Combating Deception and Counter-Revolution – June 1917

R Arun Kumar

BY the end of May, Lenin was increasingly coming to the conclusion that due to the compromises of the Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionaries led Soviets, the counter revolutionary forces in the country were gaining the offensive. With each passing day in June, the worst fears of Lenin were confirmed and he decisively stated: “The counter revolution has mustered strength enough to assume the offensive. With the aid of the Narodnik and the Menshevik ministers, the capitalists are organising an assault on liberty”. Lenin arrived at this conclusion after the decision of the provincial government to disband certain regiments of the army in which soldiers against the war were in majority.

Lenin called the Russian State, as a State of predator capitalists, particularly after the events of April and May. Sensing the fast changing developments, the Bolsheviks worked with a renewed urgency and increased the pace of their activities. In addition to the work in the Soviets, they undertook extensive activities in the trade unions and in factory committees. They gave particular importance to the work among the soldiers in the army and formed military organisations wherever possible. Their efforts met with a positive response both in the war front and also at the rear. The newspaper published by the Bolsheviks, was used to expose and explain the deception of the bourgeoisie and the Mensheviks, particularly their failure to come out of the imperialist war.

As a result of this patient work done by the Bolsheviks, at the Petrograd Conference of Factory Committees, which met in the first week of June, nearly three-quarters of the delegates supported them. Still, when the first All Russian Congress of the Soviets met on June 3, the Bolsheviks were in minority – they had a little over 100 delegates, compared with 700 or 800 Mensheviks, Social Revolutionaries and others.

Addressing this Congress, Lenin insistently stressed the fatal consequences of compromise with the bourgeoisie and exposed the imperialist character of the war. He stated that dual power was breeding countless misunderstandings, conflicts and frictions, which were stalling the country from its original advance. In fact, he reasoned, the country was slipping to stagnation and moving backwards on its home and foreign policy.

After the Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks who commanded a majority in the Soviets joined the provincial government as ministers, they became ‘governing parties’. These ‘ministerial parties’ had completely subjected themselves to the commands of the capitalists who wanted to continue the imperialist war. They had surrendered their hold over the Russian army to the capitalists and placed them at the disposal of the generals, who once again pushed soldiers into the front lines of the war. The Russian soldiers who were fraternalising and not directly active in the imperialist war since the triumph of the February Revolution, were now forced to restart the war. What the Octoberists and monarchists like Guchkov and Milyukov failed to do during their tenure as ministers in the provincial government, was done by Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries. The capitalists, who were already making profits to the tune of 500 to 800 per cent on war supplies further benefited from this move.

Bolsheviks now concentrated their agitation and propaganda against the Mensheviks and started to expose their servility, identifying it to their class character. This phase of people’s  revolution was identified by Lenin as a phase of ‘petty-bourgeois illusions and petty-bourgeois phrases’ that serves the interests of ‘cynical imperialism’. Lenin stated: “Sincerity in politics, that is, in the sphere of human relations which involves, not individuals, but millions, is a correspondence between word and deed that lends itself to verification”. The Bolsheviks took upon the task to bring an immediate end to this phase by trying to rid the people of petty-bourgeois illusions and bring about a transfer of power to the revolutionary class. They warned the workers and soldiers not to pin their hopes on uncoordinated and disorganised actions. Bolsheviks worked to coordinate the brewing discontent among the workers and soldiers and organise protests against the government.

Bolsheviks, together with the Trade Union Bureau, called for a peaceful demonstration, a march through the streets of the capital city, Petrograd. The government, terrified by the prospect of thousands of workers gathering and demonstrating, prohibited it, stating that there is a danger of counter-revolutionaries infiltrating the Bolsheviks march and taking ‘advantage’. Lenin immediately blasted the government’s decision and challenged it to prove who those ‘counter-revolutionaries’ were and what information the government had about them. Instead of doing this, the government went on spreading canards against the Bolsheviks stating that they intended to organise a coup d’etat and take over State power. Bolsheviks exposed the hollowness of all these insinuations and explained to the people that the prohibition of protest showed the government to be on a ‘shaky ground’.

The Congress of Soviets, which had first prohibited protests for three days, went a step further and extended this prohibition to the entire period, when it was in session. Lenin analysed that with this the revolution had ‘entered a new stage’. Bolsheviks, who postponed the protest demonstration when the government had initially prohibited it, decided not to take this attack on their rights lightly and called the people to assert their rights. They had called for a peaceful demonstration exactly after a week it was prohibited. Lenin cautioned the workers to be vigilant and not give the government any opportunity to launch an offensive. He stated that the petty-bourgeois democrats, taking cue from the imperialists wanted to do away with the internationalists, i.e., the Bolsheviks. “They think that the time is ripe for the blow. They are agitated and frightened, and under the whip of their masters, they have made up their minds: now or never. The socialist proletariat and our Party must be as cool and collected as possible, must show the greatest staunchness and vigilance”.

The demonstration of people against counter-revolution, called by the Bolshevik party was held on June 18. It revealed the growing revolutionary spirit of the masses and their growing confidence in the Bolshevik party.  This demonstration had clearly brought out the ‘position of the various classes, their correlation in the struggle against each other, their strength, particularly in comparison with the strength of the parties’. The political awareness of the masses had reached a new level and they had gained greater clarity about the stance of the various parties. Lenin termed this as a “demonstration of the strength and policy of the revolutionary proletariat, which is showing the direction for the revolution and indicating the way out of the impasse”. The Mensheviks were thoroughly exposed as waverers, while the bourgeoisie refused to take part in the demonstration, which showed their increasing isolation among the people.

On that very day the provincial government drove the soldiers at the front to take the offensive. They believed that the class rule of the capitalists can be guaranteed only by taking the offensive. Lenin identified that the Russian Revolution had now reached a turning point, where dual power cannot exist any more – either the capitalists succeed in their counter-revolution, or the proletariat break themselves free from the influence of petty-bourgeois vacillations and lead the revolution to its logical conclusion. He called upon the people to break their trust on capitalists and start believing in the proletariat. “We do not know whether the people will grasp this lesson soon or how they will put it into effect. But we do know for certain that apart from this lesson there is no way out of the impasse”.

Lenin spoke at the All Russian Trade Union Conference that was in session and urged the workers to take the initiative and organise agricultural workers. He also exhorted them to forge unity with the peasantry and win over the majority of the people to their side in ‘this historic moment’. He stated that the “first commandment of any trade union movement is not to rely on the State but to rely on the strength of one’s own class….The transfer of power to the revolutionary, oppressed class is the only way out of the present crisis, and the only remedy for economic dislocation and the war”.

Meanwhile, the offensive launched by the capitalists on the war front failed. The news of the offensive and its failure roused indignation among the workers and soldiers, which knew no bounds. The gates were opened for July and yet another turning point in the history of the Great October Socialist Revolution.

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