1917 - B V Avilov's speech at the 2nd All-Russia Congress of Soviets

26 October 1917

[Translator's note: Boris Vasil'evich Avilov (1874 - 1938) was a former Bolshevik who in 1917 had left the faction over its support for Lenin's radical line. Along with V A Bazarov, G D Lindov and others he had formed a group of social-democrat internationalists in 1917 which aimed to unite the Menshevik-Internationalists and the more moderate Bolsheviks in a new grouping. Although very small, this group had a certain inflluence in that it determined the editorial line of the widely-read newspaper Novaya zhizn' in 1917-18. At the Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets in October 1917 the group did not join the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries in walking out of the congress in protest at the Bolshevik seizure of power, although the group certainly did not support the Bolsheviks' actions. It had six seats in the first post-October VTsIK.
As there were no official stenographers at the second soviet congress. this account of Avilov's speech was compiled from contemporary newspaper reports, and a version of it can be found in A S Pokrovsky and E Yu Tikhonova, Vtoroy vserossiyskiy s"ezd sovetov rabochikh i soldatskikh deputatov (25-26 oktyabrya 1917 g.), Moscow 1997, pp. 93-94 - FK]

On the question of the composition of the government proposed by the Bolsheviks, the first to speak, with a long speech, was B V Avilov on behalf of the United Social-Democrat Internationalists.

B V Avilov's speech on behalf of the Social-Democrat Internationalists and that part of the Menshevik-Internationalists which has remained in the congress:

"At the present moment the fate of our revolution is being decided, and we should therefore, in a completely cool and calm fashion, take stock clearly of what is happening and where we are going. The reason it was easy to overthrow the coalition government is not that the left-wing democracy is very strong, but solely that the government was unable to give the people either bread or peace. And the left-wing section of the democracy will be able to hold on only if it is able to solve these two tasks. But there are enormous obstacles on the way to a solution. There is little grain at all in the country, and the greater part of it is in the hands of the large-scale and middle peasantry. To attract this grain into the towns, the industrial centres and the army is possible by two methods only. We must either provide the countryside with the industrial products it needs - cotton cloth, ironware, leatherware, agricultural implements etc., or we must secure the active support of these sections of the peasantry. To collect grain by force takes a long time and is very difficult, and could lead to serious complications. At present we cannot supply the villages with industrial products, because the available stocks of them are too insignificant, and it would take some considerable time to produce more of them. What is more, we do not have enough fuel or raw materials. The productivity of our factories and plants has fallen drastically, and moreover they are working to a considerable extent for the defence industry. It will be possible of supply the countryside with all it needs only once the war has finished and the industrial collapse has been overcome. It will be possible to count on the sympathy and support of the better-off peasantry which has some grain for sale only if these strata of the peasantry consider this new government to be their own, and that the tasks it has set itself correspond to their interests.

"It is just as difficult, if not more so, to achieve peace. The governments of the Allied powers will refuse to enter into relations with the new government and will not under any circumstances agree to its proposal for peace negotiations. The new government will be isolated and its proposals will be left hanging in the air. It is almost impossible to count on the support of the proletariat and democracy of the enemy and Allied countries. In the main they are still very far from revolutionary struggle, and were unable even to ensure the convocation of the Stockholm Conference. The representatives of the left wing of German Social-Democracy have stated most definitely that one should not expect a revolution in Germany before the end of the war. As a result of the isolation which is being prepared for Russia, it is inevitable that either the Russian army will be routed by the German army and a peace will then be concluded by the Austro-German and Anglo-French coalitions at the expense of Russia, or there will be a separate peace between Russia and Germany. In either case the peace terms will be most onerous for Russia. And, unless we capitulate without resistance to the will of the German victors, this peace will not come soon.

"Only the majority of the people, uniting its forces for a common goal, can overcome all these incredible difficulties, give the country bread and peace, and save the gains of the revolution. But at the present time the leading groups of the democracy have split into two camps. The left part has remained at the Congress of Soviets in the Smol'ny Institute, and the right part is concentrated in the City Duma and is forming a 'Committee of Public Safety'. At the same time the forces of Kaledin-Kornilov reaction are gathering and threatening to attack. To save the revolution it is vital immediately to form a government based, if not on the whole of the revolutionary democracy, then at least on the majority of it."

On behalf of the Social-Democrat Internationalists Avilov proposed the adoption of the following resolution:

"Recognising that in order to save the gains of the revolution it is essential immediately to form a government based on the democracy organised in the Soviets of workers' soldiers' and peasants' deputies, recognising further, that the task of this government is to attain a democratic peace as speedily as possible, to transfer the land to the land committees, to organise control over production and to convene the Constituent Assembly at the allotted time, the congress resolves to elect a Provisional Executive Committee to create a government in agreement with those groups of the revolutionary democracy represented at the congress."

This motion was put to the vote after the adoption of the resolution moved by the congress bureau [the decree on the formation of a provisional workers' and peasants' government]. Approximately 150 delegates at the congress voted for the motion (the Social-Democrat Internationalists, the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries and, it would seem, a part of the more moderate Bolsheviks).