All Power to the Soviets: Aftermath and Reflections


Berlin Wall. Credits:

In 1917, the world sees not only the rebirth of the soviet institution, but the birth of the Soviet State. Last time, we finished our story by showing how the principles guiding the birth of the Soviet State proved to be problematic, and we promised we would delve not only into the solutions devised for these problems, but also into reflections on the significance of the soviet as a social institution whose power rendered possible three revolutions, with variable results, in the span of little more than a decade.

On July 10th, 1918, when the first Soviet state constitution is proclaimed, we already see a change from the ideal that has guided the Bolsheviks in their fight to take power: all power to the soviets. Let’s make no mistake and remember that they promised peace, bread and land and, in the initial movement, these three promises were kept. But faced with considerable opposition both from its national constituents (tsarist nationalists, the Orthodox Church, Cossacks, moderate social-democrats) and from foreign armed forces (England, France, Czechoslovakia, Japan and the USA all send foreign troops against the Bolsheviks), the political leadership will institute legislation to maintain its grip on power.

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All Power to the Soviets: 1917 Rebirth


B. Kustodiev’s 1920 “The Bolshevik”. Credits to UK Royal Academy of Arts.

Last time, we explored Russia’s 1905 crisis and revolution, specifically focusing on its specificity: the power of the Petrograd soviet. We ended by saying that social revolt had calmed for multiple reasons, the most important of which was the cancelling of the annual redemptive payments from the 1861 reform and the excellent harvests of 1908-1909. This time, we will delve into the heart of the Beast: Russia, 1917, and the rebirth of the institution that will define the 20th century.

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All Power to the Soviets: 1905 Birth

On January 22nd 1905, on a Sunday, the priest Georgy Gapon is leading around a dozen thousand unarmed protesters to present a petition to Tsar Nicholas II. At this point, workers are living in the difficulties we’ve previously described, but the Tsar is still seen by most as the father of Russian people. In this sense, the political consciousness of the workers is very minimally, if at all, developed: they mostly demand better wages and working conditions. There have been a few strikes before 1905, but these movements were rapidly and violently repressed, strike funds were illegal, and mutual aid funds were barely tolerated: whenever industrial entrepreneurs accepted negotiations, they received worker delegates, but as soon as negotiations were done, the delegates were fired and often even arrested.

Still they came to the Tsar, hoping that the father would hear out his flock. However, little time after arriving in the square of the Winter Palace, the soldiers opened fire and the cavalry charged them: from that point onward, the day would be known as Bloody Sunday.

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All Power to the Soviets: Context


Petrograd/Leningrad/St. Petersburg. Credits:

Previously, as we were moving on from the Matrix series, I said that the way to move forward would be to study Marx’s magnum opus, Capital. The reason I gave was that we had gotten to Marx through a few cherry-picked quotations, but that now we needed to have a systematic understanding of him.

(I also said that posts would be getting shorter, and this doesn’t seem to be the case for now.)

As time has passed, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is an insufficient reason. We should have a concrete reason to study Marx, we should have a problem to propel us through his very dense and complex system of concepts and theories. In my Beginnings post, I hint at why I like Marx and why I’ve decided to dedicate time to this blog, but it stays on the feelings level.

So let’s go to the reasons level.

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