Lenin’s Thugocracy

I was leafing through Vera Broido’s  Lenin and the Mensheviks looking for something else when I stumbled upon the passage where the Bolsheviks expel the Mensheviks and the SRs from the soviets. I reproduce it here as it is both instructive and poignant. For those who might not be familiar with these groups they were both socialist parties committed to the revolution. Broido:

Until about April 1918, Mensheviks were suffered in local and central soviets and even in the [Central Committee of the All-Russia Congress of Soviets], where they…denounced Bolshevik terror and economic blunders…destruction of the…unions and…civil liberties. Then the Bolshevik majorities began to expel [them] from provincial soviets and then from the All Russian Congress of Soviets…We possess an eyewitness account of the scene…in the memoirs of the Bolshevik [deputy], Elizaveta Drabkina. This is what she saw:

“The electricity was working badly…a kerosene lamp..threw…light on Lenin’s face and the lanky, thin figure of Martov…in the first row…The rest of the hall was lost in semi-darkness thus underlining the central role of these two…in the historical drama that was about to unfold.”

The chairman Sverdlov put to the vote the proposal to expel from the soviets the “counterrevolutionary parties of the Right SRs and the Mensheviks”: after a stormy scene he declared the proposal carried and told the SRs and Mensheviks to leave the session.

“Martov, hoarse and grasping for breadth, snatched up his overcoat and tried to put it on but his hands trembled so much that he kept missing the sleeve. Lenin, very pale, stood and looked at Martov…Was he remembering the time, a little over two decades ago, when he and Martov–friends, fighting companions, comrades–were starting on their careers as revolutionaries together?…Martov continued to struggle with his recalcitrant sleeve. At this moment he was a tragic figure. To one of the Left SRs [a splinter group from the SRs aligned with the Bolsheviks in the coalition government] , he appeared comic. Leaning back in his chair [he] roared with laughter, pointing at Martov. Martov turned on him furiously: ‘You are wrong to rejoice…in less than three months you will be following us.’

“Exasperated [Martov] shook off his coat and threw it over his arm and walked unsteadily toward the exit. Lenin, still as pale, followed him slowly with his gaze.”

As it turned out, Martov’s prediction was canny. The Left SRs bolted the coalition a month or so later after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which they regarded as a betrayal of the European proletariat.

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