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Analysis of April Theses by Lenin

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April Theses, Russian Aprelskiye Tezisy, in Russian history, program developed by Lenin during the Russian Revolution of 1917, calling for Soviet control of state power; the theses, published in April 1917, contributed to the July Days uprising and also to the Bolshevik coup d’etat in October 1917. During the February Revolution two disparate bodies had replaced the imperial government—the Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. The Socialists who dominated the Soviet interpreted the February Revolution as a bourgeois revolution and considered it appropriate for the bourgeoisie to hold power. They therefore submitted to the rule of the Provisional Government, formed by liberals from the Duma. The Soviet agreed to cooperate with the government and to advise it in the interests of workers and soldiers.

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In 1917, things were changing for Russia. The Tsar was overthrown, new governments were set up and Russia was firmly set on the path towards. . . something. The truth was, a lot of people didn't know what the future held for Russia, and those with strong opinions about this disagreed with each other. Of the many voices to propose a path for Russia, the strongest ended up being that of Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924). Lenin helped define the objectives of 1917 and the future of the nation, and his first step to doing so was publishing his ideas in a brief collection of notes. The April Theses was a document of ten points presented to the April Conference of Bolsheviks by Lenin in 1917

Let's get into the background a bit first, though. A lot had happened in Russia since the early 20th century. The Tsar's regime was becoming increasingly oppressive, the Russian people were stricken by poverty and there were revolutionary voices emerging in the nation that belonged to the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP). Several of the party's leaders fled the nation from 1905-1907 as the Tsar cracked down on dissidents. Lenin was among those forced into exile. He represented a distinct faction of the RSDLP known as the Bolsheviks, who had some very distinct ideas about the future of Russia. Then World War I broke out. Russia was drawn into the war, which exacerbated the problems in Russia. The Russian people went from having little to having nothing, the economy was ruined and the once-great Russian Empire had lost the world's respect. In February of 1917, women textile workers went on strike in Petrograd (St. Petersburg). From this humble beginning, the February Revolution was born, which toppled the monarchy and overthrew the Tsar. A provisional government was set up, filled with many elite and even noble members of Russian society. This was the Russia that Lenin reentered in April of 1917, finally returning from exile after ten years abroad. The nation was divided between the provisional government and soviets (councils), which organized workers around the nation. Russia was divided and Lenin recognized that the Bolsheviks needed to present a clear message and plan for Russia's future. On April 4th, only a day after arriving in Petrograd, Lenin presented his set of policies and ideas to the April Conference of the Bolsheviks. This document was the April Theses. The April Theses focused the goals of the Bolsheviks on maintaining the movement of the February Revolution along the Marxist vision of a true proletariat revolution that would spell the end of capitalism and elevate the working class around the world. There are ten points to the April Theses.

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Mikhail Kalinin, another stalwart of old Bolshevism who had joined the RSDLP in 1898, propounded: “I belong to the old Bolshevik Leninists, and I consider that the old Leninism has not by any means proved good-for-nothing in the present peculiar moment, and I am astonished at the declaration of Comrade Lenin that the old Bolsheviks have become an obstacle at the present moment”. The Bolshevik trade union leader Mikhail Tomsky, another political heavyweight, was also not prepared to shift from the view which he believed, with some justification, that Lenin himself had held since 1905: “The democratic dictatorship is our foundation stone. We ought to organise the power of the proletariat and the peasants, and we ought to distinguish this from the Commune, since that means the power of the proletariat alone”. Lenin, however, remained unmoved by these bonds to the past. Even before his arrival back in Russia in April 1917 he took it as self-evident that the European revolution against imperialism was on the immediate agenda (Cliff, Tony, 1976, )

The objective economic base was ripe for socialism and three years of bloodletting had made millions conscious of the need to overthrow the entire system that had wrought so much death and ruination. Central to the April Theses was the contention that the first socialist revolution would have immense repercussions throughout Europe. Indeed, Lenin based his whole political strategy on the expectation that revolution in Russia would act as the detonator of a general European explosion. Against the background of this analysis he forcefully asserted that: “One must know how to adapt schemes to facts rather than repeat words regarding a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ in general, words which have become meaningless… No, that formula is antiquated. It is worthless. It is dead. And all attempts to revive it will be in vain”. For example, cartels and trusts had concentrated and socialised production. Railways, postal and telegraph communications had contributed to establishing the infrastructure necessary to accomplish the task of socialising the basic structure of the economy. In addition large banks had rationalised and concentrated the productive base of society and provided the means for an accurate universal form of book-keeping and accountancy. Against the background of these developments it is hard to disagree with Harding’s assessment that: “within this society, Lenin argued, the material conditions had long previously matured not only for the overthrow of capitalism as an economic structure but, in certain senses, for the transcendence of the state which socialism entailed”. Alexei Rykov, a longstanding and respected Bolshevik underground organiser, profoundly disagreed with Lenin and maintained that the actual socialist transformation still had to come from Europe or the United States. Lenin’s rejoinder clearly shows his new thinking: “Comrade Rykov says that socialism has to come from other countries with more developed industry. But that’s not right. No one can say who will begin and who will end. That’s not Marxism but a parody of Marxism”. Rykov also asserted what was patently the prevailing view of the Bolsheviks, that: “gigantic revolutionary tasks stand before us, but the fulfilment of these tasks does not carry us beyond the framework of the bourgeois regime” (Harding, Neil, 1978).

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For the most part, in view of the undoubted honesty of those broad sections of the mass believers in revolutionary defencism who accept the war only as a necessity, and not as a means of conquest, in view of the fact that they are being deceived by the bourgeoisie, it is necessary with particular thoroughness, persistence and patience to explain their error to them, to explain the inseparable connection existing between capital and the imperialist war, and to prove that without overthrowing capital it is impossible to end the war by a truly democratic peace, a peace not imposed by violence.

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Cliff, Tony, 1976, Lenin, volume 2, All Power to the Soviets (Pluto Press).

Corr, Kevin, and Gareth Jenkins, 2014, “The Case of the Disappearing Lenin”, International Socialism 144 (autumn), http://isj.org.uk/the-case-of-the-disappearing-lenin

Engels, Friedrich, 1884, “Letter to August Bebel in Berlin” (December), www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1884/letters/84_12_11.htm

Harding, Neil, 1978, Lenin’s Political Thought: Theory and Practice in the Democratic and Socialist Revolutions, volume 2 (St Martin’s Press).

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