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.
We are re-publishing here the first part of an article written in 1998 for the Russian journal 'Proletarian Tribune', the aim of which was to give a brief history of the Communist Left for those who may not be well acquanted with the political tradition the ICC draws its heritage from.
In theprevious article in this serieswe saw how the soviets, having seized power in October 1917, gradually lost it to the point where it was no more than a facade, kept alive artificially to hide the triumph of the capitalist counter-revolution that had taken place in Russia. The aim of this article is to understand what caused this to happen and to draw lessons that will be indispensable for revolutionaries in the future.
We saw in the previous part of the Manifesto (published in International Review n°143) how it violently opposed any united front with the social democrats. In contrast, it called for a united front of all genuine revolutionary elements, among which it included the parties of the Third International as well as the Communist Workers’ Parties (KAPD in Germany). Faced with the national question that arose in the soviet republics, dealt with in the third part of this document, it advocated making a united front with the CPs of these republics which, according to the CI, “will have the same rights as the Bolshevik Party”.
We published the first part of the Manifesto in the last issue of the International Review. To recall, the Workers’ Group of the Russian Communist Party, which produced this Manifesto, formed part of what is called the communist left, constituted by the left currents that appeared in response to the opportunist degeneration of the parties of the Third International and of soviet power in Russia.
A century ago on June 27, 1905, in a
crowded hall in Chicago, Illinois, Big Bill Haywood, leader of the militant
Western Miners Federation, called to order “the Continental Congress of the
Working Class,” a gathering convened to create a new working class
revolutionary organization in the United States: the Industrial Workers of
the World (IWW), often referred to as the Wobblies.
The defence of the
October revolution has always been a central duty for revolutionaries. The task
takes on renewed importance confronted with the international campaign about
the ‘death of Communism’, since the collapse of the Eastern Bloc.This defence is not confined to combating the official lies of the
bourgeoisie. Since 1917 Communists have also had to defend the revolution and
the Bolsheviks against the attacks of anarchists and modernists, who, while
claiming to support the revolution regurgitate the capitalist lies about
Bolshevism leading to Stalinism.
This is the second installment in our two-part series on the historical lessons of the Kronstadt revolt, presented in response to a pamphlet published by the Chicago Revolutionary Network (CHIREVNET) that takes an anarchist perspective on Kronstadt and at the same time seriously misrepresents the ICC's analysis of the events. As we wrote in the introduction to the first part of this article, we have never claimed-contrary to the assertions of CHIREVNET's pamphlet-that the Bolshevik repression at Kronstadt was in any way a "tragic necessity." In sharp contrast, the ICC has always maintained that the repression was a "tragic mistake" that hastened the worldwide counter-revolution against the global revolutionary wave of 1917-1927, and was a major step into the abyss for the Bolshevik Party, a process which led to its eventual betrayal of the working-class and its integration into the state apparatus as the manager of the Russian national capital.
Recently Internationalism received a pamphlet from the Chicago Revolutionary Network (CHIREVNET), entitled "The Revolutionary Uprising of Sailors and Workers of Kronstadt, Russia, March 1921." First, we want to acknowledge the effort of the pamphlet's author to consider important events in the history of the workers' movement that have important lessons to be learned on how revolutionaries conceive of the essential problems of proletarian revolution today. The pamphlet cites our book-recently translated into English-The Dutch and German Communist Left: A Contribution to the History of the Revolutionary Movement as the source of its account of the events of the Kronstadt uprising, but it also criticizes the ICC for supposedly regarding the Bolsheviks' repression of the revolt as a "tragic necessity." In this regard, the pamphlet fundamentally misunderstands, miseads or misrepresents our analysis of the Kronstadt events. Over the years, the ICC has consistently and sharply criticized political groups that defend the incorrect view that the suppression by force of the Kronstadt rebellion was a "tragic necessity," as can been seen in the two part series we begin publishing below, or in International Review No.3, or No. 104
80 years ago, in March 1919, the Communist International held its founding Congress in Moscow. The following article, originally published in WR 122, shows why this event was of immense importance for the international working class: faced with the outbreak of a massive, revolutionary challenge to capitalism all over the world, the CI was at to capitalism all over the world, the CI was at that moment the most advanced expression of the class movement, the crucible for synthesising the political programme needed to lead the movement to victory. Today, faced with the bourgeoisie's pernicious campaigns aimed at identifying communism with Stalinism and "proving" that marxist theory has been refuted by history, revolutionaries have the duty to affirm not only that they are the heirs of the CI, but also that its most central positions remain valid for the revolution of the future. The fact that the CI subsequently degenerated and succumbed to the Stalinist counter-revolution does not alter what it had been during the most heroic phase of the revolutionary wave that made the whole ruling class shake in its shoes.
A century ago we heard much the same message. In 1898 Ivan Bloch published The War of the Future in St Petersburg. He said that war was bound to become obsolete, as it was too costly, too murderous and so complicated that it was impossible to win. However, such views did not stand uncorrected. In 1901, in exile in Siberia, the revolutionary Leon Trotsky had a more accurate view of what capitalism was, and what it had in store.
We are publishing below a reply to one of our
contacts, who wrote to defend what the comrade called "the
councilist balance-sheet of the Russian revolution". There no
longer exists - since the disappearance of the Dutch group Daad en
Gedachte - any organised expression of the councilist current
within the proletarian movement. The councilist position
nonetheless continues to enjoy a strong influence within the
present revolutionary movement.
“Why, 80 years after the October revolution, does
capitalism still dominate the world”. To reply to this
to the GPRC, it is necessary to use the method of historical
materialism and pose another question: “was
the level of the development of productive forces of mankind
(first of all in the most highly-developed countries) in the 19th
- first half of 20th centuries sufficient to make proletarians
capable to organise the ruling over production, distribution &
exchange by all the society as a whole?”
Essentially, the purpose of the KRAS'
is to highlight the reasons for the defeat of the Russian
revolution: “For most of the 'lefts', the Russian revolution
of 1917-21 remains an 'unknown revolution', as it was described by
the exiled anarchist Voline, 60 years ago. The main reason for
this situation is not a lack of information, but the great number
of myths that have been built around it. Most of these myths are a
result of the confusion between the Russian revolution and the
activities of the Bolshevik party. It is not possible to free
oneself from these confusions without understanding the real role
of the Bolsheviks in the events of this period (...) A widespread
myth holds that the Bolshevik party was not just a party like any
other, but the vanguard of the working class (...) All the
illusions on the 'proletarian' nature of the Bolsheviks are
disproved by their systematic opposition to the workers' strikes
as early as 1918, and the crushing of the Kronstadt workers in
1921 by the guns of the Red Army. This was not a 'tragic
misunderstanding', but the crushing by armed power of the
'ignorant' rank and file. The Bolshevik leaders pursued concrete
interests and carried out a concrete policy (...) Their vision of
the state as such, of the domination over the masses, is
significant of individuals without any feeling for equality, for
whom egoism dominates, for whom the masses are merely a raw
material without any will of their own, without initiative and
without consciousness, incapable of creating social
self-management. This is the basic trait of Bolshevik psychology.
It is typical of the dominating character. Arshinov spoke of this
new stratum as a 'new caste', the 'fourth caste'. Willy-nilly,
with such a viewpoint the Bolsheviks could not carry out anything
other than a bourgeois revolution (...) Let us try first of all to
see what revolution was on the agenda in Russia in 1917 (...) the
Social-Democracy (including of the Bolshevik variety) always
overestimated the degree of development of capitalism and the
extent of Russia's 'Europeanisation' (...) In reality, Russia was
more a 'third-world' country, to use a present-day term (...) The
Bolsheviks became the protagonists of a bourgeois revolution
without the bourgeoisie, of capitalist industrialisation without
private capitalists (...) Once in power, the Bolsheviks played the
part of a 'party of order' which did not try to develop the social
character of the revolution. The programme of the Bolshevik
government had no socialist content...”
The urgent necessity for communists to fight for maximum clarity and
coherence concerning the revolutionary tasks of the proletariat derives
from the unique nature of the proletarian revolution. Whereas the
bourgeois revolution (England, France etc.) was fundamentally a
political confirmation of the bourgeoisie's economic domination of
society, which grew steadily and progressively out of declining feudal
society, the proletariat has no economic power under capitalism, and in
the period of capitalist decadence has no permanent organisations of
its own. The only weapons available to the proletariat are its class
consciousness and its ability to organise its own revolutionary
activity; having wrested power from the bourgeoisie it has the immense
task of consciously constructing a new social order.
left" is to a very large extent the product of those sections
of the world proletariat who posed the greatest threat to
capitalism during the international revolutionary wave that
followed the 1914-18 war: the Russian, the German, and the
Italian. It was these "national" sections which made the
most telling contribution to the enrichment of marxism in the
context of the new epoch of capitalist decline inaugurated by the
war. But those who rose the highest also fell the lowest. We saw
in previous articles in this series how the left currents of the
Bolshevik party, after their first heroic attempts to understand
and to resist the onset of the Stalinist counter-revolution, were
almost completely wiped out by the latter, leaving the left
groupings outside Russia to carry on the work of analysing what
had gone wrong with the revolution in Russia and of defining the
nature of the regime which had usurped its name. Here again, the
German and Italian fractions of the communist left played an
absolutely key role, even if they were not unique (the previous
article in this series, for example, looked at the emergence of a
left communist current in France in the 1920s-30s, and its
contribution to understanding the Russian question). But while the
proletariat in both Italy and Germany had suffered important
defeats, the proletariat in Germany - which had effectively held
the fate of the world revolution in its hands in 1918-19 - had
certainly been crushed more brutally and bloodily by the
interlocking efforts of social democracy, Stalinism and Nazism. It
was this tragic fact, together with certain vital theoretical and
organisational weaknesses that went back to the revolutionary wave
and even before, which contributed to a process of dissolution
hardly less devastating than that which had befallen the communist
movement in Russia.
The marxist anatomy of October 1917 and the present situation
text which we are publishing below is the complete version of a
text from the Marxist Labour Party in Russia, excerpts of which
have been published in the print edition of the International
Review. Our reply can be read here.ICC
The seizure of power in Russia inevitably posed enormous new problems for the new proletarian power, and generated heated debates within the Bolshevik party on the transitional state. The tragedy of Russia's encirclement culminated in 1921 with the Kronstadt revolt, a veritable catastrophe which saw the revolutionary government gunning down those who had been its most stalwart supporters.
Given the ruling class’ frequent depiction of Lenin as a power-hungry dictator, it is all the more ironic that during the period from April to October his "socialist" adversaries accused him of anarchism. State and Revolution is Lenin’s answer, a profound reflection from a marxist standpoint on the nature of power in the revolution. Lenin began researching the book in 1916, and brought it to fruition in June 1917. In this work, we see the fertile encounter of marxist theory and the real practical experience of the workers’ soviets in Russia, first in 1905 then in 1917.