On November 7, 1917, or October 25 in the old calendar, workers in St. Petersburg, Russia, seized power. The Russian Revolution had been victorious.
It was the first time in history that the working class managed to take power and hold on to it. Almost 50 years earlier, in 1871, in the Paris Commune, workers had taken power but could not hold on to it for more than a few months. In October 1917, partly based on the lessons from the Paris Commune, the Bolsheviks were better equipped politically and organizationally.
Revolutionaries of our time can learn a lot from the experiences of previous revolutions. In this way we can limit the mistakes we make and the weaknesses in our work, and chart our course with greater clarity.
The degeneration of the October Revolution under the Stalinist regime cannot erase its importance. Stalin at the head and on behalf of a monstrous bureaucracy, led the USSR to become a one-party dictatorship, despite the fact that until 1989 it maintained a nationalized economy.
The bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet Union led millions of people to consider the word “communism” as synonymous to the Stalinist atrocities.
Today, true Marxists and Socialists worldwide have the task to bring to the fore the true history behind the Russian Revolution and what followed. On the occasion of its 104th anniversary, we publish below the four first decrees of Soviet Power.
A: To the Citizens of Russia!
The Provisional Government has been deposed. State power has passed into the hands of the organ of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies- the Revolutionary Military Committee, which heads the Petrograd proletariat and the garrison.
The cause for which the people have fought, namely, the immediate offer of a democratic peace, the abolition of landed proprietorship, workers’control over production, and the establishment of Soviet power- this cause has been secured.
Long live the revolution of workers, soldiers and peasants!
Revolutionary Military Committee of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies
10 a.m., October 25, 1917.
B: To Workers, Soldiers, and Peasants!
The Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers and Soldiers’ Deputies has opened. The vast majority of the Soviets are represented at the Congress. A number of delegates from the Peasants’ Soviets are also present. The mandate of the compromising Central Executive Committee has terminated. Backed by the will of the vast majority of the workers, soldiers, and peasants, backed by the victorious uprising of the workers and the garrison which has taken place in Petrograd, the Congress takes power into its own hands.
The Provisional Government has been overthrown. The majority of the members of the Provisional Government have already been arrested.
The Soviet government will propose an immediate democratic peace to all the nations and an immediate armistice on all fronts. It will secure the transfer of the land of the landed proprietors, the crown and the monasteries to the peasant committees without compensation; it will protect the rights of the soldiers by introducting complete democracy in the army; it will establish workers’ control over production; it will ensure the convocation of the Constituent Assembly at the time appointed; it will see to it that bread is supplied to the cities and prime necessities to the villages; it will guarantee all the nations inhabiting Russia the genuine right to self-determination.
The Congress decrees: all power in the localities shall pass to the Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies, which must guarantee genuine revolutionary order.
The Congress calls upon the soldiers in the trenches to be vigilant and firm. The Congress of Soviets is convinced that the revolutionary army will be able to defend the revolution against all attack of imperialism until such time as the new government succeeds in concluding a democratic peace, which it will propose directly to all peoples. The new government will do everything to fully supply the revolutionary army be means of a determined policy of requisitions and taxation of the propertied classes, and also will improve the condition of the soldiers’ families.
The Kornilov men -Kerensky, Kaledin and others- are attempting to bring troops against Petrograd. Several detachments, whom Kerensky had moved by deceiving them, have come over to the side of the insurgent people.
Soldiers, actively resist Kerensky the Kornilovite! Be on your guard!
Railwaymen, hold up all troop trains dispatched by Kerensky against Petrograd!
Soldiers, workers in factory and office, the fate of the revolution and the fate of the democratic peace is in your hands!
Long live the revolution!
The All-Russia Congress of Soviets
Of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies
The Delegates from the Peasants’ Soviets
C: Decree on Peace
The workers’ and peasants’ government, created by the Revolution of October 24-25 and basing itself on the Soviet of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies, calls upon all the belligerent peoples and their government to start immediate negotiations for a just, democratic peace.
By a just or democratic peace, for which the overwhelming majority of the working class and other working people of all the belligerent countries, exhausted, tormented and racked by the war, are craving -a peace that has been most definitely and insistently demanded by the Russian workers and peasants ever since the overthrow of the tsarist monarchy- by such a peace the government means an immediate peace without annexations (i.e., without the seizure of foreign lands, without the forcible incorporation of foreign nations) and without indemnities.
The government of Russia proposes that this kind of peace be immediately concluded by all the belligerent nations, and expresses its readiness to take all the resolute measures now, without the least delay, pending the final ratification of all the terms of such a peace by authoritative assemblies of the people’s representatives of all countries and all nations.
In accordance with the sense of justice of democrats in general, and of the working class in particular, the government conceives the annexation of seizure of foreign lands to mean every incorporation of a small or weak nation into large or powerful state without the precisely, clearly, and voluntarily expressed consent and wish of that nation, irrespective of the time when such forcible incorporation took place, irrespective also of the degree of development or backwardness of the nation forcibly annexed to the given state, or forcibly retained within its borders, and irrespective, finally, of whether this nation is in Europe or in distant, overseas countries.
If any nation whatsoever is forcibly retained within the borders of a given state, if, in spite of its expressed desire -no matter whether expressed in the press, at public meetings, in the decisions of parties, or in protests and uprisings against national oppression- is not accorded the right to decide the forms of its state existence by a free vote, taken after the complete evacuation of the [aggressive] troops of the incorporating or, generally, of the stronger nation and without the least pressure being brought to bear, such incorporation is annexation, i.e., seizure and violence.
The government considers it the greatest of crimes against humanity to continue this war over the issue of how to divide among the strong and rich nations the weak nationalities they have conquered, and solemnly announces its determination immediately to sign terms of peace to stop this war on the terms indicated, which are equally just for all nationalities without exception.
At the same time the government declares that it does not regard the above-mentioned peace terms as an ultimatum; in other words, it is prepared to consider any other peace terms, and insists only that they be advanced by any of the belligerent countries as speedily as possible, and that in the peace proposals there should be absolute clarity and the complete absence of all ambiguity and secrecy.
The government abolishes secret diplomacy, and, for its part, announces its firm intention to conduct all negotiations quite openly in full view of the whole people. It will proceed immediately with the full publication of the secret treaties endorsed or concluded by the government of land-owners and capitalists from February to October 25, 1917. The government proclaims the unconditional and immediate annulment of everything contained in these secret treaties insofar as it is aimed, as is mostly the case, at securing advantages and privileges for the Russian landowners and capitalists and at the retention, or extension, of the annexations made by the Great Russians.
Proposing to the governments and peoples of all countries immediately to begin open negotiations for peace, the government, for its part, expresses its readiness to conduct these negotiations in writing, by telegraph, and by negotiations between representatives of the various countries, or at a conference of such representatives. In order to faciliate such negotiations, the government is appointing its plenipotentiary representative to neutral countries.
The government proposes an immediate armistice to the governments and people of all the belligerent countries, and, for its part, considers it desirable that this armistice should be concluded for a period of not less than three months, i.e., a period long enough to permit the competition of negotiations for peace with the participation of the representatives of all peoples or nations, without exception, involved in or compelled to take part in the war, and the summoning of authoritative assemblies of the representatives of the peoples of all countries for the final ratification of the peace terms.
While addressing this proposal for peace to the governments and peoples of all the belligerent countries, the Provisional Workers’ and Peasants’ Government of Russia appeals in particular also to the class-conscious workers of the three most advanced nations of mankind and the largest states participating in the present way, namely, Great Britain, France, and Germany. The workers of these countries have made the greatest contributions to the cause of progress and socialism; they have furnished the great examples of the Chartist movement in England, a number of revolutions of historic importance effected by the French proletariat, and, finally, the heroic struggle against the Anti-Socialist Law in Germany, and the prolonged, persistent and disciplined work of creating mass proletarian organisations in Germany, a work which serves as a model to the workers of the whole world. All these examples of proletarian heroism and historical creative work are a pledge that the workers of the countries mentioned will understand the duty that now faces them of saving mankind from the horrors of war and its consequences, that these workers, by comprehensive, determined, and supremely vigourous action, will help us to conclude peace successfully, and at the same time emancipate the labouring and exploited masses of our population from all forms of slavery and all forms of exploitation.
D: Mandate on Land
The land question in its full scope can be settled only by the popular Constituent Assembly.
The most equitable settlement of the land question is to be as follows:
(1) Private ownership of land shall be abolished forever; land shall not be sold, purchased, leased, mortgaged, or otherwise alienated.
All land, whether state, crown, monastery, church, factory, entailed, private, public, peasant, etc., shall be confiscated without compensation and become the property of the whole people, and pass into the use of all those who cultivate it.
Persons who suffer by this property revolution shall be deemed to be entitled to public support only for the period necessary for adaptation to the new conditions of life.
(2) All mineral wealth — ore, oil, coal, salt, etc., and also all forests and waters of state importance, shall pass into the exclusive use of the state. All the small streams, lakes, woods, etc., shall pass into the use of the communes, to be administered by the local self-government bodies.
(3) Lands on which high-level scientific farming is practised — orchards, tree-farms, seed plots, nurseries, hothouses, etc. — shall not be divided up, but shall be converted into model farms, to be turned over for exclusive use to the state or to the communes, depending on the size and importance of such lands.
Household land in towns and villages, with orchards and vegetable gardens, shall be reserved for the use of their present owners, the size of the holdings, and the size of tax levied for the use thereof, to be determined by law.
(4) Stud farms, government and private pedigree stock and poultry farms, etc., shall be confiscated and become the property of the whole people, and pass into the exclusive use of the state or a commune, depending on the size and importance of such farms.
The question of compensation shall be examined by the Constituent Assembly.
(5) All livestock and farm implements of the confiscated estates shall pass into the exclusive use of the state or a commune, depending on their size and importance, and no compensation shall be paid for this.
The farm implements of peasants with little land shall not be subject to confiscation.
(6) The right to use the land shall be accorded to all citizens of the Russian state (without distinction of sex) desiring to cultivate it by their own labour, with the help of their families, or in partnership, but only as long as they are able to cultivate it. The employment of hired labour is not permitted.
In the event of the temporary physical disability of any member of a village commune for a period of up to two years, the village commune shall be obliged to assist him for this period by collectively cultivating his land until he is again able to work.
Peasants who, owing to old age or ill-health, are permanently disabled and unable to cultivate the land personally, shall lose their right to the use of it but, in return, shall receive a pension from the state.
(7) Land tenure shall be on a equality basis, i.e., the land shall be distributed among the working people in conformity with a labour standard or a subsistence standard, depending on local conditions.
There shall be absolutely no restriction on the forms of land tenure — household, farm, communal, or co-operative, as shall be decided in each individual village and settlement.
(8) All land, when alienated, shall become part of the national land fund. Its distribution among the peasants shall be in charge of the local and central self-government bodies, from democratically organised village and city communes, in which there are no distinctions of social rank, to central regional government bodies.
The land fund shall be subject to periodical redistribution, depending on the growth of population and the increase in the productivity and the scientific level of farming.
When the boundaries of allotments are altered, the original nucleus of the allotment shall be left intact.
The land of the members who leave the commune shall revert to the land fund; preferential right to such land shall be given to the near relatives of the members who have left, or to persons designated by the latter.
The cost of fertilisers and improvements put into the land, to the extent that they have not been fully used up at the time the allotment is returned to the land fund, shall be compensated.
Should the available land fund in a particular district prove inadequate for the needs of the local population, the surplus population shall be settled elsewhere.
The state shall take upon itself the organisation of resettlement and shall bear the cost thereof, as well as the cost of supplying implements, etc.
Resettlement shall be effected in the following order: landless peasants desiring to resettle, then members of the commune who are of vicious habits, deserters, and so on, and, finally, by lot or by agreement.”
The entire contents of this Mandate, as expressing the absolute will of the vast majority of the class-conscious peasants of all Russia, is proclaimed a provisional law, which, pending the convocation of the Constituent Assembly, shall be carried into effect as far as possible immediately, and as to certain of its provisions with due gradualness, as shall be determined by the uyezd Soviets of Peasants’ Deputies.
(9) The land of ordinary peasants and ordinary Cossacks shall not be confiscated.