The Moscow Insurrection

I repeat that the part played by Lenin in the revolution of 1905 was colossal. He only attended the sessions of the Petrograd Soviet once or twice, and he would often tell us how he sat high up in the balcony, looking down on the worker's delegates assembled in the hall of the Free Economic Society, unperceived by the public. He lived at that time in Petrograd illegally; the party forbade him to come out too much in the open. Our official representative on the Soviet Central Committee was A. A. Bogdanov. When it became known that the Soviet was going to be arrested, we forbade Lenin to attend the last historical session in order that he might not be arrested. He only saw the Soviet in 1905 once or twice, but I am firmly of the opinion that even then, when he was looking down from his seat in the balcony upon this first labour parliament, the idea of the Soviet State must have already been dawning upon his mind. Perhaps, in those days he already foresaw, in a dream as it were, the time when there would be a Soviet State; when the Soviets, that prototype of a Socialist proletarian state, would become the sole power in the country.

Already in those days of 1905 Lenin was teaching that the Soviets were not a fortuitous organisation which had sprung up the day before yesterday and would vanish the day after tomorrow; that they were not a common everyday organisation somewhat similar to a trade union, but an organisation which was opening a new page in the history of the international proletariat, in the history of the entire human race. (Applause.)

No one was more interested in the history of the Petrograd Soviet than Comrade Lenin. Though he formally had taken the least direct part in its labours, he, nevertheless, appreciated better than any of us what it meant. For that reason he treated the slogan of the Soviet with the utmost circumspection. Thus, in 1916, during the war, when we n Switzerland received word that a revolutionary revival was beginning here in Petrognad, and that our comrades had begun to advance the slogan of organising Soviets, Comrade Lenin wrote, in articles and letters, that the organisation of a Soviet was a great slogan, and must not be frivolously played with. It must only be raised when the workers were determined to go to the end; to stake their heads on victory and to proclaim that the moment of a real proletarian revolution, the moment to capture power, had arrived. Then, and only then, was it permissible to speak about Soviets, since Soviets could only exist if they assumed al1 power into their own hands since the Soviets were the form of a proletarian state, since the Soviets were the undivided rule of the working class.

What Lenin meant to convey was that the Soviets were not the ordinary class organisation, whose purpose, according to the Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionists, was to fight only for the economic demands of the working class within the framework of bourgeois society. In his opinion such Soviets would be doomed in advance. In fact, no Soviets were needed for such a purpose. In his view, the Soviets were organisations for the seizure of state power, and for transforming the workers into the ruling class. That is why he again and again told the Petrograd workers in the course of 1916: ‘Ask yourselves a thousand times whether you are prepared, whether you are strong enough; measure your cloth nine times before you cut. To organise Soviets means to declare a war to a finish, to declare civil war upon the bourgeoisie, to begin the proletarian revolution.’ And Comrade Lenin has remained true to his views to the end.

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But let us go back. The year 1906 was followed by a period of stagnation, by the dark era of the counter-revolution. The working class was digesting the lessons of the first revolution. In reply to the Menshevik philosophy of the first revolution and the causes of its defeat, we gave our own philosophy of the revolution. We were obliged to give it in our underground papers, leaflets, and pamphlets. We were not in a ,position to publish, with the sanction of the censorship, five big volumes, as the Mensheviks did. We would not have found any publisher; we were boycotted by the entire legal press, and, in fact, we were not allowed to say a single word by the Czar’s censorship. Lenin at that time was depicted as a sort of monster who had no place in respectable society. We Bolsheviks were at that time-not permitted to publish ‘legal’ literature. We could only carry on by means of the free ,printing press abroad.

The Mensheviks represented the entire 1905 revolution as a wholesale error, as a wholesale chaos, and elemental madness. The workers, forsooth, were themselves responsible for the defeat, because they had gone ‘too far’in their demands. Lenin’s reply was: ‘You have failed to grasp the meaning of this movement! It was a great revolution, and by no means a chaos. It was a great revolution, not because there was the Manifesto of October 30th (The Czar’s proclamation of a constitution) not because the bourgeoisie began to stir, but because there was, albeit unsuccessful, an armed insurrection of the workers in Moscow, because for the space of one month the Petrograd Soviet shone brightly before the eyes of the world proletariat. And the revolution will yet arise once more; the Soviets will be reborn and will win.’

In connection with Lenin’s views on what constitutes a great revolution, I recall a little incident. Last year, when we came here, we at first were overwhelmed by the colossal swing of the movement, and extolled even the February revolution sometimes as a great one. I remember how in an article in May 1917, I, out of inertia again called the February revolution ‘great’. Comrade Lenin, who was at that time with Comrade Kamenev and myself a joint editor of Pravda, began vehemently to strike out this word. When I asked jestingly why this ruthlessness against this particular word, Comrade Lenin severely took me to task. ‘What sort of “great” revolution was that? It will become a great one when we shall have expelled this counter-revolutionary canaille Kerensky, and wrested all power from the hands of the bourgeoisie, and the Petrograd Soviet shall no longer be a talking-shop, but the sole power in the capital. Then, indeed, our revolution will be a “great” one; then, indeed, you may even write the “greatest revolution of all times”.’ (Applause.)

Next: Years of Counter-Revolution