IN OCTOBER 1917 workers took power in Russia.
This is the 90th anniversary of the victorious October Revolution, the first time in history that the working class seized power and held onto it.
This began in Petrograd the second city of Russia, that had served as the winter capital of the Tsar, on October 25, 1917 (November 7, according to the modern calendar).
The revolution spread to Moscow and then throughout Russia and other countries of the Russian Empire.
The October Revolution was the culmination of a year of revolutionary struggles in Russia in 1917, the third year of the imperialist World War I.
The Russian Revolution was a direct result of the crisis of world capitalism and this imperialist war.
Inter-imperialist rivalries between German imperialism, which had developed late, and British and French imperialisms, that had already colonised Asia and Africa, burst out into a full-scale war in August 1914.
The Russian feudal autocracy, headed by Tsar Nicholas II, allied itself with Britain and France, which had large-scale investments in Russia.
Although the Tsarist regime mobilised millions into the armed forces, mainly peasants, to fight on the Eastern Front against Germany, the Russian forces lacked guns and basic supplies and were poorly trained.
Industrially backward Russia was unable to match the weaponry of Germany, the most advanced capitalist country in the world at that time, and thousands upon thousands of Russian soldiers were killed.
Demoralisation spread through the army, the working class in the major cities suffered draconian working conditions and food supplies were inadequate, and the peasantry was restless.
The revolution began at the start of February 1917 with several strikes and demonstrations from the Petrograd workers.
Demonstrations were organised to demand bread, as people were starving. Then there were demands: ‘End to the war!’ and ‘End to the autocracy!’
When the Tsar arrived in St Petersburg and saw that the mass of the people controlled the city, he resigned on March 2.
The Provisional Government which replaced the Tsar was initially chaired by Prince Lvov, of the capitalist Constitutional Democratic party (Kadets). He was joined by members of the peasant party, the Social Revolutionaries (SRs) and reformist socialists of the Menshevik party, who were one part of the divided and split Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP).
In 1917, soviets (workers councils) sprang up in the major cities, as they had done in the 1905 Revolution (often described as the dress rehearsal for 1917).
In the soviets, where workers from the various factories were directly represented, there were also delegates from the army regiments billeted near the cities.
In St Petersburg (later renamed Petrograd), the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies was the real power and declared that only it could sanction the movement of military units in the area. Similar soviets held sway in other major cities, like Moscow.
However, the leaders of the Petrograd Soviet in February 1917, were predominantly from the SRs and the reformist Menshevik party.
The revolutionary party, the Bolsheviks, were in a small minority at this time.
The leaders of the Petrograd Soviet, the SRs and the Mensheviks, allowed the Provisional Government to take over the running of the country.
After Prince Lvov’s government failed, he was succeeded by Alexander Kerensky, an SR.
He insisted that Russia would continue fighting in the imperialist war.
The Bolshevik Party, led by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, had fought throughout the war for ‘revolutionary defeatism’, declaring that the working class must be for the defeat of its own ruling class in the war, and that the working class must transform the imperialist war into a civil war to overthrow the ruling class.
The February Revolution was a powerful confirmation of Lenin’s revolutionary defeatist position. The Tsarist ruling class in Russia had been overthrown by the Russian people, led by the working class.
This led initially to the formation of a capitalist Provisional Government that was pledged to continue the imperialist war.
Alongside this existed the soviets, based on the workers and soldiers, who were all armed.
A situation of dual power existed in Russia after the February Revolution.
When Lenin returned to Russia in April 1917, he proclaimed his ‘The April Theses’, as soon as he arrived in Petrograd, outlining the tasks confronting the Bolshevik Party.
He identified the ‘specific features of the present situation in Russia as a period of transition from the first stage of the revolution to the second’.
He realised that the feudal aristocracy had been overthrown and been replaced with the bourgeoisie and bourgeois landowners.
Lenin wrote: ‘To this extent the bourgeois-democratic revolution is completed.’
Since there were now two powers in the land, that of the capitalist Provisional Government and that of the working class in the form of the Soviets, the Bolsheviks had to ‘preach the necessity of transferring the entire state power to the Soviets of Workers Deputies’.
Lenin concluded: ‘In the theses, I very definitely reduced the question to one of a struggle for influence within the Soviet of Workers’, Agricultural Labourers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.
‘To leave no shadow of doubt on this score, I twice emphasised in the theses the need for patient and persistent “explanatory” work “adapted to the practical needs of the masses”.’
Lenin’s April Thesis came as a considerable shock to the majority of Bolshevik leaders who at that time, along with Joseph Stalin, were advocating unity with the Mensheviks and support for the provisional government which was carrying on with the imperialist war.
Lenin’s shock tactics and implacable struggle however brought the party to its senses and silenced these leaders.
Some, such as Stalin were unable to reorientate themselves and played no leading role in the October revolution itself.
As a result of the Bolsheviks’ insistence on the need to bring the imperialist war to an end, and as a result of the growing anger of the workers against the Provisional Government, the Bolsheviks became a majority in the Petrograd Soviet by the beginning of July.
Leon Trotsky, who had been the leader of the Petrograd Soviet in 1905, had insisted that the working class had to lead the revolution in Russia since 1905, and that this revolution would ‘grow over’ into a socialist revolution.
Thus Lenin and Trotsky had arrived at the same strategy by the spring of 1917, that is the need to win over the workers in the soviets to the need to take power.
In fact Lenin was accused by some of the older Bolshevik leaders of embracing Trotskyism.
Convincing the working class and the Soviets of the need to take the power was the strategy which Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolshevik Party pursued during the ‘July Days’, when thousands of workers in Petrograd took part in armed demonstrations against the Provisional Government.
When the Petrograd workers demanded that the working class must take the power there and then, in July, Lenin and Trotsky explained to them that such an attempt would be premature, since the Bolsheviks were in a minority in the country as a whole.
They urged caution, but nevertheless placed themselves at the head of the armed workers demonstrations in the ‘July Days’, when workers would not listen to them and marched arms in hand.
These demonstrations were fired on and a few months of anti-Bolshevik reaction followed, in which the Bolshevik press was broken up, Lenin was forced to flee to Finland, and Trotsky was arrested and put into the Peter and Paul Fortress.
However, the Bolsheviks had taught a major lesson in revolutionary tactics to the advanced workers and the party’s leadership over the working class was enormously strengthened.
At the end of August General Kornilov sought to continue the movement to the right by overthrowing the SR Kerensky.
Opposing the leftists, the Bolsheviks advocated and engaged in a united front with Kerensky to defeat the attempted military coup by the counter-revolutionary Kornilov.
They argued that the United Front was actually the way to expose Kerensky and his policies in a situation where Kerensky was unable to fight the ultra-right wing militarists who were making their bid for power.
In the course of this struggle the Bolsheviks completely undermined any remaining support that there was for Kerensky, and became the leaders of the majority of the working class and the poor.
One result was that Trotsky was freed from the Peter and Paul Fortress.
After the defeat of Kornilov at the beginning of September, Lenin and Trotsky considered that it was time to go forward to the seizure of power.
The mass of workers wanted to put an end to the Provisional Government and war, and the Bolsheviks had won the majority in the most important soviets, in the major cities.
On September 14, Lenin wrote in an article entitled ‘Marxism and Insurrection’ that once the conditions existed to take power to refuse to do so ‘is a betrayal of Marxism and a betrayal of the revolution’.
For the next month Lenin, who was in hiding in Finland, fought within the Bolshevik Party for this view, which was opposed by a group of old leaders around Zinoviev and Kamenev as an adventure that was bound to be defeated.
The cautious Stalin kept his mouth well and truly shut!
The Bolsheviks set up a Military Committee and the Petrograd Soviet set up the Revolutionary Military Committee, with Trotsky as its chairman and its main leader to begin the insurrection from Petrograd.
It was on orders emanating from the Revolutionary Military Committee of the Petrograd Soviet that armed workers and soldiers took over government buildings on October 24 and on October 25, they stormed the Winter Palace, the seat of the Provisional Government, which was dispersed.
Lenin told the victorious soviets, ‘We shall now proceed to construct the socialist order’.
After the October Revolution a Soviet Federation was formed with a revolutionary government of People’s Commissars.
It was the first step in the World Socialist Revolution.
The Third International was then formed from parties that supported the Russian revolution, to lead the world socialist revolution to its victory. Lenin and Trotsky made no secret of their political position, that was also the political position of Soviet Russia, that the Russian Revolution was the beginning of the world socialist revolution, and that the victory of the Russian revolution would only be completed with the victory of the world socialist revolution.
Lenin declared in his ‘Letter to the American Workers’ in 1918, ‘We are like a besieged fortress waiting for the armies of the international socialist revolution to come to our aid’.
Leon Trotsky was made Commissar for War in 1918 and formed the Red Army with its famous Socialist Oath of allegiance to the working class of Russia and of the whole world.
The Socialist Oath was approved by the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Soviets of Workers, Soldiers, Peasants and Cossacks’ Deputies on April 22, 1918.
‘1. I, a son of the working people and a citizen of the Soviet Republic, assume the title of a soldier of the workers’ and peasants’ Red Army.
‘2. Before the working class of Russia and of the whole world I pledge myself to bear this title with honour, to study the art of war conscientiously, and to protect, like the apple of my eye, all public and military property from damage and robbery.
‘3. I pledge myself to observe revolutionary discipline strictly and unflaggingly, and to obey without question, all orders given by commanders appointed by the workers’ and peasants’ government.
‘4. I pledge myself to abstain from any action derogatory to the dignity of a citizen of the Soviet Republic, and to restrain my comrades from such action, and to direct all my thoughts and deeds towards the great goal of the emancipation of all the working people.
‘5. I pledge myself to respond to the first call from the workers and peasants government to defend the Soviet Republic against any dangers and attacks from any enemy, and to spare neither my strength nor my life in the fight for the Russian Soviet Republic and for the cause of socialism and the brotherhood of the peoples.
‘6. If ever, with evil intent, I should depart from this, my solemn promise, may the scorn of all be my lot and may the stern hand of revolutionary law punish me.’
Despite the mobilisation of counter-revolutionary White Russian forces and the intervention of 14 imperialist armies in the wars of intervention (1918-21), workers power was victorious, and an inspiration to the workers of the world.
This was and is worlds away from the theory of socialism in a single country, and capitalism everywhere else, which Stalin took over from the German Social Democracy in 1924, after Lenin’s death, when the revolutionary wave in western Europe had subsided for the moment after the defeat of the 1923 German revolution.
Stalin, in fact, declared that world revolution was a joke.
Lenin was the first to see this Stalinist degeneration beginning to take place, and was shaken and angered by the growth of bureaucracy, along with moods of Russian nationalism.
He called in his testament for Stalin to be expelled from the party.
Before his death he proposed to Trotsky that they should form an alliance to put a political bomb under Stalin and the growing bureaucracy at the 15th Party Congress.
However Lenin died before this could be done.
Today the Stalinist bureaucracy is doing its worst with its frantic attempts to restore capitalism in Russia, and China.
Despite the most determined and vicious attempts at counter revolution the gains of the great October revolution remain in the countries where the Russian revolution took place, and spread to.
Meanwhile, capitalism has entered its greatest ever crisis and threatens the world with mass barbarism.
Everywhere, slump and wars are leading to revolutionary upheavals, and the prospects for completing the world socialist revolution begun in October 1917 are bright and inspiring.
The crucial issue is the construction of the Bolshevik Leninist parties of the Fourth International in all the major countries to lead the struggle for the victory of the world socialist revolution, using as a guide to practice the brilliant revolutionary theories and practices developed by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky.
Long Live the 1917 October Revolution – Forward to the World October!