What are workers' councils? (Part 4): The soviets attempt to wield power (1917 - 1921)

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In previous articles in this series, we followed the appearance of the workers’ councils (i.e. soviets in Russian) during the revolution of 1905; their disappearance and resurgence during the revolution of 1917, and their crisis and revival in the hands of the workers which led to their seizure of power in October 1917.[1] In this article we will deal with the attempt by the soviets to wield power, a fundamental moment in the history of mankind: “For the first time, not the minority, not the rich alone, not the educated alone, but the real people, the vast majority of working people, are themselves building a new life, are by their own experience, solving the most difficult problems of socialist organisation[2].

October 1917 - April 1918: the rise of the soviets

Driven along by wild enthusiasm, the working masses set about the task of consolidating and continuing what they started before the revolution. The anarchist Paul Avrich described the atmosphere of those early months, by underlining that “the Russian working class enjoyed a degree of freedom and a sense of power unique in its history”.[3]

The mode of functioning the soviet power attempted to adopt was radically different from that of the bourgeois state in which the executive – the government – has virtually absolute power while the legislature – parliament – and the judiciary, which in theory should act as a counterbalance, are in reality very much subordinate to it. In any event, the three powers are completely divorced from the vast majority of the people whose role is limited to routinely placing voting papers in ballot boxes.[4] Soviet power was based on two completely new premises:

  • the active mass participation of the workers;
  • that it’s the mass of workers themselves who discuss, take decisions and implement them.

As Lenin said at the Second Congress of Soviets: “In the eyes of the bourgeoisie, strength is manifested when the masses go blindly to the slaughter. The only government which the bourgeoisie recognise as strong is one which can use all the power of the state machine to put the masses anywhere it pleases. Our conception of strength is different. In our eyes, a government is strong in proportion to the consciousness of the masses. It is strong when the masses know everything, judge everything, accept everything consciously.”[5]

However, once they took power, the soviets ran into an obstacle: the Constituent Assembly, which represented the very negation of all these premises and a return to the past: the allocation of power and its exercise by a bureaucratic caste of politicians.

When confronting Tsarism, the workers’ movement in Russia had demanded a Constituent Assembly as a step towards a bourgeois republic, but the revolution of 1917 had largely gone beyond this old rallying cry. The weight of the past clearly continued to have an influence, even after the proclamation of soviet power, not only on the large masses of workers but also on many Bolshevik Party activists who believed the Constituent Assembly to be compatible with soviet power.

One of the most serious and fateful errors of the bourgeois-socialist coalition government was that time and again mainly legal considerations persuaded it to postpone the election and opening of the national [Constituent] Assembly”.[6] The succession of governments between February and October 1917 postponed it time and again, contradicting what they themselves claimed to be their ultimate goal. The Bolsheviks – not without internal divisions and contradictions themselves – had during this period been its principal supporters, while acknowledging it was inconsistent with the slogan “All power to the soviets!”

Thus dawned a paradox: three weeks after the soviets seized power, they fulfilled their promise by calling elections to the Constituent Assembly. These elections gave the Right Socialist-Revolutionaries a majority (299 seats), with the Bolsheviks a distant second (168), followed by the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries (39) and other smaller groups.

How is it possible for the election result to hand a victory to the losers of October?

Several factors explain it, but in Russia at this precise time the most obvious was that voting put on an equal footing “citizens” whose conditions are radically opposed: workers, bosses, bureaucrats, farmers, etc., which always favours the exploiting minority and the status quo. More generally, there is another factor that affects the revolutionary class: the vote is an act in which the atomised individual allows himself to be led by multiple considerations, specific influences and interests, based on the illusion of being a hypothetically free “citizen”, and therefore expresses nothing of the active power of a collective mass. The “individual citizen” worker who votes in the polling booth and the worker who participates in an assembly are like two different people.

The Constituent Assembly was moreover completely ineffective. It was discredited. It took some grandiloquent decisions that had no effect and its meetings were limited to a mere succession of boring speeches. The Bolshevik agitation, supported by the anarchists and Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, clearly posed the dilemma of Soviets or Assembly and thus contributed to a clarification of consciousness. After multiple metamorphoses, the Constituent Assembly was quietly disbanded in January 1918 by the sailors assigned to stand guard over it.

Exclusive power passed to the soviets through which the mass of workers reasserted their political existence. During the first months of the revolution and at least until the summer of 1918, the permanent self activity of the masses that we had already witnessed in February 1917, not only continued but spread and grew stronger. The workers, the women and the youth all lived within a dynamic of assemblies, factory and neighbourhood councils, local soviets, conferences, meetings, etc. “The first phase of the soviet regime was that of almost unlimited autonomy of its local institutions. Fuelled by an intense life and a more and more numerous one, the grass roots soviets were protective of their authority.[7] The main discussions in the local soviets were about matters affecting the whole of Russia but they also discussed the international situation, particularly revolutionary developments.[8]

The Council of People’s Commissars created by the Second Congress of Soviets was not conceived as a de facto government, that is to say as an independent power monopolising affairs, but rather as the animator and the engine of mass action. Anweiler refers to the campaign of agitation Lenin conducted: “On 18 November, Lenin appealed to the workers to take over all government affairs: The soviets were now all powerful and would decide everything.[9] It was not rhetoric. The Council of People’s Commissars, unlike bourgeois governments, did not comprise a constellation of impressive advisers, career civil servants, bodyguards, collaborators, etc. As Victor Serge recounts,[10] this body had a head of department and two assistants. Its meetings consisted in examining each matter with the delegations of workers, the members of the Executive Committee of Soviets or the Soviets of Petrograd and Moscow. Secret deliberations by the Council of Ministers were abolished.

In 1918, four All-Russia Congresses of Soviets were held: the Third in January, the Fourth in March, the Fifth in July and the Sixth in November. It shows the vitality and global vision that inspired the soviets. These general congresses, which required a tremendous effort of mobilisation – the transport system was paralysed and civil war made the movement of the delegates very complicated – expressed the global unity of the soviets and implemented their decisions.

The congresses were animated by lively debates in which it was not only Bolsheviks who participated but also internationalist Mensheviks, Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, anarchists, etc. Indeed Bolsheviks expressed their own differences. The atmosphere had a profound critical spirit as Victor Serge observed: “If the revolution is to be well served...it must be constantly on guard against its own abuses, excesses, crimes and reactionary elements. It therefore has a vital need for criticism, opposition and civic courage on the part of those who carry it out.”[11]

In the Third and Fourth Congresses, there was a stormy debate on the signing of a peace treaty with Germany – Brest Litovsk[12] – that focused on two questions: how to retain soviet power while waiting for the world revolution? And what contribution could it actually make? The Fourth Congress was the scene of a bitter confrontation between the Bolsheviks and Left Socialist Revolutionaries. The Sixth Congress focused on the revolution in Germany and adopted measures to support it, including sending trains containing large quantities of wheat; an expression of the tremendous solidarity and commitment of the Russian workers who were then rationed to only 50 grams of bread per day!

The initiatives of the masses affected all aspects of social life. We aren’t able to provide a detailed analysis of this here and we will simply highlight that courts of justice were established in working class neighbourhoods and were seen as genuine assemblies where the causes of crimes were discussed and sentences were passed with the aim of changing the conduct of criminals and not as punishment or revenge. “According to Lenin’s wife, several male as well as female workers took the floor and their interventions were sometimes extremely vociferous. The embarrassed ‘lawyer’ did not stop mopping the perspiration from his brow, after the accused, his face bathed in tears, promised to refrain from beating his son. Actually, it was not so much a court as a public meeting to control the conduct of its citizens. Under our eyes, the proletarian ethic was taking shape.[13]

From April to December 1918: the crisis and decline of soviet power

However, this powerful momentum weakened and the soviets changed, distancing themselves from the majority of the workers. In May 1918, criticisms of soviet policy were already circulating among the working class in Moscow and Petrograd. As in July-September 1917, a series of attempts were made to revive the soviets;[14] in both cities independent conferences were held which, although focussed on economic demands, took up the renewal of the soviets as their main objective. The Mensheviks held the majority there, and this led the Bolsheviks to reject the conferences and to accuse them of being counter-revolutionary. The unions were mobilised to break them up and they quickly disappeared.

This measure contributed in undermining the very basis of the soviets’ existence. In the previous article in this series, we showed that the soviets did not exist in a vacuum but were the figurehead of a great proletarian movement formed by countless soviet organisations, factory committees, neighbourhood councils, conferences and mass assemblies, etc. By mid 1918, these organisations began to decline and gradually disappeared. The factory committees (which we will speak of again) disappeared first, then the neighbourhood soviets in turn entered a death agony that lasted from the summer of 1918 until their total disappearance in late 1919.

The two vital ingredients of the soviets’ existence were the massive network of grass roots soviet organisations and their constant renewal. The disappearance of the first was accompanied by the gradual elimination of the second. The appearance of the soviets didn’t change; they evolved little by little into a rigid bureaucracy.

The Bolshevik Party unwittingly contributed to this process. To combat the counter-revolutionary agitation of the Mensheviks and other parties inside the soviets, they resorted to administrative measures of exclusion, which contributed in creating an overwhelming atmosphere of passivity, a fear of debate, the gradual submission to the diktat of the Party.[15]

This repression was episodic in its early stages but eventually became widespread in the early months of 1919, when the central organs of the Party openly demanded the complete subordination of the soviets to their own local committees and the exclusion of the other parties.

The lack of life and debate, the bureaucratisation, subordination to the Party etc., became more and more oppressive. At the Seventh Congress of the Soviets, Kamenev recognised that “The soviet plenary sessions as political organisations often waste away, the people busy themselves with purely mechanical chores.... General soviet sessions are seldom called, and when the deputies meet, it is only to accept a report, listen to a speech, and the like.[16] This Congress, held in December 1919, had the rebirth of the soviets as its main topic of discussion and there were contributions not only from the Bolsheviks, seen for the last time expressing differences amongst themselves, but also internationalist Mensheviks, their leader Martov taking a very active part.

There was an effort to implement the resolutions of the Congress. In January 1920 elections were held that sought to re-establish the soviets under conditions of total freedom. “Martov acknowledged at the beginning of 1920 that, except in Petrograd, ‘where “Zinovievite” elections were held in the old manner,’ the return to more democratic methods was general, and often worked to the advantage of the candidates of his party.[17]

Many soviets reappeared and the Bolshevik Party tried to correct the errors of bureaucratic concentration that it had itself progressively helped to create. “The Soviet Government announced its intention of giving up some of the prerogatives it had usurped and restoring the rights of the Central Executive Committee [of the soviets, elected by Congress], which under the constitution of 1918 was supposed to supervise the activities of the People’s Commissars.[18]

These hopes were quickly dashed, however. The intensification of the civil war, Wrangel’s offensive and the invasion of Poland, the worsening famine, the catastrophic economic situation, the peasant revolts, cut these intentions off at root, “with…the ruined state of the economy, the demoralisation of the people, the increasing isolation of a devastated country and an exhausted nation, the very basis for a revival of the soviets was no longer present.[19]

The Kronstadt uprising in March 1921, with its demand for completely renewed soviets effectively exercising power, was the final death agony; its suppression by the Bolshevik Party signalled the almost certain death of the soviets as workers’ organs.[20]

The Civil War and the creation of the Red Army

Why was it that in contrast with September 1917 the soviets were now fighting an uphill battle they couldn’t win? Though only the development of world revolution could have provided the oxygen needed for the movement to survive, we will nonetheless examine the other “internal” factors that played a part. In brief, there are to two key, strongly interconnected factors: the civil war and famine on the one hand and the economic chaos on the other.

Let’s begin with the civil war.[21] The war was organised by the major imperialist powers: Britain, France, the United States, Japan, etc., who united their troops into a heterogeneous body of armed forces, “the Whites”, allied with the defeated Russian bourgeoisie. This war devastated the country until 1921 and caused more than 6 million deaths and incalculable destruction. The Whites carried out unprecedented sadistic and cruel reprisals. “the White Terror was partly responsible for this, of course, since victories by the counter-revolutionary forces were usually accompanied not only by the massacring of large numbers of Communists but also by extermination of the most active members of the soviets, and in any case, by suppression of the latter.[22]

Here we see the first reason why the soviets were undermined. The White Army suppressed the soviets and indiscriminately murdered all their members.

But more complex causes were attached to these massacres. In response to the war, the Council of People’s Commissars in April-May 1918 made two important decisions: the formation of the Red Army and the establishment of the Cheka, the organ responsible for rooting out counter-revolutionary conspiracies. It was the first time the Council made a decision without prior discussion with the soviets, or at least with the Executive Committee.

The creation of a Cheka as a policing organ was inevitable after the revolution. Counter-revolutionary plots followed one after the other, as much from the Right Socialist-Revolutionaries, the Mensheviks and the Cadets as from the monarchist Black Hundreds and Cossacks, encouraged by British and French agents. As soon as the war began the organisation of a Red Army was also imperative.

These two structures – the Cheka and the Red Army – were not simple tools that could be brought out as and when necessary, they were state organs and, as such, from the point of view of the proletariat double-edged swords; the working class would be forced to use them up until its decisive victory worldwide, but their utilisation presented serious dangers because they tended to take on an independent life vis-à-vis proletarian power.

Why then was an army created, when the proletariat had a soviet military organ that had led the insurgency, the Military Revolutionary Committee?[23]

From September 1917 the Russian army openly began to disintegrate. As soon as peace was declared, the soldiers’ councils rapidly demobilised. The only thing that mattered to the majority of soldiers was returning to their villages. Paradoxical as it may seem, the soldiers’ councils – but to a lesser extent the sailors’ too – that were widespread after the seizure of power by the soviets, concentrated on disbanding the army, avoiding the unruly flight of conscripts and reprimanding bands of soldiers who were using their weapons to rob and terrorise the population. In early January 1918 the army no longer existed. Russia was at the mercy of the German army. The peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk did however allow time for the army to be effectively reorganised to defend the revolution.

At its inception, the Red Army was an army of volunteers. Middle class and peasant youth didn’t enrol and the initial core was made up of workers from the factories and the big cities. This led to a real blood-letting in the ranks of the working class, that had to sacrifice its best elements in a bloody and cruel war: “We know that because of the war the best workers were withdrawn in large numbers from the cities, and that therefore at times it becomes difficult in one or another provincial or district capital to form a soviet and make it function.”[24]

Here we see the second reason for the crisis of the soviets: their best elements were absorbed by the Red Army. To get a real idea of this, in April 1918 Petrograd mobilised 25,000 volunteers, the vast majority of them militant workers, and Moscow 15,000, while the whole country had 106,000 volunteers in total.

As to the third cause of this crisis, it was none other than the Red Army itself that regarded the soviets as an obstacle. It tended to avoid their control and asked the central government to prevent them from interfering in its affairs. It also rejected offers of support from the soviets’ own military units (Red Guards, guerrillas). The Council of People’s Commissars conceded all the army’s demands.

Why did a body created to defend the soviets turn against them? The army is a state organ whose existence and functioning necessarily have social consequences, as it imposes a blind discipline, a rigid hierarchy in its general staff, with an officer corps who only recognise the authority of the government. To alleviate this tendency a network of political commissars was established from trusted workers responsible for controlling the officers. Unfortunately the effects of this measure were very limited and even counterproductive, since this network became in turn an additional layer of bureaucracy.

Not only did the Red Army continue to evade control by the soviets, it also imposed its methods of militarisation over society as a whole, restricting even more, if it was possible, the lives of its members. In his book The ABC of Communism, Preobrazhensky even talks of the proletariat’s military dictatorship!

The imperatives of war and the blind submission to the demands of the Red Army led the government to form a Military Revolutionary Committee in the summer of 1918, which had nothing in common with the one that led the October Revolution, as demonstrated by the fact that its first decision was to appoint local revolutionary committees to impose control on the soviets. “A decision by the Council of People’s Commissars forced the soviets to comply unconditionally with the instructions of these committees.[25]

The Red Army, like the Cheka, gradually ceased to serve the cause for which they were conceived, as weapons to defend the power of the soviets, and in establishing their independence and autonomy, finally turned against the soviets. If the Cheka initially reported to the local soviets and attempted to collaborate with them, the expeditious methods for which they were renowned would quickly prevail and impose themselves on soviet society. “On August 28th, 1918, the headquarters of the Cheka actually instructed its local agencies to refuse to submit to any interference by the soviets: on the contrary, it was these local agencies that were to impose their will upon the soviet bodies. They succeeded in doing this in the many areas that were affected by military operations.[26]

The Cheka eroded the power of the soviets so much that in November 1918 a survey revealed that 96 soviets were demanding the dissolution of Cheka sections, 119 asked for them to be subordinated to the legal soviet institutions and only 19 approved of their actions. This survey was completely useless though as the Cheka continued to accumulate new powers. “‘All power to the soviets’ has ceased to be the principle on which the regime is based, declared a member of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs; it has been replaced by a new rule:‘All power to the Cheka’”.[27]

Famine and economic chaos

The World War bequeathed a terrible legacy. The productive apparatus of the majority of European countries was in a feeble state, the distribution network for consumer goods and food was highly dislocated when not completely paralysed. “Food consumption had in general decreased by about thirty or forty percent. The situation for the Allies was better, thanks to American support. The winter of 1917-1918 was still a harsh one with rigorous rationing and a fuel crisis in Britain and France.”[28]

Russia had suffered cruelly from this situation. The October Revolution had not been able to advance, especially as powerful disruptive forces were at work: systematic sabotage extensively carried out not just by business leaders who, rather than provide the proletariat with the tools needed for production, preferred to pursue a scorched earth policy, but also by entire layers of technicians, managers and even highly skilled workers hostile to soviet power. After taking power the soviets were confronted by a massive strike of public servants, telegraph and railway workers, manipulated by the Menshevik-led unions. This strike was fomented and organised through the union apparatus by “a shadow government [which] was functioning, presided over by Mr. Prokopovich, who had officially taken over the succession from Kerensky, who was said to have ‘resigned’. This clandestine Cabinet directed the strike of officials in concert with a strike committee. The large firms of industry, commerce and banking, such as the Rural Bank of Tula, the Moscow Popular Bank and the Bank of the Caucasus, continued to pay their officials who were out on strike. The former All-Russian Soviet Executive (Mensheviks and SR) used its funds, stolen from the working class, for the same purpose.[29]

This sabotage added to the widespread economic chaos made rapidly worse by the civil war. How could the famine ravaging the cities be fought? How could supplies of basic necessities be maintained?

Here we see the disastrous consequences of what happened in 1918: the social coalition that overthrew the bourgeois government in October 1917 disintegrated. Soviet power was a “coalition” of the workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ soviets all practically on an equal footing. With few exceptions the soviets had almost disappeared by the end of 1917, leaving soviet power with no army. But what happened to the peasants’ soviets which were key to ensuring regular supplies to the cities?

The decree on land allocation adopted by the Second Congress of Soviets was surrounded by much confusion, and countless abuses were tolerated and, even though many poor farmers did acquire a plot, the big winners were the rich and middle peasants who greatly increased their holdings. This led to their almost total domination of the peasant soviets. Self-interest typified by private ownership was encouraged. “The peasant received in exchange for his corn only paper roubles with which he could buy nothing except an ever more restricted supply of manufactured articles, and these with a great difficulty; and so he resorted to barter: foodstuffs against goods. A whole host of small speculators operated as middlemen between him and the town.”[30] The peasants only sold their produce to speculators who hoarded it, thus exacerbating the shortages and the inflated prices.[31]

In June 1918, a decree of the soviet government created some committees of poor peasants to combat this situation. They would be a means of bringing the peasant soviets closer to the proletariat by organising the class struggle in the countryside, but it was also an attempt to create shock troops who would requisition the cereals and foods needed to alleviate the terrible famine in the cities.

These committees were specifically assigned, “[along with] armed detachments of factory workers to confiscate grain from the wealthier peasants, to requisition livestock and tools, to distribute them among the rural poor and even to redistribute land.”[32] The results of this experience were largely negative. They were neither able to guarantee supplies to the starving cities nor to revive the peasants’ soviets. And the irony is that in 1919 the Bolsheviks changed their policy to try to gain the support of the middle peasants and forcibly disbanded the committees of poor peasants.

Under modern capitalist production the supply of agricultural products is dependent on the existence of an extensive transport system that is highly mechanised and highly reliant on a wide range of basic industries. In this respect, feeding the starving population was hindered by the widespread collapse of the productive industrial apparatus due to the war and exacerbated by economic sabotage and the outbreak of civil war in April 1918.

The factory councils could have had a decisive role. As we saw in the previous article in this series, they played a very important vanguard role for the soviet system. They could have also helped in fighting the sabotage of the capitalists and preventing shortages and paralysis.

Moreover they did try to collaborate in setting up a central organ to control production and to fight against sabotage and paralysis of the transport system: “After the October Revolution the central councils of factory committees from various cities attempted to form their own national organisation to secure actual economic dictatorship”,[33] but Bolshevik policy was opposed to it. It concentrated the management of the enterprises in the hands of a body of officials subordinated to executive power, and for the first time accompanied it with measures to restore piecework, which resulted in a brutal militarisation which reached its highest levels in 1919-20. It also strengthened the unions. This body of officials, fiercely opposed to the factory councils, led an intense campaign that saw factory councils disappear in late 1918. Anweiler says that “The unions prevented the convocation of an all-Russian congress of factory committees and instead absorbed the factory committees at the lowest level.” [34]

Bolshevik policy attempted to fight the tendency of some factory councils, particularly in the provinces, to see themselves as new owners and as independent and autonomous units. This tendency partly arose from “the difficulty establishing regular channels of distribution and exchange, which left many factories and production centres isolated. So factories appeared very like “anarchist communes”, very inward-looking.[35]

The tendency towards decomposition in the Russian working class

Clearly these developments encouraged divisions in the working class. But the course of events could have been fought through debates inside the factory councils themselves where, as we have seen, a global vision was present. Relying on the unions contributed to destroying these organisations that were the cornerstone of proletarian power and broadly favoured the exacerbation of a fundamental political problem in the early years of soviet power, which was obscured by the enthusiasm of those initial months: “the progressive weakening of the Russian working class, a loss of strength and substance that was to end in its almost complete de-classing and, in a certain sense, its temporary disappearance from the scene.[36]

In April 1918, 265 of the 799 main industrial businesses based in Petrograd had disappeared, half of workers in this city had no work; its population in June 1918 was one and a half million, down from two and a half million one year earlier. Moscow lost half a million people in this short period.

The working class was suffering from hunger and the most terrifying diseases. Jacques Sadoul, a Bolshevik sympathiser, described the situation in Moscow in the spring of 1918: “in the districts away from the centre, frightful poverty prevails. There are epidemics of typhus, smallpox, children’s diseases. Babies are dying en-masse. Those one sees are weak, fleshless, pitiful creatures. In the working-class quarters one too often passes poor, pale, thin mothers, sadly bearing in their arms, in a little coffin of silver-painted wood, looking like a cradle, the tiny lifeless body that a small quantity of bread or milk would have kept alive.”[37]

Many workers fled to the countryside to devote themselves to precarious farm work. The terrifying pressure of famine, disease, rationing and queues meant that workers were forced to spend the whole day trying to survive. As a Petrograd worker in April 1918 testified, “Here is another crowd of workers who have been fired. Although we are thousands, we do not hear a word about the policy; nobody talks about revolution, of German imperialism, or any other current issue. For all these men and all these women who can barely stand, all these issues seem terribly remote.[38]

The unfolding crisis of the Russian working class was so alarming that in October 1921 Lenin approved the NEP,[39] saying that “The capitalists will gain from our policy and will create an industrial proletariat, which in our country, owing to the war and to the desperate poverty and ruin, has become declassed, i.e., dislodged from its class groove, and has ceased to exist as a proletariat.”[40]

We have presented a whole range of general conditions which, added to the inevitable errors, weakened the soviets and contributed to their disappearance as workers’ organs. In the next article in this series, we will discuss the political problems that contributed to making the situation worse.

C. Mir 1/9/10.



[1]. See International Reviews, n°s 140, 141, 142.

[2]. Lenin, Letter to the American workers, 20 August 1918, Lenin, On the United States of America, Progress, 1967, p.345.

[3]. Quoted by Marcel Liebman, Leninism Under Lenin (Merlin Press, 1975), p.335.This is an interesting and well-documented work by a non-communist writer. Whenever possible the quotes from this book have been taken from the English translation published by Merlin Press. However, this is a shortened and revised version of the French original and does not contain some of the passages quoted. Where this is the case the translations have been made by the ICC.

[4]. There was a previous phase in the life of capitalism, when it was still a progressive system, when parliament was a place where different fractions of the bourgeoisie unified or fought over the government of society. The proletariat had to participate and try and influence the actions of the bourgeoisie in defence of its own interests and do it despite the dangerous illusions in the system this could entail. However, even at this time, the three powers were still divorced from the vast majority of people.

[5]. Quoted by Victor Serge, militant anarchist convert to Bolshevism, in Year One of the Russian Revolution, p.83, chapter 3, subheading: “The Great Decrees: Peace”, Allan Lane Penguin Press.

[6]. Oskar Anweiler, The soviets: Russian workers, peasants and soldiers councils, 1905-1921, p.208, Chapter 5, “The Constituent Assembly or Soviet Republic”.

[7]. Marcel Liebman, op. cit., French edition, p.31.

[8]. A large number of discussions took place around events in Germany, including news of strikes and mutinies.

[9]. Oskar Anweiler, op. cit., p.219, Chapter 5, part 2 “The Bolshevik Social System” part (a).

[10]. Victor Serge, op. cit., p.95, Chapter 3, subheading: “The initiative of the masses”.

[11]. Marcel Liebman, op. cit., p.270.

[12]. This treaty was signed between the soviet power and the German state in March 1918. By granting major concessions, the soviet power achieved a truce which allowed it to survive and sent a clear signal to the international proletariat of its desire to end the war. See our articles: “October 17: Start of the proletarian revolution”, part 2, International Review n°13, 1978 and “Communism, not a nice idea but a material necessity”, part VIII: “Understanding the defeat of the Russian Revolution”, International Review n° 99, 1999.

[13]. Marcel Liebman, op. cit., French edition, p.176.

[14]. See the series in International Review n°142, “The Revolution of 1917...”, subheading “September 1917, the total renewal of the soviets”.

[15]. We should make clear that these measures were not accompanied by restricting the freedom of the press. In his book cited above, Victor Serge affirms that “The proletarian dictatorship hesitated a long time before suppressing the enemy press. (…) it was only in July 1918 that the last organs of the bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie were closed down. The legal press of the Mensheviks only disappeared in 1919; the press of the anarchists hostile to the regime, and the Maximalists appeared down to 1921; that of the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries later still. (Footnote on p.103, Chapter 3, subheading: “Proletarian realism and 'revolutionary' rhetoric”.

[16]. Oskar Anweiler, op. cit., p.235, Chapter 5, part 2, “The Bolshevik Social System” part (b).

[17]. Marcel Liebman, op. cit., p.231. Zinoviev, a leading Bolshevik, had great qualities and played a large part in the creation of the Communist International. He was however renowned for his craftiness and manoeuvring.

[18]. Ibid, p.230-1

[19]. Ibid p.231.

[20]. We aren't able to give a detailed analysis of the Kronstadt events here, or their meaning and the lessons we draw. See International Review n° 3, 1975, “The lessons of Kronstadt” and International Review n° 104, 2001, “Understanding Kronstadt”.

[21]. See Victor Serge, op. cit., for an account of the civil war in 1918.

[22]. Marcel Liebman, op. cit., p.229.

[23]. See International Review n°142, “The Revolution of 1917 (from July to October), from the revival of the workers' councils to the seizure of power”, subheading “The Military Revolutionary Committee, soviet organ of the insurrection”, https://en.internationalism.org/ir/142/workers-councils-part-3.

[24]. Speech of Kamenev, quoted by Oskar Anweiler, op. cit., p.235.

[25]. Marcel Liebman, op. cit., French edition, p.33.

[26]. Ibid, page 229.

[27]. Ibid, French edition, p.164.

[28]. Victor Serge, op. cit., p.145, Chapter 5, “The Problem in January 1918”.

[29]. Victor Serge, op. cit., p.94, Chapter 3, “Sabotage”.

[30]. Ibid, p.94, Chapter 6, “The Problem”.

[31]. Ibid. Victor Serge underlines that one of the policies of the unions consisted in creating cooperatives which were devoted to speculating on food to the great benefit of their members.

[32]. Oskar Anweiler, op. cit., p.237, “The Bolshevik Social System” part (b).

[33]. Oskar Anweiler, op. cit., p.221, Chapter 5, part 2 “The Bolshevik Social System” part (a).

[34]. Ibid.

[35]. Marcel Liebman, op. cit., French edition, p.189.

[36]. Ibid, p.223.

[37]. Ibid.

[38]. Ibid, French edition, p.23.

[39] NEP, New Economic Policy, introduced in March 1921 after the events around Kronstadt, made large concessions to the peasantry and to national and foreign capital. See International Review n° 101, in the series “Communism is not a just a nice idea”, the article entitled “1922-23, the Communist fractions against the rise of counter-revolution”.

[40]. Lenin, Collected Works, 2nd English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Vol.33, pp.60-79.


History of the workers' movement: 

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Working class history