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

Dear Readers:

Continuing on from yesterday’s post, with my summary of this historical piece:

Where we left off in this dramatic story:

  • Lenin had returned to Russia from exile along with some hastily scribbled notes (later to be known as the “April Theses”);
  • He was met at the train station in Petrograd (=Petersburg) by members of the various socialist parties, including his own Bolshevik faction;
  • In his own name, and not in the name of his party, Lenin delivered a big rousing speech to the Workers, Soldiers and Sailors delegates clustered outside the station;
  • He was denounced as a madman for proposing that Russia should skip the “bourgeois phase” of development (in Marxist terminology) and just jump right into a socialist-style government, based on the soviets (self-rule councils) which had sprung up everywhere.

Debate at the Tauride Palace

I pick up our story where we left off:  With the big joint Menshevik-Bolshevik meeting at Tauride Palace.  Presiding over the meeting was the man who possessed probably the most authority there at that particular time:  Irakli Tsereteli, a Menshevik who served as the Executive Chairman of the Petrograd Soviet.  Tsereteli, hailing from Gruzia, was a long-time member of the Russian Social-Democratic Party.  To the end of his long life, Tsereteli remained an internationalist and a socialist, he never gave in to the wiles of the Gruzian nationalists, despite his disagreements with the Bolsheviks.  In his role in the Petrograd Soviet, Tsereteli was in charge of the Post and Telegraph services; and also served as Minister of the Interior in the Provisional Government.

Irakli Tsereteli, 1881-1959

Tsereteli decided to confront Lenin at the Tauride Palace meeting.  The Mensheviks felt upset and resentful:  Here they had been holding down the fort in Petrograd, keeping the Soviet going; helping the Provisional Government; doing all the hard work.  Then Lenin arrives out of the blue, in a sealed train, from Germany; and right out of the gate starts issuing commands and making crazy statements about transferring all governmental powers to the soviets.  And add on to this, all the past grievances between the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks.  Tsereteli reminded Lenin, how once upon a time, Mensheviks and Bolsheviks were all part of the same unified Socialist party, the Russian Social-Democratic Party.  Once upon a time it was Lenin and the Bolsheviks who had split the party into Mensheviks vs. Bolsheviks.  And now Lenin was playing that same, divisive role upon again.  After victory had already been achieved!

The Tauride Palace: scene of the big debate

A significant majority of delegates at the meeting applauded and supported Tsereteli’s words.  One by one delegates stood up and denounced Lenin’s “April Theses” as unadulterated “anarchism”.  Even the Bolshevik delegate Yuri Steklov,  Editor of the official Petrograd Soviet newspaper Izvestia, took the floor and criticized Lenin thusly:  “Lenin’s speech consists of purely abstract concepts, proving only that the Russian Revolution has passed him by.  After Lenin has had time to acquaint himself with the state of affairs in Russia, he will change his mind all by himself.”  Just like Tsereteli and the others, Steklov clearly felt that Lenin was out of touch; that living in emigration as he had, Lenin did not know the situation on the ground, in the same way as those who had lived through those thrilling weeks and months of Revolution.  And perhaps there was the same feeling of resentment at the arriving interloper.

Ovsei Moiseevich: Izvestia Editor

And just for the record, because others will be sure to point this out:

Yes, Steklov was Jewish, his real name was Ovsei Moiseyevich Nakhamkis.  Like many Russian Jewish intellectuals engaged in underground revolutionary activity, Nakhamkis adopted a Russianized alias as part of his disguise.  His biography goes on to note that, after the Bolshevik Revolution, Steklov was elected to the Central Committee of the Communist Party.  (Take-away #1:  Lenin did not hold a grudge.)  Only to be arrested in 1938, during the Stalin purges. (Take-away #2:  Unlike Lenin, Stalin apparently did hold grudges).  Steklov died in prison in 1941 (amazing that he lasted in that torture chamber for 3 years — he must have been made of stronger stuff); only to be posthumously rehabilitated during the Khrushchev era.

And Steklov wasn’t alone in criticizing the leader of his own faction.  In his memoirs, the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov wrote:

Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov

“Even the Bolshevik faction were not shy, especially in the ‘corridor conversations’ about criticizing their leader’s supposed ‘abstractness’.  One Bolshevik even told me in private, that Lenin’s speech not only did not deepen the factional disagreements, but on the contrary, healed over the split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks.  By uniting them all against his position!”

So, what was so cryingly insane about Lenin’s position, Lyskov goes on to ask, in the VZGLIAD piece which I am summarizing?

Lenin insisted that in no way, no shape, no form, could socialists give even the mildest amount of political support to the bourgeois Provisional Government.  Basing himself on Marxist theory, and upon his own theory of Imperialism, as he had worked it out while in exile, Lenin deduced from the postulates, that any bourgeois government, any government based on the capitalist system, must remain imperialistic.  It could not NOT be imperialistic.  QED.

It flowed from this, logically, that the soviet of Workers Deputies was the only possible form of non-imperialistic and revolutionary government possible in Russia.  And that this fact must be explained to the masses.  “Not a parliamentary republic,” Lenin explained in the debate.  “That would be a step backwards.  But rather a republic consisting of the soviets of workers, farm laborers (“batraki”), and peasants delegates from across the country.  From the bottom up.”

Waiter, can we skip the potatoes and get right to dessert?

Putting his own twist on Marxist theory, Lenin posited that Russia might skip the bourgeois phase of development, along with the parliamentary republican form of government, and jump straight to soviet rule.  Most of the other Marxists of that time regarded the soviets as types of anarcho-syndicalist “self-rule” organs, effective just for particular areas of the economy; and did not see them as possible candidates for actual governing, especially at the national level.  This is why they suspected Lenin of degenerating into an anarchist mode of thought.

Russian bourgeoisie were not like this.

To their view, classical Marxism demanded that the Russian bourgeoisie, just like the French bourgeoisie of 1789, become fiery revolutionaries and come to power, sweeping aside the whole monarchist system.  Problem:  The Russian bourgeois “revolutionaries” of 1917 were NOTHING LIKE Robespierre and the others from the French revolution.  They didn’t even really want to surge to power.  They didn’t want to fight for power.   (Nor did they particularly want to stop the war, either.)  Russian Marxists were trying to make these guys into something they actually were not.  Like put red cockades on their collars, when they didn’t want to wear them.  Not to mention, the Russian bourgeoisie had practically zero support among the actual masses (of workers, peasants, soldiers, etc.) who had actually made the revolution.

Not to mention the fact, that the soviets, already during their first appearance in the 1905 Revolution, had spontaneously taken on governing chores, and had already built up actual authority among the masses.  This was something real, that was really happening.  Lenin could see this clearly, even living far away in Switzerland, as he did.  Even if others, living much closer to the action, were blind to this fact and kept thinking they had to kowtow to the Provisional Government, just because it was “bourgeois”.

A session of the Petrograd Soviet, 1917

By fall of 1917, 1429 soviets of Workers, Soldiers and Peasant deputies, were operating throughout Russia.  In addition, there were 33 soviets of Soldiers deputies and 455 soviets of Peasants deputies.  There were soviets of peasant deputies at every geographical level.  On the front lines of the war were operating Soldiers soviets at every military level, including Divisional.  This was a real and spontaneous governing structure, not an artificial construct.  Only those who were mired in ideological preconceptions, could fail to notice this fact.  Whereas Lenin, in his “April Theses” noticed these facts and laid out a plan, how to use these “facts on the ground” to resolve the political crisis into which Russia had fallen.

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15 Responses to Lenin’s “April Theses” – 99 Years Later – Part II

  1. PaulR says:

    The funny thing about Lenin is that he really does prove the ‘great man theory of history’. Had that particular individual not been in that particular position at that particular time, things would have turned out very differently. Russia might still have descended into chaos, civil war, etc, but even if it had, the result wouldn’t have been Marxist-Leninist Bolshevism, followed by Stalinism etc etc. Lenin the individual really mattered. And yet, the philosophy he espoused – Marxism – essentially denies the importance of individuals in favour of great impersonal forces. Thus, through his actions, Lenin proved the falseness of the ideology he professed. Ironic, huh?


    • PaulR says:

      Of course, we Ottawans can be accused of not understanding the meaning of the word ‘ironic’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jne9t8sHpUc


    • yalensis says:

      Dear Professor Paul:

      Well, I am not a great Marxist scholar myself, but from what I understand, Marxism as such is not incompatible with “great men” historical scenarios; nor does it deny the importance of individuals in history. Marxism derives from Hegelism, which treats both “impersonal forces” and “individuals” as having a role to play in the dialectic.

      In fact, Lenin made quite a big deal out of the concept of “leadership” and the role of intellectuals in “the vanguard” of leadership of the working class, etc. Trotsky likewise.
      For example, here is Trotsky on the role of personality in history:

      Our author substitutes mechanistic determinism for the dialectic conditioning of the historical process. Hence the cheap jibes about the role of individuals, good and bad. History is a process of the class struggle. But classes do not bring their full weight to bear automatically and simultaneously. In the process of struggle the classes create various organs which play an important and independent role and are subject to deformations. This also provides the basis for the role of personalities in history. There are naturally great objective causes which created the autocratic rule of Hitler but only dull-witted pedants of “determinism” could deny today the enormous historic role of Hitler. The arrival of Lenin in Petrograd on April 3, 1917 turned the Bolshevik party in time and enabled the party to lead the revolution to victory. Our sages might say that had Lenin died abroad at the beginning of 1917, the October revolution would have taken place “just the same.” But that is not so. Lenin represented one of the living elements of the historical process. He personified the experience and the perspicacity of the most active section of the proletariat. His timely appearance on the arena of the revolution was necessary in order to mobilize the vanguard and provide it with an opportunity to rally the working class and the peasant masses. Political leadership in the crucial moments of historical turns can become just as decisive a factor as is the role of the chief command during the critical moments of war. History is not an automatic process. Otherwise, why leaders? why parties? why programs? why theoretical struggles?

      And I could adduce many similar quotes from Lenin’s works, about the role of individuals and leadership in the vanguard of the working class.
      In fact, the working class, in particular, has even more need of dynamic and important leaders than, say, the bourgeoisie. Due to the fact that workers, by their nature, do not possess as many social assets and resources as the upper classes. But at the same time, are more numerous. Therefore, have more of a need for hierarchy and leadership, presumably, just in order to accomplish anything. Sort of the way that an army needs officers. Or a big Broadway play needs a talented director.


  2. Lyttenburgh says:

    …Plus today is Lenin’s birthday – hurray!

    And for all disagreeing with Lenin’s approach there is always a place at Matryoshka caffe in Brighton Beach, where now the best minds of the Гussian intelligentsia are celebrating Lev Nathanovich Sharanskiy birthday.

    Даёшь нормы ГБО або Геть!


  3. Moscow Exile says:

    With more and more Russian state historical archives becoming accessible, deeper insights into Lenin and his associates are being made known.

    For example, until quite recently, few realized what a raver the to all outward appearances dour Krupskaya was:

    In fact, in the light of this once secreted away photograph, some suspect that Krupskaya brought on Lenin’s fatal stroke.


    • yalensis says:

      Krupskaya was quite a looker in her time, she had a beautiful, pouty-lipped Slavic face and that nicely rounded Russian body. Later photos show that she did not age well, unfortunately. She became dumpy and formless. Apparently both she and Lenin had affairs with other people. Recall that the revolutionaries of Lenin’s era believed in sexual liberation and free love. They were devotees of Chernyshevsky’s novel which first posited the idea of wife-swapping among the revolutionary milieu.

      Anyhow, once he became a national leader, Lenin had to hide away that wilder part of his life. Due to the fact that the working class and peasants would not approve of all this sexual immorality in their leadership.

      Also, whatever affairs he may have had, Lenin remained loyal to his wife right up until the end. In fact, one of Lenin’s major beefs against Stalin, which he layed out in in his “Will and Testament”, which was read to the Central Committee after his death, is that Stalin had been rude and disrespectful to Krupskaya. Based on this and other factors, Lenin proposed on his deathbed that Stalin should not be elected as General Secretary of the Party.

      Stalin got the job anyway, because his authority and moxie within the Party was sufficient to overcome Lenin’s posthumous dis-recommendation.


      • Moscow Exile says:

        Yes , I agree. I have always thought her attractive. She died in 1939 and all the pictures I first saw of her were taken in her twilight years. I also read somewhere that she might have had that illness common to middle-aged women that makes them go pudgy and goggle-eyed. Something to do with the thyroid I think.

        Anyway, I think she was very attractive when she was younger.


        • yalensis says:

          Back in those days, people didn’t have hormone replacement therapy and thyroid therapy and that sort of thing. Nowadays, doctors can help people to balance out their hormones as they get older. Using pills and creams, and that sort of thing.


    • spartacus says:

      Hmm, my personal opinion is that the photo posted above by Moscow Exile is a fake. If you take a look at this picture:

      that is attached to the Wikipedia article about Lenin, you will notice that the white shirt of the old woman standing behind Lenin is clearly visible through the small holes in the backrest. If you look in the photo posted by ME you will see the same silhouette, together with that ascending black line above Lenin’s right shoulder. Yes, I would say it is definitely a fake…


      • yalensis says:

        Dear Spartacus:
        Thanks for pointing that out. I think the people who photoshopped that fake were making a little joke at Lenin’s expense. Those people are not very nice, are they?

        P.S.: People, to render the photo posted by Spartacus, be sure to right-click on it, then “Open link in new window”, that will render it properly without closing your session.


  4. There is certainly a lot to know about this topic. I like all of the points you’ve made.


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