Bebel and the Bolsheviks

On the eve of the Third Congress (that is the first congress of the Bolsheviks), Bebel rendered the following service to the Mensheviks. When our congress met, he sent us a letter in the name of the Central Committee of the German Social Democracy, in which he said the following: ‘Children, don’t you want to make peace? I, Bebel, offer you and the Mensheviks arbitration. Why this split? Submit your dispute to our court of arbitration.‘ Such was the letter addressed by Bebel to Comrade Lenin, who brought it to the congress, and the congress declared: ‘We highly respect our Comrade Bebel, but on the question as to how to carry on the fight in our country against the Czar and the bourgeoisie, we must ask permission to hold our own view. Permit us also to deal with the Mensheviks in a way which agents of the bourgeoisie deserve.’ Bebel was much amazed by the ‘impertinence’ of our congress, but there was nothing for him to do, except to shrug his shoulders.

I quote this incident in order to show the kind of atmosphere, Russian and international, in which Lenin was fighting at the head of the then still small army of the Socialist revolution.

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Already in the revolution of 1905 Lenin was playing a leading part. This, to the outward gaze, was not so noticeable at that time as it has been in the present revolution. You are aware that the first Petrograd Soviet of the Workers’ Delegates in 1905 was formed by the Mensheviks, but in all its practical actions it followed, on the whole, the lead of the Bolsheviks. When the tide rose and the waters flooded the banks, the working class became aware that to form Soviets was virtually the same thing as to fight for power. Thereby the working class became Bolshevik.

After the 1905 revolution was defeated and the counterrevolution set in, when we began summing up our experiences, Martov and his friends sat down by the waters of Babylon and started bemoaning the course of the first revolution. The Mensheviks themselves then had to admit that, alas, the revolution had been proceeding according to Bolshevik precepts; that the working class had unfortunately followed the Bolsheviks.

The Moscow armed insurrection, though defeated and crushed had nevertheless been the apotheosis of the Bolshevik tactics during the revolution. We were defeated, and Plekhanov’s only comment on the event was the philistine phrase: ‘These people ought not to have taken up arms.’ Lenin’s attitude towards the Moscow insurrection was different. To him there was no nobler and more honourable page in the history of the revolution than the Moscow armed insurrection. The first thing he did was to collect all the material relating to it. He wanted to elucidate all its features, down to the very smallest, and all its technical details. He wanted to ascertain the biography of every participant in the insurrection. He endeavoured to interrogate every military man who had taken part in it. He invited all those who took part in it to come forward and to explain to the working class and to the world at large, how the Moscow insurrection had been prepared and what had been the reasons for its defeat. For Lenin realised that the Moscow insurrection was the first outpost skirmish with the bourgeois world. He realised the world-historic significance of the Moscow insurrection, crushed and drowned in the blood of the workers, yet the first glorious working class revolt against Czarism and the bourgeoisie in a most backward country.

Next: The Moscow Insurrection