In October 1917, Lenin wrote an urgent letter to the Congress of Soviets of the Northern Region. Lenin sensed that the time was right to make a move on the state. "It is in the vicinity of Petrograd and in Petrograd itself that the insurrection can and must be decided on and effected, as earnestly as possible, with as much preparation as possible, as quickly as possible and as energetically as possible." "Delay," he wrote in closing, "would be fatal."
In April, when he first returned to Russia from exile, Lenin cautioned his Party against the Provisional Government led by the Mensheviks. Instead of supporting the government against the Tsarist forces and the bourgeoisie, Lenin urged the Party to strengthen the Soviets. These organs emerged in 1905, and again in 1917. When Lenin first arrived, the Mensheviks controlled the Soviets, and the Petrograd Soviet (led by Chkheidze) was in negotiation with the Provisional Government to offer them its support. Lenin's April Theses, his first text written in Russia, rejected the parliamentary republic in its current state. Instead, he called for a republic of Soviets of Workers', Agricultural Labourers' and Peasants' Deputies. The slogan he developed from this was "Power to the Soviets."
Lenin was motivated by the theory of "dual power." Revolutions are not made overnight. They are a process that represents the gradual conflict between and among classes; as the conflict matures, time runs faster and events lead to an actual transfer of power from one class to another. The hand-off, however, does not come smoothly. During the lead-up, the classes from below gather as much institutional power as possible in their hands even as they do not control the state. Some of these institutions might be trade unions that begin to expand their ambit from the workplace to the community; or else others are community organizations that slowly take up the tasks of the state. The emergent Russian bourgeoisie threw in its lot with the established state and the Provisional Government. The Mensheviks, many of whom were Marxists, accepted the bourgeoisie as allies because they did not believe that Russia was ready for a proletarian or socialist revolution. The Bolsheviks supported the Soviets, which Lenin argued was an institution of dual power from which the working people were able to exercise their social authority.
The struggle between the Provisional Government and the Soviets defined the Russian summer of 1917. It was a fight between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. In April Lenin urged the Bolsheviks to see the reality of this situation and to shun the Provisional Government as an instrument of bourgeois counter-revolution. Lenin accepted that the conditions in Russia were not ripe for communism, but that did not mean that the situation had to be abandoned to the bourgeoisie. Communism, he wrote, could not be "implanted." "Under no circumstances must this be understood that we should immediately propagate purely in strictly communist ideas in the countryside. As long as our countryside lacks the material basis for communism, it will be, I should say, harmful, in fact, I should say, fatal, for communism to do so." In the April Theses Lenin wrote, "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." "The most harmful thing," he wrote in 1923, "would be haste." Nevertheless, when Kamenev and others cautioned the Bolsheviks against taking power, Lenin retorted, "This is not Marxism; it is a parody of Marxism." The Bolsheviks, being in a minority in April, had to "carry on the work of criticizing and exposing errors, and at the same time we preach the necessity of transferring the entire state power to the Soviet of Workers' Deputies, so that the people may overcome their mistakes by experience."
In June half a million workers and peasants marched in Petrograd chanting the slogans of Bolshevism. In Pravda ("The Eighteenth of June"), Lenin described the upsurge, "The demonstration in a few hours scattered to the winds, like a handful of dust, the empty talk about Bolshevik conspirators and showed with the utmost clarity that the vanguard of the working people of Russia, the industrial proletariat of the capital, and the overwhelming majority of the troops support slogans that our Party has always advocated." The temperature in Russia rose through the summer. In July mass demonstrations broke out across the country. The Kronstadt sailors and soldiers, and the rank and file of the parties, wanted to seize power through mass action. It appeared that the time had arrived. None of the organizations had prepared for power, and any militant action would have been crushed. Lenin went to Petrograd and cautioned "restraint, steadfastness and vigilance." The Provisional Government, regardless, put the full force of the army into action against the masses and the Bolsheviks. The phase of peaceful struggle ended. The way ahead required courage.
Lenin retreated to study and think. The experiences from February to July needed to be digested, and new theories and strategies had to be crafted. In mid-July, Lenin wrote State and Revolution, an abstract analysis of the role of the state in a class society, and of the strategy for a Marxist revolution. Lenin developed his analysis of the transition in this book: a revolution in Russia could not move immediately to communism, and the state, which needed to be smashed, would not wither immediately. Because of this assessment, it was imperative that the transitional state toward communism had to be ruled by the dictatorship of the proletariat. This theoretical analysis drew from the experience of the July Days. The Mensheviks compromised the Soviets. Lenin withdrew the call for "All Power to the Soviets." Since the Mensheviks ruled them, to transfer power from the Menshevik Provisional Government to the Menshevik Soviets would be worthless. The state needed to be seized, and it had to be ruled as the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The Kerensky government was discredited when its role in a self-coup (led by General Lavr Kornilov) was exposed. Kerensky's government had no answer to the growing distress over the war and famine conditions. His associate, the plutocrat Ryabushinsky callously said that the "gaunt hand of famine" would suffocate the Bolsheviks and the mass upsurge. Lenin wrote a remarkable pamphlet, The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat it, which provided a concrete assessment of the situation and promised a way out of it. Unlike the discredited Kerensky government, the Bolsheviks had some answers. Lenin laid out five steps for the government to take immediately: bank nationalization, nationalization of the commanding heights, abolition of commercial secrecy, compulsory organization of merchants and industrialists, and compulsory organization of the population into consumer societies. These measures would avert the famine situation, and also provide mechanisms to socialize production toward the creation of socialism. "The establishment of real democracy in this sphere and the display of real revolutionary spirit in the organization of control by the most needy classes of the people would be a very great stimulus to the employment of all available intellectual forces and to the development of the truly revolutionary energies of the entire people." By September 1917, when Lenin wrote this program, things stood at a crossroads. "Perish or forge full steam ahead. That is the alternative put by history." Time ran out on the revolution. The Bolsheviks had to move toward state power. No longer could dual power be sustained. The people demanded something better immediately. History had to be seized. Delay would be fatal.
…….Part 3 will take up the story from late September 1917 into October.