How the Russian Revolution failed

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Communist
How the Russian Revolution failed
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Hello.

 

For years now I've been an on-and-off reader of this website and enjoyed it's perspectives.  In a world where the 'Communist' movement is regarded as something hopelessly out-of-date or worse yet, a banner upheld by unrepentent Stalinists, the analysis upheld on here seems to be one of the last bastions of 'truth' - whatever that means.

 

Recently I've been reading some of the work of Victor Serge, and have developed a renewed interest and desire to understand why the communist movement failed in the 20th century, particularly when Serge and many of his contemporaries still retained a great optimism in the face of unbelievable repression, violence and lies. 

 

I plan to make an attempt at writing something of a short history of the early years of the Russian Revolution based around the below theses and was hoping that perhaps some of the contributors to this website might be able to point me in the direction of some good books which will help me understand this period:

 

1. The Russian Revolution represented the first ever attempt by a section of the working class to take power in their own lives and overthrow capitalism. The fact that the actual seizure of power was enacted through conspiratorial means is irrelevant because the need for a workers revolution which overthrew the Provisional Government was something openly debated and approved by the popular organs of working class power which arose in this period.

 

2. Though the Bolsheviks resorted to increasingly dictatorial means during the revolutionary period, this was by no means the purpose or end goal of the Russian Revolution. Despite this, some of the actions undertook by the Bolsheviks in this period were indefensible - repression of non-bolshevik revolutionaries, the crushing of Kronstadt and the Makhnovist movement. Why they done all of this is of course up for debate. As I see it, and I'm interested to know what others think, the Bolsheviks sole aim at this point was to defend the Soviet state, to 'hold the line' in anticipation of successful workers uprisings in other parts of the world.

 

3. The problem with of all of this, is that measures taken in the 1917-1921 period, began to no longer be viewed as 'unfortunate neccessities' but the actual fulfilment of the Communist project, thus helping to lay the foundations of what would become the horror of Stalinism.

 

4. Those within the revolutionary camp were acutely aware that the increasing bureaucracy and international isolation of the soviet state would be fatal to the revolution if it could not be reversed. This was manifested in the debates and struggles within the early Communist Party which still retained some semblance of democracy. 

 

5. The significance of the 'socialism in one country' doctrine was that it essentially identified state-administered capitalism (even in a 'workers state') and real socialism/communism as one and the same thing. Where once 'communism' aspired towards a stateless society, the abolition of wage labour and the destruction of national borders, the USSR represented a totalitarian state, the continuation of wage-labour (made worse by the fact that there was essentially now only one employer - the state), and the reassertion of national identity. The rise of Stalin was the not the only cause of the counter-revolution, but was it's symbolic representation.

 

6. The victory of Stalinism consisted in the lie that what became of the Russian Revolution was it's fulfilment. The established Communist Parties succumbed to this lie, and this became the banner under which 'Communism' was exported throughout the world in the 20th century.

Alf
welcome

Welcome to the forum and thanks for your contribution, which makes some of the most essential points about the Russian revolution. Comrades can suggest some useful reading (there's plenty on this site, of course...eg here: https://en.internationalism.org/series/408, and many of these articles will refer to previous books). Victor Serge is certainly worth reading, but also Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution, above all for showing the dynamic of the proletarian movement between February and October 1917. 

Communist
Reply to Alf

Hi Alf - Thanks for your reply.

 

I have had a look at Trotsky's History in the past, but found it to be quite dry. As you say, it certainly does provide an insight into the proletarian movement in 1917, but I've always felt it reads like a book about politics ​written by a politician. Have you read China Mieville's October? I know Mieville is far from what the ICC would consider as somebody with a revolutionary position, however it really does provide a feeling of what those times felt like to ordinary workers who weren't neccessarily involved in lengthy debates in the soviets etc...

 

Is there any books which provide an insight into what the early soviet society meant for those outside of the public meetings, soviets, debates etc? Things which provide first hand accounts of land and workplace appropriations, seizure of large houses, the day to day functioning of everyday life in terms of food distribution, transport etc and how this directly affected the lives of individuals.

Mizar
Are the  Russian aboriginal

Are the  Russian aboriginal informed that their Revolution failed? The point is that if you say to Russians that they always lived under capitalism, they'll look at you like you are crazy.

Communist
Reply to Mizar

Yes it is probably true that most Russians believe that the USSR was a socialist/communist system. It's also true that most people in the rest of the world believe the same thing. It's true also that there are groups both here and in Russia that believe that the USSR was in no way a socialist society. The point is that under capitalism, the dominant unseen ideologies on which the system rests engender all kinds of deception, and it is not the job of the Communists to accept these falsehoods out of a misplaced populism.

 

Now, of course, at this point, you might be thinking, well what makes your viewpoint the 'true' communist one, as opposed to the various 'Communist' regimes of the 20th century who actually did something other than be an armchair revolutionary? A fair question, no doubt.

As for for the first part of this question, with regards to 'truth', this is fair point. The meaning of words changes over time, and depends largely on which forces are able to lay claim to them. One recalls to mind the below quote from Victor Serge:

 

“Stalin is communism,” James Burnham concludes. Words change their meaning and this is perhaps nothing but a quibble over language. The Communist movement is in fact identified today with Stalin and his totalitarian system. It would be completely futile to continue to seek to make prevail in people’s minds a discrimination that demands erudition, however correct it might essentially be. It is nonetheless true that the humanist doctrine of Karl Marx, that returned the word communism to a place of honor, has only a distant – and often contradictory – relationship to Stalinism.''

Just as the revolutionaries who broke with the 2nd International dropped the term 'social-democracy', it might well be the case that revolutionaries today should explore a break with 'Communism'. But even, if that was to happen, it really wouldn't change much as there is no mass revolutionary movement to push forward this hypothetical new banner. And even so, the point remains that the system which existed in the USSR was by no means a fulfilment of the 'communist' revolution of 1917, and shouldn't be allowed to falsely appropriate it's legacy.

 

2. The second part of this question, with regards to 'actually doing something' :

Though any serious communist who has an in-depth knowledge of the Stalin period will denounce the barbaric cruelty of his regime, I don't deny that the post 1953 Soviet Union and other similar systems did achieve some positive things. I recognise the expanded access to healthcare and education, industrialisation. full employment  and assistance of National Liberation movements abroad. The point is though that none of these things are of themselves indicative of a fundamental change in social relations or the class dynamic of Capitalism. The fact that they were carried through under a red flag is irrelevant. It is also true that many of these achievements were achieved by moderate social-democratic parties within the framework of bourgeois liberal democracy without the huge human cost and need for dictatorship. If these achievements really are the height of our ambitions, then quite frankly id rather stick within the framework of liberal capitalism, much less chance of being shot!

 

Communist
Reply to Mizar

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/5c/22/10/5c22106b9d1b8058f2a3923f94356190...

Pretty much every surviving Communist who played a key part in 1917 and was still alive in the 30's was eliminated by the Stalinist regime. Doesn't that make you think that perhaps Stalin wanted to kill off what remained of any revolutionary fervour? That the system which arose under his rule represented a counter-revolution? That every movement which took the USSR as it's founding inspiration was also part of this counter-revolution and rewriting of history, even if unwittingly so?

Mizar
In other words, common

In other words, common Russians are not able to understand their social being, they are not able to understand were there fundamental changes in their life after 1991 or not, so their opinion should be ignored.
Are you an enlighted  vanguard that brings civilization to savage nations? Seriously taking up a white man's burden?

Communist
Reply to Mizar

I don't know how you read that into what I was saying. My earlier post did recognise that there was changes in life of what you call 'common' Russians after 1991. The point is that these changes consisted in a move from a 'Statist' model of Capitalism to a neo-liberal one.

 

Fundamentally, you believe that a one-party state with a centralised 'planned' economy presided over by a 'Communist' party constitutes socialism, and I don't. The attempt to present this argument as some kind of racial prejudice only demonstates the weakness of your argument.  

Teivos
A way to contact "the contributors of this website"

Hello Communist,
If you have been following the webpage and you find in the ICC perspective, texts and positions a certain degree of agreement ("one of the last bastions of truth") and the need of debate and clarification, I recommend you not only posting in this forum, but also directly writing an email to the ICC to develop a discussion with the organisation. About this same topic, for example. The reason: although this is the ICC forum, that doesn't mean that the ICC itself as a centralized organisation directly discusses its positions here on a current basis (though it does sometimes, and includes the development of the debate here in the internal and contact discussions, or publishes texts in response to certain debates going on in here). Discussing directly with the ICC you will get the effect of the centealized experience and discussion of the ICC as a reply, and this will be most clarifying. Of course, direct discussion in contact with the ICC does not contradict posting here, but I think that the email is more important. You will get a more centralized and collective view on the recommended texts or contributions you ask for. Also perhaps, the text you intend to write when you have it. I could recommend you a text to read, but what I recommend is that you ask the ICC for that (which you already do by asking to "some of the contributors to this website", though I am recommending a better way to achieve that), which will give it more of a struggle and centralized perspective. You can do it going to "menu-contact us-by email".

Fraternally,
Teivos

Teivos

Communist
Reply to Teivos

Hi Teivos,

Thanks for your reply. 

Yes, I agree that perhaps direct contact is probably a better way of going about this. The reason I opened up a discussion here on the forum is that I'm not too sure yet about how I'm going to go about writing this 'thesis' or whatever you want to call it and was hoping that through discussion that I might be able to have a clearer idea of what I should include.

Out of interest, are you a current member of the ICC?

Teivos
Quick reply

Hi Communist, 

Of course, although you don't need a full-grown thesis to adress the ICC. It would be an ongoing discussion, of course looking for the best clarity. An ongoing contribution to collective clarity is, I think, a better contribution than an isolated one-man self-made thesis. Of course, the debate can nurture your developing thesis for discussion in the proletarian political millieu, coherent with your positioning within it. The debate's essence is a struggle for critical unity and centralization, and communist positions are not the magnificent creation of isolated thinkers. As I said, that doesn't mean that I think you shouldn't post here or ask the commarades posting here, which will be also fruitull.

I am not a current member of the ICC, but I am a sympathiser. Why the interest? The reason of your interest might be of interest, that is why I ask.

I don't know if I will be able to quickly follow this post, so I wish it to be clarifying. I also don't mean to deviate more the thread about the first years of the October Revolution in Russia. Excuse me.

Best wishes

Teivos

Communist
Reply to Teivos

The reason I asked is that I am also what you might call a sympathiser (though I don't neccessarily share all of the ICC's positions), I was interested in how others like me interact with the ICC, though as you say direct email interaction is probably a better way of going about this.

Alf
contact

Teivos is quite right to propose a direct contact and we look forward to hearing from the comrade. But this doesn't exclude further discussion on the forum. The discussion has already shown that we have plenty to discuss - for example the idea that it was positive that the USSR supported "national liberation struggles": for us the latter, in this epoch of history, are necessarily part of the endless cycle of inter-imperialist wars, and the USSR support for nationalist movements was dictated entirely by its own imperialist interests. This is the only logical conclusion to draw from the last point of your original post - that the Stalinist regime in the USSR was an example of state capitalism, and there are no non-imperialist forms of capitalism.  

Communist
Reply to Alf

I agree with you about the USSR's motivations in supporting NatLib movements, however I struggle to believe that life for those in the former colonies of Africa wasn't better after gaining independence. This is just a general observation, similar to the observation that perhaps in some ways the 'state capitalist' model was better than the neo-liberal one or that social-democracy is preferable to Stalinism. I'm not saying these are neccessarily movements which Communists should support or that they are a 'progressive' move towards socialism.

 

Above all, it was an attempt at being conciliatory towards Mizar - my first exposure to 'communism' was in learning about the 'Marxist-Leninist' regimes of the 20th century, and this is probably the case for a lot of people, maybe even some in the ICC so I think it's important to engage with the viewpoints of others interested in communist theory, even if they are Stalinists. Even then, for many of those who reject Stalinism their next stop will be the Trotskyists, which I think is one of the struggles faced by 'Left' Communist organisations.

Mizar
Communist wrote: My earlier

Communist wrote:
My earlier post did recognise that there was changes in life of what you call 'common' Russians after 1991. The point is that these changes consisted in a move from a 'Statist' model of Capitalism to a neo-liberal one.

The talk was not about changes but about FUNDAMENTAL chages wich can be brought only by the cahage of the social foundation, ie by the change of the social system. That's why your denial of such change sounds weird.

Amir1
[quote=Mizar]

[quote=Mizar]

 

The talk was not about changes but about FUNDAMENTAL chages wich can be brought only by the cahage of the social foundation, ...

"fundamental change" means revolution, so 1991 was not fundamental change. 

 

Mizar
Amir1 wrote:

Amir1 wrote:

"fundamental change" means revolution, so 1991 was not fundamental change. 

Fundamental change means also counter-revolution,take it under advisement.

 

 

 

Alf
conciliation

We can be polite to Mizar as an individual but we can't conciliate with his politics, which are those of the counter-revolution. 

In any case, the argument about 'maybe this version of capitalism is a bit better' is rather dangerous. Is life better for workers under a Stalinist regime than in a 'neo-liberal democracy'? The question itself is misplaced. The evolution of capitalism has been such that some workers, living in the most developed economies, enjoy higher living standards than those who had to queue for basic necessities under Stalinism, so you could easily argue that living under a neo-liberal western democracy is better than living under Stalinism. But in this system we are always made to choose between these different models instead of rejecting the mode of production upon which they are all based.