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Neil Faulkner


History’s rich cocktail

(September 1994)

From Socialist Review, No. 178, September 1994.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Sabby Sagall’s article Bursting the Chains (July/August SR) obscured vital differences between bourgeois and proletarian revolutions.

Long term economic growth certainly underlay the English, American and French revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries. It meant that in each case the bourgeoisie had acquired great wealth in the decades before the crisis, and, with it, the social weight, political confidence and ideological influence necessary to make a revolution.

Workers’ revolution is quite different. The power of workers comes not from the ownership of wealth but from the fact that workers are its producers. It is certainly true, as Sabby points out, that Russia experienced huge economic development in the decades before the revolution.

However, this is influence of a different kind from that necessary in bourgeois revolutions. Moreover, once industrial capitalism has developed and created a working class, there is no inevitability about a period of economic growth preceding a period of revolution. In fact, there are numerous contrary examples in 20th century history.

The mid-1930s saw an explosion of workers’ struggle across the Western world, with the Spanish Revolution of 1936–37 as the high point. This had nothing to do with any long term economic growth.

This is not to say that economic growth, rising living standards and the expectation of further improvement do not sometimes lead to radicalisation when the system cannot deliver on its promises.

But let’s not imagine that the workers’ revolutions of the future will be like the bourgeois revolutions of the past, and that there is some mechanical relationship between economic growth and revolt from below. History, thankfully, is a much richer cocktail.


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