Lenin’s “April Theses” – 99 Years Later – Part I

Dear Readers:

Well, it seems like we are having a “Very Bolshie Week” here at the Avalanche.  Following straight on the heels of Lyttenburgh’s monograph about the Stalin purges, I have this piece, which was published yesterday in VZGLIAD, on the 99th Anniversary of the publication, in Pravda, of Lenin’s “April Theses”.  This is a very interesting piece of history, written by a man named Dmitry Lyskov, and here is my summary and partial translation.

Lenin Risked Being Mocked By His Own Party

Returning from emigration to a Petrograd in the flames of revolution, V.I. Lenin, on April 20, 1917, published, in the Bolshevik newspaper “Pravda”, an article with the title:  “On the Tasks of the Proletariat in the Current Revolution”.  This article became better known as Lenin’s “April Theses”.  I found this English translation online.  Right off the bat Lenin makes it clear that these are just his personal views, and not the official Party position:

Back in Petrograd: Lenin Goes For the Gusto

I did not arrive in Petrograd until the night of April 3, and therefore at the meeting on April 4, I could, of course, deliver the report on the tasks of the revolutionary proletariat only on my own behalf, and with reservations as to insufficient preparation.

The only thing I could do to make things easier for myself—and for honest opponents—was to prepare the theses in writing. I read them out, and gave the text to Comrade Tsereteli. I read them twice very slowly: first at a meeting of Bolsheviks and then at a meeting of both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks.

I publish these personal theses of mine with only the briefest explanatory notes, which were developed in far greater detail in the report.

Lenin obviously considered these thoughts and notes to be of great importance, and had an inkling just how much opposition they would engender, even within his own faction.  Lenin was in for the faction fight of his life.  Fortunately for Lenin, he was a top-notch political pugilist.  Plus his level of authority within his own Party was sufficient to carry the day.

The most radical “theses” Lenin knocks off, just right out of the gate:

  • Get Russia out of this imperialist war by any means necessary; and
  • No support whatsoever to the Provisional Government

But the most interesting part of the story, and Lyskov’s “money shot”, is how Lenin’s radical proposals for the Bolsheviks to assume governmental authority, were perceived by the other Bolshevik leaders.  Mocked by the Mensheviks and other “moderate socialists” as an “anarchist”, Lenin found little support, even within his own faction.  At that time, the newspaper “Pravda” was edited by committed revolutionaries Muranov, Stalin, and Kamenev, and even they were dubious about Lenin’s proposals.

Following the Marxist Model

Even though they were dedicated revolutionaries in theory, these Old Bolsheviks suffered from certain cognitive problems.  Primarily, their sense of “how things ought to be”, in the realm of historical development.  In their perhaps too literal-minded adherence to the Marxist model of social development, their understanding was such:  A monarchist society must have a bourgeois revolution, which overthrows the monarchy and brings to power a bourgeois government.  Next, at some later point in development, there is a proletarian  revolution, which overthrows the capitalist class and brings to power the proletariat.  Like, all societies have to follow in that precise chronological sequence.  Just like in a computer program, you have to complete Step A before you can start Step B.  But here Lenin was saying, “Let’s just skip A and B, and go directly to C!”

Marx and Engels: “So, nu, here is how it vorks…”

And this blew their minds.  Here they thought they had to submit to the wiles of the Provisional Government and go along with these guys, no matter how much they despised them, simply because they were bourgeois.  And hence, inevitable.

Lenin’s Thesis #5:

Not a parliamentary republic—to return to a parliamentary republic from the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies would be a retrograde step—but a republic of Soviets of Workers’, Agricultural Labourers’ and Peasants’ Deputies throughout the country, from top to bottom.

Abolition of the police, the army and the bureaucracy.

The salaries of all officials, all of whom are elective and displaceable at any time, not to exceed the average wage of a competent worker.

Lenin’s Thesis #6:

The weight of emphasis in the agrarian programme to be shifted to the Soviets of Agricultural Labourers’ Deputies.

Confiscation of all landed estates.

Nationalisation of all lands in the country, the land to be disposed of by the local Soviets of Agricultural Labourers’ and Peasants’ Deputies. The organisation of separate Soviets of Deputies of Poor Peasants. The setting up of a model farm on each of the large estates (ranging in size from 100 to 300 dessiatines, according to local and other conditions, and to the decisions of the local bodies) under the control of the Soviets of Agricultural Labourers’ Deputies and for the public account.

Lenin’s Thesis #7:

The immediate union of all banks in the country into a single national bank, and the institution of control over it by the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies.

And, proving that he was not a complete madman within his own Party, Lenin’s Thesis #8:

It is not our immediate task to “introduce” socialism, but only to bring social production and the distribution of products at once under the control of the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies.

How did Lenin’s fellow revolutionaries react to his theses?

According to Lyskov, several of the “Old Bolsheviks” also returning from exile, including above-mentioned Muratov/Stalin/Kamenev (who had been publishing “Pravda” in emigration from abroad) had been wavering and unsure of their positions in regard to the Provisional Government.  Again, they were thinking they sort of needed to go along with this odious bourgeois government, simply because that was the way that society developed.  Lyskov notes that the pieces they had started to print in “Pravda” were soaked in this conciliatory ideology and clearly influenced by the position of the Petrograd Soviet.

Lenin Arrives At Finland Station

And then Lenin returned from exile on 3 April, 1917 and immediately raised a sh*tstorm.  The Bolsheviks had organized a rapturous greeting for their leader at the Finland Railway Station.  In the “Emperor’s Hall” of the station Vladimir Ilyich was met by the leaders of the Petrograd Soviet.  The Menshevik Nikolay Chkheidze greeted Lenin and gave the welcome speech.  Unbeknownst to Chkheidze, Lenin had just cut him a new one in his April Theses:

Thesis #4:

Chkheidze yielded to the influence of the bourgeoisie.

Recognition of the fact that in most of the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies our Party is in a minority, so far a small minority, as against a bloc of all the petty-bourgeois opportunist elements, from the Popular Socialists and the Socialist-Revolutionaries down to the Organising Committee (Chkheidze, Tsereteli, etc.), Steklov, etc., etc., who have yielded to the influence of the bourgeoisie and spread that influence among the proletariat.

In other words, according to Lenin, Chkheidze was part of the problem, and NOT part of the solution.

But innocently Chkheidze greeted him at the railway station with these words:

“Comrade Lenin:  In the name of the Petersburg Soviet of Workers and Soldiers Deputies, and in the name of the whole Revolution, we welcome you to Russia.  We reckon that the main task of the revolutionary democracy currently consists of defending our revolution from all attacks against it, both from within as well as without.  We reckon that this goal requires the unity, not the dis-unity, of all the democratic forces.  We hope that you will join us in working towards this goal.”

Other revolutionary leaders similarly greeted Lenin, in the naive hope that the “bourgeois revolution” had removed all previous differences between the various “democratic” factions.  What was Lenin’s response to these conciliatory overtures?

Lenin’s Response

Well, it wouldn’t be a good story, if Lenin had simply linked arms with Chkheidze and started to sing “kumbaya”.  No, that didn’t happen.  Turning away from the delegates, Lenin walked over to the nearest window and greeted the crowd milling around outside, with the following words:

“Dear Comrades, Soldiers, Sailors, and Workers!  I am overjoyed to greet, in your persons, the victorious Russian Revolution!  I greet you as the first rank of the worldwide proletarian army.  This thieving imperialist war is the start of the civil war throughout all of Europe.  The time is near, when the peoples will turn their weapons against their own exploiters and capitalists.  The dawn of the worldwide socialist revolution has risen.  Germany is seething.  If not today, then tomorrow, any day now, we will witness the collapse of European imperialism.  The Russian Revolution, accomplished by you, has laid the foundation for the process and opened up a new era.  Long live the worldwide Socialist Revolution!”

Bolsheviks met in Ksheshinskaya Mansion

While the crowd outside responded with “Ura!”, the delegates inside the hall were shocked to the marrow of their bones.  They had expected Lenin to speak to the burning practical issues of the day, and to the union of all the “democratic” forces to save the Revolution.  Instead, Lenin was burbling on about Germany and world revolution.

Later that same evening, the Bolsheviks held an emergency meeting in the Ksheshinskaya Mansion, which was their temporary HQ.  Mathilde Kschessinska, a ballerina who used to be mistress to Tsar Nicholas II, had voluntarily given her mansion to the Bolsheviks and stayed around to serve drinks.  No, I jest.  Mathilde had fled to Paris, and the Bolsheviks had “liberated” her mansion for their own use.

Anyhow, at that late night meeting, Lenin, continuing in the same vein as his speech at Finland Station, read out his “April Theses” to the gathered Bolsheviks.  Trotsky later was to reminisce in his memoirs:

“Lenin’s theses were published in his own name, and only in his name.  (They were not the official position of the Party.)  The central organs of the Party greeted (these theses) with hostility.  Their hostility was mitigated only by their ignorance.  Not one other person or organization, no group, no faction, no individual, would put their signature under this.”

Later, at a joint meeting of the Bolshevik and Menshevik factions, gathering this time in the “liberated” Tavrichesky Palace, the leader of the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, a guy named Bogdanov, was said to have screamed out:  “But this is madness!  It’s madess, I tell you!  How can anyone even applaud this insanity?  You should be ashamed of yourselves!  You call yourselves Marxists!”  And the others, including Menshevik leader Tsereteli, went on to accuse Lenin of being an anarchist.  And anyone who knows Bolsheviks, knows that that is the worst kind of insult to a Bolshevik.  Better you should impugn the chastity of his mother, rather than call any Bolshevik an anarchist.

[To be Continued]

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3 Responses to Lenin’s “April Theses” – 99 Years Later – Part I

  1. Lyttenburgh says:

    Moar! To increase the level of eye opening revelations before the broad Internet masses!


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