80 years since the Russian Revolution: October 1917 - a victory for the working masses

In the series Russia 1917

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The current year reminds us that history is not the affair of university professors, but a social, class question of vital importance for the proletariat. The main political goal the world bourgeoisie has set itself in 1997 is to impose on the working class its own reactionary, falsified version of the history of the 20th century. To this end it is highlighting the holocaust during World War II, and the October Revolution. These two moments, symbolising the two antagonistic forces whose conflict has mainly determined the evolution of this century, the barbarism of decadent capitalism and the progressive, revolutionary struggle of the proletariat, are presented by bourgeois propaganda as the common fruit of "totalitarian ideologies" and made jointly responsible for war, militarism and terror in the past 80 years. Whereas during the summer the "Nazi-Gold Affair" directed both against the current rivals of the USA, or those who contest their authority (such as Switzerland), and ideologically against the world proletariat (propagating militaristic, bourgeois democratic anti-fascism) remained in the foreground, the bourgeoisie profits from the 80th anniversary of the Russian Revolution this autumn to deliver the following message: if National Socialism led to Auschwitz, the socialism of Marx which inspired the workers' revolution of 1917 led just as surely to the Gulag, the great terror under Stalin, and the Cold War after 1945.

With its attack against the October Revolution, our exploiters aim to enforce the retreat in proletarian consciousness which they imposed after 1989, with their gigantic lie that the fall of the Stalinist counter-revolutionary regimes was the "end of marxism" and the "bankruptcy of Communism". But today the bourgeoisie wants to go a step further in discrediting the proletarian revolution and the marxist vanguard by linking it, not only to Stalinism, but also to fascism. This is why the year 1997 began, in such a central capitalist country as France, with the first mass media campaign for over half a century directly aimed at the internationalist Communist Left, who were represented as collaborators with fascism by deforming its internationalist position of opposition to all imperialist camps during World War II. Today, in the face of the bankruptcy of its own rotting system, it is the very programme, the historic memory and consciousness of the proletariat which the bourgeoisie wants to wipe off the face of the earth. Above all, it wants to wipe out the memory of proletarian October, the first seizure of power by an exploited class in the history of mankind.

"Respect" for the February, hatred for the October Revolution

As after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the present bourgeois campaign is not an undifferentiated broadside against everything which the Russian Revolution represented. On the contrary, the paid historians of capital are full of hypocritical praise for the "initiative" and even the "revolutionary élan" of the workers and their organs of mass struggle, the workers' councils. They are full of understanding for the desperation of the workers, soldiers and peasants in face of the trials of the "Great War". Above all: they present themselves as defenders of the "true Russian Revolution" against its alleged destruction by the Bolsheviks. In other words: at the heart of the bourgeois attack against the Russian Revolution is the opposing of February to October 1917, opposing the beginning to the conclusion of the struggle for power which is the essence of every great revolution. The bourgeoisie opposes the explosive, spontaneous mass character of the struggles beginning in February 1917, the mass strikes, the millions who took to the streets, the outbursts of public euphoria, and the fact that Lenin himself declared the Russia of this period to be the freest country on earth, to the events of October. Then there was little spontaneity, events were planned in advance, without any strikes, street demonstrations or mass assemblies during the rising, power was taken through the actions of a few thousand armed men in the capital under the command of a Military Revolutionary Committee directly inspired by the Bolshevik party. The bourgeoisie declares: "does this not prove that October was nothing but a Bolshevik putsch?" a putsch against the majority of the population, against the working class, against history, against human nature itself? And this, we are told, was in pursuit of a mad marxist utopia which could only survive through terror, leading directly to Stalinism.

According to the ruling class, the working class in 1917 wanted nothing more than what the February regime promised them: a "parliamentary democracy" pledged to "respecting human rights" and a government which, while continuing the war, declared itself in favour of a rapid peace "without annexations". In other words they want us to believe that the Russian proletariat was fighting for the very same misery which the modern proletariat suffers today! Had the February regime not been toppled in October, they assure us, Russia would today be a country as powerful and prosperous as the USA, and the development of 20th century capitalism would have been a peaceful one.

What this hypocritical defence of the "spontaneous" character of the February events really expresses is the hatred and fear of the October Revolution by the exploiters of all countries. The spontaneity of the mass strike, the coming together of the whole proletariat in the streets and at general assemblies, the formation of workers' councils in the heat of the struggle, are essential moments in the liberation struggle of the working class. "There is no doubt that the spontaneity of a movement is a sign that it has deep and strong roots in the masses and cannot be eliminated", as Lenin remarked (1). But as long as the bourgeoisie remains the ruling class, as long as the political and armed forces of the capitalist state remain intact, it is still possible for it to contain, neutralise and dissolve these weapons of its class enemy. The workers' councils, these mighty instruments of workers' struggle, which arise more or less spontaneously, are nevertheless neither the sole nor necessarily the highest expression of the proletarian revolution. They predominate in the first stages of the revolutionary process. The counter revolutionary bourgeoisie flatters them precisely in order to present the beginning of the revolution as its culmination, knowing well how easy it is to smash a revolution which stops half way. But the Russian Revolution did not stop half way. In going to the end, in completing what was begun in February, it confirmed the capacity of the working class, patiently, consciously, collectively, not only "spontaneously" but in a deliberate, planful, strategic manner to construct the instruments it requires to seize power: its marxist class party, its workers councils galvanised around a revolutionary programme and a real will to rule society, and the specific instruments and strategy of the proletarian insurrection. It is this unity between the mass political struggle and the military seizure of power, between the spontaneous and the planful, between the workers' councils and the class party, between the actions of millions of workers and those of audacious advanced minorities of the class, which constitutes the essence of the proletarian revolution. It is this unity which the bourgeoisie today intends to dissolve with its slanders against Bolshevism and the October insurrection. The smashing of the capitalist state, the toppling of bourgeois class rule, beginning the world revolution: that is the gigantic achievement of October 1917, the highest, most conscious, most daring chapter in the whole of human history to date. October shattered centuries of servility bred by class society, demonstrating that with the proletariat for the first time in history a class exists which is exploited and revolutionary at the same time. A class capable of ruling society, of abolishing class rule, of liberating humanity from its "prehistory" of bondage to blind social forces. That is the true reason why the ruling class to this day, and today more than ever, pours the filth of its lies and slanders on Red October, the "best hated" event of modern history, but the pride of the class conscious proletariat. We intend to demonstrate that the October insurrection, which the scribblers who have become the whores of capital call a "putsch", was the culminating point, not only of the Russian Revolution, but of the whole struggle of our class to date. As Lenin wrote in 1917, "That the bourgeoisie attacks us with such savage hatred is one of the clearest illustrations of the truth, that we are showing the people the correct ways and means to topple bourgeois rule" (2).

The crisis is ripe

On October 10 1917, Lenin, the most wanted man in the country, hunted by the police in all parts of Russia, came to a Central Committee meeting of the Bolshevik Party in Petrograd disguised in wig and spectacles, and drafted the following resolution on a page of a child's notebook:

"The Central Committee recognises that both the international situation of the Russian Revolution (the insurrection in the German fleet is the extreme manifestation of the growth throughout Europe of a world-wide socialist revolution, and also the threat of a peace between the imperialists with the aim of strangling the revolution in Russia) - and the military situation (the indubitable decision of the Russian bourgeoisie and Kerensky and Co. to surrender Petersburg to the Germans) - all this in connection with the peasant insurrection and the swing of popular confidence to our party (the elections in Moscow), and finally the obvious preparation of a second Kornilov attack (the withdrawal of troops from Petersburg, the importation of Cossacks into Petersburg, the surrounding of Minsk with Cossacks, etc.) - all this places armed insurrection on the order of the day. Thus recognising that the armed insurrection is inevitable and fully ripe, the Central Committee recommends to all organisations of the party that they be guided by this, and from this point of view consider and decide all practical questions (the Congress of Soviets of the Northern Region, the withdrawal of troops from Petersburg, the coming-out of Moscow and Minsk)." (3)

Exactly four months previously, the Bolshevik Party had deliberately restrained the fighting élan of the workers of Petrograd, who were being lured by the ruling classes into a premature, isolated show-down with the state. Such a situation would certainly have led to the decapitation of the Russian proletariat in the capital and the decimation of its class party (the "July Days" - see the previous issue of our Review). The party, overcoming its own internal hesitations, was firmly committing itself to "mobilise all forces in order to impress upon the workers and soldiers the unconditional necessity of a desperate, last, resolute struggle to overcome the government of Kerensky" as Lenin already formulated it in his famous article ‘The Crisis Is Ripe'. Already then (September 29) he declared: "The crisis is ripe. The honour of the Bolshevik Party is at stake. The whole future of the international workers' revolution for Socialism is at stake. The crisis is ripe".

The explanation for the completely different attitude of the party in October as opposed to July is given in the above resolution with brilliant marxist clarity and audacity. The point of departure, as always for marxism, is the analysis of the international situation and the evaluation of the balance of force between the classes. As opposed to July 1917, the resolution notes that the Russian proletariat is no longer alone; that the world revolution has begun in the central countries of capitalism: "The maturing of the world revolution cannot be denied. The explosion of anger of the Czech workers was put down with unbelievable brutality, bearing witness that the government is terribly frightened. In Italy too there has been a mass rising in Turin. But most important of all is the rising in the German fleet" (4). It is the responsibility of the Russian working class not only to seize the opportunity to break out of its international isolation imposed until then by the world war, but above all to fan in its turn the flames of insurrection in Western Europe by beginning the world revolution. Against the minority in his own party who still echoed the Menshevik, counter-revolutionary, pseudo-marxist argumentation that the revolution ought to begin in a more advanced country, Lenin showed that conditions in Germany were in fact much more difficult than in Russia, and that the real historic meaning of the Russian insurrection lay in helping the German Revolution unfold: "The Germans have, under woefully difficult conditions, with only one Liebknecht (who moreover is in prison), without press organs, without the right of assembly, without soviets, in face of a gigantic enmity of all classes of the population up until the last well-off peasant against the idea of internationalism, in face of the superb organisation of the imperialist big, middle and petty bourgeoisie, the Germans i.e. the German revolutionary internationalists, the workers in sailors' uniform, have begun a rising in the fleet - with odds of perhaps one to a hundred against them. But we who have dozens of papers, who have freedom of assembly, who have gained the majority within the soviets, we who in comparison to the proletarian internationalists of the whole world have the best conditions, we are going to renounce supporting the German revolutionaries through our insurrection. We are going to argue like Scheidemann and Renaudel: the most sensible thing is to make no insurrection, since when we get gunned down, the world will lose with us such marvellous, sensible, ideal internationalists. Let us adopt a resolution of sympathy for the German insurrectionists, and reject the insurrection in Russia. That will be a genuinely reasonable internationalism" (5).

This internationalist standpoint and method, the exact opposite of the bourgeois-nationalist stand of the Stalinism which developed out of the later counter-revolution, was not exclusive to the Bolshevik party at that time, but was the common property of the advanced Russian workers with their marxist political education. Thus, at the beginning of October, the revolutionary sailors of the Baltic Fleet proclaimed through the radio stations of their ships to the four corners of the earth the following appeal: "In the hour when the waves of the Baltic are stained with the blood of our brothers, we raise our voice: oppressed people of the whole world! Lift the banner of revolt!"

But the world wide estimation of the balance of class forces by the Bolsheviks did not restrict itself to examining the state of the international proletariat, but expressed a clear vision of the global situation of the class enemy. Always basing themselves on a deeply rooted knowledge of the history of the workers' movement, the Bolsheviks knew perfectly well from the example of the Paris Commune 1971, that the imperialist bourgeoisie, even in the midst of its world war, would combine its forces against the revolution.

"Does the complete inactivity of the English fleet in general, and of the English submarines during the Occupation of Osel by the Germans not prove, in connection with the intention of the government to move its seat from Petrograd to Moscow, that between Kerensky and the English-French imperialists a conspiracy has been set up, with the goal of surrendering Petrograd to the Germans, and in this way to strangle the Russian Revolution" asks Lenin, and adds: "The resolution of the soldiers' section of the Petrograd Soviet against the transfer of the government out of Petrograd shows that among the soldiers too the conviction concerning the conspiracy of Kerensky has ripened" (6). In August under Kerensky and Kornilov, revolutionary Riga had already been delivered into the clutches of Kaiser Wilhelm II. The first rumours of a possible separate peace between Britain and Germany against the Russian Revolution alarmed Lenin. The goal of the Bolsheviks was not "peace" but revolution, knowing as true marxists that a capitalist ceasefire could only be an interlude between two world wars. It was this communist insight into the inevitable spiral of barbarism that bankrupt, decadent capitalism held in store for humanity, which now prompted Bolshevism into a race against time to end the war with revolutionary, proletarian means. At the same time, the capitalists began everywhere to systematically sabotage production in order to discredit the revolution. These developments however also contributed to finally destroying in the eyes of the workers the bourgeois patriotic myth of "national defence", according to which bourgeoisie and proletariat of the same nation have a common interest in repelling the foreign "aggressor". It also explains why in October the concern of the working class was no longer to unleash mass strikes, but to keep production going in the face of the bourgeoisie's disruption of its own factories.

Among the decisive factors that pushed the working class towards insurrection was the fact that the revolution was menaced by further counter-revolutionary attacks, and that the workers, in particular the main soviets, were now firmly behind the Bolsheviks - the direct fruit of the most important mass confrontation between bourgeoisie and proletariat between July and October 1917: the Kornilov putsch in August. The proletariat under Bolshevik leadership stopped Kornilov's march on the capital, mainly by winning over his troops and sabotaging his transport and logistics system via the railway, postal and other workers. In the course of this action, during which the soviets were revitalised as the revolutionary organisation of the whole class, the workers discovered that the Provisional Government in Petrograd under the leadership of the Socialist Revolutionary Kerensky and the Mensheviks was itself involved in the counter-revolutionary plot. From this moment on, the class conscious workers grasped that these parties had become a true "left wing of capital" and began to flock to the Bolsheviks.

"The whole tactical art consists in grasping the moment when the totality of conditions are most favourable for us. The Kornilov Rising created these conditions. The masses, which had lost confidence in the parties of the soviet majority, saw the concrete danger of the counter-revolution. They believed that the Bolsheviks were now called on to overcome this danger". (7)

The clearest proof of the revolutionary qualities of a workers' party is its capacity to pose the question of power. "The most gigantic adjustment is when the proletarian party goes over from preparation, propaganda, organisation, agitation, to the immediate struggle for power, to the armed insurrection against the bourgeoisie. All which exists in the party by way of undecided, sceptical, opportunistic, Menshevik elements, stands up against the insurrection". (8)

But the Bolshevik party overcame this crisis, firmly committing itself to the armed struggle for power, thus proving its unprecedented revolutionary qualities.

The revolutionary proletariat on the road to insurrection

In February 1917 a so-called "dual power" situation arose. Alongside and opposed to the bourgeois state, the workers' councils appeared as a potential alternative government of the working class. Since in reality two opposing governments of two enemy classes cannot coexist, since the one must necessarily destroy the other in order to assert itself, such a period of "dual power" is necessarily extremely short and unstable. Such a phase is not characterised by "peaceful coexistence" and mutual toleration. Only in appearance does it represent a social equilibrium. In reality it is a decisive stage in the civil war between labour and capital. The bourgeois falsification of history is obliged to mask the life and death struggle of the classes which took place between February and October 1917 in order to present the October Revolution as a "Bolshevik putsch". An "unnatural" prolongation of this period of dual power necessarily spells the end of the revolution and its organs. The soviets are "real only as organs of insurrection, of revolutionary power. Outside of this task, the soviets are just a toy, inevitably leading to the apathy, indifference and disappointment of the masses, who have rightly got fed up of the endless repetition of resolutions and protests" (9). Although the proletarian insurrection is no more spontaneous than the counter-revolutionary military coup, in the months before October both classes repeatedly manifested their spontaneous tendency towards the struggle for power. The July Days and the Korrnilov Putsch were only the clearest manifestations. The October insurrection itself began in reality, not with a signal from the Bolshevik Party, but with the attempt of the bourgeois government to send the most revolutionary troops, two-thirds of the Petrograd garrison, to the front, and replace them in the capital with battalions more under counter-revolutionary influence. It began, in other words, with yet another attempt, only weeks after Kornilov, to crush the revolution, obliging the proletariat to take insurrectionary measures to save it. "Indeed the result of the rising of October 25 was three-quarters decided, if not more, from the moment when we resisted the moving out of the troops, formed the Military Revolutionary Committee (October 16), appointed our Commissars in all troop formations and organisations, and thus completely isolated not only the command of the Petrograd military district, but the government...From the moment that the battalions, under the orders of the Military Revolutionary Committee, refused to leave the city, and did not leave it, we had a victorious insurrection in the capital" (10). Moreover, this Military Revolutionary Committee, which was to lead the conclusive military actions of October 25, far from being an organ of the Bolshevik party, was originally proposed by the "left" counter-revolutionary parties as a means of imposing the removal of the revolutionary troops from the capital under the authority of the soviets; but it was immediately transformed by the soviet into an instrument not only to oppose this measure, but to organise the struggle for power. "No, the government of the soviets was not a chimera, an arbitrary construction, an invention of party theoreticians. It grew up irresistibly from below, from the breakdown of industry, the impotence of the possessors, the needs of the masses. The soviets had in actual fact become a government. For the workers, soldiers and peasants there remained no other road. No time left to argue and speculate about a soviet government: it had to be realised" (11).The legend about a Bolshevik putsch is one of the fattest lies in history. In fact the insurrection was announced publicly in advance, to the elected revolutionary delegates. Trotsky's speech to the Garrison Conference on October 18 illustrates this. "It is known to the bourgeoisie that the Petrograd Soviet is going to propose to the Congress of Soviets that they seize the power...And foreseeing an inevitable battle, the bourgeois classes are trying to disarm Petrograd... At the first attempt of the counter-revolution to break up the Congress, we will answer with a counter-attack which will be ruthless, and which we will carry through to the end". Point 3 of the resolution adopted by the Garrison Conference read: "The All-Russian Congress of Soviets must take power in its hands and guarantee to the people peace, land and bread" (12). To ensure that the whole proletariat supported the struggle for power, the Garrison Conference decided on a peaceful review of forces, held in Petrograd before the Soviet Congress, centred around mass assemblies and debates. "Tens of thousands brimmed that immense building known as the House of the People... From iron columns and upstairs windows human heads, legs and arms were hanging in garlands and clusters. There was that electric tension in the air which forebodes a coming discharge. Down with Kerensky! Down with the war! Power to the Soviets! None of the Compromisers any longer dared appear before these red hot crowds with arguments or warnings. The Bolsheviks had the floor" (13). Trotsky adds: "The experience of the revolution, the war, the heavy struggle of a whole bitter lifetime, rose from the depths of memory in each of these poverty-driven men and women, expressing itself in simple and imperious thoughts: this way we can go no further, we must break a road into the future". The party did not invent this "will to power" of the masses. But it inspired it and gave the class confidence in its capacity to rule. As Lenin wrote after the Kornilov Putsch: "Let those of little faith learn from this example. Shame on those who say, ‘We have no machine with which to replace that old one which gravitates inexorably to the defence of the bourgeoisie'. For we have a machine. And that is the soviets. Do not fear the initiative and independence of the masses. Trust the revolutionary organisations of the masses, and you will see in all spheres of the state life that same power, majesty and unconquerable will of the workers and peasants, which they have shown in their solidarity and enthusiasm against Kornilovism" (14).

The task of the hour: demolishing the bourgeois state

Insurrection is one of the most crucial, complex and demanding problems which the proletariat must solve if it is to fulfil its historical mission. In the bourgeois revolution, this question is much less decisive, since the bourgeoisie could base its power struggle on its economic and political power already accumulated inside feudal society. During its revolution, the bourgeoisie let the petty bourgeoisie and the young working class do the fighting for it. When the dust of battle settled, it often preferred to place its newly won power in the hands of a now bourgeoisified, domesticated feudal class, since the latter has the authority of tradition on its side. Since the proletariat, on the contrary, has no property and no economic power within capitalist society, it can delegate neither the struggle for power, nor the defence of its class rule once acquired, to any other class or sector of society. It must take power in its own hands, drawing the other strata behind its own leadership, accept the full responsibility, the consequences and risks of its struggle. In the insurrection, the proletariat reveals, and discovers for itself, more clearly than every before, the secret of its own existence as the first and last exploited revolutionary class. No wonder the bourgeoisie is so attached to slandering the memory of October! The primordial task of the proletariat in the revolution, from February on, was to conquer the hearts and the minds of all those sectors who could be won over to its cause, but who might otherwise be used against the revolution: the soldiers, peasants, state functionaries, transport and communications employees, even the indispensable house servants of the bourgeoisie. By the eve of the insurrection, this task had been completed. The task of the insurrection was quite different: that of breaking the resistance of those state bodies and armed formations which cannot be won over, but whose continuing existence contains the nucleus of the most barbarous counter-revolution. To break this resistance, to demolish the bourgeois state, the proletariat must create an armed force and place it under its own class direction and iron discipline. Although led by the proletariat, the insurrectionary forces of October 25 were mainly composed of soldiers obeying its command. "The October revolution was a struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie for power, but the outcome of the struggle was decided in the last analysis by the muzhik...What here gave the revolution the character of a brief blow with a minimum number of victims, was the combination of a revolutionary conspiracy, a proletarian insurrection, and the struggle of a peasant garrison for self-preservation. The party led the uprising; the armed detachments of workers were the fist of the insurrection; but the heavy-weight peasant garrison decided the outcome of the struggle" (15). In reality, the proletariat could seize power because it was able to mobilise the other non-exploiting strata behind its own class project: the exact opposite of a putsch. "Demonstrations, street fights, barricades - everything comprised in the usual idea of insurrection - were almost entirely absent. The revolution had no need of solving a problem already solved. The seizure of the governmental machine could be carried through according to plan with the help of comparatively small armed detachments guided from a single centre... The tranquillity of the October streets, the absence of crowds and battles, gave the enemy a pretext to talk of the conspiracy of an insignificant minority, of the adventure of a handful of Bolsheviks... But in reality the Bolsheviks could reduce the struggle for power at the last moment to a ‘conspiracy', not because they were a small minority, but for the opposite reason - because they had behind them in the workers' districts and the barracks an overwhelming majority, consolidated, organised, disciplined" (16).

Choosing the right moment: cornerstone of the struggle for power

Technically speaking, the Communist insurrection is a simple question of military organisation and strategy. Politically, it is the most demanding task imaginable. Most difficult and demanding of all is the task of choosing the right moment to struggle for power: neither too early nor too late. In July 1917, and even in August at the moment of the Kornilov Putsch, when the Bolsheviks still held the class back from a struggle for power, the main danger remained a premature insurrection. By September Lenin was already incessantly calling for immediate preparation of the armed struggle and declaring: now or never! "A revolutionary situation cannot be preserved at will. If the Bolsheviks had not seized power in October and November, in all probability they would not have seized it at all. Instead of firm leadership the masses would have found among the Bolsheviks that same disparity between word and deed which they were already sick of, and they would have ebbed away in the course of two or three months from this party which had deceived their hopes, just as they had recently ebbed away from the Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks" (17). This is why Lenin, in combating the danger of delaying the struggle for power, not only exposed the counter-revolutionary preparations of the world bourgeoisie, but above all warned against the disastrous effects of hesitations on the workers themselves, who "are almost desperate". The "hungering" people might start "demolishing everything around them" in a "purely anarchist" manner "if the Bolsheviks are not able to lead them into the final battle. One cannot wait any longer without running the risk of favouring the conspiracy of Rodyanko with Wilhelm and experiencing complete decomposition with a mass flight of the soldiers, if they (who already are almost desperate) become completely desperate" (18). Choosing the right moment also requires an exact estimation not only of the balance of class forces between bourgeoisie and proletariat, but also of the dynamic of the intermediary strata. "A revolutionary situation is not long lived. The least stable of the premises of a revolution is the mood of the petty bourgeoisie. At a time of national crisis the petty bourgeoisie follows that class which inspires confidence not only in words but deeds. Although capable of impulsive enthusiasm and even of revolutionary fury, the petty bourgeoisie lacks endurance, easily loses heart under reverses, and passes from elated hope to discouragement. And these sharp and swift changes in the mood of the petty bourgeoisie lend their instability to every revolutionary situation. If the proletarian party is not decisive enough to convert the hopes and expectations of the popular masses into revolutionary action in good season, the flood tide is quickly followed by ebb: the intermediate strata turn away their eye from the revolution and seek a saviour in the opposing camp." (19).

The art of insurrection

In his struggle to persuade the party about the imperious necessity of an immediate insurrection, Lenin returned to the famous elaboration by Marx (in Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany) on the question of the insurrection as a "work of art" which as in the art of war "or other arts is subject to certain rules, the neglect of which lead to the doom of the culprit party". The most important of these rules, according to Marx, are: never stop half way once the insurrection has begun; always maintain the offensive, since "the defensive is the death of every armed rising"; surprise the enemy and demoralise it through daily successes, "even small ones", obliging it to retreat; "in short, according to the words of Danton, the greatest master of revolutionary tactics known to date: de l'audace, de l'audace, encore de l'audace". And, as Lenin noted: "A vast superiority of forces must be concentrated at the decisive point at the decisive moment, since otherwise the enemy, being better trained and organised, will destroy the insurrectionists". Lenin added: "We will hope that when action is decided, the leaders will follow the great legacy of Danton and Marx. The success both of the Russian and of the world revolution depends on two, three days of fighting" (20). To this end the proletariat had to create the organs of its struggle for power, a military committee and armed detachments. "Just as a blacksmith cannot seize the red hot iron in his naked hand, so the proletariat cannot directly seize the power; it has to have an organisation accommodated to this task. The coordination of the mass insurrection with the conspiracy, the subordination of the conspiracy to the insurrection, the organisation of the insurrection through the conspiracy, constitutes that complex and responsible department of revolutionary politics which Marx and Engels called ‘the art of insurrection'". (Trotsky: History p.1019). It is this centralised, coordinated, premeditated approach which allows the proletariat to smash the last, armed resistance of the ruling class, thus striking a terrible blow which the world bourgeoisie has neither forgiven nor forgotten to this day. "Historians and politicians usually give the name of spontaneous insurrection to a movement of the masses united by a common hostility against the old regime, but not having a clear aim, deliberated methods of struggle, or a leadership consciously showing the way to victory. This spontaneous insurrection is condescendingly recognised by official historians... as a necessary evil the responsibility for which falls upon the old regime. The real reason for their attitude of indulgence is that ‘spontaneous' insurrection cannot transcend the framework of the bourgeois regime (...) What they do reject - calling it ‘Blanquism' or still worse, Bolshevism - is the conscious preparation of an overthrow, the plan, the conspiracy" (21). This is what still infuriates the bourgeoisie the most: the audacity with which the working class snatched power out of its hands. The bourgeoisie - everybody - knew an uprising was being prepared. But it did not know when and where the enemy would attack. In striking its decisive blow, the proletariat profited fully from the advantage of surprise, of itself choosing the moment and terrain of battle. The bourgeoisie hoped and believed its enemy would be naive and "democratic" enough to decide the question of insurrection publicly, in the presence of the ruling classes, at the All-Russian Soviet Congress which had been summoned to Petrograd. There it hoped to sabotage and forestall the decision and its execution. But when the Congress delegates arrived in the capital the insurrection was in full swing, the ruling class already reeling. The Petrograd proletariat, via its Military Revolutionary Committee, handed over power to the Soviet Congress, and the bourgeoisie could do nothing to prevent it. Putsch! Conspiracy! the bourgeoisie cried and still cries. Lenin's reply: No putsch; conspiracy yes, but a conspiracy subordinated to the will of the masses and the needs of the insurrection. And Trotsky added: "The higher the political level of a revolutionary movement and the more serious it's leadership, the greater will be the place occupied by conspiracy in a popular insurrection" (22). Bolshevism a form of Blanquism? This accusation is raised again today by the exploiting classes. "The Bolsheviks were compelled more than once, and long before the October revolution, to refute accusations of conspiratism and Blanquism directed against them by their enemies. Moreover, nobody waged a more implacable struggle against the system of pure conspiracy than Lenin. The opportunists of the international social democracy more than once defended the old Social Revolutionary tactic of individual terror directed against the agents of czarism, when this tactic was ruthlessly criticised by the Bolsheviks with their insistence upon mass insurrection as opposed to the individual adventurism of the intelligentsia. But in refuting all varieties of Blanquism and anarchism, Lenin did not for one moment bow down to any ‘sacred' spontaneity of the masses". To this Trotsky added: "Conspiracy does not take the place of insurrection. An active minority of the class, no matter how well organised, cannot seize the power regardless of the general conditions of the country. In this point history has condemned Blanquism. But only in this. His affirmative theorem retains all it's force. In order to conquer the power, the proletariat needs more than a spontaneous insurrection. It needs a suitable organisation, it needs a plan; it needs a conspiracy. Such is the Leninist view of this question" (23).

Party and insurrection

It is a well known fact that Lenin, the first to be completely clear about the necessity of the struggle for power in October, having put forward several different plans for insurrection, one centred on Finland and the Baltic Fleet, another on Moscow, at one moment advocated that the Bolshevik party, not a Soviet organ, should directly organise the insurrection. Events proved that the organisation and leadership of the rising by a Soviet organ such as the Military Revolutionary Committee, where of course the party had the dominant influence, is the best guarantee for the success of the whole uprising, since the whole class, not just the many sympathisers of the party, felt themselves represented by their unitary revolutionary organs. But Lenin's proposition, according to bourgeois historians, reveals that for him the revolution is not the task of the masses, but the private affair of the party. Why otherwise, they ask, was he so much against waiting for the Soviet Congress to decide the rising? In reality, Lenin's attitude was in complete accordance with marxism and its historically founded confidence in the proletariat masses. "It would be disastrous, or a purely formalistic approach, to want to wait for the uncertain voting of 25th of October. The people have the right and the duty to decide such questions, not through the ballot but through force; the people have the right and the duty, in critical moments of the revolution, to show its representatives, even its best representatives, the right direction, instead of waiting for them. This has been shown by the history of every revolution, and it would be a boundless crime of revolutionaries to let the moment slip away, although they know that the salvation of the revolution, the peace proposals, the saving of Petrograd, the salvation from hunger, the handing over of the soil to the peasants depend on this. The government is tottering. It has to be given the final push, at any price!" (24). In reality, all the Bolshevik leaders were agreed that, whoever carried out the rising, the power just conquered would be immediately handed over to the All Russian Soviet Congress. The party knew perfectly that the revolution was not the business either of the party alone, or of the Petrograd workers alone, but of the whole proletariat. But concerning the question of who should carry through the insurrection itself, Lenin was perfectly correct to argue that this should be done by the class organs best suited to the job, best able to assume the task of political and military planning, and political leadership of the struggle for power. Events proved that Trotsky was right in arguing that a specific organ of the soviets, specially created for the task, and standing directly under the influence of the party, was best suited. But the debate was not one of principle, but concerned the vital question of political efficiency. The underlying concern of Lenin, that the soviet apparatus as a whole could not be charged with the task, since this would fatally delay the insurrection and lead to divulging plans to the enemy, was completely valid. The painful experience of the whole Russian Revolution was necessary for the later clarification within the Communist Left that although the political leadership by the class party, both of the struggle for power and of the proletarian dictatorship is indispensable, it is not the task of the party itself to take power. On this question neither Lenin nor the other Bolsheviks (nor the Spartacists in Germany etc) were completely clear in 1917, nor could they be. But concerning the "art of insurrection" itself, concerning the revolutionary patience and even caution to avoid premature show-downs, concerning the revolutionary audacity necessary to take power, there is nobody today's revolutionaries can learn more from than Lenin. In particular on the role of the party in the insurrection. History proved Lenin right: it is the masses who take power, it is the soviet which provides the organisation, but the class party is the most indispensable weapon of the struggle for power. In July 1917 it was the party which steered the class away from a decisive defeat. In October 1917 it was the party which steered the class down the road to power. Without this indispensable leadership, there would have been no seizure of power.

Lenin versus Stalin

But the October Revolution led to Stalinism!! cries the bourgeoisie, resorting to its "final" argument. In reality it was the bourgeois counter-revolution, the defeat of the world revolution in western Europe, the invasion and international isolation of the Soviet Republic, the support of the developing nationalist bureaucracy in Russia by the world bourgeoisie, against the proletariat and the Bolsheviks, which "led to Stalinism". It is important to recall that during the crucial weeks of October 1917, as during the previous months, a current manifested itself within the Bolshevik party reflecting the full weight of bourgeois ideology, opposing the insurrection, and that even then Stalin was its most dangerous representative. Already in March 1917 Stalin had been the main spokesman of those in the party who wanted to abandon its internationalist revolutionary position, support the Provisional Government and its policy of continuing the imperialist war, and merge with the social-patriotic Mensheviks. When Lenin came out publicly for insurrection in the weeks before the rising, Stalin as editor of the party organ printed his articles with intentional delays, whereas the contributions of Zinoviev and Kamenev against the rising, which were often in breach of party discipline, were published as if they represented the position of Bolshevism - so that Lenin threatened to resign from the Central Committee. Stalin continued pretending that Lenin, in favour of immediate insurrection, and with the party now behind him, and Kamenev and Zinoviev, openly sabotaging the party decisions, were of "the same opinion". During the insurrection itself Stalin the political adventurer "disappeared" - in reality in order to see which side would win before coming out with a position of his own. The struggle of Lenin and the party against "Stalinism" in 1917, against the manipulating, treacherous sabotage of the insurrection (unlike Zinoviev and Kamenev, who were at least open about their opposition) would be renewed within the Party in the last years of Lenin's life, but this time under infinitely more unfavourable historical conditions.

The highest pinnacle of human history

Far from being a banal coup d'Etat, as the ruling class lies, the October Revolution was the highest point attained by humanity in its history to date. For the first time ever, an exploited class had the courage and the capacity to seize power from the exploiters and inaugurate the world proletarian revolution. Although the revolution was soon to be defeated, in Berlin, Budapest and Turin, although the Russian and world proletariat had to pay a terrible price for its defeat - the horrors of counter-revolution, another world war, and all the barbarism which has followed until this day - the bourgeoisie has still not been able to completely wipe out the memory and the lessons of this exalting event. Today, when the decomposed ideology and mentality of the ruling classes, its unbridled individualism, nihilism and obscurantism, the flourishing of reactionary world views such as racism and nationalism, mysticism and ecologism, abandoning the last remnants of belief in human progress, it is the beacon illuminated by Red October which shows the way forward. The memory of October is there to remind the proletariat that the future of humanity lies in its hands, and that these hands are capable of accomplishing the task. The class struggle of the proletariat, the re-appropriation of its own history by the working class, the defence and development of the scientific method of marxism, that is the programme of October. That is today the programme for the future of humanity. As Trotsky wrote in the conclusion of his great History of the Russian Revolution: "The historic ascent of humanity, taken as a whole, may be summarised as a succession of victories of consciousness over blind force - in nature, in society, in man himself. Critical and creative thought can boast of its greatest victories up to now in the struggle with nature. The physico-chemical sciences have already reached a point where man is clearly about to become master of matter. But social relations are still formed in the manner of coral islands. Parliamentarism illuminated only the surface of society, and even that with a rather artificial light. In comparison with monarchy and other heirlooms from the cannibals and cave-dwellers, democracy is of course a great conquest, but it leaves the blind play of forces in the social relations of men untouched. It was against this deeper sphere of the unconscious that the October revolution was the first to raise its hand. The Soviet system wishes to bring aim and plan into the very basis of society, where up to now only accumulated consequences have reigned".

Kr. October 1997

Notes 

1) Lenin: The Russian Revolution and the Civil War, Collected Works, vol 26.

2) Lenin: Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power? ibid

3) Lenin: Resolution on the Insurrection, ibid.

4) Lenin: Letter to  the Bolshevik  Comrades Participating at the Soviet Congress of  the Northern Region, ibid.

5) Lenin: Letter to Comrades, ibid.

6) Lenin: Letter to the  Petrograd City Conference, ibid.

7) Trotsky: The Lessons of October. Written 1924.

8) Trotsky: ibid.

9) Lenin: Theses for the October 8th Conference, CW, vol 26.

10) Trotsky: Lessons of October.

11) Trotsky: History of the Russian Revolution, p. 930.

12) Trotsky: History, p. 957.

13) Trotsky: History, p. 967.

14) See Lenin: Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?, and of course his State and Revolution.

15) Trotsky: History, p. 1136.

16) Trotsky: History, p. 1138-39.

17) Trotsky: History, p 1005.

18) Lenin: ‘Letter  to  Comrades'.

19) Trotsky: History. p. 1125.

20) Lenin: ‘Proposals of an Outsider', CW, vol 26.

21) Trotsky: History, p . 1019.

22) Trotsky: ibid.

23) Trotsky: History, p 1020.

24) Lenin: ‘Letter to the Central Committee', CW, vol 26.