After the defeat of the July Days (see the Russian Revolution Special), a major campaign of false accusations against the Bolsheviks and their leaders was launched. The bourgeois newspapers, intellectuals and, of course, the leaders of the interim government orchestrated a campaign in which they alleged that the Bolsheviks were at the service of the German Empire – enemy of Russia in World War I – and that Lenin was an agent of Germany who had to prepare the Russian defeat [in War] as his main goal.
By Jeferson Choma – Brazil.
Bolshevik leaders, such as Kamenev and Zinoviev, were arrested. Leon Trotsky, who was not a member of the Bolshevik Party yet, was also arrested. Lenin, knowing that he could be assassinated, became clandestine, to go to the surface against only after the seizure of power.
Those who reconciled with the bourgeoisie, the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, did not question such lies or prisons. They remained in silence and, in practice, approved the defamation campaign.
They even gave a step further towards reconciliation with the bourgeoisie when approving, in the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies of all Russia, that the interim government would save the revolution. From their perspective, the revolution was in danger due to the action of the Bolsheviks and Germans.
As if that was not enough, they conceded unlimited powers to the government. Perplexed, the Bolsheviks voted against those resolutions.
The Bolshevik Congress: the preparation of the future insurrection
In the midst of this difficult situation, the VI Congress of the Bolshevik Party took place, between July 26 and August 3. The Bolsheviks were already a political force with 200,000 members distributed in 162 party cells.
There are two historical events that marked this Congress. First, the party defined the strategy of insurrection. Second, the entrance of Trotsky’s group (the Interdistrict) to the party. Thus, the organization that would lead the seizure of power was formed.
Until the defeat of the July Days, there was some illusion that the revolution could advance peacefully, with some political transformation that allowed handing over the power to the Soviets as demanded by the Bolsheviks through their main slogan. However, the defeat of the July Days, the repression of the Bolsheviks, and the explicit commitment of the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries to the counterrevolution – the bourgeoisie and its government – demanded a new strategic definition.
Ultimately, how to demand “All power to the Soviets” when they are under the leadership of those conciliatory parties who do not want the Soviets to seize power? This is the reflection made by Lenin in the article “The Political Situation,” written on July 10, 1917.
Lenin explains that the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries “have completely betrayed the cause of the revolution by putting it in the hands of the counter-revolutionaries (…). All hopes for a peaceful development of the Russian revolution have vanished for good. This is the objective situation: either complete victory for the military dictatorship, or victory for the workers.”
For Lenin, the slogan “All power to the Soviets” expressed the peaceful development of the revolution, that was possible until the defeat of July 4. For him, “every particular slogan must be deduced from the totality of specific features of a definite political situation. And the political situation in Russia now, after July 4, differs radically from the situation between February 27 and July 4.”
In the article “On Slogans” Lenin elaborates with his reasoning clearly,
“During that period of the revolution now past, the so-called ‘dual power’ existed in the country (…). At that time, state power was unstable. It was shared, by voluntary agreement, between the Provisional Government and the Soviets (…). Arms were in the hands of the people. The slogan “All Power Must Be Transferred to the Soviets” was a slogan for the next step, the immediately feasible step, on that peaceful path of development. It was a slogan for the peaceful development of the revolution, which was possible and, of course, most desirable between February 27 and July 4 but which is now absolutely impossible (…). Peaceful not only in the sense that nobody, no class, no force of any importance, would then (between February 27 and July 4) have been able to resist and prevent the transfer of the power to the Soviets. That is not all. Peaceful development would then have been possible, even in the sense that the struggle of classes and parties within the Soviets could have assumed a most peaceful and painless form, provided full state power had passed to the Soviets in good time.
The turning-point of July 4 was precisely a drastic change in the objective situation. The unstable condition of state power has come to an end. At the decisive point, power has passed into the hands of the counter-revolution. The unstable balance of power ceased; Power passed into the hands of the counterrevolution. Keeping the slogan “All power to the Soviets” is now objectively equivalent to deceiving the people … The fundamental problem of revolution is the problem of power. To this we must add: precisely, the revolutions show us at every step how the question of knowing where the real power is formal and effective. The slogan calling for the transfer of state power to the Soviets (…) objectively would be deceiving the people. We said that the fundamental issue of revolution is the issue of power. We must add that it is revolutions that show us at every step how the question of where actual power is obscured, and reveal the divergence between formal and real power.”
Lenin would conclude by stating “the people must be told the whole truth, namely, that power is in the hands of a military clique (…).”
What Lenin emphasizes is that the Bolsheviks should prepare for an insurrection in the future. But what would the slogan be? Would the Soviets lead the fight? The aim of the Bolsheviks was for the power to be seized by the workers and poor peasants. However, in the midst of the events of those days, it was not possible to identify if the Soviets or other working class organization of struggle would serve this goal. Such problem could not be solved by the party but by the working class. The Bolsheviks had to wait for the revolutionary masses of workers to show what their body of power would be.
Meanwhile, the military clique which effectively held the power was preparing to crush the revolution and wipe the Soviets off the face of the Earth. The counterrevolution would raise its head towards the end of August, with General Kornilov, commander in chief of the Russian army.
Trotsky becomes a member of Lenin’s party
Between July 26 and August 3, 1917, the Interdistrict Organization of United Social-Democrats of St. Petersburg, led by Leon Trotsky, became part of the Bolshevik Party. This political current, which had about three and four thousand members, would stand out during the revolution.
This union with the Bolsheviks was the natural result of the approach of two organizations since the fall of the Tsar. In particular, the approach of the two major leaders of these organizations: Lenin and Trotsky.
For many years, the two revolutionaries were in separate organizations. Many times, they had harsh controversies with each other. Let’s look at some of the reasons for this separation.
From 1905, Trotsky defended the thesis that only the Russian proletariat could assume the leading role in a future revolution. The bourgeoisie of the country, Trotsky said, was extremely coward and already had a relation of dependence with the European imperialism. For him, this revolution would assume immediate socialist tasks; in other words, it would not result in a parliamentary democracy, as the Mensheviks defended. Even before 1917, Lenin suggested that the Russian revolution would be directed, although temporarily, by a workers’ and peasants’ government within the framework of a Republic.
To Lenin, however, the proletariat needed a revolutionary party based on democratic centralism, which did not assume any commitment with the bourgeoisie. It was the Bolshevik Party.
Trotsky, since the split of Mensheviks and Bolsheviks, in 1903, struggled for the unity between these two organizations; in other words, between revolutionaries and reformists. He also opposed to the Bolsheviks’ democratic centralism, arguing that Lenin’s organization would lead to “the Central Committee substituting itself for the Party organization, and finally the dictator substituting himself for the Central Committee.”
The revolution of 1917 marked the political approximation between Lenin and Trotsky. The former one realized that the proletariat should lead the revolution and that it would assume immediate socialist tasks; the latest understood that the victory of the revolution was not written in the stars. The Trotsky of before 1917 thought that correct politics could be dictated by the events of a revolution. But, facing the revolution and the conciliation of Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries with the bourgeoisie, he perceived that without a revolutionary party it would not be possible for the proletariat to seize power.
A revolutionary leadership of the proletariat cannot be improvised in the course of a revolution. It is necessary to inherit, from the previous period, solid revolutionary cadres. In fact, the real divergence between Lenin and Trotsky were the relations with Menshevism. “Trotsky long ago said that a unification is impossible. Trotsky understood this and from that time on there has been no better Bolshevik,” said Lenin during a meeting of the Bolshevik leadership in November 1917.
Originally published in Opinião Socialista No. 540, August 10, 2017.-
Translation: Misty M.