14. THE FIRST GREAT REVOLUTIONARY WAVE OF THE WORLD PROLETARIAT

Printer-friendly versionSend by email By marking the entry of capitalism into its decadent phase, World War I showed that the objective conditions for the proletarian revolution had ripened. The revolutionary wave, which arose in response to the war and which thundered across Russia and Europe, made its mark in both Americas and found an echo in China, and thus constituted the first attempt by the world proletariat to accomplish its historic task of destroying capitalism. At the highest points of its struggle between 1917 and 1923, the proletariat took power in Russia, engaged in mass insurrections in Germany, and insurrections in Germany, and shook Italy, Hungary, and Austria to their foundations. Although less strongly, the revolutionary wave expressed itself in bitter struggles in, for example, Spain, Great Britain, North and South America. The tragic failure of the revolutionary wave was finally marked in 1927 by the crushing of the proletarian insurrection in Shanghai and Canton in China after a long series of defeats for the working class internationally. This is why the October 1917 revolution in Russia can only be understood as one of the most important manifestations of this class movement and not as a ‘bourgeois’, ‘state-capitalist’, ‘dual’, or ‘permanent’ revolution which would somehow force the proletariat to fulfil the ‘bourgeois-democratic’ tasks which the bourgeoisie itself was incapable of carrying out.

Equally part of this revolutionary wave was the creation in 1919 of the Third International (The Communist International), which broke organisationally and politically with the parties of the Second International whose participation in the imperialist war had marked their passage into the bourgeois camp. The Bolshevik Party, an integral part of the revolutionary left which split from the Second International by taking up clear political positions expressed in the slogans "turn the imperialist war into a civil war", "smash the capitalist state", and "all power to the Soviets", through its decisive role in the creation of the Third International, made a fundamental contribution to the revolutionary process and represented at that moment an authentic vanguard for the world proletariat.

However, though the degeneration both of the revolution in Russia and of the Third International were essentially the result of the crushing of revolutionary attempts in other countries and of the general exhaustion of the revolutionary wave, it is equally necessary to understand the role played by the Bolshevik Party – since owing to the weakness of the other parties, it was the leading light in the Communist International – in this process of degeneration and in the international defeats of the proletariat. With, for example, the crushing of the Kronstadt uprising and the advocacy (despite the opposition of the left of the Third International) of the policies of ‘conquering the unions’, ‘revolutionary parliamentarism’, and the ‘united front’, the Bolsheviks’ influence and responsibility in the liquidation of the revolution were no less than their contribution to the original development of that wave.

In Russia itself the counter-revolution came not only from ‘outside’ but also from ‘inside’ and in particular through the state structures which the Bolshevik Party set up and became identified with. What in October 1917 had simply been serious errors explicable in the light of the immaturity of the proletariat in Russia and of the workers’ movement in general in the face of a new historical period, were from then on to become a screen, an ideological justification for the counter-revolution, and served as an important factor in it. However the decline of the post-war revolutionary wave and the revolution in Russia, the degeneration of the Third International and the Bolshevik Party, and the counter-revolutionary role which the latter played after a certain point, can only be understood by considering this revolutionary wave and the Third International, including their expression in Russia, as authentic expressions of the proletarian movement. Any other explanations can only lead to confusion and will prevent the currents which defend these confusions from really fulfilling their revolutionary tasks.

Even if the experiences of the class have left no ‘material’ gains, it is only by beginning from this understanding of their nature that real and important theoretical gains can be obtained from them. In particular, as the only historical example of the seizure of political power by the proletariat (apart from the ephemeral and desperate attempt represented by the Paris Commune in 1871, and the abortive experiences of Bavaria and Hungary in 1919), the October 1917 revolution has left a number of precious lessons for the understanding of two crucial problems of the revolutionary struggle: the content of the revolution and the nature of the organisation of revolutionaries.