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Since Lenin Died

Max Eastman

Since Lenin Died

Appendix III:

The “Retreat” of Zinoviev and Kamenev

THE following letter written by Lenin to the party just a few days before the October revolution gives some indication of what Lenin meant by the “retreat” of Zinoviev and Kamenev in October. Lenin was in hiding, and he made four copies of this letter in minute handwriting, so that it might be sure to arrive at its destination. That explains its rather wide private circulation in Russia, although it has never been published.


“COMRADES, – I have not yet succeeded in getting the Petersburg papers for Wednesday, the 18th. When I heard over the telephone the full text of the article of Kamenev and Zinoviev in a non-party paper, Novaia Zhizn, I refused to believe it. But doubt proved impossible, and I am compelled to avail myself of this opportunity to get this letter into the hands of the party members by Thursday evening or Fridaymorning, for to remain silent before an act of such unbelievable strike-breaking would be a crime.

“The more serious the practical question, and the more ’prominent’ the people who perpetrate an act of strike-breaking, the more dangerous it is, the more resolutely one must throw out the strike-breakers, the more unpardonable it would be to waver because of any past ‘services’ of the strike-breakers.

“Only think of it. In party circles it is known that in September the party discussed the question of an insurrection. But nobody heard a word of one letter or leaflet of one of the people concerned. Now, on the eve, as you might say, of the Congress of the Soviets, two prominent Bolsheviks appear against the majority, and, quite evidently, against the Central Committee. This is not said directly, and from that the injury to the cause is still greater, for to talk in hints is more dangerous.

“From the text of the announcement of Kamenev and Zinoviev it is entirely clear that they have gone against the Central Committee, for otherwise their announcement ismeaningless, but just what resolution of the Central Committee they quarrel with, is not stated.


“It is quite evident: because the Central Committee did not publish it.

“And what does this mean?

“Upon the most important fighting question, on the eve of the critical day of October 20th, two ‘prominent Bolsheviks’ in the non-party Press, and, moreover, exactly in that paper which, upon the question at issue, goes hand in hand with the bourgeoisie against the party of the workers – in such a paper they attack an unpublished decision of the party Centre. That is a thousand times more contemptible, and a million times more harmful, than even the publications of Plekhanov in the non-party Press in 1906-7, which the party condemned so bitterly. After all, the question then was only aboutelections, and now it is a question of insurrection for the conquest of power.

“And upon such a question, after a decision adopted by the Centre, to oppose that unpublished decision before Rodzianko and Kerensky in a non-party paper – can you imagine an act more traitorous, more characteristic of a strike-breaker? I should consider it a disgrace to myself if out of a former close association with those former comrades I wavered in condemning them. I say straight out that I no longer consider either of them comrades, and I will fight with all my power, both before the Central Committee and before the Convention, for the expulsion of both of them from the party.

“A workers’ party, which life is continually putting face to face with the question of insurrection, cannot fulfil that hard task if unpublished resolutions of the Centre, after their adoption, are attacked in the non-party Press, and wavering and confusion introduced into the fighting ranks.

“Let Messrs. Zinoviev and Kamenev found their own party with handfuls of panic-stricken people or candidates for the Constituent Assembly. The workers will not join such a party, for its first slogan will be:

“ ‘Members of the Central Committee, defeated on the question of the decisive battle at a meeting of the Committee, are permitted to go into the non-party Press for an attack on the unpublished resolutions of the party.’

“Let them build themselves a party like that; our workers’ party of Bolsheviks will only gain from it.

“When all the documents are published, the strike-breaking of Zinoviev and Kamenev will come out much clearer still ...

“As for raising again the question of the insurrection now, so near to the twentieth of October, I cannot decide at this distance just how far the undertaking is spoiled by these strike-breakers with their publications in the non-party Press. Unquestionably the practical harm done is very great. In order to overcome it the first thing to do is to restore the unity of the Bolshevik front by expelling the strike-breakers.

“The weakness of the intellectual arguments against the insurrection will be clearer the more we drag them out into the light of day. I sent an article on this the other day to The Workers’ Way, and if the editors do not consider it possible to publish it, the members of the party will doubtless get acquainted with it in manuscript.

“These ‘intellectual,’ if one may say so, arguments reduce themselves to two. First, to ‘waiting’ for the Constituent Assembly. Perhaps we’d better wait a while – that’s the whole argument. Perhaps with hunger, and ruin, and exhaustion of the soldiers’ patience, with Rodzianko taking steps for the surrender of Petersburg to the Germans, with lock-outs – perhaps we’d better wait a while.

“Perhaps and perhaps – that’s the whole strength of the argument.

“And second, a clamouring pessimism. With the bourgeoisie and Kerensky all is well, with us all to the bad. With the capitalists everything is miraculously ready, with the workers all to the bad. The ’pessimists’ as to the military side of the business yell at the tops of their voices, and the ‘optimists’ are silent, for the reason that nobody wants to expose anything before Rodzianko and Kerensky – nobody but strike-breakers.

“Heavy times. A heavy problem. Heavy treason.

“And just the same the problem will be solved. The workers will unite; the peasant rebellion and the extreme impatience of the soldiers at the front will do their work.Close the ranks tighter; the proletariat must win.


This was just before the seizure of power. Just after it another crisis arose, when the Left Social Revolutionaries refused to go into a Bolshevik Government, and the Bolsheviks were compelled either to form a coalition with the bourgeois Socialists or hold the power alone. At this point Zinoviev and Kamenev made a second ‘retreat,’ and again Lenin was compelled to denounce them. The following quotation is from an article published by Lenin in Pravda at that time. The article is not included in the Complete Works of Lenin, of which Kamenev is the editor, but it constitutes one of the most important historic documents of the period:

“Comrades: Several members of the Central Committee of our party and of the Soviet of People’s Commissars, Kamenev, Zinoviev, Nogin, Rykov, Miliutin, and a few others, withdrew yesterday, November 4th, from the Central Committee of our party ... In such a big party as ours, notwithstanding the proletarian revolutionary course of our politics, there must inevitably be individual comrades not sufficiently stoical and firm in fighting the enemies of the people. The task standing at this moment before our party is really immeasurable, the difficulties gigantic, and several members of our party, formerly occupying responsible posts, have trembled under the assault of the bourgeoisie and fled from our midst. All the bourgeoisie and its helpers exult, and rejoice in our misfortune, shout about collapse, and predict the ruin of the Bolshevik Government.

“Comrades, do not believe this lie. These comrades acted as deserters, not only abandoning the posts entrusted to them, but violating the direct resolution of the Central Committee to the effect that they should at least postpone their withdrawal until the decision of the Petrograd and Moscow party organisations. We decisively condemn this desertion. We are firmly convinced that all conscious workers, soldiers and peasants belonging to our party or sympathising with it, will as decisively condemn the behaviour of the deserters ...

“Remember, comrades, that two of the deserters, Kamenev and Zinoviev, had already, before the insurrection in Petrograd, acted as deserters and strike-breakers, for they not only voted at the decisive meeting of the Central Committee against the insurrection, but even after the decision of the Central Committee was made, they appeared before the party workers with an agitation against the insurrection. Everybody knows that the papers, fearing to stand on the side of the workers and inclining more and more toward the bourgeoisie (Novaia Zhizn, for example), raised at that moment, along with the whole bourgeois Press, a hue and cry about the ‘collapse’ of our party, the ‘collapse’ of the insurrection, etc. But life soon refuted the lies and slanders of some, the doubts and waverings and cowardice of others. The ‘storm’ which they tried to raise around the act of Kamenev and Zinoviev to the point of breaking the Petrograd insurrection, turned out to be a storm in a glass of water; the mighty rising of the mass, the mighty heroism of the millions of workers and soldiers and peasants in Petrograd and Moscow, on the front, in the trenches, and in the villages, removed these deserters as lightly as a railroad train tosses aside a chip.

“Shame on all unbelievers, all waverers, all doubters, and all those who let the bourgeoisie frighten them, and surrender to the yells of their helpers, direct or indirect! There is not a shadow of wavering in the masses of the workers and soldiers ...”

This is the conduct which Lenin, faced with his own death, saw fit to advise the party was “not accidental” in Kamenev and Zinoviev. He gave the further advice in his Testament that this incident “should not be used against them” – a piece of advice which Trotsky had instinctively followed. He coupled this with the advice that “Trotsky’s non-Bolshevik past” should not be used against him – a piece of advice which had already been violated to the extent of volumes by Zinoviev and Kamenev and their associates.

Since Lenin Died

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Last updated on: 12 October 2009