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The Ironic Triumph of Old Bolshevism: The Debates of April 1917 in Context

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During the debates in Bolshevik party circles after Lenin's return to Russia in early April 1917, one central issue was the status of "Old Bolshevism." According to Lenin, Old Bolshevism was outmoded, whereas other Bolsheviks such as Lev Kamenev and Mikhail Kalinin defended its relevance. The central tenet of prewar Old Bolshevism was "democratic revolution to the end," a slogan that implied a vast social transformation of Russia under the aegis of a revolutionary government based directly on the narod. Far from being rendered irrelevant by the overthrow of the tsar, Old Bolshevism mandated a political course aimed at overthrow of the "bourgeois" Provisional Government. Lenin's innovative vision of "steps toward socialism" in Russia, prior to and independent of European socialist revolution was not a radical break with Old Bolshevism and it was not the central issue during the debates of April 1917. The actual Bolshevik message of 1917 (as documented by pamphlets issued by the Moscow Bolsheviks) was closer in most respects to the outlook of Lenin's opponents, as he came close to explicitly admitting. The usual characterization of the April debates as Lenin's successful attempt to imbue the Bolsheviks with a radically new vision of socialist revolution must therefore be rejected.


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