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V. Karalasingham

Lenin and Trotsky: What they really stood for

A Reply to Mr. Shanmugathasan

(9 December 1969)

Originally published in the Ceylon Daily News, 9 December 1969.
Reprinted in Lenin and Trotsky: What they really stood for International Publishers, Colombo, April 1972, pp. 158–173.
Transcribed by Vinod Moonesinghe & Einde O’Callaghan.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

While many would consider Mr. Shanmugathasan [1] somewhat rash and reckless in raising a controversy over the role of Trotsky in the October revolution, all serious students of Marxism and the Soviet Union would be grateful that he has ventured into the field of Bolshevik history and theory. His intervention, however ill-advised, now permits an open discussion. This opportunity to set the historical record straight is most welcome, although this means drawing public attention to Mr. Shanmugathasan’s doubtful method of polemic, his cold and cynical contempt for truth and his brazen political illiteracy.

Mr. Shanmugathasan is infuriated that my article stated that Trotsky played a role second only to Lenin in the tempestuous events of 1917. Readers will recall that this statement was immediately followed by a quotation from Rosa Luxemburg which explicitly recognised Lenin and Trotsky as the co-leaders of the victorious revolution. Of the innumerable contemporary commentaries, we deliberately selected a passage from Rosa Luxemburg written soon after the historic events of 1917 and, therefore, long before the subsequent controversy between Trotsky and Stalin. In her time Rosa Luxemburg was the leader of the left wing of German and international Social Democracy, the organizer of the anti-war movement against the first imperialist war in Germany, the founder of the German Communist Party, a former activist in the Polish Social Democracy who was personally known to all the great personalities of the October revolution and, by her cruel death in 1919 at the hands of right wing German army officers, a martyr who is enshrined in the heart of the international working class. What does Mr. Shanmugathasan say about this? Does he challenge it? No, he maintains a stubborn, an almost deathly silence which is as eloquent as any admission, but unable to contain his impotent rage, he resorts to the conventional trick of talking about other irrelevant matters.

Your readers are therefore reminded that at one time Lenin and Trotsky belonged to different factions in the Russian Social Democratic Party, that there was a bitter feud between them, that Lenin’s faction constituted itself a separate party in 1912. Since these titbits do not add up to anything, and least of all do not detract from Trotsky’s role in 1917, Mr. Shanmugathasan digs deep into the garbage heap of Stalinism and with the aid of lies and half-truths, distortions and falsifications, slanders and fabrications denies Trotsky his legitimate share in that revolution, while seeking to inflate the role of Stalin.

Mr. Shanmugathasan begins with the year 1912 when the Bolsheviks formed themselves into a separate party and according to him, “the Central Committee elected at this conference consisted of Lenin, Stalin, Ordjonikidze, Sverdlov, Spandaryan and others”. The order Lenin, Stalin et al. is necessary because earlier Mr. Shanmugathasan states, “His (Lenin’s) chief lieutenant inside the party was Stalin” and therefore Stalin’s name is listed immediately after Lenin’s. The fact however, is that Stalin was not elected to the Central Committee at this conference, but was subsequently co-opted to it. Even the official history, The History of the CPSU (1960) edition, after giving the names of persons elected states that Stalin and Sverdlov were co-opted. But co-option being a backdoor entry into the Central Committee cannot be reconciled with the role now given to Stalin, so Mr. Shanmugathasan in the year 1969 conveniently elects Stalin to the 1912 Bolshevik Central Committee. But the sting is really in the tail, ‘and others’. Both Mr. Shanmugathasan and the official History of the CPSU are silent about ‘the others’ who were in fact elected by the 1912 Conference, viz. G. Zinoviev, Goloschchin and Malinowski. Mr. Shanmugathasan is shy to mention these names, no doubt, because Zinoviev, Lenin’s closest political collaborator of this period and Goloschchin were later purged by Stalin, and Malinowski, who indeed in this period would have qualified for the role of “Lenin’s chief lieutenant”, was after the February revolution conclusively shown to be an agent of the Czarist secret police.

It was out of this Central Committee that Stalin’s police chief Beria, when he turned historian after the great purges of the thirties, concocted the story of the Russian Bureau of the Central Committee with Stalin at its head, and Mr. Shanmugathasan repeats this GPU lie, since it serves his purpose to show that it was “Stalin who built the underground party from within Russia”. In Lenin’s time no one was appointed to head party committees, and according to the Minutes of the Central Committee published after the October revolution, the Central Committee of 1912 elected a “bureau composed of Ordzhonikidze, Spandaryan, Stalin and Goloschchin”. The order of names in the Minutes is important because of the later fabrication which placed Stalin at the head of this bureau. After the Prague Conference, Stalin had only about nine months of political activity within Russia, and therefore his contribution to the building of the Bolshevik party could not have been substantial as to justify Mr. Shanmugathasan’s claim that it was Stalin who built the underground Party. In March 1913 Stalin was arrested and exiled to Siberia till the February revolution released him in 1917.

Stalin was the first senior Bolshevik to arrive in Petrograd and together with Kamenev took over the editorial work of Pravda from Molotov and others. For nearly 6 weeks, till the arrival of Lenin and the emigré leadership at the beginning of April, the direction of Bolshevik policy remained in the hands of Kamenev and Stalin. Mr, Shanmugathasan maintains a discreet silence on the role of Stalin, and for a good reason, since it was during this period that we saw the real, Menshevik face of Stalin when he advocated a policy of not ‘repelling the bourgeoisie’ and saw in the Provisional government ‘a fortifier of the conquests of the revolutionary people’ (Trotsky: The Stalin School of Falsification, pp. 186–187). Today even the official historians of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR are compelled to admit: “Stalin made some mistakes in this period, and like Kamenev, argued that the revolutionary masses should exert pressure on the Provisional Government on the question of peace. Stalin was also inconsistent in his assessment of the Provisional government” (History of the October Revolution (Moscow), 1966).

A trained acrobat of the Stalin school, Mr. Shanmugathasan leaps over this shady past of Stalin and refers to Lenin’s April Theses which he says “obtained the immediate support of Stalin”. Even on this, you are wrong, Mr. Shanmugathasan! To begin with the Pravda edited by Kamenev-Stalin dissociated itself from Lenin’s April Theses when it was first published and according to E.N. Burdzhalov in Voprosy Istorii, No. 4 of 1956, at the Central Committee Bureau which discussed the new line, Stalin “continued to defend Kamenev’s position. He declared that Lenin’s theses were schematic, and that they were therefore unsatisfactory” (The Current Digest of the Soviet Press, vol. VIII no. 39). Stalin soon retreated from this position and by the time of the April Conference of Bolsheviks held toward the end of that month, he certainly did support Lenin’s new Theses, but the support was episodic and conjunctural and did not proceed from a full understanding of the new strategy. A reading of Stalin’s own speech on the subject published in his Collected Works (vol. 3, p. 5) clearly reveals this. It is therefore not a matter for surprise that immediately on the eve of the October revolution when Kamenev, now joined by Zinoviev, opposed the decision in the pages of Maxim Gorky’s journal and Lenin sharply rebuked them in the then Bolshevik Party journal Rabochyi put, Stalin should have interceded on their behalf with the following statement: “We on our part express the hope that the matter will be considered as closed with the statement made by Comrade Zinoviev (and also Comrade Kamenev’s statement in the Soviet). The sharp tone of Comrade Lenin’s article does not alter the fact that we are fundamentally in agreement.”

In his attempt to give Stalin a role “second only to that of Lenin” Mr. Shanmugathasan like a drowning man clutches at a straw – the so-called military revolutionary centre set up by the Central Committee at its meeting of 16th October, which he says, “was headed by Stalin to direct the uprising. This Party Centre was the leading core of the Revolutionary Military Committee of the Petrograd Soviet ...... and had practical direction of the whole uprising”. The fiction of Stalin heading that centre apart, it is undoubtedly true that a military revolutionary centre of 5 Central Committee members including Stalin was setup, but the Minutes of that Central Committee go on immediately thereafter to say, “This centre is to be a constituent part of the Revolutionary Soviet Committee” (See Stalin School of Falsification, p. 15). This is now confirmed by the official History of the CPSU, which says “It was decided that the Revolutionary Military Centre of the Party Central Committee would be part of the Revolutionary Military Committee of the Petrograd Soviet” (p. 253, 1960 edition). The Military Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet was formed on 9th October under the chairmanship of Trotsky and on 16th October when the Central Committee met its work was well under way as Stalin himself noted: “The Petrograd Soviet has already taken the path of insurrection by refusing to sanction the withdrawal of troops” (Collected Works, vol. 3, p. 407). At the highest, the party centre could only have supplemented the work of the Revolutionary Military Committee of the Petrograd Soviet. But what must be noted is that Mr. Shanmugathasans ‘Party Centre headed by Stalin’ never functioned and in the flood tide of events, never got started. There is no mention of its work in the innumerable documents and resolutions of the Party, in the declarations and speeches of that time, in the memoirs and reminiscences of the leading participants of which there were plenty. Even Stalin makes no mention of the “leading core” in his article on the first anniversary of the October Revolution (Collected Works, vol. 4, p. 155). If anything in the original article, and not the expurgated version which appears in his Collected Works, Stalin was lavish in praise of Trotsky and other members of the Military Revolutionary Committee: “All the work of practical organisation of the insurrection was conducted under the immediate leadership of the president of the Petrograd Soviet, Comrade Trotsky. It is possible to declare with certainty that the swift passing of the garrison to the side of the Soviet, and the skilful direction of the work of the Military Revolutionary Committee, the party owes principally and first of all to Comrade Trotsky. Comrades Antonov and Podvoisky were Comrade Trotsky’s chief assistants.” Nor in any subsequent year does he mention this Centre till November 1924 when Lenin was already dead and the revision of history had begun: “A practical Centre was elected for the organisational leadership of the uprising. Who was elected to this Centre? Sverdlov, Stalin, Dzerzhinsky, Bubnov, Uritsky” (Collected Works, vol. 6, p. 342) In the year 1924, Stalin could not put himself at the head, this would have been too outrageous. It was only with the definitive triumph of Stalinism, that he was made to head it. But a “Centre” which never functioned could leave no trace of activity. Neither the official History of the CPSU, nor the official History of the October Revolution credits Mr. Shanmugathasan’s “centre” with any work, let alone achievement. No wonder the Cambridge historian, E.H. Carr in his authoritative history of Soviet Russia, after recording the decision of the Central Committee, immediately added: “Contemporary records make no further mention of the centre: it was evidently intended as a contact group rather than as a separate organ, and, like the ‘politburo’ appointed a week earlier, never seems to have come into existence” (The Bolshevik Revolution, vol. 1, p. 96).

When it comes to Trotsky’s role in the October revolution, Mr. Shanmugathasan relies on the same tainted sources, and is therefore incapable not only of presenting it, but even understanding it when set out. The material on which he relies is the History of the CPSU (Bolsheviks) prepared under the editorship of Stalin in 1938, that is, after Lenin’s generation of Bolsheviks had been executed and only the hard core of his original faction was left and the footnotes of editorial hacks who annotated the Selected Works of Lenin after the great purges.

This is a school not of history but of tailors who will fabricate anything on command so long there are enough Shanmugathasans round the world to peddle them. And one such fabrication is that Trotsky “at first tried to form a group of his own but failed. It was only when he realised that the whole country was rallying to the Bolsheviks that he decided to throw in his lot with the Bolsheviks”. What are the facts? Trotsky returned to Petrograd one month after Lenin, on 4th May, 1917. There was no need for Trotsky to form a group of his own – he already belonged to an organisation, the Mezhrayontsi (the Inter Borough Organisation of United Social Democrats). Within a week of Trotsky’s arrival in Petrograd a Bolshevik delegation consisting of Lenin, Zinoviev and Kamenev met Trotsky to discuss the unification of the organisations and Lenin himself has left a record of that meeting. In the light of subsequent events – the Bolsheviks and Mezhrayontsi entered a common list in the election to the Municipal Duma at the end of May, their close collaboration in the. Petrograd Soviet, which at this time was in the control of Mensheviks and SRs, Trotsky’s direct participation in the work of the Bolshevik fraction in the Petrograd Soviet, the denunciation of Lenin and Trotsky as the enemies of the Russian people by Miliukov, the leader of the bourgeois Cadet party in June 1917 – who can doubt that the foundation of the merger of the separate organisations of Lenin’s and Trotsky’s was not laid at that historic meeting on 7th May, 1917? In fact on 10th May Lenin himself submitted a resolution to his Central Committee which “recognising the extreme desirability of union with the Inter District Organisation” made the following specific proposals:

  1. The CC of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party will be asked to include a representative of the Inter District Organisation in the staff of each of the two papers.
  2. CC will be asked to set up a special Organising Committee to summon a Party Congress in 6 weeks time. The later District Committee will be entitled to appoint 2 delegates to this Committee.
  3. Free discussion of controversial issues will be ensured by the publication of discussion leaflets by Priboi Publishers and by free discussion in the journal Prosveshcheniye (Kommunist), publication of which is being resumed (Lenin: Collected Works, vol. 24, p. 431).

Mr. Shanmugathasan strives to give the impression of a handful of persons seeking admission to the Bolshevik Party little realising, as is clear from Lenin’s resolution, that what was involved was the principled merger of two organisations. The Mezhrayontsi, even according to the Stalinist editors of Lenin’s Collected Works had over 4,000 members in Petrograd. That unification Congress was originally scheduled for early July but was postponed as this was the month of the ‘Great Slander’ when Lenin and Trotsky were accused of being German agents and the bourgeoisie went into the offensive, compelling the former to go into hiding, while Trotsky, Lunacharsky, and Kamenev were imprisoned by the Provisional Government. With the leadership either in hiding or in prison, the Unification Congress opened at the end of July and the second rank leadership of Sverdlov, Bukharin and Stalin – and not Stalin, Ordjonikidze, and Molotov as Mr. Shanmugathasan pretends – gave the main reports to the Congress. The first act of the Congress was to elect an honorary presidium, and who were its members, Mr. Shanmugathasan? Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Lunarcharsky!

Mr. Shanmugathasan resorts to the vocabulary of Stalinism to discuss the relationship between the Bolshevik Party and the Mezhrayontsi in the year 1917. Terms such as ‘recantation’, ‘admitted their former mistakes’ which are the stock in trade of Mr. Shanmugathasan were totally alien to Bolshevism, since according to Lenin, “... at the moment of capture of power and the creation of the Soviet Republic, Bolshevism was united and drew to it the best of the currents of socialist thought closest to it.” In the unification with the Mezhrayontsi, not only did Bolshevism draw the “best current of socialist thought” but also a glittering galaxy of political and organizational talent – besides Trotsky himself, there were Volodarsky and Uritsky (both assassinated in 1918, the same year when there was an attempt on Lenin’s life), Antonov (the man who led the assault on the Winter Palace during the night of the insurrection), Joffe (alternate of the 1917 Central Committee), M.N. Pokrovsky (the famous historian), Manuilsky, and a host of others. The close political bond between them and the Bolsheviks was reaffirmed again in 1921 when the Mezhrayontsi were permitted to count their period of membership of that organisation as equivalent to party membership (E.H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, vol.&bsp;1, p. 91).

Mr. Shanmugathasan cannot contain himself that Trotsky was described “as the principal spokesman of the party” in 1917. If Trotsky was not, particularly as Lenin was underground from the beginning of July till the night of the seizure of power in Petrograd, who, Mr. Shanmugathasan, was the principal spokesman of the Bolshevik Party? Perhaps, it was Stalin? But you would no doubt have read volume 3 of Stalin’s Collected Works which deals with the year 1917 and apart from his rather dull writings that are of no particular significance, is there anything which would justify Stalin being called the party spokesman? Mr. Shanmugathasan is no doubt aware that while the writings and speeches of a whole string of Bolshevik leaders on the subject of 1917 were published soon after the revolution as these were of interest both to the Russian and international proletariat, the writings of Stalin were completely overlooked till the year ... 1925. Where and when in 1917 was Stalin the spokesman for the Bolshevik Party? In the records of the October Revolution there is no mention of Stalin having spoken either at the Smolny, the headquarters of the Soviet, or in the Cirque Moderne, or at Kronstadt, or at any place where the masses in revolt assembled in that year of revolution, let alone his having been the spokesman of the Bolshevik Party. If not Stalin, was it Molotov, Mr. Shanmugathasan? Or do you choose Beria for this role? But of this aspect of Trotsky’s role, notwithstanding Mr. Shanmugathasan, the contemporary record is overwhelming. Of course, Mr. Shanmugathasan is free either to rage or bray at that record but what he has no right to do is to accuse anyone who relies on it of either ignorance or mendacity.

Of the mass of material, John Reed’s Ten Days that Shook the World (now available in a Penguin edition) should find acceptance. Even Mr. Shanmugathasan will not question it because Lenin wrote an introduction which, among other things, said: “Unreservedly do I recommend it to the workers of the world. Here is a book which I should like to see published in millions of copies and translated into all languages. It gives a truthful and most vivid exposition of the events so significant to the comprehension of what really is the Proletarian Revolution and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.” And whom does this John Reed introduce as the leaders of the Bolshevik Party? Lenin, Trotsky, Lunacharsky! And what about the narration of events? It’s a monotonous refrain – the names of Lenin and Trotsky. “All the livelong afternoon Lenin and Trotsky had fought against compromise” (p. 102). “But Lenin, with Trotsky beside him, stood firm as a rock” (p. 102), “In the name of the Military Revolutionary Committee Trotsky had declared that the Provisional Government no longer existed.” (p. 72). “Then for the Bolsheviks, Trotsky mounted the tribune borne on a wave of roaring applause,” etc., etc. (p. 59). “On November 27th a Committee of Cossacks came to Smolny to see Trotsky and Lenin” (p. 240), and so on, almost without end. And in the copious appendices are the texts of speeches, notes, and declarations made by these two men. And what of Mr. Shanmugathasan’s Stalin, is there any mention by John Reed? Oh yes, the last name in the list of new ministers! But, of course, that is not Stalin’s only contribution to the ten days that shook the world. John Reed’s reportage faithfully reflected the actual sweep of events, and significantly, 24 hours before he was overthrown, Kerensky chose to denounce “Ulianov-Lenin” and “Bronstein-Trotsky” as the organisers of rebellion. But John Reed was an American Communist and must have been an undercover ... CIA agent, Mr. Shanmugathasan may whisper, so let Lenin’s Commissar for Education, A. V. Lunacharsky sum up: ‘When a really great revolution comes, a great people always find for every part a suitable actor, and one of the signs of the greatness of our revolution is that Communist Party advanced from its midst, or adopted from other parties and strongly implanted in its body, so many able people suited to this and that governmental function. Most of all suited to their parts are the two strongest of the strong – Lenin and Trotsky’ (Revolutionary Silhouettes). Today, only the meanest of the mean would dare challenge that, and not even the Stalinist counter revolution could alter that verdict.

Mr. Shanmugathasan is a worthy product of the Stalin school of historiography. But as history finds her highest expression in Marxism and Marxism in its turn is firmly rooted in history it is inevitable that Mr. Shanmugathasan’s understanding of the theoretical problems of the Russian revolution should bear, not the hallmark of Bolshevism but the vulgarity of Stalinism. What he presents as the views of Lenin are in fact a paraphrase, if not a plagiarisation, of Stalin’s factional and dishonest interpretation of two sentences of Lenin. In 1924 in order to combat the idea then widely accepted within the Bolshevik Party that Leon Trotsky had boldly anticipated the actual course of the 1917 revolution, Stalin attributed to the “heroes of the Second International” the idea that “between the bourgeois democratic revolution and the proletarian revolution there is a chasm, or at any rate a Chinese Wall, separating one from the other by a more or less protracted interval of time” and proceeded to declare on the basis of two sentences that Lenin’s Two Tactics depicted the bourgeois democratic revolution and the socialist revolution “as a single and integral picture of the sweep of the Russian revolution”. Mr. Shanmugathasan relying on the same two sentences of Lenin concludes, “Thus Lenin conceived of the socialist revolution succeeding in Russia as far back as 1905,” and to strengthen his conclusion, Mr. Shanmugathasan further says that “it was Lenin who first pointed out that ... there was no need to erect a Chinese Wall between these two revolutions” (that is, the bourgeois democratic and proletarian). At this point Mr. Shanmugathasan does a bit of jugglery. He employs the metaphor of a “Chinese Wall” which Lenin in fact used, but with this difference: Lenin used it in 1918 after the October Revolution to defend the legitimacy of the proletarian dictatorship against the basically Menshevik criticism of Kautsky, whereas Mr. Shanmugathasan stealthily introduces that metaphor to attribute to the Lenin of 1905 a position he never held at that time. To understand and appreciate the controversy the reader must permit a digression.

The Social Democratic Party of Russia arose out of and in opposition to the Narodniks who basing themselves on the peasant communes of traditional Russia believed she could avoid the horrors of capitalism. The Social Democracy (Plekhanov, Zasulich, Martov, Lenin) denied any such privileged path and declared that Czarist Russia faced a bourgeois democratic revolution which would create the conditions for the very development which the Narodniks feared so much, namely, the ail sided industrial capitalist development. But the Social Democracy was divided on how this revolution was to be brought about. One section, the Mensheviks, (Plekhanov, Martov and others) held that the leadership belonged to the bourgeoisie and that the Social Democracy should do nothing to frighten the bourgeoisie from playing the role they had assigned it. The other, the Bolsheviks, (Lenin and others) held that the crucial question of the democratic revolution was the agrarian problem but the Russian bourgeoisie was incapable of carrying out that task, viz. the confiscation of the landed estates, the break up of the power of the nobility, and this very incapacity inevitably led it to compromise with the monarchy. The most it was capable of was a settlement on the lines of Prussia which would signify not a victory but a defeat of the bourgeois democratic revolution. In Lenin’s view it was the working class and peasantry and no other which could carry out the bourgeois democratic revolution and realize the unpostponable tasks of that revolution, namely, the overthrow of the medieval Czarist monarchy and its institutions, the creation of a democratic republic, the break-up of the landed estates, the introduction of political liberty, etc. and thereby clear the path not to a Prussian, but an American, development of Russia. The regime which would assure this Lenin called the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. This is the golden thread that runs through all Lenin’s writings on the problems of the Russian revolution up to the year 1917, and had Mr. Shanmugathasan read Lenin, and not relied on Stalin’s post-Leninist interpretation, he would have seen it himself, and what is most ironical, seen it in the very book to which he makes reference, viz. The Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution.

Lenin disposed of those who feared a bourgeois democratic revolution:

“A bourgeois revolution expresses the need of capitalist development, and, far from destroying the foundations of capitalism, it effects the contrary – it broadens and deepens them. This revolution, therefore, expresses the interests not only of the working class but of the entire bourgeoisie as well. Since the rule of the bourgeoisie over the working class is inevitable under capitalism, it can well be said that a bourgeois revolution expresses the interests not so much of the proletariat as of the bourgeoisie. But it is quite absurd to think that a bourgeois revoludon does not at all express proletarian interests. This absurd idea boils down either to the hoary Narodnik theory that a bourgeois revolution runs counter to the interests of the proletariat, and that, therefore, we do not need bourgeois political liberty; or to anarchism which denies any participation of the proletariat in bourgeois politics, in a bourgeois revolution, and in bourgeois parliamentarism. From the standpoint of theory this idea disregards the elementary propositions of Marxism concerning the inevitability of capitalist development on the basis of commodity production. Marxism teaches us that at a certain stage of its development a society which is based on commodity production and has commercial intercourse with civilised capitalist nations must inevitably take the road of capitalism. Marxism has irrevocably broken with the Narodnik and anarchist gibberish that Russia, for instance, can bypass capitalist development, escape from capitalism, or skip it in some way other than that of the class struggle, on the basis and within the framework of this same capitalism” (Lenin: Collected Works, vol. 9, p. 49).

Although in Lenin’s words the democratic revolution will clear the ground for a European, and not Asiatic, development, the bourgeoisie ’betrays its own self’, and that “owing to their class position they are incapable of waging a decisive struggle against Czarism, they are heavily fettered by private property, by capital and land to enter into a decisive struggle. They stand in too great need of Czarism, with its bureaucratic, police and military forces for use against the proletariat and peasantry, to want it to be destroyed.” (ibid., p. 56) Only the people, that is, the proletariat and peasantry, are capable of carrying out this struggle against Czarism and victory would mean the establishment of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. It will be, as Lenin expressly stressed, not a socialist dictatorship, but a democratic dictatorship, that is, one functioning within the capitalist framework. In Lenin’s words:

“At best, it may bring about a radical redistribution of landed property in favour of the peasantry, establish consistent and full democracy, including the formation of a republic, eradicate all the oppressive features of Asiatic bondage, not only in rural but also in factory life, lay the foundation for a rise in their standard of living, and – last but not least – carry the revolutionary conflagration into Europe” (ibid., p. 56).

And what of the socialist revolution? This was visualised as arising in the future after the completion of the bourgeois democratic revolution and in an entirely new social and historical context. According to Lenin:

“The time will come when the struggle against the Russian autocracy will end, and the period of the democratic revolution will have passed in Russia; it will then be ridiculous to even to speak of ‘singleness of will’ of the proletariat and peasantry, about a democratic dictatorship, etc. When that time comes we shall deal directly with the question of the socialist dictatorship of the proletariat and speak of it in greater detail. At present the party of the advanced class cannot but strive most energetically for the democratic revolution’s decisive victory over czarism. And a decisive victory means nothing else than the revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” (ibid., p. 86).

To Lenin, the leader of the international socialist revolution, such a dictatorship which would bring forth what finally is only a revolutionary bourgeois state could not be an end in itself. He therefore looked beyond it. He pointed out that “the slogan of a democratic dictatorship expresses the historically limited nature of the present revolution and the necessity of a new struggle on the basis of the new order for the complete emancipation of the working class from all oppression and all exploitation. In other words, when the democratic bourgeoisie or petty bourgeoisie ascends another step, when not only the revolution, but the complete victory of the revolution becomes an accomplished fact, we shall ‘change’ ... the slogan of the democratic dictatorship to the slogan of the socialist dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e. of a full socialist revolution” (ibid., p. 130).

And it is the strategy of that future socialist revolution “on the basis of the new order” that Lenin sketched in the words quoted by both Stalin and Mr. Shanmugathasan, viz. “The proletariat must accomplish the socialist revolution, allying to itself the mass of semiproletarian elements of the population, so as to crush the bourgeoisie’s resistance by force and paralyse the instability of the peasantry and the petty bourgeosie” (ibid., p. 100). Lenin had no illusions about the degree of resistance of the peasantry after its demands for land were met by a successful bourgeois democratic revolution. Equally he knew where to turn for support. Lenin saw the victory of the democratic revolution in Russia sparking off the socialist revolution in Europe which in its turn would aid the future socialist revolution in Russia:

“... We must not be afraid of Social Democracy’s complete victory in a democratic revolution, i.e. of a revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry, for such a victory will enable us to rouse Europe; after throwing of the yoke of the bourgeoisie the socialist proletariat of Europe will in its turn help us to accomplish the socialist revolution (our emphasis) (ibid., p. 82).

Lenin’s prognosis therefore was that the Russian revolution would culminate in the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry which having liquidated feudalism, distributed the land, smashed the Czarist political machine, created a bourgeois democratic republic, introduced political liberty etc. would establish the most favourable conditions for the working class to begin the struggle for the socialist revolution. When this happened the Russian working class would rely not on the peasantry, its ally in the democratic revolution, but on the semi-proletarian elements of the population and would be immeasurably aided by the success of the European proletariat in its struggle against the European bourgeoisie.

Despite what Mr. Shanmugathasan says today and what Stalin said in 1924, Stalin’s writings before 1917 provide the best confirmation of Lenin’s position on the character of the then impending Russian revolution, as outlined above. Thus according to Stalin in 1907, “the victory of the revolution means the establishment of the dictatorship (sovereignty) of the proletariat and peasantry with the object of winning an eight-hour day, of confiscating all the landlords’ land and of setting up a democratic regime” (Collected Works, vol. 2, p. 21). Again, this time in a preface to the Georgian edition of a pamphlet by Karl Kautsky, then a Marxist, and devoted to the theoretical problems of the Russian revolution, Stalin was quite categorical on how the Russian revolution would end: “That our revolution is a bourgeois democratic revolution and not a socialist revolution, that it must end with the destruction of feudalism and not of capitalism, is clear to everybody” (ibid., vol. 2, p. 2). This statement of Stalin on how the revolution would end is significant for another reason in that Stalin not only mentions Lenin’s Two Tactics but relies on it to establish the bourgeois, and not the socialist character of the regime, which would issue out of the Russian revolution. On another occasion he set the goal as follows: “That our revolution is a bourgeois revolution, that it must end in the rout of the feudal and not of the capitalist system, and that it can culminate only in a democratic republic – on this, everybody seems to be agreed in our Party” (ibid., vol. 2, p. 16).

What would be the time lag between the democratic and the socialist revolutions? Lenin did not attempt to answer that as he was no crystal gazer. But in 1946, long after his ephemeral triumph over Trotsky and the United Left Opposition and when he himself was at the height of his material power, Stalin by way of introducing his writings before 1917 stated the then prevalent view “among Russian Marxists, including Bolsheviks”, as follows: “... the premise that was accepted among Russian Marxists, including the Bolsheviks, that after the victory of the bourgeois democratic revolution there would be a more or less long interruption in the revolution, that between the victorious bourgeois revolution and the future socialist revolution there would be an interval, during which capitalism would have the opportunity to develop more freely and powerfully and embrace agriculture too; that the class struggle would grow in numbers, the proletariat’s class consciousness and organisation would rise to the proper level, and that only after all this could the period of the socialist revolution set in” (Vol. 1, p. XVIII). The reader will notice that in 1924 he attributed this very same position to “the heroes of the Second International” and credited Lenin with “the theory of the growing over of the bourgeois revolution into the socialist”. When Stalin wrote his 1946 introduction he was of course aware that in 1924 he had stated the direct opposite. Faced with this inconsistency Stalin sought refuge in 1946 in his “inadequate theoretical training” and “his neglect of theoretical questions”. This of course is a palpably false excuse as on his own statements in 1907 he was familiar with Lenin’s views as expressed in The Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution.

Whatever may have been the time lag, whether after the fulfilment of Stalin’s conditions or in consequence of victorious socialist revolutions in West Europe, the Bolshevik Party view up to the time of the April 1917 conference was that the democratic revolution had to be completed by the distribution of land, etc. and it was thereafter, that the working class could pose the question of the socialist dictatorship of the proletariat.

While Lenin had boldly indicated the correct combination of class forces of the Russian revolution which would overthrow Czarism – the working class and peasantry – his conception of the resulting new regime -the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry – was to paralyze the Bolshevik Party, till he himself returned to Russia in April 1917. What he originally conceived was the revolutionary peasantry seizing power and the party of the working class participating in a government which would carry out thoroughly the tasks of the democratic programme. The merit of Lenin’s view and the danger inherent in it were expressed by Trotsky in 1909 as follows: ‘If the Mensheviks, proceeding from the abstraction that “our revolution is bourgeois”, arrive at the idea of adapting the whole tactic of the proletariat to the conduct of the liberal bourgeoisie, inclusive of their capture of state power, the Bolsheviks, proceeding from the same naked abstraction: “democratic, not socialist dictatorship” arrive at the idea of the bourgeois democratic self-limitation of the proletariat in whose hands lies the state power. The difference between them in this question is certainly quite important: while the anti-revolutionary sides of Menshevism are already expressed in full force today, the anti-revolutionary features of Bolshevism threaten to be a great danger only in the event of the revolutionary victory’ (Quoted in the Permanent Revolution, p. 121). Although Lenin carried the party with him in April and October, 1917 the tendency to a ‘bourgeois democratic self-limitation of the proletariat’ which Trotsky feared was to plague Bolshevism for long years thereafter, particularly after the death of Lenin. It found ample expression in Stalin’s erstwhile allies, the faction of Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky.

The innumerable other matters raised by Mr. Shanmugathasan must await another time, and perhaps another forum. [2]

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1. Mr. Shanmugathasan’s article appeared in the Ceylon Daily News of 16th September 1969. It was subsequently reprinted in the Red Flag, the journal of the Ceylon Communist Party (Peking).

2. This is now unnecessary with the publication of the present work by Alan Woods and Ted Grant (V.K.).

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Rosa Luxemburg: The Russian Revolution, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1961.

History of the CPSU, Moscow, 1960.

Trotsky: Stalin School of Falsification, Pioneer, New York, 1962.

History of the October Revolution, Moscow, 1966.

The Current Digest of the Soviet Press, vol. 8 No. 39, 1956.

Stalin: Collected Works, vols. 1, 2, 3, 4 & 6, Moscow, 1954.

E.H. Carr: The Bolshevik Revolution, vol. 1, Macmillan, London, 1950.

Lenin: Collected Works, vols. 9, 24, 28, Moscow, 1962–64.

Stalin: History of the CPSU (Bolsheviks), Moscow, 1951.

John Reed: Ten Days that Shook the World, Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1960.

Lunacharsky: Revolutionary Silhouettes, Allen Lane, London, 1967.

Trotsky: The Permanent Revolution, Gupta Rahman & Gupta, Calcutta, 1947.

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