Pinning Hopes on Continuity

Relevance of November Revolution


The centenary of November Revolution is just three years away. And communists throughout the world are getting ready to mark this great event of modern times. The Russian Revolution of 1917 took place at a historical juncture. It was the period of the First Imperialist World War. Already towards the end of the nineteenth century, the world capitalist system had entered a new stage. The stage of imperialism. It was the stage in which capitalism had taken the form of monopoly, and industrial capital and bank capital had merged together to assume the form of finance capital. It was also the period when the world market had already been divided among some big powers, and any attempt towards a redivision of this market was bound to lead to a war among these powers. During the First World War, Lenin exhorted the working classes of the belligerent imperialist countries to rise in opposition against the War. This War and the splits among the imperialists gave rise to an opportunity for revolutionary insurrection in Russia and the working class, under the leadership of Lenin, seized power on the basis of the slogan "All Power to the Soviets".

Russia was then an industrially backward country, and bourgeois democracy too had not developed there. For this reason, it was important for the Russian Revolution to accomplish the unfinished task of the bourgeois-democratic revolution. The primary task condition for this revolution came into existence with the overthrow of Tsardom in February 1917. But the bourgeois government that was formed in its wake was not willing to fulfill the democratic aspirations of the people, e.g. power to the Soviets and land to the peasantry. When, within November, the situation matured and popular consciousness became favourable for an insurrection, Lenin set an unprecedented example of revolutionary perspicacity by issuing the call for seizure of power, and this led to the setting up of the first socialist state of the world. The formation of the USSR is a milestone in the history of mankind. All the class struggles hitherto witnessed in history had invariably replaced one exploiting class with another. This was the first time that a class, which history had created in order to wipe out all class exploitations, came to power. Secondly, the emergence of the Soviet Union added a new fundamental contradiction to the world system, namely the contradiction between imperialism and socialism. The new contradiction gave the national liberation struggles of the people of Asia, Africa and Latin America a new essence as well as a new form. These struggles no longer remained parts of a bourgeois democratic revolution of the old type, but became parts of a democratic revolution of new type with socialist countries and the proletariat of all countries as allies.

On the occasion of the first anniversary of the November Revolution, J V Stalin noted three aspects of its international significance. First of all, it expanded the sphere of the national question and turned it from a particular question of struggle against national oppression in Europe into a general question of liberation of nations, colonies and semi-colonies oppressed by imperialism. Secondly, it had intensified the possibility of liberation of these countries and shown a correct path in this regard. In this way, new possibilities had opened up for the liberation of the oppressed people of the Orient and the Occident, and they had been brought into the common stream of the victorious struggle against imperialism. Stalin noted how the November Revolution had built a bridge between the socialist West and the enslaved East, and opened a new front of struggle against world imperialism. This front, he observed, had expanded from the proletariat of the West to the oppressed people of the East through the Russian Revolution.

For one thing Russia was a backward country in respect of Capitalist development, and many tasks of the bourgeois democratic Revolution were as yet unfinished there. The polarization of the society between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat was far from complete. Considered from this point of view, the conditions in Russia were then not favourable to a socialist revolution. On the other hand, after the growth of capitalism into imperialism the socialist revolution of a country was no longer dependent on its internal contradictions, and the orientation of this revolution became anti-imperialist. Hence the real possibility of the occurrence of this revolution was created where the imperialist chain was the weakest. On the basis of a scientific analysis of the imperialist system, Lenin came to the conclusion that the imperialist chain had become the weakest in Russia. That is why, in spite of its backwardness in respect of capitalist development, Russia became the theatre of socialist revolution. But while initiating the task of socialist construction, the Soviet Union had to face the problem of backwardness of capitalist development. They had to implement the policy of 'land to the tillers' and to introduce the New Economic Policy (NEP). Subsequently, for accomplishing the collectivization of agriculture, the Soviet Union confronted with many problems and there were allegations of adopting a coercive attitude towards the peasantry in respect of deciding on the relative prices of agricultural and industrial products. There are scopes of questioning the policies and methods adopted by the leadership of the CPSU(B) in order to tackle those problems and there is much debate even among Marxist circles on those policies and methods. There are also many debates on the subsequent restoration of capitalism in Soviet Russia and its pursuit of an imperialist policy.

These debates notwithstanding, there can be no doubt that the November Revolution brought about a radical change in the world situation and presented with force a socialist programme before the toiling people. Particularly, the "November Revolution vastly encouraged, the desire for liberation in all the countries, including India and China, which were oppressed as colonies and semi-colonies of imperialism. Mao Zedong, in his 'On New Democracy" wrote on the impact of the Russian Revolution on China :
"After the 4th May(1919) movement, the leadership of the bourgeois democratic movement of China was provided no longer by the bourgeoisie, but by the working class, although the Chinese national bourgeoisie participated in the revolution. The impact of the Russian Revolution rapidly transformed the Chinese proletariat into an awakened and independent political force. It is the Chinese Communist Party that raised the slogan 'Down with Imperialism' and presented the programme of the entire bourgeois-democratic revolution. It is the Chinese Communist Party that led the agrarian revolution."

While discussing the characteristics of the Chinese bourgeoisie, Mao Zedong showed that being the bourgeoisie of a colony or semi-colony and being oppressed by imperialism, this bourgeoisie sometimes and to some extent participate in revolution. But being disorganized and weak economically and politically, they also display the trend of compromising with the enemies of revolution. Mao Zedong further showed that the bourgeoisie, not only in China, but in any other country as well are no longer capable of leading the bourgeois-democratic revolution. The liberation struggles of colonies and semi-colonies were no longer parts of the old democratic revolution. They had become parts of the world socialist movement and only the proletariat could lead them. He wrote "After the outbreak of the First World War and the establishment of a socialist state, a socialist state in one-sixth part of the globe through the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Chinese bourgeois-democratic revolution has undergone a change. Before these events the Chinese bourgeois-democratic revolution was part of the bourgeois-democratic revolution of the old type. But the character of the Chinese bourgeois-democratic revolution has changed after them, and it has become part of the bourgeois-democratic revolution of the new type. On the issue of alignment of revolutionary forces, it has become part of the world proletarian-socialist revolution." Here lies the international historical significance of the November Revolution of Russia. This revolution lent a dual character to the revolutions of colonies and semi-colonies (which were at the same time under various pre-capitalist systems). Their essence and task were bourgeois-democratic, but regarding revolutionary alignment, they became allies of the world socialist movement. The Communist Party led them, but its immediate programme was not the overthrow of the bourgeoisie but the setting up of a new democratic republic by overthrowing imperialism and feudalism. This new democracy was to be run not by the dictatorship of the proletariat, but by the collective dictatorship of some revolutionary classes (including the national bourgeoisie). On the methods of establishing this collective dictatorship, Mao Zedong emphasized universal suffrage irrespective of nationality, religion, property, education and gender. He also argued that only a government based on this system of democratic centralism could fully reflect the aspirations of the revolutionary masses and defeat the enemies of revolution.

The Russian revolution had its impact on India also. India was not a semi-colony like China, but a colony of the British, in India too the immediate objective was not a socialist revolution, but national liberation and setting up a democratic society by destroying the caste-feudal system. In the meantime, a modern working class had emerged in India. The salvos of the Russian Resolution reached this class and it began to dream of a society free from exploitation. Within a short period, the Communist Party was formed, and it gained the confidence of the working class.

In 1928, a secret note of the Home (Political) Department of the British Government of India painted an alarming picture of increasing communist influence in India. It was said in the note that the working class of Bombay was now under the command of communists, and the leaders were Bradley, Joglekar, Ghate, Nimbakar etc. The communists were in control of the labour unions and were managing the affairs of the strike committees. The note referred to a mammoth workers’ gathering held on 5 October and addressed by Nimbakar, Mirajkar etc. Referring to Bengal, the note mentioned the situation in the Bauria Gloster Jute Mill and a workers' rally of 4000 addressed by M C Bose, Gopen Chakrabarty, Radhararnan Milra and Bankim Mukherjee. The note also mentioned events like the Congress of the AITUC held in Jharia, the increasing communist influence over the Congress witnessed during the annual session held in Kolkata. Speaking of the increasing danger of communism, the note urged the authorities to assume more power and cautioned that unless this was done, the security of the country would be seriously compromised.

It is clear from this secret note how the impact of the November Revolution created an awakening of the Indian working class and how, despite working inside the Congress in the freedom struggle, the working class was becoming an independent force.

Yet it cannot be gainsaid that the leadership of the Indian national movement remained in the hands of the bourgeoisie. This was a situation different from that prevailing in China. There has been much discussion in the communist movement on the failure of the communists to lead the national movement and such discussions will be made in the future as well. Yet it must be admitted that the Russian Revolution greatly enthused the Indian working class just as it enthused the Chinese working class also.

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1990, many questions have surfaced regarding the Russian Revolution itself. According to some, the Bolsheviks took advantage of a favourable situation in 1917 to set up their party dictatorship and in reality it was not the power of the working class.

There is another opinion that although power was seized in 1917 through the slogan of 'all power to the Soviets," these Soviets subsequently became defunct, and in the upshot, the dictatorship of a state bourgeoisie came to be established, which, during the period of Breznev, assumed the form of social imperialism. The actions in Hungary in 1956, in Czechoslovakia in 1968 and in Afghanistan in 1979 are considered by many as outcomes of a social-imperialist policy.

There are many questions about post-Mao China too. The aim of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in China was to 'clear the road to the growth of capitalism' (Mao Zedong) That aim has definitely been realized. Now the wealthiest persons of the world can be found among the Chinese, and they have transformed a backward, predominantly agrarian country into a developed industrial country. Their gross national product is likely to surpass that of the USA within a few years. If India, China, Brazil, Russia and South Africa join hands to build up an alternative to the World Bank, Indians may justly welcome it, because it would weaken US hegemony over the world economic system. But what will happen to socialism? The countries of Latin America, in somewhat different ways, have been trying to protect their national interests and at the same time working to expand the participation of the toiling people in decision-making processes. But none of them have declared the overthrow of capitalism as their target. Then will the countries oppressed by imperialism, including the former colonies, have to remain under the capitalist system for a longer period before taking up the overthrow of capitalism as the immediate task? Many such questions do not have a clear answer at present. Yet there is no doubt that even in today's complex situation, the lessons of the Great November Revolution will serve as a beacon light to the working class.
[Courtesy : Sramajibi Bhasa]

Vol. 47, No. 23, Dec 14 - 20, 2014