The Russian Revolution of October 1917, the historical event that has marked the contemporary world, is celebrating 98 years. But reactionaries try to cover up its history with a distortion mantle. They claim that the revolution was utopian, useless and that it only proved the communism’s failure.
They seek to show by all means that the repugnant Stalinist dictatorship that ruled after the government led by Lenin in the former Soviet Union (USSR) was the continuation of the revolution, when it meant actually its defeat.
This real campaign tries to muddy the most important action made by the working class so that new generations do not follow its example.
Millions of young people who struggle every day against the evils of imperialist capitalism don’t know the lessons of October 1917. More than ever, it is necessary to remind and spread the teachings of that, which was the most important experience of the working class at all times.
A revolutionary epoch: a century of wars, crises and revolutions
The First World War, that broke out in 1914, and the Revolution Russia were closely linked events. The war was the culmination of conflicts between the different European imperialist countries that vied with each other the possession and exploitation of their colonies around the world.
The World War I definitely opened the imperialist epoch of capitalism, marked by permanent wars, brutal economic crises and destruction of the environment, ie the decay of the capitalist system.
But at the same time, the Russian Revolution opened a revolutionary epoch. The fight against brutal exploitation and imperialist counterrevolution, on the one hand, and the revolutionary struggle of the workers and oppressed peoples around the world, on the other, marked the 20th century.
The first victorious socialist revolution in the world
The Soviet (Council) of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, led by the Bolshevik Party, took power in Russia, defeating the bourgeoisie for the first time to ensure its victory.
The newborn Soviet state faced terrible difficulties. In 1918, the counterrevolutionary armies sparked a civil war. Twenty-one foreign countries invaded Russia to support them. The war and the disorganization of the economy, especially agriculture, have caused hunger and death for millions of people.
But the Bolshevik Party, led by Lenin and Trotsky, was able to organize the Red Army and, after three years of civil war, defeat the counterrevolution and consolidate the first workers’ state in history.
The socialist revolution is international
From the first moment, the leaders of the Bolshevik Party declared that the Russian Revolution was not limited to the borders of his own country, but should be the trigger and a stronghold for the Revolution in Europe and the world.
Lenin and Trotsky gave so much importance to the international character of the revolution that in 1919, while the Red Army fought desperately in the Civil War, they founded the Communist International to spread the revolution to the whole world.
October shows the way
A lot has changed in nearly a hundred years: the defeat of the revolution in European countries between 1919 and 1923 and the isolation and backwardness of Russia led to the degeneration of the revolution. A privileged bureaucracy of civil servants led by Stalin took over and turned the Soviet state in a reign of terror. The Communist International also degenerated and was dissolved by Stalin in 1943.
In the 1980s, under the leadership of Gorbachev, the bureaucracy has restored capitalism and several of its officers have become the millionaires of a new Russian bourgeoisie.
But neither the tragic fate of the first socialist revolution nor all the lies of the bourgeoisie managed to extinguish its example. The October Revolution showed that workers can take power, defeat the bourgeoisie, take the management of the economy and build a democratic state for the majority.
98 years later, capitalism pushes the world into the abyss of barbarism and the workers struggle desperately to not being dragged by it. The case of October, albeit brief, led the way.
In the words of the great revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg: “In the present period, when we face decisive final struggles in all the world, the most important problem of socialism was and is the burning question of our time. It is not a matter of this or that secondary question of tactics, but of the capacity for action of the proletariat, the strength to act, the will to power of socialism as such. In this, Lenin and Trotsky and their friends were the first, those who went ahead as an example to the proletariat of the world; they are still the only ones up to now who can cry with Hutten: I have dared!”
In the early 20th century, Russia was the largest and most populous country in Europe, with 150 million people, more than three million lived in Moscow and St. Petersburg (later Petrograd). However, it was a backward country where 80% of the population lived in the countryside and 90% were illiterate. Russia was an autocratic absolutist state, ruled by the monarchy of the tsars. The regime was based on the repression of opponents. Thousands were arrested, tortured, executed or deported to Siberia. The right of assembly and demonstration and the legality of parties and trade unions were episodic and always conquered by revolutionary mobilizations, like the Revolution of 1905.
1905: the great rehearsal
The Revolution of 1905 focused all tsarism contradictions: a defeat in the war against Japan, repression and an economic crisis triggered by the conflict. A strike by 12,000 workers at the Putilov factory in Petrograd for the reintegration of four dismissed fellows occurred in January. Other factories joined and the strike reached 150,000 workers.
A federation of legal unions, tolerated by the government, was run by a priest named Gapon, who convinced the workers to handle a petition to the Czar, which called for the reinstatement of the four dismissed workers and others demands, such as the eight-hour day and wage increase.
About 150 thousand workers went to the Winter Palace, the imperial residence. The Tsar ordered the troops to open fire on the crowd. More than 1,500 people died and 2,000 were wounded. This day is known as the “Bloody Sunday.” The revolution had started…
The Revolution lasted a year and was finally defeated. But left important teachings. One was the Soviet organization of Workers’ Deputies in Petrograd, which lasted 50 days and had as president in its final phase a 25 years old social-democrat: Leon Trotsky.
Russia and the war
In 1914, Russia entered the First World War on the side of England and France. However, the suffering of the Russian people were much higher than those of other countries. The Russian army of more than 10 million soldiers were poorly armed and equipped and suffered major defeats. The death toll rose to 1,700 million troops and 6 million were injured.
The war meant terrible suffering for the whole population, due to the effects of the supply crisis and hunger, and especially for the peasants, who formed the majority of the army.
The February Revolution
On February 23, 1917 [Julian calendar, March 8 in the current calendar], during the International Women’s Day demonstrations, “a mass of women, not all of them workers, flocked to the municipal duma demanding bread”. On the 25th, the strike spread wider. According to the government’s figures, 240,000 workers participated that day. The revolution had begun. The demand of bread was added with “Down with autocracy!” “Down with the war!” and on the 27th the military revolt had meanwhile become epidemic. Thousands of armed workers and soldiers took to the streets and stormed the Tauride Palace, where the State Duma (parliament) used to meet, demanding the resignation of the tsar. On March 8, Nicholas II was forced to abdicate.
The Provisional Government and Kerensky
The Soviet of Petrograd had been reorganized during those demonstrations against the regime and could have taken power. However, the opportunist parties – Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries – in majority in the Soviet, decided to hand over power to a bourgeois Provisional Government headed by Prince Lvov. Between February and October different cabinets of the Provisional Government followed up, involving bourgeois ministers, Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries. In May, 1917, Alexander Kerensky, a former Trudovik, was appointed as Minister of War.
The Bolsheviks, led at the time by Stalin and Kamenev, initially supported the Provisional Government. When Lenin arrives in Petrograd from his exile in Switzerland, on April 3, he makes a speech calling for the overthrow of the provisional government and writes the so-called “April Theses”, advocating the need for a U-turn in the Bolsheviks’ policy. Lenin’s theses were passed in a conference of the Bolshevik Party, which begins to oppose the Provisional Government and to argue that the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Soviet must take power.
The Soviets and the dual power
The experience of the Soviets of 1905 was forever chiselled into the consciousness of the workers and is reorganized in February 1917, in Petrograd. The workers voted for their representatives at factories and districts, in the proportion of one delegate to a thousand workers. The soldiers of the capital also participated with one representative per garrison.
From Petrograd, the organization of soviets was extended to the whole country. The Soviets represented a parallel power, or dual power, to the Provisional Government. The Provisional Government, in fact, relied on the Soviets, dominated by Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries. In June 1917 the All-Russia Congress of Soviets met, still under the leadership of these opportunist parties.
Bread, Peace and Land
The Provisional Government could not solve the major problems of the masses. The first was the need to end the war, which brought enormous suffering to workers and peasants. The Provisional Government gave in to Britain’s and France’s pressure to keep Russia in the war, but the people demanded peace.
This led to the serious problem of keeping and feeding an army of ten million troops. Food supplies to towns were restrained and hunger permanently prowled their inhabitants. On the other hand, the Interim Government reconciled with the landlords and delayed the distribution of land required by the peasants.
Therefore, the Bolshevik Party raised the demand of Bread, Peace and Land, in addition to self-determination for the oppressed nationalities by the former tsarist regime.
The July Days and the Kornilov coup
In July, the masses of workers and soldiers of Petrograd, exasperated with the defeat of the military offensive ordered by the Provisional Government and the sacrifices caused by shortages, began an uprising against the government. The Bolsheviks opposed in principle because they saw that the rest of the country still supported the Social Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks and feared that the capital could remain isolated.
They were on the side of the protesters and tried to lead them to prevent a larger defeat. The Provisional Government took advantage of the facts to repress the Bolshevik Party and arrest hundreds of its membership, including leaders like Kamenev and Trotsky. An order for the arrest Lenin and Zinoviev was issued, who were forced to go to clandestinity.
In August, General Kornilov, commander in chief of the army, attempts a counterrevolutionary military coup, sending the front war troops to Petrograd to overthrow Kerensky’s government. His goal was to seize power and end the revolutionary process.
The Bolsheviks organize the fight against Kornilov, putting themselves at the forefront of the military organization. Within a few days Bolsheviks had enlisted 25,000 armed recruits to defend Petrograd. While they dug trenches and fortified the city, delegations of soldiers were sent out to talk to the advancing troops. Meetings were held and Kornilov’s troops decided to refuse to attack Petrograd. Kornilov was defeated and imprisoned without being fired a shot.
The October Revolution
The fightback of the masses against Kornilov’s coup leaned the balance to the left. The masses returned to trust the Bolsheviks, who won a majority in the Petrograd Soviet in September. Trotsky, released from prison, was elected president of the Soviet.
The Provisional Government was increasingly weak, but still tried some maneuvers. In mid-September it called a “Democratic Conference”. Distorted representation criteria gave majority to the bourgeois and opportunist parties. The Bolsheviks took part to denounce it. Finally, the Conference formed a “pre-parliament”, a legislative body that was intended to empty the Soviet, subordinating it to a future and hypothetical constituent assembly.
Among the Bolsheviks, a controversy reflected a strategic difference. Lenin and Trotsky said that the Bolshevik Party should boycott the Pre-Parliament and prepare the uprising to seize power. But most of the Central Committee rejected the boycott, reflecting hesitation about taking power.
From Finland, where he was in exile, Lenin began an internal struggle and finally succeeded in getting the approval of the boycott by the Central Committee (CC). At the opening of the pre-Parliament, Trotsky read a declaration of rupture and the Bolshevik representatives the hall.
In early October, Lenin insisted again that the Bolsheviks unleashed the insurrection without delay. However, Zinoviev and Kamenev led the opposition in the CC. When it finally approved the insurrection, the two leaders exposed their opposition on the Soviet press, breaking the party discipline.
The 2nd All-Russia Congress of Soviets was convened for the 25th of October. The Provisional Government, fearing the Bolshevik uprising, tried to send troops from Petrograd to the front, which would leave the capital unguarded before the German troops.
The Petrograd Soviet then formed the Revolutionary Military Committee, chaired by Trotsky himself, who controlled all military orders of the Provisional Government. Indeed, the power was already in the hands of the Soviets and the Bolsheviks who led them.
On October 25, the troops of the Military Revolutionary Committee occupied the strategic points of the city, on the grounds of defending the capital from the German army and to ensure the safety of the 2nd Congress of Soviets. On the evening of the same day, the revolutionary troops led by the Bolshevik Antonov-Ovseenko took the Winter Palace and arrested the remaining ministers of the Provisional Government. Kerensky had fled.
The 2nd Congress of Soviets endorsed the removal from power of the Provisional Government and its transfer to the Soviets. The Mensheviks and the Right Social Revolutionaries left the Congress. The Bolsheviks reached an agreement with the Left Social revolutionaries to form a workers’ and peasants’ government.
Lenin begun his speech at the Congress of Soviets, which lasted several minutes. When it finished, he said simply, ‘We shall now proceed to construct the socialist order.’ The 2nd Congress then ratified the first decrees of the Soviet government on peace and land distribution to peasants. The October Revolution had triumphed.