‘All power to the soviets’ — The Bolshevik's May 1917 declaration

Factory workers meet in St Petersburg in 1917.
April 24, 2017

One hundred years ago, on May 7, 1917, the following declaration appeared on the front page of the Bolshevik newspaper Pravda under the title, “Draft of a mandate for use in electing delegates to the Soviet of Worker and Soldier Deputies”. 

This “mandate” marked the first appearance of the slogan “All power to the Soviets” in an official party statement.

The Soviets emerged out of the February Revolution that year, which succeeded in overthrowing the Tsar. The Soviets were based on elected delegates of workers, soldiers and peasants.

The October 1917 Revolution occurred when the Petrograd Soviet, at the behest of the Bolsheviks, voted to back an issurrection to place all power into Soviet hands, overthrowing the competing Provisional Government.

The statement was translated by Lars Lih as an appendix to his contribution, “'All Power to the Soviets!’ Part 1: Biography of a Slogan”.

Lih explains that purpose of the “mandate” was to help the Soviet constituency distinguish genuine revolutionary candidates from those revolutionaries in name only who advocated participation in the Provisional Government and support for its war effort against German aggression.

According to the Lih: “The mandate is a concrete application of the long-standing Bolshevik consensus: a vlast [power] based on the workers and peasants committed to carrying the revolution to the end by enacting a broad ‘democratic’ transformation of Russian society.”

Both Lih’s article and this translation were first published at John Riddell's Marxist Essays and Commentary website and Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.

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As we elect our representatives to the Soviet of Worker and Soldier Deputies, we give them the job of defending the following views:

1. The war

The present war was begun by tsars, crowned kings and uncrowned robber-capitalists; it is a predatory war, bringing only death and destruction to all the peoples of the world, but millions in profits to a handful of capitalists.

The secret treaties that Nicholas the Bloody signed with the English and French capitalists have to this day not been published. Yet blood is flowing because of these dark and foul treaties up to the present moment.

Unless the vlast goes into the hands of the workers, soldiers and the poorest peasantry — those who genuinely do not want to be predators — we will continue to spill our blood only to serve the interests of a handful of capitalists and landowners.

Ending the present predatory war with a just peace is only possible against the will of the present governments, only by tossing out the capitalists and landowners in all countries.

Socialists of all countries must follow the example of Karl Liebknecht, who is sentenced to hard labour because he fought the good fight against “his” [Friedrich] Wilhelm [the German Emperor] and “his” capitalists.

2. The land

All land — not just tsarist, state and monastery lands, but also those belonging to the landowners — must be transferred without compensation to the peasants.

The peasants must take these lands immediately and sow crops right away. We must not wait for the Constituent Assembly, which has not yet even been summoned.

Any delay will put the whole enterprise under threat. To wait would be disastrous!

The plan of the landowners is to stretch things out and, if that succeeds, disrupt the whole transfer of the land to the peasant.

The land, along with live and dead stock of landowner estates, must be taken over in organised fashion, under the kontrol [supervision] of the Soviets of Peasant Deputies and the Deputies from Agricultural Workers.

No disorders should be permitted. Revolutionary discipline is necessary. Soldiers from the front should send their delegates to the Soviets and Committees, which will have the kontrol over the seizure of the land.

3. Labour

The 8-hour day must be introduced for all men and women workers in the towns and villages, with rises in working wages that will at least keep pace with the cost of living. We must establish the kontrol of the Soviets of Worker and Soldier Deputies over the production and distribution of products. Without this, the country is threatened by famine.

Not the “kontrol” of the capitalists, but only the kontrol of the Soviets of Worker and Soldier Deputies can give bread to the cities, and cheaper industrial items to the villages.

4. The vlast [power]

All of the vlast in the country must belong solely to the Soviets of Worker, Soldier, Peasant and other Deputies (we must include the Soviets of the railroad workers and other civil servants).

Agreement [soglashenie] with the capitalists, leaving the capitalist gentlemen with the vlast, prolongs the war and worsens the situation within the country.

No confidence to the “new” government [the recently formed coalition of moderate socialists and liberals], for it remains a government of capitalists — no support for it, not a penny of money.

No confidence to the “defensist” parties that preach agreement with the capitalists and participation in a government of capitalists!

5. The police

Under no circumstances should we permit the restoration of the police. Instead of the police, instead of a standing army, we need a militia, universal arming of all citizens of both sexes.

6. The economic collapse and the cost of living

A successful struggle with economic collapse and the lack of bread requires (1) ending the war as soon as possible, (2) transferring as soon as possible the entire vlast into the hands of the Soviets of Worker and Soldier Deputies.

A Provisional Government that still consists of a majority of capitalists cannot successfully struggle against economic collapse. It preserves the profits of the capitalists and the advantages of the landowners.

It does not want to permit the workers to have kontrol over production and distribution of products — the kontrol that alone can lessen collapse. The Provisional Government is incapable of the revolutionary measures that alone can save the country from famine.

All of the power to the Soviets of Worker and Soldier Deputies! [Vsia vlast Sovetam Rabochikh i Soldatskikh Deputatov!] The whole world will believe in it. Only then can we end the war and bring Russia to happiness.

*     *     *

Our delegate is obliged to act in the Soviet on the basis of this mandate. Anyone who deviates from this path will be recalled by us, and in his place we will elect another delegate who supports our views.

If our present delegate does not share the views set forth here, we request that he resign his position and we will elect another comrade.

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