The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Between Bourgeois Power and Workers’ Power

Mar 6, 2017

Between February 23 and February 27, 1917 (March 8 and March 12 according to our calendar), the determination of the working class of Petrograd mobilized in the streets forced the czar to abdicate. The workers recognized only one power: that of the soviet, the assembly of representatives of the masses in struggle. The paradox is that this soviet, in the first few days of the February revolution, handed power to a provisional government that represented no one but the bourgeoisie. Trotsky writes about this paradox in his History of the Russian Revolution.

The first session of the Executive Committee of the Soviet met on February 27. “Delegates from the mutinied regiments made speeches of greeting at this meeting. Among their number were completely grey soldiers, shell-shocked as it were by the insurrection, and still hardly in control of their tongues. But they were just the ones who found the words which no orator could find. That was one of the most moving scenes of the revolution, now first feeling its power, feeling the unnumbered masses it has aroused, the colossal tasks, the pride in success, the joyful failing of the heart at the thought of the morrow which is to be still more beautiful than today....

“However, even in those very first days of victory, when the new power of the revolution was forming itself with fabulous speed and unconquerable strength, those socialists who stood at the head of the Soviet were already looking around with alarm to see if they could find a real ‘boss.’ They took it for granted that power ought to pass over to the bourgeoisie....The workers, the soldiers, and soon also the peasants, will from now on turn only to the Soviet. In their eyes, the Soviet becomes the focus of all hopes and all authority, an incarnation of the revolution itself.

“That the power was from the very first moment in the hands of the Soviet – upon that question the Duma members less than anybody else could cherish any illusion.” According to the testimony of one deputy, “the Soviet seized all the Post and Telegraph offices, the wireless, all the Petrograd railroad stations, all the printing establishments, so that without its permission it was impossible to send a telegram, to leave Petrograd, or to print an appeal.”

“How did it happen that in such a situation the liberals turned out to be in power?” asks Trotsky. It happened because the socialists who found themselves at the head of the Soviet estimated that “‘the power destined to replace czarism must be only a bourgeois power....’ On the evening of March 1, representatives of the Executive Committee appeared at a meeting of the Duma Committee, in order to discuss the conditions upon which the soviets would support the new government. The program of the democrats flatly ignored the question of war, republic, land, eight-hour day, and confined itself to one single demand: to give the left parties freedom of agitation. An example of disinterestedness for all peoples and all ages! Socialists, having all the power in their hands, and upon whom alone it depended whether freedom of agitation should be given to others or not, hand over the power to their ‘class enemy’ upon the condition that the latter should promise them...freedom of agitation!”

“In giving their confidence to the socialists the workers and soldiers found themselves, quite unexpectedly, expropriated politically. They were bewildered, alarmed, but did not immediately find a way out....The proletariat and the peasantry voted for the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries not as compromisers, but as opponents of the czar, the capitalists, and the landowners. But in voting for them they created a partition-wall between themselves and their own aims.”

The Russian Revolution of 1917 in the SPARK Paper

In the coming issues of the SPARK paper, we will continue to publish articles about the events that shook Russia and the world 100 years ago. We will rely on testimonies and writings from the revolutionaries of that period.