Trotsky’s Challenge: The ‘Literary Discussion’ of 1924 and the Fight for the Bolshevik Revolution


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Whilst they gained leading positions in the first Provisional Government after the February Revolution, they proved weak and ineffective. The vast peasantry was not homogenous but, rather, split into rich, middle and poor peasants with the poorest, often landless, by far the larger proportion. Most peasants were poorly represented in governing structures. Local administration remained in the hands of the large landowners and their supporters, including rural merchants and businessmen and kulaks rich peasants.

Various factories and political parties sought to encourage and develop such units. The Bolsheviks were the most successful and ardent in promoting the idea of armed workers militias. There was a suppression of the Red Guards after the events of July but this was reversed in September in the face of the threat to the Provisional Government by General Kornilov, and the forces under his command, who were then threatening Petrograd.

The Bolsheviks were entreated to assist the resistance and rapidly mobilised and armed 25, Red Guards. After that, the Red Guards remained a key feature of future struggles in all the major cities and at the moment of the October Revolution, numbered , After the revolution, the Red Guards performed the functions of the police and army until such times as new police and Red Army units were constituted, sometimes quite late into By the autumn of , the Bolsheviks had gained a majority following among the urban working class but had a minority position in the countryside.

The Bolshevik Party had a number of strong distinguishing features that gave it a unique strength in the conditions of Russia in late and into the turmoil of They had a grounding in Marxist theory, especially dialectical thinking, which allowed them to analyse events from all angles and uncover the underlying forces that such events represented.

There was no culture of rigid and uniform thinking in the Bolshevik Party. In the heat of the revolution there were initially several splits and occasionally resignations and later re-joining. Lenin, outstanding as the most sober, the most realistic, the chief dialectician, and Trotsky, also a great dialectician, proved to be head and shoulders above all other Bolshevik leaders in their capacity to analyse events and urge decisive action. Within the Party there was a strong tradition of internal democracy and debate.

Leaders were acknowledged but opposed if they were thought to be wrong. Conversely, leaders accepted decisions that went against them, even if continuing to oppose them in debate. This pertained even in the darkest hours and throughout and up to , when Lenin died and Stalin took the reins and changed this key Party principle. The Bolsheviks embodied the aspirations of the most advanced layers of the working class and utilised their skills and energy. This convinced ever-widening layers of workers, soldiers and poor peasants of the value and aims of the Bolsheviks.

The Party was an amalgam of various influences, including some Marxism and some of the ideas of the old populist and terrorist group the Narodniks, but were primarily a reformist party with a focus on land reform. Unlike the Bolsheviks, the SRs placed an emphasis on individual, rather than collective outcomes for successful land reform. It was essentially a peasant-based party and thus tended to vacillate between the classes in its positions, since the peasantry is composed of scattered and heterogeneous elements, some much richer than others.

In it was the majority party of the countryside with strong support among ordinary soldiers, who were in the main of peasant origin. They played a major role in the formation and leadership of the Soviets, albeit in most cases playing second fiddle to the Mensheviks. As that Government moved to the right under the pressure of events and Kerensky took the reins of power, the left faction of the SRs, led by Maria Spiridonova, began to establish a separate position, more sympathetic to the Bolsheviks. At the Second Congress of Soviets in October , when the Bolsheviks proclaimed the deposition of the Provisional government, the split within the SR Party became final.

The Right SRs thereafter moved into opposition to the new Bolshevik-led government, eventually taking up arms and attempting uprisings and later linking with the reactionary White armies. The Mensheviks were a socialist and Marxist party, but their Marxism was of a rigid and mechanistic form. They split with the Bolsheviks over the definition of membership of the Party. But, in fact, the deeper cause for the difference between the two factions lay in the Menshevik belief that socialism could not be achieved in Russia due to its backward economic conditions, and that Russia would first have to experience a bourgeois democratic revolution and go through a capitalist stage of development before socialism was technically possible and before the working class could develop the necessary consciousness for a socialist revolution.

Thus, the Mensheviks were opposed to the Bolshevik idea of the party and the pursuit of socialist revolution in Russia. Their opposition to revolutionary Marxism led inexorably to a path of reformism and eventually, for most of them, opposition to the October Revolution. The Mensheviks gained a considerable following among the working class in the run up to the February Revolution and often held majorities in Soviets and a strong presence in local Dumas. But their support for the War and their participation in an increasingly unpopular Provisional Government saw their support melt away throughout Following the October Revolution they split between the majority right faction, led by Tsereteli, who favoured action against the Bolsheviks and the left faction, led by Martov, who tended to support the Reds in the civil war but refused to break completely with the right section.

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Many of the most militant Mensheviks joined the Bolsheviks. The Anarchists were relatively small and unpredictable. At times supporting the Bolsheviks, at times opposing. In the Spring of they were disarmed following attempts to stage an uprising within Russia. Initially the Anarchists were principally urban and drawn from the ranks of the intellectual and other petty-bourgeois elements, but in the Ukraine anarchist bands of guerrillas rested on the peasantry. There they eventually coalesced into a large force under Makhno, who fought all-comers, mainly the Germans, but later also the Whites and eventually the Reds.

The Constitutional Democratic Party Kadets , formed in , was the main bourgeois party, representing capitalist interests. They were broadly liberal, favouring a constitutional monarchy and bourgeois democracy. Following the October Revolution they called for the overthrow of the Bolshevik regime and supported counter-revolution. As a consequence they were banned in December It is not the task of this article to go into any detail of the seizure of power in October The fact of the matter is that the resounding slogan of the Bolshevik Party, "All Power to the Soviets!

In fact, in Tallin, Estonia the Soviet seized power two days before the revolution in Petrograd, and on the day of that insurrection, successful transfers of power were also achieved in Minsk, Novorod, Ivanovo-Voznesensk and Tartu. Resistance from either the Provisional Government forces or from hostile class forces was, initially, universally weak. The exception to this was Moscow, where poor planning and preparation by the Bolsheviks and the local Soviet, coupled with a strong resistance from armed Kadets, meant that taking power involved some serious fighting over six days, leading to the loss of some lives.

But, by the end of , most of the provincial areas of Russia had declared for Soviet power, usually under the leadership of the Bolsheviks. However, the separate nationalities in the Ukraine, the Baltic States and areas of southern Russia around the Don and in the Caucasus Region proved more resistant to socialist revolution and these were to be acute zones of struggle for years to come.

While the taking of power proved relatively easy, the counter-revolution soon commenced and various attempts were made to turn back the tide of socialist revolution. In Petrograd, the first, ill-fated attempt to thwart the revolution was undertaken by military cadets, known as Junkers sons of the bourgeois and middle class , who mounted an armed struggle against the Bolsheviks.

After a short conflict, the Red Guards easily disarmed them. More problematic for the new state was the effort by Kerensky, the former head of the Provisional Government, to wrest back control of the capital by using elements of the Cossacks. However, the Imperial Army was divided and only General Krasnov agreed to organise an expedition against Petrograd. He set off with Cossacks, hoping others would join him on the way. These forces, lacking morale and any sizeable infantry support, were defeated by Red Guards, recruited from the Petrograd factories, on the Pulkovo Heights, just a few kilometres from Petrograd.

These events occurred only five days after the successful revolution in Petrograd. Krasnov was arrested but later released and went on to participate in the civil war on the side of White Russian counter-revolution. Following the defeat of these first attempted coups, the new Bolshevik Government was given some breathing space and proceeded to lay down the foundations for a new, socialist system. Lenin drove the pace of change relentlessly. Only a few months prior to the October Revolution, Lenin had completed one of his outstanding works, State and Revolution.

This spelled out with great clarity the Marxist view of the state as an instrument of class domination and the need for a successful proletarian revolution to transform the machinery and practice of the state into a vehicle of working-class rule. Part of his thinking was that the revolution was unlikely to succeed unless and until revolution broke out in one of the advanced capitalist countries. It was therefore imperative to lay down all the markers of a new order so as to establish a guide for the future. Decree after decree was promulgated.

Many more decrees followed in In December, the government established the Economic Planning Council to direct production and distribution. Efforts to establish the new order were carried on amidst the mounting fury of the old order, frantically scrabbling to get a purchase on the situation. Unable, at this stage, to secure any military support against the new government, the old classes resorted to sabotage and non-compliance. Many of the higher-ranking civil servants refused to cooperate with the new powers unless forced at gunpoint.

The Left-SR Party was invited to take some government posts but refused on the grounds that they wanted a government that included all parties represented in the Soviets. The Bolsheviks could not agree to this, as some parties were continuing to oppose the revolution and seek the overthrow of the government.

This was no idle threat, as the railways were key to transport and the movement of arms, goods and other vital necessities. For instance, they refused to allow trains to send troops to assist the revolution in Moscow. They also sought to mobilise other trade unions against the Bolshevik government, many of whom had backward, bureaucratic structures led by Mensheviks. While the majority of Bolshevik leaders rejected the idea of a broad coalition, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Rykov, Nogin and Milyutin — all members of the Bolshevik Central Committee — supported this demand, going so far as to resign from the committee when they lost the vote on 14 November.

Shortly afterwards, five out of the 12 Bolshevik members of the cabinet, including three of the above, resigned their posts and published a manifesto calling for an all-socialist government. Lenin responded robustly. He pointed out that the Left-SRs had been offered places in the government and had declined, and that the purely Bolshevik government had been created and unanimously ratified by the Congress of Soviets. In the end, the reformist parties had no support among the broad mass of workers, nor in the Soviets, and the idea of a broad coalition collapsed.

By the end of , the Left-SRs received three places in the cabinet. Holding elections for a Russian Constituent Assembly had long been a key demand of all socialists, including the Bolsheviks. It was seen as a popular demand to challenge the power of the aristocratic and upper-bourgeois classes entrenched in Dumas the parliaments and city councils that operated prior to the establishment of the Soviets. The Provisional Government endorsed the demand after the February Revolution and eventually set the time for elections in late After the October Revolution, when power had passed to the Soviets, Lenin took the position that the elections should be postponed.

While socialists subscribe to democratic processes and indeed demand ever-improved ways of representing the mass of people, the precise form of democracy is not set in stone but must be chosen on the basis that the rights and needs of the exploited are fully and constantly represented. Lenin was also against holding Constituent Assembly elections on very practical grounds, arguing that to hold the elections on the basis of out-dated electoral rolls did not reflect the split in the SR Party that had led to effectively two parties — Left-SRs-and Right SRs — and therefore could not accurately reflect political reality at that time.

Moreover, he argued there was a need to lower the voting age to 18 and to outlaw counter-revolutionaries who were determined to overthrow the soviet government by force. Without these changes, the election would favour the declining forces of Right-SRs and Kadets. But he was out-voted by the other Bolsheviks, the majority still clinging to a formal notion of democracy. In the event Lenin was absolutely correct. The elections were held before the revolution had been consolidated. The result was that the SRs were by far the largest party, with the Bolsheviks some way behind in second place.

But the result also confirmed two further facts. The first was that the whole country was overwhelmingly left oriented. Moderate socialists, including the SRs, gained 62 percent of the vote; and the Bolsheviks, as revolutionary socialists, around 25 percent. The main bourgeois party, the Kadets, achieved less than 5 percent and the Mensheviks, once so powerful, were reduced to 3. While these results seemed to show a powerful position for the SRs, it needs to be borne in mind that the Left-SRs were scarcely on the ballot, due, as Lenin said, to out-dated rolls and candidates.

Had the Left-SRs been properly represented there is little doubt the result would have looked very different. In addition, the Bolsheviks won overwhelmingly in all the urban areas and their immediate periphery, and among many of the key soldier and navy units based in the north. Socialist Revolutionaries who dominated the Constituent Assembly represented the political confusion and indecision of the petty bourgeoisie in the towns and the millions of peasants who were relatively distant from the capital and industrial centres. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many peasants were fully behind Bolshevik policies without realising they were Bolshevik, and also thought Lenin and other Bolshevik leaders were German spies.

This latter, insidious lie was widely spread by the bourgeois and Right-SR leaders and their press to confuse peasant voters. As Lenin had predicted, the Constituent Assembly in the conditions of late was at best an irrelevance and at worst provided another basis for seeking to overthrow the Bolshevik government. He set out his view with great clarity in an article in Pravda in December The Theses on the Constituent Assembly hammered home in 19 points the basic arguments Lenin had advanced to the Bolsheviks prior to the elections. Delegates to the Constituent Assembly began to arrive in the capital in December.

Tension was high as the counter-revolution was underway in the Ukarine under General Kaledin and steps were also afoot to start a White Army in the Don region. The Constituent Assembly met in January The Right-SRs were aware of the opposition they faced from the Soviets and the Bolsheviks and tried to prepare a defence, with a Military Organisation and a Committee for the Defence of the Constituent Assembly.

They also had a paper The Grey Overcoat and the support of two regiments, plus other soldiers recalled from the front. They also had a strong terrorist group. Their main supporters, the peasants, did not seem very concerned about the outcome as they had primarily seen the SR Party and the Constituent Assembly as a means of getting land, which had already by then been promised by the Bolshevik Government through an important decree.

A Right-SR terrorist group had infiltrated the headquarters of the Bolshevik Party and laid plans to kidnap or assassinate its key leaders, Lenin and Trotsky. The leadership called this off when it became apparent that the plan had been leaked. They were easily dispersed. It was a sort of botched insurrection. The two regiments that originally supported the SR Party came over to the Bolsheviks. It was against this tense background that the first and only meeting of the Assembly took place.

This was ignored by the Right-SR majority, which proceeded to the election of a president. Speeches were then made to a background of boos and catcalls from the soldiers in the gallery. At 5am, the Assembly was ordered to close, as the guards were tired. It dispersed, never to meet again, as the All-Russian Soviet Executive Committee dissolved the Assembly, saying that it served only as a cover for the overthrow of the Soviets.

There was popular indifference to this move and the Assembly faded into history. By the end of , the October Revolution had managed to survive and defeat all the initial forces ranged against it. Moreover, the spirit and mood of the workers and soldiers still coursed with energy. The flames of the revolution, far from sputtering into darkness were burning brightly.

But major obstacles to a lasting victory remained. One of the most pressing in the new year of was the matter of how best to end the war with Germany and the Central Powers. The state bank refused to pay out money to the new government and the managers went on strike. Eventually, after threatening the officials, the government managed to retrieve 5m roubles. Private banks also refused to assist the new government, leading to their forcible seizure and opening of their vaults.

At end of December , all banks were nationalised and fused with the state bank. Withdrawals were limited to no more than roubles per week. All gold held privately was confiscated by the state. In January, all payments of dividends and dealings in shares were made illegal. In February, all foreign debts were repudiated. Big industry was not immediately nationalised but certain individual concerns of strategic interest were, such as the electricity industry, the Putilov munitions factories and the Belgian Metal Company.

Wages and salaries became the main source of income for all. The government took steps to equalize these. Lenin, Trotsky and other leading Bolsheviks set a strong example of austere living. Only in this way, especially in these early stages, could their resistance and opposition be overcome. In fact, in the months after the revolution, the policy of the Soviet government consisted principally in awakening, stimulating, sometimes guiding, but more usually simply endorsing the initiative of the masses. Workers took initiatives in many diverse ways.

Certain trade unions, for example, undertook to organise sections of industries. In many enterprises, offices as well as factories, employees found that they had to manage their places of work as their superiors had abandoned their positions. This was regularised in a decree legalising the intervention of workers in the management of industry and other workplaces. Some degree of planning and coordination, however, was vital and in December the government established the Supreme Economic Council. This body had the task of coordinating all the activities of local and central organs, which managed and controlled production and distribution.

This was the beginning of a centralised planning system that would supplant the rule of the capitalist market. The Bolsheviks, in common with many socialists, had called for the freedom of the press under the restricted and repressive conditions of the old order.


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Certainly, it was the early intention of the Soviet government to allow general press freedom. In an early decree on the press, reference was made to the fact that some suppression of the bourgeois press had been undertaken in the immediate period of the revolution. Meanwhile the Bolsheviks reserved the right to suppress publications that called for open resistance to the new Government, used slander or distorted facts. In fact, the bourgeois press was operating, relatively freely, as late as May , despite the pressures on the regime.

This press remained vicious and slanderous. As conditions deteriorated, press freedoms were curtailed for a number of bourgeois publications and some of the SR publications. This was extended as the civil war intensified and foreign armies intervened in the civil war. As Lenin had spelled out in State and Revolution , the state is at root an instrument of class rule that depends on force to ensure its survival. In the last analysis, this is achieved through having available armed bodies of men, such as the army, police and security forces, to ensure the will of the ruling class. The transfer of one class rule to another is a process of immense struggle that has always involved armed confrontation.

These took time to establish. In the first instance, they took the form of workers militias, which became known as the Red Guards. They acted as both the shock troops of the revolution and the upholders of order within the towns. In terms of internal security, every state deploys its own specialist services.

The Bolsheviks established the Extraordinary Commission for Struggle against Sabotage and Counter-Revolution, otherwise known as the Cheka, and placed in charge the Bolshevik leader Dzerzhinsky. In the early stages this organisation proved relatively mild and in the first few months of the revolution there were remarkably few executions or instances of draconian action. However, as the struggle with the reactionary and imperialist forces intensified, the Cheka accrued additional powers and met force with force, achieving a formidable reputation.

Early soviet decrees highlighted the desire of the new order to radically transform social, cultural and religious norms. Central to this was the release of women from their position of legal subservience and oppression in law. In future, only civil weddings were to be recognised by the state and divorce was to be made freely available to either partner. Men and women were given full juridical equality. Children born out of wedlock were to be given the same rights as offspring of marriages. The criminal code that outlawed homosexual activity was abolished, making Russia among the first in the world to do so.

Early in , a law was passed that separated the church from the state. It declared the right of any citizen to profess any religion or none. Religious oaths were abolished, as were church schools. Churches were not allowed to own property and all such property was declared the property of the people, with local and state authorities having the right to hand over buildings of worship to religious societies for free use. In further efforts to align Russia with the modern world, it was agreed to end the use of the Justinian Calendar and, from February , to adopt the Gregorian and West European calendar.

This added 13 days to the year and the Revolution of 25 October was subsequently celebrated on 7 November. The Cyrillic script used in printing materials was also simplified. The orator and somewhat maverick intellectual, the Bolshevik Lunacharsky, was appointed Commissar of Education. His brief also included protecting and advancing the cultural heritage of Russia.

He proved a brilliant choice for this office. He was able to cajole and persuade reluctant teachers and academics to continue their teaching and research work under the new regime, despite many of them opposing the new direction. Under his leadership, a major programme to combat illiteracy was embarked upon and he proceeded to reform teaching procedures in a progressive libertarian spirit.

New ideas, including Marxism, were introduced into curricula. His approach aroused considerable international interest. He sought to popularise the arts, taking music, drama, literature and the visual arts to the masses. He was not afraid of the avant-garde and promoted the likes of Chagall and Tatlin to key academies, alongside the work of Eisenstein, the radical filmmaker. Justice systems also reflect class rule and so there was an early wholesale change to the Russian justice system.

All the general judicial institutions were abolished. Justices of the Peace JPs were replaced with local courts represented by a permanent local judge, elected on the basis of direct, democratic suffrage, and two alternate assessors selected by local Soviets. Former JPs and judges were not disbarred from standing for the new posts. Similar changes were made to district and higher courts. Other detailed changes were made to court procedure.

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Local government had been largely run by city and council dumas and these were effectively replaced by local and regional soviets. Other local committees and structures also became important, especially the various peasant committees and later the committees of the poor. Local co-operative structures also gained more power after the revolution, although these waned somewhat during the harsh exigencies of when increased central control was exerted in all aspects of administration. This was arranged into the following main articles:.

Although, given the acute crises facing Russia at this time, it was not possible to fully implement all its aspects, it nevertheless marked a highpoint of the struggle to overcome the old capitalist state. It was amended and enlarged in to take account of the creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and other matters but its key principles remained, until amended by Stalin in The overthrow of the Tsar and the establishment of a democratic government in February were regarded by the Provisional Government, and by the SR and Menshevik majority in the Petrograd Soviet, as a justification for continuing the support of the war effort in the name of the defence of the revolution.

In practice, this meant defence of the bourgeoisie, since they were the class most empowered by the first Revolution in The Bolshevik Party insisted that war must end and peace must be achieved on the basis of no annexations or indemnities. Most Bolsheviks supported this. However, there were some in the party, notably Kamenev, who openly espoused the need for continuing the war on the basis of defending the revolution. Lenin opposed this position in his April Theses, recognising that the masses were desperate to see an end to war.

He further argued that the position of revolutionary defencism within a bourgeois state was a confidence trick upon the workers and pandering to patriotism and jingoism. From April to October, the Bolsheviks maintained that a Bolshevik revolution, the ending of the war with a democratic peace and proletarian revolution in Europe, were all parts of a single process and in practice inseparable. The Bolshevik Party tradition was unreservedly internationalist in outlook.

It believed that nationalism was part and parcel of the capitalist system and that wars were an inevitable consequence of that nationalism. In addition, the Bolsheviks were also strongly of the view that a Russian socialist revolution could not be sustained without one or more advanced capitalist countries also becoming socialist and linking up with the Russian proletariat. Bolsheviks believed that the ending of capitalism and landlordism in Russia would raise the morale of workers and peasants and make them stronger than any opponent.

This new class war would rouse the masses internationally. This position was crucial to understanding why the party adopted various positions over the peace negotiations and the issue of revolutionary war. In any event, the fledgling state had insufficient resources to wage a war of any kind and by December was faced with civil war. Therefore, Lenin implacably opposed a revolutionary war at this stage. But a majority in the party leadership did not. This set the scene for a prolonged and, in the end, damaging struggle within the Bolshevik Party, which was only finally settled in March One of the very first decrees, issued a day after the October Revolution, by the new government was on peace.

It called upon all belligerent countries to halt the war immediately on the basis of a just and democratic peace with no annexations or indemnities, and to allow all nations the right of self-determination on a free vote. At the same time, the decree abolished secret diplomacy, calling for open and transparent negotiations, and annulled all secret treaties agreed by the old regime, stating that such secret treaties would be published.

Finally, the government called for an immediate armistice. After initial negotiations between the Soviet delegation and those of Germany and her allies, an armistice was agreed on 2 December. It allowed 28 days before full peace negotiations took place.

It was agreed to maintain current military positions, and further agreed that Germany would not send troops to the western front because of the armistice and would allow a degree of fraternisation between troops. Trotsky, after some resistance on his part, was appointed Commissar for Foreign Affairs and would eventually lead all negotiations, which were to take place in Brest-Litovsk: a small town on the Russian-Polish border, now in Belarus.

Foreign policy, under Trotsky, comprised largely of appeals to workers and revolutionary groups throughout the world to organise a world revolution. Former secret treaties were quickly published, ambassadors recalled and new ones sent out. Money was made available for international revolutionary organisations. Agitational newspapers were published, aimed at foreign workers and prisoners of war. For their part, foreign governments rebuffed Russian attempts to obtain friendly responses and all countries opposed any rapprochement with the Bolsheviks.

However, there were contacts between Russia and foreign ambassadors and initially the allies hoped to persuade Russia to continue fighting Germany. When this failed, their opposition to Bolshevik Russia noticeably stepped up. Following the armistice agreement, negotiations re-started at Brest-Litovsk, with Joffe initially leading the Russian delegation. These discussions were inconclusive.

The Soviet delegation put forward their positions on annexations and the rights of nationalities to enjoy political freedom and ending colonies. The Central Powers Germany, Austro-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria , led effectively by the German General Hoffman, played lip service to these demands as they had no intention of giving up Poland or those Baltic states under their control.

Moreover, they now included in their delegation representatives of the Ukrainian Rada a nationalist-led parliament , weakening the Soviet claim to represent all Russian territories. The Red offensive against the armed nationalists in Ukraine was only just underway. Trotsky took over as leader of the Soviet delegation in the New Year, and hoping that delaying tactics would work in their favour, used the negotiations as a platform for propaganda. There were definite signs of revolt among workers in Austria and Germany and among their soldiers and sailors. Strikes occurred in Austria in mid-January and later in the month there were serious strikes in Berlin, Hamburg, Danzig and Kiel.

Eventually, the Central Powers sought to break the deadlock by stating their demands for the Soviets to cede all territory currently occupied by Germany in the North and to negotiate the southern boundaries with the Ukrainian Rada. Trotsky decided that he now needed to return to Petrograd to discuss with the leadership the best response. There then began a series of debates and votes. In the first meeting, 63 leading Bolsheviks debated the issue of peace. Lenin argued for taking peace at any price to secure the bridgehead of the revolution and wait for better times.

Trotsky took a third position of neither war nor peace but to continue to delay the proceedings as long as possible in the hope revolution would break out in Germany of Austria and if necessary declare peace unilaterally when pressed. He got 16 votes. A few days later the Central Committee of the party met and Lenin again called for immediate peace. Only two, Bukharin and Dzerzhinsky, supported pursuing a revolutionary war. Trotsky returned to the negotiations later in January, but after spinning it out as long as possible he made a unilateral declaration to end the war.

He then walked out of the talks.

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Seven days later the German High Command announced it was going to resume hostilities. The Bolshevik unilateral declaration of peace was intended as a signal to all workers and soldiers involved in the war to rise up and oppose their leaders and join the struggle. This did not occur and the Central Powers immediately renewed hostilities.

Meeting little resistance, they quickly advanced on all fronts. Meanwhile, the Bolshevik Central Committee was in almost continuous session. Lenin again called for seeking terms with the Germans, but got only 4 votes against 6, with Trotsky voting against. Lenin then posed the question: what if the German army advanced and there was no revolution in Germany and Austria? By , with 4 abstentions Trotsky went over to Lenin it was agreed that, in that event, peace should be made.

But the Germans were already advancing. The issue was debated the following day. At this point Trotsky went over to Lenin and the Central Committee agreed to ask for peace negotiations by Other party and Soviet bodies rapidly ratified this decision, although not without division, and a telegram was sent off agreeing to a renewal of the peace negotiations.

However, Germany was in no hurry to accept and took full advantage of its position, advancing deep into the Ukraine and other areas. Eventually, the Germans came up with new, much harsher terms than before: Soviet withdrawal from Ukraine, Lithuania, Estonia and Finland and the ceding of territory to Turkey in the south. The implications of the Treaty for the economy of Soviet Russia were immense. They lost some of the most productive areas of Russia, especially in the Ukraine with its large assets in coal, industry and agriculture.

In all they lost 40 percent of industrial capacity, 45 percent of fuel, 90 percent of sugar, 70 percent of the metal industry and 55 percent of wheat potential. The demand to withdraw the Red Guards from Finland led to a German-backed counter-revolution of considerable ferocity. So harsh were these terms that many leading Bolsheviks, especially in the Moscow Region, again resisted acceptance and ratification. There followed another heated debate in the Bolshevik Central Committee. Trotsky opposed but, in the end, abstained, as did Dzerzhinsky, Joffe, and Krestinsky, giving Lenin a majority.

Full internal ratification had to go through various bodies and the debates raged on. At the Seventh Bolshevik Party Congress in March , Trotsky again reiterated his opposition to accepting such harsh terms but declared he would not vote against Lenin. This was then carried by 28 votes to 9. At the all-Russian Central Executive Committee, after a speech by Lenin it was carried votes to These details are recounted to illustrate the tradition of debate and internal democracy within the Bolshevik Party and Soviet Russia at this time.

This tradition, although necessarily curbed in the acute conditions of Civil War later in , nevertheless remained at the heart of the Bolshevik Party as long as Lenin and Trotsky remained at the helm. It is instructive, in view of the later cult of the personality around Stalin, that Lenin, despite his immense standing in the party and among the workers, was consistently opposed by many leading comrades throughout this process.

When he was defeated he accepted it and fought on with unflinching argument in meetings and in writing.

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Eric Blanc – Before Lenin: Bolshevik theory and practice in February 1917 revisited

In fact, a notable feature of Lenin throughout is that at every stage and moment of the Revolution he was not only driving the process in practice, with attention to every detail, but also writing articles, resolutions and even longer works. It is true that, in the final stages of the debates on Brest-Litovsk, Lenin threatened to resign if his views were not accepted, but this was after months of exhaustive debate and at a critical moment for the survival of the revolution.

Lenin always considered it vital, at this stage of world developments, to keep the core of the revolution secure. The left wing of the party, around Bukharin, openly stated that they were prepared for a split in the party and were willing to sacrifice the revolution on the altar of an international revolutionary war. All that is the most legitimate right of party members, which is quite understandable.

In Defence of Marxism

Immediately after the conclusion of this drawn out process of Peace he wrote a substantial text on the broader issues it raised and called it, Left-Wing Childishness and Petty-Bourgeois Mentality. Before returning to the immediate issues at home it is worth noting another issue that split the Bolsheviks at this stage and it again illustrates the division between the realists and what Lenin called a petty-bourgeois mentality.

This occurred over the approach the Soviet Government should take in confronting the capitalist powers. The capitalist states were not a uniform bloc and divisions could be exploited. The leftists, led by Bukharin, refused to contemplate any deals with the capitalists. Lenin and Trotsky tended to operate on the pragmatic and realistic side, although, as we have seen, Trotsky sometimes took longer to reach the same conclusions as Lenin. Occasionally, it was the other way around, with Lenin acknowledging that Trotsky had been correct. In the Central Committee in February , Trotsky argued in favour of accepting arms from any country, even capitalist ones, on the one condition that no political obligations were given to these countries in return.

This was hotly debated and only carried with Lenin not attending but supporting the proposal. In the end, this proposal was without effect because the vague offers of support from USA, Britain and France were predicated on keeping Russia in the war so as to keep Germany pinned down in the east. Once the Brest-Litovsk Treaty was finally signed the other imperialist powers declined Russia any assistance. In the wake of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty a dual, inter-meshed foreign policy emerged: to promote world socialist revolution and defend the national security of the Soviet Republic.

This would last as a consistent and integrated approach throughout the civil war and until the fight against the aggression of the allied powers finally ended in early Stalin later tried to portray a split between Lenin and Trotsky over the issue of world revolution or socialism in one country.

In fact, this is entirely false and distorts the real split, which was between Lenin and the left communists that included Bukharin, Radek and Uritsky. Lenin, like Trotsky, remained a powerful advocate of world revolution and indeed frequently said that it was the only hope for the long-term success of the Russian Revolution. Lenin said that if necessary he would be in favour of sacrificing the Russian Revolution for a German Revolution, if it occurred, which would be on a much higher level and would hasten world revolution.

The difference between Lenin and Trotsky was essentially one of balance. Trotsky was slower than Lenin to realise that the German Revolution would take time to mature, over-estimating the prospects for revolution. The general headquarters of the Russian Army, a veritable citadel in a time of all-out war, was situated away from Moscow and Petrograd.


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  • Here the Bolsheviks were weak. Six days after the October Revolution, they decided to oppose the Bolsheviks and march on Petrograd. But the mood of the soldiers, who welcomed the revolution, prevented this. When Lenin then called on the soldiers to elect new delegates and organise for an armistice with Germany, the old army establishment was doomed.

    These elections were held on 18 November. From October to March, the strong tide in favour of the Bolshevik-led Soviet Government had swept most urban and working-class areas of Russia. Even in the strongly nationalist areas of the Ukraine, parts of the Caucasus and the Don region, Red forces had been triumphant. Local soviets had sprung up everywhere.

    Most of the troops were with the Bolsheviks and the peasantry were broadly supportive as they saw their land needs being addressed. But from that point on the situation for the government became more and more difficult. The ending of the First World War proved a key factor in the west, as German troops occupied so much of the land that was highly productive for all parts of the economy.

    The Germans and their allies were keen to weaken Russia as far as possible and also to undermine Bolshevism by arming and encouraging nationalists and elements of the old order in Russia, principally the old Tsarist generals and officers, so that they could mount an effective counter-revolution. This, in effect, was the start of three years of brutal civil war. A number of generals and officers of the Imperial Army fled south to the Ukraine, where the Government was nationalistic and anti-Bolshevik.

    An Army of Volunteers, as the first White force was called, led by General Kornilov, gathered in the south, with more officers than men. Ukrainian nationalism, infused with certain elements of socialism, attempted a form of self-government under the old parliament, called the Rada. Eventually, struggles broke out between Bolshevik supporters in Kiev and the nationalists; the Reds took Kiev in January. Ukraine fell largely under Bolshevik control by February After November there was a general strike in Finland.

    So, the workers took matters into their own hands and took power in Helsinki, driving out the bourgeois government. Still, the social democrat leaders failed to drive through a revolution and opted for radical but piecemeal change. The Russian Government passed a decree giving independence to Finland at the end of Momentum gathered in and by February a new constitution was established providing for an elected assembly every three years along with other highly advanced features.

    The Finnish social democracy attempted the highest ever form of bourgeois democracy. But, in the circumstances, it was utopian and met with fierce armed reaction. The bourgeois launched a White terror, using a battalion of Finns in the German army. Red Guards and soviet supporters flocked to support the working class. Soviet forces had to withdraw under the terms of the Brest Litovsk Treaty. Vicious fighting then led to extreme white terror and the defeat of the Red forces.

    Up to a quarter of the proletariat were subsequently killed and murdered , The Caucasus area was complex with many nationalities and conditions. This proved a difficult area for the pro-Bolshevik, revolutionary Red forces who were initially defeated by a combination of so-called socialist Georgians and reactionary Turks and Tartars. In the Don region, another complex war occurred, involving several old imperial generals, complicated by divisions within the Cossacks population.

    The Cossack cavalry had traditionally been used by the Tsarist regime as a force for reaction. General Kaledin welcomed former officers and some soldiers from the old imperial army and thus began the formation of a White army that was to play a lasting role in the ensuing civil war. At this stage, the White forces were ill-equipped, poorly organised and unable to resist the Red forces. The tide turned in May due to the German invasion in the west and the growth of the White forces under Generals Kornilov and Alekseev. The Cossack leadership rebelled against the Soviet administration and, with the improved White forces, armed and supplied by the French and British, were able to defeat most Red forces and resume control over large areas.

    In the process, there were many massacres and atrocities against Bolsheviks and the working class generally. In Siberia and in the Central Asia regions Bolsheviks also achieved early success in the main centres, only to suffer reversals at a later stage. The White movement and its armies were so-called because the colour white was associated with the Tsar. They represented the old defeated classes of the monarchy and the bourgeoisie.

    The movement, as such, did not have a strong social base. It drew in various elements dissatisfied with the Bolshevik regime, usually reactionary nationalist elements. Few wanted to see the Tsar restored, except the leaders and especially the army leaders, who became, in effect, petty dictators. In general, the White leadership was against separate national states and desired a return to a united empire. There was also a strong current of antisemitism within the White armies.

    Western sponsors expressed dismay at this, especially as the Bolsheviks had prohibited antisemitism and appeared more progressive. One of the abiding weaknesses of the White forces was their lack of unity. The leaders squabbled and there were many who joined the umbrella of the Whites simply because they opposed the Bolsheviks, rather than having a united vision of what they wanted.

    Ultimately, this played into the hands of the Red Army, which, under Trotsky's command, achieved a strong, centralised leadership, and, of course, always with the clear purpose of defending the revolution. Whilst the broad mass of the working class continued to give their support to the Bolshevik Party, activists within the party were often split on crucial issues.

    The issue of whether or not to wage a revolutionary war against Germany and its forces of occupation proved one of the more divisive questions that very nearly led to a complete split in the party. By March this tendency had crystallised into an organised faction and were called Left Communists. They were led by Bukharin with the support of Radek and Uritsky, among others, and published a paper called the Kommunist.

    Several members of the faction were elected to the Central Committee but they refused to serve. The two tendencies faced off at the 7th Party Congress in March Trotsky also sided with Lenin but urged war in Ukraine against the German occupiers. Lenin, whilst not against such a move, argued for space and time to build up forces.

    It was at this Congress that the name Communist Party Bolshevik was adopted and it was agreed to review the Programme of the Party. In it, Lenin argued that at that time a brief respite existed when all efforts had to be made to tackle the issue of organising the new Soviet system in an administrative sense. This required honest accounting, no stealing and strict labour discipline. The most class-conscious workers must lead the drive to implement these slogans among the masses.

    The aim was to establish a productive and efficient system that began to address the accumulated chaos of the war years and restore some order and benefits for people weary and close to despair. In the conclusion Lenin stated the situation clearly:. Trotsky struck the same note in March when he gave a speech to a Party Conference. In the same vein, he justified abandoning the principle of the election of officers in the Red Army, arguing that it was now a proletarian army and the need to challenge the Imperial officers through elections no longer applied. They needed the best, most-skilled and experienced to fill officer roles.

    The major debates that ensued through the Spring and Summer within the Party are important and instructive but require a more detailed analysis than can be offered here. Suffice it to say that, having lost the vote at the March Congress the Left Communists then lost their positions on the Supreme Council of National Economy and shortly afterward lost their control of the Moscow and Urals regional organisations. When the Soviet government, under different conditions, nationalised all large industrial enterprises in late June, many Left Communists considered this to be a correct economic policy and shifted their support back to Lenin.

    By the end of the summer, the Left Communists no longer existed as a distinct opposition group. Efforts to overthrow the Bolshevik Government at home had not disappeared. In fact, in the harsh conditions of spring and summer , when famine stalked the land, their efforts grew. Although the bourgeois parties, such as the Cadets and the Octobrists, had little support, there was lots of intrigue and rumour with foreign powers seeking to find suitable organisations to back.

    Several right-wing organisations and conspiracies were attempted. The Right or Moscow Centre businessmen, landowners and conservative and liberal politicians had a military department but was weak and disorganised. Overall there was no real drive or unity between any of them and they were easily and, relatively leniently, dealt with by the Cheka. The petty-bourgeois parties, which included the SRs of Left and Right, the Anarchists and the Mensheviks, did have a potential mass base given the weight of the peasantry in the country, and could have posed a serious problem for the Bolsheviks.

    But, as Lenin pointed out, the petty-bourgeois parties, like the class they represented, wavered and vacillated at every turn, becoming revolutionary one moment and, when things got difficult, siding with the bourgeoisie, or turning to terrorism. Not surprisingly the mass of peasants was largely uninterested. This they did in a more and more overt fashion. It claimed to have 5, members, but they were scattered all over the country. Its objective was to overthrow Soviet power and establish a military dictatorship.

    They had financial support from several imperial powers, notably France. Several leading members were arrested in May and its planned actions were foiled. Savinkov and others remained at large and tried to organise armed uprisings in several towns in July , but these were easily overcome and the organisation faded away.

    Savinkov and other Right SRs re-emerged in the short-lived Samara Government on the Volga described in more detail below. The functions of the practical centre: to direct all the practical organs of the uprising in conformity with the directives of the Central Committee.

    It is interesting to note that this centre never met and was never referred to in any book, article or speech prior to the above statement of Stalin. Granted, we are told, but it cannot be denied that Trotsky fought well in the period of October. Yes, that is true, Trotsky did, indeed, fight well in October; but Trotsky was not the only one who fought well in the period of October. Even people like the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, who then stood side by side with the Bolsheviks, also fought well.

    Among these legends must be included I must declare, comrades, in the interests of truth, that this version is quite out of accord with the facts Perhaps it will not be out of place to quote a few examples. You know that Kolchak and Denikin were regarded as the principal enemies of the Soviet Republic. You know that our country breathed freely only after those enemies were defeated. Well, history shows that both those enemies, i. Then Stalin threw a real bombshell. Stalin concludes with a call for war on Trotskyism.

    There is talk about repressive measures against the opposition and about the possibility of a split. That is nonsense, comrades. Our Party is strong and mighty. It will not allow any splits. As regards repressive measures, I am emphatically opposed to them. What we need now is not repressive measures but extensive ideological struggle against renascent Trotskyism. Bukharin contributed his tuppence worth. He accused Trotsky of underestimating the peasantry, endangering the smychka — the union of the proletariat and peasantry in the building of socialism under the leadership of the party.

    This is the reason why he so underestimates the role played by the peasantry. He held out heroically in his difficult and responsible position. He worked with unexampled energy and accomplished wonders in the interests of safeguarding the victory of the revolution. The party will not forget this. Support for Trotsky was completely broken.

    While in the previous winter Moscow had been the principal centre of his support — with about half the party members behind him — this support now completely collapsed. In September , at the insistance of Zinoviev and Kamenev, a new secretary, N. Uglanov, was appointed to the Moscow party, with a mandate to clean up the party organisation.

    He quickly showed radical results. A party conference of the Moscow region, attended by over 1, delegates, unanimously condemned Trotsky. Thus, for instance, in the Baumanskii district, while in , 40 per cent of the organisation supported Trotsky, in the figure was a mere 1 per cent. So did the Leningrad city and provincial party committees, the Kharkov provincial party committee, and many, many others. The Central Committee of the Komsomol followed suit. The stream of literature denouncing Trotsky met with practically no resistance.

    Foreign Communist Parties were also mobilised in the campaign against Trotsky. Years later, in his autobiography Trotsky wrote:. It is true that the remarks had been made twelve years before, but chronology was disregarded in the face of the naked quotations. Very few party members remembered the conditions in the movement in By only 10, of the old Bolsheviks remained [28] and not all of them were still active.

    As only 1 per cent of the party members were members before , the fact that the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks did belong to the same party for many years was practically unknown. Few party members now remembered what had happened when Lenin returned to Petrograd in April Fewer still knew the details of the controversies before and after the seizure of power in October.

    The fact that Trotsky did not belong to the Bolshevik Party prior to was a complete shock. In November he wrote a document which was a lengthy point-by-point rejoinder to his critics. He repeated previous admissions that he was wrong in his opposition to Lenin in the years before he joined the Bolshevik Party.

    But he then went on to accuse Kamenev of unfair use of quotations from Lenin:. Comrade Kamenev has gathered together with great care all the quotations from Lenin that expose the error of my views. Kamenev turns the polemical blows dealt by Lenin over a number of years into the definitive characterisation of my politics.

    But the reader is bound to get the impression that this characterisation is incomplete. Thus the reader will find absolutely no answer here to the question of whether my revolutionary activity before or before consisted only of mistakes, or whether there were features that linked me with Bolshevism, pointed toward it, and led me to it. Without an answer to that question, the character of my later role in party work remains totally inexplicable. Are what Kamenev compiled the only things Lenin said or wrote on the subject?

    Is it really fair and honest now, in late , to tell the party only about the comments of pre-revolutionary years, and say nothing about the comments flowing from our joint work and struggle? These are questions that must inevitably occur to every serious reader. Old quotations will not suffice. They will only encourage people to conclude that tendentiousness and bias are involved. He defended himself against the charge of ignoring the peasantry, and argued that the danger to the smychka was two-fold. It might result from an attempt to put too great a burden on the peasant.

    Lenin & Trotsky - Their Rise To Power I WHO DID WHAT IN WW1?

    But there was also an opposite danger:. If conditions develop in such a way that the proletariat is forced to bear too many sacrifices in order to preserve the alliance, if the working class came to the conclusion over a number of years that in the name of preserving its political dictatorship it had been forced to agree to excessive self-denial of its class interests, that would undermine the Soviet state from the other direction. The tempo of industrialisation was subject to objective limitations which must be observed.

    That would give rise inevitably to the phenomena of a goods famine and high retail prices, which would inevitably lead in turn to the enrichment of private capital. Trotsky did not publish the document Our Differences because he was worried that it might promote an even further escalation of the accusations against him. He wrote:. If 1 thought that my explanation might add fuel to the fire of the discussion, or if the comrades on whom the printing of this essay depends were to tell me so openly and directly I would not publish it, however burdensome it may be to remain under the charge of liquidating Leninism.

    I would tell myself that my only recourse was to wait until a calmer flow of party life allowed the opportunity, if only a belated one, to refute the untrue accusation. In the years to there was no mention of Trotskyism. Trotskyism was now being invented by Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin. The discussions which took place at this time among the Troika and their supporters were partially disclosed two years later when the Troika split up. In his autobiography he wrote:. Lying in bed, I went over my old articles, and my eyes fell on these lines written in , at the peak of the reactionary regime under Stolypin:.

    It grasps facts on the wing, and on the wing links them with the thread of generalisation But when the political curve indicates a drop, public thinking succumbs to stupidity. The priceless gift of political generalisation vanishes somewhere without leaving even a trace. Stupidity grows in insolence, and, baring its teeth, heaps insulting mockery on every attempt at a serious generalisation. Feeling that it is in command of the field, it begins to resort to its own means.

    I say to myself that we are passing through a period of reaction. A political shifting of the classes is going on, as well as a change in class consciousness The deep molecular processes of reaction are emerging to the surface. They have as their object the eradicating, or at least the weakening, of the dependence of the public consciousness on the ideas, slogans and living figures of October.

    That is the meaning of what is now taking place. Gigantic social forces were condemning Trotsky to defeat, and he was too clear-sighted not to see this. I did not agree with this. In politics, and especially in revolutionary politics, popular names of acknowledged authority play a very important, sometimes gigantic, but yet not decisive part.

    In the final analysis, the fate of personal authority is determined by the deeper processes going on in the masses. During the rising tide of the revolution the slanders against the Bolshevik leaders only strengthened the Bolsheviks. During the ebb tide of the revolution the slanders against the same men were able to provide the weapons of victory for the Thermidorean reaction. Lenin himself repeatedly emphasised the opposite. The chief task, the organisation of Socialist production, is still to be accomplished.

    Can we succeed and secure the definitive victory of Socialism in one country without the combined effort of the proletarians of several advanced countries? Most certainly not. The efforts of a single country are enough to overthrow the bourgeoisie: this is what the history of our revolution proves. But for the definitive triumph of Socialism, the organisation of Socialist production, the efforts of one country alone are not enough, particularly of an essentially rural country like Russia; the efforts of the proletariat of several advanced countries are needed.

    Marxism has always envisaged socialism in international terms, because it held that historical advance is associated with greater and greater economic integration on an ever larger scale. The rising bourgeoisie overcame local particularism and established the national market and the national state. The development of the productive forces under capitalism outgrew the national boundaries.

    As Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto :. Modern industry has established the world market The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe The bourgeoisie has given To the great chagrin of reactionaries, the bourgeoisie has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency we now have the many-sided intercourse of nations and their universal interdependence.

    If capitalism could not restrict itself to national boundaries, then socialism certainly could not. As he put it:. The large-scale defeats of the European proletariat, and the first very modest economic successes of the Soviet Union suggested to Stalin, in the autumn of , the idea that the historic mission of the Soviet bureaucracy was to build socialism in a single country It expressed unmistakably the mood of the bureaucracy. When speaking of the victory of socialism, they meant their own victory.

    Thus the economist E. If the Russian worker were sufficiently mature to be inspired by international perspectives, we would not have needed the theory of socialism in one country. The mood of the bureaucracy was not out of step with that of the rank and file of the party and the mass of the working class, who had become wary of the expectation of international revolution, which had been dashed in , and , to rise again in and shatter once more with the German defeat. Now Stalin appealed to stability, to the longing for peace which dominated the tired workers who had gone through years of war and civil war.

    He described Trotsky as the Don Quixote of Communism who might involve the party and government in the most dangerous escapades. The Russian workers were tired and could not but reject the sweeping historical perspective Trotsky held out before them. It also had a great effect on the members of the Troika. It badly discredited Zinoviev and Kamenev while leaving Stalin untouched. As a matter of fact, his prestige was enhanced as a result.

    Lubitz' Leon Trotsky Bibliography

    This helped Stalin to establish himself as the senior member of the Troika. Thus, unintentionally, Trotsky helped to defeat his future allies and to promote his most dangerous adversary. On 15 January Trotsky broke his silence.

    Trotsky’s Challenge: The ‘Literary Discussion’ of 1924 and the Fight for the Bolshevik Revolution Trotsky’s Challenge: The ‘Literary Discussion’ of 1924 and the Fight for the Bolshevik Revolution
    Trotsky’s Challenge: The ‘Literary Discussion’ of 1924 and the Fight for the Bolshevik Revolution Trotsky’s Challenge: The ‘Literary Discussion’ of 1924 and the Fight for the Bolshevik Revolution
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    Trotsky’s Challenge: The ‘Literary Discussion’ of 1924 and the Fight for the Bolshevik Revolution Trotsky’s Challenge: The ‘Literary Discussion’ of 1924 and the Fight for the Bolshevik Revolution
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