MARXIST INTERNET ARCHIVE | History of CP Bolshevik

H I S T O R Y O F  T H E C O M M U N I S T   P A R T Y

O F  T H E

S O V I E T  U N I O N

(B O L S H E V I K S)

C H A P T E R S I X
THE BOLSHEVIK PARTY IN THE PERIOD OF THE IMPERIALIST WAR. THE SECOND REVOLUTION IN RUSSIA (1914-MARCH 1917)
1. OUTBREAK AND CAUSES OF THE IMPERIALIST WAR

2. PARTIES OF THE SECOND INTERNATIONAL SIDE WITH THEIR IMPERIALIST GOVERNMENTS. DISINTEGRATION OF THE SECOND INTERNATIONAL INTO SEPARATE SOCIAL-CHAUVINIST PARTIES

3. THEORY AND TACTICS OF THE BOLSHEVIK PARTY ON THE QUESTION OF WAR, PEACE AND REVOLUTION

4. DEFEAT OF THE TSARIST ARMY. ECONOMIC DISRUPTION. CRISIS OF TSARDOM

5.THE FEBRUARY REVOLUTION. FALL OF TSARDOM. FORMATION OF SOVIETS OF WORKERS' AND SOLDIERS' DEPUTIES. FORMATION OF THE PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT. DUAL POWER

5. THE FEBRUARY REVOLUTION. FALL OF TSARDOM. FORMATION OF SOVIETS OF WORKERS' AND SOLDIERS' DEPUTIES. FORMATION OF THE PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT. DUAL POWER

    The year 1917 was inaugurated by the strike of January 9. In the course of this strike demonstrations were held in Petrograd, Moscow, Baku and Nizhni-Novgorod. In Moscow about one-third of the workers took part in the strike of January 9. A demonstration of two thousand persons on Tverskoi Boulevard was dispersed by mounted police. A demonstration on the Vyborg Chaussée in Petrograd was joined by soldiers.

    "The idea of a general strike," the Petrograd police reported, "is daily gaining new followers and is becoming as popular as it was in 1905."

    The Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries tried to direct this incipient revolutionary movement into the channels the liberal bourgeoisie needed. The Mensheviks proposed that a procession of workers to the State Duma be organized on February 14, the day of its opening. But the working-class masses followed the Bolsheviks, and went, not to the Duma, but to a demonstration.

    On February 18, 1917, a strike broke out at the Putilov Works in Petrograd. On February 22 the workers of most of the big factories were on strike. On International Women's Day, February 23 (March 8), at the call of the Petrograd Bolshevik Committee, working women came out in the streets to demonstrate against starvation, war and tsardom. The Petrograd workers supported the demonstration of the working women by a city-wide strike movement. The political strike began to grow into a general political demonstration against the tsarist system.

    On February 24 (March 9) the demonstration was resumed with even greater vigour. About 200,000 workers were already on strike.

    On February 25 (March 10) the whole of working-class Petrograd had joined the revolutionary movement. The political strikes in the districts merged into a general political strike of the whole city. Demonstrations and clashes with the police took place everywhere. Over the masses of workers floated red banners bearing the slogans: "Down with the tsar!" "Down with the war!" "We want bread!"

    On the morning of February 26 (March 11) the political strike and demonstration began to assume the character of an uprising. The workers disarmed police and gendarmes and armed themselves. Nevertheless, the clashes with the police ended with the shooting down of a demonstration on Znamenskaya Square.

    General Khabalov, Commander of the Petrograd Military Area, announced that the workers must return to work by February 28 (March 13), otherwise they would be sent to the front. On February 25 (March 10) the tsar gave orders to General Khabalov: "I command you to put a stop to the disorders in the capital not later than tomorrow."

    But "to put a stop" to the revolution was no longer possible.

    On February 26 (March 11) the 4th Company of the Reserve Battalion of the Pavlovsky Regiment opened fire, not on the workers, however, but on squads of mounted police who were engaged in a skirmish with the workers. A most energetic and persistent drive was made to win over the troops, especially by the working women, who addressed themselves directly to the soldiers, fraternized with them and called upon them to help the people to overthrow the hated tsarist autocracy.

    The practical work of the Bolshevik Party at that time was directed by the Bureau of the Central Committee of our Party which had its quarters in Petrograd and was headed by Comrade Molotov. On February 26 (March 11) the Bureau of the Central Committee issued a manifesto calling for the continuation of the armed struggle against tsardom and the formation of a Provisional Revolutionary Government.

    On February 27 (March 12) the troops in Petrograd refused to fire on the workers and began to line up with the people in revolt. The number of soldiers who had joined the revolt by the morning of February 27 was still no more than 10,000, but by the evening it already exceeded 60,000.

    The workers and soldiers who had risen in revolt began to arrest tsarist ministers and generals and to free revolutionaries from jail. The released political prisoners joined the revolutionary struggle.

    In the streets, shots were still being exchanged with police and gendarmes posted with machine guns in the attics of houses. But the troops rapidly went over to the side of the workers, and this decided the fate of the tsarist autocracy.

    When the news of the victory of the revolution in Petrograd spread to other towns and to the front, the workers and soldiers everywhere began to depose the tsarist officials.

    The February bourgeois-democratic revolution had won.

    The revolution was victorious because its vanguard was the working class which headed the movement of millions of peasants clad in soldiers' uniform demanding "peace, bread and liberty." It was the hegemony of the proletariat that determined the success of the revolution.

    "The revolution was made by the proletariat. The proletariat displayed heroism; it shed its blood; it swept along with it the broadest masses of the toiling and poor population," wrote Lenin in the early days of the revolution. (Lenin, Collected Works, Russ. ed., Vol. XX, pp. 23-4.)

    The First Revolution, that of 1905, had prepared the way for the swift success of the Second Revolution, that of 1917.

    "Without the tremendous class battles," Lenin wrote, "and the revolutionary energy displayed by the Russian proletariat during the three years, 1905-07, the second revolution could not possibly have been so rapid in the sense that its initial stage was completed in a few days." (Lenin, Selected Works, Vol. VI, pp. 3-4.)

    Soviets arose in the very first days of the revolution. The victorious revolution rested on the support of the Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies. The workers and soldiers who rose in revolt created Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies. The Revolution of 1905 had shown that the Soviets were organs of armed uprising and at the same time the embryo of a new, revolutionary power. The idea of Soviets lived in the minds of the working-class masses, and they put it into effect as soon as tsardom was overthrown, with this difference, however, that in 1905 it was Soviets only of Workers' Deputies that were formed, whereas in February 1917, on the initiative of the Bolsheviks, there arose Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies.

    While the Bolsheviks were directly leading the struggle of the masses in the streets, the compromising parties, the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, were seizing the seats in the Soviets, and building up a majority there. This was partly facilitated by the fact that the majority of the leaders of the Bolshevik Party were in prison or exile (Lenin was in exile abroad and Stalin and Sverdlov in banishment in Siberia) while the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries were freely promenading the streets of Petrograd. The result was that the Petrograd Soviet and its Executive Committee were headed by representatives of the compromising parties: Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries. This was also the case in Moscow and a number of other cities. Only in Ivanovo-Voznesensk, Krasnoyarsk and a few other places did the Bolsheviks have a majority in the Soviets from the very outset.

    The armed people -- the workers and soldiers -- sent their representatives to the Soviet as to an organ of power of the people. They thought and believed that the Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies would carry out all the demands of the revolutionary people, and that, in the first place, peace would be concluded.

    But the unwarranted trustfulness of the workers and soldiers served them in evil stead. The Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks had not the slightest intention of terminating the war, of securing peace. They planned to take advantage of the revolution to continue the war. As to the revolution and the revolutionary demands of the people, the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks considered that the revolution was already over, and that the task now was to seal it and to pass to a "normal" constitutional existence side by side with the bourgeoisie. The Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik leaders of the Petrograd Soviet therefore did their utmost to shelve the question of terminating the war, to shelve the question of peace, and to hand over the power to the bourgeoisie.

    On February 27 (March 12), 1917, the liberal members of the Fourth State Duma, as the result of a backstairs agreement with the Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik leaders, set up a Provisional Committee of the State Duma, headed by Rodzyanko, the President of the Duma, a landlord and a monarchist. And a few days later, the Provisional Committee of the State Duma and the Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik leaders of the Executive Committee of the Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, acting secretly from the Bolsheviks, came to an agreement to form a new government of Russia -- a bourgeois Provisional Government, headed by Prince Lvov, the man whom, prior to the February Revolution, even Tsar Nicholas II was about to make the Prime Minister of his government. The Provisional Government included Milyukov, the head of the Constitutional-Democrats, Guchkov, the head of the Octobrists, and other prominent representatives of the capitalist class, and, as the representative of the "democracy," the Socialist-Revolutionary Kerensky.

    And so it was that the Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik leaders of the Executive Committee of the Soviet surrendered the power to the bourgeoisie. Yet when the Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies learned of this, its majority formally approved of the action of the Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik leaders, despite the protest of the Bolsheviks.

    Thus a new state power arose in Russia, consisting, as Lenin said, of representatives of the "bourgeoisie and landlords who had become bourgeois."

    But alongside of the bourgeois government there existed another power -- the Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies. The soldier deputies on the Soviet were mostly peasants who had been mobilized for the war. The Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies was an organ of the alliance of workers and peasants against the tsarist regime, and at the same time it was an organ of their power, an organ of the dictatorship of the working class and the peasantry.

    The result was a peculiar interlocking of two powers, of two dictatorships: the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, represented by the Provisional Government, and the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry, represented by the Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies.

    The result was a dual power.

    How is it to be explained that the majority in the Soviets at first consisted of Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries?

    How is it to be explained that the victorious workers and peasants voluntarily surrendered the power to the representatives of the bourgeoisie?

    Lenin explained it by pointing out that millions of people, inexperienced in politics, had awakened and pressed forward to political activity. These were for the most part small owners, peasants, workers who had recently been peasants, people who stood midway between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Russia was at that time the most petty bourgeois of all the big European countries. And in this country, "a gigantic petty-bourgeois wave has swept over everything and overwhelmed the class-conscious proletariat, not only by force of numbers but also ideologically; that is, it has infected and imbued very wide circles of workers with the petty-bourgeois political outlook." (Lenin, Selected Works, Vol. VI, p. 49.)

    It was this elemental petty-bourgeois wave that swept the petty bourgeois Menshevik and Socialist-Revolutionary parties to the fore.

    Lenin pointed out that another reason was the change in the composition of the proletariat that had taken place during the war and the inadequate class-consciousness and organization of the proletariat at the beginning of the revolution. During the war big changes had taken place in the proletariat itself. About 40 per cent of the regular workers had been drafted into the army. Many small owners, artisans and shop-keepers, to whom the proletarian psychology was alien, had gone to the factories in order to evade mobilization.

    It was these petty-bourgeois sections of the workers that formed the soil which nourished the petty-bourgeois politicians -- the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries.

    That is why large numbers of the people, inexperienced in politics, swept into the elemental petty-bourgeois vortex, and intoxicated with the first successes of the revolution, found themselves in its early months under the sway of the compromising parties and consented to surrender the state power to the bourgeoisie in the naive belief that a bourgeois power would not hinder the Soviets in their work.

    The task that confronted the Bolshevik Party was, by patient work of explanation, to open the eyes of the masses to the imperialist character of the Provisional Government, to expose the treachery of the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks and to show that peace could not be secured unless the Provisional Government were replaced by a government of Soviets.

    And to this work the Bolshevik Party addressed itself with the utmost energy.

    It resumed the publication of its legal periodicals. The newspaper Pravda appeared in Petrograd five days after the February Revolution, and the Sotsial-Demokrat in Moscow a few days later. The Party was assuming leadership of the masses, who were losing their confidence in the liberal bourgeoisie and in the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries. It patiently explained to the soldiers and peasants the necessity of acting jointly with the working class. It explained to them that the peasants would secure neither peace nor land unless the revolution were further developed and the bourgeois Provisional Government replaced by a government of Soviets.


 

B R I E F   S U M M A R Y
 

    The imperialist war arose owing to the uneven development of the capitalist countries, to the upsetting of equilibrium between the principal powers, to the imperialists' need for a redivision of the world by means of war and for the creation of a new equilibrium.

    The war would not have been so destructive, and perhaps would not even have assumed such dimensions, if the parties of the Second International had not betrayed the cause of the working class, if they had not violated the anti-war decisions of the congresses of the Second International, if they had dared to act and to rouse the working class against their imperialist governments, against the warmongers.

    The Bolshevik Party was the only proletarian party which remained faithful to the cause of Socialism and internationalism and which organized civil war against its own imperialist government. All the other parties of the Second International, being tied to the bourgeoisie through their leaders, found themselves under the sway of imperialism and deserted to the side of the imperialists.

    The war, while it was a reflection of the general crisis of capitalism, at the same time aggravated this crisis and weakened world capitalism. The workers of Russia and the Bolshevik Party were the first in the world successfully to take advantage of the weakness of capitalism. They forced a breach in the imperialist front, overthrew the tsar and set up Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies.

    Intoxicated by the first successes of the revolution, and lulled by the assurances of the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries that from now on everything would go well, the bulk of the petty-bourgeoisie, the soldiers, as well as the workers, placed their confidence in the Provisional Government and supported it.

    The Bolshevik Party was confronted with the task of explaining to the masses of workers and soldiers, who had been intoxicated by the first successes, that the complete victory of the revolution was still a long way off, that as long as the power was in the hands of the bourgeois Provisional Government, and as long as the Soviets were dominated by the compromisers -- the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries -- the people would secure neither peace, nor land, nor bread, and that in order to achieve complete victory, one more step had to be taken and the power transferred to the Soviets.