In Defence of October

Study the lessons of the Russian Revolution

About us 1917 Live

Honest Defencism Reveals Itself

Pravda No. 38, May 5 (April 22), 1917.

Events in Petrograd during the last few days, especially yesterday, illustrate how right we were in speaking of the “honest” defencism of the mass as distinguished from the defencism of the leaders and parties.

The mass of the population is made up of proletarians, semi-proletarians, and poor peasants. They are the vast majority of the nation. These classes are not at all interested in annexations. Imperialist policies, the profits of banking capital, incomes from railways in Persia, lucrative jobs in Galicia and Armenia, putting restraints on the freedom of Finland—all these are things in which these classes are not interested.

But all, these things taken together just go to make up what is known in science and the press as imperialist, annexationist, predatory policy.

The crux of the matter is that the Guchkovs, Milyukovs, and Lvovs—be they even all paragons of virtue, disinterestedness, and love of their fellow-man—are the spokesmen, leaders, and chosen representatives of the capitalist class, a class which has a vested interest in a predatory, annexationist policy. This class invested billions “in the war”, and is making hundreds of millions “out of the war” and annexations (i.e., out of the subjugation or forced incorporation of alien nationalities).

To believe that the capitalist class will “mend its ways”, will cease to be a capitalist class, will give up its profits, is a fatuous hope, an idle dream, and in effect a deception of the people. Only petty-bourgeois politicians, fluctuating between capitalist and proletarian policies, can entertain or encourage such fatuous hopes. Herein lies the mistake of the present leaders of the Narodnik parties and the Mensheviks, Chkheidze, Tsereteli, Chernov, and the others.

The mass representatives of defencism are not at all versed in politics. They have not been able to learn politics from books, from participation in the Duma, or from close observation of people engaged in politics.

The mass representatives of defencism still do not know that wars are waged by governments, that governments represent the interests of certain classes, that the present war, on the part of both belligerent groups, is waged by the capitalists in the predatory interests of and for the predatory aims of the capitalists.

Unaware as they are of this, the mass representatives of defencism argue quite simply: we do not want annexations, we demand a democratic peace, we do not want to fight for Constantinople, for putting down Persia, for plundering Turkey, and so on; we “demand” that the Provisional Government give up its policy of annexations.

The mass representatives of defencism are sincere in wishing this, not in a personal but in a class sense, because they speak for classes that are not interested in annexations. But what these representatives of the masses do not know is that the capitalists and their government may throw over the policy of annexations in words, may dangle promises and mouth fine phrases, but cannot really abandon the idea of annexations.

That is why tile mass representatives of defencism were so strongly and legitimately shocked by the Provisional Government’s Note of April 18.

People familiar with politics could not have been surprised by this Note, for they knew only too well that when the capitalists “renounce annexations” they do not really mean it. It is just the usual trick and phrase-mongering of diplomats.

But the “honest” mass representatives of defencism were surprised, shocked, indignant. They felt—they did not understand it quite clearly, but they felt that they had been tricked.

This is the essence of the crisis and it should be clearly distinguished from the opinions, expectations, and suppositions of single individuals and parties.

To patch up this crisis for a while with a new declaration, with a new Note (that is what Mr. Plekhanov’s advice in Yedinstvo and the aspirations of Milyukov and Co., on the one hand, and those of Chkheidze and Tsereteli, on the other, amount to)—to paper over the cracks with a new promise is of course possible, but this can do nothing but harm. A new promise would inevitably mean a new deception of the masses’ therefore a new outburst of indignation, and such an outburst, if lacking intelligent orientation, might easily become very harmful.

The masses should be told the whole truth. The government of the capitalists cannot abandon annexations; it is caught in its own meshes, and there is no escape. It feels, it realises, it sees that without revolutionary measures (of which only a revolutionary class is capable) there is no way out, and it is becoming panicky, losing its head; it promises one thing, but does another; at one minute it threatens the masses with violence (Guchkov and Shingaryov), at the next it proposes that the power be taken out of its hands.

Economic ruin, crisis, the horrors of war, an impasse from which there is no way out—this is what the capitalists have brought all the nations to.

Indeed there is no way out—except through the transfer of power to the revolutionary class, to the revolutionary proletariat, which alone, supported by the majority of the population, is capable of aiding the revolution to victory in all the belligerent countries and leading humanity to lasting peace and liberation from the yoke of capitalism.


Source: Marxist International Archive

The February Revolution
Strikes and protests erupt on women's day in Petrograd and develop into a mass movement involving hundreds of thousands of workers; within 5 days the workers win over the army and bring down the hated and seemingly omnipotent Tsarist Monarchy.
Lenin Returns
Lenin returns to Russia and presents his ‘April Theses’ denouncing the Bourgeois Provisional Government and calling for “All Power to the Soviets!”
The June Days
Following the First All-Russian Congress of Soviets, the reformist leaders called a demonstration to show the strength of "democracy". 400,000 people attended, the vast majority carried banners with Bolshevik slogans.
The July Days
Spontaneous, armed demonstrations against the Provisional Government erupt in Petrograd. The workers and soldiers are suppressed by force, introducing a period of reaction and making the peaceful development of the revolution impossible.
The Kornilov Affair
Following the July days, the Bolsheviks were driven underground and the forces of reaction were emboldened. This process culminated in the reactionary forces coalescing around General Kornilov, who attempt to march on Petrograd and crush the revolutionary movement in its entirety.
The October Revolution
The Provisional Government is overthrown. State power passes to the Soviets on the morningm of 26th October, after the Bolsheviks’ Military Revolutionary Committee seize the city and the cabinet surrenders.
  • V. I. Lenin

    V. I. Lenin

    "The dominating trait of his character, the feature which constituted half his make-up, was his will..."
  • L. Trotsky

    L. Trotsky

    “Astounding speeches, fanfares of orders, the unceasing electrifier of a weakening army.”
  • G. Plekhanov

    G. Plekhanov

    "In the final analysis the brilliant aspects of Plekhanov’s character will endure forever."
  • G. O. Zinoviev

    G. O. Zinoviev

    "Zinoviev has won the reputation of being one of the most remarkable orators – a difficult feat."
  • Y. M. Sverdlov

    Y. M. Sverdlov

    “He did not die on the field of battle, but we are right to see him as a man who gave his life for the cause.”
  • V. Volodarsky

    V. Volodarsky

    “He was always to be seen in the front row, the on-the-spot leader. So, they killed him.”
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Reading Guides

  • The 1917 February Revolution

    The 1917 February Revolution

    The February Revolution saw a mass strike develop from below at a furious pace which posed the question of state power within a week of its inception. Workers in Petrograd took to the streets against intolerable bread shortages, the slaughter
  • Lenin Returns in April

    Lenin Returns in April

    This reading guide contains some of Lenin’s most important writings and speeches made in the April period, accompanied by works which provide further details of events at that stage of the Revolution.
  • The June Days 1917

    The June Days 1917

    This reading guide informs the May-June period of the Revolution with analysis, accounts of those who were involved and important speeches and writings of the time.
  • The July Days 1917

    The July Days 1917

    This selection of texts covers the background, events and consequences of the July Days. Next, we will turn our attention to one of those consequences – the Kornilov putsch in late August.
  • The Kornilov affair

    The Kornilov affair

    Kornilov’s failed coup brought the direct action of the masses into play again, and proved to them once and for all that they were the only force in society capable of transforming their own living conditions. For the first time,
  • The October Insurrection 1917

    The October Insurrection 1917

    The following series of articles provides in-depth analyses and first-hand accounts of the events immediately preceding, during and after the greatest event in human history: the October Revolution, in addition to reflections on its aftermath.
  • 1