Repelling the Kornilov Rebellion – August 1917

R Arun Kumar

THE Sixth Congress of the Bolsheviks was held secretly from 26th July to 3rd August in Petrograd. 157 delegates with vote and 128 observers representing 240,000 members participated in the Congress. Lenin could not personally participate in the Congress as he was in exile. In absentia, he guided the proceedings of the Congress from his place of concealment. Stalin presented the report on current situation and replied to the discussions. The Mezhrayontsi group led by Trotsky joined the Bolsheviks in this Congress.

The main agenda that was discussed and adopted in the Congress was the economic platform of the Bolsheviks – the confiscation of the landed estates, nationalisation of all the land, nationalisation of banks, nationalisation of large scale industry and workers’ control over production and distribution. The Congress also stressed on the work to build a solid unity between the proletariat and the poor peasantry, which was identified as an important condition for the success of the socialist revolution. The Congress also condemned the Menshevik theory that trade unions should remain as neutral organisations and reiterated that trade unions should be militant class organisations leading the revolution. The Bolshevik party should be the vanguard providing leadership to the trade unions. A resolution on youth league too was adopted in this Congress.

The Sixth Congress also adopted new party rules as were being urged by Lenin. These rules specified that the Party should be built on the principles of democratic centralism: all directing bodies from top to bottom shall be elected; they shall give periodical account of their activities to their respective organisations; there shall be strict party discipline with the subordination of minority to the majority and that all the decisions of higher bodies shall be absolutely binding on the lower bodies and on all party members.

The Congress also discussed the issue of arrest warrant on Lenin and whether he should appear before the Court. Some of the leaders felt that Lenin should appear in the Court and use it as a platform to defend the views of the Bolsheviks and expose the provincial government and the Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries alliance. But majority felt that, Lenin’s appearance in court could be fatal, as neither the government nor the Executive Committee of the Soviets led by the Mensheviks and SRs were ready to guarantee for Lenin’s life. This proved to be a correct decision.

The bourgeoisie and landlords continued to consolidate counter-revolution in the country by launching an offensive on the working class. The Cadets, Mensheviks and SRs organised a meeting in Moscow, the ‘Moscow Conference’ to device further means to attack the Bolsheviks. This was a Conference of the manufacturers, landlords, bankers and merchants. It had decided not to ‘tolerate workers’ interference in the management of factories’, ‘not to introduce any radical reforms in the sphere of the land question’ and approved the death penalty. Elections to the Constituent Assembly were further postponed, betraying their intentions of never holding them. Mensheviks and SRs acted as perfect masks to the bourgeoisie and landlords in consolidating the counter-revolution.

Imperialist forces immediately sprang to support the decisions of the Moscow Conference. Americans expressed their willingness to extend a loan of 5,000 million rubles to implement these decisions. The Alliance capital – British and French – too pushed on the Russian ruling classes to intensify their war efforts. They exercised their control by drastically forcing down the exchange rate of the ruble.

The ruling classes put the bourgeois press to full use by leveling baseless allegations and slanders against the Bolsheviks. On the pretext of ‘Tsarist counter-revolution’, they tried to gain support of the workers and peasants for all their (bourgeois) counter-revolutionary moves. Lenin termed this as ‘philistine credulity’ with utter disregard for class struggle as they view government as above classes. “It fails in analysing what classes represents the revolution and what class the counter-revolution”?

The ruling classes went to the extent of sabotaging the war efforts of Russia, which led to the death of hundreds of thousands of soldiers at the war front. Soldiers at the front were not supplied sufficient arms and ammunition. On the other hand, the generals leading them deliberately deceived them and failed to direct the war efforts. Every surrender of Russian territory due to these devious methods was blamed on the Bolsheviks, their patriotism was questioned and they were projected to be working against the Russian Revolution.

Lenin stated: “….the fierce hatred of the bourgeoisie is often the best proof of faithful and honest service to the cause of the proletariat by the slandered, baited and persecuted”. He exhorted the Bolsheviks to expose the slanderers, by explaining to the masses, writing about them in the papers and collecting documents for the purpose and unswervingly following ‘our own path’ and ‘keeping the Party in working order’.

The height of the slanders on Bolsheviks reached a crescendo by the end of August. Rumours were floated that Bolsheviks were preparing for an uprising on 27th August. Kornilov, the notorious general, who led the cacophony for the introduction of death penalty at the war front, was openly against the Bolsheviks, Soviets and war committees. He was backed by the bankers, manufacturers and merchants. He was chosen to lead the attack against the Bolsheviks and ‘save the Russian revolution’ from the Bolsheviks.

Kerensky, who was heading the government, openly supported the moves of Kornilov, who declared a march on Petrograd. But later, witnessing the mass indignation against Kornilov and support for the Bolsheviks, he retracted, fearing that the masses would crush the bourgeois government led by him along with Kornilov. He shifted his positions and distanced himself from Kornilov. But it became clear to him that without the involvement of Bolsheviks, Kornilov revolt cannot be crushed. Stalin stated that the fight between the ‘coalition government’ and Kornilov was not a ‘contest between revolution and counter-revolution, but between two different methods of counter-revolution’.

Lenin called the Kornilov revolt as a sharp turn in events that necessitated for a ‘revision and change of tactics’. But here he makes a very important observation on what basis the tactics should be revised. “And, as with every revision, we must be extra-cautious not to become unprincipled”. He stated that in the name of fighting Kornilov, Bolsheviks should not support Kerensky – supporting Kerensky is unprincipled. He further elaborated: “We may be asked: aren’t we going to fight against Kornilov? Of course we must! But this is not the same thing; there is a dividing line here, which is being stepped over by some Bolsheviks who fall into compromise and allow themselves to be carried away by the course of events. We shall fight, we are fighting against Kornilov, just as Kerensky’s troops do, but we do not support Kerensky. On the contrary, we expose his weakness. There is the difference. It is rather a subtle difference, but it is highly essential and must not be forgotten”. He stated that the fight against Kerensky will carry on but in a slightly different way, by exposing his weakness and vacillations before the people and without renouncing the task of overthrowing him.

The entire phase of Kornilov revolt had once again exposed the Cadets, the party of the bourgeoisie who sided with Kornilov and the weakness of Mensheviks and SRs who were compromising and vacillating. It once again fell on the Bolsheviks, to crush the Kornilov revolt by mobilising the workers and peasants. The army battalions which were under the influence of Bolsheviks were called to Petrograd to defend the city and it was Bolshevik agitators who explained the real intentions of Kornilov and convinced his ‘Savage Division’ of Caucasian mountaineers to abandon him and side with the revolutionaries.

The defeat of Kornilov revolt further showed the growing influence of Bolsheviks throughout the country. Workers once again began mustering their forces and soldiers started standing ready to arm. The Soviets too spurred to action, with Bolsheviks gaining control. Stalin’s reply to the discussion in the Sixth Congress of Bolsheviks, turned prophetic: “….the counter-revolution may continue to exist for another month or two. But since the forces of revolution are developing, explosions are bound to occur, and the moment will come when the workers will raise and rally around them the poorer strata of the peasantry….” The moment had indeed come and explosions started taking place. Once again revolution is on the march with the Bolsheviks standing ahead.

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