MARXIST INTERNET ARCHIVE |  V. I. Lenin

V. I. Lenin

CAN THE BOLSHEVICKS RETAIN STATE POWER?

Written at the end of September-         October 1 (14), 1917        Published in October 1917        in the magazine Prosveshsneniye No. 1-2        

Published accordingto the magazine text

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

Vol. 26, pp. 87-136.

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


Prepared © for the Internet by David J. Romagnolo, djr@cruzio.com (June 1997)

CAN THE BOLSHEVIKS RETAIN STATE POWER?

 

Forward to the Second Edition   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .
Afterward .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

89
131

NOTES


    CAN THE BOLSHEVIKS    RETAIN STATE POWER?[49]


    FOREWORD TO THE SECOND EDITION

        The present pamphlet, as is evident from the text, was written at the end of September and was finished on October 1, 1917.

        The October 25 Revolution has transferred the question raised in this pamphlet from the sphere of theory to the sphere of practice.

        This question must now be answered by deeds, not words. The theoretical arguments advanced against the Bolsheviks taking power were feeble in the extreme. These arguments have been shot to pieces.

        The task now is for the advanced class -- the proletariat -- to prove in practice the viability of the workers' and peasants' government. All class-conscious workers, all the active and honest peasants, all working and exploited people, will do everything they can to solve the immense historic question in practice.

        To work, everybody to work, the cause of the world socialist revolution must and will triumph.

        St. Petersburg, November 9, 1917.

    N. Lenin  

        On what are all trends agreed, from Rech to Novaya Zhizns [50] inclusively, from the Kornilovite Cadets to the semi-Bolsheviks, all, except the Bolsheviks?

        They all agree that the Bolsheviks will either never dare take over full state power alone, or, if they do dare, and do take power, they will not be able to retain it even for the shortest while.

        If anybody asserts that the question of the Bolsheviks alone taking over full state power is a totally unfeasible political question, that only a swelled-headed "fanatic" of the worst kind can regard it as feasible, we refute this assertion by quoting the exact statements of the most responsible and most influential political parties and trends of various "hues".

        But let me begin with a word or two about the first of the questions mentioned -- will the Bolsheviks dare take over full state power alone? I have already had occasion, at the All-Russia Congress of Soviets, to answer this question in the affirmative in no uncertain manner by a remark that I shouted from my seat during one of Tsereteli's[51] ministerial speeches. And I have not met in the press, or heard, any statements by Bolsheviks to the effect that we ought not to take power alone. I still maintain that a political party -- and the party of the advanced class in particular -- would have no right to exist, would be unworthy of the name of party, would be a nonentity in any sense, if it refused to take power when opportunity offers.

        We shall now quote statements by the Cadets, Socialist-Revolutionaries and semi-Bolsheviks (I would prefer to say quarter-Bolsheviks) on the question that interests us.

        The leading article in Rech of September 16:

        "Discord and confusion reigned in the Alexandrinsky Theatre, and the socialist press reflects the same picture. Only the views of the Bolsheviks are definite and straightforward At the Conference, they are the views of the minority. In the Soviets, they represent a constantly growing trend. But In spite of all their verbal pugnacity, their boastful phrases and display of self-confidence, the Bolsheviks, except for a few fanatics, are brave only in words. They would not attempt to take 'full power' on their own accord. Disorganisers and disrupters par excellence, they are really cowards who in their heart of hearts are fully aware of both their own intrinsic ignorance and the ephemeral nature of their present successes. They know as well as we all do that the first day of their ultimate triumph would also be the first day of their precipitous fall. Irresponsible by their very nature, anarchists in method and practice, they should be regarded only as a trend of political thought, or rather, as one of its aberrations. The best way to get rid of Bolshevism for many a year, to banish it, would be to place the country's fate in the hands of its leaders. And if it were not for the awareness that experiments of this kind are impermissible and fatal, one might in desperation decide on even this heroic measure. Happily, we repeat, these dismal heroes of the day are not by any means actually out to seize full power. Not under any circumstances are they capable of constructive work. Thus, all their definite and straight-forward views are confined to the political rostrum, to soap-box oratory. For practical purposes their position cannot be taken into consideration from any point of view. In one respect, however, it has some practical consequence: it unites all other shades of 'socialist thought' opposed to it. . . ."

        This is the way the Cadets reason. Here, however, is the view of the biggest, "ruling and governing", party in Russia, the Socialist-Revolutionaries, also expressed in an unsigned, i.e., editorial, leading article in their official organ Dyelo Naroda of September 21:

        "If the bourgeoisie refuse, pending the convocation of the Constituent Assembly, to work with the democracy on the basis of the platform that was endorsed by the Conference, then the coalition must arise from within the Conference itself. This would be a serious sacrifice on the part of the supporters of the coalition, but even those campaigning for the idea of a 'pure line' of power will have to agree to it. We are afraid, however, that agreement may not be reached here. In that case a third and final combination remains, namely: the government must be organised by that half of the Conference which on principle advocated the idea of a homogeneous government.
        "Let us put it definitely: the Bolsheviks will be obliged to form a Cabinet. With the greatest energy, they imbued the revolutionary democrats with hatred of the coalition, promising them all sorts of benefits as soon as 'compromise' was abandoned, and attributing to the latter all the country's misfortunes.

        "If they were aware of what they were doing by their agitation, if they were not deceiving the people, it is their duty to redeem the promissory notes they have been handing out right and left.
        "The question is clear.
        "Let them not make futile attempts to hide behind hastily concocted theory that it is impossible for them to take power.
        "The democracy will not accept these theories.
        "At the same time, the advocates of coalition must guarantee them full support. These are the three combinations, the three ways, open to us -- there are no others!" (The italics are those of Dyelo Naroda.)

        This is the way the Socialist-Revolutionaries reason. And here, finally, is the "position" (if attempts to sit between two stools can be called a position) of the Novaya Zhizn "quarter-Bolsheviks", taken from the editorial in Novaya Zhizn of September 23.

        "If a coalition with Konovalov and Kishkin is formed again, it will mean nothing but a new capitulation by the democracy and the abrogation of the Conference resolution on the formation of a responsible government on the platform of August 14. . . .

        "A homogeneous ministry of Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries will be able to feel its responsibility as little as the responsible socialist ministers felt it in the coalition cabinet. . . . This government would not only be incapable of rallying the 'live forces' of the revolution around itself, but would not even be able to count on any active support from its vanguard -- the proletariat.
        "But the formation of another type of homogeneous cabinet, a government of the 'proletariat and poor peasants', would be, not a better, but an even worse way out of the situation, in fact it would not be a way out at all, but sheer bankruptcy. True, nobody is advancing such a slogan except in casual, timid and later systematically 'explained away' comments in Rabochy Put."

        (This glaring untruth is "boldly" written by responsible journalists who have forgotten even the Dyelo Naroda editorial of September 21.)

        "Formally, the Bolsheviks have now revived the slogan 'All Power to the Soviets'. It was withdrawn after the July days, when the Soviets, represented by the Central Executive Committee, definitely adopted an active anti-Bolshevik policy. Now, however, not only can the 'Soviet line' be regarded as straightened out, but there is every ground to assume that at the proposed Congress of Soviets the Bolsheviks will have a majority. Under such circumstances the slogan 'All Power to the Soviets', resurrected by the Bolsheviks, is a 'tactical line' for achieving precisely the dictatorship of the proletariat and the 'poor peasants' True, the Soviets also imply the Soviets of Peasants' Deputies; the Bolshevik slogan therefore implies a power resting on the overwhelmingly greater part of the entire democracy of Russia. In that case, however, the slogan 'All Power to the Soviets' loses all independent signiflcance, for it makes the Soviets almost identical in composition to the Pre-parliament set up by the Conference. . . ."

        (Novaya Zhizn's assertion is a brazen lie, equivalent to declaring that spurious and fraudulent democracy is "almost identical" to democracy: the Pre-parliament is a sham which passes off the will of the minority of the people, particularly of Kuskova, Berkenheim, Chaikovsky and Co., as the will of the majority. This is the first point. The second point is that at the Conference even the Peasants' Soviets that had been packed by the Avksentyevs and Chaikovskys gave such a high percentage opposed to the coalition that taken together with the Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, they would have brought about the absolute collapse of the coalition. And the third point is that "Power to the Soviets" means that the power of the Peasants' Soviets would embrace mainly the rural districts, and in the rural districts the predominance of the poor peasants is assured.)

        "If it is one and the same thing, then the Bolshevik slogan should be immediately withdrawn. If, however, 'Power to the Soviets' is only a disguise for the dictatorship of the proletariat, then such a power would mean precisely the failure and collapse of the revolution.
        "Does it need proof that the proletariat, isolated not only from the other classes in the country, but also from the real live forces of the democracy, will not be able either technically to lay hold of the state apparatus and set it in motion in an exceptionally complicated situation, or politically to resist all the pressure by hostile forces that will sweep away not only the proletarian dictatorship, but the entire revolution into the baryain?
        "The only power that will answer the requirements of the present situation is a really honest coalition within the democracy."

    *     *
    *

        We apologise to the reader for quoting these lengthy extracts, but they are absolutely necessary. It is necessary to present a precise picture of the positions taken by the different parties hostile to the Bolsheviks. It is necessary to prove in a definite manner the extremely important fact-that all these parties have admitted that the question of the Bolsheviks taking full state power alone is not only feasible, but also urgent.

        Let us now proceed to examine the arguments which convince "everybody", from the Cadets to the Novaya Zhizn people, that the Bolsheviks will not be able to retain power.

        The respectable Rech advances no arguments whatsoever. It merely pours out upon the Bolsheviks a flood of the choicest and most irate abuse. The extract we quoted shows, among other things, how utterly wrong it would be to say, "Watch out, comrades, for what the enemy advises must certainly be bad", thinking that Rech is "provoking" the Bolsheviks to take power. If, instead of weighing up the general and concrete considerations in a practical way, we allow ourselves to be "persuaded" by the plea that the bourgeoisie are "provoking" us to take power, we shall be fooled by the bourgeoisie, for the latter will of course always maliciously prophesy millions of disasters that will result from the Bolsheviks taking power and will always maliciously shout, "It would be better to get rid of the Bolsheviks at one blow and 'for many a year' by allowing them to take power and then crushing them." These cries are also "provocation", if you will, but from a different angle. The Cadets and the bourgeoisie do not by any means "advise", and have never "advised", us to take power; they are only trying to frighten us with the allegedly insoluble problems of government.

        No. We must not allow ourselves to be frightened by the screams of the frightened bourgeoisie. We must bear firmly in mind that we have never set ourselves "insoluble" social problems, and as for the perfectly soluble problem of taking immediate steps towards socialism, which is the only way out of the exceedingly difficult situation, that will be solved only by the dictatorship of the proletariat and poor peasants. Victory, and lasting victory, is now more than ever, more than anywhere else, assured for the proletariat in Russia if it takes power.

        We shall in a purely practical manner discuss the concrete circumstances that make a certain moment unfavourable; but we shall not for a moment allow ourselves to be scared by the savage howls of the bourgeoisie; and we shall not forget that the question of the Bolsheviks taking full power is becoming really urgent. Our Party will now be threatened with an immeasurably greater danger if we forget this than if we were to admit that taking power is "premature". In this respect, there can be nothing "premature" now: there is every chance in a million, except one or two perhaps, in favour of this. Concerning the irate abuse poured out by Rech, we can and must, say:

        That the bourgeoisie hate us so passionately is one of the most striking proofs that we are showing the people the right ways and means of overthrowing the rule of the bourgeoisie.

    *     *
    *

        This time, by way of rare exception, Dyelo Naroda did not deign to honour us with its abuse nor did it advance a ghost of an argument. It merely tried, by indirect hints, to frighten us with the prospect that "the Bolsheviks will be obliged to form a cabinet". I can quite believe that while trying to frighten us, the Socialist-Revolutionaries are themselves sincerely seared to death by the phantom of the frightened liberal. I can equally believe that the Socialist-Revolutionaries do succeed in certain exceptionally high and esceptionally rotten institutions, such as the Central Executive Committee and similar "contact" (i.e., contact with the Cadets, in plain language, hobnobbing with the Cadets) commissions, in scaring some Bolsheviks because, first, the atmosphere in all those Central Executives, pre-parliaments, etc., is abominable, putrid to the point of nausea, and harmful for any man to breathe for any length of time; and secondly, sincerity is contagious, and a sincerely frightened philistine is capable of converting even an individual revolutionary into a philistine for a time.

        But however much we may, "humanly" speaking, understand the sincere fright of a Socialist-Revolutionary who has had the misfortune to be a minister in the company of the Cadets, or who is eligible as a minister in the eyes of the Cadets, we would be committing a political error that might only too easily border on treachery to the proletariat if we allowed ourselves to be scared. Let us have your practical arguments, gentlement! Cherish no hope that we shall allow ourselves to be scared by your fright!

    *     *
    *

        This time we find practical arguments only in Novaya Zhizn. On this occasion the paper comes out in the role of counsel for the bourgeoisie, a role that suits it far better than that of counsel for the defence of the Bolsheviks, which so obviously "shocks" this lady with many good points.[53]

        The counsel has advanced six pleas:

        (1) the proletariat is "isolated from the other classes in the country";

        (2) it is "isolated from the real live forces of the democracy";

        (3) it "will not be able technically to lay hold of the state apparatus";

        (4) it "will not be able to set this apparatus in motion";

        (5) "the situation is exceptionally complicated";

        (6) it "will be incapable of resisting all the pressure by hostile forces that will sweep away not only the proletarian dictatorship, but the entire revolution into the bargain".

        Novaya Zhizn formulates the first plea in a ridiculously clumsy fashion, for in capitalist and semi-capitalist society we know of only three classes: the bourgeoisie, the petty bourgeoisie (which consists mainly of the peasantry), and the proletariat. What sense is there in talking about the proletariat being isolated from the other classes when the point at issue is the proletariat's struggle against the bourgeoisie, revolution against the bourgeoisie?

        Evidently, Novaya Zhizn wanted to say that the proletariat is isolated from the peasants, for it could not possibly have meant the landowners. It could not, however, say clearly and definitely that the proletariat is now isolated from the peasants, for the utter incorrectness of this assertion would be too obvious.

        It is difficult to imagine that in a capitalist country the proletariat should be so little isolated from the petty bourgeoisie -- and, mark you, in a revolution against the bourgeoisie -- as the proletariat now is in Russia. The latest returns of the voting by "curias" for and against coalition with the bourgeoisie in Tsereteli's "Bulygin Duma", i.e., in the notorious "Democratic" Conference, constitute one of the objective and incontrovertible proofs of this. If we take the Soviets' curias we get:

 

For coali-tion

Against

Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers'       
   Deputies  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
Soviets of Peasant Deputies .  .  .  .  .  .


 83
102


192
 70


All Soviets .  .  .  .  .

185

262


    page 541


    NOTES

      [49] Written at Vyborg in late September-October 1 (14), 1917. First published in the magazine Prosveshcheniye (Education ) No. 1-2 for October 1917.
        Prosveshcheniye, a monthly Bolshevik theoretical journal legally published in Petersburg from December 1911 to June 1914. It had a peak circulation of 5,000.
        It was put out on Lenin's suggestion, and contained contributions from Vorovsky, Ulyanova-Yelizarova, Krupskaya, Olminsky and others. Gorky edited the belle lettres section. Lenin directed its policy from Paris and then from Cracow and Poronin; he edited some of the articles and kept up a regular correspondence with members of the editorial board.
        The magazine exposed opportunists -- liquidators, otzovists and Trotskyites -- and also bourgeois nationalists, and reported on the working-class struggle at the time of the new revolutionary upsurge; it popularised Bolshevik slogans in the electoral campaign for the Fourth Duma and opposed revisionism and centrism in the parties of the Second International. It had a great part to play in educating forward-looklng workers in Russia in the Marxist international spirit.
        On the eve of the First World War, in June 1914 it was closed down by the tsarist government, and resumed publication in the autumn of 1917, but only one double issue was put out.    [p.87]

    page 542

      [50] Novaya Zhizn (New Life) -- a Menshevik daily, the organ of a group of Social-Democrats known as the internationalists, among whom were Mensheviks, the followers of Martov and Menshevik minded intellectuals. Published in Petrograd from April 1917 to July 1918.    [p.90]

      [51] This happened on June 4 (17), 1917, during a speech of the Menshevik Tsereteli, a Minister of the Provisional Government, who had said that there was no political party in Russia which was prepared to take full power in the country. On behalf of the Bolshevik Party, Lenin interrupted Tsereteli with the remark: "There is!" In his speech from the rostrum later, Lenin declared that the Bolshevik Party "is ready to take over full power at any moment" (see Vol. 25, p. 20).    [p.90]

      [52] From Nekrasov's poem, "Blessed Is the Gentle Poet".    [p.95]

      [53] Reference to a character from Gogol's Dead Souls.    [p.96]

      [54] Znamya Truda (The Banner of Labour ) -- a daily, the organ of the Petrograd Committee of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party published from August 23 (September 5), 1917. From November 1 (14), 1917 (No. 59), the organ of the Petrograd Committee of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party and the group of Left Socialist Revolutionaries of the Central Executive Committee of the Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets. From December 28, 1917 (January 10, 1918) (No. 105), the paper became the Central Organ of the Party of Left Socialist-Revolutionaries. Closed down in July 1918 during the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries' revolt.    [p.97]

      [55] Volya Naroda (People's Will ) -- a daily, the organ of the Right wing of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party. Published in Petrograd from April 29, 1917; closed down in November 1917. Later published under other names. Closed down for good in February 1918.    [p.100]

      [56] Sedan -- scene of the rout of the French Army by the Prussians on September 1-2, 1870, when more than 100,000 French soldiers, together with their Emperor Napoleon III, were taken prisoner.    [p.107]

      [56a] Shingaryov, A. I. (1869-1918) -- Cadet from 1907, member of the Cadet Central Committee. Deputy to the Second, Third and Fourth Dumas. After the bourgeois-democratic revolution of February 1917 was Minister of Agriculture in the First and Minister of Finance in the Second Provisional Government.    [p.108]

      [57] See Marx's letter to L. Kugelmann of April 12, 1871. (Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1955, p. 318.)    [p.118]

    page 543

      [58] Reference to Chekhov's The Man in a Muffler, portraying a timid soul who is afraid of every little innovation.    [p.119]

      [59] See Engels's letter to F A. Sorge of February 22, 1888.    [p.126]

      [60] Reference to the words of Molchalin, a character from Griboyedov's comedy Wit Works Woe who became a symbol of sycophancy and toadyism.    [p.132]

      [61] Reference to the following: February 28 (March 13 ) -- date of the February revolution, September 30 (October 13 ) -- first tentative date set by the Provisional Government for the convocation of the Constituent Assembly; November 28 (December 11 ), 1917 -- date of the convocation of the Constituent Assembly.    [p.136]

      [62] A quotation from N. Sukhanov's article "Another Thunderbolt" carried by the newspaper Novava Zhisn (New Life ).
        From August 1917, Smolny Institute was the headquarters of the, Bolshevik groups of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee, and the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies. The Revolutionary Military Committee also had its premises there from October.    [p.136]