Workers Vanguard No. 1117
8 September 2017
The Kornilov Coup and the Bolsheviks Fight for Power
(Quote of the Week)
In August 1917, Russian general Lavr Kornilov launched a military coup to overthrow the bourgeois Provisional Government led by Alexander Kerensky and sweep away the soviets (workers, soldiers and peasants councils). Both the soviets and the Provisional Government emerged following the February Revolution that toppled the tsarist monarchy amid the interimperialist First World War. In a letter to the Bolshevik Central Committee, V.I. Lenin underlined that in mobilizing to stop Kornilov’s forces, the Bolsheviks must not give any political support to the Provisional Government, which included leading members of the Mensheviks and petty-bourgeois Socialist-Revolutionaries. Lenin’s struggle was essential to winning the mass of the proletariat to the fight for soviet power and the victory of the October Revolution.
Even now we must not support Kerensky’s government. This is unprincipled. We may be asked: aren’t we going to fight against Kornilov? Of course we must! But this is not the same thing; there is a dividing line here, which is being stepped over by some Bolsheviks who fall into compromise and allow themselves to be carried away by the course of events.
We shall fight, we are fighting against Kornilov, just as Kerensky’s troops do, but we do not support Kerensky. On the contrary, we expose his weakness. There is the difference. It is rather a subtle difference, but it is highly essential and must not be forgotten....
It would be wrong to think that we have moved farther away from the task of the proletariat winning power. No. We have come very close to it, not directly, but from the side. At the moment we must campaign not so much directly against Kerensky, as indirectly against him, namely, by demanding a more and more active, truly revolutionary war against Kornilov.... We must relentlessly fight against phrases about the defence of the country, about a united front of revolutionary democrats, about supporting the Provisional Government, etc., etc., since they are just empty phrases. We must say: now is the time for action; you S.R. and Menshevik gentlemen have long since worn those phrases threadbare. Now is the time for action; the war against Kornilov must be conducted in a revolutionary way, by drawing the masses in, by arousing them, by inflaming them (Kerensky is afraid of the masses, afraid of the people). In the war against the Germans, action is required right now; immediate and unconditional peace must be offered on precise terms. If this is done, either a speedy peace can be attained or the war can be turned into a revolutionary war; if not, all the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries remain lackeys of imperialism.
—V.I. Lenin, “To the Central Committee of the R.S.D.L.P.” (30 August 1917)