All Power to Soviets – May 1917

R Arun Kumar

THERE were many incidents and mass protests that were happening in the months of April and May 1917, which had accentuated the crisis of power in Russia. Minister Guchkov, head of the Octoberists was forced to resign. The growing discontent among the people increasingly made it clear that ‘dual power’ was no longer tenable. The capitalists wanted to capture State power, all for themselves, depriving the Soviets of any ‘control’. On the other hand, there were Mensheviks and Narodniks, who wanted to join the provincial government and get some ministerial portfolios. The third way, proposed by the Bolsheviks was, a complete change in the policy of the Soviets, i.e., expressing no confidence on the capitalists and ensuring the transfer of all power to the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.

Lenin had explained the reasons for this new slogan in detail pointing to the changes in the situation in the country. The two months since the February Revolution, did not bring an end to the war as the capitalist class was eager to fight the war ‘to conclusion’. They wanted to use their hold on power to consolidate their class rule and used the tactics of ‘deception’ to gain popular support. The capitalists made staggering profits in those two months, while the entire country was reeling with unemployment, hunger and famine. The provincial government continued to mouth ‘flowery phrases’ about the constitution of a ‘constituent assembly’ that would decide on the question of land ownership. It wanted the peasants to wait till that time – an unspecified time – for land. Angry peasants who were seizing landed estates were branded as ‘anarchists’ and condemned. All these confirmed that the capitalists were consolidating their hold over the State power at the cost of the proletariat and the peasants who had played an important part in overthrowing the Tsar. In this background, the Bolsheviks, called for the transfer of all power to the Soviets.

Lenin stated that “dual power cannot last long” and that the time had come to decide, “either we go back to the supreme rule by the capitalists, or forward towards real democracy, towards majority decisions”. He criticised the Mensheviks and Narodniks for their failure to understand class struggle and for wanting to ‘replace it, cloak it, reconcile it’, with ‘phrases, promises, resolutions, commissions’ through their participation in dual government. He exhorted the Bolsheviks to expose this deception among the people through their continuous agitation among the proletariat and peasantry. Though the Bolsheviks had not yet attained a majority in the Soviets, he urged for the transfer of power to the Soviets as “playing for time will not help” and that would “only make matters worse”. He criticised the conciliatory attitude of the Mensheviks and Narodniks as a characteristic of ‘petty-bourgeois indecision’ and that there was no other way out than the worker and peasant majority acting against the capitalist minority. Lenin concluded that the Soviets might initially commit mistakes and err in wielding power, but there “is no way out”.


The capitalist class in Russia was completely dissatisfied with the Soviets, even with the compromises made by the leadership of the Soviets. In order to force more concessions from the Soviets and gain complete control over the economy they resorted to ‘disrupt’ the economic life of Russia. In many places they resorted to a destruction of productive forces. Many industries stopped production. Many mines were shut or their production reduced. They refused to repair machinery or ship the products, though the country was in dire need of them. They created a shortage of coal, forcing the factories and railways to stop. They also created a shortage of goods. Lenin termed this as an offensive of the counter revolution.

The provincial government, instead of acting against the capitalists, did nothing, except blame the Bolsheviks for causing this disruption. The Mensheviks who were in the government were not acting against the capitalists. All they were doing was, to peddle phrases and resolutions and setting up of new commissions and committees to look into the issue.

The task of the Bolsheviks, Lenin urged, was to ‘expose the orgy of pillage’. He appealed to all the workers and employees to collect accurate, even fragmentary data concerning this pillage and publish all the details about the ‘prices and profits’. “Exposing the capitalists is the first step towards curbing the capitalists”. The only way to avert disaster, Lenin stated was to ‘establish effectual workers’ control over the production and distribution of goods’. He wanted the proletariat and the semi-proletariat to take over all power, through the existing State organisation, the Soviets. Through this organisation, production should be reorganised, alternate methods of distribution through exchange of goods and farm implements be created and profits distributed among the workers and peasants. He said the class struggle against capital must assume the form of political supremacy by the proletariat and semi-proletariat.


During this month, elections were held to district councils and municipalities. Lenin accorded immense importance to these elections, as they were held during the ‘time of revolution’. Bolsheviks contested these elections along with the internationalist Mensheviks, who were also opposed to ‘socialist ministerialism’ and those groups who were strictly against the imperialist war. This coming together, Lenin explained was based on principles. Mensheviks had formed a bloc with an ‘assortment’ of Narodniks (the Trudoviks, Socialist Revolutionaries and Popular Socialists) and with the group of Plekhanov, the Yedinstvos. This grouping, he criticised as ‘petty-bourgeois hodge-podge’ and ‘lacking in principles’. He summed up the attitude of a petty-bourgeois as: “who cares about parties, the thing is to get elected. That always and everywhere has been the motto of bourgeois parliamentarians”. He called the Bolsheviks to expose the opportunism of Mensheviks and Narodniks and campaign propagating their platform against war, for the confiscation of land and for ‘serious revolutionary measures to cope with the crisis and save the country from an unprecedented debacle’.

In the process of these elections, Lenin publicly accepted two shortcomings of Bolsheviks, stating that “in criticising other parties, we should not forget to criticise ourselves”. This was in the context of the failure of Bolsheviks to put up candidates in the districts with predominantly rich population. Lenin staunchly advocated being truthful before the people. “To cloak an unpleasant truth with a specious phrase is most harmful and most dangerous to the cause of the proletariat, to the cause of the toiling masses. The truth, however bitter, must be faced squarely. A policy that does not meet this requirement is a ruinous policy”. Speaking truth, however bitter it might, Lenin argued, would open the eyes of the people and ‘teach them to fight against untruth’. He exhorted Bolsheviks not to gloss over facts, but tell them to people in a ‘straightforward manner’ and asked them not to ‘brush class struggle under the carpet’, but ‘clarify its relation’ in all political situations.

It is with this strategy, Lenin proceeded to expose the high sounding phrases of Mensheviks, which abounded their manifesto. In a lecture he had delivered on the question of ‘war and revolution’, Lenin tore off the masks of Mensheviks, Narodniks and other ‘revolutionary defencists’ from their ‘beautiful phrases’ and lucidly presented the truth. He explained the class character of the war and also the positions of various groups in relation to this question. He exposed the falsities spread by the capitalists and their cronies on Bolsheviks and about socialist revolution. Lenin also explained the difference between various groups and their strategies to come out of the imperialist war. Stating that he doesn’t ‘believe words and promises’, as depending only on ‘good intentions’ will pave the ‘road to hell’, he wanted deeds to serve as the test of one’s political sincerity. “The lessons of parliamentary republics teach us not to believe in paper utterances....The war which the capitalist governments have started can only be ended by a workers’ revolution”.

Lenin also led the Bolshevik party through the revision of their party programme to meet the needs of the changed situation – the era of socialist revolution. Relating an incident where he was told that ‘in a number of countries everything seems to be asleep’ and in Germany Liebknecht is ‘alone’, Lenin answered: “This only one, Liebknecht, represents the working class...The imprisoned socialists are a minority, but the working class is for them, the whole course of economic development is for them”. This shows Lenin’s immense confidence on working class and their power.

“History proved this to you yesterday and will prove it to you tomorrow”. How prophetic! 

Newsletter category: