Pierre Broué

Remarks on the History of the Bolshevik Party


From Revolutionary History, Vol. 9 No. 4, 2008, pp. 96–107.
Originally published as Autour du Parti Centralisé: Remarques sur l’histoire du parti bolchevik, in Edgar Morin (dir.), Arguments Editions de Minuit, Paris 1962.
Transcribed by Alun Morgan for the Revolutionary History Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The study of the history of the Bolshevik Party is one of the first essentials for a militant who has questions about the problems of the past and present of the working-class movement, and in particular for one who wants to answer the question – as yet unresolved – of the place and role of parties. It is not an easy task. There is a great temptation to accept accomplished fact in a fatalistic manner, to confuse explanation and justification, to replace real life with formulae and to break down history into causes and consequences which are mechanically articulated. So in order to undertake it, there is a necessary condition, the choice of the most fertile hypothesis, that which does not close off any possibility, the refusal to admit the conclusion that would make this study futile, namely the notion that the Stalinist party was entirely “implicit” in the little group of professional revolutionaries of Lenin’s day, the refusal of the assumption that history could not have followed any other course from that which it did follow and that it only crowns the victors. Even if one scrupulously enumerated the facts and ideas put forward, one would then be condemned to classify them according to idealist criteria and a belief in final causes, and to carefully distinguish, as does the serious American historian Robert V. Daniels [1], between the “real” Lenin and the “false appearance” of his utterances or his actions. The present article has no other aim than to indicate possible directions for study, to suggest certain illuminating perspectives and finally, to pose problems which, in our opinion, are still posed for the contemporary working-class movement.

* * * * *

What constitutes the originality, some would say the greatness, of the Bolshevik Party is that, alone among working-class parties which have given themselves the goal of taking power, it succeeded in doing so without having abandoned any of its essential principles, and yet it did not refuse to adapt its methods to the circumstances. The fact that this power subsequently gave birth to a society that was very different from the one it had aimed to create often obscures this fact, which is nonetheless fundamental. It is necessary here to recognise the existence of a contradiction which the historian of the Bolshevik Party should not leave unmentioned. However we must admit that commentators and historians have tended to turn to the second aspect, and have been more inclined to study the divorce between aims and achievements rather than the achievement of the first objective. Nonetheless an essential tool is missing: no comparison is possible with reference to the “degeneration” of the party in power, whereas there is no shortage of examples of working-class parties having abandoned their aims before coming anywhere near the capture of power.

A conception of the building of a working-class party

Quite rightly most historians refer to Lenin’s work What is to be Done? in order to find the conception of the party which was to become the first workers’ party to be victorious in a revolution. The role of Iskra [2] and its organisation, and Lenin’s intervention in the Iskra team, are however no less significant. It was a question of a new concept, adapted to the Russia of the time, of the building of a workers’ party which Lenin perceived as the Russian equivalent of the German Social Democracy. Now not a single line of What is to be Done? contradicts this interpretation, which is confirmed by the study of many subsequent texts. Thus in the 1907 preface to a new edition of his works, Lenin reproached the critics of What is to be Done? for treating the pamphlet “apart from its connection with the concrete historical situation of a definite, and now long past, period in the development of our Party”. He stated in particular that “in the historical conditions that prevailed in Russia in 1900-05, no organisation other than Iskra could have created the Social-Democratic Labour Party we now have … What is to be Done? is a summary of Iskra tactics and Iskra organisational policy in 1901 and 1902. Precisely a “summary”, no more and no less.” [3]

A similar orientation is suggested by the study of Lenin’s attitude towards the problems of international social democracy, providing that we are willing to accept the man at his word and do not attribute to him, in politics, ulterior motives which are foreign to that sphere. Before the 1914 war, he asserted on several occasions that the Bolshevik current was a purely Russian current, that it did not aspire to be an independent current, but was simply the working-class social democratic current as required by the specific Russian conditions. “When and where,” he wrote in Two Tactics, “did I ever claim to have created any sort of special trend in International Social-Democracy not identical with the trend of Bebel and Kautsky? When and where have there been brought to light differences between me, on the one hand, and Bebel and Kautsky, on the other?” [4] It was only after the capitulation of German Social Democracy that he was to revise his estimate of the Bebel-Kautsky current, and to concede, after the event, that Rosa Luxemburg had been right as against him on this point. We may recall that he believed that the issue of Vorwärts which published the patriotic statement by the Social Democratic faction in the Reichstag [5] was a forgery by the German general staff. The same conception appears clearly in 1920 when, speaking of Rosa Luxemburg, whom nobody, at that time or ever, could have identified with Bolshevism, he insisted that she had been an “outstanding representative … of the revolutionary proletariat and of unfalsified Marxism”. [6]

A conception of the workers’ party

In April 1917 Lenin was to be the only delegate at the Bolshevik Congress to vote for his proposal to drop the words “social democratic” in the Party’s official name. Doubtless this should suffice to stress the fact that he was not afraid to find himself isolated in his own organisation, and that if he hadn’t made this proposal earlier, it was because until then it had not seemed necessary to him. In fact, there are three distinct organisations generally referred to by the term “Bolshevik Party”:

  1. The Russian Social Democratic Labour Party between 1903 and 1911, in which several factions struggled for leadership;
  2. The Bolshevik faction within this same party;
  3. The Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (Bolshevik), finally founded in 1912, and which was to receive substantial reinforcements, notably from the Petrograd Mezhraiontsy [7] including Trotsky, before becoming the Bolshevik Party which was victorious in October 1917.

Even if we make Lenin responsible for the 1903 split, because of his determination to apply his line in an organisation where his opponents challenged the circumstances which had put him in the “majority” (Bolshevik) faction, it is impossible to consider that it was his deliberate intention. It fact, it appears that he did not even expect it, that he had not foreseen the danger. It was to have a painful impact on him, and he paid for the shock and disappointment with a nervous breakdown and an uncharacteristic demoralisation. If he and his faction organised the 1905 London Congress on an exclusively Bolshevik basis, and if he tried to strengthen his faction by using the title of the Party, he was nonetheless the joint author of a resolution which was kept secret at the time and which committed the Central Committee to work for reunification with the Mensheviks. Nor have we any right to say, as too many historians have done, that Lenin saw the reunification of 1906 “imposed” on him: his demand for the election of leading bodies on the basis of political platforms at least shows the concern to build a serious and lasting united organisation, in which his faction would have some chance of winning support. To go further: at this time he considered that the Social Democratic Labour Party was a party in which revolutionaries and opportunists should exist side by side. On 7 December 1906 he asserted: “Right up to the social revolution there will inevitably always be an opportunist wing and a revolutionary wing of Social-Democracy.” [8] The context shows that he envisaged the disappearance of the “opportunist” wing by the proof of victorious revolution, by persuasion, and not by expulsion or split. Nor have we any right to consider as a mere stratagem the statement by twenty-six of the Bolshevik delegates to the Stockholm Congress, which declared both their hostility to any split and their determination to continue their efforts to convince the whole of the Party and to win it over to their positions. The organisation of the Bolsheviks as a faction, and the establishment, probably from the moment of reunification, of a clandestine Bolshevik Centre in the Social Democratic Labour Party, are in no way contradictory to this statement. In the eyes of the Bolsheviks – and in the eyes of the historian, it must be admitted – this form of organisation was the most effective means of winning over a majority of the militants. Lenin pursued the same line before 1912, when he was reconciled with Plekhanov and formed a “bloc” in the Social Democratic Party with the “pro-Party Mensheviks” against the “liquidators”. What was at stake here was the preservation of a clandestine apparatus which the Bolsheviks considered to be necessary and which the liquidators wanted to get rid of. It was on this basis that the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (Bolshevik) was established, with a “revolutionary” wing and a Menshevik “opportunist” wing …

Clandestine Apparatus and Bureaucrats

Despite hagiography and systematically hostile interpretations, the history of Bolshevik thought is relatively simple to reconstruct. The same is true of the life and conflicts of the émigré groups. The job gets harder when we have to deal with the fundamental tool, the Russian Party, and its structure and functioning. We can even speculate to what extent it will ever be possible, after decades of Stalinist domination; the memoirs of Bolsheviks published in the years after the Revolution, and a part of the Okhrana [9] archives on the question, are a meagre source, which only enable us to sketch an outline. Yet it is on the facts of this period that those who put forward a fatalistic picture essentially base themselves. The Iskra emissaries, ten to begin with, thirty at most in 1903, perhaps around a hundred for the Bolsheviks in the following period, form a clandestine “apparatus” whose field of action is constituted by the working-class movement, which selects militants, takes them out of their original working milieu and turns them into “professional revolutionaries”. Was the Bolshevik professional revolutionary before 1917 not a direct ancestor of the post-revolutionary Bolshevik leader or bureaucrat? Were the Komitetchiki (‘Committeemen’) not a breeding-ground for “apparatchiks”. Serious researchers like Merle Fainsod [10] think so: were not 60% of regional secretaries before 1930 “old Bolsheviks” from the era of clandestinity? Was not Stalin the prototype of these “professional revolutionaries” who became bureaucrats? Despite appearances, there is far from being a direct connection between the apparatus of the clandestine party and the apparatus of the party in power, which is not to say there is no connection at all. At the London Congress in 1905 Lenin launched the struggle for the recruitment of workers who were not – and could not be – “professional revolutionaries”, but were simply revolutionary working-class militants; this was evidence of a conflict with the committeemen. Krupskaya has described in her memoirs this struggle between Lenin and Rykov, the spokesperson of the clandestine activists [11]: “The ‘Komitetchik’ (‘Committeeman’) was usually a fairly self-assured person … he generally did not recognise any inner-Party democracy whatever … At the same time they did not like innovations.” [12] According to her, Lenin could scarcely contain himself when he had to “listen to them saying that there were no workers suitable to be members of committees”. [13] He proposed that it should be compulsory for the committees to contain a majority of workers; the apparatus was already responding as such, and Lenin’s proposal was defeated at the Congress. But for all that the apparatus was not victorious: from 1905 and until the Stolypin reaction [14] in 1907, the practices of the Party changed as the gates were opened. From now on the leaders were elected by the rank and file, the bureaucratic spirit was in retreat, new individuals began to establish themselves, orators, agitators and men of action who were not committeemen. However, the sectarian spirit was to keep the Bolsheviks at a distance from the first soviets, where many seemed to fear a rival organisation. Years before Lenin and the Bolsheviks, the isolated Trotsky was able to perceive what the soviets were, the Commune-state, the organisation of the class for the seizure of power. The young Bukharin was also to anticipate, on many points, the analysis made by Lenin in State and Revolution. But is it not significant that this analysis, which was to guide action in 1917, was only gradually elaborated, and that it was never really enforced either from within or from without? Inside the united party, it was from the Bolshevik faction that came, repeatedly, the demand for analyses, for theoretical discussions quite alien to the bureaucratic spirit. It was the Mensheviks who accused the Bolsheviks of turning the party into a discussion circle or a “sociology club”, and who rejected “theses” in favour of the “practical tasks” or “concrete practical tasks” which every bureaucrat thrives on. The Bolshevik Party was a combat party, but also a party of ideas.

The Bolshevik Party and the Revolution

The party which took power in October 1917 was the continuation of the party founded in 1912 and of the faction which had existed since 1903. Yet it was also quite different. In a few months it had recruited extensively among the younger generation of workers, peasants and soldiers. In January 1917 the clandestine organisation numbered at most 25,000 members whose connection and identification with the Bolsheviks was uncertain. It had 80,000 at the time of the April conference, 200,000 by the time of the Sixth Congress in August: the Old Bolsheviks and a fortiori the committeemen formed a minority of little more than one tenth. Not all the new members joined as individuals; they included groups of workers who did not define themselves in relation to the pre-war factions and disputes. The Mezhraiontsy, which had scarcely more than 4,000 members in Petrograd, saw three of its members, including Trotsky, elected to the Central Committee. The Bolsheviks welcomed other tendencies who joined their organisation. It is true that they themselves did not form a monolithic bloc: out of fifteen full members of the Central Committee who came directly from the Bolshevik organisation in the strict sense, at least seven had been in open disagreement with Lenin on one subject or another. On this point Robert V. Daniels admits that “the new leadership was anything but a collection of disciplined yes-men”. Nor did the Bolshevik Party form a network spread out evenly across the whole of Russia. In April, its Petrograd organisation alone numbered 15,000 members, that is 18% of the whole of the Party, and in August 40,000, or 22%. Petrograd and Moscow had half the total membership, and the rest was divided between a few bastions in the other proletarian centres, the Donetz Basin, the Baltic Fleet and Kronstadt. Elsewhere the Bolsheviks were only a minority, sometimes a very small minority, inside the working class which was a minority of society. Certainly the mass character of the party in the industrial centres, and the trust which the vast majority of conscious workers put in it, explain the ultra-democratic atmosphere in its ranks during the months before and immediately after the taking of power. The Bolshevik Party – it must be admitted even if that contradicts the caricature – knew and accepted indiscipline. Zinoviev and Kamenev revealed and disavowed the decision to move towards insurrection: the Central Committee instructed them … not to do it again. But they did do it again and for a some days Kamenev headed a broader opposition to the decision to form a purely Bolshevik government. People’s Commissars and members of the Central Committee voted in the Congress of Soviets against the majority positions, against the Party positions. Only after this lapse did the Central Committee take the initiative in replacing Kamenev with Sverdlov as president of the Executive Committee of the Soviets. Lenin’s most violent attacks would be against the “deserters”, those who resigned. What mattered was not to expel, but to draw the undisciplined comrades back into the Party. The same phenomena recurred at the time of the debate on peace and the Brest-Litovsk negotiations in 1918. The Moscow regional bureau and its newspaper publicly opposed the government position, and Bukharin and his group of “Left Communists” published a daily paper which launched vigorous attacks on the leadership of the Party and the soviets. The Central Committee guaranteed them total freedom of expression within the Party; it expected, without taking any sanctions, that the oppositionists should freely abandon their initiative outside the party, and tried to persuade them.

In reality, during this revolutionary period, Bolshevik policy was every day submitted to the criticism and approval of workers, soldiers and peasants in mass meetings, rallies, trade-union and soviet meetings. The Petrograd workers interrupted Trotsky who was declaiming to them on the necessity of defending themselves against Krasnov [15], and very roughly shouted at him that he would do better to go to the front instead of preaching to the converted. He complied without taking offence, and it was he himself who recounted the episode. Better than any analysis, the testimonies of contemporaries show how and why the Bolshevik Party was a party where true democracy reigned. John Reed, for example, has left us an unforgettable account of a mass meeting of an armoured car regiment, where the Bolshevik point of view defended by Krylenko was only successful after a long discussion. [16] In the end all the soldiers took up a position for or against, and the overwhelming majority supported the position defended by the Bolshevik speaker. The Menshevik Sukhanov [17] has also left us many accounts of this sort and concludes: “The masses poured life and vigour into the Bolshevik Party, they were entirely in the hands of the party of Lenin and Trotsky”. [18] The converse is no less true. Zinoviev and Kamenev appealed to the Party against the decisions of the Central Committee, but from organisations and assemblies of workers throughout the country came the protests which swept away their opposition.

The Birth of the Apparatus

There is a striking contrast between the debates of 1917 and those of 1923, where Stalinist practices and the grip of the apparatus began to assert themselves. Most historians sympathetic to Bolshevism explain this change of character by the necessities imposed by the civil war and the adoption of authoritarian methods which were efficient but undemocratic. This viewpoint is indisputably correct, but how direct was the relationship between the methods of the civil war and the Party regime? This is much more questionable. During the first year of the civil war, the Party seems to have been literally dissolved in the soviets. It had no apparatus and hardly even had any finances of its own. Its secretary, Sverdlov, was at the same time president of the Executive Committee of the Soviets and preferred the latter channel for sending general political directives. The Communists led the soviets according to the policy laid down by the Central Committee, but there was no intermediary to transmit orders and directives, no full-time official even on the local level. Sverdlov had around him a staff of just fifteen comrades. Bolsheviks like Preobazhensky [19] could propose the disappearance of the Party as such, without provoking any indignation. In their eyes it seemed useless so long as Communists were inspiring and giving life to the soviets. Others proposed the fusion of the leaderships of the Party and the soviets in order to achieve at the top the unity which already existed on the ground.

A different position prevailed: it was necessary to rise above the local considerations which meant that towns, factories and regions wanted to hang on to their militants. The forces of the Party had to be shared out across the whole country, in order to organise the “mobilisation” of militants to face the most immediate dangers. With respect to these considerations, the Eighth Congress was to attempt to maintain the independence of the soviets from the Party and vice versa. Krestinsky [20], the new secretary of the Central Committee – Sverdlov had died of typhus – had five “technical assistants”, created bureaux and the central administration of the Party: there were eighty full-time staff in 1919. The numbers rose to 150 in 1920, and 600 in March 1921. Only in 1922 had the secretariat got all the members card-indexed, something which was essential for the intended “mobilisation”. The apparatus was born at the same time: at this date it had only 15,325 full-timers, of which 5,000 were at the level of localities and factories, and as many more at intermediate levels. All were subject to the “Communist maximum”, wages which put them on a level with a skilled worker. However, already at this time there were increasing complaints against the “hierarchy of secretaries” which was ever more substituting itself for that of conferences and congresses. It was not yet based on material privileges: a Petrograd leader, Zinoviev’s brother-in-law, in this period lost a young child who died of hunger. But it was established by the powers it enjoyed over the assignment of members to positions. Certain bodies, for the most part new ones, concentrated exceptional powers in themselves: regional bureaux, where for the first time in the history of the Party apparatchiks like Kaganovich [21], Kuibyshev [22], Rudzutak [23] and Mikoyan [24] appeared prominently. They were under the supervision of the organisation bureau (Orgburo), but especially of the section of the secretariat of the Central Committee for organisation and training, which from 1922 onwards was led by Lazar Kaganovich. By the use of “responsible instructors” and of “plenipotentiaries of the Central Committee”, who had the right of veto over the decisions of local organisations, the power of a few men was extended. The nomination bureau moved imperceptibly from the “mass mobilisation” of members to the recommendation, then the appointment pure and simple of leaders at various regional levels, above all within the Party but subsequently outside the Party. The People’s Commissariat of Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection, conceived by Lenin as a means of controlling the bureaucracy, became in Stalin’s hands a tool whereby the bureaucracy controlled the Party. The Central Control Commission, created at the demand of the Workers’ Opposition, also became a parallel apparatus. In 1922 the power of the bureaux became embodied in Stalin, who had become secretary general of the Central Committee. Alongside him, Molotov, secretary since 1921, Kaganovich, head of the section for organisation and training, Kuibyshev, head of the Central Control Commission and efficient and devoted regional leaders – Ordjonikidze [25], Mikoyan, Rudzutak, Zhdanov … The Stalinist “team” had been formed. In 1923 already it was able to “fix” elections of delegates to conferences and congresses, and to eliminate the opposition in indirect elections. It would be the faithful and originally discreet ally of Zinoviev and Kamenev against Trotsky.

Vanguard and Working Class

How can we explain this stranglehold? The “Party regime” is not a sufficient explanation, since that regime had changed. It is necessary to turn to broader historical explanations, going well beyond the framework of the Party itself, to explain why the same people who in 1917-18 practised the most demanding working-class democracy were capable of submitting themselves, in their great majority, to the emergent authority of the bureaux. First of all, there was no longer a working-class vanguard; the Bolsheviks who formed the general staff of the working-class forces in the great cities of Petrograd and Moscow, at Kronstadt and in the Donetz Basin, were now dispersed. The Kronstadt sailors were all over the place in the most varied positions of responsibility: Dybenko [26] at the head of the Red Army, Roshal [27] in Romania where he would die, Raskolnikov [28] in the East, Markin [29] leading a flotilla on the Volga, Pankratov [30] at the head of a cheka [31] in Transcaucasia. The workers of Petrograd and Moscow had provided the first detachments of red guards, the first armed force of soviet power. They provided the bulk of the commissars whom Trotsky demanded to supervise the career officers in the Red Army, as well as the cadres of the soviets in outlying regions or those won back from the Whites. A former Putilov engineering worker, Valek [32], was leading the Omsk soviet. Another, Bodrov [33], was leading the political staff in Budienny’s [34] cavalry. These former vanguard workers were leading chekas, were commissars of regiments, battalions and divisions. It was they who provided leadership for the workers and peasants across the entire territory, depriving the workers in the big centres of its most active and conscious elements.

The working class, deprived of its vanguard which had moved into governmental and administrative functions, bled by the losses of the civil war, was also no longer in its large mass what it had been in 1917–18. While there had been three million industrial workers in 1917, there were only a million and a half in 1920, 1,250,000 in 1921. Moreover the disorganisation of the economy was such was such that one can scarcely speak of real “employment”; “normal” absenteeism was of the order of 50% in the factories, and the difference between a wage and unemployment pay was often purely theoretical. The trade unions estimated that in some factories half the products manufactured were misappropriated and resold by the producers themselves. Famine was a very real threat in 1921 when – supreme irony – there were reports of cases of cannibalism, and all the initiative of the best of those who remained in the factories was devoted to trying to survive, at the price of great demoralisation. Lenin was to say that it was impossible to speak of a “working class” in the sense that Marxists had given to the term. [35] Bukharin would speak of the “disintegration of the proletariat”. It was this situation which gave birth to the crisis of 1921, of which Kronstadt was only the most spectacular episode. Whatever historical analogies present themselves to the historian of today after the events of 1956 in Poland and Hungary, should not this historian, while listening carefully to the defenders of the Kronstadt insurgents and the supporters of Makhno, try to grasp the totality of the economic and social conditions, and the ensuing political conditions, which would force the Bolsheviks first of all to accept a political monopoly for their Party – quite contrary to their original objections – and then the stifling of internal democracy? Is not the whole dilemma summed up in Radek’s lecture to the Military Academy on the eve of the Kronstadt rising: “The Party is the conscious vanguard of the working class. The time has come when the bulk of the working masses are weary and are reluctant to follow any further a vanguard which continues to lead it along the road of struggle and sacrifice. Should we yield to workers who have exhausted their physical strength and their patience, and who are less enlightened than we are as to their own general interests? At times their state of mind becomes plainly reactionary. The Party considers that it cannot yield, that it must impose its will to win on the weary workers who are inclined to give way.”

* * * * *

The contradictions tearing apart the Bolshevik Party in power are contained in full in this speech by Radek. The future as well as the past; the workers’ conscious “vanguard” party as well as the Stalinist party of bureaucrats who substitute themselves for the working masses because they are “more enlightened”. It is certainly easy to recall here Trotsky’s predictions and his polemic against the Jacobinism of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, his famous phrase about the “dictatorship of the proletariat” conceived of as “dictatorship over the proletariat”. [36] Most commentators have not failed to take this opportunity. Nonetheless this is a simplification which borders on falsification: “Bolshevism”, as a form of organisation, certainly ends up, from 1923 onwards, in the dictatorship of the party , that is, of the bureaucracy, over the proletariat. Can it seriously be maintained that the same was true in 1917 and 1918? Can one consider as merely secondary factors material and cultural backwardness, the passivity and ignorance of the peasant masses, the disintegration of the proletariat, the isolation of the Russian Revolution? Can it be claimed that this development was implicit in the circumstances, that the Bolsheviks, by force of circumstances, had to find themselves as the sole advocates of soviet power and were inevitably forced to repress the other working-class tendencies, the Mensheviks and the anarchists? In the judgements made by historians about the degeneration of the Bolshevik Party in power, there is a systematic prejudice to consider the Party as a historical factor which is absolutely independent of the other fundamental factors of human history. To say that the Stalinist counterrevolution was implicit in State and Revolution, that the Moscow Trials were implicit in the ban on factions in the Party, means considering as of no significance both the foreign intervention against the young Soviet republic and the alliance of the German Social Democracy with the general staff, not to mention the capitalist system which was itself responsible for the world war. It means denying the intervention in history of the conscious will in the elementary form of organisation, and preaching renunciation and resignation, condemning struggle and even partial victories. In the eyes of the militant, how preferable seems the position of Rosa Luxemburg who, at the end of a pamphlet which was extremely critical with regard to Bolshevik policies, nonetheless wrote:

In the present period, when we face decisive final struggles in all the world, the most important problem of socialism was and is the burning question of our time. It is not a matter of this or that secondary question of tactics, but of the capacity for action of the proletariat, the strength to act, the will to power of socialism as such. In this, Lenin and Trotsky and their friends were the first, those who went ahead as an example to the proletariat of the world; they are still the only ones up to now who can cry with Hutten: “I have dared!”

This is the essential and enduring in Bolshevik policy. In this sense theirs is the immortal historical service of having marched at the head of the international proletariat with the conquest of political power and the practical placing of the problem of the realization of socialism, and of having advanced mightily the settlement of the score between capital and labour in the entire world. In Russia, the problem could only be posed. It could not be solved in Russia. And in this sense, the future everywhere belongs to “Bolshevism.” [37]

Among others, it is from this point of view that we must set the objectives of a historical study of the Bolshevik Party. The methods used will not be the same if the authors are motivated by an immoderate taste for abstract questions and a desire to prove that nothing can be done to change the world, or alternatively by the quest for historical instruments, of necessity limited, to transform it. It is comforting to observe that it is the latter point of view which leads to real history, faithful to the concreteness of the authentic factors of classes and masses, restoring for us the solidity of living contradictions instead of the aridity of logical diagrams.


1. Author of many books on Russia and Communism.

2. Iskra (Spark) was founded in 1900 by Lenin as the paper of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party; it was printed in Western Europe and smuggled into Russia; after 1903 taken over by Mensheviks.

3. V.I. Lenin, Preface to the collection Twelve Years (1907).

4. V.I. Lenin: Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, section 8, footnote 1.

5. The German parliament building where the Social Democrats voted for the war credits in August 1914.

6. V.I. Lenin, A Contribution To The History Of The Question Of The Dictatorship (1920).

7. Inter-District Organisation.

8. V.I. Lenin: The Crisis of Menshevism (1906).

9. The Tsarist secret police.

10. Merle Fainsod (1907–1972): author of many books on Russia and Communism, notably How Russia is Ruled (1953).

11. A.I. Rykov (1881–1938): old Bolshevik, spent years in penal servitude; vice-president of the council of People’s Commissars under Lenin.

12. N. Krupskaya, Memories of Lenin (London 1970), pp. 114–15.

13. Memories of Lenin, p. 116.

14. Pyotr Stolypin (1862–1911): Russian Prime Minister from 1906, organised repression after 1905 revolution.

15. General P.N. Krasnov (1869–1947): freed by Bolsheviks when he promised not to take up arms; organised rising of Don Cossacks; later put himself at Hitler’s service for a projected Cossack state; handed over to USSR in 1945 and hanged.

16. This is described in Chapter VI (The Committee for Salvation) of Ten Days that Shook the World.

17. Nikolai Sukhanov (1882–1939): active revolutionary from youth, took part in 1905 revolution; member of Petrograd soviet 1917, but very critical of Bolsheviks in power; published The Russian Revolution 1922; arrested and convicted as Menshevik 1931, shot 1939.

18. N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917 (Princeton, 1984) p. 490. [This is an abridged translation, and only the first half of the quotation appears in the English text.]

19. E.A. Preobrazhensky (1886–1937): Party member from 1903, Party secretary 1920–21; expelled 1927, capitulated 1929; executed without trial.

20. N.N. Krestinsky (1883–1938): active from 1903; Vice-commissar for Foreign Affairs, then ambassador to Berlin; at least close to the Opposition; executed after third Moscow Trial.

21. Lazar Kaganovich (1893–1991): Bolshevik from 1911; close ally of Stalin in 1930s, known as “iron Lazar”; lost influence after death of Stalin, expelled from Party 1961.

22. V.V. Kuibyshev (1888–1935): clandestine Bolshevik militant; Red Army commissar; member of Politburo from 1927.

23. J.E. Rudzutak (1887–1938): Latvian Bolshevik worker in 1906; trade-union leader.

24. Anastas Mikoyan (1895–1978): old Bolshevik, close ally of Stalin; held senior posts under Khrushchev and Brezhnev.

25. Grigory Ordjonikidze (1886–1937): Old Bolshevik; Central Committee 1921, Politburo 1930; ally of Stalin but distanced himself from some decisions; circumstances of death remain obscure.

26. P.E. Dybenko (1889–1938): joined Party 1912; 1917 president of Baltic sailors’ council; led division against Kronstadt in 1921; shot June 1938.

27. Ensign S.G. Roshal: one of Bolshevik agitators behind the Baltic fleet mutiny in 1917.

28. Fedor F. Raskolnikov (1892–1939): Bolshevik from 1910; commanded Volga fleet, then became ambassador; refused to be recalled.

29. N.G. Markin (1893–1918): sailor, party organiser at Kronstadt, friend of Trotsky’s children; commanded Volga flotilla, killed in action.

30. V.F. Pankratov: Kronstadt sailor, then member of Cheka; deported 1928.

31. Branch of the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage.

32. Anton Valek (1887–1919): revolutionary from age of seventeen; exiled twice and escaped both times; worked at Putilov, then fought on Siberian front; died after being tortured and flogged. There is a short sketch of his life in Victor Serge’s Vie des révolutionnaires (1930), reproduced in Mémoires d’un révolutionnaire (Paris 2001), p. 297.

33. Probably Mikhail Bodrov, Moscow metal-worker, later Oppositionist who in 1928 took valuable documents to Sedov in Alma-Ata.

34. S.M. Budienny (1883–1973): civil war cavalry leader; became Marshal, survived purges and served throughout World War II.

35. See for example his Summing-Up Speech to the Tenth Congress of the RCP(B) (March 1921) or The New Economic Policy and the Tasks of the Political Education Departments (October 1921).

36. Cf. Leon Trotsky, Our Political Tasks (1904).

37. R. Luxemburg, The Russian Revolution (1918).

Last updated on 1.11.2011