ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Revolutionary Democracy in 1917 and the Bolsheviks

It was the highly proletarianised Bolshevik party that was central to revolutionary democracy coming into being in 1917, but the bulk of the non-Bolshevik left chose to go along with liberalism. Hostile to any notion of revolutionary democracy in opposition to bourgeois institutions, the major non-Bolshevik left parties felt more at ease with the liberals than with the “dark” proletarian masses, who appeared uneducated or semi-educated, and who seemed to be moved by illusions rather than the left intelligentsia’s doctrinaire understanding of Marxism. What mainly killed the fledgling revolutionary democracy was the reluctance of the other socialist parties to form a government with the Bolsheviks on the basis of an acceptance of the Congress of Soviets as the foundation of that proposed government’s power. The Left Socialist Revolutionaries pulling out of the Soviet government and the coming of the Civil War did the rest.

One of the tragic figures of the Revolution of 1917 was Yuliy Osipovich Tsederbaum, better known as Martov. A left-wing Menshevik who opposed the war, the central leader of the Menshevik-Internationalists faction, Martov was in exile in Switzerland, like V I Lenin, when the February Revolution occurred. Like Lenin, but after hesitations, he took the German offer and returned to Russia via Germany in May. Like Lenin again, Martov found himself in opposition to the position taken by his comrades in Russia. Martov believed that while the Russian Revolution was a bourgeois revolution, the tasks of the revolution could becarried out only by the working class, so he was opposed to a coalition with the bourgeois liberals. Unlike the position of the Mensheviks in the 1905 Revolution, when they had mostly seen the peasants as a reactionary class, Martov was astute enough to see that no meaningful democracy could exist in Russia if the peasants were excluded. Thus, between May and October, he advocated a strategy of what he called Dictatorship of Democracy.

But this was to not step beyond bourgeois democracy. And so, Martov would walk out of the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets. And as he pointed out in his letter to his comrade Pavel Axelrod, one of the founders of Russian Marxism, his refusal to have Mensheviks in the Soviet Executive was despite the desire of Menshevik workers to take part in it. Martov denied that soviet power could be the basis of revolutionary democracy, and would insist that the only solution was a popularly elected Constituent Assembly. He was also to oppose the banning of the Constitutional Democratic (or Kadet) Party, the main bourgeois party, which had supported counter-revolution. By early 1918 he was also opposing workers’ control (Burbank 1986: 16–29).

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Updated On : 3rd Nov, 2017

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