The October Revolution A Legend
How They Stood Marx On His Head

Paresh Chattopadhyay

The seizure of power by the Bolsheviks in 1917 has been characterised by a section of the Left as a proletarian or socialist revolution. To start with, there is no factual evidence to confirm this. As a matter of fact, the working class or proletariat neither initiated nor led this coup de main. Instead both the initiative and the leadership were provided by a small group of radicalised intelligentsias, far removed from the locus of material production. Franz Borkenau the noted historian of communism pointed out in his 1962 book: Lenin’s revolution is essentially not a proletarian revolution, it is the revolution of the intelligentsia, ‘professional revolutionaries’, with the proletariat as the chief ally. The most outstanding personalities were Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Sverdllov Stalin, Smilga, Bukharin Dzerzhinsky. There is not a single worker among them.

In the International’s Provisional Rules written by Marx we read: the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves. Lenin was bent upon gaining the monopoly of political power for his Party. Just a few months before the seizure of power Lenin wrote: Since 1905 Revolution Russia has been governed by 130, 000 land owners, yet we are told that 240,000 members of the Bolshevik Party will not be able to govern Russia in the interest of the poor against the rich.

His determination to have the monopoly of power is clearly seen by his activities on the eve of the second congress of soviets in his secret correspondence with his Party leadership. While all the time publicly mouthing the slogan “all power to the soviets” (without this slogan there would not have been any October) in his confidential letter to the Party comrades he did show utter distrust of the soviets, saying that the party would not get anything from the soviets, that waiting for the soviet congress would be a complete idiocy , even treachery. (See the article by him “Crisis has matured”) and that the Party must go alone. In Lenin’s view the Party substituted for the working class, which since 1905 or earlier has been united with the WHOLE revolutionary proletariat. We should note that at that period the number of proletarians even in the Social Democratic Party in Russia as whole could only be infinitely small. Lenin described the attempt to distinguish between the dictatorship of the class and dictatorship of the Party as an unbelievable and inextricable confusion of thought. (see E. H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution vol.1 1964). The non-proletarian, minority character of this ‘revolution’ is clearly seen in Trotsky’s 1935 “Diary in Exile”: Had I not been present in Petersburg, the October Revolution would still have taken place-on condition that Lenin was present and in command. If neither Lenin nor I had been present in Petersburg there would had been no October Revolution…”

The “General Council” of the First International stressed, in the context of the workers’ revolution, of the working class itself constituting into a political party, that is, independently, not from outside the working class. The Bolshevik seizure of power could not be called the act of the independent movement of the immense majority in the interest of the immense majority as we read it in the 1848 Manifesto. Not involving the great majority of Russia it had only to be a minority revolution. Victor Serge reports that when the revolution began, the membership of all the revolutionary parties combined was less than one percent of the land’s population of which the Bolsheviks formed a tiny fraction.

A Bolshevik and metal worker Shlyapnikov protested the one party rule .He held “We consider that it is necessary to build a socialist government with all the socialist parties in the soviets in order to consolidate the results of the heroic struggle of the working class ,,,,Outside of it there is only one road: maintaining a purely Bplshevik government by means of political terror”.

Engels following the “Communist Manifesto “ wrote in 1895 on Marx’s “Class Struggles in France” that all revolutions till the modern times showed that all ruling classes had been small minorities , that they were all minority revolutions .As the 1848 Manifesto noted , the proletarian revolution contrarywise would be the revolution of the immense majority in the interest of the immense majority .And that would signal the victory of DEMOCRACY.

Besides the question of democracy, there is also the question regarding a minority rule that this rule would be difficult to maintain without exercising terror on large sections of the opposition. This point was clearly raised from within the ruling Bolshevik Party. Thus, a worker member as mentioned above Shlyapnikov, prognosed that given the way the government was formed under Lenin the rule could be exercised only by terror. Similarly, Lenin’s comrade in the Party leadership, Kamenev, saw clearly in Lenin’s way of seizure of power leading to merciless fight against the other socialist parties and the inevitable isolation of the Bolsheviks. The dissidents wanted a mass party of the revolutionary proletariat.and not a group of communist propagandists who could maintain power only with terror. (see Oskar Anweiler “The Council Movement in Russia” originally published in German). In fact, as the historians report, on the eve of the second congress of the soviets when the delegates many of them Bolsheviks, arrived for the congress , they were asked to fill up a form where they were asked what form of government they would like to see installed by the soviets. The majority wrote that they wanted a socialist government having members from the different parties (tendencies). And not a party with only a particular tendency.

The same policy of monopolising power and not sharing it with other socialist tendencies is seen in Lenin’s attempt to create a new International by excluding (with strict entry conditions) the socialist parties of other countries who were not simply the ‘patriots’ but also the anti-war pacifists. As Borkenau remarked: “if the Russians instead of seeking friendly relations with the labour movements of other countries set out to split them ,they must make the social democrats their irreconcilable enemies and deprive themselves of the one support abroad upon which they could have counted , had they renounced their idea of international split.” It is well known that Rosa Luxemburg to her credit had opposed the creation of this Leninist International as she had thought the situation was not yet mature for this institution ( quite ‘properly,’ called COMMUNIST and not WORKERS INTERNATIONAL, unlike the First International its leadership being mostly non proletarian radicalised intelligentsia).

During Lenin’s libertarian period (which lasted about. one monih (April 1917) Lenin had, consistently with Marx’s idea, stressed the need to destroy the old state apparatus with bureaucracy, police and the standing army. its replacement by a new type of state with freely elected and revocable officials at all levels, the police and the standing army replaced by the armed working masses à la Paris Commune of 1871. However, the reality of the regime totally contradicted what Lenin had promised. He had to admit later that the Bolsheviks had taken over the old state apparatus from the Tsar and the bourgeoisie. Thus, instead of all officials being elected and subject to recall, the body of appointed officials was organically linked with the new central establishment and hierarchically organised from top downwards and increased in gigantic stride. Within the army the principle of election of officers was abolished and the erstwhile tsarist officers were placed in increasing numbers.

In its turn industry was organised on the principle of direction from above. Lenin now discovered that the Russian was a bad worker in comparison with those from the advanced countries. Hence instead of collectively administering the affairs of the work places through the elected organs the masses must show unquestioning obedience to the single will of the leaders of the labour process and must accept unquestioning subordination to the decision of one person as the soviet directors, of the soviet dictators. elected or nominated.

Now a word on the principle of DEMOCRACY. Let us turn to some pronouncements of the Bolshevik Leader in this a couple of his texts. In his unfinished “STATE and Revolution, the whole society under socialism would become a single office and a single factory with equal labour and equal wage (this image brings to mind the portrait of what the young Marx calls in his 1844 MANUSCRIPTS ‘crude communism’.). This clearly indicates the presence of wage labour in Lenin”s socialism, and hence,  he has stood Marx on his head for whom the presence of wage labour is a necessary and sufficient condition of CAPITALISM. The second text is “the immediate tasks of the Soviet government”(1918) where we read” in the interest of socialism people must unquestionably obey the single will of the leaders of labour constituting the proletarian vanguard.He very significantly added that in the history of the revolution dictatorship of individuals was often the expression of the dictatorship of the revolutionary classes (this is clearly directed a t himself. At the 1920 Ninth Party Congress Lenin insisted on the necessity of fighting against the survivals of the “notorious democratism,” and denounced all this outcry against appointees, all the old harmful rubbish which have. found their way into various resolutions and conversations.” One is reminded of Engels on Erfurt Programme “The working class can only come to power under the form of a democratic republic.”

Again, how very different was the position of Rosa Luxemburg! She wrote one year after the Bolshevik victory: the proletarian revolution has no need for terror. It is not the desperate attempt of a minority shaping the world according to its own principles, but an act of the people, of millions who are on a historical mission to turn what is historically necessary into reality. One can presume that this great revolutionary had the Bolshevicks in mind., This great woman also wrote in her work on the Russian Revolution: “Freedom only for the spporters of the government, only for the party members,  however numerous they may be- is no freedom at all.Freedom is always and exclusively the freedom for the one who thinks differently.

It is interesting to see the contrast between the way Lenin thought of the rise of the soviets and how the much unduly neglected Menshevik internationalist Julius Martovl did look at them. Historian Anweiler has correctly observed that for Lenin the soviets were an instrument for the party to come to power. In sharp contrast, for Martov. the soviets embodied the instrument of workers’ revolutionary self-government. Lenin considered such ideas as simply infantile.

The increasing unpopularity of the new regime found its climax in the1921 mass massacre of 
Kronstadt sailors and tailors by the regime after they dared to proclaim ‘a Third Revolution’with the watchword "All Power to the Soviets and not to parties “. The massacre vividly reminds one of Goya’s great 1814 picture The third of May. Historian Robert Daniels observed:”It was essential for the communist party to suppress the Idea of Kronstadt as a movement which defended the October Revolution against the Communists. (Lenin, to his honesty, had admitted that there were no Whites with the Kronstadt sailors and toilers. Indeed, the revolutionaries wrote “We fight for the genuine power of the labourers while bloody Trotsky and glutted Zinoviev fight for the Power of the communist ravishers. The behaviour of the regime confirms what Marx had said in his second draft Of his Address on the Paris Commune: “After each popular revolution…the repressive character of the state was More fully developed and more mercilessly used because the promises maid , and seemingly assured by the Revolution could only be brolen by the employment of force”.

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Jun 24, 2020

Paresh Chattopadhyay

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