Victor Serge on the Bolsheviks (1917)

Victor Serge, a former anarchist who later became a Marxist and a supporter of the Bolsheviks, described the Bolshevik movement in 1917:

“The rebel masses of Russia in 1917 rose to a clear consciousness of their necessary tasks, of their means and the objectives, through the organ of the Bolshevik party. This is not a theory, it is a statement of the facts. In this situation, we can see in superb relief the relations that exist between the party, the working class and the toiling masses in general. It is what they actually want, however confusedly – the sailors at Kronstadt, the soldiers in Kazan, the workers of Petrograd, Ivanovo-Voznesensk, Moscow and everywhere, the peasants ransacking the landlords’ mansions… It is what they all want without having the power to express their hopes firmly…

What they want, the party expresses at a conscious level and then carries out. The party reveals to them what they have been thinking. It is the bond which unites them from one end of the country to the other. The party is their consciousness, their organisation.

When the gunners of the Baltic fleet grew anxious for the perils hanging over the revolution and sought a way forward, it was the Bolshevik agitator who pointed the way. And there was no other way, that much was clear. When the soldiers in the trenches wanted to voice their determination to end the butchery, they elected to the committee of their battalion, candidates of the Bolshevik party. When the peasants became tired of the procrastinations of ‘their’ Socialist-Revolutionary party and began to ask whether it was not time to act for themselves, it was Lenin’s voice that reached them: ‘Peasant, seize the land!’ When the workers sensed counter-revolutionary intrigue all about them, it was Pravda that brought them the slogans of action that they already half-knew, the words of revolutionary necessity. In front of the Bolshevik poster the wretched folk passing by in the street stop and exclaim, ‘That’s just it!’ That is just it. This voice is their own.

That is why the progress of the masses towards revolution is reflected in one great political fact: the Bolsheviks, a small revolutionary minority in March, became the party of the majority in September and October. Any distinction between the party and the masses becomes impossible, it is all one multitude. Doubtless, scattered among the crowds, there were many other revolutionaries: Left SRs (the most numerous), anarchists and Maximalists [Mensheviks] who also aim towards the revolution. [But] it is the Bolsheviks who, through their accurate theoretical appraisal of the dynamism of events, become identified both with the labouring masses and with the necessity of history…

Since the July days, the party has passed through a period of illegality and persecution and is now barely tolerated. It forms itself into an assault column. From its members, it demands self-denial, passion and discipline; in return, it offers only the satisfaction of serving the proletariat. Yet we see its forces grow. In April it had numbered 72 organisations with a membership of 80,000. By the end of July, its forces numbered 200,000 members in 162 organisations.”