October 1917: the defining event of our epoch

Proletarian issue 80 (October 2017)
Proletarian, issue 80

What is the significance of the events in Russia one hundred years ago for workers in Britain today?
The anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution is the most significant date in the proletarian calendar. It is an event our party has celebrated every year since its founding. At that meeting, we bring together members and supporters from around the country and mark the continued development and growth of our organisation, while reminding ourselves of just what it is we are working towards.

Lenin and 1917: a new era

Over the years, the speakers at our meetings have examined in great detail all the most important aspects of the October Revolution. They have paid tribute to the men and women workers who carried out the revolution, and to the leading role of the Bolshevik party – the revolutionary organisation in whose footsteps we hope to follow, which enabled the workers to understand their enemy and to organise themselves to defeat it.

Importantly, in the present climate, our speakers have repeatedly stressed the vital role played by revolutionary theory – especially the immense theoretical contribution of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, who advanced Marxist science by adding to it a precise definition of imperialism (the final stage of decaying capitalism) and who detailed the ways in which imperialism affects the struggle of workers and peasants of all countries for their liberation and social emancipation.

It was Comrade Lenin who created the template for a revolutionary party, working out in the furnace of intense class struggle the essential elements of communist organisation that enabled workers to make their efforts effective. All parties that are serious about overthrowing capitalism and building socialism still follow these organisational tenets today.

Lenin was also a master of strategy and tactics. He solved many important questions, such as the peasant question and the national question, by clearly and precisely explaining their relationship to the socialist revolution. He demonstrated the need for the proletariat to maximise its forces by galvanising as many allies for each phase of the struggle as possible, and showed how it was both possible and necessary to take on the various enemies of socialism one at a time rather than all together.

Unlike Trotsky and his modern-day followers, Lenin did not play at revolution, and was not at all interested in heroic failures. He understood that what was at stake was nothing less than the future of humanity, and he taught the working class how to think and act so it could win.

Correct theoretical understanding was what enabled the Bolsheviks to see their way clearly and navigate the turbulent waters of the class struggle. It was the combination of correct theory with disciplined organisational practice that created an unstoppable force for change in the Russian empire a century ago. This is the true legacy of Comrade Lenin, and it is one which continues to reverberate throughout the world.

Our party’s interest in October is not merely academic or historical; we are not professors, fans or armchair ‘experts’ on October, but modern-day revolutionaries, working to repeat the feat of the Bolsheviks a hundred years on and therefore doing everything we can to learn what October has to teach us. We have, after all, set ourselves the same task as the Bolsheviks did: namely, of applying Marxist-Leninist science to present-day problems of organisation, strategy and tactics in order that we might help the British working class to gather the forces it needs to emancipate itself from capitalist slavery.

The October Revolution marked the beginning of the era in which imperialism will be replaced by socialism; it shaped our world and put the ruling class on notice that capitalism’s days are numbered. No matter what reverses the socialist movement has suffered, the future of humanity is a communist future, which will be arrived at through defeating capitalism and establishing socialism (the lower stage of communism) all over the world.

Lenin summed up the first mighty step that Russian workers had taken on behalf of workers everywhere in a short speech he gave in 1918, when the revolution was barely half a year old: “We are entitled to be proud and to consider ourselves fortunate that it has come to our lot to be the first to fell in one part of the globe that wild beast, capitalism, which has drenched the earth in blood, which has reduced humanity to starvation and demoralisation, and which will assuredly perish soon, no matter how monstrous and savage its frenzy in the face of death.” (Prophetic words, Pravda, 2 July 1918)

The smashing of tsarism and imperialism by the workers and peasants of Russia and the Russian empire, the successful building of a planned socialist economy by the united Soviet workers and peasants, and the smashing of the ‘invincible’ Nazi war machine by the Soviet armed forces, partisans and peoples – these earth-shaking achievements of workers who had set themselves free from the shackles of capitalist exploitation and servitude lit a flame that still burns, continuing to light the path for workers and oppressed peoples everywhere.

Stalin: harbinger of doom for the capitalist class

Our detractors accuse us of many things: of being a tiny and irrelevant clique; of being a historical re-enactment society; and especially (and most dreadfully, to their distorted vision) of being Stalinists.

As Comrade Stalin himself always pointed out, there really is no such thing as ‘Stalinism’. Stalin himself was a Marxist-Leninist, albeit an outstanding one. Still, we wear this supposed insult as a badge of honour, for Josef Vissarionovich Stalin – Uncle Joe, as British workers affectionately nicknamed him during WW2 – was nothing more or less than Lenin’s most faithful pupil and truest successor. He was a master implementer of Marxist-Leninist science, an expert dialectician and tactician, an indefatigable fighter for the socialist cause, and, while he lived, a wise and beloved teacher and leader not only to the Soviet peoples but to all the workers and oppressed of the world.

As head of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks) (CPSU(B)) and leader of the world’s first socialist state – the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) –Comrade Stalin presided over some of humanity’s greatest achievements to date: achievements made all the more remarkable because they were carried out by pioneers who were navigating in unchartered waters. The work of these pioneers finally proved in practice the correctness of Marxism’s projections about what the working classes would be capable of once the capitalist ruling class and anarchic capitalist production had been removed from the scene.

The incredible achievements of Soviet industrialisation and collectivisation have been well documented by us, as has the provision of exemplary social facilities for workers that were the first of their kind, and the envy of the world. While workers in the capitalist countries were enduring the misery of the terrible economic crisis of the 1920s and 30s, Soviet workers were enjoying the fruits that came to them as a result of the abolition of class exploitation and the construction of a planned socialist economy: the elimination of hunger, poverty and homelessness; the liberation of women; the end of national oppression and of wars for plunder.

Millions upon millions of previously downtrodden and destitute workers were actively engaged in the creation of a new socialist culture, as their creative power was unleashed and they found themselves the masters and makers of a new world.

When we put aside all the thousand and one nonsensical prejudices with which we have been carefully indoctrinated and evaluate sensibly the role played by Comrade Stalin’s leadership, and by the Bolshevik party during Stalin’s time at the helm, it becomes clear that his role was pivotal to the Soviet Union’s successes.

And when we understand all this, it becomes clear just why it is that workers all over the capitalist world are taught to revile the name of Josef Stalin; why so many historians, journalists and academics are paid such good wages for making up obscene and ridiculous lies about him and about the Soviet Union he led.

While Stalin lived, the world socialist movement had an undisputed leader, whom the mass of the oppressed could look to for guidance and assistance. Our movement was united and achieved victory after victory, putting the fear of god into capitalists and imperialists everywhere, and letting them know that their days were most definitely numbered.

The Soviet Union won the second world war, which had been forced upon it by the rapacious imperialists, and completely smashed the allegedly invincible Nazi war machine. As the Red Army forced the fascists back towards Berlin, it freed country after country from occupation, and cleared the way for the forces of popular resistance to form socialist governments across liberated eastern Europe.

Despite suffering horrendous material losses during the war and sacrificing 27 million of their citizens in the fight against fascism – the flower of that first proud generation of Soviet men and women –the Soviet people rebuilt their devastated towns and cities at a pace that exceeded the earlier drives to industrialisation and collectivisation– a pace that, at the time, had itself seemed impossibly fast. Both before and after the war, the USSR gave unstinting support to national-liberation movements in the superexploited colonial and semi-colonial countries.

While Stalin lived, and while the Soviet Union was guided by such a leader, and by a party founded on Marxist-Leninist science, there was nothing the workers of the USSR could not achieve and no force on earth that could defeat them. Workers everywhere had a motherland and the world revolution had a base from which it could take confidence and support.

No wonder the bourgeoisie hated Stalin then, and no wonder they hate him still. No wonder his legacy leaves them incandescent with rage. No wonder they are so desperate to inculcate revulsion at the very sound of his name amongst workers. J V Stalin represents everything our rulers fear most: the death of their power and privilege; the end of their dominion over the people and resources of this earth. He represents the bright future of humanity – and the certainty that there is no place for rich exploiters in that future.

Josef Stalin, more than any other individual, was and remains the capitalist class’s harbinger of doom.

Upholding the banner of October

That is why true Marxists continue to laud the leadership of both Lenin and Stalin, as well as the party they led, and to hold up the phenomenal achievements of the Soviet people as the inspiration for everything we do. Together, they have given us something that can never be taken away: they have shown us the strength of workers’ power and given us incontrovertible proof of our ability to do without rulers. They have given us incontrovertible proof that socialism truly is the next step on mankind’s long progress from primitive to higher communism.

If every oppressed person in the world understood the achievements of Soviet socialism during the period of Lenin and Stalin’s leadership, capitalism would be vanquished within the year.

Even with the advances made by revisionism since the death of Comrade Stalin: the restoration of capitalism to the land of the Soviets and the east European people’s democracies; the degeneration of so much of the world communist movement and the consequent demoralisation and disarray that still characterises the workers’ movement in much of the world, the imperialist bourgeoisies, although apparently riding high, have found that their triumph has been short-lived.

The October Revolution put them all on borrowed time: the salvos of October opened the era of the demise of imperialism and the transition to socialism, and, no matter how circuitous the route that gets us there, or how long it takes for the final victory over the final capitalists to arrive, socialism is most certainly humanity’s next destination.

The USSR was living proof that all the apparently insoluble problems of our world – poverty, hunger, homelessness, disease, racism, war, inequality, impending ecological catastrophe and more – can in fact be solved by means of the simple application of technology, resources, manpower and planning, if only we are prepared to do what is necessary to free our world from the control of commodity production and everything that goes with it: the insanity of capitalist market forces and the unquenchable thirst of the capitalist ruling class for ever-greater profit.

The experience of those pioneers of socialist revolution and construction, summed up for us in the works of Comrades Lenin and Stalin, and in a plethora of Soviet textbooks, novels and eye-witness accounts, is a precious legacy that our party works hard to preserve and to bring to the attention of class-conscious workers, sure in the knowledge that an understanding of what they are capable of is key to raising the confidence of the British proletariat after decades of the decline and demoralisation of the working-class movement.

No other avowedly socialist, communist or revolutionary organisation in Britain has seriously set itself this task; no other organisation in Britain consistently asks of all its activities: ‘Will this bring us closer to revolution?’ That is what makes our party unique and allows us to claim that we are the true voice of the British proletariat, despite our small size and (as yet) weak links with the working masses.

Our task is urgent

The insatiable drive to maximise profits, and the need to oppose all threats to its domination of world markets (such as the independent and anti-imperialist Brics or Shanghai Cooperation Organisation groupings), is pushing our rulers ever closer towards a cataclysmic third world war with Russia or China or both – a war which is bound to have the most severe consequences for British workers. (See Joti Brar, The Drive to War Against Russia and China, 2017)

We cannot expect that in such a war the casualties will only be concentrated elsewhere, as they have been during Britain’s recent wars in the middle east and Africa. If our rulers send British bombers to towns and cities in Russia and China, we can expect those countries to return fire with full force.

This is not doom-mongering, but a simple statement of fact. Such wars are the inevitable consequence of the world crisis of capitalism. As Lenin pointed out to workers who were suffering the terrible trials of the first world war: “War cannot be abolished unless classes are abolished and socialism is created.” (Socialism and War, September 1915)

It was to try to escape earlier overproduction crises that the imperialists went to war in 1914 and 1939, as they strove to hold on to their colonial territories or to gain new ones at each other’s expense. During those wars some 100 million working-class lives were lost, and unimaginable wealth was destroyed – wealth that encapsulated the labour of millions upon millions of workers. (See CPGB-ML, World War One: An Interimperialist War to Redivide the World, 2015)

To the prospect of waste on such an insane scale, we must also add the prospect of imminent environmental catastrophe, which has the potential to destroy as many or even more lives – or even to leave the earth entirely uninhabitable for humans. The environmental problems we face have been brought about by capitalism’s rapacious activities and are being daily exacerbated by the cut-throat drive to increase profits.

Despite all the dire warnings from scientists about the scale of the problem and the urgent need for coordinated and unified action by the governments of the world, the profit motive stands like a ghost between humankind and its ability to stop the juggernaut of climate change that is heading towards us. Put plainly: the capitalists are simply unable to change their destructive behaviours or to plan on the necessary scale.

Imperialism is a paper tiger

It can seem that the task we have set ourselves is simply too big; that our enemies are too numerous and too powerful. But beneath its seemingly impregnable walls, the fortress of imperialist power has crumbling foundations. As Chairman Mao famously expressed it: “imperialism is a paper tiger”. (US imperialism is a paper tiger, 14 July 1956)

The world war of 1914-18 was a terrible and senseless waste, but it also revealed the inherent weaknesses of the imperialist system and stirred the masses of Europe to action. The Bolsheviks were able to harness this anger constructively, and Russia left the war in 1917 after the socialist revolution finally enabled the workers and peasants to fulfil their demands for land, bread and peace.

Comrade Lenin laid down two essential objective conditions for a successful revolution: first, that the ruling class should be unable to rule in the old way, and second that the working class should no longer be willing to be ruled in the old way. Such situations arise as inevitably as the crises that plague economic production within the world capitalist system, and we can today see the contradictions once again maturing towards a revolutionary situation in Britain and many other countries. (See Left-Wing” Communism, an Infantile Disorder, 1920)

The deepest-ever crisis of overproduction is creating splits and schisms amongst our rulers, as they argue over the best way to keep their failing system alive. Should they be following policies of market protectionism or of unfettered free trade? Should austerity be intensified or somewhat ameliorated? (All, of course, are agreed that austerity is needed if British capitalism is to be saved.) Is there really a need for all these wars, or could the same regime-change objectives be met using other means? (Again, the objectives themselves are not really in dispute.)

The constant infighting and mud-slinging between the representatives of the various bourgeois factions as they jostle for control is resulting in a chain of extremely educative exposures about the workings of the state machine: the workings of the judiciary, for example, or the activities of the secret services, or just the fact that the real running of the bourgeois state is carried on by unelected elites behind doors that are firmly closed to the working class.

In their haste to throw mud at one another, the capitalists are being unusually careless in what they let slip to the rest of us, and many topics that are usually passed over in silence by the capitalist media are now being openly discussed. In such an atmosphere, workers cannot but start to lose their respect for the hitherto sanctified organs of bourgeois power, and no amount of forced teaching of ‘British democratic values’ in our schools will be able to reverse this trend. Practice is teaching us the truth of Lenin’s observation: “Democracy for an insignificant minority, democracy for the rich – that is the democracy of capitalist society.” (The State and Revolution, 1917)

Meanwhile, the capitalists’ need to pass the burden of the crisis onto the backs of the workers via an accelerated programme of austerity, following as it does a 40-year programme of slow chipping away at Britain’s welfare and social provision, is massively accelerating the impoverishment of ever-wider sections of the working class, bringing untold stress and lowering the living standards of most, and creating a simmering cauldron of barely suppressed rage in the process.

This rage is bound to boil over at some point. When it does, the ruling class will continue to do everything in its power to direct workers’ anger down channels that are harmless to the system but extremely detrimental to the workers themselves.

They will go to ever more extreme lengths to persuade workers to blame one another for the problems capitalism has created: to further scapegoat immigrants (health tourists and job stealers), the unemployed (welfare scroungers), old people (leeching baby boomers), young people (entitled millennials), or any other subsection of the working class. They will continue to incite hatred against the people of the countries they are targeting for their wars and to try to persuade us to blame those people for the decline in manufacturing jobs or in our living standards.

This turning of workers’ rage against other workers – the age-old strategy of divide and rule – has been the secret of every minority exploiting class’s ability to hold onto power. It has certainly been key to the present-day exploiters’ ability to preserve their system for a full century after the Russian proletariat gave them their marching orders.

Exposing these machinations and overcoming these divisions will be the key to the success of the revolutionaries. That is why Marx and Engels in 1848 ended the Communist Manifesto with these famous lines: “Let the ruling classes tremble at a communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working men of all countries, unite!

In the course of their struggle for the correct theory and for organisational unity, workers will gain confidence and discover what they are capable of. Lenin summed up the experience gained by such struggles in a lecture in January 1917: “Only struggle educates the exploited class. Only struggle discloses to it the magnitude of its own power, widens its horizon, enhances its abilities, clarifies its mind, forges its will.” (Lecture on the 1905 Revolution, our emphasis)

Lenin laid down another condition for a successful revolution: that there should be a party or organisation willing and able to take state power. That is where the revolutionaries come in. We cannot control the pace at which the contradictions of capitalism develop and the objective revolutionary situation matures. But we can and must prepare our forces in the full knowledge that that situation is maturing and our organisation will be desperately needed if the opportunity is to be grasped and its potential transformed into reality. In short, if humankind is to be saved from another fifty or a hundred years of capitalist insanity.

The British working class today is demoralised and disunited. The communist forces in Britain are small and weak. Nevertheless, there is no future for humanity other than a communist future, so the work must be done to reinvigorate our movement and build a force that is capable of harnessing the collective power of the working class. This work must be done by those who understand that it is needed, and the number of those who understand this must be constantly increased.

Our work is to build a party that can bring this understanding to ever-wider sections of the working class. A party that can help workers see their way clearly and direct their rage constructively – enabling them ultimately to smash the machinery of the capitalist state and replace it with the organs of workers’ power. Only by taking full control of all planning and production will British workers be able to coordinate their efforts to solve society’s problems and build a decent life for all.

The socialist revolution is the first step workers must take if humanity is to have a chance of dedicating the necessary time and resources to solving such pressing problems as hunger, poverty, inequality and war, and of ameliorating the worst effects of climate change. We communists understand that this is no game. It is our firm intention to become a force fit for the crucial battles to come.

The centenary of October comes at an important moment for our party. We have been growing steadily over the last few years, working hard to develop a professional and serious culture of meaningful study combined with militant activism, and our organisation is taking its first small steps in the direction of becoming a real force on the streets of Britain. Although we are still pitifully small, we are growing, even while Britain’s plethora of Trotskyite and revisionist groups are shedding members by the bucket-load and slowly sinking into the social-democratic quagmire they have dug for themselves.

As the only true upholders of the banner of October in Britain – the banner of revolutionary socialism; the banner of Lenin and Stalin – we invite all those who wish to bring revolution to Britain to join our ranks. Join us and do your part in bringing the message to workers in Britain: the tide is turning in the class struggle and the communists are on the march once more. Alone we are powerless; together we are an unstoppable force!

In the words of Comrade Lenin: “Let the [fake] ‘socialist’ snivellers croak, let the bourgeoisie rage and fume, but only people who shut their eyes so as not to see, and stuff their ears so as not to hear, can fail to notice that all over the world the birth pangs of the old, capitalist society, which is pregnant with socialism, have begun.” (Prophetic words, 1918)

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