|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
The legacy of the Russian revolution
In 1997, on the 80th anniversary of the Russian revolution, PETER TAAFFE reviewed Orlando Figes’s book, A People’s Tragedy, acclaimed as an authoritative history but, in reality, an attempt to obscure the real significance of the momentous events of 1917. (Socialism Today No.23, November 1997) As the 90th anniversary approaches we reprint this defence of the October revolution.
FROM THE OUTSET of the Russian revolution the representatives of the possessing classes, in Russia and worldwide, predicted the early collapse of what they called the ‘Bolshevik dictatorship’.
On 9 November 1917, The Times approvingly quoted Naklukoff, the ambassador to Paris of the recently overthrown Kerensky government: "The situation must be regarded seriously but not tragically. Even if the facts be true there is no occasion for undue alarm... It is better that it should have taken place and be disposed of once and for all. The maximalist (Bolshevik) movement, by its arbitrary action, is already doomed. I have no doubt that the movement will be stopped by the first Cossack regiment that appears on the scene". The leader of the Social Revolutionary party gave the Bolsheviks ‘no more than a few days’, while the famous writer, Maxim Gorky, expected them to stay in power for two weeks. However, once it became clear that the soviet regime of the Bolsheviks would be more enduring than their earlier prophecies, the capitalists resorted to lies and slander. This was insufficient, so a more powerful ‘argument’ was used: arms, tanks, aeroplanes and interventionist armies to attack and destroy the revolution.
In the years since, no effort has been spared to distort what happened in 1917 and to falsify the ideas of the great leaders of the revolution, particularly Lenin and Trotsky. If the capitalists’ fear of the contagious effects of the Russian revolution was justified in 1917 and subsequently, why today do historians like Orlando Figes still go to such lengths (over 900 pages) to carry out, in essence, the same role as earlier calumniators of the Russian revolution? After all, with the collapse of the Stalinist regimes of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in 1989-90, the heritage of the Russian revolution, particularly the planned economy, has apparently been eradicated ‘forever’. Yet the fact that those, like Figes or the even more reactionary historian, Richard Pipes, have devoted so much attention to the revolution’s anniversary, shows its enduring attraction to workers today. This will be even more so in the future given the economic, political, social and ecological disasters which loom for world capitalism. Everything must be done to obscure the lessons of 1917 for today.
Could capitalism have developed Russia?
THE REVOLUTION, AND the introduction of a planned economy, laid the basis for the transformation of Russia from the ‘India’ of Europe to, at one stage, the second most powerful economy and country on the globe. In the detail which Figes gives (pp112-113) about the conditions in the Russian cities, he confirms the backwardness of Russia at the time of the revolution: "The death rate in this city of the Tsars (St Petersburg) was the highest of any European capital, including Constantinople, with a cholera epidemic on average once in every three years". The same primitiveness and economic backwardness in the countryside is also elaborated by Figes. However, his mission is to demonstrate that it was ‘by no means inevitable’ that the revolution should have ended in the Bolshevik ‘dictatorship’. He argues that a ‘democratic’ path for Russia was possible and that the October revolution was a ‘coup d’état’ organised by the ‘cowardly’ and ‘dictatorial’ Lenin and his Bolshevik Party.
Others, particularly bourgeois economists, have complemented Figes to demonstrate that left to itself, without the intervention of the October revolution, Russia would have developed at a much greater economic pace than it did through the planned economy. On the contrary, despite the monstrous, one-party, totalitarian regime which developed under Stalinism, the planned economy which issued from the Russian revolution led to a colossal development of industry and society and also the living standards of the mass of the population, unrivalled by any other comparable country.
‘Not so’, argue the bourgeois opponents of Marxism, ‘what about the phenomenal growth rates of the Southeast Asian Tigers and Japan post 1945?’ But these economies developed at a phenomenal rate because of their unique circumstances and the special measures of US imperialism and its puppets in the post-war situation. Faced by the challenge of Stalinism, which rested on the gains of the October revolution including the planned economy, US imperialism in Korea and Japan carried through a major part of the bourgeois democratic revolution, by expropriating the landlords and giving land to the peasants. The same task was undertaken by the Kuomintang who took the land of the native Taiwanese landlords when they were driven from the Chinese mainland. They cleared out of the way the remnants of feudal and semi-feudal land relations, paving the way for the development of capitalism. It was this and access to the US market, together with sweated, slave labour (in Korea and Taiwan) which laid the basis for the development of the ‘Tigers’. This was not the pattern for the majority of the countries in the colonial or former colonial world where the bourgeois democratic revolution remained, and remains, uncompleted.
Even the Scientific American, in December 1968, after a study of comparative growth rates of Japan and the USSR between 1928-66, concluded: "Taking into account the fact that the USSR’s growth was set back severely by World War II, its average annual rate for the 38-year period since 1928 nevertheless ranges between 5.4-6.7%: the Soviet accomplishment appears to be essentially unprecedented". (p21) The rate of growth of the USSR only slowed down, its potential vitiated by the one-party, totalitarian Stalinist regime, in the 1970s and 1980s. The maintenance of Stalinism actually led to a regression in the economy and society in the immediate period prior to its collapse in 1989-90.
The tasks which confronted Russia in 1917 were those of the bourgeois democratic revolution, which entailed a thoroughgoing land reform, with land to the peasants, the solution of the national question, with the right of self-determination to the oppressed nationalities, democracy and the development of a modern economy. Basing himself upon the 1905 revolution, Lenin argued that the liberal capitalists were incapable of carrying through the capitalist democratic revolution. Trotsky in his famous theory of the Permanent Revolution, and Lenin in his April Theses, showed that the industrialists and bankers were bound with iron hoops to the semi-feudal landlords. The capitalists invested in land and the landlords invested in industry. Four thousand million roubles were owed by the landlords to the bankers and the expropriation of the landlords would endanger the investments of the bankers and the industrialists.
This, in broad outline, is the situation which still obtains in much of the former colonial or semi-colonial world, in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In India, for instance, the landlord and the capitalist is often one and the same figure, united through bank capital. A thoroughgoing land reform, giving land to the peasants, would come up against the opposition of not just the landlords and their armed detachments but also the capitalists.
1917 - accident or necessity?
IN RUSSIA, THE landlords and the capitalists were linked to the bureaucracy and the system was crowned by the tsarist regime which was used to alternately stupefy the masses and crush opposition. Figes argues that perhaps timely land reform and democratic concessions from tsarism may have saved the regime. However, in much of the detail he supplies he shows how utopian is this idea. It is true that the capitalists had wanted the monarchy to give limited democratic reforms. But this would not have fundamentally altered the course of the revolution as the experience of the Spanish revolution between 1931-37 showed. King Alfonso replaced the dictator Primo de Rivera only to follow him later into exile.
Milyukov, the leader of the capitalist Cadet party, in urging concessions from the tsar in 1915, declared: "We are treading the volcano... tension has reached its extreme limit... a carelessly dropped match will be enough to start a terrible conflagration". Concession or repression, this was the dilemma for the possessing classes in 1917. Either road risked igniting a revolution.
The fear of Milyukov in 1915 was well founded. Russian peasants were groaning under the burdens placed upon them by the war. Figes and bourgeois historians, even when the material they furnish contradicts their conclusions, have essentially a conspiratorial view of history and particularly of revolution. This is certainly their view in relation to the October revolution. But revolution, as Trotsky points out, "breaks out when all the antagonisms of a society have reached their highest tension".
It is not a product of agitation and propaganda alone but arises when society cannot further progress without a sharp break. In general, four conditions have to be present before mass opposition to a regime overflows the bounds of normal protests and develops into a revolutionary movement. The ruling class has to be divided, which was quite evident even to Figes prior to February. There was growing opposition both to the war and the regime in the period leading up to February 1917.
Amongst the working class, the idea gradually developed that ‘we cannot live like this any longer’. This is another vital condition for revolution, the preparedness of the working class to go the whole way. This mood developed in the months prior to the February revolution. It is possible that in 1916, if the tsarist regime had made concessions, events could have developed differently in the first period of the revolution. But the process would not have been fundamentally different.
A widespread strike developed in January 1916 in St Petersburg on the anniversary of ‘Bloody Sunday’ when workers were massacred in the 1905 revolution. The number of strikes doubled during the following year, going from economic strikes to political strikes, from partial and sectional struggles to the idea of a general strike. The intermediary layers, particularly in the countryside, were in ferment, a process enormously speeded up by the slaughter of the first world war.
But, according to Figes, these were not the reasons why the Russian workers eagerly embraced the ideas of Marxism. The acceptance of "this dogmatism has much to do with the relative scarcity of alternative political ideas, which might at least have caused the workers to regard the Marxist doctrine with a little more reserve and scepticism. But it also had its roots in the way most of the workers had been educated in philosophy. When people learn as adults what children are normally taught in schools, they often find it difficult to progress beyond the simplest abstract ideas. These tend to lodge deep in their minds, making them resistant to the subsequent absorption of knowledge on a more sophisticated level. They see the world in black-and-white terms because their narrow learning obscures any other coloration".
So the fact that Russian workers absorbed Marxist ideas was not because these ideas accurately described their condition under the Russian landlord/capitalist regime. If only they had passed through a university, preferably one where Figes was the principal tutor, the consciousness of the Russian working class would have been different. When it comes to the social sciences and, in particular, when dealing with revolution the universities are, in general, institutions for obscurantism and dust-blowing on a gigantic scale. Bourgeois academics are utterly incapable of perceiving and understanding the working class, in particular, its guiding advanced layer, as anything other than putty in the hands of leaders’ and intellectuals.
Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolshevik Party prepared for the Russian revolution by an assiduous study of the French revolution, the Paris Commune and the first 1905 revolution. They saw their task as making conscious the unconscious will of the working class to change society. The agitation and propaganda of the Bolsheviks expressed the clear class interests of the workers and poor peasants in 1917. As Trotsky explained: "Not only in the soldiers’ Soviets but also in the ‘workers’ Soviets, the Bolshevik faction generally constituted one to two per cent, at best five per cent. The leading parties of the petit bourgeois democracy (Mensheviks and so-called Social Revolutionaries) had the following of at least 95% of the workers, soldiers and peasants participating in the struggle" at the beginning of 1917.
The Bolsheviks were denounced as sectarians and then as agents of the German Kaiser. But "all their attention was directed to the masses and, moreover, not to their top layer but to the deepest and most oppressed millions and tens of millions, who parliamentary babblers usually forget". The whole of the press, including the papers of the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, carried on a vicious campaign against the Bolsheviks. Even in the first months after February, this torrent of abuse, the suggestion that carloads of gold had been delivered to the Bolsheviks from Germany, etc, led the sailors and soldiers to threaten to bayonet Lenin and the other leaders of Bolshevism.
But the experience of the masses led to their disillusionment in the other parties, who betrayed the interests of the workers and peasants, in a bloc with the bourgeois Cadets. It pushed them into adopting a more sympathetic attitude to the speeches of the Bolsheviks. As Trotsky comments: "To the worker in the shop, the soldier in the trench, the starving peasant, it became clear that the capitalists and their lackeys were slandering the Bolsheviks precisely because the Bolsheviks were firmly devoted to the interests of the oppressed. Yesterday’s indignation of the soldier and sailor against the Bolsheviks became remoulded into passionate devotion to them, an unselfish readiness to follow them to the very end. And, on the other hand, the hatred of the masses for the Cadet Party was inevitably transferred to their allies, the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries".
These words, directed to an audience of workers in the 1930s, are far too ‘simplistic’ for our lofty historians. Yet they are more accurate than the heavy tomes of Figes and his like in explaining the triumph of the Bolshevik Party, the soviets and the October revolution of 1917.
Coup d’état or mass uprising?
FOLLOWING THE FEBRUARY revolution, the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries handed power to the capitalists. Even the Bolshevik leaders in Petrograd, led by Stalin and Kamenev, gave ‘critical support’ to the capitalist coalition. Only Lenin in Switzerland and Trotsky in New York understood the significance of the February events as the beginning not only of the Russian revolution but of the international revolution.
Lenin demanded that the workers place no trust in the Provisional Government. However, the Bolsheviks were only 8,000 strong after the February revolution. Lenin explained that it was necessary for the Bolsheviks to base themselves on the consciousness of the masses. In the first stage, inevitably, the masses take the line of least resistance. In Russia they gave massive support to the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries as explained above. Only big events would teach them the correctness of the perspectives, strategy and tactics of the Bolsheviks.
The working class learns rapidly in a revolution. The Bolsheviks grew quickly. They numbered 2,000 members in Petrograd in February 1917 (Figes puts the figure at 3,000), 16,000 by April (with 79,000 nationally). By July, says Figes, the membership of the Bolshevik Party stood at 200,000. This had risen, according to him, to 350,000 on the eve of the October revolution, "the vast majority of these blue-collar workers". (Most accounts give the membership of the Bolsheviks as 240,000 in October).
But the revolution did not develop in a straight line. Between February and October there were many sharp turns in the situation. In April, with the continuation of the war, the workers of Petrograd were already becoming disillusioned with the Provisional Government. The masses, particularly the ten million soldiers exhausted by the war, yearned for an end to the slaughter. But even the workers’ and peasants’ councils, the soviets, which the masses themselves had improvised based on the experience of the 1905 revolution, supported the continuation of the war.
The national soviet congress in April, dominated by the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, refused to ratify the eight-hour day. The disappointment and anger of the masses were reflected in the ‘July days’, which both Pipes and Figes are incapable of understanding. Against all the evidence of the participants at the time, from Trotsky to the leaders of the Petrograd Bolsheviks, Pipes argues that the Bolshevik leaders attempted a ‘power seizure’. Only when it failed did the Bolsheviks then argue, according to this ‘historian’, that it was a spontaneous demonstration which they sought to direct into peaceful channels. Figes adopts a more vacillating view. On the one side, he quotes Sukhanov in support of Pipes but then implies that the Bolsheviks were of ‘two minds’ as to whether to use the July demonstrations to seek power or not. Moreover, Lenin is described as a hopeless vacillator unable to make up his mind.
On the contrary, the massive 400,000-strong demonstration of workers and soldiers in July was a stage which has been seen in all revolutions. Bitterly disappointed at the results of the revolution so far they called for the eviction of the ten capitalist ministers from the coalition government: ‘Down with the offensive and all power to the soviets’. As with the ‘June days’ of 1848, the ‘Spartacist uprising’ in January 1919 and the ‘May days’ in Barcelona in 1937, the July days represented the consciousness of the masses that the gains of their revolution were being snatched out of their hands. The mass manifestation in Petrograd was an attempt to prevent the derailment of the revolution.
The Bolshevik leadership, contrary to Figes’s account, opposed the July demonstration but were compelled to go along with it. Already the workers of Petrograd were ready to overthrow the government but the Bolshevik leadership opposed this. Lenin and Trotsky warned that the rest of the country, and particularly the peasants and soldiers at the front, needed time to see through the coalition of Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries. The masses could only learn this through bitter experience.
Figes’s description of Lenin as a ‘coward’, both before and during the July days, is itself sufficient to discredit the whole book as a serious scientific and objective appraisal of 1917 (p385). In July, he has Lenin running away from St Petersburg to Finland to save his own skin! He writes: "Lenin was always prone to overestimate the physical danger to himself; in this respect he was something of a coward. It cannot be said that his life was ever at direct risk during his summer on the run". Yet, barely a paragraph later, he writes of "the frenzied anti-Bolshevik atmosphere... a time of lynch law with the tabloid press full of cartoons showing Lenin on the scaffold".
Lenin’s refusal to appear before a court, which would have been composed of the bitterest class enemies of the Bolsheviks, was entirely correct. As Trotsky comments: "It is sufficient to remember the fate of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg". Lenin went into hiding not out of concern for himself as an individual but for what was at stake for the revolution. With Trotsky, Lenin was the ‘brain’ of the Bolshevik Party and, therefore, of the revolution. It was the interests of the revolution that were paramount in Lenin’s attitude during the July days. If neither Lenin nor Trotsky had survived, then the Russian revolution itself would have been shipwrecked. The murder of Luxemburg and Liebknecht was a major factor in the derailment of the German revolution.
The July days led to reaction, with repression against the Bolsheviks and the imprisonment of Trotsky, while Lenin was driven underground. The counter-revolution, in the figure of General Kornilov, attempted a coup in August, which was defeated by the working class with the Bolsheviks playing the most prominent role. The troops of Kornilov refused to take action once the real situation was explained to them by delegates and agitators from the Soviets. The railway workers completely disintegrated the army of Kornilov by stranding them in railway sidings, etc.
Revolution sometimes needs the whip of the counter-revolution. The August events gave an enormous access of support to the Bolsheviks. In the two months that followed, the majority of the workers’ and soldiers’ soviets were won over to the Bolsheviks. Using the Military Revolutionary Committee, set up by the soviets in Petrograd under the leadership of Trotsky, the working class took power on 25 October.
Figes’s verdict on the October revolution, which Marxists consider as the single greatest event in human history, is that it was "in reality such a small-scale event, being in effect no more than a military coup, that it passed unnoticed by the vast majority of the inhabitants of Petrograd". Incredibly, he then goes on to comment: "The whole insurrection, as Trotsky himself acknowledged, was carried out as a coup d’état". In support of this claim he quotes Trotsky’s comment that the insurrection was, "a series of small operations, calculated and prepared in advance".
These claims are made by Figes despite the fact that Trotsky, in a brilliant chapter in his History of the Russian Revolution, The Art of Insurrection, goes to considerable lengths to show that the October revolution and insurrection was entirely different to the classical idea of a ‘coup d’état’. The latter, pursued by conspirators from a group or section of the ruling class or army, usually results in the replacement of one clique of the same ruling class by another. But, says Trotsky, "only mass insurrection has ever brought the victory of one social regime over another".
The importance of the Bolshevik Party
THERE WAS A fundamental difference between the February and October revolutions. The February revolution was a mass insurrection which overthrew the old power but did not result in the working class and peasantry taking power into their own hands. The objective prerequisites have to be there before a successful socialist revolution and insurrection is possible. But something more than this is needed for the working class to take power. In October, as opposed to February, there was the presence of the ‘subjective factor’, a mass revolutionary party with a far-sighted leadership, capable of leading the masses to power.
A revolutionary situation is not long lived: the fate of a revolution can be determined in a two- or three-day struggle. In Russia, the conditions probably existed for a successful revolution between September and November, a three-month period. Failure to take power then would have led Russia back into the noose of a capitalist dictator like Kornilov.
The active support for the revolution is reflected in the victory of the Bolsheviks in the soviets and the dramatic swing towards the left in the peasants’ soviets prior to October. Figes has the revolution being carried through by a minority. It is true that the technical military aspect of the seizure of power in October was carried out by a minority. This is the case in all revolutions; a minority acts but with the support of the mass. To be successful in October, as opposed to July, meant that the actions of the Bolsheviks under the banner of the soviets needed the mass support of the proletariat and the peasantry. The relatively ‘bloodless’ character of the October overturn, recognised by Figes, would not have been possible without the mass of the Petrograd proletariat supporting the insurrection. Conversely, the virtually nonexistent forces at the disposal of Kerensky’s Provisional Government reflected the demoralisation of those opposed to the revolution. The "series of small operations, calculated and prepared in advance", mentioned by Trotsky, merely dealt with the technical military aspects of the October revolution and not with its mass support. It is, moreover, an incontestable historical fact that only in Russia, following the overturn in October, did the workers take power and establish real workers’ democracy.
In the years since there have been many opportunities for the working class to follow in the path of the Russian workers of 1917. In its sweep, scope and potential for victory of the working class, the Chinese revolution of 1925-27 was equal to, if not greater, than even that of Russia. The working class in Spain attempted not once but on ten occasions between 1931-37 to carry through a revolution. In 1968 in France, the working class organised a general strike of ten million; the capitalist bonaparte, De Gaulle, fled to Germany believing that ‘the game was up’, and yet the French workers were not able to emulate their Russian counterparts of 50 years before. The same process developed in the Portuguese revolution in 1974 when the capitalist state disintegrated. Unlike in the Russian revolution, the great majority of the Portuguese officer caste were radicalised and were searching in the direction of ‘socialism’ but, unfortunately, the capitalist state machine was reassembled and was able to liquidate the gains of the Portuguese revolution. It was the false policies of the leadership of the workers’ organisations - the social democracy and the mass Communist Party - which prevented the revolution from being completed.
All this stands in stark contrast to what happened in Russia in 1917. It was the policy and the tactics of the Bolshevik Party, under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, which led the Russian workers to victory. This initiated the ‘ten days that shook the world’. Unbelievably, Figes deals with the creation of the Communist International in passing and with only slight reference to the international ramifications of the Russian revolution. The October revolution led, as Lenin and Trotsky had anticipated, to enormous revolutionary ferment throughout Europe, America and the world. At one stage the revolution, because of the intervention of the 21 armies of imperialism, was reduced to the two major cities of Moscow and Petrograd, the old province of Muscovy. Most of Russia was in the hands of the counter-revolutionary White forces backed up by imperialist bayonets. And yet, impoverished, reduced to cannibalism in certain parts of Russia, the revolution triumphed not because of superiority of arms but through appeals to the working class in the armies of imperialism and throughout the world.
From Bolshevism to Stalinism?
LIKE MANY BEFORE, Figes finds the seeds of Stalinism in the policies and methods of Lenin and of the Bolshevik Party. He argues that the Bolsheviks sought to "centralise all power in the hands of the party and, by the use of terror, to wipe out all political opposition". Nothing of the kind occurred in the early part of the revolution. Indeed, the only parties and newspapers which were suppressed were the bourgeois opposition of the Cadets and the semi-fascist Black Hundreds. Only when the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries went over to military counter-revolutionary resistance were measures taken against their press. This is no different to what occurred in other civil wars, including in capitalist civil wars such as that of the USA. Did Abraham Lincoln and the north permit the functioning of newspapers and grant democratic rights to the southern slaveholders and their supporters in the north? Did Oliver Cromwell, in the English bourgeois revolution of the 17th century, allow the royalists to operate freely in areas controlled by the parliamentary forces? On the contrary, they resorted to military repression, which was the logic of civil war. The same was true of the Bolsheviks who took repressive measures only when it was absolutely necessary and who argued, at the time, that with the spread of the revolution to western Europe even these military measures and repression would be unnecessary.
Figes, perhaps without intending to, shows the popularity of the Bolshevik regime and the weakness of the counter-revolution in the first period when he writes about the convening of the Constituent Assembly. He gives many useful facts to show the overwhelming swing of the peasantry towards the Left Social Revolutionaries, who were then in collaboration with the Bolsheviks. He even comments about the mood in the cities: "There was no mass reaction to the closure of the Constituent Assembly". This does not, however, prevent him from arguing: "The political civilisation of the provincial towns is not much more advanced than in backward peasant Russia and outside the capital city there was no real urban middle class to sustain the democratic revolution. That was the tragedy of 1917".
But that begs the question as to why there was not a stable ‘urban middle class’ and, if it had existed, whether it would have prevented the Russian revolution. Firstly, the weakness of the middle class was itself a reflection of the incapacity of the Russian bourgeoisie to carry through the bourgeois democratic revolution. This meant that these tasks fell on the shoulders of the working class who, having come to power, completed the bourgeois democratic revolution, in alliance with the peasantry, and then went over to the socialist tasks. Moreover, in Germany the presence of an ‘urban middle class’ did not prevent the revolution of 1918-19 which was only not carried through to a conclusion because, unlike in Russia, the ‘subjective factor’ did not exist.
The Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky in the Russian revolution was separated by a river of blood from Stalinism. It was the most democratic party in history and, at the same time, the most determined in the pursuit of mobilising the working class for power. The revolution was conceived as the beginning of the European and world revolution. Without the victory of the revolution in the west, the Russian revolution would inevitably be defeated or degenerate. Lenin and Trotsky argued this many times in advance of the revolution.
Stalinism did not arise from Bolshevism but was rooted in the isolation of the Russian revolution and the backward cultural conditions of Russia. This, along with the slaughter of the flower of the Russian proletariat in the civil war and the disappointment of the masses in the failure of the European revolution to come to their assistance, led to the gradual crystallisation of a privileged stratum. Stalin personified this layer which gradually usurped power from the proletariat. Rather than issuing from Leninism, Stalinism rose in mortal combat with Bolshevism. A precondition for the consolidation of the power and privileges of the rising bureaucracy was the destruction of all remnants of Bolshevism. The annihilation of the Left Opposition and all those connected with the heroic period of Bolshevism culminated in the purges, described by Trotsky as a ‘one-sided civil war’.
Does the degeneration of the Russian revolution and the rise of Stalinism, which ultimately led to the liquidation of the planned economy, invalidate the relevance of the Russian revolution? On the contrary, an assiduous study of the revolution, and of events since, shows that it is impossible to understand the 20th century, including the present situation, without understanding the Russian revolution and its subsequent degeneration. The achievements of the planned economy, despite Stalinism, give an example of what was possible, particularly if it had been organised on the basis of workers’ control and management.
A study of the revolution today provides the advanced layers of workers with the possibility of understanding the laws of revolution. Of course, events will not develop in exactly the same fashion, nor with the same speed, as did the Russian revolution. Nevertheless, the struggles of the working class, despite the inane claims of bourgeois ideologists that we are at the ‘end of history’, that ideology has disappeared, etc, are similar in all capitalist countries.
The class struggle will break out with redoubled force in the period we are going into. The best representatives of the workers and youth will look for the ideological and theoretical weapons that can offer them an explanation of how to act in mobilising the working class against capitalism. They will find what they need, not in Figes’s book, but in the works of Marx, Engels and, particularly for today, of Lenin and Trotsky, and in the immortal work in the Russian revolution of the Bolsheviks in 1917.