Workers Vanguard No. 861
6 January 2006
On Lenin's Address to Petrograd Soviet
1 December 2005
To the Editor,
The Quote of the Week in WV No. 858 (11 November 2005) reproduced Lenins speech to the Petrograd Soviet on 25 October 1917. The text was taken from the authoritative English source, Lenins Collected Works, volume 26. But although it is rendered as spoken in the first person, it is not a transcript of Lenins speech, but rather a newspaper reporters rendition, published in the 27 October 1917 issue of Izvestia. It has been broadly cited in scholarly works without reservation. It appeared in volume 15 of the first edition of Lenins Collected Works only after his death in 1924. The editor, Lev Kamenev, specifically cautioned readers in his 19 July 1922 introductory notes that Lenins speeches from newspaper accounts are only more or less exact, only a mere skeleton of what was said, and that Lenin himself has several times in print renounced responsibility for his speeches as published in newspapers. I would add, the archival original is marked as unverified.
Unfortunately, there are no stenographic records for the October 25 session of the Petrograd Soviet. And, as Trotsky noted in his History of the Russian Revolution about the events of that day in the Smolny Institute:
No minutes were kept—or they have not been preserved. Nobody was bothering about future historians, although a lot of trouble was being prepared for them right there
There remain only the hasty and tendential newspaper reports
. Lenins speeches have suffered especially (emphasis added).
But note that Trotsky wrote of multiple newspaper reports.
Now, thanks to the publication of a Russian-language documentary collection, The Petrograd Soviet of Workers and Soldiers Deputies in 1917, Documents and Materials, Vol. 4 (ROSSPEN: Moscow 2003), we have several other newspaper accounts to compare against Izvestias. And it immediately becomes clear why over the years the anti-Trotskyist editors of Lenins writings provided only one variant: Izvestias was the least offensive to Stalins nationalist-reformist theory of socialism in one country. In that account, Lenin said:
From now on, a new phase in the history of Russia begins, and this, the third Russian revolution, should in the end lead to the victory of socialism....
We possess the strength of mass organisation, which will overcome everything and lead the proletariat to the world revolution.
We must now set about building a proletarian socialist state in Russia.
A socialist state in Russia, the victory of socialism arising from a Russian mass organization, which will overcome everything? These formulations are striking in that they are at odds with what Lenin had always taught: that socialism is the lower stage of communism, a classless society with no need of a state, a society of abundance possible only on the basis of an international planned economy. That is why the October Revolution was seen as but a spark to ignite a Europe-wide socialist revolution.
And sure enough, other press reports of his speech, such as the following from Rech (26 October 1917), said just the opposite of the Izvestia account:
Only socialism can save Russia from the horrors and consequences of war. It is possible, declared Lenin, that this task is beyond the capacities of the Russian proletariat alone, which is significantly more backward than the Western European proletariat, but the war has imposed this task on the Russian proletariat, and it must be taken on. The new workers and peasants government, which is already being formed, Lenin underscored, will not resolve all the tasks that are placed before the Petrograd proletariat without a struggle against our own, and against international, capitalism
. The Russian started the revolution, and the German will carry it through to the end, declared Lenin.
And far from Lenin declaring a new phase in the history of Russia alone that should lead to socialism, the account in Novaya Zhizn (26 October 1917) reported Lenin saying:
[a] new phase has opened up not just in Russia, but throughout the entire world. And this phase will inevitably lead to the victory of socialism. Without this, it is not possible to resolve all the problems that are posed before us by life and war
The task of the day is the construction of a proletarian state, and in this labor, we believe that the full support of the peasantry behind us is guaranteed. And with this confidence, we can shout, Long Live the Worldwide Socialist Revolution!
Thus, there are grounds for us to reaffirm that Lenins historic declaration of the Petrograd proletariats victorious insurrection was sharply counterposed to the Stalinist lie of socialism in one country and fully in accordance with Trotskys theory of permanent revolution.