Russian Revolution: when workers took power

A new book from Workers' Liberty, published April 2017.

Prices include postage, for bulk order prices (5 copies and above) please contact the office on office@workersliberty.org to arrange postage.


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The 1917 Russian revolution was the greatest event in political history so far – the first time working class people took political power and held it for a decade. Yet the real history is buried under myths. Many Western academic accounts portray 1917 as a mutiny of peasant soldiers leading ultimately to a coup d’état, led by a small group of fanatics who established a Stalinist totalitarian state.

Worse, the mirror image of 1917 became the foundation myth of the Stalinist state: the 1917 revolution was used both in Russia and across the world by ‘Communist’ parties to glorify the terrible Stalinist regime that endured after workers’ self-rule was extinguished in the twenties. The original, liberatory working class essence of the original revolution was lost.

Since the 1960s – and especially since the opening of archives in Russia from the 1990s, much more is known about the Russian revolution. This book aims to bring original Marxist perspectives together with a wide range of scholarship. It is written from what Lenin and Trotsky called the ‘third camp’ independent working class socialist perspective.

This book explains some irreplaceable ideas developed a century ago – uneven and combined development, permanent revolution, democratic centralism, soviets (councils), workers’ control, consistent democracy, socialist feminism, transitional demands, the united front and the workers’ government. These ideas are highly relevant to students and activists in today’s struggles.

A study guide for the book can be downloaded here.

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Comments

Not quite a decade

I suspect this disagreement has little bearing on any political differences (or similarities!) between the AWL and myself on current questions, but...

I think the Russian working class lost its last grip on state power in 1921, not 1927. Not so much because of the Kronstadt rebellion (I'm not convinced by left anarchist accounts on that one) but when the Russian Communist Party became not a workers' party but a party of "workers and peasants." As we know, no real political party -- one that controls who joins and who doesn't -- can represent two classes at once. And the ruling parties of the "People's Democracies" always said they stood for the same thing.

If the Bolsheviks stood openly for the dictatorship of the (tiny) proletariat over the peasantry, they would lose the peasant base which they had obtained by adopting the SRs' land reform program and be destroyed by an uprising of the vast majority of the country. If they attempted to politically represent the peasantry, they could do so only by crushing the struggles of the proletariat and its most advanced sections -- by becoming a collective Louis Bonaparte. But in this case - unlike Bonaparte, whose power ultimately rested on the bourgeoisie, or the similar Byzantine or pre-revolutionary Chinese regimes, which ultimately rested on slaveholder and landlord classes -- the Bolsheviks could not count on the peasantry's class fear, but could only rely on ideology and direct coercion.

The NEP was the Bolsheviks' attempt to square this circle, at least temporarily, by making a deliberate, explicit and partial retreat to capitalism. It ultimately failed. Stalin's forced-collectivization policies from 1928 onward simply completed the shift of the CPSU to becoming the political representative of the peasantry. The peasantry *cannot rule* and in consequence it can only, when it acts independently, find a master who will coerce it to produce for the society. That master is the absolutist state.

That's what "bureaucratic collectivism" really was -- not a post-capitalist mode of production, but a sort of peasant and petit-bourgeois Bonapartism. And it began years before 1927 regardless of the intentions of Lenin and Trotsky.