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The April Theses: A Blueprint for Revolution
Vladimir I. Lenin

When Vladimir I. Lenin (1870-1924) returned to Russia in April 1917 from his exile in Switzerland, aided by the German army, his Bolshevik party was a small fringe element in the political chaos of Petrograd, the capital. The Bolsheviks had scant representation and power in the Petrograd Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, the spontaneously generated assembly that had arisen during the February Revolution that had toppled the tsarist regime. The Bolsheviks had few followers among the workers and soldiers of the capital and none to speak of among the vast Russian peasantry. Official power had passed to the Provisional Government, which was originally dominated by liberals and later included moderate socialists such as its last leader Alexander Kerensky (1881-1970), a member of the peasant-oriented Social Revolutionaries. The Bolsheviks were virtually invisible. From this humble base, Lenin would build his power and eventually seize control. The ultimate success of Lenin's Bolsheviks in November 1917 can be attributed in no small part to the mistakes of the Provisional Government: continuation of the war effort by a state virtually destroyed by the war; failure to accept the peasantry's spontaneous confiscation and redistribution of great landed estates; and insistence on democratic and liberal policies in the face of implacable, revolutionary enemies. On the other hand, one cannot ignore the inspired leadership of Lenin and his top lieutenant Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) as an important factor in the Bolshevik victory. Immediately after his arrival in Petrograd (the city's name had been changed from the Germanic-sounding St. Petersburg earlier in the war), he presented his battle plan, the so-called April Theses, to the Bolshevik party leadership. The Theses were reduced to three key slogans to be broadcast to the Russian people: peace, land, and all power to the soviets (legislative assemblies that had sprung up all over Russia, just as in Petrograd). The Theses themselves, excerpted here, were much more detailed.

Questions to Consider
  • According to Lenin, what is the immediate task of the Bolshevik party? By what means is this task to be accomplished?

  • How does Lenin's blueprint fit into Marxist theory? Where does it diverge?

  • Who are the enemies the Bolsheviks must overcome, according to Lenin?

I did not arrive in Petrograd until the night of April 3, and therefore at the meeting on April 4 I could, of course, deliver the report on the tasks of the revolutionary proletariat only on my own behalf, and with reservations as to insufficient preparation.

The only thing I could do to make things easier for myself--and for honest opponents--was to prepare the theses in writing. I read them out, and gave the text to Comrade Tsereteli. I read them twice very slowly: first at a meeting of Bolsheviks and then at a meeting of both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. I publish these personal theses of mine with only the briefest explanatory notes, which were developed in far greater detail in the report. Theses

  1. In our attitude towards the war, which under the new government of Lvov and Co.1 unquestionably remains on Russia's part a predatory imperialist war owing to the capitalist nature of that government, not the slightest concession to "revolutionary defencism" is permissible.

    The class-conscious proletariat can give its consent to a revolutionary war, which would really justify revolutionary defencism, only on condition: (a) that the power pass to the proletariat and the poorest sections of the peasants aligned with the proletariat; (b) that all annexations be renounced in deed and not in word; (c) that a complete break be effected in actual fact with all capitalist interests.

    The most widespread campaign for this view must be organised in the army at the front.

  2. The specific feature of the present situation in Russia is that the country is passing from the first stage of the revolution--which, owing to the insufficient class-consciousness and organisation of the proletariat, placed power in the hands of the bourgeoisie--to its second stage, which must place power in the hands of the proletariat and the poorest sections of the peasants.

    This transition is characterised, on the one hand, by a maximum of legally recognised rights (Russia is now the freest of all the belligerent countries in the world); on the other, by the absence of violence towards the masses, and, finally, by their unreasoning trust in the government of capitalists, those worst enemies of peace and socialism.

    This peculiar situation demands of us an ability to adapt ourselves to the special conditions of Party work among unprecedentedly large masses of proletarians who have just awakened to political life.

  3. No support for the Provisional Government; the utter falsity of all its promises should be made clear, particularly of those relating to the renunciation of annexations. Exposure in place of the impermissible, illusion-breeding "demand" that this government, a government of capitalists, should cease to be an imperialist government.

  4. Recognition of the fact that in most of the Soviets of Workers' Deputies our Party is in a minority, so far a small minority, as against a bloc of all the petty-bourgeois opportunist elements, from the Popular Socialists and the Socialist-Revolutionaries who have yielded to the influence of the bourgeoisie and spread that influence among the proletariat.

    The masses must be made to see that the Soviets of Workers' Deputies are the only possible form of revolutionary government, and that therefore our task is, as long as this government yields to the influence of the bourgeoisie, to present a patient, systematic, and persistent explanation of the errors of their tactics, an explanation especially adapted to the practical needs of the masses.

    As long as we are in the minority we carry on the work of criticising and exposing errors and at the same time we preach the necessity of transferring the entire state power to the Soviets of Workers' Deputies, so that the people may overcome their mistakes by experience.

  5. Not a parliamentary republic--to return a parliamentary republic from the Soviets of Workers' Deputies would be a retrograde step--but a Republic of Soviets of Workers', Agricultural Labourers' and Peasants' Deputies throughout the country, from top to bottom.

    Abolition of the police, the army and the bureaucracy.

    The salaries of all officials, all of whom are elective and displaceable at any time, not to exceed the average wage of a competent worker.

  6. The weight of emphasis in the agrarian programme to be shifted to the Soviets of Agricultural Labourers' Deputies.

    Confiscation of all landed estates.

    Nationalisation of all lands in the country, the land to be disposed of by the local Soviets of Agricultural Labourers' and Peasants' Deputies.

  7. The immediate amalgamation of all banks in the country into a single national bank, and the institution of control over it by the Soviets of Workers' Deputies.

  8. It is not our immediate task to "introduce" socialism, but only to bring social production and the distribution of products at once under the control of the Soviets of Workers' Deputies.

1 The liberal government proclaimed after the fall of tsarism

Source: Vladimir I. Lenin, "April Theses," in Robert C. Tucker, ed., The Lenin Anthology (New York: W. W. Norton, 1975), 295-298.