Saturday, March 31, 2018

From The Archives-The Struggle To Win The Youth To The Fight For Our Communist Future- Karl Liebknecht - The Main Enemy Is At Home! (1915)

Markin comment on this series:

One of the declared purposes of this space is to draw the lessons of our left-wing past here in America and internationally, especially from the pro-communist wing. To that end I have made commentaries and provided archival works in order to help draw those lessons for today’s left-wing activists to learn, or at least ponder over. More importantly, for the long haul, to help educate today’s youth in the struggle for our common communist future. That is no small task or easy task given the differences of generations; differences of political milieus worked in; differences of social structure to work around; and, increasingly more important, the differences in appreciation of technological advances, and their uses.

There is no question that back in my early 1960s youth I could have used, desperately used, many of the archival materials available today. When I developed political consciousness very early on, albeit liberal political consciousness, I could have used this material as I knew, I knew deep inside my heart and mind, that a junior Cold War liberal of the American for Democratic Action (ADA) stripe was not the end of my leftward political trajectory. More importantly, I could have used a socialist or communist youth organization to help me articulate the doubts I had about the virtues of liberal capitalism and be recruited to a more left-wing world view.

As it was I spent far too long in the throes of the left-liberal/soft social-democratic milieu where I was dying politically. A group like the Young Communist League (W.E.B. Dubois Clubs in those days), the Young People’s Socialist League, or the Young Socialist Alliance representing the youth organizations of the American Communist Party, American Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party (U.S.) respectively would have saved much wasted time and energy. I knew they were around but just not in my area.

The archival material to be used in this series is weighted heavily toward the youth movements of the early American Communist Party and the Socialist Workers Party (U.S). For more recent material I have relied on material from the Spartacus Youth Clubs, the youth group of the Spartacist League (U.S.), both because they are more readily available to me and because, and this should give cause for pause, there are not many other non-CP, non-SWP youth groups around. As I gather more material from other youth sources I will place them in this series.

Finally I would like to finish up with the preamble to the Spartacist Youth Club’s What We Fight For statement of purpose for educational purposes only:

"The Spartacus Youth Clubs intervene into social struggles armed with the revolutionary internationalist program of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. We work to mobilize youth in struggle as partisans of the working class, championing the liberation of black people, women and all the oppressed. The SYCs fight to win youth to the perspective of building the Leninist vanguard party that will lead the working class in socialist revolution, laying the basis for a world free of capitalist exploitation and imperialist slaughter."

This seems to me be somewhere in the right direction for what a Bolshevik youth group should be doing these days; a proving ground to become professional revolutionaries with enough wiggle room to learn from their mistakes, and successes. More later.
Karl Liebknecht


The Main Enemy Is At Home!

(Leaflet, May 1915)


Source: Karl Liebknecht, Ausgewählte Reden und Aufsätze (Selected Speeches and Essays), Berlin 1952, pp. 296-301.
Transcription: Einde O’Callaghan for Marxists' Internet Archive
Translation and Markup: John Wagner for Marxists' Internet Archive
Online Version: Karl Liebknecht Internet Archive ( 2002


What has been expected every day for the past ten months, since the Austrian invasion of Serbia, has come to pass: There is war with Italy.

The masses in the warring countries have begun to free themselves from the official webs of lies. The German people as well have gained insight about the causes and objectives of the world war, about who is directly responsible for its outbreak. The mad delusions about the "holy aims" of the war have given way more and more, the enthusiasm for the war has dwindled, the will for a rapid peace has grown powerfully all over – even in the Army!

This was a difficult problem for the German and Austrian imperialists, who were seeking in vain for salvation. Now it seems they have found it. Italy's intervention in the war should offer them a welcome opportunity to stir up new frenzies of national hatred, to smother the will for peace, and to blur the traces of their own guilt. They are betting on the forgetfulness of the German people, betting on their forbearance which has been tested all too often.

If this plan succeeds, the results of ten months of bloody experience will be made worthless, and the international proletariat will once again be disarmed and completely discarded as an independent political factor.

This plan must be wrecked – provided that the part of the German proletariat which has remained true to international socialism remains mindful and worthy of its historical mission in this monstrous time.

The enemies of the people are counting on the forgetfulness of the masses – we counter this with the solution:

Learn everything, don't forget anything!

Don't forget anything!

We have seen how when war broke out, the masses were captured for the capitalist aims of the war with enticing melodies from the ruling classes. We have seen how the shiny bubbles of demagogy burst, how the foolish dreams of August vanished, how, instead of happiness, suffering and misery came over the people; how the tears of war widows and war orphans swelled to great currents; how the maintenance of the three-class disgrace, the unrepentant canonization of the Quadrinity – semi-absolutism, junker rule, militarism, and police despotism – became bitter truth.

Through this experience we have been warned – learn everything, don't forget anything!

Offensive are the tirades with which Italian imperialism glosses over its pillaging; offensive is that roman tragicomedy in which the now-common grimace of the Burgfrieden ("civil truce") is present. More offensive still is that in all of this we can recognize, as if reflected in a mirror, the German and Austrian methods of July and August 1914.

The Italian instigators of war deserve every denunciation. But they are nothing but copies of the German and Austrian instigators, the ones who are chiefly responsible for the outbreak of war. Birds of a feather!

Whom can the German people thank for this new affliction?

From whom can they demand explanation for the new piles of bodies which will tower up?

It is still the case: The Austrian ultimatum to Serbia from July 23, 1914 was the spark that ignited the world, even if the fire was very late in spreading to Italy.

It is still the case: This ultimatum was the signal for the redistribution of the world, and by necessity called on all capitalist pillager-states to participate in the plan.

It is still the case: This ultimatum contained in it the question of the dominance over the Balkans, Asia Minor, and all of the Mediterranean, and therefore contained all the antagonisms between Austria-Germany and Italy in one stroke.

If the German and Austrian imperialists now try to hide themselves behind the scenery of Italian pillaging and the backdrop of Italian disloyalty; when they don on the toga of moral indignation and aggrieved innocence, while in Rome they have found nothing but their equals, then they deserve the cruelest scorn.

The rule "Don't forget anything" applies to how the German people were just manipulated in the Italian question by the very honorable German patriots.

The Triple Alliance treaty wth Italy has always been a farce – you were all deceived about that!

The experts have always known that in the case of war Italy would be a certain opponent of Austria and Germany – you were led to believe it would be a certain confederate!

A good part of Germany's fate in world politics was decided in the Triple Alliance treaty, which was signed and renewed without your consultation – till the present day not one letter of this treaty has been shared with you.

The Austrian ultimatum to Serbia, with which a small clique took all of humanity by surprise, broke the treaty between Austria and Italy – you were told nothing of this.

This ultimatum was given with the express condemnation of Italy – that was kept secret from you.

On May 4 of this year Italy dissolved the alliance with Austria – until May 18 this crucial fact was withheld from the German and Austrian people, yes, in spite of the truth it was directly denied by the officials – a parallel to the intentional duping of the German people and the German Reichstag about Germany's ultimatum to Belgium from August 2, 1914.

You were given no influence on Germany and Austria's negotiations with Italy, on which Italy's intervention depended. You were treated as sheep in this vital question, while the war party, the secret diplomacy, a handful of people in Berlin and Vienna rolled the dice about the fate of Germany.

The torpedoing of the Lusitania not only consolidated the power of the English, French, and Russian war parties, it invited a grave conflict with the United States, and set all neutral countries against Germany with passionate indignation; it also facilitated the disastrous work of the Italian war party right in the critical moment – the German people had to be quiet about this as well; the iron fist of the state of siege was held around their throats.

Already in March of this year peace negotiations could have been initiated – the offer was made by England – but the greed for profit of the German imperialists led this to be rejected. Promising peace endeavors were thwarted by German parties interested in colonial conquest on a grand scale and in the annexation of Belgium and French Lorraine, by capitalists of the big German shipping companies, and by the agitators of the German heavy industry.

This was also kept secret from the German people, once again you were not consulted about it.

We ask – whom can the German people thank for the continuation of the horrid war and for the intervention of Italy? Who else but the irresponsible people at home who are responsible.

Learn everything, don't forget anything!

For thinking people, Italy's imitation of Germany's actions from summer of last year cannot be a spur for new war frenzies, just an impetus to scare away the phantom hopes of a new dawn of political and social justice, just a new light for the illumination of the political responsibilities and the exposure of the public danger presented by the Austrian and German pursuers of war, just a new indictment of them.

But the rule "Learn and don't forget" applies most of all to the heroic struggle against the war that our Italian comrades have fought and still fight. Struggles in the press, in meetings, in street demonstrations, struggles with revolutionary energy and boldness, defying with heart and soul the rabid crash of nationalist waves which were whipped up by the authorities. Our most enthusiastic congratulations for their struggle. Let their spirit be our example! Provide that it should be the example of the International!

Had it been since those August days, the world would be better off. The international proletariat would be better off.

But the resolute will to fight cannot come too late!

The absurd slogan "stick it out" has hit rock bottom; it leads only deeper and deeper into the maelstrom of genocide. International proletarian class struggle against international imperialist genocide is the socialist commandment of the hour.

The main enemy of every people is in their own country!

The main enemy of the German people is in Germany: German imperialism, the German war party, German secret diplomacy. This enemy at home must be fought by the German people in a political struggle, cooperating with the proletariat of other countries whose struggle is against their own imperialists.

We think as one with the German people – we have nothing in common with the German Tirpitzes and Falkenhayns, with the German government of political oppression and social enslavement. Nothing for them, everything for the German people. Everything for the international proletariat, for the sake of the German proletariat and downtrodden humanity.

The enemies of the working class are counting on the forgetfulness of the masses – provide that that be a grave miscalculation. They are betting on the forbearance of the masses – but we raise the vehement cry:

How long should the gamblers of imperialism abuse the patience of the people? Enough and more than enough slaughter! Down with the war instigators here and abroad!

An end to genocide!

Proletarians of all countries, follow the heroic example of your Italian brothers! Ally yourselves to the international class struggle against the conspiracies of secret diplomacy, against imperialism, against war, for peace with in the socialist spirit.

The main enemy is at home!

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-The Blues Ain’t Nothing But A Good Woman On Your Mind- “The Best Of The Chicago Blues”

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-The Blues Ain’t Nothing But A Good Woman On Your Mind- “The Best Of The Chicago Blues”

YouTube film clip of Muddy Water's performing his classic Chicago blues tune, Mannish Boy.

[I have decided to cast the rumor mill struggle to the wind after this last blast since I really do want to comment in these introductions about how they came about or what incidents from back in the 1950s and 1960s brought them to mind. If the reader does not know why I am chucking the rumor mill it has to do with my demise as site manager of this site and my subsequent “disappearance” to the West (as Jim Morrison of The Doors said in one of his signature songs The End “the West is the best, get here and we will do the right”) to find work when I was frozen out of the publishing business in the East as the kiss of death “hard to work with.” The rumors flew fast and furious as everything from I was done in by the “victors” in the internal struggle that I lost like we were back Stalin-Trotsky times to my appointment as Utah (now Utah anyway) Senatorial candidate Mitt Romney’s press secretary to my “pimping” some surfer girl waitress out in La Jolla (I did meet a surfer girl waitress, Damask, but I wasn’t pimping her for the real story see the last published part of this series dated March 19, 2018) to living with a drag queen in San Francisco getting sky high on opium. (See that same archive story for the real deal on that.)

So there is no wonder that I have had it with defending myself against the water cooler rumor mill here and in half the publications in the East from people trying to besmirch my reputation and to enhance their own. I knew I was doomed when somebody I think from Women Today stated flat out that my surfer girl defense story was made of whole cloth and that I probably did take advantage of the young woman to make some money so I could get out from under some alimony and college tuition payments (that young women by the way was not some naïve twenty-something although she admittedly look younger than her thirty-something years and is working on her degree in physical therapy). The writer was trying to tar me with the same brush as all the big time celebrity sexual predators who have been hung out to dry in the recent past and maybe rightly so. Reason. I did not let Damask tell her side of the story. Jesus what is this supposed to be a police gazette tabloid complete with lurid fuzzy photographs.

You know Seth Garth a film reviewer here had it right in a recent review of a James Bond 007 film (why this Bond series is being reviewed is beyond me but I will let it pass) where he got embroiled in the middle of a “controversy” about who played the James Bond role cinematically in the long 50th plus years of the series when he mentioned that the film review profession was dog eat dog. That every reviewer is always angling to move up the food chain by downgrading the opinions of the competition, even though who work for the same outfit.

What you may not know is that at the publication level, among publishers, hard copy or these days on-line, that same fierce dog eat dog ethos applies as well. Except the publishers do a lot of things by indirection, a lot by having their stooge writers take up the cudgels against the opposition and do what they can to diminish whatever is being put out by those publications. This is where I think that attack from Women Today is coming from. See a long time ago Leslie Dumont was a stringer here when she was Josh Breslin’s companion and feeling, maybe rightly frustrated she left for a by-line in Women Today. Recently she was “lured” back to this publication and in time-honored tradition she had been bad-mouthed as now incapable of writing a complete English sentence, stuff like that. Naturally to get at me, a man well known in the industry as a founder of this publication, since I no longer run things they took a run at a simple introduction to defend myself against some pretty loony charges like “pimping” for a surfer girl out West. That gives you an idea of the general climate in the industry these days and why I have thrown in the towel in trying to scotch every half-baked rumor that has come down the pike.             

There are a couple of very nasty rumors I want to mention and be done with this and put me to the rack if you want but let me just finish this series with some serious insights and not blather. While I was explaining my relationship with that surfer girl, with Damask, I mentioned that I actually did need money and so after she and I agreed that she would come East at some point when I was settled I went up to San Francisco to see if I could raise some money from two sources-Miss Judy Garland, a drag queen who I have known since he was Timmy Riley back in the old working class Acre neighborhood in growing up town and who I sent money to for years to keep her nightclub afloat and a gal I know going back to Summer of Love, 1967 days out in San Francisco who subsequently became Madame La Rue running a high end brothel for mostly Asian businessman with a kink for the wild side in Frisco town. I have helped her as well. As I noted in the last posting I got most of the money from Miss Judy but I also got some from the woman known as Madame Le Rue. On the basis of that kindness I was accused of helping her run a whorehouse in any place from Buenos Aires to Hong Kong. Jesus.             

All the previous rumors though went to my reputation, went to my standing in the industry and such but the worse rumor of all since it involves my legal situation is the vile rumor that I was “fronting” or “muling” for some Mexican drug cartel looking to broaden their markets in American and I was to be a prime distributor. Frankly I don’t know what to say about this except I think Jack Callahan hit it right on the head. I might have been a big dope-imbiber back in the day, may have done a little dealing/swapping when I needed dough for something but that is ancient history. But the number one thing that would have prohibited me from even thinking about doing some kind of deal with some nefarious cartel is the fate of my, our old friend from the Acre the Scribe, Peter Paul Markin who for a whole lot of reasons which I will not go into now since others have written about the subject already went off the tracks in the mid-1970s and while trying to get out from under wound up with a couple of slugs to the head in some back alley in Sonora, Mexico and a potter’s field grave there. Allan Jackson]          

CD Review

The Best Of The Chicago Blues, various artists, Vanguard Records, 1987

Johnny Prescott daydreamed his way through the music that he was listening to just then on the little transistor that Ma Prescott, Martha to adults, had given him for Christmas after he has taken a fit when she quite reasonable suggested that a new set of ties to go with his white long-sleeved shirts might be a better gift, a better Christmas gift and more practical too, for a sixteen year old boy. No, he screamed he wanted a radio, a transistor radio, batteries included, of his own so that he could listen to whatever he liked up in his room, or wherever he was, and didn’t have, understand, didn’t have to listen to some Vaughn Monroe or Harry James 1940s war drum thing on the huge immobile radio downstairs in the Prescott living room. Strictly squaresville, cubed.

But as he listened to this the Shangra-la by The Four Coins that just finished up a few seconds ago and as this Banana Boat song by The Tarriers was starting its dreary trip he was not sure that those ties wouldn’t have been a better deal, and more practical too. Ya, this so-called rock station, WAPX, had sold out to, well, sold out to somebody, because except for late at night, midnight late at night, one could not hear the likes of Jerry Lee, Carl, Little Richard, Fats, and the new, now that Elvis was gone, killer rocker, Chuck Berry who proclaimed loud and clear that Mr. Beethoven had better move alone, and said Mr. Beethoven best tell one and all of his confederates, including Mr. Tchaikovsky that rock ‘n’ roll was the new sheriff in town. As he turned the volume down a little lower (that tells the tale right there, friends) as Rainbow (where the hell do they get these creepy songs from) by Russ Hamilton he was ready to throw in the towel though.

Desperate he fingered the dial looking for some other station when he heard this crazy piano riff starting to breeze through the night air, the heated night air, and all of a sudden Ike Turner’s Rocket 88 blasted the airwaves. But funny it didn’t sound like the whinny Ike’s voice so he listened for a little longer, and as he later found out from the DJ it was actually a James Cotton Blues Band cover. After that performance was finished fish-tailing right after that one was a huge harmonica intro and what could only be mad-hatter Junior Wells doing When My Baby Left Me splashed through. No need to turn the dial further now because what Johnny Prescott had found in the crazy night air, radio beams bouncing every which way, was direct from Chicago, and maybe right off those hard-hearted Maxwell streets was Be-Bop Benny’s Chicago Blues Radio Hour. Be-Bop Benny who started Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Fats Domino on their careers, or helped.

Now Johnny, like every young high-schooler, every "with it" high schooler in the USA, had heard of this show, because even though everybody was crazy for rock and roll, just now the airwaves sounded like, well, sounded like music your parents would dance to, no, sit to at a dance, some kids still craved high rock. So this show was known mainly through the teenage grapevine but Johnny had never heard it because, no way, no way in hell was his punk little Radio Shack transistor radio with two dinky batteries going to have even strength to pick Be-Bop Benny’s live show out in Chicago. So Johnny, and maybe rightly so, took this turn of events for a sign. And so when he heard that distinctive tinkle of the Otis Spann piano warming up to Spann’s Stomp and up with his Someday added in he was hooked. And you know he started to see what Billie, Billie Bradley from over in Adamsville, meant when at a school dance where he had been performing with his band, Billie and the Jets, he mentioned that if you want to get rock and roll back you had better listen to blues, and if you want to listen to blues, blues that rock then you had very definitely had better get in touch with the Chicago blues as they came north from Mississippi and places like that.

And Johnny thought, Johnny who have never been too much south of Gloversville, or west of Albany, and didn’t know too many people who had, couldn’t understand why that beat, that da,da, da, Chicago beat sounded like something out of the womb in his head. But when he heard Big Walter Horton wailing on that harmonica on Rockin’ My Boogie he knew it had to be in his genes.

From The Archives-The Struggle To Win The Youth To The Fight For Our Communist Future-On The Anniversary -The Russian Revolution of 1917- Political Lessons For Those In The Occupy Movement Looking For The Way Forward

Markin comment on this series:

One of the declared purposes of this space is to draw the lessons of our left-wing past here in America and internationally, especially from the pro-communist wing. To that end I have made commentaries and provided archival works in order to help draw those lessons for today’s left-wing activists to learn, or at least ponder over. More importantly, for the long haul, to help educate today’s youth in the struggle for our common communist future. That is no small task or easy task given the differences of generations; differences of political milieus worked in; differences of social structure to work around; and, increasingly more important, the differences in appreciation of technological advances, and their uses.

There is no question that back in my youth I could have used, desperately used, many of the archival materials available today. When I developed political consciousness very early on, albeit liberal political consciousness, I could have used this material as I knew, I knew deep inside my heart and mind, that a junior Cold War liberal of the American For Democratic Action (ADA) stripe was not the end of my leftward political trajectory. More importantly, I could have used a socialist or communist youth organization to help me articulate the doubts I had about the virtues of liberal capitalism and be recruited to a more left-wing world view. As it was I spent far too long in the throes of the left-liberal/soft social-democratic milieu where I was dying politically. A group like the Young Communist League (W.E.B. Dubois Clubs in those days), the Young People’s Socialist League, or the Young Socialist Alliance representing the youth organizations of the American Communist Party, American Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party (U.S.) respectively would have saved much wasted time and energy. I knew they were around but not in my area.

The archival material to be used in this series is weighted heavily toward the youth movements of the early American Communist Party and the Socialist Workers Party (U.S). For more recent material I have relied on material from the Spartacus Youth Clubs, the youth group of the Spartacist League (U.S.), both because they are more readily available to me and because, and this should give cause for pause, there are not many other non-CP, non-SWP youth groups around. As I gather more material from other youth sources I will place them in this series.

Finally I would like to finish up with the preamble to the Spartacist Youth Club’s What We Fight For statement of purpose:

"The Spartacus Youth Clubs intervene into social struggles armed with the revolutionary internationalist program of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. We work to mobilize youth in struggle as partisans of the working class, championing the liberation of black people, women and all the oppressed. The SYCs fight to win youth to the perspective of building the Leninist vanguard party that will lead the working class in socialist revolution, laying the basis for a world free of capitalist exploitation and imperialist slaughter."

This seems to me be somewhere in the right direction for what a Bolshevik youth group should be doing these days; a proving ground to become professional revolutionaries with enough wiggle room to learn from their mistakes, and successes. More later.
Workers Vanguard No. 877
29 September 2006

The Russian Revolution of 1917

From the Kornilov Coup to the October Revolution

Part One

(Young Spartacus pages)

We print below, edited for publication, the first part of a class given by comrade Diana Coleman as part of a series of educationals on Leon Trotsky’s The History of the Russian Revolution (1932), which was held in January of this year as a Spartacist League young cadre school. The class covering the period from the February Revolution through the July Days, given by comrade T. Marlow, appeared in WV Nos. 874 (4 August) and 875 (1 September).

The first chapter of Trotsky’s Lessons of October (1924) is called “We Must Study the October Revolution,” and the opening line is: “We met with success in the October Revolution, but the October Revolution has met with little success in our press.” Well, we have an even bigger problem in these years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, as our left-wing opponents who cheered capitalist counterrevolution have effectively renounced any claim to the heritage of October, our contacts have never heard of the Russian Revolution, and our own young members have been heard to say, “We are the party of the Russian Revolution—but I don’t know much about it myself.” We can rectify the last part of that, anyhow. So as comrade Marlow told me, he got the bad part where the Bolsheviks are having all this trouble and I got the good part where they win. The two things I have found most useful to read in addition to Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution are Lenin’s Collected Works, Volumes 24, 25, and 26, as well as Alexander Rabinowitch. He is an honest guy who, to his own surprise, came to the conclusion that the Bolsheviks actually interacted with the masses and went in for lively debate.

In Lessons of October Trotsky tried to grapple with the underlying political reasons for the failure of the 1923 German Revolution. He compared the German events and the Russian October. Trotsky details the fights that Lenin waged after February of 1917 in order to rearm the party. It was only these fights that made the victory in October possible. In speaking of the differences in the Bolshevik Party, Trotsky says: “The fundamental controversial question around which everything else centered was this: whether or not we should struggle for power; whether or not we should assume power.”

Trotsky defined the Bolshevik tendency as, in essence, “such a training, tempering and organization of the proletarian vanguard as enables the latter to seize power, arms in hand” and the social-democratic (Menshevik) tendency as “the acceptance of reformist oppositional activity within the framework of bourgeois society and an adaptation to its legality—i.e., the actual training of the masses to become imbued with the inviolability of the bourgeois state.” The struggle between these tendencies makes itself most strongly felt on the eve of revolution. Trotsky further made the point that there is an intimate connection between the question of power and the question of war.

So these are the questions I kept in mind for this class: the seizure of power, the interimperialist war, and, of course, the party, the party and again the party. Miliukov, the leading representative of the Russian bourgeoisie such as it was, recognized the role of the Bolsheviks as a party when he said: “They knew where they were going, and they went in the direction which they had chosen once for all, toward a goal which came nearer and nearer with every new, unsuccessful experiment of compromisism” (quoted in Trotsky’s History). Yes, but it took struggle, external and internal, because, as Trotsky says, the party is a living organism that develops in contradictions. Actually, I think Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution is very helpful in understanding dialectical materialism and contradictions.

The Bolsheviks and the World War

In terms of the interimperialist war, the Bolshevik position of revolutionary defeatism was absolutely crucial to bringing off the October Revolution. The political battles Lenin waged from 4 August 1914, when German Social Democratic parliamentary deputies voted in favor of war credits, to his struggle against the centrist elements, led by German Social Democrat Karl Kautsky, that participated in the international antiwar conferences in Zimmerwald and Kienthal were critical. What Lenin hammered on was the imperialist nature of the war and the revolutionary tasks it demanded; that is, to turn the imperialist war into a revolutionary civil war against the bourgeoisie and for socialism.

Another key point was that the greatest danger to the proletariat and to the chances of revolution was the centrists with all their phrases about “peace campaigns” and “peace without annexations” and, as Lenin said, their real program: “peace with the social-chauvinists” (see “The Tasks of the Proletariat in Our Revolution,” 10 April 1917). So it was the call for a total break with the Second International and for the formation of a Third International that was the most controversial aspect of Lenin’s program.

With Lenin’s return to Petrograd in April of 1917, the Bolsheviks reaffirmed their intransigent opposition to the imperialist war now being waged by the new “democratic” capitalist government in Russia. Lenin denounced “revolutionary” defensism as “the worst enemy of the further progress and success of the Russian revolution.” Certainly the Bolsheviks attempted to find a “bridge” to the defensist sentiments of the masses. Lenin worked hard to patiently explain the Bolshevik position to the working masses (honest defensists, he called them), who in reality had nothing to gain from the imperialist war, contrasting them with the bourgeoisie, intellectuals and social-patriots, who knew quite well that it is impossible to give up annexations without giving up the rule of capital.

However, there was a bigger question at issue here—dual power. The working masses had overthrown the tsar and created the soviets: incipient organs of proletarian state power. So the proletariat had in hand a conquest worth defending. In Russia there was dual power and a class war was raging; the Bolsheviks had to have a tactical approach that took into account the very real possibility of the seizure of state power by the working class.

The Aftermath of the July Days

I’ll take up where comrade Marlow left off. The period following the July Days was what Trotsky called “the month of the great slander.” Lenin and Zinoviev went into hiding; Trotsky, Lunacharsky, Kamenev, Raskolnikov (a Bolshevik sailors’ leader and author of Kronstadt and Petrograd in 1917) and many others were jailed. In The Bolsheviks Come to Power (1976), Alexander Rabinowitch quotes a Left Menshevik who described the streets of Petrograd on July 5 as “a counterrevolutionary orgy” and said that it was one of the saddest days of his life (a very Menshevik comment). Nevertheless, it was the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionary (SR) soviet leaders who were leading the charge in the anti-Bolshevik repression. The Bolsheviks were also blamed for the collapse of the military offensive, a ridiculous charge.

The ever-present Sukhanov, a Left Menshevik often quoted by Trotsky in his History, couldn’t understand why Lenin wouldn’t present himself for a government inquiry into who was responsible for the July unrest. There was some sentiment to this effect in the Bolshevik Party too, but a look at the fate of Luxemburg and Liebknecht, who were murdered in the counterrevolutionary terror unleashed by the Social Democratic government in Berlin in 1919, makes clear exactly what Lenin was worried about. However, the repression following the July Days was shallow and temporary. In The Bolsheviks Come to Power, Rabinowitch has a chapter called “The Ineffectiveness of Repression.” He writes: “Kerensky’s flaming hard-line rhetoric notwithstanding, almost none of the major repressive measures adopted by the cabinet during this period either was fully implemented or successfully achieved its objectives.”

Disarming the workers and the Petrograd garrison units loyal to the Bolsheviks wasn’t very successful. Some army personnel were transferred to the front, but contrary to plan, the units were not dissolved. Although many Bolshevik leaders were arrested, many were released during the Kornilov days and none were ever brought to trial because the revolution intervened. In any case, there were still some 32,000 Bolsheviks loose in Petrograd. Raskolnikov says:

“The events of July 3-5 and the campaign of savage repression which followed them thoroughly exposed the counterrevolutionary and anti-democratic position of the bourgeois government of Kerensky. The Mensheviks and SRs, tangled in the nets of the coalition, discredited themselves finally and irreparably.

“But our persecuted Party, surrounded by the aureole of martyrdom, emerged from these trials even better steeled than before, with its influence and the number of its supporters increased to an unprecedented degree.”

—Kronstadt and Petrograd in 1917 (1925)

In his History, Trotsky comments that in October many local Bolshevik leaders would look at the workers they were leading, remember how they held up in July, and assign tasks accordingly. Lenin’s April Theses gave the party a correct, principled orientation, and the July Days and their aftermath steeled the party, but neither of these resolved the disagreements among the party tops, which reached their sharpest expression during the most decisive moment of the revolution—in the days of October.

Kornilov’s Attempted Coup

The Kornilov events signaled an abrupt shift in the situation to the benefit of the Bolsheviks and the working class. Kornilov: the man with the heart of a lion and the brains of a sheep. Kornilov had been a monarchist of the “Black Hundred” (pogromist) type. Eisenstein’s movie October, which is good despite its anti-Trotsky slander, depicts the previously dismantled statue of the tsar repeatedly leaping back into place during the Kornilov insurrection: a quite apt image. Kornilov was a monarchist, but Miliukov, the epitome of the liberal bourgeoisie, wanted some version of the monarchy, too. One thing that interested me in Trotsky’s History was the two successive chapters titled “Kerensky’s Plot” and “Kornilov’s Insurrection.” I guess the first time I read the book I didn’t understand how much Kerensky was plotting with Kornilov. It was clear that, had the Bolsheviks not mobilized the workers, Kerensky would have just sat there paralyzed as Petrograd was invaded as part of a coup plot that Kerensky had originally thought was going to make him dictator. The Bolsheviks and the workers would have been slaughtered.

During the Kornilov events, Trotsky relates how sailors from the revolutionary Kronstadt garrison asked, “Isn’t it time to arrest the government?” Trotsky’s answer was: “No, not yet.... Use Kerensky as a gun-rest to shoot Kornilov. Afterward we will settle with Kerensky.” The fact that the Kronstadt sailors now listened more carefully to the Bolsheviks than in the July Days showed the maturing of the workers’ and soldiers’ political understanding. Trotsky said the same thing in another way when he said that Kerensky and Kornilov were “two variants of one and the same danger…the one chronic and the other acute” and that you had to “ward off the acute danger first, in order afterwards to settle with the chronic one.”

Trotsky makes some thought-provoking remarks when he talks about aspects of bonapartism in the Russian Revolution. He says that Kerensky was not the representative of the soviets in the government like the SR leader Chernov or the Menshevik Tseretelli, but the living tie between the bourgeoisie and the democracy: the “personal incarnation of the Coalition itself.” Kornilov was a different kind of bonapartist.

Meanwhile, Lenin was arguing against the right-wing deviation in the Bolshevik Party, which manifested itself in drawing closer to the Menshevik and SR soviet majority and, in part, to “defense of the fatherland.” Lenin said: “Even now we must not support Kerensky’s government. This is unprincipled. We may be asked: aren’t we going to fight against Kornilov? Of course we must! But this is not the same thing; there is a dividing line here, which is being stepped over by some Bolsheviks who fall into compromise” (“To the Central Committee of the RSDLP,” 30 August 1917).

So here we see military defense of, but not political support to, the Provisional Government. In the same letter, Lenin explained how this was to be used like an effective united front: “We shall fight, we are fighting against Kornilov, just as Kerensky’s troops do, but we do not support Kerensky. On the contrary, we expose his weakness.” Lenin continues: “It would be wrong to think that we have moved farther away from the task of the proletariat winning power. No. We have come very close to it, not directly, but from the side.” Lenin kept the proletarian seizure of power in mind at all times.

By August 30, the Kornilov insurrection disintegrated: the railroad workers wouldn’t move him, his troops were won over by Bolshevik agitators, workers tore up the train tracks, etc. Throughout this whole period all these right-wingers were always saying, “If only I had one good regiment!” Except that they never did. The Bolsheviks gained greatly from these events. In his 1922 memoir, Sukhanov spoke candidly about the role of the Bolsheviks in the Soviet “Committee for Struggle Against the Counterrevolution” which included SRs, Mensheviks, as well as Bolsheviks:

“At that time theirs [the Bolsheviks’] was the only organization that was large, welded together by elementary discipline, and united with the democratic rank-and-file of the capital. Without them the Military Revolutionary Committee was impotent; without them it could only have passed the time with makeshift proclamations and flabby speeches by orators who had long since lost all authority. With the Bolsheviks, however, the Military Revolutionary Committee had at its disposal the full power of all organized worker-soldier strength, of whatever kind.”

—N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917 (1955)

That’s right: if you want to fight right-wing reaction you need Bolsheviks!

Kornilov’s Defeat and the Rise of Bolshevism

Alexander Rabinowitch, sort of puzzled, says of Kerensky:

“One might have expected that at this point, having suffered so badly at the hands of the right and having witnessed the enormous power of the left, the prime minister would have taken pains to retain the support of the latter. Yet, obsessed more than ever by fear of the extreme left and still intent on somehow strengthening the war effort, Kerensky now behaved almost as if the Kornilov affair had not happened.... Kerensky began laying plans to form an authoritarian government oriented toward law and order—a right-socialist-liberal coalition cabinet in which the influence of the Kadets would be stronger than ever.”

—The Bolsheviks Come to Power

Rabinowitch thinks Kerensky was stupid, but what were Kerensky’s choices? Lenin put it clearly when he said, “Kerensky is a Kornilovite; by sheer accident he has had a quarrel with Kornilov himself, but he remains in the most intimate alliance with other Kornilovites” (“Heroes of Fraud and the Mistakes of the Bolsheviks,” September 1917). In any case, by this time the masses were fed up not only with Kornilov, the Kadets and Kerensky, coalitionism in general was discredited too.

Everything was shifting to the left, and the situation of the country was getting worse by the minute: famine was threatening, capitalists were deliberately sabotaging industry, soldiers were starving, Riga had been fairly deliberately abandoned to German imperialism and Petrograd was threatened. Even the Menshevik and SR compromisers were saying that a coalition with the Kadets was no longer thinkable. Of course, the Kadets hadn’t changed any, so why had it been thinkable before?

Lenin had withdrawn the slogan “All Power to the Soviets” in the aftermath of the July Days as Bolsheviks were being hounded and jailed, not least by the Menshevik and SR soviet majority. He now began to think it was necessary to look to the factory committees, instead of the soviets, as the organs of workers power. But between September 1 and 3 he wrote “On Compromises.” Seeing the soviets revitalized by the struggle against Kornilov and the Menshevik and SR compromisers at least talking about “no coalition,” he offered this compromise to them:

“The compromise on our part is our return to the pre-July demand of all power to the Soviets and a government of S.R.s and Mensheviks responsible to the Soviets.

“Now, and only now, perhaps during only a few days or a week or two, such a government could be set up and consolidated in a perfectly peaceful way….

“The Bolsheviks, without making any claim to participate in the government (which is impossible for the internationalists unless a dictatorship of the proletariat and the poor peasants has been realised), would refrain from demanding the immediate transfer of power to the proletariat and the poor peasants and from employing revolutionary methods of fighting for this demand.”

Instead, with new elections to the soviets and full freedom of propaganda the Bolsheviks would peaceably fight for their ideas. Not surprisingly, the Menshevik and SR compromisers made clear that they were not up for this, which was an important lesson for some Bolsheviks and many workers. The slogan “All Power to the Soviets” was again suspended, but in the next few days the Bolsheviks won a majority in the Petrograd Soviet, and, following that, in a number of other soviets also. The slogan therefore received a new meaning: all power to the Bolshevik soviets. So now the soviets really represented the interests of the working class, as the proletariat was becoming not merely a class in itself, but a class for itself. In this situation the slogan had decisively ceased to be a slogan of peaceful development. The party was launched on the road of armed insurrection through the soviets and in the name of the soviets.

Lenin’s Struggles with the Central Committee

The seizure of power was clearly on the order of the day, or I should say, it should have been on the order of the day. From mid-September onwards, Lenin began pounding away at this: that the Bolsheviks should get on with it and do it! In “The Bolsheviks Must Assume Power,” written between September 12 and 14, Lenin says: “The point is to make the task clear to the Party. The present task must be an armed uprising in Petrograd and Moscow (with its region), the seizing of power and the overthrow of the government. We must consider how to agitate for this without expressly saying as much in the press.”

Let me touch on other things before I get into the political debates over the seizure of power. The April Theses called for a break with the centrists of Zimmerwald and the formation of a Third International. This was not accepted at the April Bolshevik Party conference, where Lenin cast the only vote against participation in a projected Zimmerwald antiwar conference in May. In “The Tasks of the Proletariat in Our Revolution,” he wrote: “It is not as yet known in Russia that the Zimmerwald majority are nothing but Kautskyites.” Lenin went on: “The Zimmerwald bog can no longer be tolerated. We must not, for the sake of the Zimmerwald ‘Kautskyites,’ continue the semi-alliance with the chauvinist International of the Plekhanovs and Scheidemanns.”

In May the Bolshevik Central Committee passed a motion that they would walk out of Zimmerwald if the Zimmerwaldists called for any discussion with Second International social-patriots. This battle continued; in August Lenin was denouncing Kamenev for speaking out in public in favor of going to a proposed Stockholm antiwar conference, which was to be a nasty mélange of Russian compromisers, Kautskyites and outright social-patriots. This demonstrated that everything Lenin said as to why they should get out of Zimmerwald was true. Trotsky said the road to Stockholm was the road to the Second International. It is important to remember that in the very heat of the struggle, Lenin did not for a single moment forget the task of creating a new Communist International. It wasn’t until after the October Revolution that the Third International was founded.

Let me talk a little about the Democratic Conference, which went on from September 14-22, and the Pre-Parliament that followed on October 7. I won’t go into all the ins and outs of the Democratic Conference, since it’s kind of boring. This was a totally rigged conference in which the Mensheviks and SRs saw to it that conservative and outright bourgeois forces were preponderant. Through the channel of the Democratic Conference and the Pre-Parliament, the political awareness of the masses was to be directed away from the soviets, as “temporary” and dying institutions, to the Constituent Assembly and a bourgeois republic. Lenin was still in hiding, chafing at the refusal of the Bolshevik Central Committee to get on with the insurrection. In his spare time he was writing The State and Revolution, which he made Kamenev promise to complete and print if he were to be assassinated.

Just as the Democratic Conference closed, Lenin wrote for the Bolshevik newspaper an article referring to it as a “hideous fraud” and a “pigsty” and comparing it to the Duma (Russian parliament under the tsar). The second part of Lenin’s article took on the errors of the Bolsheviks and argued that when the nature of the conference became clear, the Bolsheviks should have walked out in protest. In a comradely but direct way, the article specifically takes up Kamenev and Zinoviev, their enthusiasm for the conference and their weak speeches. Lenin stated that 99 percent of the Bolshevik delegation should have left the Democratic Conference and gone to the factories and barracks to discuss with the masses the lessons of this farcical conference and the rottenness of the Menshevik and SR compromisers. It is revealing that although Lenin wanted this article, titled “Heroes of Fraud and the Mistakes of the Bolsheviks,” to be published in the Bolshevik paper, it was censored by the Editorial Board so that it was only called “Heroes of Fraud,” and all direct criticisms of the Bolsheviks were edited out. We can assume Lenin was furious and worried.

Within a few days, Lenin had concluded that the Bolsheviks never should have gone to the Democratic Conference and was arguing furiously for a boycott of the upcoming Pre-Parliament, as was Trotsky. They were not immediately successful. The majority of the large fraction who had gone to the Democratic Conference was in favor of going to the Pre-Parliament—you have to keep your eye on those parliamentary fractions, something that comrades used to remind me of when I ran for office. Lenin demanded to know: Who was the parliamentary fraction to decide these questions in any case? He was on the warpath, despite the comparatively narrow scope of the question, because it was another attempt by the rightist leaders in the party to turn the party onto the road of “completing the democratic revolution.” In reality the quarrel revived the April disagreements and initiated the disagreements of October. Actually, as comrade George Foster has pointed out, the differences with Kamenev and Stalin went back to 1912.

Toward the Proletarian Conquest of Power

The question was whether the party should accommodate its tasks to the development of a bourgeois republic, or set itself the goal of the conquest of power by the proletariat. The deeper one went into the rank and file of the party, the more members were for the boycott of the Pre-Parliament. The Kiev citywide conference, calling for the boycott, stated: “There is no use wasting time in chattering and spreading illusions” (quoted in Trotsky’s History). Thus, the party promptly corrected its leaders. In the end, the Bolsheviks only went to the Pre-Parliament to denounce the whole thing in a ten-minute-long speech by Trotsky and then walked out.

The Bolshevization of the masses was proceeding apace all over the country, as were the peasant seizures of land—a real peasant war in the countryside. This was a necessary component of the revolution. The Menshevik and SR compromisers were appalled, but consoled themselves with the thought that this was just the ignorant “dark masses.” “Their Bolshevism,” wrote Sukhanov scornfully, “was nothing but hatred for the coalition and longing for land and peace” (quoted in Trotsky’s History). As though this were so little! Hatred for the coalition meant a desire to take power from the bourgeoisie. Land and peace was the colossal program which the peasant and soldier masses intended to carry out under the leadership of the workers.

The agitation for the Second Congress of Soviets was wildly popular with the masses because everyone knew it would have a Bolshevik majority. Consequently, it was unpopular with the Menshevik and SR compromisers, who kept trying to put off the congress. Like any form of representative government, the soviets were not perfect; especially in times of rapid shifts in consciousness they lagged behind the masses. By September you see Lenin writing very specific articles like “The Impending Catastrophe and How To Combat It” in which he lays out the socialist tasks that the proletariat must take on, even with the understanding that Russia was a backward country: nationalization of the banks and workers control of industry. He wrote: “It is impossible…to go forward without advancing towards socialism, without taking steps towards it (steps conditioned and determined by the level of technology and culture: large-scale machine production cannot be ‘introduced’ in peasant agriculture nor abolished in the sugar industry).”
Workers Vanguard No. 879
27 October 2006

The Russian Revolution of 1917

From the Kornilov Coup to the October Revolution

Part Two

(Young Spartacus pages)

We print below, edited for publication, the second and concluding part of a class given by comrade Diana Coleman as part of a series of educationals on Leon Trotsky’s The History of the Russian Revolution (1932), which was held in January of this year as a Spartacist League young cadre school. The first part appears in WV No. 877, 29 September.

Let me speak about the war again. In his History, Trotsky said sharply of the Bolshevik newspaper Pravda, which was rejecting revolutionary defeatism in March: “‘Defeatism’ was not invented by a hostile press under the protection of a censorship, it was proclaimed by Lenin in the formula: ‘The defeat of Russia is the lesser evil.’ The appearance of the first revolutionary regiment, and even the overthrow of the monarchy, did not alter the imperialist character of the war.” From February to October, the Bolsheviks began to wield the peace demand more directly because the proletarian seizure of power, the necessary precondition for realizing that demand, was now on the agenda. Lenin never repudiated his scathing pre-1917 polemics against the social pacifists, like Kautsky, or those who conciliated them, like Trotsky at that time. These polemics were crucial to winning Trotsky to Bolshevism and genuine revolutionary internationalism. For Lenin, any demands for peace were now inseparable from the impending socialist revolution and the seizure of power.

Lenin gave an instructive talk on 14 May of 1917 appropriately titled “War and Revolution.” He starts out talking about the need to understand the “class character of the war,” i.e., what the war is waged for and what classes staged and directed it. He said:

“We Marxists do not belong to that category of people who are unqualified opponents of all war. We say: our aim is to achieve a socialist system of society…. But in the war to win that socialist system of society we are bound to encounter conditions under which the class struggle within each given nation may come up against a war between the different nations, a war conditioned by this very class struggle. Therefore, we cannot rule out the possibility of revolutionary wars.”

Lenin ridicules the declarations of the Menshevik and Social Revolutionary (SR) compromisers for “peace without annexations” when they have ministers in the Provisional Government that is telling the army to take the offensive. He goes on to say:

“The Russian revolution has not altered the war, but it has created organizations which exist in no other country…. We have all over Russia a network of Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’, and Peasants’ Deputies. Here is a revolution which has not said its last word yet. Here is a revolution which Western Europe, under similar conditions, has not known. Here are organizations of those classes which really have no need for annexations….”

Lenin is talking about dual power here. In ending this article he says:

“Nothing but a workers’ revolution in several countries can defeat this war. The war is not a game, it is an appalling thing taking toll of millions of lives, and it is not to be ended easily.

“The soldiers at the front cannot tear the front away from the rest of the state and settle things their own way. The soldiers at the front are a part of the country. So long as the country is at war the front will suffer along with the rest…. Whether you will get a speedy peace or not depends on how the revolution will develop.”

In this article and in many others you see Lenin’s internationalism: “When power passes to the Soviets the capitalists will come out against us. Japan, France, Britain—the governments of all countries will be against us. The capitalists will be against, but the workers will be for us. That will be the end of the war which the capitalists started.” You also see him taking the situation of dual power into account and actually planning for what will happen after the Soviets seize power. There are a lot of articles where he ridicules the idea that peace conferences and peace resolutions can end interimperialist war and states that only the proletarian seizure of power can do that. Although the Bolsheviks certainly supported mass fraternization at the front, which Lenin called an “instinctive” response, the soldiers had to understand that this would not end the war.

I recommend the book Kronstadt and Petrograd in 1917 by the Bolshevik sailors’ leader F.F. Raskolnikov. It is a very lively and readable account of revolutionary Kronstadt and Bolshevik work in the army and navy. Trotsky talks about how sailors from Kronstadt toured the country with special mandates from the Kronstadt Soviet granting them free transport and the right to vote in, speak at and even convene local committee meetings. Raskolnikov describes one of the tours he went on to different ships in the active navy “which at that time had still not emerged from under the influence of ‘compromiser’ sentiments.” In one place he unmasked a former editor of a “Black Hundreds” [pogromist] publication who had become the deputy chairman of a soviet as an SR. In another he spoke, somewhat nervously, to a ship’s crew that had only a few months back passed a resolution calling for “war to the end,” but was welcomed enthusiastically as he denounced the war, the government and the coalition with the bourgeoisie. On another ship a rightist officer threw his comrade off the deck. Elsewhere he spoke to a group of Bolshevik-minded Estonians through an interpreter. It is fun reading.

The Fall of Riga and “Defensism”

In Volume One of The History of the Russian Revolution, Trotsky says of the liberal bourgeoisie: “In external appearance the war policy of liberalism remained aggressive-patriotic, annexationist, irreconcilable. In reality it was self-contradictory, treacherous, and rapidly becoming defeatist.” Since the liberal bourgeoisie didn’t think it could use the February Revolution to advance the war, they planned “to use the war against the revolution.” Trotsky noted, “The concern of the moment was not to secure advantageous international conditions for bourgeois Russia, but to save the bourgeois regime itself, even at the price of Russia’s further enfeeblement.”

On August 20, German forces occupied the key Russian seaport of Riga. Baltic sailors had been fighting to protect the approaches to Petrograd, in their words, “not in the name of the treaties of our rulers with the allies…but in the name of the defense of the approaches to the hearth-fire of the revolution, Petrograd.” Trotsky calls this “the deep contradiction in their position as vanguards of a revolution and involuntary participants in an imperialist war.” These events tested the Bolsheviks’ internationalism. They did not for a minute intend to share with the ruling groups the responsibility, before the Russian people and the workers of the world, for the war.

Fearing that defensive moods would turn into a defensist policy, Lenin wrote: “We shall become defencists only after the transfer of power to the proletariat…. Neither the capture of Riga nor the capture of Petrograd will make us defencists.” Writing from prison, Trotsky said: “The fall of Riga is a cruel blow. The fall of Petersburg would be a misfortune. But the fall of the international policy of the Russian proletariat would be ruinous.” In the first week of October, fears about a German attack on Petrograd again mounted sharply.

The Provisional Government began actively to plan to abandon Petrograd and set up the government in Moscow. Rabinowitch [The Bolsheviks Come to Power (1976)] says cautiously that “there is no direct evidence that the Provisional Government ever seriously entertained the idea of surrendering Petrograd to the Germans without a fight,” but he is at least honest enough to say why everybody thought exactly that. Rodzianko, the former head of the State Duma, said: “Petrograd appears threatened…. I say, to hell with Petrograd…. People fear our central institutions in Petrograd will be destroyed. To this, let me say that I should be glad if these institutions are destroyed because they have brought Russia nothing but grief.” The workers and peasants, especially after Rodzianko’s blunt confession, had no doubt that the government was getting ready to send them to school under German general Ludendorff. This echoes the “patriotism” of the French bourgeoisie in 1871, who begged Bismarck to come in and crush the Paris Commune.

Lenin was calling for insurrection now, not least because revolutionary Petrograd with its majority Bolshevik Soviet was being directly threatened with a bloodbath by German imperialism; a conspiracy was entered into by the Kerensky government and the Anglo-French imperialists to surrender Petrograd to the Germans, and in this way to suppress the revolution. Lenin called for the overthrow of the Kerensky government and the substitution of a workers’ and peasants’ government “to open the road to peace, to save Petrograd and the revolution, and to give the land to the peasants and power to the Soviets.” The shift in Bolshevik propagandistic emphasis led Lenin to remark in 1918 that “we were defeatists at the time of the tsar, but at the time of Tsereteli and Chernov we were not defeatists.” The Bolsheviks never abandoned a defeatist posture toward the Russian bourgeois government—they simply varied the tactical application because of the class war then raging in Russia.

The Revolutionary Crisis Matures

The Bolsheviks as an organization had to decide to proceed with the revolution. All but one of the copies of the letter that I referred to before, titled “The Bolsheviks Must Assume Power,” were burned by the majority of the Central Committee, who had been trying to keep Lenin’s appeals from getting into the hands of the worker-Bolsheviks. Lenin, still in hiding, was raging and writing to everybody: Smilga who was a party leftist and president of the Regional Committee of the Soviets, Krupskaya in Petrograd who read his letters out to the Vyborg District Committee. By the time Lenin wrote “The Crisis Has Matured” on September 29, he was tendering his resignation from the Central Committee to free his hands to go to the party membership. One worker from the Vyborg District Committee said: “We got a letter from Ilych for delivery to the Central Committee…. We read the letter and gasped. It seems that Lenin had long ago put before the Central Committee the question of insurrection. We raised a row. We began to bring pressure on them.”

Early in October—and now over the head of the Bolshevik Central Committee—Lenin wrote directly to the Petrograd and Moscow Committees: “Delay is criminal. To wait for the Congress of Soviets would be…a disgraceful game of formalities, and a betrayal of the revolution.” He noted that the masses could just as easily become disillusioned with the Bolsheviks as they had with other parties, if the Bolsheviks failed to act. As laid out in Trotsky’s Lessons of October, the basic position of the rightists in the party, led by Zinoviev and Kamenev, was that the party would be risking everything in an armed insurrection, the outcome of which was extremely dubious, when they could be winning “a third and even more of the seats in the Constituent Assembly.” This purely parliamentary, social-democratic course was thinly camouflaged by their assertion that, of course, the soviets were important and that dual power would continue for an unlimited length of time. No, that was not possible; there would have been another Kornilov or perhaps he would have returned.

Of course, if Kamenev and Zinoviev’s policy had won, we would be hearing today about the massive forces arrayed against the revolution and how it was impossible anyhow. Like so many defeats, from Germany and China in the 1920s to Spain in the 1930s, which occurred because of the lack of a vanguard party with a hardened revolutionary leadership, had the Bolsheviks failed to lead the October Revolution the defeat would all be blamed on the objective situation and the backwardness of the masses. This is what I call the Stalinist theory of the crisis of followers, where they say, “We tried to lead you, but you wouldn’t follow.”

The first showdown in the Bolshevik leadership over the insurrection was the famous meeting on October 10 where the insurrection was voted up ten votes to two—Zinoviev and Kamenev voted against. The resolution, as is typical of Lenin, starts with the international situation, that is, the ripening of world revolution; the insurrection in Russia is regarded only as a link in the general chain. The idea of having socialism in one country was not in anyone’s mind then, even Stalin’s.

Rabinowitch tells a funny story about the October 10 meeting:

“This was to be Lenin’s first direct confrontation with the Central Committee since his return from Finland; it had been carefully organized by Sverdlov at Lenin’s behest. By an ironic twist of fate the gathering was to be held in the apartment of the left Menshevik Sukhanov, that unsurpassed chronicler of the revolution who had somehow managed to turn up at almost every important political meeting in Petrograd since the February revolution. But on this occasion Sukhanov was not in attendance. His wife, Galina Flakserman, a Bolshevik activist since 1905…once had offered Sverdlov the use of the Sukhanov flat, should the need arise…. For her part, Flakserman insured that her meddlesome husband would remain away on this historic night. ‘The weather is wretched, and you must promise not to try to make it all the way back home tonight,’ she had counseled solicitously as he departed for work early that morning.”

Talk about a strained personal relationship!

The resolution of October 10 was immensely important. It promptly put the genuine advocates of insurrection on the firm ground of the party majority. The workers were arming, drilling, setting up the Red Guards. Workers at the weapons factories were funneling weapons directly to the workers. But the October 10 meeting certainly did not eliminate the differences in the leadership. There was another meeting on October 16, where Lenin again argued for insurrection and Kamenev and Zinoviev again voted against it. The next day, Kamenev and Zinoviev submitted a public statement to Maxim Gorky’s newspaper opposing the insurrection, which was published on October 18. Lenin called them strikebreakers and demanded their expulsion from the party. This didn’t happen because the insurrection intervened. Stalin tried to paper over the differences in the Bolshevik newspaper, alibiing Kamenev and Zinoviev, keeping his options open in case the insurrection failed.

The Party, the Soviets and the Conquest of Power

Kamenev and Zinoviev’s differences with Lenin were principled questions: seize state power or not. You can’t get more fundamental than that. Trotsky had tactical differences with Lenin: should the insurrection be run through the soviet or directly through the party? Trotsky speaks about the importance of soviet legality to the masses, and the usefulness of appearing to be defending the soviets. But Trotsky had no naive hopes that the Congress of Soviets itself could settle the question of power. You can see in Trotsky’s chapter “The Art of Insurrection” that by 1917 he had finally understood Lenin on the party question. He wrote: “In order to conquer the power, the proletariat needs more than a spontaneous insurrection. It needs a suitable organization, it needs a plan; it needs a conspiracy. Such is the Leninist view of this question.” He goes on:

“The organization by means of which the proletariat can both overthrow the old power and replace it, is the soviets….

“However, the soviets by themselves do not settle the question. They may serve different goals according to the program and leadership. The soviets receive their program from the party…. The problem of conquering the power can be solved only by a definite combination of party with soviets—or with other mass organizations more or less equivalent to soviets.”

The government was planning to send the Petrograd garrison to the front. There was total uproar and refusal from the Petrograd regiments. It was at this point in early October that the Menshevik and SR compromisers put up a resolution in the Petrograd Soviet, which had a Bolshevik majority. Rabinowitch describes this:

“The Menshevik Mark Broido put before the deputies a joint Menshevik-SR resolution which, while calling on garrison soldiers to begin preparations for movement to the front, at the same time sought to calm them by providing for the creation of a special committee to evaluate defense needs and to prepare military defense plans that would inspire popular confidence. At bottom, the intent of the resolution was to facilitate cooperation between the Petrograd Soviet and the government in the interest of the war effort.”

Boy, were they surprised when the Bolsheviks eagerly seized on this proposal, resulting in the formation of the Military Revolutionary Committee that organized the insurrection! In an interesting passage in the History, Trotsky writes:

“The formulae were all-inclusive and at the same time ambiguous: they almost all balanced on a fine line between defense of the capital and armed insurrection. However, these two tasks, heretofore mutually exclusive, were now in actual fact growing into one. Having seized the power, the Soviet would be compelled to undertake the military defense of Petrograd. The element of defense-camouflage was not therefore violently dragged in, but flowed to some extent from the conditions preceding the insurrection.”

The Military Revolutionary Committee had a Left SR as its formal head, but proceeded in a Bolshevik fashion with Trotsky as its principal political leader. Basically, in what one might call a “cold insurrection,” the Bolshevik-led Soviet took control of the armed bodies of men out of the hands of the Provisional Government. By October 13, the Soldiers’ Section of the Petrograd Soviet voted to transfer military authority from Headquarters to the Military Revolutionary Committee. In other words, the Soviet now had the state power in all but name. By October 21 or 22 the Military Revolutionary Committee told the military high command bluntly that they were not in charge any more. Rabinowitch says that’s insurrection right there. The troops were ready, the Red Guards were ready.

On October 24, Kerensky fairly stupidly provided the spark by trying to shut down the Bolshevik newspaper. The Military Revolutionary Committee sent in a detachment to reopen the newspaper and began seizing government institutions and communication centers. Lenin was still worried. He wrote:

“I am writing these lines on the evening of the 24th….

“With all my might I urge comrades to realise that everything now hangs by a thread; that we are confronted by problems which are not to be solved by conferences or congresses (even congresses of Soviets), but exclusively by peoples, by the masses, by the struggle of the armed people….

“Who must take power?

“That is not important at present. Let the Revolutionary Military Committee do it, or ‘some other institution’….”

Lenin became so agitated that he went in disguise to the Bolshevik headquarters at Smolny, where the Petrograd Soviet was located, to see what was happening. Even a day later, they still hadn’t taken the Winter Palace (where the Provisional Government was based) due to a very over-elaborate plan. One Bolshevik remembered that Lenin “paced around a small room at Smolny like a lion in a cage. He needed the Winter Palace at any cost: it remained the last gate on the road to workers’ power. V. I. scolded...he screamed…he was ready to shoot us.” Kerensky escaped in the safety of a diplomatic vehicle flying the American flag. You will be interested to know that Kerensky eventually wound up here in the U.S., home to gusanos of all varieties, at the Hoover Institution at Stanford. There he wrote and lectured about how to fight communism—something which he hadn’t done too well at in life.

The Birth of the Soviet Workers State

When the Second Congress of the Soviets opened, the cruiser Aurora was still firing on the Winter Palace. In response to the uprising and seizure of power, now openly proclaimed by the Military Revolutionary Committee, the Mensheviks and SRs walked out of the congress, some proclaiming that they were going with the majority of the City Duma deputies to the Winter Palace to die with the Provisional Government. They left deluged by shouts of “lackeys of the bourgeoisie” and “good riddance.” Only the Left SRs and a few remnants of left menshevism stayed. The compromisers wanted nothing to do with the workers state. Always up for a coalition with the bourgeoisie, they wanted no coalition with the Bolsheviks.

Lenin got up and opened his speech with the famous sentence: “We shall now proceed to construct the socialist order.” The three-point agenda was end the war, give land to the peasants and establish a socialist dictatorship. The peace decree promised an end to secret diplomacy and proposed to the governments and peoples of the warring countries immediate negotiations to secure a democratic peace without annexations and without indemnities. The land decree, borrowed in its essentials from the agrarian program of the Left SRs, abolished private property in land and provided for the transfer of all private and church estates to land committees and soviets of peasants’ deputies for distribution to the peasantry according to need. A new revolutionary government of People’s Commissars, at first made up exclusively of Bolsheviks, was appointed, which over the next period proceeded with nationalizing the banks, restarting industry and laying the foundations of the new soviet state.

Very importantly, they worked on convening the Third (Communist) International as the necessary instrumentality to achieve world socialist revolution. They fought with all possible means and determination to spread the revolution to the advanced industrial countries of Europe. Read Victor G.’s revealing letter to WV (see “On Lenin’s Address to the Petrograd Soviet,” WV No. 861, 6 January) about how the account of Lenin’s speech to the Petrograd Soviet that appears in the Collected Works is at variance with other newspaper accounts of the time that highlighted Lenin’s points on the international extension of the revolution.

The Spectre of “Democratic” Counterrevolution

Let me touch briefly on two final debates: the question of a broad socialist coalition and the Constituent Assembly. On the first question, historian Rabinowitch echoes people like Sukhanov, who at the time thought it was terrible that the Bolsheviks didn’t invite into the government the compromiser parties: the Mensheviks and the Right SRs. Not surprisingly, arguments in favor of forming a government in coalition with the Menshevik and SR compromisers were advanced within the Bolshevik Party by Kamenev and Zinoviev, who had opposed the insurrection in the first place, as well as by some others. Sukhanov bemoans the fact that by walking out of the congress the Mensheviks and the Menshevik-Internationalists “gave the Bolsheviks with our own hands a monopoly of the Soviet, of the masses, and of the revolution.”

In principle the Bolsheviks were not opposed to a coalition. They agreed to a coalition with any party if it would accept soviet constitutionalism, which meant accepting the reality of the October insurrection and the fact that the soviets had a Bolshevik majority and they would therefore form the majority of the government. But that was a big “if.” At least Rabinowitch is honest enough to tell you what the problem with this was: not only had the Mensheviks and SRs walked out of the soviet but:

“Initially fierce resistance to the Bolshevik regime coalesced around the so-called All-Russian Committee for the Salvation of the Country and the Revolution organized on October 26, primarily by the Mensheviks and SRs in the Petrograd City Duma….

“Leaders of the Committee for Salvation also drew up plans to coordinate an uprising in Petrograd with the entry into the capital of Krasnov’s cossacks, expected momentarily.”

They were unsuccessful, of course, but they certainly didn’t waste a minute before organizing counterrevolution, not one minute. Let me state as a general rule, it is a bad idea to seek a coalition with those who are actively trying to overthrow the workers state and kill you all.

Trotsky states that what was in question here was “the liquidation of October—no more, no less” by diverting the revolution back into the channel of a bourgeois regime. Since the Bolshevik opposition had gone public with this, Lenin finally denounced them publicly as waverers and doubters: “Shame on all the faint-hearted…on all those who allowed themselves to be intimidated by the bourgeoisie or who have succumbed to the outcries of their direct and indirect supporters!” These conciliators backed down, especially as it became clear that there was no one to form a coalition with. The most acute party crisis had been overcome. A couple of Left SRs finally did join the government—at least until the Soviet government signed the treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918.

Finally, I want to address the Constituent Assembly. I was reassured to find out that a new youth comrade in the Bay Area who wanted to talk about the Constituent Assembly wasn’t worried about why the Bolsheviks dispersed it. He wanted to know why they ever called for it! A better impulse, I think. We wrote a good article on constituent assemblies titled “Why a Revolutionary Constituent Assembly?” (WV No. 221, 15 December 1978). It makes the point that in backward countries under autocratic or military bonapartist rule, the struggle for a sovereign constituent assembly based on universal suffrage can in certain circumstances be key in uniting the toiling masses behind the proletarian vanguard. It was based on such an understanding that the Bolsheviks fought throughout the spring and summer of 1917 for elections to a constituent assembly at a time when the government refused to hold them out of fear that this would lead to a peasant uprising. This stage had passed with the workers seizing state power, but the Bolsheviks didn’t simply call off the elections to the Constituent Assembly because a pro-soviet majority might well have emerged in the wake of the peasant land seizures. That would have been useful in reinforcing the authority of the soviets among the peasants in the upcoming civil war.

However, this was not to be. Between the old election lists and the way parliamentary elections gave the petty-bourgeoisie the overwhelming weight of the vote, the SRs, Kadets and Mensheviks won the majority of seats in the Constituent Assembly. It was a retrograde force and could become a focus for bourgeois restorationist forces. So the Bolsheviks wisely demanded that the Constituent Assembly recognize the victorious soviet power as its first act. Only when they refused to do so did the Soviet Executive Committee decree the dissolution of the assembly. The dissolution of the Constituent Assembly closes this chapter of the history of the Russian Revolution and the history of the Bolshevik Party. The differences revolved around the fundamental questions: should we struggle for power, can we assume power? Through struggle, internal and external, they resolved both these questions in the affirmative.

In conclusion, the October Revolution remains our compass. It demonstrates how a revolutionary party can win the working masses away from the reformist class traitors and lead them to power. To quote Trotsky: “Without a party, apart from a party, over the head of a party, or with a substitute for a party, the proletarian revolution cannot conquer.”