XXXVIII. THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION OF 1917
THE World War slit open the living corpse of the Russian State from top to bottom and exposed the mass of maggots and parasitic pathogens that had been feeding upon the body politic. Under the onslaught of the German army, the whole rotten tissue of the ruling class fell to pieces in one disgraceful military debacle after another. To make up for its lack of technique, the Russian general staff mobilized fifteen million men, of whom soon five and a half million were counted as dead, wounded, or captured. (*1) No wonder the mass of deserters reached unheard-of proportions, no wonder the revolutionary movement burned fiercely everywhere.
Now that the life of Czarism was in danger, the liberal bourgeoisie, as the chief beneficiary of the flood of gold and profits that came from the War, hugged closer than ever to the bureaucracy. The people, on the other hand, had first to drink to the dregs all the horrors and misery of the War before they could mobilize their forces for the revolt.
In the years just prior to the War, the labor movement already had begun again to raise its voice in no uncertain terms. After the massacre in the Lena Gold Fields in 1912 there came a series of strikes and demonstrations mounting in the first half of 1914 to an extent surpassed only by the events of 1905. In the seven months of 1914, the strike wave embraced one and a half million workers. In July alone three hundred and twenty-five thousand, or one-tenth of the total proletariat was on strike. Immediately upon the declaration of War, the movement had been sternly suppressed but, by the first two months of 1917, labor activity had regained its extraordinary high level. The War retarded the revolutionary process only later to drive it deeper, to accelerate it and aid it to grip the very vitals of society.
When revolutionary activity reappeared in 1917, it was quite a different sort of movement than that which had existed before the War. First, the Second International had collapsed and its fall had greatly disorientated the workers. Second, many of the older fighters had been called to the front and there either had perished or were lost. At the same time immense numbers of new villagers were brought into the city to dilute the ranks of the conscious proletariat. These new elements had to learn the lessons of the past all over again before they could become soldiers in the class struggle. The War also made the backward workers intensely patriotic. In fact, their discontent with the government began not with the declaration of the War but with the manner in which the War was conducted. They resented the bottomless treachery of the government and the immense loss of lives due to criminal irresponsibility and waste. They hated the profiteers and other parasites growing fat off the War and making the ruin of the country inevitable. Protesting against the methods of conducting the War, they came in conflict with the government and thus learned their first lessons in the class struggle. But all of this took time.
At the same time the revolutionary forces had become much dispersed and had taken opportunist and nationalist positions. Even the Bolshevik faction in the Duma displayed certain weaknesses. Lenin was abroad, and his defeatist position on war was shared by no Russian organization.(*2) However, the percentage of patriots in the ranks of the Bolsheviks was not large, and the deputies soon recovered their balance and continued their struggle against the War. The government followed all their moves very closely, and in November the group of deputies was arrested and exiled to Siberia.
It should be remarked that already the police had noted: “The most energetic and audacious element, ready for tireless struggle, for resistance and continual organization is that element, those organizations, and those people who are concentrated around Lenin.” (*3) So closely were these elements watched that in the St. Petersburg Committee of the Bolsheviks alone, three out of the seven members were in the employ of the government’s Secret Service.
“By the end of 1916, prices are rising by leaps and bounds. To the inflation and the breakdown of transport, there is added an actual lack of goods. The demands of the population have been cut down by this time to one-half. The curve of the workers’ movement rises sharply. In October the struggle enters its decisive phase, uniting all forms of discontent in one. Petrograd draws back for the February leap. A wave of meetings runs through the factories. The topics: food supplies, high cost of living, war, government. Bolshevik leaflets are distributed; political strikes begin; improvised demonstrations occur at factory gates; cases of fraternization between certain factories and the soldiers are observed; a stormy protest-strike flares up over the trial of the revolutionary sailors of the Baltic Fleet.” (*4)
The same thing was occurring in the provinces. When the Duma met on the fourteenth of February, bread cards were distributed in Petrograd. Strikes now occurred more frequently. At the same time, the unsolved agrarian problem flared forth again, fusing the proletarian revolt with the peasant war. After 1905 the government had made some attempts to pacify the peasantry by abolishing the old land redemption payments and opening the way to a broader colonization of Siberia. Landlords had begun to make concessions in the matter of rentals and to sell their land in far larger quantities than before. This did not, however, help the great mass of peasants but only facilitated the rise of the kulak and capitalist section of the peasantry. To cap the climax, the War, in drawing two million horses and fifteen million men into the army flattened out the poorer sections even further and caused the agrarian crisis to enter a most acute phase.
The chaos on the countryside could not but find an echo in the chaos in the ruling class itself. The isolation of the monarchy from the people had led to the most idiotic and stultified condition of the Court and to the concentration of a religious hysteria and mysticism that found an outlet in the magic of Rasputin. The Court’s isolation was deepened by its definitely pro-German sympathies. The Czarina herself was a Hessian.
The traitorous leanings of the Court offered the mass of people of Russia a convenient pretext for their demonstrations. As in the French Revolution, where the Austrian-born Queen was suspected of being against her adopted country, and the people, by directing their attacks against the foreigner, were able to overthrow the old French regime, so in Russia, the masses, by concentrating their hatred against the German camarilla and the Hessian Queen, could move step by step objectively against their own “Little Father” and overthrow the old order. Every defeat of the Russian Army was laid to the treachery of the pro-Germans in the Czarist Court. At first it was considered as a problem of saving the Czar from his treacherous advisers, then it became a matter of dealing with the Chief himself, of eliminating him as the real public enemy of the people.
The idiocy of the monarchy, the deep cleft in the ranks of the nobility between the pro-Germans and those in favor of the Triple Entente, the general network of intrigue and distrust around the leading centers of the government, all helped to paralyze the ruling cliques and to accelerate the developments of the Revolution. Added to this were the plots of the English and French diplomats who were greatly discontented with the part Russia was playing in the War and wanted a change in the regime so as to insure greater efficiency at the front. Finally came the palace revolution wherein Rasputin, the Queen’s favorite priest, was murdered by elements of the aristocracy.
“The murder of Rasputin played a colossal role, but a very different one from that upon which its perpetrators and inspirers had counted. It did not weaken the crisis, but sharpened it. People talked of the murder everywhere; in the palaces, in the staffs, at the factories, and in the peasants’ huts. The inference drew itself; even the grand dukes have no other recourse against the leprous camarilla except poison and the revolver. The poet Blok wrote of the murder of Rasputin: ‘The bullet which killed him reached the very heart of the ruling dynasty."’ (*5)
Thus the attack upon the monarchy by the masses from below was preceded from above by the disintegration of the ruling groups whose mutual struggles attested to the fact that they no longer could control either events or themselves.
On the twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth of February (*6) the action came to a head. At first the disorders at Petrograd and the insurrection of the entire garrison there compelled the Czar to flee to the front, that is, to the general headquarters of the army. When the crisis deepened, the Czar determined to return to his family, but on the way back he was held up by the workers in revolt. The Monarch decided to wire the Council of Advisers, at the head of which stood the bourgeois Rodzianko, that he should form a new government. By this time, however, the troops already had invaded the Czar’s palaces and his private sentries had disappeared. Far away from the scene of action, the Czar was pitifully belated with his concessions. The very general whom the despot appointed to deal drastically with the situation, arrived at the capital, and found he could accomplish nothing. All over the country the army was in revolt and was recognizing the new regime that had not yet formally been established, but which was presumed to be composed of the ministers abandoned by the Czar when he fled.
By the time the Czar had been convinced that the revolution could not be stopped and had wired Rodzianko to form a responsible ministry and a Constitutional Monarchy, it was too late; the question now being debated was whether Nicholas himself should be further tolerated by the people. The generals at the front advised the monarch to abdicate; the Czar hesitated between abdicating in favor of his son or his brother; the revolution pressed on and threw the entire monarchy into the discard.
The events had started with the celebration of International Women’s Day, February 23, when working class women, incensed at the high cost of living and the waiting in line for bread, called the workers on strike. The next day the slogan for bread was drowned by the slogans, “Down with the Autocracy!” “Down with the War!”
Instinctively the masses were differentiating between the police and the regular army. Towards the former there was unmitigated and relentless hostility; towards the latter every effort for fraternization and conciliation was made to win them to the people’s side. Here, indeed, is an important lesson. The police were professional dogs of the government. They were involved in all the graft and corruption of the old regime and intimately connected with the vice and other institutions of the slums that had dragged the people down. All during their professional lives they carefully had calculated how much they could possibly squeeze and blackmail from each and every individual. With such debased and degenerate elements the people could deal only by extermination.
It was entirely different with the regular army of conscripts who came fresh from the factory and the farm, who were close to the people and who were not accustomed to shooting at their own countrymen. Although unarmed, the people were emboldened by desperation to stand firm in the face of the troops’ charges. They attempted physically to demoralize the troops so as to compel them to disobey their furious officers who had ordered them to shoot to kill, and to induce them to turn upon these very officers with their guns and to go over to the side of the revolution. Thus the revolution was able to crack the army and to win the first troops to the side of the masses. This in turn compromised these soldiers to the extent of making them the most firm defenders of the movement, since their mutiny would now cost them their lives should the revolution fail. The mutineers became the ardent trainers of the revolutionary army. For them the die was cast; they had backed up their opinions with their lives.
Not that the government had been caught unprepared for the revolt. For years, ever since 1905, the authorities carefully had worked out plans to meet the next attempt. A commission under General Khabalov had completed, by the middle of January, 1917, an exact scheme for the crushing of a possible insurrection in St. Petersburg. The difficulty lay not in the plan but in the ability to carry it out; the human material refused to function since the garrison itself had revolted.
In a sense, a similar situation existed among the workers. For a long time the revolutionary movement had been preparing for the new revolution, but the events caught the organizations unready. It was the women, mostly unorganized, who led the way and started the ball rolling, just as it was the women who most courageously faced the troops and shamed them into lowering their guns. The organizations, even the boldest of them, the Bolsheviks, tended to lag behind the events. However, there is this important dialectical connection to be noted between the spontaneous mass actions and the workers’ revolutionary organizations, like the Bolshevik party. It was the masses that pressed forward creating events that dragged the Bolsheviks with them, but once the Bolsheviks and the other organizations similar to them participated, they stiffened the people in the course of action. There existed no longer the jelly-like wavering, the general hysteria; the ranks held more firmly and the lessons of events were brought up for scientific discussion. If the organizations’ theory lagged behind the practice of the people, in turn this theory helped to guide that practice ever to higher levels.
Within the organizations themselves, as events moved with the swiftness of the airplane, the gap between theory and practice caused peristaltic convulsions to shake the whole organism from time to time. Generally it was to be found that the functionaries of the organization were further removed from the events than the rank and file members who ran into battle and were closer to the praxis of the people. The functionaries had been elected on the basis of past events, already dead and buried in the light of the tidal wave sweeping society; these functionaries by no means could guarantee that they would remain as flexible as in the past when they had won their superior positions of control. They tended to a certain rigidity and conservatism in spite of themselves. On the other hand, their position and training allowed them to see the problem more in its true perspective and breadth, and this too tended to make them hesitate to take the enormous responsibility which the decisions of the day entailed. The action of the masses relieved them of this responsibility but, should they not support the mass struggle, everything might be compromised because of the masses’ insufficient understanding of the process as a whole, and insufficient organization and preparation for the events of the future.
Thus there had to be found within the organizations of the working class a membership close enough to the workers and to decisive class actions to enable them sensitively to follow every event and to push forward leaders who would see that the lag between theory and practice was not too great. Genuine leaders constantly would refresh themselves in the struggle and would remain close to their membership and their class; such people overcame the general conservatism of the functionary and supplemented the action of the class with the leadership of the organization necessary for victory. In Russia, the only organization trained to do so was the Bolshevik party and even this one could proceed only haltingly and with a good deal of friction. So delicate was the equilibrium that it was possible for the weight of even one man to change historic events. The events produced the man—Lenin.
“To the question, Who led the February revolution? we can then answer definitely enough: Conscious and tempered workers educated for the most part by the Party of Lenin. But we must here immediately add: This leadership proved sufficient to guarantee the victory of the insurrection, but it was not adequate to transfer immediately into the hands of the proletarian vanguard the leadership of the revolution.” (*7)
The February revolution was achieved in Petrograd. The rest of the country followed, not because it was accustomed to do what the capital did, but because the capital expressed in the most concentrated form the aspirations and needs of the entire country. The fighting was limited in the main to one city. Thus the February revolution, for an action of that scope, was practically bloodless. Less than one thousand five hundred casualties, including killed and wounded, were reported for the historic days of the overthrow of the monarchy and for the establishment of a bourgeois republic. The democracy-lovers, especially those who later denounced the Bolsheviks for having seized power without taking a vote throughout the country, have little to say generally on the fact that the action in one city decided the fate of the entire country and that, if such could be a realistic expression of the feelings of all the people, the action of the Bolsheviks in October might also have been such an expression. We shall return later to the question of the “democracy” of the October revolution.
The elemental forces that had so brusquely pushed aside the monarchy now threw all the problems of 1905, which had remained all this time in chiaroscuro, into the brightest light. There had been no responsible Duma or Ministry. Indeed, the Czar had dismissed even his rubber-stamp Duma when the telling blows were delivered by the soldiers and masses. When the first shock of revolution was over it occurred to the bourgeois leaders of the Duma to form a Provisional Committee of the Duma Members to run affairs. Simultaneously, with the release of the political prisoners and the advance of the revolution, there was created also a Provisional Executive Committee of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies composed of old, experienced revolutionists. This Executive Committee immediately called for the elections of regular delegates from the soviets of workers and soldiers which were spontaneously springing up on all sides. The experiences of 1905 had not been in vain.
“From the moment of its formation the Soviet, in the person of its Executive Committee, begins to function as a sovereign. It elects a temporary food commission and places it in charge of the mutineers and of the garrison in general. It organizes parallel with itself a Provisional revolutionary staff—everything was called provisional in those days—of which we have already spoken above. In order to remove financial resources from the hands of the officials of the old power, the Soviet decides to occupy the State Bank, the Treasury, the Mint and the Printing Office with a revolutionary guard. The tasks and functions of the Soviet grow unceasingly under pressure from the masses. The revolution finds here its indubitable center. The workers, the soldiers, and soon also the peasants, will from now on turn only to the Soviet. In their eyes, the Soviet becomes the focus of all hopes and all authority, an incarnation of the revolution itself. But representatives of the possessing classes will also seek in the Soviet, with whatever grindings of teeth, protection and counsel in the resolving of conflicts.” (*8)
What was to prevent the masses through their soviets from taking over the power then and there? The bourgeoisie had made not the slightest pretense of favoring the revolution; on the contrary, they were in deadly fear of the people and acted in close conspiracy with the monarchy for the restoration of Czarism in one form or another. They had not even dared to create a formal Provisional Committee of the Duma but only an unofficial one to keep the government functioning during the period of chaos. At this moment the delegation of the Provisional Executive Committee of the soviets came to the Duma representatives and begged them to take the power.
Here we have the unprecedented situation wherein revolutionary socialists, Mensheviks, and Social-Revolutionaries, themselves in charge of the organs of real power, the soviets, the only institutions that the masses respected, went to their enemies, the capitalists, and begged them to take power. This could happen only because the Mensheviks had developed the theory that the revolution had to be a bourgeois democratic one and that, in such a revolution, only the bourgeoisie could lead the way and take control. Finally, after repeated urgings by the Provisional Executive Committee, and after the bourgeois ministers could not help but realize that, if they did not accept, the masses would indeed take things into their own hands’ the Miliukovs, Guchkovs, Rodziankos, et al., decided, as loyal subjects to the Czar, to assume control and try to save the old order and capitalism. Thereupon these craven elements suddenly blossomed out as the “Revolutionary Government” and were enabled to maintain this pose, not because of their revolutionary activity but simply because Menshevism and socialist populism had coolly and calculatingly turned over all power to them and had quit the fight for control.
The masses, intoxicated by the first honeymoon days of the revolution, did not realize that their chief enemy was to be found entirely within their own ranks. They had yet to learn the bitter lesson that always the fight has to be waged on two fronts, one against the open enemy, the other in the rear—in their case, against the agents of the enemy who were paralyzing the working class from within.
In the struggle against Czarism various classes and sections had participated in such a way as often to blur distinctions. In a common front were not only the workers in the large factories, but those of the small and the light shops, not only the unskilled laborer but the skilled mechanic, together with elements of the rural and urban petty bourgeoisie. These masses had been fused into one uncritical mass against the old order; they had not as yet become differentiated into their various component parts. Naturally, at this stage of events, it was the upper strata, the more articulate elements, that took the lead. These were the skilled workers and the petty bourgeois groups adhering to the Mensheviks and the Social-Revolutionaries. At this period, the masses could not as yet distinguish the true from the false, the genuine from the sham revolutionists. For that matter, the Bolsheviks themselves had not been prepared for the events and were not able either to crystallize at once a correct policy or to win the confidence of the masses. All the pressure of capitalism inclined to favor the parties of the Right among the revolutionary masses rather than those of the Left. This was another way of saying that the revolution could not proceed immediately to give victory to the Soviets because of the lack of clarity and understanding on the part of the workers and their leaders and organizations. Clarity and firmness had to be gained in the course of a long struggle wherein every day was to count as a year. The Bolsheviks were to win only after the masses had tried all other parties and these organizations had failed them.
It would seem, from the formal argument of democracy, that the Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionaries, those staunch protagonists of the rule of the people, could not have supported the Provisional Committee of Duma Members. This committee had not been elected by the people. According to the Czar, the Duma had been dismissed. Had the Mensheviks believed that the Duma was indeed a more democratic mechanism than the soviets, at least they could have taken the power in order to call for immediate elections by the people. But it was precisely these democrats who steadily insisted on postponing the elections and retaining a government not elected by the people. These were the politicians who attacked the Bolsheviks for lack of democracy!
In spite of themselves, however, the Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionaries could not liquidate the soviets. All they could declare was that the soviets would agree to support the Provisional Committee of the Duma and a Provisional Government, but they added the condition that the government must allow the soviets the complete right to develop themselves. The government itself soon enough would come to realize that it existed only because of the good nature of the masses and at the will of the soviets. During the whole period there existed a dual government—on the one hand the Provisional Government living by the good graces of the soviets, and on the other hand the soviets supported by the masses but abdicating power to the Duma Committee. A fierce struggle ensued between these two forms of government. The Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries in charge of the soviets supported the power of the Duma. Only the Bolsheviks, at first a small minority, raised the slogan: “All Power to the Soviets” and convinced the masses behind the soviets that they themselves no longer should abdicate their power, but must grasp immediately and permanently what had been available to them from the beginning.
This was how the Russian situation stood until the gigantic problems of the day came up for solution. The matter of the War, of hunger, of land distribution, of disorganization, these were pressing questions that neither the Duma nor the parties in control of the soviets could answer. Slowly the masses were forced to take matters into their own hands; they placed the control in the Bolshevik Party. The period from February to October, 1917, was the period of the gradual, zig-zag movement of the masses to accomplish the basic tasks before them by the assumption of complete power.
“On the 1st of March the Provisional Committee undertook the formation of a ministry, appointing to it those men whom the Duma had been recommending to the Tsar since 1915 as enjoying the confidence of the country. They were big landlords and industrialists, opposition deputies in the Duma, leaders of the Progressive Bloc. The fact is that, with one single exception, the revolution accomplished by workers and soldiers found no reflection whatever in the staff of the revolutionary government. The exception was Kerensky.” (*9) Still without calling elections, the Kadets in the saddle named Prince Lvov as the Prime Minister and supported him with two other Right Wingers, Miliukov and Guchkov.
On the surface this group had obtained central power; in reality they were prisoners of the revolution and had to come to the soviets for approval of all their acts. In the provinces this was far more true than in the center, and while the Provisional Government appointed commissioners to govern the rest of the country, such commissioners usually achieved nothing. They complained that no one obeyed them, but heeded only the soviets in charge of the villages, towns, districts, and provinces. In other words, the top leaders of the Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionaries who turned over their power in the capital were not followed by their own members living closer to the masses, in the back parts of the country; it became the duty of the provinces to push forward the center.
It should be borne in mind that the Executive Committee of the Soviets had not been created, as in 1905, from a strike wave of which they had been the leaders. The February revolution, thanks to the revolt of the troops, was victorious before the workers had created any soviet at all. The Executive Committee, then, was self-constituted in advance while many of the real leaders were still engaged in insurrection. Both in the soviets and in the government, the people in charge were interested only in maintaining the status quo and not permitting the revolution to progress to its end.
At the start, the workers could not raise their voice too authoritatively in the soviet, since extreme chaos reigned, and many petty bourgeois careerists crowded into the soviet and became “delegates” representing no one. Then, too, the country was at war, soldiers were flooding the cities, and, for every two delegates who were workers, there were five who were but peasants in uniform. The revolution could proceed farther only when the drive of the proletariat was buttressed by the needs of the peasants’ war. Within the soviets, the political representatives of the peasantry, the Social-Revolutionaries, dominated the scene and, together with the skilled workers and petty bourgeois elements of the city, overwhelmed all other factors.
Within these parties definite clefts soon began to appear, especially as the old leaders returned from abroad or from exile. On the Right were those people who had been patriotic from the outset of the War, such as Plechanov, Zasulich, and Deutsch among the Mensheviks, and Chaikovsky and Breshko-Breshkovskaia among the Social-Revolutionaries. In the Center there were those who had been part of the Zimmerwald conference, who had opposed the War when conducted by the Czar but who found the War agreeable when it was conducted by democracy. These men found themselves in the same camp as the other Socialist opportunists who were fighting the War “for democracy’s sake.” Among the Mensheviks they included Tseritelli, Cheidze, and Dan, while farther Left, opposing the War, yet wanting a rapprochement between the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks, was Martov who had been connected with Trotsky in editing Nashe Slovo (Our Word) in Paris. Among the Social-Revolutionaries the Centrist position was occupied by Kerensky and Chernov, both of whom wanted war to end, once the War had been connected with the introduction of democracy in Russia.
However, within the soviets were elements of these parties that were forced to take on those responsible tasks which brought them into conflict with the old regime. The soviets, under mass pressure, had to suppress the monarchist press, although later the right of the press to advocate the return of the Czar was restored. The soviets were forced to issue an order to prevent the Provisional Government from releasing the Czar. They also had to solve the problem of feeding the people, and this led them to expropriate private property, to control speculation, and to organize a market. The soviets were obliged to declare all grain stores to be public property, to fix prices for bread, to take control over industry, to regulate exchange with the peasantry, precisely as the Jacobins had done in the French Revolution.
Thus, although the leaders wanted to maintain the status quo, this had become impossible. Soon conflicts arose between the Provisional Executive Committee and the workers. The overthrow of the monarchy had been accompanied by strikes of the workers, mainly for the eight-hour day. The leaders of the soviets ordered the strikers back to work; the strikers refused, and carried on until they had won their principal demand. The Menshevik leaders had wanted the revolution to be merely political; the workers insisted on making the revolution operate to their advantage and began to fight for the real improvement of their position. In their own way the proletarians were testing their strength for the real struggles ahead. In the strike victory for the eight-hour day it was the Bolsheviks who were beginning to make themselves heard over the parliamentarian opportunists. In the action of the soviet executives who opposed the workers’ continuing the strike until their demands had been won, already there was to be seen a basic struggle between the workers in the unions and the peasants in the country. Already the fact was apparent that the soviet deputies no longer represented the real situation in the country and that the soviets had become an organ for the intellectual politicians and careerists who meant to block the will of the most advanced section of the proletariat. Through the Executive Committee, the politics of the bourgeois order, crystallized in the most revolutionary organs, vainly tried to prevail over the economics of the workers enunciated through the regular institutions of the trade union and the strike. Such was the paradoxical dialectics of the revolution. In the long run, the soviets had to give the order for the establishment of the eight-hour day, politics began to catch up with economics, and the workman began to take the leading role.
“The events connected with this struggle for the eight-hour day had an immense significance for the whole future development of the revolution. The workers had gained a few free hours a week for reading, for meetings, and also for practice with the rifle, which became a regular routine from the moment of the creation of the workers’ militia. Moreover, after this clear lesson, the workers began to watch the Soviet leadership more closely. The authority of the Mensheviks suffered a serious drop. The Bolsheviks grew stronger in the factories, and partly too in the barracks. The soldier became more attentive, thoughtful, cautious: he understood that somebody was stalking him. The treacherous design of the demagogue turned against its own inspirers. Instead of alienation and hostility, they got a closer welding together of workers and soldiers.” (*10)
Through their closeness to the soldiers, who were peasants in uniform, the workers were able to get nearer to the peasantry, far nearer than in 1905. These soldiers formed the natural contact committee between the two classes and frequently visited the factories to fraternize with the workers and then went to the villages to translate the meaning of the struggle to the people there. The existence of a vast army of conscripts had immense effect upon the ability of the workers to impress their will upon the countryside and to lead the peasantry to victory.
One of the first acts of the soviets was to free the soldier through its famous Order No. 1 in which it declared in bold paragraphs that elective committees should be formed in all military regiments; soldiers’ deputies should be elected to the soviet; in all political acts the soldiers should submit to the soviet and its committees; weapons should be in the control of the regimental and battalion committees, and should in no case be given up to the officer; on duty the severest military discipline—off duty, complete citizens’ rights; saluting off duty and titling of officers were abolished; uncivil treatment of soldiers was forbidden. “That Order of the Day gained wide and painful notoriety and gave the first impetus to the collapse of the army.” (*11) When the Executive Committee later wanted to modify this Order, the typesetters refused to set up the type for the print. Thus the leaders of the soviets could not retract in time the Order breaking the discipline of the Czarist army. In revenge, the Executive Committee permitted practically all the old Czarist officers to remain in charge. It was left to the soldiers themselves to deal with their former masters in their own way.
In the meantime, within the ranks of the Bolsheviks themselves, sharp disputes were taking place. At the start, the Bolshevik leaders acted as though they were merely a Left Wing of democracy and not a proletarian party fighting for power. Eleven of their members or adherents were members of the Executive Committee of the Soviets and their fraction in the soviet numbered forty, and yet without an official protest on their part they allowed the soviets to give up their power to the Provisional Government. Only on the fourth of March did the Bureau of the Bolshevik Central Committee issue a statement that the Provisional Government was counter-revolutionary, but nothing concrete was done about it. Such friendliness to the new government was not the viewpoint of the membership of the Bolshevik Party, but it was the leadership that controlled the situation. This opportunist policy was rendered more secure when Stalin and Kamenev returned from exile and veered the Bolshevik Party sharply to the Right. These leaders came out with slogans that varied but slightly from those of the Menshevik defensists, who called for the continuation of the War in order to save the revolution. Thus, as they moved to the bourgeoisie and to a coalition with the Mensheviks, the Bolshevik officials began to break sharply from Lenin, who was in Switzerland and up to then unable to reach Russia.
“The policy of the Party throughout the whole country naturally followed that of Pravda (Truth). (*12) In many Soviets, resolutions about fundamental problems were adopted unanimously: the Bolsheviks simply bowed down to the Soviet majority. At a conference of the Soviets of the Moscow region, the Bolsheviks joined in the resolution of the social patriots on the War. And finally, at the All-Russian Conference of the representatives of eighty-two Soviets at the end of March and the beginning of April, the Bolsheviks voted for the official resolution on the question of power which was defended by Dan. This extraordinary political rapprochement with the Mensheviks caused a widespread tendency towards unification. In the provinces, the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks entered into united organizations. The Kamenev-Stalin faction was steadily converting itself into a left flank of the so-called revolutionary democracy.” (*13)
Although removed from the scene of struggle, Lenin had correctly diagnosed the situation and, fuming and fretting, was exhausting the ingenuity of all his contacts in order to return to Russia. As soon as the reports of events had reached him, he had pointed out the fact that, while the workers had done the fighting, they had turned over the power to their enemies; this could be only the first stage of the revolution. What was necessary was the organization of a genuine revolutionary party, a break with the Mensheviks, struggle for a republic, war against imperialism, activity for the international proletarian revolution and pressing for the realization of the demand: All Power to the Soviets. (*14)
Lenin, and Zinoviev with him, were under no illusions about the new Provisional Government. This government could not establish peace, it would not publish secret treaties, nor conclude an armistice, nor free the colonies and subject nations of Russia, nor give bread to the people. Only a workers’ government, allied first with the mass of poorest village population and second with revolutionary workers of all warring countries, would be able to perform these tasks. The job of the revolutionary movement was to expose the government, to organize soviets, to arm the workers, to work in the army, to organize in the countryside, particularly among the agricultural workers.
Lenin now sent a series of “Letters from Afar” to be published in Pravda, official organ of the Party. Significantly, only one of the letters was allowed to be published and then only on the date that Lenin actually arrived in Russia, that is, on April third. In these letters, Lenin urged that the Bolsheviks fight for the overthrow of the Provisional Government and use the soviets as the organs of insurrection. The workers must create their universal militia.
Like a caged lion, Lenin understood he must break out of his prison and enter Russia at all costs if he was to change the fatal direction given to the Bolshevik Party by the old leadership now in control. He knew Bolshevik leaders were taking a nationalist and class collaborationist direction approaching the line of the Menshevik opportunists. As a desperate measure, he agreed, therefore, to permit the German government to send him in a sealed train through Germany so that he could return.
The German government, of course, had its own purpose in so doing. It hoped that Lenin would be able further to demoralize the Russian government so that an early peace could be made, thus releasing all German troops for action on the Western Front. Affairs were going against the German imperialists, and America was on the verge of entrance into the War. Decisions had to be reached quickly or all would be lost. The imperial government of Germany was therefore willing to play with the revolutionist Lenin. Under such circumstances, Lenin had difficulty in meeting the propaganda of the Entente and hostile press that he was a German agent.
On his side, Lenin had no choice but to accept the offer, his sole condition being that the train be sealed so that no person could enter it while he was passing through Germany. There was absolutely no other means of reaching Russia and, in the light of the opportunism of the Bolshevik leadership, it was urgent that he delay not one day more than was necessary. In his farewell letter to the Swiss workers, Lenin took pains to expound his conception of the Russian revolution and the idea that the Russian revolution could not be successful without the world revolution and the end of capitalism. He writes: “The Russian proletariat single-handed cannot bring the Socialist revolution to a victorious conclusion. But it can give the Russian Revolution a mighty sweep such as would create most favorable conditions for a Socialist revolution and would in a sense start it…. It can help create more favourable circumstances for its most important, most trustworthy and most reliable collaborator, the European and the American socialist proletariat, to join in the decisive battles.” (*15) How different was this world conception from the nationalist practical politics of Stalin and Kamenev at the time.
Lenin arrived in Russia not a day too soon. His first words were in the nature of a scathing attack upon the leadership of the Bolshevik Party and the editorship of the Pravda. Immediately he advanced his theses: "The peculiarity of the present situation in Russia is that it represents a transition, which, from the first stage of the revolution because of the inadequate organization and insufficient class-consciousness of the proletariat, led to the assumption of power by the bourgeoisie, to its second stage which is to place power in the hands of the proletariat and the poorest strata of the peasantry." (*16)
Lenin insisted no concessions be made to revolutionary defensism so long as the workers and poor peasants had no power, secret treaties existed, and the War was being fought for imperialist aims. He pointed out that capitalism could never give peace, that the battle for peace must be part of the struggle to end capitalism. As Lenin saw it, the only reason why the workers did not take power in Russia was because they were not class conscious and not sufficiently organized. It was necessary to use the period of legality given to the Bolsheviks to explain to the workers that it was imperative for the soviets to take all the power into their hands. So long as the Provisional Government did not forbid freedom of speech and press, so long would the Bolsheviks abstain from violent insurrectionary tactics and take solely to methods of persuasion to win the majority of the workers to the side of the victory of their own organs, the soviets.
The program of the Bolsheviks would have to call for nationalization of the banks, workers’ control over production and distribution. Above all was it necessary to clear up the confusion within the Bolshevik ranks in order to put an end to the situation where “… even our own Bolsheviks show confidence in the government.” (*17) An immediate convention must be called for the entire Party that would change the Party program on the question of imperialism and imperialist war, on the matter of the proper attitude toward the State and soviets, and on the minimum program required. The Party name should also be changed to Communist Party so as sharply to distinguish it forever from the Menshevik Social-Democratic. A new international of revolutionary socialists must be created. Those who refused to go this way would have to break with Lenin, the leader and founder and genius of the Party.
This speech of Lenin, delivered to a caucus of Bolshevik members of the All-Russian Conference of Soviets on the day of his arrival, came as a veritable bombshell. Lenin had warned them he would rather be with one Liebknecht than with one hundred and ten defensists. Here was proven again the paradox that, in politics, the part is sometimes greater than the whole; Lenin was greater than all the rest of the Executive Committee that opposed him. Stalin was forced to yield in silence, a silence that was to endure practically until the death of Lenin; the others were defeated overwhelmingly. The fact was that the Bolshevik worker members long ago had been prepared for just such policies as Lenin had proposed, and, even before Lenin’s arrival, had fought against the opportunism of their leaders. The arrival of Lenin helped immensely to close the gap between the leadership and the members of the Bolsheviks as well as between the Bolshevik organization and the masses. From now on the action of the masses would be sensitively followed, understood, and even anticipated by its scientific vanguard, the Russian Communist Party, that would interpret every experience and constantly raise the struggle to a higher level.
The Czar had been overthrown, but when was the War to end? This was the question on the lips of the people; it was on this question that the Provisional Government was to fall. The Guchkovs, Miliukovs, and Rodziankos had no intention of ending the War until the imperialist aims of the Russian Czar had been realized: the capture of Constantinople, Armenia, Northern Persia, portions of Austria and Turkey. The soviets, however, issued a proclamation that Russia was no longer interested in annexations and would carry out only a war of defense. Ignoring this action and not waiting to test the temper of the masses, Miliukov published a note to the effect that Russia would continue the War. Herein lay his fatal error. On the twentieth of April, the masses invaded the streets with arms in their hands to demand: “Down with Miliukov.” Again it was the soldiers who led the way; the workers quickly followed and streamed out of their factories. That day the masses were persuaded to return to the barracks and to the factories, but the next day they came out again, this time on the call of the newly revived Bolshevik Party itself. In turn, the Kadets supporting Miliukov organized their own demonstration in the bourgeois center of town. Thus two hostile forces met in a head-on collision; the stage was set for the further course of the civil war.
At this critical moment the revolution was menaced by a great threat. In the first place, many of the Bolsheviks, apparently having quelled the Right danger in their ranks and having realized how power had slipped from their hands into that of the bourgeoisie, believed, together with the soviet workers, who also now appreciated that the Provisional Government lived only by sufferance, that it would be a very easy thing, as easy as the downfall of the Czar, to overthrow the Provisional Government and capitalism. In these days, the Petrograd Bolshevik Central Committee actually put forward the slogan, “Down with the Provisional Government!” They did not consider such a move totally unprepared for; that it was one thing to put down the remnants of a decayed monarchy supported by no active class, and another thing to put down the capitalist system then dominant throughout the world. The seizure of power would have to be maintained and supported by a proletariat only recently awakened and organized, still far removed from the peasantry and soldiery so far as socialist demands were concerned. The submersion of the Provisional Government could have been only a Blanquist adventure and would have led to the sternest repression by the reactionary forces aided by middle layers of the population.
The danger manifest in the “April Days” is inherent in all people’s revolutions. The masses in their “honeymoon” stage underestimate their difficulties and the power of the enemy. They believe that “the people” are basically united and that the conquest of power for the new social order can be achieved at one blow. In such a parlous stage of the revolution, only a stern and tested party close to the realities of the situation can prevent the masses from compromising themselves and going too far. This is precisely what Lenin attempted to do. He threw all his energy against the “Leftist” Central Committee of the Petrograd Bolshevik Party. The slogan, “Down with the Provisional Government,” was dropped.
On the other hand, the government had prepared for precisely this sort of provocation. Miliukov had already been in consultation with General Kornilov for the stationing of troops and cannon and the smashing of the demonstration. But here, too, the counter-revolutionary forces miscalculated and were made to appreciate the fact that behind the Bolsheviks stood the soviets. Faced with the menace of Kornilov, the Executive Committee of the Soviets was impelled to wire all the regiments that "To the Executive Committee alone belongs the right to command you. Thereafter every order for the despatch of troops had, besides the customary formalities, to be issued on an official paper of the Soviet and countersigned by no less than two persons authorized for this purpose.” (*18)
Thus, despite itself, and to save its own neck, the Executive Committee was forced to divorce itself farther from the Government and to demonstrate its own power. The Provisional Government had exposed itself openly as the enemy of the people, not only in its note for the continuation of the War with Czarist aims, but in its readiness to shoot down the revolution whose agent it professed to be. Although the civil war was averted, Miliukov had to resign, together with Guchkov. With the ousting of the Kadets, it became necessary to establish a new government, which was accomplished, still without elections, by the formation of a coalition between the remnants of the old Provisional Committee and the elements controlling the Executive Committee of the Soviets. The Social-Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks entered the government.
Within the soviets, support was accumulating for the demand of the Bolsheviks that the soviets take the power. Already the April Days had forced the hand of the Executive Committee and, as a result, the Bolsheviks had rallied at least one-third of the Petrograd proletariat behind them. Within the Bolshevik Party, the line of Lenin clearly had become recognized as indisputably correct. The whole atmosphere was clearing. To overcome this Bolshevik pressure, the opportunists decided to enter the government. The coalition in fact was to be a substitute for the soviets’ taking power. The self-appointed leaders of the soviets were to enter the Provisional Government, not as a majority, of course, but as a minority, not to take responsibility for the events, but only, like the dog in the manger, to prevent the masses from taking the responsibility which the leaders renounced.
The entrance of the Mensheviks into the government was also for the purpose of stabilizing the government and renewing the offensive against the Germans. The April offensive of the Entente had failed. It was necessary to renew the war on the Eastern Front in order to stave off the Germans until the Americans could arrive. Socialists from France, Belgium, and England were shipped into Russia by their respective governments to persuade the soviets to continue the war. Nonetheless, the entrance of the Mensheviks into the government was the very act necessary to expose them. Only by hoisting them into the high office of leadership could the masses hang them by their own petard. While the revolution here made another definite turn to the Left, simultaneously the socialists were forced to take responsibility for all the crimes of capitalism and to move to the Right.
On June 18, the new Provisional Government, socialists and all, began a new offensive on the Western Front. By July 9, this was transformed into a catastrophic defeat and, with the rout at the front, the revolution took another tremendous leap forward. Throughout the provinces the peasants were beginning to take matters into their own hands and to confiscate the estates of the nobles. In the cities, hunger grew apace, and the employers began a systematic series of lockouts designed to demoralize the workers and to throw the country into a panic.
By June the Bolsheviks were winning the majority of the shop committees, which were closer to the proletariat than the soviets, and thus understood better the aims of the Bolsheviks. At a conference of the factory and shop committees of Petrograd, for example, the Bolshevik resolution won 335 out of 421 votes. Throughout the trade unions the Bolshevik influence was becoming strong. All the by-elections to the soviets also were showing a victory for the Left, and the Bolshevik Party was growing at a great rate. The agitation of the Leninists everywhere resulted in a workers’ militia taking form under the direction of the factory committees. Among the Kronstadt sailors, the Bolsheviks early had won a majority, and also in certain key regiments in the army, such as among the Lettish troops.
During this period, too, the workers were beginning to realize that small and sporadic strikes would not enable them to solve any of their important problems. They were now being persuaded by the Bolsheviks not to waste their strength in such maneuvers, but to conserve their energy for the second revolution that would soon come to complete the first. As a result of the victory of the Left in the conference of shop delegates, the struggle between the Bolsheviks and the socialist compromisers took on the form of a conflict between the soviet executives backed up by a National Soviet Congress, called in June, and the workers in the shops. To bring the matter to a sharp issue, the Bolsheviks determined upon a demonstration in Petrograd on June 10, during the sessions of the Congress of the Soviets. The manifestation was to raise the banner of “Power to the Soviets” and to demand “Down with the Ten Capitalist Ministers.” Upon hearing this, the Congress of the Soviets categorically demanded that all demonstrations be forbidden for three days. Thus, when dealing with the Bolsheviks, the soviet compromisers did not hesitate to use the power that they were constantly swearing belonged only to the State. In the face of this drastic decision, the Bolsheviks decided to postpone their demonstration. Pressing their advantage, the Mensheviks actually tried to disarm the workers and the Bolsheviks, but this was attempting too much, and they were forced to withdraw from an action that would have led to civil war. So matters stood for the moment. In the end, the Soviet Congress itself had to call the demonstration for June 18; in that demonstration, the Bolshevik banners and slogans overwhelmingly dominated the parade.
It had now become clear that the revolution could not stand still, but would either turn backwards into the hands of the reactionary forces or go forward towards the soviet power and the solution of the difficulties which constantly were growing worse. At the top, the leaders of the soviets were working more closely with the bourgeois Provisional Government; below, the masses began to press forward on their own initiative for a permanent solution of the question of power. Particularly impatient were the soldiers who, being peasants, did not entirely understand the relation of forces throughout the whole country. Moreover, these soldiers had arms in their hands and believed that they could do again what they had done in February. When these militants were ordered to the front at the same time that the Kadet ministers resigned from the government with the intention of preparing for the counter-revolution and throwing the blame of the collapse of the renewed offensive at the front upon the soviet opportunists in the government, the impatience of the masses could no longer be contained. Stimulated by the Anarchists who were now beginning to make themselves felt, the masses poured out into the streets on July third with demands for the removal of the ten bourgeois ministers, all power to the soviets, cessation of the offensive, confiscation of the printing plants of the bourgeois press, the land to be State property, and national control of production.
Paradoxically, while the slogans were indeed Bolshevik ones, the demonstration was bitterly opposed by the Bolsheviks. It is strange that the most revolutionary party should be placed in a position to restrain the revolution, yet that was precisely the situation in which the Bolsheviks found themselves. They knew that such an armed demonstration could be followed only by civil war, and they understood that, in this respect, Petrograd and Kronstadt were far in advance of the rest of the country. It was necessary to organize more solidly, to prepare better, and to wait for the rest of the country to catch up to its vanguard. In spite of these arguments, the masses decided to act; once the demonstration was in progress, the Bolsheviks participated in it in order to be with the masses in all of their battles, even when they were doomed to defeat.
What is further significant is the fact that the masses could so easily shove aside the opinion of their most trusted section, the Bolshevik Party. It was a symptom of the enormous energy and initiative of the toilers, and also a sign that they had not yet come to appreciate the value of organization and a vanguard leadership. The newly awakened people believed the formless mass in the street, stiffened by some regiments, could take the place of prepared insurrectionary forces. They had the illusion that the action would be a matter of a few blows, and conceived of the conquest of power in an entirely too haphazard fashion. On the other hand to the clearest thinkers among the Bolsheviks, such as Lenin and Trotsky, it had become clear that from now on there must be the most feverish haste in mobilizing the masses for the insurrection. The disregard of the warnings of the Bolshevik Party combined with the utilization of its slogans was an ominous signal that the Party was lagging behind events, and that it must work day and night with maximum strength to organize the masses for the advancement of the revolution; otherwise the toilers would be defeated by the counter revolution and the plans of the Party would mature entirely too late. From now on, Lenin bent all his energies for the preparation of the insurrection that would come in October. In the course of this orientation, the leadership of the Bolsheviks split wide open, several of the most prominent functionaries showing their opposition to the second revolution.
The July demonstration made the Provisional government understand that it was absolutely imperative to disarm the masses, and that the first step in this direction would have to be a reign of terror against the Bolsheviks. But in fighting the Bolsheviks, the coalition regime only could play into the hands of the counter-revolution and stand fully revealed as the enemy of the people. This in turn would eventually spell the doom of the government and would bring the victory to the Bolshevik forces.
To meet the July demonstration, Kerensky was sent to the front to round up loyal regiments who were to be ready to shoot down the masses. Conspiring with Kerensky against the people were the leaders of the soviets themselves. A ferocious attack was launched against the Bolsheviks; they were hunted down, their headquarters destroyed, and their leaders arrested. A great hue and cry was raised that the Bolsheviks were the agents of the Kaiser. The Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionaries took prominent part in this disgraceful campaign. Finally, with the help of the most reactionary regiments, the Provisional Government and the Executive Committee were able to put down the demonstration.
The “July Days” resulted in making clear the great difference between the shop committees and the soviets. As we have seen, the shop committee’s, composed solely of proletarians mostly from the big factories, had gone Bolshevik relatively early. Intoxicated by their victory in the basic industries of Petrograd, the Petrograd Central Committee of the Bolsheviks had imagined earlier that the time had come to strike. They underestimated the fact that at the same time the Mensheviks were still in control of the soviets, which in turn were divided into two sections, one for workers and one for soldiers, and embraced far wider strata of the masses than the shop committees. Lenin and the Central Committee saw that it was insufficient to win only the shop committees at this stage of the movement; it was above all imperative to win the majority of the soviets. Later, the Bolsheviks would seriously consider whether, in the light of the fact that the Executive Committee and the majority of the leadership of the soviets no longer represented the will of the people, it would not be wise to brush aside the soviets as instruments of insurrection and use other organs, such as the shop committees and the unions. This question, however, did not come up in the “July Days” for the simple reason that the Bolsheviks were not only a minority, but the soviets were entirely too weak in the countryside as a whole.
It is important to disabuse oneself of the idea that revolutionary elements are bound to the utilization of any given form or instrument under all circumstances. It is a question yet to be settled in the more industrialized countries, where the agrarian population and petty bourgeois mass are not so great, whether the instruments of insurrection and control will be soviets rather than trade union councils or shop committees. Certainly the latter are more restricted bodies than are soviets, but, in countries where the proletariat decisively leads and is the overwhelming majority of the population, it may not be necessary to create soviets.
Even in Russia, once having won the shop committees and the mass of factory workers at the point of production, it could not be long before the soviets would be swung in line in the cities; from there the example would spread throughout the country. But while the shop committees were the vanguard as compared to the soviets, they would have to pause in their move to conquer power until they had won their fellow-travelers in the soviets to their side. It should be borne in mind that, during the War, the soldiers’ soviets were quartered within the cities and were armed. In other times, the city would have been able to deal with the countryside at arms length but, during the War, the peasantry, in the form of the mass of armed soldiers, were encamped right within the city and were the ones with the decisive voice. While these soldiers’ organizations eventually became an excellent liason between the workers and the peasantry to transfer and to spread the demands of the advanced proletarians throughout the countryside, and to compel the workers to reflect that they could not move to victory without firmly attaching the soldier and the peasantry to their side, for the time being they were a force that weighed down the workers. The existence of this more conservative force contributed to the defeat during the “July Days,” but helped to remind the workers that they must be sober and sure and engage in no adventures.
If 1905 was a dress rehearsal for February 1917, then the “July Days” were a dress rehearsal for October. During the course of this movement, the Bolsheviks found themselves face to face with the same problems relevant to taking power through an organized insurrection which they were to face later. The July experiences were invaluable, not only to the masses, but to the Party planning the insurrection. The mistakes made in the July trial were corrected in October. That, too, accounts for the relatively very slight casualties in the October Revolution.
From the broad historic point of view it seems that attempts on the style of the “July Days” are necessary experiences for all revolutions of a proletarian nature. It is impossible for the masses to test their powers without sometimes going beyond the proper limits. It is impossible for them to learn all the lessons without coming up against the solid walls of experience whereby categorical imperatives can be knocked into their heads. In other instances the semi-insurrections comparable to the “July Days” have been fatal to the revolution; in the Russian experience they were, on the contrary, but the necessary preliminary steps on the road to power. In the Russian Revolution there was a Bolshevik Party.
1. The total loss to Russia, including loss of children due to decreased birth rate, has been estimated at eight million souls! (See S. Kohn and A. F. Meyendorff: The Cost of the War to Russia, p. 138.)
2. See L. D. Trotsky: The History of the Russian Revolution, I, 37.
3. The same, quoting Police Report, p. 36.
4. The same, pp. 42-43.
5. The History of the Russian Revolution, I, 75.
6. The dates are of the old Russian calendar, that is thirteen days behind that of the ordinary calendar.
7. The History of the Russian Revolution, I, 152.
8. The same, I, p. 159.
9. The History of the Russian Revolution, I, 183.
10. The same, p. 244.
11. General A. I. Denikin: The Russian Turmoil, p. 61.
Denikin declares: “Kerensky is reported to have declared afterwards pathetically that he would have given ten years of his life to prevent the order from being signed.” (The same, p. 62.)
12. The official organ of the Bolsheviks edited by Kamenev and Stalin.
13. The same, pp. 291-292.
14. See V. I. Lenin: Collected Works, Vol. XX, Book I, pp. 19-20.
15. The same, p. 87.
16. The same, p. 97.
17. The same, p. 98.
18. L. D. Trotsky: History of the Russian Revolution, I, 348.