(A tribute to the centenary year of the October Revolution)
by Siddhartha Kumar Lahiri*
Frontier | Mar 29, 2017
A poster of Soviet Revolution. Source: Internet
October revolution was perhaps the most systematic orchestration of a fundamental social restructuring of the twentieth century ensuring an undisputedly decisive victory for the labour against the capital, staged inside the weak capitalist Russian territory, first of its kind in the entire history of human civilization where theory and practices complimented each other most organically and at the same time executed with planning of such brilliance that is seen only in the cases of some of the outstanding scientific experimentations. Borrowing Thomas Kuhn’s phrase, it was a watershed mark in the recent history of global capitalism indicating a paradigm shift. The social dynamics before and after this great event were to be read differently by using different sets of laws and compared with different sets of yardsticks. In the present paper, an effort will be made to summarise two different perspectives, one boldly upholding its greatness and the other questioning its greatness. Secondly, we will try to revisit the essential elements of Leninist model of the October Revolution and our third objective will be to investigate some of the general possibilities of application of the model in the Indian context.
The greatness of October Revolution
Organisational intricacies, the adroit handling of different contradictions during the October Revolution were a matter of great learning for the social scientists. It was simultaneous handling of so many projects – some overlapping and strengthening the central mission; some counterbalancing yet acting as great sources of quick learning; some promoting debates, spontaneity of thinking and some strict implementation of centralized actions. This was possible due to finer calibrations, combination of events of different orders and degrees, sometimes confluencing, sometimes anabranching, keeping every time count of different types of contradictions and identifying the principal contradiction and thereby leading from the forefront, middle ground and back, running at different paces in different stages, a total football. The leading participants had utmost clarity about the objectives of different phases of the movements; immediate goals and follow up actions which helped to develop great mutual trust and team spirit. Different opinions were taken care of continuously as could be seen in the rich polemics among some of the stalwart thinkers and leaders of the time and a sense of profound participatory enjoyment prevailed throughout the revolutionary period. For any outside observer, the society, the polity, cultural values and mass wisdom within the core of the great experimentation changed so fast, so deep and so overwhelmingly that even the staunchest of adversaries could not deny that it was revolution of a different kind that was supposed to influence very deeply the basic tenets of the modern civilization. The great impact of the October revolution cannot be realized unless studied simultaneously with its post script, the great efforts of reconstruction, consolidation and desperate effort to get rid of the vicious capitalist encirclement. To quote Stalin,
“The victory of the October Revolution signifies a radical change in the history of mankind, a radical change in the historical destiny of world capitalism, a radical change in the liberation movement of the world proletariat, a radical change in the methods of struggle and the forms of organization, in the manner of life and traditions, in the culture and ideology of the exploited masses throughout the world.” 1
And, “…..on the front of construction have clearly shown that the proletariat can successfully govern the country without the bourgeoisie and against the bourgeoisie, that it can successfully build industry without the bourgeoisie and against the bourgeoisie, that it can successfully direct the whole of the national economy without the bourgeoisie and against the bourgeoisie, that it can successfully build socialism in spite of the capitalist encirclement.” 2 (See the emphasis added to the italicised words can, without and against by Stalin)
“The October Revolution thereby exposed the lie of the Social-Democrats that at the present time a peaceful transition to socialism is possible through bourgeois parliamentarianism.” 3
The anti-greatness discourse
Was Stalin over optimistic and over simplified the things? In his great effort to sharpen the class struggle, did he maintain too linear a view about the contemporary history of revolution? Did he get trapped inside excessive reductionism and deviated from the path of revolutionary dialectical materialism?
In spite of all greatness attributed to the October Revolution, ever since the fall of the erstwhile Soviet Union and dissolution of majority members of the Warsaw block, fingers were raised, lots of criticisms surfaced. Some of the major issues were – Was October revolution so thoroughly engaging an event as claimed by Stalin or a highly fanned up putsch? In its kernel, there might be a small armed group who could definitely be credited for their selection of moment and paralysing the main arteries of a weak political power centre – who knows? Secondly, was ‘Dictatorship of the proletariat’ not a myth? (In reality, that could be interpreted as the ‘Dictatorship of the Communist Party’ turned subsequently to the ‘Dictatorship of the central committee’ and finally to the ‘Dictatorship of the GS’) Thirdly, states in the last century have become very powerful, highly sophisticated, and too efficient in quick networking, targeted force mobilisation and ruthless annihilation by shear technological superiority. Moreover, there are whole ranges of nuclear arsenals. If all answers of these questions are affirmative, that is, October Revolution was a victory by luck of a small armed detachment of petty bourgeoisie section against a tired and low moral ill-fed Tsarist army; ‘Dictatorship of the proletariat’ was in essence fascism by a different name and in the present stage of development of the global capitalism, the ‘Empire’ has become invincible, it does not take much time to prove that in spite of much hyped greatness of the October Revolution, it has got only iconic value left. And, under such circumstances, armed revolutionary methods and means hardly make sense.
So, what is to be done? Should we choose a glorious day in the name of the Great Russian Revolution and celebrate like any other festival and offer flowers to the great leaders the ways people remember their ancestors? Moreover, can we not be open minded enough to accept the reality that class in the new ‘liberal’ world has lost its earlier position and has become one of the multiple identities by which individuals are known in the modern societies? If the replies to these questions are ‘yes’ the educated activists have hardly any choice but to try every means to facilitate multiple negotiations among different ‘stake holders’ to expand the democratic space; with a farfetched assumption that in the ‘process of development’ a stage will come when things will start transforming from ‘quantitative to qualitative’ by a kind of ‘Universal law of revolution’.
It is a real problem for a student, who is simply interested to know about the truth, which of the discourses to subscribe. Let us assume for the time being that the ‘truth seeking persona’ (TSP) is non-committal to any ideology at the very beginning. However, TSP maintains certain assumptions. Say, our existence is constituted of matters and is being influenced continuously by the material forces. Secondly, institutions, be it social, political, economic, or military; whatever gigantic stature these might have are essentially run by organisations constituted of the mortal human being. Thirdly, knowledge and values are continuously created, transformed and accumulated and apparently in tandem with a multitude of institutions start functioning independently from the ‘will of the individuals’ by ceaseless efforts of some of the functionaries to generate consensus about some of the power structures as well as conglomerates which are referred commonly as the ‘system’. Fourthly, a ‘state’ is the ultimate guardian of a ‘system’ which ‘educates’, sermonises, advocates, prescribes, rewards, watches, argues, humiliates, interrogates, detains, jails and if needed ‘sanitises’ individuals and groups if the existence of the ‘system’ is questioned. Subjecting the ‘mind’ to this much of empiricism the TSP is bound to ponder on the subject how does the ‘system’, constituted of the error-prone mortal individuals, starts functioning like automatons and the ‘state’ as if a monstrous giant ‘reflecting and acting’ almost mechanically in accordance with the status of the ‘system’? If the TSP likes to investigate the heart of the matter, crux of the problem, from a site somewhere ‘outside the system’, there will simply be a range of possibilities. However, if the TSP likes to understand the ‘change’ by becoming an active participant in the change and is ready to travel any length of the journey; s/he will not feel extra ‘courageous’ to utter some of the taboo words like ‘revolution’. The TSP will soon discover that the state is not a ‘neutral’ instrument rather it is consistently engaged in serving certain favoured classes of people. If the TSP decides to become a sincere worker, knowledge producing and wisdom seeking skilled scientific worker, an attitude to question the authority, any authority, is a must. Moreover, many hindrances (some systemic) will come with the open or subtle proposals of ‘power alignment’ with the prospects of rewards and awards and promises of relaxations of hindrance bars. The TSP will realize soon that unless s/he has a well defined ideology, like minded friends and certain joint-action plans, it is very difficult to comprehend history, philosophy, language – literature, logic and science. Whatever might be the branch and areas of investigations, to have a well defined ideology demands an attitude for system analysis and an intense urge to join the ‘revolution’. Joining ‘revolution’ is the surest medicine for self liberation.
The myth of ‘Revolution’
Ever since the modern nations came into being with the singular objective of promoting growth of the capital, the word ‘revolution’ became too common place.
“The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society….Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.” 4
Thus, the very formation of capital and its growth passes through constant crisis and to circumvent crises it demands constant revolutions. Capitalists are too familiar with revolutions. They are themselves revolutionaries engaged to make capitalism sustainable and keep capitalists a united force. From the very beginning of the modernity, the answer of the simple question, ‘Why workers, the main sources of the formation of capital, cannot unite to revolutionise their own conditions of life?’ remained too elusive. Marx and Engels believed that the workers of the advanced industrial countries will be able to find answer of this simple question once they study a little to understand the mechanism of formation of capital and decide to unite more cohesively than the capitalists.
The October Revolution Model was discovered by Lenin, appreciated by the advanced organizers and subsequently brought into action by the Communist Party. This was similar to the Laws of relativity discovered by Einstein, appreciated first by selective physicists and subsequently applied by many scientists belonging to various disciplines. For the users, relativity is a brilliant tool and for the non-users Einstein is an icon.
The problem before Lenin was to find out answers for the following basic questions:
1. Was it possible to apply Marxism in a late rising capitalist society?
2. During the period of increasing global consolidation of the finance capital, was it possible to lead revolution in one country?
3. If revolution met victory, could it sustain under the capitalist encirclement?
October Revolution and the post script provided convincing answers to these fundamental questions. The strength of a chain is the strength of its weakest link – this was simply a brilliant model. If the chain of the capitalist nations, their cohesive league were to be attacked and delinked; which was essential to develop self-belief among the workers and the peasants, Russia, the weakest link, was the most suitable society to give call for revolution. Perhaps many other models could be raised and brought into practice. However, the simplicity and adaptability of the model for different circumstances was so flexible that it could catch the imagination and convince the advanced workers about its practical viability.
Let us quote something on ‘model’ from a person of a different discipline.
“The essence of a good model is that it includes proper consideration of the most important aspects without involving the complications of lesser-important aspects. However, judgment is required to separate important from unimportant considerations. What is important may depend on specific objectives, so that modelling may change as objectives change. Furthermore, there is no assurance of uniqueness in modelling since it is always possible that a different model or different modelling rules may give an equivalent result. Thus achieving a desired result is not an adequate test of the validity of the model or of the modelling program. On the other hand, while modelling cannot “prove” a point because of non-uniqueness, it can disprove, that is, it can show that a certain model cannot represent the situation that gives observed results.” 5
Lenin prepared the perspective of Russian Revolution in two stages.
“…first, a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry, and, second, a dictatorship of the proletariat supported by the poor peasantry. In the first stage, the bourgeois-democratic revolution would be completed by abolishing the remnants of feudalism; in the second, the struggle for socialism would begin. By distinguishing the two stages in this way, the proletariat would gain the support of the whole peasantry for the first stage and ensure the continued support of the poor peasantry for the second. At the same time, while distinguishing between them, Lenin recognised that in the actual struggle the two stages might become interwoven, and in that case the proletariat should be prepared to pass without a pause from the first stage to the second…” 6
The post revolutionary problems of the fast socio-economic reconstruction and safeguarding the new born society from the external attacks and the internal conspiracies where obvious to Lenin and accordingly, a combination of ‘Uninterrupted revolution’, ‘New Economic Policy’ and ‘Five years’ planning for quick economic reconstruction’ were adopted simultaneously. He opposed vehemently the theory of permanent revolution which in spite of its projected global optimism, circumspection and wisdom was discouraging the advanced section of the society to take bold actions who were demanding ‘Revolution now!!’
Indian context of revolution-Can we at least talk?
Let us come to the Indian context. Those for whom changing the ‘system’ by revolution is the minimum requirement for changing the living condition of the workers, peasants, small traders and entrepreneurs, deprived communities and minorities, some of the basic questions are:
1. Is it possible to apply Marxism in a semi feudal semi colonial society where transnational finance capital is fast consolidating itself in league with the feudal forces and the crony capitalism?
2. Should agrarian revolution follow the classical path of increasing land consolidation, infusion of capital, maximization of production of cash crops or some other inclusive growth models which help to ensure ecological sustainability? 3. As majority of the Indian population are inseparably associated with ‘land-water-forest’ triad, and there is increasing tendency of natural resource grabbing and usurping (of, land, water, oil and minerals) by the foreign capital in league with the corrupt ‘elected’ representatives how can basic democratic rights ‘to live peacefully in their own lands’ of the adivasis, dalits, minority tribes and other minority peoples be protected? Moreover, considering these complexities, what should be the holistic industrial growth strategy of the country that can replace the ongoing ‘holocaust growth model’? 4. >Considering highly uneven socio-economic development in different parts of the country, is there any possibility of positive learning from the experiments of the Russian Revolution?
There is sufficient reason to believe that in India, ever since the adoption of new liberal economic policies, lots of ‘revolutionary’ experimentations are going on. Our latest experience is demonetization of currencies. However, all these ‘revolutionary’ measures are desperate efforts of the market forces to get rid of the recession of the capital, an incurable and increasingly vulnerable disease of the global capitalism. Can majority of the masses get rid of their sufferings by becoming part of some genuine revolution which will be in the interest of the ‘labour’ not the ‘capital’? A revolution to recognise the basic land rights of the adivasis, dalits, minority tribes and other minorities associated with the agrarian structure? What we could learn from the recent demonetization exercises is that the Indian society in general is ready from their mind and body to embrace drastic changes at the cost of lots of hardships and even at the risk of death. In spite of faster growth in capital, capitalism is not spreading fast in the society. In the new circumstances, feudalism is reinventing itself in league with the finance capital. Unmindful infusion of trans-national capital in the agrarian sector is causing alarming escalation of farmers’ suicide cases in some of the richest agricultural states of India. Nature of land holdings are changing very fast; new land relations are coming up. The classical understanding of ‘Land’ has now expanded to ‘Land-Water-Forest’ triad. Advanced industrial working class is not expanding due to the jobless growth model as well as highly mechanised character of the manufacturing sectors and due to the encouragement given to hire migratory ‘contractual workers’ mainly for the civil constructions and engaging the ‘rebel’ middleclass to seek Mafioso style entrepreneurship to win ‘labour supplying’, ‘vehicle supplying’ and many other types of supply line contracts. A major segment of the educated middleclass has become vendors of different sorts. The level of ‘job satisfaction’ is too poor. Motivation to job is mostly not voluntary. It is created by a continuous ‘target chasing’ chanting and junky material incentives. Workers, technocrats and scientists having innovative ideas, urge to explore and a research bend of mind are suffering unspeakably due to the lack of spiritual, cultural and intellectual growth. If globalisation allured the educated middleclass to become ‘advanced industrial worker’ and promised heaven, during the period of severe recession, they are facing drastic lay off under different job-cut programmes. The days of getting ‘dream jobs’ are fast evaporating and a vast cloud of gloominess is hovering in every corner. The contractors of parliamentarian democracy, be it the office of the highest positions like the PM of the country or the CM of the states, they have started living in the world of symbolic ‘changes’ by giving false promises of anything to everybody by coining bizarre slogans of inclusive growth like ‘sabka saath sabka bikash’ (Development for all in league with everybody) which are increasingly realized at the end of the day as ‘Koochka sath sabka nash’ (All out destruction in league with a choicest few). All these signs show that it has increasingly become difficult to continue the growth of capital by promoting steady sermons. Political discourses are continuously changing in pace with the turmoil in the market place, the sounds of ‘systemic pains’, the death pang of the heavily wounded beast, is being tried to hide behind the veil of false state sponsored festivity, pompous parades of extravaganzas, mock drills of super charged ‘nationalistic’ chants. This is the time for true revolution, the new democratic revolution. This is the time for consolidating democratic values. This is the time for launching serious tirades against the feudal forces of all kinds, communal forces of all types, imperial aggressions in all forms, and petty agent capital hoarders of all colours. We must discuss, debate, exchange opinions with the singular objective of “All democratic and secular forces unite!!” “Revolution Now!!” We must discuss different paths of revolution, different histories of revolution, and different forms of revolution, revolution in the fields of science, arts, commerce, and culture. ‘Revolution’ is the central topic of the time. Youths and all creative minds of the society should declare unequivocally that “Revolution is our birth right”. No constitution, no state, no police stations, no jails, no concentration camps can snatch that right. If institutions cannot revolutionize them, these have become mortified icons, these need to be smashed and thrown out. The rich experience of October Revolution will always come as the most valuable handbook and source of inspiration to any change seeking soul, to any worker and peasant having self dignity, to any well structured organic intellectual, to any serious organization which is interested to expand the horizon of democracy, not mere sloganeering of democracy during the time of elections but a real democracy that can be lived every day, exercised any time by every working body of the society.
1. Stalin, J.V., 1927. The International character of the October Revolution (On the occasion of the Tenth Anniversary of the October Revolution), J. V. Stalin, Works, Eng ed., Vol 10, pp.244-55. And, in the ‘Problems of Leninism’ Published by the Foreign Language Press, Peking 1976, p.267.
2. –do- in Peking Publication 1976, p. 268-269.
3. –do-, p.268.
4. See Communist Manifesto, Second revised edition 1977, Progress Publishers, Moscow, pp. 38-39.
5. Sheriff, R.E., Seismic Stratigraphy, The English Book Depot, Dehradun Published First Indian Reprint, 1982. p.143.
6. Thomson, G., 1971. From Marx to Mao Tse-Tung, A study on revolutionary dialectics, First Indian Edition 1986, pp.26-27.
(*Department of Applied Geology, Dibrugarh University -786004, Assam)