The Russian workers’ government in 1917

Submitted by Matthew on 2 May, 2012 - 4:52

On 25 October 1917, the Second Soviet Congress unanimously voted to form a coalition government of parties represented in the soviets.

The Congress created the Council of People’s Commissars (Sovnarkom) as the day-to-day government, with Lenin as chair. Apparently Trotsky proposed the name commissar, to distinguish them from bourgeois cabinet ministers.

On 29 October, the railworkers’ union issued an ultimatum to the Soviet government — form a coalition government or face a general strike across the rail network. The Bolsheviks enlarged the Central Executive Committee (CEC) of the soviets to include the parties that had walked out, on the basis of proportional representation.

The new CEC consisted of 62 Bolsheviks, 29 Left SRs, six United Social-Democratic Internationalists (Mensheviks), three Ukrainian Socialists and one SR Maksimalist (Rabinowitch 2007). However, the moderates argued for the inclusion of bourgeois representatives from the Petrograd and Moscow municipal councils and the exclusion of Lenin and Trotsky. Only the Left SRs were willing to come into the government.

This then was the workers’ revolution — a transfer of state power to a government which enjoyed the support of a majority of the working class (Smith 1983). The Bolshevik “regime” was a workers’ government because the party was working class in its goals, programme, strategy and tactics and social composition. This combination of what the party represented and consisted of, together with the ideology it espoused, made the Bolshevik party a genuine class conscious workers’ vanguard.

It was natural therefore that the Bolsheviks introduce a wide range of pro-working class measures immediately upon taking power. The new government issued no fewer than 116 different decrees up to 1 January 1918 (Smith 2002) — on land (ratifying the seizure and redistribution of land by the peasants), the eight hour day, workers’ control of production, the repudiation of foreign debt, peace, national self-determination, women’s equality, bank nationalisation and the confiscation of church property.

Russia became a workers’ state because the workers had shattered the old bourgeois state (including the army, demobilised in February 1918) and replaced it with specifically working class institutions of democracy — principally the soviets. The control by workers over their own state and over the surplus product of the economy through the soviets made it a workers’ state.

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