Day of Discussion on the Russian Revolution

14 posts / 0 new
Last post
Day of Discussion on the Russian Revolution
Printer-friendly version

The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Day of Discussion on the Russian Revolution. The discussion was initiated by Link.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

Relevance of the Russian Revolution Today

I hope you dont mind but as a contribution to preparations for the meeting i thought i would repost my presentation for an MDF meeting some time ago.   When i wrote this I wanted basically to stress why i thought that something that happened so long ago should be seen as important today despite the despair of change that we see today and what has been called the lack on continuity with the wc movement of old.  Hope it is constructive.


I don’t intend to go into the history of the Russian Revolution and to extract all the actions that give us lessons about what to do and what not to do.  Others can do this far better than me.  I want to take slightly different perspective and make just a few points of broad relevance to us now

The starting point for me is quite simply that it did take place!!  It was a working class revolution albeit with weaknesses. It was ultimately defeated and there was a  return to a capitalist state system. But the working class took power.  What’s more it wasn’t just a Russian event, across the world there was a large wave of struggle.

For us in the UK we have a number of problems here in this period of deepening nationalist sentiments.  The wave of struggle post WW1 did not the reach the heights achieved in other countries and despite the appearance of a british disease in the 60s and 70s we are back in a situation where workers on strike are vilified and the tv fills up with students, others workers, shopkeepers, business people condemning the disruptions that workers make to their lives.  The late 60s  and 70s brought home the possibility of an opposition  to capitalism and the possibility of change.    50 years on we are in an unexpected place.   The working class is passive and we are down and dispirited and globally divided amongst ourselves.

So its important today to remember that first rev wave did take place.  More important than any criticisms you have of the Bolsheviks, of  the counter revolution in Russia, of Stalin, of the Comintern, of relationship between Bolsheviks and the working class is the fact that the working class did get it together to revolt against capitalism.  If they can do it once that can do it again.  This is what must keep us going.

One recent (apparently discouraged) correspondent on the CWO website said “… whichever way communism is imagined, despite gross dissatisfaction with all that capitalism inflicts, any idea that millions can, after all that has gone before, be persuaded to become communists, is realistically futile, at least here in the UK” and further that; ” …shows of hands at mass meetings is really a fuddy-duddy way of imagining the organisation of a world proletarian economy by now” whilst suggesting using capitalism’s technology to defeat capitalists by stealing their money.

Now, it doesn’t feel uncommon today to despair of the ability of workers to understand what capitalism is and to be able to organise against it.  This tends to lead to a search for alternate solutions just as for this correspondent.  However it is not despair that leads to these ideas.  In fact, neither the left or right wants you to remember how organized the worker were in Russia in 1905 and 1917 in Germany in 1918 and so on.  These workers created factory groups, assemblies, workers councils.  They took control of factories, undertook food distribution, managed the press, managed whole industries, controlled rents, physically defended minorities let alone themselves, and held open political discussions and made decisions to act based on those discussions.  They became an alternative to the existing state and inevitably ended up challenged for power over the capitalist state.  It was possible then and remains possible for the future because the same basic confrontation is there within capitalism – wages, exploitation, classes and a working class with no economic interest in exiting conditions

Internationalism is a keystone of working class politics and is highly relevant to today.  The Bolsheviks were initially very clear that success of the revolution could only come about through a world revolution.  As this option did not appear, nationals solutions were sought and through this the counter revolution appeared (and to quote Irwellian “defend the revolution replaced spread the revolution”).  At the start the 20th century the nation state was coming to the end of a period in which it had been a tool for economic and social progress and the Bolsheviks can perhaps be excused for part of their confusion on this topic.   Today, however the nation state brings only austerity and conflict and any politics that supports national policies & national solution will end up opposing working class attempts to unify.  I draw attention here to the actions of the reformist left ie Social Democracy in 1914 in betraying the class and their descendants today which pursue clearly anti working class politics ie Social Democracy, Trotskyist and CPs    The left want us all to ignore this basis of nationalism but we cannot.

They will support national solutions to world problems, they support capitalist wars of self defence, eg in 1914 and still today these national solutions are justified to mobilise workers to fight physically ie WW2 and the multitude of regionalized wars since.  They use anti-imperialism as a slogan to mobilize workers in imperialist wars, they can use anti globalization to mobilize workers both for and against the UK and for and against leaving the EU.   All genuine internationalism and opposition to the nation has been completely forgotten by the left

The relevance of the period pre WW1 is perhaps an element of debate that I would like to introduce here.  When I was a member of the ICC I was convinced of the analysis or the historic course ie the options of war and revolution as the solutions of the opposing classes in society.  I used to see that as quite linear however and only likely to be strengthened as diverting tendences by the ongoing events in decadence.  (I put it that way cos I am criticizing me not the ICC ).   I retain that basic belief in the historic course but after this past 50 years it now seems to me that decadence has moved on from the period post WW2 and up to the wave of struggles between the 60s and 80s in a less clear way so whilst they remain solutions of the opposing classes they appear less exclusive of each other.  So I would say we need to consider again the period prior to the Russian Revolution when both war and revolution were on the agenda.  I find it hard now not to see both options open in today’s period. I find it hard not to believe that the upper hand held by the bourgeoisie today through the strengthening of nationalist ideologies means war is possible but that event would be likely to stimulate the working class into action as it did during ww1. These opposing solutions no longer appear exclusive.

The point I am making here is not well developed but I think an understanding of the current period it is significant for us all and perhaps we should be discussing both the ICCs and the CWOs perspectives here at some point

The relevance of organisation is also an important issue.  The Bolsheviks did not understand the world as well as we do.  Is that arrogance?  By me perhaps but not the the collective of revolutionaries today.  We have more experience to discuss and understand.  We can learn from their experience.   In some ways a group acting like the Bolsheviks today would be labelled terrorists and condemned.  Additionally their view of the role of political organization was problematic and they failed to break fully with the social democratic concept of taking power.

What I do see are their glimpses of clarity; I see their ability to listen and learn from what the workers were doing in practice; I see the strength of a focus on the end result - a communist revolution against capitalism; I see the ability to make important judgments on the balance of class forces.

For me therefore an important lesson out of this is the significance of key points of understanding.  The weaknesses of the Bolsheviks did not prevent them contributing to the class movement, despite our knowledge that they would have had at some point to have learnt the same things we now know about power and organization and nationalism. We should not be rejecting them because we don’t agree with various things they said and did in their period.   There are key times when full agreement between revolutionaries is a priority and when small differences become major problems. I would suggest this is the case in the immediate period of revolution.  But at a time like today when the working class is on the defensive, then it is more important to recognize that differences are not critical and that support and working together is more important.  Many differences will absolutely need resolving but in future, today mutual support is the focus.

Finally I see the relevance of the lead provided by the Russian Revolution in the stimulation is gave to workers and to the political groups across the world.  This was again irrespective of the weakness of the Bolsheviks and of the difference conditions existing in different countries and in state of class struggle across the world.

So for me the dogmatic adherence to the goal of revolutionary change is critical, so too however is the recognition that petty differences between revolutionaries can be, and arguably are at the moment, less important than the common ground.

Format of the 11 November meeting

No problem with you re-posting this at all. Hopefully it will stimulate some discussion prior to the meeting.

We can give some details about the proposed format for the meeting:


11am-11.30: introduction to the day of discussion by the ICC

11.30am - 2.30pm: presentation by the Communist Workers Organisation on the proletarian nature of the Bolshevik party and the October insurrection followed by discussion, with a 1 hour lunch break in between

2.30-5.30: ICC presentation on the degeneration of the revolution, followed by discussion

5.30: conclusions

lessons from the October Revolution are important for today's cl

This discussion meeting addresses important points:

  • The relevance of the Russian revolution for the class struggle today
  • The proletarian nature of the Bolshevik party
  • The proletarian nature of the October Revolution
  • The degeneration of the October Revolution(because of the failure of the world's revolution)

Last but not least important is the joint meeting of two proletarian organizations on October Revelation. 7 November 1997, 20 years ago, they had such a meeting.

The proletarian ship and the communist compass

From the website vkpb (using its automatic translation from Russian to English) I read that the main task of any truly communist party is to unite the working (proletarian) and communist movements into one powerful anti-capitalist force.Without this, all talk about approaching real socialism is useless and pointless - empty talk.I.V.Stalin in his work "Briefly about party disagreements", created by him in 1905, wrote:

   "What is scientific socialism without the labor movement? The compass, which, if left unused, can only become rusty, and then it would have to be thrown overboard.

   What is the working-class movement without socialism? A ship without a compass, which would already stick to another shore, but if he had a compass, he would have reached the shore much sooner and would have met less danger.

   Combine the two together, and you will get a beautiful ship that will directly fly to the other shore and safely reach the pier.

Internationalist Voice supports Day of Discussion on the Russia

Internationalist Voice supports "Day of Discussion on the Russian Revolution" with its text. Best wishes to the meeting and hopefully it will be a good discussion!

Flummery warning

It seems that the bourgeoisie is deliberatey trying to sabotage our meeting by commanding the Lord Mayor's Parade to march past the May Day rooms around the time we start. I've phoned the organisers however and they don't think that the streets leading to the venue will be blocked, but anyone coming should expect having to get through the crowds who have come to witness the flummery. 

Thanks for the good wishes, Internationalist Voice. 







WR Strikes Back

It seems that the bourgeoisie is deliberatey trying to sabotage our meeting by commanding the Lord Mayor's Parade to march past the May Day rooms around the time we start.

We will have a 72 page supplement in the next issue of World Revolution detailing this dastardly plot by the ruling class.

You may jest but....

... I'm told they beat eggs to make flummery. First they come for the hens....

They tend to leave the hens,

They tend to leave the hens, although I concede they take the eggs.

Herer! We are  waiting for

Herer! We are  waiting for your report on conference


_Mark_ wrote:

(An ICC comrade suggested that how the CWO articulated their view on Kronstadt was new to him -- it would be good if he could explain what precisely was new to him and what/how the CWO's view on Kronstadt differed/differs/aligns with his/ICC view.)

I believe there was a time, many years ago, when the CWO labelled the ICC a counter-revolutionary organisation - and declined to engage with it - because the ICC insisted there was still proletarian life in the Russian Revolution and the Bolshevik Party after Kronstadt. The CWO evidently changed its position on this subsequently. Whether this was what the ICC comrade at the meeting was referring to I can't say.

Then again, there was a time when many comrades of what was to become the ICC section in Britain - as well as members of the nascent CWO - didn't consider the Bolsheviks to be a proletarian expression at all! It took contact with other revolutionaries - including those who had participated in the first revolutionary wave - to convince them otherwise and not all came to this conclusion at the same time - another source of friction contributing to the formation of two separate left communist organisations in GB.

Amir1 wrote:

Herer! We are  waiting for your report on conference

It is I understand being compiled but ... it takes time and this was just one of many ICC meetings on the Russian Revolution which have been/are being held across Europe.

Forgot to agree with Mark that "the day of discussion was important and useful, informed and informative, comradely and very enjoyable."

 I would echo Mark’s and KT's

 I would echo Mark’s and KT's view that it was important, informed and informative and very comradely.  I’m only sorry I got held up and missed the first presentation from C.   I was particularly pleased to see members of different organisations not only making contributions but also explaining where they have different viewpoints and why. 


The CWO/ICT and the ICC have the same political framework and the differences between them are only secondary but I don’t think this means that these organisations can simply join forces.  In fact I think both organisations have valid viewpoints and that the independence of each should be respected.   Both have viewpoints  however that demand serious discussion and analysis.   The workers movement can only be stronger if organisations within it use this current period and help each other improve their understanding of each other as well as to clarify issues of the future for the working class.  


So again I agree there should be further Days of Study or Discussion.   I don’t care who initiates them or who does the invitations,  I want to see the signs of cooperation again.  We should be using this time when class struggle is low to clarify positions of relevance to the future and I would suggest the Period of Transition as a future topic that fulfils that role.  Perhaps also the Party (it was noticeable that both ICC and CWO comrades drew pretty much the same broad lessons on this topic from the Russian Revolution despite differences in current structures and practice) and perspectives for the crisis (socialism or barbarism) would be constructive topics too.


From personal experience I know that both ICC and CWO/ICT  base their practice on a willingness and an openness to political discussion and the clarification that comes  through this.  At risk of being called an idealist then, I would like to think that we don’t need to be afraid of disagreements but should embrace them and learn from the discussion and if these 2 organisations can take the lead here I would expect others to follow.


It is the right time now, even high time, to put aside the disagreements and tensions of the past, to stop the name calling and derogatory labelling and actually sit down together to discuss issues and differences with the intention of trying to understand and achieving clarifications together.  We need working class organisations that provide a strong legacy for the future.