Karl Radek

The Paths
of the
Russian Revolution


When the working class took power on 25 October 1917, the Revolutionary Military Committee, which had taken the power in the name of the soviet of the workers and soldiers of Petrograd, announced the change achieved to the Russian working class and the entire world by declaring: ‘The cause of peace is in the powerful hands of the proletariat. The peasantry will finally obtain the land, and the working class will extend its control over industry.’ [70] What was announced as the immediate aim of the revolution was not the immediate introduction of Socialism, but the solution of the question of peace, and of the peasant question; it was the setting in motion of transitional measures, for example, control over production. But revolutions do not respect the limits and definitions sketched out by their leaders. The October Revolution was the prelude to the world proletarian revolution. It was the prelude to the Communist uprising in the capitalist world; and however limited were the aims that the leaders of the revolution had set themselves, the blast of the Russian October Revolution was the blast of the proletarian revolution, the blast of the world Communist revolution. At the moment, the Russian Revolution has come up against a social limit which will be its limit for the next historic period. No revolution can achieve Communism at one blow. The revolution has only broken the resistance that the political power of the old ruling classes opposed to the development of the new victorious class. When throughout the whole world the revolution begins the struggle for economic transformation, then the path of this transformation will be shorter in one country and longer in another, depending on the extent of economic development which will help or hinder this transformation. The world proletarian revolution represents a long period of struggle; the road to power will be more arduous in the west, and will be far longer than in Russia. The organisation of Socialism, insofar as it concerns the conditions of industry, will be far easier in the capitalist countries than in Russia. The preponderance of industrial concentration and the high level of the technical skills of the proletariat will then be of decisive importance. But it would be false to assume that the proletarian revolution in Western Europe will not have to surmount great economic difficulties. The greatest difficulty resides in its too narrow agricultural base. The industrialisation of Western Europe has made all the industrial countries dependent on the import of foodstuffs. The development of the proletarian revolution in the West is therefore closely linked to the development of the proletarian revolution in the East. It is necessary to take account of this when we pass judgement upon the problems of the proletarian revolution in Russia, on its ways, its necessities and its character.

The Russian Revolution has travelled through an entire cycle of development, from the struggle for the democratic republic to the struggle for the Soviet republic. The victory of the Soviet republic seems to be identical with the victory of Communism. But it is not by chance that its leaders have not retained the term ‘Communism’ in the name of the republic; and they have several times even given the words ‘Federal Socialist Republic’ the meaning of a ‘republic struggling for Socialism’. After four years of development, the Soviet republic has come up against the limit that constitutes its historic significance. This significance is the following: Russia is a rural country in which the working class has conquered power to hasten the development of the country towards Socialism. In this development it must as much take into account the petit-bourgeois nature of the country as well as the world relationship of forces. Depending on the development of the world revolution, it will realise its aims, or it will perish with them. The dominant position of the working class in Russia as regards the bourgeois tendencies and forces very much recalls the situation of the feudal elements in Russia as regards the bourgeois elements. Starting from the middle of the nineteenth century capitalist necessities and tendencies grew ever stronger in Russia. The feudal class made them economic concessions after economic concessions solely to maintain its political power. On the other hand, it knew how to delay political concessions for more than half a century. It was finally beaten because, under the pressure of the working class, it was forced to make political concessions to the bourgeoisie. The position of the working class as regards the bourgeoisie is naturally not comparable at all points with the position of the feudal elements. There exists in fact an essential difference: it is a question of the direction of the development of the entire world at the present time. Tsarism was forced to capitulate because world development was going in the direction of capitalism, in other words the victory of the bourgeoisie. The capitalist world is now in a state of increasing disintegration. The Russian bourgeoisie does not constitute a new, powerful class, sure of itself and dynamic, but a class atomised and broken, which is again supporting itself on the crutches offered it by the temporary strengthening of the bourgeois world after the overcoming of the demobilisation crisis of 1918-19. The new bourgeois elements in Russia, the peasants liberated from feudal yoke, would naturally form the basis for the reconstruction of a new and powerful bourgeoisie in Russia in the event of the international victory of capital. But in the event of the victory of the European proletariat, the Russian peasantry would be too weak to form a counter-revolutionary force opposed to the tendency of world development. This fundamental difference is decisive for passing judgement on the positions of so-called Marxists who assert, like Paul Levi [71], that since economic relations are the decisive relations according to Marxist theory, Soviet Russia will be forced, after having made economic concessions to the bourgeoisie, to follow the road of development that leads to bourgeois democracy. This concept only shows that its author perhaps knows the ABC of Socialism, but that he is still ignorant of its grammar. No Marxism can foresee at what rate economic conditions are transposed into political conditions. If in the short run the decomposition of capitalism were to give way to decisive tendencies towards the re-establishment of capitalist domination, then the bourgeois pressure upon proletarian power in Russia would undoubtedly be strengthened from day to day, and the Soviet government would have the choice of two possibilities: either to go down fighting, or to transform itself into an instrument of bourgeois development. Whoever has not concluded from the events of these last three years that the capitalist social order will succeed in overcoming its forces of disintegration has no need to be of the opinion of our Marxist novice who thinks that economic concessions will involve political concessions.

The history of all revolutions in the capitalist era is the history of the struggle between capitalist and Socialist tendencies. The proletarian Socialist tendencies of the Levellers, the Diggers and the Millenarians in the English Revolution [72], and of the Enragés in the French Revolution [73] were defeated by the bourgeois tendencies because capitalism was in the ascending phase of its development. The Russian Revolution is a part of the world proletarian revolution that is in the course of developing. Even if it is politically victorious, it can hardly fulfil the tasks of the world revolution, the transformation of capitalism into Socialism, because conditions are most unfavourable for it in Russia. In comparison with the programme of the historic period opened up by the uprising of 25 October 1917, the events of the Russian Revolution that have taken place up until now have only a very limited value. Basically, the Russian Revolution has only cleared the ground of the feudal classes and of feudal survivals. It has not been able to annihilate the bourgeoisie and bourgeois tendencies, for whilst capitalism dominates Europe these tendencies will feed off the peasant economy, and will be strengthened by the capitalist encirclement of Soviet Russia. The state power of the Russian working class is a means that allows capitalism to be methodically overcome. Isolated, Russia cannot overcome it. Only the victory of the world revolution in the industrialised countries will accelerate the development of this process. This will be a victory acquired not so much by means of Red Terror as by economic means.

Until the victory of the proletarian revolution in the industrialised countries, the duty of the Soviet republic is to maintain the power of the working class over this enormous country, so that it will not become a reservoir of human and material forces for the counter-revolution. If the Soviet republic only fulfils this negative task, it will have rendered an immense service to the world revolution. It will not allow world capitalism to suppress the growing revolutionary movements of the European proletariat with the bayonets of Russian peasants. If the Soviet government succeeds, through its realistic policy – which consists of recognising facts and taking account of realities – in strengthening Soviet Russia until it could play an active role in the struggles of the coming years, whether militarily, or by exporting food to the industrial countries in which the proletarian revolution had triumphed, then the question of the nature of the Russian revolution would be definitively solved. Until now the Russian Revolution was the first and therefore the feeblest link in the world Socialist upsurge. Its fusion with the powerful current of the world proletarian revolution would make the strengthening and development of Soviet Russia – as a power controlling the greatest agricultural base going in the direction of Socialism – one of the main strategic tasks of the international proletariat.

The opponents of the Russian proletarian revolution who deck themselves out in the plumage of Marxism, are exploiting the halt in the development of the world revolution and the New Economic Policy of the Soviet government, which is partly the result of the slow development of the world revolution, to undermine the confidence of the world proletariat and of the Russian proletariat itself; in fact they deny to the Russian Revolution its proletarian character, because it was not capable of gaining a victory over capitalism at one blow. They are recalling that they had envisaged for a long time that the Russian Revolution could only lead to the domination of the bourgeoisie, and that it would only be capable of overthrowing feudalism. But these representatives of the bourgeoisie in the revolution betrayed the Russian Revolution to forces which did not wish to liquidate feudalism. The Mensheviks, who supported the government of Prince Lvov [74] and prevented the peasants from liquidating big feudal land ownership, have no reason to boast about having immediately recognised the bourgeois limits of the revolution. They did not even dare to push the Russian Revolution to its bourgeois limits. The revolution has broken these limits and gone beyond them under the leadership of the Bolsheviks. It has taken the power from the bourgeoisie and has attempted to modify social relations in Russia thanks to this power. Each of its steps forward is an abomination to the enemies of the proletarian revolution. Each halt in its advance is hailed by them as collapse and bankruptcy. This does not trouble the revolutionary fighters. They know from the experiences of their military struggles that a halt, or even a retreat, is often the precondition for a new victorious offensive.


70. For the text of this proclamation, cf. Sergei Mstislavskii, Five Days Which Transformed Russia, London 1988, pp. 119ff.

71. Paul Levi (1883–1930) was the successor of Rosa Luxemburg as leader of the German Communist Party. He condemned the party’s adventurism during the ‘March Action’ of 1921.

72. The Levellers, Diggers and Millenarians were radical sects thrown up by the ferment of the English Civil War.

73. The Enragés (literally “the Angry Ones”) were radical revolutionaries led by Jacques Roux and Jean Varlet during the French Revolution.

74. Prince Georgi E. Lvov (1861–1925) was a Cadet deputy and first Prime Minister of the Provisional Government.

Last updated on 18.10.2011