The October Revolution and the Protracted Revolutionary People’s War in the imperialist countries
The former socialist countries came to incorporate a third of humanity and covered a huge area. Apparently of all this, as of other institutions created during the first wave of proletarian revolution, in the first part of the last century, little has been left by now. On the contrary, among the workers and the rest of the masses a trail of disappointment and distrust has been left, and the bourgeoisie, the clergy and their acolytes among modern revisionists like Bertinotti, leader of the Party of Communist Refoundation, feed it with an articulated campaign denigrating the first socialist countries and more generally the first wave of proletarian revolution (the Resistance, the best communists, etc...).
Rightly some people point out that the former socialist countries are largely gone,but this does not mean that the world goes better. The problems caused by the capitalist system, which the former socialist countries had tried to give a solution to, are still here. The capitalist system, the bourgeois social order, its system of international relations have indeed exacerbated those problems in the social sphere and even more in the ecological field. As Stalin had foreseen in an interview granted in the ’30s, the disappearance of the Soviet Union has opened an era of reaction and terrible suffering.
But there is much more than this.
In fact, the first wave of proletarian revolution and in particular the first socialist countries, and the Soviet Union more than others, have left us an immense wealth of experience. Anywhere in the world they have left a culture, awareness and organizational capacity as sediments in the working class and the masses, which have been handed down from generation to generation in reproducing the struggles and movements. The changes in work, relocations, externalities, fractionation of production units, insecurity, the weakening of social cohesion, immigration, the movement of workers from agriculture to industry and services sector have somehow tarnished that legacy of the first wave of proletarian revolution. But they are far from having wiped it out. It is a heritage on whose basis the new wave of proletarian revolution is developing. The misdeeds, crimes and the suffering that today the imperialist bourgeoisie inflicts to humanity for making survive its social order - genocide, war, famine, epidemics, migration, exclusion, alienation, brutishness, insecurity, etc... - are not worst than recurrent events in societies of the past, are not worse than those that humanity has lived in barbaric times of its history. They are today intolerable for us because they are at odds with the feelings, aspirations, conception of the world that the first wave of proletarian revolution has spread widely and rooted among the masses. Broadly speaking, it is not the world that has worsened, but it is we who have become better!
The former socialist countries, in particular the former Soviet Union, have left us also important lessons. Some of the lessons of the first socialist countries have already been worked out and theoretically integrated into theoretical heritage of the communist movement. Other more still have to be found, discovered, got and translated into action lines. That is why it is particularly damaging to denigrate and forget the socialist countries, as a past evil or as something that has nothing to do with our present and our future, with the rebirth of the communist movement. Not only some bourgeois who claim to be scientists but even some who want to be comrades insist to interpret the first socialist countries with the categories of the old world: state monopoly capitalism, Asian mode of production, bureaucratic capitalism, etc... They look in the history of the past for a box in which putting the former socialist countries. It is generally impossible to interpret the higher species with the categories of lower ones. On the contrary, it is the understanding of the higher species that broadens the understanding of lower ones. It is a question of method well known in natural and social sciences. Not by chance they forget it talking about the first socialist countries. So doing, they cut off the research of the lessons that may be drawn from their experience. The former socialist countries only superficially resemble to past socio-economic formations. They were, to speak with an image, the already bright although still dark dawn of our next future. They showed the road on which we must walk, on which all humanity needs to walk to exit the chaos and the nightmare in which the continuation of capitalism survival and agony has plunged it. At the same time they brought the marks of the dunghill they rose from, and it couldn’t be otherwise. So we must concretely study the first socialist countries as a new historical phenomenon and deduct their general character from the concrete data on social relationships, classes, positions and interests of different classes. We need to study carefully which tasks of the transition from capitalism (and from modes of production more backlog than capitalism) to Communism each socialist country has faced, how it faced them, with what solutions, with what results. We must learn from the first socialist countries and particularly from the Soviet Union. This is the study that the communists must perform about the first socialist countries.
Let’s see some of the main lessons already integrated into theoretical heritage of the communist movement. I will limit myself to three of them.
1. The first lesson: where is the bourgeoisie in the socialist countries?
The first lesson has already been explicitly identified as one of the major contributions of Maoism to communist thought. The clear identification of the bourgeoisie in socialist society is one of these major contributions. (1) In the socialist countries the bourgeoisie consists of that part of the leaders of the party, mass organizations, State and other public institutions of the socialist society who opposed to the possible and necessary steps on towards Communism in the relationships of production and in the superstructure.
What we mean by relationships of production? In order to produce, men and women enter into certain relationships between them: the relationships of production. To understand the issues relating to the transition from capitalism to Communism, we must distinguish relationships of production in three aspects: 1. Ownership (or even the mere possession, the freedom to handle) of means and conditions of production, namely the productive forces including workforce; 2. Relationships between people in the work (in the process): the division between manual and intellectual workers, men and women, youth and adults, executive and managerial workers, countryside and city, backwards and advanced countries, regions and sectors , etc..; 3. The distribution of the product.
When asked what are the classes, Lenin gave an answer now classic. "We call classes those large groups of people who differ because of the place they occupy in historically determined system of social production, because of their relationship (for the most recognized and established by law) with the means of production, because of their role in the social organization of work and, therefore, because of the extent of the social wealth at their disposal and the manner in which they receive and enjoy it. Classes are groups of people, one of whom may take the labour of others, depending on the different place it occupies in a given system of social economy ". (2)
Once abolished at least for the essential the individual private ownership of the means of production (which in imperialist countries is one of the immediate measures of establishment of socialism, but rather in the Soviet Union, for example, could be accomplished only within about 20 years after the October Revolution), the fight for the adjustment of relationships of production to the collective character of the productive forces mainly covers 1. the roles in social work (relationships between managing and executive work, directors and directed, intellectual and manual work, men and women, adults and young people, town and the countryside, advanced and backward sectors, regions and nations and 2. the way and extent of the distribution of social wealth intended for consumption. Once essentially eliminated the individual private property of means and conditions of production, the danger of capitalist restoration comes not so much from the remnants of the old exploiting classes or from what is left of the small merchant production, or by the angry and cutthroat aggression from abroad, but by the new bourgeoisie, typical of socialist stage.
The victory of modern revisionists in USSR in the ’50s and the inability of the communists to respond successfully to their manoeuvres owes much to the fact that, although inflexible was the fight Stalin carried out against deviations and infiltration, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and with it the entire communist movement had not yet put at the centre of their line of action that in the socialist countries, once abolished for the essential the individual private property of the means of production, the bourgeoisie gets a new look. They looked for the bourgeoisie where it was not. The fought and hit it only casually where it really was hiding, by purges, and so substantially blindly. This prevented, and in fact continued to prevent the former socialist countries to keep on prospering and advancing successfully as it had happened in the first stage of their existence.
2. The second lesson: the class struggle becomes all the more bitter and fierce as the socialist revolution comes close to victory
The second lesson we get from the history of the Soviet Union is that the class struggle becomes all the more bitter and fierce as the socialist revolution comes close to victory. It is a law which Marx had already formulated in another context. "Revolutionary progress did not made its way with its tragicomic immediate achievements, but, on the contrary, raising a tight and powerful counterrevolution, raising an opponent only fighting whom the party of insurrection got the maturity of a true revolutionary party ". (3)
Stalin has reworded this law so masterly. "It is necessary to demolish and throw overboard the rotten theory according to which every step forward we do, here the class struggle should increasingly weaken, according to which the more we get achievements, the more the class enemy class would become mild [...] On the contrary, the more we go forward, the more successes we have, the more the remnants of the destroyed old exploiting classes will become ferocious, the more quickly they will resort to sharper forms of struggle, the more, particularly, they will attempt to strike the Soviet state, the more they will resort to means of struggle more desperate as the last means of whom is sentenced to die. We must take into account the fact that the remnants of the destroyed classes in USSR are not isolated. They have the direct support of our enemies beyond the Union borders . It would be wrong to think that the sphere of class struggle is limited within these borders. If the class struggle partly develops within the framework of USSR, for another part it develops within the boundaries of the bourgeois surrounding us ". (4)
According to this law, the experience of the first socialist countries has highlighted and confirmed that the proletariat must maintain its dictatorship for a not determined time limit. The end of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the name of an illusory, fictitious, apparent "state of the whole people" was a Trojan horse by which in the ’50s Kruscev and other revisionist seized the power in Soviet Union, established the dictatorship of their leaders and cliques and gradually brought the socialist countries to lose momentum and strength and finally to ruin. Until the division of the population in social classes is not extinct, the fight for its extinction governs objectively, consciously or not, socialist countries’ life. Only if the party and organizations of the masses carry it out consciously and actively, the socialist countries prosper and fulfil their function of red base of the proletarian revolution worldwide, carrying a forward thrust on the world proletarian revolution and inspire revolutionary movements in the rest of the world, and cannot be won by internal and international reactionary forces. In socialist countries the State continues to exist as a distinct organization, as an institution separate from the mass of the population and its system of mass organizations. Which class runs this State, remains a key problem for the further transformation of society, for the strength and progress of socialist countries. The working class 1. must have the direction of the State, through its communist party and 2. must gradually replace it with the system formed by the party and the organizations of the popular masses. (5) Therefore, the defence of class and worker nature of the communist party is indispensable. The theory of the two lines struggle within the party, one of the major contributions of Maoism to communist thought, provides us the main instrument. The communist movement has had no clear conscience even of this theory, which is vital to defend the class nature of the communist party, even though throughout its history, from Marx-Engels in the League of Communists, in the first International, in the Second International and coming to Lenin and Stalin in their party, in the second International and in the Communist International, the Communists have repeatedly led two lines struggles.
Today we touch with our hands the fact that the class struggle has become more fierce and without limits.
3. The third lesson: the form of the socialist revolution in the imperialist countries
It is important for us Italian Communists to assimilate these two lessons not only because we shall have to use them tomorrow, once we shall have made Italy a new socialist country. They are important also just now because they explain how it could happen that modern revisionists took the direction and drove the former socialist countries to the ruin, without the sincere Communists could unite and put an end to their evil work. Therefore they give us arms to fight the denigrating work carried out with plenty of means by bourgeoisie, clergy and their acolytes, in our ranks, among the advanced workers and generally among the popular masses. But most of all it help us to combat the distrust in socialism and socialist revolution that today paralyzes many advanced workers.
But there is a third lesson of the first wave of proletarian revolution which affects directly and immediately the setting up of all our work. It is the lesson about the form of the socialist revolution: about how the working class comes to establish its power in the imperialist countries. The history of the October Revolution shows us that the form of the proletarian revolution is not a popular uprising that bursts and during which the communist party seizes the power, that it is not a popular uprising that the communist party sparks on its own initiative, but that it is the Protracted Revolutionary People’s War (PRPW).
F. Engels had clearly shown that the communists could not seize power in the course of a popular insurrection. (6) The bourgeois revolutions developed in that way: as popular uprisings during which the bourgeoisie seized the power. If we study the history of bourgeois revolutions in Europe, we see that the bourgeoisie had prepared, trained and selected its political leaders in its dealings within its "civil society", that developed within the feudal society and at its service. The bourgeoisie uses the people, its anger, its intolerance, and when a revolt breaks out, when a popular uprising countdown the old power, installs its leaders instead of the heads of the old power.
Owing to the different kind of classes in conflict and their goals, the socialist revolution must develop differently. In socialist revolution the popular masses are not masses to be manoeuvred. On the contrary, they mobilize themselves, raise their consciousness, organize themselves and begin to build a new world. The process of socialist revolution has its own laws. We must discover, assimilate, use these laws. It is obvious that at the beginning of the communist movement we communists had a limited knowledge about them. Engels acknowledges that he and Marx were wrong just about identifying the form of socialist revolution. The practical process done by socialist revolution in the last century appears to be complex and inextricable unless we study the practical experiences in the light of the theory of the Protracted Revolutionary People’s War (PRPW). If we assimilate this theory, then the process looks simple and we gradually learn to finally lead it successfully.
Even today some comrades present the October Revolution as a popular uprising ( "an assault on the Winter Palace") launched by the party on November 7, 1917 during which the Bolsheviks seized the power. Indeed, the Bolsheviks had not developed the theory of the Protracted Revolutionary People’s War (PRPW). In addition, the Russian revolution for its content was a revolution of new democracy. So in its form there was a combination of elements of the bourgeois revolution and of the socialist revolution. But let’s try to study its comprehensive development in the light of the theory of the Protracted Revolutionary People’s War (PRPW).
In reality, the establishment of the Soviet government in November 1917 had been preceded by a systematic work of party led by Lenin aimed to accumulate revolutionary forces around the communist party. Starting from 1903, this party formed as a free political force that existed and worked continuously and with initiative in view of the conquest of power although the enemy aimed to destroy it, as a political force indestructible by the enemy, as a centre of a power alternative to the existing one, the Czarist regime. The fight led by Russian Communist Party in the period 1903-1917 teaches us something about how to accumulate revolutionary forces within the society dominated by the enemy, on condition that we take into account in the right measure that the Czarist Russia was an imperialist country but still semifeudal, that the revolution to make was a revolution of new democracy, that in Russia there wasn’t a system of preventive counterrevolution (the system existing now in the imperialist countries).
The establishment of a Soviet government at Petersburg and Moscow in November 1917 was preceded by the more specific work done between February and October 1917, in a position of double power, of equilibrium between the forces of the two opposing camps, when the revolution have already military forces that obeyed only to Soviet: the fight in July 1917 against General Kornilov shows this clearly.
The establishment of the Soviet government in the capitals was followed by a civil war against the White armies and against the imperialist aggression that lasted three-year and ended in late 1920. Actually, it ended only in a certain sense. In fact, if we consider things at the international level, not from the point of view of the revolution in Russia but from the point of view of the world proletarian revolution, the effort of the imperialist bourgeoisie to stifle the Soviet Union (which became the red basis of the world proletarian revolution) continued with many and long anti Soviet manoeuvres in the ’20 and ’30 and with the Nazi aggression of 1941-1945. From the point of view of the world proletarian revolution, the October Revolution opens the stage of strategic equilibrium between the forces of revolution (which since then have their territorial base and their armed forces) and the forces of imperialism.
Actually, the history of the Russian revolution is a brilliant confirmation of Engels and Mao Tse-tung’s theses. It is even more brilliant because Lenin and his comrades successfully led the Protracted Revolutionary People’s War (PRPW) without having elaborated its theory. Even just the lack of a theory elaborated and assimilated by the communist party explains the great and repeated efforts that Lenin and the comrades closest to him for the conception of the world (for the assimilation of dialectical materialism) had to do for uniting the party on choices to be made at every step of development of revolution.
If we consider the evolution of revolutions that followed since then in single countries and also the development of the revolution on a world level, we see that the theory of PRPW get confirmed, both when the revolution was carried up to establishment of the new power, and when the revolution was defeated. By the light of the PRPW becomes even clearer the cause of the losses suffered until then by the communist movement in all the imperialist countries.
The experience of the October Revolution teaches, and the experience of successive revolutions has confirmed that the popular uprising is, in certain circumstances, a useful and necessary manoeuvre in a war. Nevertheless, if they take it as a strategy of revolution, the necessity forces the communists to oscillate between adventurism and inertia, risking all-or-nothing and suffering the initiative of the counterrevolution.
The working class, unlike the bourgeoisie, needs a party, the communist party, and mass organizations. In the system of the party and mass organizations it forms, checks and verifies its leaders.
It is by the Communist Party and the mass organizations that it creates its own power, weaves its web of influence and its hegemony over other classes of the popular masses (Front), not in the traffics of civil society as the bourgeoisie did. The working class accumulates its revolutionary forces through its communist party within the bourgeois society. This accumulation and growing hegemony make increasingly difficult for the bourgeoisie to make profits and govern society. It did not happen so with the bourgeois revolution: the growth of its trade for centuries offered services to large feudal forces until they "choked in the fat." The bourgeoisie furiously opposes the accumulation of proletarian revolutionary forces. This process sooner or later leads to a breaking point: regardless of what form it takes, here begins the civil war. The bourgeoisie by now knows it, and in every country it is already cynically preparing the conditions for winning. Unless general wars, the struggle between the revolutionary forces and reactionary forces, in essence, the accumulation of revolutionary forces, develops within the bourgeois society until the bourgeoisie can not tolerate it and brings the battle on the ground of the civil war. As Engels said, "it breaks its legality", unless the communist party yields without fighting (so as it happened, for instance, in 1914 in Germany, France and other countries, and in Italy in the late Ĺ40). The outcome of the civil war decides of power: either the old power (in new ways) reaffirms itself or the new power imposes itself on the entire society. The working class seizes the power responding victoriously to bourgeoisie’s initiative to carry the clash on the battleground of the civil war. This requires that the communist party is not less of the bourgeoisie, but that surpasses it. It must direct from now the gathering of revolutionary forces in view of the civil war, so that the working class is able to cope victoriously to the bourgeoisie and end the civil war with the conquest of power, with the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, with the establishment of socialism (our Ten Immediate Measures are a general summary, examples of immediate measures to be taken). (7)
The history of German social democracy at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century clearly shows this process. The theory of PRPW explains why its glorious history ended in the shameful retreat of 1914. The intervention in the political struggle of the bourgeoisie (mass political party), the claiming struggle (union) and the vast movement of cooperatives and cultural, sports and recreation clubs of all kinds animated and constituted a vast proletarian movement that extended its influence on other classes of the popular masses. Certainly it brought inside the premises of yielding, of the "revolutionary insufficiency" that became clear in 1914. Since 1891, when the government no longer renewed the Antisocialist Laws, despite Engels’ repeated criticism and protests, the entire German communist movement had limited its action within the ambit permitted by the laws and tolerated by the government. It limited its practical action to the democratic fiction staged by the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie was getting ready to civil war, while the communist movement relied on democratic appearances. So to speak, it adapted itself, and sank in bourgeois legality. The struggle against repression and resistance to repression, which had given brilliant results during Antisocialist Laws (1878-1891), was abandoned. But something was going wrong even in areas where the communist movement developed its activities in full bloom. The rotten was disguised, because the left communist movement was weak, oscillating and was not able to put into light its real nature. In fact, it presented itself as struggle between sectors each of which claimed the supremacy on the other. The party wanted the union, cooperatives and cultural, sport and recreational clubs, to support its election campaigns and his political complaints. The unions, cooperatives and cultural, sport, and recreational clubs, wanted the party to politically support their demands and denounces (with its parliamentary action and its complaints). So, there were big controversies about which sector should lead the others, whether the various sectors should be or not independent on each other, whether each sector should be more centralized or decentralized about decisions and action lines. (8) These contrasts simply revealed the lack of a communist party able to lead the revolutionary political struggle, to draw up its strategy and to organize its instruments and then to direct the various struggle fronts the practice had developed.
The essence of the Protracted Revolutionary People’s War is the aggregation around the Communist Party of revolutionary forces fighting against imperialist bourgeoisie. |
The accumulation of the revolutionary forces consists of
1. the consolidation and strengthening of the Communist Party,
2. the mobilization of the working class in its mass organizations,
3. the aggregation of mass organizations of the working class around the Communist Party,
4. the hegemony of the working class on the other classes of popular masses,
5. the multiform and growing struggle against the imperialist bourgeoisie to defend popular masses’ conquests and rights and to assert more and more widely popular masses’ interests.
These five elements are dialectically linked with each other, they generate and influence each other.
From these historical experiences we therefore draw the conclusion that the socialist revolution doesn’t break out. There is no crucial day to wait for. The revolution is not a popular uprising breaking out when a more or less accidental spark makes explode the general and widespread discontent. The revolution is neither an insurrection that the communist party rouses after having prepared this or that plan: all the insurrections so roused by communist parties have failed: Hamburg (October 1923), Tallin (December 1924), Canton (December 1926 ), Asturias (1934), etc. etc.. The insurrection that the communist party launched without already having armed forces at his disposal, relying only on those formed in the course of the insurrection, have all failed. In the proletarian revolution, communist parties have successfully used the insurrection only as manoeuvre during a war (Petersburg 1917, France 1944, Italy 1945), when the situation of political and military forces in the war already in course made it possible and effective. Would the attack on the Winter Palace had been possible without the military forces that the Petersburg Soviet (and through it the Russian Worker Social Democratic Party) already had available? Would the insurrections of April 1945 in Italy had been possible without partisan formations?
Considered as a strategy of socialist revolution, insurrection becomes paralyzing. It reduces our ability of manoeuvre. It puts the communist party in front of the dilemma: all or nothing, risking all in an initiative by the party or leaving it and suffering the initiative of the bourgeoisie. The conduct of Italian Communist Party in the period between 1945 and 1950 shows very clearly this issue.
The conception of insurrection as a strategy of socialist revolution denies the transformation of quantity into quality, the creation of the qualitative leap through a gradual process, the quantitative accumulation of determined fighting forces. It drives suddenly forces that have not been formed for civil war on the military ground, in a decisive and final clash. Where is in this conception the quantitative accumulation that gives rise to the qualitative leap of insurrection?
The theory of the insurrection as a strategy of socialist revolution is the other side of the coin of legalistic and parliamentary conception of socialist revolution (of the peaceful and democratic way to socialism): it is complementary to it. The practice showed the utopian nature of the strategy consisting of passing from a legal or a mainly legal activity to the insurrection. In practice this strategy of the insurrection has always put the communist parties in front of the dilemma: either to risk losing everything or do nothing. Throughout the history of the communist movement no insurrection roused by the party outside of an already ongoing war has been victorious. The communist parties have carried out victorious insurrections only as particular manoeuvres within a wider already ongoing war, and then when revolutionary military forces already at work supported the insurrectional movement. So there were the insurrections of April 1945 in Italy, and in Petersburg in October 1917.
The Protracted Revolutionary People’s War is the only realistic strategy of socialist revolution, confirmed by the experience of the communist movement. The strategy of insurrection has been tried again and again, and it constantly failed, without exception. Similarly the strategy of the democratic and parliamentary way to socialism failed always and everywhere. One after another all the statements of socialists and revisionists about peaceful, democratic, parliamentary way to socialism were in fact denied by the bourgeoisie. As F. Engels already in 1895 had clearly indicated, it had no qualms to subvert its legality, every time it wasn’t able to ensure the continuity of its power. In Europe and in the nineteenth century, the participation in elections and in general in a number of other normal activities of bourgeois society, which workers’ organizations participated in as free associations among others, was a useful instrument to assert the autonomy of the working class. But since the beginning of the era of proletarian revolution, every time that the communist parties have taken it as a means to seize the power, it transformed itself into a counterrevolutionary chain. (9)
Experience has shown that the working class can get to the conquest of power only through a gradual accumulation of revolutionary forces led in the ambit of the strategy of the Protracted Revolutionary People’s War.
This is the main lesson of the October Revolution, the one we more need today to carry out successfully the rebirth of the communist movement, the decisive one for the rebirth and victory of the communist movement.
Mao Tse-tung, Reading Notes of the “Handbook of Political Economy” (1960), in Mao Tse-tung’s Works vol. 18.
5. Marco Martinengo, The First Socialist Countries (2003), Edizioni Rapporti Sociali.
F. Engels - Ten, Hundred, Thousand CARC for the Reconstruction of the Communist Party (1995), Edizioni Rapporti Sociali.
7. See also Marco Martinengo e Elvira Mensi, A Possibile Future (2006), Edizioni Rapporti Sociali.