On November 7, 1917, addressing the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' deputies, Lenin declared: "Comrades, the workers' and peasants' revolution has been carried out. What does this workers' and peasants' revolution mean? It means that we shall have a government of the Soviets, our own power, without the slightest participation of the bourgeoisie (...) The oppressed masses will create the power themselves." And he concluded: "We must now devote ourselves in Russia to the building of a socialist proletarian State. Long live the world socialist revolution." The first workers' state was born.
Yet, for Lenin and the Bolsheviks, it was only a beginning - the beginning of the world proletarian revolution.
A new period was unfolding... one of immense hope for the oppressed masses of the world; a period also of worldwide struggle, with its advances, retreats and failures.
Yet this day of November 7, 1917 also marked a conclusion; the climax of a period which had begun eight months earlier when the masses suddenly poured into the streets.
This did indeed happen suddenly, even unexpectedly.
For this political and social explosion had surprised almost everybody: not only the Tsar's police, but also the vast majority of revolutionary militants, the very people who had been working fervently for this moment for years.
The days which shook the world
In February, the revolution was beginning. Yet most of those who took part in it, to begin with, were not fully aware of this, or rather, of the tasks they would have to carry out.
In Russia at that time, which had been bogged down in a bloody war for nearly three years, there were very few people, in fact, who thought that the demonstrations organized for International Women's Day, on 23 February, would be the beginning of a wave which, within a few days, would engulf the whole country.
And yet it only took five days to sweep away the Tsar, his dictatorship and his totally worm-eaten regime. Five days which were followed by others. There were probably rather more than the ten which John Reed described in his book, but what cannot be denied is that these days did indeed shake the world. And more than a little.
These days did not simply shake the world of that time. The effects of the shockwave which started in Petrograd seventy years ago are still visible today: in different nations and peoples and, of course, on a smaller scale, among revolutionaries like ourselves, whose struggle is guided by the perspective opened up by the Russian proletariat.
The tide of the masses, unleashed on the initiative of the working women of Petrograd, was not to subside once the Tsar had been deposed.
The workers did not return to the factories, nor the soldiers to their barracks. Or rather they did return, but not to resume working under the foremen's orders, nor to obey their captains and generals. They returned, but continued to discuss their grievances.
Peace, bread and land
How could this terrible war, whose aims had nothing to do with the interests of the population, be ended? How could society be organized to provide bread for everyone? How could land be given to the millions of peasants, the mujiks who had been dressed up in a uniform and sent to the trenches and barracks? How could the national oppression which reigned in the Russian Empire - rightly nicknamed as the "prison of peoples" - be abolished?
These issues were concrete ones, indeed vital ones, in the fullest sense of the word. They concerned the most immediate interests of each individual. For "land", "bread" and "peace" were not just words. They could not remain mere words. The issues discussed all led to one, single question: which class would have the strength and at the same time the will and the political determination to find the means to carry out these tasks? Who would hold power, and who would know how to use it to bring peace and end the butchery which no one wanted to continue, except those with a vested interest in it - the arms dealers and Russia's imperialist allies? Who would be prepared to hand over the land to the peasants; or rather, who would be bold enough to support the peasants who, without waiting, were attacking the feudal lords and distributing their land amongst themselves? In short, who would be able to fulfil the hopes which had driven the population out into the streets, or, to be more precise, to revolution?
Who could do all this?
The bourgeoisie? The politicians who represented the bourgeoisie - both those who served it openly and its "socialist" lackeys - proved incapable of breaking with Russia's French and British allies to make peace; incapable of confronting the feudal lords to redistribute the land; incapable of attacking the profits and privileges of the capitalists who had grown rich in the war. And for good reason, for they were bound by ties with all these people. In addition to this, they had the deepest mistrust and fear of this revolution and of this people which had, in this initial period, allowed them to take power.
Who else then?
The answer was the proletariat, a class which had no ties to the old social order, nor with the arms dealers or the imperialist allies. A class which, as Marx had said seventy years earlier, had nothing to lose but its chains and a world to win. A world to win not only for itself but for the whole of society.
The policy of Lenin and the Bolsheviks
From March 1917 onwards, Lenin, who had not yet been able to return from exile to Russia, wrote that one of the immediate tasks of the revolutionary proletariat of Russia was to "transfer state power from the hands of the government of big landowners and capitalists into those of the workers' and peasants' government". For Lenin, therefore, the perspective was clear right from the beginning. It was up to the proletariat, allied to the peasantry (which constituted the immense majority of Russia's population) to carry the revolution through to its conclusion. In other words, to take charge of the interests of society.
For Lenin and the Bolsheviks, this was not simply a statement of principle. It was not mere rethoric of the kind which was commonplace in speeches at the time, in which orators spoke abundantly of "the people", its suffering and its greatness - all the more so because they sought to deceive it!
From February/March 1917 onwards, the workers' and peasants' government was really on the order of the day, not simply as a project but as something which was already taking solid shape.
For this time the proletariat had not confined itself to the role of a footsoldier. It had not simply served as a stepping stone for others, as had been the case in previous revolutions.
The soviets, organs of proletarian democracy
First in Petrograd, then in Moscow, then very quickly almost everywhere, the workers in the factories and the soldiers in the barracks and in the regiments had designated their representatives in committees and councils. The Russian word for council is "soviet", a word which was soon to become part of the world's vocabulary.
These soviets, in which elected representatives were answerable to those who had elected them, and could be voted out by them, were organs of living democracy, that of the workers, that of the people. Yet they were more than that. They were the organs of a new power, that of the workers and peasants, which presented itself as something which could replace the power of a faltering bourgeoisie.
To begin with, the workers had raised the most moderate and conciliatory elements to the head of these soviets. Things always happen in this way. All revolutions pass through this period of enthusiasm and unanimity, where the dominant feeling is that it is the union of the "whole people" which has enabled the old order to be overthrown. Everyone seems to be bound together by the desire to achieve the same ideal. But this fraternity masks divisions and, more than this, it masks conflicting interests.
The Russian Revolution was no exception to this rule.
From the beginning, the soviets constituted the real power. But this did not prevent them from abandoning this power and handing it over to a provisional government which had only one concern: diverting the revolution away from its aims.
The events were to reveal the contradictions and diverging interests. The expected peace did not come. Decisions concerning the distribution of land were put off. Everything was in danger of falling back into the old order of things.
Through their experiences, workers could identify who was with them and who was against them. Yet experience alone is not enough to overcome obstacles in a positive way. It can just as easily lead to demoralisation as to consciousness. At each stage people need to be able to draw lessons from this experience, measure their own strength and that of their enemies, and see through the intentions of the various parties involved.
This is what happened in the eight months between the February revolution and the October revolution. These eight months served as a public demonstration of the impotence of the bourgeoisie and its political representatives, and, at the same time, allowed the proletariat to gain a measure of its power, its responsibilities and its tasks.
The reason why this experience was not gained empirically, by trial and error, and the proletariat was able to keep the initiative and turn the trials of 1917 to its advantage, was that its most advanced and conscious elements had a clear vision of the situation.
For in Russia, there was a revolutionary party, bound to the proletariat, which had forged itself in the previous period, and which had been able to capitalize on the experience of the past, and thus prepare for the tasks to come.
Having said this, there was no inevitability that it would be the proletariat which would take power in Russia, in a country where it was a very small minority, buried in an immense mass of peasants.
If there was a situation in which one might have thought the revolution would initially pass through the bourgeois, capitalist stage, if there was a country in which one might have thought that it would be the peasantry which would be the driving force and play the leading role in the revoution, and the proletariat's time would come later, that country was Russia.
Such ideas were, moreover, widely upheld in 1917. And to begin with they were supported by the majority of the population, including the working class which, in the soviets, handed over power to the representatives of the bourgeoisie.
Russian was, indeed, an underdeveloped country in which the situation was not ripe for socialism - this was clear for everyone. And when Lenin said the proletariat should take power, he was perfectly aware of the situation.
However, he had a clear awareness that only the proletariat was capable of carrying out the tasks which the February revolution had placed on the agenda in Russia, whereas all the other social and political forces were going to opt out. Above all, he knew that although socialism was not on the agenda in Russia, on the European and worldwide level it was. He knew that, although the proletariat was a tiny minority in Russia, this was not the case if it was considered as being an integral part of the international working class.
Because Lenin and the Bolshevik Party saw things in this light, they had the daring and the clear-sightedness to see, as early as March 1917, contrary to the opinion that dominated at the time, that the proletarian revolution which was on the agenda.
In May 1917, Lenin declared: "Observing the proletarian movement in various countries in the nineteenth century, and considering the possibilities of social revolutions, Marx and Engels said time and again that the parts played by these countries would generally depend on the specific historical and national characteristics of each of them. They expressed this thought briefly as follows: the French worker will begin the task, the German worker will complete it.
"The great honour of beginning the task has fallen to the Russian proletariat, but it should not be forgotten that its movement and its revolution are only a part of the revolutionary movement which is growing and become more powerful day by day, in Germany for example. We can only determine our tasks from this angle."
In 1917, for the Bolsheviks, there was no "Russian" revolution. There was only a proletarian revolution... in Russia. It was only an initial victory in the fight for the world socialist revolution, a victory which, for specific reasons, had been achieved in the old Tsarist empire, but which only had meaning in a much broader perspective.
The revolutionary wave of 1917-1920
The Russian revolution was the beginning of a period, that of the revolutionary years of 1918 and 1919, in which the working masses were to go on the offensive. It was a period of intense class wars in which the worldwide victory of the proletariat was at stake. The proletarians of Russia had succeeded; they had raised the flag of international communism at the other end of Europe, in what was only a poor country, a semi-colony, of the great powers. The revolution which had broken out in Petrograd and Moscow was merely a spark which had shot out from the immense furnace which was smouldering under the ashes and destruction left by the war. Imperialism, undermined by its contradictions, appeared to be weakened and defeated in its most reactionary bastions in central Europe, Germany and Austria. The great central empires, from Wilhem II's Germany to the Ottoman Empire, had been shattered. Previously oppressed nationalities were raising their heads and organizing in separate states. Peoples expected the end of the War to be the end of the autocratic rulers, as in Russia, i.e. the end of dictatorship and oppression.
The peoples of Europe had paid a heavy price for the great powers' thirst for plunder: millions of dead, endless destruction and unprecedented sacrifices. They longed for a Europe rid of war and militarism, a Europe which would at last be democratic and united.
Fraternization which had begun in the trenches in 1917, and which had been repressed for a while, now became widespread.
Strikes broke out. From Barcelona to Glasgow, from Lorraine to Piemonte and from New York to Winnipeg. These strikes were contagious. They spread from a town to a region to a whole country and only stopped to begin again further on. Even peaceful Switzerland was not spared.
The coming revolution could only be a world revolution. This had been the deep conviction of the whole workers' movement for decades. Now, finally, the moment seemed to have come. The Bolsheviks were so convinced of this idea that they would have been ready to sacrifice revolutionary Russia if this could have allowed the revolution to win elsewhere, and in particular, to prevail in Germany. At the time of the Brest-Litovsk talks between the Russian Soviets and the German government, Lenin declared: "If we thought that the German revolutionary movement was likely to break out as soon as the talks were broken off, we would have to sacrifice ourselves, as the German revolution must be of far greater importance than our own. But it has not yet begun. We must hold on until the general Socialist Revolution..."
The "general Socialist Revolution" was, in effect, no longer a utopian dream. The revolutionary wave could sweep aside the war and those responsible for it - the imperialists. The first cracks had begun to appear in Russia, but the other warring powers soon followed her into the abyss. In Victor Serge's words, "the revolution was born out of the war, but the war was not Russian".
In the central Empires, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey, immense territorities which had been reduced during the war to "brilliantly organized famine", under the pretext of keeping up the war effort, the regimes were collapsing: monarchs were abdicating and taking flight. During the war all power, the whole social organization had been concentrated in the hands of the armies. These were now defeated, routed and completely disorganized. In certain cases, as in Hungary, there was no longer any central power. The problem for the working class was to take control, as in Russia. The armistice signed in November 1918 further hastened the collapse of the defeated States.
The revolution in Central Europe
In November 1918 the revolution broke out simultaneously in Vienna, Budapest and Berlin.
This time it was striking at the heart of the old European capitals. Workers' and soldiers' councils were rising up and coming to the foreground. Thousands of militants, most of them from the ranks of the Social-Democratic movement - some of whom had been gone along with the sacrifices demanded in the name of the war effort - who had gone through the slaughter in the trenches, were hoping this time that the end of the war would mark the promised advent of socialism. They did not want to wait any longer. Red flags were flying and socialism was on everyone's lips and in every heart.
Just as the Soviets had prevailed in the old Tsarist empire, from the Urals to the Caucasus, workers' councils were taking power in Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Vienna and Budapest. Large sections of the working class were going over to the side of the revolution.
The reaction of their opponents was one of panic. In Hungary, the bourgeois leaders chose to give in without a fight. Count Karolyi, representing the bourgeois power, solemnly declared that he was placing power in the hands of the proletariat, and handed over power to the Socialists. Subsequently the latter brought the young leader of the Communist Party, Bela Kun, out of prison to form a government of the Soviets.
In Germany, the army general staff played for time, giving way to the assault of the masses and the days of insurrection in Berlin. Hindenburg himself officially recognized the power of the workers' councils, while the Socialist leaders, who had most openly collabourated with the Emperor's regime and who had encouraged the proletariat to shed its blood for the Emperor, backed the councils.
The international counter-revolution
In the shadows, however, the socialist leaders were working hand in hand with the army staff to prepare the repression and the restoration of the bourgeois order. "One of us has to play the role of the executioner", declared the "Socialist" Noske, thereby applying for the job of executioner of the working class.
The first bloody repression of the insurrection came in Berlin in January 1919, and the Communist Party was decapitated by the murder of its leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. The proletariat was not completely defeated, however. Although crushed again in Berlin in March, the revolution triumphed in Bavaria.
Shaken for a moment, the bourgeoisie's forces tried to pull themselves together again, and succeeded thanks to the open treachery or complicity of the socialist leaders who continued to collabourate with reactionary forces. The outcome of the titanic struggle of the proletariat, which was bidding for power, getting production moving again and even reorganizing social life, was not inevitable.
From 1918 to 1920 the proletariat, which had remained armed, went to war again, this time against the armies of the bourgeoisie. And not unsuccessfully: under the impulse of the Hungarian Red Army, a Slovak Soviet Republic was formed. In Vienna, however, the police, under "Socialist" orders, broke the workers' insurrection in June 1919.
The counter-revolution prevailed in Europe. The German revolution was finally defeated in Bavaria, Horthy set up his dictatorship in Hungary, as did Pilsudski in Poland, from where he went on the offensive against the Red Army.
In response, the Red Army entered Poland, but had to give ground. The revolution was now in danger in Russia, surrounded by the white armies which received supplies, funds and support from the imperialist powers.
The troops of the counter-revolution were finally victorious and wherever they passed in Finland, Poland, the Ukraine and Hungary, white terror raged. Workers were massacred and pogroms of an incredible brutality took place, even more horrific than those under the Tsar. Kornilov had not won in August 1917 in Russia, but his counterparts took their revenge all over Europe.
And yet, although its first wave had been halted, and although it was in dire straits in Russia, strangled by the blockade of the imperialist armies, the revolution still showed its vigour and the strength of its ideas by the creation of a Revolutionary Communist International, the Third International, whose immediate task was to serve as an international general staff of the revolution.
The International held its first Congress in March 1919. And the worldwide impact of the Russian revolution, deadened as it was by the Siege, was so great that it reverberated all the way to the Far East, to the furthest ends of Asia, to the very colonies of imperialism, where, just as they did in the imperialist countries, the most conscious elements in the workers' movement and youth rallied to the flag of the Soviets. And the Second International, which had betrayed the revolution, saw its militants and parties leave en masse to join the ranks of the Communist International.
In 1920, far from being crushed or demobilized, the working class went back onto the offensive. Strikes broke out in France, often initiated by the Communist Party. In Italy, workers occupied the factories, and there too, there were workers' councils right across the country. In Germany, the attempted counter-revolutionary coup led by Kapp was defeated by the general strike. The bourgeoisie no longer had the means to go on the offensive. It could no longer find new troops to go and fight the Soviets; and when it found them, mutinies broke out, as in the French Black Sea fleet.
Yet the working class did not succeed in taking power anywhere else than in the old Tsarist empire. The proletarian revolutionary wave was broken in the early twenties, and the bourgeoisie consolidated its power in its strongholds.
An unprecedented wave of reaction
For the workers' movement, and for the whole of society, the price to be paid was considerable. In Central Europe this took the form of the victory of the White gangs responsible for the pogroms. Even in the old democracies, the bourgeoisie took revenge for the fright it had had. In the USA, the bourgeoisie took revenge on workers' militants by the lynch law and the electric chair. Anticommunism prevailed - a setback for freedoms of all kinds, and even for any idea of progress.
The whole of society underwent an unprecedented wave of reaction, proving, in a negative form, the common destiny of the proletariat and society in general. With the proletariat defeated, the whole of society regressed. Just as the revolution was international, so was the counter-revolution. It had triumphed everywhere in Europe with varying degrees of savagery, also affecting Soviet Russia.
The existence of a workers' state in the Soviet Union meant that the wave of reaction did not go all the way. It did not succeed in restoring the domination of the bourgeoisie, but drastically affected the Soviet state and Soviet society.
From the very apparatus of the workers' State conservative forces emerged and consolidated themselves in a bureaucracy which ended up dominating the whole of society and exerting a brutal dictatorship over the proletariat itself.
By declaring, after Lenin's death, that socialism could be built in one country, Stalin, as the representative of an as yet nascent bureaucracy, endorsed and theorized a change of perspective. This was in contradiction with the ideas of Marx and Lenin and all the Marxist revolutionaries, who all fought for the international proletarian revolution. It was, above all, in contradiction with the only perspective which could shift the balance of power in the Soviet Union itself in favour of the proletariat.
The Russian proletariat had gone as far as it could in the Soviet territory. The reason why it continued to be subject to the economic weight and the military pressure of the bourgeoisie, even though it had radically expropriated the bourgeoisie in the Soviet Union, was that this weight and pressure came from the outside.
For the bourgeoisie, like the proletariat, is an international class.
It was only on the international level that the Russian proletariat could have hoped that the balance of power would stop shifting against it. Cut off from the rest of the proletariat, the Russian revolution was condemned to perish and the proletariat was condemned to be subjected to the bureaucracy, but also to the bourgeoisie. This was done indirectly through the weight which the economic pressure of imperialism exerted on the working class through the medium of the bureaucracy, and was soon to take a military form with Hitler's aggression against the Soviet Union.
The last revolutionary event which might have broken the chain of counter-revolution and reaction was the Chinese revolution of 1925-1927. But the Chinese revolution had the unenviable privilege of being the first victim of the rising bureaucracy's policy. It was on the order of Stalin and the Communist International that the young Chinese Communist Party dissolved itself within the bourgeois nationalist organization, the Kuomintang, deliberately subordinating the proletariat to the nationalist bourgeoisie.
Not only was the Chinese proletariat thus prevented from playing an independent role in the rising revolutionary movement. It also found itself completely disarmed and sent to the slaughter when the leadership of the Kuomintang, under Chang Kai Shek's authority, turned against the revolution.
With the triumph of reaction in the mid-twenties, the advance of the revolution was stopped. The proletarian revolutionaries of the time - at least those who had retained their consciousness and their energy in this period of adversity for their class - hoped that this would only be a brief interlude.
In a sense, they were not mistaken, for the proletariat did not, in the end, take long to get over the defeats of the twenties and the far more serious defeats some ten years later in Germany, where, in 1933, Fascism took hold after the complete crushing of the German proletariat and its organizations.
The revolutionary wave of 1934-1936
As it turned out, fascism had only just gained power in Germany when there was a new revolutionary upsurge of the proletariat. It began in 1934 and culminated in 1936, successively or simultaneously setting France, Spain and the United States alight. It spread much further, over Poland, Yugoslavia, Greece, North Africa and the Middle East, even as far as Indochina.
The reason for this upsurge was, in the final analysis, the simple fact that the bourgeoisie had barely consolidated its power by the defeat of the proletariat when its economy plunged humanity into a new crisis, that of 1929. Initially this crisis aggravated the demoralization of the international proletariat, which suffered a serious defeat in Germany by failing to prevent the rise of nazism and its seizure of power, bound hand and foot as it was by its reformist and Stalinist leaders.
Although defeated in Germany, the proletariat still had the energy for a sudden revolutionary upsurge which reached a number of countries large enough for it to create new opportunities which were at least as great as those of the Russian proletariat in 1917.
And yet this period ended in defeat, even in those countries (like France and the United States) where it seemed to have ended in semi-victory.
It was not revolutionary energy which the proletariat was short of, however, but a policy. And Trotsky was unfortunately quite justified in writing towards the end of this period that the historic crisis of humanity can be reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership.
The working class had reached different levels of mobilization and different levels of political consciousness in different countries, ranging from France and Spain to the United States and to smaller countries in Central Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
Yet the most important element was the very existence of this upsurge. The mobilization of the proletariat in one country might have incited and encouraged mobilization and consciousness in another country, if only such had been the aim of the proletariat's leaders in the different countries.
When the workers of Petrograd took arms and fraternized with the troops, they were no more conscious than the workers of Barcelona who acted in the same way to bar Franco's route.
And the French proletariat involved in the most powerful strike movement in its history still had energy in reserve.
In Russia, however, in the months which followed the February Revolution, there was a party, the Bolshevik Party, which strove systematically to develop working-class consciousness in the tumultuous course of the revolution by clarifying the meaning of each event so that the working masses could understand the tasks which they could perform. No working class can be immediately conscious of its ability to take power and direct society. The Russian working class was no more conscious of this than any other in February 1917.
Yet the workers learned during the Revolution. And there was a small but determined minority of militants among them to ensure that things happened in this way, and, above all, there was a policy which was continuously geared in this direction.
The Popular Fronts: a policy to stifle the proletariat's consciousness
Unfortunately, the only policy which the reformist and Stalinist organizations - or, in the case of Spain, the Anarchists - proposed to their activists, and through them to the working class, was poles apart from a class policy. It was, moreover, a policy designed to prevent any progress of class consciousness.
The situation was undoubtedly very different in Spain when compared to France, but it can be said that both countries served as large-scale testing grounds for the much-vaunted Popular Front policy which the Social Democratic organizations and the Stalinist organizations jointly proposed to the working class.
This Popular Front policy was later to be used many times by the bourgeoisie to nip in the bud any rise in the proletariat's consciousness of its specific class interests, and (when this proved impossible) to crush this consciousness.
It was in Spain and France, however, that the Popular Front "formulas" won credit in the eyes of the bourgeoisie of the imperialist powers as the final rampart (the mirror image of fascism) in the defence of the capitalist social order. And it was in these countries that these "formulas" were codified and can be summarized as follows:
- preventing the working class from gaining consciousness by opposing any idea of class struggle conducted with a view of taking power;
- replacing class concepts, the fundamental opposition between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, with concepts such as democracy against fascism, the Republican side against the military dictatorship and Left against Right;
- asserting that the working class, in the interests of professed higher ideals such as the Republic or democracy should leave aside its class demands, or at any rate limit them to the sectional, economic level and not express them on the political level;
- idealizing bourgeois democracy as an institution at the very time when it was collapsing;
- substituting nationalism for internationalism.
It was through this policy that the working class's leaders induced workers to tag behind their bourgeoisie both in Spain and in France.
Getting the working class to accept this policy in such a period of revolutionary unrest required parties which had built some credit. This is where the Stalinized Communist Parties played a priceless part in preserving the bourgeois order in this period.
The degeneration of the Soviet Union, leading to the degeneration of the Communist International and then of the whole Communist movement, was so rapid that it took the proletariat by surprise. In the eyes of workers the Russian proletarian revolution was still personified by men and parties whose main aim was already to prevent other proletarian revolutions, in Spain, France or elsewhere.
Once the German working class had been broken, the French working class disarmed and demobilized by the illusions of the Popular Front, and the Spanish working class defeated even within the Republican camp, the field was clear once more for the bourgeoisie and its solutions. The field was clear for a new world war.
Even after its defeat, the proletariat still haunted the bourgeoisie
Even once defeated, the proletariat kept haunting the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie remembered the First World War, in the course of which so many proletarians who had left to war with a flower in their rifle had become enraged within a few years. They remembered how the revolutionary tide which had swollen up in the misery, suffering and despair of the masses had swept across the whole of Europe and beyond.
The Russian Revolution and the revolutions which had developed in its wake had shown that, while revolutionary crises are unpredictable, their development and outcome are even more so. The political leaders of the bourgeois world had not forgotten how a handful of revolutionaries had led the Russian proletariat to power by relying on its consciousness and basing their whole policy on the conviction that, even in Russia, it was both necessary and possible for the proletariat to take power, as this political victory would serve as a springboard for the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat in other countries.
A quarter of a century later, despite all the defeats of the working class, the bourgeoisie still consistently and stubbornly did everything it could to prevent the proletariat from carrying out a new October 1917 anywhere in the world, and particularly in Europe.
It was the desire for protection against the risk of proletarian revolution during or at the end of the war which was at the root of all "resistance" policies. In the countries occupied by Nazi Germany, these policies were aimed less at conducting the war against the Nazis than at subordinating the proletariat to the bourgeoisie and its leaders, in the name of nationalism and in the name of the struggle against fascism.
This was the concern which led, on a much larger scale, to the imperialist powers opposed to Germany agreeing with Stalin to share the task of policing Europe in the aftermath of the war.
Similarly, it was this concern which led to the setting up at the end of the war of governments with Communist participation. The Stalinist parties agreed to place their credit among the working class loyally behind the setting up of the bourgeoisie's state apparatus and the reconstruction of economies for the sole profit of the bourgeois class.
The bourgeoisie's political leaders tried every means to prevent a revolutionary upsurge, to prevent a development of working class militancy which might have led to the proletariat becoming conscious of its political interests.
The leaders of the capitalist world did not use only these methods of political dissuasion, however. The armies of the victorious countries ended the war with massacres which were unnecessary from a military point of view, but intended to intimidate populations. It was to show clearly the lengths to which the upholders of the bourgeois order were prepared to go to defend their class domination that German towns with large concentrations of workers, such as Dresden and Hamburg, were bombed systematically, and atomic bombs were used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In the end, the revolutionary wave which the leaders of the bourgeoisie had striven to prevent did not take place where they expected it and feared it most.
The revolutionary wave in the colonial and semi-colonial countries
There was no outbreak in Europe, where the situation stabilized rapidly. Yet there was a powerful and contagious revolutionary wave which originated and developed in the immense colonial empires, whose old colonial links had been broken by the war, and in which peoples wanted to throw off the colonial domination to which they had been subjected for decades.
In the immediate post-war years, the Chinese Revolution - a vast and deep peasant insurrection - brought Mao Tse Toung and his party to power. Also, in many countries in South-East Asia, and then in the Middle East, North Africa and Madagascar, a series of peasant revolts, national insurrections, explosions of anger and large-scale revolutionary movements developped. Some of these movements were crushed; others, like in India, brought to power nationalists to whom the colonizing power offered a compromise. Several led to revolutions which ended, often after many years of armed struggle, in the achieving national independence.
These revolutionary movements all stood on the platform of the struggle against imperialist domination. They were led by radical nationalists whose origins were in the petty bourgeoisie.
Nowhere did the proletariat play an independent role. Nowhere did leaders speak in the name of its class interests, or even propose a policy aimed at linking up these revolutionary movements to the worldwide struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie.
As a result, some drew the conclusion that the time of proletarian revolution was over. Yet the political absence of the proletariat was not something inevitable.
It would, of course, be absurd to rewrite history to say where and how the proletariat could have played a part.
Although it was absent politically, it was far from non-existent. In the colonies or semi-colonies which freed themselves from direct imperialist rule by revolutionary struggle, during the revolutionary wave following World War II, the working class was in general a very small minority compared to the peasantry or even compared to the urban petty bourgeoisie. Yet in many of these countries it was, after all, neither weaker nor less concentrated than it had been in Russia in 1917. And in most of these revolutions it even provided a significant section of the combatants.
The political obliteration of the proletariat by the revolutionary nationalists
The revolutionary movement was led everywhere by bourgeois nationalist revolutionaries. In Russia, where petty bourgeois revolutionaries were also brought to the head of the revolution in its initial phase, this had not prevented the proletariat from rapidly appearing as a different revolutionary force, separating itself in the course of events from the petty bourgeois leadership of the revolution. Yet the revolution in China, Indochina and Algeria - and in slightly different circumstances in Cuba - was accompanied by a total political obliteration of the proletariat.
The radical nationalist leaders, for their part, had a class consciousness. In an authoritarian manner they conducted a policy which left no room for protest on the part of representatives of the proletariat, and fought against any attempt to organize independently. "Power to the people" was a slogan designed to deceive the people, chiefly the working class. Yet although the radical nationalists did not hesitate to use populist or Marxist-leaning phraseology, they sought above all to avoid what Lenin had done - leading the exploited masses and the proletariat to conquer and exercise power. They were conscious petty bourgeois who wanted power for themselves, in the name of the interests of their social class, the bourgeoisie.
They deliberately gave the political front organizations which they controlled exclusive political representation and used the military apparatus which they had built up during the war as their instrument for taking power. The masses were there to fight and to support their policy, not to lead or even have any control over either the struggle or the new regime which they had helped bring to power.
Mao had been the first to lead a revolution on this basis through to the end, i.e. to victory, without being outflanked by the masses, despite giving expression to and using their full militancy. For this reason Maoism served as a reference in later revolutions. The radical petty bourgeoisie was able to learn many political lessons from this experience.
While the bourgeoisie had been able to learn the lessons of the distant and immediate past to prevent the political intervention of the proletariat, there was no-one on the proletariat's side to use the victories and defeats of the previous quarter of a century, there was no-one within its ranks to defend the perspective of proletarian revolution. And there was no-one to tell the proletariat of the colonized countries that they had to retake the initiative and win the leadership of the masses away from the nationalist movements everywhere where there was still time, so that the struggle of the colonized peoples could lead to something other than the setting up of bourgeois states which, although admittedly independent, were condemned to underdevelopment.
For the proletariat to play a part in the anti-colonial revolutions, militants and leaders would have been needed in its midst, who were capable of proposing a class policy.
Failing to find them in the country itself, it could have sought them elsewhere, in countries where the workers' movement was stronger and more organized. Yet the whole problem was precisely that the proletarians of the countries fighting against imperialism saw nothing of the Western proletariat but the hideous face of reformist or Stalinist leaders who, as ministers in bourgeois governments, were condoning the massacres and colonial wars of their imperialisms.
The revolutionary nationalists who led the revolutionary struggles of colonized peoples went a long way - a very long way in several countries - on the path that they had chosen, that of a national independence. Some were even capable of accepting the break imposed on them by imperialism rather than giving in. They were not afraid to rely on the revolutionary energy of the masses in revolt. Yet there was one area in which they did not give full scope to the revolutionary upsurge: the possibility of extending the revolution.
Revolutions had broken out almost simultaneously in many colonized countries on several occasions during the struggle for national freedom after the war. But not once did the nationalist revolutionaries propose a policy aimed at coordinating struggles and involving different peoples in the same revolution.
This was no error. It was the very consequence of their basic political choice, the nationalist perspective which they set for the struggle. This was a choice which drove them to strengthen their position in the power struggle by seeking the alliance of the wealthy classes rather than the active alliance of the exploited masses in neighbouring countries. Their opposition to imperialism, violent and armed as it was within the national framework, went hand in hand with respect for the basic principles of bourgeois society: respect for private property, for the division of society into classes, for one's country and, in the final analysis, respect for the world imperialist order. For they did not seek to destroy the imperialist order, but simply to force it to compromise with them.
To go beyond this, for these struggles to contribute in the emancipation of humanity, would have required a completely different perspective and a completely different ideology, that of the proletariat. And even though the majority of the proletariat was at that time in the industrialized countries, even though it was passive, a proletarian policy was possible in the colonial countries. Such a policy would have aimed at making each revolution a link in the chain of world revolution for the overthrow of capitalism. It would have aimed at relying not only on the radicalism of the masses but on the class consciousness of the proletariat, and at leading the class struggle of the proletariat to its furthest limit, to the seizure of power. Such a policy, carried out in the name of the proletariat of the oppressed countries, was the only one likely to rouse the proletariat of the imperialist nations out of its relative passivity. It was the only policy able to provide the peoples of poor countries with allies in the heart of the imperialist powers.
An assessment of the October Revolution
So, seventy years on, what assessment wan we make of the October Revolution, and from what viewpoint?
In a recent article, the editor of the French newspaper Le Monde looked at the October Revolution with the eyes of the bourgeois who likes to see himself as being liberal-minded and intelligent. The article was entitled: "The seventy-year-old revolution". And it was with somewhat ironic condescension that André Fontaine underlined the ambition of the October Revolution to be the youth of the world, and its desire to see the coming of the "world soviet republic", recalling in passing that "October is fundamentally internationalist, literally stateless: the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is the only country in the world whose official name is free of any territorial connection, for the good reason that it saw itself as being open to all peoples".
For the author of the article, however, all this is clearly utopianism, which was soon disposed of by history, brutally personified as it was by Stalin and his desire to "build socialism in one country". The author's sympathies are more for the realist Gorbachev, who is at last distancing himself from "Leninist manichaeism" and who "renounces the dogma of victory, of Soviet-style socialism".
For André Fontaine, although "Marxist or not, any moderately intelligent and honest man cannot fail to see the extent to which real socialism falls short of the dreams of Marx and Lenin", it is also a system in crisis, just like the bourgeois system, although in the Soviet Union, this is because of what apparently still remains of Lenin and his "dogma".
However the parallel he makes between what he calls the two systems is fundamentally flawed. This is because one of the two systems, the capitalist system, has a history of several centuries of development behind it, while the other represents what is left of the crushed upsurge of a young revolutionary class which had never before been in a position to lead society.
Capitalism took several centuries to develop in a few countries in Europe and America, and, from this starting point, to succeed in taking over the world.
History gave the bourgeoisie several centuries to gain technical knowledge and culture, and master society; several centuries to train its representatives and cadres. And capitalism now benefits from being based on the richest countries on earth.
And yet the result of all this is successive crises, of which the current economic crisis is one; a crisis which is all the more revolting in that it is not due to the poverty of the imperialist countries in which it originated, but on the contrary to the excess of riches, or more exactly to the inability of the capitalist system and the bourgeois class to manage the economy in the best interests of society!
After decades, if not centuries of capitalist technical progress, the most sophisticated products of this technical progress are placed at the service of the obscure laws of the stock market; and the crash is propagated at the speed of light via computer links!
After centuries of accumulating knowledge and science, the bourgeoisie - even its greatest experts - are forced to admit that they understand nothing about the workings of their own system, and can do nothing about its crises!
After centuries of accumulating culture for the benefit of the bourgeoisie, its intellectuals may, tomorrow, if the crisis leads to the resurgence of fascist barbarity and war, prove capable of justifying both.
The other system is the result of the first historical attempt by the proletariat to emancipate humanity, and the failure of this attempt. It is what remains of the very first step towards an economy based on the collectivisation of the means of production.
Although the Soviet state itself is, indeed, seventy years old, it was only for a few short years that the Russian proletariat was able to put its revolutionary energy into action, while it was being weakened by wars, poverty, and bourgeois pressure, and before it was crushed by the bureaucracy.
The October Revolution can therefore be assessed from two different and even totally opposite viewpoints.
From one viewpoint, that of André Fontaine and of nearly all commentators, the October Revolution is a unique and completed Russian revolution, which created a system which was meant to develop according to its own law, in competition with the capitalist system but in a world divided between the two. It is a viewpoint based on the durability of the bourgeois order.
From the other viewpoint, that of the international proletarian revolution aimed at overthrowing the domination of the bourgeoisie for good, on a worldwide scale, October 1917 is a first attempt by the new revolutionary class, one which remained isolated in time and in space. The essential question is therefore to assess what remains of this first attempt, and whether what remains makes things easier or more difficult from the point of view of future development of the proletarian revolution.
The gains of the October Revolution in the Soviet Union
But let us therefore examine the October Revolution from these two viewpoints.
From the point of view of the development of human society, the proletariat has no reason to disown the October Revolution, despite its degeneration and despite the fact that the Soviet Union today has little to do with either socialism or communism. Even having failed, the October Revolution produced achievements that neither liberal capitalism in countries of a level of development comparable to that of Russia, nor even any revolution led by radical nationalists, have produced.
The fact that, despite the bureaucratic chaos, the Soviet Union achieved a higher rate of industrial development than any country in the capitalist world for several decades, was due to the planned economy resulting from the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, and also to the radical nature, the class nature of this expropriation.
The Russian proletariat in power agreed to compromise for a time with the bourgeoisie on the economic level, but without ever ceasing to control it. And when it was forced to expropriate this bourgeoisie, it was able to do it radically, thus committing all the wealth and resources accumulated by the Russian privileged classes to the country's development.
This economic development in a single country was certainly not the aim of the Bolsheviks, for whom it was clear that only a unified world economy, without frontiers, barriers or different currencies, and of course without the parasitic classes who lived on all this, could enable the productive forces of human society to make a new step forward.
There was not only the quantitative aspect of this development, however. During the post-war period, in which the capitalist economy found a kind of second wind, imperialist investments developed production in a certain number of underdeveloped countries, although at a slower rate than in the Soviet Union. Yet although countries such as Brazil, for example, which is comparable to the Soviet Union in many respects, have developed to a certain extent, this development is of a quite different nature.
Brazil may have acquired a number of companies which have no equivalent in Soviet Russia. Yet from Rio de Janeiro to Sao Paulo, the slums have sprouted even faster than the office buildings! What industrial development there has been, has gone hand in hand with the development of poverty and, to use an expression which means exactly what it says, "the development of underdevelopment".
The only logic imperialist investments obey is that of profit, and this logic tends to be particularly brutal in poor countries. It increases instead of reducing inequalities between social classes and between regions. The development of the Sao Paulo region, for example, apart from the poverty which it has accumulated around this major industrial city, has confined the North East and Amazonia to backwardness, further aggravating this backwardness. The same is true in India and in all the Asian countries where imperialist countries invested to take advantage of cheap labour and create firms which are open to the world market without being integrated in any way whatsoever in the local economy.
The industrialization of the Soviet Union, which was based on the resources provided by the radical expropriation of the bourgeoisie, although it was mostly carried out in the Stalinist era with the brutal methods of the dictator, did not, however, obey the laws of profit with all its indelible defects.
At the time of the October Revolution, not only was Russia an underdeveloped country, but the Russian State held vast regions under its control - veritable colonies, of which some still lived in economic and social structures close to the Middle Ages, while others had barely emerged from the Stone age.
The modern Soviet Union inherited from the tsarist regime not only European Russia, the relatively developed regions of the Western outskirts and the relatively privileged areas of the Caucasus, but also the vast stretches of Siberia and a number of emirates and khanates in Central Asia which were among the most backward in those days.
The industrial development of the Soviet Union did not reinforce economic differences but, on the contrary, reduced them considerably. Furthermore, multitudes of peoples and ethnic groups were able to coexist and keep the biggest territory on earth united.
Admittedly, it was not the proletarian revolution which brought together the mosaic of peoples formed by the Soviet Union, but tsarism. And this did not take place amid the enthusiasm of revolution but under the oppression of a worm-eaten empire. Just as other equally worm-eaten empires at that time, like the Austro-Hungarian monarchy or Turkey, brought other mosaics of peoples together under their rule.
Yet the Soviet Union was created precisely at the time when these other empires were collapsing.
Despite the policy of Great-Russian contempt and national oppression practised by Stalin with regard to these peoples, the USSR did not split up into multiple fragments.
Despite the military support of the imperialist states and their promises to help nations who broke away from the USSR, there was nothing doing. Despite the trials of the civil war and despite the exactions of the Stalinist bureaucracy, the peoples who had been carried along by the revolutionary whirlwind of 1917 adn awoken to a new life and a new dignity have remained faithful to the workers' state, despite all its bureaucratic defects. The links created between the peoples of the former Tsarist empire by the revolution have, up to now, proved stronger than all the rest.
The contrast is significant in this respect between what the proletarian revolution was able to achieve and what the ageing bourgeoisie of the imperialist era is no longer capable of achieving anywhere. Capitalist Europe suffers all the more from its borders because its economy is more developed and interdependent than were the various parts of what was to become the Soviet Union. Yet the bourgeoisies of the European countries, with their nationhal selfishness, with their need to cling to their national states to face up to competition from their neighbours, have been dreaming aloud of a united Europe for several decades. Not only have they not achieved this, but at the very moment when the proletariat was uniting the peoples of the Soviet Union, the bourgeoisie was carving up the old continent a little more by the Treaty of Versailles.
The oppression of the bureaucracy - not necessarily national oppression in particular, as from the viewpoint of freedoms and rights the Russian section of the population is hardly better off - has endangered this coexistence between peoples many times. Opposition among national minorities to the bureaucracy's dictatorship has already taken the path of nationalism in the past, and could do so again in the future. This is why any proletarian revolutionary policy in the Soviet Union should recognize the right of all peoples in the Soviet Union to separation - while making clear at the same time that the only true solution is to keep the union of peoples together but get rid of the bureaucracy.
In any event, seventy years after October 1917, the maintaining of a vast, coherent entity, free of bourgeois exploitation constitutes one of the essential gains of the proletarian revolution.
The overwhelming responsibility of the bourgeoisie
"In view of the lives sacrificed to the Stalinist monster, who would now dare speak of positive overall results?" asked André Fontaine in the article mentioned above. Yet only the most narrow-minded would blame the French Revolution for having given rise to the Bonapartist aristocracy which aped the titles and masquerades of the very monarchy which the Revolution had overthrown.
It is true that the first proletarian revolution brought about a profound wave of reaction and a monstrous regime.
The bourgeoisie's liberal commentators can blame the Soviet working class at their leisure for having engendered a totalitarian regime. As if the tsarist regime had not been the same. They can blame the Soviet proletariat for having dreamed of a worldwide socialist republic, and for not having the necessary energy to combat the resurgence of the barbarous past in the very heart of its State apparatus.
Yet while Soviet society was sacrificing so much blood to the Stalinist monster, how much blood was sacrificed at the same time to the monster of capitalism?
For at the time when the backward USSR was giving birth to Stalinism, one of the richest imperialist democracies on earth, Germany, was giving birth to fascism. And in the end it was to the evil engendered by imperialism that the Russian people, like other peoples, including the German people, had to pay the heaviest price in blood.
And while Stalin was sending millions to concentration camps, how many colonial countries were wholly transformed by the most "democratic" imperialists into immense concentration camps in which people lived in destitution under the whip and died of hunger?
On the sordid arithmetic balance sheet of horror and crimes, the capitalist world, including above all the most developed and "civilized" nations, bear for greater responsibilities. In the final analysis, these include the responsibility for Stalinism itself.
The proletarian revolution - a historical necessity
The future of the Soviet Union is not actually in the hands of the bureaucracy. It depends on the balance of forces between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat internationally and on the future of the proletarian revolution.
Even before the beginning of the present crisis, capitalism had failed to resolve any of mankind's vital problems.
Quite the opposite! The development of the economic and social structures have resulted in more inequalities between the privileged minorities and the exploited majorities, between the rich countries and the poor countries.
But today, the crisis is crippling all that used to be taken for granted, the routine and the illusions in class harmony, including in the imperialist countries.
The relevance of the October revolution today is due, first and foremost, to the fact that the proletarian revolution remains a historical necessity. For the development of society is clearly in a deadlock. It was already the case before the crisis, when only the very short-sighted, who had a vested interest in it, could consider and hope that man's society would keep developing only within the very small part of the world made up of the relatively rich countries.
But now, the mechanisms of the system are being made much more visible by the crisis. The laws - the blind laws governing the market and the search for profit - which are responsible for this new generalised economic crisis, including and in fact primarily in the rich countries, are the same laws responsible for the inequalities between countries, and between classes within them.
Mankind has taken its scientific knowledge and mastery of technology as far as undertaking the conquest of space. Any further progress will require it to master its own social life. There is an enormous gap between man's rigour in the scientific field and his total dependence on the obscure forces governing the up's and down's of money and shares - the reality of which is entirely a matter of man's choice. This gap, however, is neither a matter of culture nor a matter of science: it is a matter of social organisation.
Today the proletarian revolution is just as much on the agenda, if not more in terms of its objective necessity for the progress of mankind, as in 1917. But for the revolution to be an objective necessity is not enough. It also requires the proletariat to be conscious of this necessity and to be willing to throw open the stranglehold of the old world.
Although the past three decades saw no revolutionary wave comparable to that of 1917, of the 30s' and of the period of colonial revolution following World War II, the proletariat was never absent from the historical scene.
We saw the 1953 events in East-Berlin, 1956 in Poland and Hungary, and more recently, although to a much lesser extent and leaving aside any assessment of its political leadership, the Polish working class showed what potential it had in the early 80s'.
The proletariat was physically involved in most of the uprisings which took place in the regions dominated by imperialism, whether in Central America or the Philippines.
In Brazil, Argentina or South-Africa, the proletariat waged many economic fights which were more or less bitter, and more or less likely to lead it to wider perspectives.
Even during these decades only the most blinkered observers could consider that the class struggle had ceased. In fact, the confrontation between the two fundamental classes in society, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, never ceased anywhere on the planet.
The fundamental problem was that, during this period, the conscious perspective of overthrowing the bourgeoisie on a world scale was absent from all revolutionary developments. Sometimes this was due to weakness of the mobilization, sometimes to the lack of a political class consciousness, and always to the lack of a political leadership. The fact that these developments were often isolated and took place in the absence of any international revolutionary movement, made things even worse.
The present crisis, however, may change the situation from this point of view. If only because by increasing its pressure on the world proletariat, the bourgeoisie may force the working class to fight in many countries, including in the imperialist countries, simultaneously or successively, but everywhere for the same reasons.
It remains to be seen whether the proletariat will be able to find a leadership with a policy representing consciously its common interests throughout the world and opening the way for a new revolutionary wave to emerge, successfully this time, from the social crisis to come.
Unlike in the the thirties, the proletariat will be less likely to be taken unawares, like it was then by Stalinism. In the poor countries, after twenty or thirty years of independence, radical nationalism will probably have less potential for creating illusions among the proletariat.
Of course, there is no way of predicting the advances and the setbacks which make up history. The very least one can do is to devote one's militant efforts to ensuring that the revolutionary tradition of October 1917 is revived within the working class. And one can at least predict that the world as a whole is likely to be heading for a new period of acute social unrest and class struggle.
The potential forces of the proletariat
In trying to assess the forces with which the proletariat is likely to enter a new period of class struggle, it is clear that time has worked in favour of the working class and the revolution.
In the part of the world which is under direct bourgeois domination, the growing penetration of capitalism has recruited new potential forces for the proletariat, even in the most remote regions. Today the proletariat is present everywhere in the world, even in the poorest countries of Asia and Africa where it did not exist in Lenin's days.
As to what remains of the gains of the October Revolution, these should be reassessed from the point of view of the future revolution. More than the balance-sheet of the past, what is important is whether the Soviet Union as it is will be and obstacle or an asset on the way to the world proletarian revolution.
The USSR of the bureaucracy is undoubtedly an obstacle. The bureaucracy is definitely on the side of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat. It proved this time and again in the past, by crushing genuine working-class uprisings within its own sphere of influence, and by helping out the bourgeoisie.
But on the other hand, the development of the USSR, even under the bureaucracy, in particular its development under the planned economy, has created a working class which is powerful and highly-concentrated. Outside the USA, the largest contingents of the world proletariat can be found in the USSR, and because of the particular nature of the Soviet Union, this proletariat has features which are favourable to the revolution.
More than anywhere else in the capitalist world, it is concentrated in large workplaces. It knows nothing of the divisions created by unemployment. Above all, while having such an enormous social weight, it is not faced with a numerous bourgeois class.
Probably the most important consequence of the October Revolution is the fact that the bourgeoisie, having been uprooted in 1917, has proved unable to make a come back since.
In the few imperialist countries where the social weight of the proletariat is comparable to that in the USSR, it is faced with a large bourgeois class. The big bourgeoisie - the two-hundred families - are sitting on top of a pyramid made up of millions of bourgeois, smaller or bigger, who have a vested interest in private property and the market economy. There is nothing of that kind in the Soviet Union!
In the Soviet Union, the working class may be atomized by the political regime, the lack of freedom and all the obstacles aimed at preventing ideas and people from getting around. But, at the same time, it is objectively unified throughout the largest country in the world, by having to face everywhere a single bureaucratic power, rather than a large number of private bosses.
Obviously the dictatorship over the working class is an obstacle to the development of this consciousness and organization. For the bureaucracy, naturally this is the primary reason for its dictatorship.
But democracy is not only a question of forms. Even under the most ferocious dictatorship, the fact that several generations of proletarians were born in a country where the proletarian revolution got rid of the private ownership of the means of production, that, for generations, workers have got used to this situation while being educated in this context, creates in itself a powerful social pressure on the bureaucracy - even though the working class has no direct political control.
In passing, this is why glasnost is a problem for the bureaucracy. In the capitalist world, the bourgeoisie can get away with showing some transparency. Of course not when it comes to business and profit. But the bourgeoisie can afford some transparency with respect to its right to profit, in so far as it is based on the private ownership of the means of production, which is socially accepted, even by the proletariat, outside revolutionary periods.
The bureaucrats, on the contrary, have to hide their dealings. They do not dare claim openly their privileges and profits, even if they would love to. This is because there is a pressure, at least in that field, exercised on them by the working class who opposes the private ownership of the means of production. This collective consciousness, inherited from the October Revolution, which is still present after seventy years, is a considerable asset for the future proletarian revolution in the Soviet Union.
Inevitably the Soviet proletariat will have to confront the bureaucracy, whether it starts moving in reaction to those of Gorbachev's reforms which are affecting it, or in order to implement, in its own way, what seems in its interest in Gorbachev's statements, or for any other reason.
The proletariat will not be able to regain control of the Soviet state through successive reforms, but only through a revolutionary victory over the bureaucracy. For, even if the bureaucracy may introduce a number of reforms, it will not reform itself out of existence.
But with the bureaucracy overthrown, the Soviet proletariat will be able to resume the task undertaken in 1917 and during the following years. It will be able to do so on a much larger scale and with much bigger means. Then, if it has the political will to resume its role in the fight of the international proletariat, its contribution could be enormous, first of all, of course, for the Eastern-European working classes oppressed by the Soviet bureaucracy.
The day the crisis of the capitalist economy opens a new period of class struggle, the proletariat will need to fight behind the flag of its own class, in the name of the international proletarian revolution.
In 1917, the first to fraternize were the soldiers from opposing trenches. The weight of the suffering experienced over the previous three years of fratricidal battles, turned into a common experience, just because they stopped taking notice of the differences between uniforms and languages and started rejecting the madness of the imperialist war. In such situations, the calls of a handful of individuals - Lenin and his comrades who were no more than a few militants scattered in Europe - can have an enormous impact and can be met with an enthusiastic response. Workers can identify with a voice which is a common link between them, which reflects the reality and which calls them to win a new dignity and to take their fate into their own hands.
Then, no jail, no barbed wire, no border, can prevent the voice of proletarian internationalism from reaching workers wherever they are. For such a voice echoes a powerful and collective aspiration to get out of the dead-end created by the owning classes.
The world as it is today will make easier to regroup the proletarians around the flag of the international working-class revolution. First, as a result of technological progress in communication, any economic or social event gets to be known much faster and, therefore, can have much more impact. The stock market speculators have already experienced this at their expense. While computers and satellites helped them with their speculations, the same technology proved to be just as effective in wiping out part of their wealth, during the spells of delirium in the stock market not so long ago.
Telephones, telex's and computers, could spread facts and ideas just as quickly, for the benefit of the proletarian revolution. With technological advances, imperialism has improved the means of communications between men. Today, news can travel from one continent to another faster than between villages at the turn of the century.
Imperialism has also brought men closer in other ways, particularly workers. In the factories of the imperialist countries, men from different countries and continents have been gathered together by capital.
Today, the employers may play on national hostilities and racist prejudices to divide and weaken the working class. But workers from Central Africa, Turkey and Yugoslavia are working side by side with those of the rich Western Europe countries. American workers, black and white, work side by side with workers who come from all over Latin America and the Caribbean. Today's intermixing may help to spread a revolutionary workers' movement tomorrow. When those who used to consider themselves different and in competition start to discover, in the midst of events, that they are brothers and members of one and the same class, the days of the old capitalist orders will be numbered.