The Russian Revolution (part 2): The Soviets take power

In the series Russia 1917

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In the first part of this article (International Review 71), we saw how the Russian revolution was not, as the bourgeoisie's propaganda says, a ‘mere coup D'Etat', but constituted the most gigantic and conscious movements of the exploited masses in history - rich in experience, initiative and creativity. It was - despite its later defeat - the clearest proof that the working class is the only revolutionary class in society, the only one that is capable of saving humanity from the catastrophe which decomposing capitalism is rushing towards.

October 1917 gave us a fundamental lesson: the bourgeoisie will not stand aside faced with the revolutionary struggle of the labouring masses. On the contrary, it will try to sabotage it by any mean possible. Therefore, apart from the carrot and stick, it uses a very dangerous weapon: sabotage from the inside carried out by the bourgeoisie's forces dressed up in ‘working class' and ‘radical' clothes - then the ‘Socialist' parties, today the parties of the ‘left' and ‘extreme left', and the unions.

The sabotage of the Soviets by the Social-Traitor parties which allowed the apparatus of the bourgeois state to remain standing represented the principle threat to the revolution begun in February. In this second part we will elaborate on this problem and the means by which the proletariat overcame it through the renovation of the Soviets, the Bolshevik party and the insurrec­tion.

The bourgeoisie sabotages the soviets

The bourgeoisie present the February Revolution as a movement towards ‘democracy' violated by the Bolshevik coup. This myth consists in opposing February to October, presenting the first as an authentic ‘democratic' festival and the second as a coup d'Etat ‘against the popular will.'

This lie expresses the fury felt by the bourgeoisie because events between February and October did not work out in the way they wanted. The bourgeois thought that as time passed after the convulsions associated with the overthrow of the Czar in Febru­ary, the masses would quietly return to their homes and leave the bourgeoisie to manage politics at their own leisure, legitimised from time to time by ‘democratic' elections. However, the proletariat did not take the bait. Instead it initiated an immense activity, became increasingly conscious of its historic mission and provided itself with the means to carry out its struggle: the Soviets. In this way it posed a situation of dual power, "either the bourgeoisie took hold of the old state apparatus, using it to its own ends, in which case the Soviets would have had to withdraw from the stage, or these would convert it into the basis of a new state, liquidating not only the old political apparatus but the regimen of the ruling classes for whose service it was founded" (Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution. Vol. 1, ‘The new power').

The ruling class used the card of the Menshevik and Social Revolutionary Parties, former workers' parties which with the war had crossed over to the bourgeois camp, in order to destroy the Soviets and to impose the authority of the bourgeois state. At the beginning of the February Revolution, these parties gained an immense confidence in the workers' ranks, which they utilised in order to control the executive organs of the Soviets and to conceal the actions of the bourgeoisie: "Wherever a bourgeois minister could not appear in defence of the government before the revolutionary workers or in the Soviets, Stobelev, Tsereteli, Chernov or some other ‘socialist' minister appeared (or to be precise, was sent by the bourgeois) and faithfully performed their assignment; he would do his level best to defend the cabinet, whitewash the capitalists and fool the people by making promise after promise and by advising people to wait, and wait" (Lenin, ‘Lessons of the Revolution' Selected Works, Vol. 2, page 163).

From February an extremely dangerous situation developed for the working masses: they struggled (with the Bolsheviks in the vanguard) to end the war, to solve the agrarian problem, and for the abolition of capitalist exploitation. In order to do this they created the Soviets and had limitless confidence in them. How­ever, the Soviets, which sprang from within the proletariat, were captured by the Menshevik and Social Revolutionary dema­gogues, who negated their most essential needs, using all kinds of sabotaging tactics.

1. They continually promised peace, while leaving the Provi­sional Government to continue the war.

On the 27th of March the Provisional Government tried to unleash the Dardanelles offensive whose objective was the conquest of Constantinople. On the 18th of April Miliukov, the foreign Minister, ratified the famous note confirming Russia's adhesion to the Entente gang (France and Great Britain). In May, Kerensky undertook a campaign at the front to raise the soldiers' moral and to make them fight, a campaign which plumbed the depths of cynicism: "you will bring peace on the point of your bayonets". Again in June and in August, the Social Democrats, in close collaboration with the hateful Czarist generals, tried to drag the workers and soldiers into a new military slaughter.

In the same way, these great peddlers of ‘human rights' tried to re-establish brutal military discipline in the army, restoring the death penalty, and persuading the soldiers' committees not to provoke the officers. For example, when the Petrograd Soviet published its famous ‘order no 1' that prohibited corporeal punishment for soldiers and defended their rights and dignity, the social traitors of the executive "sent to the printer, by way of antidote, an appeal to the soldiers, which under the pretence of condemning lynch law for officers, demanded the soldiers' subordination to the old commanding staff" (Trotsky, op cit, Vol. 1, ‘The Ruling Group and The War', page 265).

2. They endlessly spouted on about the "solution of the agrarian problem" while leaving the landlords' power intact and crushing the peasant revolts.

Thus, they systematically blocked even the most timid orders about the agrarian question - for example, the one which would have stopped the transferring of land. Instead they returned the land spontaneously occupied by the peasants to the landlords; punitive expeditions were sent to crush the peasants' revolts with blood and fire and the knout was restored to the headmen.

3. They blocked the application of the 8 hour day, and permitted the owners to dismantle the factories.

The bosses were allowed to sabotage production with the aim of, on the one hand, starving the workers to death and on the other, dispersing and demoralising them "Taking advantage of modern capitalist production's close relationship with the national and international banks and with the other organisations of unified capital (employers unions, trusts, etc.) the capitalists began to carry out carefully worked-out and widespread, systematic sabo­tage. They used whatever means they could, starting with the absence of administration in the factories, the artificial disor­ganisation of industrial activity, the hiding and flight of materi­als, finishing with the burning and closure of firms devoid of resources" (Ana M Pankratova, Los consejos de fabricas en Ia Rusia en 1917 ‘The development of the struggle between capital and labour and the first conference of factory committees').

4. They unleashed a ferocious repression of the workers' struggles.

"In Kharkov thirty thousand coal miners organised, adopting the preamble of the Industrial Workers of the World's constitu­tion: "The working class and the employing class have nothing in common". Dispersed by Cossacks, some were locked out by the mine owners, and the rest declared a general strike. Minister of Commerce and Industry Konovalov appointed his assistant, Orlov, with plenary powers, to settle the trouble. Orlov was hated by the miners but the Central Executive Committee not only supported his appointment, but refused to demand that the Cossacks be recalled from the Don Basin" (John Reed, Ten Days That Shook The World, page 63).

5. They deceived the masses with empty words about "revolu­tionary democracy" while sabotaging the measures of the Soviets.

They tried to liquidate the Soviets from the inside: through not carrying out their resolutions; postponing plenary meetings and leaving it all to the conspiracy of small committees. They sought to divide and confront the exploited masses: "Already in April the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries had begun to appeal to the provinces against Petrograd, to the soldiers against the workers, to the cavalry against the machine-gunners. They had given the troops' representatives privileges in the Soviets above the factories; they had favoured the small and scattered enter­prises as against the giants of the metal industry. Themselves representing the past, they sought support in backwardness of all kinds. With the ground slipping under their feet, they were now inciting the rear-guard against the advance guard" (Trotsky, op cit, Vol. 2, ‘The "July Days": Culmination and Rout', page 65).

They tried to get the Soviets to hand over their powers to the ‘democratic' organs: the Zemstvos - local organs setup under the Czar; the Moscow ‘democratic' conference of August, a real nest of vipers which united such ‘representative' forces as the nobles, military, old Black Hundreds, Kadets etc - all of whom blessed Kornilov's military coup.

In September they tried to regulate the Soviets through the calling of the Pre-Democratic Conference in which the delegates of the bourgeois and nobility had, through the express desire of the social traitors, 683 representatives compared to the Soviets' 230. Kerensky promised the American Ambassador "We will make the Soviets die a natural death. The centre of gravity of political life will progressively move from the Soviets to the new democratic organs of autonomous representation".

The Soviets that called for the proletariat to take power were ‘democratically' crushed by force of arms: "The Bolsheviks, having secured a majority in the Kaluga Soviet, set free some political prisoners. With the sanction of the Government Commis­sar the Municipal Duma called in troops from Minsk, and bombarded the Soviet headquarters with artillery. The Bolsheviks yielded, but as they left the building Cossacks attacked them crying ‘this is what we'll do to all the other Bolshevik Soviets, including those of Moscow and Petrograd" (Reed, op cit, page 63).

The workers saw how their class organs were being confis­cated, denatured and chained to a policy that was against their interests. Thus, as we saw in the first part of this article, the political crises of April, June and, above all July posed the necessity to take decisive action: to renovate the Soviets in order to orientate them towards the taking of power.

The Soviets were - as Lenin said - organs based "on the direct initiative of the people from below" (Lenin, ‘Dual Power', Selected Works Vol. 2, page 34). This enabled the masses to rapidly change them from the moment they realised that they were not responding to their interests. From the middle of August the life of the Soviets accelerated at a dizzying pace. Meetings took place day and night without interruption. Workers and soldiers conscientiously dis­cussed, passed resolutions, voted at various times throughout the day. In this climate of the masses' intense self-activity numerous Soviets (Helsingfors, the Urals, Kronstadt, Reval, the Baltic Fleet etc) elected revolutionary majorities formed by Bolsheviks, Internationalist Mensheviks, Maximalists, Left Social Revolu­tionaries, Anarchists etc.

On the 31st of August the Petrograd Soviet adopted a Bolshe­vik motion. Its leaders - the Mensheviks and Social Revolution­aries - refused to apply it and dismissed it. On the 9th of September the Soviet elected a Bolshevik majority. Moscow followed immediately afterwards and this continued throughout the rest of the country. The masses elected the Soviets they needed and thus prepared themselves for the taking and exercising of power.

The role of the Bolshevik party

In the masses' struggle for the control of their organisations against the sabotage of the bourgeoisie, the Bolsheviks played a decisive role.

The centre of the Bolsheviks' activity was the development of the Soviets: "The Conference repeats that it is necessary to carry out a many-sided activity within the Soviets of Workers' and Peasants' Deputies, to increase the number of Soviets, to consoli­date their power and to weld together our party's proletarian internationalist groups within the Soviets" (Resolutions of the 8th Bolshevik Conference, April 1917).

This activity had as its central axis the development of class consciousness which "requires a patient work of clarification of proletarian class consciousness and of the cohesion of the proletarians of the city and country side" (idem). This meant having confidence, on the one hand, in the critical and analytical capacity of the masses[1]: "Where as the agitation of the Menshevik and Social Revolutionaries was scattered, self-contradictory and oftenest of all evasive, the agitation of the Bolsheviks was distinguished by its concentrated and well thought-out character. The Compromisers talked themselves out of difficulties; the Bolsheviks went to meet them. A continual analysis of the objective situation, a testing of slogans upon facts, a serious attitude to the enemy even when he was none too serious, gave special strength and power of conviction to the Bolshevik agita­tion" (Trotsky, op cit, Vol. 2, page 295). On the other hand, in its capacity for unity and self-organisation: "Don't put your trust in words. Don't be misled by promises. Don't overestimate our forces. Organise in every factory, in every regiment and every company, in every residential block. Work at your organising every day, every hour, do that work yourselves, for this is something you cannot entrust to anybody else" (Lenin, Introduc­tion to the Resolutions of the 7th (April) All Russian Confer­ence of the RSDLP(B)).

The Bolsheviks did not try to force the masses to submit to a preconceived plan of action, leading them like a sergeant major leads his troops. They understood that the revolution was the work of the masses' direct action and that it was through this direct action that they carried out their historical mission: "The chief strength of Lenin lay in his understanding the inner logic of the movement and guiding his policy by it. He did not impose his plan on the masses, he helped the masses to recognise and realise their own plan" (Trotsky, op cit, vol. 1, ‘Re-arming the Party', page 306).

The party did not develop its role as the vanguard by saying to the class "here is the truth, on your knees". On the contrary, it was affected by all the uncertainties and worries that ran throughout the class; and as with the rest of the class, although in a different way, it was exposed to the destructive influence of bourgeois ideology. It was able to carry out its role as the motor in the development of class consciousness because, through a whole series of political debates, it overcame the errors and insufficien­cies of its old positions and fought a life and death struggle to eradicate the opportunist deviations which could have pulled it down.

From the beginning of March an important section of the Bolsheviks had posed the necessity of reuniting with the Socialist parties (Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries). They put for­ward an apparently infallible argument, which in the first mo­ments of general euphoria, and given the masses' lack of experience, had quite an impact on them: at a time when they are marching side by side why don't the Socialist parties unite? Why confuse the workers with 2 or 3 distinct parties claiming to represent the proletariat and socialism?

In fact this argument posed a serious threat to the revolution: the party which from 1902 had fought opportunism and reformism, which from 1914 had been the most consistent and dedicated in defending the international revolution against the First World War, was running dangerously close to diluting itself into the turbid waters of the social traitor parties. How was the proletariat to overcome within itself the confusions and illusions that it suffered? How was it going to combat the manoeuvres and traps of the enemy? How was it going to keep its struggles in the right direction faced with moments of vacillation or defeat? Lenin and the base of the party victoriously fought this false unity which really meant uniting itself behind the bourgeoisie.

To begin with the Bolshevik party was a small minority. Many workers had illusions in the Provisional Government and saw it as an emanation of the Soviets, when in reality it was their worst enemy. In March and April the leading Bolshevik organs in Russia adopted a conciliatory attitude to the Provisional Govern­ment, leading them to fall into open support for the imperialist war.

A movement at the base of the party (the Vyborg Committee) arose against this opportunist deviation, and it found its clearest expression in Lenin and his April Theses. For Lenin the key position was "No support for the Provisional Government; the utter falsity of all its promises should be made clear, particularly of those relating to the renunciation of annexations. Exposure in place of the impermissible, illusion-breeding ‘demand' that this government, a government of capitalists should cease to be an imperialist government" (Lenin, The April Theses, no. 3, Selected Works, Vol 2, page 30).

Lenin similarly denounced the activities of the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries against the Soviets: "The ‘mistake' of the leaders I have named lies in their petty-bourgeois position, in the fact that instead of clarifying the minds of the workers, they are befogging them; instead of dispelling petty-bourgeois illusions, they are instilling them; instead of freeing the people from bourgeois influence, they are strengthening that influence" (Lenin, The Dual Power, Selected Works Vol. 2, page 35).

Against those who said this work of denunciation was of "little practical use" Lenin argued "In reality it is most practical revolutionary work; for there is no advancing a revolution that has come to a standstill, that has choked itself with phrases, and that keeps ‘marking time'... because of the unreasoning trust of the people.

"Only by overcoming this unreasoning trust (and we can and should overcome it only ideologically, by comradely persuasion, by pointing to the lessons of experience) can we set our selves free from the prevailing orgy of revolutionary phrase-mongering and really stimulate the consciousness both of the proletariat and of the masses in general, as well as their bold and determined initiative in the localities" (Lenin, The Tasks of the Proletariat in our Revolution, Selected Works, Vol. 2, page 42).

The defence of the proletariat's historical experience, of its class positions, means that one is in a minority inside the workers on many occasions. This is because "The masses vacillate between confidence in their old masters, the capitalists, and hatred for them; between confidence in the new class, which opens the road to a bright future and a continuing lack of confidence in its own world-historic role" (Lenin, ‘The Lessons of the Crisis', April 1917).

In order to help overcome these vacillations, "It is not a question of numbers, but of giving correct expression to the ideas and policies of the truly revolutionary proletariat" (Lenin ‘The Tasks of the Proletariat in our Revolution').

As with all authentic proletarian parties, the Bolsheviks were an intransigent part of the class movement. Bolshevik militants were the most active in the struggles, in the Soviets, in the factory councils, in meetings. The July Days made clear the party's unyielding commitment to the class.

As we saw in the first part of this article, at the end of June the situation was made intolerable by hunger, war, and chaos, exacerbated by the hidden policies of the bourgeoisie and by the fact that the Central Executive Committee, still in the hands of the social traitors, did nothing but sabotage the Soviets. The workers and soldiers, above all those in the capital, began to suspect the social traitors. Impatience, desperation, rage became stronger and stronger in the workers' ranks, pushing them towards taking power straight away. However, the conditions were not yet ripe:

- the workers and soldiers in the provinces were not at the same political level as their brothers in the capital;

- the peasants still had confidence in the Provisional Govern­ment;

- amongst the workers of the capital the dominant idea was not really to take power but to use an act of force to make the ‘Socialist' leaders "take real power". In other words, to ask the bourgeoisie's fifth column to take power in the workers' name.

In such conditions to launch a decisive confrontation with the bourgeoisie and its hirelings was to embark on an adventure that could have gravely compromised the destiny of the revolution. It was an action that could have led to a definitive defeat.

The Bolsheviks warned against such an action, but when they saw that the masses were not heeding their warning and carried on, they did not stand to one side and say "it's your funeral". The party participated in the action, trying to stop it being turned into a disastrous adventure, and trying to allow the workers to draw the maximum number of lessons from it, in order to prepare for the authentic moment of insurrection. It fought with all its might in order to ensure that the Petrograd Soviet, through serious discussion and by giving itself adequate leaders, would place itself in agreement with the political orientation that reigned in the masses.

However, the movement was unsuccessful and suffered a defeat. The bourgeoisie and its Menshevik and Social Revolu­tionary acolytes launched a brutal repression against the workers, and above all the Bolsheviks. The proletariat paid a heavy price: arrests, executions, exile... Nevertheless, the sacrifice decisively helped the class to limit the effects of the defeat it suffered and to pose the question of insurrection in a more conscious and organised way, in better conditions.

The party's commitment to the class allowed it, throughout August, once the worst moments of the bourgeoisie's reaction were over, to complete the party/class synthesis which was indispensable for the triumph of the revolution: "During the February overturn all the many preceding years' work of the Bolsheviks came to fruition, and progressive workers educated by the party found their place in the struggle, but there was still no direct leadership from the party. In the April events the slogans of the party manifested their dynamic force, but the movement itself developed independently. In June the enormous influence of the party revealed itself, but the masses were still functioning within the limits of a demonstration officially summoned by the enemy. Only in July did the Bolshevik Party, feeling the pressure of the masses, come out into the street against all the other parties, and not only with its slogans, but with its organised leadership, determine the fundamental character of the movement. The value of a close-knit vanguard was first fully manifested in the July Days, when the party - at great cost - defended the proletariat from defeat, and safeguarded its own future revolution" (Trotsky, op cit, Vol. 2, ‘Could the Bolsheviks have seized the Power in July?', page 91).

The insurrection carried out by the soviets

The situation of dual power which dominated the whole period from February to October was an unstable and dangerous time. Its excessive prolongation, due to neither class being able to impose itself, was above all damaging for the proletariat: if the impotence and chaos that marked this period accentuated the unpopularity of the ruling class, it at the same time exhausted and disorientated the working masses. They were getting drained in sterile struggles and all this began to alienate the sympathies of the intermediate classes towards the proletariat. This, therefore, demanded the taking of power through the insurrection to decant and decide the situation: "either the revolution must advance at a rapid, stormy and resolute tempo, breaking all barriers with an iron hand and place its goals ever farther ahead, or it will quite soon be thrown backwards behind its feeble point of departure and suppressed by the counter-revolution" (Rosa Luxemburg, The Russian Revolution).

Insurrection is an art. It has to be carried out at a precise moment in the evolution of the revolutionary situation, neither too soon, which would cause it to fail, nor too late, which would mean an opportunity being missed, leaving the revolutionary movement to become a disintegrating victim of the counter­revolution.

At the beginning of September the bourgeoisie, through Kornilov, tried to carry out a coup - the signal for the bourgeoi­sie's final offensive to overthrow the Soviets and to fully restore its power.

The proletariat, with the massive cooperation of the soldiers, thwarted the bourgeoisie's plan and at the same time accelerated the decomposition of the army: soldiers in numerous regiments pronounced themselves in favour of the expulsion of officers and of the organisation of soldiers' councils - in short, they came out on the side of the revolution.

As we have previously seen, the renewal of the Soviets from the middle of August was clearly changing the balance of forces in favour of the proletariat. The defeat of the Kornilov coup accelerated this process.

From the middle of September a tide of resolutions calling for the taking of power flooded in from the local and regional Soviets (Kronstadt, Ekaterinoslav etc). The Congress of Soviets of the Northern Region held on the 11-13th of October openly called for the insurrection. In Minsk the Regional Congress of Soviets decided to support the insurrection and to send troops of soldiers loyal to the revolution. On the 12th "Workers of one of the most revolutionary factories of the capital (the old Parviainen) made the following answer to the attacks of the bourgeoisie: "We declare that we will go into the street when we deem it advisable. We are not afraid of the approaching struggle, and we confi­dently believe that we will come off victorious" (Trotsky, op cit, Vol 3, ‘The Military Revolutionary Committee', page 91). On the 17th October the Petrograd Soldiers' Soviet decided that "The

Petrograd garrison no longer recognises the Provisional Government. Our government is the Petrograd Soviet. We will only carry out the orders of the Petrograd Soviet issued through its Military Revolutionary Committee" (J Reed, Ten Days That Shook The World). The Vyborg district Soviet called a demonstration in support of this resolution, which sailors joined in. A Moscow Liberal paper - quoted by Trotsky - described the atmosphere in the city thus: "In the districts, in the factories of Petrograd, Novsld, Obujov and Putilov, Bolshevik agitation for the insurrec­tion has reached its highest level. The animated state of the workers is such that they are disposed to carry out demonstrations at any time".

The increase of peasants' revolts in September constituted another element in the maturation of the necessary conditions for the insurrection: "It would be sheer treachery to the peasants to allow the peasant revolts to be suppressed when we control the Soviets of both capitals. It would be to lose, and justly lose every ounce of the peasants' confidence. In the eyes of the peasants we would be putting ourselves on a level with the Lieberdans and other scoundrels" (Lenin, ‘The Crisis Has Matured', SW Vol. 2, page 348).

However, the international situation was the key factor for the revolution. Lenin made this clear in his letter to the Bolshevik comrades attending the Congress of Soviets of the Northern Region (8-10-17): "Our revolution is passing through a highly critical period. This crisis coincides with the great crisis - the growth of the world socialist revolution and the struggle waged against it by world imperialism. A gigantic task is being presented to the responsible leaders of our party, and failure to perform it will involve the danger of a complete collapse of the internation­alist proletarian movement. The situation is such that, in truth, delay would be fatal" (Lenin, SW, vol. 2, page 395). In another letter (1.10.17) Lenin made it clear that "The Bolsheviks have no right to wait for the Congress of Soviets, they must take power at once. By so doing they will save the world revolution (for otherwise there is danger of a deal between the imperialists of all countries, who, after the shootings in Germany, will be more accommodating to each other and will unite against us), the Russian revolution (otherwise a wave of real anarchy may become stronger than we are) and the lives of hundreds of thousands of people at the front" (Lenin, SW, vol. 2, page 391).

This understanding of the international responsibility of the Russian proletariat was not confined to Lenin and the Bolsheviks. On the contrary, many sectors of workers recognised it:

- on the 1st of May 1917, "throughout Russia, side by side with soldiers, prisoners of war were taking part in the processions under the same banners, sometimes singing the same song in different voices ... The Kadet minister Shingarev, during one of the Conferences with the trench delegates, defended the order of Guchkov against ‘unnecessary indulgence' towards prisoners of war... this remark did not meet with the slightest sympathy. The Conference decisively expressed itself in favour of relieving the conditions of the prisoners of war" (Trotsky, op cit, Vol. 2, pages 313, 269);

- "A soldier from the Romanian front, thin, tragical, and fierce cried: "comrades! we are starving at the front, we are stiff from cold. We are dying for no reason. I ask the American comrades to carry word to America that the Russians will never give up their revolution until they die. We will hold the front with all our strength until the peoples of the world rise up and help us! Tell the American workers to rise and fight for the social revolution" (J Reed, op cit, page 52).

The Kerensky government intended to disperse the most revolutionary regiments of Petrograd, Moscow, Vladimir, Reval etc. to the front or to remote regions in order to behead the struggle. At the same time, the Liberal and Menshevik press launched a campaign of calumnies against the soldiers, accusing them of "smugness" of "not giving their lives for the Motherland" etc. The workers of the capital responded immediately: numerous factory assemblies supported the soldiers, called for "all power to the Soviets" and passed resolutions calling for the arming of the workers.

In this atmosphere, the meeting of the Petrograd Soviet on the 9th of October decided to create a Military Revolutionary Committee with the initial aim of controlling the government. However, it was soon transformed into the centre for the organisation of the insurrection. It regrouped representatives of the Petrograd Soviet, the Sailors' Soviet, the Finlandia region Soviet, the railway union, the congress of factory councils and the Red Guard.

The latter was a workers' body that was "formed for the first time during the 1905 revolution and was reborn during the March days of 1917, when there was a necessity for a force to maintain order in the city. In this period the Red Guard were armed and the Provisional Governments efforts to disarm them came to nothing. In each crisis that arose during the course of the revolution, detachments of the Red Guards appeared in the streets. They had no military training or organisation, but were overflowing with revolutionary enthusiasm" (J Reed, op cit).

On the foundations of this regroupment of class forces, the Military Revolutionary Committee (from now on referred to as the RMC) convoked a conference of regimental committees which on the 18th of October openly discussed the question of the insurrection. The majority of the committees, apart from 2 which were against and 2 that declared themselves neutral (there were another 5 regiments which did not agree with the Conference), pronounced in favour of the insurrection. Similarly the Confer­ence passed a resolution in favour of the arming of the workers. This resolution was already being put into practice: en masse the workers went to the state arsenals and demand all the arms. When the government prohibited the handing over of arms, the workers and employees of the Peter and Paul Fortress (a reactionary bastion) decided to place themselves at the disposal of the RMC, and along with other arsenals organised the distribution of arms to the workers.

On the 21st of October the Conference of regimental commit­tees adopted the following Resolution: "1) The garrison of Petrograd and its environs promises the RMC its full support in all its actions. 2) The garrison appeals to the Cossacks: we invite you to our meeting to-morrow. You are welcome, brother Cossacks! 3) The All-Russian Congress of Soviets must take power. The garrison promises to put all its forces at the disposal of the Congress. Rely upon us, authorised representatives of the power of the soldiers, workers and peasants, you can count on us. We are all at our posts to conquer or die" (Trotsky, op cit, vol. 3, page 108-109).

Here we have the characteristic features of a workers' insurrec­tion: the creative initiative of the masses, straight forward and showing admirable organisation; discussions and debates which give rise to resolutions that synthesise the level of consciousness that the masses have reached; reliance on persuasion and convic­tion, as in the call to the Cossacks to abandon the government gang or the passionate and dramatic meeting of the soldiers of the Peter and Paul Fortress which took place on the 23rd of October, where it was decided to obey no one but the RMC. These characteristic features are, above all, expressions of a movement for the emancipation of humanity, of the direct, passionate, creative initiative and leadership of the exploited masses.

The "Soviet day" on the 22nd of October, which was called by the Petrograd Soviet, definitively sealed the insurrection: in all the districts and factories meetings and assemblies took place all day, which overwhelmingly agreed on the slogans "down with Kerensky" and "all power to the Soviets". This was a gigantic act where workers, employees, soldiers, many Cossacks, women, and children openly united in their commitment to the insurrec­tion.

It is not possible within the outline of this article to recount all of the details (we recommend reading Trotsky's and Reed's books, which we have mentioned). What we want to make clear is the massive, open and collective nature of the insurrection "The insurrection was thus set for a fixed date, the 25th of October. And this was not agreed on in some secret session, but openly and publicly, and the revolution was victoriously carried out on the 25th of October precisely (6th of November), as had been established beforehand. World history has known a great many revolts and revolutions, but could one find another insurrection by the oppressed class that had been openly and publicly set for a precise date and which had been triumphantly carried out on the day nominated beforehand. For this reason and various others, the November Revolution is unique and without comparison" (Trotsky, The November Revolution, 1919).

The Bolsheviks had clearly posed the question of the insurrec­tion in the workers' and soldiers' assemblies from September; they occupied the most combative and decisive positions in the RMC and the Red Guard; it was they who swung the barracks where there were doubts or which were for the Provisional Government. This was done through convincing the soldiers: Trotsky's speech was crucial in bringing over the soldiers of the Peter and Paul Fortress. They also untiringly denounced the manoeuvres, accusations and traps of the Mensheviks, and struggled for the calling of the 2nd Congress of Soviets against the sabotage of the social traitors.

Nevertheless, it was not the Bolsheviks, but the whole prole­tariat of Petrograd who decided on and carried out the insurrec­tion. The Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries had repeatedly tried to delay the holding of the 2nd Congress of Soviets. It was through the pressure of the masses, the insistence of the Bolshe­viks, the sending of thousands of telegrams from the local Soviets demanding its convocation, that finally obliged the CEC - the lair of the social traitors - to call it for the 25th.

"After the revolution of the 25th of October, the Mensheviks, and above all Martov, talked a lot about the seizure of power behind the Soviets' and workers' backs. It is hard to imagine a more shameless deformation of the facts. When the Soviets - in session - decided by a majority to call the 2nd Congress on the 25th of October, the Mensheviks said "you have decided the Revolution"; when in the Petrograd Soviet, by an overwhelming majority, we decided to refuse to allow the dispersal of the regiments away from the capital, the Mensheviks said: "This is the beginning of the revolution", when in the Petrograd Soviet we created the RMC the Mensheviks made it clear that "this is the organism of the armed insurrection". But when the insurrection, which had been planned, created and "discovered" beforehand by this organ, exploded on the decisive day, the same Mensheviks cried: "a plot by conspirators has provoked a revolution behind the workers' backs!"" (Trotsky, ibid).

The proletariat provided itself with the means of force - the general arming of the workers, the formation of the RMC, the insurrection - in order that the Congress of Soviets could effectively take power. If the Congress of Soviets had decided "to take power" without first carrying out these measures such a decision would have been an empty gesture easily ripped apart by the revolution's enemies. It is not possible to see the insurrection as an isolated formal act: it has to be seen within the overall dynamic of the class and, concretely, within a process on the international level where the conditions for the revolution were developing, and within Russia where innumerable local Soviets were calling for the effective taking of power: the Petrograd, Moscow, Tula, the Urals, Siberia, Jukov Soviets simultaneously carried out the triumphant insurrection.

The Congress of Soviets took the definitive decision, com­pletely confirming the validity of the initiative of the proletariat in Petrograd: "Based upon the will of the great majority of workers, soldiers, and peasants, based upon the triumphant uprising of the Petrograd working men and soldiers, the congress as­sumes power ... The congress resolves: that all local power shall be transferred to the Soviets of workers', soldiers' and peasants' Deputies, which must enforce revolutionary order". (J Reed, op cit)

Adalen, 5/10/92.



[1] We have never denied the errors the Bolshevik Party committed, nor its degeneration and transformation into the spinal column of the odious Stalinist dictatorship (we will deal with this process in future articles of this series). The role of the Bolshevik Party, as well as an implacable critique of its errors and its degeneration, have been made in various articles in our International Review: ‘The Degeneration of the Russian Revolution' and ‘The Lessons of Kronstadt' (no. 3); ‘Defence Of The Proletarian Nature of The October Revolution' (nos. 12 and 13). The essential reason for the degeneration of proletarian political organisations and parties is due to the weight of bourgeois ideology in their ranks, a weight which constantly creates tendencies towards opportunism and centrism (see the ‘Resolution on Centrism and Opportunism' in International Review no 44).