100th Anniversary of the October Revolution - Lessons (Part 3)


11.          Contrary to the claims of numerous reformists and centrists, the socialist revolution cannot be accomplished by peaceful means. The ruling class will inevitably launch massive and violent attacks against insurrectional workers and oppressed. The October Revolution itself was conducted relatively peacefully in those days, with only a limited number of deaths – proving that the working class is not bloodthirsty but rather interested in an orderly transformation. However, following the Bolshevik Revolution, the ruling class and their imperialist allies organized a vicious counterrevolution which opened years of bloody civil war. The experience and legacy of the Bolsheviks teaches us that every oppressed class that desires to overcome its circumstances must organize and arm itself in workers’ and popular militias and later, after the successful revolution, create a Red Workers’ and Peasants Army. The pacifist preachers of a “peaceful transformation” are nothing but lackeys of the bourgeoisie who only serve to disarm the working class and oppressed.


12.          Another crucial lesson of the October Revolution is that all forms of coalition governments with bourgeois parties, any kind of government which tacitly administers capitalism are in fact betraying the interests of the working class and oppressed. Lenin and Trotsky rightly and vehemently opposed any attempt to politically support – to say nothing of actually joining – the bourgeois-reformist government between February and October 1917. For the same reason, the Bolsheviks continued to pursue the line of revolutionary defeatism during the war as Russia remained an imperialist state after February (albeit Lenin modified the application of this strategy in specific situation when e.g. the Kerensky government conspired to allow the German occupation of Petrograd so that the later could suppress the revolutionary workers and soldiers). The Bolsheviks resolutely generalized this experience and called the issue of support for or participation in coalition governments with pro-capitalist parties as a crucial line of demarcation between communism and reformism. Later this lesson was trampled by Stalin when he ordered the Communist parties in France, Italy, Spain, Austria, etc. to support or openly join capitalist governments and to oppose working class struggles against such governments (as took place, for example, in the 1930s and again in 1945-47).


13.          Similarly, Lenin and Trotsky strongly denounced any political collaboration with or support for imperialist states. While practical deals like diplomatic treaties and trade agreements are legitimate and unavoidable, this must never lead to any political support for such regimes. Hence, the Bolsheviks, after being forced to conclude the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany in March 1918, and again the Treaty of Rapallo in 1922, never stopped supporting and assisting the German Revolution during this period which culminated first in the November Revolution of 1918 as well as in the ultimately unsuccessful uprising during the autumn of 1923. In contrast with Lenin and Trotsky, Stalin did advocate political support for and collaboration with one or the other imperialist camp (with French, British and American imperialism in 1935‒39 and again in 1941‒47; and with Nazi Germany in 1939‒41). Such collaboration resulted in political support for or even the joining (by Stalinist political parties in Europe) of imperialist governments, and the advocacy of ceasing the class struggle against the imperialist allies, including the violent denunciation of anti-colonial uprisings in India in 1942 and Algeria in 1945.


14.          Another crucial lesson of the October Revolution is how the Bolshevik party successfully used the united front tactic to win over the masses that initially supported the reformist parties. While refusing to politically support the reformist government which came to power after February 1917, the Bolsheviks made concrete demands on these coalition parties and called upon reformist-minded workers and peasants to put pressure on them by organizing the struggle in the streets, in the factories and on the land. When sectors of the masses in Petrograd pre-maturely wanted to take power in July 1917, the Bolsheviks tried to restrain them as the relationship of forces in the whole country was not ripe for a revolution. Since a large section of the working class still had illusions in the reformists, the Bolsheviks called to throw out the ten bourgeois ministers. The Bolsheviks were prepared to side with the reformists when a military crisis ensued following threats of a military coup by General Kornilov in September 1917, but refused to give any political support to the government. However, such practical collaboration did not stop Lenin and Trotsky from sharply criticizing the reformists for their failure to carry the revolution forward. As subsequent history showed, such situations of the counter-revolution preparing a military coup to smash a popular front government, often take place (e.g. Spain 1936, Chile 1973) and revolutionaries must use the same approach as the Bolsheviks in 1917.


15.          The Bolsheviks emphasized the importance of the Soviets to the revolution. Such councils exist as a democratic hierarchy – with councils organizing the workers and oppressed in every work place, neighborhood, and village. These local soviets elect delegates with a clear mandate to the next higher body – local, regional and finally national soviets. These delegates remain under control of the electoral base and can be recalled at any time if their performance is unsatisfactory. As representatives they earn an income no higher than that of an average worker. While such soviets already existed in the autumn of 1905 in the city of St. Petersburg, where Trotsky was elected as chairman, in 1917 they spread to the whole of Russia as well as to many other countries. We saw similar workers’ and popular councils in Chile 1973 and in Iran in 1979. A similar form of direct workers’ democracy existed in the daily assemblies and decision making bodies set up by the heroic South African miners in Marikana in August 2012. In fact, every authentic popular revolution is characterized by its being based on these types of mass workers’ and popular councils in stark contrast with a coup by a small armed minority. Various centrists claim that the Bolsheviks made the revolution by calling for “Bread, Land and Peace”. While it is true that they raised this slogan, the centrists omit the fact that the Bolsheviks combined this with the slogan “All Power to the Soviets”. By this omission, the centrists distort the Bolsheviks’ strategy and transform it into a Menshevik two-stage revolution.