USM Open Source History Text: The World at War: World History 1914-1945

April 1917: Lenin Arrives in Russia

As the Provisional Government and the soviets attempted to gain their footing and press their agendas, an exiled leader of a heretofore fringe party returned to Russia from Switzerland: the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Ilych Lenin. On April 3, 1917, Lenin arrived on the scene of his long-hoped-for revolution. The next day he read aloud a set of principles, which defined his stance (and that of his party) on the most pressing issues of the day. On the 7th of April, these principles were published in the Bolshevik newspaper Pravda and have since come to be famous as Lenin’s "April Theses."

Lenin’s "April Theses" marked a new wave in the Russian Revolution. While most of the parties, even those represented in the workers’ councils (soviets), sought to participate in the Provisional Government, Lenin rejected it completely. The Provisional Government, he maintained, was a tool for capitalists and other elites to harness the people’s revolutionary sentiment in order to advance their narrow interests. Lenin declared that workers should give, “No support for the Provisional Government.” He continued, “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.” In other words, Lenin called on the workers to renounce the war.

If Lenin advocated that no support should be given to the Provisional Government, then where should the workers direct their loyalties? For Lenin, only one option existed, the soviets. Only the soviets represented the workers. The Provisional Government, according to Lenin, represented the capitalist class. That is why, Lenin argued, the Provisional Government sought to keep fighting the war on the same terms as the tsar and the imperial government had fought it. For Lenin, the only justifiable war was a defensive one. The Bolsheviks, he made clear, had no designs on conquering territory and were ready to make peace. Lenin went even further and stated, “The most widespread campaign for this view must be organized in the army at the front.” In other words, not only did Lenin call for an end to any imperialistic war, he was also advocating general mutiny, or what amounted to an overthrown of the military elite by lower ranking officers and soldiers. Lenin staked out this position very clearly in April, power to the soviets, the end of the war, and he never changed it. He was against the Provisional Government and wanted all power to be shifted to the soviets. He was against the war and advocated for suing for peace with Germany as soon as possible.

In April 1917, however, Lenin didn’t have the power to move forward with his agenda. The liberal Kadet Party dominated the Provisional Government, while the two largest parties in the soviets were the Social Revolutionaries (SRs), who represented the peasants, and the Mensheviks, a more moderate faction of Marxist socialists. Lenin’s Bolsheviks were a distinct minority within a minority. The Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, in general, looked toward compromise. Only Lenin and the Bolsheviks prepared the way for the next stage in the revolution.

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