Character of October 1917: How they stood Marx on his head

Paresh Chattopadhyay

[This is a reply from Dr. Paresh Chattopadhyay to Farooque Chowdhury’s rejoinder ‘A response to Mr Paresh Chattopadhyay on his claim on the October Revolution’ 5 July 2020 ( Prof Chattopadhyay’s article, The October Revolution A Legend How They Stood Marx On His Head, 24 June 2020 (     Ed. Frontier]

This is my humble submission on the passionate piece by Farooque Chowdhury, recently published in this weekly on the character of the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks, not from the old Russian regime, but really from the soviets themselves. The framework of this piece is built on Marx’s idea of human emancipation founded on the self-emancipation of the working humans.

We read in Marx’s Inaugural address to the International: Emancipation of the working class(es) is the work(task) of the workers themselves. Years later we read in Marx’s famous Circular letter (1879) the same idea. The letter stresses that if the intelligentsia wants to help the workers’movement, its only task is to bring education (science) to them. The intelligentsia must not be allowed to occupy any leading position in the movement. I dare say that the basic work of the Bolsheviks amounted to standing Marx on his head. There are different aspects of this work of liquidation of the grand emancipatory vision of Marx. One of the striking aspects of this feature was their assault on democracy.

Marx had been a democrat right from the beginning of adult life through his battle against bureaucracy while fighting Hegel’s political ideas.

We read in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO: the first step in the workers’ revolution is to raise the proletariat to the rank of the dominant class, the CONQUEST OF DEMOCRACY. This can only happen when workers themselves are their own political masters, no outsiders. [By the way, Rabindranath in his discourse to the rurals (circa 1905), named such work COLLECTIVE SELF AUTHORITY (sammilito atmokortritwa), of course independently of Marx]. Following the Manifesto again, this will of course mean the rule of the immense majority in the interest of the immense majority - no minority rule, as with the Bolsheviks from the beginning.

Engels in his review of Marx’s “Class struggles in France” observed that till now the political power in a society had been in the hands of the minority. As opposed to this tendency the proletarian revolution for the first time in history will inaugurate the power of the majority in society. This idea already had found its place in the 1848 Manifesto. In fact, this HAD to be the case given the assumption that the proletariat in a capitalist society constitutes the great majority. And this also means automatically that the political power must have to be DEMOCRATIC.

Not only the Bolshevik rule was from the start a minority rule it was also a one-party rule.

Thus Roy Medvedev, the Russian historian and a Lenin sympathiser (whose father was liquidated by the Stalin regime) wrote: “The Bolshevik party was Lenin’s creation. He was irreplaceable as that party’s leader. When sharp differences arose (about the seizure of power) Lenin’s threat to resign from the leadership was more effective than any other argument”. (One wonders about Marx’s idea of the workers’ party formed by the workers themselves independently of any external forces). This is also confirmed by Trotsky who wrote in his “Diary in Exile”: Had I not been present in 1917 in Petersburg, the October Revolution would still have taken place on the condition that Lenin was present and in command. If neither Lenin nor I had been present in Petersburg there would have been no October Revolution, the leadership of the Bolshevik Party would have prevented it from happening”. (One will look in vain here for the ‘autonomous movement of the immense majority in the interest of the immense majority’ as we read in the ‘Communist Manifesto’). This very fact would ensure that the movement led by the Bolsheviks could never establish an Association of free individuals or what Marx named ‘socialism’ Or Communism (no distinction in Marx between communism and socialism).To note further, the so-called proletarian dictatorship was conceived by Marx as a democratic republic. In fact, Lenin’s pre-October promise to destroy the old state machine and replace it by a Paris Commune type of state-non state fell by the wayside and instead of all officeholders being elected and subject to recall, there appeared as in a class society an increasingly bigger bureaucracy consisting of party nominees hierarchically organised from top downwards, a formidable police apparatus with the dreaded secret police  and a professional army with the ex-tsarist officers. After the liquidation of the old Constituent Assembly election there would be no more free general election (true for the whole ‘communist’ world). It is well known that the attempt of the toilers and sailors in Kronstadt to follow the 1871 Commune example with the watchword “all power to the soviets, not to parties’ ended in a bloodbath caused by the Bolshevik Commisarocracy as the Kronstadt workers called it.

Let us note that a central resolution of the first International was: The work of the International Association would be to generalise and unify the spontaneous movement of the working class and not to prescribe or impose any doctrinal system.

The soviets had only a very short existence, did not wait for the civil war to wither away.

The great witness of the event Victor Serge, speaking of the Bolshevik regime, wrote that the Russian Marxists, formed at the school of despotism did not dare to show themselves as libertarians. The fear of freedom, which is the fear of the masses, characterises the whole of the Russian Revolution.

As a matter of fact, Russia was not ready for a socialist revolution. In his 1859 ‘Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy’, Marx wrote that a social formation does not disappear before all its forces of production have exhausted the possibilities of progress. The humanity undertakes only those tasks which it can solve.

The Bolshevik seizure of power (really from the soviets themselves) far from being socialist revolution constituted in fact the last bourgeois revolution in Europe as correctly noted by the great German council communist Otto Ruele.

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Jul 15, 2020

Paresh Chattopadhyay

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