When it comes to the Russian Revolution and the events which followed, there is a lot of speculation, misunderstandings, and outright lies (particularly in the West) regarding the actions taken by the Bolsheviks. This is a very interesting document to study (23.1 Bolshevik Seizure of Power) because it initially stands in contrast to some of the freedoms we as American enjoy. However, it’s imperative to recognize the hostility of the situation and the dire need for consolidation of power in such a time in which the Bolsheviks came to power in post-revolutionary Russia.
After the establishment of the Provisional government after the February Revolution, the communists had not gained control yet. This is an important aspect because one must take a critical look at Karensky’s government, and one can assess that it by no means was going to be able to bring about a true worker’s state. Karensky and the February Revolution in general, represented a liberal revolution that ultimately, served the bourgeois rather than proletarian and peasantry. The Bolsheviks, under Lenin, saw the Provisional Government as deterring true progress, and thus acted to oust bourgeois liberalism and in its place establish a true Marxist-Leninist state.
Probably the biggest failure of the Provisional Government (whose power was increasingly becoming limited by the Petrograd Soviet) was its inability to bring an end to Russia’s involvement in WWI. The Bolsheviks sent a strong message of peace and an end to the imperialist war. Karensky actually wanted to increase Russian involvement in the war and tried to claim a Russian victory. If Karensky had only paid more attention to history, he would’ve not taken such a stand; for if he remembered not to long before his succession to power, the Tsar’s unwillingness to bring troops out of WWI greatly lead to his abdication of the throne. Hence, the Bolsheviks were able to capitalize with the sympathy and collective willingness of the soldiers.
After the Bolshevik coup, it became necessary for certain actions to be taken in regard to preserving the October Revolution and the workers government. It was in this crucial time that the new Soviet government was forced to deal with internal and external threats which sought to bring about its demise. The White army and Tsarist sympathizers were springing up around the country, and the threat of a foreign invasion by neighboring capitalists kept the Bolshevik government in fear of losing all they had fought for.
Another key historical aspect is the condition Russia was in when the Bolsheviks seized power. Russia was by no means a highly industrialized country at which capitalism hadn’t even fully been introduced (Russia prior to 1917 was in a more feudal state than capitalism). The proletariat was present, but did not make up the majority, for most of the people were backwards peasants. According to dialectical materialism, the proletariat would revolt when capitalism lead to such exploitative behaviors by the capitalist ruling class, that any other option became futile. This was not the case in Russia; Lenin added and indoctrinated a new branch of Marxism with his own personal touch. He regarded imperialism as the highest form of oppressive capitalism, in which the third-world proletarian would set the precedent for revolutionary action. What this all means is, since capitalist exploitation of the proletariat did not reach the majority of the masses, there became an instant battle of ideology. It was essential for the Bolsheviks to thwart any counter-revolution.
The document is really outlaying the Bolshevik agenda immediately after seizing control and assuming power over Russia. The first part (Lenin’s speech on the Overthrow of the Provisional Government) establishes a workers’ and peasants’ government with complete exclusion of the bourgeois class. Upon Bolshevik seizure, the legitimacy of bourgeois rule is no more, and democratic centralism would replace bourgeois liberal democracy. Here, Lenin also calls for an end to the war which has ravaged the Russian countryside and feeble economy. Lenin calls for immediate peace with the international proletariat and Russia withdraws from the war.
Not only is this speech significant in the proclaiming of the workers’ state, but also the merging of the proletariat and peasant. In his speech, Lenin expounds upon the new found willingness of the peasantry to work with the urban proletariat; something Karensky and the Provisional Government deemed impossible for the peasantry was too reactionary. But, now things were different and the farmers and workers united in what became the very first socialist state.
The article from Izvestia is a clear example of the inherent necessity for state censorship of counter-revolutionary propaganda. Izvestia was serving the greater interests of the Provisional Government and bourgeois liberalism. Lenin goes on to say in his speech on “Censorship of the Press” that bourgeois liberalism only looks to preserve the status quo and the rights of the wealthy and property owning class. “Every one knows the bourgeois press is one of the most powerful weapons of the bourgeoisie,” Lenin exclaims, in helping to justify the need for censorship of the press. As stated earlier, there became a bitter battle for ideology due to the lack of class consciousness amongst a large number of the masses, so for Bolshevik (and ultimately worker) control the bourgeois press had to be liquidated.
Lenin created three general provisions for the censorship of the press. These were three very basic rules that were meant to protect and preserve the revolution, not limit or hinder the freedoms of the press. The first one says that only publications decreeing a resistance to the worker’s government, the known misuse and distortion of the facts in a slanderous manner, and openly calling for criminal behavior of any kind will be subject to government censorship. The second one simply states that all publications shall be subject to scrutiny from the Council of People’s Commissars. And the third one is a disclaimer that states these provisions of censorship are only necessary for a limited time and will be repealed once a sense of normalcy returns to Soviet life.
The next step taken by the Bolsheviks was to suppress counter-revolutionary activity within Russia. The only way to truly battle this was the creation of a secret police. This was perhaps one of the Bolsheviks’ more controversial moves that most critics in the west fail to fail to comprehend. The duties of the secret police were clearly established and even called for due process in which suspects will be presented before a Revolutionary Tribunal. The duties of the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for the Struggle with Counter-Revolution and Sabotage were to investigate and bring to an immediate stop any acts of sabotage or counter-revolutionary activity; bring any and all suspects before the Revolutionary Tribunal and create initiatives to deter and sentences to punish such actions; and finally to divide the NKVD (Russian acronym for aforementioned secret police) into three branches each responsible for their respective section: the information section, the organization section; and the fighting section. Lenin also goes on to say who is subject to the NKVD, and that its primary targets are the press, the right opposition and supporters (Bukharin and Rykov), and those whom wish to bring about the demise of the Soviet government. Finally, it concluded with the proposed powers of the NKVD which included (but not limited to) “confiscation, imprisonment, confiscation of cards, publications of the names of the enemies of the people, etc.”
These initiatives, while perhaps harsh and extreme at first glance, are essential in the protection and preservation of something as radical and progressive as the workers’ government. As a Marxist-Leninist myself, I agree that the following initiatives were a necessity for the Soviet government and full-heartedly support them. The tension that existed both internally and externally created a hostile environment for the first Socialist state, and it is naÃ?Â¯ve to believe that its existence would have been prolonged without certain measures taken to deter and combat counter-revolutionary activity.
As far as the Bolshevik seizure of power, it is my personal opinion that they represented the best interest for the working class and the ultimate destruction of capitalism. The Provisional Government represented a much more liberal system that presented itself not as a solution to capitalism, but rather a means of making it more humane. This is not enough when dealing with the economic depravity of the Russian people. The provisional government wanted to make the poor rich through reform and government assistance; while the Bolsheviks wanted to make the rich poor through wealth redistribution. I prefer the latter in its utter destruction of the capitalist system and redistribution of the wealth and land.
The justification for these measures lie in the hands of those whom have dedicated their lives to working towards proletarian revolution and not only yearn for the liberation of the working class, but bringing an abrupt end to imperialism and the bourgeois ruling class. The censorship of the press is simply one measure that has to be taken to prevent capitalist and bourgeois propaganda from reaching the masses. It was dire for the Bolsheviks to not only assume power, but also to win the admiration and respect of the working class. This cannot be done with bourgeois slander and whatnot. There is a very good quote by Josef Stalin that wraps up my feelings towards what liberties should be bestowed upon the bourgeois press, “Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas.”
With the exception of most social libertarians, most will agree that their essentially has to be some precautions made to protect whatever it is they deem valuable. To me, we see censorship on a much higher scale that seems to be more preoccupied with obscenity and such, but it also is prevalent in political speech. While we do not see the presence of a secret police, per se, we see the disavowing of civil liberties on a regular basis. The regard for such institutions such as a secret police and censorship of the press, are subjective to each person’s interpretation of what is necessary to protect what they value most, and what it is at hand that is actually being protected. Many American capitalists and bourgeois are more than willing to allow censorship and detainment of those whom they disagree with. I bet it wouldn’t be all that difficult to find Americans who would agree that their should be a secret police in America to weed out subversives-yet will openly criticize the Soviet Union and its actions. To me, any and every action that could be taken to preserve a Socialist state is justifiable within humane grounds (genocide would not be justifiable). This includes the exclusion of the Bourgeois and reactionaries from democratic institutions as well as seizure of their property.
When combating reaction and counter-revolution, there will always be an inherent need for action taken against such forces. It is necessary to preserve the workers’ state and Lenin saw this, and so have many of the followers of the Marxist-Leninist ideology. The basis in which Marxism-Leninism has established such needs is the same which represents the grounds in which they fight for: liberation of the working class. However, liberation of the working class comes at a price of the bourgeois ruling class. Is it truly unfair to expect the Bourgeois to be held accountable for their actions and exploitation? Is it unfair to take away their political rights and never again allow them to take power back and perpetrate a return to the status quo? Perhaps, when dealing in fairness, one must consider how the bourgeois operates, how it obtains its capital, and how it views the working class with nothing but contempt. Like Fidel Castro said, “the revolution is a dictatorship of the exploited against the exploiters.” And with this in mind, I have no moral objections to the actions taken by the Bolsheviks in their attempts at preserving the revolutionary government. The workers’ government truly was a precious gem surrounded by the harsh realities of the imperialist world; such beauty representative of such radical progress is worth the protection and preservation, and to do otherwise would truly have been inhumane.