The Executive Committee
The organisation created on February 27 in the Tauride Palace, and called “Executive Committee of The Soviet of Workers’ Deputies,” had little in common with its name.
The Soviet of Deputies of 1905, the originator of the system, rose out of a general strike. It directly represented the masses in struggle. The leaders of the strike became the deputies of the Soviet; the selection of its membership was carried out under fire; its Executive Committee was elected by the Soviet for the further prosecution of the struggle. It was this Executive Committee which placed on the order of the day the armed insurrection.
The February revolution, thanks to the revolt of the troops, was victorious before the workers had created a soviet. The Executive Committee was self-constituted, in advance of the Soviet and independently of the factories and regiments after the victory of the revolution.
We have here the classic initiative of the radicals – standing aside from the revolutionary struggle, but getting ready to harvest its fruit. The real leaders of the workers had not yet left the streets. They were disarming some, arming others, making sure of the victory. The more far-sighted among them were alarmed by the news that in the Tauride Palace some kind of a soviet of workers’ deputies had come into being. Just as in the autumn of 1916 the liberal bourgeoisie, in expectation of a palace revolution which somebody was supposed to put through, had got ready a reserve government to impose upon the new czar in case it succeeded, so the radical intelligentsia got ready its reserve sub-government at the moment of the February victory. Inasmuch as they had been, at least in the past, adherents of the workers’ movement and inclined to cover themselves with its tradition, they now named their offspring Executive Committee of the Soviet. That was one of those half-intentional falsifications with which all history is filled, especially the history of popular revolutions. In a revolutionary turn of events involving a break in the succession, those “educated” classes who have now to learn to wield the power, gladly seize hold of any names and symbols connected with the heroic memories of the masses. And words not infrequently conceal the essence of things – especially when this is demanded by the interests of influential groups. The immense authority of the Executive Committee from the very day of its birth rested upon its seeming continuance of the Soviet of 1905. This Committee, ratified by the first chaotic meeting of the Soviet, thereafter exerted a decisive influence both upon the membership of the Soviet and upon its policy. This influence was the more conservative, in that the natural selection of revolutionary representatives which is guaranteed by the red-hot atmosphere of a struggle no longer existed. The insurrection was already in the past. All were drunk with victory, were planning how to get comfortable on the new basis, were relaxing their souls, partly also their heads. It required months of new conflicts and struggles in new circumstances, with the consequent reshuffling of personnel, in order that the soviets, from being organs for consecrating the victory, should become organs of struggle and preparation for a new insurrection. We emphasise this aspect of matter because it has until now been left completely in the shade.
However, not only the conditions in which the Executive Committee and the Soviet arose determined their moderate and compromising character. Deeper and more enduring causes were operating in the same direction.
There were over 150,000 soldiers in Petrograd. There were at least four times as many working men and women of all categories. Nevertheless for every two worker-delegates in the Soviet, there were five soldiers. The rules of representation were extremely elastic, and they were always stretched to the advantage of the soldiers. Whereas the workers elected only one delegate for every thousand, the most petty military unit would frequently send two. The grey army cloth became the general ground tone of the Soviet.
But by no means all even of the civilians were selected by workers. No small number of people got into the Soviet by individual invitation, through pull, or simply thanks to their own penetrative ability. Radical lawyers, physicians, students, journalists, representing various problematical groups – or most often representing their own ambition. This obviously distorted character of the Soviet was even welcomed by the leaders, who were not a bit sorry to dilute the too concentrated essence of factory and barrack with the lukewarm water of cultivated Philistia. Many of these accidental crashers-in, seekers of adventure, self-appointed Messiahs, and professional bunk shooters, for a long time crowded out with their authoritative elbows the silent workers and irresolute soldiers.
And if this was so in Petrograd, it is not hard to imagine how it looked in the provinces, where the victory came wholly without struggle. The whole country was swarming with soldiers. The garrisons at Kiev, Helsingfors, Tiflis, were as numerous as that in Petrograd; in Saratov, Samara, Tambov, Omsk, there were 70,000 to 80,000 soldiers; in Yaroslavl, Ekaterinoslav, Ekaterinburg 60,000; in a whole series of other cities, 50,000, 40,000 and 80,000. The soviet representation was differently organised in different localities, but everywhere it put the troops in a privileged position. Politically this was caused by the workers themselves, who wanted to go as far as possible to meet the soldiers. The soviet leaders were equally eager to go to meet the officers. Besides the considerable number of lieutenants and ensigns at first elected by the soldiers themselves, a special representation was often given, particularly in the provinces, to the commanding staff. As a result the military had in many soviets an absolutely overwhelming majority. The soldier masses, who had not yet had time to acquire a political physiognomy, nevertheless determined through their representatives the physiognomy of the soviets.
In every representative system there is a certain lack of correspondence. It was especially great on the second day of the revolution. The deputies of the politically helpless soldiers often turned out in those early days to be people completely alien to the soldiers and to the revolution – all sorts of intellectuals and semi-intellectuals who had been hiding in the rear barracks and consequently came out as extreme patriots. Thus was created a divergence between the mood of the barracks and the mood of the soviet. Officer Stankevich, whom the soldiers of his battalion had received back sullenly and distrustfully after the revolution, made a successful speech in the soldiers’ section on the delicate question of discipline. Why, he asked, is the mood of the Soviet gentler and more agreeable than that of the battalions? This naïve perplexity testifies once more how hard it is for the real feelings of the lower ranks to find a path to the top.
Nevertheless, as early as March 8, meetings of soldiers and workers began to demand that the Soviet depose forthwith the Provisional Government of the liberal bourgeoisie, and take the power in its own hands. Here again the initiative belonged to the Vyborg district. And could there be, indeed, a demand more intelligible and nearer to the hearts of the masses? But this agitation was soon broken off, not only because the Defensists sharply opposed it; worse than that, the majority leadership had already in the first half of March bowed down in real fact to the two-power régime. And anyway, aside from the Bolsheviks, there was no one to bring up squarely the question of power. The Vyborg leaders had to back down. The Petrograd workers, however, did not for one moment give their confidence to the new government, nor consider it their own. They did listen keenly, though, to the soldiers and try not to oppose them too sharply. The soldiers, on the other hand, just learning the first syllables of political life, although as shrewd peasants they would not trust any master who happened along, nevertheless intently listened to their representatives, who in turn lent a respectful ear to the authoritative leaders of the Executive Committee; and these latter did nothing but listen with alarm to the pulse of the liberal bourgeoisie. Upon this system of universal listening from the bottom toward the top everything rested – for the time being. However, the mood from below had to break out on the surface. The question of power, artificially sidetracked, kept pushing up anew, although in disguised form. “The soldiers don’t know whom to listen to,” complained the districts and the provinces, expressing in this way to the Executive Committee their dissatisfaction with the divided sovereignty. Delegations from the Baltic and Black Sea fleets announced on the 16th of March that they were ready to recognise the Provisional Government in so far as it went hand in hand with the Executive Committee; in other words, they did not intend to recognise it at all. As time goes on, this note sounds louder and louder. “The army and the population should submit only to the directions of the Soviet,” resolves the 172nd Reserve regiment, sad then immediately formulates the contrary theorem: “Those directions of the Provisional Government which conflict with the decision of the Soviet are not to be obeyed.” With a mixed feeling of satisfaction and anxiety the Executive Committee sanctioned this situation; with grinding teeth the government endured it. There was nothing else for either of them to do.
Already early in March, soviets were coming into being in all the principal towns and industrial centres. From these spread in the next few weeks throughout the country. They began to arrive in the villages only in April and May; at first it was practically the army alone which spoke in the name of the peasants.
The Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet actually acquired a state significance. The other soviets guided themselves by the capital, one after the other adopting resolutions of conditional support to the Provisional Government. Although in the first months the relations between the Petrograd and provincial soviets worked themselves out smoothly, and without conflict or serious disagreement, nevertheless the necessity of a state organisation was obvious in the whole situation. A month after the overthrow of the autocracy a first conference of soviets was summoned – incomplete and one-sided in its membership. Although, out of 185 organisations represented, two-thirds were provincial soviets, these were for the most part soldiers’ soviets. Together with the representatives of the front organisations, these military delegates – for the most part officers – were in an overwhelming majority. Speeches resounded about war to complete victory, and outcries resounded against the Bolsheviks, notwithstanding their more than moderate behaviour. The conference filled out the Petrograd Executive Committee with sixteen conservative provincials, thus legitimising its state character.
That strengthened the right wing still more. From now on they frightened the malcontents by alluding to the provinces. The resolution on regulating the membership of the Petrograd Soviet – adopted March 14 – was hardly carried out at all. It is not the local soviet that decides, but the All-Russian Executive Committee. The official leaders thus occupied an almost unassailable position. The most important decisions were made by the Executive Committee, or rather by its ruling nucleus, after a preliminary agreement with the nucleus of the government. The Soviet remained on one side. They treated it like a meeting: “Not there, not in general meetings, is the policy wrought out; all these ‘plenary sessions’ had decidedly no practical importance” (Sukhanov). These complacent rulers of destiny thought that in entrusting the leadership to them the soviets had essentially completed their task. The future will soon show them that this is not so. The masses are long-suffering, but they are not clay out of which you can fashion anything you want to. Moreover, in a revolutionary epoch they learn fast. In that lies the power of a revolution.
In order better to understand the further development of events, it is necessary to pause upon the character of the two parties which from the very beginning formed a close political bloc, dominating in the soviets, in the democratic municipalities, in the congresses of the so-called revolutionary democracy, and even carrying their steadily dwindling majority to the Constituent Assembly, which became the last reflection of their former power, like the glow on a hilltop illumined by a sun already set.
If the Russian bourgeoisie appeared in the world too late to be democratic, the Russian democracy for the same reason wanted to consider itself socialistic. The democratic ideology had been hopelessly played out in the course of the nineteenth century. A radical intelligentsia standing on the edge of the twentieth, if it wanted to find a path to the masses, had need of a socialist colouring. This is the general historic cause which gave rise to those two intermediate parties: Menshevik and Social Revolutionary. Each of them, however, had its own genealogy and its own ideology.
The views of the Mensheviks were built up on a Marxian basis. In consequence of that same historical belatedness of Russia, Marxism had there become at first not so much a criticism of capitalist society as an argument for the inevitability of the bourgeois development of the country. History cleverly made use of the emasculated theory of proletarian revolution, in order with its help to Europeanise, in the bourgeois sense, wide circles of the mouldy “Narodnik” intelligentsia. In this process a very important rôle fell to the Mensheviks. Constituting the left wing of the bourgeois intelligentsia, they put the bourgeoisie in touch with the more moderate upper layers of the workers, those with a tendency towards legal activity around Duma and in the trade unions.
The Social Revolutionaries, on the contrary, struggled theoretically against Marxism-although sometimes surrendering to it. They considered themselves a party which realised the union of the intelligentsia, the workers and the peasants-under the leadership, it goes without saying, of the Critical Reason. In the economic sphere their ideas were an indigestible mess of various historical accumulations, reflecting the contradictory life-conditions of the peasantry in a country rapidly becoming capitalistic. The coming revolution presented itself to the Social Revolutionaries as neither bourgeois nor socialistic, but “democratic”: they substituted a political formula for a social content. They thus laid out for themselves a course halfway between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and consequently a position of arbiter between them. After February it might seem as though the Social Revolutionaries did actually approach this position.
From the time of the first revolution they had had their roots in the peasantry. In the first months of 1917, the whole rural intelligentsia adopted for its own the traditional formula of the Narodniks: “Land and Freedom.” In contrast to the Mensheviks who remained always a party of the cities, the Social Revolutionaries had found, it seemed, an amazingly powerful support in the country. More than that, they dominated even in the cities: in the soviets through the soldiers’ sections, and in the first democratic municipalities where they had an absolute majority of the votes. The power of this party seemed unlimited. In reality it was a political aberration. A party for whom everybody votes except that minority who know what they are voting for, is no more a party, than the tongue in which babies of all countries babble is a national language. The Social Revolutionary Party came forward as a solemn designation for everything in the February revolution that was immature, unformulated and confused. Everybody who had not inherited from the pre-revolutionary past sufficient reasons to vote for the Kadets or the Bolsheviks, voted for the Social Revolutionaries. But the Kadets stood inside a closed circle of property owners; and the Bolsheviks were still few, misunderstood, and even terrifying. To vote for the Social Revolutionaries meant to vote for the revolution in general, and involved no further obligation. In the city it meant the desire of the soldiers to associate themselves with a party that stood for the peasants, the desire of the backward part of the workers to stand close to the soldiers, the desire of the small townspeople not to break away from the soldiers and the peasants. In those days the Social Revolutionary membership-card was a temporary ticket of admission to the institutions of the revolution, and this ticket remained valid until it was replaced by another card of a more serious character. It has been truly said of this great party, which took in all and everybody, that it was only a grandiose zero.
From the time of the first revolution, the Mensheviks had inferred the necessity of a union with the liberals from the bourgeois character of the revolution. And they valued this union higher than cooperation with the peasantry, whom they considered an unsafe ally. The Bolsheviks, on the contrary, had founded their view of the revolution on a union of the proletariat with the peasantry against the liberal bourgeoisie. As an actual fact we see in the February revolution an opposite grouping – the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries come out a close union, completed by their common bloc with the liberal bourgeoisie. The Bolsheviks, on the official political field, are completely isolated.
This apparently inexplicable fact is in reality wholly in accord with the laws of things. The Social Revolutionaries were not by any means a peasant party, notwithstanding the wholesale sympathy for their slogans in the villages. The central nucleus of the party – what actually defined its policies and created ministers and bureaucrats from its midst – was far more closely associated with the liberal and radical circles of the cities than with the masses of the peasants in revolt. This ruling nucleus – monstrously swelled by the careerist flood of Social Revolutionaries of the March vintage – was frightened to death by the spread of the peasant movement under Social Revolutionary slogans. These freshly baked “Narodniks” wished the peasants all good things, of course, but did not want the red cock to crow. And the horror of the Social Revolutionaries before the peasant revolt was paralleled by the horror of the Mensheviks before the assault of the proletariat. In its entirety this democratic fright was a reflection of the very real danger to the possessing classes caused by a movement of the oppressed, a danger which united them in a single camp, the bourgeois-landlord reaction. The bloc of the Social Revolutionaries with the government of landlord Lvov signalised their break with the agrarian revolution, just as the bloc of the Mensheviks with industrialists and bankers of the type of Guchkov, Tereshchenko and Konovalov, meant their break with the proletarian movement. In these circumstances the union of Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries meant not a cooperation of proletariat with peasants, but a coalition of those parties which had broken with the proletariat and the peasants respectively, for the sake of a bloc with the possessing classes.
From what has been said it is clear that the socialism of the two democratic parties was a fiction. But this is far from saying that their democratism was real. It is a bloodless sort of democratism that requires a socialistic disguise. The Russian proletariat had waged its struggle for democracy in irreconcilable antagonism to the liberal bourgeoisie. The democratic parties therefore, in entering a bloc with the liberal bourgeoisie, had inevitably to enter into conflict with the proletariat. Such were the social roots of the cruel struggle to come between Compromisers and Bolsheviks.
If you reduce the above outlined processes to their naked class mechanism – of which of course the participants, and even the leaders, of the two compromise parties were not thoroughly conscious – you get approximately the following distribution of historic functions: The liberal bourgeoisie was already unable to win over the masses. Therefore it feared a revolution. But a revolution was necessary for the bourgeois development. From the enfranchised bourgeoisie two groups split off, consisting of sons and younger brothers. One of these groups went to the workers, the other to the peasants. They tried to attach these workers and peasants to themselves, sincerely and hotly demonstrating that they were socialists and hostile to the bourgeoisie. In this way they actually gained a considerable influence over the people. But very soon the effect of their ideas outstripped the original intention. The bourgeoisie sensed a mortal danger and sounded the alarm. Both the groups which had split off from it, the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries, eagerly responded to the summons from the head of the family. Hastily patching up the old disagreements they all stood shoulder to shoulder, abandoned the masses, and rushed to the rescue of bourgeois society.
The Social Revolutionaries made a feeble and flabby impression even in comparison with the Mensheviks. To the Bolsheviks at all important moments they seemed merely third-rate Kadets. To the Kadets they seemed third-rate Bolsheviks. (The second-rate position was occupied, in both cases, by the Mensheviks.) Their unstable support and the formlessness of their ideology were reflected in their personnel: on all the Social Revolutionary leaders lay the imprint of unfinishedness, superficiality and sentimental unreliability. We may say without any exaggeration that the rank-and-file Bolshevik revealed more political acumen, more understanding of the relations between classes, than the most celebrated Social Revolutionary leaders.
Having no stable criteria, the Social Revolutionaries showed a tendency toward moral imperatives. It is hardly necessary to add that these moral pretensions did not in the least hinder them from employing in big politics those petty knaveries so characteristic of intermediate parties lacking a stable support, a clear doctrine, and a genuine moral axis.
In the Menshevik-Social Revolutionary bloc the dominant place belonged to the Mensheviks, in spite of the weight of numbers on the side of the Social Revolutionaries. In this distribution of forces was expressed in a way the hegemony of the town over the country, the predominance of the city over the rural petty bourgeoisie, and finally the intellectual superiority of a “Marxist” intelligentsia over an intelligentsia which stood by the simon-pure Russian sociology, and prided itself on the meagreness of the old Russian history.
In the first weeks after the revolution not one of the left parties, as we know, had its actual headquarters in the capital. The generally recognised leaders of the socialist parties were abroad. The secondary leaders were on their way to the centre from the Far East. This created a mood of prudence and watchful waiting among the temporary leaders, which drew them closer together. Not one of the guiding groups in those weeks thought anything through to the end. The struggle of parties in the Soviet was extremely peaceable in character. It was a question, almost, of mere nuances within one and the same “revolutionary democracy.” It is true that with the arrival of Tseretelli from exile (March 19) the Soviet leadership took a rather sharp turn toward the right – toward direct responsibility for the government and the war. But the Bolsheviks also toward the middle of March, under the influence of Kamenev and Stalin who had arrived from exile, swung sharply to the right, so that the distance between the Soviet majority and its left opposition had become by the beginning of April even less than it was at the beginning of March. The real differentiation began a little later. It is possible to set the exact date: April 4, the day after the arrival of Lenin in Petrograd.
The Menshevik Party had a number of distinguished figures at the head of its different tendencies, but not one revolutionary leader. Its extreme right wing, led by the old teachers of the Russian social democracy – Plekhanov, Zassulich, Deutsch – had taken a patriotic position even under the autocracy. On the very eve of the February revolution, Plekhanov, who had so pitifully outlived himself, wrote in an American newspaper that strikes and other forms of working-class struggle in Russia would now be a crime. The broader circles of old Mensheviks – among their number such figures as Martov, Dan, Tseretelli – had inscribed themselves in the camp of Zimmerwald and refused to accept responsibility for the war. But this internationalism of the left Mensheviks, as also of the left Social Revolutionaries, concealed in the majority of cases a mere democratic oppositionism. The February revolution reconciled a majority of those Zimmerwaldists  to the war, which from now on they discovered to be a struggle in defence of the revolution. The most decisive in this matter was Tseretelli, who carried Dan and the others along with him. Martov, whom the war had found in France, and who arrived from abroad only on May 9, could not help seeing that his former party associates had after the February revolution arrived at the same position occupied by Guesde, Sembat and others at the beginning of 1914, when they took upon themselves the defence of a bourgeois republic against German absolutism. Standing at the head of the left wing of the Mensheviks, which did not rise to any serious rôle in the revolution, Martov remained in opposition to the policy of Tseretelli and Dan – at the same time opposing a rapprochement between the left Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks. Tseretelli spoke in the name of official Menshevism and had an indubitable majority – pre-revolutionary patriots having found it easy to unite with these patriots of the February vintage. Plekhanov, however, had his own group, completely chauvinist and standing outside the party and outside the Soviet. Martov’s faction, which did not quit the party, had no paper of its own and no policy of its own. As always at times of great historic action, Martov floundered hopelessly and swung in the air. In 1917, as in 1905, the revolution hardly noticed this unusually able man.
The president of the Menshevik faction of the Duma, Cheidze, became almost automatically the president of the Petrograd Soviet, and afterwards of its Executive Committee. He tried to consecrate to the duties of his office all the resources of his conscientiousness, concealing his perpetual lack of confidence in himself under an ingenuous jocularity. He carried the ineradicable imprint of his province. Mountainous Georgia, the land of sun, vineyards, peasants and petty princes, with a small percentage of workers, produced a very wide stratum of left intellectuals, flexible, temperamental, but the vast majority of them not rising above the petty bourgeois outlook. Georgia sent Mensheviks as deputies to all four Dumas, and in all four factions her deputies played the rôle of leaders. Georgia became the Gironde of the Russian revolution. But whereas the Girondists of the eighteenth century were accused of federalism, the Girondists of Georgia, although at first defending a single and indivisible Russia, ended in separatism.
The most distinguished figure produced by the Georgian Gironde was undoubtedly the former deputy of the second Duma, Tseretelli, who immediately on his arrival from exile took the leadership, not only of the Mensheviks, but of the whole Soviet majority. Not a theoretician and not even a journalist, but a distinguished orator, Tseretelli remained a radical of the southern French type. In conditions of ordinary parliamentary routine he would have been a fish in water. But he was born into a revolutionary epoch, and had poisoned himself in youth with a dose of Marxism. At any rate, of all the Mensheviks, Tseretelli revealed in the events of the revolution the widest horizon and the desire to pursue a consistent policy. For this reason he, more than any other, helped on with the destruction of the February régime. Cheidze wholly submitted to Tseretelli, although at moments be was frightened by that doctrinaire straightforwardness which caused the revolutionary hard-labour convict of yesterday to unite with the conservative representatives of the bourgeoisie.
The Menshevik Skobelev, indebted for his new popularity to his position as deputy in the last Duma, conveyed – and not only on account of his youthful appearance – the impression of a student playing the rôle of statesman on a home-made stage. Skobelev specialised in putting down “excesses,” quieting local conflicts, and in general caulking up the cracks of the two-power régime – until he was included, in the unlucky rôle of Minister of Labour, in the Coalition government of May.
A most influential figure among the Mensheviks was Dan, an old party worker, always considered the second figure after Martov. If Menshevism in general was nourished upon the flesh, blood, tradition, and spirit of the German social democracy of the period of decline, Dan actually seemed to be a member of the German party administration – an Ebert on a smaller scale. Ebert, the German Dan, successfully carried out in Germany a year later that policy which Dan, the Russian Ebert, had failed to carry out in Russia. The cause of the difference however was not in the men, but in the conditions.
If the first violin in the orchestra of the Soviet majority was Tseretelli, the piercing clarinet was played by Lieber – with all his lungpower and blood in his eyes. This was a Menshevik from the Jewish workers’ union (The Bund), with a long revolutionary past, very sincere, very temperamental, very eloquent, very limited, and passionately desirous of showing himself an inflexible patriot and iron statesman. Lieber was literally beside himself with hatred of Bolsheviks.
We may close the phalanx of Menshevik leaders with the former ultra-left Bolshevik, Voitinsky, a prominent participant in the first revolution, who had served at hard labour, and who broke with his party in March on grounds of patriotism. After joining the Mensheviks, Voitinsky became, as was to be expected, a professional Bolshevik-eater. He lacked only Lieber’s temperament in order to equal him in baiting his former party comrades.
The general staff of the Narodniks was equally heterogeneous, but far less significant and bright. The so-called Popular Socialists, the extreme right flank, were led by the old emigrant Chaikovsky, who equalled Plekhanov in military chauvinism but lacked his talent and his past. Alongside him stood the old woman Breshko-Breshkovskaia, whom the Social Revolutionaries called the “grandmother of the Russian Revolution,” but who zealously forced herself as godmother on the Russian counter-revolution. The superannuated anarchist Kropotkin, who had had a weakness ever since youth for the Narodniks made use of the war to disavow everything he had been teaching for almost half a century. This denouncer of the state supported the Entente, and if he denounced the dual power in Russia, it was not in the name of anarchy, but in the name of a single power of the bourgeoisie. However, these old people played mostly a decorative rôle – although later on in the war against the Bolsheviks Chaikovsky headed one of the White governments financed by Churchill. The first place among the Social Revolutionaries – far in advance of the others, though not in the party but above it – was occupied by Kerensky, a man without any party past whatever. We shall meet often again this providential figure, whose strength in the two-power period lay in his combining the weaknesses of liberalism with the weaknesses of the democracy. His formal entrance into the Social Revolutionary Party did not destroy Kerensky’s scornful attitude toward parties in general: he considered himself the directly chosen one of the nation. But after all, the Social Revolutionary Party had ceased by that time to be a party, and become a grandiose and indeed national zero. In Kerensky this party found an adequate leader.
The future Minister of Agriculture, and afterwards President of the Constituent Assembly, Chernov, was indubitably the most representative figure of the old Social Revolutionary Party, and by no accident was considered its inspirator, theoretician and leader. A well-read rather than educated man, with a considerable but unintegrated learning, Chernov always had at his disposition a boundless assortment of appropriate quotations, which for a long time caught the imagination of the Russian youth without teaching them much. There was only one single question which this many-worded leader could answer: Whom was he leading and whither? The eclectic formulas of Chernov, ornamented with moralisms and verses, united for a time a most variegated public who at all critical moments pulled in different directions. No wonder Chernov complacently contrasted his methods of forming a party with Lenin’s “sectarianism.”
Chernov arrived from abroad five days after Lenin: England after some hesitation had passed him. To the numerous greetings of the Soviet, the leader of its biggest party answered with its longest speech – a speech about which Sukhanov, himself a half Social Revolutionary, comments as follows: “Not only I, but many other Social Revolutionary party patriots wrinkled our brows and shook our heads, because he chanted so unpleasantly and minced and rolled his eyes – yes, and talked endlessly and without aim or purpose.” All the further activity of Chernov in the revolution developed in tune with this first speech. After some attempts to oppose Kerensky and Tseretelli from the left, finding himself pressed on all sides, Chernov surrendered without a struggle, purged himself of his emigrant Zimmerwaldism, took a seat in the Contact Commission, and later also in the coalition government. Everything he did was inappropriate. He decided therefore to evade all issues. Abstaining from the vote became for him a form of political life. His authority melted away from April to October, faster even than the ranks of his party. With all the differences between Chernov and Kerensky, who hated each other, they were both completely rooted in the pre-revolutionary past – in the old flabby Russian society, in that thin-blooded and pretentious intelligentsia, burning with a desire to teach the masses of the people, to be their guardian and benefactor, but completely incapable of listening to them, understanding them, and learning from them. And without learning from the masses there can be no revolutionary statesmanship.
Avksentiev, who was raised by his party to the highest revolutionary posts – president of the Executive Committee of the Peasants’ Deputies, Minister of the Interior, President of the Pre-Parliament – was the complete caricature of a statesman. A charming teacher of language in a ladies’ seminary in Orel – that is really all you can say about him, although, to be sure his political activity turned out far more pernicious than his personality. A large rôle was played – although mostly behind the scenes – in the Social Revolutionary faction, and in the ruling nucleus of the Soviet, by Gotz. A terrorist of well-known revolutionary family, Gotz was less pretentious and more business-like than his closest political friends. But in his character as a so-called “practical,” he limited himself to kitchen matters, leaving the big questions to others. It is necessary to add that he was neither orator nor writer, and that his chief resource was his personal authority bought with years of imprisonment at hard labour.
We have named essentially all who can be named among the ruling circle of the Narodniks. Below them are completely accidental figures like Filipovsky, whose arrival at the very height of the February Olympus nobody ever could explain: the deciding factor would seem to have been his naval officer’s uniform. Alongside the official leaders of the two ruling parties in the Executive Committee, there were quite a few “wild ones,” solitaries, participants of the past movement at its various stages, people who had withdrawn from the struggle long before the uprising, and now, after a hasty return under the banner of the victorious revolution, were in no hurry to adopt the yoke of any party. On all fundamental questions the “wild ones” followed the line of the Soviet majority. For the first few days they played even a leading rôle, but in proportion as the official leaders began to arrive from exile and from abroad, these non-party men retired to a secondary place. Politics began to take form, and party allegiance entered into its rights.
Enemies of the Executive Committee in the reactionary camp made a great point of the “preponderance” in it of non-Russians: Jews, Georgians, Letts, Poles, and so forth. Although by comparison with the whole membership of the Executive Committee the non-Russian elements were not very numerous, it is nevertheless true that they occupied a very prominent place in the præsidium, in the various committees, among the orators, etc. Since the intelligentsia of the oppressed nationalities – concentrated as they were for the most part in cities – had flowed copiously into the revolutionary ranks, it is not surprising that among the old generation of revolutionaries the number of non-Russians was especially large. Their experience, although not always of a high quality, made them irreplaceable when it came to inaugurating new social forms. The attempt, however, to explain the policy of the soviets and the course of the whole revolution by an alleged “predominance” of non-Russians is pure nonsense. Nationalism in this case again reveals its scorn for the real nation – that is, the people – representing them in the period of their great national awakening as a mere block of wood in alien and accidental hands. But why and how did the non-Russians acquire such miracle-working power over the native millions? As a matter of fact, at a moment of deep historic change, the bulk of a nation always presses into its service those elements which were yesterday most oppressed, and therefore are most ready to give expression to the new tasks. It is not that aliens lead the revolution, but that the revolution makes use of the aliens. It has been so even in great reforms introduced from above. The policy of Peter did not cease to be national when, swinging out of the old tracks, it impressed into its service non-Russians and foreigners. The master of some German suburb, or some Dutch skipper, would express far better at that period the demands of the nation development of Russia, than Russian priests dragged in long ago by the Greeks, or Moscow Boyars, who also complained of foreign predominance, although themselves descended from those alien tribes who created the Russian state. In any case the non-Russian intelligentsia of 1917 were distributed amongst the same parties as the one hundred per cent. Russians, suffered from the same vices, made the same mistakes – and moreover the non-Russians among the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries displayed a most particular zeal for the defence and unity of Russia.
Such was the Executive Committee, the highest organ of the democracy. Two parties which had lost their illusions but preserved their prejudices, with a staff of leaders who were incapable of passing from word to deed, arrived at the head of revolution called to break the fetters of a century and lay the foundations of a new society. The whole activity of the Compromisers became one long chain of painful contradictions exhausting the masses and leading to the convulsions of civil war.
The workers, soldiers and peasants took events seriously. They thought that the soviets which they had created ought to undertake immediately to remove those evils which had caused the revolution. They all ran to the Soviet. Everybody brought his pains there. And who was without pains? They demanded decisions, hoped for help, awaited justice, insisted upon indemnification. Solicitors, complainers, petitioners, exposers, all came assuming that at last they had replaced a hostile power with their own. The people believe in the Soviet, the people are armed, therefore the Soviet is the sovereign power. That was the way they understood it. And were they not indeed right? An uninterrupted flood of soldiers, workers, soldiers’ wives, small traders, clerks, mothers, fathers, kept opening and shutting the doors, sought, questioned, wept, demanded, compelled action – sometimes even indicating what action – and converted the Soviet in very truth into a revolutionary government. “That was not all in the interest, or at least did not at all enter into the plans, of the Soviet itself,” complains our friend Sukhanov, who of course struggled with all his might against this process. But with what success did he struggle? Alas, he is soon compelled to acknowledge that “the Soviet apparatus began involuntarily, automatically, against the will of the Soviet, to crowd out the official governmental machine, which was grinding more and more without grain.” What did the doctrinaires of capitulation do the mechanics of this empty grinding? “It became necessary to reconcile ones self and take up the separate functions of administration,” Sukhanov sadly confesses, “at the same time preserving the fiction that the Mariinsky Palace was performing them.” That is what those people were busy with in a shattered country caught in the flames of war and revolution – protecting with masquerade measures the prestige of a government which the people had organically ejected. The revolution may die, but long live the fiction! And all the while the power which they had driven out of the door, kept crawling back through the window, catching them every time unawares and making them look cheap or ludicrous.
On the night of the 28th of February, the Executive Committee closed up the monarchist press and established a licensing system for newspapers. Protesters heard, those shouting the loudest who had been accustomed to stop the mouths of others. After a few days the Committee had to take up again the problem of a free press: to permit or not to permit the publication of reactionary papers? Disagreements arose. Doctrinaires of the type of Sukhanov stood for absolute freedom of the press. Cheidze at first disagreed: how can we leave weapons at the uncontrolled disposition of our mortal enemies? It occurred to nobody, by the way, to turn over the whole question to the decision of the government. Anyway, that would have been useless; the typographical workers took orders only from the Soviet. On March 5 the Executive Committee confirmed this fact as follows: “The right press is closed and the issue of new papers will depend upon the decision of the Soviet.” But as early as the 10th, under pressure from bourgeois circles, that resolution was annulled. “They took only three days to come to their senses,” exults Sukhanov. Ill-founded exultation! The press does not stand above society the conditions of its existence during a revolution reflect the progress of the revolution itself. When the latter assumes, or may assume, the character of a civil war, not one of the warring camps will permit the existence of a hostile press within the sphere of its influence – no more than it will let escape from its control the arsenals, the railroads, the printing establishments. In a revolutionary struggle the press is only one kind of weapon. The right to speech is certainly not higher than the right to life. A revolution takes the latter too into its hands. We may lay this down as a law: Revolutionary governments are the more liberal, the more tolerant, the more “ magnanimous” to the reaction, the shallower their programme, the more they are bound up with the past, the more conservative their rôle. And the converse: the more gigantic their tasks and the greater the number of vested rights and interests they are to destroy, the more concentrated will the revolutionary power, the more naked its dictatorship. Whether this is a good thing or bad, it is by these roads that humanity has thus far moved forward. The Soviet was right when it wanted to retain control of the press. Why did it so easily give this up? Because in general it was refusing to make a serious fight. It remained silent about peace, about the land, even about a republic. Having turned over the power to the conservative bourgeoisie, it had neither a reason for fearing the right press, nor a possibility of struggling against it. The government, on the other hand, began after a few months, with the support of the Soviet, to suppress ruthlessly the left press. The Bolshevik papers were shut down one after another.
On March 7 in Moscow, Kerensky declaimed: “Nicholas II is in my hands. I will never be the Marat of the Russian revolution. Nicholas II is to go under my personal supervision to England ...” Ladies threw flowers; students applauded. But the depths bestirred themselves. Not one serious revolution yet – not one that had something to lose – has let the deposed monarch escape over the border. From the workers and soldiers came continuous demands: arrest the Romanovs. The Executive Committee sensed the fact that there could be no joking here. It was decided that the Soviet must take into its own hands the question of the Romanovs: the government was thus openly proclaimed undeserving of confidence. The Executive Committee gave an order to all railroads not to let Romanov through. That was why the czar’s train got lost in the tracks. One of the members of the Executive Committee, the worker Gvosdev, a right Menshevik, was commissioned to arrest Nicholas. Kerensky was disavowed – and along with him the government. But instead of resigning it submitted in silence. On March 9 Cheidze reported to the Executive Committee that the government had “renounced” the thought of sending Nicholas to England. The czar’s family was put under arrest in the Winter Palace.
Thus the Executive Committee stole the power from under its own pillow. But from the front the demand became more and more insistent: transfer the former czar to the Peter and Paul fortress.
Revolutions have always involved a reshuffling of property, not only by legislative means, but also by mass seizure. No agrarian revolution in history has ever proceeded otherwise: legal reforms always trail behind the red cock. In the towns, forcible seizures have played a smaller rôle: bourgeois revolutions have not had the task of uprooting bourgeois property relations. But there has never been any revolution, it seems, in which the masses have not appropriated for social purposes the buildings which formerly belonged to the enemies of the people. Immediately after the February revolution the parties came out from underground, trade unions arose, continuous meetings were held, there were soviets in every district; for all these things quarters were needed. Organisations seized the uninhabited summer homes of the czarist ministers, or the vacant palaces of the czar’s ballerinas. The victims complained, or else the government interfered on its own initiative. But since the expropriators really possessed the sovereign power – the official power being a ghost – it became necessary for the Prosecuting Attorney to appeal in the long run to that same Executive Committee to restore the ravished rights of a certain ballerina, whose none too complicated functions had been so highly paid for by the members of the dynasty out of the people’s wealth. The Contact Commission of course was brought into operation; the ministers held sittings; the Bureau of the Executive Committee conferred; delegations were sent to the expropriators – and the affair dragged on for months.
Sukhanov relates that as a “Left ”he had nothing against the most radical legislative invasions of the rights of property, but on the other hand he was a “bitter opponent of all forcible seizures.” With ruses like this the unhappy “Lefts” have always covered up their bankruptcy. A genuinely revolutionary government might unquestionably have reduced these chaotic seizures to a minimum by a timely decree on the requisition of quarters. But the left Compromisers had turned over the power to the fanatics of property, in order afterwards carefully to preach to the masses – under an open sky – a respect for revolutionary legality. The climate of Petrograd is not favourable to Platonism.
The bread-lines had given the last stimulus to the revolution. They also proved the first threat to the new régime. At the very first session of the Soviet a food commission had been created. The government bothered little about feeding the capital. It would not have been averse to holding it down with hunger. The task lay on the Soviet. It had at its disposition economists and statisticians with some practical experience, people who had served formerly in the economic and administrative organs of the bourgeoisie. They were in most cases Mensheviks of the right wing, like Grohman and Cherevanin, or former Bolsheviks like Bazarov and Avilov, who had moved far to the right. But they had hardly approached the problem of feeding the capital, when they found themselves compelled by the whole situation to apply extremely radical measures to control speculation and organise a market. In a series of sessions of the Soviet a whole system of measures of “military socialism” was adopted, including the declaring of all grain stores public property, the establishment of a definite price for bread, to accord with similar prices for industrial products, state control of industry, a regulated exchange of goods with the peasants. The leaders of the Executive Committee looked at each other in alarm; not knowing what else to propose, however, they supported these radical resolutions. The members of the Contact Commission afterward communicated them, in some embarrassment, to the government. The government promised to examine them. But Prince Lvov, and Guchkov, and Konovalov had not the least desire. to control, requisition, or otherwise cut down on themselves and their friends. All the economic measures of the Soviet went to pieces against the passive resistance of the state apparatus – except in so far as they were carried out independently by local soviets. The sole practical measure carried through by the Petrograd Soviet in the matter of food supply was the limitation of the consumer to a strict ration: a pound and a half of bread for people engaged in physical labour, a pound for the rest. To be sure, this limitation introduced almost no change into the natural food budget of the population of the capital: you can live on a pound, or a pound and a half. The misery of daily under-nourishment was still ahead. For a period of years – not months, but years – the revolution will have to take in its belt tighter and on a shrinking stomach. It will weather the ordeal. At present what troubles it is not hunger but doubt, indefiniteness, uncertainty of tomorrow. Economic difficulties that have been multiplied by thirty-two months of war, are knocking at the doors and windows of the new régime. The breakdown of transport, the lack of various kinds of raw materials, the exhaustion of a considerable part of the equipment, alarming inflation, dislocation of trade, all these things demand bold and immediate measures. But while approaching these problems economically, the Compromisers made the solution of them impossible politically. Every economic problem they encountered turned into a condemnation of the dual power; every decision they had to sign burned their fingers unbearably.
The eight-hour working day was the great test of strength and mutual relations. The insurrection had conquered, but the general strike continued. The workers seriously assumed that a change in the régime ought to introduce changes into their lives. This caused instant alarm to the new rulers, both liberal and socialist. The patriotic parties and newspapers adopted the cry: “Soldiers to the barracks, workers to the shops!” “Does that mean that everything is going to remain the same? “asks the worker. “For the time being,” answer the Mensheviks, embarrassed. But the workers understand: If there isn’t a change right now, there never will be.
The bourgeoisie left the task of settling things with the workers to the socialists. Referring to the fact that the victory already won “has sufficiently guaranteed the position of the working class in its revolutionary struggle” – to be sure, have not the liberal landlords come into power? – the Executive Committee designated March 5 as the date for resuming work in the Petrograd district. Workers to the shops! Such is the iron-clad egotism of the educated classes, liberals and socialists alike. Those people believed that millions of workers and soldiers lifted to the heights of insurrection by the inconquerable pressure of discontent and hope, would after their victory tamely submit to the old conditions of life. From reading historical works, they had got the impression that it happened this way in previous revolutions. But no, even in the past it has never been so. If the workers have been driven back into their former stalls, it has been only in a roundabout way, after a whole series of defeats and deceptions. Marat was keenly aware of this cruel social perversion of political revolutions. For that reason he is so well slandered by the official historians. “A revolution is accomplished and sustained only by the lowest classes of society,” he wrote a month before the revolution of August 10, 1792, “by all the disinherited, whom the shameless rich treat as canaille, and whom the Romans with their usual cynicism once named proletarians.” And what will the revolution give to the disinherited? “Winning a certain success at the beginning, the movement is finally conquered; it always lacks knowledge, skill, means, weapons, leaders and a definite plan of action; it remains defenceless in the face of conspirators possessed of experience, adroitness and craft.” Is it any wonder that Kerensky did not want to be the Marat of the Russian revolution?
One of the former captains of Russian industry, V. Auerbach, relates with indignation how “the revolution was understood by the lower orders as something in the nature of an Easter carnival: servants, for example, disappeared for whole days, promenaded in red ribbons, took rides in automobiles, came home in the morning only long enough to wash up and again went out for fun.” It is remarkable that in trying to demonstrate the demoralising effect of a revolution, this accuser describes the conduct of a servant in exactly those terms which – with the exception, to be sure, of the red ribbon – most perfectly reproduce the daily life of the bourgeois lady-patrician. Yes, a revolution is interpreted by the oppressed as a holiday – or the eve of a holiday – and the first impulse of the drudge aroused by it is to loosen the yoke of the day-by-day humiliating, anguishing, ineluctable slavery. The working-class as a whole could not, and did not intend to, comfort themselves with mere red ribbons as a symbol of victory – a victory won for others. There was agitation in the factories of Petrograd. A considerable number of shops openly refused to submit to the resolution of the Soviet. The workers were of course ready to return to the shops, for that was necessary – but upon what terms? They demanded the eight-hour day. The Mensheviks answered by alluding to 1905 when the workers tried to introduce the eight-hour day by forcible methods and were defeated. “A struggle on two fronts – against the reaction and against the capitalist – is too much for the proletariat.” That was the central idea of the Mensheviks. They recognised 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 that it was 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 – to oppose the economic struggle of the workers and peasants. “For the working class,” they taught, “social questions are not now of the first importance. Its present task is to achieve political freedom.” But just what this speculative freedom consisted of, the workers could not understand. They wanted in the first place a little freedom for their muscles and nerves. And so they brought pressure on their bosses. By the irony of fate it was exactly on the 10th of March, when the Mensheviks were explaining that the eight-hour day is not a current issue that the Manufacturers’ Association – which had already been obliged to enter into official relations with the Soviet announced its readiness to introduce the eight-hour day and permit the organisation of factory and shop committees. The industrialists were more far-seeing than the democratic strategists of the Soviet. And no wonder: these employers came face to face with the workers, and the workers in no less than half of the Petrograd plants among them a majority of the biggest ones were already leaving the shops in a body after eight hours of work. They themselves took what the soviet and the government refused them. When the liberal press unctuously compared this gesture of the Russian industrialists of March 10, 1917 with that of the French nobility of August 4, 1789, they were far nearer the historic truth than they themselves imagined: like the feudalists of the end of the eighteenth century, the Russian capitalists acted under the club of necessity, hoping by this temporary concession to make sure of getting back in the future what they had lost. One of the Kadet publicists, breaking through the official lie, frankly acknowledged this: “Unfortunately for the Mensheviks, the Bolsheviks had already by means of terror compelled the Manufacturers’ Association to agree to an immediate introduction of the eight-hour day.” In what this terror consisted we already know. Worker-Bolsheviks indubitably occupied the front ranks in the movement, and here as in the decisive days of February an overwhelming majority of the workers followed them.
The Soviet, led by Mensheviks, recorded with mixed feelings this gigantic victory gained essentially against its opposition. The disgraced leaders were compelled, however, to make a still further step forward; they had to propose to the Provisional Government the promulgation in advance of the Constituent Assembly of an eight-hour law for all Russia. The government, however, in agreement with the manufacturers, resisted. Hoping for better days, they refused to fulfil this demand-presented to them, to be sure, without any particular insistence.
In the Moscow region the same struggle arose, but it lasted longer. Here too the soviet in spite of the resistance of the workers demanded a return to work. In one of the biggest factories a resolution against calling off the strike received 7,000 votes against 0. Other factories reacted in much the same way. On the 10th of March the soviet again proclaimed the duty of returning immediately to the shops. Although work began after that in a majority of shops, there developed almost everywhere a struggle for the shortening of the working day. The workers corrected their leaders by direct action. After a long resistance the Moscow Soviet was obliged on the 21st of March to introduce the eight-hour day by its own act. The industrialists immediately submitted. In the provinces the same struggle was carried over into April. Almost everywhere the soviets at first refrained and resisted, and afterwards under pressure from the workers entered into negotiations with the manufacturers. And where the latter did not accede, the soviets were obliged independently to decree the eight-hour day. What a breach in the system!
The government stood aside on purpose. In those days, a furious campaign was opening under liberal leadership against the workers. In order to subdue them it was decided to turn the soldiers against them. To shorten the working day means, you see, to weaken the front. How can anybody think only of himself in war time? Are they counting the hours in the trenches? ... When the possessing classes make a start on the road of demagogism, they stop at nothing. The agitation assumed a frenzied character, and was soon carried into the trenches. The soldier Pireiko in his reminiscences of the front confesses that this agitation – carried on chiefly by half-baked socialists among the officers – was not without success. “But the great weakness of the official staff in their effort to turn the soldiers against the workers lay in the fact that they were officers. It was too fresh in the mind of every soldier what his officer had been to him in the past.” This baiting of the workers was most bitter, however, in the capital. The industrialists along with the Kadet staff found unlimited means and opportunities for agitation in the garrison. “Towards the end of March,” says Sukhanov, “you could see at all street crossings, in the tramways, and in every public place, workers and soldiers locked together in a furious verbal battle.” Even physical fights occurred. The workers understood the manoeuvre and skilfully warded it off. For this it was only necessary to tell the truth – to cite the figures of war profits, to show the soldiers the factories and shops with the roar of machines, the hell fires of the furnaces, their perpetual front where victims are innumerable. On the initiative of the workers there began regular visits by the troops of the garrison to the factories, and especially to those working on munitions. The soldiers looked and listened. The workers demonstrated and explained. These visits would end in triumphant fraternisation. The socialist papers printed innumerable resolutions of the military units as to their indestructible solidarity with the workers. By the middle of April the very topic of the conflict had disappeared from the newspapers. The bourgeois press was silent. Thus after their economic victory, the workers won a political and moral victory.
The events connected with this struggle for the eight-hour day had an immense significance for the whole future development of the revolution. The workers had gained a few free hours a week for reading, for meetings, and also for practice with the rifle, which became a regular routine from the moment of the creation of the workers’ militia. Moreover, after this clear lesson, the workers began to watch the Soviet leadership more closely. The authority of the Mensheviks suffered a serious drop. The Bolsheviks grew stronger in the factories, and partly too in the barracks. The soldier became more attentive, thoughtful, cautious: he understood that somebody was stalking him. The treacherous design of the demagogues turned against its own inspirers. Instead of alienation and hostility, they got a closer welding together of workers and soldiers.
The government, in spite of the idyll of “Contact,” hated the Soviet, hated its leaders and their guardianship. It revealed this upon the very first occasion. Since the Soviet was fulfilling purely governmental functions, and this moreover at the request of the government itself whenever it became necessary to subdue the masses, the Executive Committee requested the payment of a small subsidy for expenses. The government refused, and in spite of the repeated insistence of the Soviet, stood pat: it could not pay out the resources of the state to a “private organisation.” The Soviet swallowed it. The budget of the Soviet lay on the workers who never tired of taking collections for the needs of the revolution. In those days both sides, the liberals and the socialists, kept up the decorum of a complete mutual friendliness. At the All-Russian Conference of Soviets the existence of the dual power was declared a fiction Kerensky assured the delegates from the army that between the government and the soviets there was a complete unity of problems and aims. The dual power was no less zealously denied by Tseretelli, Dan and other Soviet pillars. With the help of these lies, they tried to reinforce a régime which was founded on lies.
However, the régime tottered from the very first weeks. The leaders were tireless in the matter of organisational combinations. They tried to bring to bear all sorts of accidental representative bodies against the masses – the soldiers against the workers, the new dumas, zemstvos and cooperatives against the soviets, the provinces against the capital, and finally the officers against the people.
The soviet form does not contain any mystic power. It is by no means free from the faults of every representative system – unavoidable so long as that system is unavoidable. But its strength lies in that it reduces all these faults to a minimum.
We may confidently assert – and the events will soon prove it – that any other representative system, atomising the masses, would have expressed their actual will in the revolution incomparably less effectively, and with far greater delay. Of all the forms of revolutionary representation, the soviet is the most flexible, immediate and transparent. But still it is only a form. It cannot give than the masses are capable of putting into it at a given moment. Beyond that, it can only assist the masses in understanding the mistakes they have made and correcting them. In this function of the soviets lay one of the most important guarantees of the development of the revolution.
What was the political plan of the Executive Committee? You could hardly say that any one of the leaders had a plan thoroughly thought out. Sukhanov subsequently asserted that, according to his plan, the power was turned over to the bourgeoisie only for a short time, in order that the democracy, having strengthened itself, might the more surely take it back. However, this construction – naïve enough in any case – was obviously retrospective. At least it was never formulated by anybody at the time. Under the leadership of Tseretelli, the vacillations of the Executive Committee, if they were not put an end to, were at least organised into a system. Tseretelli openly announced that without a firm bourgeois power the revolution would inevitably fail. The democracy must limit itself to bringing pressure on the liberal bourgeoisie, beware of pushing it. over by some incautious step into the camp of the reaction, and conversely, support it in so far as it backs up the conquests of the revolution. In the long run that half-minded régime would have ended in a bourgeois republic with the socialists as a parliamentary opposition.
The main difficulty for the leaders was not so much to find a general plan, as a current programme of action. The Compromisers had promised the masses to get from the bourgeoisie by way of “pressure” a democratic policy, foreign and domestic. It is indubitable that under pressure from the popular mass, ruling classes have more than once in history made concessions. But “pressure” means, in the last analysis, a threat to crowd the ruling class out of the power and occupy its place. Just this weapon however was not in the hands of the democracy. They had themselves voluntarily given over the power to the bourgeoisie. At moments of conflict the democracy did not threaten to seize the power, but on the contrary the bourgeoisie frightened them with the idea of giving it back. Thus the chief lever in the mechanics of pressure was in the hands of the bourgeoisie. This explains how, in spite of its complete impotence, the government succeeded in resisting every somewhat serious undertaking of the Soviet leaders.
By the middle of April, even the Executive Committee had proved too broad an organ for the political mysteries of the ruling nucleus, who had turned their faces completely toward the liberals. A “bureau” was therefore appointed, consisting exclusively of right defensists. From now on big politics was carried on in its own small circle. Everything seemed nicely and permanently settled. Tseretelli dominated in the Soviet without limit. Kerensky was riding higher and higher. But exactly at that moment appeared clearly the first alarming signs from below-from the masses. “It is amazing,” writes Stankevich, who was close to the circle of Kerensky, “that at the very this committee was formed, when responsibility for the work was assumed by a bureau selected only from defensist parties, exactly at this moment they let slip from their hands the leadership of the masses-the masses moved away from them.” Not at all amazing, but quite in accord with the laws of things.
1. The term is applied to0 those who attended the conference of anti-war socialists held in Zimmerwald in 1915, or adhered to its programme. The conference reassembled the following year in Kienthal. – Trans.
Source: Marxist Internet Archive