Articles posted by Radical Socialist on various issues.

South Africa -- Class struggle and the Beginning of a Breakdown of the ANC-Communist Party Bourgeois Liberal Hegemony

South Africa

Acceleration of trade union and political recomposition

 Claude Gabriel

On Friday, November 7, 2014, the metalworkers’ union (340,000 members), NUMSA, was expelled from the national trade union federation, COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions) by 33 votes to 24 on the national executive committee. This is a significant event. First, because this union is one of the most important in the federation. Then, because it was one of the essential components of its creation in 1980. However, it is obviously the reason for this expulsion which is vitally important. NUMSA (National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa) was expelled for having, in December 2013, decided at its congress to no longer support the ANC and the Communist Party in power and having denounced their neoliberal policies and corruption.

A historical cycle has closed. Because at the very beginning of the 1980s, while the mass movement was reconstructed and struggles against the white regime took on a great breadth, two currents of thought disputed for hegemony. On one side the African National Congress (ANC) and its pilot fish, the CP, on the other the trade union leadership born from the growth of a classic industrial proletariat (metals, chemicals, textiles). The first essentially defending a line of national democratic revolution, the latter a line of democratic and socialist revolution. If the activists of the ANC and the CP operated clandestinely within the mass movement, the latter enjoyed a relative legality as trade union leaders.

The tension was extreme during the first part of the decade. While some of these trade unions, grouped at the time within the federation FOSATU (Federation of South African Trade Unions ) were trying (in vain) to win hegemony in the townships, the CP complained in its press of “leftists”, “armchair revolutionaries”, “Trotskyists” and so on. But the objective pressure for trade union unification between those who openly supported the line of the ANC (beginning with the miners’ union, the NUM) and those that still posed the question of a Workers’ Party and an independent labour movement eventually led to the formation of a single large national federation, COSATU, in December 1985.

Thirty years of rotting

In the beginning, everybody was supposed to retain their right of expression and there was some tension during the early years between the two “wings” of the movement. Then came the time of the negotiations between the ANC, the liberal bourgeoisie, the West and then with the regime itself, at the time of glasnost and pressure from Gorbachev. Sometimes through naivety, often through opportunism, a large part of the “independent” trade union leadership was converted. Many of their leaders later joined the CP and the ANC, in the name of new times, of the hegemony finally won by the ANC, realism, the sudden democratization of Stalinism and many other reasons mentioned. After the historic elections of 1994, they became ministers, businessmen, chairs of all sorts of bodies with a very high remuneration. Unions such as NUMSA were totally led by members of the CP, supporting without too much trouble the decisions taken in the name of the “first stage” (nonetheless very neoliberal) of the march to “socialism”. Union dues were used in part to finance the CP, “natural” spokesperson of the proletariat! Within COSATU as a whole, direct bribery took a hold, turning for example Cyril Ramaphosa , the former leader of the miners’ union, into a millionaire and a shareholder in the mines although number two in the ANC.

But time passed: rank and file demands, worsening poverty, broken promises, employers’ firmness, the emergence of a new generation in the elected bodies. And then, the last major event, the massacre of 34 striking miners at Marikana on August 16, 2012. The NUMSA congress of December 2013 took note of all this and proclaimed its political break with the government and the CP. No more contributions, no more calls to vote for the ANC and an appeal to other unions to adopt this same line. All covered by a reference to a united front for socialism and the objective of an independent workers’ party.

What is both damning and stimulating is that we are now witnessing, almost, the same debate as in 1983/85. Thirty years after, the successors of the protagonists of that time are in the same conflict in virtually the same terms. Thirty years lost? Of course not. Because at the time there was a political battle within the struggles, whereas today one of the two camps is in power, uses the violence of the state, expresses the point of view of a deeply corrupt bureaucracy, and colludes with big white capital (which was predictable three decades ago).

For NUMSA, the equation is complex. It cannot simply make reference, as today and in a fantastical manner, to what it believes to be the correct positions of the ANC and CP before the degeneration. It must make this balance sheet and understand that the concepts, for example on the national question (“colonialism of a specific type” ), hid since the origin the local adaptation of the Soviet line of the national and democratic revolution involving the class alliances and systemic compromise that we have seen for 20 years. It can no longer think, as the CP claimed and still claims, that the working class is “unique” and its political representation necessarily passes through a single “workers” party. Things are infinitely more complicated in this vast country of multiple social diversities. Finally, a retroactive analysis of the process of bureaucratization is needed if NUMSA wants to turn the page.

What trade union and political recomposition?

The process of organizational clarification is, therefore, only in its infancy. The priority for NUMSA should be first on the trade union front. It is excluded from the COSATU but eight other trade unions inside COSATU have established links with it. The joint meeting which was held with these unions, on November 9, 2014, in the aftermath of the expulsion, went well and bodes well for a joint collaboration between NUMSA and these unions which are still (temporarily?) COSATU members. A common meeting seems to be emerging for the next few weeks.

In addition, other unions already exist outside of COSATU, like the AMCU (Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, formed in 1998), located in the platinum mines, as well as the ongoing divisions within COSATU unions, for example in education. A national movement of the rural poor has just been set up. The burning question is therefore that of an alternative trade union grouping, but also its form, its objectives and its internal democracy. For the rest, on socialism and the “workers’ party”, the confusion within NUMSA’s leadership remains very high, between the concept of a united front of anti-capitalist forces and the simple self-proclamation of its own proletarian leadership.

However, there cannot be an escalation of intense social struggles without political forces emerging in parallel. First of all there is the case of the current from the ANC youth, the Economic Freedom Fighters, linked to Julius Malema, who with 6.35% of the votes in the general elections of May 2014 (or 1, 169, 259 votes), account now for 25 seats in the national assembly and are the biggest opposition force in several provinces. The EFF is itself in the midst of a programmatic debate as regards its profession of socialist faith.

Other political forces exist, very active in the trade unions and social movements, and in discussion with NUMSA and the EFF. The map of militant forces and the socialist project has therefore every chance of being different in a few years if not a few months. Without forgetting that there will be government repression in a country where everyday social violence leaves large margins of manoeuvre to the violence of the state itself.


From http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article3730

November 2014 Rally of Unorganised Sector Workers in Kolkata-- A Report

On November 11, 2014, unorganized and informal sector workers of different trades and occupations assembled at Kolkata to march at the rally and attend the public meeting organized by the Osongothito Khetra Sramik Sangrami Mancha (Struggle Forum for Unorganised Sector Workers), a platform of trade-unions organising unorganised sector workers. Nearly 20, 000 workers brought the city to life, demanding proper wages, social security, employment guarantee, communal harmony and class unity.

Vociferous in their protests against the governments installed at the Centre and the State, they demanded full liberties for the Right to unionize and the Right to strike which governments at all levels are keen to do away with.

The workers of the informal sector, or sectors that have been deliberately allowed to stay informal so that employers are relieved of responsibilities, form 93.7% of the country’s workforce. They have no employment guarantee, are deprived of social security, compelled to work in very low wages and face various inhuman conditions in their daily lives. Confronted with abominable inflation that has been consistently eroding their wages, they know that they have no other option, but to struggle.

They also realize during their struggles at the work place and in neighborhoods that these unbearable conditions and its betterment depends on national and state level policies and consequently, the reframing of political, social and economic agenda. They marched to Kolkata from all corners of the state raising these slogans. It was an initiation of the long struggle that they have to engage in the days to come.

The participants as well as speakers resolved to intensify the struggle for the increase of wages vis-à-vis the owners’ scheme of maximizing profit. A demand of Rs 15,000 as minimum wages was raised for all workers irrespective of industry.  It is important to note that the government has been unable to force errant owners to pay minimum wages declared by it, while it works with notorious ‘efficiency’ to send police to break any movement demanding minimum wages. The wage of tea industry is a meager amount of Rs.90/95, but the government provides all excuses to procrastinate the notification of minimum wages for workers in this sector.

Thousands of bidi workers, construction workers, agricultural labourers, brick-kiln workers, workers of silk industry, tea workers, textile workers, civic volunteers police, hawkers, contract workers of industries and activists were seen marching in the streets of kolkata  on 11th of November.  Right from tea gardens of Dooaars to workers of Sundarbans, from Purulia to Mursidabad, workers from all districts and blocks of the state declared that they march to the secretariat if their demands were not met within three months.

Workers and the leadership of workers of different sectors/industries, the leadership of the Mancha, the vice-president of NTUI, fraternal trade unions and others addressed the rally.

The major demands of November are as follows:

  • The rights achieved by the working people including the right to strike can’t be tampered at any cost.
  • Minimum wages of Rs 15 000 has to be ensured for all workers and workers of all sectors have to be brought under Minimum Wages.
  • Establishment of democracy in all spheres of society. Ensure freedom of expression by putting an end to political violence and attack on the members of the opposition parties.
  • All workers have to be ensured Provident Fund, ESI, pension and other social security. Everyone has to be ensured pension equivalent to 50% of their last drawn wages.
  • All contract and casual workers, ‘volunteers’ must be regularized. No new emp0loyment of contract workers in permanent posts.
  • Security for women must be ensured both inside and outside of their places and at their workplaces. Sufficient crèches and child-care facilities at workplaces.
  • Social and economic security has to be guaranteed to all backwards sections of the society including dalits, adivasis, religious minorities and others.
  • No curtailment of the 100 days work under NREGA. The act must be amended to provided employment all round the year.
  • Immediately implement Food Security Act; the act must be amended to ensure appropriate and genuine food security.
  • Subsidized fertilizers, seeds, electricity, irrigation, etc has to be provided to all marginal and small farmers; they have to be guaranteed favorable prices for their produce, as well.
  • Housing facilities must be made for all workers so that they are able to reside near their places of work.
  • All affected by Aila and other natural disasters must be provided reparations and proper rehabilitation.
  • Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street VendingAct, 2014 and all judgements by the Supreme Court in the interest of the hawkers must be immediately implemented.

Statement of United Tea Workers' Front

Inline images 1

Workers in all the tea gardens of Terai, Dooars and Darjeeling Hills of West Bengal observed a total strike on November 11th & 12th, 2014 bringing the industry to a halt. The strike was called by a joint forum of 23 trade unions demanding minimum wages of tea garden workers who still get paid a paltry wage of Rs 90 to Rs 95 per day.


United Tea Workers Front (UTWF) congratulates all workers across Darjeeling, Dooars & Terai for the complete success of this strike. UTWF feels that the resolute unity shown by almost all trade unions in the midst of adversities is also exemplary.


The strike shows that the struggle for decent living wages of the tea plantation workers has entered a new phase. It has received wide support from the people of North Bengal, as is evident from their participation in the general strike. The abysmally low wages of tea workers have also been condemned by many other sections of the public in Bengal.  On the other hand the State Government is in a state of inertia. It had called one meeting of all trade unions on the 5thof November 2014, and is calling another on the 17th of November 2014. Unless it has something fresh to propose as action by or against the owners and unless it takes steps to declare minimum wages, such meetings seems futile.


Even though tea plantation workers continue to be one of the lowest paid workers in the country, with owners reaping profits at their expense, the plantation owners are stubborn towards any proposal to ensure decent living conditions for the workers in the industry. The current wage negotiations for the period April 2014 - March 2017 has virtually collapsed since the owners refuse to agree to any respectable settlement for the workers. UTWF condemns the obstinacy of the tea plantation owners led by their apex body, Consultative Committee of Plantation Associations (CCPA) which has almost closed all doors for any meaningful dialogue for the solution of the miserable conditions in which workers find themselves. The miserable wages in the sector binds workers to a vicious circle of poverty, poor literacy and ill-health, with children of tea workers ending up in the same ill-paid work as their parents and grandparents before them.


UTWF notes that the role of the government has been inadequate and therefore, unsatisfactory. Instead of pro-actively forcing the plantation owners to ensure living wages for the workers it has almost been silent on this issue. It has even failed to come out with a mere notification for the workers of the tea industry and has only proposed meager increases of Rs 40 in three years. Rather than confronting errant owners for their failure to guarantee the basic needs of nutrition, health, education and housing of the workers and their families, as required under the Plantation Labour Act, 1951 it has nearly let them off the hook by acting passive.


We would urge the State Government to take pro-active steps to end the impasse in the tea sector before things spin out of control. We demand that they immediately start the process of declaration of minimum wages in the tea sector, while at the same time taking action against errant and inhuman employers. One thing is for sure, the workers in this sector and the  public in general will not silently tolerate the injustice meted out for ages.


Anuradha Talwar

Principal Convenor


TELEPHONE - (033) 2543 5381 TELEFAX - (033) 2538 2064


E-MAIL -  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

One hundred years ago: Two calls to struggle against the First World War

One hundred years ago: Two calls to struggle against the First World War




Shortly after the outbreak of the First World War, 100 years ago, two Russian socialist leaders, V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky, published antiwar manifestos that greatly influenced the international socialist response to the conflict.



Lenin’s appeal, “The Tasks of Revolutionary Social Democracy in the European War,” republished below, was adopted by a meeting of exiled members of the Russian socialism’s Bolshevik current in Bern, Switzerland, in early September 1914. (The term Social Democracy then was used to designate for the socialist movement as a whole.) Trotsky’s text, “The Revolutionary Epoch,” also below, was written in October, as part of his pamphlet War and the International. It was published in Golos, a Paris daily newspaper edited by the Menshevik Julius Martov, starting in November 1914.

Initially, both texts reached only a limited audience. Even so, their publication was a major event for the socialist movement that had been devastated by the outbreak of war in August. The socialist International had collapsed ignominiously that month, as its major parties–Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, and Great Britain–pledged support to their national ruling classes in prosecuting the murderous conflict.

Socialists who remained loyal to their movement’s antiwar program were hard hit by their parties’ betrayal and by the impact of censorship and repression. In Germany, for example, it wasn’t until December that the antiwar socialists were able to make a public declaration.

Russian socialists responded more quickly. It was many weeks before any copies of either Lenin’s or Trotsky’s appeals made their way to Russia. However, socialists working underground in Russia did not wait for direction from their émigré leadership–they circulated several militant antiwar statements in the first days of the war.During 1915, the positions advanced by Trotsky and Lenin became identified with two parallel currents of antiwar socialism.

Their texts were identical in their fundamental thrust, opposing the imperialist war and the annexations and reparations demanded by the warring countries. They both demanded national self-determination and called for a republican United States of Europe. But the appeals advanced differing orientations for struggle.

Each drew inspiration from a different phrase in a single sentence of the antiwar appeal adopted by three prewar international socialist congresses. The sentence in question stated that socialists’ duty in a European war was to “intervene for its speedy termination and to strive with all their power to utilize the economic and political crisis created by the war to rouse the masses and thereby hasten the downfall of capitalist class rule” [1]. This is additional text.

Taking his cue from the words “intervene for speedy termination,” Trotsky called for socialists to rally for “an immediate cessation of the war.” Lenin, by contrast, focused on the need to utilize the wartime crisis for a revolutionary struggle against the “reactionary and bourgeois governments,” an approach which soon led him to call for “conversion of the present imperialist war into a civil war.”

Trotsky’s text stands as a celebrated portrayal of the world war’s impact on workers in Europe. Lenin offered a chiseled, condensed action program. Both positions were presented at the historic September 1915 international socialist antiwar conference in Zimmerwald, Switzerland. Lenin and Trotsky later joined with supporters of both views in carrying out the Russian Revolution.

John Riddell

 The Tasks of Revolutionary Social Democracy in the European War

V.I. Lenin

Resolution of a Group of Social Democrats

1. The European and world war has the clearly defined character of a bourgeois, imperialist and dynastic war. A struggle for markets and for freedom to loot foreign countries, a striving to suppress the revolutionary movement of the proletariat and democracy in the individual countries, a desire to deceive, disunite, and slaughter the proletarians of all countries by setting the wage slaves of one nation against those of another so as to benefit the bourgeoisie–these are the only real content and significance of the war.

2. The conduct of the leaders of the German Social-Democratic Party, the strongest and the most influential in the Second International (1889-1914), a party which has voted for war credits and repeated the bourgeois-chauvinist phrases of the Prussian Junkers and the bourgeoisie, is sheer betrayal of socialism. Under no circumstances can the conduct of the leaders of the German Social-Democratic Party be condoned, even if we assume that the party was absolutely weak and had temporarily to bow to the will of the bourgeois majority of the nation. This party has in fact adopted a national-liberal policy.

3. The conduct of the Belgian and French Social-Democratic party leaders, who have betrayed socialism by entering bourgeois governments, is just as reprehensible.

4. The betrayal of socialism by most leaders of the Second International (1889-1914) signifies the ideological and political bankruptcy of the International. This collapse has been mainly caused by the actual prevalence in it of petty-bourgeois opportunism, the bourgeois nature and the danger of which have long been indicated by the finest representatives of the revolutionary proletariat of all countries. The opportunists had long been preparing to wreck the Second International by denying the socialist revolution and substituting bourgeois reformism in its stead, by rejecting the class struggle with its inevitable conversion at certain moments into civil war, and by preaching class collaboration; by preaching bourgeois chauvinism under the guise of patriotism and the defense of the fatherland, and ignoring or rejecting the fundamental truth of socialism, long ago set forth in the Communist Manifesto, that the workingmen have no country; by confining themselves, in the struggle against militarism, to a sentimental philistine point of view, instead of recognizing the need for a revolutionary war by the proletarians of all countries, against the bourgeoisie of all countries; by making a fetish of the necessary utilization of bourgeois parliamentarianism and bourgeois legality, and forgetting that illegal forms which has long taken a national liberal stand, is very properly celebrating its victory over European socialism. The so-called Centre of the German and other Social-Democratic parties has in actual fact faint-heartedly capitulated to the opportunists. It must be the task of the future International resolutely and irrevocably to rid itself of this bourgeois trend in socialism.

5. With reference to the bourgeois and chauvinist sophisms being used by the bourgeois parties and the governments of the two chief rival nations of the Continent–the German and the French–to fool the masses most effectively, and being copied by both the overt and covert socialist opportunists, who are slavishly following in the wake of the bourgeoisie, one must particularly note and brand the following:

When the German bourgeois refer to the defense of the fatherland and to the struggle against tsarism, and insist on the freedom of cultural and national development, they are lying, because it has always been the policy of Prussian Junkerdom, headed by Wilhelm II, and the big bourgeoisie of Germany, to defend the tsarist monarchy; whatever the outcome of the war, they are sure to try to bolster it. They are lying because, in actual fact, the Austrian bourgeoisie have launched a robber campaign against Serbia, and the German bourgeoisie are oppressing Danes, Poles, and Frenchmen (in Alsace-Lorraine); they are waging a war of aggression against Belgium and France so as to loot the richer and freer countries; they have organized an offensive at a moment which seemed best for the use of the latest improvements in military matériel, and on the eve of the introduction of the so-called big military program in Russia.

Similarly, when the French bourgeois refer to the defense of the fatherland, etc., they are lying, because in actual fact they are defending countries that are backward in capitalist technology and are developing more slowly, and because they spend thousands of millions to hire Russian Tsarism’s Black-Hundred gangs for a war of aggression, i.e., the looting of Austrian and German lands.

Neither of the two belligerent groups of nations is second to the other in cruelty and atrocities in warfare.

6. It is the first and foremost task of Russian Social-Democrats to wage a ruthless and all-out struggle against Great-Russian and tsarist-monarchist chauvinism, and against the sophisms used by the Russian liberals, Cadets, a section of the Narodniks, and other bourgeois parties, in defense of that chauvinism. From the viewpoint of the working class and the toiling masses of all the peoples of Russia, the defeat of the tsarist monarchy and its army, which oppress Poland, the Ukraine, and many other peoples of Russia, and foment hatred among the peoples so as to increase Great-Russian oppression of the other nationalities, and consolidate the reactionary and barbarous government of the tsar’s monarchy, would be the lesser evil by far.

7. The following must now be the slogans of Social-Democracy:

First, all-embracing propaganda, involving the army and the theatre of hostilities as well, for the socialist revolution and the need to use weapons, not against their brothers, the wage slaves in other countries, but against the reactionary and bourgeois governments and parties of all countries; the urgent necessity of organizing illegal nuclei and groups in the armies of all nations, to conduct such propaganda, in all languages; a merciless struggle against the chauvinism and “patriotism” of the philistines and bourgeoisie of all countries without exception. In the struggle against the leaders of the present International, who have betrayed socialism, it is imperative to appeal to the revolutionary consciousness of the working masses, who bear the entire burden of the war and are in most cases hostile to opportunism and chauvinism.

Secondly, as an immediate slogan, propaganda for republics in (Germany, Poland, Russia, and other countries, and for the transforming of all the separate states of Europe into a republican United States of Europe.

Thirdly and particularly, a struggle against the tsarist monarchy and Great-Russian, Pan-Slavist chauvinism, and advocacy of a revolution in Russia, as well as of the liberation of and self-determination for nationalities oppressed by Russia, coupled with the immediate slogans of a democratic republic, the confiscation of the landed estates, and an eight-hour working day.

(signed:) A group of Social-Democrats, members of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party

Written no later than September 6, 1914. The text has been taken from the Marxists Internet Archive [2], where it is accompanied by footnotes by Progress Publishers.

 The Revolutionary Epoch

Leon Trotsky

The epoch of the awakening, the enlightenment, and the organization of the working-class revealed that it has tremendous resources of revolutionary energy that found no adequate employment in the daily struggle. The Social Democracy summoned the upper strata of the proletariat into the field, but it also checked their revolutionary energy by adopting the tactics it was obliged to adopt, the tactics of waiting (“attrition”), the strategy of letting your opponent exhaust himself. The character of this period was so prolonged and reactionary that it did not allow the Social Democracy the opportunity to give the proletariat tasks that would have engaged their entire spirit of sacrifice.Imperialism is now giving the proletariat such tasks. And imperialism attained its object by pushing the proletariat into a position of “national defence.” To the workers, this meant the defence of all that their hands had created, not only the immense wealth of the nation, but also their own class organizations, their treasuries, their press, in short, everything they had struggled for, untiringly and painfully, and achieved in the course of several decades. Imperialism violently threw society off its balance, destroyed the sluice-gates built by the Social Democracy to regulate the current of proletarian revolutionary energy, and guided this current into its own bed.

But this terrific historical experiment, which at one blow broke the back of the Socialist International, carries a deadly danger for bourgeois society itself. The hammer is wrenched out of the worker’s hand and replaced by a gun. And the worker, who has been tied down by the machinery of the capitalist system, is suddenly torn from his usual setting and taught to place the aims of society above happiness at home and even life itself.

Holding in his hand the weapon he himself has forged, the worker is put in a position where the political destiny of the state is directly dependent upon him. Those who in normal times exploited and scorned him, now flatter him and toady to him. At the same time he comes into intimate contact with the cannon, which Lassalle called one of the most important elements in every constitutions. He crosses the border, takes part in forceful requisitions, and helps in the transfer of cities from one party to another. Changes are taking place such as the present generation has never before seen.

Even though the vanguard of the working class knew in theory that might makes right, still their political thinking was completely permeated by the spirit of opportunism, of adaptation to bourgeois legalism. Now they are learning from life to despise this legalism and tear it down. Now the static forces in their psychology are replaced by dynamic ones. The great guns are hammering into their heads the idea that if it is impossible to get around an obstacle, it is possible to destroy it. Almost the entire adult male population is going through this school of war, so terrible in its realism, a school which is forming a new human type. Iron necessity is now shaking its fist at all the rules of bourgeois society, at its laws, its morality, its religion. “Necessity knows no law,” said the German Chancellor on August 4 [1914]. Monarchs walk about in public places calling each other liars in the language of market women; governments repudiate their solemnly acknowledged obligations; and the national church ties its God to the national cannon like a criminal condemned to hard labour. Is it not clear that all these circumstances must bring about a profound change in the mental attitude of the working class, curing them radically of the hypnosis of legality in which a period of political stagnation expresses itself?

The possessing classes, to their consternation, will soon have to recognize this change. A working class that has been through the school of war will feel the need of using the language of force as soon as the first serious obstacle faces them within their own country. “Necessity knows no law,” the workers will cry when the attempt is made to hold them back at the command of bourgeois law. And poverty, the terrible poverty that prevails during this war and will continue after its close, will be such as to force the masses to violate many a bourgeois law. The general economic exhaustion in Europe will affect the proletariat most immediately and most severely. The war will deplete the state’s material resources, and there will be very little possibility of satisfying the demands of the working masses. This must lead to profound political conflicts, which, ever widening and deepening, may take on the character of a social revolution, the progress and outcome of which no one, of course, can now foresee.

On the other hand, the war, with its armies of millions and its hellish weapons of destruction, can exhaust not only society’s resources but also the moral forces of the proletariat. If it does not meet internal resistance, this war may last for several years more, with changing fortunes on both sides, until the chief belligerents are completely exhausted. But then the whole fighting energy of the international proletariat, brought to the surface by the bloody conspiracy of imperialism, will be completely consumed in the horrible work of mutual annihilation. The outcome would be that our entire civilization would be set back by many decades. A peace resulting not from the will of the awakened peoples but from the mutual exhaustion of the belligerents, would be like the peace with which the Balkan War was concluded; it would be a Bucharest Peace extended to the whole of Europe.

Such a peace would seek to patch up anew the contradictions, antagonisms and deficiencies that have led to the present war. And, along with many other things, the socialist work of two generations would vanish in a sea of blood without leaving a trace behind.

Which of the two prospects is the more probable? This cannot possibly be theoretically determined in advance. The issue depends entirely upon the activity of the vital forces of society–above all upon the revolutionary Social Democracy.

“Immediate cessation of the war” is the slogan under which the Social Democracy can reassemble its scattered ranks, both within the national parties, and in the whole International. The proletariat cannot make its will to peace dependent upon the strategic considerations of the general staffs. On the contrary, it must oppose its desire for peace to these military considerations. What the warring governments call a struggle for national self-preservation is in reality a mutual national annihilation. Real national self-defence now consists in the struggle for peace.

Such a struggle for peace means for us not only a fight to save humanity’s material and cultural possessions from further insane destruction. It is for us primarily a fight to preserve the revolutionary energy of the proletariat.

To assemble the ranks of the proletariat in a fight for peace means to confront against frenzied imperialism once again, all down the line, with the forces of revolutionary socialism.

The conditions upon which peace should be concluded–the peace of the people themselves, and not the reconciliation of the diplomats–must be the same for the whole International.

No reparations!

The right to every nation to self-determination!

The United States of Europe–without monarchies, without standing armies, without ruling feudal castes, without secret diplomacy!

Agitation for peace, which must be conducted using all the means now at the disposal of Social Democracy as well as those which, with a will, it could acquire, will not only tear the workers out of their nationalistic hypnosis; it will also do the rescue work of inner purification in the present official parties of the proletariat. The national revisionists and the socialist patriots in the Second International, who have been exploiting for national militaristic aims the influence that socialism has acquired over the working masses, must be thrust back into the camp of the enemies of the working class by uncompromising revolutionary agitation for peace.

Now more than ever, revolutionary Social Democracy need not fear isolation. The war is making the most terrible agitation against itself. Every day that the war lasts will bring new masses of people to our banner, if it is an honest banner of peace and democracy. The surest way by which the Social Democracy can isolate the militaristic reaction in Europe and force it to take the offensive is by the slogan of peace.

Written October 31, 1914. The text has been taken from the Marxists Internet Archive [3] and edited on the basis of a comparison with the German version [4].




[1] for more on the origin of the prewar appeal, see my previous article “100 years ago: Capitalism’s world war and the battle against it”, available on ESSF (article 32707).

[2] http://www.marxists.org/archive/len...

[3] http://www.marxists.org/archive/tro...

[4] http://www.marxists.org/deutsch/arc...


The Insurrection of 25 October 1917

Victor Serge

Year One of the Russian Revolution

The Insurrection of 25 October 1917



From the rostrum Trotsky had just announced the withdrawal of the Bolsheviks from the Pre-Parliament (Democratic Conference). His voice, grating metallically, hurled the defiance of proletariat and peasantry before the highest authority of the Republic. Then he went out, passing in front of the sailors who were guarding the hall. As he passed them their bayonets wavered, and hard faces with burning eyes turned to the man who had just spoken. Gesturing with their bayonets, they asked him:

‘When do we use these?’

It was 6 October. The Democratic Conference, a mock parliament for the revolution summoned by the S-Rs and Mensheviks, had opened in Moscow in the middle of the previous month. Strikes had forced it out of the city; the staff in hotels and restaurants had refused to wait upon its members. It had now been transferred to Petrograd, and was deliberating under the protection of a picked unit of the most reliable sailors. But the bayonets of these men shuddered at the passage of a Bolshevik spokesman:

‘When do we use these?’ [1]

This state of feeling was general in the fleet. Two weeks before 25 October, the sailors of the Baltic squadron, anchored at Helsinki, demanded that no more time be lost, and that the destruction of the fleet by the Germans, which now appears to us to be inevitable, should be made holy by insurrection. [2] They were willing to die: but only for the revolution. Since 15 May the Kronstadt Soviet had refused to recognize the Provisional Government. After the July riots, the commissars sent by Kerensky to board ships and arrest ‘Bolshevik agitators’ received only this curt response: ‘Agitators? We are all agitators.’ It was true. The masses had innumerable agitators.

Delegates from the trenches came to the Petrograd Soviet with speeches of denunciation:

How much longer is this unbearable situation going to last? The soldiers have mandated us to tell you that if peace proposals are not presented immediately and seriously, the trenches will empty and the whole army will come home. You are forgetting all about us! If you cannot find the answer to the situation we shall chase out our enemies ourselves, at bayonet-point – but you will go with them!

Such, Trotsky relates, was the language of the front. [3]

At the beginning of October the insurrection broke out everywhere, spontaneously; peasant risings spread all over the country.

The provinces of Tula, Tambov, Ryazan and Kaluga are in revolt.

The peasants have been expecting peace and land from the revolution. They have been disappointed; and so they rise, seize the granaries of the landlords, and burn down their houses. The Kerensky government re-presses the risings wherever it has the force to do so. Fortunately its resources are limited. Lenin warns that ‘to crush the peasant upsurge means the murder of the revolution’. [4]

Within the Soviets of the cities and the armies, the Bolsheviks, until recently a minority, become the majority. In the Moscow Municipal Duma elections, they win 199,337 votes out of 387,262. Of the 710 members elected, 350 were Bolsheviks, 184 Kadets, 104 Socialist-Revolutionaries, thirty-one Mensheviks and forty-one other groups. On the eve of civil war, the moderate, middle-ground parties now fall back, and the extreme parties gain. At a time when the Mensheviks are losing all real influence, and the governing S-R party, which only a short while before appeared to carry immense weight, is reduced to the third place, the Kadets – the bourgeoisie’s own party – acquire new strength as they line up to face the revolutionaries. At the last elections in June the S-Rs and the Mensheviks had obtained seventy per cent of the vote: their share now is eighteen per cent. Of the 17,000 soldiers who vote, 14,000 are for the Bolsheviks.

The Soviets are becoming transformed. Once the strongholds of the Mensheviks and the S-Rs, they are becoming Bolshevized. There are new majorities forming in them. On 31 August in Petrograd and on 6 September in Moscow, the Bolshevik resolutions put before the Soviet obtain a majority for the first time. On 8 September, the Menshevik-S-R executives of the two Soviets resign. On 25 September, Trotsky is elected President of the Petrograd Soviet. Nogin [5] is elected to the same position in Moscow. On 20 September, the Soviet in Tashkent takes power. It is suppressed by the troops of the Provisional Government.[6] On 27 September, the Soviet in Reval decides in principle for ‘all power to the Soviets’. A few days before the October Revolution, Kerensky’s democratic’ artillery fires upon the revolutionary Soviet at Kaluga.

A little-known fact is worth recording here. At Kazan, the October insurrection triumphed before it had even begun in Petrograd. One of those who took part relates this dialogue between two militants at Kazan:

‘What would you have done if the Soviets had not taken power in Petrograd?’

‘It was impossible for us to refuse power, the garrison wouldn’t let us.’

‘Moscow would have rubbed you out.’

‘No, you are wrong. Moscow could never have got past the forty thousand soldiers we had at Kazan.’ [7]

All over this immense country, the whole labouring masses are moving towards revolution: peasants, workers, soldiers. It is an elemental, irresistible surge, with the force of an ocean.


The masses have a million faces: far from being homogeneous, they are dominated by various and contradictory class interests; the sole means by which they can attain a clear-sighted consciousness – without which no successful action is possible – lies in organization. The rebel masses of Russia in 1917 rose to a clear consciousness of their necessary tasks, of their means and the objectives, through the organ of the Bolshevik party. This is not a theory, it is a statement of the facts. In this situation we can see, in superb relief, the relations that obtain between the party, the working class and the toiling masses in general. It is what they actually want, however confusedly, the sailors at Kronstadt, the soldiers in Kazan, the workers of Petrograd, Ivanovo-Voznesensk, Moscow and everywhere, the peasants ransacking the landlords’ mansions; it is what they all want without having the power to express their hopes firmly, to match them against the economic and the political realities, to formulate the most practical aims and choose the best means of attaining them, to select the most favourable moment for action, to extend the action from one end of the country to the other, to provide the exchanges of information and the necessary discipline, to co-ordinate the innumerable separate efforts that are going on – it is what they really want, without being able to constitute themselves into (in a word) a force of the requisite intelligence, training, will and myriad energy. What they want, then, the party expresses at a conscious level, and then carries out. The party reveals to them what they have been thinking. It is the bond which unites them from one end of the country to the other. The party is their consciousness, their organization.

When the gunners of the Baltic fleet grew anxious for the perils hanging over the revolution, and sought a way forward, it was the Bolshevik agitator who pointed a way. And there was no other way, that much was clear. When the soldiers in the trenches wanted to voice their determination to finish with the butchery, they elected, to the committee of their battalion, the candidates of the Bolshevik party. When the peasants became tired of the procrastinations of ‘their’ Socialist-Revolutionary party, and began to ask whether it was not time to act for themselves, it was Lenin’s voice that reached them: ‘Peasant, seize the land!’ When the workers sensed counter-revolutionary intrigue all about them, it was Pravda that brought them the slogans of action that they already half-knew, the words of revolutionary necessity. In front of the Bolshevik poster the wretched folk passing by in the street stop and exclaim, ‘That’s just it!’ That is just it. This voice is their own.

That is why the progress of the masses towards revolution is reflected in one great political fact: the Bolsheviks, a small revolutionary minority in March, become in September and October the party of the majority. Any distinction between the party and the masses becomes impossible, it is all one multitude. Doubtless, scattered among the crowds, there were many other revolutionaries: Left S-Rs (the most numerous), anarchists and Maximalists [8], who also aim towards the revolution. These are a handful of men swept along by events, leaders who are being led. How clouded their perception of realities is, we shall see by many instances. It is the Bolsheviks who, owing to their accurate theoretical appraisal of the dynamism of events, become identified both with the labouring masses and with the necessity of history. ‘The Communists have no other interests distinct from those of the working class as a whole’: thus the Manifesto of Marx and Engels. This sentence, written in 1847, now appears to us as one of fantastic foresight.

Since the July days, the party has passed through a period of illegality and persecution, and is now barely tolerated. It forms itself into an assault column. From its members, it demands self-denial, passion and discipline; in return, it offers only the satisfaction of serving the proletariat. Yet we see its forces grow. In April it had numbered seventy-two organizations with a member-ship of 80,000. By the end of July its forces numbered 200,000 members, in 162 organizations.


The Bolshevik party had been marching towards the seizure of power, with its astonishing steadfastness, lucidity and skill, ever since the fall of the autocracy. To be convinced of this it is necessary simply to read Letters from Afar, written by Lenin before his departure from Zurich in March 1917. But perhaps, like any historical definition that tries to be precise, that is too narrow a statement. The party had been marching towards power ever since the day when its obscure Central Committee of emigrés (like Lenin and Zinoviev) declared, in 1914, that imperialist war must be transformed into civil war’, or since the even earlier day when it was born as a party of civil war at the London Congress of 1903.

When Lenin arrived in Petrograd, on 3 April 1917, he proceeded to amend the political line of the party’s central news-paper; this done, he set about defining the objectives of the working class. Tirelessly he urged the Bolshevik militants to use persuasion to win the working masses. In the first days of July, when an infuriated popular upsurge broke for the first time against the Kerensky administration, the Bolsheviks refused to follow this movement. These are leaders, in the real sense of the word, who are refusing to be led. They want to avoid a premature insurrection: the provinces are not ready, the situation is not ripe. They pull back the movement, resist the stream, risk unpopularity. The proletariat’s consciousness embodied in the party is entering into a momentary conflict with the revolutionary impatience of the masses. It is a dangerous conflict. If the enemy had been bolder and more intelligent, the masses’ impatience would have given it an easy victory. ‘Now,’ said Lenin to his friends, just after the July riots, ‘they’re going to shoot the lot of us.’ In theory Lenin might have been right; it was perhaps the bourgeoisie’s sole chance to reduce the proletariat with a preventive slaughter that would have been effective for months, if not years. Fortunately, the bourgeoisie was less skilful at its own game than Lenin was. It lacked daring (it certainly did not lack the intention).

After July, the more energetic bourgeois leaders thought of remedying this deficiency. They had ideas of a ‘strong’ authority. Russia was between two dictatorships – Kerensky’s administration could now be no more than an interregnum. Kornilov’s abortive coup (secretly aided by Savinkov and Kerensky) unleashed a fresh mobilization of the proletariat. The situation worsened, threatening to become quite desperate for the proletariat, whose privations grew daily. The workers felt, correctly, that if they could not win they would be beaten into the ground. Likewise for the peasantry: the situation worsened as they saw the agrarian revolution, promised to them by the S-Rs who were now in power, constantly deferred and in danger of summary suppression by some Napoleon of counter-revolutionary reaction. For the army and the fleet it worsened as they were still compelled to wage a hopeless war in the service of enemy classes. It worsened for the bourgeoisie, whose position was getting more precarious each day through the collapse of the transport system, depreciation of industrial equipment, defeats at the front, the crisis of production, the famine, the unruliness of the masses, the lack of authority of the new government, and the feebleness of its coercive machine.

After the July days, Lenin had remarked to V. Bonch-Bruyevich: ‘The insurrection is absolutely unavoidable. In a short while it will become imperative. It cannot fail to take place.’ From mid-September on, the party begins to prepare itself decisively for the battle. The Democratic Conference, which is supposed to act as a preparatory Parliament, is in session from 14-22 September.

Lenin, in hiding at the time, insistently demands the recall of the Bolshevik faction from the Conference, where some of the comrades would be tempted to take the role of a parliamentary opposition (though a vocal one). Supported by the majority of the party, Lenin’s line carries the day, and the Bolsheviks march out, slamming the door behind them. Trotsky reads their declaration to the remaining delegates.

The impassioned speech’ of L.D. Trotsky, who had just tasted the joys of prison life under the government of the bourgeoisie and the Mensheviks, cut like a sword through all the plots concocted by the various orators of the Centre. He told them, clearly and unmistakeably, that there was no road back for us; that the workers had no retreat in mind, and saw no other way forward except that of a new revolution. He was heard in complete silence; a tremor passed over the comfortable seats and the boxes occupied by the leaders of the bourgeoisie.... From the gallery and balcony, applause thundered down ... With this the will to insurrection was clearly affirmed, and all the tact and authority of the Central Committee was needed to stop it from proceeding to immediate action, for it was still too soon – the July days could have had an even bloodier repetition.[9]

In the last days of September (alternatively the first days of October) the Central Committee of the Bolsheviks (Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Sverdlov, Yakovleva, Oppokov, Zinoviev, Kamenev) met in Petrograd, in the apartment of the Menshevik Sukhanov. Even the principle of the insurrection was in dispute. Kamenev and Zinoviev (Nogin and Rykov, who were of the same opinion, being absent from this meeting) stated their view that the insurrection might perhaps itself be successful, but that it would be almost impossible to maintain power afterwards owing to the economic pressures and the crisis in the food supply. The majority voted for the insurrection, and actually fixed the date for 15 October. [10] Let us insist on one point in this connection. This difference of judgement must emphatically not be taken as a sign of any tendency towards opportunism or Menshevik feebleness in men who had proved themselves in years of struggle and who later, throughout the whole of the civil war, were exempt from any charge of faint-heartedness. It may be taken as indicating that certain tried revolutionists were inclined to overestimate the strength of the enemy and to lack confidence, to a certain extent, in the forces of the proletariat. One does not play at insurrection. It is the duty of all revolutionaries to weigh in advance every eventuality and possibility. If they are concerned at the possible defeat of the revolution their apprehension has nothing in common with the counter-revolutionary fears of opportunists, who dread nothing more than the victory of the proletariat. Still, since these legitimate fears rested on a faulty interpretation of reality, they were immensely dangerous for the party’s whole activity, which they could have warped irreparably. Time works in favour of revolution at certain hours; works against it once the hour has passed; and an action postponed may well become an action lost to history. For its hesitation in 1920, the Italian proletariat has paid very dearly; the opportunity which was offered the German proletariat in 1923 [11] will, no doubt of it, recur: but when? The error of the Bolshevik opponents of the insurrection was therefore a most serious one, as they have since admitted. [12]

On 10 October, the Central Committee of the Bolshevik party (present: Lenin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Stalin, Trotsky, Sverdlov, Uritsky, Dzerzhinsky, Kollontai, Bubnov, Sokolnikov and Lomov) voted ten to two in favour of immediate preparation for the insurrection. The work of preparation was assigned to a Political Bureau consisting of Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Stalin, Kamenev, Sokolnikov and Bubnov.


Within the party, the relationship which holds between the mass of militants and the leadership may be compared to that obtaining between the working masses and the party itself.

The party is the nervous system of the working class, its brain. The leaders and the key members perform the role of brain and nervous system within the organism of the party also. This comparison must not be taken in a literal sense: functions in a biological organism are differentiated in a manner very different from the allocation of functions in a social group. But, however politic-ally conscious they may be, the rank and file of the party is unable to get to know the situation as a whole. Whatever the personal worth of these comrades, they must inevitably lack information, liaison, training and the revolutionary’s theoretical and professional preparation, if they are not within that core of party members who have been selected and tried by long years of struggle and work, enjoy the goodwill of the movement as a whole, have access to the apparatus of the party, and are accustomed to thinking and working collectively. Just as the soldier in the trenches sees only a tiny portion of the battlefield and cannot, whatever his personal talents may be, acquire a clear picture of the action under way, just as the engineering worker at his machine cannot take in the functioning of the whole factory at a glance, so the rank-and-file party member, on the basis of his own resources, can only make his mind up through general ideas and judgements, and through acquaintance with a partial area of reality. True proletarian leaders are, all at the same time, guides, pilots, captains and directors: of enterprises: I mean the formidable enter-prise of demolishing a social system and constructing another. They have to uncover, by the scientific analysis of historic processes, the tendency of events and the possibilities that are open in them. They have to grasp the action that is possible and necessary for the proletariat, according with historical necessity and not with its wish or hope of the moment. [13] In a word, they must see reality, grasp possibility, and conceive the action which will be the link between the real and the possible. In doing so, the only vantage-point they can ever adopt is that of the proletariat’s own higher interests. Their whole thinking has to be that of the proletariat, with the advantage of scientific discipline. Proletarian class-consciousness attains its highest expression in the leaders of the organized vanguard of the working class. As personalities, they are great only in the measure that they incarnate the masses. In this sense only they are giants – anonymous giants. In voicing the consciousness of the mass they display a virtue which, for the proletariat, is sheer necessity: a terrible impersonality.

So much is true. But the value of such leaders – the genius of a Lenin – lies in the fact that the development of class-consciousness is not foreordained from all time; mass consciousness can remain latent and unexpressed at a particular moment; the possibilities contained in the situation need never be perceived; the action necessary for the victory or the safety of the proletariat may never be devised. The recent history of the proletariat in western Europe offers only too many examples of opportunities missed through the failure of class consciousness to crystallize.

We can define the proletarian leader, finally, this man of a new epoch, by contrasting him with the leaders of the possessing classes both of today and of previous eras. The latter are the blind instruments of history; the revolutionary is its conscious instrument. [14]

The October Revolution offers us an almost perfect model of the proletarian party. Relatively few as they may be, its militants live with the masses and among them. Long and testing years – a revolution, then illegality, exile, prison, endless ideological battles – have given it excellent activists and real leaders, whose parallel thinking was strengthened in collective action. Personal initiative and the panache of strong personalities were balanced by intelligent centralization, voluntary discipline and respect for recognized mentors. Despite the efficiency of its organizational apparatus, the party suffered not the slightest bureaucratic deformation. No fetishism of organizational forms can be observed in it; it is free of decadent and even of dubious traditions; its dominant tradition is that of the war against opportunism – it is revolutionary down to the marrow of its bones. This makes it all the more remarkable that profound and persistent hesitations arose in its leading circles on the eve of action, and that several of its most important members declared themselves strongly opposed to the seizure of power.


We have already remarked the powerful unity of character possessed by Lenin. He was a man hewn of a single block, totally devoted, at every moment of his life, to one sole work. He was one with his party, and through the party, with the proletariat. In the decisive hours he was one with the whole working people of Russia, and with the proletarians and oppressed peoples, of all the countries in the world that lay beyond the bloody frontiers. That is the reason for his emergence in October 1917 as the unchallenged, unrivalled leader of the proletarian revolution.

The spirit of the masses during September and October has been described. In the middle of September Lenin sends an urgent letter to the Central Committee calling on them to seize power without delay. Another letter follows almost immediately, dealing with Marxism and Insurrection. Even before the seizure of power, Lenin (who knows that power is sometimes harder to hold than to acquire, and that it is essential to disclose to revolutionaries what strength they have) writes his pamphlet entitled Will the Bolsheviks Retain State Power? This is at the end of September. On 7 October, a new article, a new call: ‘The Revolutionary Crisis has Matured’. From this moment on, he is possessed by a raging impatience. His letters follow, persuasive, authoritative, urging, hectoring, to the Central Committee, to the party, to the membership. Over the head of the Central Committee he addresses the Moscow and the Petrograd committees at the beginning of October: To Temporise Now is a Crime. On 8 October, his Advice from an Outsider on the insurrection appears. On 16-17 October comes a long and memorable letter, To the Comrades, energetically refuting the arguments of those opposed to the rising. The last hesitations are now overcome. Lenin the leader, moulded over twenty-three years of struggle since 1895, acting in unison with the peasants, workers, soldiers, sailors and the whole labouring people, has marked the hour and given the signal for the crucial act. It still needed all his energy, allied with the efforts of other comrades, to surmount the hesitations that might have proved fatal.

His writings of this period have been collected in a book with the apt title On the Road to Insurrection. It is a vital work, whose significance has yet to be fully valued. A model of revolutionary dialectics, a treatise on the theory and practice of insurrection, a textbook on the art of winning the class war: we believe that it ranks with the Communist Manifesto, to which it forms, on the eve of the proletarian epoch, a necessary complement. [15]

Lenin’s doctrine of insurrection may be summed up in these lines: In order for an insurrection to be crowned with success it should have the support, not of a conspiracy, not of a party, but of the advanced class: that first of ’all. The insurrection must rest on a popular revolutionary upsurge: that is second. The insurrection must come at the historic turning-point of the expanding revolution, at the moment when the activity of the masses reaches its peak, and when the hesitation in the ranks of the enemy, and among the false friends of the revolution, the double-dealers and the fainthearts, reaches its peak. That is third. By thus posing the three conditions of insurrection, Marxism distinguishes itself from Blanquism [Marxism and Insurrection]. [16]

It is also summarized in this dictum of Marx: ‘Never play with insurrection, but once it is begun remember that it must be carried through to the end.’ [17]

Why is it that Lenin, among so many good revolutionists who like him aimed for the proletarian revolution, many of whom saw the way forward as clearly as he, still stands out at this time as the chief? Many responsible members in Moscow and Petrograd – and it would be wrong simply to restrict ourselves to the two capitals and the principal leaders – are going consciously on the same road to insurrection. Trotsky, the President of the Soviet, never had the slightest hesitation, from the moment of his arrival in Russia, on the road that must be followed; he was in complete agreement with Lenin, except over details of execution. [18] In the party’s Central Committee, the great majority of the militants vote for action. But none among these revolutionaries enjoys an ascendancy comparable to Lenin’s. Most of them are his pupils and recognize him as their master. Trotsky, whose talents as an organizer of victory now become strikingly revealed, has for many years been an isolated figure in the Russian Social-Democracy, equally distant both from the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks; to workers’ detachment tell the truth, he has never presented the impression of being a party leader. Many Bolsheviks still remember him as an adversary. He is a great newcomer, who has come on to the Central Committee at the end of July (at the Sixth Bolshevik Congress) a few days after joining the party. The simple, basic truth is that it is the party that makes the leader, for without the party there can be no leader. It is because he has been the creator of the proletarian party that Lenin becomes the leader of the revolution.


The events which now unfold in the two capitals are very different, but display a remarkable basic parallelism.

The initiative in forming the Red Guards in Petrograd came from the factory workers, who began it instinctively after the fall of Tsardom. In disarming the old order they had to begin to arm themselves. In April, two of the Bolshevik militants, Shlyapnikov [19] and Yeremeyev, began to put the spontaneous organization of the Red Guards into a systematic shape. The first regular units, if they can be called such, of’ this workers’ militia were formed in the outlying proletarian districts, principally in Vyborg. The Mensheviks and S-Rs tried, at first, to oppose the movement. At a closed session of the Soviet held in June, when they still had a majority, the Social-Democrat Tseretelli demanded the disarmament of the workers. He was too late. Proletarian command units had now been set up in every ward, and these were co-ordinated by a General Staff Headquarters for the city. Formed on a factory basis as a volunteer army – it was not individual workers but the factory as a whole that took the decision to enlist together or form its own unit-the first Red Guard detachments undertook the duty of protecting the great working-class demonstrations. During the July riots the Vyborg section kept the troops sent by Kerensky at a respectful distance. At this time Petrograd had about ten thou-sand Red Guards.

With Kornilov’s coup d’état (25-30 September) and the march of a Cossack division on the capital, the imminence of counter-revolution forced the Menshevik-S-R Soviet to arm the workers at speed. Not without friction: the munitions workers at Schiisselburg sent a bargeload of grenades, but the Soviet refused to take delivery of them – whereupon the Red Guard took delivery with-out further ado. The initiative of the workers made up for every-thing, sweeping past the insincerity and feeble will of the Socialists of ‘social peace’. The mobilization of the proletariat against Kornilov showed that an abortive counter-revolution can be as disastrous for the bourgeoisie as the failure of an insurrection is for the workers.

In September, the use of weapons was being taught in seventy-nine Petrograd factories. In a good many factories all the workers carried arms. The military organization of the Bolshevik party could not find enough instructors for these masses. On the eve of the October rising, the Red Guard numbered 20,000 men, organized in battalions of 400 to 600 each divided into three companies, a machine-gun section, a liaison section and an ambulance section. Some of the battalions had an armoured car. Non-commissioned officers (workers) headed the battalions and the companies. Duties were performed on a rota system, with two thirds of the workers at their jobs in the factory at any time, and the other third ‘on guard’, with wages at their job rate paid for time on duty. The rules of the Red Guard required, for admittance, sponsorship from a Socialist party, a factory committee or a trade union. Three absences without excuse were grounds for expulsion. Infractions of discipline were tried by a jury of comrades. Unauthorized use of arms was an offence, and orders had to be obeyed without discussion. Each Red Guard carried a numbered identity card. The officers were elected; in practice, though, they were often selected by factory committees and other working-class bodies, with nominations for senior posts always submitted to the ward Soviets for approval. If the officers had not already received military training they were obliged to take special courses. [20]

It is worth remarking that this impressive initiative on the party of Petrograd’s proletariat was the fulfilment of Lenin’s own wishes in the urgent advice he gave in one of his Letters From Afar, written from Zurich on 11 March 1917 (24, Old Style). This advice was ignored at the time and the letter was only published later on as a historical document. In it Lenin discusses the ‘proletarian militias’ and appeals to the workers: ‘Do not allow the police force to be re-established! Do not give up your own local organizations!’ And form a militia without delay, including the women and the young people. ‘ Miracles of organization must be achieved’, he concluded.

In Moscow, it proved to be much harder to establish the Red Guard. The authorities, who were headed by S-Rs and Mensheviks, succeeded in virtually disarming the workers and part of the garrison. Grenades had to be manufactured in secret and explosives obtained from the provinces. The organization of the command and of communications was deplorably late. These weaknesses and delays were to cost the proletariat of Moscow a bloody street battle lasting six days.

The military organization of the party now numbered more than 100,000 soldiers and a certain number of officers. Out of this, Military Revolutionary Committees were to be formed every-where, the organs that directed the insurrection.


The conflict between the two powers (Kerensky’s Provisional Government and the Soviet) entered a new, sharp phase from 16 October, when the Military Revolutionary Committee, headed by Antonov-Ovseyenko, Podvoisky and Chudnovsky, was formed by the Soviet. The garrison in Petrograd had now been won over to the Bolsheviks. The government tried to send the most revolutionary regiments off to the front, arguing that a German offensive was imminent. The MRC, now with its own communications, intelligence and munitions departments, began by appointing commissars in every unit of the troops. The bourgeoisie was arming – but the appointment of commissars at the arms depots put a stop to that. The delegates of the MRC were welcomed warmly by the soldiers, who knew that the Committee was determined to prevent them being sent off to the front. The MRC in effect refused to countersign the order for the departure of the Red regiments, pleading that it needed further information on the defence forces now available. The MRC now assumed the functions of a General Staff for the Red Guards, and issued definite instructions to the troops not to pay any attention to orders proceeding from their regular commanders. From then on, the insurrection was, as it were, latent. Two powers took the measure of one another, and two military authorities, one of them insurrectionary, deliberately countermanded each other’s orders.

The Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets was due to meet in Petrograd on 15 October. The Mensheviks succeeded in having it postponed until the 25th (7 November, New Style), thus gaining a respite of ten days for the bourgeoisie’s Provisional Government. Nobody could doubt that the Congress, where the Bolsheviks were certain of a majority, would vote for the seizure of power. ‘You are fixing the date of the revolution!’ said the Mensheviks to their Bolshevik opponents. In order that the predetermined conclusion of the Congress should not be a simple pipe-dream, it was necessary to support that decision by force of arms. Concerning the date of the uprising, two points of view were manifested: Trotsky wanted to link the action to the Congress itself, believing that an insurrection conducted on the party’s own initiative would have less chance of winning mass support; Lenin believed it ‘criminal’ to temporize until the Congress, since he feared that the Provisional Government would forestall the insurrection by a vigorous offensive. This fear, though legitimate, was not justified by the actual march of events: the enemy was caught napping.

In our opinion, the conflict here arose from two perfectly correct conceptions arising from different vantage-points. One stemmed from the strategic consideration of linking the party’s action with a demand immediately intelligible to the broadest mass of people (‘All power to the Soviets!’); this is, naturally, a condition of success. The other was based on the general policy of shattering any illusion that genuine proletarian power could be instituted before the insurrection. Once this possibility was admitted in theory, why not allow of power without an insurrection? There lay the slippery slope. Ever since 1906, Lenin had attacked the tendency to gloss over or discard the question of insurrection, in favour of the question of the organization of revolutionary power ... His position of realism could be summarized as: Conquer first! And so Lenin wanted the insurrection to precede the Congress, which would have no alternative but to sanction the accomplished deed. He urged this policy in a personal meeting with the organizers of the insurrection. [21] The details of the preparation interested him passionately: he would not have the attack put off at any price. Nevsky and Podvoisky tried vainly to persuade him that a few days’ extra preparation would only increase the chances of success. ’The enemy will profit by it too,’ he replied obstinately.

Antonov-Ovseyenko has left a vivid account of his meeting with Vladimir Ilyich a few days before the rising, in a house in the working-class district of Vyborg. Lenin arrived in disguise; he was wanted by Kerensky’s police and in the event of capture would doubtless have ended his days through an ‘accidental’ bullet.

We found ourselves in the presence of a little, grey-haired old man wearing pince-nez, wearing them with a proper, almost debonair style. One would have taken him for a musician, a schoolmaster or a second-hand book-dealer. He took off his wig, and we recognized his eyes, sparkling as usual with a glint of humour. ‘Any news?’ he asked. He was full of confidence. He wondered about our chances of calling the fleet up into Petrograd. Somebody objected that this would leave the front at sea undefended, and his reply was brusque: ‘Come now, the sailors must know that there is more danger to the revolution in Petrograd than on the Baltic.’

The Peter-Paul Fortress was a source of considerable disquiet to the Military Revolutionary Committee; it was situated in the centre of the city on an island in the Neva, and bristled with guns. Its artillery overlooked the Winter Palace and its armoury held 100,000 rifles. Its garrison appeared to be loyal to the Provisional Government. Trotsky proposed that the fortress should be taken from the inside – by holding a meeting there. He went there with Lashevich, and succeeded.

22 October was the Day of the Petrograd Soviet, the occasion of the great plebiscite of the insurrection, as it were. The immediate cause of its meeting was fairly trivial, as often happens when events of immense importance are in the course of accomplishment and the last link, often a slender one, appears in the long chain of causes. The Central Executive Committee of the Soviets, still under the sway of the social-peace Socialists, had charge of the funds of the Petrograd Soviet. The latter body needed a news-paper. It was decided to hold a series of large mass meetings on the 22nd with the aim of raising money for the foundation of the journal. The bourgeois press, terrified by this mobilization of masses, proclaimed that it was a riot, Kerensky gave out apparently forceful utterances which were nothing but wind: ‘All Russia is with us! We have nothing to fear!’ He issued a threat against ‘all those elements, groups and parties who are menacing the liberty of the Russian people, running the risk of opening the front to Germany, of a final and complete catastrophe’. A regular Galliffet or Cavaignac, [22] to all appearances. But his threats were empty. The 22nd saw a tremendous mobilization of the masses.

Every hall was filled to capacity. At the House of the People (Narodny Dom) thousands crammed the halls, the galleries, the corridors; in the great auditorium, human clusters were hanging, palpitating, like grapes from the metal structure of the building. John Reed was present. His notes on the gathering, where it was Trotsky’s voice that thrilled the crowd, deserve to be quoted: [23]

The people around me appeared to be in ecstasy. They seemed about to burst forth spontaneously in a religious hymn. Trotsky read a resolution to the general effect that they were ready to fight for the workers and peasants to the last drop of their blood ... Who was in favour of the resolution? The innumerable crowd raised their hands as a single man. I saw the burning eyes of men, women, adolescents, workers, soldiers, muzhiks. Trotsky went on. The hands remained raised. Trotsky said, ‘Let this vote be your oath. You swear to give all your strength, not to hesitate before any sacrifice, to support the Soviet, which undertakes to win the revolution and give you land, bread and peace.’ The hands remained raised. The crowd approved; they took the oath ... And the same scene was repeated all over Petrograd. The last preparations were made everywhere; everywhere they swore the last oath; thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of men. It was the insurrection.


On the morning of the 25th, the revolutionary forces at Kronstadt received orders to prepare to undertake the defence of the Soviet Congress (for the whole offensive was conducted under the formal pretext of defence). We may pause for a moment at the preparations in Kronstadt, one of whose participants (I. Flerovsky) has left an excellent account. [24] The rational element of co-ordination,. the superb organization of the rising as a military operation con-ducted along the rules of the war-making art, is clearly demonstrated here, and forms a striking contrast with the spontaneous or ill-organized movements which have been so numerous in the history of the proletariat.

The work of preparation for our intervention at Petrograd was carried on entirely at night. . . . The Navy Club was crammed with soldiers, sailors and workers, all of them obviously ready for battle. ... The revolutionary General Staff worked out the plan of action precisely, designated the different units and sections for each task, checked off the inventory of supplies and ammunition, and picked the leading personnel. The night was one of strenuous work. The following ships were selected to take part in the operation: the torpedo-boat and minelayer Love, the old cruiser Dawn of Liberty (formerly Alexander III), the monitor Vulture. Love and Vulture were to land troops in Petrograd. The cruiser was to take up a position at the entrance to the maritime canal, commanding the coastal railway with its guns. In the streets an intense but noiseless activity went on. Army detachments and squads of sailors marched towards the harbour. Only the serious, resolute faces of the leading ranks could be seen by the light of the torches. There was no laughter, and no talk. The silence was broken only by the military tread of marching men, by brief commands, and by the grinding of the lorries as they went past. At the harbour, the ships were speedily loaded. Detachments of men waited in line on the quay patiently awaiting their turn to embark. Is it possible, I could not help thinking, that these are the last few moments before the great revolution? Everything is going off with such simplicity and neatness that one would imagine some perfectly ordinary military manoeuvre was involved. It all has so little resemblance to the vistas of revolution that we remember from history... ‘This revolution,’ my companion said to me, ‘will go off in style.’

The revolution did, indeed, go off in proletarian style – with organization. That is why, in Petrograd, it won so easily and completely.

Another significant scene may be borrowed from Flerovsky’s memoirs. It is on board a ship steaming towards the insurrection. The delegate from the revolutionary headquarters enters the officers’ mess.

Here, the atmosphere is different. They are worried, anxious, disoriented. As I enter and salute, the officers rise. They keep standing while they listen to my brief explanation, and the orders I give. ‘We are going to overthrow the Provisional Government by force. Power is being transferred to the Soviets. We are. not relying on your sympathy: we have no need of it. But we do insist that you remain at your posts, going about your duties punctually and obeying our orders. We shall not give you any unnecessary trouble. That is all.’ ‘We understand,’ the captain answered. The officers went off immediately to their posts, and the captain mounted the bridge. A numerous flotilla came to the assistance of the workers and the garrison. Up the Neva sailed the cruisers Aurora,Oleg, Novik, Zabyika and Samson, two torpedo-boats, and various other ships.


Three comrades had been deputed to organize the seizure of the Winter Palace: Podvoisky, Antonov-Ovseyenko and Lashevich. [25] With them Chudnovsky was working, a splendid militant from the earliest days of the party, who was soon to meet his death in the Ukraine. The former Imperial residence is situated in the centre of the city on the banks of the Neva; the Peter-Paul Fortress faces it 600 yards away on the other bank. To the south, the palace’s facade looks out over a vast paved square which contains the Alexander I Column. A historic spot. At the back of the square, in a semi-circle, lie the huge, respectable offices of the former War Department and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Over this square, in 1879, the revolver shots fired by the student Soloviev cracked out, and the autocrat Alexander II could be seen running zigzag across the stones, with his head down, and pale with fright. In 1881 these dismal buildings were rocked by the dynamite charge set off under the Imperial apartments by the carpenter Stepan Khalturin. Under these windows, on 22 January 1905, soldiers opened fire on a crowd of workers who had come, carrying ikons and singing hymns, to petition the Tsar, the ‘little father’ of his people. Here lay about fifty dead and more than a thousand wounded; and the autocracy was wounded, too, to the death, by its own bullets.

Now, on 25 October, from the morning onwards, the Bolshevik regiments and the Red Guards began to encircle the Winter Palace, where Kerensky’s government had its offices. The assault was planned for 9 p.m., although Lenin was impatient and wanted it all over before then. While the iron ring closed slowly around the Palace, the Congress of the Soviets was assembling at Smolny, in a former high school for young ladies of the nobility. In a small room in the same building, Lenin was pacing up and down nervously, still an outlaw, still in his old man’s disguise. Of every new arrival, he asked, ‘The Palace – has it not been taken yet ?’ His fury mounted against the ditherers, the procrastinators, the indecisive ones. He threatened Podvoisky – ‘We shall have to shoot him, yes, shoot him!’ The soldiers, huddled around fires in the streets near the Palace, showed the same impatience. People heard them murmur about how ‘the Bolsheviks are starting to play at diplomacy too’. Once more, Lenin’s feelings even on a point of detail were those of the mass. Podvoisky, certain of victory, kept back the assault. The doomed enemy was demoralized with all the anxiety. Revolutionary blood was now easily spared, and each drop was precious.

The first summons to surrender was conveyed to the ministers at six o’clock. At eight, there was a second ultimatum. Under a flag of truce, a Bolshevik orator addressed the defenders of the palace, and the soldiers of a crack battalion crossed over to the revolutionaries. They were welcomed by loud hurrahs over the square which was now the field of battle. A few minutes later, the Women’s Battalion surrendered. The terrified ministers, guarded in a vast room without lighting by a few young officer-cadets, still hesitated to give in. Kerensky had run off, promising them that he would return shortly at the head of a troop of loyal soldiers. They expected to be torn to pieces by a howling mob. The guns of the Aurora – firing only blank cartridges! – finally demoralized the defending side. The Reds’ attack met only very slight resistance. Grenades exploded on the great marble staircases, there were hand-to-hand tussles in the corridors. In the twilight of a great ante-chamber, a thin line of pale cadets stood with bayonets crossed before a panelled door.

It is the last rampart of the last bourgeois government of Russia. Antonov-Ovseyenko, Chudnovsky and Podvoisky push past these powerless bayonets. One youngster whispers to them, ‘I’m on your side!’ Behind the door is the Provisional Government: thirteen wretched, trembling gentlemen, thirteen crestfallen faces hidden by shadow. As they are escorted out of the Palace by Red Guards, a cry for their blood goes up. Some soldiers and sailors have a fancy for a massacre. The worker-guards restrain them: ‘Don’t spoil the proletarian victory by excesses!’

The ministers of Kerensky go off to the Peter-Paul Fortress, that old Bastille which has held all the old martyrs of Russian free-dom. There they meet the ministers of the last Tsar. It is all over.

In the adjoining areas of the city, normal traffic had not been interrupted. On the quays, the idlers were staring peaceably.

One detail more on the organization of the attack. In order to ensure that any temporary successes won by the enemy should not interrupt their work, the military leaders of the uprising had pre-pared two reserve headquarters.


Just as the Reds are surrounding the Winter Palace, the Petrograd Soviet meets. Lenin comes out of hiding, and he and Trotsky announce the seizure of power. The Soviets will offer a just peace to all the belligerent powers; the secret treaties are going to be published. Lenin’s first words underline the importance of the bond between workers and peasants, which is yet to be consolidated:

All over Russia, the vast majority of peasants have said: Enough of playing with the capitalists, we are marching now with the workers! One single decree, abolishing the landlords’ property, will win us the trust of the peasantry. They will realize that their only safety lies in their association with the workers. We shall inaugurate workers’ control of industry

The All-Russian Congress of Soviets opens in the evening in the great white ballroom at Smolny, flooded with light from enormous chandeliers. 562 delegates are present: 382 Bolsheviks, thirty-one non-party Bolshevik sympathizers, seventy Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, thirty-six Centre Socialist-Revolutionaries, sixteen Right Socialist-Revolutionaries, three National Socialist-Revolutionaries, fifteen United Internationalist Social-Democrats, twenty-one Menshevik supporters of national de-fence, seven Social-Democratic delegates from various nationalist groups and five anarchists. The hall is packed tight, the atmosphere is feverish. The Menshevik Dan opens the Congress on behalf of the outgoing All-Russian Executive; as the new officers are elected, guns thunder on the Neva. The resistance at the Winter Palace is still dragging on. Kamenev, ‘dressed in his Sunday best, and beaming’ [26], becomes Chairman in place of Dan. He proposes an agenda with three headings: organization of authority; war and peace; the Constituent Assembly. The oppositional Menshevik and S-R parties take the floor first. For the Mensheviks there is Martov, their most honest and talented leader, whose extreme physical weakness seemed to symbolize the bankruptcy, despite his great personal courage, of the ideology he served. ‘Martov, planted on the rostrum as usual, with a trembling, bloodless hand over his hip, an undulating, half-comical figure, shaking his head of unruly hair, urges a peaceful solution to the conflict ...’ A fine time to say it! Mstislavsky speaks for the Left S-Rs. His party mistrusted the Provisional Government and was sympathetic to the seizure of power by the Soviets, but had refused to join in the rising. His speech is one qualification after another. Yes, all power to the Soviets – particularly since they have already seized power. But military operations must be stopped immediately. How could we deliberate in the middle of gunfire? To this, Trotsky replies with alacrity: ‘Who, now, is going to be upset by the sound of the guns? On the contrary, it can only improve our work!’

The roar of the guns makes the glass in the windows rattle. The Mensheviks and Right S-Rs denounce the ‘crime which is taking place against Fatherland and Revolution’, and a sailor from the cruiser Aurora comes to the rostrum to answer them.

A bronzed figure he was [Mstislavsky relates], with brusque, confident gestures, and a voice that came straight out, cutting the air like a knife. As soon as he mounted the rostrum, stocky and sinuous, his shaggy chest showing below the high collar that curved back gracefully around his tousled head, the hall rang with cheers. ... ‘The Winter Palace is finished,’ he said. ‘The Aurora is firing at point-blank range.’

‘Oh!’ groaned the Menshevik Abramovich, standing up distraught and twisting his hands. ‘Oh!’ The man from the Aurora responded to this outcry with a large-hearted, graceful gesture, and made haste to calm Abramovich down with a loud whisper that trembled with quiet laughter: ‘They’re firing with blanks. That’s all that will be needed for the ministers and the ladies of the Women’s Battalion.’ Tumult in the hall. The Mensheviks of national defence and the right S-Rs, about sixty delegates, leave, determined ‘to die with the Provincial Government’. They do not get very far: their diminutive procession finds the streets barred to them by the Red Guards, and disperses one by one ...

Late in the night, the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries resolved in the end to follow the Bolsheviks and remain in the Congress.

Lenin did not come to the rostrum until the session of the following morning, when the great decrees on land, peace and workers’ control of production were voted. His appearance set off an immense acclamation from the whole hall. He waited for it to end, looking out calmly over the triumphant crowd. Then, quite simply, without any gesture, his two hands resting on the stand, his broad shoulders leaning forward slightly, he said:

‘We will proceed to construct the Socialist order.’


The economic necessities behind the revolution were expressed much more directly in Moscow. The city was governed by a Municipal Duma composed of bourgeois, petty-bourgeois and intellectual elements, where the S-Rs and the Kadets enjoyed a fairly stable majority which was often reinforced by the Mensheviks. It was an unpopular assembly, and the audience in the galleries used to demonstrate noisily – as in the Convention of the French Revolution – by applauding the Bolshevik opposition. An election for the Ward Dumas on 24 September gave the Bolsheviks their opportunity to sound out the masses. The election gave a majority to the Bolsheviks in fourteen wards out of seventeen. The Kadets also made gains. The parties of social peace were crushed.

The Bolsheviks’ victory was a tribute to their understanding of the workers’ needs. The famine was acute; the last of the grain reserves were being exhausted; the day was approaching when the city would have no more bread. The bread ration was cut to 100 grams per person per day. [27] The collapse of the transport system blocked any possible improvement. Extremely energetic measures were needed if the population was to be saved: centralization of the food supply system, municipal control over bread production – i.e. the expropriation of the bakeries – requisition of buildings, compulsory registration of all inhabitants on a single ration list. These measures formed the programme of the Bolsheviks. They had serious implications. The food crisis fitted in with the class war now being conducted by the propertied classes. It complemented the effects of the employers’ sabotage of production. In order to produce a real answer to the famine it would be necessary to take control of the whole of production.

The Bolshevik demands were:

  1. The immediate switching from war production of all enterprises which were manufacturing basic necessities before the war. ‘The continuation of the war was causing a failure of the capacity for revolutionary action among the proletariat and the army, in the end the failure of the revolution’ (A. Schlichter).
  2. Requisition of factories so as to put an end to the sabotage of production by the management and bring about the rapid return of peacetime production. The aim here would be to exchange industrial products for the peasants’ grain.
  3. Compulsory labour for all industrial employees, who might be tempted-to go on strike against socialization.
  4. Requisition of stores in order to put an end to speculation.

By the end of the first week of October, the leather-workers of Moscow had entered the tenth week of a strike: no mean achievement on a bread ration of ten grams per day. The woodworkers’, engineering, textile and municipal workers’ unions were preparing to strike. On their side, the employers organized a kind of strike of capital: partial lock-outs, shut-down of factories on a variety of pretexts, covert or blatant restrictions in production, sales of equipment, liquidation – all justified by ‘general economic difficulties’. The condition of the Moscow worker now became desperate. Since the beginning of the war the cost of living had in-creased six and a half times; the cost of manufactured necessities (cloth, shoes, firewood, soap, etc.) had gone up twelvefold. Wages, on the other hand, had only quadrupled. The workers’ demands for the recognition of their factory committees were rejected. The Provisional Government, which sympathized with the employers, made no secret of its ill-will towards the working class. Fierce strikes were ready to break out at any moment. The crisis had matured. On 19 October, the Bolshevik majority in the Moscow Soviet, on the motion of Bukharin and Smirnov, adopted a series of resolutions of a quasi-insurrectional character.

The Soviet decreed that the demands of the strikers must be satisfied, by agreement with the trade unions; capitalists guilty of industrial sabotage to be arrested; suspension of rent collections; the mobilization of the masses for the seizure of power by the revolutionary people. The trade unions were asked to implement the eight-hour day under their own responsibility, and the leather-workers who were on strike were told to get the factories running themselves.

A few days later a city conference of the party was held. Semashko, Ossinsky and Smirnov dealt with the insurrection. As one witness recounts,

Figures and statistics at their fingertips, they demonstrate that if the proletariat, which alone is capable of ending the war, does not take power, Russia will be ruined, there will be no bread or fuel, the railways and the factories will cease to function ... Their speeches have a scientific, almost academic tone. It did not seem so much like an assembly of revolutionists planning a social upheaval, as the meeting of some learned society. The audience, made up for the most part of delegates from the military branches, seemed apathetic. Nobody took the floor to make any objection. When the vote was put, all hands were raised for the motion; the meeting voted unanimously for the insurrection.

The topic under discussion was regarded as only too obvious. [28]

On 23 October, the Moscow Soviet issued its Decree No.1, making the hiring and firing of all workers the responsibility of the factory committees. On 24 October, the Soviet voted for the organization of a Red Guard. Each of these votes occasioned stormy battles with the Mensheviks and S-Rs, both of whom defended what they called democracy and legality, every inch of the way.

On 25 October, while the insurrection was under way at Petrograd, the Moscow Soviet instituted, somewhat late in the circumstances, its own Military Revolutionary Committee. The S-Rs and the Mensheviks exhorted the workers to control themselves, and avoid the dreadful example of the usurpers in Petrograd: only the Constituent Assembly would have the right to adjudicate on the destinies of Russia. Defeated in the vote, the Mensheviks still entered the MRC ‘in order to mitigate as far as possible the effects of the Bolsheviks’ projected coup d’état’ – in other words, to sabotage the insurrection. They were allowed to go on the Committee.

The City Duma had met the same night in secret session, without the Bolshevik representatives, and there had set up its own Committee of .Public Safety. The Mayor, Rudnev, a Socialist-Revolutionary, presided over its preparation for battle. Colonel Ryabtsev, another S-R, made haste to arm the cadets in the military schools – the Junkers – as well as the students and high-school youth: in short, the youth of the bourgeoisie and middle classes.


The battle in the streets lasted six days and was very hard going. The initiative in the operations was taken by the Committee of Public Safety which, on the 27th, during the joint session of the Dumas, ordered the MRC to dissolve itself within fifteen minutes. It was a ragged, bitter and bloody struggle, whose manoeuvres we shall not recount in detail. The urban physiognomy of Moscow is that of a city that has grown up in concentric rings over several centuries around the palaces and churches of the Kremlin, which is itself a sort of city, fortified and surrounded with high crenellated walls and pointed towers. A bird’s-eye view of the Kremlin would reveal it to be a triangle, whose base is the left bank of the River Moskva. The city, built on a number of hills, all in narrow streets whose irregular circuits run in and out of each other, with innumerable churches set in gardens, and long, tree-lined boulevards throughout, offers numberless possibilities both for attack and for defence. However, the strategic options of the opposing sides were delimited from the beginning. The MRC shared offices with the Soviet in the centre of the city at the top of Tverskaya Street, in the former residence of the governor. The liquidation of this headquarters became the objective of the government troops. The MRC’s problem was to hold on to its premises long enough for the Red Guard to come to its help from the suburban districts, taking the Whites from the rear. Under these terms, the Whites’ capture of the Kremlin was no more than an episode, though doubtless a significant one.

The Reds had the advantage in numbers:

Our enemies [writes Muralov] must have had about ten thousand men: two military schools, six Nca training-schools, the military sections of the S-Rs and the Mensheviks, the youth from the schools. We had at least fifty thousand reliable fighters: about fifteen thousand active troops, twenty-five thousand reserve troops, three thousand armed workers, six light-artillery units and several heavy guns.

On one side, the bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie and their intelligentsia; on the other, the grey mass of soldiers and workers. Nevertheless, the faulty organization and the hesitations of the Red side kept the outcome of the struggle uncertain.

On the 28th, at midnight, the Junkers (cadets from the military colleges) surround the Kremlin. Already the Committee of Public Safety is taking over the railway stations, the power station, the central telephone exchange. Cut off from the MRC, Berzin, the commander of the Kremlin, surrenders it after being told that ‘order has been restored’ and given a solemn promise that the lives of his men will be spared. He goes personally to open the doors, and is at once struck down, stabbed and savaged by the Junkers. One of their colonels says, ‘What, you’re still alive, are you? You have got to be killed.’ The workers in the Kremlin Arsenal do not hear of the surrender until the cadets come to arrest their Works Committee. In the morning, they are ordered to line up in one of the vast courtyards of the Kremlin wearing their identity discs, not far from Tsar Fyodor Ivanovich’s massive cannon. There, the covers are suddenly taken off three machine-guns in front of them. I quote the account of one of them who managed to get away. [29]

The men still cannot believe that they are going to be shot like this, without trial, without sense – they have taken no part in the fighting. A command bellows out: ‘In line now! Eyes front!’ The men stand rigid, fingers along the seams of their trousers. At a signal, the din of the three machine-guns blends with cries of terror, sobs and death-rattles. All those who are not mown down by the first shots dash towards the only exit, a little door behind them which has been left open. The machine-guns carry on firing; in a few minutes the doorway is blocked by a heap of men, lying there screaming and bleeding, into which the bullets still rain ... The walls of the surrounding buildings are spattered with blood and bits of flesh.

This massacre is not an isolated act. Practically everywhere the Whites conducted arrests followed by executions. At the Alexandrovskoye Military College, a court-martial took thirty seconds to pass sentences of death which were carried out forthwith in the courtyard. Let us remember these facts. They show the firm intention of the defenders of the Provisional Government to drown the workers’ revolution in blood. The White terror had begun.

The news of the massacre at the Kremlin came in the middle of the negotiations that were being conducted for an armistice between the MRC and Colonel Ryabtsev. The Whites were only trying to gain time until reinforcements could arrive. The MRC now understood that it was victory or death. Its headquarters were almost surrounded; but, from every working-class quarter, Red Guards and revolutionary regiments sprang up in masses to their help, so that the besiegers were themselves encircled in a ring of steel. On the 29th, in the evening, after a terrible day in which the headquarters of the insurrection nearly fell, a twenty-four hours’ truce was signed: it was quickly broken by the arrival of a shock battalion to join the Whites. The Reds on their side were reinforced by artillery. Gun batteries went into action on the squares, and the Whites retreated to the Kremlin. After long vacillations, due to their desire to avoid damage to historic monuments, the MRC decided to order the bombardment of the Kremlin. The Whites surrendered at 4 p.m. on 2 November. ‘The Committee of Public Safety is dissolved. The White Guard surrenders its arms and is disbanded. The officers may keep the sidearms that distinguish their rank. Only such weapons as are necessary for practice may be kept in the military academies ... The MRC guarantees the liberty and inviolability of all.’ Such were the principal clauses of the armistice signed between Reds and Whites. The fighters of the counter-revolution, butchers of the Kremlin, who in victory would have shown no quarter whatever to the Reds – we have seen proof – went free.

Foolish clemency! These very Junkers, these officers, these students, these socialists of counter-revolution, dispersed them-selves throughout the length and breadth of Russia, and there organized the civil war. The revolution was to meet them again, at Yaroslavl, on the Don, at Kazan, in the Crimea, in Siberia and in every conspiracy nearer home.


The differences between the Petrograd and the Moscow insurrections are striking.

At Petrograd the movement, prepared minutely over many weeks, is essentially political, a conscious seizure of power. The revolution took place sharp on the hour, as Trotsky put it. Two factors dominated events: the party and the garrison. The action was energetically planned and implemented without hesitation. Its success was rapid, with scarcely any bloodshed. The Petrograd insurrection offers us the model of a mass movement with perfect organization.

At Moscow the spontaneity of the masses outran their organization. The movement responded directly to economic pressures, with a less developed consciousness of political ends and means. Waverings, hesitations and delays formed considerable obstacles. The enemy, though numerically inferior, was well-organized, resolute and equipped with a clear political understanding of the end – the restoration of order – and the means – terror. It therefore was able to hold the proletariat In check for a long while and inflicted cruel losses on its ranks. In their districts the workers armed themselves as best they could. They came often to battle, on their own initiative. They were short of arms, short of ammunition. When they had cannon, there were no shells. When there were shells, the sights on the guns were all wrong. Communications were appalling. Reconnaissance hardly existed. ‘We fought very badly,’ said Muralov (who led the Red forces), ‘we were carried along by the elements.’ There was no united command, and the Whites had the initiative; at times their occupation of strategic points compensated for their numerical weakness.

The enthusiasm of the militants was undoubtedly admirable: equipped with good organization it would have been miraculous. Enthusiasm on its own could not prevent a long, perilous and costly battle. The MRC was set up on the 25th, much too late, and then was prone to vacillation. It conducted quite unnecessary parleys with the S-Rs and Mensheviks, made the mistake of signing an armistice on the 29th just as the Reds were about to capture the telephone exchange, and once the counter-revolutionaries were vanquished displayed a deplorable magnanimity towards them.

In our opinion, the insurrections at Petrograd and Moscow were different types of movement. The Moscow insurrection is related – very distantly, we must add – to the more backward type of proletarian rising whose model instance is the revolt of the workers in Paris in June 1848, consciously provoked by the bourgeoisie’s economic policies. Provocation played a considerable part in the events at Moscow: the revolt was a response to it, and often became outmanoeuvred. The enemy, on the other hand, was all out for a massacre. The Petrograd insurrection, by contrast, is the first practical example of a new type of armed uprising which was later followed in the Hamburg insurrection of 1923. [30] Here, the conspiracy of a large party is co-ordinated with the action of the masses; both are launched at a selected moment after a de-tailed preparation; the element of the unforeseen is reduced to a minimum; the forces in battle are deployed with maximum economy. At Hamburg, the defeat – which was actually much more of a retreat [31] – entailed only slight losses. As a rule, of course, defeats are very costly.

The contrast between the Petrograd and the Moscow events demonstrates the enormous superiority, under equivalent conditions, of efficiently organized actions over movements in which spontaneity predominates. In the light of these experiences, the preconditions for a proletarian victory can be reduced to the following elementary rules of the military art: maximum of organization and energy in action; and the placing of superior forces at the decisive moment at the decisive points.


[1] Speech of Comrade Bukharin at the Commemorative Evening in 1921, in Proletarskaya Revoliutsiya, No.10, 1922. After relating this incident, Bukharin concludes, ’We could have seized power in Petrograd even at this time. We decided not to do so, since we had to depend on winning decisive victories in the provinces as well.’

[2] I. Flerovsky, Kronstadt in the October Revolution, in Proletarskaya Revoliutsiya, ibid.

[3] L.D. Trotsky, The Russian Revolution (London, 1918) [included as The History of the Russian Revolution to Brest-Litovsk in The Essential Trotsky (London, 1963)].

[4] Victor Serge, Lenine 1917 (Paris, 1923), p.55.

[5] [V.P. Nogin: People’s Commissar in the first Soviet government; supporter of a broad coalition with the Mensheviks. Died in 1924.]

[6] Serge, op. cit., p.45.

[7] K. Grasis, October in Kazan, Proletarskaya Revoliutsiya, No.10 (33), 1924.

[8] [The Maximalist party was a small direct-action group which had split from the Socialist-Revolutionary party to engage in spectacular acts of terrorism against the Tsarist régime.]

[9] V. Bonch-Bruyevich, From July to October, in Proletarskaya Revoliutsiya, No.10, 1922. The author of this article was one of Lenin’s close associates.

[10] My sources for these facts are the ‘reminiscences of the fighters of October’ published by Proletarskaya Revoliutsiya in 1922, and a little book Moscow in October 1917(Moskva v Oktyabre 1917) [N. Ovsyannikov, ed.] (Moscow, 1919). The argument of the comrades who opposed the insurrection is given and magisterially refuted in Lenin’s Letter to the Comrades of 16-17 October 1917 (Collected Works (London, 1969), Vol.26, pp.195-215).

[11] [In Italy, during 1920, over two million workers came out on strike in a wave of militant action in the major industrial cities, culminating in the factory occupations of the spring and autumn; throughout the south, and especially in Sicily, peasants seized the estates. No political leadership of the movement came from the Italian Socialist party, and the decline of the revolutionary wave heralded the consolidation of Mussolini’s fascist squads. (See Angelo Tasca (A. Rossi), Naissance du Fascisme (Paris, 1967), pp.95-107, 438-40). Serge’s invocation of the German ‘missed opportunity’ of 1923 is much less apt: revolutionary militancy in the German working class was very localized and sporadic even in this critical year, and the failure of the revolution to materialize cannot be laid to the account of the KPD and Comintern tacticians, clumsy as these were. Werner T. Angress’s Still-Born Revolution: The Communist Bid for Power in Germany, 1921-23 (Princeton, 1963), provides a full and fair analysis of this complex battleground. For the variations of Serge’s own attitude to the 1923 German events, see below, note 30.]

[12] Numerous documents which have been recently included in Volume 21 of Lenin’s Collected Works (new Russian edition) seem to indicate that a substantial Right-wing trend was taking shape within the party, to which it would have liked to assign the role of a powerful proletarian Opposition inside a parliamentary democracy. Not only did this tendency fail to comprehend that the question of democracy was an irrelevancy (Russia having only the choice between two dictatorships); it was also the victim of the most dangerous illusions conceivable.

[13] ‘The question is not what this or that proletarian, or even the whole of the proletariat at the moment, considers as its aim. The question is what the proletariat is, and what, consequent on that being, it will be compelled to do’ (Karl Marx in The Holy Family).

[14] The personal predictions of Lenin in 1914-15 (in Against the Stream) and on the Russian revolution in September 1917 (Letters from Afar) should be compared with President Wilson’s hopes in 1918-19: the illusions of Wilsonism formed a powerful contribution to the victory of the Allies, in which they served political ends diametrically opposed to those of their propounder. Lenin’s clear vision and effective action can be compared also with the blindness and ineffectuality of the statesmen of the modern bourgeoisie: the leaders of German imperialism in relation to the catastrophe of Germany; Clemenceau and the Versailles treaty; Poincaré and Cuno and the Ruhr conflict of 1923. One must at once distinguish between the intentions of President Wilson who advocated national self-determination, freedom of the seas and the League of Nations, and the social role played by Wilsonism, the final ideology of the Allied war; personally Wilson appears not to have wanted to produce the result that he actually achieved, i.e. that of serving the cause of one imperialist coalition against another.

[15] A satisfactory French translation of these works, unfortunately with-out explanatory notes or a historical introduction, has been published by La Librairie de l’Humanité.I have provided a detailed analysis of these writings of Lenin in Lenine 1917.

[16] Lenin, Collected Works, Vol.26, pp.22-3.

[17] [From the article Insurrection, in the New York Daily Tribune of 18 September 1852, signed by Marx but actually written by Engels (and later published in the collectionGermany: Revolution and Counter-Revolution).]

[18] Trotsky was still interned in a concentration camp at Amherst in Canada at the time when Lenin arrived in Russia, and only reached Petrograd in the first days of May. The articles on the Russian revolution that he wrote in America strike a note similar to those by Lenin in the same period. After 5-6 May, he was in close contact for common activities with the editorial board of Pravda and the Bolshevik Central Committee. At this time he was a member of the so-called ‘Inter-District’ organization of Social-Democrats, which also included Volodarsky, Lunacharsky, Manuilsky, Karakhan, Yoffe and Uritsky, and which fused with the Bolshevik party in July 1917. Trotsky’addressed the Petrograd Soviet for the first time on 5 (18) May, the day after his arrival from America. He urged it first, to challenge the bourgeoisie; second, to put its own leaders under control; third, to have confidence in its own revolutionary strength. ‘I believe’, he concluded, ‘that the next action on our agenda will place power in the hands of the Soviets.’

[19] An engineering worker from the Bolshevik emigration, Shlyapnikov undertook illegal activity in Petrograd in the last months of Tsarism, on which he has written some interesting memoirs: The Eve of 1917 (Kanun Semnadtsatogo Goda) (Moscow, no date). He became one of the organizers of the Russian Metal Workers’ Union and then, in October 1917, Commissar for Labour. In 1921 he was one of the leaders of the ‘Workers’ Opposition’ in the Russian Communist party. [He capitulated to Stalin in 1926, was expelled from the party in 1933, was sent to an ‘isolator’ in 1935, and died obscurely in 1943.]

[20] G. Georgievsky, Essay on the History of the Red Guard (Ocherki po Istorii Krasnoi Gvardii) (Moscow, 1919).

[21] The way the insurrection was carried out reconciled the two theses. It took place on the day of the Soviet Congress, but began in the early morning; the Congress began its deliberations only in the evening, while the shooting could still be heard going on.

Lenin proved mistaken on another point at this time. In the early days of October he wrote to the Central Committee that ‘Victory is certain in Moscow: nobody will resist us there. At Petrograd we can afford to wait: it is not necessary to begin with Petrograd.’ In fact, of course, the victory was safe in Petrograd, where the insurrection had a painless triumph, while in Moscow it encountered fierce resistance. [Serge’s comments at this point relate to the controversies in Russian party history, from 1924 onwards, which enrolled the differences between Lenin and Trotsky (on the timing of the insurrection) into the current polemic against Trotsky. Trotsky (in his book Sur Lenine in 1924) had justified his own timing of 1917 as against Lenin’s; this in turn was made much of by Stalin (in his speech Trotskyism or Leninism? of November that year). Serge is here content to state the legitimacy both of Trotsky’s and Lenin’s position on the insurrection.]

[22] [Cavaignac and Galliffet: French generals who were the military saviours of the bourgeoisie against the workers, in 1848 and 1871 respectively.]

[23] [Actually a mistaken reference by Serge; the witness for the scene was N.N. Sukhanov: The Russian Revolution London, 1955) pp.584-591.

[24] Flerovsky, op. cit.

[25] N. Podvoisky, a member of the Bolshevik party for many years, was one of the founders of the party’s military organization. Later he became People’s Commissar for War of the Russian Socialist Federation of Soviet Republics, then of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. Subsequently, he devoted himself to the tasks of military training among youth and physical education generally. [Disappeared from public view in the 1930s; died in 1948.]

Antonov-Ovseyenko, a former officer and journalist who had been in political emigration, was active in Paris during the war in producing the internationalist journals, Golos,Nashe Slovo and Nachalo. He joined the Bolsheviks in 1917 and became a Red Army leader in the civil war. He headed the Political Directorate of the Red Army in 1923, and then the Soviet mission to Czechoslovakia. [A lapsed Trotskyist, Antonov-Ovseyenko steered the GPU terror against revolutionary dissidents in the Spanish civil war, was recalled to Moscow and shot without public trial in 1938.] Lashevich, an old Bolshevik militant, later became a member of the Revolutionary War Council in Petrograd (1919-20) and in Siberia (after the fall of Kolchak). He became Commissar for War in 1926 and died in 1928. [Lashevich had been a supporter of the Zinoviev opposition of 1925-7, and capitulated with it; his death was apparently by suicide.]

[26] S. Mstislavsky, Five Days (Pyat Dnei) (Berlin, 1922).

[27] A. Schlichter, Memorable Days in Moscow, Proletarskaya Revoliutsiya, No.10, 1922; Boris Voline, The Moscow Soviet before October, ibid.

[28] N. Norov, On the Eve, in N. Ovsyannikov (ed.), Moscow in October 1917 (Moskva v Oktyabre 1917) (Moscow, 1919). See also Victor Serge, La Revolution d’Octobre à Moscou, Bulletin Communiste, 1 September 1921.

[29] Ilya Noskov, The Kremlin Massacre, in Ovsyannikov, op. cit.

[30] [This characterization of the 1923 Hamburg rising misses any consideration of its most important defects: firstly, the isolation of the insurrection itself from any concurrent action in the rest of Germany (since Hamburg was the only town to fail to receive the order calling off a nationwide rising originally projected by the German Communists); secondly, the isolation of the few hundred Communist shock-troops in the city from the rest of the working class. Victor Serge’s maturer reflections in Memoirs of a Revolutionary (London, 1967), pp.171-2, exhibit this double isolation quite clearly, and the eulogy of the ‘new type’ of revolution here simply seems to be making the best of a job for which Serge himself, as a Comintern emissary in Germany in the early 1920s, may well have shared some responsibility.]

[31] Larissa Reissner, Hamburg auf den Barrikaden (Berlin, 1925).

In Defence Of October

In Defence Of October

Leon Trotsky

A speech delivered in Copenhagen, Denmark in November 1932

The first time that I was in Copenhagen was at the International Socialist Congress and I took away with me the kindest recollections of your city. But that was over a quarter of a century ago. Since then, the water in the Ore-Sund and in the fjords has changed over and over again. And not the water alone. The war has broke the backbone of the old European continent. The rivers and seas of Europe have washed down not a little blood. Mankind and particularly European mankind has gone through severe trials, has become more sombre and more brutal. Every kind of conflict has become more bitter. The world has entered into the period of the great change. Its extreme expressions are war and revolution.

Before I pass on to the theme of my lecture, the Revolution, I consider it my duty to express my thanks to the organisers of this meeting, the organisation of social-democratic students. I do this as a political adversary. My lecture, it is true, pursues historic scientific and not political lines. I want to emphasise this right from the beginning. But it is impossible to speak of a revolution, out of which the Soviet Republic arose, without taking up a political position. As a lecturer I stand under the banner as I did when I participated in the events of the revolution.

Up to the war, the Bolshevik Party belonged to the Social-Democratic International. On August 4, 1914, the vote of the German social-democracy for the war credits put an end to this connection once and for all, and opened the period of uninterrupted and irreconcilable struggle of Bolshevism against social-democracy. Does this mean that the organisers of this assembly made a mistake in inviting me to lecture? On this point the audience will be able to judge only after my lecture. To justify my acceptance of the kind invitation to present a report on the Russian Revolution, permit me to point to the fact that during the thirty-five years of my political life the question of the Russian Revolution has been the practical and theoretical axis of my thought and of my actions. The four years of my stay in Turkey were principally devoted to historical elaboration of the problems of the Russian Revolution. Perhaps this fact gives me a certain right to hope that I will succeed in part at least in helping not only friends and sympathisers, but also opponents, better to understand many features of the Revolution which before had escaped their attention. At all events, the purpose of my lecture is to help to understand. I do not intend to conduct propaganda for the Revolution, nor to call upon you to join the Revolution. I intend to explain the Revolution.

Let us begin with some elementary sociological principles which are doubtless familiar to you all, but as to which we must refresh our memory in approaching so complicated a phenomenon as the Revolution.

The Materialist Conception of History

Human society is an historically-originated collaboration in the struggle for existence and the assurance of the maintenance of the generations. The character of a society is determined by the character of its economy. The character of its economy is determined by its means of productive labour.

For every great epoch in the development of the productive forces there is a definite corresponding social regime. Every social regime until now has secured enormous advantages to the ruling class.

It is clear, therefore, that social regimes are not eternal. They arise historically, and then become fetters on further progress. “All that arises deserves to be destroyed.”

But no ruling class has ever voluntarily and peacefully abdicated. In questions of life and death, arguments based on reason have never replaced the arguments of force. This may be sad, but it is so. It is not we that have made this world. We can do nothing but take it as it is.

The meaning of revolution

Revolution means a change of the social order. It transfers the power from the hands of a class which has exhausted itself into those of another class, which is in the ascendant. Insurrection constitutes the sharpest and most critical moment in the struggle for power of two classes. The insurrection can lead to the real victory of the Revolution and to the establishment of a new order only when it is based on a progressive class, which is able to rally around it the overwhelming majority of the people.

As distinguished from the processes of nature, a revolution is made by human beings and through human beings. But in the course of revolution, too, men act under the influence of social conditions which are not freely chosen by them but are handed down from the past and imperatively point out the road which they must follow. For this reason, and only for this reason, a revolution follows certain laws.

But human consciousness does not merely passively reflect its objective conditions. It is accustomed to react actively to them. At certain times this reaction assumes a tense, passionate, mass character. The barriers of right and might are overthrown. The active intervention of the masses in historical events is in fact the most indispensable element of a revolution.

But even the stormiest activity can remain in the stage of demonstration or rebellion, without rising to the height of a revolution. The uprising of the masses must lead to the overthrow of the domination of one class and to the establishment of the domination of another. Only then have we achieved a revolution. A mass uprising is no isolated undertaking, which can be conjured up any time one pleases. It represents an objectively-conditioned element in the development of a revolution, just as a revolution represents an objectively-conditioned process in the development of society. But if the necessary conditions for the uprising exist, one must not simply wait passively, with open mouth; as Shakespeare says: “There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”

In order to sweep away the outlived social order, the progressive class must understand that its hour has struck and set before itself the task of conquering power. Here opens the field of conscious revolutionary action, where foresight and calculation combine with will and courage. In other words: here opens the field of action of the Party.

The Coup d’État

The revolutionary Party unites within itself the flower of the progressive class. Without a Party which is able to orientate itself in its environment, appreciate the progress and rhythm of events and early win the confidence of the masses, the victory of the proletarian revolution is impossible. These are the reciprocal relations between the objective and the subjective factors of insurrection and revolution.

In disputations, particularly theological ones, it is customary, as you know, for the opponents to discredit scientific truth by driving it to an absurdity. This method is called in logic Reductio ad absurdum. We shall start from an absurdity so as to approach the truth with all the greater safety. In any case, we cannot complain of lack of absurdities. Let us take one of the most recent, and crude.

The Italian writer Malaparte, who is something in the nature of a Fascist theoretician – there are such, too – not long ago, launched a book on the technique of thecoup d’état. Naturally, the author devotes a not inconsiderable number of pages of his “investigation” to the October upheaval.

In contradistinction to the “strategy” of Lenin which was always related to the social and political conditions of Russia in 1917, “the tactics of Trotsky.” in Malaparte's words, “were, on the contrary, not at all limited by the general conditions of the country.” This is the main idea of the book! Malaparte compels Lenin and Trotsky in the pages of his book, to carry on numerous dialogues, in which both participants together show as much profundity of mind as Nature put at the disposal of Malaparte alone. In answer to Lenin's considerations of the social and political prerequisites of the upheaval, Malaparte has his alleged Trotsky say, literally, “Your strategy requires far too many favourable circumstances; the insurrection needs nothing, it is self-sufficing.” You hear: “The insurrection needs nothing!” That is precisely the absurdity which must help us to approach the truth. The author repeats persistently, that, in the October Revolution, it was not the strategy of Lenin but the tactics of Trotsky which won the victory. These tactics, according to his words, are a menace even now to the peace of the States of Europe. “The strategy of Lenin” I quote word for word, “does not constitute any immediate danger for the Governments of Europe. But the tactics of Trotsky do constitute an actual and consequently a permanent danger to them.” Still more concretely, “Put Poincaré in the place of Kerensky and the Bolshevik coup d’état of October, 1917 would have been just as successful.” It is hard to believe that such a book has been translated into several languages and taken seriously.

We seek in vain to discover what is the necessity altogether of the historically-conditioned strategy of Lenin, if “Trotsky’s tactics” can fulfil the same tasks in every situation. And why are successful revolutions so rare, if only a few technical recipes suffice for their success?

The dialogue between Lenin and Trotsky presented by the fascist author is in content, as well as in form, an insipid invention, from beginning to end. Of such inventions there are not a few floating around the world. For example, in Madrid, there has been printed a book, La Vida del Lenin (The Life of Lenin) for which I am as little responsible as for the tactical recipes of Malaparte. The Madrid weekly, Estampa, published in advance whole chapters of this alleged book of Trotsky’s on Lenin, which contain horrible desecrations of the life of that man whom I valued and still value incomparably higher than anyone else among my contemporaries.

But let us leave the forgers to their fate. Old Wilhelm Liebknecht, the father of the unforgettable fighter and hero Karl Liebknecht, liked to say, “A revolutionary politician must provide himself with a thick skin.” Doctor Stockmann even more expressively recommended that anyone who proposed to act in a manner contrary to the opinion of society should refrain from putting on new trousers. We will take note of the two good pieces of advice and proceed.

The Causes of October

What questions does the October Revolution raise in the mind of a thinking man?

  • Why and how did this revolution take place? More correctly, why did the proletarian revolution conquer in one of the most backward countries in Europe?
  • What have been the results of the October revolution? And finally:
  • Has the October Revolution stood the test?

The first question, as to the causes, can now be answered more or less exhaustively. I have attempted to do this in great detail in my History of the Revolution. Here I can only formulate the most important conclusions.

The Law of Uneven Development

The fact that the proletariat reached power for the first time in such a backward country as the former Tsarist Russia seems mysterious only at a first glance; in reality it is fully in accord with historical law. It could have been predicted, and it was predicted. Still more, on the basis of the prediction of this fact the revolutionary Marxists built up their strategy long before the decisive events.

The first and most general explanation is: Russia is a backward country, but only a part of world economy, only an element of the capitalist world system. In this sense Lenin solved the enigma of the Russian Revolution with the lapidary formula, “The chain broke at its weakest link.”

A crude illustration: the Great War, the result of the contradictions of world imperialism, drew into its maelstrom countries of different stages of development, but made the same claims on all the participants. It is clear that the burdens of the war would be particularly intolerable for the most backward countries. Russia was the first to be compelled to leave the field. But to tear itself away from the war, the Russian people had to overthrow the ruling classes. In this way the chain of war broke at its weakest link.

Still, war is not a catastrophe coming from outside like an earthquake, but, as old Clausewitz said, the continuation of politics by other means. In the last war, the main tendencies of the imperialistic system of “peace” time only expressed themselves more crudely. The higher the general forces of production, the tenser the competition on the world markets, the sharper the antagonisms and the madder the race for armaments, so much the more difficult it became for the weaker participants. That is precisely why the backward countries assumed the first places in the succession of collapse. The chain of world capitalism always tends to break at its weakest link.

If, as a result of exceptional unfavourable circumstances – for example, let us say, a successful military intervention from the outside or irreparable mistakes on the part of the Soviet Government itself – capitalism should arise again on the immeasurably wide Soviet territory, its historical inadequacy would at the same time have inevitably arisen and such capitalism would in turn soon become the victim of the same contradictions which caused its explosion in 1917. No tactical recipes could have called the October Revolution into being, if Russia had not carried it within its body. The revolutionary Party in the last analysis can claim only the role of an obstetrician, who is compelled to resort to a Caesarean operation.

One might say in answer to this: “Your general considerations may adequately explain why old Russia had to suffer shipwreck, that country where backward capitalism and an impoverished peasantry were crowned by a parasitic nobility and a decaying monarchy. But in the simile of the chain and it weakest link there is still missing the key to the real enigma: How could a socialist revolution succeed in a backward country? History knows of more than a few illustrations of the decay of countries and civilisations accompanied by the collapse of the old classes for which no progressive successors had been found. The breakdown of old Russia should, at first sight have changed the country into a capitalist colony rather than into a Socialist State.

This objection is very interesting. It leads us directly to the kernel of the whole problem. And yet, this objection is erroneous; I might say, it lacks internal symmetry. On the one hand, it starts from an exaggerated conception of the phenomenon of historical backwardness in general.

Living beings, including man, of course, go through similar stages of development in accordance with their ages. In a normal five-year old child, we find a certain correspondence between the weight, size and the internal organs. But it is quite otherwise with human consciousness. In contrast with anatomy and physiology, psychology, both individual and collective, is distinguished by exceptional capacity of absorption, flexibility and elasticity; therein consists the aristocratic advantage of man over his nearest zoological relatives, the apes. The absorptive and flexible psyche confers on the so-called social “organisms", as distinguished from the real, that is biological organisms, an exceptional variability of internal structure as a necessary condition for historical progress. In the development of nations and states, particularly capitalist ones, there is neither similarity nor regularity. Different stages of civilisation, even polar opposites, approach and intermingle with one another in the life of one and the same country.

The Law of Combined Development

Let us not forget that historical backwardness is a relative concept. There being both backward and progressive countries, there is also a reciprocal influencing of one by the other; there is the pressure of the progressive countries on the backward ones; there is the necessity for the backward countries to catch up with the progressive ones, to borrow their technology and science, etc. In this way arises the combined type of development: features of backwardness are combined with the last word in world technique and in world thought. Finally the countries historically backward, in order to escape their backwardness, are often compelled to rush ahead of the others.

The flexibility of the collective consciousness makes it possible under certain conditions to achieve the result, in the social arena, which in individual psychology is called “overcoming the consciousness of inferiority”. In this sense we can say that the October Revolution was an heroic means whereby the people of Russia were able to overcome their own economic and cultural inferiority.

But let us pass over from these historico-philosophic, perhaps somewhat too abstract, generalisations, and put up the same question in concrete form, that is within the cross-section of living economic facts. The backwardness of Russia expressed itself most clearly at the beginning of the twentieth century in the fact that industry occupied a small place in that country in comparison with the peasantry. Taken as a whole, this meant a low productivity of the national labour. Suffice it to say that on the eve of the war, when Tsarist Russia had reached the peak of its well-being, the national income was eight to ten times lower than in the United States. This expresses numerically the “amplitude” of its backwardness if the word “amplitude” can be used at all in connection with backwardness.

At the same time however, the law of combined development expressed itself in the economic field at every step, in simple as well as in complex phenomena. Almost without highways, Russia was compelled to build railroads. Without having gone through the European artisan and manufacturing stages, Russia passed directly to mechanised production. To jump over intermediate stages is the way of backward countries.

While peasant agriculture often remained at the level of the seventeenth century, Russia's industry, if not in scope, at least in type, reached the level of progressive countries and in some respects rushed ahead of them. It suffices to say that gigantic enterprises, with over a thousand workers each, employed in the United States less than 18 per cent of the total number of industrial workers. In Russia it was over 41%. This fact is hard to reconcile with the conventional conception of the economic backwardness of Russia. It does not on the other hand, refute this backwardness, but dialectically complements it.

The same contradictory character was shown by the class structure of the country. The finance capital of Europe industrialised Russian economy at an accelerated tempo. The industrial bourgeoisie forthwith assumed a large scale capitalistic and anti-popular character. The foreign stock-holders moreover, lived outside of the country. The workers, on the other hand, were naturally Russians. Against a numerically weak Russian bourgeoisie, which had no national roots, there stood confronting it a relatively strong proletariat with strong roots in the depths of the people.

The revolutionary character of the proletariat was furthered by the fact that Russia in particular, as a backward country, under the compulsion of catching up with its opponents, had not been able to work out its own social or political conservatism. The most conservative country of Europe, in fact of the entire world, is considered, and correctly, to be the oldest capitalist country – England. The European country freest of conservatism would in all probability be Russia.

But the young, fresh, determined proletariat of Russia still constituted only a tiny minority of the nation. The reserves of its revolutionary power lay outside of the proletariat itself-in the peasantry, living in half-serfdom; and in the oppressed nationalities.


The peasantry

The subsoil of the revolution was the agrarian question. The old feudal monarchic system became doubly intolerable under the conditions of the new capitalist exploitation. The peasant communal areas amounted to some 140 million dessiatines. But 30,000 large landowners, whose average holdings were over 2,000dessiatines, owned altogether 7 million dessiatines, that is as much as some 10 million peasant population. These statistics of land tenure constituted a ready-made programme of agrarian revolt.

The nobleman, Bokorin, wrote in 1917 to the dignitary, Rodsianko, the Chairman of the last municipal Duma: “I am a landowner and I cannot get it into my head that I must lose my land, and for an unbelievable purpose to boot, for the experiment of the socialist doctrine.” But it is precisely the task of revolutions to accomplish that which the ruling classes cannot get into their heads.

In Autumn, 1917, almost the whole country was the scene of peasant revolts. Of the 642 departments of old Russia, 482, that is 77%, were affected by the movements! The reflection of the burning villages lit up the arena of the insurrections in the cities.

But you may argue the war of the peasants against the landowners is one of the classic elements of bourgeois revolution, and not at all of the proletarian revolution!

Perfectly right, I reply – so it was in the past. But the inability of capitalist society to survive in an historically backward country was expressed precisely in the fact that the peasant insurrections did not drive the bourgeois classes of Russia forward but on the contrary, drove them back for good into the camp of reaction. If the peasantry did not want to be completely ruined there was nothing else left for it but to join the industrial proletariat. This revolutionary joining of the two oppressed classes was foreseen by the genius of Lenin and prepared for him long before.

Had the agrarian question been courageously solved by the bourgeoisie, the proletariat of Russia would not, obviously, have been able to arrive at the power in 1917. But the Russian, bourgeoisie, covetous and cowardly, too late on the scene, prematurely a victim of senility, dared not lift a hand against feudal property. But thereby it delivered the power to the proletariat and together with it the right to dispose of the destinies of bourgeois society.

In order for the Soviet State to come into existence, it was consequently necessary for two factors of a different historical nature to collaborate: the peasant war, that is to say, a movement which is characteristic of the dawn of bourgeois development, and the proletarian insurrection, or uprising which announces the decline of the bourgeois movement. There we have the combined character of the Russian Revolution.

Once let the Bear – the peasant – stand up on his hind feet, he becomes terrible in his wrath. But he is unable to give conscious expression to his indignation. He needs a leader. For the first time in the history of the world, the insurrectionary peasants found a faithful leader in the person of the proletariat.

Four million workers in industry and transport leading a hundred million peasants. That was the natural and inevitable reciprocal relations between proletariat and peasantry in the Revolution.

The national question

The second revolutionary reserve of the proletariat was formed by the oppressed nationalities, who moreover were also predominantly peasants. Closely allied with the historical backwardness of the country is the extensive character of the development of the State, which spread out like a grease spot from the centre at Moscow to the circumference. In the East, it subjugated the still more backward peoples, basing itself upon them, in order to stifle the more developed nationalities of the West. To the 70 million Great Russians, who constituted the main mass of the population were added gradually some 90 millions of other races.

In this way arose the empire, in whose composition the ruling nationality made up only 43 percent of the population, while the remaining 57 per cent, consisted of nationalities of varying degrees of civilisation and legal deprivation. The national pressure was incomparably cruder than in the neighbouring States, and not only than those beyond the western frontier, but beyond the eastern one too. This conferred on the national problem an enormous explosive force.

The Russian liberal bourgeoisie was not willing in either the national or the agrarian question, to go beyond certain amelioration's of the regime of oppression and violence. The “democratic” Governments of Miliukov and Kerensky, which reflected the interests of the great Russian bourgeoisie and bureaucracy actually hastened to impress upon the discontented nationalities in the course of the eight months of their existence: “You will obtain what you can get by force.”

The inevitability of the development of the centrifugal national movements had been early taken into consideration by Lenin. The Bolshevik Party struggled obstinately for years for the right of self-determination for nations, that is, for the right of full secession. Only through this courageous position on the national question could the Russian proletariat gradually win the confidence of the oppressed peoples. The national independence movement as well as the agrarian movement, necessarily turned against the official democracy, strengthened the proletariat, and poured into the stream of the October upheaval.

The permanent revolution

In these ways the riddle of the proletarian upheaval in an historically backward country loses its veil of mystery.

Marxist revolutionaries predicted, long before the events, the march of the Revolution and the historical role of the young Russian proletariat. I may be permitted to repeat here a passage from a work of my own in 1905.

“In an economically backward country the proletariat can arrive at power earlier than in a capitalistically advanced one ...

“The Russian Revolution creates the conditions under which the power can (and in the event of a successful revolution must) be transferred to the proletariat, even before the policy of bourgeois liberalism receives the opportunity of unfolding its genius for government to its full extent.

“The destiny of the most elementary revolutionary interest of the peasantry ... is bound up with the destiny of the whole revolution, that is, with the destiny of the proletariat. The proletariat, once arrived at power, will appear before the peasantry as the liberating class.

“The proletariat enters into the Government as the revolutionary representative of the nation, as the acknowledged leader of the people in the struggle with absolutism and the barbarism of serfdom.

“The proletarian regime will have to stand from the very beginning for the solution of the agrarian question, with which the question of the destiny of tremendous masses of the population of Russia is bound up.”

I have taken the liberty of quoting these passages as evidence that the theory of the October Revolution which I am presenting today is no casual improvisation and was not constructed ex-post facto under the pressure of events. No, in the form of a political prognosis it preceded the October upheaval by a long time. You will agree that a theory is in general valuable only in so far as it helps to foresee the course of development and influence it purposively. Therein, in general terms, is the invaluable importance of Marxism as a weapon of social historical orientation. I am sorry that the narrow limits of the lecture do not permit me to enlarge upon the above quotation materially. I will therefore content myself with a brief resume of the whole work which dates from 1905.

In accordance with its immediate tasks, the Russian Revolution is a bourgeois revolution. But the Russian bourgeoisie is anti-revolutionary. The victory of the Revolution is therefore possible only as a victory of the proletariat. But the victorious proletariat will not stop at the programme of bourgeois democracy: it will go on to the programme of socialism. The Russian Revolution will become the first stage of the Socialist world revolution.

This was the theory of permanent revolution formulated by me in 1905 and since then exposed to the severest criticism under the name of “Trotskyism”.

To be more exact, it is only a part of this theory. The other part, which is particularly timely now, states:

The present productive forces have long outgrown their national limits. A socialist society is not feasible within national boundaries. Significant as the economic successes of an isolated workers’ state may be, the programme of “Socialism in one country” is a petty-bourgeois utopia. Only a European and then a world federation of socialist republics can be the real arena for a harmonious socialist society.

Today, after the test of events, I see less reason than ever to discard this theory.

Pre-requisites for October

After all that has been said above, is it still worthwhile to recall the Fascist writer Malaparte, who ascribes to me tactics which are independent of strategy and amount to a series of technical recipes for insurrection, applicable in all latitudes and longitudes? It is a good thing that the name of the luckless theoretician of the coup d’étatmakes it easy to distinguish him from the victorious practitioner of the coup d’état; no one therefore runs the risk of confusing Malaparte with Bonaparte.

Without the armed insurrection of 7th November, 1917, the Soviet State would not be in existence. But the insurrection itself did not drop from heaven. A series of historical prerequisites were necessary for the October Revolution.

  1. The rotting away of the old ruling classes-the nobility, the monarchy, the bureaucracy.
  2. The political weakness of the bourgeoisie, which had no roots in the masses of the people.
  3. The revolutionary character of the agrarian question.
  4. The revolutionary character of the problem of the oppressed nationalities.
  5. The significant social burdens weighing on the proletariat.

To these organic preconditions must be added certain highly important connected conditions.

  1. The Revolution of 1905 was the great school or in Lenin’s phrase, “the dress rehearsal” of the Revolution of 1917. The Soviet’s as the irreplaceable organisational form of the proletarian united front in the Revolution were created for the first time in the year 1905.
  2. The imperialist war sharpened all the contradictions, tore the backward masses out of their immobility, and thus prepared the grandiose scale of the catastrophe.

The Bolshevik Party

But all these conditions, which fully sufficed for the outbreak of the Revolution, were insufficient to assure the victory of the proletariat in the Revolution. For this victory one condition more was necessary.

  1. The Bolshevik Party

When I enumerate this condition last in the series, I do it only because it follows the logical sequence, and not because I assign the last place in the order of importance to the Party.

No,. I am far from such a thought. The liberal bourgeoisie can seize power and has seized it more than once as the result of struggles in which it took no part; it possesses organs of seizure which are admirably adapted to the purpose. But the working masses are in a different position; they have long been accustomed to give, and not to take. They work, are patient as long as they can be, hope, lose patience, rise up and struggle, die, bring victory to others, are betrayed, fall into despondency, bow their necks, and work again. Such is the history of the masses of the people under all regimes. To be able to take the power firmly and surely into its hands the proletariat needs a Party, which far surpasses other parties in the clarity of its thought and in its revolutionary determination.

The Bolshevik Party, which has been described more than once and with complete justification as the most revolutionary Party in the history of mankind was the living condensation of the modern history of Russia, of all that was dynamic in it. The overthrow of Tsarism had long been recognised as the necessary condition for the development of economy and culture. But for the solution of this task, the forces were insufficient. The bourgeoisie feared the Revolution. The intelligentsia tried to bring the peasant to his feet. The muzhik, incapable of generalising his own miseries and his aims, left this appeal unanswered. The intelligentsia armed itself with dynamite. A whole generation was wasted in this struggle.

On March 1st 1887, Alexander Ulianov carried out the last of the great terrorist plots. The attempted assassination of Alexander III failed. Ulianov and the other participants were executed. The attempt to make chemical preparation take the place of a revolutionary class, came to grief. Even the most heroic intelligentsia is nothing without the masses. Ulianov’s younger brother Vladimir, the future Lenin, the greatest figure of Russian history, grew up under the immediate impression of these facts and conclusion. Even in his early youth he placed himself on the foundations of Marxism and turned his face toward the proletariat. Without losing sight of the village for a moment he sought the way of the peasantry through the workers. Inheriting from his revolutionary predecessors their capacity for self sacrifice, and their willingness to go to the limit, Lenin, at an early age, became the teacher of the new generation of the intelligentsia and of the advanced workers. In strikes and street fights, in prisons and in exile, the workers received the necessary tempering. They needed the searchlight of Marxism to light up their historical road in the darkness of absolutism.

Among the émigrés the first Marxist group arose in 1883. In 1899 at a secret meeting, the foundation of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Party was proclaimed (we all called ourselves Social-Democrats in those days). In 1903 occurred the split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, and in 1912 the Bolshevik faction finally became an independent Party.

It learned to recognise the class mechanics of society in its struggles during the events of twelve years (1905-1917). It educated groups equally capable of initiative and of subordination. The discipline of its revolutionary action was based on the unity of its doctrine, on the tradition of common struggles and on confidence in its tested leadership.

Such was the party in 1917. Despised by the official “public opinion” and the paper thunder of the intelligentsia Press it adapted itself to the movement of the masses. It kept firmly in hand the lever of control in the factories and regiments. More and more the peasant masses turned toward it. If we understand by “nation” not the privileged heads, but the majority of the people, that is, the workers and peasants, then the Bolsheviks became during the course of 1917 a truly national Russian Party.

In September, 1917, Lenin who was compelled to keep in hiding gave the signal, “The crisis is ripe, the hour of insurrection has approached.” He was right. The ruling classes faced with the problems of the war, the land and liberation, had got into inextricable difficulties. The bourgeoisie positively lost its head. The democratic parties, the Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionaries, dissipated the last remaining bit of confidence of the masses in them by their support of the imperialist war, by their policy of compromise and concessions to the bourgeois and feudal property owners. The awakened army no longer wanted to fight for the alien aims of imperialism. Disregarding democratic advice, the peasantry smoked the landowners out of their estates. The oppressed nationalities of the far boundaries rose up against the bureaucracy of Petrograd. In the most important workers’ and soldiers’ Soviets the Bolsheviks were dominant. The ulcer was ripe. It needed a cut of the lancet.

Only under these social and political conditions was the insurrection possible. And thus it also became inevitable. But there is no playing around with insurrection. Woe to the surgeon who is careless in the use of the lancet! Insurrection is an art. It has its laws and its rules.

The party faced the realities of the October insurrection with cold calculation and with ardent resolution. Thanks to this, it conquered almost without victims. Through the victorious soviets the Bolsheviks placed themselves at the head of a country which occupies one sixth of the surface of the globe.

The majority of my present listeners, it is to be presumed, did not occupy themselves at all with politics in 1917. So much the better. Before the young generation lies much that is interesting, if not always easy. But the representatives of the old generation in this hall will certainly remember well how the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks was received: as a curiosity, as a misunderstanding, as a scandal; most often as a nightmare which was bound to disappear with the first rays of dawn. The Bolsheviks would last twenty four hours, a week, month, year. The period had to be constantly lengthened. The rulers of the whole world armed themselves up against the first workers’ state: civil war was stirred up, interventions again and again, blockade. So passed year after year. Meantime, history has recorded fifteen years of existence of the Soviet power.

Can October be justified?

“Yes", some opponents will say, “the adventure of October has shown itself to be much more substantial than many of us thought. Perhaps it was not even quite an ‘adventure’. Nevertheless, the question (#8211; What was achieved at this high cost? – retains its full force. Have the dazzling promises which the Bolsheviks proclaimed on the eve of the Revolution been fulfilled?”

Before we answer the hypothetical opponent let us note that the question in and of itself is not new. On the contrary, it followed right at the heels of the October Revolution, since the day of its birth.

The French journalist, Clad Anet, who was in Petrograd during the Revolution, wrote as early as 27th October, 1917:

“The maximalists (which was what the French called the Bolsheviks at that time) have seized power and the great day has come. At last, I say to myself, I shall behold the realisation of the socialist Eden which has been promised us for so many years ... Admirable adventure! A privileged position!”

And so on and so forth. What sincere hatred was behind the ironical salutation! The very morning after the capture of the Winter Palace, the reactionary journalist hurried to register his claim for a ticket of admission to Eden. Fifteen years have passed since the Revolution. With all the greater absence of ceremony our enemies reveal their malicious joy over the fact that the land of the Soviets, even today, bears but little resemblance to a realm of general well-being. Why then the Revolution and why the sacrifice?

Permit me to express the opinion that the contradictions, difficulties, mistakes and insufficiency of the Soviet regime are no less familiar to me than to anyone. I, personally, have never concealed them, whether in speech or in writing. I have believed and I still believe that revolutionary politics as distinguished from conservative, cannot be built up on concealment. “To speak out that which is” must be the highest principle of the workers’ State.

But in criticism, as well as in creative activity, perspective is necessary. Subjectivism is a poor adviser, particularly in great questions. Periods of time must be commensurate with the tasks, and not with individual caprices. Fifteen years! Haw long is that in the life of one man! Within that period not a few of our generation were borne to their graves and those who remain have added innumerable grey hors. But these same fifteen years – what an insignificant period in the life of a people! Only a minute on the clock of history.

Capitalism required centuries to establish itself in the struggle against the Middle Ages, to raise the level of science and technique, to build railroads, to make use of electric current. And then? Then humanity was thrust by capitalism into the hell of wars and crises.

But Socialism is allowed by its enemies, that is, by the adherents of capitalism, only a decade and a half to install on earth Paradise, with all modern improvements. Such obligations were never assumed by us.

The processes of great changes must be measured by scales which are commensurate with them. I do not know if the Socialist society will resemble the biblical Paradise. I doubt it. But in the Soviet Union there is no Socialism as yet. The situation that prevails there is one of transition, full of contradictions, burdened with the heavy inheritance of the past and in addition is under the hostile pressure of the capitalistic states. The October Revolution has proclaimed the principles of the new society. The Soviet Republic has shown only the first stage of its realisation. Edison’s first lamp was very bad. We must learn how to discern the future.

But the unhappiness that rains on living men! Do the results of the Revolution justify the sacrifice which it has caused? A fruitless question, rhetorical through and through; as if the processes of history admitted of a balance sheet accounting! We might just as well ask, in view of the difficulties and miseries of human existence, “Does it pay to be born altogether?” To which Heine wrote: “And the fool expects an answer” ... Such melancholy reflections haven’t hindered mankind from being born and from giving birth. Even in these days of unexampled world crisis, suicides fortunately constitute an unimportant percentage. But peoples never resort to suicide. When their burdens are intolerable they seek a way out through revolution.

Besides who are they who are indignant over the victims of the social upheaval? Most often those who have paved the way for the victims of the imperialist war, and have glorified or, at least, easily accommodated themselves to it. It is now our turn to ask, “Has the war justified itself? What has it given us? What has it taught?”

The reactionary historian, Hippolyte Taine, in his eleven volume pamphlet against the great French Revolution describes, not without malicious joy, the sufferings of the French people in the years of the dictatorship of the Jacobins and afterward. The worst off were the lower classes of the cities, the plebeians, who as “sansculottes” had given of their best for the Revolution. Now they or their wives stood in line throughout cold nights to return empty-handed to the extinguished family hearth. In the tenth year of the Revolution, Paris was poorer than before it began. Carefully selected, artificially pieced out facts serve Taine as Justification for his destructive verdict against the Revolution. Look, the plebeians wanted to be dictators and have precipitated themselves into misery!

It is hard to conceive of a more uninspired piece of moralising. First of all, if the Revolution precipitated the country into misery the blame lay principally on the ruling classes who drove the people to revolution. Second the great French Revolution did not exhaust itself in hungry lines before bakeries. The whole of modern France, in many respects the whole of modern civilisation, arose out of the bath of the French Revolution!

In the course of the Civil War in the United States in the ’60s of the past century, 50,000 men were killed. Can these sacrifices be justified?

From the standpoint of the American slaveholder and the ruling classes of Great Britain who marched with them – no! From the standpoint of the Negro or of the British working man – absolutely. And from the standpoint of the development of humanity as a whole there can be no doubt whatever. Out of the Civil War of the ’60s came the present United States with its unbounded practical initiative, its rationalised technique, its economic energy. On these achievements of Americanism, humanity will build the new society.

The October Revolution penetrated deeper than any of its predecessors into the Holy of Holies of society-into the property relations. So much the longer time is necessary to reveal the creative consequences of the Revolution in all spheres of life. But the general direction of the upheaval is already clear: the Soviet Republic has no reason whatever to bow its head before the capitalists accusers and speak the language of apology.

In order to appreciate the new regime from the stand-point of human development, one must first answer the question, “How does social progress express itself and how can it be measured?”

The balance sheet of October

The deepest, the most objective and the most indisputable criterion says: progress can be measured by the growth of the productivity of social labour. From this angle the estimate of the October Revolution is already given by experience. The principle of socialistic organisation has for the first time in history shown its ability to record results in production unheard of in a short space of time.

The curve of the industrial development of Russia expressed in crude index numbers is as follows, taking 1913, the last year before the war as 100. The year 1920, the highest point of the civil war, is also the lowest point in industry – only 25, that is to say, a quarter of the pre-war production. In 1925 it rose to 75, that is, three-quarters of the pre-war production; in 1929 about 200, in 1932: 300, that is to say, three times as much as on the eve of the war.

The picture becomes even more striking in the light of the international index. From 1925 to 1932 the industrial production of Germany has diminished one and a half times, in America twice, in the Soviet Union it has increased four fold. These figures speak for themselves.

I have no intention of denying or concealing the seamy side of the Soviet economy. The results of the industrial index are extraordinarily influenced by the unfavourable development of agriculture, that is to say, in the domain which essentially has not yet risen to Socialist methods, but at the same time had been led on the road to collectivisation with insufficient preparation, bureaucratically rather than technically and economically. This is a great question, which however goes beyond the limits of my lecture.

The index numbers cited require another important reservation. The indisputable and, in their way, splendid results of Soviet industrialisation demand a further economic checking-up from the stand point of the mutual adaptation of the various elements of the economy, their dynamic equilibrium and consequently their productive capacity. Here great difficulties and even set backs are inevitable. Socialism does not arise in its perfected form from the five-year Plan like Minerva from the head of Jupiter, or Venus from the foam of the sea. Before it are decades of persistent work, of mistakes, corrections, and reorganisation. Moreover, let us not forget that socialist construction in accordance with its very nature can only reach perfection on the international arena. But even the most favourable economic balance sheet of the results so far obtained could reveal only the incorrectness of the preliminary calculations, the faults of planning and errors of direction. It could in no way refute the empirically firmly established fact – the possibility, with the aid of socialist methods, of raising the productivity of collective labour to an unheard of height. This conquest, of world historical importance, cannot be taken away from us by anybody or anything.

After what has been said it is scarcely worthwhile to spend time on the complaints that the October Revolution has brought Russia to the downfall of its civilisation. That is the voice of the disquieted ruling houses and salons. The feudal bourgeois “civilisation” overthrown by the proletarian upheaval was only barbarism with decorations à la Talmi. While it remained inaccessible to the Russian people, it brought little that was new to the treasury of mankind.

But even with respect to this civilisation, which is so bemoaned by the white émigrés, we must put the question more precisely – in what sense has it been destroyed? Only in one sense: the monopoly of a small minority in the treasures of civilisation has been done away with. But everything of cultural value in the old Russian civilisation has remained untouched. The “Huns” of Bolshevism have shattered neither the conquests of the mind nor the creations of art. On the contrary, they carefully collected the monuments of human creativeness and arranged them in model order. The culture of the monarchy, the nobility and the bourgeoisie has now become the culture of the historic museums.

The people visit these museums eagerly. But they do not live in them. They learn. They construct. The fact alone that the October Revolution taught the Russian people, the dozens of peoples of Tsarist Russia, to read and write stands immeasurably higher than the whole former hot-house Russian civilisation.

The October Revolution has laid the foundations for a new civilisation which is designed, not for a select few, but for all. This is felt by the masses of the whole world. Hence their sympathy for the Soviet Union which is as passionate as once was their hatred for Tsarist Russia.

Human language is an irreplaceable instrument not only for giving names to events, but also for their valuation. By filtering out that which is accidental, episodic, artificial, it absorbs into itself that which is essential, characteristic, of full weight. Notice with what sensibility the languages of civilised nations have distinguished two epochs in the developments of Russia. The culture of the nobility brought into world currency such barbarisms as Tsar, Cossack, pogrom, nagaika. You know these words and what they mean. The October Revolution introduced into the language of the world such words as Bolshevik, Soviet, kolkhoz, Gosplan, piatileka. Here practical linguistics holds it historical supreme court!

The most profound meaning of the Revolution, but the hardest to submit to immediate measurement, consists in the fact that it forms and tempers the character of the people. The conception of the Russian people as slow, passive, melancholy, mystical, is widely spread and not accidental. It has its roots, in the past. But in Western countries up to the present time those far reaching changes which have been introduced into the character of the people by the revolution, have not been sufficiently considered. Could it be otherwise?

Every man with experience of life can recall the picture of some youth that he has known, receptive, lyrical, all too susceptible, who later becomes suddenly under the influence of a powerful moral impetus, stronger, better balanced and hardly recognisable. In the developments of a whole nation, such moral transformations are wrought by the revolution.

The February insurrection against the autocracy, the struggle against the nobility, against the imperialist war, for peace, for land, for national equality, the October insurrection, the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and of those parties which supported it, or sought agreements with the bourgeoisie, three years of civil war on a front of 5000 miles, the years of blockade, hunger, misery, and epidemics, the years of tense economic reconstruction, of new difficulties and renunciations-these make a hard but good school. A heavy hammer smashes glass, but forges steel. The hammer of the revolution is forging the steel of the people’s character.

“Who will believe,” wrote a Tsarist general, Zalweski, with indignation shortly after the upheaval, “that a porter or a watchman suddenly becomes a chief justice, a hospital attendant the director of the hospital, a barber an office-holder, a corporal a commander-in-chief, a day-worker a mayor, a locksmith the director of a factory?”

“Who will believe it?” But it had to be believed. They could do nothing else but believe it, when the corporals defeated the generals, when the mayor – the former day-worker – broke the resistance of the old bureaucracy, the wagon greaser put the transportation system into order, the locksmith as director put the industrial equipment into working condition. “Who will believe it?” Let anyone only try not to believe it.

For an explanation of the extraordinary persistence which the masses of the people of the Soviet Union are showing throughout the years of the revolution, many foreign observers rely, in accord with ancient habit, on the “passivity” of the Russian character. Gross anachronism! The revolutionary masses endure privations patiently but not passively. With their own hands they are creating a better future and are determined to create it at any cost. Let the enemy class only attempt to impose his will from outside on these patient masses! No, better, he should not try!

The Revolution and its place in history

Let me now, in closing, attempt to ascertain the place of the October Revolution, not only in the history of Russia but in the history of the world. During the year of 1917, in a period of eight months, two historical curves intersect. The February upheaval – that belated echo of the great struggles which had been carried out in the past centuries on the territories of Holland, England, France, nearly all over Continental Europe – takes its place in the series of bourgeois revolutions. The October Revolution proclaimed and opened the domination of the proletariat. World capitalism suffered its first great defeat on the Russian territory. The chain broke at its weakest link. But it was the chain that broke, and not only the link.

Capitalism has outlived itself as a world system. It has ceased to fulfil its essential function: the raising of the level of human power and human wealth. Humanity cannot remain stagnant at the level which it has reached. Only a powerful increase in productive force and a sound, planned, that is, socialist organisation of production and distribution can assure humanity – all humanity – of a decent standard of life and at the same time give it the precious feeling of freedom with respect to its own economy. Freedom in two senses – first of all man will no longer be compelled to devote the greater part of his life to physical toil. Second, he will no longer be dependent on the laws of the market, that is, on the blind and obscure forces which work behind his back. He will build his economy freely, according to plan, with compass in hand. This time it is a question of subjecting the anatomy of society to the X-ray through and through, of disclosing all its secrets and subjecting all its functions to the reason and the will of collective humanity. In this sense, socialism must become a new step in the historical advance of mankind. Before our ancestor, who first armed himself with a stone axe, the whole of nature represented a conspiracy of secret and hostile forces. Since then, the natural sciences hand in hand with practical technology, have illuminated nature down to its most secret depths. By means of electrical energy, the physicist passes judgement on the nucleus of the atom. The hour is not far when science will easily solve the task of alchemists, and turn manure into gold and gold into manure. Where the demons and furies of nature once raged, now reigns over more courageously the industrious will of man.

But while he wrestled victoriously with nature, man built up his relations to order men blindly almost like the bee or the ant. Slowly and very haltingly he approached the problems of human society.

The Reformation represented the first victory of bourgeois individualism in a domain which had been ruled by dead tradition. From the church, critical thought went on to the State. Born in the struggle with absolutism and the medieval estates, the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people and of the rights of man and the citizen grew stronger. Thus arose the system of parliamentarianism. Critical thought penetrated into the domain of government administration. The political rationalism of democracy was the highest achievement of the revolutionary bourgeoisie.

But between nature and the state stands economic life. Technical science liberated man from the tyranny of the old elements – earth, water, fire and air – only to subject him to its own tyranny. Man ceased to be a slave to nature to become a slave to the machine, and, still worse, a slave to supply and demand. The present world crisis testifies in especially tragic fashion how man, who dives to the bottom of the ocean, who rise up to the stratosphere, who converses on invisible waves from the Antipodes, how this proud and daring ruler of nature remains a slave to the blind forces of his own economy. The historical task of our epoch consists in replacing the uncontrolled play of the market by reasonable planning, in disciplining the forces of production, compelling them to work together in harmony and obediently serve the needs of mankind. Only on this new social basis will man be able to stretch his weary limbs and – every man and every woman, not only a selected few – become a citizen with full power in the realm of thought.

The Future of Man

But this is not yet the end of the road. No, it is only the beginning. Man calls himself the crown of creation. He has a certain right to that claim. But who has asserted that present-day man is the last and highest representative of the species Homo Sapiens? No, physically as well as spiritually he is very far from perfection, prematurely born biologically, with feeble thought, and has not produced any new organic equilibrium.

It is true that humanity has more than once brought forth giants of thought and action, who tower over their contemporaries like summits in a chain of mountains. The human race has a right to be proud of its Aristotle, Shakespeare, Darwin, Beethoven, Goethe, Marx, Edison and Lenin. But why are they so rare? Above all, because almost without exception they came out of the middle and upper classes. Apart from rare exceptions, the sparks of genius in the suppressed depths of the people are choked before they can burst into flame. But also because the processes of creating, developing and educating a human being have been and remain essentially a matter of chance, not illuminated by theory and practice, not subjected to consciousness and will.

Anthropology, biology, physiology and psychology have accumulated mountains of material to raise up before mankind in their full scope the tasks of perfecting and developing body and spirit. Psycho-analysis, with the inspired hand of Sigmund Freud, has lifted the cover of the well which is poetically called the “soul”. And what has been revealed? Our conscious thought is only a small part of the work of the dark psychic forces. Learned divers descend to the bottom of the ocean and there take photographs of mysterious fishes. Human thought, descending to the bottom of its own psychic sources must shed light on the most mysterious driving forces of the soul and subject them to reason and to will.

Once he has done with the anarchic forces of his own society man will set to work on himself, in the pestle and retort of the chemist. For the first time mankind will regard itself as raw material, or at best as a physical and psychic semi-finished product. Socialism will mean a leap from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom in this sense also, that the man of today, with all his contradictions and lack of harmony, will open the road for a new and happier race.


Bonaparte, Napoleon I (1769-1821): Seized power in coup d’état in 1804, proclaiming the French empire and himself emperor.
Clausewitz, Karl Von (1780-183l): Prussian army officer, military theoretician.
Duma: Parliament in Russia before 1917. Had a truncated franchise.
Jacobins: Popular name for members of the Society of the Friends of the Constitution, who were the radical wing of the French revolution.
Kerensky, Alexander (1882-1970): Reformist Prime Minister in Russia in 1917, overthrown by the October Revolution.
Liebknecht, Wilhelm (1826-1900): Alongside Bebel founder of the German Social Democracy.
Liebknecht, Karl (1871-1919): Leader of the left wing of the German Social Democracy, opposed World War One, founded Spartakusbund with Rosa Luxembourg. Murdered by reactionary troops in January 1919.
Mensheviks: Reformist wing of the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party (RSDLP), until 1912 when it and the Bolsheviks became separate parties. The Mensheviks opposed the October 1917 revolution.
Miliukov, Paul (1859-1943): Leader of the capitalist Cadet Party in Russia. Minister of Foreign Affairs until May 1917.
Poincaré, Raymond (1860-1934): President of France, 1913-20, Prime Minister 1912, 1922-24, 1926-29.
Social Democratic International: Historically Social Democratic was the title adopted by many workers’ parties. The International collapsed in 1914 when a majority of its parties supported the imperialist war.
Social Revolutionaries (SRs): Peasant socialist party. Split in 1917, the Left SRs participated for a period in the Soviet government, the right SRs opposed the revolution.


From Marxists Internet Archive http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1932/11/oct.htm

Of the class struggle and the things we eat


Of the class struggle and the things we eat

Esther Vivas

Do the rich and poor eat the same? Do our incomes determine our diet? Today, who is overweight? Although often, and from certain quarters, the call for healthy and wholesome food is viewed with disdain, as “a fad”, “posh”, “hippy” or “flower power” the reality is rather different than these short-sighted comments imply. To defend ecological, local, peasant food is most “revolutionary”.

If we look closely we see how today’s agricultural model is determined by the interests of capital, by the interests of large companies (the agroindustrial sector and supermarkets), which seek to profit from something as essential as food. The capitalist system, in its race to transform needs into commodities, rights into privileges, making food, and especially food products of quality, into a luxury. Just as it has made housing only accessible to those who can afford it, and the same fate awaits our health and education systems.

Although it is not only the logic of capital that impacts on food, the invisible hand of patriarchy also pulling the strings of this system. If not how is it that those who produce the most food, women, are the most hungry? Do not forget that between 60% and 80% of food production in the South, according to the FAO, is in the hands of women, however you are, paradoxically, it is women who suffer most from hunger, 60% globally. Women work the land, but do not have access to land ownership, means of production or agricultural credit. This not about being ideological, but to make it clear to all who consider the idea of “eating well” is, as they say in France, a thing of the “bobos, the “bohemian bourgeois”, that nothing could be further from the reality.

If we answer the initial questions, the data confirms this. Do the rich and poor eat the same? No. Does our income determines our diet? Indeed. A study of Spain’s Platform of People Affected by Mortgages has put this in black and white: 45% of those who have been evicted have difficulty buying enough food to eat. Income puts limits on what we buy: it decreases consumption of beef and fish and in relation to the pre-crisis period, the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables. In contrast, there’s been an increase in the purchase of less nutritious products, highly processed and high in calories, such as packaged sweets: cookies, chocolates, pastries and cakes. Our social class, education and purchasing power determines what we eat.

So, today, who is overweight? In general, those who have less eat worse. Looking at the map of the Spanish peninsula it is clear: the regions with the highest poverty rates, such as Andalucía, Canarias, Castilla-La Mancha and Extremadura, have the highest population that is overweight. In the US, people with higher obesity problems are African American and Latino communities. The crisis only accentuates the difference between food for the rich and food for the poor.

Questioning the dominant agricultural model and fighting for an alternative that places at its core people’s needs and respect for the land, is to get to the heart of the class struggle. The Agricultural Workers’ Union (Sindicato de Obreros del Campo, SOC) in Andalusia, led by Cañamero Diego and Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, neither easily classifiable as “petty bourgeois”, are clear about it. Their work is to defend of a living countryside, land to the tiller, in favour of organic farming, for another model of consumption. This is a “fight” in defense of “nobodies”, the oppressed.

To fight for food that is local, healthy and campesino is the most subversive battle there is.

Article published at Publico.es, 31/10/2014. Translation by Revolting Europe.

From International Viewpoint