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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

Lenin reads the April Theses, April 17, 1917

Lenin Oil Painting, Soviet Ukrainian artist Nikolai Artemevich Pavlyuk, 1947

"We must take the initiative in creating a revolutionary International, an International against the social-chauvinists and against the “Centre”" - From the April Theses, read by Lenin at two meetings of the All-Russian Conference of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies on April 17, 1917 (April 4 according to the old calendar).

Lenin read his list of ten revolutionary directives the day after his arrival in Petrograd back from a decade of exile. These theses became of tremendous importance in moving the Bolsheviks tactically and ideologically along a path that would lead to the socialist revolution in November and the eventual formation of the USSR.

From the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979:

April Theses of V. I. Lenin

Theses presented in the report “On the Tasks of the Proletariat in the Present Revolution” which gave the Bolshevik Party and the proletariat of Russia a plan of struggle for the transition from the bourgeois democratic to the socialist revolution.

The “April Theses” were a programmatic document of creative Marxism. Lenin presented his theses on Apr. 4 (17), 1917, on the day after his return to Russia, at a meeting of the Bolsheviks, and later at a joint meeting of the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks who were delegates to the All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. On Apr. 7 (20), 1917, the “April Theses’, were published in Pravda; later, they were reprinted in other Bolshevik newspapers.

After the overthrow of tsarism in February 1917 the Bolsheviks began the struggle for the further development of the revolution. The party called for the organization of soviets throughout the country and conducted a struggle against the continuation of the imperialist war. However, in the peculiar situation of dyarchy, some leading party workers were unable to analyze a number of very important questions and made the mistaken demand of applying pressure on the Provisional Government. They did not raise the problem of transferring all power to the soviets, and they did not relate the question of peace to the question of power. Some of the leading Bolsheviks asserted that conditions for a socialist revolution in Russia had not yet ripened. They adhered to the semi-Menshevik position of conditional support to the bourgeois Provisional Government.

As an émigré, Lenin had formulated basic proposals for Bolshevik Party tactics under the new conditions in Russia (”Draft Theses of March 17, 1917” and Letters From Afar). In the “April Theses” (of which there are ten) Lenin began by giving an answer to the most urgent question -- that of war and peace. He pointed out that the war remained an imperialist war even under the Provisional Government, and that therefore “not the slightest concession to ’revolutionary defensism’ is permissible. “To slip out of the imperialist war and achieve a democratic peace, Lenin said, “was impossible without overthrowing capital”. In order to bring an end to the war, it was necessary to guarantee the victory of the socialist revolution. In the “April Theses” the strategy and tactics of the Bolshevik Party are concretized for the actual distribution of class forces that had taken shape after the victory of the bourgeois democratic revolution. “The specific feature of the present moment in Russia,” Lenin pointed out, “is that the country is passing from the first stage of the revolution—which gave power to the bourgeoisie because of the insufficient class consciousness and organization of the proletariat—to the second stage of the revolution, which must put power into the hands of the proletariat and the poorest strata of the peasantry”.

In outlining the attitude of the Bolshevik Party toward the bourgeois Provisional Government, Lenin did not call for the immediate overthrow of the government. The soviets, dominated by the Mensheviks and the SR’s (Socialist Revolutionaries), supported the Provisional Government, and there was an unreasoningly trustful attitude in the country toward the bourgeois government. Lenin demanded persistent and patient unmasking of the policies of the Provisional Government against the people, in order to deprive the government of the confidence and support of the masses and thus to remove it from power. “No support for the Provisional Government,” cried Lenin, and “All power to the soviets!” Lenin thought that the SR’s and the Mensheviks, who were leading the soviets at that time, were incapable of satisfying the revolutionary demands of the toiling masses. As long as its representatives were in the minority in the soviets, the Bolshevik Party’s task was to expose the policies of the SR’s and Mensheviks day by day, to struggle for influence in the soviets, to win a majority in the soviets through new elections, and to change their policies. Thus, Lenin based the party’s course in this period on the peaceful development of the revolution. The soviets were not only the sole possible form of revolutionary government but also a new, higher type of state brought into being by the Russian Revolution. Lenin wrote, “Not a parliamentary republic -- a return to a parliamentary republic from the soviets of workers’ deputies would be a step backward -- but a republic of soviets of workers’, agricultural laborers’, and peasants’ deputies throughout the country, from top to bottom”.

A program of economic reforms for Russia was also formulated in the “April Theses.” The program was meant to save the country from starvation and ruin and to secure a transition to a socialist revolution. It was necessary to establish workers’ control over private production and distribution of products, to combine all banks into a single national bank, and to establish control by the soviets over all these enterprises. In the area of agrarian problems, Lenin made basic demands corresponding to the interests of the toiling peasantry of Russia, including confiscation of the landowners’ estates and nationalization of all lands in the country. The right to dispose of the land was given to the local soviets of agricultural laborers’ and peasants’ deputies. Separate soviets of poor peasants’ deputies were to be organized. In addition, Lenin proposed the creation of model soviet farms based on the highly developed landowners’ estates which had been confiscated.

The “April Theses” also outlined internal party tasks. It was proposed that a party congress be called and a new party program be adopted, in which the development of the country and the party since 1903 would be reviewed, the essence of imperialism and the imperialist war would be revealed, and the demand for the creation of a soviet state would be presented. Since the leaders of the Social Democratic Party had betrayed socialism, Lenin recommended that the party be called the Communist Party instead of the Social Democratic Party. At the same time, he called for the immediate creation of a new, revolutionary third Communist International and for the further expansion of the struggle against social chauvinism and centrism.

On Apr. 6 (19), 1917, Lenin’s theses were discussed at a meeting of the Bureau of the Central Committee of the RSDLP (Bolshevik). L. B. Kamenev spoke against the theses. He asserted that in his opinion Russia had not matured sufficiently for a socialist revolution. A discussion was conducted within the party, in the course of which the Bolshevik Party rallied around the “April Theses.” All the enemies of the socialist revolution were up in arms against the “April Theses.” On the initiative of the Menshevik Tsereteli and the Socialist Revolutionary Gots, the con-ciliationist executive committee of the Petrograd Soviet adopted a resolution on April 15 (28) in which Lenin’s propaganda was declared “no less harmful than all the counterrevolutionary propaganda from the right.” The bourgeoisie wanted to make use of a slanderous campaign in order to have Lenin arrested.

The “April Theses” gave an orientation on all questions of the revolutionary struggle after the overthrow of tsarism. The “April Theses” provided the basis for the political line of the Bolshevik Party adopted by the Seventh (April) All-Russian Conference of the RSDLP (Bolshevik), which met on Apr. 24–29 (May 7–12), 1917.




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