Bolsheviks on Forward March – September 1917

R Arun Kumar

LENIN, who was in exile, kept pace with the developments in Russia which were moving with ‘hurricane like velocity’. Along with directing Bolshevik activities from exile, he was immersed in another important task of finishing his monumental work, ‘State and Revolution’, which he started writing in August. He used his experiences from the Russian revolution to explain the theoretical propositions of Karl Marx and Engels.

The Kornilov revolt and its defeat had accelerated the Russian revolution tremendously. The broad masses of the country began to realise that it is only the Bolshevik party which could crush any attempts of counter-revolution and take the revolution forward. It stirred the social forces and gave a fillip to revolution, stimulated greater activity and organisation. It also revealed the true nature of various classes and parties. The Socialist-Revolutionaries (SRs) and Mensheviks were exposed, along with the class vacillations of the petty-bourgeois. The almost defunct Soviets, both at the front and the rear, once again sprang to life and became active. Stalin, best describes the impact of Kornilov revolt – “it opened the floodgates for the accumulated revolutionary indignation”.

The Russian ruling classes too were jolted by the spurt in revolutionary activity. The provincial government with Cadets, SRs and Mensheviks collapsed. The Cadets resigned from office and a new ‘five-man’ government with Kerensky as the head was formed. This government called the ‘Directory’ was stated to be independent of both the Cadets and also the workers, peasants and soldiers. But this was only partial truth. In reality, the government was completely dependent on the Cadets, as all the men who administered the State belonged to the bourgeoisie. Kerensky was just a shield to protect the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and landlords from the anger of the people, as it became a risky business to be in open agreement with the imperialist bourgeoisie. The only truth was that the government cut itself off from the workers, peasants and soldiers.

On September 4, the Kerensky administration had issued special orders banning the ‘revolutionary committees’ that had sprang into action to defeat counter-revolution. These ‘committees’ belonged to the railwaymen, post and telegraph men, workers, peasants and soldiers. Fearing the revolutionary fervour of these committees and the influence of Bolsheviks over them, the Kerensky government immediately set upon outlawing them, even forgetting the heroic role they had played in fighting counter-revolution. Led by the Bolsheviks, these revolutionary committees, were not cowed down by these efforts and did not swerve from their path. This new power was rising from the struggle against the bourgeois Cadets and tempered by the role they had played in defeating counter-revolution.

The capitalists and landlords intensified their efforts to sabotage production. They had disorganised the functioning of railways, effecting the supply of raw materials and finished goods. The delivery of grain from the rural regions to the cities was ceased. Production in various mines and factories was deliberately sabotaged, by damaging, stopping and disrupting production. The capitalists intended that through disrupting production and distribution of grain and goods, a major catastrophe can be afflicted on the country, igniting the people to rise against the revolution and revolutionary associations. Famine became severe as did scarcity of goods. The government did nothing to combat and bring an end to this dislocation of production and artificial famine created by the ruling classes. Instead, they trained their guns on the workers, peasants and their organisations for causing this disruption. The SRs and Mensheviks who were in the government did not raise their voice against the disruptive tactics of the ruling classes and their representatives in the government.

Lenin exhorted the Bolsheviks to keep up with the events and do their work on time by explaining the class characteristics of these developments.

SRs and Mensheviks, who still were in the majority in the central executive of the Soviets, realised that power was slowly slipping out of their hands. In order to halt this and cling to power, they called for a ‘Democratic Conference’. The main agenda of this conference was to thrash out the question of ‘power’. Invitations to this conference were not given to the representatives of the workers, peasants and soldiers. Instead, manufacturers, bankers and other outright representatives of the bourgeoisie and landlords were given a voice. Once again, the petty-bourgeois representatives, fearing the workers and peasants, began working out a compromise with the bourgeoisie, betraying the interests of the majority of the people and the revolution.

Lenin stated that ‘lack of faith in the people, fear of their initiative and independence and trepidation before their revolutionary energy’ are the cardinal sins committed by the SRs and Mensheviks, which were also the ‘root cause for the vacillation and indecision’. After this conference a new ministry was formed with six capitalist ministers at the core and ten ‘socialist’ representatives as a screen to execute their will.

With the people losing faith in the policy of conciliation with the capitalists, discontent started among the SRs and the Mensheviks. A section among them started opposing the policy of compromise and emerged as a ‘Left’ group. Nearly 40 per cent of their members expressed their opposition to the policies of compromise.

The prestige of the Bolsheviks, uncompromising fighters for the cause of working class and peasantry, began to rise during this period. Peasants, poor peasants in particular, began decisively rallying closer towards them. In the month of September, the number of landed estates seized by the peasants witnessed a tremendous increase. Peasants started to occupy lands and plough them, without waiting for permission from the government or a law from the yet to be constituted ‘Constituent Assembly’.

Among the cities, factory committees were the first institutions to rally towards the Bolsheviks. Majority of the factory committees were under Bolshevik control. Similarly, Bolshevik influence increased rapidly among the trade unions. The influence of Bolsheviks spread to other trade unions from the strong base they had enjoyed among the metal workers of Petrograd, who constituted a major working class force. Slowly their influence increased among the textile workers, which were earlier under the influence of Mensheviks. By September, Bolsheviks had gained substantial control over many major industrial trade unions. In June, Bolsheviks had the support of only 36.4 per cent of the delegates in the All Russian Congress of Trade Unions, but this had increased to 58 per cent by September.

In the first week of September, a decisive turning point took place, with the control of Petrograd Soviet passing into the hands of the Bolsheviks. A resolution proposed by the Bolsheviks, demanding for the formation of workers and peasants government received 229 votes for and 115 votes against, with 51 abstentions. The SRs and Mensheviks refused to recognise this result and called for a new vote on a subsequent date. They had put in enormous efforts to mobilise the delegates for the Soviet. But once again the Bolshevik resolution was voted for with increased majority. The change in the tide in support of the Bolsheviks was established with their victories in the Congress of Soviets of Central Siberia, Moscow, Kronstadt, Finland, Estonia, Reval, Dorpat, Wenden and all other surrounding regions of Petrograd. Bolsheviks became a decisive force as for every single member of the Bolshevik party, there existed tens of soldiers, workers and peasants who considered themselves to be Bolsheviks too. The growing influence of Bolsheviks was reflected in the elections to the town councils too. In Petrograd, they increased their seats from 37 to 67 and emerged as the second largest party, behind the SRs. Their vote nearly doubled. In Moscow, their voting increased from 12 per cent in June to 51 per cent in September. Bolsheviks were emerging as the leaders of the Left groups among the SRs and Mensheviks.

All these developments clearly showcase the bolshevisation of Soviets and revolutionary committees. This once again necessitated a change in the slogans. ‘All power to the Soviets’, once again became the order of the day. This time it was a slogan calling for an uprising of the Soviets against the provincial government and demanding the transfer of all power to the Soviets. “Power to the Soviets means the complete transfer of the country’s administration and economic control into the hands of the workers and peasants….who would soon learn how to distribute the land, products and grain properly”.

“….socialism is now gazing at us from all the windows….” This sums up the Russian situation in September 1917.

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