Tuesday, December 20, 2016

How Should the History of October be Treated? by Grigory Sokolnikov


Democracy and Class Struggle will be devoting 2017 to understanding the Russian October Revolution in the light of the past 100 years - already by 1924 there was a discussion of how the history of October should be treated and Krupskaya and Sokolnikov were repelled by Trotsky's revision of History in his Lessons of October - revisions which have got greater and not lessened with the passage of time.

I will take us all of 2017 to map out the October Revolution and those that adhered to its ideals and those that betrayed them - truth is a process that is revealed over time much like the Arthur Ransome story.

The number of historical works, memoirs, collections, documents, about the year 1917, and the October revolution is rapidly increasing. Nevertheless, the year 1917 is still awaiting its historian. We must admit, that Comrade Trotsky is right when he says “up to now we have no single work that gives us a general picture of the October revolution which would bring the most important factors in its politics and organisation into prominence.” Comrade Trotsky is also right in saying that October should be studied with greater intensity.

We cannot, however, in any way agree with the methods Comrade Trotsky applies to the “study of October,” nor with the conclusions he draws from the study. Just because the history of the preparations for October and the history of the October revolution only exist in fragments, just because the documents are not collected nor arranged, just because a series of most important facts have never been definitely recorded in black and white, it is the duty of everyone who writes about the events of 1917, to select and test with the utmost care the facts on which he founds his communications.

Comrade Trotsky has not written the history of October in this way, and with that we must reproach him. Indeed, by the fact that, with a certain “deliberateness” he focusses his work on the differences of opinion in the leading groups of the Bolsheviki in 1917, he descends from the stand point of an apparently objective “chronicler” and “pedagogue” to that of a passionate public prosecutor, who fabricates according to his instruction, a malicious indictment; he descends to the standpoint of a “revealer” who approaches the history of the Party “from without.”

The “study” of October has suffered considerably from this attitude of a public prosecutor and revealer, as a public prosecutor cannot resist the temptation to try and prove his case with the help of thought reading, circumstantial evidence, and making use of “reliable” witnesses, who, however, are no longer able to speak themselves. Thus he resorts to measures which rather complicate the question than clear it up.

Let us begin with an example which clearly shows how Comrade Trotsky distorts the history of the October revolution. The history of the April demonstration is an example of this kind.

“Lenin’s speech at the ‘Finland railway station’ on the socialist character of the Russian revolution had the effect of a bomb on many of the Party leaders. The polemic between Lenin and the partisans of the “Completion of the Democratic Revolution” began on the first day. The armed April demonstration, in which the slogan ‘Down with the Provisional Government’ was given, was the object of violent disputes.

This circumstance served the individual representatives of the rightwing as an excuse for accusing Lenin of blanquism; the fall of the Provisional Government which had at that time the support of the majority of the Soviets was said only to have been possible by deluding the majority of the working people.

As regards its form, this reproach may not be without some power of conviction, but in essentials Lenin showed in his April policy no vestige of blanquism. . . The April demonstration which took a direction more to the left than had been planned, was only a trial balloon to test the mood of the masses, and the Soviets. After this test, Lenin withdrew the slogan of the immediate overthrow of the Provisional Government.”

Thus writes Comrade Trotsky.

According to this exposition (1) the armed April demonstration is the object of violent disputes between Lenin and several leaders of the Party; (2) Lenin is in favour of the armed April demonstration which under the slogan “Down with the Provisional Government” took a direction more to the “left” than after this test, after Lenin had withdrawn this slogan; (3) Lenin’s attitude to the April demonstration gave the “right-wing,” the excuse for accusing him of blanquism.

Let us glance at the documents. There is Lenin’s article in the Pravda of April 23rd, 1917, on the “Lessons of the Crisis.” Lenin closes his article with the following words:

“Fellow-workmen, the lesson is plain. Time will not wait. Other crises will follow the first. Dedicate all your powers to the enlightenment of the backward. . . dedicate all your powers to closing your oven ranks. . . Refuse to be led astray by the petty bourgeois opportunists and the capitalist defenders of their country, the partisans of the “policy of support,” or by the individuals who tend to be in too great a hurry and to raise the cry, ‘Down with the Provisional Government,’ before the majority of the people is firmly united. The crisis cannot be overcome by individuals employing force against others or by the isolated action of small armed groups, by blanquist attempts “to seize power,” “to arrest the Provisional Government,” etc. (The italics are mine—G.S.). The slogan for the day is: more exact, clear, broad enlightenment as to the line of the proletariat and as to its way of putting an end to the war . . . . Rally round your Soviets, try to gather the majority of them round you by friendly persuasion and by electing new members.”

In the same number of the Pravda, Lenin, in an article called: “How to make a plain question complicated,” ridicules the misrepresentation of the true point of view of the Bolsheviki in the bankers’ journal Denj (The Day). He writes:

“The attempt to seize power would be an adventure or blanquism (the Pravda pointed out the danger clearly, exactly, plainly and unequivocally), as long as it is not supported by the majority of the people. In Russia the state of freedom to-day is such that the will of the majority can be ascertained by the composition of the workers’ and soldiers’ Soviets, that is to say that the Party, if it wishes seriously, not by blanquism, to obtain power, must first for influence within the Soviets.”

Finally Lenin writes on the 25th of April the article “Malicious Rejoicing.” In this says:

“The Rabotschaja Gazeta (‘The Workers’ Journal,” Menshevist paper) dances with malicious joy over the last resolution of the C.C. which brings to light certain differences of opinion within our Party (as a matter of fact in combination with the already published declaration of the representatives of the Bolshevist Soviet fraction[1]). Let the Mensheviki dance with malicious joy.”

“This does not confuse us . . . Is it in any way convincing if those who have no organisation and no Party, dance and jump with joy at the mistakes they discover in an organisation with which they are not connected. . . We have no reason to fear the truth . . . The crisis revealed very feeble attempts to take a course slightly more to the left than that of our C.C. Our C.C. did not agree to this and we do not doubt for a moment that the unity of our Party will quickly be restored, a voluntary, conscious, complete unity.”

Thus Lenin was in April, (1) against those individual comrades who tended to be in too great a hurry and wanted to raise the cry “Down with the Provisional Government,” before the majority of the people were firmly united; (2) against the blanquist attempts and individual action of small groups of armed people; (3) against the very feeble attempts to take a course slightly more to the left than the C.C.

He stigmatises as “senseless malevolent joy” the exaggeration of these slight differences within the Party by the Mensheviki. With whom then did he have the exaggerated enigmatic—“violent disputes” about the April demonstration referred to by Comrade Trotsky?

He had them—in contradiction of Trotsky’s statements—not with the “right wing” of the leaders of the Party, but with a small group of Petrograd functionaries, with Comrade Bogdatjew, the secretary of the C.C. at that time.

These comrades took a course slightly more to the left than the C.C., and it was precisely these who were condemned in the resolution of the C.C. and in Lenin’s article, in which their action was disavowed as a blanquist attempt “to seize power” and to “arrest” the Provisional Government.

Thus Comrade Trotsky who claims to have made a “profound” analysis, has made a thorough muddle; 

(1) the April demonstration did not give rise to violent disputes, nor indeed to any between Lenin and other members of the C.C.; (2) Lenin was not in favour of the demonstration taking a direction more to the “left” than the line of the C.C.; (3) Lenin was not accused by the “rightwing” of blanquism in connection with the April demonstration, but it was he who, provoked by the mistakes made by a small group in the April demonstration, deprecated the blanquist tactics.

How could Comrade Trotsky make such a mistake which is true to “history”—as it appeared in the newspaper Denj and as written by the Menshevik Suchanov—but which contradicts the true history of our Party.

This was possible for the very reason that he allows himself to be carried away by a premeditated aim through his methods of a public prosecutor in adjudging the proofs, because, instead of making an exact analysis of the differences, vacillations and faults, instead of revealing their actual limits, instead of bringing them into connection with the course of development of Lenin’s line, as a digression to one side or the other, but as digressions which in spite of all the sharp differences of opinion always clung at one end to the mid-rib of Bolshevism, he tries to represent the history of Bolshevism before October as a fight between two parties within one party.

This is the reason why Comrade Trotsky, in contradiction to historic truth, had to maintain that the “arrangement of figures,” in the October insurrection had been planned some months beforehand; by the “arrangement of figures” during the April campaign of Comrade Bogdatjew and the “individualist” Linde against the Maria palace.

It was absolutely necessary for Comrade Trotsky to “prove” the whole “lawfulness” of the differences of opinion of October. That is why with him, “April” anticipates “October.”

In this mistake of Comrade Trotsky—and this is very important—all the specific features of his “research” find expression: his great lack of correct information, his intense “joy over the discomfiture of others” and the methods of campaign of an inimical “unveiler.”

Let us turn now to the period September-October. In his representation of Lenin’s point of view, and the point of view of the C.C. from the time of the Democratic Conference to the day of the insurrection,

Comrade Trotsky “artificially” divides the disputes which took place between Lenin and the C.C. into two categories: in the first category he places those disputes in which Trotsky shared Lenin’s point of view—in these cases, according to Comrade Trotsky’s present representation, the C. C. diverged towards the point of view of a right wing and lapsed into Menshevism.

In the second category, are placed those disputes in which Comrade Trotsky shares the point of view of the C.C., and is opposed to Lenin—in these cases Comrade Trotsky is prepared to “justify” the C.C.

Thus, for instance, with regard to the protest of the Petrograd Soviets against Kerensky’s command to send part of the garrison to the front, Comrade Trotsky remarks:

“Lenin, who was not in Petrograd, did not understand the full significance of this fact. ”

And further:

“He (Lenin) had no possibility of appreciating from his illegal hiding place that complete change which had already become evident, not only in the attitude, but also in the whole military subordination and hierarchy within the organised groups after the “silent” revolution of the garrison of the capital in the middle of October.”

The artificial manœuvring with the differences of opinion between the C.C. and Lenin, through which the question is represented in such a way that the C.C. is right when it is of the same opinion as Comrade Trotsky, and Comrade Lenin is wrong when is not of the same opinion as Comrade Trotsky,
pursues the aim of representing the C.C. of the Party as it existed before as an institution which was completely under the influence of the right-wing, and had only “accepted” the insurrection after a “persistent, indefatigable, continuous pressure” from Lenin. This is no representation but a misrepresentation of the history of October.

Of course, the “persistent, indefatigable, continuous pressure” exercised by Lenin in September-October fanned the energies of the C.C. and did not allow it to forget for a moment the duty of insurrection; he literally electrified the C.C., and the Party organisations.

Thus did and thus alone Lenin work. But the C.C., as the immediate organiser of the insurrection had, in order to ensure its victory, to choose on the estimate of the situation, the form, time and place of the insurrection, without coining into conflict for a single moment with the instructions.

And the participation in the Democratic Conference and in the Preliminary Parliament has, chiefly thanks to Lenin’s warning against the possibility of dangerous divergences, been carried out in such a way that it did not produce those negative results which, of course, were possible and which Comrade Lenin justly feared, but made it possible for the Bolsheviks to organise the insurrection and prepare for it politically.

The historian is the very person whose duty it is now to state this calmly and dispassionately. Even though Comrade Lenin condemned the participation in the Democratic Conference and in the Preliminary Parliament, he characterised the policy of the C.C. from the end of November to the day of the insurrection still more sharply with regard to the linking up of the insurrection with the summoning of a Soviet Congress, which seemed to him an unnecessary “postponement policy.” [2]

Comrade Trotsky quotes the following remark of Lenin:

“There is in our C. C. and among the leaders of the Party”—writes Lenin on the 29th of September—“a current or opinion in favour of waiting for the Soviet Congress to take place, against the immediate seizure of power, against the immediate insurrection. This current or opinion must be combatted.”

At the beginning of October, Lenin writes:

“Hesitation is a crime, waiting for the Soviet Congress is a childish playing with formality, a stupid playing with formality, treachery against the revolution.” (The italics are mine—G.S.)

Lenin says in the theses for the Petrograd conference of October 8th:

“ The constitutional illusions and the hopes placed in the Soviet Congress must be combatted . . .”

But what does Comrade Trotsky say about this characterisation of the preparation of the Soviet Congress? Comrade Trotsky clings with “malicious joy,” to every angry remark of Lenin’s against any of the Bolsheviki, if he can exaggerate it to serve the purpose of calling attention to a “Party crisis.”

What value does he place on Lenin’s estimate of the C.C.’s plan with which Comrade Trotsky was also in agreement? In this case Comrade Trotsky does not grab at impressive proofs that the “treachery against the revolution” and the “constitutional illusions” lead straight to bourgeois parliamentarism, etc. Comrade Trotsky is in no hurry to cling with hair-splitting arguments to the letter of Lenin’s sentence and thus to represent himself as a Social Democrat.

In other cases he finds this method “superfluous.” He begins with a modest remark: “All these letters, every sentence of which was hammered on the anvil of the revolution, are of extraordinary interest in characterising both Lenin and the situation.” He then proves with great care that the concrete plan of insurrection of the C.C. was not at all bad. As a matter of fact, Comrade Trotsky without doubt exaggerates when he pictures the fatal effects which might have resulted from the plan of beginning the revolution in Moscow, of which Lenin spoke. In vain, quite in vain, does Comrade Trotsky represent the matter as though Lenin by his unsuccessful plan to fix on Moscow for the beginning of the revolution, had endangered almost the whole success of the insurrection. Why? Is there any sense in imagining now how Comrade Lenin would have directed the preparations for the insurrection, if he had not had to hide from Kerensky’s spies. Is there any sense in disputing about the question whether, had the revolt taken place a month earlier, it would have been successful or not?[3]

Only one thing is certain: Lenin’s criticism of the participation of the Bolsheviki in the Democratic Conference and the Preliminary Parliament is absolutely bound up with the plan he evolved of a revolution which was to have been carried out independently of the Soviet Congress. The tactics of the central committee towards the Democratic Conference and less towards “entering,” than towards passing through the Preliminary Parliament was bound up with the plan to proclaim the Soviet power at the Soviet congress and at the same time to secure this power by an armed overthrow of the Kerenski Government.

At that time Comrade Trotsky steered a middle course between these two readings of the strategy of revolution which, of course represent purely material but not fundamental contracts. Comrade Trotsky now tries to reap the harvest having steered a middle course by representing both the C.C. and Lenin in an ambiguous way. As a matter of fact, however, it was precisely the cooperation of Lenin’s leadership as far as principles were concerned, with the concrete leadership of the C.C. in the preparations for the revolution and of the Petrograd and Moscow Committee which ensured the October victory, in spite of the mistakes of prominent Bolsheviki.

One more: the C.C. and Lenin were in agreement; the hairsplitting attempts to represent them as in opposition, are ridiculous. The C.C. had no other “line” but Lenin’s. It was, however, precisely this deep harmony in which the concord between Lenin and the Party was expressed, which made it possible for the C.C. to regard Lenin as not being an authority in opposition to the C.C., whose every “instruction” must be obeyed to the letter.

It was just on the strength of the unity and cooperation of the C.C. that Lenin’s political leadership could amalgamate with the practical work of the Party. No practical unity would have been possible without this co-operation within the C.C. between Comrade Lenin and the other members of the C.C. (among them also Comrade Trotsky who at that time knew how to work as a member of a collective body).

For the sake of history and the right characterisation of the relationship between the C.C. and Lenin, it is desirable once more to describe clearly a series of “differences” between Lenin and the C.C. which existed in the period from July to October. After the July days, Lenin proposed to withdraw the slogan: “All Power to the Soviets,” until power had been seized and then to create new Soviets. Lenin’s proposal was not accepted in this categorical form. Kornilov’s conspiracy which again made it possible for the Bolsheviki successfully to resume the work of winning over the majority of the Soviets, proves that the careful line of action taken by the C.C. to which Lenin also later on subscribed, was right.

 In connection with this there was still another difference of opinion. Lenin advised making the Party apparatus illegal, and making arrangements for the publication of an illegal newspaper; he did not believe it possible that the legal organ of the C.C. in Petrograd could be kept up any longer. On the other hand, the C.C. resolved to keep up the open organisations and the legal Press, combining, of course, wherever it was necessary “legality” with “conspiracy.” It was possible shortly after the June days to hold the 6th Party Session in Petrograd with a minimum of conspiratory precautions. The counterrevolution was not yet well enough organised and united to be able to suppress our Press, and organisation effectively. The organ of the C.C. was forbidden, but it soon re-appeared under another name, etc. In the days of the Kornilov adventure, Lenin wrote an article “On Compromises.” The editor of the central organ was opposed to the publication of the article on the grounds that in his opinion the situation was not such as to give a motive for a “suggestion for compromise.” Lenin insisted on the publication of the article—it appeared two days later in the Rabotschi Putj. On this occasion, right was, of course, on the side of Lenin, and not of the editor of the central organ, which wished to take a course “slightly more to the left” than Lenin.

Of what had the compromise consisted which Lenin had suggested with certain limitations? Lenin wrote:

“The compromise consisted therein that the Bolsheviki, without laying claim to participation in the Government, refrained from demanding the immediate transference of power into the hands of the proletariat and of the Poor Peasantry and from the revolutionary methods of battle for enforcing this demand. (My italics—G.S.). A condition which would have been a matter of course and by no means new to the Mensheviki and the S.R. would have been absolute right to agitate for the summoning of the Constituent Assembly without further delay or even with shortened notice.”

That was Lenin’s proposal. He took this tactical step on September 3rd, 1917. There is not a syllable about all this in Trotsky. Anyone, however, who wishes to give the true picture of Bolshevism before October and during the October days, cannot overlook the article “On Compromises.” If this article is neglected, it is impossible to form any picture of Lenin’s tactics, if it is neglected, the true character of Zinoviev’s and Kamenev’s vacillations and Lenin’s attitude to the Party and to the vacillations of these comrades are incomprehensible. Anyone wishing for confusion rather than elucidation must indeed pass over Lenin’s article “On Compromises” in silence. Unfortunately this was Comrade Trotsky’s method.

These superficial remarks naturally raise no claim to throw light on the “complete picture of the October revolution.” They are only intended to indicate the absolute invention of Comrade Trotsky’s “Schemata” and to state the actual conditions in the Party before October as they were.

In actual practice things were quite different Lenin manœuvred in co-operation with the Bolshevist picked troops in the extremely complicated situation which often changed quite suddenly. Both Lenin and the other comrades sometimes made mistakes, they sometimes groped their way, and acknowledged when they had been in the wrong. At sharp curves some got left behind, others went too far forward, but the front was always dressed again within a short time. No single political party could have traversed the way from February to October, without differences of opinion, deviations, mistakes. The Bolshevist Party passed along this way in much closer formation than any other Party could have done.

The Party was, of course, not acting in an air-tight space, it had to resist the pressure of the middle classes. To a certain extent it had to reckon with these groups and adapt its tactics to them. It made great efforts however, to bring these groups under its leadership. When should it yield, when and how should it wait, up to what limits should concessions be made? These questions do exist, and their existence is only ignored by those who imagine that in politics as in geometry a straight line is the shortest distance between two points. Lenin, in contrast to such politicians, manœuvred, avoided many a rock, retreated—and then attacked ferociously.

The differences of opinion between the Bolsheviki in 1917 can be regarded as a fight of two Parties within a Party only by anyone approaching the subject with a certain amount of prejudice. And that is only natural in such “historians” who judge the Party “from the outside.”

Were Comrade Trotsky right with regard to the differences of opinion among the Bolsheviki, had there really been two Parties within a Party, the differences of opinion would inevitably have led to a crisis within the Party, i.e., to such a crisis in which the organisations would have split up or would have separated from the C.C. But this did not happen in 1917.

The difference of opinion in the spring of 1918 consequent on the Brest Peace shook the Party much more severely than the differences of opinion on October which only stirred the surface.

If Comrade Trotsky now makes the mistakes committed by a few Bolsheviki in October, the centre-point of his “Lessons of October,” he by that himself dooms his “Lessons” to be a complete failure.

What then is the “moral” which Comrade Trotsky drew from the lessons of October? Oh, he formed no conclusions! Why? Because these conclusions are of such a nature that it would be unpleasant to the author himself to express them.

Therefore everything culminates in insinuations as to the necessity of a “leadership of such a nature, that it does not “run off the rails,” further in an intensified attack with “poisoned gas” on the present leadership of the Party from the cover of the white flag of the “Lessons of October.”

This, however, is no new doctrine, it is only “a repetition of what has already been learned,” a repetition of what we learned from last year’s “discussion.”

And as these lessons are still fresh in the memory of every comrade, and no one has any desire to con these well learned lessons over again, Comrade Trotsky gives himself up in vain to that “unknown power” which drives him again and again to the “dreary coasts” of the currents of discussion.


1. This declaration was published in the Pravda, No. 39, with an editorial comment. We quote it verbatim:

Comrades Langewitsch (Laschewitsch?—G.S.), Krimow and Mawrij, representatives of the Bolshevist fraction of the workers’ and soldiers’ soviets ask us to explain how it way possible that the great majority of the workers who took part in the demonstrations of April 20th and 21st and carried placards with the inscription “Down with the Provisional Government,” interpretated this slogan exclusively as meaning that the whole power must pass into the hands of the soviets, and that the workers will only take over the power when they have gained the majority in the workers’ and soldiers’ soviets. The present composition of the Soviets does not give full power of expression to the will of the majority of the workers’ and soldiers’ Soviets.

The Bolsheviki fraction is, therefore, of the opinion that the resolution of the C.C. of April 22nd does not sufficiently well characterise the situation at the present moment.

Editor’s Comment (of the Pravda): The resolution of the C.C. was, of course, not directed against the organisers of the mass demonstrations, and naturally such an interpretation of the slogan excludes any thought of irresponsibility or adventure. In any case the said comrades, as representatives of the organisers of the demonstration should be given the greatest credit for its peaceful and impressive mass character. They alone gave the bourgeoisie, which was demonstrating for its Provisional Government, the rebuff it deserved.”

2. Apropos the Democratic Conference, Comrade Lenin writes in the Rabotschi Putj (“The Workers’ Path”) of September 24th, under the title “The Heroes of Deception” as follows:

“The participation of the Bolsheviki in this despicable deception, in this farce, has the same justification as our participation in the third Duma: our cause must be defended even in the stable, material for the enlightenment of the people can be produced even out of the ‘stable.‘”

In a letter dated September 22nd, which, however, was obviously written later than the article, he expresses a different opinion as to the participation:

“The Democratic Conference ought to have been boycotted, we all made a mistake in not doing this, but we had no evil intention. We shall make good this mistake, if we honestly intend to take our stand for the revolutionary mass fight.”

These were the two different readings. Lenin made of the participation in the Democratic Conference. This, however, does not hinder the inconsiderate writer of the remarks on Trotsky’s book from making the following statement: “In the question of the participation in the Democratic Conference and of the boycott of the Preliminary Parliament, Lenin supported the boycottists in a most categorical way.”

3. Here also Comrade Trotsky gives a wrong report of Lenin’s way of putting the question as to the delay of the insurrection. Comrade Trotsky writes: “In September, in the days of the Democratic Conference, Lenin demanded that the insurrection should take place at once.” No, Lenin formulated his “demand” much more carefully. How does Lenin actually close his famous paragraph on the surrounding of the ‘Alexandrijka,’ on the occupation of the Peter Paul fortress, the arrest of the General Staff and the Government, etc., in his letter which he addressed to the C.C. in the days of the Democratic Conference Lenin closes his “practical programme for the insurrection with the following sentence”:

“All this is, of course, only an example and serves to illustrate the fact that in the present situation we cannot remain true to Marxism without regarding the insurrection as an art.”

In another letter of the C.C., which dated from the same days, Lenin says quite clearly: “It is not a case of the ‘day’ nor of the ‘moment’ of the insurrection in the exact sense of the word. That can only be decided by united voice of those who are in touch with the workers and soldiers, with the masses. . . What is necessary is that the party should become clear as to the task before it: on the agenda are: the insurrection in Petrograd, in Moscow, the seizure of power, the overthrow of the Government. Consider in what way agitation should be made without expressing it openly in the Press.

SEE ALSO: http://democracyandclasstruggle.blogspot.co.uk/2016/12/notes-on-conversations-with-lenin-by.html