Leon Trotsky



Your little shopkeeper is a sober-minded man; his chief abhorrence is “taking a risk”. Yet he has at the same time a gorgeous imagination: every little shopkeeper expects to become a Rothschild. This combination of an anaemic sobriety with an impotently riotous imagination is the very essence of the petty bourgeois policy. It would be erroneous to think, wrote Marx, that the representatives of the petty bourgeoisie are invariably grasping hagglers. Far from it, on their own mental level they are greatly superior to the wretched philistine. Yet, “they are made representatives of the ideas of the petty bourgeoisie by the fact that their thoughts do not transcend the sphere in which their lives are cast, and that, therefore, they arrive, in theory, at the same problems and the same solutions, to which the petty bourgeois arrives in practice.”

Sancho Panza is the incarnation of base cowardice. Yet romanticism is by no means foreign to his disposition: otherwise he would never have become the companion of Don Quixote. [1] The cowardice of the petty bourgeois policy is expressed in its most offensive form, in the person of Dan. Tseretelli represents the fusion of this cowardice with romanticism. Tseretelli said to Martov: “Only a fool fears nothing!" The well-intentioned philistine policy, on the other hand, is afraid of everything: they are afraid of arousing the ire of their creditors; they are afraid that the diplomats may take their “pacifism” seriously; but most of all they are afraid of power. Just as “a fool fears nothing”, so the petty bourgeois policy deems it expedient to insure itself against folly by a game of cowardice on all fronts. Yet they do not relinquish their hopes of becoming Rothschilds: having stuck two or three words in Tereschenko’s diplomatic note, they think they have brought peace nearer; they hope to instill into Prince Lvov their own most loyal mediation against the civil war. But the great petty bourgeois peace-maker concludes by disarming the workers, without in any way disarming Polovstev or Kaledin, the counter-revolution. And when this whole policy falls to pieces under the first serious blow, Tseretelli and Dan explain to all who have any desire to believe them, that the Revolution was frustrated, not by the inability of the petty bourgeoisie to take all power into its hands, but by the “insurrection” of the Machine-Gun Regiment.

In the course of many years of controversy concerning the character of the Russian Revolution, the Mensheviks have maintained that the true bearers of revolutionary power in Russia have been the petty bourgeois democrats. We have always pointed out that petty bourgeois democracy is incapable of solving this problem, and that the only power that can guide the revolution to its goal is the proletariat, drawing its strength from the masses of the people. Now History has so decreed that the Mensheviks appeared as the political representatives of petty bourgeois democracy, in order that they might in their own persons exemplify their complete inability to cope with the problems of power, that is, to assume the leading role in the Revolution.

In Rabochaya Gazetta, that organ of counterfeit, Danified, Danicizing “Marxism”, the attempt is made to fix upon us the label of “July Sixteenth Men”. [2] We have every reason to assert that in the July 16th movement, all our sympathies were absolutely with the workers and soldiers, and not with the military cadets, the Polovtsevs, Liebers, and the “snifflers”. [The “snifflers” were a secret service organization created by the military Governor of Petrograd, Col. Polovtsev, with the aid of V. Burtzev and G. Alexinsky, formerly active in the movement against Czarism, but aligned with the counter-revolutionary moderates during the Revolution itself. The purpose of the ’snifflers” was to crush the Bolsheviks. – L.C.F.]

We would deserve contempt were it otherwise. But let the bankrupts of the Rabochaya Gazetta not be too loud in invoking the 16th of July, for that was the day of their political self-destruction. The label “July Sixteenth Men”, if I may use a very mixed metaphor, may be turned against them as a two edged sword, for on July 16th the rapacious cliques of Czarist Russia accomplished a coup d’etat with the purpose of placing all the authority of state in their hands. On the 16th of July, 1917, at the moment of the most serious crisis of the Revolution, the petty bourgeois democrats vociferously declared that they were incapable of taking over the state power. Turning their backs with hatred upon the revolutionary workers and soldiers, who demanded from them the discharge of their most elementary revolutionary duty, the “Sixteenth of July Men” made an alliance with the “Sixteenth of June Men”, with the object of curbing, disarming, and jailing the Socialist workers and soldiers. The treachery of petty bourgeois democracy, its shameful capitulation to the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie, it is that which disturbed the alignment of power, and not for the first time in the history of the Revolution.

Under these circumstances the last ministry was created, which was designated “the government of Kerensky” [13] is. The irresolute, powerless, shaky regime of the petty bourgeois democracy was transformed into a personal dictatorship.

Under the name of “a dual power” there went on a struggle between irreconcilable class tendencies; the imperialist republic and the workers’ democracy. While the issues of this struggle remained unsolved, it paralyzed the Revolution and inevitably produced the symptoms of “anarchy”. Being led by politicians who are afraid of everything, the Soviet did not dare assume power. The representatives of all the propertied cliques, the Cadet Party, could not yet assume power. What was needed was a great conciliator, a mediator, an impartial referee.

Already in the middle of May, at a meeting of the Petrograd Soviet, Kerensky had been called “the mathematical point of Russian Bonapartism”. This characterization shows, at the very start, that it is not Kerensky that matters, but rather his historical function. It might be somewhat superficial to declare that Kerensky is made of the same stuff as the first Bonaparte; to say the least, it has not been proved. Yet his popularity seems to be more than an accident. Kerensky seems closer to the understanding of all the Pan-Russian philistines. A defender of political prisoners, a “social-revolutionist”, who headed the Laborites, a radical not connected with any Socialist school, Kerensky reflected most fully the first phase of the Revolution, its “national” vagueness, the engaging idealism of its hopes and its expectations. He talked about land and liberty, about order, about the peace of nations, about the defence of the fatherland, about the heroism of Liebknecht, about the fact that the Russian Revolution would astonish the world with its greatness of soul, all the while waving a red silk handkerchief. The half-awakened philistine listened to these speeches with ecstasy: to him it seemed as if he were himself up to the platform talking. The army hailed Kerensky as a deliverer from Guchkov. The peasants heard that he was a Labourite, a delegate of the muzhiks. [4] The extreme moderation of his views, beneath his confused radicalism of phrase, was enough to take in the liberals. Only the more enlightened workers kept at a distance. But their Soviets successfully dissolved into a “revolutionary democracy”.

His freedom from any doctrinal impediment permitted Kerensky to be the first of the “Socialists” to enter the bourgeois government. He was the first to apply the name of “anarchy” to the increasingly insistent social demands of the masses: already in May he had threatened the Finns with the sharpest of reprisals and uttered his high-sounding phrase about “mutinous slaves”, which came as a balm to the hearts of all the injured property-holders. In this way his popularity soon involved a veritable tangle of contradictions, thus properly reflecting the vagueness of the first stage of the Revolution and the hopelessness of the second. And when History was obliged to fill a vacancy in the office of referee, there was no more appropriate man at her disposal than Kerensky.

The historic night session in the Winter Palace [15] was only a repetition of the political humiliation which the “revolutionary" democracy had prepared for itself at the Moscow Conference. In these transactions all the trumps were in the hands of the Cadets; the Social-Revolutionary and the Menshevik democracy, which was gaining successes in all the democratic elections, without exception, and which was frightened to death by these successes, humbly begs the privileged liberals for their collaboration in the government! As the Cadets had not feared on the 16th of July to thrust power on the Soviets, and as, on the other hand, the liberals were not afraid of assuming the power altogether, it is plain that they were the masters of the situation.

If Kerensky was the last word of the impotent Soviet hegemony, it was now necessary for him to stand as the first word of the liberation from that hegemony. For the time being, we shall take Kerensky, but only under the condition that you will sever the umbilical cord connecting him with the Soviet- such was the ultimatum of the bourgeoisie.

“Unfortunately, the debate at the Winter Palace was mere talk and uninteresting talk at that” – was Dan’s complaint in his report to the Soviet.

It is difficult to appreciate the full depth of these complaints on the part of the parliamentarism of “revolutionary” democracy, who left the Tauride Palace[6] is in the evening, still at the helm, and came back empty-handed in the morning. The leaders of the Social-Revolutionists and Mensheviks respectfully laid their share of power at the feet of Kerensky. The Cadets accepted this gift graciously: in any event, they regarded Kerensky, not as a great impartial referee, but only as an intermediary agent. To take all power into their hands at once would have been too dangerous in view of the inevitable revolutionary resistance of the masses. It was much more sensible to hand over to the at present “independent” Kerensky, with the collaboration of the Avksentievs. Savinkovs, and other Social-Revolutionary moderates, the task of paving the way for a purely bourgeois government, with the aid of a system of more savage repressions.

The new coalition ministry – “the Kerensky government" – was formed. At first glance it differed in no wise from the other coalition government, which had so ignobly collapsed on July 16th. Shingariev departed, Kokoshkin arrived; Tseretelli stepped out, Avskentiev stepped in. All the losses in personnel merely emphasized the fact that both sides regarded the Cabinet simply as a stepping stone. But much more important was the radical alteration in the “significance” of the two groups. Formerly – at least “in idea” – the “Socialist” ministers had been considered representative of the Soviets controlled by the Soviets: the bourgeois ministers acted as screens between the Allies and the capitalists. Now, on the other hand, the bourgeois ministers enter, as a subordinate group, into the personnel of the frankly counter-revolutionary bloc of the propertied classes (the Cadet Party, the leaders of trade and industry, the landowners’ league, the Provisional Committee of the Duma [4?], the Cossack Circle, the General Staff, the Allied diplomacy) and the “Socialist” ministers serve simply as a screen against the masses of the people. Meeting with the silence of the Executive Committees of the Soviets, Kerensky succeeded in obtaining ovations by promising not to permit a restoration of the monarchy. So low had fallen the requirements of philistine democracy! Avskentiev called upon all for “sacrifices”, lavishly distributing half-Kantian, half-revival meeting drivel, which was his great stock-in-trade; and as is proper for an idealist in power, in this categorical imperative, he constantly dragged in the Cossacks and the military cadets. And the surprised peasant deputies cast their eyes about in wonderment, observing that before they had a chance to take away the land from the landholders, something was taking away their influence over the power of the state.

The counter-revolutionary general staffs, everywhere supplanting the army committees, were making a very general use of them at the same time for reprisals against the masses, and in this way undermining the authority of the soldier organizations and preparing their downfall. The bourgeois counter-revolution has at its disposal for this purpose its “socialist” ministers, but the latter drag with them in their dizzy fall the same Soviets of which they are now independent, but which are still dependent on the ministers, as before. Having renounced power, the democratic organizations should also have liquidated their authority. Thus all prepared for the advent of Miliukov. And behind him General Gurko is biding his time.

The Moscow Conference obtains all its importance in connection with this general tendency of the political movement in upper circles.

In the last few days the attitude of the Cadets toward the meeting was not only enthusiastic, but even full of distrust. Ill-concealed hostility to the pilgrimage to Moscow was also the attitude of Dyelo Naroda, the organ of that party which was represented in the Government by the Kerenskys, Avskentievs, Savinkovs, Chernovs, and Lebedievs. “If we must go, we’ll go,” Rabochaya Gazetta wrote, with a sigh, like the parrot whom the cat was dragging by the tail. The speeches of the Ryabushinskis, Alexeyevs, Kaledins, etc., and of the ruling “band of charlatans”, were by no means indicative of a readiness for the sacrifice of an embrace with Avskentiev. And finally the government, so the papers said, did not attach any decisive importance to the Moscow Conference. Cui prodest? [7] In whose interrest and for what, was this Conference called?

It was clear as the light of day that it was absolutely directed against the Soviets. The latter are not going to the Conference, they are being dragged thither by lassoes. The meeting is necessary to the counter-revolutionary classes as an aid in finally putting down the Soviets. Why, then, do the responsible organs of the bourgeoisie observe such an attitude of holding-off with regard to the Conference? Because it is necessary first of all to establish the “classless” position of the supreme impartial referee. Miliukov is afraid that Kerensky may depart from the Conference with his position too strongly entrenched, and that consequently Miliukov’s political vacations may be too unpleasantly prolonged. Thus each patriot is preserving the fatherland in his own manner.

As a consequence of the “historic” night in the Winter Palace was born the regime of Kerensky, of sophomoric Bonapartism, let us say. But the Moscow Conference, in its personnel and in its objects, is a reproduction of this historic night in the light of day, so to speak. Tseretelli is fated once more to explain to all Russia that the passing of power into the hands of the revolutionary democracy would be the misfortune and ruin of the Revolution. After this solemn declaration of their own bankruptcy, the representatives of revolutionary democracy will be privileged to listen to a dreadful indictment directed against them, and previously drawn up by Rodzianko, Ryabushinski, Miliukov, General Alexeyev, and the other “live wires” of the country. Our imperialist clique, to whom the government will assign the place of honour at the Moscow Conference, will come out with the slogan: “All power should he given to us!” The Soviet leaders will come face to face with the rapacious appetites of the propertied classes, which threaten them with an uprising of those same workers and soldiers whom Tseretelli disarmed with the catchword “All Power to the Soviets!” In his capacity as Chairman, Kerensky will merely be able to register the actual existence of “disagreement”, and to call the attention of the “interested parties” to the fact that they cannot get along without an impartial referee. Quod erat demonstrandum. [8]

“If I were in the Soviet Central Executive Committee”, confessed the Menshevik Bogdanov, at a meeting of the Soviet Executive Committee, “I should not have called this meeting, for the government will not reach at this meeting the ends at which it is aiming: the strengthening and broadening of its foundation.” It must really be admitted that these Realpolitikers [9] actually do not know the things that are going on with their own active cooperation. After the disintegration of the coalition of July 16th, the refusal of the Soviet to assume power precluded the possibility of the creation of a government on a broad foundation. The Kerensky Government, exercising no control, is in its very nature a government without a social foundation. It was consciously constructed between two possible foundations: the working masses and the imperialist classes. In that lies its Bonapartism. The Moscow Conference has the purpose, once the privileged and democratic parties have been thrown aside, to purpose the personal dictatorship, which, by a policy of irresponsible adventurism, will undermine all the achievements of the Revolution.

For this purpose it is necessary to have an opposition on the left as well as an opposition on the right. It is only important that they should approximately counter-balance each other and that the social conditions should maintain this equilibrium. But that is just they thing that is lacking.

The early Czarism had arisen out of a struggle between classes in the midst of a free society; but beneath all the warring factions and their Czar there was ax stable substructure of labouring workers. The new Czarism seeks the support that is necessary to its existence in the passive inertia of the peasantry; the chief instrument of Bonapartism meanwhile being a well-disciplined army. But in our country not one of these conditions has yet been realized. Our society is permeated with open antagonisms, which have been carried to a point of highest intensity. The struggle between the workers and the capitalists, the peasants and the landholders, the soldiers and the general staff, the suppressed nationalities and the central state power, do not give the latter any elements of stability, unless the government will firmly resolve to link its fortunes with one of the struggling forces. Up to the completion of the agrarian revolution, the attempts at a “classless” dictatorship must of necessity remain of ephemeral nature.

Miliukov, Rodzianko, Ryabushinski want power to be finally lodged with them, that is, to be transformed into a counter-revolutionary dictatorship of the exploiters over the revolutionary workers, peasants and soldiers. Kerensky wants to frighten democracy by means of a counter-revolution, and to frighten the counter-revolution by means of democracy, and then to assure the dictatorship of personal power, out of which the masses will get nothing. But he is reckoning without his host. The revolutionary masses have not yet spoken their last word.

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1. Sancho Panza and Don Quixote: Squire and Knight, protagonists of Cervantes’ classic Spanish satire on medieval romanticism. (1605-1615)

2. On June 16, 1907, the 2nd Duma was dispersed by the Czar. After this, the Right Wingers (Cadets, Octobrists, etc.) were called “Gentlemen of June 16th”.

By a coincidence, on June 16th, 1917, the members of the 4th Duma met in conference to explore the possibility of a new offensive and resolved to demand one of the Provisional Government. (See Instead of a Preface, Note 1). Lenin called this “A Conference of Wild Bulls”. (See article of June 22nd, 1917.) On July 16th, 1917, workers and soldiers demonstrated with the slogans “All Power to the Soviets!” etc., (See Calendar of Events), and on the same day the Right Wingers took a decision to disarm the workers and revolutionary soldiers, a decision which was carried out.

3. On July 15th, 1917, the Cadets resigned from the Provisional Government on the Ukrainian issue. Kerensky reshuffled his cabinet and on the 4th of August became Premier. Tseretelli, Minister of the Interior, was the author of the infamous Police Ordinance, under which orders were issued for the arrest of Lenin, Trotsky and others, and it was he who named the new Coalition a “Government of Salvation”! It was proclaimed as such on July 22nd. However, they new Coalition lasted just two weeks.

4. Muzhik: Russian for peasant.

5. The Headquarters of the Provisional Government shifted from the Marinsky Palace to the Winter Palace on 31st July, and it was here that “the historic night session” took place. It was historic only for the reason that the new coalition government lasted only two weeks!

6. Tauride Palace: Built by Potemkin in the time of Catherine, situated between the barracks and the working class district, it housed the Duma in the Right Wing. When the Soviets were formed they met in the Left Wing. In July 1917 the Soviets moved to the Smolny, a school for the daughters of the nobility.

7. Cui prodest?: (Latin) Who gains?

8. Quod Erat Demonstrandum (Q.E.D.): (Latin) Which was to be demonstrated.

9. Realpolitiker: (German) One who works for the glory and interest of the nation above other considerations.

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Last updated on: 9.12.2006