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The Russian Revolution: An Essential Condition of Success

Sun 5th Aug 2012

In the second chapter of his 1920 work Left Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder, Lenin discusses what he considers to have been an essential condition for the victory of the Bolsheviks. Is the Bolshevik model still viable today and does it apply across the board to all societies transitioning from capitalism to socialism?

Certainly Lenin is correct when he says that the revolution would not have lasted (collapsing in a month or two) did it not have ‘‘the fullest and unreserved support from the entire mass of the working class’’. In my opinion, no successful socialist revolution, be it a peaceful or non-peaceful transition to socialism, can take place without the level of support Lenin says was accorded to the Bolsheviks by the Russian working people. But, this support would not have been enough, Lenin says, without a party subject to ‘‘the most rigorous and truly iron discipline.’’ As such, the formula for the Russian revolution was Mass Support + Iron Party = Socialist Revolution (MS +IP = SR). But can different parties have different amounts of ‘iron’?

Another way of expressing this formula is MS + IP = DP where DP stands for ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, which Lenin said was ‘‘necessary’’. Why did he think that DP was ‘necessary?’ Lenin gave the following five reasons. First, the capitalists are more powerful, as a class, than the workers. Second, capitalist resistance against the workers increases (Lenin says ‘‘tenfold’’) after they lose political power. Third, the capitalist class in one nation will receive the support of the international capitalist class in its efforts to overthrow the budding revolution--[ this material support will be much greater than the moral support the workers will get from their own international comrades]. Fourth, at the time, Russia had a great number of small producers and middle class elements who by force of habit thought in terms of capitalist ideology regardless of what their social interests might have been. Finally, besides Russia, small-scale production was a worldwide phenomenon which ‘‘engenders capitalism and the bourgeoisie continuously, daily, hourly, spontaneously and on a mass scale’’ wherever it exist.

Because of these five conditions Lenin said claimed that DP was absolutely necessary because not only during, but also after the revolution, the working people find themselves in a "life-and-death-struggle" with the bourgeoisie and victory is not possible without it (at least in terms of the conditions existing in Russia at the time of Lenin writing). Whether this is a general rule for all revolutions at all times is another question. Lenin himself says that the Russian experience shows that their revolution, which he seems to equate with the DP (the revolution = "the victorious dictatorship of the proletariat") could not have happened without "absolute centralisation and discipline of the proletariat" and this is obvious even to "those who are incapable of thinking."

Is this one of the lessons of the Russian Revolution that is applicable to all socialist revolutions? Lenin said we should ask ourselves how was it possible for the Bolsheviks to gain the loyalty of the mass of Russian workers? There were three factors that made this possible. First, there was a ‘vanguard’ party with advanced class consciousness which could lead the working people in the right political direction. Second, this vanguard was able to merge with the masses of the working people: the proletariat (industrial workers in factories and other areas of capitalist production) and the non-proletarian masses of working people. Third, the working masses, from their own daily life experiences, saw and understood that the political line of the leadership of the vanguard was correct.

The correct political line cannot be achieved without a correct revolutionary theory, according to Lenin. This theory is not a dogma but has to be tested in the practice of a mass revolutionary movement. Without these three factors in operation all attempts to get the working masses to follow your line and be ‘disciplined’ in the struggle amount to ‘phrase-mongering and clowning.’

So, the revolution was successful and the DP was instituted in Russia due to the fact that the Bolshevik party was able to discipline the working class and lead it to victory. Can the methods of the Bolshevik party be generalised and applied to other countries and revolutionary movements. Many revolutionaries have thought so and attempted to do this but Lenin himself says that the Bolsheviks succeeded "due simply to a number of historical peculiarities of Russia." This does not seem to be a firm basis for emulation.

What can other countries and movements learn from the Russian revolution? Well, it can't be exactly replicated ("historical peculiarities") but two great lessons have been passed on. One is the centrality of Marxist thought-- "the only correct revolutionary theory" according to Lenin-- and the other is the necessity of correctly applying this theory through years of struggle and adaptation to the "historical peculiarities" of each individual, country and movement. This second requirement is the most perilous as the temptation will always be there to allow temporary and accidental "historical peculiarities" to mask the actual historical forces at work and thus lead to incorrect revisions of Marxist theory resulting in "phrase-mongering and clowning." This is why international meetings of revolutionary parties are so important as they keep individual parties from isolating themselves from the world movement.

Thomas Riggins is associate editor of Political Affairs online www.politicalaffairs.net/
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