Ted Grant

Russian Revolution: 50 years after

Source: Militant, No. 31, November 1967
Markup: Emil 2006, updated April 2008 (Francesco & Maarten)

Workers of the world unite!

Two generations have passed since the November (Western calendar) revolution in Russia of 1917. Two generations which have seen two world wars, the rise and decline of Fascism in Western Europe, the Great Slump of 1929, the uprising of the colonial people against the old Empires, and the new technological revolution in the highly industrialised countries since the end of the Second World War. All these factors have increased immensely the contradictions within capitalism, and between capitalism and the third of the world where capitalism and landlordism have been overthrown.

Hovering menacingly over mankind is the capacity to destroy itself, with the development of nuclear and other frightful weapons of war. On the other side is the possibility of immense abundance and a fruitful and creative life for all the peoples of the world.

The Russian Revolution is recognised now by even capitalist sociologists and economists as the greatest event of this century. In fact it marked the greatest event in world history. It cannot [be understood] and was not understood by its real leaders, Lenin and Trotsky, as a purely Russian event, but as the beginning of the Socialist revolution on a European and world scale. Beginning in one of the most backward countries in the world it looked forward eagerly to being joined by the working class of the West. The working class of Western Europe, the advanced layers of the working class in all countries, looked towards Russia as a beacon of advancement in the movement towards a better society and towards Socialism.

International capital joined together with the defeated Russian capitalists and landlords in a war of intervention, involving all the great capitalist powers. They were forced to withdraw by the protest movements of the working class and mutinies of the armies and navies of intervention.

The aims of the revolution were simple and clear. They had been worked out theoretically by Marx. Rule by the working class, as a step towards Socialism. From the beginning, a higher form of democracy than under capitalism. This involved the rule of the Soviets, spontaneously set up [by] the workers during the course of the revolution. These Soviets were committees of factory workers, peasants, housewives, democratically and freely elected. This was to replace the capitalists’ state machine. No official was to receive higher pay than that of a skilled worker. In place of a standing army was to come the armed people. Instead of a bureaucratic hierarchy, gradually all jobs in the administration of the state, were to be done by everyone in turn. Thus when everyone was a “bureaucrat” no one could be a bureaucrat. In Lenin’s aphorism “every cook should be able to be Prime Minister”. These aims were [present at] the beginning of the revolution.

However, the revolution in Germany and the revolutionary situation in Western Europe did not reach fruition, for many reasons [for] which there is no space in this article to explain. The revolution remained isolated in a backward country. Gradually power was usurped out of the hands of the workers and peasants, by the millions of officials, by the bureaucracy. This was expressed in the rise to power of Stalin with the “theory” of Socialism in one country.

Just before his death Lenin had formed a bloc with Trotsky to fight the growing power of the bureaucracy in the State and the Party. The Left Opposition was formed with a programme of internationalism and industrialisation on the basis of Five Year Plans. It was no accident that Stalin and the bureaucracy opposed the plan as Utopian. They reflected the blind forces of the reaction against the revolution. Later after the defeat of the Opposition, in caricature form the plan was to be adopted.

On the basis of State ownership and the planning of production, dazzling results were achieved, despite the dead hand of the bureaucracy. But with the growth of production grew the appetites of the ruling clique. They defended the new form of production, of planning and the nationalisation of industry and the collectivisation of agriculture. But the original aims of the revolution were abandoned. Not one of the conditions worked out by Lenin remains in existence today. A bloody purge was begun against the Old Bolsheviks who had carried out the revolution. Hundreds of thousands were murdered and millions exiled to Siberia. Stalin carried out a political counter-revolution, but on the basis of the economic gains of the revolution.

The Communist International was transformed into an instrument of Russian foreign policy. The policy of the leaders of the Communist Party in Germany, aided by the Social-Democratic leaders led to the victory of Hitler, the defeats of the Spanish Revolution and the movement of the French working class. Thus the way was prepared for the outbreak of the Second World War.

In Russia itself, the purges wiped out the overwhelming majority of the officer cadres of the Red Army and Stalin tried to placate Hitler. Despite warnings of an attack by trustworthy agents and despite the movement of German troops towards the frontiers of Russia, Stalin refused to act. At the beginning of the war the fire-power of the Russian army was greater than that of the German army, but in the first attack 95 percent of Russia’s planes were destroyed on the ground. Timoshenko, Voroshilov and Budyenny were creatures of Stalin but incapable generals. After the first defeats, they had to be replaced. Hitler seized the most industrialised areas of the Soviet Union. The war in Europe was largely a struggle between Russia and Nazi Germany. Russia established factories behind the Urals concentrated on arms production, and outproduced Hitler who had almost the entire resources of Europe at his disposal. This was due to the superiority of State ownership and planning. Russia emerged victorious from the war, through the self-sacrifice of the masses and at a cost of 20 million lives.

With the rapid building up of production, the differentiation between the masses on one side and the managers, generals, party bureaucrats, and state officials, on the other, grew greater and greater, and with it the dissatisfaction of the workers and peasants. In 1953 Stalin prepared for a new purge, in order to consolidate his rule. Earlier the people who had carried through the revolution had been denounced as fascist agents, while they were replaced in many cases by White Guards officials, such as Maisky, the Russian Ambassador in Britain. Now a new “plot” was conceived: the “doctors’ plot” to kill Stalin. Conveniently at this moment Stalin died. The tops of the bureaucracy feared the effects of a new purge personally and for the economy. Thus they clearly decided to get rid of Stalin.

In 1956 at the 20th Congress of the so-called Russian Communist Party, which had become a tool of the bureaucracy, Khrushchev made his revelations of the crimes of Stalin, which were declared to be due to the “cult of personality”. But dictatorial regimes must reflect social crises, and not the whims of one man, be he a Hitler or a Stalin! The real reason for the denunciation of Stalin was the political crisis in the Soviet Union due to the effects of bureaucracy, and fear of a movement of the working class. It was a reform from the top to prevent political revolution from below!

The slave camps in Siberia were disbanded. This was due as much to the development of machine industry in the “Soviet” Union as to sentiment for the victims of Stalin’s crimes. Forced labour is very inefficient and expensive. Many of the Old Bolshevik victims of the purges were rehabilitated. Whole peoples had been denounced by Stalin, and men, women and children exiled to Siberia. Only recently have the Tatar people of the Crimea belatedly been exonerated from alleged collaboration with the Nazis, and given the freedom to return to the Crimea if they wish.

However, the political dictatorship established by Stalin has been retained. The bureaucracy, while making concessions to the masses, has further reinforced the regime of inequality and privilege. With the growth of production the bureaucracy has become less and less a relatively progressive factor and more and more become a fetter on production. In every sector, in industry, science, technique and art, the bureaucratic stranglehold is becoming more and more incompatible with the development of Russian society.

Nevertheless, the achievements (of which the recent sputnik sent to Venus is an example) are staggering. This is due entirely to state ownership and a plan, and in spite of the inefficiency and waste. Russia, from an underdeveloped country, has become the second industrial super-power of the world. She spends more on education per head of population than any other country of the world. Last year Russia produced nearly 100 million tons of steel. In the machine tool industry Russia has the highest production in the world. This means an even swifter advance in the future.

However, the regime of absolutism, though moderate in comparison with the Stalin terror, remains intact. In a highly cultured society and with the most educated working class in the world, this becomes more and more a fetter on the development of society. 30 to 50 percent of production each year is wasted! Far from moving towards Socialism, inequality and privilege are further reinforced.

Uprising of Russian Workers

Reports of a recent uprising in the Russian town of Chimkent, Kazakhstan, have, in the last month, crept into the Western press.

The Guardian 24/10/67 relates that “earlier reports said that the rioting began after the town police had beaten up a taxi driver… whom they had detained for a minor traffic offence. The driver died of his injuries”. As a result the report continues “large numbers of people joined the taxi drivers when they marched on the central police station to protest… but troops, tanks, and armoured cars had by then arrived from Tashkent about 75 miles and opened fire on them… The disturbances lasted well into the night”. As a reprisal the local Kazakhstan Pravda reported three of the leading participants were executed and an unspecified number jailed.

These reports, never denied by the Government organs, nor for that matter the British “Communist” Party sufficiently demonstrate the claim made in the article elsewhere that the corrupt totalitarian regime stands in stark relief to the democratic demands of the people. An indication of the undercurrent of popular indignation (which the Guardian maintains has been simmering for a while) is given by the fact that not only troops but tanks and armoured cars were deployed against the demonstrators. The methods of the present regime are reminiscent of the czarist police. They have nothing in common with the traditions of the Revolution of 50 years ago.

The nationalist degeneration of an outmoded capitalism is equaled by the nationalist degeneration of the Russian bureaucracy. On this level the bureaucracy competes in the so called “Socialist” world of Eastern Europe, with each national bureaucracy standing for its own interests, with Stalinist China and Yugoslavia, and competes with American imperialism in giving aid to the rotten tops of the “undeveloped” world.

Just at the time when the “profit motive” in the West is showing its bankruptcy, the bureaucrats, in order to give an “incentive” to the bureaucratic management are introducing the profit motive as an index for production, with an enormous rake-off for the managers, because they can see no way out for the economy. In time this will fail, as have the previous attempts at decentralisation, recentralisation, and now a further decentralisation of industry. The pace of production is increasing only by spurts, and the crisis of the regime remains unsolved. The present five year plan will largely be successful, but the social contradictions will be further increased, despite the enormous increase in standards of living in comparison with the past.

The shadow of the revolution still menaces the ruling stratum in the Soviet Union. While paying lip-service, they dread the genuine traditions of the revolution. The working class is becoming more and more critical. Despite the successes, crisis racks the society. It is a question of which will come first, social revolution in the West, or political revolution in the East. The tradition of October, of a movement towards equality, of steps in the direction of Socialism and the dissolution of the State within society, still remain, despite the filth collected in the last decades.

On new foundations, no longer with a working class of 4 million, uneducated and illiterate in a backward country, but an industrial society with a working class of 100 million, on the basis of state ownership and planned production, the working masses will return to the regime of workers’ democracy established by Lenin and Trotsky. Like the October revolution this would set up a chain reaction and prepare the way for an international Socialist Federation of States, for the purpose of planning production on an international scale. Similarly, the reason why there can be a relative détente between Russia and the West is that the bureaucracy fears the overthrow of capitalism in any of the main capitalist nations, which could only result in workers’ democracy, because of the effect it would have on the Russian workers. The revolution in China and Eastern Europe began in the distorted form in which the Russian revolution ended. This represented no direct threat to the Russian bureaucracy or to world capitalism, except that the capitalist world had shrunk. Social revolution in an advanced country, like the political revolution in Hungary, represents the beginning of the end for world capitalism as well as for the national Stalinist bureaucracies in Asia and Europe.