Tue Jul 23, 2024
July 23, 2024

88 years without Lenin: Insurrection and organizations of workers’ power

During World War 1, while the parties of the Second International were all busy “defending their fatherland”, Lenin and the Bolsheviks were trying to transform the imperialist war into a civil war. This was the position of the Second International but it was there on paper only. But the Bolsheviks took advantage of war and the fact that an important part of the population was armed to spread agitation and propaganda for the revolution.

That is why Bolshevik members of parliament were sent to Siberia while their German counterparts kept all their “legal” posts, except for Liebknecht, who refused to vote for war credits and was arrested, imprisoned and sent to the front.

In February 1917, after three years of a war that claimed 10 million lives and 20 million mutilated bodies, the revolution began in Russia. It is the first revolution produced by an imperialist war and it inaugurated the epoch of great confrontations.

“The peculiarity of the present moment in Russia (April 1917) consists in the passage from the first stage of the revolution – the one that, because the proletariat lacked the necessary degree of awareness and organization, gave power to the bourgeoisie – to the second stage, the one that is to place the power in the hands of the proletariat and of the poor layers of the peasantry. “No support to the Provisional Government; explain the utter falsehood of all their promises… expose this government, that is a capitalist administration, instead of trying to force the inadmissible and illusory “demand” that they should stop being imperialists… Admit that in most Soviets our party is in minority facing the block of all the elements of petty bourgeois and opportunists… Explain to the masses that the Soviets are the only possible form of revolutionary government… While we are in minority, we shall develop the critical work and clarify errors and at the same time push forwards for all the power of the State to pass on to the Soviets, so that, relying on experience, the masses can correct their errors”1

{module Propaganda 30 anos}Just like in 1905, Soviets – councils grouping workers, soldiers and later on peasants – mushroomed spontaneously. In all revolutions, such as the case of the Communes of Paris, the emergence of such organizations had already been noted as a tool for steer the poor together for the battle. In some cases, such organizations took over the task or organizing workers power as an alternative to bourgeois power.

A fundamental contribution of Lenin’s to Marxism was precisely the comprehension of the role of those “special” bodies that surface in most revolutions.

In 1906, a few months after the revolution, Lenin wrote:

“But now, the most interesting thing is another aspect of the issue: the Soviets of workers’ representatives have actually been embryos of a provisional government; had the insurrection overcome, power would have passed to their handsinevitably. Attention must now be centered on the study of the conditions of their activity and their success.”2

Summing up the lessons of 1905 on the bodies of power (Soviets) Lenin writes in 1915:

“The soviets of workers’ representatives and other analogous institutions are to be considered as organizations for the insurrection, as bodies of revolutionary power. These institutions can only be really useful if linked to the development of a massive political strike and the insurrection…”

But what history evidenced (as we shall see in the next point) is that the soviets are just an organization of the working class, just like any other, that makes it possible for the revolutionary advance guard to get together merging the poor of the cities and those of the countryside and even the soldiers in a revolutionary process. Whether these organizations will actually become power organizations depends fundamentally on the leadership of a revolutionary party; in that case it was the leadership of the Bolshevik party that ensured that the role of organization of power was fulfilled by the Soviets. The historic truth is that in Russia, between April and September 1917, the soviets played a secondary role, rather supporting the bourgeois government for it was the reformists who were leading there. The existence of the Bolshevik party, with Lenin in the lead, was what allowed the soviets to reach the condition of organizations of worker power.

Between February and September, while they were minority in the Soviets, the entire guideline of the Bolshevik Party was to “explain patiently” to the masses that the government was bourgeois and that it was necessary to hand the power over to the Soviets if Peace, Bread and Land were to be ensured.

The situation changes in September and Lenin writes to the CC from his clandestine hideaway:

“After having achieved majority in the Soviets of workers and soldiers in both capitals, Bolsheviks can and must take the power of the state in their hands.” 3

Next he goes on to explain:

“The victory of the insurrection is now ensured for the Bolsheviks: 1) we can (if we do not wait for the Congress of the Soviets) attack suddenly and from three angles: from Petrograd, from Moscow and from the Baltic Fleet; we have demands that can ensure support: Down with this government that represses peasant insurrection against landowners! 3) we have the majority in the country; 4) The disorganization of the Mensheviks as the RSs is total; 5) we have technical possibilities of seizing power in Moscow (that might even begin by defeating the enemy by surprise); 6) we have thousands of soldiers and armed workers in Petrograd who can take at the same time the Winter Palace, the Head Quarters, the Central Telephone Office and all the important printing shops… Not to seize power now, “wait” chattering on at the Executive Committee of the Soviet, to limit ourselves to “the struggle for the organization” (of the Soviet) means sinking the revolution…” 4

Desperate, a day before seizing power, he wrote “I am writing these line in the evening of October 24th 1917. The situation is critical up to the last point. It is clear that delaying insurrection will spell death. Everything is hanging from a thread. We must act this evening, tonight.”

Lenin’s desperation reflected his conviction supported by the opinions Marx expressed about insurrection:

“Insurrection is an art, the same as war or any other art. It is subject to certain rules and if these are not complied with, it shatters the party that had designed it. These rules, logical deduction of the nature of the parties and of the circumstances that one has to deal with in each case are so clear and simple, that the brief existence of 1848 has revealed it richly to the Germans. The first one is that one should never play at insurrection unless one is fully prepared to face up to the consequences of the game. Insurrection is an equation with highly undetermined magnitudes, whose value may change from one day to another; the opposite forces have all the advantages of organization, discipline and habitual authority; if we cannot present higher forces, we shall be defeated, annihilated. The second one is that once insurrection has started we must act with the maximum of determination and move on to attack. The defensive is the death of any uprising, which would be lost even before the first skirmish against the enemy. It is necessary to attack the enemy by surprise while his forces are still dispersed and prepare new accomplishments, everyday ones even if they may be small, maintain the high morale that the first success provided; draw the hesitating elements, who will always tend to be on the side of the one who offers the best security: force the enemy to recoil before he can gather his forces; in short, we must act according to Danton’s words, for he was the greatest master in revolutionary tactics ever known: Audacity, audacity and more audacity!”5

That revolution and that insurrection were possible due to the existence of the Bolshevik party and Lenin’s leadership. And the victory of the revolution took place in spite of the reformist organizations and also against an important part of the Bolshevik party itself, who hesitated during all the process.

The hesitations of the Bolshevik leadership began with the revolution itself. Between February and March the guideline of the leadership that was in Russia was, objectively, support for the provisional government. At that time, the Bolsheviks were not very different from the Mensheviks, so much so that in many case there were several mixed cells of Bolsheviks and Mensheviks together. On his return from exile, Lenin submits his theses (known as the April Theses) for discussion in the party. There he calls for confronting the provisional government and to steer  the whole process towards the take over by the Soviets. There is a ferocious discussion and Lenin remains in a minority.

His opposition insisted on not breaking the “democratic” front, on waiting for the “constituent Assembly”. Lenin regarded this position and the trend that sustained it as an “intellectual petty bourgeois fraction” inside the party.

The role of the Mensheviks and the revolutionary socialists in the Russian revolution consisted in placing stumbling blocks in the path of the soviets by becoming “auxiliaries” or “supervisors” of democracy. The intelligentsia of the party was capitulating to this sector. This orientation did not prosper due to the stubborn opposition offered by Lenin inside the party and in the movement.

Lenin referred to the February-March 1917 Bolshevik capitulation when he wrote:

“The Bolsheviks had a mistaken attitude towards parliamentarism at times of a revolutionary crisis (and not “constitutional”), a mistaken attitude towards the RS and the Mensheviks… the Party could not follow the incredibly fast pace of history at that sharp turn. For a brief moment, the Party was lured into the trap of revolutionary prattling… Comrade Kamenev committed an error when, in a purely “constitutional” spirit, he delivered his first address at the Conference, when he posed the ridiculous issue on trust or “mistrust” in the government.”6

The Democratic Conference of All the Russias was summoned by the Soviet led by the Mensheviks/SR, in September 1917, to solve the problem of power. Over 1500 people attended up constitute the preparatory Preparliament for the Constituent Assembly. What motivated great confrontations inside the Bolshevik CC was whether to take part or to boycott this Preparliament. Trotsky was for the boycott, but was voted against. Lenin was in hiding and he did not take part in that meeting. When he learned what the resolution had been (to take part in the Precongress) he categorically demanded that the Bolsheviks should abandon it and stressed the need for saving all the energy for the preparation of the insurrection that was to take place weeks later. This episode proved how matchless was Lenin’s role to secure the steering of the Bolshevik Party towards the revolution.
Lenin draws his conclusions:
“Not all is fine with the “parliamentary” summit of our Party; more attention has to be paid to it, workers’ control must increase: the attributes of the parliamentary minority must be determined with more precision.”7

Since the boycott from the CC went as far as deleting his articles sent from his hiding place due to the disagreements with his guideline, Lenin threatened:

“I have been forced to resign my position in the CC, and that is what I am now doing, and to retain my liberty to carry out agitation in the organizations of the grassroots of the Party and in its Congress”8

That is what he said on September 1917, less than a month before power was seized.

The division inside the party was so important that the resolution to seize power was taken ins spite of the fact that the fraction of Zinoviev and Kamenev voted against the insurrection and what is more, published articles in the opportunists’ press giving away the date of the insurrection that had been secretly discussed in the CC of the Bolshevik party. Lenin demanded that both should be expelled for “scabbing”.

Ten years later Trotsky, already exiled then, wrote on the importance of Lenin in the Russian revolution:

“Had I been present in 1917 in Petrograd, the revolution would have taken place provided that Lenin were present and commanding. If neither Lenin nor I had been present in Petrograd, there would have been no October Revolution; the leadership of the Bolshevik Party would have prevented this from happening.”9

The error of the capitulating Bolshevik trend was, as in the case of all reformists, that they failed to understand, or refused to understand, that soviet power does not mix with bourgeois parliament nor the dictatorship of the proletariat with bourgeois democracy.


1 Lenin, C.W. vol 31, page 121

2 Lenin, C.W. vol 13, page 348

3 Lenin, C.W. vol 34, page 247

4 Lenin, C.W. vol 34, page 290

5 Karl Marx, Revolution y Counterrevolution en Alemania, page 118

6 C.W. vol 34, page 262

7 Lenin, C. W. vol 34, page 272

8 Lenin, C. W. vol 34, page 291

9 L. Trotsky, Diary from Exile

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