From 1905-2017: Echoes of the Abortive Russian Revolution

 

Below is the manifesto produced by the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies at the height of the revolutionary storm which bubbled over in Russia in 1905. It is striking how many similarities there are between the autocratic tsarist regime of 1905 and the towering heights of predatory capitalism today.

The working-class shook Tsarism to the core when they felt their collective strength in 1905 and in 1917 the working-class swept Tsarism into the dustbin of history. The shaky ground which capitalism currently rests on can once again be shaken as the working-class move into action. Capitalism itself can be swept into the dustbin of history as the working-class reject the poverty, exploitation and misery that is becoming all too familiar.

As working-class people start to feel our collective strength in the face of the bourgeoisie’s fracturing system, socialism can once again be placed firmly on the order of today’s business and with the collective effort of billions of workers across the world we can achieve a society from each according to ability, to each according to need. All we need do is demand it and through collective action, strive for it.

1905

“The government is on the brink of bankruptcy. It has reduced the country to ruins and scattered it with corpses. The peasants, worn out by suffering and hunger, are incapable of paying taxes. The government gave credits to the landowners out of the people’s money. Now it is at a loss as to what to do with the landowners’ mortgaged estates. Factories and plants are at a standstill. There is unemployment and a general stagnation of trade. The government has used the capital obtained by foreign loans to build railways, warships, and fortresses and to store up arms. Foreign sources have now been exhausted and state orders have also come to an end. The merchant, the supplier, the contractor, the factory owner, accustomed to enriching themselves at the treasury’s expense, find themselves without new profits and are closing down their offices and plants. One bankruptcy follows another. Banks are failing. All trade exchanges have been reduced to the barest minimum. The government’s struggle against revolution is causing daily unrest. No one is any longer sure what the morrow will bring.

Foreign capital is going back home, ‘Purely Russian’ capital is also seeping away into foreign banks. The rich are selling their property and going abroad in search of safety. The birds of prey are fleeing the country and taking the people’s property with them.

For many years the government has spent all its state revenue on the army and navy. There is a shortage of schools. Roads have been neglected. In spite of this, there is not enough money even to keep the troops supplied with food. The war was lost partly because military supplies were inadequate. Mutinies of poverty-stricken, hungry troops are flaring up all over the country.

The railways are economically sick through the government’s fault. Many millions of roubles are needed to restore the railway economy.

The government has pilfered the savings banks, and handed out deposits to support private banks and industrial enterprises, often entirely fictitious ones. It is using the small saver’s capital to play the stock exchange, where that capital is exposed to risk daily.

The gold reserves of the state bank are negligible compared with the existing claims of government loans and the demands of trade turnover. It will be reduced to nothing if gold coin is demanded for every transaction.

Taking advantage of the absence of any control of the state finances, the government has long been issuing loans which far exceed the country’s means of payment. With these new loans it is covering the interest on old ones.

Year after year the government issues false accounts of expenditure and revenue, showing both to be less than they are in reality and robbing indiscriminately to show a surplus instead of an annual deficit. Officials are free to rob the treasury which in any case is already exhausted.

Only the Constituent Assembly, after the overthrow of autocracy, can halt this financial ruin. It will carry out a close investigation of the state finances and will draw up a detailed, clear, accurate, and certified balance sheet of state revenue and expenditure (budget).

Fear of popular control which would reveal to all the world the government’s financial insolvency is forcing it to keep putting off the convening of the people’s representative assembly.

In order to safeguard its rapacious activities the government forces the people to fight unto death. Hundreds of thousands of citizens perish and are ruined in this fight, and industry, trade, and means of communication are destroyed at their very foundations.

There is only one way out: to overthrow the government, to deprive it of its last strength. It is necessary to cut the government off from the last source of its existence: financial revenue. This is necessary not only for the country’s political and economic liberation, but also, more particularly, in order to restore the financial equilibrium of the state.

We have therefore decided:

To refuse to make land redemption payments and all other payments to the treasury. In all transactions and in the payment of wages and salaries, to demand gold, and in the case of sums of less than five roubles, full-weight hard cash (coinage).

To withdraw deposits from savings banks and from the state bank, demanding payment of the entire sum in gold.

The autocracy has never enjoyed the people’s confidence and has never received any authority from the people.

At the present time the government is behaving within the frontiers of its own country as though it were ruling conquered territory.

We have therefore decided not to allow the repayment of loans which the government contracted while it was clearly and openly waging ware against the entire people.

Signed: The Soviet of Workers’ Deputies.

The Main Committee of the All-Russian Peasants’ Union.

The Central Committee and the Organization Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ party.

The Central Committee of the party of Socialist Revolutionaries.

The Central Committee of the Polish Socialist party.”

To read more about the events which surrounded this document, check out 1905 written by Leon Trotsky.

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The April Theses

Lenin wrote the April Theses upon his return to Russia in April 1917 and it marked an important shift in the direction of the Bolshevik Party. The main shift was a rejection of the idea that a socialist revolution could only be sought after a successful bourgeois revolution took place, paving the way for capitalism.

Essentially, Lenin recognised the idea that Two-Stage theory was flawed and Trotsky’s notion of permanent revolution should be adopted. This would mean that rather than waiting for the establishment of a bourgeois democracy and the development of a capitalist class in Russia, Lenin recognised the need for workers to take control and make demands in their interests directly; to prevent the formation of counter-revolution.

In the April Theses, Lenin called for the immediate end to its involvement in World War One due to it being an Imperialist war rather than a war which was necessary for “revolutionary defencism”. Lenin also made it clear that there were many sections of the proletariat who honestly believed that the war was being fought for the purposes of revolutionary defencism. He made it clear that the Bolsheviks should take the time to explain to the masses why they were mistaken in this belief by pointing out their error.

This is, in my view, a perfect example of how a vanguard party of the working-classes should conduct themselves. Rather than making a decision on behalf of working-class people and assuming that they will follow, Lenin highlights the importance of engaging with working-class people and bringing them round to our ideas through discussion. It is by doing so that we can remain at the heart of the working-class struggle and not an ultra-left or sectarian faction.

With the demand for an end to Russia’s involvement in the war Lenin made it clear that all annexations should be renounced in deed not just in word. This highlights a tactic used by bourgeois parties and bourgeois apologists which can still be seen in mainstream politics today.

Labour have said that they are opposed to the privatisation of the NHS, the bedroom tax and anti-union laws and yet they have made no pledges to reverse the changes. The Conservatives pledged all manner of things before the election, one of the most memorable being no top-down reorganisation of the NHS which is now on the road to privatisation. Even the Lib-Dems have betrayed working-class people with similar lies and in doing so have lost a generation of youth voters. Students will not soon forget that not only did the Lib-Dems go against their pledge to end fees for students, instead they have compounded their betrayal by being a part of seeing fees triple.

Lenin also called for no support for the provisional government precisely because of “the utter falsity of all its promises”. By exposing the vast chasm between the word and deed of bourgeois parties and juxtaposing it with the conviction of those within the Socialist Party, we will hopefully be able to win over much of the disillusioned working-class masses and encourage them to draw the revolutionary conclusions that are necessary to affect the changes needed rather than putting their faith in the hollow words of political charlatans.

Lenin also demonstrated the need to be aware of the objective situation and to act accordingly. He identified that the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies were to form the basis of a revolutionary government but also that the Bolshevik Party were a small minority against “a bloc of all the petty-bourgeois opportunist elements, from the Popular Socialists and the Socialist Revolutionaries down to the Organising Committee”. Lenin pointed out that these groups had all yielded to the influence of the bourgeoisie which has the effect of spreading the influence of the bourgeoisie amongst the proletariat.

Lenin stated that it is important that these elements need to be exposed at every avenue while expressing the necessity for power to be transferred into the hands of the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies. It is thus from experience and the critical analysis of revolutionary elements that workers can learn from their mistakes and proceed in a manner that looks out for their interests and not those of bourgeois apologists. This is one of the reasons why we, as the Socialist Party, engage in Trades Councils today.

Lenin stressed that to organise as a parliamentary republic would be a retrograde step as the soviets are where the voice of the proletariat resides, not in bourgeois democratic structures. This emphasises, even today, the vast shortcomings of bourgeois political structures in catering for the interests of the proletariat; many leading trade union activists will attend Trades Councils but will rarely, if ever, be seen in the council chambers. This clearly demonstrates where the voice of the proletariat is best expressed in contemporary society.

Lenin called for the abolition of the police and a standing army as these are institutions used by the bourgeoisie to repress and restrict the proletariat. Lenin argues that the people as a whole should be armed to protect themselves against invasion rather than relying on a standing army.

This may seem like a shocking measure to those of you who are new to revolutionary politics but if you see the way the state has been mobilised to quash protests internationally you will understand the necessity for this call. Even here in Britain, there are plenty of well-documented cases of police using agent provocateurs to stir up violence only to use it as justification to come down hard on protesters.

Lenin also called for all elected officials to be limited to the average wage of the worker in order to be able to adequately represent the people they are meant to be speaking on behalf of. This requires little justification and one need only look at the state of the trade union movement to see why this demand is raised.

Many high paid trade union officials form a bureaucratic layer who slow down the movement as they are effectively on a boss’s pay and it is in their interest not to be leading an active union as it means more work for them. By pledging to take an average wage leading trade unionists remain firmly in the class of people they are elected to represent and are more likely (though by no means is this assured) to fight for working-class rights.

Lenin calls for the nationalisation of all landed estates and the consolidation of all banks into a national bank which is to be governed under the democratic control of workers. This shift of economic control from the hands of the bourgeoisie into the hands of the proletariat would mark one of the most important shifts in the transition from Capitalism to Socialism. This is because it would mean that democracy would no longer be constricted by economic factors imposed by the bourgeoisie. Thus, with democratic control of the economy, society would become much more equal in economic terms as wealth is collectivised rather than hoarded by a minority to levy power over the majority.

Lenin draws attention to the need for a new international which would have the function of bringing together working-class people from all over the world. The reason for this is that Capitalism is global in its exploitation and Socialism needs to be global if it is to truly emancipate working-class people. Without the international spread of Socialism, countries will be isolated as Russia was after the Bolshevik Revolution as it is in the class-interests of the bourgeoisie to prevent the spread of Socialism.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that Lenin’s rebuttal of Plekhanov at the end of the April Theses is admirable in that Lenin takes the time to scrutinise each and every point that Plekhanov raises and then counter these points on an intellectual basis by pointing out the error of his ways.

If you would like to read the April Theses yourself and simultaneously help to fund the Socialist Party in our struggle for Socialism you can do so by ordering the pamphlet from here for the modest price of £2:

http://leftbooks.co.uk/epages/950002679.sf/en_GB/?ObjectID=5190769

The Transitional Programme

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Leon Trotsky was a key figure in the Bolshevik revolution of October 1917 and later went on to become leader of the Red Army. He also formed the left opposition against Stalin. He was exiled in February 1929, however he continued to oppose the policies of Stalin which were highly repressive and led to the deformed workers’ state which Soviet Russia descended into.

One of Trotsky’s key works, the Transitional Programme: The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International has remained a key text of many Socialists since it was first published in 1938. This is for a number of reasons.

It is firstly useful as a historical document as it lays out some of Trotsky’s reflections on some of the challenges and conditions the Bolsheviks faced during and immediately after the revolution of October 1917. It also goes on to look at some of the developments in Russia and across Europe right up to the rise of fascism.

Even though the Transitional Programme was written 75 years ago there are a lot of similarities that can be drawn between the political and economic landscape of the 1930’s and today especially when looking at the rise of fascism in Greece right now and the economic turmoil faced by much of the Western World.

The Bourgeoisie or ruling classes face a crisis of Capitalism as it becomes more and more clear that Capitalism is displaying contradictions which will never be overcome unless there is a revolutionary change in the way we organise our economy.

The austerity measures and dismantling of the welfare state are ideologically driven attacks on the proletariat or working-classes of Britain to squeeze profits out of public services by privatising them. This is an attempt to keep extracting profits as a means to keep Capitalism going which Trotsky highlights create the prerequisites to a Proletarian Revolution. This is because, as we’re seeing in contemporary society Capitalism enters into what Trotsky highlights as a blind alley. One need only look at the rising unemployment figures, the dips into recession and the lowering of living standards to see that Capitalism is not sustainable.

Trotsky’s Transitional Programme highlights some of the problems faced by the Russian Proletariat which we can certainly appreciate today such as the crisis of Proletarian leadership. While we can see that the Trade Union movement is the most likely vehicle for a mass movement of working-class people due to their democratic and organised structure, we do not take an uncritical approach to Trade Unions.

As highlighted in the recent Falkirk incident whereby Unite influenced a Labour candidate selection and have subsequently been turned over to the police, there is a problem of Proletarian leadership. This is due to Trotsky’s notion of petty-bourgeois cowardice being exhibited in Len Mcluskey’s unwillingness to break away from a party that clearly no longer represents the class-interests of working-class people.

Trade Unions also face the problem that their leadership is generally bureaucratic in nature and trade union leaders are on wages which are closer to that of the bosses than the workers. To be the leader of a trade union which has no disputes is the easiest job in the world because effectively there is nothing to do, this coupled with their high pay often puts Trade Union leaders on opposing sides to Trade Union members when it comes to the class struggle.

I, myself have been witness to the bureaucracy of my Unite union which at best suggests incompetence and at worst suggests bureaucratic sabotage. However, that will only change by affecting change from below within the union and the formation of rank and file organisations such as the National Shop Stewards Network which can levy pressure on the leadership.

The transitional programme is also certainly worth reading as it goes into detail about the problems of famine faced by the Bolsheviks, the criticisms of the idea of Socialism in one country and also goes into detail about the formation of workers’ councils or to use the Russian; Soviets.

The other part of the Transitional Programme which is makes it a key read for any member of the Socialist Party is the Transitional Method which Trotsky developed, which the Socialist Party has adopted.  You will sometimes hear the Socialist Party being referred to as a “Trotskyist” Party and it is because we use the Transitional Method as a means to help develop the consciousness of working-class people.

Trotsky discussed the idea of a Minimum/Maximum programme and its limitations when looking at the contradiction between the objective maturity of conditions for a socialist revolution and the immaturity of the Proletariat. If one was to run out into the street shouting “Emancipate the Proletariat” most people would think one had gone mad. Likewise, if Socialism is put forward as a way to oppose the bedroom tax it probably would not get very far either as most people would not be aware of the relevance of a Socialist transformation of society unless they are educated in political theory.

It is for this reason that Trotsky developed the transitional method, to bridge the gap between the everyday struggles of workers and the goal of the Socialist Revolution. Within this framework, there are three kinds of demands that the transitional method consists of.

These are immediate demands, democratic demands and transitional demands. Immediate demands are just that, demands that can be made presently in everyday class-struggle. A good example of an immediate demand would be a call for the scrapping of the bedroom tax.

Then there are democratic demands. These challenge the accountability and openness of bourgeois democracy. A call for the opening of the books and an end to Capitalist business secrets would be an example of this kind of demand.

Finally, there are transitional demands; these are demands which would attack the bases of the bourgeois regime and expose the contradictions of Capitalism which the bourgeoisie would be unable to satisfy without relinquishing a degree of their power and wealth.

With reference to the example of the bedroom tax, calling for the building of more social housing could be considered as a transitional demand. This is because it is based in the everyday struggle of working-class people but calls upon the ruling class to build more housing which would eat into their closely guarded profits, thereby exposing the failures of Capitalism and demonstrating to working-class people their class position and need for education, organisation and mobilisation as a class against a class that is already organised and mobilises against their interests.

It is also worth noting that these demands have no set definition as an immediate or democratic demand can quickly become a transitional demand in the right circumstances. For example, demanding that the Capitalists open their books could create a great deal of anger when the obscenity of their profit extraction is juxtaposed to the meagre wages earned by the exploited Proletariat.

By putting forward a mixture of these demands Socialists can chip away at the hypocrisies of the likes of New Labour who have compromised themselves by trying to reform Capitalism. It is also by putting forward transitional demands that we expose the economic wealth and power of the bourgeoisie and by working as a vanguard party willing to struggle on the front-lines with all working-class people, we can embolden working-class people not just to defend the morsel of bread which the ruling classes want to deprive them of but to demand peace, land bread and power to the soviets!

If you would like to read the Transitional Programme, which I strongly recommend you do you can purchase it from here:

 

http://leftbooks.co.uk/epages/950002679.sf/en_GB/?ObjectID=2333802

 

Alternatively you can buy it from your local branch of the Socialist Party. Here is a list of branches to find a branch near you:

 

http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/17104/15-07-2013/socialist-party-branches

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