Revolution : Lenin in 1917


Book Review


Anish Ankur *

( Review of Prakash Karat edited book on Lenin’s writings between February and October revolution )

This year, 2020 , Lenin 150 th birth anniversary is being observed all over the world. During Corona crisis we also went through the story of how Lenin’s had made gigantic preparation to confront the most disastrous pandemic of his time ‘Spanish Flu’. We have been reminded how Lenin built a robust public health system in Russia just after the great October revolution to combat the pandemic. And after hundred years when Covid-19 struck the entire world, it is the socialist countries and state government like Kerala, inspired by Lenin’s ideology , have proved that they are better equipped to meet the present challenges of this pandemic.

Leftword books, New Delhi published a very useful book containing important articles of Lenin written in 1917 between the two revolution, February and October. The book ‘Revolution ! Lenin in1917’ is edited by Prakash Karat, ex-general secretary of CPI(M) and currently editor of ‘People’s democracy’. In his introduction Prakash Karat outlined the importance of Lenin’s 1917 writings “ Lenin’s entire corpus of writings in the eight months between two revolutions offers a concrete lesson on the theory and practice of revolution. There are hundreds of pages published that record the theses, tracts, resolutions, articles, letters and speeches from Lenin. Some of the articles and speeches are written with a cool analytical mind, and some are written in feverish haste. Together they provide a unique view of how revolution unfolded.”

In fact Lenin was living outside the country when February revolution broke out in Russia. When he heard that this revolution ended the Tsar’s direct rule and a new provisional government came up replacing three hundred and one of the most oppressive monarchy he wrote five famous letters popularly known as “ Letters from Afar “. In his first letter Lenin remembered the impact of first revolutionary attempt of 1905 on the country “ The first revolution (1905) deeply ploughed the soil, uprooted age old prejudices , awakened millions of workers and tens of millions of peasant to political life and political struggle. Lenin further said that February revolution of 1917 is the continuation of 1905 revolution “ Without the Revolution of 1905-07 and the counter-revolution of 1907-14, there could not have been that clear “ self-determination” of all classes of the Russian people and of the nations inhabiting Russia, that determination of the relation of these classes to each other and to the tsarist monarchy which manifested itself during the eight days of the February-March Revolution of 1917. This eight day revolution was “performed”. If we may use a metaphorical expression, as though after a dozen major and minor rehearsals, the “actors” new each other, their parts, their places and their setting in every detail, through and through, down to every more or less important shade of political trend and mode of action.”

In the third letter Lenin took up the question of ‘ Concerning the proletarian Militia’ and discussed the importance of state for revolutionary transformation. But at that time there was a lot of confusion regarding the nature of state. The anarchists had a very different view of state therefore Lenin underlined the difference of their views from that of the anarchists “ We need revolutionary government, we need (for a transitional period) a state. This is what distinguishes us from the anarchists. The difference between the revolutionary Marxists and the anarchists is not only the former stand for centralised, large scale communist production while the latter stand for disconnected small production. The difference between us precisely on the question of government, of the state, is that we are for, and the anarchists against utilising revolutionary forms of the state in a revolutionary way for the struggle against socialism.”

‘Letters from Afar’ made the intention of Lenin very clear from the very beginning that the Bolshevik party should not support the provisional government that came on replacing tsarist’s monarchy. Lenin always warned people about bourgeoisie and harbouring any illusion about ruling class representatives like Milyokov, Guchkov and others. Lenin further elaborated this point in his world renowned document ‘April Theses’. He laid bare the entire plan and direction which should be followed by the Bolshevik party. In an article ‘The tasks of the proletarian revolution’ Lenin opined “ The bourgeoisie deceives the people by working on their noble pride in the revolution and by pretending that the social and political character of the war, as far as Russia is concerned, underwent a change because of this stage of the revolution, because of the substitution of the near- republic of Guchkov and Milyukov for the tsarist monarchy. And the people believed it – for a time- largely owing to age-old prejudices, which made them look upon the other peoples of Russia, i.e the non Great Russians, as something in the nature of property and private estate of the Great Russians. This vile demoralisation of the Great Russian people by tsarist which taught them to regard the other peoples as inferior, something belonging “ by right” to Great Russia, could not disappear instantly.”

The writings contained in “ Lenin in 1917’ provide a deep but clear insight of how Lenin’s mind was working towards the final goal of capture of power. He was removing every ideological obstacle from the eyes of his comrades step by step.

Bolsheviks were facing a lot of criticism that they are talking about how to end the war but they don’t have enough strength for that . Lenin dealt with the question in a lecture delivered on May 14, 1917 in which he said in very categorical terms “ We were told ‘ you are giving no answer. You talk about revolution when the strikes are off, when deputies are doing hard labour and when you haven’t a single newspaper’ And we were accused of evading an answer. We heard those accusations for anumber of years. We answered: you can be indignant about it, but so long as the tsar has not been overthrown we can do nothing against the war. And our prediction was justified. It is not fully justified yet, but it has already begun to receive justification. The revolution is beginning to change the war on Russia’s part. The capitalists are still continuing the war and we say : Until there is a worker’s revolution in several countries the war cannot be stopped, because the people who want the war are still in power.”

In this very lecture of May 14 Lenin very clearly stated with a historical perspective that only those revolution succeed which have the backing of broad masses of people “ We don’t want a “ seizure ‘ of power, because the entire experience of past revolutions teaches us that the only stable power is the one that has the backing of majority of population”.

Initially Lenin was saying that ‘Mensheviks’ and ‘Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs) should go ahead and take power. He repeatedly exhorted them to grab power. Lenin also said that at this particular time it can be done peacefully due to mass support of working people but they ( Menshiveks and SRs), instead of doing it, started dilly- dallying and ultimately reactionary forces struck in the leadership of General Kornilov. At this time Lenin observed “ All hopes for a peaceful development of the Russian revolution have vanished for good.” Therefore objective situation of Russia has now only two option “Either complete victory for military dictatorship, or victory for worker’s armed uprising.”

At such a critical juncture a lot of his comrades started hesitating on the pretext that objective situation has not ripened for revolution and mood of masses are not yet prepared for that and people still under the influence of bourgeoisie . In such a decisive moments Lenin words were very insightful “ When people allow themselves to be frightened by the bourgeoisie, all objects and phenomenon naturally appear yellow to them. First, they substitute an impressionist, intellectually criterion for the Marxist criterion of the movement; they substitute subjective impressions of mood for a political analysis of the development of class struggle and of the course of events in the entire country against the entire international background. They “conveniently” forget, of course, that a firm party line, its unyielding resolve, is also a mood creating factor, particularly at the sharpest revolutionary moments.”

On October 17, eight days before the historic day of revolution in his long article “ Letter to the comrades” Lenin addressed all the misgivings related to the timing and tactics of revolution. When some comrades were started asking about constituent assembly “ We are becoming stronger day by day. We can enter Constituent Assemble as a strong opposition. Why should we stake everything ?” Lenin clarified this very crucial question in a satirical manner “ Wait for a miracle, for the tempestuous and catastrophic course of events from April to August 29 to be succeeded (due to the prolongation of the war and the spread of famine) by apeaceful, quiet, smooth. Legal convocation of the Constituent Assembly and by a fulfilment of its most lawful decisions. Here you have the “ Marxist’ tactics ! wait. Ye hungry,! Kerensky has promised to convene the Constituent Assembly”

Lenin tried to make them understand that unless we step in, imperialist forces would strike down “ Let the clouds of the imperialist conspiracy of the capitalists of all countries who are ready to strangle the Russian revolution gather- we shall wait patiently until we are strangled by the rubble! Instead of attacking the conspirators and breaking their ranks by a victory of the soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, let us wait for the Constituent Assembly, where all the international plots will be vanquished by voting, provided Kerensky and Rodzyanko conscientiously convene the Constituent Assembly. Have we any right to doubt the honesty of Kernskey and Rodzyanko ?”

Lenin was very firm that revolution in Russia will be a trigger point and there will be revolution in several countries “ We have always said that the dictatorship of the proletariat in one country creates gigantic changes in the international situation in the economic life of the country, in the condition of the army and in its mood- shall we now “ forget” all this, and allow ourselves to be frightened by “difficulties” of the revolution.”

Just a day before historic 25 October in “Letter to the central committee members’’ Lenin said the final words “ History will not forgive revolutionaries for procrastinating when they could be victorious today ( and they certainly will be victorious today), while they risk losing much tomorrow, in fact, they risk losing everything.” Lenin warned his comrades that at this critical moment decisive things should be decided by not by vote, but by force “ It would be a disaster, or a sheer formality, to await the wavering vote of October 25. The people have a right and are in duty bound to decide such questions not by vote, but by force.”

He warned that delay at such a time will be fatal “ The government is tottering. It must be given the death blow at all costs. To delay action is fatal” .

The collections of the Lenin’s eight month writings provides us a valuable material about a how a volatile political situation can be turned in to a revolutionary possibilities if we have a clear cut theoretical understanding and grip on fast changing political situation. Lenin did it hence he succeeded in bringing out revolution that changed the course of history of not only Russia but the entire world. This book will inspire people who want to make fundamental changes in their society and polity. A must read book in today’s turbulent time.

( Anish Ankur, a freelance journalist, based in Patna )

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