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V. I. Lenin

THE BOLSHEVIKS MUST ASSUME POWER

A LETTER TO THE CENTRAL COMMITTEE
AND THE PETROGRAD AND MOSCOW COMMITTEES
OF THE R.S.D.L.P.(B.)

Written September
12-14 (25-27), 1917
 
First published in 1821
in the magazine Proletarskaya
Revolutsia,
No. 2

Published according
to the magazine text verified
with a typewritten copy
 
 
 

From V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, 4th English Edition,
Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1964

Vol. 26, pp. 19-21.

Translated from the Russian
by Yuri Sdobnikov and George Hanna
Edited by George Hanna


Prepared © for the Internet by David J. Romagnolo, djr@marx2mao.org (January 1997)
     THE BOLSHEVIKS MUST ASSUME POWER[1]

    A LETTER TO THE CENTRAL COMMITTEE
    AND THE PETROGRAD AND MOSCOW COMMITTEES
    OF THE R.S.D.L.P.(B.)

        The Bolsheviks, having obtained a majority in the Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies of both capitals, can and must take state power into their own hands.

        They can because the active majority of revolutionary elements in the two chief cities is large enough to carry the people with it, to overcome the opponent's resistance, to smash him, and to gain and retain power. For the Bolsheviks, by immediately proposing a democratic peace, by immediately giving the land to the peasants and by re-establishing the democratic institutions and liberties which have been mangled and shattered by Kerensky, will form a government which nobody will be able to overthrow.

        The majority of the people are on our side. This was proved by the long and painful course of events from May 6 to August 31 and to September 12.[2] The majority gained in the Soviets of the metropolitan cities resulted from the people coming over to our side. The wavering of the Socialist-Revolutionaries[3] and Mensheviks and the increase in the number of internationalists within their ranks prove the same thing.

        The Democratic Conference[4] represents not a majority of the revolutionary people, but only the compromising upper strata of the petty bourgeoisie. We must not be deceived by the election flgures; elections prove nothing. Compare the elections to the city councils of Petrograd and Moscow with the elections to the Soviets. Compare the elections in Moscow with the Moscow strike of August 12.

    Those are objective facts regarding that majority of revolutionary elements that are leading the people.

        The Democratic Conference is deceiving the peasants; it is giving them neither peace nor land.

        A Bolshevik government alone will satisfy the demands of the peasants.

    *     *
    *

        Why must the Bolsheviks assume power at this very moment ?

        Because the impending surrender of Petrograd will make our chances a hundred times less favourable.

        And it is not in our power to prevent the surrender of Petrograd while the army is headed by Kerensky and Co.

        Nor can we "wait" for the Constituent Assembly, for by surrendering Petrograd IKerensky and Co. can always frustrate its convocation. Our Party alone, on taking power, can secure the Constituent Assembly's convocation; it will then accuse the other parties of procrastination and will be able to substantiate its accusations.[5]

        A separate peace between the British and German imperialists must and can be prevented, but only by quick action .

        The people are tired of the waverings of the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries. It is only our victory in the metropolitan cities that will carry the peasants with us.

    *     *
    *

        We are concerned now not with the "day", or "moment" of insurrection in the narrow sense of the word. That will be only decided by the common voice of those who are in contact with the workers and soldiers, with the masses.

        The point is that now, at the Democratic Conference our Party has virtually its own congress, and this congress (whether it wishes to or not) must decide the fate of the revolution.

        The point is to make the task clear to the Party. The present task must be an armed uprising in Petrograd and Moscow (with its region), the seizing of power and the overthrow of the government . We must consider how to agitate for this without expressly saying as much in the press.

        We must remember and weigh Marx's words about insurrection, "Insurrection is an art ",[6] etc.

    *     *
    *

        It would be naïve to wait for a "formal" majority for the Bolsheviks. No revolution ever waits for that. Kerensky and Co. are not waiting either, and are preparing to surrender Petrograd. It is the wretched waverings of the Democratic Conference that are bound to exhaust the patience of the workers of Petrograd and Moscow! History will not forgive us if we do not assume power now.

        There is no apparatus? There is an apparatus‹the Soviets and the democratic organigations. The international situation right now, on the eve of the conclusion of a separate peace between the British and the Germans, is in our favour. To propose peace to the nations right now means to win.

        By taking power both in Moscow and in Petrograd at once (it doesn't matter which comes first, Moscow may possibly begin), we shall win absolutely and unquestionably.

    N. Lenin  

    NOTES

      [1] The letters on pp. 19-21 and 22-27 [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's "Marxism and Insurrection". -- DJR] were discussed by the Central Committee on September 15 (28), 1917, which decided to call a meeting shortly to discuss tactics. The following question was put to the vote: preservation of only one copy of Lenin's letters. The vote was 6 in favour, four against and six abstentions. Kamenev, an opponent of the Party's course towards a socialist revolution, motioned a resolution aimed against Lenin's proposals to organise an armed uprising. Kamenev's motion was defeated.    [p.19]

      [2] May 6 : announcement of the first coalition Provisional Government; August 31: the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies passed a Bolshevik resolution calling for the establishment of a Soviet Government; September 12: the date set by the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies and the Executive Committee of the All-Russia Soviet of Peasants' Deputies, both dominated by Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, for the convocation of a Democratic Conference. The Democratic Conference took place in Petrograd September 14-22 (September 27-October 5), 1917. For details see pp. 43-51 and 52-58 of this volume.  [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's "Heroes of Fraud and the Mistakes of the Bolsheviks" and "From a Publicist's Diary. The Mistakes of Our Party ", respectively. -- DJR]    [p.19]

      [3] Socialist-Rewlutionaries -- a petty-bourgeois party founded in late 1901 and early 1902 through the merger of various Narodnik groups and circles (League of Socialist-Revolutionaries, Socialist-Revolutionary Party, etc.) which professed a hotch-potch of Narodnik and revisionist ideas. During the First World War, most of its members held social-chauvinist views.
        After the bourgeois-democratic revolution in February 1917, the Socialist-Revolutionaries, together with the Mensheviks, were the mainstay of the bourgeois-landowner Provisional Government, and the Party's leaders (Avksentyev, Kerensky and Chernov) were in the Cabinet. The Party refused to support the peasant demand for the abolition of landed estates and favoured the preservation of large holdings; its ministers in the Provisional Government sent punitive expeditions against peasants who seized tracts of large estates.
        At the end of November 1917, the Left wing formed a separate party, which, in an effort to retain its influence among the peasants, went through the motions of recognising Soviet power and

    page 530

    entered into an agreement with the Bolsheviks. Very soon, however, they began to fight against Soviet power.
        During the foreign armed intervention and Civil War the Socialist-Revolutionaries engaged in subverion and gave active support to the interventionists and whiteguards; they took part in counter-revolutionary plots, and staged terroristic acts against Soviet Government and Communist Party leaders. After the Civil War, they continued to engage in their hostile activity at home and among the whiteguard emigres abroad.    [p.19]

      [4] The All-Russia Democratic Conference was called by the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets, which was dominated by Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, to decide on the question of state power, but its actual purpose was to switch the attention of the masses away from the mounting revolutionary movement. It was first set for September 12 (25), and later postponed to September 14-22 (September 27-October 5), 1917, when it was held in Petrograd and attended by more than 1,500 delegates. The Menshevik and Socialist-Revolutionary leaders did their utmost to reduce the number of workers' and peasants' delegates and increase those of various petty-bourgeois and bourgeois groups, thereby securing a majority.
        The Central Committee of the R.S.D.L.P (B.) met on September 3 (16) and decided to take part. It circulated a letter among local Party organisations instructing them to "do their utmost to build up the largest possible well-knit group of delegates from among our Party members". The Bolsheviks decided to attend in order to expose the Mensheviks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries.
        The tactics of the Bolsheviks in respect of the Democratic Conference were outlined by Lenin in two of his letters (see pp. 19-21 and 22-27  [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's "Marxism and Insurrection". -- DJR]).
        The Democratic Conference adopted a resolution on the establishment of a Pre-parliament (Caretaker Council of the Republic), which was an attempt to create the impression that Russia now had a parliamentary system. Actually, according to the Provisional Government's ordinance, the Pre-parliament was to be a consultative body under the Government.
        A meeting of the Bolshevik delegates to the Democratic Conference called by the Central Committee decided, by a vote of 77 to 50, to take part in the Pre-parliament.
        In the articles on pp. 43-51, 52-58 and 74-85  [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's "Heroes of Fraud and the Mistakes of the Bolsheviks", "From a Publicist's Diary. The Mistakes of Our Party ", and his "The Crisis Has Matured", respectively. -- DJR], Lenin had some criticism to make of the Bolshevik tactics in respect of the Democratic Conference; he flatly demanded that the Bolsheviks should withdraw from the Pre-parliament and concentrate on preparing for the insurrection. The Central Committee debated Lenin's proposal and adopted a resolution on the withdrawal of the Bolsheviks from the Pre-parliament despite resistance on the part of Kamenev, Rykov and other capitulants. On October 7 (20), the opening day of the Pre-parliament, the Bolsheviks read out a declaration and walked out.    [p.19]

      [5] The Provisional Government announced the convocation of the Constituent Assembly in its declaration of March 2 (15), 1917. On June 14 (27) it adopted a decision setting the election for September 17 (30), but in August postponed the date to November 12 (25).
        The election was actually held after the October Socialist Revolution at the appointed time and on party lists drawn up before the revolution, in accordance with a Provisional Government ordinance. At the time of the election the bulk of the people had not yet realised the full implications of the socialist revolution, a fact which the Right Socialist-Revolutionaries used to win a majority in the areas remote from the capital and the industrial centres. The Constituent Assembly was called by the Soviet Government and opened in Petrograd on January 5 (18), 1918. Its counter-revolutionary majority rejected the Declaration of Rights of the Working and Exploited People, which was placed before it by the All-Russia Central Executive Committee, and refused to recognise Soviet power. It was dissolved by a decree of the Central Executive Committee on January 6 (19). For details see pp. 379-83, 434-36, 437-41 of this volume.    [p.20]

      [6] See Engels's Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany which was published in instalments in the New York Daily Tribune in 1851 and 1852. It bore Marx's signature, who had intended to write the work but was too busy with his economic studies and asked Engels to do it. Engels consulted Marx on various points and submitted the articles for his perusal before dispatching them to the paper. The fact that the work was written by Engels came out later with the publication of their correspondence.    [p.21]