Spartacist South Africa No. 15
Celebrating the 1917 Russian Revolution
Lenin’s April Theses: Rearming the Bolshevik Party
“We shall now proceed to construct the socialist order.” With these words, V.I. Lenin, addressing the Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies in Petrograd, announced that the proletariat had seized state power in Russia on 7 November 1917 (October 25 according to the old Julian calendar).
The key to victory was the existence of a revolutionary party that was able to orient itself in the midst of the revolutionary crisis of 1917, win the confidence of the masses and lead them in overthrowing the bourgeoisie. The Bolshevik Party was that party, and it was Lenin’s unique contribution to have waged the vital political struggles required to build that party and, in 1917, ensure that the Bolsheviks followed a course towards the seizure of power.
Among the most crucial fights was that launched by Lenin upon his return from exile in April 1917. At the time, the Bolsheviks were a minority in the soviets, whose leadership was dominated by the Mensheviks and the Social-Revolutionaries. The programme of these parties was that the bourgeoisie should lead and rule, and they used their dominant position in the soviets to ensure that power was placed in the hands of the bourgeois Provisional Government following the February Revolution.
The right wing of the Bolshevik leadership—represented by the likes of Lev Kamenev and Joseph Stalin—advocated “critical support” to the Provisional Government, including supporting “democratic” Russia in the imperialist war. Lenin’s April Theses (also known by their title, “The Tasks of the Proletariat in the Present Revolution”), published below, opened up a struggle against this opportunist, liquidationist course. This fight was carried through at the April 1917 party conference of the Bolshevik Party. We also reprint Lenin’s “Notes for an article or speech in defence of the April Theses”, also written in April 1917, which further elaborate some of the points of the Theses.
A crucial historical document of the Russian Revolution, the April Theses also represent a polemic against the notions of “two-stage revolution” and the “popular front”, which the Stalinists would years later borrow from the Mensheviks of 1917 and revive for their own anti-revolutionary purposes.
The Bolsheviks, led by Lenin and Leon Trotsky, saw the October Revolution as the opening shot in the struggle against the rule of capital internationally. But between 1918 and 1923, revolutions in Europe, most importantly in Germany, were defeated and the Soviet workers state was left isolated. Ravaged by World War I and the imperialist-backed Civil War which followed the revolution, economically backward Russia was devastated, the vanguard of its proletariat decimated. Under these conditions, a bureaucratic caste headed by Stalin carried out a political counterrevolution, beginning in 1923-24. The proletarian property forms remained, but political power had been usurped from the working class.
Trotsky fought implacably against the Stalinist degeneration of the Soviet Union and the bureaucracy’s repudiation of the revolutionary internationalist programme of the Bolsheviks. He was driven into exile and continued the fight for genuine revolutionary Marxism until 1940, when he was murdered by a Stalinist assassin.
As part of our struggle for international socialist revolution, we of the International Communist League (ICL) stood for the unconditional military defence of the Soviet Union to the end. At the same time, we fought for proletarian political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy. The Soviet workers state was finally destroyed through capitalist counterrevolution in 1991-92.
Today, the ICL continues to uphold the programme and principles of Lenin and Trotsky. The October Revolution remains the indispensable guide to proletarian revolution, which, extended internationally, will lay the basis to realise the liberating goals of communism. To this end, we fight to reforge the Trotskyist Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution.
For more on the history of the 1917 Revolution, readers are referred to “In Defense of October”, reprinted in Workers Vanguard No. 1121 (3 November 2017) and No. 1122 (17 November 2017); and to “For New October Revolutions!”, published in WV No. 1123 (1 December 2017) and No. 1124 (15 December 2017).
* * *
1) In our attitude towards the war, which under the new government of Lvov and Co. unquestionably remains on Russia’s part a predatory imperialist war owing to the capitalist nature of that government, not the slightest concession to “revolutionary defencism” is permissible.
The class-conscious proletariat can give its consent to a revolutionary war, which would really justify revolutionary defencism, only on condition: (a) that the power pass to the proletariat and the poorest sections of the peasants aligned with the proletariat; (b) that all annexations be renounced in deed and not in word; (c) that a complete break be effected in actual fact with all capitalist interests.
In view of the undoubted honesty of those broad sections of the mass believers in revolutionary defencism who accept the war only as a necessity, and not as a means of conquest, in view of the fact that they are being deceived by the bourgeoisie, it is necessary with particular thoroughness, persistence and patience to explain their error to them, to explain the inseparable connection existing between capital and the imperialist war, and to prove that without overthrowing capital it is impossible to end the war by a truly democratic peace, a peace not imposed by violence.
The most widespread campaign for this view must be organised in the army at the front.
2) The specific feature of the present situation in Russia is that the country is passing from the first stage of the revolution—which, owing to the insufficient class-consciousness and organisation of the proletariat, placed power in the hands of the bourgeoisie—to its second stage, which must place power in the hands of the proletariat and the poorest sections of the peasants.
This transition is characterised, on the one hand, by a maximum of legally recognised rights (Russia is now the freest of all the belligerent countries in the world); on the other, by the absence of violence towards the masses, and, finally, by their unreasoning trust in the government of capitalists, those worst enemies of peace and socialism.
This peculiar situation demands of us an ability to adapt ourselves to the special conditions of Party work among unprecedentedly large masses of proletarians who have just awakened to political life.
3) No support for the Provisional Government; the utter falsity of all its promises should be made clear, particularly of those relating to the renunciation of annexations. Exposure in place of the impermissible, illusion-breeding “demand” that this government, a government of capitalists, should cease to be an imperialist government.
4) Recognition of the fact that in most of the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies our Party is in a minority, so far a small minority, as against a bloc of all the petty-bourgeois opportunist elements, from the Popular Socialists and the Socialist-Revolutionaries down to the Organising Committee (Chkheidze, Tsereteli, etc.), Steklov, etc., etc., who have yielded to the influence of the bourgeoisie and spread that influence among the proletariat.
The masses must be made to see that the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies are the only possible form of revolutionary government, and that therefore our task is, as long as this government yields to the influence of the bourgeoisie, to present a patient, systematic, and persistent explanation of the errors of their tactics, an explanation especially adapted to the practical needs of the masses.
As long as we are in the minority we carry on the work of criticising and exposing errors and at the same time we preach the necessity of transferring the entire state power to the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies, so that the people may overcome their mistakes by experience.
5) Not a parliamentary republic—to return to a parliamentary republic from the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies would be a retrograde step—but a republic of Soviets of Workers’, Agricultural Labourers’ and Peasants’ Deputies throughout the country, from top to bottom.
Abolition of the police, the army and the bureaucracy.*
The salaries of all officials, all of whom are elective and displaceable at any time, not to exceed the average wage of a competent worker.
6) The weight of emphasis in the agrarian programme to be shifted to the Soviets of Agricultural Labourers’ Deputies.
Confiscation of all landed estates.
Nationalisation of all lands in the country, the land to be disposed of by the local Soviets of Agricultural Labourers’ and Peasants’ Deputies. The organisation of separate Soviets of Deputies of Poor Peasants. The setting up of a model farm on each of the large estates (ranging in size from 100 to 300 dessiatines [Russian unit of land equal to 10 900 square meters], according to local and other conditions, and to the decisions of the local bodies) under the control of the Soviets of Agricultural Labourers’ Deputies and for the public account.
7) The immediate amalgamation of all banks in the country into a single national bank, and the institution of control over it by the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies.
8) It is not our immediate task to “introduce” socialism, but only to bring social production and the distribution of products at once under the control of the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies.
9) Party tasks:
(a) Immediate convocation of a Party congress;
(b) Alteration of the Party Programme, mainly:
(1) On the question of imperialism and the imperialist war;
(2) On our attitude towards the state and our demand for a “commune state”**;
(3) Amendment of our out-of-date minimum programme;
(c) Change of the Party’s name.***
10). A new International.
We must take the initiative in creating a revolutionary International, an International against the social-chauvinists and against the “Centre”.****
Notes for an Article or Speech in Defence of the April Theses
(1) Economic debacle is imminent. Therefore removal of the bourgeoisie is a mistake.
(This is the conclusion of the bourgeoisie. The more imminent the debacle, the more essential is it that the bourgeoisie be removed.)
(2) Proletariat is unorganised, weak, lacking class-consciousness.
(True. Therefore, the whole task is to fight those petty-bourgeois leaders, the so-called Social-Democrats–Chkheidze, Tsereteli, Steklov—who lull the masses, encourage them to put their trust in the bourgeoisie.
Not unity with these petty bourgeois—Chkheidze, Steklov, Tsereteli—but utter defeat of these Social-Democrats, who are ruining the revolution of the proletariat.)
(3) Revolution is bourgeois at the present stage. Therefore no need for “socialist experiment”.
(This argument is an out-and-out bourgeois argument. No one talks about a “socialist experiment”. The concrete Marxist proposition requires that institutions now as well as classes be taken into account.)
Stranglers of the revolution, by honeyed phrases—Chkheidze, Tsereteli, Steklov—are dragging the revolution back, away from the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies towards the undivided sway of the bourgeoisie, towards the usual bourgeois parliamentary republic.
We must ably, carefully, clear people’s minds and lead the proletariat and poor peasantry forward, away from “dual power” towards the full power of the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies, and this is the commune in Marx’s sense, in the sense of the experience of 1871.
The question is not how fast to move, but where to move.
The question is not whether the workers are prepared, but how and for what they should be prepared.
Since the manifestos and appeals of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies on the war, etc., are sheer petty-bourgeois humbug designed merely to lull the people to sleep, it is our business above all, as I have said, to clear people’s minds, to rid the masses of the bourgeois influence of Chkheidze, Steklov, Tsereteli and Co.
The “revolutionary defencism” of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, i.e., of Chkheidze, Tsereteli and Steklov, is a chauvinist trend a hundred times more harmful for being cloaked in honeyed phrases, an attempt to reconcile the masses with the Provisional Revolutionary Government.
The dull, unenlightened masses duped by Chkheidze, Tsereteli, Steklov and Co. do not realise that the war is a continuation of policy, that wars are waged by governments.
It must be made clear that the “people” can stop the war or change its character only by changing the class character of the government.
Footnotes to April Theses
* I.e., the standing army to be replaced by the arming of the whole people.
**I.e., a state of which the Paris Commune was the prototype.
*** Instead of “Social-Democracy”, whose official leaders throughout the world have betrayed socialism and deserted to the bourgeoisie (the “defencists” and the vacillating “Kautskyites”), we must call ourselves the Communist Party.
**** The “Centre” in the international Social-Democratic movement is the trend which vacillates between the chauvinists (=“defencists”) and internationalists, i.e., Kautsky and Co. in Germany, Longuet and Co. in France, Chkheidze and Co. in Russia, Turati and Co. in Italy, MacDonald and Co. in Britain, etc.