The Spark

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

The Revolution Spreads its Influence and “Learns Everything through Action”

May 8, 2017

These articles continue our series on the Russian Revolution, taken from the words of participants.

Two months after the February Revolution, demonstrations in Petrograd against the continuation of the war forced out the government ministers Goutchkov and Miliukov. Then, from April 14 to 22 (April 27-May 4 by our calendar), the debates in the 7th Conference of the Bolshevik Party showed that the revolution continued to spread out wider and extend deeper. The workers imposed the eight-hour work day, organized their own supplies, and built their militias: a form of workers’ control was put in place.

The slogan “all power to the soviets” was already a living reality. A delegate from the Moscow region described the situation: “At Orekhovo-Zonevo, the power is in the hands of the workers. Carrying weapons without the soviet’s authorization is prohibited. The peasants are with the workers ... we have in our village a peat-bog owned by capitalists. We went to see them and we said that if they don’t give us fuel to work, we will close the factory. Comrade Lenin says all the time that the soviet of workers deputies must take power. Well! In our town, it’s already done.

In the Donetz basin, the workers were in control of the Ukrainian city of Lougansk, as their delegate described: “The miners are everywhere: in the commissariats of the militia, in the soviet of workers and soldiers deputies. They also act as judges. They are absolute masters of the pits.”

Lenin drew the conclusions of this meeting:

“To create a network of soviets of workers’, soldiers’, and peasants’ deputies – that is our task today. The whole of Russia is already being covered with a network of organs of local self-government. A commune may exist also in the form of organs of self government. The abolition of the police and the standing army, and the arming of the whole people – all this can be accomplished through the organs of local self-government....

“The real work is to bring about the abolition of the standing army, the bureaucracy, and the police, and to arm the whole people....

“This war is a world war. It is waged by definite classes, and was brought on by banking capital. It can be stopped by transferring power to another class. So long as the power remains in the hands of the ruling classes, peace can alter nothing.

“The proletariat must be shown how the revolution can be carried forward by concrete measures. To carry the revolution forward means to achieve self-government by independent action. The growth of democracy does not stand in the way of self-government, it helps us to realize our aims. The war can be terminated only by the transfer of power to another class – and Russia has come closest of all to that – but never by a truce among the capitalists of all countries on the basis of an exchange of subjugated nationalities. A commune is quite suitable to the peasantry. A commune means complete self-government, the absence of any supervision from above. Nine-tenths of the peasantry should be for it.

“The bourgeoisie may reconcile itself to the nationalization of the land, should the peasants take over the land. As a proletarian party, we must declare that the land alone will not feed people. To cultivate it one will therefore have to set up the commune. We must be for centralization, but there are times when things can best be done locally; we should allow a maximum of initiative in the local areas. The Cadets are already acting like officials. They tell the peasants: ‘Wait for the Constituent Assembly.’ Our party alone provides slogans that really carry the revolution forward. The soviets of workers’ deputies are fully capable of establishing communes in the local areas. The question is whether the proletariat will be well enough organized for the task, but this is a thing we cannot estimate in advance, we must learn by doing.”