Alexander Bittelman

Lessons of the Russian Revolution

Source: The Communist, Vol. VI, No. 7, November 1927, pp. 442-450.
Publisher: Workers (Communist) Party of America
Transcription/HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

TO ATTEMPT to derive and formulate the lessons of the Russian Revolution means to analyze the meaning, the paths and the methods of the historic struggles of the toiling masses of Russia in one of the greatest social revolutions that ever occurred. In fact, it means to analyze the meaning and formulate the lessons of the first working class revolution in the history of society, an event which ushered in the period of the world social revolution which is destined to wipe capitalism off the face of the earth and to establish the classless society of communism.

Obviously, such a task cannot be successfully accomplished within the limits of a magazine article. We shall therefore confine ourselves to the more modest task of formulating the central and most fundamental lessons of the Russian Revolution which the workers of other countries are already assimilating and applying to their own struggles against capitalism.

A Complete Vindication of Marxism-Leninism

It is universally agreed, even in the camp of the enemies of the working class, that the social eruption which occurred in November, 1917, in what was formerly known as the empire of the Russian Czar was an event of tremendous world significance. Even those who were inclined, because of ignorance or class hatred, to treat the November Revolution as a peculiarly and exclusively Russian phenomenon which cannot repeat itself in the more “civilized” countries of Western Europe and America, have by this time arrived at somewhat different conclusions. On its Tenth Anniversary the Russian Revolution stands out clearly and unmistakably as the first proletarian revolution marking the opening of a new period, in the world’s history, the period of the proletarian social revolution.

The basic factor which made the proletarian revolution in Russia not only inevitable but also possible and successful in November, 1917, was the extremely critical situation of world capitalism during that period, the prevalence of an immediate revolutionary situation.

What was the basic cause of this world revolutionary situation? It was the actual working out of those social forces which are operating within the framework of modern imperialism and which determine its development. The late world imperialist war which was the chief immediate factor in bringing about the revolutionary situation of those days, was in itself no accident due merely to the evil designs of the Kaiser or of Lord Grey. The late world imperialist war, the armed clash between the two gigantic capitalist combinations, was merely the culminating point of a process of imperialist rivalries and conflicts which was motivated by the very substance of present day capitalism—the capitalism of the era of imperialism.

To many this may not have been very clear prior to, during and even immediately after the late world imperialist war. But today, in the light of the world’s history in the last decade, the truth of this analysis stands beyond any questioning or doubt. In the light of the acute imperialist conflicts and numerous armed local clashes which characterized the development of world capitalism since the infamous days of the treaty of Versailles, in the light of the ominous struggle for world domination between the declining imperialism of Great Britain and the new contender for world mastery—the United States—and in the face of the projected consolidation of world imperialism against the Chinese Revolution and the Soviet Union initiated and pressed forward by British imperialism, it becomes conclusively evident that the proletarian revolution in Russia in November, 1917, and its progressive strengthening and successful building of socialism since, were possible only because of the specific nature of the conditions of development of capitalism in the phase of imperialism—the last phase in the development of world capitalism.

The False Theories of Social-Democracy

Capitalist apologists quite naturally shrink from facing this cardinal Leninist truth which is borne out so conclusively by world developments during the last decade and of which the Russian Revolution constitutes the central point. The leaders of international social-democracy as well as the trade union reformists, who at present constitute one of the chief factors for the temporary stabilization of capitalism, are trying desperately to prevent the workers in their respective countries from assimilating this Leninist truth. The European reformists are building theory after theory to perpetuate the fiction that the Soviet Union is some sort of aft unfortunate accident whose repetition in “civilized” Europe is not only undesirable but also impossible. Of this nature are the futile and bankrupt theories of Hilferding and Company that the trustification of international capital and the development of the League of Nations tend to weaken imperialist rivalries and contradictions thus ushering in a new period of “peaceful” capitalist development, whereas as a matter of plain fact these developments are sharpening still further and are rendering more insoluble the contradictions of capitalism, thus bringing nearer the day of its final doom.

Moved by the same impulse as their European brethren, that is by the fear that the working class of the capitalist countries will accept the Russian Revolution for what it has proved to be—the forerunner and torchbearer of the world proletarian revolution,—the American reformists also are developing theories of exemption and absolution. American reformism, however, is not as ambitious as its European prototype. The apologists of American capitalism are satisfied for the present, at least, to leave the fate of Europe hang in the balance, concentrating upon the exemption of the United States from the inevitability of a proletarian revolution along the lines of the November revolution in Russia. To this end we have been presented with the very superficial but at the same time extremely ambitious theories of Professor Carver, who undertakes to “prove” that class divisions in the United States are disappearing (mind you, in the United States, that the workers are becoming capitalists and the capitalists are becoming workers and that this new social order is being ushered in bloodlessly and without class struggle through the wide door of workers’ savings, employe stock ownership, labor banks, etc. Closely related to and partly based upon this “epoch-making” theory of our ambitious professor are the significant philosophies of the American trade union reactionaries such as the “Higher Strategy of Labor,” for which a truer name would have been “The Higher Strategy for Betraying Labor,” or the so-called New Wage Policy which was reaffirmed and further developed to suit the capitalists at the Los Angeles convention of the American Federation of Labor, as well as the entire system of class collaboration which is undermining and sapping the life of the American labor movement. This intense ideological crystallization of reformism in the United States, which has as its basis the stupendom growth of American imperialism and the resulting corruption of the upper strata of the working class, is prompted chiefly by the fear of the lessons of the Russian Revolution, among them the lesson that the American working class must not only study Russia but also prepare to follow its example.

In this outstanding lesson of the Russian Revolution, namely, that it is conditioned by the fundamental crisis of the last phase of world capitalism and that in its turn it further aggravates this crisis and constitutes the basic factor for the further promotion of the world revolution, is the established fact that it is possible to achieve the victory of socialism in one country. This also is a basic Leninist truth, derived from a Marxian analysis of the nature of capitalism in the era of imperialism, i.e., the final phase of capitalism, which is characterized by extreme unevenness of development, sporadic and violent changes, extreme sharpening of imperialist conflicts and the recurrence of periodic imperialist wars. It is this condition of imperialism which crowned with success the struggle for power of the working class of Russia and which is making possible the building and victory of Socialism in the Soviet Union.

The Victory of Socialism in One Country

To appreciate fully the dynamic force and revolutionizing power of this lesson of the Russian Revolution, that it is possible to achieve the victory of Socialism in a country ruled by the dictatorship of the proletariat and surrounded by capitalist states, provided the dictatorship is not destroyed by the armed intervention of the capitalist states, one must consider the persistent and violent campaign of agitation of the capitalists and the reformists to the effect that the Soviet Union is not building socialism. Clearly the object of this campaign is to undermine the faith of the workers of the capitalist countries in the ability of the proletarian dictatorship in the Soviet Union to build and complete the building of Socialism. The thing that is feeding this campaign against the possibility of the victory of Socialism in the Soviet Union is the very important fact that the achievements of the Soviet Union have proven the correctness of Leninism on this point and that the truth is becoming known to and is inspiring the struggles of ever wider sections of the toiling masses in the capitalist countries.

There was a time when the capitalists and the reformers were concentrating on “proving” that the seizure of power by the workers of Russia was a temporary and passing event brought about by the backwardness and barbarism of Russia. This was at the time when civil war in Russia was at its height, when the armies of foreign imperialism were battering the gates of the workers’ republic in a desperate effort to destroy the proletarian dictatorship. The fortunes of the revolution were hanging in the balance. It was during that period that the capitalist world, trembling for its fate on the edge of a precipice, was consoling itself with the hope that the revolution in Russia would not last. But when the Russian Revolution began to prove its lasting qualities, its tremendous powers of resistance to capitalist intervention and its great force of appeal to the toiling masses of the world, capitalist and reformist agitation against the Russian Revolution took a different turn. The refrain of the new capitalist tune was the misery, hunger and starvation of the Russian masses. The military and economic cordon around Russia maintained by the capitalist powers in that period was supplemented by the ideological cordon of terrifying pictures of conditions in Russia. The capitalist and reformist agitation was, of course, blaming all this misery on the revolution, without ever indicating the truth that the responsibility for that condition rested mainly on the disastrous effects of the world war brought about by imperialism, the ruinous effects of the counterrevolution inside and outside of Russia, the policy of economic boycott and strangulation pursued then by the imperialist powers against the revolution, and the terrific inheritance of poverty, misery and destruction left over by the old regime of the landlords, capitalists and the Czar. However, this campaign of terrifying the toiling masses in the capitalist countries by the “frightful” example of Russia was going on merrily for a time until the next phase of the revolution began to make its appearance. We refer here to the period beginning with the introduction of the New Economic Policy which opened up the present—the latest—phase of the successful building of Socialism in the Soviet Union. The so-called ideological campaign of the capitalists and reformists against the Russian Revolution from then on was being devoted mainly to one proposition, namely, to convince the masses in the capitalist countries that the proletarian dictatorship in the Soviet Union cannot and will not build up a Socialist order of society. At the present time this is the chief “argument” of the reformists and labor reactionaries all over the world. The enemies of the proletarian revolution seem to realize that by undermining the faith of the toiling masses in the possibility of the victory of Socialism in the Soviet Union, or in any other country that may succeed in establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat in capitalist surroundings, they will have dealt a vital blow to the world revolutionary movement generally. It is partly for this reason that the struggle against the opposition in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which denies this Leninist fundamental and which rejects this lesson of the Russian Revolution, is of such vital importance for the entire Communist International.

The Paths and Methods of Revolution

Chief among the questions relating to the paths and methods of the proletarian revolution is the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat with the Soviet form of government as its concrete state manifestation, this being the only means of overthrowing the rule of capital and of building socialism as a transition to communism, has been fully vindicated by the experiences of the Soviet Union and stands out as one of the great lessons of the Russian Revolution. What does the Soviet form of government disclose as to its actual meaning and nature when examined on the basis of its practical workings? It served as the organ of mobilizing and unifying the revolutionary forces of the working class for the destruction of the capitalist state and the abolition of the rule of capital. It organized the working class as the state power of Russia. It enabled the working class to suppress the counter-revolution within, to repulse the capitalist attacks from without and to defend successfully the revolution. It is perfectly obvious that without the dictatorship of the proletariat, with the Soviet government as its concrete form of state, none of these things would have been possible.

There is, moreover, another angle to this question relating more to the role of the proletarian dictatorship in the maintenance of working class rule and in the process of the actual building of a socialist economy. It is that angle of it which shows the dictatorship of the proletariat as the particular form of alliance between the working class and the exploited sections of the farmers and the lower middle groups which enables the former to exercise leadership over the latter in the common struggle against capitalism, and through which the working class is able to link up the socialized industries with agriculture in the building of a national socialist economy. The New Economic Policy outlines the central measures by which this process is carried on. An examination of the actual state of economics today in the Soviet Union will show how this process is successfully proceeding, by means of the proletarian dictatorship which is pursuing the New Economic Policy, resulting in the steady growth and expansion of the elements of socialist economy predominating over those of private economy, thus continually strengthening the socialist base of the Soviet Union and improving the conditions of the toiling masses.

A Higher Type of Proletarian Democracy

At a time when President Green of the A. F. of L. has the audacity to condemn the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union in the same breath that he “also” condemns the fascist rule of Mussolini, it is very essential to emphasize that the dictatorship of the proletariat is a higher type of democracy in a society which is divided into classes. The proletarian dictatorship is a working class democracy, which expresses the interests of the overwhelming majority of the exploited masses and where the actual operation of the governmental machinery becomes accessible to an ever-increasing number of workers and poor farmers. Even the correspondent of the New York Times cannot help but admire they numerous conferences and congresses of women, peasants and workers through which millions of toilers get access to, training in and actual operation of governmental machinery in the Soviet Union. Bourgeois and petty-bourgeois political writers in the United States have long been discussing the limitations and failures of democracy. The former with a view of passing over to a more open and direct governmental form of capitalist dictatorship, the latter undoubtedly prompted by the futility of some of the efforts of small capital against big capital through the existing political channels. What they were actually discussing is capitalist democracy, which is a governmental form of capitalist class dictatorship and in which the actual operation of government is in the hands of the capitalists and their trusted servants.

In the experiences of the Russian Revolution, through all the various phases of its development, the leading role of the working class, what Lenin called the hegemony of the proletariat in the revolution, stands out most prominently. This Leninist principle of the leading role of the proletariat in the struggle against capitalism was most skilfully and effectively applied in the Russian Revolution with the result that the tenth anniversary of the revolution finds the Soviet Union powerfully entrenched, the alliance between the working class and the poor and middle peasantry firmly cemented and the working class successfully leading the toiling masses towards socialism.

The Role of the Communist Party

Closely connected with the dictatorship of the proletariat and the leading role of the working class in the revolution is the question of the role of the Communist Party. What are the lessons of the Russian Revolution in this respect? They are, first, that it is through the Party that the working class is exercising its hegemony in the revolution as well as the dictatorship of the proletariat. Without the leadership of the Communist Party the working class could not capture power nor establish the dictatorship of the proletariat. Second, that the revolutionary political party of the working class, the Communist Party, is the highest form of working class organization concentrating and directing the struggles of the working class as a class and leading the activities of all the other working class organizations, unions, cooperatives, etc. Hence, the building of a powerful mass Communist Party in the capitalist countries becomes, in the light of the lessons of the Russian Revolution, the most vital task of the working class.

* * *

The Tenth Anniversary of the Russian Revolution brings closer to us than ever before the tremendous importance and significance of the Soviet Union for the liberation struggle of the toiling masses all over the world from the rule and oppression of capitalism. We see in the Soviet Union not only the greatest achievement of the oppressed in the history of the class struggle, not only the demonstrated possibility of the victory of Socialism in one country with a proletarian dictatorship functioning in capitalist surroundings, but also the most powerful factor undermining world capitalism and promoting the world revolution. The Soviet Union constitutes, therefore, the dearest and most valuable possession of the working class of the world.

In the present international situation, when world imperialism again maneuvres for an open attack upon the Soviet Union the same as against the Chinese Revolution, there is no task more urgent and vital than this preparation of the toiling masses throughout the world for the defense of the Soviet Union. The growing danger of war and of a consolidated attack of the big imperialist powers against the Soviet Union must be brought home to the widest sections of the toiling masses of the United States for the purpose of preparing them ideologically and organizationally for effective struggle against these machinations of world imperialism participated in by the imperialists of the United States.

An examination of the lessons of the Russian Revolution, particularly from the angle of the present phase in the development of the class struggle in the United States, will inevitably bring our party to the realization of the fact that it must increase its efforts manifold in the struggle for independent working class political action through a Labor Party, that the campaign for the organization of the unorganized and for the building of the left wing in the trade unions must be prosecuted with the utmost energy and devotion, that a merciless struggle must be carried on against all phases of reformism and class collaboration, that the struggle against American imperialism must be extended and intensified and by these means proceed with the building of a powerful mass Communist Party in the United States worthy and able to prepare and lead the American working class in the struggle against capitalism to final victory.