Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution
by David Paul Tahrir Thurston
by David Paul Tahrir Thurston
Leon Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution ranks with Capital or the Communist Manifesto as foundational document of revolutionary Marxism. Isaac Deutscher, himself a brilliant historian and the biographer of Trotsky, writes, “as in the best military thinking, extreme partisanship and scrupulously sober observation indeed go hand in hand. To the good soldier nothing is of greater importance than to get a realistic picture of the ‘other side of the hill’, unclouded by wishful thinking or emotion. Trotsky, the commander of the October insurrection, had acted on this principle; and Trotsky the historian does the same. He achieves in his image of the revolution the unity of the subjective and objective elements.”
The February Revolution
I want to lay out the social and political background to the February revolution. Some 15 million Russian men were drafted in WW1, 2.5 million killed and another 2.5 million more were crippled or captured. There was massive poverty in the cities. Wages were cut. There were shortages of food and fuel. Workers were living on rations that were steadily lowered. But as Trotsky argues, the revolution was not produced solely by these deprivations
In reality the mere existence of privations is not enough to cause an insurrection; if it were, the masses would always be in revolt. It is necessary that the bankruptcy of the social regime, being conclusively revealed, should make these privations intolerable, and that new conditions and new ideas should open the prospect of a revolutionary way out. Then in the cause of great aims conceived by them, those same masses will prove capable of enduring doubled and tripled privations.
In the early months of 1917, strikes escalated, demanding higher wages, improved work conditions, and food. The revolutionary left was aware that a crisis was brewing that could break the tsarist government, but the left was extremely weak. Many militants had been sent to the front, and the war had been used as a justification for smashing organizations and jailing leaders. Much of the
was in exile or in hiding. These factors made the left very cautious about provoking a fight, which it might not be able to finish in its favor. Bolshevik Center
Events leading to the downfall of the tsar were touched of on International Women’s day. 90,000 people, mostly women, protest in the capital, demanding bread from the local Duma—a Russian term, roughly equivalent to city council. In Trotsky’s words, this “was like demanding milk from a he-goat.”
On the second day of the struggle, half the city’s workers were on strike. These workers confront the Cossacks, long notorious as the shock troops of tsarism. A confrontation brews when the Cossacks meet advancing strikers. Trotsky writes:
the Cossacks, without openly breaking discipline, failed to force the crowd to disperse, but flowed through it in streams…The officers hastened to separate their patrol from the workers, and, abandoning the idea of dispersing them, lined the Cossacks out across the street as a barrier to prevent the demonstrators from getting to the center. But even this did not help: standing stock still in perfect discipline, the Cossacks did not hinder the workers from ‘diving’ under their horses. The revolution does not choose its paths: it made its first steps toward victory under the belly of a Cossack’s horse.
On the third and fourth days, the army is called out because the Cossacks will not restrain the workers, and the police are being beaten and killed in the streets. But bringing out the army, who are themselves against the war, and want peace and land and bread, backfires on the autocracy. Workers fraternize with the soldiers, and instead of the tsar and army against the workers, a new coalition of workers and soldiers is born which forces the Tsar to abdicate.
In the wake of the collapse of Tsarism, two new bodies take shape—one representing the interests of the capitalist class; the other, organizing workers and soldiers.
The Provisional Government is formed, representing the liberal bourgeoisie from the old Duma. Kerensky, the one socialist in the cabinet said that, “The policies of a revolutionary government ought not to offend anybody unnecessarily.”
At the same hour, and in the same building as the founding of the Provisional Government, the Executive Committee of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies was convened. Drawing on the experience of the 1905 revolution, two Menshevik politicians formed the Executive Committee and called for all workplaces to send delegates to form a new Soviet, the Russian word for council. Originally formed in the mass strike movement of 1905, the soviets began as committees for organizing strike activity, but grew as the conflict developed into organs for self-governance and centers for struggle against Tsarism. However, the motivation of the Mensheviks was not to deepen the initiative of the rebellious working class, but to bring the movement to heel under the establishment of a bourgeois democracy. Trotsky describes them as socialists who “had taught the masses that the bourgeoisie is an enemy, but themselves feared more than anything else to release the masses from the control of that enemy.”If they were able to outflank the militants and Bolsheviks in calling the Soviet into being, they could position themselves at the head of the movement.
This is what revolutionaries describe as Dual power, a situation in which different classes form their own state apparatuses in opposition to one another.
Soviet democracy meant representation for the oppressed. The councils were not based on geography, but rooted in workplaces or military garrisons, where people are in direct struggle against their exploitation and oppression. This makes them unique in that soviets unites the economic power of production with political decision making. Workers councils can be more than a means of organizing against capitalism. They can also become a new government replacing capitalism. Workers councils, in some form, have emerged in many revolutions, but only in
were they able to successfully replace the capitalist state on a national scale. As Trotsky describes, “masses poured into the Soviet as though into the triumphal gates of the revolution. All that remained outside the boundaries seemed to fall away from the revolution, seemed somehow to belong to a different world. And so it was in reality.” Russia
Yet initially, the soviets were led, not by revolutionaries but by the compromising Socialist parties, the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries. Trotsky describes their approach:
Even in those very first days of victory, when the new power of the revolution was forming itself with fabulous speed and unconquerable strength, those socialists who stood at the head of the Soviet were already looking around with alarm to see if they could find a real ‘boss.’ They took it for granted that the power ought to pass to the bourgeoisie. Here the chief political knot of the new regime is tied: one of its threads leads into the chamber of the Executive Committee of workers and soldiers, the other into the central headquarters of the bourgeois parties.
Only behind the backs of the workers and soldiers, without their knowledge, and against their actual will, had the socialist leaders been able to expropriate this power for the benefit of the bourgeoisie.
This contradiction between the goals of the reformist parties and their working class and peasant constituents frames the period from February to October.
Lenin returns/April Crisis
The various socialist parties had different assumptions about the nature of the revolution. Mensheviks and Bolsheviks: bourgeois revolution, meaning capitalism needed a period to develop Marxism proves “inevitibility of capitalism”; for the Men/SR this translates into a position of courting the bourgeoisie at every turn.
b. The Mensheviks “recognized in a general way the inevitability of a break in the future with the bourgeoisie. But this purely theoretical recognition did not bind them to anything. They considered it wrong to force the break. And since the bourgeoisie is driven into alliance with the reaction not by heated phrases from orators and journalists, but by the independent activity of the toiling classes, the Mensheviks tried with all their power to oppose this activity.”
c. Bolsheviks: “Our is a bourgeois revolution, we Marxists say, therefore the workers must open the eyes of the people to the deception practiced by the bourgeois politicians and teach them to put no faith in words, to depend entirely on their own strength, their own organization, their own unity, and their own weapons”
d. Trotsky: permanent revolution: bourgeois won’t lead, wc will have to play leading role and socialist beginning is possible even in predominantly agricultural, semi-feudal country
Lenin returns to
Russia from exile in on April 3rd. There is a procession to meet him, and a Menshevik gives a speech of welcome, but attempts to pre-empt any radical formulations of Lenin’s: "Comrade Lenin, in the name of the Petersburg Soviet and of the whole revolution we welcome you to Russia…But—we think that the principal task of the revolutionary democracy is now the defense of the revolution from any encroachments either from within or from without. We consider that what this goal requires is not disunity, but the closing of the democratic ranks. We hope you will pursue these goals together with us." Switzerland
Dear comrades, soldiers, sailors, and workers! I am happy to greet in your persons the victorious Russian revolution, and greet you as the vanguard off the worldwide proletarian army…The piratical imperialist war is the beginning of civil war throughout Europe…The hour is not far distant when at the call of our [German] comrade, Karl Liebknecht, the people will turn their arms against their own capitalist exploiters…The worldwide socialist revolution has already dawned…Germany is seething…Any day now the whole of European capitalism may crash. The Russian revolution accomplished by you has prepared the way and opened a new epoch. Long live the worldwide socialist revolution!
Appealing from Chkheidze to the workers and soldiers, from the provisional government to Liebknecht, from the defense of the fatherland to international revolution —this is how Lenin indicated the tasks of the proletariat.
Lenin rearms the party through a theoretical debate about nature of revolution and current situation in
that then frames their strategy and tactics. Russia
Lenin’s assessment of the situation wasn’t a mental change in his head, he was assessing a situation that had been in part created by the activity of the membership of the Bolshevik party themselves. As Trotsky writes:
The worker-Bolsheviks immediately after the revolution took the initiative in the struggle for the eight hour day; the Mensheviks declared this demand untimely. The Bolsheviks took the lead in arresting the tsarist officials; the Mensheviks opposed ‘excesses’. The Bolsheviks energetically undertook the creation of a workers’ militia; the Mensheviks delayed the arming of the workers, not wishing to quarrel with the bourgeoisie. Although not yet overstepping the bounds of bourgeois democracy, the Bolsheviks acted, or strove to act—however confused by their leadership—like uncompromising revolutionists.
Olminsky, a leading Bolshevik, said “We (at least many of us) were unconsciously steering a course toward proletarian revolution, although thinking we were steering a course toward a bourgeois-democratic revolution. In other words, we were preparing the October Revolution while thinking we were preparing the February.”
The Provisional Government’s Minister of Foreign Policy, Kadet Pavel Miliukov writes a memo to
’s military allies in the Entente, claiming “the universal desire to carry the world war through to a decisive victory has only been strengthened.” The Compromisers in the Executive Committee of the Soviet attempt to explain away Miliukov’s letter. Russia
This exposes that there is a big gap between the wishes of those who made the revolution and those who now claimed state power.
There is a mass march in response “shaking a fist at the window” of their elected leaders. The mass movement of armed workers and soldiers thinks it can sway their own parties to their will after breaking the back of centuries old Tsarism, but they did not yet see the need to completely eliminate the parallel state of the bourgeoisie (PG) and to break with the Compromisists.
With the liberal bourgeoisie on the offensive and threatening to tip the balance and capsize the whole fragile system, the Compromisers swung to the left and made concessions to the movement.
Miliukov resigns from the Cabinet, and more moderate socialists enter the government. This is meant to appear to extend the power of the working class and soldiers and peasants over the government to quiet their criticisms. But the PG doesn’t change course, and the moderate parties are more clearly associated with the hated policies of the bourgeois Kadets.
The distinction between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks/SR’s become clearer. As Trotsky writes:
Workers came to the party committees asking how to transfer their names from the Menshevik Party to the Bolshevik. At the factories they began insistently to question deputies about foreign policy, the war, the two-power system, the food question; and as a result of these examinations Menshevik and SR delegates were more and more frequently replaced by Bolsheviks…[Menshevik journalist] Sukhanov estimates that at the beginning of May the Bolsheviks had behind them a third of the Petrograd proletariat. Not less, certainly—and the most active third besides. The March formlessness had disappeared; political lines were sharpening; the ‘fantastic’ theses of Lenin were taking flesh in the
Petrograd workers’ districts.
By the end of May, the Bolsheviks membership has almost quadrupled, nearing 100,000 members.
By June, Bolshevik slogans are increasingly popular. The Bolsheviks decide to call a protest at the first All Russian Soviet Congress to “remind” them what the demands of the original revolution were and who they represent.
But the Soviet leadership bans all demonstrations, then calls its own to not appear too right wing.
There is an enormous turn out; but heavily dominated by Bolshevik slogans, including anti-PG and anti-Soviet leadership slogans. As Trotsky writes:
The delegates of the congress…read and counted the placards. The first Bolshevik slogans were met half-laughingly…But those same slogans were repeated again and again. “Down with the Ten Minister Capitalists!” “Down with the Offensive!” “All Power to the Soviets!” The ironical smile froze, and then gradually disappeared. Bolshevik banners floated everywhere. The delegates stopped counting the uncomfortable totals. The triumph of the Bolsheviks was too obvious.
The slogan “Down with the 10 Capitalist Ministers” is an explicit denunciation of the coalition government, and names the Mensheviks and SR’s as “capitalists” despite years of identification as socialists.
“[Menshevik Minister of the Interior Irakli] Tseretelli, following Kerensky had become not only an alien, but a hated figure to the majority of the
Petrograd workers and soldiers. On the fringes of the revolution was a growing influence of the anarchists…But even more disciplined layers of workers—even broad circles of the party—were beginning to lose patience or at least to listen to those who had lost it. The manifestation of June 18 had revealed to everybody that the government was without support. ‘Why don’t they get busy up there?’ the soldiers and workers would ask, having in mind not only the compromise leaders but also the governing bodies of the Bolsheviks.
This echoes the impatience that is growing around
Petrograd for immediate action. Local party leaders resented having to play the role of the “fire hose” against inflamed soldiers and workers.
There are resolutions in local soviets and committees calling for the immediate transfer of power to the Soviet, especially in the Baltic Fleet and at Kronstadt, a naval fortress at the mouth of the bay enclosing
While the party does come to a majority agreement to not get caught up in the flood of impatience, events force their involvement. The pretext for the explosion was the resignation of the last 4 Kadets from the PG.
The Bolsheviks try to restrain the movement, but are unsuccessful and eventually decide that the best path is to go with the masses and help avoid a complete attempt at insurrection. They are able to ride the wave and help it crest with minimal damage, but still protest do breach the power of the Soviet and PG. (???)
Many did learn from July that the main obstacle to Soviet rule was the unwillingness of the Compromisers to take power. Trotsky describes the Executive Committee’s response to the mass movement:
It would be difficult, even with malice aforethought, to devise a more viscous satire upon the Compromisers. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators were demanding the transfer of power to the soviets. Chkeidze, standing at the head of the soviet system and thus the logical candidate for premier, was hunting for armed forces to employ against the demonstrators. This colossal movement in favor of power to the democracy, was denounced by the democratic leaders as an attack upon the democracy by an armed gang.
Miliukov records a worker shaking his fist in the face of the Victor Chernov: “Take the power, you son-of-a-bitch, when they give it to you!” Trotsky writes: “Even though nothing more than an anecdote, this expresses with crude accuracy the essence of the July Days.” There was still some illusion that the revolution could “shake its fist” in the face of the Compromisers’ hesitancy and set the Soviet’s leaders into motion.
Trotstky goes on:
In July even the
Petrograd workers did not yet possess that preparedness for infinite struggle. Although able to seize the power, they nevertheless offered it to the Executive Committee. The proletariat of the capital, although inclining toward the Bolsheviks in its overwhelming majority, had still not broken the February umbilical cord attaching it to the Compromisers. Many still cherished the illusion that everything could be obtained by words and demonstrations—by frightening the Mensheviks and SR’s you could get them to carry out a common policy with the Bolsheviks. Even the advanced sections of the class had no clear idea by which roads it was possible to arrive at power.
In response to the offensive of the workers and soldiers, the bourgeoisie decide the time is ripening for the elimination of dual power. The Compromisers reverse course from April, and swing right to initiate a full-blown witch hunt against the Bolsheviks.
A campaign of slander exploded against the Bolsheviks and especially Lenin as agents of German imperialism. They were banned, their presses smashed and leaders arrested. Lenin and Zinoviev went into hiding not from the government but from right wing elements who now dominated the streets, beating and killing leftists. Trotsky was arrested.
But the Liberals and Compromisers also went on the offensive against the self-organization of the soldiers and workers. The death penalty was reinstated in the military, and all citizens were ordered to turn over their weapons to the government.
The attacks drove the Bolsheviks underground, and their support wavered. However, at the grass roots they continued to speak out and organize against the rightwing actions of the politicians, and were successful in undermining the disarming of the working class.
When the Compromisers, attempting to lure the Kadets back into a coalition, organized a “State Conference” in
August 12, the Bolsheviks were instrumental in organizing a general strike through the local soviets, which blackened the city during the conference’s opening day. Significantly, the local soviets acted against the Moscow Soviet, which was dominated by Compromisers—this was the beginning of a break between the lower soviets which were changing in composition toward the Bolsheviks, and the Executive Committees which held onto the program of March. Moscow
The party was able to continue to agitate against the right wing and argued the government was opening the door to reaction. This in combination with the disastrous defeat of the June offensive revived the standing of the Bolsheviks after a couple of weeks. Their membership stood at 240,000 at the end of July, meaning they came through the crisis intact.
By August a new wave of militancy was underway throughout the country: new mutinees, more dramatic land seizures, and extensions of workers’ control through the factory committees.
In swinging to the right, Kerensky was allying himself with forces that didn’t want to contain workers struggle within the two power system, but to smash the self organization of the oppressed altogether.
To head the armed forces, Kerensky appoints General Kornilov, who emerges as the focal point of the reaction’s hopes to restore “order” in
Kornilov’s plan for order was to establish martial law in the cities, disband the soviets and committees in the military, and reestablish the power of the officer corps. His plan was to march on
Petrograd on August 27 and to use the provocation of martial law to arouse a premature rising in the capital.
The attempted coup was a complete failure:
Railroad workers tore up and barricaded the tracks in order to hold back Kornilov’s army…The postal and telegraph clerks began to hold up and send to the Committee [for Struggle against Counter-revolution] telegrams and orders from headquarters, or copies of them. The generals had been accustomed during the years of war to think of transport and communications as technical questions. They found out now that there were political questions.
The resistance to the rebels grew out of the very road beds, out of the stones, out of the air.
Kornilov’s so-called loyal troops, however, had not been told what their mission was. When they learned from soldiers who surrounded their train their real aims, they raised a red flag which read “Land and Freedom” at their headquarters, and arrested the commandant when he protested. Not satisfied with simply stopping the coup, the troops then formed their own revolutionary committee to prevent any other assaults on
Petrograd, and to spread the word to other units to abandon the mission.
The coup attempt backfired, and restored the militancy of the July Days. The soviets, which had declined in activity and number through the summer, were reenergized. The Bolsheviks had been debating dropping the slogan All Power to the Soviets because of their entrenched conservatism in the hands of the March leadership. Now, they reversed course.
Trotsky quotes Lenin:
Let those of little faith learn from this example. Shame on those who say, ‘We have no machine with which to replace that old one which gravitates inexorably to the defense of the bourgeoisie.’ For we have a machine. And that is the soviets. Do not fear the initiative and independence of the masses. Trust the revolutionary organizations of the masses, and you will see in all spheres of the state life that same power, majesty and unconquerable will of the workers and peasants, which they have shown in their solidarity and enthusiasm against Kornilovism.
The Compromisers were paralyzed in the face of the movement and Kerensky thoroughly discredited. The second Coalition PG collapsed, and Kerensky consolidated power around himself into a 6 man Directory.
Paralysis comes from the inability to unite hostile classes—the impossibility of the goal, not a personal failing. The August crisis begins the final break between soviet power and the dream of a bourgeois democracy.
The true nature of dual power emerged in the consciousness of the oppressed classes. The sentiment for soviet power deepened. The Bolsheviks are clearly articulating and galvanizing this sentiment throughout
—in part because of their practical leadership in defending the revolution’s gains against the right, and because of the continued betrayals of the Compromisers. Russia
As Trotsky writes:
The history of a revolution is for us first of all the forcible entrance of the masses into the realm of their own destiny…The masses go into a revolution not with a prepared plan of social reconstruction, but with a sharp feeling that they cannot endure the old regime. Only the guiding layers of a class have a political program, and even this still requires the test of events, and the approval of the masses. The fundamental political process thus consists in the gradual comprehension by a class of the problems arising from the social crisis—the active orientation of the masses by a method of successive approximations.
This collective process of political maturation requires a party to provide a vehicle for clarifying and distilling the process, and linking it to the final goal of revolution.
By September, local soviets across
were dominated by the Bolsheviks and the break-away Left Socialist Revolutionaries Russia
However, within the Bolshevik leadership the debate about the potential for an international wave of revolution again breaks out.
The deepest resistance came from within the Bolshevik Central Committee itself. Two of Lenin’s closest comrades, Lev Kamenev and Gregori Zinoviev, with tacit approval from Stalin, the editor of Pravda, wage a bitter battle against the preparation for insurrection within the Central Committee. It is the April debate all over: in essence they support a democratic republic in coalition with the Compromise parties, and go so far as to publish their critique of the CC in Maxim Gorky’s newspaper. Lenin calls them “strikebreakers”. Despite Trotsky’s own role as the pre-eminent speaker and organizer through the period of Lenin’s hiding (July to early October), he credits Lenin with again consolidating the mass of the party behind the program of immediate insurrection.
The debate was waged both directly against the right within the CC, but also by alerting local Bolshevik leaders that the debate was happening. With the intensification of the calls for soviet power, from resolutions to armed marches, the local cadres were shocked at the wavering of the leaders. They exerted a sharp pressure on the uncertain and confirmed the confidence of the left, leading to a decisive shift of the majority onto the side of preparation for immediate insurrection.
Trotsky’s depiction of the Bolsheviks is counter to the monolithic, top down caricature of Stalinism. Instead he shows it to be an organism influenced by its integration into the class, reflecting both its boldness and its unevenness. The tensions within the party are what gave it its dynamism. As Trotsky writes:
The high temper of the Bolshevik party expressed itself not in an absence of disagreements, waverings, and even quakings, but in the fact that in the most difficult circumstances it gathered itself in good season by means of inner crises, and made good its opportunity to interfere decisively in the course of events.
Progress through contradiction is the essence of a dialectical understanding of historical change.
A Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets had been called for October 25th, and the insurrection would hold the greatest legitimacy if it was linked to the Congress. It was also clear tactically that the insurrection would be most successful, if like the defense against Kornilov, it was initially undertaken as a defense of the revolution, then turned into an offensive against the PG.
The situation in
Petersburg reached fever pitch when on October 9 Kerensky announced the transfer of the garrison out of the city in response to Germany’s advance to , right outside the capital. It was clear that the Compromisers saw an opportunity to get rid of one wing of the revolutionary forces in the city. Riga
Soviets and committees in factories and military units passed resolutions against the transfer, naming the Congress of Soviets as the sole legitimate power over the troops.
The Petrograd Soviet, under president Leon Trotsky resolves to create a Military Revolutionary Committee, which emerges as the vehicle for leading the insurrection. Lenin had been arguing through September that the party would need to act immediately, and in its own name to overthrow the Provisional Government. But with the consolidation of the party around preparation for insurrection, and the growing pressure from the local soviets themselves, Trotsky and others were able to win Lenin to the wisdom of creating a soviet body to plan and execute the uprising.
As Trotsky writes:
The party set the soviets in motion, the soviets set in motion the workers, soldiers, and to some extent the peasantry. What was gained in mass was lost in speed. If you represent this conducting apparatus as a system of cog-wheels – a comparison to which Lenin had recourse at another period on another theme – you may say that the impatient attempt to connect the party wheel directly with the gigantic wheel of the masses – omitting the medium-sized wheel of the soviets – would have given rise to the danger of breaking the teeth of the party wheel, and nevertheless not setting sufficiently large masses in motion.
The MRC declared on October 21st that orders not signed by them were invalid. This was a line drawn in the sand: the PG would have to confront the Petrograd Soviet, which held the allegiance of the soldiers and armed workers, if it wanted its orders followed. This is in some ways as important as the arrest of the PG a few days later, because it robbed them of any power to act.
On October 22nd, a mass march was called by the Bolsheviks as a public display of the sentiment for Soviet power; it was the largest, most disciplined march of the revolutionary period, reflecting the maturity and depth of the movement. It was obvious to all that the coming All Russian Congress would be dominated by the demand for “All Power to the Soviets,” and support of the Bolshevik program. The insurrection was the expression of this will.
The PG, “living in a bubble” of self delusion, attempted to strike back. In the early hours of October 25th, they declared they would arrest the MRC and outlaw the Bolsheviks, shutting down their presses calling for insurrection. They smashed the printing presses and sealed the doors, but only for a couple of hours, which provided precisely the opportunity for the MRC to turn a defensive stance into an offensive one, with the logic that the PG would never allow the democratically elected Second Congress to enact its mandate for soviet power.
As Trotsky writes:
The seals were torn from the building, the moulds poured again, and the work went on. With a few hours’ delay the newspaper suppressed by the government came out under protection of the troops of a committee which was itself liable to arrest. That was insurrection. That is how it developed.
The job was done. In much the same manner the other institutions were seized. It was not necessary to employ force, for there was no resistance. The insurrectionary masses lifted their elbows and pushed out the lords of yesterday.
The military seizure of the
took many hours, in part because of an excessively complicated attack plan and a sincere desire to avoid bloodshed by people who were sick to death of war. When the Congress of Soviets opened, it represented 402 local soviets, with 670 delegates. The Bolsheviks, with the largest share, held 300 seats. But 505 of the delegates arrived with a mandate to support the transfer of power to the soviets. Only 55 (less than 10%) had a mandate to support a coalition with the bourgeoisie. Winter Palace
As Trotsky writes:
The officers’ chevrons, the eye-glasses and neckties of intellectuals to be seen at the first Congress had almost completely disappeared. A grey color prevailed uninterruptedly, in costumes and in faces. All had worn out their clothes during the war. Many of the city workers had provided themselves with soldiers’ coats. The trench delegates were by no means a pretty picture: long unshaven, in old torn trench-coats, with heavy papakhi on their dishevelled hair, often with cotton sticking out through a hole, with coarse weather-beaten faces, heavy cracked hands, fingers yellowed with tobacco, buttons torn off, belts hanging loose, and long unoiled boots wrinkled and rusty. The plebeian nation had for the first time sent up an honest representation made in its own image and not retouched.
The Bolsheviks had rightly recognized that even in the face of the overwhelming support of the masses for soviet power, that the Compromisists would undemocratically attempt to hogtie the Soviet from enacting its mandate. By eliminating the PG before the Congress’ opening, they had cut the legs out from underneath the middle-class opposition to worker’s power. Even with the overthrow of the government and the complete exposure of their program as being a bridge to the reinstatement of class rule, the Compromisists persisted in attempting to convince the delegates to renounce their legitimate claim to power. The Mensheviks staged a disruption over the Bolshevik’s refusal to make a compromise with the bourgeois parties, and then walked out, boycotting the most democratic parliament ever convened.
Trotsky spoke in response:
An insurrection of the popular masses needs no justification. We have tempered and hardened the revolutionary energy of the
Petrograd workers and soldiers. We have openly forged the will of the masses to insurrection, and not conspiracy ... Our insurrection has conquered, and now you propose to us: Renounce your victory: make a compromise. With whom? I ask: With whom ought we to make a compromise? With that pitiful handful who just went out? ... Haven’t we seen them through and through. There is no longer anybody In Russia who is for them. Are the millions of workers and peasants represented in this Congress, whom they are ready now as always to turn over for a price to the mercies of the bourgeoisie, are they to enter a compromise with these men? No, a compromise is no good here. To those who have gone out, and to all who made like proposals, we must say, ‘You are pitiful isolated individuals; you are bankrupts; your rôle is played out. Go where you belong from now on – into the rubbish-can of history!
This is the essence of the Russian Revolution: the majority, conscious of their power, charting their own course against the classes that would exploit, oppress and strangle them. The insurrection was merely the final act of a much longer qualitative process wherein the oppressed elbowed aside the minority of parasites: in rule of the land, in control of production, in the waging of war and finally in the political rule of the country. True majority rule is not possible through a peaceful transfer, nor is it possible without an organization wedded to the class, imbued with the respect earned from real leadership.
Trotsky’s history offers much more than the details of one revolution; it presents a method of understanding class struggle from the point of view of those changing it.
As Trotsky writes:
Elements of experience, criticism, initiative, self-sacrifice, seeped down through the mass and created, invisibly to a superficial glance but no less decisively, an inner mechanics of the revolutionary movement as a conscious process. To the smug politicians of liberalism and tamed socialism everything that happens among masses is customarily represented as an instinctive process, no matter whether they are dealing with an anthill or a beehive. In reality the thought which was drilling through the thick of the working class was far bolder, more penetrating, more conscious, than those little ideas by which the educated classes live. Moreover, this thought was more scientific: not only because it was to a considerable degree fertilised with the methods of Marxism, but still more because it was ever nourishing itself on the living experience of the masses which were soon to take their place on the revolutionary arena. Thoughts are scientific if they correspond to an objective process and make it possible to influence that process and guide it.