Destruction of the Left

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Subject essay: Lewis Siegelbaum

When the Bolsheviks, having gained control of the Petrograd Soviet’s Military Revolutionary Committee, overthrew the Provisional Government, they did so in the name of soviet power. But quite a few of the 650-some-odd delegates to the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets that had convened in Petrograd opposed the seizure of power. They included Mensheviks, Right Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs), and the Jewish Bund who, in protest, walked out of the opening session of the Soviet Congress on October 25. The Left Socialist Revolutionaries remained in the Congress and some 29 were elected to the new Central Executive Committee (of a total of 101 members). However, the party decided not to participate in the Council of People’s Commissars and thus at its creation the new government consisted exclusively of Bolsheviks.

Almost immediately, efforts were undertaken by the Menshevik-Internationalists, Left SRs, and several members of the Bolsheviks’ Central Committee to reconstitute the new Soviet government as a broad coalition of Socialist Unity. This was explicitly rejected by the majority of the Bolsheviks’ Central Committee including Lenin. As a result, five members — Zinoviev, Kamenev, Rykov, Nogin, and Miliutin — resigned, claiming that they did not want “to bear responsibility for this fatal policy … which is carried out against the will of a large part of the proletariat and soldiers.” At the same time, five People’s Commissars, including Rykov, Nogin, and Miliutin resigned from their posts in protest. Lenin excoriated his erstwhile comrades as “deserters,” but soon agreed to accommodate the Left SRs. On December 12, three Left SRs took up positions in the Soviet government as People’s Commissars of Agriculture, Justice, and Post and Telegraph, only to resign as a protest against the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918. Left SRs continued to serve in the Cheka and other Soviet institutions until July when they organized the assassination of the German ambassador, Count Mirbach, and an abortive uprising against the Bolsheviks.

The Mensheviks and Right SRs splintered over the appropriate form of opposition to Bolshevik rule. Some joined forces with already-banned parties further to the right, such as the Kadets, in attempting to revive the Constituent Assembly after its dissolution in January 1918. Others continued working within the soviets, in fact achieving a number of victories in provincial elections during the spring, only to have the results annulled by higher soviet bodies. Attempts by members of these parties to organize strikes among workers usually were met with repression by the Cheka which also shut down the parties’ newspapers. The Cheka also dealt harshly with various anarchist groups in the capital. On June 14, 1918 the All-Russian Soviet Executive Committee resolved to expel all Right SRs and Mensheviks and to instruct local soviets to do likewise. Nevertheless, both parties continued to participate in the soviets, had a tenacious following in the trade unions, and sent delegates to all-Russian soviet congresses as late as 1920. Their end came in early 1921 when, without any formal decree, the Soviet government rounded up their leading figures and imprisoned or exiled them. Henceforward, the parties led a ghostly existence as convenient excuses for workers’ unrest and wavering within the ranks of the Bolsheviks themselves.

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