Rajesh Tyagi/ 16 October 2010
How this victory was achieved and what exactly were the lessons of this historic success of the proletariat, and more interestingly why this victory could not grow further into a world proletarian revolution, are the issues which are crucial in our understanding of this great victory, followed by subsequent failures of the last century.
To understand ‘October’ in Russia, one has to have a grasp of ‘February’ first. The February revolution had started in Russia without anticipation from any quarter. Not only the Tsar, but even none of his opponents could foresee it. Defeat of Tsar on the front in the WW-I and the deepening contradictions inside its regime, facilitated ‘February’ events. February Revolution caught everyone unaware. All oppositional leaders, both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks were outside Russia and the revolution was in every sense a spontaneous action from below.
Workers’ Soviets, the organs of real class power of the proletariat, had born during the revolt of 1905 from strike committees, and re-emerged during ‘February’ Revolution in 1917. The February Revolution, virtually put the political power in the hands of these Soviets of workers, who were armed and constituted the virtual State power. For all big and small decisions, the formal authorities had to turn to these Soviets for their approval, without which no decision could be put to execution.
The tragedy of February is that even the virtual power was in the hands of armed proletariat under the command of its Soviets, but the leadership of Soviets was mostly in the hands of Mensheviks, who thought that as the February Revolution was bourgeois-democratic, thus bourgeois is its legitimate leader. Mensheviks were convinced that bourgeois must take power in ‘February’ to establish a bourgeois democracy, further growth of which would consolidate the working class and after a historic period working class would take power in Russia. Bolsheviks though differed with Mensheviks in that the Bolsheviks thought that bourgeois being very weak in Russia, cannot take to power and thus the bourgeois democratic republic has to be established under a combined regime of proletariat and peasantry. Lenin thought that establishment of a revolutionary bourgeois democracy under combined regime of workers and peasants in Russia would break the yoke of despotism and stagnation, and would send sparks to countries of west, especially Germany, which was maturing for a proletarian revolution. He visualised that the proletariat of the west would take to power first and then help the proletariat in Russia to come to power. Yet, both the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks were in agreement that the proletariat alone cannot come to power in Russia, before it comes to power in more advanced capitalist countries of Western Europe.
In seeking the path of revolution in Russia, both of these currents, looked in their own way, towards the old bourgeois revolutions of Europe, passed in history for long, and derived a theory of ‘stagism’, i.e. the revolution emerging in two stages- first democratic and then socialist. These revolutions were led by bourgeois for historic reasons and had invariably brought bourgeois to power. Bourgeois first armed the proletariat and the peasantry, to take to power with their aid, and immediately after establishing its dictatorship, disarmed them, turning its power against the revolutionary proletariat. The revolution had thus to be forced to its second stage- the proletarian, against the bourgeois regime.
It is this ‘two-stage’ characteristic of the old European revolutions which was conditioned by historic circumstances of its time, but was later transformed by the epigones of Marx, into a fixed formulation of ‘two-stage theory’ of revolution- ‘capitalism today- socialism tomorrow’; and we will see how later this formula was converted into a fetish to permanently postpone the issue of proletarian dictatorship.
It is thus no matter of surprise that while the ‘February’ revolution put the real power into the hands of the armed working class, well organised into its Soviets, its leadership surrendered the power to the bourgeois clique, which in their estimation was the only legitimate claimant to the power in Russia. Thus emerged the provisional bourgeois government first under Price Lvov and then under Kerensky. Not only the Mensheviks, but all the top Bolshevik Leaders, including Stalin, were calling upon the proletariat to support the ‘February Government’, which according to them was the apostle of a social revolution.
Leon Trotsky, the co-leader of Russian Revolution had disputed this common proposition of Bolsheviks and Mensheviks long before vide his theory of ‘permanent revolution’ propounded first in ‘results and prospects’, way back in 1906. Trotsky proposed that the proletariat in Russia was the most legitimate claimant to power and the Russian revolution can succeed only as a proletarian revolution.
While whole Bolshevik leadership, hand in hand with Mensheviks, continued to support the February Government, Lenin and Trotsky opposed it. While in exile to Switzerland at the time of February revolution, Lenin realised the fallacy of ‘two-stage theory’ and of old formulation of ‘democratic dictatorship’ and wrote four letters criticizing the support for provisional Government. Bolshevik leaders did not publish three out of the four letters and published the fourth with major editing, with a note that the views were of Lenin and Party has nothing to do with them. As Lenin returned to Russia, on 3rd April, he presented his April thesis, with clarion call to overturn the February government and severely criticised Bolshevik and Menshevik leaders for supporting the provisional government. Lenin was singled out in the party and was branded as Trotskyist.
As each coming day continued to expose the character of the provisional government as an instrument of bourgeois interests and against the working class, the rank and file Bolsheviks continued to muster behind Lenin and the leaders were forced to follow. Firing upon the July demonstration, was the final link which opened the eyes not only of Social Democrats, but of left SRs, the representatives of peasantry also. The conditions facilitated the victory of the ‘new approach’ inside the Bolshevik party, which rejected the idea of democratic revolution in Russia and called for a proletarian revolution, the path of ‘October’ was cleared. This was the path of ‘permanent Revolution’ as against the ‘two stage theory’.
As Lenin said that bourgeois consolidated itself and could come to power in Russia in February, not because it was legitimate claimant to power or for its political superiority over the proletariat, but for the illusion of the leaders of proletariat in the outmode formulas. With a rupture from the old theory of ‘stagism’ the proletariat forwarded towards its historic victory, the victory of October Revolution.
February regime could not solve even the minimal democratic tasks of the Revolution. Neither it could end the war, nor it addressed the most pressing land reforms. Problem of nationalities remained unresolved. The bourgeois regime instead of resolving the tasks of democracy, further deepened the existing contradictions to their zenith. It thus fell upon the proletariat to accomplish the unfinished tasks of the bourgeois democracy and the proletariat sought this accomplishment through the greatest social revolution in the history of mankind- the Great October Revolution.
‘October’ came as the first shot of the victory of world proletariat against the world bourgeois and thus in essence was an international event. It sent sparks to the revolutionary proletariat in advanced West and to the liberation struggles in the East. It provided logistic basis for the organisation of the world party of the proletariat with battle-cry of a world socialist revolution- the third International (Comintern).
As the battle of proletariat for a global victory started to take off in zig-zag fashion initially suffering setbacks in Germany, Hungary and elsewhere, the vacillating second line leadership consolidated itself into a bureaucracy to put brakes on the victory campaign of the proletariat for a world revolution. As the first line leadership which was instrumental in creating the ‘October’ perished these second liners under Stalin organised a coup to capture the centre stage, ruthlessly eliminated the entire surviving leadership of ‘October’, buried the dream of world socialist revolution and raised the renegade slogan of ‘socialism in one country’. They not only annihilated revolutions in different countries, but emasculated and then finally disbanded the world party of the proletariat- the Comintern- in 1943.
‘October’ tested various hypothesis of revolution on the terrain of actual struggle, and endorsed or rejected them in its course. Bolshevism became victorious, but only after it re-oriented itself using the compass of ‘April Thesis’ which was a spectacular turn towards the theory of ‘permanent Revolution’ from ‘Stagism’. Menshevism was defeated as it remained oriented towards bourgeois and the ‘two stage’ theory of revolution.
‘Stagism’ was buried by the October Revolution, but not for the epigones of Marxism. Proletariat succeeded in Russia, but the epigones let the lessons of ‘October’ forgotten and later took out the same ‘Stagism’ from the dustbin of history. The Kremlin under Stalin, sought in this theory an apology to collaborate with bourgeois all over the world. If the collaboration with KMT and Chiang Kai Shek in China, aborted the maturing revolution in 1927, in Germany and Spain, it surfaced in the form of ‘popular frontism’, the official doctrine of Comintern under Stalin, and led directly to tragic defeats for the proletariat at the hands of fascists in Germany in 1932 and in Spain in 1937.
Stalinists and Maoists, the advocates of ‘Stagism’ i.e. ‘two stage revolution’-first democratic and then socialist- have derailed the generations of youth and workers from arming themselves with correct revolutionary lessons of history. Instead of arming the youth and workers with a revolutionary theory, they continued to seek progressive elements in the bourgeois and in all countries remain adherent to this or that section of the bourgeois.
Understanding of October does not mean that we can duplicate the revolution anywhere on set patterns of October. Doubtlessly, with given alignment of social forces, the path of revolution would differ in countries from each other. Moreover, many objective conditions are necessary for a revolution to be successful in individual countries. But once the essential objective conditions are met, the question of leadership, armed with a clear vision, becomes a decisive factor, and if the visionary leadership to take the revolution to its victorious end remains absent, the moment slips away. This is the case which has repeated itself dozens of times in each country after the Russian ‘October’.
It is thus necessary to understand the lessons of October Revolution, the successful capture of power by the proletariat, not in order to copy it elsewhere, but to draw the necessary lessons to illuminate the path of future revolutions and to avoid the repetition of errors again and again, which have inflicted defeat after defeat upon the world working class in the last century.
After about a century of the October revolution, more revolutionary experience is accumulated, through a whole series of defeats and setbacks to the world working class movement. Rich experience, in the form of victories and defeats now lies at hand. As the general crisis of world capitalism advances, the objective conditions are maturing in different countries for a proletarian overturn. Ever increasing numerical strength of the proletariat on the globe, is an added advantage over the past. In contrast of the last century, where peasantry dominated, today working class is the largest social section on the globe. It is more integrated, more mobile and more experienced than ever before.
However, a whole century of defeats and setbacks to the world working class, given the debased policies firstly of Comintern under Stalin, and then Stalinist and Maoist parties all over the world, has left the world proletariat in a situation of complete demoralisation and disorientation. The working class has lost faith in its own strength and the victory of socialism. This is the legacy left behind by Stalinism and Maoism.
There has erupted, thus a deep chasm between the maturing objective conditions and thus ever growing prospects of a world socialist revolution on one side and subjective unpreparedness of the working class to rise in revolt against its class enemy, the world bourgeois and its power in individual countries, on the other. To fill this chasm, is the greatest challenge before the revolutionaries of our generation.