On November 7th 1917, the working class of Russia took power. For the first time in history, the socialist revolution was victorious. One hundred years later, as millions of youth all over the world are looking to fight against capitalism, the Russian revolution is a source of inexhaustible inspiration. We must study the lessons of the Russian revolution to prepare this struggle if we want to lead it to victory!
A new socialist revolution is possible
How often do we hear that a socialist revolution is impossible, or that it is a utopia? Skeptics tell us that workers are apathetic, that people are not interested in politics or in transforming society. Others will tell us that there were revolutions a long time ago but now they are no longer possible.
But few people realize how, on the surface, the the prospects for revolution seemed to be quite bleak in the years leading up to the Russian revolution. With the First World War raging on, with millions of workers killing each other on the front, the slogan “Workers of the world unite” sounded like a bad joke. The national parties of the 2nd international, the organization which united all of the socialist parties of the world, shamefully endorsed the war with the sole exceptions being the Russians and the Serbs.
Even Lenin was very anxious about the slow development of the forces of genuine Marxism as the war progressed. In January 1917, still trapped in exile in Switzerland, Lenin stated that “We of the older generation may not live to see the decisive battles of this coming revolution.”
What incredible irony! One month later, the February revolution had taken place: the workers of Petrograd overthrew tsarism and the soviets (workers, peasants and soldiers councils) began to emerge alongside the bourgeois provisional government that was formed after the revolution. Nine months later the October revolution triumphed: the Bolshevik party of Lenin and Trotsky had won the majority in the soviets and had overthrown the provisional government.
The development of the class struggle does not follow a straight line and under the surface of a seemingly calm situation, revolutionary uprising are often prepared. In 1917, the calamities of the war, famine, economic disorganization and poverty led to a deep hatred of the tsarist regime, which was waiting for an opportunity to express itself.
Similarly today, decades of austerity and declining living standards are causing frustration to grow in society. The young generation today will be the first since the Second World War to be poorer than their parents. The idea that capitalism is “the best possible system” no longer corresponds to the reality of millions of people forced into precarious employment, saddled with enormous amounts of debt, forced to accept low wages, often all at the same time.
In this context where anger is growing among the masses, radical changes can happen more rapidly than we think – and they will happen. The Arab Spring of 2011 is proof of this. It is impossible to predict when the contradictions will express themselves or when we will see the mass of people rise up to transform society. What we do know is that this will come sooner or later and that as socialists, we must prepare for it in the here and now.
The Bolshevik Party
But how can we prepare ourselves? How can we assure that future revolutions will be victorious?
The Russian revolution is not the only socialist revolution to have taken place in history. In fact, the Russian revolution sparked a wave of revolutions all over Europe and even had an echo in Asia and America as well. Workers in Germany, Hungary, Italy, Bulgaria, Finland etc… all attempted to overthrow capitalism. The revolution even had repercussions here in Canada, most notably with the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919.
Since then, dozens and dozens of revolutions have taken place in all four corners of the globe. Again and again, workers attempt to take power into their hands in one country after another. But why was the Russian revolution the only one, up to this point, which led to the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of a genuine workers democracy?
There was nothing which predestined the working class of Russia to succeed where others had failed. During 1917, there were several times where it seemed as though the revolution would be defeated by the counter revolution. The reformist parties of the time, the Socialist Revolutionaries (SR) and the Mensheviks, had the support of the majority of the workers and peasants during the first months of the revolution and used their dominant position to subordinate the masses to the interests of the bourgeoisie who were trying to put an end to the revolution. The Mensheviks and the SRs believed that it was “too early” for the working class to take power, that the bourgeoisie should be allowed to reign and that the struggle for socialism would be for later.
This is an argument which constantly comes up today in one form or another. The current leaders of the labour movement repeat endlessly the same refrain that the masses are not ready to overthrow capitalism. It goes without saying that for these people, the masses will never be ready to struggle for socialism.
In 1917, the SRs and the Mensheviks did not have the perspective of taking power in the name of the soviets and to begin taking measures against the capitalists. They therefore found themselves between a rock and a hard place. Refusing to lead the working class to take power through the soviets, they were forced to endorse the pro-capitalist policies of the provisional government which most notably included continuing the world war which no one wanted. But the patience and the trust of the Russian masses reached its limits. During the July days of 1917, the workers and soldiers of Petrograd demonstrated with arms in hand against the government; a worker even grabbed a SR minister by the collar and shouted in his face “Take the power you son of a bitch when we give it to you!”
As months went by, the Mensheviks and the SRs found themselves completely discredited in the eyes of the workers, soldiers and peasants. It was to the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin and Trotsky, that they turned to. Having spent months patiently explaining to them the necessity of taking power from the hands of the bourgeoisie, and having won their trust, the Bolsheviks were able to canalize the immense energy and initiative of the masses and direct it towards the seizure of power.
Marxists are often criticized because we supposedly give too much importance to discussing and debating abstract ideas. Wouldn’t it be better to simply put aside so-called ”abstract” questions and move on to action? But the Russian revolution shows us clearly the importance of having good ideas and good methods to have a successful socialist revolution.
Essentially, two ideas led to the victory in October 1917. The first was the perspective advanced by Trotsky, that of the permanent revolution. Everyone in the labour movement at the time was in agreement that the tasks of the revolution in tsarist Russia were bourgeois democratic tasks: emancipation of the peasants, democratic rights, liberation from imperialist domination, liberation of oppressed nationalities, etc… However, while other tendencies in the movement argued that the bourgeoisie must take power after the fall of tsarism, Trotsky put forward the idea that only the working class, leading the poor peasants, would be capable of accomplishing these tasks. He added that the working class, once in power, would have to begin the tasks related to the socialist transformation of society. The events of 1917 showed that he was right. On the basis of events, Lenin adopted this perspective and the Bolshevik party followed suit in April 1917. What could seem like an abstract debate among revolutionaries made the difference between victory and defeat. Without this perspective, the October revolution would not have been possible.
The second idea, was Lenin’s idea that a revolutionary party was necessary to lead the working class to power. Lenin spent 20 years carefully building this organization. In 1917, the leading parties in the soviets, the SRs and the Mensheviks, were leading the revolution to its ruin. It was therefore necessary to have a party to provide an alternative leadership to that which was given by the SRs and the Mensheviks. Trotsky eventually understood this as well and joined the Bolsheviks in the summer of 1917. Without the presence of the Bolshevik party, bringing together the most active and conscious revolutionary workers (having succeeded in winning the majority of the working class to their side), the seizure of power by the working class would have never been possible in 1917. And today, 100 years later, political scientists and other “experts” would explain the failure of the Russian revolution by the fact that the working class could not take power, that it was not ready, that the situation was not ripe, that the balance of power was unfavorable, and so on.
A revolutionary party like the Bolshevik party; this is precisely what was absent in revolutions of the last 100 years. The toiling masses constantly demonstrate their combativeness and their desire to transform society. The revolutions of the previous century are innumerable and there will be more to come. During a mass movement or a revolution, left parties who refuse to fight to overthrow capitalism find themselves quickly discredited and enter into crisis. The problem in this situation is the absence of a genuine revolutionary organization equipped with a clear program to guide the masses where the reformists refuse to lead them: to the overthrow of the capitalist system itself. Building this organization is the task facing us today.
Build the International Marxist Tendency!
Faced with the dead end in which capitalism now finds itself, it has become clear to an increasing number of people that 100 years after the Russian Revolution, a new revolution is needed.
Today, as then, the bourgeoisie plays an absolutely parasitical role and is holding society back. The most recent report from Oxfam shows us that eight individuals possess more wealth than the poorest 50% of the planet’s population. In Canada, there are just 2 individuals who own as much wealth as a third of the population! While 50% of the Canadian population is living paycheque to paycheque, more than $700 billion sits in the bank accounts of the big capitalists, without being invested in the economy, according to a 2016 study. Through this grotesque accumulation of wealth, the capitalists today would make the monarchs of yesterday look poor. If the situation in 1917 was ripe to overthrow the bourgeoisie, it is time to do the same today!
When the Bolsheviks took the power from the bourgeoisie in 1917, the goal was to spark a revolution that would overthrow capitalism on a global scale. The Bolsheviks, understanding that it would be impossible to build socialism only in Russia, hastened to create the Communist International, a world revolutionary organization which had the goal of defending socialist ideas in every country and leading the working class to power.
Socialism is international or it is nothing. The efforts of our comrades in other countries will be nothing if we don’t try to overthrow the ruling class here and vice versa. This is why Fightback is part of the International Marxist Tendency, present in more than 30 countries where we are fighting to build a revolutionary party that can play the role that the Bolsheviks played in 1917.
All over the world, the trust placed in the institutions, parties and politicians of the establishment, as well as the capitalist system in general, is eroding and the rate at which this is happening is accelerating. Socialist ideas are gaining popularity in particular among young people. Sooner or later, the workers will move into action and they need to be able to count on a revolutionary organization capable of guiding the movement towards the overthrow of capitalism. We need you to build this organization.
Join the International Marxist Tendency, and finish the work that the Bolsheviks began 100 years ago!