One of the Fundamental Questions of the Revolution
|Written||27 September 1917|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 25, pages 370-377.
The key question of every revolution is undoubtedly the question of state power. Which class holds power decides everything. When Dyelo Naroda, the paper of the chief governing party in Russia, recently complained (No. 147) that, owing to the controversies over power, both the question of the Constituent Assembly and that of bread are being forgotten, the Socialist-Revolutionaries should have been answered, “Blame yourselves. For it is the wavering and indecision of your party that are mostly to blame for ‘ministerial leapfrog’, the interminable postponements of the Constituent Assembly, and the undermining by the capitalists of the planned and agreed measures of a grain monopoly and of providing the country with bread.”
The question of power cannot be evaded or brushed aside, because it is the key question determining everything in a revolution’s development, and in its foreign and domestic policies. It is an undisputed fact that our revolution has “wasted” six months in wavering over the system of power; it is a fact resulting from the wavering policy of the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks. In the long run, these parties’ wavering policy was determined by the class position of the petty bourgeoisie, by their economic instability in the struggle between capital and labour.
The whole issue at present is whether the petty-bourgeois democrats have learned anything during these great, exceptionally eventful six months. If not, then the revolution is lost, and only a victorious uprising of the proletariat can save it. If they have learned something, the establishment of a stable, unwavering power must be begun immediately. Only if power is based, obviously and unconditionally, on a majority of the population can it be stable during a popular revolution, i.e., a revolution which rouses the people, the majority of the workers and peasants, to action. Up to now state power in Russia has virtually remained in the hands of the bourgeoisie, who are compelled to make only particular concessions (only to begin withdrawing them the following day), to hand out promises (only to fail to carry them out), to search for all sorts of excuses to cover their domination (only to fool the people by a show of “honest coalition”), etc., etc. In words it claims to be a popular, democratic, revolutionary government, but in deeds it is an anti-popular, undemocratic, counter-revolutionary, bourgeois government. This is the contradiction which has existed so far and which has been a source of the complete instability and inconsistency of power, of that “ministerial leapfrog” in which the S.R.s and Mensheviks have been engaged with such unfortunate (for the people) enthusiasm.
In early June 1917 1 told the All-Russia Congress of Soviets that either the Soviets would be dispersed and die an inglorious death, or all power must be transferred to them. The events of July and August very convincingly bore out these words. No matter what lies the lackeys of the bourgeoisie—Potresov, Plekhanov and others, who designate as “broadening the base” of power its virtual transfer to a tiny minority of the people, to the bourgeoisie, the exploiters—may resort to, only the power of the Soviets can be stable, obviously based on a majority of the people.
Only Soviet power could be stable and not be overthrown even in the stormiest moments of the stormiest revolution. Only this power could assure a continuous and broad development of the revolution, a peaceful struggle of parties within the Soviets. Until this power is created, there will inevitably be indecision, instability, vacillation, endless “crises of power”, a constant farce of ministerial leapfrog, outbreaks on the Right and on the Left.
The slogan, “Power to the Soviets”, however, is very often, if not in most cases, taken quite incorrectly to mean a “Cabinet of the parties of the Soviet majority”. We would like to go into more detail on this very false notion.
A “Cabinet of the parties of the Soviet majority” means a change of individual ministers, with the entire old government apparatus left intact—a thoroughly bureaucratic and thoroughly undemocratic apparatus incapable of carrying out serious reforms, such as are contained even in the S.R. and Menshevik programmes.
“Power to the Soviets” means radically reshaping the entire old state apparatus, that bureaucratic apparatus which hampers everything democratic. It means removing this apparatus and substituting for it a new, popular one, i.e., a truly democratic apparatus of Soviets, i.e., the organised and armed majority of the people—the workers, soldiers and peasants. It means allowing the majority of the people initiative and independence not only in the election of deputies, but also in state administration, in effecting reforms and various other changes.
To make this difference clearer and more comprehensible, it is worth recalling a valuable admission made some time ago by the paper of the governing party of the S.R.s, Dyelo Naroda. It wrote that even in those ministries which were in the hands of socialist Ministers (this was written during the notorious coalition with the Cadets, when some Mensheviks and S.R.s were ministers), the entire administrative apparatus had remained unchanged, and hampered work.
This is quite understandable. The entire history of the bourgeois-parliamentary, and also, to a considerable extent, of the bourgeois-constitutional, countries shows that a change of ministers means very little, for the real work of administration is in the hands of an enormous army of officials. This army, however, is undemocratic through and through, it is connected by thousands and millions of threads with the landowners and the bourgeoisie and is completely dependent on them. This army is surrounded by an atmosphere of bourgeois relations, and breathes nothing but this atmosphere. It is set in its ways, petrified, stagnant, and is powerless to break free of this atmosphere. It can only think, feel, or act in the old way. This army is bound by servility to rank, by certain privileges of “Civil” Service; the upper ranks of this army are, through the medium of shares and banks, entirely enslaved by finance capital, being to a certain extent its agent and a vehicle of its interests and influence.
It is the greatest delusion, the greatest self-deception, and a deception of the people, to attempt, by means of this state apparatus, to carry out such reforms as the abolition of landed estates without compensation, or the grain monopoly, etc. This apparatus can serve a republican bourgeoisie, creating a republic in the shape of a “monarchy without a monarch”, like the French Third Republic, but it is absolutely incapable of carrying out reforms which would even seriously curtail or limit the rights of capital, the rights of “sacred private property”, much less abolish those rights. That is why it always happens, under all sorts of “coalition” Cabinets that include “socialists”, that these socialists, even when individuals among them are perfectly honest, in reality turn out to be either a useless ornament of or a screen for the bourgeois government, a sort of lightning conductor to divert the people’s indignation from the government, a tool for the government to deceive the people. This was the case with Louis Blanc in 1848, and dozens of times in Britain and France, when socialists participated in Cabinets. This is also the case with the Chernovs and Tseretelis in 1917. So it has been and so it will be as long as the bourgeois system exists and as long as the old bourgeois, bureaucratic state apparatus remains intact.
The Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies are particularly valuable because they represent a new type of state apparatus, which is immeasurably higher, incomparably more democratic. The S.R.s and Mensheviks have done everything, the possible and the impossible, to turn the Soviets (particularly the Petrograd Soviet and the All-Russia Soviet, i.e., the Central Executive Committee) into useless talking shops which, under the guise of “control”, merely adopted useless resolutions and suggestions which the government shelved with the most polite and kindly smile. The “fresh breeze” of the Kornilov affair, however, which promised a real storm, was enough for all that was musty in the Soviet to blow away for a while, and for the initiative of the revolutionary people to begin expressing itself as something majestic, powerful and invincible.
Let all sceptics learn from this example from history. Let those who say: “We have no apparatus to replace the old one, which inevitably gravitates towards the defence of the bourgeoisie,” be ashamed of themselves. For this apparatus exists. It is the Soviets. Don’t be afraid of the people’s initiative and independence. Put your faith in their revolutionary organisations, and you will see in all realms of state affairs the same strength, majesty and invincibility of the workers and peasants as were displayed in their unity and their fury against Kornilov.
Lack of faith in the people, fear of their initiative and independence, trepidation before their revolutionary energy instead of all-round and unqualified support for it—this is where the S.R. and Menshevik leaders have sinned most of all. This is where we find one of the deepest roots of their indecision, their vacillation, their infinite and infinitely fruitless attempts to pour new wine into the old bottles of the old, bureaucratic state apparatus.
Take the history of the democratisation of the army in the 1917 Russian revolution, the history of the Chernov Ministry, of Palchinsky’s “reign”, and of Peshekhonov’s resignation—you will find what we have said above strikingly borne out at every step. Because there was no full confidence in the elected, soldiers’ organisations and no absolute observance of the principle of soldiers electing their commanding officers, the Kornilovs, Kaledins and counter-revolutionary officers came to be at the head of the army. This is a fact. Without deliberately closing one’s eyes, one cannot fail to see that after the Kornilov affair Kerensky’s government is leaving everything as before, that in fact it is bringing back the Kornilov affair. The appointment of Alexeyev, the “peace” with the Klembovskys, Gagarins, Bagrations and other Kornilov men, and leniency in the treatment of Kornilov and Kaledin all very clearly prove that Kerensky is in fact bringing back the Kornilov affair.
There is no middle course. This has been shown by experience. Either all power goes to the Soviets and the army is made fully democratic, or another Kornilov affair occurs.
And what about the history of the Chernov Ministry? Didn’t it prove that every more or less serious step towards actually satisfying the peasants’ needs, every step showing confidence in the peasants and in their mass organisations and actions, evoked very great enthusiasm among them? Chernov, however, had to spend almost four months “haggling” with the Cadets and bureaucrats, who by endless delays and intrigues finally forced him to resign without having accomplished anything. For and during these four months the landowners and capitalists “won the game”—they saved the landed estates, delayed the convocation of the Constituent Assembly, and even started a number of repressions against the land committees.
There is no middle course. This has been shown by experience. Either all power goes to the Soviets both centrally and locally, and all land is given to the peasants immediately, pending the Constituent Assembly’s decision, or the landowners and capitalists obstruct every step, restore the landowners’ power, drive the peasants into a rage and carry things to an exceedingly violent peasant revolt.
The same thing happened when the capitalists (with the aid of Palchinsky) crushed every more or less serious attempt to supervise production, when the merchants thwarted the grain monopoly and broke up the regulated democratic distribution of grain and other foodstuffs just begun by Peshekhonov.
What is now necessary in Russia is not to invent “new reforms”, not to make “plans” for “comprehensive” changes. Nothing of the kind. This is how the situation is depicted—deliberately depicted in a false light—by the capitalists, the Potresovs, the Plekhanovs, who shout against “introducing socialism” and against the “dictatorship of the proletariat”. The situation in Russia in fact is such that the unprecedented burdens and hardships of the war, the unparalleled and very real danger of economic dislocation and famine have of themselves suggested the way out, have of themselves not only pointed out, but advanced reforms and other changes as absolutely necessary. These changes must be the grain monopoly, control over production and distribution, restriction of the issue of paper money, a fair exchange of grain for manufactured goods, etc.
Everyone recognises measures of this kind and in this direction as inevitable, and in many places they have already been launched from the most diverse sides. They have already been launched, but they have been and are being obstructed everywhere by the resistance of the landowners and the capitalists, which is being put up through the Kerensky government (an utterly bourgeois and Bonapartist government in reality), through the old bureaucratic state apparatus, and through the direct and indirect pressure of Russian and “Allied” finance capital.
Not so long ago I. Prilezhayev, lamenting the resignation of Peshekhonov and the collapse of the fixed prices and the grain monopoly, wrote in Dyelo Naroda (No. 147):
“Courage and resolve are what our governments of all compositions have lacked. . . . The revolutionary democrats must not wait; they must themselves show initiative, and intervene in the economic chaos in a planned way. . . . If anywhere, it is here that a firm course and a determined government are necessary.”
That goes without saying. Words of gold. The only trouble is that the author forgot that the question of the firm course to take, of courage and resolve, is not a personal matter, but a question of which class is capable of manifesting courage and resolve. The only class capable of this is the proletariat. A courageous and resolute government ..steering a firm course is nothing but the dictatorship of the proletariat and the poor peasants. I. Prilezhayev unwittingly longs for this dictatorship.
What would such a dictatorship mean in practice? It would mean nothing but the fact that the resistance of the Kornilov men would be broken and the democratisation of the army restored and completed. Two days after its creation ninety-mine per cent of the army would be enthusiastic supporters of this dictatorship. This dictatorship would give land to the peasants and ‘full power to the local peasant committees. How can anyone in his right senses doubt that the peasants would support this dictatorship? What Peshekhonov only promised (“the resistance of the capitalists has been. broken” was what Peshekhonov actually said in his famous speech before the Congress of Soviets), this dictatorship would put into effect, would translate into reality. At the same time the democratic organisations of food supply, control, etc., that have already begun to form would in no way be eliminated. They would, on the contrary, be supported and developed, and all obstacles in the way of their work would be removed.
Only the dictatorship of the proletariat and the poor peasants is capable of smashing the resistance of the capitalists, of displaying truly supreme courage and determination in the exercise of power, and of securing the enthusiastic, selfless and truly heroic support of the masses both ‘in the army and among the peasants.
Power to the Soviets—this is the only way to make further progress gradual, peaceful and smooth, keeping perfect pace with the political awareness and resolve of the majority of the people and with their own experience. Power to the Soviets means the complete transfer of the country’s administration and economic control into the hands of the workers and peasants, to whom nobody would dare offer resistance and who, through practice, through their own experience, would soon learn how to distribute the land, products and grain properly.
- See pp. 17–19 of this volume.—Ed.