April theses

Image: Julia Antipina


Without Lenin and the April Theses would Bolshevism have won in October 1917? Without Lula, would the left have defeated Bolsonaro in October 2022?

“History sheds light on two great “internal crises” of Bolshevism in the year of the revolution. In the first, Lenin, who had just returned from Switzerland, presents his “April Theses” and politically “rearms” his party for war against the February regime; in the second, in the penultimate stage of the revolution, the defenders and opponents of the insurrection faced each other in the Bolshevik Central Committee (…) Both in April and in October Lenin was almost alone, misunderstood and rejected by his disciples. Members of the Central Committee nearly burn the letter in which he urges them to prepare for insurrection, and Lenin resolves to "wag war" against them and, if necessary, to resort to the ranks, in disregard of party discipline. (Isaac Deutscher. Trotsky, The Banished Prophet, P. 250).

Without Lenin and the April Theses would Bolshevism have won in October 1917? Without Lula, would the left have defeated Jair Bolsonaro in October 2022? It is not possible to answer them. Counterfactuals are legitimate but hypothetical exercises that can only have the merit of suggesting a problem.

Published in the newspaper Pravda (A Verdade) on April 7, 1917, the “April Theses” were succinct and impactful, including, initially, for the Bolshevik party leadership itself. Here are its fundamental conclusions: No support for the provisional government! Bread, Peace and Earth! All Power to the Soviets! In this case, the problem is not simple: what if Lenin had not crossed Germany in the armored train to return to Russia, had not won the Bolshevik party for the April Theses, and then, for the imminence of the insurrection, would October have occurred?

The answer is not simple, and it can never be irrefutable. The dilemma of the role of the individual in history takes us back to the Brazilian situation. And if Lula had not been a candidate in 2022, would it have been possible to defeat Jair Bolsonaro with another leftist candidacy? What if Lula had not decided to remain in Brazil, and had accepted to surrender to arrest by the Federal Police on April 7, 2018?

The issue is disturbing because, in the first months after February, the Bolshevik leadership, within Russia, yielding to the pressures of its own social base, intoxicated by the fulminating victory of the February revolution, defended a line of support critical of the provisional government. There was speculation in the direction of Bolshevism even with a unification with Menshevism, since the horizon of a Democratic Republic still seemed a common programmatic limit.

Three programmatic conceptions were in dispute among Russian Marxists before 1917. The Mensheviks believed that there would be a social coincidence between the tasks of the revolution and the classes. As the tasks of the revolution were democratic, they defended the fight for a bourgeois revolution and for a liberal republic, under bourgeois leadership. They thought that Russia had to go through a stage of urbanization and industrialization before the struggle for socialist revolution was mature.

Trotsky's position was the opposite: he believed that the Russian bourgeoisie would be powerless in the face of Tsarism. He recognized the democratic tasks of the revolution, but he advocated an uninterrupted, permanent process to carry the struggle to the end for proletarian power. Lenin's position was intermediate: bourgeois revolution for a democratic dictatorship of workers and peasants. The April Theses brought Lenin closer to Trotsky's conception.

There were no few difficulties for Lenin to get the April Theses approved, a strategic turn. It was also very complex to get the insurrection preparation line approved by a majority. Therefore, Lenin's role can only be properly understood as leader of the thousands of leaders who made up the Bolshevik organization. Or, in other words, for the place it occupied in the direction of the collective political subject.

Was his authority, in fact, irreplaceable, as Trotsky suggests? Isaac Deutscher's suggestion is that Trotsky, perhaps because he only belatedly defended the union of his inter-district organization with the Bolshevik party, was inclined towards an overvaluation of Lenin's individual place in the victorious outcome of October.[I]

On the other hand, it is well known that Trotsky's belated turn towards unification with Lenin made him, until the end of his life, an enthusiastic supporter of Bolshevism as a model party. He left behind a “super-Leninist” position. It turns out that an overvaluation of Lenin's authority necessarily diminishes the idea of ​​the effectiveness of the party's role as a collective organization: a logical contradiction.

What did not prevent Trotsky, surprisingly, from writing several times in the following terms: “The dictatorship of the proletariat is deduced from the whole situation. Furthermore, it was necessary to establish it, and this would not have been possible without the party. And he could only fulfill his mission if he understood it. Lenin was needed for that. Before his arrival in Petrograd, none of the Bolshevik leaders dared to diagnose the revolution. By the course of events the Kamenev-Stalin leadership was pushed to the right, into the position of social patriots: the revolution left no room for an intermediate position between Lenin and the Mensheviks. The internecine struggle within the Bolshevik party was inevitable. Lenin's arrival only accelerated the process. His personal ascendancy reduced the proportions of the crisis. However, can anyone safely claim that without him the party would have found its way? We wouldn't dare say it. The decisive factor in these cases is time, and when the hour has passed it is very difficult to look back at the clock of history. In any case, dialectical materialism has nothing in common with fatalism. Without Lenin (…) it could very well happen that the party, disoriented and divided, would miss the revolutionary opportunity for many years. The role of the personality reaches here, before us, truly gigantic proportions.[ii]

The role of the individual in history is a particularly thorny issue for Marxists. For many reasons. Most importantly, one of the ideological monstrosities of the twentieth century was the abject personality cult of leaders. In the name of Marxism, a method of exercising power typical of Asian despots was practiced.

Trotsky's strongest argument is that the opportunity could have been lost, because the deadlines would have been irreversible and, without Lenin, the political crisis of Bolshevism, in his inexorable opinion, would have dragged on much longer and exhausted the party in a factional struggle of which could not come out intact.

Isaac Deutscher argues against Trotsky that the “exceptional” personality, elevated to great authority by his ability or by circumstances, blocks the way for others, who could take his place, to fulfill the same task, even if they imprint on events the same consequences. own brands of your style. It is the “eclipse” of others that would create the “optical illusion” of the irreplaceable personality.

Deutscher adds that even if the revolutionary crisis opened between February and October was lost, others would open up again: “In each case, the revolutionary tendency found or created its organ with the human material at its disposal. And if it seems unlikely to assume that the October Revolution would have taken place without Lenin, such a supposition is not as implausible as the reverse, that a brick falling from a roof in Zurich in early 1917 could have changed the fate of humanity in this century.[iii]

Isaac Deutscher takes the reasoning to the end, and concludes that Trotsky's hypothesis would be "astonishing in a Marxist". However, make no mistake, we are not facing a “Byzantine” discussion, but facing the place of the last link in a complex chain of causalities.

If even the Bolshevik party had a fraction hostile to the struggle for power in its highest leadership, in the midst of a revolutionary crisis, what difficulties can we expect in the future? The premise that subjective factors mutually neutralize each other, and therefore cancel each other out, is unsupported: it is precisely the different margins of error, that is, the quality of the political subject that can make the difference, and tip the balance in one direction or the other.

If the opportunities posed by the class struggle are lost, there is always the possibility of a prolonged historical stalemate whose outcomes are, a priori, undefined. George Novack added an argument: "The discrepancy observed by Deutscher between Trotsky's remarks that Lenin was essential to the October victory, and those that the objective laws of history are stronger than the peculiar characteristics of the protagonists, must be explained by the difference between the short term and the long term history (…) Time is an important factor in the conflict between the social classes faced. The indeterminate phase where events can be deflected in any direction does not last long. The crisis of social relations must be quickly resolved one way or another. (…) The individual can intervene as a decisive factor in the process of historical determination only when all other forces at play are temporarily at a standstill. So the extra weight can tip the scales.[iv]

There seems to be no escape from these questions. They offer a dramatic dimension to the importance of subjective factors. The degrees of historical uncertainty thus appear in their rawest dimension.

Isaac Deutscher's criteria are strictly deterministic. And Trotsky's, perhaps, more flexible: the objective and subjective factors are also mutually relative, and keep a subtle interaction between them. In relation to the working and peasant masses, the Bolshevik party was a subjective factor. But in relation to its members he was an objective element. In relation to the party, Lenin's presence was a subjective element, but in his relations with the other members of the leadership, his presence was an objective factor.

*Valério Arcary is a retired professor at IFSP. Author, among other books, of No one said it would be Easy (boitempo).


[I] FREIRE, Andrew. Leon Trotsky's entry into the Bolshevik Party: http://esquerdaonline.com.br/2017/07/17/100-anos-da-revolucao-russa-a-entrada-de-leon-trotsky-no-partido-bolchevique/.

[ii] TROTSKY, Leon, History of the Russian Revolution, Bogotá, Pluma, Volume I, p.300.

[iii] DEUTSCHER, Isaac, Trotsky, The Banished Prophet, Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian Civilization, 1984, p.255

[iv] NEWACK, George, To understand the history, Mexico, Fontamara, 1989, p.80.

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