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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 16, April 6, 2013

Bolsheviks and Death Penalty

Friday 12 April 2013, by Prabhat Patnaik


This is with reference to Paresh Chattopadhyay’s (PC’s) response in the March 16 issue of Mainstream to my article “Leninism and Class Consciousness” (originally published in People’s Democracy, January 13, 2013). PC is entitled to his views on Lenin and Leninism, but at the end of his note he accuses me of speaking an untruth (bold in original) in an earlier article in The Telegraph, December 12, 2012, where I had said that the Bolsheviks had abolished the death penalty immediately after seizing power, but restored it later under the conditions of the civil war. PC says: “ was the Provisional Government and not at all the Bolsheviks who had abolished the death sentence...”

The facts are as follows. The Provisional Government had abolished the death penalty immediately after the February Revolution but in July 1917 it sought to restore the death penalty for deserters from the battlefield, marauders and spies of foreign states. The workers, led by the Bolsheviks, protested against this restoration. On taking power the Bolsheviks abolished the death penalty even at the front at the Second Congress of the Soviets. But they too restored the death penalty during the civil war, which is exactly what I had written.

Since my article in The Telegraph was concerned with pointing out the Bolshevik opposition to the death penalty, which is a standard socialist position, I did not discuss what the Provisional Government had done. But not a word said by me in that article was “untrue”. The interested reader can refer to Julius Martov’s speech “Down with the Death Penalty”, delivered to workers at the end of June-beginning of July 1918 (available online). Martov surely cannot be accused of “improving the public image of Lenin and the Bolsheviks”, which is what PC accuses me of. His statement that the death penalty was not abolished by the Bolsheviks “at all” is factually incorrect.

Prabhat Patnaik, (Professor Emeritus, Jawaharlal Nehru University)

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