SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 211 September 2017

Declaration of the Bolshevik fraction at the Democratic Conference

The Democratic Conference took place in Petrograd, 14-21 September 1917 – another attempt by the Provisional Government to undermine the authority of the soviets and cut across the influence of the Bolshevik party. This declaration, written by LEON TROTSKY, was put to the conference on the 18th, and published in the Bolshevik newspaper, Rabochy Put (Workers’ Path – No.15, 20 September 1917). It also appeared in the Petrograd Soviet paper, Izvestia  (News). This is the first English translation – by Pete Dickenson.

The revolution has reached a most critical moment. Either a new upturn or a catastrophic collapse will follow. The people are exhausted by the war, and hardly less tormented and worn down by the indecisiveness and hesitations in the policy of the governing political parties.

Over six months after the overthrow of tsarism, for the driving forces of the revolution the question of power is again posed sharply. This follows a series of attempts to build a revolutionary power based on a coalition of the democracy with the propertied bourgeoisie and the wretched acts of the ‘lichny regime’, which led directly to the Kornilov rebellion.(1)

Each new government combination began with a proclamation of a programme of state measures and after a few weeks showed its complete inability to take even one serious step forward. Following deal after deal with the tsenzoviks (2), the obvious perniciousness of the coalition was revealed, causing bewilderment, alarm and anxiety in the minds of all working and oppressed classes in the country. Not only urban workers, not only soldiers suffering in the trenches for three years, but also peasants in the most out of the way and backward villages understand that it is impossible to resolve the land issue by an agreement with the Lvovs and Rodziankos. (3)

Coalition paralysis

You cannot entrust the democratisation of the army to the generals of the old regime, Kornilov and Alexeev, who advocate serfdom. It is impossible to have control over industry with ministers who are industrialists; over financial reform with bankers and military pillagers or their direct proxies – the Konovalovs, Palchinskys, Tretyakovs or Burishkins. Finally, in an epoch of the greatest upheaval at the centre and in the country, it is impossible to implement a single serious measure to regulate industry, a single judicial or school reform, etc, by keeping the old bureaucratic apparatus and a regime with its anti-people spirit and obtuse bureaucratism.

Despite the best efforts of the authorities to push back and exhaust the soviets, despite the suicidal policy of the official soviet defencist leaders, the total invincibility of the soviets was revealed through the revolutionary power and initiative of the popular masses in the period of the suppression of the Kornilov rebellion. The Provisional Government forever tarnished itself before the court of the people and of history, on the one side, by its direct responsibility for the Kornilov coup, and on the other by its readiness to hand to Kornilov the gains of the revolution. After this new experience, which will never be eradicated from the consciousness of workers, soldiers and peasants, the call raised by our party from the very beginning of the revolution – of ‘all power to the soviets, at the centre and in the localities!’ – became the voice of the entire revolutionary country.

Only such a power will ensure, with minimum upheaval, the demobilisation of the entire economy. This power will be based directly on the proletariat and poor peasants, a power harnessing all the material wealth of the country and its economic possibilities, not restricting its measures to the self-interest of its own group. Mobilising all scientifically trained and technically valuable forces for socio-economic aims; enabling immediately the maximum attainable planned character to be brought into the collapsing economy; helping the peasantry and rural workers to most effectively use the facilities available for agricultural production; restricting profits, setting wages and, in relation to the regulation of production, ensuring genuine discipline of labour through workers’ self-management and centralised control over industry.

Democracy through the soviets

The counter-revolutionary party, the Kadets, is above all afraid of a transfer of power to the soviets and is constantly intimidating the less conscious elements of the democracy with the spectre of an armed uprising of the Bolsheviks. Therefore, we deem it necessary to state here once again, loudly across the country, that fighting for power in the name of our programme, our party never sought and will not seek to seize power against the organised will of the majority of the working masses in the country. The transfer of all power to the soviets would not abolish the class struggle, or the struggle of the parties in the camp of democracy.

In conditions of full and unfettered freedom of agitation and of the constant renewal of the soviets from below, the struggle for influence and power would unfold in the framework of the soviet organisations. But the continuation of the current policy of violence and repression against the working class and the revolutionary elements of the army and the peasantry, in order to hold back the further development of the revolution, must quite independently of the will of a revolutionary organisation, inevitably lead to a mighty clash not seen before in history.

In present conditions, the coalition power is inevitably the power of violence and repression of the tops over those at the bottom. When all is said and done, only those who want to start a civil war at any cost, in order to then bring down the responsibility for it onto the working masses and our party, could make use of such an experience to propose a new alliance of the democracy with the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie.

Soviet power means peace

The people yearn for peace. Coalition power means the continuation of the imperialist war. The Provisional Government has so far accommodated to the demands of the allied imperialists, the deadly enemies of the Russian revolutionary democracy. The disastrous offensive of 18 June, against which our party so persistently warned, the Kornilov methods to curb the army – carried out with the direct participation of the conciliator ministers – all this was directly or indirectly inspired by the allied imperialists. On this road the Russian revolution has already squandered a huge part of its moral authority, while not at all enhancing its material power.

It is becoming increasingly clear that, sapping the inner strength of the Russian revolution, the allied imperialists will not balk at a conclusion of peace at the expense of the Russian people. At the same time, a weak-willed further dragging out of the war, without the trust of the people in the aims of the war and in the leaders of the Provisional Government, puts a huge bargaining chip into the hands of the counter-revolution, which is trying to play its game for a separate peace with a predatory German imperialism.

The establishment of soviet power will mean, first and foremost, a direct, open, definite proposal to all the peoples for an immediate, honourable, just, democratic peace. A revolutionary army could admit the inevitability of war only if such a peace was rejected. But everything indicates that the proposal of the revolutionary power would get a powerful echo from the worn-down working masses of all the belligerent countries, that the further continuation of the war is impossible. Soviet power means peace.

Enough of vacillation

Enough of hesitations! Enough of weak-willed cowardice! You cannot with impunity wear down and torment the peasantry for six months, promising land and freedom, and then refuse, in advance of the Constituent Assembly, the immediate abolition of the private ownership of the landed estates without compensation, and the speedy transfer of control to the local peasant committees. Enough of vacillation! Enough of the ambiguous policies carried out until now by the leaders of the SRs and Mensheviks. (4) Enough of procrastination! Enough of empty words! The time for a decision has come.

The following measures, put forward by many influential revolutionary organisations, headed by the Petrograd and Moscow soviets of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies, should be agreed as the basis of the work of the revolutionary power:

1. In advance of a decision of the Constituent Assembly, abolition of the private ownership of landed estates without compensation, and their transfer to the control of the peasant committees, with guarantees for the stock of the poor peasants.

2. Introduction of workers’ control over production and distribution at state level, centralisation of banking activities, control over the banks and the nationalisation of major industries, such as oil, coal and metallurgy. Universal labour conscription, immediate measures to demobilise industry and supply industrial products to villages at fixed prices. Swingeing taxation of big capital and property, and confiscation of war profits, in order to save the country from economic ruin.

3. A declaration that secret treaties are null and void and an immediate proposal to all the peoples of belligerent countries for a universal democratic peace.

4. A guarantee of the right of self-determination for the nations inside Russia, immediate repeal of all repressive measures against Finland and Ukraine.

[At this point, the following demands drafted by Lev Kamenev and Elena Stasova were added. (5)

These measures should be decreed immediately:

1. The ending of all repressive measures against the working class and its organisations; the abolition of the death penalty at the front and the restoration of full freedom of agitation and democratic organisation in the army. The clearing out of counter-revolutionary elements from the army.

2. The election of commissars and other officers by local organisations.

3. The general arming of the workers and of the Red Guard organisations.

4. The dissolution of the State Council and the State Duma. The prompt convening of a Constituent Assembly.

5. The wiping out of all class privileges (of the nobility, etc), full equality of citizens.

6. The establishment of an eight-hour working day and the introduction of comprehensive social insurance.]

Regarding the urgent measures needed to create a healthier political atmosphere and for the exposure of the malicious legal system, we demand the immediate appointment of a credible democratic commission of inquiry into all aspects of the events 3-5 July and the holding to account of all the judicial authorities, the agents of the old regime, who are currently responsible for the investigations against the proletariat. (6) The immediate release of all arrested revolutionaries and the convening of the speediest open trial, in the case of all proceedings instituted.

Convene a soviet congress

We believe it is necessary to say that the convening of this meeting [the Democratic Conference] is based on completely arbitrary criteria for the election of representatives.

Taken together, seats are assigned to the least revolutionary, most compromising elements of the democracy, to which they have absolutely no right, based on their actual political role. Representation of army organisations is grossly inadequate, and what there is is only by the tops, unelected for six months, and who stand far from the soldier masses. The semi-reformed dumas and zemstvos, there by virtue of their special appointment, to the most imperfect degree reflect the revolutionary-political experience of the democracy and its views. (7) To an even greater extent, this applies to the cooperatives where the leading figures selected have only the most remote connection to the views of the democratic mass and to the development of its views.

Compared to the zemstvos, dumas and cooperatives, soviet representation is extremely restricted. It is precisely this organisation that most truly reflects the political will of workers, soldiers and peasants. It was precisely the soviets that held the positions, and in many places all the power, in the critical days of the Kornilov rebellion.

That is why we believe that only those decisions and proposals of the present meeting that are aimed at the total abolition of the lichny Kerensky regime can be implemented.8 An all-Russia congress of workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ deputies would welcome such proposals. The immediate convening of such a congress is now the most urgent task.


1. Lichny dvoryanin was an expression for a person with a noble family name in tsarist Russia not having the right of inheritance. Here, ‘lichny regime’ is an ironic reference to the Provisional Government. General Kornilov was commander in chief of the army until his failed coup attempt in August 1917. He had succeeded General Alexeev.

2. Tsenzoviks: those eligible to vote in tsarist Russia through owning property, here a reference to feudal landowners.

3. Prince Lvov, a member of the pro-war, Constitutional Democratic party (Kadets), was the first head of the Provisional Government after the February revolution of 1917. Mikhail Rodzianko was a leader of the pro-war, monarchist, Octobrist Party.

4. Majorities in both the peasant-based Social Revolutionary party (SRs) and right-wing socialist Mensheviks supported the war. These parties were the mainstay of the Provisional Government.

5. Lev Kamenev and Joseph Stalin had been instrumental in shifting the Bolsheviks to the right in March 1917, after they arrived in Petrograd from exile in Siberia. Kamenev also opposed the seizure of power in October. He was executed during the first of Stalin’s major show trials in 1936. Elena Stasova was on the Bolshevik Central Committee in 1917 before being brought into the apparatus of the Stalinised Communist International. She died in Russia in 1966.

6. Following the mass demonstrations of 3-5 July, the Provisional Government unleashed a wave of repression against the Bolshevik Party and other revolutionaries. Leon Trotsky and Alexandra Kollontai were among those imprisoned. Vladimir Lenin and Grigory Zinoviev were forced into hiding.

7. Dumas and zemstvos were semi-democratic organs of urban and rural local government set up under the tsarist regime.

8. Alexander Kerensky, an SR, was the head of the Provisional Government.

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