Proletarian nature of Bolshevism and the October revolution

Printer-friendly versionSend by email

This is the latest in a series of articles celebrating the anniversary of the Russian revolution of October 1917 and the international revolutionary wave which followed. Although written in response to particular bourgeois campaigns in France, the denigration and distortion of the October revolution is a fundamental plank of bourgeois ideology everywhere, so the article loses none of its validity by being translated into English.

Every ten years, the bourgeoisie commemorates, in its own manner, the anniversary of the worst experience it has ever had: the proletarian revolution in Russia in October 1917. And every ten years, the ideological juggernaut of the bourgeois media is there to demonstrate not only that ‘Red October' was a terrible thing, but that it could only open the door to the worst kind of barbarity.

Thus, the articles from the newspaper Le Monde on 6-8 November, signed Jan Krauze, and the TV programme Arte featuring the pseudo-historian Marc Ferro (who has recently brought out documents from the unpublished archives) are particularly repulsive examples of the systematic falsification of the Russian revolution of 1917. Having carried out their ‘coup d'état', the Bolsheviks "turned with unprecedented savagery" against all the "social categories" which had helped them take power. Lenin was an "infallible demagogue" demanding "rivers of blood", "endlessly stirring up hatred" and "fixing quotas of people to liquidate". He apparently called for the Commissariat of Justice to be renamed "Commissariat of Extermination"! These capitalist scribblers, rifling in the archaeological record, have made their own contribution to the campaign of demonisation of the Bolsheviks and denigration of the Russian revolution. This campaign has featured The Black Book of Communism and recently took the form of the campaign of criminalisation of the movements of students and railway workers in France this winter. This is how the French bourgeoisie has celebrated the anniversary of the proletarian revolution of October 1917.

Who were the Bolsheviks?

The biggest lie, the one on which all the others are based, is that the revolution was nothing but a ‘coup d'état' carried out by a small band of criminals followed by an ignorant popular mass. For its bourgeois detractors, this was certainly not a revolution of the broad exploited masses, whose children were falling like flies at the battlefront, sacrificed on the altar of capitalist war (the existence of the Czarist regime, a vestige of feudalism, didn't mean that Russia in 1917 was not a capitalist state). October 1917 was a ‘plot' by a bloodthirsty minority, the Bolsheviks. Thus, the article in Le Monde tries to show that there was little to choose between the Bolsheviks and any other brand of adventurer ready to do anything to take power. October 1917, according to our great delver into the unpublished archives, Marc Ferro, was no more than a ‘Jacquerie' by backward peasants.

The Bolshevik party has a history which disproves this shameful lie. It came out of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) which was affiliated to the Second International. The Bolshevik fraction was on its extreme left wing and was able to wage an intransigent political struggle in defence of proletarian class principles against all the confused and conciliatory tendencies within the RSDLP, including the opportunism of the Mensheviks. In particular, faced with the misery and military barbarism imposed on the exploited masses in Czarist Russia, the Bolsheviks were always the best defenders of all the oppressed, the proletarians or poor peasants. In 1905, when the ‘soviets' (councils) of workers, peasants and soldiers were spontaneously formed, it was Lenin who was among the first to insist that, faced with the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie (whether ‘Czarist' or ‘democratic'), the soviets were the "finally discovered form of the dictatorship of the proletariat". The Bolshevik fraction inside the RSDLP came out of a whole tradition of struggles against capitalism, carried out in clandestinity by working class militants who had to deal with a constant and very efficient form of repression. The Bolsheviks always firmly defended the political positions of the proletariat: not only did they take part in workers' struggles wherever they could, but also engaged in sharp polemics within the Second International, calling for concrete political policies against the drive towards imperialist war, furiously denouncing the treason of the social democrats who helped to mobilise millions of workers for the first world slaughter. They were the most determined defenders of the old watchword of the Communist manifesto of 1848: "Workers have no country, workers of all countries unite!" In Russia they were practically alone in defending an internationalist position in 1914. This impeccable internationalism put them at the vanguard of the revolutionary masses in 1917. the proletariat of the whole world had its eyes fixed on the October revolution in Russia which, thanks to its extension to Germany and the fraternisation of the soldiers at the front, forced the world bourgeoisie to put an end to the Great War. The Bolshevik party was recognised as a beacon for the working class by the other revolutionaries of the time, including revolutionary syndicalists and anarchists like Alfred Rosmer and Victor Serge. And above all it understood that only the oppressed and exploited masses would be able to bring the war to an end. Lenin's slogan "turn the imperialist war into a civil war" (i.e. a class war against the bourgeoisie) was not the slogan of a small minority of plotters fomenting a ‘coup d'état'. Would Professor Marc Ferro[1] (in the wake of the campaign organised by Monsieur Courtois with his Black Book of Communism) have preferred the world butchery to have continued? His very ‘democratic' literature, with his air of outraged virginity, is really just a shameful insult against all these young people wiped out on the battlefields, all those who came back wounded and mutilated from the front[2].

When he returned to Petrograd (today's St Petersburg) in April 1917, Lenin was aware that the party of the proletariat had to stop supporting the ‘democratic' Provisional Government which had succeeded the Czar, affirming that the "the masses are a hundred times further left than the party". For an opportunist greedy for power, this wasn't a very skilful move! All the more because the Russian democrats were at that point offering him and the Bolshevik party a place in the Provisional Government.

Who made the Russian revolution?

The bourgeoisie is however prepared to admit that this was a rather "strange coup d'état"[3] (Le Monde, 6 November). This is because the Bolsheviks, although obviously very determined, were only a small minority at the beginning of the revolution. Because the objective they put forward in the working class - the overthrow of the ‘democratic' bourgeois government led by Kerensky - was open and public, discussed everywhere to the point where the date of the insurrection was known in advance. A totally contradictory element: how could a ‘coup d'état' by a small group of plotters have succeeded without even the benefit of surprise? The answer is simple: the Kerensky government was incapable of satisfying the demands of the worker and peasant masses who were dying of hunger and cold in the slaughter at the front. The masses demanded ‘bread and peace!' If the Provisional Government was unable to stand up to the revolutionary impetus of the working masses, it was because it had no support from within the social body. The army was falling apart: the workers in uniform were being won to revolutionary ideas, and the peasants hated the political heirs of the great landowners as much as the Provisional Government which was unable either to divide up the estates of the feudal proprietors or put an end to the war. As for the working class, in the rear or at the front, it knew that within its ranks there was a small minority which had "a clear awareness of the means and goals of the proletarian movement as a whole" (Communist Manifesto). This is why the masses were waiting for Lenin's return from exile in Switzerland (since the Bolshevik party, weakened by the exile of so many of its members, needed all its strength[4]). When he got back to Russia in April 1917, he was welcomed with open arms by the workers who had come in force to meet him on the platform of the Finland Station in Petrograd. This warm welcome had nothing to do with the fact that these proletarians were "uncultured" and were being "manipulated" by the great "demagogue" Lenin[5]. It was simply because, to be able to struggle against the imperialist war, the battalions of the Russian proletariat needed a determined and far-seeing political direction to their mass movement: it was thanks to the April Theses, written by Lenin, that the Bolshevik party was able to reinforce itself. The workers demanded no less. For them, as for all the non-exploiting classes and strata, it was a matter of survival. These masses of workers, peasants and soldiers were less stupid than certain highly ‘cultured' scribblers of the decadent bourgeoisie. It was at the demand of wide layers of the proletariat, organised in the soviets, that the ‘Military Revolutionary Committee' (MRC), nominated by the Petrograd Soviet where the Bolsheviks were in the majority, was able to organise and coordinate the overthrow of the Provisional Government. The seizure of power was carried out mainly by the workers' militia, the Red Guard, and by the sailors of the Kronstadt garrison who trained their naval guns on the Winter Palace where Kerensky sat with his ministers. And the latter were isolated by the fact that their telephone lines were cut off by the telecommunication workers. This small cabal of minsters around Kerensky was arrested on the basis of a decree of the MRC, although Kerensky was able to escape in a car provided by the American embassy. If this insurrection, which was anything but a ‘jacquerie by backward peasants' was able to succeed, it was also because the garrisons of the capital, convinced by the arguments of the Bolsheviks and the mass action of the workers, rallied one after another to the camp of the proletarian revolution, to the point where the government fell like a house of cards, practically without a fight.




Glasgow 1917: The above edict, forbidding the holding of a meeting in Glasgow to call for workers’ and soldiers’ councils, was issued on the orders of the War Cabinet. Even before the October insurrection, the bourgeoisie was aware of the danger of the ‘Russian example



It was not surprising that the soviets, which were formed by the centralisation of mass assemblies, went over to those who were providing clear political answers to the questions posed by all the non-exploiting layers of the population. "End the war! Expropriate the bourgeoisie! Overthrow the Provisional Government! Spread the revolution internationally!" The election of Trotsky to the presidency of the Petrograd soviet was not a ‘coup d'état', but a logical consequence of the fact that the working class as a whole was more and more recognising itself in the political leadership provided by the Bolsheviks. The soviets were not a rubber stamp for the decisions of the Bolshevik party. They expressed the living activity of the class itself. The fact that the Bolsheviks, who were the most conscious of the tasks of the hour, were able to win a majority in the soviets through the most animated debates, is no mystery, except for the official historians. This had nothing to do with conspiracies and behind the scenes manoeuvres by the ‘great demagogue' Lenin.

The so-called ‘coup d'état' denounced by the ideologists of the bourgeoisie was not carried out by a small cohort of Machiavellian plotters, but by the proletariat, whose actions were discussed and voted on beforehand in the soviets. The October insurrection was a living testimony to the real power of the soviets, just as the centralisation of the insurrection by the RMC (headed by Trotsky who was a mandated delegate) was an expression of the collective and unitary character of the proletarian mass movement.

The Holy Alliance of the great democracies strangles the Russian revolution

The Russian revolution could not survive by remaining isolated in one country and the Bolsheviks were perfectly well aware of this. They waited impatiently for its extension to all the other industrialised countries, and above all to Germany. Every month, the delay of the revolution in Europe was a tragedy for the Russian revolution, which was subjected to the counter-revolutionary pressure not only of the White Armies, but of all the capitalist powers, who were continuing to savage each other in the Great War, but who were totally united in the need to drown the revolution in blood. How is it that the paid ideologues of capital don't mention in their press the bloody massacre of a quarter of the working class population of Finland by the German army in the spring of 1918? Is it because they haven't discovered the ‘unpublished archives' or because their role is to falsify history? How is it that these ‘brilliant' writers have not written about the fact that it was these same German armies who shortly afterwards were fraternising with the enemy troops? Perhaps these ideologues have not understood that such sudden and unforeseen turnarounds had a simple explanation: the belligerent armies were made up of workers in uniform who had had enough of being massacred by other workers in uniform, who could no longer tolerate this bloody and fratricidal conflict. These workers, and the ‘uncultured' peasants, had become aware that their exploiters had turned them into killing machines, thanks to all the nationalist propaganda and the treason of the social democratic parties who had gone over to the camp of capital after 1914. Evidently, this ‘extermination' of 20 million people during the first of capital's Great Wars does not shock these accusers of the Bolsheviks!

The bourgeoisie was well aware of the global stakes of the October revolution in Russia. This is why the Holy Alliance of all the camps of capital preferred to sign the armistice and unite their forces in order to crush the revolution in Germany, encircle Soviet Russia by establishing a cordon sanitaire around its borders and imposing an economic blockade so that its population starved. The paid hacks of capital don't need the ‘unpublished archives' (now on offer by Putin) to know any of this!

Faced with the offensive launched by well-equipped professional armies, the proletariat in Russia had to defend itself with the means at hand. What's more the revolution paid heavily for some of its errors: thus the Bolsheviks initially released most of the counter-revolutionaries they had captured on a promise that they wouldn't bear arms against the revolution. None of them kept their promise.

If the October revolution degenerated, if the soviets were not able to maintain themselves as organs of workers' power, and if the Bolshevik party ended up identifying itself with the state, it was because of the failure of the revolution in Germany and of its extension to the other industrialised countries. It was the Social Democratic Party which smashed the proletarian revolution in Germany (and we should not forget that the Freikorps it recruited for this job formed the backbone of the future Nazi SA). The barbarism of the capitalist counter-revolution was only able to be unleashed thanks to the propagandists of the bourgeoisie with their cynical anti-Bolshevik campaigns[6].

The aim of the seizure of power in Russia was to ‘hold out' until the proletarian revolution in Western Europe came to the aid of the Russian revolution. And Lenin even wrote that "losing the revolution in Russia will not matter if we win it in Germany". Strange kind of tyrant this, accepting the loss of ‘his' revolution so that another could win!

The ruling class is incapable of understanding October 1917

For the ruling class, it is impossible to understand the action of the working masses can be a conscious action: the bourgeoisie believes, and will always believe, that a revolution can only be the work of a few determined plotters who succeed in manipulating the exploited masses and persuading them to realise their designs. This conspiratorial vision of history, at root wholly irrational, is the proof that the bourgeoisie is a class which no longer has any historic future. It can only maintain itself as a ruling class by wallowing in blood and filth. As for the ‘scoops' by the hired hacks of capital, they more and more take the form of sordid gossip. It's not just a tissue of lies functioning in defence of the dictatorship of capital: the bourgeoisie is quite incapable of understanding that wide layers of the exploited class could develop a clear understanding of the stakes of history and take power, not to set up a new dictatorship based on the exploitation of man by man, a blind anarchy, a bloody chaos, but a new mode of production and a new society: world communist society.

From the standpoint of the capitalist class, the idea that the working class could be the bearer of a higher, clearer form of consciousness, free of the alienation imposed by its position as an exploited class, is inconceivable and intolerable. In his History of the Russian Revolution Trotsky gives us many examples of the insults the bourgeoisie hurled against the workers, who it thought incapable of the least degree of political thought.

The proletariat, weakened by the betrayal of social democracy, was not able to overturn the capitalist order on a world level. But it did prove that it had the strength, when it was united, solid, and collectively organised, to put an end to the barbarism of war, concretely refuting all the lies of the bourgeoisie about the immutable nature of its system, its frontiers, its national states. The proletariat showed in practice that everything that Marx and the communists had said was no hot air: the proletariat is the only revolutionary class in capitalist society. And today, once again, on the occasion of the anniversary of the October revolution, which opened up the first international revolutionary wave, the workers' movement must denounce the reactionary, obscurantist nature of the present anti-communist campaigns.

The working class in France has been celebrating the anniversary of October 1917 in its own way, paying practical homage to the generations of workers who overthrew the bourgeois government of Kerensky and took power. Faced with the intensification of exploitation, and all the lies of the media, the students and railway workers, without yet being aware of it, made their own salute to the Russian revolution by launching a movement which loosened the mask of the trade unions, and above all the Stalinist union, the CGT.

As in 1917-18, it was above all the younger generation of the working class which was at the forefront of the struggle and was able to draw the principal lesson of the Russian revolution: "if we remain on our own, they will eat us for breakfast"[7] . As for the internationalist communists, they must also render homage to Lenin and all his Bolshevik comrades whose contribution to the workers' movement remains inestimable. And just as the Bolsheviks knew by heart the lessons of the Paris Commune, the revolutionaries of tomorrow will remember and make use of the example of the Russian revolution by drawing out its lessons and criticising its errors. BM,January 2008.

[1] Certain fans of ‘black humour' from the former eastern bloc countries, like the ones who have edited a book called Draw me a Bolshevik are participating in this same anti-Bolshevik propaganda but in a more ‘subtle' way. These first big ‘discoveries' of the 21st century were (as if by chance) made public at the same moment as the anniversary of the October revolution. Did our brilliant explorers go on the same organised trip, on the same charter? In any case, they deserve at least a Nobel Prize for Social Peace. As for the honest ‘intellectuals' who don't know much about this historical period, they would do well to be a bit more modest rather than displaying their prejudices in public, unless they want to end up like Marc Ferro: a warterer watered (reference to very early comedy film L'arroseur arrose)

[2] Even humanist scientists and intellectuals of the time (such as Freud, Romain Rolland, Stefan Sweig) had a lot of sympathy for the Bolsheviks. These ‘free thinkers' had at least the merit of not running with the wolves of capital, like Monsieur Marc Ferro.

[3] Lenin was not in Russia at the time and could not have manipulated the masses from afar since there was no television! And if these masses were so uncultivated, they would have been incapable of understanding the Bolshevik press.

[4] See our article in International Review 89: ‘April Theses 1917, signpost to the proletarian revolution',

[5] The predecessors of our modern media put out posters showing Bolsheviks with knives between their teeth, with the aim of spreading the message: ‘proletarians of all countries, submit to the capitalist order!' it was precisely this order, this social peace (obtained in particular through Stalin's extermination of the Bolshevik old guard and of the Spartacists in Germany by the ‘Socialists') which opened the way to the second world holocaust of 1939-45..

[6] The intellectuals who still believe in the greatest lie in history - the continuity between the proletarian revolution of October 1917 and Stalinism, which was its gravedigger - would do better to change their reading habits if they want to remain intelligent.

[7] Point made by a student in the struggle against the CPE in 2006. The students didn't need ‘unpublished archives' or ‘Bolsheviks' in their general assemblies to understand the ABC of history