Consolidation of Counter Revolution, Change in Tactics – July 1917

R Arun Kumar

JULY was welcomed with massive demonstrations in Russia. Workers and soldiers came out onto the streets spontaneously on July 1st, protesting against the provincial government’s decision to restart the war and its failure to meet any of their demands. On July 2nd, the Cadets had threatened to resign from the ministry. This made the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs) to further capitulate to the demands of the bourgeoisie and surrender the power of the Soviets. Kerensky, who had joined the Socialist Revolutionaries in March, gradually shifted his loyalties and became a stooge of the bourgeoisie and the face of their government.

The mood among the soldiers was particularly explosive as the provincial government was forcing them to the war front as cannon fodder. The regiments where Bolsheviks had a strong influence were chosen to be sent to the war front and this ignited indignation. Soldiers, sailors, workers came out once again onto the streets spontaneously on July 3rd and surrounded the Tauride Palace, where the Central Executive of the Soviets was meeting. The Central Committee of the Bolsheviks decided to support the demonstrations and tried to give them an organised character. They urged the workers and soldiers not to take any hasty step, as that would strengthen the reactionaries. The Black Hundreds and provocateurs   too gathered on the other side and fired on the demonstrating workers and soldiers. The workers retaliated in anger and clashes broke out, in spite of the best efforts of the Bolsheviks. The reactionary regiments from the front were brought to Petrograd to curb the protests and they were joined by the Cossacks. Hundreds of workers and soldiers lost their lives.

Bolshevik party was specifically targeted for attack, as they were identified as the most revolutionary force, which is rapidly expanding its base among the working class and also soldiers. By this time, the Bolsheviks had 49 publications, 29 of them were in Russian and the rest 12 in other languages, spreading their ideas far and wide. In order to check the growth of Bolsheviks, slanders were spread calling Bolsheviks traitors, German spies and arrest warrants were issued on Lenin and others. Pravda offices were attacked and its printing press was destroyed. Workers distributing Pravda and other Bolshevik literature were assaulted. Lenin’s house was searched in absentia. Under these circumstances, Lenin was forced to once again go underground.

Declaring that State power in Russia had turned into a military dictatorship, Lenin concluded that counter-revolution had become organised and consolidated. Lenin analysed the developments historically by comparing the events in April, June and July. Politics, Lenin stated, should be seen in their interrelation as ‘science demands’. All these events were spontaneous demonstrations of the working class and soldiers and reflected their indignation against the bourgeois policy of the provincial government. The most instructive conclusion from these three events, according to Lenin, is that: “movement proceeds in waves, a sudden drop following a rapid rise, revolution and counter-revolution becoming more acute, and the middle elements being eliminated for a more or less extensive period. In all the three crises the movement took the form of a demonstration. An anti-government demonstration….it was considerably more than a demonstration, but less than a revolution”. Lenin further analysing the events concluded that during these demonstrations, there were sometimes that witnessed the sudden elimination of the middle elements, while the proletarian and bourgeois elements made a ‘stormy appearance’.

The ‘middle elements’ in Russian revolution at that time were represented by the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries. Lenin thoroughly criticised and exposed the role played by them in paving way for the counter-revolution to succeed. Writing about the ‘Lessons of Revolution’ during this period, Lenin critically analysed the developments in Russia from 1905 to the month of July and exposed the capitulation of the Mensheviks and SRs. He states that pending the convocation of Constituent Assembly, the Soviets should have taken all power into their hands, but the petty-bourgeois Mensheviks and SRs refused, ignoring the demands of the Bolsheviks. “This policy of compromise with the bourgeoisie….is the main content of the entire course of development of the revolution during the five months since it began”. He stated that in “times of revolution, procrastination is often equivalent to a complete betrayal of the revolution”, which is what the Mensheviks and SRs did since the February Revolution.

On the other hand, the bourgeoisie was ‘businesslike’ in its approach to the political developments. Being better organised and ‘experienced in class struggle’ and politics, they learned their lessons quicker. They successfully used the petty-bourgeois Mensheviks and SRs, by luring them into a coalition government. Lenin called this ‘coalition government’ formed by the members of the bourgeoisie and the ‘turncoats of socialism’ as a method – followed since 1848 – employed by capitalists to ‘fool, divide and weaken the workers’. These ‘helpers of the bourgeoisie’, were used to deal with the discontented people, through their high flowing words and phrases. Meanwhile, the capitalists all through, disrupted production and planned for a counter-revolution by mobilising the reactionary generals and officers.

The petty-bourgeois cannot understand the workings, meanings of class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie and hence is afraid of class struggle, Lenin concluded. He also said that these sections entertain ‘constitutional illusions’. The Mensheviks and SRs emphasised on the law, while the Bolsheviks emphasised class struggle. The events in July had completely exposed the bankruptcy of the Mensheviks and SRs. It is due to their betrayal that all hopes of a peaceful development of the Russian revolution had vanished. The Soviets, led by them, have become stooges in the hands of the bourgeoisie and hence the slogan, ‘All Power to Soviets’, lost its meaning. Lenin concluded this slogan to be no longer valid.

Lenin called the workers and soldiers to muster their forces and reorganise. Times demanded Bolsheviks to combine both legal and illegal work together, with an effort to expose all ‘constitutional and peaceful illusions’. He called for a reorganisation of all agitational work. Explaining to the people the specific experiences of the July days by unmasking the enemies and pointing to their real friends –   the proletariat – became the primary task of the Bolsheviks. The war and economic disruption caused by the capitalists made the people realise the truth in the agitational campaigns of the Bolsheviks. Lenin called them ‘accelerators’. He identified a new period to be coming – a period, where the people disappointed with the Mensheviks and SRs started moving towards supporting the revolutionary proletariat.

The time for revolutionary proletariat to independently take State power had come. It is only the revolutionary workers, with the support of the poor peasants, that can smash the resistance of the capitalists and lead the people in gaining land without compensation, complete liberty, victory over the famine and war and a just and lasting peace. Warning the workers and soldiers against taking any rash decisions, Lenin asked them to bide their time and be prepared even for an armed struggle. He wanted the workers to look ‘forward’ and not ‘backward’, operate ‘not with the old, but new, post-July, class and party categories’. Writing about the future of Soviets, Lenin states that they “may appear in this new revolution, and indeed are bound to, but not the present Soviets, not organs collaborating with the bourgeoisie, but organs of revolutionary struggle against the bourgeoisie”.

Lenin exhorts the Bolsheviks to explain the truth and the necessity of waging a bitter class struggle to the workers and peasants, though truth does not flatter. He states that proletariat does not resort to slanders or deceit. “All indications are that the march of events is continuing at a very fast pace and that the country is approaching the next epoch, when the majority of the working people will have to entrust their fate to the revolutionary proletariat”. To prepare the proletariat for shouldering this task, became the primary task of the Bolshevik party led by Lenin.

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