On 16th April 1917 (3rd April in the Russian calendar of that time), Comrade Lenin returned to Russia from years of working in exile. The following day, he addressed a meeting of members of the Bolshevik Party where he presented 10 theses elaborating the next stage of the struggle following the February Revolution that overthrew Tsarism. The adoption of the April theses armed the Bolshevik Party to prepare the subjective conditions for the victory of the Great October Socialist Revolution seven months later. The April Theses were subsequently published in the Party’s newspaper, Pravda, as an article titled The Tasks of the Proletariat in the Present Revolution.
This is the second instalment of a series on the Russian Revolution being published by Mazdoor Ekta Lehar in this Centenary Year. The first instalment was focused on the February Revolution of 1917, which overthrew the rule of the Tsar that had been maintained in Russia for centuries. An unusual situation was created by the February Revolution, that of dual power. On one side was the Provisional Government formed by representatives of the Russian capitalist class. On the other side stood the Soviets of Workers’, Peasants’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, representing the toiling majority of the population.
The April theses emerged as a result of concrete analysis of the concrete conditions in Russia within the international situation of that time.
Lenin delivers April Theses at meeting of the Bolshevik Party held in the Tauride Palace in Petrograd on 17 April 1917, one day after returning from exile
There were three main questions facing the working class and people of Russia soon after the overthrow of Tsardom:
1. how to extricate Russia from the First World War, which was a war between imperialist big powers to re-divide the world;
2. how to distribute the cultivable land, mostly held by feudal landlords, to the landless and poor peasants; and
3. how to ensure food for all, at a time when there was acute shortage and the threat of famine.
These three burning questions were summed up in practice by the revolutionary slogan: Land, Peace and Bread!
There was widespread expectation and hope among the working people that the Provisional Government would address these burning issues. The Provisional Government was hiding its real imperialist aims and interest in continuing with the war, pretending that it only wanted to defend Russia from other imperialist powers. The majority of elected deputies within the Soviets were under the influence of the illusion that the Provisional Government can bring about a principled peace.
Summing up his analysis of the objective and subjective conditions prevailing in the month following the overthrow of Tsarism, Lenin wrote in his theses that “owing to the insufficient class-consciousness and organisation of the proletariat”, the February Revolution had placed power in the hands of the bourgeoisie. For the aims of the revolution to be achieved – including land, peace and bread – power has to pass into the hands of the proletariat, allied with all the toiling and oppressed strata of the population.
Tasks of the Proletariat in the Present Revolution (April Theses – Excerpts)
– V.I. Lenin –
1. I.e., the standing army to be replaced by the arming of the whole people.
2. I.e., a state of which the Paris Commune was the prototype.
3. Instead of “Social-Democracy,” whose official leaders throughout the world have betrayed socialism and deserted to the bourgeoisie (the “defencists” and the vacillating “Kautskyites”), we must call ourselves the Communist Party.
Based on this sound assessment, Lenin identified the central task of the Bolshevik Party as being the exposure of the Provisional Government and preparation of the proletariat to take power in its hands.
The Bolshevik Party nurtured and developed the invention which the revolutionary masses had given birth to during the 1905 revolution, namely, the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies. The Soviets became an instrument and mechanism for the revolutionary workers, soldiers and peasants to participate actively in collective decision-making and setting their common agenda.
The April theses clarified both the content and the form of the new State that must replace the overthrown Tsarist monarchy. In terms of class content, it must be the dictatorship of the proletariat and not of the bourgeoisie. In terms of its form, it must not be a parliamentary republic but a republic of Soviets.
The April theses characterised the parliamentary system as being retrograde as compared to the soviet system, in which power flows from the base to the top, with masses of workers and peasants playing an active role in decision making. He summed up these conclusions with the call: “All Power to the Soviets!”
The April theses advocated a policy of no support to the Provisional Government but consistent exposure of how its deeds contradict its words. Lenin did not advocate calling immediately for the overthrow of this capitalist government, given the subjective conditions of widespread illusion within the soviets that this government is opposed to imperialist war. He advocated that the Bolshevik Party must carry out persistent work of political education and persuasion to raise the level of consciousness of the working class and people about the imperialist aims of the Russian capitalist class. The theses thus dealt with the general line of march as well as questions of practical politics, including the work to be carried out by the Bolshevik Party members.
The activists of the Bolshevik Party worked tirelessly within the Soviets and more broadly among the masses to expose the incapability of the capitalist government to fulfil the demands for peace, land and bread. As the Provisional Government betrayed its promises, the revolutionary masses gravitated towards the Bolshevik Party and its revolutionary program.
The April theses provided the theoretical clarity and guidance necessary for the practical politics of the Bolshevik Party to flourish. By early September, the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies in the main industrial cities had elected Bolshevik Party activists as their deputies. The slogan “All Power to the Soviets” resounded throughout Russia. A month later the Soviets overthrew the provisional bourgeois government and captured political power. A republic of Soviets was established, which was the dictatorship of the proletariat in alliance with all other hitherto exploited and oppressed strata of society.
The analysis in the April Theses is founded on the aim and outlook of the proletariat, the class of modern wage-workers, and its vanguard, the Communist Party. The aim is the emancipation of the proletariat from capitalist exploitation and the emancipation of human society from class distinctions. The outlook of the proletariat is guided by this aim of emancipation and is always rooted in the present.
What are the contradictions and problems that exist at any given time, which must be resolved for the proletariat to advance towards its aim of socialism and communism? This is the question that the Communist Party has to address and resolve. It is what Lenin described as concrete analysis of concrete conditions and the development of revolutionary theory to guide revolutionary practice.
The April theses analyzed the conditions and provided a guide to action for the revolutionary practice of the Bolshevik Party. This resulted in the capture of political power by the proletariat and its allies.
Concrete analysis of the concrete conditions prevailing today in the 70th year of India’s independence from colonial rule leads to the conclusion that none of the burning problems affecting our society can be solved as long as the existing parliamentary Republic of the Indian Union remains intact, with capitalist monopoly houses imposing their will through rival parties which replace one another periodically.
Neither secure jobs with guaranteed rights for all members of the working class, nor secure livelihood for those who till their own plots of land can be achieved as long as the rule of capital remains intact. All other burning problems are also bound to grow from bad to worse, including imperialist domination and plunder, national oppression, caste discrimination, oppression of women, communal violence, and individual and state terrorism. The danger of India getting embroiled in inter-imperialist war and the danger of being split up to suit American and European imperialist designs is also bound to increase.
The anti-colonial struggle in the Indian subcontinent was subverted through the imposition of a communal partition and transfer of power through secret deals in August 1947. Power passed from the hands of British imperialism into the hands of the capitalists and landlords of India and Pakistan in the midst of communal bloodbath and mass forced migration of people. A communal body formed under British colonial supervision adopted the Constitution of India in 1950, as the fundamental law of a parliamentary Republic modelled after the British system.
The most urgent need and most important task facing the proletariat and other revolutionary masses of people is to put an end to the rule of the capitalist class headed by the monopoly houses.
Political power has to come into the hands of the working class and toiling peasants who are the producers of India’s wealth. Only then can the economy be reoriented towards fulfilling human needs instead of fulfilling capitalist greed. Only then can our society be liberated from the multiple layers of oppression and enslavement.
Political power cannot pass into the hands of the proletariat and its allies through the existing system of parliamentary democracy and its electoral process. Workers, peasants, women and youth need to develop their own alternative organs of power. They have to fight for a superior system of democracy in which they enjoy decision-making power and are not reduced to voting cattle.
To learn and apply the lessons of the experience of the Bolshevik Party means to nurture those innovative forms of organisation that the revolutionary masses have already given birth to in our country.
There is need to nurture and develop the workers’ unity committees that have emerged in several industrial hubs. There is need to build and strengthen worker-peasant committees in rural areas. There is need to nurture and develop the committees for political empowerment of the people, which have emerged in numerous urban and rural localities. Such organs need to be developed as the embryo of the new State that must replace the existing State.
We must patiently and persistently work to smash all illusions about the existing parliamentary Republic and about so-called “less evil” parties of the Indian capitalist class, which is on an aggressive imperialist course. We must expose the erroneous notion of defending the “secular foundation” of this State and its Constitution, which are in fact communal to the core.
The situation calls on all communists to unite in the course of carrying out the practical political work of building organs of united struggle and collective decision-making among the workers, peasants, women and youth.
Indian society needs a revolution that will eliminate capitalism and all remnants of feudalism, colonialism and imperialism. We must defend and develop Indian revolutionary theory to guide our revolutionary practice of preparing the subjective conditions for the victory of such a revolution.