Theoretical Rearming – April 1917

R Arun Kumar

IMMEDIATELY after alighting from the train in Petrograd station on April 3, 1917 Lenin addressed the thousands of workers who had gathered there to welcome him. He concluded his address with the rousing slogan, “Long Live the Socialist Revolution” and plunged into action from that instant.

The immediate task undertaken by Lenin was to lay out a theoretical and practical map for the advancement of the revolution. It is in this background that he had written his famous ‘April Theses’. Lenin presented the Theses to the Bolshevik delegates to the All Russian Congress of the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers Deputies and later in a joint meeting of both the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. Armed with ideological clarity provided by the Theses, Bolsheviks worked with a new orientation and confidence. The tasks before the party and the proletariat in the transformation from the first stage of revolution to the second stage, the socialist stage, were clearly spelt out in the Theses. These ideas were further explained in Lenin’s various writings and through his interventions and resolutions moved in the Petrograd conference of the Bolsheviks (April 14-22), followed by the All Russian Congress of the Bolsheviks (April 24-29).

 

UNIQUE SITUATION

 

Lenin analysed that the first stage of the Russian revolution had developed in a totally unexpected way – it was supported by a section of the West European bourgeoisie. This was due to their expectation that the Russian bourgeoisie would be able to assume hegemony over the State, and strengthen their war efforts. But in actuality, they were forced to share power with the Soviets – a dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. This interlocking of the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry with the power of the bourgeoisie was a unique situation and hence desired appropriate tactics to advance the revolution. This had become even more important as the ‘dictatorship’ had surrendered a part of its power to the bourgeoisie.

A section of the Bolsheviks did not understand this ‘unique’ situation and faltered in their tactics. Lenin stated that ‘old Bolshevik’ ideas on the stage of revolution and on the assessment of the character of Soviet power needs to be revised. Calling for discarding the ideas of old Bolsheviks, he called them to be confined to archives. Lenin emphatically ruled out any support to the provincial government, even though it was a product of the February Revolution, as it would only help in furthering the deception of the ruling classes. Further, he also ruled out the immediate overthrow of the provincial government as it continued to enjoy the support and trust of the Soviets.

Lenin stated that Soviets are not like any other organisation or trade unions, but ‘government power’ and that is how the people also see them. So, Lenin emphasised on winning a majority in the Soviets. This was necessary as the Soviets were influenced by petty-bourgeois ideology and were not sufficiently proletarian in their make-up. He said: “So far we are in the minority; the masses still do not believe us. We can wait; they will side with us when the government shows its face. The government’s vacillations may repel them and they will swing over to our side and then, taking into consideration the balance of forces, we shall say: Our time has come”. In order to ensure this change, ‘building up of forces for completing the second stage of revolution is important in the capital cities and large centres’. In the local areas, the formation of Soviets should be expedited and they should develop the revolutionary energy of the worker and peasant masses by ‘establishing control over the production and distribution of products’. Exposure of the government through patient, systematic and persistent explanation and teaching the necessity of transferring the entire State power to the Soviets was thus determined as an important task before the Bolsheviks.

Lenin’s ideas in the Theses were attacked by the landlords, bourgeoisie provincial government as a call for ‘civil war’. Refuting these wild allegations, Lenin stated that the proletarian and semi-proletarian were influenced by tradition and deception due to their lack of political experience. Therefore, the task before the Bolsheviks was of ‘patient explaining’. Further elaborating, he stated that the first civil war had come to an end and that they were advancing towards the second civil war – the war between imperialism and armed people. In the transitional period and as long as the ruling classes have not resorted to violence, civil war “turns into peaceful, prolonged and patient class propaganda”. Advising caution, he warned that proletarian tactics based on subjective desires will ‘condemn it to failure’.

A detailed agrarian programme was worked out to win over the agricultural labourers, poor peasants and peasant proprietors to the side of Bolsheviks. Stating that ‘the task of Marxists’ is to explain the agrarian programme to the peasants, Lenin urged for a shift of emphasis on organising Soviets of Agricultural Labourer’s Deputies. The necessity of organising the rural proletariat (agricultural labourers and day labourers), “is not to scatter forces”, but to ‘strengthen and broaden the movement and arouse the ‘lowest’ class of the society. He cautioned that this work should be done with ‘persuasion’ and ‘without a hurry’. Only by organising these classes, can the Bolsheviks “counter the petty-bourgeoisie influence over them and steer them on the path of revolution as allies of the working class”. Based on the practical and vital issues before the peasants, demands were formulated: confiscation of all landed estates; transfer of all lands to the peasants organised under the Soviets of Peasants Deputies; nationalisation of all land; confiscation of all livestock and agricultural implements from the landed estates and landlords and ensuring that no damage is done to the property to ensure an increase in production.

 

DETERMINED STRUGGLE

The Bolsheviks also waged a determined struggle against the policies of the provincial government and petty-bourgeoisie vacillations, against the war, police and bureaucracy that was harassing the peasants. Due to its class character, the provincial government launched an attack on revolutionary democracy and was refusing to implement the demands for confiscation of lands, withdrawing from the imperialist war, calling the constituent assembly and implementing the eight-hour day.

In this background, on April 18, the provincial government issued a ‘Note’ clearly stating its intention to fight the imperialist war until ‘a decisive victory’. This ‘Note’ had exposed the real face of the provincial government and workers had come out in thousands protesting this ‘betrayal’. These were first of a series of mass mobilisations, where the workers and peasants demanded the government and the Soviets to heed their voice. These demonstrations had jolted both the provincial government and the Soviets.

Lenin immediately identified the ‘potential impact’ of these demonstrations on the various classes and its expression through actions during those days. The petty-bourgeoisie, Lenin noted, were still swinging ‘now to the right, now to the left’, while the proletarian were clearly against the war and were angered by the ‘deception’. The executive committee of the Soviets had voted in favour of the Note, after receiving some explanations from the provincial government, which in no way contradicted the Note. This further showed the compromising attitude of the Soviets.

Lenin predicted that this ‘first crisis’ will soon be ‘followed by many more’ and so there was no time for the Bolsheviks to lose. He called for the consolidation of their ranks and organising the workers ‘bottom upwards’, by explaining ‘more precisely, more clearly, more widely the proletarian policy’ and rallying ‘more resolutely’ and ‘more widely’ for the termination of war.

Lenin, introducing the resolutions adopted in the Bolshevik Congress, wrote in Pravda: “The time is drawing near when events will demand new and still greater heroism – the heroism of millions and tens of millions – than you displayed in the glorious days of the revolution of February and March….Prepare yourselves and remember that if, together with the capitalists, you were able to achieve victory in a few days by a simple outburst of popular wrath, you will need more than that for victory against the capitalists, for victory over the capitalists. To achieve such a victory, to have the workers and poor peasants take the power, keep that power and make proper use of it, you will need organisation, organisation, and organisation….Don’t put your trust in words. Don’t be misled by promises. Don’t overestimate your strength. Organise at 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. Work to steadily, soundly and indestructibly build up full confidence in the advanced workers, on the part of the masses….Such is the one guarantee of success”.

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