Putting the record straight
Over the course of this centenary year we have featured a range of different authors giving their evaluation of Bolshevism and the role of Lenin. Jack Conrad argues that those who still insist on claiming that there was some kind of programmatic break in April 1917 are, for their own particular reasons, desperate to defend a radically false version of history
Lenin: the revolution will be uninterrupted
Bolshevism shook the world in October 1917, yet it is clear that the left has still not succeeded in assimilating Bolshevism. Despite the countless centenary speeches, conferences, articles, supplements, pamphlets and books the true significance of Bolshevism continues to go almost entirely unseen.
Saying this undoubtedly carries the risk of being accused of spoiling the 100th anniversary celebrations. But we have a left fragmented into numerous impotent confessional sects, a left which puts forward little more than sub-reformism when standing in elections, a left which worships economic strikes and street protests, a left which considers its highest priority to be uniting ‘all right-minded people’ against various racist splinter groups, a left which proudly proclaims its programmatic indifference. Under such ghastly circumstances it is surely an obligation to challenge the ignorance, the dissembling, the cosy fantasies.
Till recently a dull consensus has reigned. Leon Trotsky’s 1924 version of 1917 goes almost universally accepted as the definitive account.1 In Lessons of October (1924) he painted the pre-1917 Bolsheviks as calling for a proletarian-led overthrow of tsarism … but wanting to limit social and political tasks to those of a “bourgeois democratic revolution”.2 Socialism - ie, a socialist economy - was categorically ruled out due to impoverished material circumstances and the overwhelming peasant majority. Moreover - again according to the 1924 Trotsky - given the 1917 February revolution, the overthrow of tsarism and the emergence of workers’ and peasants’ soviets, the Bolshevik leadership within Russia proved worse than inadequate (when it comes to 1917, this article will stick to the Julian calendar because the key moments are generally known by their old monthly dates).
Anyway, under the duumvirate of Lev Kamenev and Joseph Stalin, which lasted only a matter of a few weeks, the commitment to a “bourgeois democratic revolution” continued undiminished. Because of this “ossified” formulation Kamenev and Stalin sought to achieve an unprincipled reunification with the Mensheviks. Trotsky’s 1924 version of events goes on to claim that, despite having no popular mandate, Kamenev and Stalin flatly rejected mounting rank-and-file demands to overthrow the Provisional government.
The Provisional government was, of course, not only stuffed full of capitalist ministers, but wholly committed to the Anglo-French alliance and a continuation of the horrendous war with Germany-Austria. Like the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks merely wanted to exert “pressure” on the Provisional government in order to “remain within the framework of the bourgeois democratic regime”.3 So went Trotsky’s narrative. They therefore found themselves inexorably swept along by the prevailing mood of “revolutionary defencism”. An outcome, which, we are told, logically flowed from the deeply flawed theory of stages - a “scholastic parody of Marxism” that can be traced back to the Emancipation of Labour group in the 1880s.4
This theory insisted that Russia would have to undergo two distinct revolutions. First stage - a bourgeois democratic revolution, which would sweep away tsarism and all its remnants. Second stage - after a considerable delay - the socialist revolution would come onto the agenda. Supposedly, “it is clear … from all Lenin’s writings up to 1917” that he expected a substantial interval to elapse between “the coming bourgeois revolution and the proletarian revolution” (Tony Cliff).5 Purportedly, Lenin envisaged that the overthrow of tsarism would be followed by a “prolonged period of bourgeois democracy and capitalist economic development, after which a second socialist revolution would be possible” (Neil Davidson).6 In a similar fashion we are told that Lenin merely aimed for a “bourgeois republic”, which, after a suitable time lapse, would constitute “a democratic prerequisite of the struggle for socialism” (Paul Le Blanc).7 In other words, Lenin too advocated a “scholastic parody of Marxism”. In actual fact, though, as I shall show, the theory of stages was held not by the Bolsheviks, but the Mensheviks.
The Trotsky of 1924 was, surely, the originator of this version of Bolshevik history - a version of history which claims that Lenin’s April theses represented a dramatic rupture with the complacent orthodoxy of stagism. Eg, as recounted in Lessons of October, only “after the arrival of Lenin in Petrograd”, in early April 1917, was the “problem of the conquest of power” put before the party.8 Indeed, Trotsky even claims that Lenin “came out furiously against the old Bolshevik slogan of the ‘democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’.”9 Instead of a “bourgeois republic”, Lenin held out the prospect of a “full socialist state”.10 Though he never admitted it in any publication, speech, letter or telegram, Lenin had stolen, adopted - or maybe through his own gallant efforts independently arrived at - the theory of permanent revolution, as put forward by Trotsky in his Results and prospects (1906).
Over the years, Trotsky’s Lessons of October has been elevated into an article of almost religious faith, guarded over by leftwing popes as various as Gerry Healy, Ernest Mandel, Tony Cliff and Alan Woods. Given the horrors of the 1930s, maximising the moral distance between the left and Stalin is perfectly understandable. But this should not have gone hand in hand with maximising gullibility, when it came to his most famous contemporary opponent.
Trotsky’s Lessons of October began life as the introductory chapter to volume 3 of his never-to-be-completed Collected works.11 However, it had nothing to do with dispassionate self-assessment. Lessons of October was a polemic ... and needs to be understood as such. It triggered, as doubtless Trotsky intended, the hard fought ‘literary discussion’. Of course, this was no obscure dispute with the literati. Therefore a better term might be ‘literary wars’. Trotsky had thrown down a political gauntlet and other prominent members of the Russian Communist Party - not least those on the politburo and central committee - piled in against him: Grigory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, Joseph Stalin, Alexei Rykov, Nikolai Bukharin, Nadezhda Krupskaya, etc.
Though Trotsky fulsomely praised the dead Lenin and spoke about “we Bolsheviks”, his aim was to attack, to demean, Lenin’s closest lieutenants. They were hardly going to take that lying down. And, besides defending their own revolutionary records and sense of honour, they feared that Trotsky might be contemplating staging a Bonapartist military coup. He had certainly set his sights on replacing, or at the very least augmenting, Leninism with Trotskyism.
Trotsky knew full well that his claims to be one of the “we Bolsheviks” were weak. The fact of the matter is that he only managed to get back into Russia in May 1917 and, of course, he did not join the Bolshevik Party till the summer of that year. Understandably then, Trotsky plays down the importance of the pre-1917 political struggles between the Bolsheviks and their rivals, crucially the Mensheviks. His whole account pivots on the concentrated 12 months of February 1917 to February 1918.
Naturally, all contributions to the ‘literary discussion’ are marked by factional considerations. And, of course, that includes Trotsky’s Lessons of October (and his subsequent articles: eg, ‘Our differences’). However, what is notable, is that even cold-war warriors have gladly echoed Trotsky. Not with any intention of glorifying him, obviously, but with the intention of dismissing, deriding and diminishing the Bolsheviks in general and Stalin in particular (albeit for entirely different reasons, compared with the anti-Stalin left).
Take Leonard Schapiro: he refers to the Bolsheviks’ all-Russian conference held in March 1917 (the first since the fall of tsarism). Schapiro quotes, very sparingly, the agreed resolution on the Bolsheviks’ attitude towards the Provisional government (the reporter for the central committee being Stalin). That resolution called for “vigilant control” over the Provisional government and celebrated the Petrograd soviet as the “beginning of revolutionary power”. Schapiro then proceeds, in the manner of Trotsky, to claim that Stalin’s approach was “based on the assumption, which no-one questioned, that a long period of bourgeois middle class democratic government had now begun, and that the dictatorship of the proletariat only related to the distant future”.12 In other words, Schapiro, like Trotsky, accuses the Bolsheviks of de facto Menshevism.
With the Lessons of October, Trotsky launched what amounted to a battle of ideas. In effect he sought to win the Russian Communist Party and the Communist International to what had long been called Trotskyism. His main targets were Zinoviev and Kamenev. Note, Trotsky rather foolishly dismissed Stalin as little more than a grey blur. He chose not to even mention him in Lessons of October. Stalin was, in Trotsky’s eyes, a nonentity who was far less dangerous to the prospects of the revolution than, firstly, Zinoviev and Kamenev and, then, Bukharin. Of course, later in 1926 there was a Trotsky-Zinoviev-Kamenev rapprochement. Together they formed the United Opposition. However, even in the late 1920s, Trotsky’s slogan was: “With Stalin against Bukharin? Yes. With Bukharin against Stalin? Never.”13
Although Zinoviev, Kamenev, Stalin, Rykov, Bukharin, Krupskaya, etc lacked Trotsky’s natural brilliance as a writer, when it came to the burgeoning Lenin cult, he - that is, Trotsky - was objectively at a distinct disadvantage. Prior to 1917 he had been a dogged, albeit annoyingly talented, opponent of Lenin’s. Hence his inescapable admission that he had “made real and major organisational mistakes”. However, Trotsky insists, Zinoviev and Kamenev committed their “real and major organisational mistakes” when it really mattered: in the revolutionary year of 1917, when the tactics appropriate to the underground, to the needs of surviving tsarism, had to give way to the much more demanding tasks of preparing for an insurrection. Here - and it is true - Lenin and Trotsky proved ready; Zinoviev and Kamenev unready.
However, Trotsky’s non-Bolshevik past cannot so easily be disposed of. Certainly not if Zinoviev, Kamenev, Stalin, Rykov, Bukharin, Krupskaya, etc had anything to do with it. One after the other they listed off and duly denounced Trotsky’s numerous anti-Bolshevik schemes and pronouncements.
Eg, having belligerently sided with the Mensheviks, Trotsky broke with them in 1904, but he remained on friendly terms. Indeed Trotsky dismissed the Bolshevik-Menshevik split as entirely needless. He blamed “Maximilien” Lenin for the disunity. In that semi-Menshevik spirit he became an inveterate unity-monger. In 1912 Trotsky famously brought together a motley crew of Bundists, Menshevik liquidators and Bolshevik boycottists - the August bloc - in an attempt to sabotage the 6th (Prague) Conference of the Russian Socialist Democratic Labour Party. A move which an infuriated Lenin denounced as an attempt to “destroy the party”.14
Needless to say, when it came to the two really sizeable factions of the RSDLP, it was the “uncultured”, “barbaric”, “sectarian-frenzied”, “Asiatic” Bolsheviks whom the thoroughly “European” Trotsky considered the biggest obstacle to the unprincipled unity he was desperately seeking.15 Not surprisingly then, he denounced Leninism as “being built on lies and falsification” and containing the “seeds of its own destruction”.16 All eagerly quoted in the ‘literary discussion’ by Trotsky’s Bolshevik opponents.
By contrast, of course, since 1903, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin were Lenin’s loyal disciples and co-workers. During the struggle of Iskra to form the party; the bitter fallout after the 2nd Congress; the 1905 dress rehearsal; the election campaigns of 1906, 1907 and 1912, they were with Lenin. And naturally Lenin trusted and valued them.
Admittedly, in April 1917, Lenin had to crack Kamenev and Stalin into line (though I believe there was a genuine Lenin-Kamenev convergence too). And in October 1917, there can be no doubt, Zinoviev and Kamenev (and a few others, such as Rykov and Nogin) recoiled - took fright - at Lenin’s increasingly agitated demand that the Bolsheviks had to go for ‘All power to the soviets’ (as it turned out, a Bolshevik-Left Socialist Revolutionary Party coalition government). Much to their later shame, they constituted a two-strong minority on the central committee, which opposed the vote to support in principle the call for an uprising (the colourful account in John Reed’s Ten days that a “rough workman” intervened during the central committee meeting and thereby helped swing the vote from 10:2 against to 10:2 for is, not surprisingly, untrue17). Just two weeks before it happened, Kamenev and Zinoviev publicly issued a protest letter opposing the widely known Bolshevik plans for an insurrection. Although their letter was couched in veiled terms, it was gleefully published in Novaya Zhizn (a daily paper associated with the leftwing writer, Maxim Gorky). Lenin branded them “strike-breakers” and demanded their expulsion.18
Seizure of power by one party, the Bolsheviks, could only but split the worker-peasant camp and lead to horrendous bloodshed - so reasoned the frightened pair. Zinoviev and Kamenev banked on forthcoming elections to the Constituent Assembly and securing a solid leftwing majority. In that timid spirit they wanted the central committee to continue with Lenin’s old line of calling for a coalition of the socialist parties and a “peaceful revolution”. To realise that perspective - agitationally useful in August and September 1917 - relied, of course, on the generals and admirals not launching another putsch … and on winning the Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks to accept Bolshevik dominance. To state the obvious, that tactic had exhausted itself by October. Rightwing Socialist Revolutionaries and rightwing Mensheviks were, in fact, more and more revealing themselves as counterrevolutionaries.
Zinoviev and Kamenev expressed their scepticism about the imminence of revolution in Europe. Russia, they warned, would suffer the fate of the 1871 Paris Commune and be drowned in blood. Reactionary forces were, it is true, openly proclaiming that they preferred German occupation to the chaos of revolution. Kerensky ominously talked of abandoning Petrograd. Unwilling to choose between counterrevolution and making the revolution - and that is objectively what circumstances amounted to - Zinoviev and Kamenev resigned from the central committee.
Then there was the regrettable role they played in the immediate period post-October 1917. The railworkers union, the Vikzhel, demanded a socialist coalition government - minus Lenin and Trotsky. Zinoviev and Kamenev were prepared to countenance negotiations on that basis and for a brief moment their viewpoint commanded a majority on the central committee. However, Bolshevik victory in Moscow swung opinion round on the central committee back in Lenin’s favour. Negotiations were rejected. In response, once again Zinoviev and Kamenev resigned from the central committee (this time joined by Alexei Rykov, Vladimir Milyutin and Victor Nogin). Lenin denounced them as “deserters”.19
However, while the Trotsky of 1924 makes everything of such episodes, the same cannot be said of Lenin. When the leader of the Italian Socialist Party, Giacinto Serrati, attempted to excuse his refusal to abide by Comintern resolutions demanding a split with the centrists, he cited the position upheld by Zinoviev and Kamenev in October 1917. Lenin would have none of it:
On the eve of the October revolution in Russia, and immediately after it, a number of very good communists in Russia committed an error, one which our people are now loath to recall. Why are they loath to recall it? Because, unless there is particular reason for it, it is wrong to recall mistakes which have been completely set right.20
However, the overall problem with Trotsky’s account is that to all intents and purposes it threw out the whole of pre-1917 Bolshevism in the attempt to rouse the post-Lenin membership of the Russian Communist Party against Lenin’s most trusted lieutenants. Even at the level of a literary discussion Trotsky was, surely, bound to lose.
More to the point, current leftwingers who dogmatically repeat Trotsky’s 1924 version of events in 1917 as verity blind themselves - mostly unintentionally, but always stupidly - to the significance of Bolshevism: its lasting commitment to a minimum-maximum programme; its strategic vision of a worker-peasant alliance; its stress on the demand for a democratic republic; its militant opposition to all forms of economism; its profound internationalism; its robust, open internal and external polemics; its unproblematic acceptance of factions; its deep social roots; its mass membership and its accompanying galaxy of trained and tested local, regional and national leaders.
It amounts to false-memory syndrome. Instead of aiming for a programmatically guided, mass revolutionary party, much of the contemporary left is quite content with life as one of the “many grouplets” (Steff Grainger in The Clarion).21 The belief is that one fine day their 1917 will come … the confessional sect will rise from the depths of obscurity to lead the masses in storming the heavens. A perspective that sees the left discount the patient strategy of Marxism for an unacknowledged version of Bakuninism: worship of street protests and economic strikes is combined with the most extreme forms of opportunism: eg, Respect and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.
Let me briefly sketch out the situation in early 1917.
As everyone knows, tsarism ignominiously collapsed with the February revolution. Political strikes by engineering workers, mass demonstrations on International Women’s Day, army mutinies, the seizing of police arsenals, the arming of the people … and high-command panic forced the abdication of Nicholas II.22 Prominent members of the pseudo-democratic fourth duma - there was a constitutionally inbuilt landlord-capitalist majority - then agreed a rotten deal with Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary leaders. A Provisional government was to be put together and placed in the safe hands of prince Georgy Lvov - a Cadet and potential prime minister under Nicholas II. Other top ministers included Pavel Milyukov, another Cadet, and Alexander Guchkov of the Octobrists. Needless to say, the Octobrists were loyal monarchists and the traditional party of the big capitalists and landlords. As for the Cadets, they too represented capitalist interests, but advocated a constitutional monarchy along the lines of a Britain or a Sweden. And behind these parties, behind the Provisional government, there stood the directing might of Anglo-French imperialism. The Provisional government felt compelled to declare for press freedom, a republic and a just peace, but - and this was decisive - it remained firmly committed to war and its secret treaties (including gaining Constantinople for Russia). The human slaughter would therefore continue unabated.
However, the Provisional government could present a left face. Alexander Kerensky agreed to become minister of justice, then minister of war (in July he was made prime minister). He is described as either a Trudovik or a Socialist Revolutionary, depending on which source one reads. Other ‘socialists’ soon joined him around the cabinet table: eg, Victor Chernov, an SR, and Irakli Tsereteli of the Mensheviks. This shift to the left happened both in response to mass pressure and in order to deceive the masses, who were moving to the left. The war with Germany-Austria was therefore dressed up as a defence of the gains of the February revolution - not the continuation of tsarist foreign policy in a new, republican, guise. In the first few months following February 1917 defencism was therefore a widespread popular sentiment.
But the Provisional government was not the sole centre of power. In fact, almost from the start, there was dual power. Years of education by the leftwing press ensured that the memory of the 1905 revolution lived on. Workers and members of the armed forces needed little prompting, when it came to establishing their own soviets (councils) in factories, on board ships, in barracks and in every city and urban district. In due course the peasants too elected their own soviets. Moreover, in many ways the soviets - in particular the Petrograd soviet - were where real authority lay. Eg, soldiers would only obey orders if countersigned by the Petrograd soviet - a form of workers’ control over the military. Adding to the complexity of the situation, however, the SR and Menshevik majority in the Petrograd soviet was determined to strengthen the power of the Provisional government. So there was a dual power that drained authority in the direction of the Provisional government (ie, away from the masses to the bourgeoisie).
What of the Bolsheviks? They were no confessional sect, no grouplet. Historically they were, in fact, the majority party of the working class (as proven by 1905, the mass support for Pravda, trade union elections and the last, 1912, elections to the tsarist duma, where their candidates won the entire workers’ curia). So the Bolsheviks were deeply rooted amongst the proletarian masses.
However, tsarist oppression, unleashed with the onset of World War I, saw the Bolsheviks hit with particular severity. All their duma deputies were arrested (the Mensheviks were left untouched). Members of their central committee based in Russia were put on trial - Siberian exile quickly followed. Rank-and-file members were rounded up by the score, were drafted into the army, and those who retained their liberty often kept their distance out of fear … that or they were forced into semi-invisibility to avoid capture by the okhrana (the tsarist secret police). All this was punishment for Bolshevik opposition to the imperialist war in the duma and Lenin’s uncompromising demands from abroad to turn imperialist war into civil war. By contrast social pacifists and social chauvinists were tolerated. Indeed the activities of Georgy Plekhanov and his right Menshevik group were “secretly subsidised” by the tsarist authorities.23
So, in February 1917, the Bolsheviks were considerably weakened. Membership was down to some 40,000-45,000.24 And their committees were debilitatingly cash-strapped - many barely functioned. In terms of leadership, the Bolsheviks within Russia had to make do with the politically limited abilities of Alexander Shliapnikov and Vyacheslav Molotov. And, whereas even the small centrist faction, the RSDLP (Internationalist) - or the Mezhraiontsy, as they were commonly called - had, already, in January, obtained a printing press25 (possibly due to German finance, channelled through the ‘merchant of revolution’, Alexander Parvus), the Bolsheviks only began publishing Pravda in Petrograd, and Sotsial Democrat in Moscow, after the February revolution. Unsurprisingly, Bolshevik delegates to the Petrograd soviet therefore constituted a minority, at least to begin with.
Like the Cadets, the Mensheviks and SRs united around the slogan, ‘Defend the revolution’. In other words, defend the continued rule of the landlords and capitalists and defend the continued alliance with Britain and France. Tsarism in a republican guise. Nevertheless, bizarrely, according to the Socialist Workers Party’s founder-leader, the “existence of dual power” and the eminently predictable behaviour of the Mensheviks and SRs exposed the “bankruptcy” of the ‘old Bolshevik’ programme.26 Hence Lenin, we are seriously told, was forced to carry out “a complete break” with what he had written up to 1917.27 And, of course, what Tony Cliff says here is still what passes for truth on much of the left.
Let us take the argument forward by going back. From the outset - yes, from the foundation of the Emancipation of Labour group in 1883 - Russian Marxists (eg, Georgy Plekhanov, Vera Zasulich and Pavel Axelrod) were agreed, contra the anarchists and narodniks, that the country was not yet ripe for socialism, if by that one means a socialist economy, leaving behind commodity production, etc. The autocratic state, the lack of capitalist development, the domination of the economy by a woefully backward peasant agriculture - all explain why the coming Russian Revolution was envisaged by all Marxists as having two stages. Trotsky was no exception - there could be no “jumping-over of the democratic stage of the revolution or any of its specific steps”.28
It was the narodniks, and following them the SRs, who raised the call for a “socialist Russia”. A nonsense in Lenin’s view. In 1905 he characteristically writes: “Only the most ignorant people can ignore the bourgeois nature of the democratic revolution which is now taking place.”29 Note, the SRs, formed in 1902, advocated a programme that included the “expropriation of capitalist property and the reorganisation of production and the entire social system on socialist foundations” (in truth a utopian peasant socialism).30
What about the Menshevik (minority) wing of the RSDLP? As I have said, it was committed to a theory of stages, which, yes, inevitably resulted in tailism. According to the Mensheviks, the overthrow of tsarism had to be crowned by the class rule of the bourgeoisie and a western-style parliamentary government. Nevertheless, in step with the subsequent growth of capitalism, the working class grows too. Eventually this class eclipses and finally replaces the peasantry in population terms. Only then does socialism become a feasible proposition.
If the forthcoming revolution against tsarism was bourgeois, then, agreed the Mensheviks in a conference resolution of April-May 1905, the working class and its party “must not aim at seizing or sharing power in the provisional government, but must remain the party of the extreme revolutionary opposition”.31 So, for mainstream Menshevik thinking, the immediate role of the working class was to edge, push or lift the bourgeois parties into their predetermined position as leaders of the anti-tsarist revolution.
Participating in a provisional revolutionary government was ruled out for two main reasons (obviously violated after February 1917 despite the Provisional government embodying the rule of capitalists and landlords). Why non-participation? Firstly, if the working class succumbed to the temptation of power, it would cause the bourgeoisie to “recoil from the revolution and diminish its sweep”.32 Secondly, without an already established European socialism, the working class party in Russia would be unable to meet the economic demands of its social base. Failure to deliver far-going changes would produce demoralisation, confusion and eventual defeat.
If the anti-tsarist revolution proved successful, the workers’ party should, argued the Mensheviks, exit the centre stage, so as to allow the bourgeoisie to assume power. Obeying the ‘laws of history’, the workers’ party then bides it time in the wings until capitalism had carried out its preordained historic mission of developing the means of production. Hence, for the Mensheviks there had to be two - necessarily distinct - revolutions, the one separated from the other by a definite historical period.
While not including socialist measures in their minimum programme, Lenin and the Bolsheviks were resolutely opposed to handing power to the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie in Russia was both cowardly and treacherous. Despite occasional leftish flourishes, their parties sought a compromise with tsarism, not a people’s revolution. Eg, the Cadet Party, the flag-bearer of the liberal bourgeoisie, committed itself to a constitutional monarchy. Russia therefore had no Cromwell, no Washington, no Robespierre. The only force capable of scoring a decisive victory over tsarism and pushing through the most radical changes objective circumstances permitted was the proletariat, in alliance with the peasant masses.
Naturally, because Russia was overwhelmingly a peasant country, the Bolsheviks paid particular attention to their agrarian programme. In fact, peasant interests set the limit on how far the revolution could go. Landlord power could certainly be destroyed and the land nationalised and given, according to their wishes, to the peasants. This ‘black redistribution’ was, of course, not a socialist measure. It would though serve to uproot Russia’s semi-feudal social relationship and allow capitalism in the countryside to develop along an “American path”.
As an aside, Trotsky’s Results and prospects programme was not limited by the interests of the peasants. While a hegemonic working class could take the peasantry along with it in the overthrow of tsarism, an irreversible split between these two popular classes was bound to occur. The peasants were, for Trotsky, “absolutely incapable of taking an independent political role”. They would gravitate towards either the rule of the proletariat or the rule of the bourgeoisie. And, because working class political domination is incompatible with “its economic enslavement”, Trotsky reasoned, the workers’ party would be “obliged to take the path of socialist policy” … even if that risked a bloody “civil war” with the peasantry.33 Thankfully by the summer of 1917 Trotsky underwent his Leninist conversion. If one reads him when he was the leader of the Left Opposition, it is obvious, despite accusations to the contrary, that he was painfully aware of the vital importance of keeping the peasantry onside. Eg, in the early 1930s he roundly condemned Stalin’s drive to forcibly collectivise agriculture.
The fact of the matter is that the Bolsheviks were determined that the anti-tsarist revolution would see the fulfilment of the party’s entire minimum programme - a democratic republic, the election of judges, free universal education, abolition of the police and standing army, a popular militia, separation of church and state, extensive democratic rights, decisive economic reforms, such as workers’ commissions to inspect factories, an eight-hour day, etc. Such a package could only be delivered by establishing a provisional revolutionary government, which embodied the interests of the great mass of the population.
Lenin used a famous algebraic formulation to sum up the majoritarian regime envisaged by the Bolsheviks: the ‘democratic (majority) dictatorship (rule) of the proletariat and peasantry’. Such a hybrid regime could not abolish classes and bring full liberation for the working class. That was impossible. Economically Russia would have to progress capitalistically - albeit under the armed rule of the working class and peasants. That meant the continuation of wage-labour (albeit with workers taking over abandoned factories), the nationalisation of the central bank, etc.
How long was the provisional revolutionary government going to last? There are those who reckon that prior to 1917 Lenin envisaged it being nothing more than a brief moment. After the provisional revolutionary government had carried out its radical package of measures there would be elections to a constituent assembly that would see the bourgeoisie come to power with the support of peasant votes.34 Frankly, a ‘worst outcome’ version of the Bolshevik programme. Yes, Lenin admitted the possibility that the first national elections might see the return of the workers’ party to being a party of extreme opposition. It is also true, however, that Lenin extensively wrote about the revolution being uninterrupted.
Given that the provisional revolutionary government was going to be committed to carrying out the full minimum programme, it was conceived of as being relatively long-lived. Why? Far from the provisional revolutionary government being imagined as a mere prelude to the bourgeoisie assuming power, the party of the working class had every interest in spreading the flame of revolution to Europe.35
Lenin seems to have seriously contemplated war for the “purpose” of “taking” the revolution into Europe. One of his key slogans was for a “revolutionary army”.36 Depending on their success in furthering the world socialist revolution, the Bolsheviks looked towards a purely working class government in Russia and embarking on specifically socialist tasks. The fact that the tasks of the provisional government included uprooting every last vestige of tsarism, enacting sweeping reforms, defeating bourgeois counterrevolution - and maybe even fighting a revolutionary war in Europe - explains why I have argued that the provisional government would have been expected to last not a few brief months, but years.
However, my main point is that the Bolsheviks were not committed to handing political power to the bourgeoisie, as were the Mensheviks. Of course, for the Bolsheviks, the international dimension was crucial. The revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry in Russia could not survive in isolation. It would - it had to - “rouse Europe” and the socialist proletariat of Europe to carry through the “socialist revolution”.37 The United Socialist States of Europe would then, in turn, help Russia move in the direction of socialism (which requires definite material conditions in terms of the development of the productive forces). And a revolution uniting Europe and half of Asia had a realistic chance of rapidly spreading to every corner of the globe.
Inevitably, there would, within Russia, be a differentiation between the proletarianised rural masses and the emerging class of capitalist farmers. But not necessarily a specifically socialist revolution: ie, the violent overthrow of the state. Put another way, for the Bolsheviks there would not necessarily be a democratic or bourgeois stage and then a socialist stage at the level of regime. Democratic and socialist tasks are categorically distinct, premised as they are on different material, social and political conditions. But certain features can evolve and assume dominance. The revolution could, given favourable internal and external conditions, proceed uninterruptedly from democratic to socialist tasks through the proletariat fighting not only from below, but from above: ie, from the salient of state power. The revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry thereby peacefully grows over into the dictatorship (rule) of the proletariat. As the size, organisation and consciousness of the urban and rural working class grew, so would the strength of the workers’ party. The necessity of a coalition government would at some point disappear. The tasks of the maximum programme then decisively come onto the agenda.
Lenin defended and elaborated upon the Bolshevik programme for the democratic revolution as being the shortest - in fact, the only viable - route to socialism in Two tactics of social democracy (1905).38 A seminal pamphlet that armed the Bolsheviks with the political weapons needed, first to lead the “whole people” for a republic, and then lead “all the toilers and exploited” for socialism.39 In terms of the rural sea: first the Bolsheviks would seek to lead the entire peasantry against tsarism and the aristocratic landlords, then the Bolsheviks would seek to lead the poor and middle peasantry against the kulak exploiters, in the struggle for socialism. By any objective assessment then, Lenin and the Bolsheviks had their own version of permanent revolution from at least 1905 onwards.
Too often comrades who should know better associate permanent revolution exclusively with Trotsky. Of course, the phrase long predates him, going back to the “literature of the French Revolution”.40 From there it spread far and wide, becoming a common “programmatic slogan” of European radicals, socialists and communists, including Karl Marx and Frederick Engels.41 And, as Hal Draper helpfully explains, for Marx, the word ‘permanent’ in ‘permanent revolution’ describes a situation where there is “more than one stage or phase” in the revolutionary process. He usefully adds that the expression “retains its specifically French and Latin meaning”. It does not mean perpetual or never-ending. It is employed by Marx to convey the idea of “continuity, uninterrupted”.42
Bearing this in mind, consider Lenin’s “uninterrupted revolution”. A typical example is from 1905. Lenin declares: “We stand for uninterrupted revolution. We shall not stop halfway.”43 He wants to take the anti-tsarist revolution to the socialist stage through a process that does not halt at some artificial boundary. No, the Bolsheviks will push the revolution forward both from below and above (ie, employing state power).
Not without interest in this respect, when it came to Russia, Kautsky too can be cited as an advocate of permanent revolution. He was, remember, a close ally of the Bolsheviks in the years before World War I. Almost an honorary Bolshevik. Here is Trotsky’s own - albeit rather self-serving - description of Kautsky’s approach “when he was a Marxist”:
At that time (true, not without the beneficial influence of Rosa Luxemburg) Kautsky fully understood and acknowledged that the Russian Revolution could not terminate in a bourgeois-democratic republic, but must inevitably lead to the proletarian dictatorship, because of the level attained by the class struggle in the country itself and because of the entire international situation of capitalism. Kautsky then frankly wrote about a workers’ government with a social democratic majority. He did not even think of making the real course of the class struggle depend on the changing and superficial combinations of political democracy.
At that time, Kautsky understood that the revolution would begin for the first time to rouse the many millions of peasants and urban petty bourgeoisie and that, not all at once, but gradually, layer by layer, so that, when the struggle between the proletariat and the capitalist bourgeoisie reached its climax, the broad peasant masses would still be at a very primitive level of political development and would give their votes to intermediary political parties, reflecting only the backwardness and the prejudices of the peasant class.
Kautsky understood then that the proletariat, led by the logic of the revolution toward the conquest of power, could not arbitrarily postpone this act indefinitely, because by this self-abnegation it would merely clear the field for counterrevolution. Kautsky understood then that, once having seized revolutionary power, the proletariat would not make the fate of the revolution depend upon the passing moods of the least conscious, not yet awakened masses at any given moment, but that, on the contrary, it would turn the political power concentrated in its hands into a mighty apparatus for the enlightenment and organisation of these same backward and ignorant peasant masses. Kautsky understood that to call the Russian Revolution a bourgeois revolution and thereby to limit its tasks would mean not to understand anything of what was going on in the world.
Together with the Russian and Polish revolutionary Marxists, he rightly acknowledged that, should the Russian proletariat conquer power before the European proletariat, it would have to use its situation as the ruling class not for the rapid surrender of its positions to the bourgeoisie, but for rendering powerful assistance to the proletarian revolution in Europe and throughout the world.44
I do not deny in the least that Bolshevik ideas, perspectives and expectations underwent change from 1905 to 1917. It seems clear to me that with the outbreak of World War I Lenin and other Bolsheviks began to talk positively about the “Commune state” and taking “steps towards socialism” in the immediate aftermath of the anti-tsarist revolution.
Lenin’s writings on this subject were later culled by the Stalin-Bukharin duumvirate in order to pharisaically justify their theory of socialism in one country. In effect Paul Le Blanc too. He quotes a range of memoirs to the effect that the pre-October, post-April Bolsheviks aimed for a “socialist revolution”. Given that his sources, both Menshevik and Bolshevik, are post-October, that does not surprise me in the least. There was in almost all cases a retrofitting of post-October realities onto pre-October perspectives. And, suffice to say, there was disjuncture between pre-October perspective and post-October realities. Eg, after the split with the Left SRs, Lenin could no longer seriously claim - well, at least in terms of representative democracy - that the Soviet republic embodied the rule of the proletariat and the peasantry. Not long after that, Bolshevik leaders (ie, Zinoviev), were saying that the dictatorship of the proletariat amounted to the dictatorship of the Communist Party. Hence, in my view, the 1920s memoirs need to be treated not as gospel, but - certainly when it comes to programmatic aims - with a degree of caution.
Nevertheless, pre-October 1917, what I insist on is programmatic continuity. Like a river, Bolshevism was added to by tributaries, had its becalming eddies, but broadened and continued to flow towards the sea. There was, in its overall course, no break.
Lenin vs Trotsky
All in all, to any objective observer Trotsky’s differences with Lenin are clear. Lenin wanted a majoritarian regime. Trotsky wanted a minority regime that would lead the majority. Different, but not that different. True, in Results and prospects and in Lenin’s so-called replies there was a fierce polemic between the two men. However, factional interests often produced more heat than light. Eg, in 1906 Trotsky dismissed out of hand any suggestion of a “special form of the proletarian dictatorship in the bourgeois revolution”. He was, at the time, intent on rubbishing the Bolsheviks in particular. On the other hand, Lenin attacked Trotsky for “underestimating” the importance of the peasantry by raising the slogan, ‘Not a tsar’s government, but a workers’ government’.
Not least, on the basis of this slogan, Trotsky is no doubt right when he says that Lenin had “never read my basic work”. That slogan was proclaimed not by Trotsky, but his friend and collaborator, Alexander Parvus (yes, the very same man who went on to become an agent of German imperialism in World War I and who arranged the ‘sealed train’ which took Lenin and co from their Swiss exile to Petrograd in April 1917). “Never did Lenin anywhere analyse or quote,” says Trotsky, “even in passing, Results and prospects.”45 Moreover, he goes on to cite the “solidarity” that existed between himself and the Bolsheviks during and immediately after the 1905 revolution.
And for the benefit of those idiots who demonise the term ‘stage’, who sneer at Lenin because of his use of the word, Trotsky can be quoted boasting that he “formulated the tasks of the successive stages of the revolution in exactly the same manner as Lenin”. This should provide food for thought - to those who permit themselves the luxury of thought. The same can be said for Trotsky’s proud affirmation that “Lenin’s formula” closely “approximated” to his own “formula of permanent revolution”.46 Despite that, we are told time and again that Trotsky’s theory was far superior to Lenin’s. Perhaps yet another example of dead generations weighing like a nightmare on the brains of the living.
Undoubtedly, Trotsky’s decision to invent the “complete break” narrative in 1924, was a bold move. By pretending, in effect, that Lenin had become a Trotskyite in April 1917, Trotsky could pump up his own standing and at the same time target the role played by those who constituted ruling triumvirate: Stalin, Kamenev and Zinoviev. We have already mentioned Kamenev and Stalin in March 1917, and Zinoviev and Kamenev in October and November 1917. Then there was the dispute over China in the mid to late 1920s. Stalin and Bukharin advocated a bloc of four classes - workers, peasants, the intelligentsia and the national bourgeoisie. This class collaboration - the political subordination of the Communist Party of China to the Kuomintang - was, of course, excused under an orthodox sounding ‘democratic dictatorship’ rubric. Opportunism is seldom honest.
However, Trotsky directly - and, at least in my view, incorrectly - dismissed Lenin’s formula, the ‘democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’. He even claimed Lenin’s authority for this. As already quoted, in his The lessons of October Trotsky maintained that in 1917 Lenin “came out furiously against the old slogan of the ‘democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’”.47 In fact, Lenin attacked not so much the ‘revolutionary dictatorship’ formula, but rather those who misused it - those who he thought were showing a willingness to compromise with the Menshevik and SR ‘revolutionary defencists’.
March to April
As already argued, the Provisional government acted in the interests not of the proletariat and peasantry, but of the capitalists and landlords (and behind them Anglo-French imperialism). Ipso facto Lenin concluded that the proletariat and peasantry (in the form of the soviets) had “placed power in the hands of the bourgeoisie”. And, though Alexander Kerensky’s ministry, formed in July 1917, contained many who had been hunted by the tsarist secret police - Matvey Skobelev, Irakli Tsereteli, Victor Chernov, Nikolai Avksentiev, Boris Savinkov, Alexei Nikitin, etc - no Marxist will find Lenin’s designation at all strange. Programme, policy and practice determines class content. Not only did the Provisional government continue Russia’s involvement in World War I: it cynically prevaricated over peasant demands for land redistribution and fearfully delayed convening the Constituent Assembly.
What was Lenin’s approach during this “first stage of the revolution”? Did he junk his old call for the replacement of tsarism by a workers’ and peasants’ republic? Yes, of course he did ... in the same way as Trotsky junked his ‘Not a tsar’s government, but a government of the people’, and the followers of Parvus junked his ‘Not a tsar’s government, but a workers’ government’. Nor were the Mensheviks, the SRs or anyone else on the left unaware that one of their key demands had been realised. The Romanovs had fallen. Tsarism was no more. Russia had become a republic.
It did not take a cover-to-cover study of Hegel’s Logic, or the “recovery of the dialectic” to recognise such a qualitative development. If Trotsky had not made a “complete break” from his ‘Not a tsar’s government’ slogan, his close friends would have been well advised to seek out suitable psychological treatment for the poor fellow. Ditto Lenin’s friends, or anyone else’s for that matter.
Obviously the demand to overthrow the tsar was totally obsolete. Future progress lay in combating the “honest” popular illusions in revolutionary defencism, exposing the true nature of the provisional government and raising sights. The Bolsheviks were a minority in the soviets. Their task was to become the majority by agitating for ending the war, seizing landlord estates, introducing workers’ control, replacing the police with Red Guard units, demanding elections to a Constituent Assembly, etc.
This would prepare the “second stage of the revolution” and with it the transfer of all power into “the hands of the proletariat and the poorest sections of the peasants”. The “only possible form of revolutionary government” was a “republic of soviets of workers’, agricultural labourers’ and peasants’ deputies”, writes Lenin. Surely, a concrete application of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ slogan. Lenin made no claims that the party’s “immediate task” was to “introduce” socialism. Only that the banks should be nationalised and production and distribution had to be put under workers’ control to prevent an economic catastrophe. Such measures could be classified as “taking steps towards socialism”. But - and this is the key point - they would not meet any objections from the peasantry (quite the contrary: the peasants could be enthused by the Bolshevik’s determination to save the country).
Does the perspective of a workers’ and peasants’ republic which would commit itself to “taking steps in the direction of socialism” indicate an abandonment or a development of Lenin’s theory in light of new and unexpected circumstances? I make no excuse for once again turning to Lenin himself for an answer. In the article, ‘The dual power’, he says the following:
The highly remarkable feature of our revolution is that it has brought about a dual power. This fact must be grasped first and foremost: unless it is understood, we cannot advance. We must know how to supplement and amend old ‘formulas’ - for example, those of Bolshevism - for, while they have been found to be correct on the whole, their concrete realisation has turned out to be different. Nobody previously thought, or could have thought, of a dual power.48
Yes, in April 1917 Lenin got into a brief, but heated, dispute with the ‘old Bolsheviks’: ie, the party’s Russian-based leadership. There are all manner of reports of Lenin angrily berating Kamenev and other top leaders on his arrival back in Petrograd. He was certainly unhappy with what he had read in Pravda. However, the idea that when he presented the April theses he was met with widespread hostility, even incomprehension, by his Bolshevik comrades does not stand up to serious examination. Lenin was never an isolated figure. Most Bolsheviks welcomed the April theses. That does not mean that there were no differences. There were. But the differences were those of shade, even nuance.
The differences revolved around five closely related questions: (1) the attitude to the provisional government; (2) revolutionary defencism; (3) unity with the Mensheviks; (4) the peasants; (5) socialism.
Lenin feared that under the direction of Kamenev and Stalin Pravda had gone soft on the Provisional government. He intransigently demanded that the Bolsheviks should give no support whatever. Politically the Provisional government was pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist and pro-war. It is certainly true that Kamenev did give the Provisional government critical support in his first Pravda editorial (March 14) - both the words “critical” and “support” appear in the text. However, Lars T Lih explains that what Kamenev’s editorial was designed to achieve had nothing to do with strengthening the Provisional government. On the contrary, the Bolsheviks should work to expose the Provisional government and ready the masses for an “inevitable clash”.49 So the emphasis was on ‘critical’ rather than ‘support’. A judgement surely confirmed by the March All-Russian Conference of the RSDLP - ie, before the arrival of Lenin - where Kamenev is reported as saying this:
In Steklov’s resolution [Yuri Steklov’s resolution had been chosen by conference as the alternative to the one being supported by Kamenev - JC] the point dealing with support is absolutely unacceptable. It is impermissible to have any expression of support, even to hint at it. We cannot support the government because it is an imperialist government, because, despite its own declaration, it remains in an alliance with the Anglo-French bourgeoisie.
In the Communist manifesto there is a statement to the effect that we give support to the liberal bourgeoisie, but only in the event of its being attacked. But from Steklov’s report it is obvious that it is not they who are being attacked, but rather it is they themselves who are attacking the soviet of workers’ deputies.
In yesterday’s amendments to the resolution we stated that support at the present time is impossible. In view of the dual power, the will of the revolutionary people is embodied not in the Provisional government, but in the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies [as we have seen, a proposition that needs qualifying]; and also that the latter must be strengthened and that they must come to a clash with the Provisional government. Our task is to point out that the only organ worthy of our support is the soviet of workers’ deputies. The task of the Congress [of the soviets] is to proclaim to all Russia that the sole expresser of the will of the revolutionary people is the soviet of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies, and that we must strengthen and support them and not the provisional government.50
What of Stalin? Opening the debate at the March 1917 conference, he began by speaking on behalf of the central committee, but then, in closing, expressed himself as being more inclined towards the resolution of the Krasnoyarsk Soviet of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Cossacks’ Deputies: “Support the Provisional government in its activities only in so far as it follows a course of satisfying the demands of the working class and the revolutionary peasantry in the revolution that is taking place.” Suffice to say, the Provisional government showed not the least sign of “satisfying the demands of the working class and the revolutionary peasantry”. As Kamenev himself tellingly stated: the “full satisfaction of their demands [those of the workers and peasants] is possible only when full and complete power is in their own hands”.
Of course, what Lenin objected to was that such attempts to expose the Provisional government would, in fact, foster illusions in the Provisional government. That was a matter of political judgement, not political principle, of course. So, on the question of the attitude towards the Provisional government, there is certainly a difference of emphasis, even temperament, but not of substance. Kamenev-Stalin were advocating flexibility, appearing reasonable and patient; Lenin hostility, intransigence and eagerness to fight.
It should, however, be pointed out that there was a very small rightwing Bolshevik faction at the March conference that came together over the question of defencism. Having been provided with the time needed to present their position, they lost the vote … and seven delegates then walked out. True, Kamenev had written of soldiers staying at their posts - but that was a perfectly orthodox Bolshevik formulation, which only a fool would use as evidence of him going over to social chauvinism. Lenin himself spoke out against soldiers deserting and heading off back to their villages. In fact, of course, Kamenev wanted to engage with the ‘honest’ revolutionary defensist’s in the army and unite with other socialists who militantly opposed the war. This can, once again, be seen from the March conference (during the joint session with the Mensheviks). Kamenev says this:
To pose here the question of defencism and anti-defencism is to repeat the discussion which we have already had. We have come to the conclusion that it is impermissible to vote for the [social-pacifistic] resolution of the executive committee [of the SR-Menshevik-dominated Petrograd soviet]. It is not a socialist resolution. The executive committee assumes in it the viewpoint of Henderson and Thomas [the Labour Party’s war ministers in Britain]. It is impossible to vote for a resolution which says nothing about peace, about the abrogation of the secret treaties left over from tsarism. Another resolution must be counterposed to it. Our task is to fuse the socialist-internationalists around the resolution.
Here we come to the unity of the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. Firstly, it should be appreciated that in the provinces the majority of party committees were joint committees - a situation that lasted beyond the October revolution in the remoter places. No less to the point, what Kamenev had his sights on was not unity with right Mensheviks such as Irakli Tsereteli (as alleged by Trotsky). No, the aim was to unite with left Mensheviks on the basis of the Zimmerwald-Kienthal conferences. In short a Bolshevik-Menshevik Internationalist unification. However, not surprisingly, Lenin would have none of it. He had already organised a distinct Zimmerwald left (with a view to establishing a Third International). Martov and the Menshevik Internationalists wanted peace, but also continued unity with the right Mensheviks. That was their price for unity with the Bolsheviks. Therefore, what Lenin rejected was not winning the Menshevik Internationalists to unity with the Bolsheviks, but moving the Bolsheviks in the direction of the Menshevik Internationalists. Here was an issue of real substance.
We now come to the question of peasant limits and the possibilities of socialism. Kamenev feared that Lenin, because of his exile in Switzerland, had failed to fully grasp the actual state of play in Russia. Hence in Pravda Kamenev responded to the April thesis thus:
As for comrade Lenin’s general scheme, it appears unacceptable, inasmuch as it proceeds from the assumption that the bourgeois democratic revolution is completed, and builds on the immediate transformation of this revolution into a socialist revolution.51
Clearly, Kamenev was upholding the necessity of winning the peasants and thus preparing the conditions for a second revolution. The peasants could not be “skipped”. The idea of playing at the seizure of power by the workers’ party without the support of the peasantry was not Marxism, he said, but Blanquism. Power had to be exercised by the majority. And Lenin, in the April theses and some of his latest writings, seemed to be implying that the peasantry had gone over to social chauvinism and defence of the fatherland (not ‘honest’ revolutionary defencism). Therefore, perhaps, he had concluded that the peasantry had become a lost cause.
While Kamenev feared that Lenin was demanding an immediate transition to a socialist revolution, Lenin pointed out that he had explicitly warned against such a perspective: “It is not our immediate task to ‘introduce’ socialism ...”52 Obviously there were misconceptions on both sides, but - and this is surely what counts - unity was quickly recemented. In the case of the peasantry, Kamenev was clearly right and Lenin wrong. Subsequently, Lenin talks of the differences being “not very great”, because Kamenev had come round to his viewpoint. Unfair - if anything, Lenin had come round to Kamenev’s viewpoint, at least on the peasantry. At the very least he clarified statements that were hastily written or perhaps wrongly informed. He also joins with Kamenev in opposing the leftist slogan of ‘Down with the provisional government’, as raised by the Petrograd committee of the RSDLP. The situation was not yet ready for the overthrow of the Provisional government in April-May 1917. Hence, together with Kamenev, Lenin insisted that the “correct slogan” was “Long live the soviet of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies”.53
Things were, though, exceedingly complex. Firstly, while state power had been transferred, that did not by any means meet the immediate programmatic aims of the Bolsheviks. The Romanovs had been overthrown. To that extent, argued Lenin, the programme had been fulfilled. But the ‘revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants’ in the form of the SR-Menshevik majority in the soviets had voluntarily ceded power to the bourgeoisie. Instead of coming to power, the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry existed side by side with, and had subordinated itself to, a weak government of the bourgeoisie and landlords (ie, the Provisional government). Only once the Bolsheviks had won a majority could they finish with dual power and complete the revolution.
The dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry had therefore become interwoven with the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and landlords. The Russian Revolution had gone further than the classical bourgeois revolutions of England 1645 or France 1789, but, in Lenin’s words, it “has not yet reached a ‘pure’ dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry”54 l
1. Of course, as shown by Lars T Lih, in August 1917 Trotsky was singing a very different tune. Eg, his article, ‘The character of the Russian Revolution’, stands in shark contrast to what he wrote in 1924. See LT Lih, ‘Trotsky 1917 vs Trotsky 1924’ Weekly Worker November 2 2017.
2. L Trotsky The challenge of the Left Opposition (1923-25) New York 1980, p207.
4. Ibid p205.
5. T Cliff Lenin Vol 2, London 1975, p124.
6. N Davidson How revolutionary were the bourgeois revolutions? Chicago 2012, p228.
7. P Le Blanc, ‘The Bolsheviks and socialist revolution’ Weekly Worker October 26 2017. Paul Le Blanc is quoting Lenin’s Two tactics of social democracy, but he does so in a manner that, in my view, misrepresents both Lenin and the Bolsheviks (see CW Vol 9, Moscow 1972, pp49, 83).
8. L Trotsky The challenge of the Left Opposition (1923-25) New York 1980, p211.
9. Ibid p209.
10. Mary Davis, ‘Why was there a revolution in Russia in 1917?’ Morning Star November 4-5 2017. The reason for quoting this Stalinite here is to illustrate just how influential Trotsky’s version of 1917 has become.
11. Between 1924 and 1927, 12 volumes of Trotsky’s Collected works were published in Moscow and/or Leningrad by the State Publishing House. Volume 3, issued in two parts, contained his writings and speeches for the year 1917 (see https://archive.org/details/Trotsky_CollectedWorks).
12. L Schapiro The Communist Party of the Soviet Union London 1964, p162.
13. Quoted in SF Cohen Bukharin and the Bolshevik revolution Oxford 1980, p269.
14. VI Lenin CW Vol 17, Moscow 1977, p23.
15. L Kamenev, ‘Trotskyism or Leninism?’, quoted in F Corney (ed) Trotsky’s challenge: the ‘literary discussion’ of 1924 and the fight for the Bolshevik revolution Leiden 2016, p217.
16. Quoted in ibid p21.
17. J Reed Ten days that shook the world Harmondsworth 1970, p59.
18. VI Lenin CW Vol 26, Moscow 1972, p216.
19. Ibid p303.
20. Ibid p385.
21. S Grainger, ‘The Russian Revolution’ The Clarion November 2017.
22. For the role of the army high command see R Service The last of the tsars chapter 4, London 2017.
23. SH Baron Plekhanov in Russian history and Soviet historiography London 1995, p148.
24. Figures from History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks) Moscow 1939, p183.
25. See the Weekly Worker series translated and introduced by John Riddell and Barbara Allen, beginning with the Petrograd Mezhrayonka leaflet of January 1917.
26. T Cliff Lenin Vol 2, London 1975, p127.
27. Ibid p124.
28. VI Lenin CW Vol 9, Moscow 1977, p32.
29. Ibid pp28-29.
31. Quoted in T Dan The origins of Bolshevism New York 1964, pp211-12.
32. VI Lenin CW Vol 9, Moscow 1977, p128.
33. See LT Lih, ‘Democratic revolution in permanenz’ Science and Society October 2012.
34. See J Creegan, ‘April in Petrograd’ Weekly Worker April 16 2015.
35. The idea that the Bolsheviks only adopted the perspective of sparking the socialist revolution in the west with the April theses is therefore an obvious absurdity. That does not stop Rex Dunn putting this passage into Lenin’s mouth: “A commune state in Russia will lay the foundation for a socialist revolution. But, given the betrayal by German social democracy and the Second International in 1914, ‘our’ revolution now becomes the stimulus for the socialist revolution in the west, not the other way round.” More hopeless muddle follows. Eg, Lenin’s hegemony strategy “is derived from an article written by Kautsky in 1906”! The same author then goes on to denounce “Kautsky’s strategy for the German and Russian revolutions” because it “amounts to what would later be called a popular front: ie, a recipe for the defeat of the socialist revolution”. So presumably this assessment would apply to Lenin’s 1905 strategy. Comrade Dunn concludes by damning the work of Lars T Lih as providing an “apologia for reformism” because his “continuity” theory is not based on the methodology of Marxism. “Therefore all the new evidence he has gathered from the archives is wasted” (R Dunn, ‘Rearming the April theses’ Weekly Worker September 14 2017). How showing the great value Lenin placed on Kautsky’s pre-1914 writings - ie, when he was a Marxist - constitutes an “apologia for reformism” is a strange proposition. Marxists should not experience the least problem in learning from non-Marxist historians, philosophers, scientists, etc.
36. VI Lenin CW Vol 9, Moscow 1977, p128.
37. Ibid p82.
38. See ibid pp15-130.
39. Ibid p114.
40. “Kautsky describes the policy of the sans-culottes in 1793-94 as one of ‘Revolution in Permanenz’” - quoted in RB Day and D Gaido (eds) Witnesses to permanent revolution Leiden 2009, p537.
41. H Draper Karl Marx’s theory of revolution Vol 2, New York 1978, p204.
42. Ibid p201. Marx’s most famous use of ‘permanent revolution’ can be found in his 1850 ‘Address of the Central Authority of the Communist League’, (K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 10, New York 1978, pp277-87). A document which Lenin not only knew by heart, but “used to delight in quoting” (AH Nimtz Lenin’s electoral strategy from 1907 to the October Revolution of 1917: the ballot, the streets - or both New York 2014, p146.
43. VI Lenin CW Vol 9, Moscow 1977, p237.
44. L Trotsky The permanent revolution New York 1978, pp33-34.
45. L Trotsky The permanent revolution New York 1978, p166.
46. Ibid p168.
47. Ibid p198.
48. VI Lenin CW Vol 24, Moscow 1977, p38.
49. LT Lih, ‘Bolshevism was fully armed’ Weekly Worker February 26 2015.
50. Trotsky included the surviving minutes of the March conference in his The Stalin school of falsification London 1974, pp181-237. Provisional government thugs ransacked the Bolshevik HQ in July 1917. Though fragmentary, they make fascinating reading.
51. Quoted in VI Lenin CW Vol 24, Moscow 1977, p50.
52. Ibid p52.
53. Ibid p244-45.
54. Ibid p61.