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Reva Craine

A May Day Tribute to the
Glorious Russian Revolution of 1917

From It We Have Learned to Do Better Next Time

(May 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 18, 1 May 1944, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

On November 7, 1917, the workers and peasants of Russia shook the entire world by overthrowing the capitalist government and establishing the first workers’ republic dedicated to the interests of all the downtrodden, oppressed and exploited.

By this act, the heroic Russian working class showed the way out of the hopelessness and devastation wrought by the imperialist war, the way to socialist freedom as the only road for the forward march of humankind, in spite of all that has happened subsequently to this revolution, its initial success has at least established this much: The working class can take power and establish its own rule; the working class can organize and run the country in the interests of all the people; the working class, and the working class alone, can and will open the door to the new socialist society of peace, plenty, freedom and security.

The Russian Revolution did not occur at the instigation of a handful of conspirators who wished merely to replace the old rulers. It grew out of the deepest needs and aspirations of the Russian people, who were sick and tired of being pushed around – and who longed for a chance to govern themselves. The success of the revolution depended upon the capable and courageous leadership supplied by the Bolshevik Party, which, showed the masses how to achieve what they yearned for.

Human Suffering Brought Revolution

In 1917 – the third year of the First World War – Russia, one of the weakest and most backward of its participants, was under a heavy strain. Its people were paying dearly for the accomplishment of the war aims of the ruling class. Millions of peasants, dragged from their land, inadequately armed, hungry and underclothed, were dying in a war that made no sense to them. What interests had they in the annexation of Turkey, Persia or Galicia, when their fields were unsowed and untilled, and their people back home were starving! At the front, they thought not of killing, but of getting back home.

On the home front, the farms went untended. In the cities, speculators and black marketeers grew fat while the people waited and starved on the breadlines. Food riots were put down by armed force. As the war-weary people starved and froze, the dance of the profiteers grew more frenzied. They feared nothing worse than an early peace, which would put an end to their blood-sucking. In the palaces, the Czar and his camarilla enjoyed their tea parties and costly banquets. Outside, the people mumbled about the hardships and suffering, the lack, of food and the cold.

The, longing for peace was in the hearts of all the people – the cry for bread on everyone’s lips! The peasant soldiers wanted to come home. As the war went on, the resentment toward it mounted until the masses went from grumbling to direct action.

On February 23, 1917, International Women’s Day, the Petrograd workers went out on strike; and demonstrating on the streets, demanded bread, peace and an end to the czarist autocracy. This was the beginning of the revolution. The Czar abdicated and made way for a provisional government which sought to establish “order.”

Provisional Government a Failure

As the weeks and months rolled by, and one coalition replaced another, it became increasingly evident that the new provisional government was incapable of meeting the demands of the Russian people. The democratic republic headed by Kerensky found itself between the horns of a dilemma: it did not wish to break with and overthrow the capitalist and land-owning classes. At the same time, in order to remain in power, it had to give the people what they wanted. But to do this meant doing precisely what it wished to avoid, namely, a break with the old ruling classes. For to give land to the peasants, it had to confiscate the big landed estates, or at the very least, not to interfere with the peasant seizures of these estates. Instead, the provisional government sent troops into the rebellious areas where the peasants themselves were carrying out the revolution as they understood it.

To give bread to the people would have meant destroying the black market and organizing production. Kerensky’s government did not wish to interfere with the profiteering of the capitalist class. And the most important demand of all – peace – meant a break with imperial Russia’s war aims .and with, its imperialist allies. The provisional government was more concerned with preserving the war investments than with the loss of human lives. It restored the death penalty for soldiers who left the front and answered the cry for peace with preparations for a new offensive in the war.

Every political party during the days of the provisional government promised to fulfill the demands of the people, but the promise was always made in the future, tomorrow, later, after the war. From the very start of the revolution, the workers had established their Soviets, where they discussed their problems and decided on their actions.

All Power to the Soviets!

These Soviets were simply councils to which workers’ delegates were elected from the factories. They were directly responsible to those who elected them and were Subject to recall if they failed to carry out their mandates. The soldiers elected their Soviets, too; and the poor peasants theirs.

Inside the Soviets one party alone offered a solution to this dilemma and it was a simple one. The Bolshevik Party stated that the interests of the misses should have first consideration, and that their demands.must be acted upon immediately. The Bolsheviks explained again and again that if the workers and peasants wanted to obtain their, ends; they would have to take the government into their own hands and operate it themselves. The Bolsheviks said: The Soviets are the most representative body in the country. Let these Soviets become the government. ALL POWER TO THE SOVIETS!

It was a matter of months before the: overwhelming majority of the workers understood and supported this idea. On November 7, 1917, the Soviets did take power and established the first workers’ republic. Hardly a shot was fired in defense of the old regime. It simply fell apart at the slightest shove.

The very first act of the new government broke the back of the imperialist war machine. Its declaration called upon the warring peoples and their governments to cease hostilities, to open immediate negotiations for a just, democratic peace without annexations and indemnities. The Russian example inspired the workers throughout the length and breadth of Europe to revolt against their governments and the war.

Backwardness of Russia in 1917

The leaders of the Russian Revolution, the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky, did not promise to the people that a socialist society would be established on the very morrow of the overturn. They were fully aware of the backwardness of Russian economy, inherited from czarism, to which had been added the devastation of three years of war, and later three more years of civil war, foreign intervention and blockade. The country was bankrupt; whatever industry had not been destroyed, was paralyzed; the land was laid waste; communications and transportation disrupted; famine stalked the land.

But if the Bolsheviks knew that socialism could not be established on such a foundation, were they not wrong in taking power?

In the first place, in order to achieve even the immediate needs of the people – peace, bread, land to the peasants – it was necessary that the workers and peasants take the power. Experience had shown that there was no other force in the country capable of accomplishing even this.

Secondly, having taken power, the Bolsheviks considered this but the first step in a series of workers’ revolutions throughout Europe and the world. Without the success of these, the Russians did not expect the workers’ state to survive for any length of time. Thus they wrote and spoke in the early days.

But while waiting for these revolutions in the West, the new regime had to settle down to the task of reconstruction of the country. It was only after three years of civil war and intervention that the Russian people could turn to this job. In the meantime, several workers’ revolutions had come in the West; but they had gone down to defeat, derailed from their purpose by compromise, betrayed or outnumbered by superior enemy forces and drowned in blood. The Bolsheviks in Russia proceeded with the reorganization of the country, still convinced that salvation lay in the success of the international proletarian revolution.

In spite of the heroic efforts of the workers in many countries to come to the assistance of their Russian brothers and comrades, the first workers’ republic remained isolated. While it was strong enough to resist the armed .assaults of the hostile capitalist governments, this isolation began to choke the revolution from the inside.

Non-Revolutionary Influences at Work

Many changes had occurred during the years of the civil war. In the first instance, war communism, as this period is called, brought about the abrogation of some of the democratic rights which had been established by the revolution. Again, many of the best Bolshevik fighters were killed in the effort to defend et Soviet Republic. The party, now renamed the Communist Party of Russia, was beginning to be infested with all kinds of careerists, office seekers who, now that the revolution had succeeded, were eager to attach themselves to the new regime. And finally in 1924, the wisest and most able of the Bolshevik leaders, Lenin, died. Inside the party a struggle commenced over who was to replace him, a struggle between the conservative wing and the Bolshevik wing.

As early as 1923, Trotsky, co-leader of the revolution with Lenin, sounded the alarm against the non-revolutionary influences which were penetrating the Communist Party. Trotsky opened the fight against the developing bureaucracy and for the restoration of democratic control of the party and the country, with his pamphlet, The New Course.

The failure of the revolutions in the other European countries, however, strengthened the influence of the conservative wing, personified by Stalin. Russia, they believed, could no longer hope for any help from the workers on the outside. It must rely solely upon its own strength. “Socialism in a single country” became the battlecry of the Stalinists.

In saying this, however, they were in reality negating socialism, for socialism is an international system. The revolution which would make socialism possible had occurred in one -country, but it could not succeed in achieving its socialist goals unless similar revolutions were successful in at least some of the leading and more advanced countries. Why?

Socialism is a system which is based upon plenty for all. Its aim is to raise the standard of living of all humankind far higher than that reached in the most advanced capitalist country. It means, therefore, the utilization of the most modern and advanced means and methods of production. It means the most scientific utilization of all the natural resources of the entire world. It means the closest cooperation of the peoples of the entire world.

Socialism cannot be based on scarcity and want, for these breed inequality, rivalry, class divisions. Socialism seeks to eliminate these forever from the face of the earth.

Russia, left to her own resources, could not and did not produce sufficiently to satisfy even the basic needs of all the people. Those in office, therefore, found it possible to utilize their positions in order to guarantee for themselves and their families some of the good things that were denied to the rest of the population. Therein lay the basis for the development of the inequalities which exist in Russia today and which are in direct violation of the aims of the revolution.

Ascendancy of the Bureaucracy

The Trotskyist wing of the party was defeated. The bureaucracy against which Trotsky had warned the party, triumphed by destroying the democracy which had existed inside the Bolshevik Party, by destroying the democracy inside the workers’ organizations, their unions and the Soviets themselves. The bureaucracy resorted to arrests, frame-ups, murders – legal and illegal. The Moscow Trials, the frame-ups by which, the leading members of the old Bolshevik Party were killed off, were only the crudest example of what occurred in Russia during the years when the bureaucracy was intrenching itself and killing off what remained of the glorious Russian revolution.

Today, the Russian Revolution and the workers’ government which it established, are dead. A new revolution in Russia is on the order of the day! Even the most casual observer cannot fail to see the difference between the Russia of Lenin and Trotsky and the Russia of Stalin and his henchmen.

The 1917 revolution established freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free trade unions, free and universal elections, free and universal education. Today these no longer exist.

The 1917 revolution established the practice of paying workers’ wages to all government officials, even the highest. Workers were to be trained in how to run the government. Today the privileged bureaucracy, the new ruling class, lives off the exploitation of the working class and peasants. The inequalities between the rulers and the ruled are greater today than they were under the Czar.

The revolution gave freedom, even the right to secede, to all the small national minorities. It was opposed to forceful annexation. Today the Great Russian bureaucracy has reestablished the “prison of the peoples.” Stalin is seeking in the present war to annex as many small countries to his empire as he can.

The revolution abolished secret diplomacy and published the secret treaties for all the world to see. Today Stalin conspires with the imperialist powers for a division of the booty of war.

The revolution established a government of the people, run by the people in their own behalf. Through this government, the workers controlled the means of production, the factories and the land. Today the government no longer belongs to the workers. It is the possession of the new ruling class, the bureaucrats.

The Red Army, child of the revolution, once stood poised, ready to come to the aid of the fighting proletariat of other lands. Today it defends the privileges and revenues of the bureaucrats and it comes to foreign lands not as a liberating force, but as an enslaver.

Nothing is left of the Russian Revolution – save the memory and the nationalized property, which is now the tool used by the bureaucrats to Exploit and oppress the masses. Lenin was right when he said:, “Either the revolution comes in the more highly developed countries, or we perish.” For this Jirst workers’ revolution has perished, overcome by terrific odds, killed by a thousand blows delivered by the treacherous Stalinist bureaucracy and world reaction.

And yet we defy the scoffers and skeptics, the defenders of capitalism, who point to Russia as proof that the working class is incapable of reorganizing society on a socialist basis. We say:


The capitalist system came into being only after a number of revolutions and half-revolutions. The period of its birth lasted for decades, The change from the feudal system to capitalism was not as drastic as will be the change from capitalism to socialism, for the latter implies not the change of one system of exploitation for another, but the elimination of all exploitation and class rule.

The attempt of the Russian workers was but the first. Their workers’ state was the first to be established and naturally it was full of imperfections. The Russian workers gave all they could in their effort to bring about a socialist world, and, were defeated because their class brothers in the rest of the world were unable to aid them sufficiently.

Thanks to the efforts of the Russian workers, thanks to the Russian Bolsheviks, we are wiser today. better prepared to meet the problems that the transition to socialism involves. We know from their experience what pitfalls to avoid and how to proceed. We gain confidence, from their initial success. Tomorrow, the working class throughout the world will be following the example of Russia of 1917. Tomorrow, however, we will do it better.

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Last updated: 17 October 2015