Contesting Dual Power – March 1917

R Arun Kumar

THE February Revolution ushered in dual power in Russia – the provincial government versus the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. In the month of March, Lenin had analysed the character of the dual power centres in the country and exhorted the proletariat to carry forward its historic task of taking forward the revolution to its logical conclusion.

The provincial government was headed by Prince Lvov and included Milyukov, the head of the Constitutional-Democrats, Guchkov, the head of the Octoberists, Socialist Revolutionary Kerensky and other representatives of the capitalist class. This represented the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. The land owners and capitalists succeeded in seizing power from the workers’ who played an important role in the February Revolution because, they were better organised and prepared, they had the direct support and assistance of the Anglo-French capitalists and also due to the fact that the working class had not yet attained sufficient revolutionary consciousness. Moreover, these new classes were in fact ‘economically’ ruling the country for long. They had used the counter-revolutionary period of 1907-14 and the First World War, to organise itself politically and take control of various wings of government. They only wanted a blow on Tsar to be struck for taking political control and this had happened in the February Revolution. They never wanted the existing State machinery to be replaced.

The workers, rich from the experience of 1905, though failed to stop the capitalists from assuming power, had immediately formed the Soviets, to which workers and soldiers elected deputies. One representative was elected by every 1000 workers, while one company of soldiers elected one deputy to the Soviets. Soldiers were in fact peasants in uniform and the Soviets helped in further strengthening the bonds of unity between the workers and the peasants. The Soviets formed post February 1917 were significantly different from the Soviets of the 1905. While the Soviets of 1905 were only the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies, the Soviets of 1917 were the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. This was a significant development. It is through these efforts that the proletariat began the process of smashing the State machinery.

Majority of these initial Soviets consisted of Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries. Lenin explained the dominance of petty-bourgeois ideology over the class conscious proletarian ideology and the changes in the composition of the working class due to the war as the main reasons for the dominance of Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries in the Soviets. The significance of the developments from March to October lie in the actions of the Bolsheviks, who succeeded in winning over the majority of workers and soldiers to their side and turned their minority into a majority in the Soviets. A correct reading of the objective conditions and the application of revolutionary tactics helped them in their endeavour.

The provincial government from the beginning was not ready to satisfy the basic demands of the working class – bread, peace and freedom. All they were indulging was in phrase mongering and making false promises to the people. In reality, they were secretly negotiating with the Tsar to resume power, albeit as an elected head of the government. Due to the inter-penetrating interests of capital, they were not ready to withdraw from the imperialist war and make public the secret treaties that were agreed with other imperialist powers. They tried to defend their actions for continuing in the imperialist war by spreading rumours that due to the activities of the Soviets, liberty and freedom were in danger. Through this propaganda, they also tried to invoke ‘patriotism’ among the people and break the unity of the working class and soldiers. They tried to mask up their deeds by putting their publicity machine that worked at full speed to maximum use.

Lenin was in exile in Switzerland during this period, while other Bolshevik leaders like Stalin who were exiled to Siberia, were slowly returning to Petrograd, the capital city. Bolsheviks put to maximum use whatever freedom was made available by the bourgeoisie provincial government. Pravda, the newspaper brought out by the Bolsheviks from Petrograd was restored and its circulation increased rapidly. Lenin was desperately trying to return to Russia, but was forced to delay due to the obstacles created by various countries preventing his transit through their territories. This of course did not stop Lenin from surveying the situation in Russia and directing the working class activities. He had written his famous ‘Letters from Afar’ during this period.

The central committee of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party [RSDLP(B)] had issued a manifesto in March, calling upon the workers to organise around the Soviets; to elect representatives to it for the fight against tsarism and for a republic; for an eight-hour day; for the confiscation of the landed estates and grain stocks and importantly for an end to the predatory war. This manifesto also called for the establishment of relations with the proletariat of all the belligerent countries. Lenin, in his Letters, welcomed this manifesto.

Deriving lessons from the experiences of Paris Commune (1871) and the 1905 Russian Revolution, Lenin urged the workers to ‘open the eyes of the people to the bourgeoisie deception’, make them aware of their strength, their own organisation, their unity and weapons. Throughout this period, ‘enlightening and organising the masses’ formed an important part of the Bolshevik work. The slogan of the moment, Lenin emphasised was, on the building of a ‘proletarian organisation’, which can only defeat the well organised bourgeoisie. He exhorted the workers, who displayed ‘miracles of revolutionary heroism’, to use the freedom available now to perform ‘miracles of proletarian organisation’ and win the battle for a second revolution. By organisation, Lenin did not mean the ‘ordinary’, ‘legal’ organisations of trade unions, cooperative societies’ etc., but revolutionary organisation that can lead the workers in carrying out an insurrection. He identified this with the Soviets, and wanted these to be established for all sections of the workers and peasants throughout the country.

Lenin laid nine immediate tasks before the proletariat: (i) to find the surest road to the next stage of the revolution, the socialist revolution, (ii) transfer of power from the landlords and capitalists to the workers and poorest peasants, (iii) this government to be organised on the model of Soviets of Workers’ and Peasants’ Deputies, (iv) it must smash the old State machinery (v) the immediate need for the formation of a universal organisation of the entire armed people (vi) achieving peace, which is possible only by a proletarian revolution, (vii) workers’ should earn the support of the peasants who are struggling for the confiscation of landed estates, (viii) on this basis the proletariat must enter into an alliance with the poorest sections of the peasantry and take steps towards the control of the production and distribution of basic products and (ix) immediately organising the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies in the rural districts, i.e., Soviets of agricultural wage workers separate from the Soviets of other peasant deputies.

Stalin, echoing Lenin, stated that the first condition for the victory of the socialist revolution is the formation of the All Russian Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. The Bolsheviks set upon these tasks by exposing the failure of the provincial government to implement its promises and its betrayal of the mandate of the February Revolution. The provincial government attempted an open assault on the democratic rights in the name of ‘restoring discipline’ and ‘establishing order’. All these were part of their overall strategy to serve the interests of the bourgeoisie. It was only because of the vigilance of the Bolsheviks and the Soviets that these attempts were nipped in the bud. They used every opportunity to expose the social-patriotism of Kerensky, the vacillations of Chkheidze and his group. The decrees issued by the provincial government were dissected and the class interests behind them were explained to the people.

As a result of their patient work, the first Congress of the All Russian Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers Deputies was called at the end of March. The Bolsheviks too called for a meeting of their central committee to be held on the sidelines of the Soviets. After weeks of frustrating negotiations, Lenin finally arrived at the Finland station of Petrograd on  April 3 and once again directly immersed himself in the revolutionary movement – transforming the imperialist war into a civil war for the success of proletarian revolution.

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