“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx
Sep 4, 2017
This article continues our series on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. After the attempted overthrow.
General Kornilov’s attempted coup, and its failure due to the mobilization of the proletariat, brought about a considerable increase in the Bolsheviks’ influence. The Bolsheviks had been reduced to a state of semi-illegality since the July Days, either imprisoned like Trotsky or forced into clandestinity like Lenin. But now, they were recognized as the ones who had foreseen the counter-revolutionary danger. They denounced the Menshevik and Socialist-Revolutionary (SR) parties’ policies of compromise toward the forces of the bourgeoisie, which had encouraged the rise of the counter-revolution. The Bolsheviks recognized and expressed the revolutionary aspirations of the masses. The following passage is how Antonov-Ovseyenko, the Bolshevik militant who carried out the military operations of the October insurrection under the leadership of Trotsky, described this period in his memoirs, originally published in Russian:
“These gentlemen [the SRs and Mensheviks representing the Central Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet] had learned nothing. Their churning windmill of words blew only hot air. And they did not even see this. On August 31st, the Petrograd Soviet had adopted a resolution taken out of the Bolshevik program, but they were convinced that it was only a chance event and that they would quickly take hold of the situation. On September 9th, they convoked a plenary session of the Petrograd Soviet, and Chkheidze [the Menshevik president of the Soviet] officially announced the resignation of the Presidium of the Executive Committee, in light of the adoption of a resolution opposed to its political line. Counting on a majority, the bloc of compromisers then proposed to refuse this resignation. They voted by leaving the room. There were 414 votes for the Presidium and its policies of compromise, 519 votes against, and 69 abstentions. The resignation was accepted!
A new leadership was then formed from the bureaus of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Sections of the Soviet. In the Workers’ Section, we had a majority. Since the Soldiers’ Section had not yet carried out a reelection of its bureau, the Mensheviks and the SRs had the majority there. Several days later, new elections took place in the Soldiers’ Section of the Soviet: its bureau also passed into our hands.
The Petrograd Soviet, which had been the main support for the policy of compromise, had become the main support for the struggle against this policy. After Kornilov’s putsch, this took place almost everywhere in the same way.
The VTsIK [All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Soviets] received hundreds of decisions and telegrams from every corner of the country. Almost all of these contained a condemnation of the Provisional Government and a demand to establish a purely socialist power [without the participation of representatives from the bourgeois parties]. In response to Kornilov’s attempted coup, the worker and peasant masses, as well as the mass of soldiers, entered deeply into political action. They feverishly armed themselves, organizing and preparing for the struggle against the reactionary general and his accomplices. And to prepare themselves to fight, they saw our party as the only reliable and self-evident leadership.
In a whole series of provincial and district Soviets, we conquered the majority. On September 6th, the Plenum of the Moscow Soviet adopted the August 31st resolution of the Petrograd Soviet [which called for the transfer of power to the workers and peasants]. The Presidium of the Moscow Executive Committee was ours.
Already at the time of Kornilov’s putsch, in many places power passed into the hands of revolutionary committees formed to defeat the counter-revolution. These committees held onto this power until the general’s revolt was quashed, relying on the workers and soldiers in arms. In fact, this was the realization of Soviet power. It was the regeneration of the Soviets as organs of revolutionary struggle.
Kerensky obviously understood this. On September 4th, he ordered the dissolution of the revolutionary committees, the committees of safety and defense of the revolution, formed ‘with the goal of fighting against Kornilov’s revolt in the cities, the countryside, the railway stations.… From now on, there shall be no more actions outside the framework of the law, and the Provisional Government will combat these.’ However, even the popular Committee of Struggle against the Counter-Revolution, which depended on the Central Executive Committee, refused to submit to this order of Kerensky’s…. And the [Bolshevik] Party took up again its slogan [which it had abandoned when the Soviets were for a time chained to the pro-bourgeois policy of the compromisers]: ‘All power to the Soviets, in the capital and everywhere!’
The influence of our party had increased in an immense and overwhelming manner.”