Contribution to the discussion of the centenary of the Russian Revolution of 1917

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On the 11th November, the ICC is hosting a Day of Discussion on the Russian Revolution. Several comrades have been already been reflecting seriously on the importance of this all-important episode in the history of working class struggle. A comrade on our discussion board, Link, has already reposted a presentation he prepared for a previous meeting on the topic. It can be found on our discussion forum here.

The text that follows has been sent to us by a close sympathiser of the ICC. We are publishing it in the hope that as many comrades as possible will read it prior to the meeting in the hope that it will stimulate further thought and discussion.

We encourage all comrades to attend the meeting if they are able and to consider making further contributions, either in the form of texts or participating on our forum.

The revolutionary events in Russia in 1917, "the forcible entrance of the masses into the realm of rulership over their own destiny", (Trotsky) the uprising of millions of proletarians, poor peasants and soldiers, together with the revolutionary wave which it started from Finland to Sicily, from the Ruhr to the Urals, with influences in the USA, Spain, China or Argentina, the hopes which it raised among millions of oppressed in the world, cannot be approached from a narrow ideological  affiliation. The Russian Revolution and the international revolutionary wave which it initiated, its critical assessment and its contributions to the communist programme, belongs to oppressed humanity as a whole, in its age-old struggle against the oppression of man by man, and particularly to the perspective of the communist alternative, which is still to be written, and which is led by the revolutionary proletariat.

Increasingly incapable of offering a positive project that justifies and supports the maintenance of the domination of capitalist social and production relations, the international bourgeoisie focuses above all on repeating that there is no alternative to its rule, or if any, this would be even worse, leading necessarily to Nazi or Stalinist-kind “totalitarianism”. The identification (i.e., denigration and ridicule) of the communist historical alternative with different forms of especially brutal red-wrapped state capitalism is undoubtedly the main ideological dogma, along with the one of "democracy", which uses capitalist civilization, corroded by its contradictions, to sustain itself.  It is in this context that one must place the (not new of course) campaigns of ridicule and denigration of the revolutionary experience in Russia in 1917 and, by extension, of the international revolutionary wave which followed it.

In this strategy of falsification of the Russian Revolution there is at play a prominent role for the false polarization between "supporters" and "opponents" of this lie within the bourgeois ideological and political spectrum. The "supporters" with Stalinists, Trotskyists or Maoists positions (from the crude paleo-Stalinist versions to the more neo-social democratic variations which ridicule the revolution, turning it into an exercise in a “follow-my-leader” attitude on the part of powerless masses, in intrigues and manoeuvres by professional politicians and "genial bosses”, in messianism and personality cult (whether for Lenin, Trotsky, or Stalin) under a narrow Russian framework. In other words, they present the proletarian revolution as if it were vulgar bourgeois politics, of which these currents form its left wing, applying the pattern of "revolutions" (power struggles between national and international factions of the ruling class, using the discontented populations as cannon fodder for interests outside of their own) in China, Cuba, Vietnam or Venezuela. Its "defence" of the Russian Revolution is the worst ridicule.

The anarchist current bases its alleged "criticism" of the Russian experience on the same bourgeois dogma and patterns of its "defenders" from the left wing of capital: the Russian revolution as a "putsch" led by manipulative elements who use the masses for their own interests, and the identification of the marxist method and the communist historical perspective with Stalinism and similar regimes. In addition, in an exercise in cynicism typical of bourgeois politics, this current, while denigrating marxism and communism, hides or manipulates its collaboration with Stalinism in the 1930s in Spain, its "proud" participation in the "French resistance" under the bourgeois and Stalinist banner in WW2, or its support for bourgeois factions under the "democratic confederalism" discourse of Kurdish militias. Anarchism engages in a work of historical falsification by fraudulently vindicating the revolutionary sailors of Kronstadt (determined supporters of the "authoritarian coup" led by the Bolsheviks in October 1917) or the workers' insurrection in May 1937 in Barcelona (against the republican State of which the CNT was part, collaborating in its "pacification”). Actually, it should rather vindicate Kropotkin and the Manifesto of the Sixteen, the Spanish anarchist ministers, or the crypto-Stalinist Abdullah Öcalan, as a legitimate member of the extreme left of the political and ideological spectrum of capital.

The clearest and most sincerely revolutionary elements within anarchism, such as Victor Serge or some of the most combative fractions of Spanish working class anarchism, embraced the path of the need for the insurrection and the revolutionary dictatorship concretized by Bolshevism.

This strategy of denial of the possibility of a viable alternative to the dictatorship of capital by the bourgeoisie finds a fertile historical ground in the current incapacity of the proletariat to pose a political and social alternative. The phenomena which objectively show the historical crisis of bourgeois society through its inability to solve them (chronic economic crisis, mass unemployment, unending imperialist wars, terrorism and gangsterism, etc.), in the absence of a social and political alternative, become elements which underpin the rule of the capitalist class, which consciously makes use of them. The bourgeoisie consciously strikes on hot iron. In fact, for the bourgeoisie, within the limits of a certain maintenance of "public order", bourgeois property, circulation of goods, and the existence of a capable and willing labour force, given its inability to solve the contradictions of its system, the worse the better. The capitalist class has no problem in taking refuge in armed bunkers surrounded by poverty, like in the mega cities of Latin America. Without a revolutionary alternative, the capitalist mode of production will plunge society into barbarism.

The bonding and unifying organs of proletarian struggle are not to be found in the happy kingdom of "workers' democracy", but on a new battlefield, in a higher historical level, between, on the one hand, the positions of the bourgeoisie and its agents, and on the other, those which lead to the dictatorship of the proletariat. They are a necessary but not sufficient condition to break bourgeois power. Any uncritical illusion in the formality of "workers' democracy" in its different forms (assemblyism, councilism, etc.) politically disarms the proletarian alternative.

The leftist vision (coherent with its bourgeois approach) of the Bolsheviks, and more in particular, their leaders, as a triumphal, homogenous body, acclaimed by the masses in speeches in bourgeois electoral circus fashion, is again a complete falsification of the conditions under which revolutionary activity takes place. The Bolsheviks, until a few weeks before the October insurrection, are in a clear minority, in some cases in a situation of clandestinity, with deep discussions and confrontations in their ranks, finding rejection if not hostility from wide sectors of the proletariat and poor peasants, not to mention of course the “respectable” democrats and socialists who, as in Germany the following year with the Spartacists, will incite their murder once they have posed a threat.

The great strength of the Bolsheviks is the understanding that revolutionary activity is not the adaptation to bourgeois ideology and weaknesses of the proletariat, diluting themselves opportunistically in it, but on the contrary,  means standing firm and patient and trying to be an active factor in the elevation of the communist political consciousness within the revolutionary proletariat. And this can only take place in the framework of positions and theoretical-practical activity in opposition to the "respectability" of bourgeois order.

Another major merit and contribution to the communist program of the Bolsheviks is their conscious acknowledgement that the class struggle is above all a relation of forces between two projects of society, between two powers. The proletarian revolution is not a beautiful democratic ideal of the “whole people”, nor the realization of "workers” democracy". Although the formation of unifying organs (mass assemblies and workers' councils) are a necessary condition to break capitalism's normality of proletarian atomization and de-politicization, they are not sufficient in themselves to isolate the bourgeoisie and its State, to destroy its power. Without the communist programme, without revolutionary theory, the effort, combativeness and heroism of the masses is in vain. Even in a revolutionary situation, workers' councils can commit hara-kiri and dig their own grave by giving the power to the bourgeois State, through their "representatives", as was shown in Germany when the SPD and USPD dominated councils gave up their power to the National Assembly, or in Spain in 1936 with the renunciation of power by the CNT in favour of the collaboration with the Republican state.

As an irony of history, it was precisely under conditions of Russian backwardness that a challenge was  made to the vulgar materialism present in a large part of the organizations of the 2nd International, which defended the need to go through a phase of bourgeois democracy (with its parliaments, legal unions, etc.) before socialism could be introduced.  What was crucial in 1917 were the general historical conditions of  proletarian struggle at that moment in world capitalism. And these conditions meant that the proletariat as a political and social force could only take shape and express itself in rupture with the capitalist normality which atomizes and divides it. A year later, at the end of 1918, the same question arises in Germany: either workers' councils or national assembly. That is to say: either the maintenance of the permanent mobilization of the proletariat through its unifying organs of power, or the extinction of these organs and the dissolution of the proletariat into an atomized and powerless mass.

A new period begins for the class struggle. A period in which the proletarian class can only exist as a social and political force "in rupture". The acknowledgement that the class struggle is at a qualitatively higher historical level, a level at which the proletariat, in order to exist as an autonomous and antagonistic social and political force to the existing order, as a class, must confront what every day denies and prevents it as such. This means that the methods and dynamics which the proletarian class needs to assert its living conditions and its human nature, to assert itself as a collective force against capitalist social and production relations and the bourgeoisie in this historical period demands a profound confrontation with the "everyday normality", a profound questioning of its position; in short, a rupture with the daily domination of capitalist social relations, a social, organizational, and political rupture. In other words: in decadent capitalism the proletariat as a collective social and political force can only exist in rupture with everything which denies it precisely as a collective social and political force. It is in "backward Russia," precisely because it didn't fit in the patterns of vulgar materialism of the time, because it didn't go through a phase of legality, of stable and legal mass organizations, of democratic mystification, because of the need of the proletariat and poor peasants to defend themselves against the capitalist and landlord class, where the first great act (after 1905) of the class struggle of the future took place.

As stated above, in coherence with its view of the class struggle as a confrontation and a relationship of forces between two antagonistic historical projects, and not the realization of a "beautiful ideal" or of "workers' democracy", comes the audacity and the coherent acknowledgement by the Bolsheviks of the natural consequences of the proletarian revolution: the destruction of the bourgeois state, the abolition of bourgeois democracy, and the preparation and assumption of the historical necessity of the international expansion of revolution and civil war. The abolition of the bourgeois Constituent Assembly and the disregard for the mystique of power and the results of "democratic" elections (in which the Bolsheviks and Left SR by no means had a mathematical majority) in favour of the power of the armed soviets under Bolshevik influence in a context of favourable relations of forces for the seizure of power, will henceforth stand among the major programmatic points of the communist revolution. The alternative to this would have been to hand over power to the forces of "democracy" and the bourgeois state, preparing the ground for the counter-revolution. By acting in this way, the Bolsheviks of 1917 would have placed themselves in the same counter-revolutionary historical situation as the German SPD or the Spanish CNT, instead of occupying a place of honour in the historical programme for communism.

To understand the degeneration of the Russian Revolution from beacon of the world communist revolution to a capitalist state, the theoretical and practical vanguard of international counter-revolution, it is necessary to understand the nature and acting forces of the proletarian revolution. To understand the causes and nature of a counter-revolution, it is necessary to understand the revolution. The "mystery" of the degeneration of the Russian Revolution cannot be understood without understanding that the fuel of the revolution was exhausted: the most advanced and combative detachments of the proletariat (the backbone and driving force of the revolution) were physically and morally decimated and atomized in a bloody civil war against an army of mercenaries of the international bourgeoisie, by the terrible misery caused by eight years of war and economic strangulation of the world bourgeoisie, and by the stagnation of the world revolution. With the failure of the revolutionary attempts in the rest of Europe, which could have broken this blockade and added oxygen to the revolutionary fire, the fuel and revolutionary momentum was extinguished step by step. Karl Marx's statement that "the emancipation of the working class must be the task of the workers themselves" is not a mere empty slogan or an ode to self-management, it expresses among other things the idea that only the proletariat in struggle can provide the social and political fuel necessary to lead a struggle and an alternative to capitalism.

Deprived of this fuel, what was left of the Russian revolution was its state and the institutional structure for the management of the territory, showing itself increasingly antagonistic to the interests and needs of the population, and irremediably taking an autonomous life for its own development and survival under a world ruled by capitalist social and production relations. All kinds of unscrupulous careerists and social climbers, the natural eco-system of the bourgeois state and political apparatus, occupy the apparatus of the state and the Communist Party, both in the USSR and in the organizations of the Stalinized Communist International. This regime, formal heir to and at the same time an expression of the defeat and death by suffocation of the Russian Revolution, would make use of the greatest brutality for its internal and external preservation (starting with the elimination of revolutionary militants) and the greatest cynicism using all kinds of pseudo-marxist and pseudo-revolutionary phraseology to keep its influence and prestige among the oppressed at the international level. The international bourgeoisie (with the collaboration of its left wing) will make use ad nauseam of this precious historical gift of the identification of different forms of state capitalism with the communist alternative to bourgeois society. In fact, as said above, together with the "democratic" farce, it has become one of the main ideological arguments to justify its domination. The perspective of the revolutionary overcoming of capitalism will have to break with those two dogmas, or it won't happen at all.

It is necessary not to forget that, despite the extremely valuable lessons of the Russian Revolution, and the fact that, as stated above, it expresses the general conditions of the class struggle in decadent capitalism, these historical conditions will never occur again in exactly the same way. In several respects. First, because at that time there was an underestimation of the international bourgeoisie towards the proletarian communist threat: sealed trains for revolutionaries won't occur again, nor will “foreign” revolutionaries simply be deported to the revolutionary stronghold. The conditions of a Trotsky cornered and finally assassinated with the complicity of the international bourgeoisie will be the norm.

The revolutions of the future most probably won't confront either a political and ideological apparatus of mystification and channelling as little developed as the one in Russia in 1917: they will be confronted with a whole range of left wing and extreme left organizations directly or indirectly at the service of the bourgeoisie and its state, organizations whose main task will be to disarm theoretically and practically the revolutionary proletariat.

D. August 2017