Nikolai Bukharin

The World Revolution and the U.S.S.R.

Source: The Labour Monthly Vol. 9, November 1927, No. 11
Transcribed by: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid

It is well understood, by both our friends and our enemies, that the tenth anniversary of the November Revolution is an event of world historical importance. Our friends will look with yet greater hope on the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, as the firm dictatorship of the working class, that for ten years has successfully struggled for the Socialist cause in the land of former imperial Russia. Our enemies, whoever they be, whether representatives of predatory imperialism, agents of the reformist internationals, representatives of the big bourgeoisie or landowners, or of the petty-bourgeois cliques, are all compelled to recognise the magnitude and significance of this historical fact that the working class has been in power for the space of ten years.

The history of revolution has known other dictatorships. There was the dictatorship of the English bourgeoisie, of Cromwell, in England. There was the revolutionary dictatorship of the Jacobins—the petty-bourgeois “lefts” at the time of the great French revolution, and there were the months of the Paris Commune. But the dictatorships of one or other stratum of the bourgeoisie have an essentially different significance from that of the dictatorship of the proletariat, for the bourgeois revolution itself has a different significance from that of the Socialist revolution. Our November revolution stands at the threshold of a new world-historical epoch of humanity because it overturned and reversed the old social pyramid, putting in power the most oppressed, most exploited and, at the same time, most revolutionary class known to history, viz., the proletariat.

The celebration of the tenth anniversary of the November revolution reminds us all that this revolution was the offspring of the world war, and than the banner under which our proletariat conquered in these days was the banner of international revolution. Hence, the first question that we must ask ourselves is whether the Bolshevik party was correct in staking its all on the world revolution, whether the vanguard of the proletariat was correct when, after the March revolution, it came forward with the greatest persistence, energy, strength, and heroism in defence of the banner of world revolution. We are well aware that our opponents inside the Labour Movement answer this question with an emphatic negative. International Social-Democracy, through the utterances of its most eminent representatives, has adopted the point of view that the post-war revolutions, and, in the first place, the November revolution in Russia in 1917, were a peculiar product of the rotten falling to pieces of capitalist society as a result of the war, a specific product of the war, and to a considerable degree, a product which may be characterised as being the result of Russian-Asiatic phenomena. Our revolution is interpreted by these ideologists of the Second International, not as a proletarian revolution, but as a revolution of soldier-deserters and of peasant-soldiers. According to this view, the proletariat only entered this revolution owing to its interest in liquidating the war, and by no means as a class intent on achieving, and with the power to achieve, the Socialist revolution. The latter, they say, must occur not as the result of collapse, rottenness and disorganisation caused by war, but as the result of an evolutionary completion of the development of the full powers of capitalism, which gives birth to its own special “grave-diggers” on the basis of the ripeness of its powers.

The war, however, is past, and the social reformists believe that capitalism has marvellously developed. It has not only not perished, but is going forward with gigantic strides. It has produced new organisations, like the League of Nations, and there has begun a new huge cycle of a new flourishing development of capitalist society. The Bolshevik reliance on a world revolution they believe to be demonstrated as a childish Utopia. This is the judgment of international social-reformism.

It must be said that in our own midst it is quite common for comrades discussing the international revolution to ask, “When will it come, when will be the day?” It seems to me that such a formulation of the question is incorrect. It seems to me me that it would be correct to say that our Bolshevik Party has fully justified itself in placing its reliance on the international revolution, because the international revolution is not something that will occur in the future, but is something that is proceeding now. It is not something anticipated and hoped for, but something actually existing; it is not something that will come after some indefinite period, but is something that is already actually taking place. It is sufficient to remind ourselves of a few of the characteristic events during the past decade. Here is a short list of some important facts. In March, 1917—the bourgeois democratic revolution in Russia; November, 1917—the proletarian revolution in Russia; March, 1918—the workers’ revolution in Finland; November, 1918—revolution in Germany and in Austria; March, 1919—revolution in Hungary; January, 1920—revolution in Turkey; September, 1920—revolutionary seizure of the factories by the workers of Italy; March, 1921—the so-called March “rising” in Germany; September, 1923—revolution in Bulgaria; Autumn, 1923—semi-revolution of the German proletariat; December, 1924—the rising in Esthonia; April, 1925—the rising in Morocco; August, 1925—the rising in Syria; May, 1926—the General Strike in Britain; 1927—the rising in Vienna. Finally, we must mention the Chinese revolution, continuing through many years, and now passing through an extremely acute phrase. From this simple list, it is clear that the international revolution is something actually in progress.

It is true that there has been no victory of the international revolution in the sense that there has been no simultaneous victory of the working class in a series of countries. But whoever predicted that the world revolution would occur in this way? It is extremely probable that immediate risings are imminent in the colonial subject countries, and, while they are not proletarian revolutions, they are yet component parts of the international revolutionary process. How can it be said that there is no such thing as the international revolution when there is the victorious Socialist revolution in the U.S.S.R., and while there is the Chinese revolution, both of which are parts of the world revolution.

The incorrectness of the view that the international revolution is something that does not exist but will only come in the future is due to an incorrect idea of the international revolution. There are many people who picture to themselves the international revolution as an occurrence which some fine day will take place simultaneously in a number of countries. This is extremely improbable and unnecessary. Comrade Lenin, even during the war and before November, 1917, insisted that it was necessary for everyone to realise that the world revolution, which would overthrow capitalism, was primarily a protracted historical process, that we were on the eve of an epoch of world revolution which would contain a whole series of proletarian revolutions, colonial risings, and national wars, arising from the combination of all the factors breaking up capitalism.

The international revolution is then an epoch of revolutions, a long extended process. Now, ten years since the working class in our country first took power in its hands, we can review our historical development and compare it with the changes which took place in the world during the epoch of bourgeois revolutions when humanity was passing from feudalism to capitalism. Looking back on the bourgeois revolutions, we see in the seventeenth century the bourgeois revolution in England, in the eighteenth century the bourgeois revolution in France, in the middle nineteenth century a whole series of bourgeois revolutions on the Continent of Europe, and in the twentieth century the bourgeois revolution in Russia. The process of revolutionary transition from feudalism to capitalism has occupied a number of centuries.

It is naturally comprehensible that, as regards the international Socialist revolution, matters will be considerably different, since the connections between the different countries are now much closer, deeper, and more extensive. Consequently, the working class will be able to carry through its revolutions over the whole surface of the globe in an incomparably shorter time than was possible for the bourgeoisie. Nevertheless, we must also conclude from this historical comparison that the process of Socialist revolution is in the highest degree a long-extended process. Further, the world revolution has also a many-sided character, comprising as it does different component parts—the revolt of the working class against the bourgeoisie in the leading countries, the revolt of the working class carrying with it huge sections of the peasantry in the more backward countries, wars for national emancipation, revolts of the millions of the colonial and semi-colonial peoples even where there is only an insignificant proletariat, &c. Lenin, in an article entitled, “On a Caricature of Marxism and on Imperialist Economism,” wrote:—

The Socialist revolution cannot take place in any other form than that of an epoch, uniting the civil war of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie in the leading countries with a whole series of democratic, revolutionary, and national-emancipatory movements in the undeveloped, backward, and oppressed countries. Why is this? It is because capitalism develops unequally.

Closely connected with the above is a third characteristic, viz., that the world revolution is a process, parts of which occur simultaneously. Thus, for example, our proletarian revolution took place in October, 1917, the German revolution in 1918, the rising in Esthonia in 1924, the rising in Indonesia in 1926. All these are parts of a single process, all are separate facets of the world revolution.

Turning again to our comparison with the bourgeois revolution, it is necessary to emphasise the fact that the most revolutionary country during that period, almost as in the case of our country during the period of Socialist revolution, was similarly subjected to the blows of all the other most important powers which united again her. The difference is, however, that at the head of the States ranged against bourgeois-revolutionary France there stood also a bourgeois country, viz., England, who saw a competitor in France. The armed struggle between the propertied States, headed by England, and the most revolutionary bourgeois State, France, lasted with small interruptions for twenty-two years. In this period, 1793-1816, England organised a “united front” of the European States against revolutionary France no less than four times.

I have called attention to these historical examples in order to make more easily comprehensible the extraordinarily difficult conditions under which a new social order comes into being, and in order to give a view of the enormous historical perspectives of the world revolution. It is inevitable that, sooner or later, there will take place a great war of the imperialist powers against us or against a coalition of the proletarian States. This can only be rendered impossible by the working class coming into power throughout the world.

Consequently, to the constituent elements of the international revolution enumerated in the quotation from Lenin, cited above, there must be added the war of the Socialist countries defending themselves against the attacks of the imperialist States. This is also a constituent part of the great process of the transformation of the world. Whatever the differences in time and space, and whatever the variety in character of the processes of the international Socialist revolution, it is all the same a single process, for it expresses in itself the crisis of capitalist society, the decay of the latter, and the revolutionary re-fashioning of the world. It is in this sense that we are able to speak of the international Socialist revolution.

It has been necessary to dwell at such length on this question because the wrong formulation of it has great practical significance, for it is reflected in the consciousness, volition, and thought of parts of the working class and of our party. There is a view that in 1917 we are said to have made a great talk of world revolution, that we staked our reliance on it, but that now it has vanished from the scene and will only come again at some future time. We are supposed to have said that capitalism has entered on a cycle of prodigious convulsions, but that suddenly this expected transfiguration has become far removed, so far, indeed, that it is entirely unclear what has happened to it.

It is comprehensible that if we answer the question in a different way by saying that the revolutionary transformation of the capitalist world is a fact actually taking place, that the world revolution, while not yet decisively victorious, still exists and is developing—then it is natural that from that will proceed a different consciousness, a different outlook, and a different sensation of struggle on the part of the working class and those who stand under the banner of Communism.

If we ask ourselves the question, what are the general characteristics of the present position of the international revolution, it must be answered that the crisis of world capitalism is at the moment developing in a different way from some years back, and is revealing itself in other forms.

The Chinese revolution, with its huge oscillations, and with the huge masses that it sets in motion, is nothing but an expression of the crisis of the capitalist system, but “from the other end.” The deepening of the revolution in China is a phenomenon of the capitalist crisis. The successful development of our building up of Socialism is also a phenomenon of the world crisis of capitalism, for capitalism can never again be so healthy as it was before the war, if only because the U.S.S.R. already exists, appearing like a wedge driven into the body of bourgeois world economy.

Consequently, on the one hand the crisis of capitalism is at present being most acutely experienced in the colonial countries and, in particular, in Eastern Asia, and, on the other hand, the successful construction of Socialism in the U.S.S.R. reveals itself as a revolutionary fact of deepest significance. On a third side, the crisis of capitalist society is expressed in the especially sharp antagonisms inside capitalist society which is attempting to stabilise itself; for this stabilisation in Western Europe is taking place within the limits of an actual sharpening of the difficulties resulting from the war. The stabilisation is proceeding under circumstances of heavy pressure by the bourgeoisie on the working class, of heavy permanent unemployment, and of a general intensification of class antagonisms.

Finally, the critical situation of the whole capitalist regime is augmented by the great antagonism and sharpening of the contradictions between the imperialist powers and the U.S.S.R. When now, ten years after the conquest of power by the working class, we inquire as to the extent of our achievement in the international revolutionary movement, the question arises whether we are faced, on balance, with a worsening of the position and an improvement from the point of view of the reactionary forces. The answer is emphatically no. Glance at the “Letter to the Comrades,” written by Lenin before the November revolution, when, for proofs that the international revolution was proceeding and that it was necessary to support it, he had to rely on a single revolt of German sailors and on the existence of Karl Liebknecht. Contrast this with the Chinese revolution alone—a factor of colossal significance. We possess the Communist International with its mass parties, we have our supporters in every country.

Can there be any comparison with the situation in 1917? Our forces have increased many times over, both from the point of view of material strength and of number of supporters, and from the point of view of colossal experience and of the organisation of our strength. All this is in our favour in the event of a conflict between the U.S.S.R. and the imperialist powers. In the event of such a war, we can count upon, I will not say an immediate rising of the workers in all countries, for that would be a mistaken expectation, but such a rapid growth of revolutionary feeling, such a rapid mobilisation of forces of the working class against the bourgeoisie, that within a short time a number of bourgeois States would be shattered into a thousand fragments.