by Louis C. Fraina
The events of August  marked the lowest depths of the Revolution. Reaction had scored heavily, and, behind the screen of the dictatorship of the “Socialist” Kerensky, the Cadets, and other still more sinister forces of the pro-imperialist bourgeoisie, were preparing for the coup d’etat that would annihilate the Soviets – and the Revolution. The moderate Executive Committee of the All-Russian Soviets had approved of Premier Kerensky; but this was insufficient, as it was necessary for Kerensky’s purposes to secure a mandate from “all the classes”; and, accordingly, the Government convoked a National Conference , which convened at Moscow on August 26. The Conference was not only to “broaden the base” of the Provisional Government, it was equally an expression of Kerensky’s Bonapartist  policy. [In an article in Pravda at the time, Zinoviev pointed out that the Cadets were at first suspicious of the Moscow Conference considering it a part of Kerensky’s Bonapartist policy, the policy of a dictatorship merging both forces in him self. And this was precisely the purpose of the Conference, although the Cadets finally participated. – L.C.F.] The composition of the Conference was over whelmingly conservative, reactionary and counter-revolutionary.
The delegates to the National Conference were carefully chosen, the Bolsheviks, naturally, being excluded. The four Dumas  – and their character is clear, being expressions of the timid opposition legally allowed under the Czar – were represented by 188 members; the other delegates included 100 representatives of the Peasants, 229 representatives of the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Delegates, 147 delegates from the Municipalities, 113 representatives from the banks and industrial organizations of capital, 313 representatives of cooperative organizations, and 176 representatives of trades unions. [These are the figures given in A.J. Sack’s The Birth of Russian Democracy (NY 1918 – Ed.) from which source also are given extracts from the speeches delivered at the Conference (with the exception of the final quotation from Kerensky). – L.C.F.] The delegates of the Soviets consisted of moderates from the Menshevik and Social-Revolutionary parties.
At the Conference a concerted attack was made upon the Soviets and the Revolutionary Democracy, although it was not driven to a conclusion. It was a preliminary offensive. The representatives of the Soviets were on the defensive. Kerensky, in opening the Conference, declared:
“The Provisional Government has not called you together here to discuss questions of programme, or, still less, to allow any attempts, from whatever sources they may come, to take advantage of the present Conference or the exceptionally difficult position of the Russian state, or to encourage any attempts to undermine the power of the Provisional Government.”
But the plea of Kerensky – for in spite of its assuming the form of an ultimatum, it was nothing but a plea – was unavailing. His speech was a mass of generalities, attacks upon the Right and Left alternating with concessions to the Right and Left; and his statement, “We are determined that Russia shall be ranked among the World Powers”, evoked boisterous applause.
Minister of Finance Nekrasov made an attack upon the Revolution’s evil influence upon the finances, declaring that the money being expended by the Food Supply Committees and for wage increases was ruining the state and country, and should be stopped. General Kornilov, Commander-in-Chief of the armies, emphasized the disintegration of the army, and urged drastic measures to restore discipline, among these measures being the practical abolition of the soldiers’ committees. He attacked the measures of the Provisional Government introducing democracy into the army, and concluded with a covert threat of allowing an invasion of the country in order to compel the introduction of the necessary measures:
“If decisive measures for the improvement of discipline at the front followed as a result of the devastation of Tarnopol and the loss of Galicia and Bukovina, we must not allow that order in the rear should be a result of the loss of Riga, and that order on the rail roads be restored at the price of surrendering Moldavia and Bessarabia to the enemy.”
General Kaledin, of the Cossacks, was even bolder than Kornilov, making direct attacks on the Socialist ministers, and suggested the following measures:
“1. The army must be kept out of politics. All meetings and Assemblies with their party antagonisms must be absolutely forbidden at the front.
“2. All councils and committees in the army must be abolished at the front as well as behind the lines, except those of the regiments, companies, pisions and other military units, and their rights and duties must be strictly limited to the management of the soldiers’ economic affairs.
“3. The Declaration of Soldiers’ Rights must be revised and amplified by a declaration of his duties.
“4. Discipline in the army muut be restored and strengthened by more decisive tneasures.
“5. To insure the fighting capacity of the army, the front and the rear must be recognized as one whole, and all measures required for strengthening discipline at the front must also be applied to the rear:
“6. The disciplinary rights of superior officers must be restored to them. (Applause)
“7. The army leaders must have their full authority restored.
“8. At this terrible hour of great reverses at the front and complete disintegration springing from political and economic disruption, the country can be saved from final ruin only by placing full power in the hands of firm, experienced and skilled people not bound by narrow party or group programmes, (Loud applause on the Right) not hampered by the necessity of turning back after every step in order to find out whether the various committees and councils ap prove or disapprove of their acts, (Restlessness on the Left, Applause on the Right) and who fully recognize that the people as a whole and not separate parties or groups are the sources of sovereign power in the State.
“9. The Central, as well as local, Government must be unpided. A stop must be put immediately and abruptly to the usurpation of power by the central and local committees and Councils.” (Vigorous protest on the Left. Shouts ‘Down with him!’ ‘Counter-Revolutionary!’ Enthusiastic applause from the Right)
Chkheidze, President of the Central Committee of the All-Russian Soviets, answered Kaledin and defended the Soviets, declaring that the revolutionary democracy “has always placed the interests of the country and the Revolution above the interests of separate classes and groups ... Only due to the revolutionary organizations has the creative spirit of the Revolution been preserved; that is saving the country from dissolution and anarchy.” But Chkhiedze’s answer was not an answer to the problem, since the status quo was itself responsible for the prevailing situation: the status quo had to be destroyed either by the bourgeoisie or by the revolutionary proletariat. The measures proposed by General Kaledin were unavoid able if the army was to be restored, but the introduction of these measures, under the prevailing conditions, would have necessarily meant the abolition of the Soviets as the active force of the Revolut ion, the conversion of the army into a counter-revolutionary instrum ent, and a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. The attacks upon the Provisional Government emphasized that the end of the Soviets equally meant the end of the “liberal” government of the pro-imperialist bourgeoisie: the Provisional Government itself assailed by the Right. The lament of the former Minister of War Guchkov that the Provisional Government was without power revealed the situation clearly: The Soviets had the power and the Provisional Government could have power only with the destruction of the Soviets.
It was this abolition of the Soviets that was being engineered. The Cadets challenged the Soviets to assume full responsibility for the government, or else cease their “advisory” function. But the Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionists cravenly evaded the challenge : neither a dictatorship of the proletariat nor a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Miliukov and Nabokov refused to participate in the Ministry, feeling that the annihilation of the Soviets was first necessary.
The Moscow Conference was called as a pledge of national unity and to promote national unity: it simply revealed the acute disunity and intensified the antagonisms. Nothing of a practical character was accomplished by the Conference, and Kerensky’s final address indicated the depth of the failure:
“The Government does not regret having called this Conference, for although it has not secured political results, it has given an opportunity to all Russian citizens to say openly what they have on their minds. And that is essential for the state.”
Louis C. Fraina
1. Events of August:
2. State Conference at Moscow: Held at the Bolshoi Theatre on August 26-28th, 1917, was Kerensk’s attempt to consolidate his position with the Rightist elements. He claimed to have invited all the “live forces” of Russia. Although the Bolsheviks were excluded, D. B. Ryazanov was able to obtain a mandate as a representative of the trade unions, and made a Bolshevik declaration at the Conference. If Kerensky had hoped that by choosing Moscow as the venue, he would escape the pressure of the militant working class of Petrograd, defeated and disarmed as they were after the July Days, he was mistaken. The Bolshevik organization of Moscow called for a one day protest strike, some 400,000 workers answered the call, and the strike became general. (For figures other than those given by Fraina, see Lenin Collected Works, International Publishers, Vol.XXI, Book I, p.287.)
3. Bonapartism: Engels defines the “basic conditions of modern Bonapartism – an equilibrium between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat the real governmental authority lies in the hands of a special caste of army officers and state officials The independence of this caste, which appears to occupy a position outside and, so to speak, above society gives the state the semblance of independence in relation to society (The Housing Question, Part II, Section 2. Selected Works, Moscow Edn. Vol. I, p.548.)
And again: “By way of exception, however, periods occur in which the warring classes balance each other so nearly that the state power, as ostensible mediatbr, requires for the moment a certain degree of independence of both. Such was the absolute monarch of the 17th and 18th Centuries, which held the balance between the nobility and the class of burghers: such was the Bonapartism of the First and still more of the Second French Empire, which played off the proletariat against the bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie against the prolertariat (The Origin of the Family and Private Property, Selected Works, Moscow Edn., Vol.II, p.290)
(See also: Trotsky: Bonapartism and Fascism, August 1934
4. The Four Dumas: The Duma was tbe “parliament” of Czarist Russia, elected by a limited and complicated franchise. Even this limited concession was one of they victories of the defeated 1905 Revolution – Russia had Soviets before it had a parliament.
The Firsty Duma lasted 10th May to 21st July 1906.
The Second, from 5th March to 16th June 1907.
The Third from November 14th 1907 to June 1912, was the only Duma to last the full term.
The Fourth elected in 1912, was dissolved by the Czar on March 12, 1917, the day after the Petrograd Soviet started functioning. The Duma refused to disperse and elected a Provisional Committee rthe same night, headed by Rodzianko. The Provisional Committee in turn forced they Czar to abdicate. The Duma continued to exist until the Provisional Governrnent dissolved it after the Kornilov uprisingy. (There had been five Bolshevik members of the 4th Duma, but they had been exiled in 1915 for their opposition to the war.)