Thursday, March 04, 2010

Revolution or Putsch ?

The insurrection that gave power to the Bolsheviks was strictly speaking the work of the Military-Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet. The Bolsheviks used this more subtle approach of disguising its seizure of power as an assumption of power by the Congress of Soviets and it was through the organ of the Military Revolutionary Council, NOT the Soviets. .The storming of the Winter Palace , was not done by a mass of politically aware workers, but by a few hundred pro-Bolshevik soldiers . Trotsky admitted that the insurrection was planned by the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, of which he was the chair and which had a Bolshevik majority. Trotsky describes how this Committee took its orders directly from the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party. So, although the soviets had played a part in overthrowing Tsarism and opposing the Kerensky government, the events of 7 November were a Bolshevik take-over. Were the mass of the Petrograd workers conciously involved in deciding on the revolution? No. On the morning of 7 November the workers of Petrograd woke up to find that in the night the Bolshevik Party had assumed power, the Bolsheviks had carried out a revolution while they were asleep.

The MRC was set up by the Soviet on the basis of defending Petrograd because it was rumoured of another potential Kornilov plot or an imminent invading German army . It was not set up on the basis that it would overthrow the provisional government.But then, under the pretext of organising the military defence of Petrograd from this phantom invading German army, Trotsky at the head of the Petrograd Soviet's Military Revolutionary Committee, took over the garrison unit by unit, through a system of commissars, first securing vital points like the train stations and telegraph office, then finally taking the Winter Palace.
"even when the compromisers were in power, in the Petrograd Soviet, that the Soviet examined or amended decisions of the government. This was, as it were, part of the constitution under the regime named after Kerensky. When we Bolshevists got the upper hand in the Petrograd Soviet we only went on with the system of double power and widened its application. We took it on ourselves to revise the order sending the troops to the front, and so we disguised the actual fact of the insurrection of the Petrograd garrison under the tradition and precedents and technique of the constitutional duplication of authority” - Trotsky - Lessons of October

The explicit purpose was to present the 3rd Congress of Soviets opening the next morning with a fait accompli . Lenin was sure that only this way would the support of the Congress for immediate soviet power be assured.Once it had happened, workers and soldiers were enthusiastic. And they were part of making it happen, insofar as they obeyed the orders of the MRC. But it would be misleading to say that it was carried out by the proletariat organised in soviets as such. Were non-Bolshevik proletarians in District soviets aware this was coming? No. Were the Left-SR participants in the MRC ? No. Were even the moderate wing of leading Bolshviks supportive? No.This is not to say that Petrograd workers and soldiers didn't support the idea of a soviet government. They did. But that doesn't mean that they were conciously involved in the decision to go through with the October events in order to arrive at such a government.

The total lack of opposition to the Bolsheviks and the absence of support for the Provisional Government reflected the sympathies of the workers .The Provisional Government was utterly discredited, and Bolshevism's reactionary aspect had not been revealed. Support for the action came rushing in after the event from the Soviet of Petrograd Trade Unions and the All-Russian Soviet of Factory Committees amongst others. The factory committees rallied to the Bolsheviks because the latter appeared to support the workers' aspirations. The majority of the members of the Petrograd Soviet were in favour of the overthrow of the Kerensky government, but did this mean they were in favour of the installation of a Bolshevik government. What they were in favour of was a coalition government formed by all the "workers" parties, ie the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, SRs and others. This was in fact favoured by many within the Bolshevik Party itself, but they were over-ruled by Lenin's determination to seize power for the Bolshevik party alone. In other words, it wasn't the overthrow as such of the Kerensky government but its replacement by a Bolshevik government under Lenin. There was no mandate from the soviets for this, which was why Lenin went to great pains to disguise his party's coup as the formation of a soviet government, which it wasn't. Once they got governmental power the Bolsheviks sidelined the soviets almost straightaway. The soviets were always considered as a cover to secure Bolshevik power.

While they claimed that this was a spontaneous seizure of power by the workers, what can be seen is that it was timed to occur before the Soviet Congress could convene, and so guaranteeing Bolshevik supremacy in the soviets and little chance for a free democratic vote on the form any new government should take .It can be plausibly assumed that if the Soviet Congress had had a free vote, the Bolsheviks would have had to share power with their arch-rivals the Mensheviks. Martov called forward a resolution demanding that the Bolsheviks form a coalition government with other left-wing parties . The resolution was about to receive almost complete endorsement from the soviet representatives thus showing that the representatives in the soviet did NOT believe in all power to the Bolsheviks but then the majority of SR and Menshevik delegates unadvisedly left the congress in protest over the Bolshevik coup giving the Bolsheviks a majority of those who remained . ( We can also speculate it was possible that Lenin himself could have been kept out of office due to the mistrust that many of the Mensheviks and other anti-Tsarist revolutionaries justly held him in.)
On October 25th, the presidium was elected on the basis of 14 Bolsheviks, 7 Social-Revolutionaries, three Mensheviks and one Internationalist. The Bolsheviks then trooped out their worker-candidates Lenin, Trotsky, Kamenev, Zinoviev and so on. When it came to forming a government, Kamenev read out a Bolshevik Central Committee proposal for a Soviet of People's Commissars, whereby "control over the activities of the government is vested in the Congress of Soviets and its Central Executive Committee". Seven Bolsheviks from the party's central committee were nominated, and thus Lenin and Trotsky came to sit at the top. The "workers' government" was now composed of professional revolutionaries and members of the intelligensia ranging from the aristocratic, like Chicherin, to the bureaucratic, like Lenin and Kollontai, via the landed bourgeois (Smilga), the commercial bourgeois (Yoffe) and the higher industrial bourgeois (Pyatakov). These were the sort of people who were used to being a ruling class. The management of production by the workers was one of the goals of the struggle, proclaimed by the Military Revolutionary Committee on 25 October 1917. That same day, the Second Congress of the Soviets solemnly approved the decision to establish workers control while specifying, however, that this meant controlling the capitalists and not confiscating their factories.

The Bolsheviks effectively re-defined "proletarian power" to mean the power of the party whose ideology was believed a priori to represent workers interests. "Who is to seize the power? That is now of no importance. Let the Military Revolutionary Committee take it, or 'some other institution', which will declare that it will surrender the power only to the genuine representatives of the interests of the people.''

Not "the people", not the "representatives of the people", but "the genuine representatives of the interests of the people" and that would be , of course , the Bolshevik Party led by Lenin.

Substitution of the party for the class . A take-over not a revolution.

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