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April Theses: Bolsheviks set the record straight

July 20, 2017

Appendix to ‘Thirteen to two: Petrograd Bolsheviks debate the April Theses’ 

For the significance of these two documents, see “Background,” below

  1. Two Excerpts from V. N. Zalezhskii, “Pervyi legal’nyi Pe-Ka”, in Proletarskaia revoliutsiia,” 1923, No. 1 (13)

[p. 145-6:] The issue of our attitude toward the Provisional Government came before the PK [Petrograd Committee] on the 2nd or 3rd of March in connection with the position taken by the Ispolkom of the Soviet, which, as we know, adopted on the advice of that “prudent Ulysses” Chkheidze the famous formula of support: “insofar as” [postolku-poskolku]. The PK, as the directive organization of the mass of the Petersburg proletariat, of course had to respond immediately to this formula. I well remember the debates in the PK about this issue.

In the discussions on this issue about our attitude toward the Provisional Government, it was pointed out that at this particular moment in time, given the decision of the Soviet, this issue was one of practical action: do we call the masses to an immediate armed overthrow of the Government to whom the Soviet promised support, even if conditional, that is, should the PK in response [to the Soviet] announce a slogan of direct, active struggle of the masses on the street? Or, in the evolving situation, was it politically more expedient to adopt a position that would give our revolutionary activity sufficient room to maneuver and to accumulate strength, while at the same time avoiding bring the PK into sharp conflict with the Soviet?

As a result of discussions it was decided not to call for an overthrow of the Provisional Government and thereby at the same time to call for struggle with the Soviet, but rather to take the Soviet’s formula “insofar as” while giving it a completely new content and thus defanging it internally. Our resolution announced: “The PK of the RSDWP, in connection with the resolution concerning the Provisional Government adopted by the Soviet of Worker and Soldier Deputies, announces that it will not contest the vlast [protivodeistvuet vlasti] of the Provisional Government insofar as its actions correspond to the interests of the proletariat and the wide masses of the democracy and the narod. It also states its decision to carry out the most merciless struggle against any attempt by the Provisional Government to establish a monarchical form of government of any kind.” As can be seen, this formula broadly untied our hands: all it said was that at the given moment, the PK was not summoning the masses to overthrow the Provisional Government.

*     *     *

[p. 156, final page:] The day of Com. Lenin’s arrival, in my view, ends the first period in the life of activity of the Petersburg Committee and its first cohort during the legal existence of our party. New times arrived, and to the ideological and tactical position of the party came clarity and definition [opredelennost’].

I would still like to point out that the PK not only greeted Ilich [Lenin] to its residence with warm feelings, but also that it was precisely among the members of the PK that his famous theses—the ones set forth in the report that Com. Lenin made on April 4, the day of his arrival, before a meeting of the Bolshevik delegates to the All-Russian Conference of Soviets, and also repeated at a meeting of Bolshevik and Menshevik delegates at the invitation of the Menshevik leaders—found the greatest sympathy and the swiftest recognition.

As I recall, the Menshevik leaders put forward the possibility of an agreement with us and proposed that Lenin set forth his views. Com. Lenin’s theses produced the effect of an exploding bomb [among the Mensheviks]. In the debates that then unfolded, the Menshevik Goldenberg characterised the theses in this way: “For many years the place of Bakunin in the Russian revolution remained unoccupied, but now it is occupied by Lenin.” On that day, Com. Lenin did not find open advocates even in our ranks. At that meeting, the only one to support him was Com. Kollontai.

In the discussions that started within our ranks about the theses, a series of members of the PK spoke out in its defense. District after district showed their solidarity with them, and at the All-Russian party conference that began on April 22, the Petersburg organization as a whole spoke in favor of the theses.

  1. Letter of V.N. Zelezhskii and C. Ia. Bagdatev to the Leningrad Institute for Party History about the meeting of the PK [Bolshevik Petrograd Committee] RSDRP(b) on 8 (21) April 1917 and its minutes,[1] March 23, 1934

To the Leningrad Istpart

In the publication of the Leningrad Istpart of 1927 entitled “The First Legal Petersburg Committee of the Bolshevik in 1917,” a crude error has crept into the published minutes of the meeting of the PK from 8 (21) April 1917 (No. 12).

On page 88, we find printed: “All of Lenin’s theses were put to a vote as a whole [Na golosovanie staviatsia tezisy Lenina v tselom vse]. (Members of the PK voted this motion): 2 for, 13 against, 1 abstaining.”

This version as printed implies that a very large majority of the PK voted against Lenin’s Theses as a whole. Meanwhile, as is evident from the content of the majority report by Com. Bagdatev and from the minority report by Com. Zalezhskii, and also from the concluding remarks by Com. Bagdatev, the PK considered the Theses correct in general and as a whole [v obshchëm i tselom] (p. 88, lines 8 and 9 from the top).ë

The differences between the Com. Bagdatev’s majority report and Com. Zalezhskii’s minority report concerned only separate points in the theses, and specifically about points 3, 8, and 9 (in the minutes on p. 85, line 19 from the top, “point 5” is mistakenly printed for point 8).

Com. Zalezhskii considered it necessary to accept these points of Lenin’s Theses without any change. Com. Bagdatev, along with a majority of the PK, proposed—due to practical considerations—to introduce corrections to points 3 and 8, and to exclude point 9 “until the congress] (p. 85, 13 lines from the top) [in actuality, first line from the top—LTL].

At the end of the debate the theses as a whole were put to a vote, and everybody voted in favor. To make this clear to the reader, this sentence on p. 88 [of the published version] should be re-edited: “All of Lenin’s theses were put to a vote as a whole.” This sentence should read: “Lenin’s theses were put to a vote as a whole.  All voted [in favor].”

After voting the Theses as a whole, Com. Zalezhskii put to a vote a proposal to reject the corrections proposed by Com. Bagdatev to theses 3 and 8 and the exclusion of thesis 9. It was this proposal that was voted. The results we find in the minutes apply to the vote on this proposal: “two for, 13 against, one abstaining” (p. 88).

In connection with this, Com. Zalezhskii commented in his remarks found in the first edition (pp. 88-90) to the effect that the vast majority of the members of the committee spoke against Com. Lenin’s basic ideas. This comment must be applied only to the three points named above.

To avoid an incorrect exposition of the PK’s position in regard to Lenin’s theses as a whole, these remarks of Com. Zalezhskii should be excluded from the new edition. Appropriate corrections should be made to the minutes.

In the foreword written by Com. Kudelli (pp. XII-XII), she does not notice this slip of the pen and she also did not really understand a series of other unclear points. She therefore completely incorrectly fastens the attention of the reader on the assertion that supposedly the PK spoke out against Lenin’s Theses as a whole. Therefore, it is necessary to remove the relevant paragraphs from the foreword.

  1. Zalezhskii, S. Bagdatev


Lars Lih explains the relevance of his two appendices in the following paragraphs, excerpted from Thirteen to two: Petrograd Bolsheviks debate the April Theses.–JR

Owing to a projected republication of the committee minutes in 1934 (which never occurred), the two major participants in the original 1917 debate—Bagdatev and V. N. Zalezhsky—wrote a letter to the Leningrad Institute for Party History in order to set the record straight: the original stenographer had misinterpreted the thirteen-two vote. The committee had actually voted unanimous approval of the Theses as a whole; the recorded thirteen-two vote was on a motion by Zalezhsky, who wanted an even greater show of solidarity and proposed that the Theses be accepted without any reservations or criticisms whatsoever. This was the proposal that was rejected by a large margin. Bagdatev and Zalezhsky’s statement from 1934 poses a direct challenge to the entire “rearming” narrative of Lenin’s April Theses “exploding like a bomb” among Bolshevik activists. Given its crucial importance, I have translated it in its entirety (see Appendix).

Any lingering doubts that the 1934 document was perhaps some sort of post-facto revisionism were laid to rest when I looked up an article published by Zalezhsky in 1923. This article was written while memories were still fresh and before the whole issue of the April Theses was politicized by Trotsky’s 1924 pamphlet Lessons of October. Zalezhsky’s 1923 account was vetted by Aleksandr Shliapnikov, a senior Bolshevik leader also present in Petrograd at the time, who corrected some details. Since Zalezhsky was not yet misled by the confusing set of minutes, he stated as a fact that “it was precisely among the members of the PK that [Lenin’s] famous theses … found the greatest sympathy and the swiftest recognition.”


[1] Peterburgskii komitet RSDRP(b) v 1917 godu: Protokoly i materialy zasedanii (St. Petersburg, 2003)

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