The Spark

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

Towards the October Insurrection

Oct 16, 2017

This article continues our series on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution.

At the beginning of October 1917, Kerensky’s government, supported by the Menshevik and Socialist-Revolutionary (SR) compromisers, proved itself to be powerless. Its authority broke down as the struggle for power between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat reached the point of armed conflict. John Reed, a U.S. journalist present in Petrograd, described not only the insurrection itself in Ten Days that Shook the World, but also the situation on the eve of the October Revolution:

“The Government, torn between the democratic and reactionary factions, could do nothing: when forced to act, it always supported the interests of the propertied classes. Cossacks were sent to restore order among the peasants, to break the strikes. In Tashkent, Government authorities suppressed the Soviet. In Petrograd, the Economic Council, established to rebuild the shattered economic life of the country, came to a deadlock between the opposing forces of capital and labor, and was dissolved by Kerensky. The old régime military men, backed by Kadets, demanded that harsh measures be adopted to restore discipline in the Army and the Navy. …

On the pretext that Petrograd was in danger, the Provisional Government drew up plans for evacuating the capital. First the great munitions works were to go, distributed widely throughout Russia; and then the Government itself was to move to Moscow. Instantly the Bolsheviki began to cry out that the Government was abandoning the Red Capital in order to weaken the Revolution.” The bourgeois press was joyful. “Rodzianko, leader of the right wing of the Kadet party, declared in Utro Rossii [The Morning of Russia] that the taking of Petrograd by the Germans would be a blessing, because it would destroy the Soviets and get rid of the revolutionary Baltic Fleet.”

The Mensheviks and the SRs called on the government to prevent the opening of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets, which was set for October 20th but would finally be pushed back until the 25th. From all evidence, the compromisers would lose seats and the Bolsheviks would obtain a majority. Among the workers, soldiers, and peasants, the desire to confront the bourgeoisie had never been stronger. John Reed observed the new delegates who had just arrived in Petrograd for the Congress: “Burly, bearded soldiers, workmen in black blouses, a few long-haired peasants. The girl in charge … smiled contemptuously. ‘These are very different people from the delegates to the first Congress,’ she remarked. ‘See how rough and ignorant they look! The Dark People.’ It was true; the depths of Russia had been stirred, and it was the bottom which came uppermost now.”

Lenin then urged the Bolshevik Party to launch an uprising without waiting for the Congress and wrote: “We must admit that unless the Kerensky government is overthrown by the proletariat and the soldiers in the near future, the revolution is ruined. … We must mobilize all forces to convince the workers and soldiers that it is absolutely imperative to wage a last, desperate, and decisive fight for the overthrow of the Kerensky government.” After two days of relentless discussion, on October 9th and 10th, the leadership of the Bolshevik Party voted 10-2 to launch the insurrection in the days to come.

The leadership adopted the following resolution, edited by Lenin: “The Central Committee recognizes that the international position of the Russian revolution (the revolt in the German navy which is an extreme manifestation of the growth throughout Europe of the world socialist revolution; the threat of peace by the imperialists with the object of strangling the revolution in Russia), as well as the military situation (the indubitable decision of the Russian bourgeoisie and Kerensky and Co. to surrender Petrograd to the Germans), – and the fact that the proletarian party has gained a majority in the Soviets – all this, taken in conjunction with the peasant revolt and the swing of popular confidence towards our Party (the elections in Moscow), and, finally, the obvious preparations being made for a second Kornilov revolt (the withdrawal of troops from Petrograd, the dispatch of Cossacks to Petrograd, the encircling of Minsk by Cossacks, etc.) – all this places the armed uprising on the order of the day.

Considering therefore that an armed uprising is inevitable, and that the time for it is fully ripe, the Central Committee instructs all Party organizations to be guided accordingly, and to discuss and decide all practical questions from this point of view.”