100th Anniversary of the October Revolution - Lessons (Part 2)


6.             The issue of liberation of oppressed nations is another example of the relevance of the Marxist teachings of Lenin and Trotsky for today’s revolutionary struggle. Tsarist Russia was a “prison house of peoples,“ with 57% of the population being non-Russians who were denied their fundamental rights. This didn’t change when the reformist-bourgeois government took power between February and October 1917. It was only the Bolshevik government, after October, which guaranteed the oppressed people of their right of national self-determination. All nations were ensured full equality, their languages were taught in schools, their culture promoted, they had the right to found their own state, etc. It was only after the Stalinist counter-revolution that non-Russian nations were increasingly oppressed, that Great Russian chauvinism was promoted and that a number of small nations like the Chechens, the Crimean Tatars and others were forcefully deported to remote places thousands of kilometers away from their homelands. Likewise, the Bolsheviks consistently defended the Jews already during the 1903 pogroms as well as after the revolution. In contrast, the capitalist counter-revolution killed numerous Jews. Characteristically, Stalin also waged his campaigns against oppositional groups with anti-Semitic undertones. Likewise, the right-wing Zionists led by Ze'ev Jabotinsky supported the reactionary and anti-Semitic regime of Symon Petlura in the Ukraine during the civil war which killed many Jews.


7.             Similarly, the Bolsheviks were committed to unconditional support for the liberation struggles of the oppressed people in the colonies and semi-colonies in Africa, Asia and Latin America. They called for an end of imperialist domination and supported the anti-colonial uprisings of the Rif-Berbers against Spanish and French imperialism, of the Indians against British imperialism, of the Chinese against all Great Powers and of Turkey against Britain. Lenin and Trotsky called for unconditional support for the struggle of black people in the US and in Africa against imperialist super-exploitation and racism. They gave unconditional support to such struggles despite the fact they were usually led by non-socialist, (petty-)bourgeois nationalist and religious forces (“anti-imperialist united front tactic”). However, the Communist International advocated simultaneously the independent organization of the working class. It emphasized the necessity for the working class and the oppressed to prepare to replace the non-revolutionary leaderships as the latter will inevitable betray the liberation struggle.


8.             The Soviet Union at the time of Lenin and Trotsky was the first state in the world which gave women full equality. For the first time women were ensured equal wages, voting rights, maternity protection, the right to divorce, to abortions, etc. Furthermore women played a crucial role in the revolution itself. Alexandra Kollontai become the first female minister in the world; women fought in the Red Army and played an important role in the political and social campaigns among the popular masses; and the Bolsheviks went on to create a communist women’s movement. Likewise the young Soviet Union abolished all oppressive laws related to sexuality, including laws which criminalized homosexuality. Again, it was the Stalinist counter-revolution which took away from women a number of rights (like that of abortion). Similarly, Stalin added an article to the criminal code in 1933, which made male homosexuality a crime punishable by up to five years in prison with hard labor.


9.             Lenin, following Marx and Engels, characterized the victorious workers state as a “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Bourgeois demagogues maintain that this explicitly precludes democracy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Surely, the victorious revolution cannot tolerate its sworn enemies who will use all means necessary to restore the power of the old capitalist class. Bourgeois historians refer to the example of the Constituent Assembly which was dissolved by the Bolsheviks in January 1918. However, the Constituent Assembly with its majority of petty-bourgeois parties (right-wing Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks) represented an institution hostile to the revolution and it did not represent the will of the majority of the workers and poor peasants as it was expressed in the All-Russian Soviet Congress. Contrary to the claims of bourgeois ideologists, the young Soviet Union was full of debates about the course of the revolution and even saw numerous blocs and factions within the Bolshevik Party. Authentic workers’ democracy existed in the revolutionary workers’ and peasants’ republic at the time of Lenin and Trotsky. Only when the Stalinist bureaucracy took power, did they systematically suppress any dissent. It expelled the Left Opposition led by Leon Trotsky at the end of 1927, and subsequently threw tens of thousands – later even millions of oppositionists – into prison, many of whom were later executed. Stalinism is not the continuation of Bolshevism but the embodiment of its negation. A line of blood is drawn between these two antipodes.


10.          The revolution is doomed to degenerate, to bureaucratize and finally to collapse if it fails to spread internationally to other countries. This is so because (a) the imperialist enemies will unavoidable do everything in their power to subvert, to attack and finally to smash the revolution; and (b) because the modern productive forces, by their very nature, transcend all borders of the nation state. True, the revolution will not succeed in several countries in a single stroke. The working class will first take power in one country. But, while striving for consolidation of the socialist nation state as much as it is possible under the condition of imperialist encirclement, the priority must be given to the internationalization of the revolution, of spreading it to other countries. If this fails and the revolution remains isolated for a number of years, it is doomed. If a country remains isolated, it will suffer from backwardness and poverty. However, socialism can only be built on the basis of modern productive forces in order to free humanity increasingly from the burden of labor. Hence, socialism cannot be built in isolation in one country, as Stalin infamously proclaimed in 1924, but only on an international level. This was proven by the fate of the USSR, China and all other Stalinist states: first they bureaucratized and suppressed the working class and popular masses and finally they collapsed and opened the road to capitalism in 1989-91. This is why Lenin and Trotsky advocated the internationalization of the revolution as a chief priority after 1917. This is why they launched the Communist International in 1919. And this is why Stalin transformed this International into a subordinated appendix of Moscow’s foreign policy and finally dissolved it in 1943.