- Capitalism and Alternatives -

A few more comments on the October Revolution

Posted by: Barry Stoller on February 22, 19100 at 10:36:08:

Defending the revolutionary terror of the Bolsheviks in their battle against the petty-bourgeois elements in Russia, I quoted Lenin to David in this post. I now wish to return to that passage, including however all of it, in order to exemplify the difficulties experienced by the Bolsheviks:

[The kulaks] argue like this: if people are starving, grain prices will rise; if the towns are starving, I will stuff my pockets; and if the starvation becomes worse, I will make thousands more.

But I know very well that the blame for this kind of argument does not lie with individuals. The whole abominable heritage of landowner and capitalist society society has taught people to argue, to think and to live like this; and to reform the life of tens of millions of people is terribly difficult; it will require long and persistent work, and this work we have only just begun. We would never think of blaming people who, tormented by hunger and seeing no benefit in the organization of a socialist system of bread distribution, scurry to look after themselves and let everything else go hang. These people cannot be blamed.

But we do say that when it is a case of representatives of parties, when it is a case of large bodies of people, we expect them to look at the matter, not from the standpoint of the suffering, tormented, hungry individual, against whom nobody would think of raising his hand, but from the standpoint of the building of a new society.(1)

That passage, in my opinion, expresses all the ideological (and emotional) contradictions the Bolsheviks experienced when they discovered that the petty-bourgeoisie would fight even more resolutely then the large bourgeoisie. That passage, in my opinion, expresses the defeated humanist impulses of the Marxist visionary upon facing immediate famine as a result of interminable kulak greed.

David then furnishes a recently declassified Lenin memo (here):

Comrades! The kulak uprising in [your] five districts must be crushed without pity. The interests of the whole revolution demand it, for the 'final and decisive battle' with the kulaks everywhere is now engaged. An example must be made. I) Hang (and I mean hang so that the people can see)not less than 100 known kulaks, rich men, bloodsuckers. 2) Publish their names. 3)Take all their grain away from them. 4) Identify hostages as we described in our telegram yesterday. Do this so that for hundreds of miles around the people can see, tremble, know and cry: they are killing and will go on killing the bloodsucker kulaks. Cable that you have received and carried out [your instructions].

Shocking measures, agreed.

However, I remain unswayed---and I resubmit my unanswered question to David:

Is it 'moral' to let millions of people die of starvation in the streets for the sake of high profits while it is 'immoral' to shoot (or hang) those who hoard grain?

Moving on to some of RD's points...

: BTW - Kronstadt, Cheka - any comments on them?


Considering what the Bolsheviks attempted to do (create a worker's state) in the face of their resistance (those who wanted to create a dictatorship of capitalism), I'm proud to defend the Bolsheviks' suppression of the Kronstadt mutiny. I would however urge you to consider Trotsky's words regarding that incident:

The suppression of the Kronstadt rising was one of the saddest necessities of the Russian Revolution. Unlike the sailors of the November 1917 revolution, who were drawn largely from the industrial heart of o Petrograd, and who were subsequently dispersed to the four corners of Russia during the civil war, the sailors in 1921 were...usually the sons of Ukrainian peasants... On furlough in their home towns, they were heavily influenced by the complaints of the peasants against the strenuous regime of War Communism, and against the Communists who led the regime. In Kronstadt itself, ant-communist elements---anarchists and Social Revolutionaries---were active in sharpening relations between Kronstadt and Petrograd. Outside of Russia, the reactionary elements regarded the Kronstadt uprising as a rallying pole for the counter-revolution---at first under the war-cry of 'Soviets without Communists'---a bridge to no Soviets at all. The Kronstadt sailors were, for the most part, the unwitting victims of these forces.(2)

The Cheka, as I've stated previously, was originally the Revolutionary Military Committee, a body created to fight sabotage, profiteering, hooliganism and, later, the counterrevolution itself.

Although one would hope for a socialist transformation of society under entirely above-board, ethical, and transparent forces, the truth of the matter is that civil war requires unfortunate measures such as the deployment of secret police. Why? Because the enemy will not resist socialist transformation with such above-board, ethical, and transparent measures as one would hope for; they will resist with every dirty trick in the book.

A revolution is not a tea party, RD, and your hope for a 5 minute dictatorship of the proletariat is either a personal delusion or an untruth intended to beguile potential members of your party.

There, then---I've met your bogeys Kronstadt and the Cheka head on and honest. Now, return the favor and do the same regarding such candy-coated nostrums as '5 minute' dictatorships of the proletariat.

: They should have worked to build liberal democracy in Russia - the Mensheviks were right on that score.

This is the most offensive thing you have said yet!

'Building liberal democracy' instead of pursuing a proletarian government directly following the abolition of feudal autocracy---this grossly misrepresents Marx and Engels.

Engels (describing the failed revolution of 1848):

[I]t is the fate of all revolutions that [a] union of different classes, which in some degree is always the necessary condition of any revolution, cannot subsist long. No sooner is the victory gained against the common enemy than the victors become divided among themselves into different camps, and turn their weapons against each other. It is this rapid and passionate development of class antagonism which, in old and complicated social organisms, makes a revolution such a powerful agent of social and political progress; it is this incessantly quick upshooting of new parties succeeding each other in power, which, during these violent commotions, makes a nation pass in five years over more ground than it would have done in a century under ordinary circumstances.(3)


The working class entered upon this insurrection as they would have done upon any other which promised either to remove some obstacles into progress towards political dominion and social revolution, or, at least, to tie the more influential but less courageous classes of society to a more decided and revolutionary course than they had followed hitherto. The working class took up arms with a full knowledge that this was, in the direct bearings of the case, no quarrel of its own [between the feudal monarchy and the nascent bourgeoisie, both classes supported by the exploitation of the proletariat and poor peasant]; but it followed up its only true policy, to allow no class that had risen on its shoulders (as the bourgeoisie had done in 1848) to fortify its class-government, without opening, at least, a fair field to the working classes for the struggle for its own interests, and, in any case, to bring matters to a crisis, by which either the nation was fairly and irresistibly launched in the revolutionary career, or else, the status quo before the Revolution restored as nearly as possible, and, thereby, a new revolution rendered unavoidable.(4)

Hence the 'permanent revolution' mentioned by Marx in his 'First Address of the Central Committee of the Communist League to its members in Germany,' 1850...

You, on the other hand, would put Marx and Engels (and the whole of the working class) into the service of the bourgeoisie, fighting alongside the bourgeoisie against monarchal absolutism ONLY to stop at the capitalist state. And that counters Marx and Engels' intention!

: No, the Manifesto, which if you look at the Preface to the English edition, Charlie and fred later repudiated the Programme...

Item: 'Moreover, we [Marx and Engels] have, ever since [its publication] been far from repudiating it.'(5)

Now---on to the larger issues...

: [A]dvanced capitalism requires our voluntary co-operation.

Maybe from your educated, middle class, labor aristocracy point of view it does, but from a working class perspective, your statement is ridiculous. Those cops on the beat aren't there for ha-has. (Speaking of cops, do you still hold the reactionary position that cops are 'just workers' like anyone else?)

I feel that it is altogether too EASY for quasi-socialists (and anarchist quacks) to criticize the October Revolution. As a matter of fact, it's pretty common these days to disown it. But have any of these critics faced famine while the enemy class hoarded grain in the hopes that the population, dropping dead in the streets of starvation, would permit them to restore the rule of capital? Let's see all these quasi-socialists (and anarchist quacks) face a situation like the one the Bolsheviks faced---without resort to force, without resort to terror, without resort to desperation. THEN I'll be impressed by all their grandiloquent yak about peaceful, 5-minute revolutions and the like.

Was the October Revolution premature? Undoubtably.

The Bolsheviks never intended the low level of capitalist development in Russia to support socialism. They knew that their revolution must be joined by others, especially those of industrially developed nations. Germany, facing imperialist ruin in the wake of World War One, seemed very likely to follow the lead of the October Revolution. Perhaps, other nations as well...

The Paris Commune was a failure, too, don't forget.

Marx, knowing the inevitable outcome of that failed attempt, supported the attempt, and said:

World history would be indeed be very easy to make, if the struggle were taken up only on condition of infallibly favorable chances.(6)

Should the Bolsheviks, realizing that the civil war which pitted the proletariat and poor peasantry against the landowners and the capitalists was devolving into a cold war of indeterminate length with the petty bourgeois mentality itself, surrendered the cause of proletarian revolution and become 'democratic' defenders of capitalism like the Mensheviks you so admire?


The worst thing that can befall a leader of an extreme party is to be compelled to take over a government in an epoch when the movement is not yet ripe for the domination of the class which he represents and for the realization of the measures which that domination would imply. What he can do depends not upon his will but upon the sharpness of the clash of interests between the various classes, and upon the degree of development of the material means of existence, the relations of production and means of communication upon which the clash of interests of the classes is based every time.

What he ought to do, what his party demands of him, again depends not upon him, or upon the degree of development of the class struggle and its conditions. He is bound to his doctrines and the demands hitherto propounded which do not emanate from the inter-relations of the social classes at a given moment, or from the more or less accidental level of relations of production and means of communication, but from his more or less penetrating insight into the general result of the social and political movement. Thus he necessarily finds himself in a dilemma.

What he can do is in contrast to all his actions as hitherto practiced, to all his principles and to the present interests of his party; what he ought to do cannot be achieved. In a word, he is compelled to represent not his party or class, but the class for whom conditions are ripe for domination. In the interests of the movement itself, he is compelled to defend the interests of an alien class, and to feed his own class with phrases and promises, with the assertion that the interests of that alien class are their own interests. Whoever puts himself in this awkward position is irrevocably lost.(7)

IMPORTANT NOTE: None of this is intended to be a glorification of war or terror or any of the very ugly measures that accompany all revolutions. Personally, I'd prefer to see the capitalist minority 'come around' and surrender their militias and missiles when the overwhelming proletariat finally confronts them. However, as this would constitute a historical aberration, communists should not expect such easy going! Instead, in order to be honest, they must inform the workers that the struggle for class rule WILL be a violent struggle. To expect otherwise is foolishly utopian and / or disingenuous.



1. Lenin, 'Fifth All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers, Peasants, Soldiers and Red Army Deputies,' Collected Works volume 27, Progress Publishers 1965, p. 520, emphasis added.

2. Trotsky, The Stalin School of Falsification, Pioneer Publishers 1937, p. 313.

3. Engels, Germany: Revolution and Counter-Revolution, International 1933, p. 41.

4. Ibid., pp. 103-4, emphasis added.

5. Engels, [1888] Preface, Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, International 1948, p. 6, emphasis added.

6. Marx, Letters to Dr. Kugelmann, International 1934, p. 125.

7. Engels, The Peasant War in Germany, International 1926, pp. 135-6, emphasis added.

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