Lessons of the Crisis

Written April 22 (May 5), 1917.

Petrograd and the whole of Russia have passed through a serious political crisis, the first political crisis since the revolution.

On April 18 the Provisional Government issued its unhappily notorious Note, which confirmed the predatory aims of the war clearly enough to arouse the indignation of the masses, who had honestly believed in the desire (and ability) of the capitalists to “renounce annexations”. On April 20-21 Petrograd was in a turmoil. The streets were crowded; day and night knots and groups of people stood about, and meetings of various sizes sprang up everywhere; big street processions and demonstrations went on without a break. Yesterday evening, April 21, the crisis, or, at any rate, the first stage of the crisis, apparently came to an end with the Executive Committee of the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, and later the Soviet itself, declaring themselves satisfied with the “explanations”, the amendments to the Note and the “elucidations” made by the government (which in fact boil down to empty phrases, saying absolutely nothing, changing nothing and committing the government to nothing). They considered the “incident settled”.

Whether the masses consider the “incident settled”, the future will show. Our task now is to make a careful study of the forces, the classes, that revealed themselves in the crisis, and to draw the relevant lessons for our proletarian party. For it is the great significance of all crises that they make manifest what has been hidden; they cast aside all that is relative, superficial, and trivial; they sweep away the political litter and reveal the real mainsprings of the class struggle.

Strictly speaking, the capitalist government on April 18 merely reiterated its previous notes, in which the imperialist war was invested with diplomatic equivocations. The soldiers were angry because they had honestly believed in the sincerity and peaceful intentions of the capitalists. The demonstrations began as soldiers’ demonstrations, under the contradictory, misguided and ineffectual slogan: “Down with Milyukov” (as though a change of persons or groups could change the substance of policy!).

This means that the broad, unstable, and vacillating mass, which is closest to the peasantry and which by its scientific class definition is petty-bourgeois, swung away from the capitalists towards the revolutionary workers. It was the swing or movement of this mass, strong enough to be a decisive factor, that caused the crisis.

It was at this point that other sections began to stir: not the middle but the extreme elements, not the intermediary petty bourgeoisie but the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, started to come out on to the streets and organise.

The bourgeoisie seized Nevsky Prospekt—or “Milyukov” Prospekt as one paper called it—and the adjacent quarters of prosperous Petrograd, the Petrograd of the capitalists and the government officials. Officers, students, and “the middle classes” demonstrated in favour of the Provisional Government. Among the slogans, “Down with Lenin” frequently appeared on the banners.

The proletariat rallied in its own centres, the working-class suburbs, around the slogans and appeals of our Party’s Central Committee. On April 20-21 the Central Committee adopted resolutions, which were immediately passed on to the proletariat through the Party organisations. The workers poured through the poor, less central districts, and then in groups got through to Nevsky. By their mass character and solidarity, these demonstrations were very different from those of the bourgeoisie. Many banners carried the inscription “All Power to the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies”.

On Nevsky there were clashes. The “hostile” demonstrations tore down each other’s banners. The Executive Committee received news by telephone from various places that there was shooting on both sides, that there were killed and wounded; but the information was extremely contradictory and unconfirmed.

The bourgeoisie shouted about the “spectre of civil war”, thus expressing its fear that the real masses, the actual majority of the nation, might seize power. The petty-bourgeois leaders of the Soviet, the Mensheviks and Narodniks—who since the revolution in general, and during the crisis in particular, have had no definite party policy—allowed themselves to be intimidated. In the Executive Committee almost half the votes were cast against the Provisional Government on the eve of the crisis, but now thirty-four votes (with nineteen against) are cast in favour of returning to a policy of confidence in and agreement with the capitalists.

And the “incident” was considered “settled”.

What is the essence of the class struggle? The capitalists are for dragging out the war under cover of empty phrases and false promises. They are caught in the meshes of Russian, Anglo-French and American banking capital. The proletariat, as represented by its class-conscious vanguard, stands for the transfer of power to the revolutionary class, the working class and the semi-proletarians, for the development of a world workers’ revolution, a revolution which is clearly developing also in Germany, and for terminating the war by means of such a revolution.

The vast mass of people, chiefly the petty bourgeoisie, who still believe the Menshevik and Narodnik leaders and who have been absolutely intimidated by the bourgeoisie and are carrying out its policy, although with reservations, are swinging now to the right, now to the left.

The war is terrible; it has hit the vast mass of the people hardest of all; it is these people who are becoming aware, albeit still very vaguely, that the war is criminal, that it is being carried on through the rivalry and scramble of the capitalists, for the division of their spoils. The world situation is growing more and more involved. The only way out is a world workers’ revolution, a revolution which is now more advanced in Russia than in any other country, but which is clearly mounting (strikes, fraternisation) in Germany too. And the people are wavering: wavering between confidence in their old masters, the capitalists, and bitterness towards them; between confidence in the new class, the only consistently revolutionary class, which opens up the prospect of a bright future for all the working people—the proletariat—and a vague awareness of its role in world history.

This is not the first time the petty bourgeoisie and semi proletarians have wavered and it will not be the last!

The lesson is clear, comrade workers! There is no time to be lost. The first crisis will be followed by others. You must devote all your efforts to enlightening the backward, to making extensive, comradely and direct contact (not only by meetings) with every regiment and with every group of working people who have not had their eyes opened yet! All your efforts must be devoted to consolidating your own ranks, to organising the workers from the bottom upwards, including every district, every factory, every quarter of the capital and its suburbs! Do not be misled by those of the petty bourgeoisie ’who “compromise” with the capitalists, by the defencists and by the “supporters”, nor by individuals who are inclined to be in a hurry and to shout “Down with the Provisional Government!” before the majority of the people are solidly united. The crisis cannot be over come by violence practised by individuals against individuals, by the local action of small groups of armed people, by Blanquist attempts to “seize power”, to “arrest” the Provisional Government, etc.

Today’s task is to explain more precise]y, more clearly, more widely the proletariat’s policy, its way of terminating the war. Rally more resolutely, more widely, wherever you can, to the ranks and columns of the proletariat! Rally round your Soviets; and within them endeavour to rally behind you a majority by comradely persuasion and by reelection of individual members!


Source: Marxist Internet Archive