4. V. I. Lenin: Vol. XX, Book I, p. 279.
5. V. I. Lenin: Preparing for Revolt, pp. 10-11
6. The same, p. 14.
7. Stalin voted against the motion forbidding Kamenev to continue his "strike breaking" activities by publishing anti-insurrection articles. Stalin also voted against Kamenev’s resignation from the leading body of the Party. Such was Stalin’s brilliant role in the October insurrection!
8. "And there were some vacillators among the Bolsheviks. On November 4 (17) a number of members of the Central Committee resigned because they considered the committee’s refusal to form a government made up of all the parties represented in the soviets fatal to the Revolution. Those who resigned were: Rykov, Milioutin, Zinoviev, and Nogin. A similar attitude was taken by a large number of the People’s Commissars …" L. Colesnikov: Struggles and Achievements of the Soviets, pp. 37-38.
9. Even in the elections to the Constituent Assembly in November, 1917, the Bolsheviks were able to get nine million votes or 25 per cent of the total throughout the country.
10. The Bolsheviks had fifty thousand soldiers actively engaged in suppressing the revolt, while fifty thousand more were benevolently neutral. The “Gospodin” and student rebels had about ten thousand.
11. The vote on the signing of the Treaty in the Committee of the Bolsheviks was 7 for, 4 against, 4 abstentions; the final vote in the Soviet Congress was 724 for, 276 against, with 206 abstentions.
12. The dates from now on are given in the world calendar.
13. J. Mavor: The Russian Revolution, pp. 348-349.
14. G. Vernadski: The Russian Revolution 1917-1931, p. 68.
15. The Germans took over 113,000 tons of foodstuffs. See W. H. Chamberlin: The Russian Revolution 1917-1921, I, 410.
16. For the decree confiscating grain and announcing war against the kulaks, see W. H. Chamberlin, Work Cited, I, 509, appendix.
17. See W. H. Chamberlin, Work Cited, II, 50.
18. See V. I. Lenin: “The Land Revolution in Russia,” Speech, December 1918, pamphlet issued by the Independent Labour Party, London.
19. The same, p. 7.
20. The same, p. 8.
21. The same, p. 16.
22. Speech March 7, 1918, given in L. D. Trotsky: The Draft Program of the Communist International, p. 14.
23. Speech April 23, 1918, the same, p. 1 4.
24. Lenin’s speech on “The Tax in Kind.” This speech is also to be found in a slightly different translation in “Speeches of V. I. Lenin,” Voices of Revolt, Vol. VIII.
25. Quoted in L. D. Trotsky, work cited, pp. 15-16.
26. V. I. Lenin: Speech on “The Tax in Kind.”
27. V. I. Lenin: Speech at the Third All-Russian Trade Union Congress, 1920. This speech can also be found in Trade Unions in Soviet Russia, a collection of documents compiled by the Independent Labour Party of Great Britain.
28. The vast majority voted for the Social-Revolutionaries in the November 1917 elections for the Constituent Assembly.
29. V. I. Lenin: The Dictatorship of the Proletariat and the Elections for the Constituent Assembly, p. 10.
30. V. I. Lenin: Speech, “The Tax in Kind.”
31. The same.
32. See, V. I. Lenin: “The Chief Task of our Times,” article in Izvestia, May 30, 1918, reprinted pamphlet form, London.
33. V. I. Lenin: The Proletarian Revolution and Kautsky the Renegade, pp. 92-93. (1920, British Socialist Party edition.)
34. The same, pp. 96-97.
35. The same, p. 103.
36. Before signing, the Russians tried to get aid from London and Washington. Wilson sent a warm cablegram but the Liberal Lloyd George met the overtures with cold silence.
37. Given in W. P. and Z. K. Coates: Armed Intervention in Russia, 1918-1922, p. 143. See also L. D. Trotsky. The History of the Russian Revolution, I, 273.
38. See W. P. and Z. K. Coates: Armed Intervention in Russia, 1918-1922, p. 189.
39. This did not prevent Petlura, however, from marching with Pilsudski in common war against the Bolsheviks later on in 1920.
40. See L. D. Trotsky: My Life, p. 424 and following.
41. Major-General Wm. S. Graves: America’s Siberian Adventure, p. 108.
42. W. P. and Z. K. Coates: Armed Intervention in Russia, 1918-1922, quoting from Dr. J H. Hertz: Decade of Woe and Hope, p. 5.
43. See V. I. Lenin: “Meaning of the Agricultural Tax,” Labour Monthly, Vol. I, No. I, pp. 18-24. (July, 1921.) This article also appears in Lenin, Bucharin and Rutgers: The New Policies of Soviet Russia.
44. V. I. Lenin: “The New Economic Policy and the Tasks of Political Enlightenment,” speech delivered October 1921. In Labour Monthly, Vol. I, No. 6, p. 514, (Dec. 1921.)
45. Between June 1918 and August 1920 nearly fifty thousand former Czarist officers were induced to serve in the Red Army.
46. See A. Kolontay: The Workers’ Opposition in Russia, pamphlet, p. 9.
47. Quoted by W. H. Chamberlin, work cited, II, 436.