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Lenin's Bolsheviks

The Revolutionary Masses

The political force which was most successful in exploiting the situation of ‘dual power’ and the weaknesses of the bourgeois Provisional Government to its own utmost advantage was Lenin’s party of Bolsheviks. In March 1917 the idea that they would be ruling the country several months later appeared preposterous even to most Bolsheviks themselves. At that time they were the smallest of the major socialist parties. They had about 25 000 members, and only forty representatives among the 1500 or so members of the Petrograd Soviet. When the tsar abdicated, main Bolshevik leaders were not in the capital. Joseph Stalin (1879-1953) and Lev Kamenev (1883-1936) were in Siberian exile, while Grigori Zinoviev (1883-1936) and Nicholas Bukharin (1888-1938) were in forced exile abroad. In March they were only starting to arrive in Petrograd.  

 
Statue of Lenin at the Finland Station in St Petersburg

Lenin himself had been living in exile abroad almost continuously since 1900, apart from a brief return in 1905. During the war he lived in Switzerland. After the fall of the autocracy he negotiated frantically to return through enemy country. The Germans decided that Lenin’s return could only harm the Russian war effort and gave him and a group of his close Bolshevik associates safe passage to neutral Sweden. From there, in a special sealed train made available by the German government,  the Russian revolutionaries entered Russia and arrived at Petrograd’s Finland station on 3 April. There the Bolshevik leader addressed the welcoming crowds with a call for international socialist revolution.

This surprised even some senior Bolsheviks who by and large were content with the accomplishment of the February, ‘bourgeois’ revolution and had decided to support the ‘bourgeois’ Provisional Government. The decision was taken by Stalin and Kamenev after they returned from Siberian exile in mid-March and assumed control of Party affairs. Lenin’s call contradicted classical Marxist theory which clearly showed that the development of the productive forces of Russia had not attained the level which made socialism possible. In addition, socialism, according to Marx, should triumph in most of the economically advanced capitalist countries simultaneously. 

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The Revolutions of 1917

 

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