[On the occasion of the centenary of the historic Great November Revolution that led to the foundation of the USSR, the first socialist state in the world, Proletarian Era has decided to publish different write-ups on the history and lessons of as well as worldwide response to this epoch-making event in the history of mankind. Here we start a series of articles on the tortuous, difficult yet firm, well-conceived and immaculately organized course through which Comrade Lenin, the great leader of the proletariat, had founded the Bolshevik Party and prepared for the revolution under its leadership. Ed. Board, P.Era ]
Revolutions are milestones in the history of mankind. Of all political –economic revolutions that rocked our planet what stands apart is the great November Revolution of Russia led by Comrade Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the great leader of the proletariat and worthy disciple of great Marx and Engels. It is so distinctive because it heralded an exploitation-free world that the humiliated, the exploited cherished and toiled for from time immemorial. Hence, while observing the centenary of the November Revolution with due solemnity, we cannot forget that this observance is never a mere ritual. The Great November Revolution that tore apart the shackles of world capitalism and established the first socialist state in Russia overthrowing the capitalist state machine there, did not happen out of the blue. It is a unique instance of how revolutionary theory can be concretely given shape to in reality. A hundred years back Comrade Lenin, the great revolutionary thinker, leader and teacher of the proletariat, proved this in Russia by accomplishing the revolution that made an unthinkably backward country like Russia most advanced within two decades in every respect. Socialist USSR under the able leadership of great Stalin, the worthy follower of great Lenin, not only inflicted crushing defeat on Hitlerite fascism and saved mankind from an impending danger but also brought massive material relief to the emaciated war-ravaged peasants and workers.Above all, it gave them a life of honour and dignity. Today on the face of a spate of distortions of Marxist ideology, relentless slanderous campaign against Marxism-Leninism, false malicious propaganda against socialism and maligning the architects of Russian Revolution all done by the capitalists-imperialists and revisionists, it is crucial that genuine communists draw appropriate lessons from the November Revolution and apply those lessons creatively and fearlessly to make revolution possible in their own countries in the present complex world situation. It was great Marx who developed, for the first time in human history, the scientific philosophy of Dialectical Materialism by correlating, integrating and generalizing the particular truths about the material world discovered by the different branches of science as well as those culled by the social sciences. By discovering the laws of development of the material world as well as of social development, Marx developed the comprehensive scientific world outlook based on experimentally verified truth not only to correctly interpret the material world and history but also to show, for the first time, the scientific, materialistic and historically determined course of changing the world. That is why, Marxism is not a dogma but a guide to action, the science of all sciences.
It was Marx who showed that the bourgeois society itself gives birth to the antagonistic contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat and the class struggle built thereupon, and thus creates the condition in which the proletariat united on a revolutionary theory and culture, can engage themselves in a struggle against the capitalist system and overthrow it to establish socialism. It was Marx who predicted that in course of this struggle the human society through accomplishing anti-capitalist socialist revolutions by intensifying class struggle would step into the socialist system and ultimately reach classless communist society. It was Marx who had shown that emergence of the proletariat was no scar upon society. Rather it is they who have historically emerged as the most advanced class to lead the revolution to free capitalist societyfrom its principal antagonistic contradiction between labour and capital. Marxism is thus an invincible weapon in the hands of the proletariat to herald a new dawn by overthrowing ruthlessly exploitative capitalism and free both material and spiritual worlds from the clutches of capital. Teachings of Karl Marx spread around the world across all national limits. It roused the working class with a new vision, new hope and new guideline for emancipation from the strangles of exploitation and oppression. It was his worthy disciple Lenin who proved the correctness of Marxism by accomplishing the first working class revolution in the world and creating the first socialist state. In course of concretizing Marxism in the changed era of imperialism and proletarian revolution, Lenin by assimilating the epistemological treasures developed by Marx and Engels and grasping Marxist methodology made fundamental contribution to the treasure house of Marxist philosophy, enriched and developed it further. So Stalin showed that Leninism is the Marxism of the era of imperialism and proletarian revolution.
With this background, we shall dwell briefly on the course of great November Revolution.
Russia before revolution
In largely agrarian Russia under despotic Tsardom, capitalism had been gradually developing. Marxism, too, had made inroads there to inspire the working class of Russia to build up their struggles as well as their own organizations of struggle. As Lenin said: Marx and Engels, who both knew Russian and read Russian books, took a lively interest in the country, followed the Russian revolutionary movement with sympathy and maintained contact with Russian revolutionaries. (On Fredrick Engels, CW, Vol.2, p.19)
However, prior to emergence of the Marxist groups in Russia, movements against Tsardom were dominantly influenced by Narodism. Narodniks thought that Tsardom could be abolished only by precipitating terror and undertaking individual killings. They believed that it was enough for a few people to take active heroic role to overthrow Tsardom. There was not much for the masses to do. In the words of great Stalin, the basis of Narodism was ‘active heroes and passive mob’. Narodniks, thus, denied the revolutionary leadership of the working class and so also the necessity of a party of their own. Hence, their thoughts evidently were anti-revolutionary.
The first Russian Marxist group, Emancipation of Labour, was formed in 1883 in Geneva by G V Plekhanov, while in exile. Previously he had been a Narodnik. But having studied Marxism, he broke with Narodism and became an outstanding propagandist of Marxism. He translated The Communist Manifesto along with its Preface by Marx and Engels and other works of the two great leaders in Russian. Side by side, Plekhanov wrote a good number of articles on Marxist outlook against the Narodnik ideology. On the basis of that, Emancipation of Labour, the group he led, launched intense ideological campaign against Narodism and thus helped Marxism spread widely across the country. Among Plekhanov’s articles particularly significant was On the Development of the Monistic View of History, which Lenin himself held to “rear a whole generation of the Russian Marxists.” (CW, Russian edition, Vol.14).Certainly Marxism advanced in Russia by exposing Narodism, but Plekhanov committed some very serious mistakes. Despite his intense ideological struggle against Narodism, his views contained vestiges of the Narodnik views: it countenanced the espousal of individual terrorism. Furthermore, Plekhanov failed to develop a clear understanding on the role of the peasantry as an ally of the revolution to be led by the working class. Rather he considered that the liberal bourgeoisie was a force which could help upholding the interests of the working class. Above all, like many other the then Marxist groups in Russia, his Emancipation of Labour did not have any concrete experience of working class movement on the soil.
The task of freeing the working class movement in Russia from the mistakes of Emancipation of Labour group and developing it on the sound base of Marxism fell to Lenin. When he was just 18 and a student, Lenin was arrested and expelled from the Kazan University for taking part in the revolutionary student movement. He then joined a Marxist circle formed by one Fedoseyev. He later moved to Samara and soon afterwards set up the first Marxist circle there. In 1893, Lenin went to St. Petersburg. In 1895, he united the different Marxist circles to form one single League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class and started organizing a series of mass movements. It was Lenin who introduced the teachings of scientific socialism in the workers movements of that country. Narodism still had some residual influence in Russia. Lenin elaborately laid out the incorrectness of this ideology in his well known book “What the ‘Friends Of The People’ are and How They Fight the Social-Democrats’. At that time, efforts were being made to unite all the Marxist groups and circles in Russia, including the group led by Plekhanov and thereupon form a single social democratic party (In those days, the opportunist compromising character of social democracy was yet to be exposed and they had not yet shunned the communist movement. In fact, the communists were then known as social democrats). At such a critical hour, Lenin was arrested in 1897 and was sent to exile in Siberia. Even from there, he secretly maintained contact with the comrades and wrote a number of articles. It was a time when a trend towards economism was developing in workers movements in Russia. As a result, avoiding practice of debate-discussions on political theories as also efforts towards forming a working class party, the workers were engaged in movements on economic demands,. Lenin used his pen against this trend from Siberia.
Iskra makes its appearance
The League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class formed by Lenin served as the foundation for a revolutionary party of the proletariat on Russian soil. Different units of the League that grew up in many cities of Russia had the single aim of developing a united party of the proletariat.
In March 1898, dodging police vigilance, representatives of quite a few social democratic organizations assembled at the first Congress at Minsk. The Congress decided to form Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP). With Lenin in exile, the party was not formed. Rather his absence caused difficulties in carrying out the activities of the Congress. The central leaders were soon arrested by the police. The different social democratic organizations continued their works separately in their own ways.
Lenin, from his exile, made an elaborate plan of forming a single party uniting all the revolutionary social democratic organizations. Alongside, he felt the need of publishing a political organ which could help develop organic link among the Marxist groups and organizations spread around the vast stretch of Russia and would thus make the road smooth for forming a party.
Back from his exile in December 1900, Lenin, joining hands with Plekhanov, published the first issue of Iskra (Spark). The first page had the momentous headline: The spark will kindle a flame.
Iskra was printed outside Russia and was brought guardedly inside the country dodging administrative vigilance. Anybody found canvassing it, was sure to be subject to strict Tsarist order of imprisonment or exile. But despite all such threats and intimidation, the circulation of Iskra could not be halted. The issues reached the entire Russia. In cities and towns, one after another, associations of the readers and supporters of Iskra sprang up. Stalin was a leader of such an organization in the Trans-Caucasia region. Afterwards, another political journal Bradzola (Struggle) was published from Georgia with Stalin as the editor.
Foundation of RSDLP
The success of Iskra, planned and executed by Lenin, paved the road to the second Congress of the Party. It took place in London in 1903. The principal object of the Congress was to decide the programme for the Party and adopt it. The programmes adopted in the London Congress of RSDLP were clearly the programmes for militant movements of a revolutionary party of the proletariat. Its goal, The Party declared that its goal was: abolition of private ownership over the means of production and eradication of exploitation of man by man as well as of the class-divided society. To sum up, the ultimate goal of the Party was to overthrow capitalism and establish of socialism. To fulfill these goals, the programme affirmed, socialist revolution would have to be accomplished.It’s immediate aim was to overthrow Tsardom.
But just formulating a programme was not enough. It was imperative that the leadership provided a clear outline on what would be the organizational structure of the party and how the party would discharge its responsibilities for accomplishing revolution. It also became necessary to decide upon the rules and regulations for the party. But, serious differences cropped up on these issues at the second Congress. Main difference was on who could be the member and who would not. Two groups emerged from it. The majority group led by Lenin became known as Bolshevik and the minority Menshevik. Initially Plekhanov was on Lenin’s side. Later he switched over to the Mensheviks.
Mensheviks demanded that each and every individual taking part in a strike must be given the right to declare himself or herself as a party member; the different groups and individuals despite separate views must be given party membership and the party must scrap the principle of submission of the minority to the majority. Mensheviks were opposed to the principle of centralism. They upheld self-regulating individual thinking. They were in favour of making the party a loose organization of the type of Kvotist party. In fact, Russia at that time was at the threshold of bourgeois–democratic revolution and the bourgeois intelligentsia often used to come forward in favour of revolution and help the party. This was the reason the Mensheviks wanted to take them in as party members.
But Lenin had a different goal of founding a revolutionary party of the proletariat. On the face of the ultra-revolutionism and anarchism of the Mensheviks, he wanted to found a revolutionary party of the working class which would have a monolithic character like a human body.
Under the leadership of Lenin, the Bolsheviks announced firmly:
1. Working class and working class party are not one and the same. A working class party is the class conscious vanguard section of the working class imbued with the ideology of Marxism.
2. The Party is not only the vanguard, the class conscious detachment of the working class, but also an organized detachment of the working class. Not merely an organized detachment, but ‘the highest of all forms of organization’ of the working class.
3. ‘The proletariat has no other weapon but organization’. So, party members must also be the member of one or the other organization under the party.
4. To work properly and guide people with discipline, the working class party must be built up on the principle of centralism. It means the leadership will be based upon the submission of lower bodies to the higher bodies. Also, leaders and cadres of all levels will be bound to abide by the discipline of the party.
5. The party is the highest expression of the organization. So it is the party that will lead all the other organizations. So, the party must be founded with the most advanced section of the working class equipped with higher ideology, richly conversant with the rules and regulations of class struggle and experience of conducting revolutionary movement.
6. It is extremely important that the party constantly remains in close contact with the people.Otherwise, it cannot advance at all.
7. The Party will never turn into a Kvotist party. It will never allow the situations to go their own way and will not act as appendage to spontaneity, indulge in tailism to spontaneous incidents.
Lenin showed : “Without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.… The role of vanguard fighter can be fulfilled only by a party that is guided by the most advanced theory.
“All worship of the spontaneity of the labour movement,” Lenin said, “ all belittling of the role of ‘the conscious element,’ of the role of the party of social Democracy, means, quite irrespective of whether the belittler likes it or not, strengthening the influence of the bourgeois ideology among the workers.” (SW, Eng. edition, Moscow Vol. 1)
In 1900, Lenin delineated the primary tasks to build up a genuine Marxist party in Russia. He wrote that to found and consolidate the party meant to build up unity and solidarity among the Russian social democrats (Marxists were called social democrats in those days). This unity and solidarity could never be achieved by either simply promulgating decrees or adopting proposals and decisions in the meetings of the representatives. To achieve unity some specific things must be done. Firstly, unity of ideas should be arrived at.That unity would remove the differences of opinion as well as confusions prevailing among the Russian social democrats. Otherwise, our unity would be sham unity which would help the present confusions to remain and would hamper the process of completely removing the erroneous ideas. Great Lenin laid immense stress on the struggle to achieve unity of ideas not just for implementing the programmes of revolution.
Comrade Shibdas Ghosh, the worthy student of Comrade Lenin, had explained what Lenin meant by unity of ideas. Lenin meant that it is the struggle of applying Marxism in all aspects of life which alone makes possible correct grasping of this revolutionary philosophy, concretising Marxism in the concrete situation of a country, cultivating communist cul-ture as against bourgeois culture and developing collective leadership and democratic centralism in the party.
In his celebrated book One Step Forward Two Steps Back Lenin upheld the role of the revolutionary party concretely for the first time in the history of Marxism. He showed that the party, the detached vanguard of the proletariat,is the chief weapon in the hands of the proletariat. Without a revolutionary party of the proletariat, there cannot be any revolution, there can be no struggle to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The majority of the social democratic organizations in Russia joined the Bolsheviks. At that time Comrade Stalin was in jail. After coming to know the decisions of the second Congress, he stood in strong support of the Bolsheviks led by Lenin.
Following it, with full vigour the Bolsheviks started organizing working class struggles. Class struggles developed in a mighty way between 1901 and 1904. In 1904, Russian-Japanese war broke out. The reactionary Tsar government hoped that this war would thwart the surging tide of revolutionary movement. Shattering this hope, the Bolsheviks organized a huge strike at the Baku oil field in December 1904. This strike triggered innumerable strikes through the length and breadth of the whole country. All these strikes were like thunder roar that heralded the approaching revolution.
The first revolutionary uprising of 1905
The Mensheviks backed Tsar’s warfare moves and completely depended on the non-interventionist liberal bourgeoisie. But Lenin perceived the bourgeois democratic revolution of 1905 in a different light. He pointed out that this revolution was happening at a time when world capitalism had reached the stage of imperialism. That was why he upheld that the role of the proletarian class in bourgeois democratic revolutions was that of the leader. In his view, it was vital for revolution to be led by the working class to become victorious. That was why the Bolsheviks wanted to institute a provisional revolutionary government by destroying Tsar-rule through armed revolution, while Plekhanov, on behalf of the Mensheviks, registered severe opposition against people taking up arms. This treachery gave the Tsar an opportunity to carry on cruel repression on the revolutionary movements. The revolutionary upsurge had to be withdrawn.
Lenin said, the immense benefits that the daring three-year struggle between 1905-1907 brought for the proletarian class of Russia and the Russian people, took several ages for many other countries to achieve. This struggle had unchained the working class from the influence of the treacherous, detested and decrepit liberalism. It endowed to the entire exploited and oppressed class of Russia the ability dynamism to develop revolutionary mass struggle. This first revolution of Russia was not successful but it exerted tremendous influence on the emancipation struggle throughout the world.
This failed revolution turned Russia into the epicenter of world revolution and the working class of Russia into the vanguard of revolution led by Lenin’s Bolshevik Party. Lenin emerged as the principal thinker, organizer and leader of the Russian revolution. But the failed revolution of 1905 generated frustration as well. But it was Lenin’s inspiring leadership that unshackled people from frustration and roused them anew to develop proletarian revolutionary struggle for emancipation from the yoke of oppression. Lenin had to traverse through diverse complex trails of struggle with the singular object of strengthening revolution.
In this connection let’s mention the unparallel example of Marxist interpretation by Lenin regarding joining the Duma in one situation and boycotting it in another situation by the Bolshevik Party.
In 1905, there was a possibility of a bourgeois democratic revolution against autocratic Tsarist rule and Lenin wanted the proletariat to not only take an active but a decisively leading role in that revolutionary movement so as to transform it into a proletarian revolution. But, when due to various reasons, the revolution did not come about, the objective situation demanded fresh initiative to build up revolutionary struggle by making full use of the legal avenues. So in what Lenin said, “growing tide” of revolution, Bolsheviks correctly understood that the announcement of convening the Duma, a consultative assembly of representatives of the landlords and the big bourgeoisie, elected under the supervision and with the assistance of the autocratic government’s servants on the basis of an electoral system so indirect, so blatantly based on property and social-estate qualifications, was a sheer mockery of the idea of popular representation. And hence at that time, according to Lenin, “participation of the liberal bourgeoisie in the Duma means a slackening in its agitation at the present time, its appealing more to the tsar than to the people, and the approach of a counter-revolutionary deal between the Tsar and the bourgeoisie.” (CW Vol.9 p181) But Lenin made it amply clear that “it is a very great mistake indeed to apply this experience blindly, imitatively and uncritically to other conditions and to other situations.” (Left-wing Communism p.22) It had been a brilliant example of how genuine revolutionaries following Marxist methodology of analysis adopt different tactics at different point of times suited to the need of the hour to strengthen revolutionary movement. In the language of Lenin, “The alternation of parliamentary and non-parliamentary forms of struggle, of the tactics of boycotting parliament and that of participating in parliament, of legal and illegal forms of struggle, and likewise their interrelations and connections — all this was marked by an extraordinary wealth of content….
The Bolsheviks’ boycott of “parliament” in 1905 enriched the revolutionary proletariat with highly valuable political experience and showed that, when legal and illegal parliamentary and non-parliamentary forms of struggle are combined, it is sometimes useful and even essential to reject parliamentary forms. It would, however, be highly erroneous to apply this experience blindly, imitatively and uncritically to other conditions and other situations.
…the Bolsheviks could not have preserved (let alone strengthened and developed) the core of the revolutionary party of the proletariat, had they not upheld, in a most strenuous struggle, the viewpoint that it was obligatory to combine legal and illegal forms of struggle, and that it was obligatory to participate even in a most reactionary parliament(Left-wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder, CW, vol. 31)
Today, when there are confusions on the question of taking part in parliamentary election and coordinating parliamentary movements with extra-parliamentary movements, the invaluable teachings of Lenin on this issue do still provide a guideline. So long as revolutionary movements are not sweeping across the whole country, so long as people cannot be freed from their deep rooted illusion about bourgeoisie politics, till then the necessity of reflecting the voice of extra parliamentary movements inside the parliamentary forum would remain. People need to be made aware of the truth that bourgeois parliamentary system cannot pave the way towards people’s emancipation. When futility of the parliamentary system would get fully exposed and people being imbued with revolutionary ideology would be ready for insurrection, then the need for participating in bourgeois parliamentary election will cease. That would be the time to boycott parliament.
In the changed situation, when the revolutionary struggle was on the retreat, the Bolsheviks decided to participate in the election to the Second Duma, with a view to utilizing it as a platform in the interest of revolution. The Mensheviks too decided to take part, but their decision to join hands in electoral alliance with parliamentary forces like the Constitutional Democrats, (an anti-revolutionary party), was to make the Duma serve the sinister design of the Tsar and rein in the mass movements. The Mensheviks constituting the majority in the Central Committee of the party, the policy decision was likely to go in their favour. With the object of safeguarding the working class and mass movements from such a compromising line, the Bolsheviks raised the demand for holding the Party Congress. The 5th Congress of the Party was held in London in May 1907. There, Trotsky’s attempt to set up a centrist group ended in failure. The Congress decided that henceforth the party would conduct intense ideological struggle against all other bourgeois, petty-bourgeois forces, the Constitutional Democrats, Socialist Revolutionaries, Popular Socialists, etc. Pointing to this victory of the Bolsheviks, Stalin wrote: “The actual unification of the advanced workers of all Russia into a single all–Russian party under the banner of revolutionary Social Democracy – that is the significance of the London Congress…” Soon after the Congress was held, the Tsarist Government dissolved the Second Duma and started to make extensive arrests. In the December of 1907 Lenin somehow evaded arrest and went abroad.
Days of Stolypin Reaction
Between 1908 and 1912 was a very difficult time for the Russian revolutionaries. Stolypin, a minister under the Tsar, had sent thousands of revolutionaries to the gallows. So, the period is referred to as ‘The Stolypin Reaction’ days. During this period, between 1908 and 1912, the Bolsheviks made use of legal provisions for protecting illegal party organizations and strengthening the party to the extent possible. In Lenin’s words the party went over from the method of open revolutionary struggle against Tsardom to indirect struggle trying to make use of one and all legal provisions. The Mensheviks left the arena of struggle altogether. It became quite a fashion with the intellectuals to say that given the newer context, Marxism needs to be revised. People like Bogdanov, Lunacharsky and others were diluting the strong theoretical basis of the noble ideology of Marxism, in the name of improving it. Instead of waging battle against them, Mensheviks including Plekhanov left the battlefield. It became imperative for Lenin to give a fight to such an attack and thereby develop the realization of Marxism. About this time, Lenin penned his famous treatise Materialism and Empirio-criticism. He led a successful struggle against the idealist thinking of Mach and Avenarius. Lenin showed that just as the communists had to learn both how to advance in the midst of revolutionary current so also during the ebb they had to learn how to retreat properly when the reactionaries flourish and how to protect and strengthen the illegal party, while utilizing to the best possible extent whatever little scope is there for legal means and strengthen contacts with the masses– that too communists must know. He added that, “… the Bolsheviks effected the most orderly retreat, with the least loss to their “army”, with its core best preserved… The Bolsheviks achieved this only because they ruthlessly exposed and expelled the revolutionary phrasemongers, those who did not wish to understand that one had to retreat, that one had to know how to retreat, and that one had absolutely to learn how to work legally in the most reactionary of parliaments, in the most reactionary of trade unions, co-operative and insurance societies and similar organisations.” (Left –wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder, p.16) In such a situation a revolutionary party will have to sharpen its knowledge and understanding.
Though the Mensheviks failed to grasp it, the Bolsheviks under Lenin’s leadership knew for certain that the tide of revolutionary movement would reappear within a few years and it would be the responsibility of the party to prepare the people for participation in the newer uprising. Lenin said: “And the revolution itself must not by any means be regarded as a single act but as a series of more or less powerful outbreaks rapidly alternating with periods of more or less complete calm. For that reason, the principal content of the activity of our Party organization, the focus of this activity, should be work that is both possible and essential in the period of a most powerful outbreaks well as in the period of complete calm”.( CW, Vol. 5, , p.514)
He also showed that one who becomes a revolutionary after the revolution has set in, is not a true revolutionary. Rather one who can carry on with the revolutionary principles and slogans during a time when the reactionaries have been bringing down severe attacks and when the liberals and democrats suffer from extreme vacillation, is a true revolutionary. He is a true revolutionary, who can provide lessons to the masses how to wage struggles in a revolutionary way; and what will be the outcome of such lessons, nobody can predict. “Whether the next wave will surge up tomorrow, the day after, or months hence, depends on quite a number of unpredictable circumstances…..”( CW; Vol.8, p.139) He pointed out : “A people’s revolution cannot be timed in advance…An uprising can be fixed, if those preparing it have influence among the masses and can correctly estimate the situation.” (CW; Vol. 8, p.153)
In this context, it would be relevant to recall another teaching of Lenin: “Generally speaking what are the features of the suitable moment for revolution? We would certainly not be in the wrong to stress upon the following features–
What, generally speaking, are the symptoms of a revolutionary situation? We shall certainly not be mistaken if we indicate the following three major symptoms — 1.When it is impossible for the ruling classes to maintain their rule without any change; when there is a crisis, in one form or another, among the ‘upper classes’, a crisis in the policy of the ruling classes, leading to a fissure through which the discontent and indignation of the oppressed classes burst forth. For a revolution to take place, it is usually insufficient for ‘the lower classes not to want to live in the old way’. It is also necessary that ‘the upper classes should be unable’ to live in the old way; 2. When the suffering and want of the oppressed classes have grown more acute than usual; 3. When, as a consequence of the above causes, there is a considerable increase in the activity of the masses, who uncomplainingly allow themselves to be robbed in ‘peace time’, but in turbulent times, are drawn both by all the circumstances of the crisis and by the ‘upper classes’ themselves into independent historical action.
Without these objective changes, which are independent of the will, not only of individual groups and parties, but even of individual classes, a revolution as a general rule, is impossible. The summation of such objective changes is termed ‘a condition for revolution’.” (CW; Vol. 21, pp. 213-214)
The Bolshevik Party is formed
In 1912, Trotsky formed the ‘August Bloc’ combining all anti-Lenin and anti-Bolshevik groups and trends. Trotsky declared that he did not side either with the Bolsheviks or the Mensheviks, he was a centrist, a conciliator. Having declared thus and assembling other Trotskites, he called for the plenum of the Central Committee in January 1910, going against Lenin’s will. Though the Bolsheviks stopped publishing their organ in keeping with the decision of the plenum, Mensheviks and Trotskites did not wind up their publications. While waging a battle against these anti-party forces, the Bolsheviks came to realize that a separate Bolshevik Party had to be formed uniting all Bolsheviks. With this objective, the Sixth All-Russian Party Conference was held in 1912 January in Prague. Stalin has written about this conference: “This Conference was of the utmost importance in the history of our Party, for it drew a boundary line between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks and amalgamated the Bolshevik organizations all over the country into a united Bolshevik Party.” (Verbatim Report of the Fifteenth Congress of the C.P.S.U.(B). cited in History of C.P.S.U.(B) p. 222) In this way, by expelling the Menshevik opportunists, Liquidators, Otzovists and others, the R.S.D.L.P. was re-constituted into a new, monolithic type of party named ‘Bolshevik Party’. This is the party of Leninist model for all those who want to form a true revolutionary party.
The Bolshevik Party freed from the clutches of all opportunist, vacillating and treacherous forces under the unique leadership of Lenin, with renewed vigour dispelled the dense darkness of frustration that had descended particularly on the workers and peasants, throughout the country in those days of Stolypin Reaction. Once again the revolutionary movement started advancing. By waging a battle against the enemies of the working class and their agents the Bolshevik Party consolidated still further its work force and extended its links with the working class. The new daily of the Party ‘Pravda’ (meaning truth) was brought out on May 5th 1912. That very year the Tsarist Government convened the 4th State Duma. The Bolshevik Party put in its best efforts and participated in the election to the Duma, and succeeded in getting six of its representatives returned. Thereafter the party carried on the task of training and educating the revolutionary workers of the newer generation through using the Duma as the platform for revolutionary demonstrations and bringing out a wonderful newspaper like the Pravda as the organ of the toiling masses. Drawing attention to Pravda importance, Stalin said, ‘The Pravda of 1912 was the laying of the cornerstone of the victory of Bolshevism in 1917.’
On August, 1914, Germany declared war against Russia. On the question of war the unique stand taken up by the Bolshevik Party under Lenin’s leadership needs a brief explanation.
World War, Bolshevik Party and revolutionary movement
Lenin showed that towards the end of the 19th century, world capitalism had reached the stage of imperialism. The growth of finance capital being its distinctive feature. In the interest of finance capital, the imperialist countries were in need of newer markets, occupation of newer colonies, newer spheres for export of capital and search for raw materials. A change of balance occurred in the economic and military might of the imperialist states. These imperialist forces desired to re-divide the world market with a view to extending their political hegemony and reaping maximum profit for the monopolists. The bitter struggle over who could capture how much share of the world market made imperialist war inevitable. Thus started the First World War. Tsarist Russia, France, Belgium and Great Britain, these countries together formed a bloc. As opposed to it there was the union of countries like Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, Turkey and a few others.
War would not have acquired such a terrible character and the communist parties of the world would have stood to gain, had the parties belonging to the 2nd International not betrayed the workers’ interest and had they had the courage to say, as per the declaration of the World Congress of the 2nd International, held in 1912 in Basle, that all the workers of the world consider it a crime to shoot each other to increase the profit of the capitalists of their respective countries. But when the war had started, instead of adhering to this declaration, almost all the parties belonging to the 2nd International, having fallen victim to national chauvinism, started raising slogans of ‘protection of fatherland’. Only the Bolshevik Party under the leadership of Lenin remained loyal to the declaration of the Basle Conference. In Russia, the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries sided with the Russian imperialists, voicing national chauvinist slogans. They spread the idea of class collaboration and peace among the capitalist and the working class and began to campaign in support of Russian war against other countries. The imperialist-capitalist class kept on practically bribing the upper strata of European workers with the help of the riches that they had looted from the colonies, thereby creating aristocrat leaders. These leaders from among the workers exerted sufficient influence among the parties of the 2nd International. Consequent upon this Lenin had to dissolve the 2nd International subsequently.
Just as Lenin waged battle against the opportunist thoughts and ideas of the Mensheviks inside the country, he also had to lead an uncompromising struggle against the confusions that had cropped up world communist movement. In 1916, Lenin wrote the famous book Imperialism- the Highest Stage of Capitalism. In this book he showed that capitalism, having lost its progressive role as it reached the last stage of development, turned into decadent capitalism of parasitic nature. However this did not mean that the life span of capitalism would be ended all by itself. The working class had to uproot this system using revolution as the weapon. Lenin said “Imperialism is the eve of the social revolution of the proletariat”. He clearly showed that at this stage of imperialism and proletarian revolution, it is possible to attain the victory of socialism in a single capitalist country. From such an assessment of Lenin, the proletariat of different countries realized that they would be able to conduct revolution successfully against their respective national bourgeois class. This realization inspired the proletariat in the different countries.
The Bolsheviks had linked the possibility of establishment of peace instead of war with the success of the proletarian revolution. They said it was the proletarian revolution that could end the imperialist war and establish peace in reality by uprooting imperialist rule. This was the theoretical and strategic stand regarding war, peace and revolution, and the Bolsheviks carried on their revolutionary activities based on this. The First World War that resulted from the general crisis of imperialism–capitalism, further intensified instead of solving capitalist crisis, and Russian administration was weakened still further. Keeping in view the death toll and devastation that the imperialist war wreaked on common people’s life, Lenin roused the workers of the country against the Tsarist rule and gave the call to intensify the mass and class struggles even more so as to effectively strike at the imperialist-capitalist rule, the latter being at the root of war as also all other miseries. The Russian bourgeoisie was trying to convince the masses about the lie that this imperialist war was in fact peoples’ war. The Mensheviks assumed the role of active associates in creating the false patriotic image of the Russian bourgeoisie. Firmly opposed to this, the Bolsheviks were engaged heart and soul in organizing the workers and peasants of the country against war as also against the conspiracy of the bourgeois class. They even campaigned among the navy and the army and attempted to convince them that capitalism-imperialism constitutes the main enemy of the people. If peace was to be restored, this imperialist war was to be turned into a civil war, with the army turning their arms towards the bourgeois class of their respective countries.
The contention of the Bolsheviks matched with the experience of the common people of Russia. Russian land-owners and capitalists were flourishing from the war. Contrarily war was adding to the burden of sufferings and deprivation in the life of workers and peasants. Millions of people died in the war; innumerable lives were lost from epidemic in the war-ravaged country. Russian economy was going to the ruins. At such a time there was a serious dearth of workers in Russia since almost one and a half crore of the youth had been compelled to join the army. One after another mills and factories downed their shutters, agriculture too had flopped. The common masses along with the soldiers at the fronts going hungry and lacking proper clothes and shoes, spent life in utter destitution. This treacherous war was devouring the greater share of Russian resources.
On the other hand, the Tsarist army was repeatedly facing defeat. Suffering from miserable lack of arms, they were no match against the mighty German artillery. In the meantime it became known that the Tsarist War Minister Sukhomnilov had helped Germany, betraying the country’s interest, and some more ministers and generals of the Tsar had also followed suit. Consequently Tsarist army kept on retreating and Germany by and by, with greater show of strength grabbed Poland and certain parts of the Baltic Provinces.
All this resulted in spurting up the anger and hatred of the workers-peasants-intellectuals against the Tsarist army and intensifying the revolutionary movements of the people against Tsarist administration throughout the country as well as at the war-fronts.
Discontent was gradually spreading among the Russian imperialist bourgeoisie too. The manner in which the religious leader Rasputin along with influential persons in the Tsarist Government were trying to come to peaceful terms with Germany, left no doubt with the capitalists of the country that the Tsar’s war attempts would fail. They had the apprehension that the Tsar might go for a peace pact separately. In such a situation the Russian capitalists preferred to enthrone Mikhail Romanov, brother of Tsar Nicholas the 2nd, and schemed accordingly. Through the palace uprising leading to a change of the Tsar, the capitalists wanted to kill two birds with one blow. The first was to continue the war using governmental power. And the second, by creating confusion in people of Russia through this change of the Tsar, suppress the surge of revolutionary struggle that was coming up in waves among them.
Had the Tsarist Government effected a separate peace-pact with Germany, the British and the French Governments would not only have lost one of their allies in this imperialist war, the supply of chosen soldiers of quality from Russia would also have stopped. So, the British and French governments lent all-out support to the Russian capitalists, in the attempts of the latter to stage the palace uprising to overthrow Nicholas the 2nd.
Just as the Russian army was continually facing defeats, so also within the country financial crisis too continued to assume formidable dimension About January-February in 1917, extreme chaos appeared in the supply of food, raw materials and fuels. Food supply to Petrograd and Moscow almost stopped. Mills and factories began to close down one after the other, causing many to lose employment. An ever greater number of Russian people were gradually coming to the conclusion that the only way to get rid of this intolerable situation is to put an end to autocratic Tsardom.
Evidently the end of Tsardom was imminent. Though the Russian capitalists had intended to overcome this extreme crisis in Russia by staging the palace uprising, the common people treaded a different path.
February Revolution and fall of Tsardom
Right at the beginning of 1917, on 9 January, there was a strike. Petrograd, Moscow, Baku and Nizni-Navogord were shaken with rallies and demonstrations. Despite police atrocities, an ever growing number of workers began to join in so as to make the programme of country-wide strike a success.
The Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries initially tried to direct this early movement according to the intention of the liberal bourgeoisie. 14 February was the inaugural day of the Duma’s session. Mensheviks had planned a procession of workers in front of the Duma. But the workers followed the Bolsheviks’ call to organize a protest rally instead of going to the Duma.
On 18 February in 1917, a strike broke out at Putilov factory in Petrograd. By 22 February, most of the big factories were shut down from the strike. On 23 February (8 March by the new calendar) on International Women’s Day women workers took to the street against starvation, war and Tsardom. Petrograd workers too lent their support to this movement of women. The next day, 24 February, the strike extended even further with almost 2 lakhs of workers joining in.
On 25 February, all workers of Petrograd joined the strike and the entire city was paralysed. Everywhere clashes erupted between the Tsarist police and the demonstrators. Workers thronged the roads united, holding high the red flag that bore the slogans ‘Down with Tsardom’ , ‘Stop the war’, ‘We want bread’ etc.
From 26 February morning demonstrations and strikes turned into mass uprising. Workers began to snatch the arms from the police and the soldiers and arm themselves. At Znamenskaya Square the police opened fire on the workers’ procession. The Tsarist General went all the way to crush this uprising, but failed. That very day the 4th company of reserve battalion of Pavlovsky Regiment of the Tsar government fired back upon the Tsarist cavalry. Attempts were begun in earnest to get the police and the soldiers over to the side of the demonstrators with women workers playing an important role in this respect. They directly appealed to the army and the police narrating the extreme suffering of the people under the heartless Tsar regime and sought their help in overthrowing the Tsarist power. The same day the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party laid down a manifesto giving a call to continue armed struggle while at the same time declaring the formation of a temporary revolutionary Government.
The next day, on 27 February the soldiers in Petrograd refused to open fire upon the workers. Aggrieved soldiers swelled up in number and joined ranks with the revolutionaries. Their number swelled from 10,000 in the morning of 27th to 60,000 within the evening.
The revolutionary workers and soldiers then started to arrest Tsarist Ministers and Generals, while freeing the imprisoned revolutionaries. The political prisoners, when released, at once joined the revolutionary battle. Though gunfights on the streets followed for some more time, soon the Tsar’s troops switched over to the workers’ side – making the fall of Tsardom inevitable.
As soon as the news of the victory of the revolutionaries at Petrograd spread over to the other cities and the fronts in Russia, workers and soldiers everywhere started to dethrone the Tsarist executives. Thus was achieved the victory of the bourgeois democratic revolution in February; thus was uprooted the Tsardom.
The bourgeois democratic revolution of February had succeeded because here the workers constituted the vanguard detachment. Dressed as soldiers, they led the revolution of millions of peasants with the demands of ‘peace, bread and freedom’. During these initial days of revolution Lenin wrote: “The revolution was made by the proletariat. The proletariat displayed heroism, it shed its blood; it swept along with it the broadest masses of the toiling and poor population.”
Soviets of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies
In this context the ‘Soviets’ are of great significance. In those fiery days of struggle against Tsardom, the Russian toiling masses took up the initiative to forge a new and powerful instrument of struggle –the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies. These Soviets of Workers’ Deputies – which were assemblies of delegates from all the mills and factories – constituted a type of workers’ own mass organizations never witnessed in the world before. Coming up in 1905 for the first time, the Soviets were a new revolutionary form of the creative initiative of the people. They were set up exclusively by the revolutionary sections of the population in defiance of all laws and prescripts of Tsardom. In fact, these Soviets would become an alternative state power.
From the very first days of the revolution in 1905 the Soviets played their role. On the one hand the Soviets functioned as the armed organs of the uprising, and on the other, they constituted the embryo of a new, revolutionary power. The toiling people of Russia had wholeheartedly accepted the plan to conduct struggle by means of the Soviets, and once the Tsar was overthrown, they embarked on the task of building up countless new Soviets. There was however a difference between the Soviets set up in 1905 and 1917. In 1905 the Soviets were set up solely with workers’ delegates, but in 1917 they were joined by soldiers’ delegates. In the very first daysof the February Revolution the soldiers and workers who participated in the struggle had formed Soviets with workers and soldiers delegates, and it was the role played by these Soviets that was the main factor behind the success of the Revolution.
Formation of Provisional Government
At the time of the February Revolution when the Bolsheviks were directly leading the struggles of the masses in the streets, the compromising Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries were busy seizing seats in the Soviets, and establishing a majority there. The fact that the majority of Bolshevik leaders were in prison or exile facilitated this feat. As a result the leadership of the Soviets in Petrograd, Moscow and a number of cities went into the hands of the Mensheviks and other compro-mising parties. Only at a few places could the Bolsheviks retain their leadership in the Soviets.
The revolutionary section of workers and soldiers believed that the Soviets would carry out the demands of the revolutionaries, and first of all, see to it that peace would be concluded. But the Mensheviks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries had not the least intention to end the war and establish peace.They wanted to seize this opportunity provided by the revolution to hand over power to the bourgeois class. And in line with it, on 27 February (March 12, in the new calendar) in a secret agreement between the liberal members of the Fourth State Duma and the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries a Provisional Committee of the State Duma was set up. A few days later, this Committee and the Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik leaders of the Executive Committee of the Soviet entered into an agreement to form a Provisional Government together. The entire plan had been kept secret from the Bolsheviks. Among those who joined this Provisional Government were quite a few prominent representatives of the capitalist class as well as the representative of ‘democracy’, the Socialist-Revolutionary Kerensky.
Through the formation of this Provisional Government the compromising leaders of the Executive Committee of the Soviets actually handed over the state power to the bourgeoisie. In this way arose a new state power in Russia, consisting, in Lenin’s words of the “bourgeoisie and landlords who had become bourgeois.”
Existence of dual power of Provisional Government and Soviets
Alongside the Provisional Government another power went on to exist in its own glory after the February Revolution, in 1917. That was the power of the Soviets – the people’s committees built up with delegates of workers and soldiers. Most of the soldiers’ delegates in the Soviets had been peasants before the war and forced to take up arms at the Tsars’ orders. The then Soviets in Russia with delegates from the workers, peasants and soldiers from among the peasants who had joined the war, arose as organizations of the dictatorship of the proletariat to fight against the rule of the Tsar.
Hence, in the then Russia a dual dictatorship was found to exist side by side. On the one side there was the Provisional Government, on the other side there was the dictatorship of the workers and peasants. Explaining this dual power Lenin wrote: Alongside the Provisional Government there exists, beyond doubt, the Government of the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, though weak and in its incipient stage. (Collected Works Vol. 14)
It has already been mentioned that before the 1917 February Revolution, when the Bolsheviks were actively guiding the struggle of the people in the streets, the compromising parties like the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks seized the seats in the Soviets in Petrograd, Moscow and numerous other places. So when the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries through a secret understanding with the capitalist formed a Provisional Government and handed over power to the Russian bourgeoisie, then despite the protests from the Bolsheviks, most of the Soviets supported that move. Explaining this fact, Lenin pointed out that while millions of people inexperienced in politics had joined political activities, workers, peasants and small owners were infected and imbued with petty bourgeois mentality under the impact of the petty bourgeois wave that had swept Europe and particularly Russia. Moreover, pointing to the change in composition of the workers, he explained that about 40% of regular workers had been drafted for the war while many small owners, artisans, shopkeepers, to whom proletarian psychology was alien, had gone to factories to evade mobilization, and that this section of workers provided the soil which nourished the petty-bourgeois politicians like the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries. He showed that, intoxicated with the first successes of the revolution in its early months, a large number of people were swayed by the influence of the compromising parties and consented to the surrender of state power to the bourgeois class in the naïve belief that the bourgeoisie would not hinder the Soviets in their work.
In this situation, the Bolsheviks were faced with the task of explaining and exposing before the people the imperialist character of the Provisional Government and the betrayal of the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries. With utmost patience they began to explain to the people, at the same time, that as long as the Provisional Government was not overthrown and state power did not come to be vested in the Soviets, peace would not return to the country nor would their demands for bread and land ever be met.
Having plunged with all its strength into the arduous task of bringing home the truth to people, the Bolshevik Party resumed the publication of the Bolshevik newspaper Pravda a mere 5 days after the February Revolution. And a few days later the Social-Demokrat also came out again. Gradually the people began to lose faith in the liberal bourgeoisie, the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks, while the leadership of the Bolshevik party gained entry into people’s heart. The party cadres explained to the peasants and soldiers the need of acting unitedly with the workers, and that the people would secure neither peace nor land or bread until, through the advancement of revolution, the Provisional Government was overthrown and a government of Soviets formed.
The conduct and actions of the Provisional Government provided daily new proof of the correctness of the Bolshevik Party’s line. It became gradually clear that the Provisional Government did not work in the interest of the people, neither in the interest of establishing peace; that it stood against people’s interest, that it stood for war, and that this government would never take any steps to ensure bread, land and peace for the people. Where as the workers and soldiers, by shedding their blood, had advanced to uproot Tsardom through the Revolution, the Provisional Government wanted to definitely preserve the monarchy. Consisting of representatives of Russian capitalists and landlords, the Provisional Government was unwilling to return land to the peasants. And they couldn’t even dream of providing bread to the common people. For, in order to do so it would be necessary to impinge on the interests of the big grain dealers, landlords and Kulaks (big, i.e. rich peasants). Since this Provisional Government was in reality the guardian of the interests of the Russian wealthy class, it could by no means take such a step. Again, bound up as it was with the British and French imperialists, the Provisional Government had no intention of ending the war; rather it wanted to implement the design of Russian imperialism through this war.
It became gradually clear that thedual power that arose after February Revolution could not go on for long. Power would either have to become concentrated in the hands of the Soviets or the Provisional Government.
Russian situation after February Revolution
Despite all this a large section of the people supportedthe policies of such compromising parties like Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks. They still believed that the Constituent Assembly would shortly bring about a solution to all problems in a peaceful way. Meanwhile the Provisional Government had started to embark on various clandestine schemes against the revolutionary movement. Not only that, on the plea of maintaining law and order, or ‘discipline’ it even tried to curtail some democratic activities of the people. But in vain; the Russian workers and soldiers made full use of democratic rights such as freedom of expression, of press, freedom of forming associations, of assembly and demonstrations, so that they could take active part in the political life of the country, and exercise their intelligence to assess the situation and decide what was to be done next.
During the time of the Czar regime, the Bolshevik party had been forced to work secretly under the most difficult conditions. After the February revolution they started to openly build up organization and take up political work. The organizational strength of the Bolshevik party did not exceed 40,000 or 45,000, but though few in number, these party members were all steeled in the fire of revolution and unwavering in their loyalty to revolution.
(To be continued)