The Spark

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

Lenin’s Return and the April Theses

Apr 24, 2017

These articles continue our series on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution.

The February revolution marked the end of czarist power and the installation of a provisional government that included socialists, Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries. The soviets, or workers’ councils, gave their support to this government, with the agreement of the leadership of the Bolshevik Party. Lenin arrived from his Swiss exile on April 3 (April 16 by our calendar) and immediately started to fight this policy. Here is how the arrival of Lenin is described by the Menshevik historian Soukhanov: “The crowd filled the whole square in front of the Finland Station, blocking the tramways. A magnificent banner with the inscription ‘Central Committee of the RSDLP (Bolshevik)’ embroidered in letters of gold, dominated the innumerable red flags under which stood military units with a band.... The inside of the station was just as crowded: delegations, flags, banners, so no one could pass.... At the platform, the preparations were just as spectacular: troops ready to present arms, flags hung, red or gold arches of triumph, signs inscribed with greetings and revolutionary phrases.”

“Long Live the World Socialist Revolution”

Here’s how Lenin responded to the speech of greeting from delegates of the Petrograd Soviet: “Dear comrades, soldiers, sailors, and workers! I am happy to greet in you the victorious Russian Revolution, a detachment of the vanguard of the world proletarian army ... the predatory imperialist war is the start of a civil war all over Europe ... the hour is not far when, at the call of our comrade Karl Liebknecht, the people will turn their weapons against their capitalist exploiters ... the dawn of the world socialist revolution shines ... In Germany, everything is coming to a boil. From one moment to the next, every day, we can see the collapse of European imperialism. The Russian Revolution that you have accomplished marks the beginning and lays the foundation for a new epoch. Long live the world socialist revolution!”

This speech already announced the program that Lenin would propose the next day under the name The April Theses. He reaffirmed that he stood for no support for the Provisional Government whatsoever. Instead “the utter falsity of all its promises should be made clear, particularly of those relating to the renunciation of annexations.” For him, it was necessary to unmask the imperialist character of the Provisional Government’s policies. Otherwise, it would spread the illusion that this capitalist government could change. It was necessary to “Recognize the fact that in most of the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies our party is in a minority, so far a small minority, as against a bloc of all the petty-bourgeois opportunist elements, who have yielded to the influence of the bourgeoisie and spread that influence among the proletariat.... The masses must be made to see that the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies are the only possible form of revolutionary government ... our task, as long as this government yields to the influence of the bourgeoisie, is to present a patient, systematic, and persistent explanation of the errors of their tactics, an explanation especially adapted to the practical needs of the masses.”

These theses caused a crisis in the leadership of the Bolshevik Party, where Lenin found himself isolated. The paper of the party, Pravda, wrote: “As far as the general schema of comrade Lenin, we find unacceptable his proposal to achieve the bourgeois democratic revolution and immediately transform it into a socialist revolution.”

This discussion within the Bolshevik Party went on for days, until finally the support of the workers at the base of the party for Lenin’s ideas forced the party to his side.

“All Power to the Soviets!”

A few days later, in a speech he gave to soldiers, Lenin made his revolutionary program concrete with the slogan “All power to the soviets!”

“Comrade soldiers! The question of the state system is now on the order of the day. The capitalists, in whose hands the state power now rests, desire a parliamentary bourgeois republic, that is, a state system where there is no czar, but where power remains in the hands of the capitalists who govern the country by means of the old institutions, namely: the police, the bureaucracy, and the standing army.

“We desire a different republic.... The revolutionary workers and soldiers of Petrograd have overthrown czarism, and have cleaned out all the police from the capital.... The revolution, once begun, must be strengthened and carried on. We shall not allow the police to be re-established! All power in the state, from the bottom up, from the remotest little village to every block of Petrograd, must belong to the Soviet of Workers’, Soldiers’, Agricultural Laborers’, Peasants’, and other Deputies....

“Only this power, only the Soviets of Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies, can solve the great question of the land in a non-bureaucratic way and not in the interests of the landowners.... The peasant committees must take the land away at once from the landowners.... All the land must belong to the whole nation, and its disposal must be the concern of the local Soviets of Peasants’ Deputies. In order that the rich peasants – who are themselves capitalists – may not wrong and deceive the agricultural laborers and poor peasants, it will be necessary for the latter either to confer, to combine, to unite separately, or to set up Soviets of Agricultural Laborers’ Deputies of their own.

“Do not allow the police to be re-established, do not let the state power or the administration of the state pass into the hands of the bureaucracy, who are not elected, not removable, and paid on a bourgeois scale; get together, unite, organize yourselves, trusting no one, depending only on your own intelligence and experience – and Russia will be able to move on with a firm, measured, unerring tread toward the liberation of both our own country and of all humanity from the yoke of capital as well as from the horrors of war.

“Our government, a government of the capitalists, is continuing the war in the interests of the capitalists ... the capitalists of all the other countries are carrying on the war only for a division of capitalist profits, for domination over the world.... There is only one way to get out of this frightful war and conclude a truly democratic peace ... and that is by transferring all the state power to the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. The workers and poor peasants, who are not interested in preserving the profits of the capitalists and robbing the weaker nations, will only be able to do effectively what the capitalists only promise, namely, end the war by concluding a lasting peace that will assure liberty to all peoples without exception.”