STUDY GUIDE

Lessons of October by Leon Trotsky

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The book text can be found here:
The Lessons of October by Leon Trotsky – downloadable, 63 pages

SESSION I

Chapter 1 – We must study the October Revolution

Why did the Bolsheviks fail in Germany in 1918?

Why is it easier for a bourgeois revolution to succeed?

Why is a party of the proletariat essential in order to win a proletarian revolution?

A study of previous revolutions is essential despite the knowledge gained from tough personal experience. Why?

What does Trotsky say about tactics and strategy?

What crisis arises inevitably when a party prepares to seize power? What form does the crisis take?

Chapter 2 – ‘The Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry’ in February and October

Marx’s idea that a more industrially developed country shows a less industrially developed country its future was turned into an absolute by Mensheviks. What was the result of this?

Lenin before 1905 coined the slogan/formula “the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.” Trotsky said “This could acquire meaning only as…?” How did Mensheviks, Social Revolutionaries, and a section of the Bolsheviks view this formula?

Explain how the February revolution could be a bourgeois revolution or a prelude to the proletarian revolution? If a bourgeois revolution, what would the outcome be?

Discuss the impact of the war on the revolutionary movement.

A slogan true in one period can become no good, in fact turn into its opposite, in another period. What two different, opposing roads can be read into an outworn slogan? What was the central issue in these different opinions?

What was Trotsky’s goal in writing “The Lessons of October?”

SESSION II

Chapter 3 – The Struggle Against War and Defensism

What is defensism?

What was the position of the petty bourgeois revolutionary parties toward the February 1917 overthrow of Tsarism?

Characterize the position of Pravda, the Bolshevik newspaper, during the March days and give an example.

What was Lenin’s position toward reforms?

What was the choice the Bolsheviks faced on the question of their attitude towards the bourgeoisie?

What is the connection between peace and the overthrow of the Provisional Government?

Chapter 4 – The April Conference

What was Lenin’s position when he returned to Russia?

What was the response to this position from the right wing? From the soviets?

What was Lenin’s concern about the support of the soviets?

How did he find out what the masses thought and what did Lenin do about this?

What happened when Lenin re-raised his position?

What was the issue at the April Bolshevik Party Conference?

What was Lenin’s position? What was his attitude toward the demands of “no annexations and no indemnities?”

What were the reasons why some Bolsheviks opposed Lenin’s position?

What two positions emerged at the April Bolshevik Party Conference?

Characterize and explain the political shifts that took place at the approach of Bolshevik Revolution—both within and outside of the Bolshevik Party. Include members of Zimmerwald.

SESSION III

Chapter 5 – The July Days; the Kornilov Episode; the Democratic Conference and the Pre-Parliament

The April Conference which passed Lenin’s view that Bolsheviks need to prepare for revolution revealed a conflict between his view and others view that the party should support the bourgeois revolution and be a left opposition. Using Lenin’s proposal for a June 10 demonstration, how did some right Bolshevik comrades respond, how did the Soviet congress respond?

Lenin intervened to provide leadership in July to outraged Petrograd masses protesting a call by the Provisional Government to send troops to the front. What was the response to this by the petty bourgeois; inside the Bolshevik Party? What were Lenin’s views to these responses?

What were the divergent views in the party on creating a 3rd International, to replace the 2nd?

How did Kornilov’s attack affect many in the party? What are Lenin’s views on defensism?

Again, contrast the conservative wing of the Bolsheviks with Lenin on the Democratic Conference, the Pre-Parliament, and the Soviets.

Chapter 6 – On the Eve of the October Revolution – the Aftermath

What sparked the Petrograd Soviet to form the Revolutionary Military Committee. What was the RMC’s role?

What was the response of the right wing of the party to this event? What was the argument put forward in the Zinoviev and Kamenev letter?

What was Trotsky’s assessment of their proposal?

“…the political genius of Lenin is characterized not by taking the temporary Brest-Litovsk capitulation as an isolated fact but only by considering Brest-Litovsk in combination with October. This must always be kept in mind.” What does this mean?

Contrast the Bolshevik right wing’s view of the strength and weakness of the working vs. the ruling class with Lenin’s and Trotsky’s.

Lenin was afraid “to lose the propitious moment.” He said it is crucial to recognize when the consciousness of society has shifted, not in the economic base, but the superstructure. Explain.

The Bolsheviks seized power on October 25 and created the Soviet government. What was the response of the right wing of the party? What did Lenin and the Central Committee do?

SESSION IV

Chapter 7 – The October Insurrection and Soviet “Legality”

Lenin proposed in September that the Bolsheviks immediately launch the insurrection. The Central Committee refused and instead the insurrection was led into Soviet channels. Was this a good thing or not? Why?

Lenin had intense anxiety that the insurrection would be delayed too long and he put enormous pressure on the party to act. Was he wrong? Why or why not?

What did it mean when the Petrograd Soviet refused to send 2/3 of the garrison to the front and formed the Revolutionary Military Committee under the leadership of Trotsky?

Talk about the uses of Dual Power in the service of legality of the insurrection.

“Waging an offensive all along the line, we kept up the appearance of being on the defensive.” Explain.

Name some of the aspects of the situation that made the revolution possible. Are these circumstances likely to be a rule in other revolutions?

What does Trotsky say about future revolutions in England and the West.

Chapter 8 – Again on the Soviets and the Party in a Proletarian Revolution

What does treating soviets as a “fetish” mean? What are the dangers of doing this for revolutionaries?

Must all revolutions have soviets to be successful?

“If the triumphant revolution did not come at the end of the war, it was because a party was lacking. This conclusion applies to Europe as a whole. It may be traced concretely in the fate of the revolutionary movement in various countries.” “Without a party, apart from a party, over the head of a party, or with a substitute for a party, the proletarian revolution cannot conquer. That is the principal lesson of the past decade.”

Give examples of this in Germany 1918/19; Finland 1917; Hungary.

Why do proletarian revolutions require more consciousness, premeditation and planning than bourgeois revolutions? Compare who was the motive force and who the leadership in these two kinds of revolution.

What about the attitude of a Bolshevik Party to armed insurrection?

What is the task of a Communist Party? What kind of leadership does this party need?

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