By Pete Dolack, published on his website Systemic Disorder, Nov 1, 2017 (with comment by Roger Annis further below)
History does not travel in a straight line. I won’t argue against that sentence being a cliché. Yet it is still true. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t be still debating the meaning of the October Revolution on its centenary, and more than a quarter-century after its demise.
Neither the Bolsheviks or any other party had played a direct role in the February revolution that toppled the tsar, for leaders of those organizations were in exile abroad or in Siberia, or in jail. Nonetheless the tireless work of activists laid the groundwork. The Bolsheviks were a minority even among the active workers of Russia’s cities then, but later in the year, their candidates steadily gained majorities in all the working class organizations — factory committees, unions and soviets. The slogan of “peace, bread, land” resonated powerfully.
The time had come for the working class to take power. Should they really do it? How could backward Russia with a vast rural population still largely illiterate possibly leap all the way to a socialist revolution? The answer was in the West — the Bolsheviks were convinced that socialist revolutions would soon sweep Europe, after which advanced industrial countries would lend ample helping hands. The October Revolution was staked on European revolution, particularly in Germany…
Read the full essay at the original weblink above.
Comment by Roger Annis, Nov 25, 2017
The following comment was submitted to the above article as published on Systemic Disorder website on Nov 1, 2017.
I appreciate very much the essay by Pete Dolack, The revolt that shook the world. It distinguishes itself from the many formulaic essays which posit an inevitable decline of the Russian Revolution due to the failure to achieve a Europe-wide revolution during the 1920s and which ignore how the revolution lived on for many decades following 1917. The Russian Revolution survived in weakened and compromised form all the way until the end of the 1980s, despite its shortcomings and the crimes and misdeeds of the Stalin era.
Let’s recall, also, that today’s multi-polar world owes its existence to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Chinese Revolution of 1949. These two countries have reverted, yes, to capitalism. But they are not imperialist countries and this fact provides opportunities for countries and peoples to challenge the omnipotence of the U.S.-led imperialist front of countries (NATO, Japan, Australasia). (See my co-authored essay on this subject: The myth of ‘Russian imperialism’: In defense of Lenin’s analyses, February 2016.)
I believe more attention is needed to studying the years of the New Economic Policy (1921-28). This was the time when progress was still possible for the newly-formed Soviet Union (1922) despite all the economic hardships, made worse by the imperialist blockades and interventions. The first, large setback suffered at the hands of the rising regime of Stalin was the premature ending of NEP, replaced by a forced-march regime of industrialization and, in the countryside, collectivization of agriculture. NEP was predicated on maintaining and strengthening the ‘smychka’ (union) of urban workers and agricultural producers which lay at the heart of Bolshevik Party policy (Lenin) from the time of the party’s inception.
As all sides in the Soviet government and Bolshevik Party were in agreement in 1926-27 that it was necessary to accelerate industrial production (in part to meet the needs and demands of the peasants) and more attention and resources were needed to accelerate the pace of socialization of agricultural production–collective farms, cooperative farming, credit unions, meaningful provision of industrial goods and social benefits which the peasants could acquire in exchange for their production. The decision to undertake a forced march of collectivizing agricultural production in place of the voluntary approaches during NEP was particularly disastrous. (See my essay: Reflections on the Russian Revolution of 1917, September 2017.)
I think the examples of Nicaragua and Venezuela are misplaced. “Leaving most of the economy in the hands of capitalists gives them [capitalists] the power to destroy the economy, as Nicaragua found out in the 1980s and Venezuela is finding out today.” The Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua suffered a setback in 1990 because of the grinding contra war and thousands of deaths and property damage it inflicted. The Sandinista leaders carried out a wise policy of retreat in agreeing to hold a national election that year and then accepting their electoral defeat (55 per cent for the pro-U.S. opposition vs 41 per cent for the FSLN).
Venezuela is more complicated. Certainly, as writers such as Steve Ellner have analyzed, the Bolivarian governments under Chavez and now Maduro have made mistakes in economic policy (excessive dependence on oil revenues, slow pace of economic diversification) and revolutionary democracy in Venezuela is uneven. But it is wrong to reduce Venezuela’s econoic and social challenges to the simple solution of more rapid nationalizations. In what condition, exactly, are the workers and farmers of Venezuela to take control of all of industry and finance? What would be the international repercussions? Should Venezuela reduce the resources it has devoted to international solidarity through such initiatives as Petrocaraibe and the ALBA alliance of Latin American and Carribbean countries? These questions and more require specific attention.
There are many lessons from NEP which apply to socialist transition processes today, doubly so in a world of accelerating global warming emergency and hyper-development of new technologies. The Western left largely ignores NEP because it has succumbed to simplistic interpretations of the Russian Revolution and it carries these into its analyses of contemporary transition processes where phrases such as ‘socialist revolution’ and ‘revolution from below’ serve as rote answers to complex problems. (To be clear, this is not a specific accusation or criticism of Pete Dolack’s fine essay.)