MDF Meeting on Saturday 17th December in Birmingham

The next meeting of the MDF will take place at 2pm on Saturday 17th December at The Woodman, New Canal Street Birmingham B5 5LG This pub is only half a mile from New Street Station.

The Topic is "The Relevance of the Russian Revolution today"

The Russian Revolution took place 100 years ago next year. So is it still important and why? The ruling class tries to have us ignore real history of class struggle in Russia and both left and right spread the lies that the the brutal Stalinist regime was a communist regime. Certainly there a very many different views of its significance even to those who believe it was initially a positive step forward for the working class. In this discussion we hope to give opportunities to discuss the revolution itself but also the conditions is took place in as well as the conditions of its decline and see how and whether these ideas impact upon the activities of the working class's political minorities today.


Relevance of the Russian Revolution Today

I prepared one part of the introduction to the MDF meeting today and have just polished up my bit of the text to be able to submit it for discussion on both the ICCs and on your forum

Relevance of the Russian Revolution Today

I don’t intend to go into the history of the Russian Revolution and to extract all the actions that give us lessons about what to do and what not to do. Others can do this far better than me. I want to take slightly different perspective and make just a few points of broad relevance to us now

The starting point for me is quite simply that it did take place!! It was a working class revolution albeit with weaknesses. It was ultimately defeated and there was a return to a capitalist state system. But the working class took power. What’s more it wasn’t just a Russian event, across the world there was a large wave of struggle.

For us in the UK we have a number of problems here in this period of deepening nationalist sentiments. The wave of struggle post WW1 did not the reach the heights achieved in other countries and despite the appearance of a british disease in the 60s and 70s we are back in a situation where workers on strike are vilified and the tv fills up with students, others workers, shopkeepers, business people condemning the disruptions that workers make to their lives. The late 60s and 70s brought home the possibility of an opposition to capitalism and the possibility of change. 50 years on we are in an unexpected place. The working class is passive and we are down and dispirited and globally divided amongst ourselves.

So its important today to remember that first rev wave did take place. More important than any criticisms you have of the Bolsheviks, of the counter revolution in Russia, of Stalin, of the Comintern, of relationship between Bolsheviks and the working class is the fact that the working class did get it together to revolt against capitalism. If they can do it once that can do it again. This is what must keep us going.

One recent (apparently discouraged) correspondent on the CWO website said “… whichever way communism is imagined, despite gross dissatisfaction with all that capitalism inflicts, any idea that millions can, after all that has gone before, be persuaded to become communists, is realistically futile, at least here in the UK” and further that; ” …shows of hands at mass meetings is really a fuddy-duddy way of imagining the organisation of a world proletarian economy by now” whilst suggesting using capitalism’s technology to defeat capitalists by stealing their money.

Now, it doesn’t feel uncommon today to despair of the ability of workers to understand what capitalism is and to be able to organise against it. This tends to lead to a search for alternate solutions just as for this correspondent. However it is not despair that leads to these ideas. In fact, neither the left or right wants you to remember how organized the worker were in Russia in 1905 and 1917 in Germany in 1918 and so on. These workers created factory groups, assemblies, workers councils. They took control of factories, undertook food distribution, managed the press, managed whole industries, controlled rents, physically defended minorities let alone themselves, and held open political discussions and made decisions to act based on those discussions. They became an alternative to the existing state and inevitably ended up challenged for power over the capitalist state. It was possible then and remains possible for the future because the same basic confrontation is there within capitalism – wages, exploitation, classes and a working class with no economic interest in exiting conditions

Internationalism is a keystone of working class politics and is highly relevant to today. The Bolsheviks were initially very clear that success of the revolution could only come about through a world revolution. As this option did not appear, nationals solutions were sought and through this the counter revolution appeared (and to quote Irwellian “defend the revolution replaced spread the revolution”). At the start the 20th century the nation state was coming to the end of a period in which it had been a tool for economic and social progress and the Bolsheviks can perhaps be excused for part of their confusion on this topic. Today, however the nation state brings only austerity and conflict and any politics that supports national policies & national solution will end up opposing working class attempts to unify. I draw attention here to the actions of the reformist left ie Social Democracy in 1914 in betraying the class and their descendants today which pursue clearly anti working class politics ie Social Democracy, Trotskyist and CPs The left want us all to ignore this basis of nationalism but we cannot.

They will support national solutions to world problems, they support capitalist wars of self defence, eg in 1914 and still today these national solutions are justified to mobilise workers to fight physically ie WW2 and the multitude of regionalized wars since. They use anti-imperialism as a slogan to mobilize workers in imperialist wars, they can use anti globalization to mobilize workers both for and against the UK and for and against leaving the EU. All genuine internationalism and opposition to the nation has been completely forgotten by the left

The relevance of the period pre WW1 is perhaps an element of debate that I would like to introduce here. When I was a member of the ICC I was convinced of the analysis or the historic course ie the options of war and revolution as the solutions of the opposing classes in society. I used to see that as quite linear however and only likely to be strengthened as diverting tendences by the ongoing events in decadence. (I put it that way cos I am criticizing me not the ICC ). I retain that basic belief in the historic course but after this past 50 years it now seems to me that decadence has moved on from the period post WW2 and up to the wave of struggles between the 60s and 80s in a less clear way so whilst they remain solutions of the opposing classes they appear less exclusive of each other. So I would say we need to consider again the period prior to the Russian Revolution when both war and revolution were on the agenda. I find it hard now not to see both options open in today’s period. I find it hard now to believe that the upper hand held by the bourgeoisie today through the strengthening of nationalist ideologies means war is possible but that event would be likely to stimulate the working class into action as it did during ww1. These opposing solutions no longer appear exclusive.

The point I am making here is not well developed but I think an understanding of the current period it is significant for us all and perhaps we should be discussing both the ICCs and the CWOs perspectives here at some point

The relevance of organisation is also an important issue. The Bolsheviks did not understand the world as well as we do. Is that arrogance? By me perhaps but not the the collective of revolutionaries today. We have more experience to discuss and understand. We can learn from their experience. In some ways a group acting like the Bolsheviks today would be labelled terrorists and condemned. Additionally their view of the role of political organization was problematic and they failed to break fully with the social democratic concept of taking power.

What I do see are their glimpses of clarity; I see their ability to listen and learn from what the workers were doing in practice; I see the strength of a focus on the end result - a communist revolution against capitalism; I see the ability to make important judgments on the balance of class forces.

For me therefore an important lesson out of this is the significance of key points of understanding. The weaknesses of the Bolsheviks did not prevent them contributing to the class movement, despite our knowledge that they would have had at some point to have learnt the same things we now know about power and organization and nationalism. We should not be rejecting them because we don’t agree with various things they said and did in their period. There are key times when full agreement between revolutionaries is a priority and when small differences become major problems. I would suggest this is the case in the immediate period of revolution. But at a time like today when the working class is on the defensive, then it is more important to recognize that differences are not critical and that support and working together is more important. Many differences will absolutely need resolving but in future, today mutual support is the focus.

Finally I see the relevance of the lead provided by the Russian Revolution in the stimulation is gave to workers and to the political groups across the world. This was again irrespective of the weakness of the Bolsheviks and of the difference conditions existing in different countries and in state of class struggle across the world.

So for me the dogmatic adherence to the goal of revolutionary change is critical, so too however is the recognition that petty differences between revolutionaries can be, and arguably are at the moment, less important than the common ground.

I guess that a key consideration of today's situations of the working class is that of what, in the days of the Roman Empire, were 'bread and circuses'. Nowadays there is such a vast range of distractions, both en masse and individualised technically, that maybe millions of workers, if they can 'get by' with enough pay to get enough food and shelter etc, seeing the chaos of the world, tend to shrug their shoulders and prefer to become almost totally absorbed in whichever forms of 'playtime' are the trendiest available. Of course the whole thing might collapse due to its inherent fault lines, or also be blown to pieces under the macho direction of power-mad 'leaders, but, even if so, apart from demonstrations, what objective evidence is there in Europe, for example, as in the old heartlands of imperialism, that workers in large numbers are likely to do anything more than go on strike ? Are we not just sitting this one out ? Of course we could agitate with paperwork of all sorts, arrange, or at least turn up at meetings, but that would take up too many evenings and be regarded as ridiculous or futile, or inappropriate to what workers actually want,, no matter what revolutionaries reckon that we need. Two large stores, part of a chain of them, closed down locally last year. Capitalism may be on the way to closing itself down as it increasingly becomes very top-heavy, but we wait and see ?