The Russian Revolution took place in October 1917, inspiring revolutions throughout Europe and the rest of the world.
For 70 years the debate about what sort of society had been established in Russia raged among socialists. Despite the collapse of these regimes, the debate goes on -- what was the significance of the Russian Revolution? Does Stalinism inevitably arise from any attempt to establish a socialist society?
USSR Poster, 1919: "Proletarians of all countries, unite!"
We also reproduce here a report from Rob Jones in Russia, The rise and fall of the Soviet bureaucracy, with an Introduction by Jane James. Together with What About Russia?, by Pete Dickenson, these articles provide a marvellous background to the writings of Trotsky, co-leader with Lenin of the Russian Revolution, and the leader of the opposition to the Soviet bureaucracy, and update them with the Socialist Party's analysis of these events.
Trotskyís brilliant In Defence of October examines the causes of the October revolution, and demonstrates its historical justification, despite its subsequent demise. Based on a speech Trotsky delivered in Copenhagen in November 1932, In Defence of October is an inspiring short introduction to the Russian revolution viewed from a Marxist perspective. (Available in a pamphlet from Socialist Books for only 50p.)
By 1937, however, the failure of the Spanish revolution further isolated the Russian revolution, and led to the further consolidation of Stalinís counter-revolutionary regime. In Stalinism and Bolshevism, written in the same year, Trotsky explains how isolation in the economically backward countries of the Soviet Union led to the inevitable overthrow of the genuine socialist ideals of the Russian revolution.
Trotsky in 1919
Indeed, the most detailed and demanding of Trotsky's works provided here, Lessons of October (156k) written only shortly after Lenin's death in 1924, issued a serious warning to workers about the mistakes and inadequacies of the clique already forming around Stalin. It obliquely draws lessons from the failure of the German revolution, "a perfectly exceptional revolutionary situation of world historic importance," due in part to the failure of leadership of Stalin himself, which left the Russian revolution isolated.
But it is Trotsky's In Defence of October which is most recommended to the new reader. Trotsky concludes this remarkable explanation of the ideas of Marxism (as developed by Lenin and Trotsky) with the words:
Socialist Party members are always available to discuss any questions you may have about these pamphlets. Why not contact us, email us, or ring the Socialist Party on 020 8988 8777.
When the Berlin Wall collapsed in 1989, capitalism boasted that socialism had failed, proving the superiority of the market.
Yet Russia and Eastern Europe were not socialist. They were described as socialist to convince workers throughout the world that socialism was unworkable.
However they were not capitalist either. Capitalism was overthrown in Russia in 1917 by the mass of workers and peasants, led by the Bolshevik Party and Lenin and Trotsky.
Industries were taken over and democratically run by the workers. Support and enthusiasm for the defeat of capitalism and the beginning of a social society echoed amongst workers throughout the world.
But how did capitalism return - with all its harsh consequences?
The heroic leadership of the Bolshevik Party which had led to the victory of workers over the capitalists, was ruthlessly defeated in a counter revolution led by Stalin. Power was wrested from the workers - not by capitalists but by the bureaucratic elite grouped around Stalin.
This only occurred because of the isolation of the still economically backward Soviet state, after workers' revolutions across Europe - especially in Germany - had been defeated.
A massive struggle against the bureaucratisation of the Bolshevik Party and the Soviet state was fought by Leon Trotsky and his followers in the left opposition.
Unfortunately, the mass of workers in Soviet Russia had been ground down after years of revolutionary and counter revolutionary struggle, along with the horrendous economic and social backwardness which had been inherited from the old Tsarist regime.
What remained of the workers' state, however, was a planned economy; an economy not owned by private individuals in order to make a profit as under capitalism, but owned by the state.
Lenin and Trotsky's aim was a planned economy run democratically by committees of workers for the benefit of all.
However, when Stalin and the bureaucracy took control, workers were allowed no input into how the economy or society was run.
Despite this deformation of the planned economy, Russia progressed economically from a backward country to a superpower. This proves what could be possible if an economy is planned.
However, as the majority were prevented from being involved in running the economy, and the bureaucracy maintained power by ruthless methods, these gains were made at huge human and material costs.
When Trotsky analysed this counter revolution he said that either the working class would overthrow the bureaucracy and once more assume power or capitalism would defeat the planned economy. Elements are both actually happened.
Workers, angry at the lifestyles of the bureaucracy and their worsening living conditions, took part in mass uprisings to demand democracy and a better life.
This coincided with the crisis in the planned economy which had been growing for years.
From the late 1970s onwards, the economy stagnated and declined. Bureaucratic methods were not compatible with the introduction of new technology and new productive techniques.
The task facing the working class was to wrest power from the bureaucrats and re-establish a socialist society running the planned economy democratically.
Such tasks require the existence of a revolutionary party, but even independent workers' organisations were not in existence.
Although initially the uprisings were aimed against the bureaucracy and for democracy, the only alternative on offer for the masses appeared to be the market economy.
Marxism and socialism were equated with years of oppression by the ruling caste. The Committee for a Workers International, of which the socialist Party in England and Wales is part, raised the slogans: "No to the bureaucracy! No the new bourgeoisie!" and "Workers' democracy and international socialism."
The uprisings of workers across Russia and Eastern Europe, and their potential to establish genuine socialism, frightened both capitalists in the West and the bureaucracy of the Soviet Union.
These struggles brought about the end of Stalinism, and although they resulted in the restoration of the market economy, workers are now struggling against the horrors of capitalism and will once again battle for a socialist society.
From "Ten years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall", by Jane James, The Socialist, 1 October 1999