April Conference of the Bolsheviks begins May 7, 1917
Lenin at the April Conference of the RSDLP (b), painting Pyotr Dmitrievich Buchkin (1886-1965), USSR
The tremendously important April Conference of the Bolsheviks began on April 24, 1917, which is May 7 new calendar. It played a central role in setting the Bolsheviks on the path that led to the Great October Socialist Revolution through its decisions on a number of key issues from the Bolshevik orientation towards the war, the All Power to the Soviets slogan, the agrarian and nationalities questions and other issues.
From the Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979):
Seventh (April) All-Russian Conference of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (Bolshevik)
The first legal conference of the Bolshevik Party, held in Petrograd from Apr. 24 to Apr. 29 (May 7–12 new calendar), 1917, and attended by 133 delegates with a casting vote and 18 with a consultative vote, representing up to 80,000 party members and 78 major party organizations. On the eve of the conference there was an internal party discussion of V. I. Lenin’s “April Theses,” which charted the party’s course toward the socialist revolution.
The agenda included Lenin’s Report on the Current Situation, which covered issues such as the war and the Provisional Government; V. P. Nogin’s report on the peace conference and his report on the party’s attitude toward the soviets of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies; Lenin’s report on revising the party program; G. E. Zinoviev’s report on the situation in the International and the party’s tasks, as well as his report on uniting the Social Democratic internationalist organizations; a report by Lenin on the agrarian question; and a report by J. V. Stalin on the national question. Also on the agenda were the issue of the Constituent Assembly, the organizational questions, regional reports, and the election of a new Central Committee. The work of the conference was guided by Lenin, who delivered reports, spoke more than 20 times during the debates, and wrote almost all the draft resolutions.
In his Report on the Current Situation, Lenin gave a comprehensive explanation of the party’s political course in preparing for and carrying out a socialist revolution. L. B. Kamenev gave a supplementary report in which he attempted to prove that the bourgeois democratic revolution had not yet been completed and that Russia was not yet ready for a socialist revolution. He was supported by A. I. Rykov, who asserted that the objective conditions for the victory of the socialist revolution did not exist in Russia and that socialism would have to come from the West. In his summary Lenin showed Kamenev and Rykov’s position to be completely untenable. The Seventh (April) All-Russian Conference of the RSDLP(B) rejected Kamenev’s point of view and adopted Lenin’s resolution, which asserted that the proletariat of Russia should head the revolution and explain to the people the urgency of carrying out a number of practical tasks, such as nationalization of the land, the establishment of state control over all banks and their amalgamation into a single central bank, and the establishment of control over the insurance companies and major capitalist syndicates. The conference declared that these measures, as well as universal labor conscription, could be carried out by the soviets as soon as they became the bodies of the people’s power.
The conference resolution On the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies explained the slogan “All power to the soviets” and the party’s task of strengthening and extending its influence in the soviets. Under the conditions of dual power, the conference proposed a policy of developing the revolution peacefully and having the soviets take power both in the center and at the local level. The resolution On the Attitude Toward the Provisional Government noted the necessity of carrying out long-term work to develop class consciousness and rally the urban and rural proletariat, of breaking with the policy of confidence in the Provisional Government, and of organizing and arming the proletariat and strengthening its ties with the army, to provide the most important guarantee of the peaceful transfer of power to the soviets.
In the resolution On the War the Seventh (April) All-Russian Conference of the RSDLP(B) emphasized that the imperialist war could be ended only by the transfer of state power to the soviets, which would accept the task of making peace. The same resolution pointed out that the Bolshevik Party supported neither the war, which was imperialist in character, nor the Provisional Government, which was continuing the policies of the tsarist regime. The conference dissociated itself from “revolutionary defensism,” which it defined as one of the main obstacles to a speedy termination of the war.
In his report on the agrarian question Lenin explained the demands for confiscation of the landlords’ estates and the nationalization of all the land. Carrying out these policies would eliminate the class of landlords and strike a blow against the bourgeoisie, since a large proportion of the landlords’ estates were mortgaged to the banks. The party advised the peasants to seize the land immediately and in an organized manner, without waiting for the Constituent Assembly, despite the urgings of the SR’s (Socialist Revolutionaries) and Mensheviks.
The report by Stalin and the conference resolution on the national question strengthened and developed the party’s programmatic demands for full equality of all nations (natsii, nations in the historical sense) and languages. G. L. Piatakov gave a supplementary report in which he proposed considering the national question from the standpoint that the victory of the socialist revolution is only possible if it occurs simultaneously throughout the world, or at least in the majority of countries. Therefore, from an economic standpoint, the independence of nations is outdated and obsolete, and the struggle for socialism should be waged under the slogan “Down with frontiers.” Piatakov’s dogmatic, adventuristic slogan would have led to anarchism. Lenin remarked: “We maintain that the state is necessary, and a state presupposes borders. What does ‘Down with frontiers’ mean? It is the beginning of anarchy”. F. E. Dzerzhinskii and F. I. Makharadze, who also held erroneous views on the national question, believed that the demand for the right of nations to self-determination was in contradiction to internationalism.
The Seventh (April) All-Russian Conference of the RSDLP(B) adopted Lenin’s resolution on the national question, which called for the recognition of the right of all nations constituting the Russian Empire to secede freely and form their own independent states. At the same time, the conference pointed out that this right should not be confused with the advisability for a nation to secede at a particular time. “The party of the proletariat must decide the latter question quite independently in each particular case, having regard to the interests of social development as a whole and the interests of the class struggle of the proletariat for socialism”.
In reports from the localities delegates informed the conference of the party’s growing influence and of the development of the revolution throughout the country. The Seventh (April) All-Russian Conference of the RSDLP(B) decided that it was not possible to unite with parties and groups holding “revolutionary defensist” positions and stressed the need for rapprochement and unification with groups and tendencies actually based on internationalism and dissociated from the policy of forming a bloc with the bourgeoisie.
The conference adopted Lenin’s resolution on revising the party program, in which Lenin outlined the direction in which the program should be changed. The resolution empowered the Central Committee to draft a new program and present it to the next party congress for approval.
In adopting the resolution On the Situation in the International, the delegates made the mistake of agreeing to Zinoviev’s proposal for remaining in the Zimmerwald movement and participating in a conference of its supporters. Lenin, who voted against the resolution, wrote: “By remaining in Zimmerwald we (even against our will) are helping delay the creation of the Third International; we are indirectly hampering its foundation, being burdened with the dead ballast of the ideologically and politically dead Zimmerwald”.
A nine-member Central Committee was elected by secret ballot at the conference.
In the importance of the questions it acted on and in its highly representative character, the Seventh (April) All-Russian Conference of the RSDLP(B) played the role of a party congress. It rallied the Bolshevik Party around a Leninist platform and charted the party’s course toward developing the bourgeois democratic revolution into a socialist revolution.