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Mainstream, VOL LV No 34 New Delhi August 12, 2017

Hundred Years of Russian Revolution: The Greatest Revolution

Saturday 12 August 2017, by Anil Rajimwale

We are celebrating hundred years of the Russian Revolution, the greatest one that changed the course of history. There undoubtedly have been great revolutions in history but none like this one. The Russian Revolution changed the way we approached the society and the world. It, for the first time, put elimination of exploitation and poverty, the question of the radical reorganisation of the whole society on the agenda. The earlier revolutions simply continued the social development. The Russian Revolution projected the working masses as the makers of a new society. That is the novelty of this revolution, its very central axis.

Marxism and Russian Revolution

The Russian Revolution had a vision going deep into society and nature, and this was imparted to it by the scientific discoveries of Karl Marx. Marx proved that the material and spiritual values of the capitalist society are created by the working class, and it is this class that will, consequently, lead in the building of a new classless society. Marx was the first to put the working people, in particular the working class, at the centre of world history, as its makers. That was the great theoretical discovery practised by the Russian Revolution.

Revolutions till then had been accidental and spontaneous events, put together and caused by a constellation of circumstances of history, resulting in great individuals at their head. The Russian Revolution, on the contrary, was a conscious and well-thought-out event guided by a well-developed scientific theory, strategy and tactics. The revolution happened when its makers realised that it was the logical conclusion of a historically objective process. The objective laws of social development required an era of replacement of capitalism by socialism. Marxism encompassed this whole era. Herein lay its historicity.

Development of Marxism in Russia

Georgi Plekhanov, the ‘Father of Marxism’ in Russia, founded the Emancipation of Labour League in 1883 in Switzerland, along with Axelrod, Vera Zasulich and others. The League introduced Marxism to Russia and translated a number of basic Marxist works. It trained up whole generations of Marxists, among them Lenin as the brightest.

Nothing better has been written on materia-lism than by Plekhanov in his five volume works.

Marxism in Russia developed in the struggle against Anarchism, Narodnism, reformism and certain other petty-bourgeois and bourgeois trends. The process enriched theory, constantly raising its level, without which the revolution would not have been possible. Lenin played a central role in it.

Lenin was born as Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov in Simbirsk (later Ulyanovsk) on April 22, 1870. An outstanding theoretician and practitioner, he developed Marxism to its new stage, that of Leninism. He was among the rare handful in history to have really mastered Hegel.

At just 24 years of age, he confronted the Narodniks (literally ‘living among the people’), who believed in ‘peasant socialism’. They thought the traditional peasant communes of Russia could straightaway develop socialism under revolutionary action. Narodnism was a variety of Anarchist utopian socialism, as opposed to scientific socialism, as they ignored the development of capitalism. Lenin sharply criticised them in his famous What the Friends of the People Are (1894). By implication they refused to recognise the historic role of the proletariat.

Lenin founded the League for the Struggle of the Emancipation of the Working Class in 1895 at St Petersburg along with Martov and others.

Formation of RSDLP

The process, with the growth of industriali-sation, culminated in the establishment of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) in 1898 in Minsk. Lenin could not physically attend the founding conference, as he was in exile in the Far East, but sent his documents secretly in invisible ink.

Lenin wanted a disciplined proletarian party based on democratic centralism in Russian conditions. He wanted the members not just to support the party policies but also to actively work in its units.

On the other hand, Martov and his associates were satisfied with a loose kind of organisation. Lenin wrote his famous What Is to be Done? in this connection.

Imperialism and Bourgeois Democratic Revolution

The Russian Revolution is a fall-out of the imperialist mode of production, and cannot be explained without grasping the transition of capitalism to its higher stage of imperialism. Monopoly capital, finance capital and imperialism arose through a concentration of capital by the turn of the 19th to the 20th centuries. A handful of big capitalists, growing bigger, concentrated and centralised the means of production, capital and market, to the exclusion of the non-mono-poly, non-centralised capitalists and entre-preneurs.

It was Lenin who identified the features of imperialism and discovered the flight of productive capital away from production as speculative finance capital, as industrial and banking capitals merged. Lenin showed that the concentration and centralisation of production and capital intensified the contradictions of the capitalist-imperialist mode of production.

The anti-monopoly, anti-imperialist front of struggle broadened as never before. In an interesting formulation, Lenin termed imperia-lism as a new ‘mode of production’.

Russia entered the stage of imperialism at this time, which was a crucial event for the revolution. Nobody noted this fact except Lenin, who made a deep study of the development of capitalism in Russia at the turn of the century. Narodniks, Mensheviks, Social Revolutionaries and other movements failed to notice this new fact, and remained in a utopian subjective world of their own.

The Russian Revolution broke out of all the shackles of imperialism and its feudal relations.

Anti-imperialist Democratic Revolution

There emerged ‘two tactics’ of the Russian Revolution due to different evaluations of the new stage: one was the Bolshevik, led by Lenin, and the other was Menshevik. The ‘dress rehearsal’ the Russian Revolution of 1917 in 1905 itself tested the theories of new revolution in all its essentials.

It was a period of big changes in Russia, which entered the era of monopoly and financé capital. Capitalist development was proceeding apace, creating conditions for an anti-feudal revolution. The Russo-Japanese war had taken place, and the whole of Czarist Russia was in turmoil. The peasantry, recently liberated from serfdom, was asserting for more rights and for land reforms. The working class was emerging because of rapid highly concentrated industriali-sation.

Yet feudalism was not completely done away with. This was a key point noted by Lenin. According to him, Russia suffered both from the development of capitalism as well as its insufficient development. Only a properly developed democratic capitalism could destroy feudalism. Therefore, he concluded that the working class was even more interested than the bourgeoisie in proper capitalist develop-ment.

This formulation formed an important basis for Lenin’s theory of the bourgeois democratic revolution in Russia.

The bourgeois democratic revolution was a crucial stage on the way to socialism and was directly linked to and a consequence of imperia-lism. It was a great advance over the theory of revolution of Karl Marx.

In the age of imperialism, capitalism develops in a more stratified character. The big monopoly and finance capital not only exploits the working class and peasantry but also the vast masses of petty and small owners and producers as well as the non-monopoly bourgeoisie, who are sought to be driven out of production and market. Therefore, the target of the democratic revolution was to prevent concentration and centralisation of capital and to unite all the classes to fight against such a concentration. Monopolisation had to be prevented. Lenin identified imperialism and feudalism as the main opponents or hurdles in the democratic stage of revolution.

Controversies in Social Democratic Movement

Initially, most of the social democrats, in particular the Mensheviks, could not understand and digest the new formulations of Lenin on the democratic revolution. They could not under-stand how the working class could be interested, even ‘more interested’, in capitalism, and how one should not take a direct leap into socialism. After all, it was the job of revolutionaries to carry out the socialist revolution. A big section of the working class and social democratic revolutionaries failed to grasp that revolution proceeded through many stages, particularly in the era of imperialism. Many among the extreme Left within the social democratic movement, the Socialist Revolutionary Party and the Mens-heviks, thought that Lenin was making a compromise with capitalism and imperialism.

As a result, there were serious controversies in the international and Russian working class movement. Most of the leaders initially tried the easy path of sticking to the ‘classical’ concepts of Karl Marx, and did not notice the great qualitative changes taking place in the capitalist mode of production.

The controversies and debates took place in the pages of papers like Iskra, Pravda, Izvestia, Rabochaya Misl and others. Outstanding leaders of the Russian and international workers and social democratic movement took part. Among them were Lenin, Plekhanov, Trotsky, Bukharin, Martov, Rosa Luxemburg, Kautsky, Bernstein, Axelrod, and a host of others. These constituted a rich store of theoretical debates clarifying and enriching the questions of theory and practice.

Bourgeois Democratic Revolution: Great Contribution

Lenin wrote his seminal work Two Tactics of Social Democracy in 1905, and subsequently several others, expanding the same arguments. He developed the theory of the ‘bourgeois demo-cratic revolution’ as the main stage for the Russian Revolution. The Russian Revolution of 1905-07 confirmed the correctness of the theory in practice. It applied to the revolution of 1917 also.

The concept of the bourgeois democratic revolution is an outstanding contribution to Marxist theory. According to it, the revolutions in the imperialist era had to go through many intermediate stages before reaching the socialist stage. The chief feature of the intermediate stages was their being bourgeois democratic in nature.

It also meant that the revolution was not opposed to all the bourgeois relations at this stage but only to those which led to concentration of capital. For example, the peasantry and small bourgeoisie were not the targets of the revolution.

The working class was interested in capitalist development because it hit at the feudal interests. In a developing or a relatively backward economy, certain development of productive forces was essential before socialist transformation could be undertaken.

Similarly, the national liberation struggle for freedom from colonialism and imperialism was also a variety of the bourgeois democratic revolution because after freedom it opened the path of capitalist industrialisation. Not only the working class, peasantry and the petty bour-geoisie but also the bourgeoisie itself took an active part in the freedom movement. Lenin asked the Communists to actively take part in the national freedom movement (or the bourgeois democratic movement).

The theory of the bourgeois democratic revolution is a great contribution to the Marxist theory of socialism. It has to be understood properly. Otherwise, one is bound to commit mistakes of bypassing the crucial stages of the revolution.

Birth of the Soviets

It was in the course of the 1905 revolution that the Soviets were born as the mass organisation of the workers, peasants and the soldiers. They were to play a crucial role in the revolution of 1917. The first Soviet was formed in the textile city of Ivanovo-Voznesensk in 1905 in a giant workers’ meeting in the course of a prolonged strike. The Soviets were then formed in the other cities of Russia, like Moscow, St Petersburg and others.

The Soviets were a peculiar Russian organi-sation that emerged spontaneously. They were mass organisations not formed by or affiliated to any parties. But the parties vied with each other for a place in them. Gradually the Soviets began to elect delegates to higher bodies of a certain number of workers, 100 to 500. In fact, during the 1905 revolution, the Soviets acted as a parallel government, without whose authority or permission, the ‘official’ government could not discharge many functions. In the February (March) revolution of 1917, the St Petersburg Soviet asked the armed forces not carry out any orders without the approval of the Soviets.

Hence, it has to be understood that the Russian Revolution was a ‘Soviet’ revolution, not a party revolution. The working class and other working masses acted through the Soviets, which in turn were led by the parties.

WW I and Revolution

As predicted by Lenin, the First World War (WW I) exposed all the contradictions of imperialism in Czarist Russia. It turned out to be the weakest link in the imperialist chain, and so proved to be ripe for the revolution.

Lenin was in Europe when the first revolution in 1917 broke out in February (March in the new calendar) in St Petersburg, the capital. The Soviets of Soldiers, Workers and Peasants overthrew the Czar and installed a Provisional Government, supporting it from the outside. It was an anti-feudal, anti-Czar, anti-imperialist revolution, whose main slogan was an end to the War.

But the Soviets voluntarily supported the government, did not take full power. Lenin rushed to Russia secretly in a train to Finland and then to the Capital, when he came out in the open. He presented his famous April Theses, explaining that it was a ‘Dual power’: there was the formal government, and there was the Soviet Government. Once the Soviets decided to take full power, the revolution would be accom-plished. The government still favoured continuation of the War, and as such should be removed. This could be done only if the Soviets shed their illusions.

The period between February (March) and October (November) is among the most exciting and unparalleled in political history due to its twists and turns and zig-zags. It was the dialectical tactics and strategy adopted by Lenin and the Bolshevik-led Soviets that resulted in a successful revolution. It was a period of rich Leninist tactics.

By October-November (1917), the Bolsheviks had acquired a majority in the Soviets. Lenin could then give a call for takeover of power on November 7 (1917). ‘All Power to the Soviets’ was accomplished.

The main slogan of the new, Soviet Government was ‘Peace, Bread and Land’. As such, this proletarian socialist regime first began to carry out the tasks of a democratic revolution.

The author is a Marxist ideologue.

ISSN : 0542-1462 / RNI No. : 7064/62