The Spark

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

The First Acts of the Workers’ Power

Nov 13, 2017

The following article concludes our series on the Russian Revolution.

The Second Congress of Soviets opened the day after the October insurrection, on October 25th (November 7th by our calendar). The Soviets had taken power into their hands. The following is the account that Trotsky gives in his History of the Russian Revolution:

“In Smolny on the 25th of October, the most democratic of all parliaments in the world’s history was to meet.…

From the active army it was almost exclusively rank-and-file soldiers who had run the blockade of army committees and headquarters and come here as delegates. A majority of them had begun to live a political life with the revolution. They had been formed by an experience of eight months. They knew little, but knew it well. The outward appearance of the Congress proclaimed its make-up. The officers’ chevrons, the eye-glasses and neckties of intellectuals to be seen at the first Congress had almost completely disappeared.… The trench delegates were by no means a pretty picture: long unshaven, in old torn trench-coats … The plebeian nation had for the first time sent up an honest representation made in its own image and not retouched.…

At the moment of opening, there were 650 delegates with votes: 390 fell to the lot of the Bolsheviks – by no means all members of the party, but they were of the flesh and blood of the masses … Many of the delegates who had brought doubts with them were maturing fast in the red-hot atmosphere of Petrograd.…

Lunacharsky at last got a chance to read a proclamation addressed to the workers, soldiers, and peasants. But this was not merely a proclamation. By its mere exposition of what had happened and what was proposed, this hastily written document laid down the foundations of a new state structure. ‘The authority of the compromiser Central Executive Committee is at an end. The Provisional Government is deposed. The Congress assumes the power.’ The Soviet Government proposes immediate peace. It will transfer the land to the peasants, democratize the army, establish control over production, promptly summon the Constituent Assembly, guarantee the right of the nations of Russia to self-determination. ‘The Congress resolves: That all power in the localities goes over to the Soviets.’…

Lenin, whom the Congress has not yet seen, is given the floor for a report on peace. His appearance in the tribune evokes a tumultuous greeting. The trench delegates gaze with all their eyes at this mysterious being whom they had been taught to hate and whom they have learned without seeing him to love. Now Lenin, gripping the edges of the reading-stand, let little winking eyes travel over the crowd as he stood there waiting, apparently oblivious to the long-rolling ovation, which lasted several minutes. When it finished, he said simply, ‘We shall now proceed to construct the socialist order.’…

Listen, nations! The revolution offers you peace. It will be accused of violating treaties. But of this it is proud. To break up the leagues of bloody predation is the greatest historic service. The Bolsheviks have dared to do it. They alone have dared. Pride surges up of its own accord. Eyes shine.… ‘Suddenly, by common impulse,’ – the story will soon be told by John Reed, observer and participant, chronicler and poet of the insurrection – ‘we found ourselves on our feet, mumbling together into the smooth lifting unison of the Internationale. A grizzled old soldier was sobbing like a child. Alexandra Kollontai rapidly winked the tears back. The immense sound rolled through the hall, burst windows and doors and soared into the quiet sky.’

Did it go altogether into the sky? Did it not go also to the autumn trenches, that hatch-work upon unhappy, crucified Europe, to her devastated cities and villages, to her mothers and wives in mourning? ‘Arise ye prisoners of starvation! Arise ye wretched of the earth!’ The words of the song were freed of all qualifications. They fused with the decree of the government, and hence resounded with the force of a direct act. Everyone felt greater and more important in that hour. The heart of the revolution enlarged to the width of the whole world.”