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History: 90th anniversary of the Russian Revolution – When the working class took power

By Peter Taaffe

The capitalist media have made little comment on the 90th anniversary of the 1917 October Revolution in Russia. Yet on the 80th anniversary in 1997, capitalist commentators and historians produced books and articles seeking to denigrate revolutions in general and the Russian Revolution in particular. This year, just one such book by Robert V. Daniels: The Rise and Fall of Communism in Russia has so far been published.

Peter Taaffe looks at the events of the October revolution and asks: does this comparative silence have something to do with the changed background to discussion about the events of October 1917?

A PDF version is available here

Unlike ten years ago, a kaleidoscope of ‘colour’ or ‘flower’ revolutions in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, and now the ‘saffron’ revolution in Burma, have broken out. These ‘revolutions’ are acceptable to representatives of the possessing classes because they have not challenged the foundations of capitalist rule but, if anything, have sought to consolidate and ‘perfect’ them.

History - 90th anniversary of the Russian RevolutionThe October 1917 Russian Revolution by contrast instituted for the first time working-class power. As tsarist General Zalessky, speaking for the ‘dispossessed’ capitalists and landlords, said when he mournfully surveyed the Russian Revolution:

“Who would believe that the janitor or watchman of the Court building would suddenly become Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals, or the hospital orderly manager of the hospital, the barber a big functionary, yesterday’s ensign [junior military officer] the commander-in-chief, yesterday’s lackey or common labourer burgomaster, yesterday’s train oiler chief of division or station superintendent, yesterday’s locksmith head of the factory?”

But that was precisely what Russia became after the Bolsheviks led the Russian masses to overthrow the landlord and capitalist system, crowned by the tsarist dictatorship, that was a torture chamber for the mass of the people. Moreover, only in Russia, following the October overturn, did the workers take power and establish real workers’ democracy.

In the last 90 years there have been many opportunities for the working class to follow the path of the Russian workers of 1917. Robert V. Daniels argues falsely that revolutions are a product of “underdeveloped” societies in the first stages of industrialisation.

Yet, in the post-second world war period, a revolutionary wave even greater than that following the Russian Revolution swept Western Europe – in Italy, in France, even in Britain, where troops voted Labour en masse because they were determined to end the mass unemployment and poverty of the interwar years.

In 1968, in France, there was a general strike of ten million workers, the greatest in history. They occupied the factories and reached out for power but were blocked by the leaders of their own organisations, the Communist Party, trade union and ‘socialist’ leaders.

In the Portuguese Revolution of 1974, the capitalist state disintegrated. The great majority of Portugal’s officer caste was enormously radicalised, moving in the direction of socialism, (in Russia, the officers remained implacably hostile, in the main, to the revolution).

In all these cases, the revolutionary process took place in Europe, in ‘developed’ advanced industrial countries. Revolution, a social overturn, unfolds when there is no other way out. Before this, the masses advance and retreat several times before they believe it is necessary to undertake the ‘final assault’. This is how the Russian Revolution developed over nine months, through different phases of revolution and counter-revolution.

The July Days prepared the ground for the counter-revolution’s offensive, with its brutal hounding of the Bolsheviks and massive slander. This culminated in tsarist General Kornilov’s attempt, under the cover of the Kerensky coalition, to drown the revolution in blood with a march on Petrograd.

The Menshevik/Social Revolutionary coalition government was suspended in mid-air as the masses themselves, under the leadership of the Bolsheviks – some of them released from jail like Trotsky to defend Petrograd – smashed Kornilov’s coup.

Similarly, when General Spinola attempted to derail the revolution in Portugal by seizing power in March 1975, the Portuguese working class, emulating the actions of their brothers and sisters 58 years before – without knowing it – completely undermined Spinola’s forces. Workers’ fraternisation tactics even won over Spinola’s special battalions of paratroopers. This in turn propelled the revolution forward, resulting in 70% of industry being taken over.

Kornilov’s defeat in 1917, however, did not result in a similar outcome because of the Mensheviks’ and Social Revolutionaries’ hostility to the idea of taking power and establishing a socialist regime.

A revolution is not the product of a handful of individuals proceeding to stage a ‘coup’, as capitalist historians argue. Daniels’ book implies that the October Revolution could have been prevented: “The moderate soviet leaders could have forestalled the Bolshevik demand for ‘All power to the soviets’ only by taking full power themselves.”

He cites another historian: “If Kerensky had made immediate peace and given all land to the peasants, it is possible that Lenin would never have come to the Kremlin. Such a programme, of course, was Bolshevism in 1917. Its rejection by the moderate elements assured the triumph of their opponents.”

But these ‘moderates’, tied hand and foot to capitalism and landlordism, could not carry out this programme. Thoroughgoing land reform met the resistance of the landlords and the capitalists, who were very often one and the same, united through bank capital.

The agricultural revolution in Russia – one of the tasks of the capitalist-democratic revolution – could only be implemented by a workers and peasants’ government coming to power. The Bolsheviks, and only the Bolsheviks, worked for this throughout the tumultuous events of 1917.

Initially, the masses were confused and hostile to the Bolsheviks’ ideas. In July, when the Bolsheviks were persecuted and driven underground, the Donetz miners, then under the influence of the compromising Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, took an oath at a gathering of 5,000 people reading: “We swear by our children, by God… that we will never relinquish the freedom bought with blood on 28 February 1917… we will never listen to the Leninists [who] are leading Russia to ruin, whereas the Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks say: ‘The land to the people, land without indemnities; the capitalist structure must fall after the war and in place of capitalism there must be a socialist structure’.”

As Trotsky commented, this oath directed against the Bolsheviks in reality led straight to the Bolshevik revolution. They were the only ones who could give land, peace, bread and freedom. Their opponents were tied to the system that was incapable of delivering this to them.

Slowly, as the masses saw and understood what the Bolsheviks stood for, hostility to their policies was remoulded into deep, implacable support. One soldier in the Moscow garrison said: “After the attempt of Kornilov, all the troops acquired a Bolshevik colour… All were struck by the way in which the statement (of the Bolsheviks) came true… that General Kornilov would soon be at the gates of Petrograd.”

Growth of Bolsheviks

The Bolsheviks grew massively in August and September. The masses “drink up the Bolshevik slogans just as naturally as they breathe air”. Conversely, the Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks collapsed; the former from 375,000 votes in elections to the Moscow Duma in June to only 54,000 in September.

The Petrograd garrison boasted 90% for the Bolsheviks, in some detachments over 95%. In the shop and factory committees, the same process was clear. At the beginning of the revolution in February, the Bolsheviks were a small minority with 1% or 2% in the soviets and only 4% when Lenin returned to Russia in April 1917.

At that stage, Lenin declared: “We must base ourselves only upon the consciousness of the masses. Even if it is necessary to remain in a minority, so be it … We will carry on the work of criticism in order to free the masses from deceit. Our line will prove right. All the oppressed will come to us. They have no other way out.” And so it proved in the tumultuous months following Kornilov’s defeat.

Revolution is a process, which Daniels points out, “develops over a period of years, through discernible stages”. This description, generally correct in its time-scale, did not apply to Russia because the urgency of ending the slaughter of the first world war gave the revolution its concentrated character and high tempo.

But revolutions, ultimately, arrive at decisive moments when power is posed. If the oppressed masses do not seize the opportunity, then a downswing occurs where the former exploiters seek to take back the revolution’s gains through counter-revolution.

Sometimes this assumes a bloody character, as it did after the defeat of the 1925-27 revolution in China, in the bloody terror of Chiang Kai-shek’s Guomindang and the murder, rape and brutality of invading imperialist armies like the Japanese.

Undoubtedly, if the working class had not taken power, then a new Kornilov and a reign of terror, not the ‘tranquil’ humane capitalist democracy dreamed of by capitalist professors, would have ensued. But a revolution is determined by the whole preceding period and the existence of certain prerequisites. In Russia, the ruling classes – the nobility, monarchy, bureaucracy and the politically weak capitalists, with no real roots in the mass of the people – were rotting away.

The oppressed nationalities’ demands for freedom were denied by the compromisers. The revolt of the peasantry and the demand for the land was widespread. 77% of the peasant departments were in revolt that autumn. The working class – concentrated in big factories and a dynamic force – felt that they “could no longer live like this”. This was undoubtedly the mood in autumn 1917.

These conditions may exist, yet a revolutionary opportunity can still be missed through faulty leadership. History shows this, both before 1917 and since. Friedrich Engels, co-founder of the ideas of scientific socialism with Karl Marx, pointed out that there can be periods in the life of society when 20 years is like one day and then there can be one day when the events of 20 years are concentrated.

Broadly speaking, this is what characterises a revolutionary period. Lenin, in urging the Bolshevik party to lead the revolution, wrote from the Finnish underground where murder threats had driven him after the July days, that the fate of Russia could be decided in two or three days.

In reality, the possibility of the working class and poor peasants taking power lasted only two or three months, probably in September and October. Immediately before the October overturn, the masses in Petrograd and elsewhere were becoming impatient, muttering that perhaps the Bolsheviks were like other parties, would dither and not take power. To the left of the Bolsheviks, the anarchists began to grow.

Fearful that the Bolsheviks could miss the opportunity and, from exile, fearing that even the soviets had degenerated under Menshevik and Social Revolutionary influence, Lenin urged the Bolshevik party to take power, basing itself on the more representative shop stewards and factory committees.

Trotsky, present in Petrograd, was more in touch with the colossal changes being wrought in the soviets. The ‘parent’ of all Russia’s soviets, the Petrograd soviet, swung decisively towards the Bolsheviks. Meanwhile, Kerensky’s coalition government sought to move the most revolutionary battalions of soldiers out of Petrograd, obviously in preparation for a march on ‘Bolshevik’ Petrograd.

To counter this the Petrograd soviet, which had installed Trotsky as its chairman in September, organised a Military Revolutionary Committee to defend the revolution’s gains. This body carried through the October insurrection. For this to be achieved, it needed the existence of the ‘subjective factor’, the Bolshevik party. The existence of this party led to the successful October Revolution.

International impact

Daniels argues that the Bolsheviks failed in their ‘internationalist’ perspective: “Despite the high hopes of 1919, world revolution failed to materialise.” On the contrary, the October Revolution initiated the ‘Ten Days that Shook the World’. Lenin and Trotsky saw the Russian Revolution as the impetus to a European and world revolution.

There were revolutions in Germany in 1918, in Hungary in 1919 and a series of upheavals which, if the working class of the rest of Europe had possessed a leadership like the Bolsheviks, would have completely transformed the situation in Europe and the world, and with it changed history.

The role of a mass party cannot be separated from the process of revolution. It is like the forceps for an obstetrician at a difficult birth. Without this, revolutions can and have resulted in abortions.

Despite abundant revolutionary opportunities in the 20th century and in this one (Nepal, for instance), only in Russia did the working class directly take power and establish – for a short time (1917-23), it is true – workers’ democracy. This meant the election of all officials, the right of recall, no official to receive more than the average worker, etc.

Because of the blight of totalitarian Stalinism, the atrophy and collapse of the old working class organisations – the social democracy and communist parties – and their hollowing out into empty bureaucratic machines, new generations of young people and workers tend to reject the idea of ‘parties’ and even organisation.

Yet, without the lever of a mass party with a farsighted revolutionary leadership, history shows that a revolutionary opportunity can be squandered with terrible consequences for the masses. The lesson of the Russian Revolution is that a party is required but one that bases itself on politically aware workers with their conscious control, democracy and influence reflected at all levels.

The same applies to the kind of state needed in transition from capitalism to socialism. Daniels writes: “Every great revolution has ended in some sort of dictatorship.” So it has been, so it will be in the future, he implies. Entirely discounted are the objective realities confronting revolutions up to now.

For instance, the great 18th century French Revolution took place in a state with a higher economic and cultural level than those surrounding it. Mortally afraid that they would meet the same fate as France’s royalty and aristocracy, feudal Europe, together with the British capitalists, ganged up against revolutionary France. This was one factor leading the revolution from the extreme democracy of the sans culottes through stages to Bonaparte’s dictatorship.

The Russian Revolution, the greatest single event in human history, was carried through on the basis of the most democratic organisations of the working class, the soviets (workers’ committees) and of the most democratic workers’ state ever seen.

It degenerated not because Stalinism was inherent in Marxism-Leninism, as Daniels and others imply, but because of the Russian Revolution’s isolation. Lenin and Trotsky never perceived it possible to establish socialism in isolation in such an economically and culturally backward society. Only the triumph of the European revolution would have guaranteed the maintenance and extension of the democracy from the outset, through the construction of a European socialist united states.

Instead, the young workers’ state was confronted with civil war, as the dispossessed landlords and capitalists collaborated with 21 armies of imperialism to try to destroy this state. At one stage, the revolution was confined to two cities, Petrograd and Moscow. The rest of Russia was in the hands of landlord-capitalist reaction.

However, the revolution’s class and internationalist appeal ultimately led to victory, which would have been impossible without the mass support of the European and worldwide working class.

Daniels’ arguments about Bolshevism’s inherent dictatorial character during the civil war are bogus. He indicts the Bolsheviks for banning parties opposed to them. He leaves out one small detail. All these parties except for the fascistic, right-wing reactionary Black Hundreds, were allowed to exist in the first stage after the revolution. Only when they took up arms, resorted to the methods of civil war, did the Bolsheviks take action.

How did Abraham Lincoln act towards the slaveholders during the American Civil War? Did he allow their representatives to function in areas controlled by the Union? Did Oliver Cromwell and the parliamentary forces in the English Civil War let King Charles I’s forces operate in their areas?

Merely posing the question shows how absurd and abstract is ‘democracy’ for the exploiters in a civil war, a war between the classes. Such methods, however, would not be necessary when a revolution develops in an advanced industrial country, which will inevitably spread internationally. There are now convulsions on the world financial markets – a harbinger of coming economic recession.

Much as some sneer at the prospect of revolution in the modern era, these convulsions, together with massive ‘unfortunate‘ social eruptions (which they freely describe as ‘revolutions’ when they are on capitalism’s ‘periphery’), will become a reality in the 21st century in the ‘advanced’ societies as well.

This is the final article in our series on the events of 1917 in Russia. See below for the first three parts, and a reprint from the 80th Anniversary in 1997.

Russia 1917: The ‘July days’ – Rich in lessons for today by Peter Taaffe in The Socialist (England & Wales)

Russia 1917: Lenin’s April return from exile by Peter Taaffe in The Socialist (England & Wales)

Russia 1917: The February Revolution – What lessons for today? by Peter Taaffe in The Socialist (England & Wales)

Reprint: The legacy of the Russian Revolution by Peter Taaffe in Socialism Today

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The 1917 ‘July days’ – Rich in lessons for today

By Peter Taaffe, The Socialist (England & Wales)

Between February and October 1917 there were many sharp turns in the situation in Russia. In April, the government coalition of ‘socialists’ – the Social Revolutionaries (SRs) and Mensheviks (minority) – with the capitalist ministers, continued the bloody first world war.

Lenin, Trotsky and Kamenev

However, the mass of workers, together with the peasants, particularly the ten million soldiers, were absolutely exhausted by the war and yearned for the end of the slaughter. But even the worker and peasant councils, the soviets, which were dominated by the SRs and Mensheviks, actually supported continuation of the war.

Revolution never develops in a straight line

These parties were also hostile to the demands of the workers, for instance, for an eight-hour day. Initially the capitalists retreated in the face of this long-standing demand of the workers. Many times in history, faced with a mass onslaught, the possessing classes have bent with the wind, only later to try to undermine whatever ‘reforms’ are temporarily conceded. We see in France today, with the coming to power of the right-wing Sarkozy government, how the 35-hour week, conceded by the earlier Socialist government of Jospin, is set to be destroyed if the government gets its way.

Yet, a shorter working day is vital for participation of the masses in making decisions and putting them into practise, particularly in a period of revolution. If the working class is chained to the factory and office, as is the case today, there is little or no time left to be involved in ‘civic life’, in the trade unions or political parties. Britain has the longest working week in western Europe. Many workers are compelled to take two or even three jobs to keep their heads above water. And, on the basis of capitalism, it could get a lot worse: “We are in the early stages of a trend towards longer hours that could last for the next 30 years or more” (Hamish McRae, The Independent).

A principled position

The first all-Russian congress of soviets on 3 June 1917, dominated by the SRs and Mensheviks, refused to ratify the eight-hour day. This and other issues infuriated the masses, particularly in Petrograd, and led to growth of support for the Bolsheviks. At the beginning of the revolution, as Trotsky explained: “Not only in the soldiers’ soviets but also in the workers’ soviets, the Bolshevik faction generally constituted 1-2%, at best 5%. The leading bodies of the petty-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”.

From the beginning, the Bolsheviks were systematically attacked because they expressed the real interests of the masses for bread, peace, land and freedom. On a smaller scale, there is an element of this present today, particularly in the unions in Britain. Socialist Party members as well as other militants are singled out for attack both by the employers and the conservative trade union officialdom.

For instance, in the National Union of Teachers former ‘lefts’ have tended to coalesce with the leadership. Socialist Party members in that union have stood out against their prevarications over the issue of an early ballot for strike action for an improved pay rise. This has earned them the charge of ‘sectarianism’ from this ‘coalition’ which includes practically every other political trend in the union.

This ironically includes the Socialist Workers Party, which is a byword for real sectarianism as well as a denunciatory approach towards others. But Marxists have always been accused of being ‘sectarians’ whenever they dare to speak the truth to the working class. This is invariably accompanied by attempts to persecute Marxists in the unions, as is now the case in UNISON.

To the working class

The Bolsheviks ignored the parliamentary babblers and the top layer of the workers’ movement but concentrated their attention on the masses and particularly the most oppressed millions and tens of millions. The whole press, including the papers of the Mensheviks and SRs carried out a vicious campaign against the Bolsheviks.

Even in the first months after February, there was a torrent of abuse, suggesting that carloads of gold had been delivered to the Bolsheviks from Germany and that Lenin was hiding in a German aeroplane. This even led soldiers and sailors to threaten to bayonet Lenin and other leaders of Bolshevism!

But the brutal experience of the masses in the trenches and factories led to disillusionment with the other parties. Yesterday’s indignation of the soldier and sailor against the Bolsheviks became remoulded into passionate devotion to them and unselfish readiness to follow them to the very end. And, on the other hand, the hatred of the masses for the capitalist Cadet party was inevitably transferred to their allies, the Mensheviks and SRs.

In the poll tax struggle in Britain in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and in the epic 1983-1987 Liverpool struggle, Militant, now the Socialist Party, experienced something similar. From a small force, we became the dominant political trend in the Liverpool struggle.

This was achieved not through manoeuvres, as our right-wing and left reformist opponents argued at that time and since, but by winning through argument and action mass working-class support through correct perspectives, programme, strategy and tactics, and a preparedness ‘to go to the end’ in the struggle against Thatcher. The same applied in the poll tax struggle where it was Militant, not the small, left, phrase mongering organisations existing then and today, and certainly not the ‘babblers’ of the Parliamentary Labour Party, which led a movement of 18 million non-payers – an unprecedented mass movement. This not only defeated the poll tax but reduced Thatcher and her government to rubble.

Changes in consciousness

In 1917, the working masses, who learn quickly in a revolution, transferred their hopes to the Bolsheviks, who grew rapidly. From 2,000 members in Petrograd in February 1917 – some historians put the figure at 3,000 – they grew to 16,000 by April (with 79,000 nationally). By the July Days, Bolshevik party membership stood at 200,000.

The indignation of the masses against the government was reflected in June; on the 18th of that month a massive demonstration of between 500,000 and 800,000 workers marched through Petrograd. The Menshevik and SR majority had themselves been compelled to call the demonstration, as a means of heading off one proposed by the masses of Petrograd under the influence of the Bolshevik rank and file. But they completely miscalculated.

As the “delegates to the congress assembled on Mars Field, [they] read and counted the placards” (Trotsky). During the demonstration, the first Bolshevik slogans were met half-laughingly by the soviet dignitaries but “the same slogans were repeated again and again. ‘Down with the ten minister-capitalists’, ‘down with the offensive’ and, most importantly, ‘All power to the Soviets’.” (Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution, p462).

Reactionary pro-capitalist historians suggest revolution arises either from ‘conspiracy’ or the result of a revolutionary party’s ‘agitation’. However, revolutions take place according to clear laws. The mass of the population may be unaware of these laws but the changes in mass consciousness result primarily from objective developments. This is capable of being anticipated and explained in advance by Marxist theory.

The 1917 June days led directly to the July ‘half-insurrection’. This was similar to what has happened in previous revolutions: the ‘June days’ in the 1848 revolution, the ‘Spartacist uprising’ of January 1919, and the ‘May Days’ in Barcelona in 1937.

The working masses are conscious of having made a revolution, overthrowing an old regime, but the gains are being snatched out of their hands. They therefore come out onto the streets to prevent this. This is what took place at the beginning of July 1917, particularly in Petrograd.

Rather than this being an indication that the Bolsheviks were, at that stage, set on a ‘seizure of power’, as right-wing historian Richard Pipes argued, the Bolsheviks and Lenin in particular did everything at that stage in their power to apply the brakes.

There was massive impatience in the ranks of the working class, with even Bolshevik influenced workers demanding: “Why don’t they get busy up there?”, having in mind not only the Mensheviks and SRs, but also the governing bodies of the Bolsheviks. But an attempt to overthrow the Provisional government at that stage was premature.

The 1905 revolution, a dress rehearsal for 1917, had failed partly because the peasants were not ready to fully support the workers. In July 1917 Petrograd was ahead of the rest of the country. On 21 June, Lenin appealed in the newspaper Pravda to the Petrograd workers and soldiers to wait until events “should bring over the heavy reserves to the side of Petrograd”.

At the same time the government was trying to move revolutionary detachments from Petrograd to the war front. The mood of the working class rose to fever pitch, with demands for action by armed soldiers: “Come on, let’s get moving!”. When the Bolsheviks tried to restrain the workers, there were cries of “Down with it! Again you want to postpone things. We can’t live that way any longer”.

The Bolsheviks then switched tack. They recognised that the impatient workers of Petrograd, who gave two-thirds of their votes in the soviets to the Bolsheviks at the beginning of July, were determined to come out onto the streets to confront the government. Because of this, they concluded that they had to put themselves at the head of the demonstration.

Lenin is condemned by the historian Pipes as a “hopeless vacillator”, unable to make up his mind in June and July. On the contrary, Lenin opposed a demonstration to begin with but then, recognising the mood of the masses, urged the Bolsheviks to lead the demonstration in order to mitigate too much damage.

When the mass demonstration on 4 July took place it was accompanied by a furious capitalist propaganda offensive denouncing the Bolsheviks’ “attempt to seize power”. Lenin and the Bolsheviks were in receipt of ‘German funds’ and the street demonstrations in July had been ‘directed by the Germans’.

The demonstrators were fired on and a wave of repression – including the death of one young Bolshevik – was unleashed. This was with the full support of the “entire socialist press” – that is the papers of the Mensheviks and SRs. One newspaper editor wrote confidently at the time: “The Bolsheviks are compromised, discredited, and crushed. More than that, they have been expelled from Russian life, their teachings have turned out to be an irreversible failure” (Alexander Rabinovich, The Bolsheviks Come to Power, p51).

Repression and the ‘month of the Great Slander’ were unleashed against the workers and the Bolsheviks. Some of them, like Lenin, were compelled to go underground and others were jailed. Another historian, Orlando Figes, accuses: “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”.

The same ‘objective’ historian writes a paragraph later: “However, given the frenzied anti-Bolshevik atmosphere, it is not hard to see why Lenin should be so concerned for his personal safety. This was a time of lynch law and the tabloid press was full of cartoons showing Lenin on the scaffold”.

Lenin’s refusal to appear before the courts at that stage, which would have been comprised of the bitterest class enemies of the workers, peasants and Bolsheviks, was entirely correct. As Trotsky commented: “It is sufficient to remember the fate of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg”. These two great leaders of the German revolution were murdered by reactionary Junkers, which effectively politically beheaded the German revolution. Lenin went into hiding not out of concern for himself but because of what was at stake for the revolution. For him, the interests of the revolution were paramount. If neither Lenin nor Trotsky had survived, the Russian revolution would have been shipwrecked.

Whip of counter-revolution

The period after July was a ‘festival of reaction’. But the forces of counter-revolution were not sufficiently strong to completely crush the Bolsheviks and the workers’ organisations.

The slanderous campaign against the Bolsheviks has some echoes – but not of course on the same scale – in all the past big social and class movements in Britain. Look at the vilification by The Sun, television and radio of Arthur Scargill and the miners during the heroic 1984-85 strike. Tony Benn was depicted as ‘Hitler’ in The Sun when he stood for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party in the early 1980s.

Similarly, every capitalist newspaper nationally and locally vilified the Liverpool Militants during their epic struggle, reaching a peak after Kinnock attacked Militant in 1985. This did not stop the Liverpool Marxists from winning every election under the banner of Labour – which was a workers’ party at the bottom at that stage – when they were in power during the 1980s.

Similarly, the repression and slander did not break the Bolsheviks or the Russian working class. Sometimes, as Karl Marx pointed out, revolution needs the whip of counter-revolution. The counter-revolution post-July 1917 culminated in the attempt of the right-wing General Kornilov – “the heart of a lion and the brain of a sheep” – to seize power from the government in August 1917.

But Kornilov’s coup was defeated by the working class with the Bolsheviks playing the most prominent role. There was a similar development in the Portuguese revolution when the right-wing General Spinola attempted to seize power from the Socialist-Communist coalition in March 1975. He was defeated by the desertion of his own troops, which in turn pushed the revolution to the left. Like the Kornilov troops in 1917, they refused to take action in support of Spinola once the real situation was explained to them.

The August 1917 events led to preparation for the October revolution, which will be the subject of a future article. However, like all phases of the Russian revolution, the July Days are rich in lessons for future struggles. Of course, Russia in 1917 was far removed from the advanced industrial countries of Europe, Japan and the USA today – it was a backward country dominated by peasants.

But the laws of revolution and counter-revolution under capitalism have a relevance in all countries and eras. In the last 90 years, there have been many opportunities for the working class to follow in the path of the Russian workers of 1917. But, unlike 1917, because of faulty leadership the opportunity to effect change was not seized. Even some capitalist commentators today have a dim awareness that beneath the gloss and economic fireworks their system is shaky.

Jeremy Warner, in the business section of The Independent of 23 June, explains “Why I’ve dusted off my Das Kapital“. He states: “The world as it was then [the 19th century industrial revolution] is not without its parallels in today’s supercharged global economy, and, after decades in the wilderness, it is possible that some of Karl Marx’s central ideas might enjoy something of a revival”. He hastens to add: “I’m not talking here about revolutionary communism”. God forbid!

But capitalism is preparing the ground for ‘social ruptures’, that is, mass movements with the threat of revolution, throughout the globe. Warner himself writes about “new and quite unexpected forms of class conflict and envy”.

Ruptures, social revolution, are not just possible but likely in the future. It will differ in many respects from 1917. But the processes will be similar to the great events of 90 years ago.

The new generation of young people and workers in particular must prepare for these events by studying the real history of the Russian revolution.