The Petrograd City Conference of the R.S.D.L.P. (Bolsheviks)

Conference held April 14–22 (April 27–MAY 5), 1917.

Report on the Present Situation And the Attitude Towards the Provisional Government April 14 (27)

Our political line, embodied in resolutions, was worked out in advance with far greater precision than that of any other party. Events, however, have created an entirely new situation. The chief mistake made by revolutionaries is that they look backward at the old revolutions, whereas life gives us too many new things that have to be fitted into the general pattern of events.

The motive forces of the [February] revolution were defined by us quite correctly. Events have justified our old Bolshevik premises, but the trouble with us is that comrades have wished to remain “old” Bolsheviks. Mass movement had been confined to the proletariat and the peasantry. The West-European bourgeoisie had always been opposed to revolution. Such was the situation to which we had been accustomed. But things turned out differently. The imperialist war split the European bourgeoisie, and this created a situation where the Anglo-French capitalists, for imperialist reasons, became supporters of a Russian revolution. The British capitalists actually entered into a conspiracy with Guchkov, Milyukov, and the high commanding officers of the army. The Anglo-French capitalists sided with the revolution. The European newspapers report many instances of British and French emissaries making trips to have talks with “revolutionaries” like Guchkov. The revolution has thus gained an unexpected ally. As a result, the revolution has turned out to be different from what anyone expected. We have found allies not only in the Russian bourgeoisie but also among the Anglo-French capitalists. When I mentioned this in a lecture delivered abroad,[1] I was told by a Menshevik that we had been wrong, for events had proved that the bourgeoisie was necessary for the success of the revolution. I replied that it was “necessary” only insofar as it helped the revolution triumph in eight days. Did not Milyukov declare before the revolution that if victory lay through revolution, then he was against victory? We must not forget these words of Milyukov.

And so, the revolution in its first stage developed in a way that no one had expected. The Bolsheviks’ reply to the question as to the possibility of “defending the fatherland” was this: if a bourgeois-chauvinist revolution triumphed (Sotsial-Demokrat[3] No. 47), then defence of the fatherland would be impossible.[2] The situation is unique in that we now have a dual power [the Contact Commission]. Abroad, where no paper more Left than Rech ever penetrates, and where the English and French bourgeois papers speak of an all-powerful Provisional Government and the “chaos” represented by the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, nobody has any clear idea of this dual power. Only here on the spot did we learn that the Soviet had surrendered power to the Provisional Government. The Soviet is the implementation of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the soldiers; among the latter the majority are peasants. It is therefore a dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. But this “dictatorship” has entered into an agreement with the bourgeoisie. And this is where the “old” Bolshevism needs revising. The situation that has arisen shows that the dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry is interlocked with the power of the bourgeoisie. An amazingly unique situation. The past contains no instances of a revolution where the representatives of the revolutionary proletariat and peasantry, though fully armed, concluded an alliance with the bourgeoisie, and though having the power, ceded it to the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie wields the power of capital and the power of organisation. It is a wonder the workers have shown themselves to be as well organised as they are. The bourgeois revolution in Russia is completed insofar as power has come into the hands of the bourgeoisie. Here the “old Bolsheviks” argue: “It is not completed–for there is no dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.” But the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies is that very dictatorship.

The agrarian movement can go two ways. The peasants may take the land, but no struggle may develop between the rural proletariat and the prosperous peasants. This is unlikely, however, for the class struggle does not wait. To repeat now what we said in 1905, and omit mention of the class struggle in the countryside, is a betrayal of the proletarian cause.

Already we can discern in the decisions of a number of peasant congresses a tendency to wait with the solution of the agrarian question until the convocation of the Constituent Assembly. This is a victory for the well-to-do peasants who lean towards the Cadets. The peasants are already taking possession of the land. The Socialist-Revolutionaries are trying to hold them back, suggesting that they wait until the Constituent Assembly meets. We must combine the demand for the immediate seizure of the land with propaganda for the setting up of Soviets of Agricultural Labourers’ Deputies. The bourgeois-democratic revolution is completed. The agrarian programme must be carried out in a new way. The same struggle for power that is going on here between the large and small proprietors will take place in the village too. The peasants will not be content with !and alone. The number of horseless peasants has increased greatly. We alone are at present developing the agrarian revolution, when we tell the peasants to take the land immediately. The land must be taken in an organised manner. Property must not be damaged. The agrarian movement, consequently, is only a prevision, and not a fact. It is the task of Marxists to make the question of an agrarian programme clear to the peasants; the weight of emphasis on this issue must be shifted to the Soviet of Agricultural Labourers’ Deputies. We must be prepared, however, for the peasantry uniting with the bourgeoisie, just as the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies has done. It follows that the agrarian movement still has to be developed. The well-to-do peasantry will, naturally, gravitate towards the bourgeoisie, towards the Provisional Government. It may prove even more Right than Guchkov.

For the time being, the victory of bourgeois power is an accomplished fact. The economic position of the peasants separates them from the landowners. What the peasants need is not a legal right to the land. They need Soviets of Agricultural Labourers’ Deputies. Those who advise the peasants to wait until the Constituent Assembly meets are deceiving them.

Our task is to separate the class line from this petty-bourgeois bog. The bourgeoisie does its job splendidly; it makes all sorts of promises, but in effect pursues only its class policy.

In the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies the alignment of forces is such that power is passed to the Provisional Government, while the socialists content themselves with “contact commissions”. True, this government is composed of the most trusted and best people of their class, but still of a definite class. The petty bourgeoisie has surrendered to them completely. Unless we mark out a proletarian line, we shall be betraying the cause of the proletariat. The bourgeoisie rules either by deception or by violence. Just now flattery and deception prevail, and this lulls the revolution. The bourgeoisie makes concessions on minor issues, but in matters of primary importance (the agrarian revolution, for example) they make none. One must be blind to the facts not to see that in Russia, apart from the Bolsheviks, there is nothing but revolutionary defencism, and that it has triumphed everywhere. Revolutionary defencism means the surrender of all socialist principles in the predatory interests of capitalism, interests which are screened behind the phrase “defence of the fatherland”; it means surrendering one’s positions to the petty bourgeoisie. When I spoke of the “honest” mass of revolutionary defencists, I had in mind not a moral category, but a class definition. The classes represented in the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies have no interest in the predatory war, in Europe it is different. There the people are oppressed, and the most opportunistic pacifists are often hounded worse than we Pravdists are. In our country the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies pursues its policy of revolutionary defencism, not by violence, but because the masses trust it. Europe is one vast military prison. Capitalism rules cruelly there. All over Europe the bourgeoisie should be overthrown, and not argued with. In Russia the soldiers are armed; by agreeing only to “defend themselves” against Wilhelm they allowed them selves to be peacefully deceived. In Europe, there is no “honest” revolutionary defencism like we have in Russia, where the people have handed over the power to the bourgeoisie through ignorance, inertia, tradition, and the habit of suffering the rod. Steklov and Chkheidze are leaders in word, but tailpieces of the bourgeoisie in deed; for all their virtues, their knowledge of Marxism, etc., they are politically dead. Here in Russia the power is in the hands of the soldiers, who are defencist-minded. The objective class position of the capitalists is one thing. They are conducting the war in their own interests. The soldiers are proletarians and peasants. This is another thing. Are they interested in seizing Constantinople? No, their class interests are opposed to war! That is why they can be made to see light, made to change their minds. The crux of the political situation at this moment is to be able to make the masses see the truth. We cannot talk about having the “backing” of the revolutionary mass, etc., until we have brought home to the soldiers or to the uneducated masses the meaning of the slogan “Down with war”.

What is the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies? Its class meaning is direct power. We do not have complete political liberty, of course. But nowhere else is there such freedom as exists in Russia today. “Down with war” does not mean flinging the bayonet away. It means the transfer of power to another class. Everything must now be focused on making that clear. Blanquism was a striving to seize power with the backing of a minority. With us it is quite different. We are still a minority and realise the need for winning a majority. Unlike the anarchists, we need the state for the transition to socialism. The Paris Commune furnished an example of a state of the Soviet type, an example of direct power wielded by the organised and armed workers, an example of the dictatorship of workers and peasants. The role of the Soviets, the significance of such a dictatorship, is that they apply organised force against the counter-revolution, safeguard the gains of the revolution for the benefit of the majority and with the support of the majority. There can be no dual power in a state. The Soviets are a type of state where the existence of a police is impossible. Here the people are their own rulers, and there can be no return to the monarchy. The army and the people must merge into one_ therein lies the triumph of liberty! Everyone must learn to use arms. To safeguard freedom, all the people to a man must be armed. This is the essence of the commune. We are not anarchists who deny the need for an organised state, i.e., for force in general, particularly a state maintained by the organised and armed workers themselves through the Soviets. Events have led to the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry being interlocked with the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. The next stage is the dictatorship of the proletariat, but the proletariat is not yet sufficiently organised and enlightened; it must be enlightened. Such Soviets of Workers’ and other Deputies should be organised all over the country life itself demands it. There is no other way. This is the Paris Commune! The Soviet of Workers’ Deputies is not an organisation of the trade union type, as the bourgeoisie would like it to be. The people see it differently and more correctly they see it as a government power. They see that the way out of the war lies through the victory of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies. This is the type of state under which it is possible to advance towards socialism. Should a group seize power, it would not mean much. The Russian revolution has risen higher: any government other than the Soviet is impossible, and this is what the bourgeoisie fears. So long as the Soviets have not seized power, we shall not take it. A living force, however, must impel the Soviets to seize power. Otherwise we shall never get out of the war which the capitalists are carrying on by deceiving the people. All countries are on the brink of ruin; people must realise this; there is no way out except through a socialist revolution. The government must be overthrown, but not everybody understands this correctly. So long as the Provisional Government has the backing of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, you cannot “simply” overthrow it. The only way it can and must be overthrown is by winning over the majority in the Soviets. It is either forward towards the undivided power of the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, or back to the imperialist war–there is no other alternative. Kautsky denied that a revolution was possible in time of war. Events have shown him to be wrong.

As regards nationalisation of the banks and control over them–economically this is feasible, economically nothing can interfere with it, once the power is in the hands of the workers. Obviously, in viewing the tasks of the proletariat as we do, there can be no question of any alliance with the “defencists”.

Concerning a new name for the Party: the word “Social-Democracy” is incorrect; it is scientifically wrong. Marx and Engels said as much on many occasions. If they “put up with” the word, it was because after the year 1871 a special situation was created: a slow preparation of the masses was needed, revolution was not on the order of the day. Democracy, too, means a form of state, but the Paris Commune had risen above it. Now the whole world is faced with the practical issue–that of the transition to socialism. The Social-Democrat Plekhanov and the rest of the social-chauvinists throughout the world have betrayed socialism. We should call ourselves the “Communist Party”.

A brief report published May 8 (April 25), 1917 in Pravda No. 40  
First published in full in 1925 in the book The Petrograd City and the All-Russia Conferences of the R.S.D.L.P. (Bolsheviks), April 1917  
Published according to the typewritten copy of the Minutes  


[1] See present edition, Volume 23, p. 355.—Ed.

[2] See present edition Vol. 21, p. 403.—Ed.