The Problem of Success in Bolshevik Revolution

The Problem of Success in Bolshevik Revolution. The surprisingly easy success of the Bolshevik revolution on November 7, 1917, confronted Lenin and the party with a wholly new problem a group of revolutionists, often an illegal and conspiratorial group, had to be turned into a government of positive or constructive ideas for this change it had remarkably few, for its energy had gone into making a revolution, not into making a program. It had indeed a goal it would construct a collectivist economy and a socialist government.


But it had very hazy ideas about how this was to be done and mostly false ideas about the difficulty of doing it. Yet this goal, vague as it was, was still the most permanent part of its equipment. It was the goal that formed its principal tie with Marxism, that remained the constant object of is forced improvisations, and that required violent manipulation of the society in which it had to conduct its experiment.

For in a country like Russia, with upwards of eighty percent of its population agrarian and peasant, any party that followed the line of least resistance would certainly not have made its center of power the small minority of urban, industrial workers, or have made industrialization its major policy.

Though the party did not yet know it, the proletarian revolution was about to enact a Marxian paradox after the event it was going to conduct the industrial revolution, which Mar, had supposed was antecedent to its own existence. But in any real sense this was as yet far in the future, as far off as the Third Revolution which Stalin was to conduct from the top dawn, when he began the first of the Five Year Plans in 1928.

As usual Lenin was the first to glimpse both the end and the road. He made rather a quick recovery from the rosy haze of State and Revolution; by 1919 he had admitted that the dictatorship of the proletariat meant the dictatorship of the party; and in 1922 he said that without heavy industry Russia was doomed as a civilized state, let alone a socialist state; he saw also that the revolution was subsisting on the peasants standard of living.

For the construction of a government that might lead it toward its goal the new regime had slogans rather than a program. It had the outline of a revolutionary strategy that Lenin years before had called the democratic-revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry, which in substance meant utilizing the land hunger of the peasants to immobilize them while the working-class minority established its power.

This strategy Lenin did indeed follow successfully by encouraging the peasants to evict the landlords, which he could not have prevented in any case. But the plan called also for abandoning the alliance with the peasants at some undetermined time in the future when it could be superseded by an alliance with the proletariat of the West. And the expected revolution on which the theory predicated the permanence of a Russian revolution never occurred.

The long-term result was, therefore, that the expulsion of the landlords threatened to create a more powerful class of peasant proprietors who might become an unassimilable bourgeois sector in the prospective socialist society. Years later this threat had to be removed by the violent crusade against the kulaks.

The new regime had 4iso the slogan, All power to the soviets, but the use of this largely vanished with the success of the revolution. For once the syndicalist hopes of the revolution’s early weeks were gone; the primitive democracy of the soviets was nothing on which large-scale government could be built, not to mention a government able to move toward a socialist goal.

The soviets, therefore, yielded mostly a harvest of negatives; the spurious claim of a higher type of democracy eliminated any use of the parliamentary experience of Western Europe and reduced discussion of democracy to a semantic quibble. Soviet democracy was a thousand times more democratic than a parliament, even if it violated every concrete right that the word had connoted.

To this vagueness of program must be added the fact that for years the state of affairs in Russia was such that survival at any cost and on any terms was about the best that the new regime could hope for. Looked at from this angle, the achievement of the soviet government was a marvel of energy and improvisation and courage.

The crucial fact about Lenin’s political philosophy, then, is that its success in 1917 found it in possession of one and only and tangible, usable institution the party. It was the concept of the party that had distinguished Lenin’s Marxism in 1902; it was the party that made the revolution; and it was now the party that had to evolve a government.

Yet what Lenin had produced was the concept of a body of revolutionary shock troops, dedicated to revolution, rigidly disciplined, and centrally directed. It had never had, and did not have for years after 1917, any legal existence, and it had been held together and directed by Lenin’s personal ascendency, not by its institutional structure. It had no orderly procedure for reaching decisions and translating its decisions into policy.

Moreover, the outstanding characteristic of Lenin’s leadership had been its flexibility, its adroitness in adapting the party to every situation for the sole end of furthering the revolution, and its capacity to persuade Marxists to embark on ventures which they did not believe to be Marxian. Much the same remained true after 1917. For the party was unanimous on only one point namely, that having got power it would keep power.

Within the vague limits set by the goal of creating a socialist society, there was room for tremendous differences about methods, and indeed every choice of a specific line of action was marked by wide divergences of opinion which were usually settled, as long as Lenin lived, by his dominance in a group made cohesive by a long experience of party discipline. And always, of course, these decisions had to be taken within the exigencies of the party’s precarious position.

The theory of the party and of communist government must therefore be disentangled from administrative problems involved in creating an army and insuring the party’s control of the army, and in creating a bureaucratic organization for itself and for the new government.

In the long run two questions were critical how was the party to secure its monopoly of power over all other organizations such as labor unions or even the government itself? And how was the top leadership to secure a monopoly of power within the party itself? The theory of communist government, therefore, was essentially the theory of the party.

In a sense, also, the answers evolved were not new but were explications of two terms that had been in the Leninist vocabulary from the start the party as vanguard of the proletariat and democratic centralism as the organizational principle of the party self in another sense, when these terms became names for actual Procedures, they got a precision of meaning that they had lacked earlier. The following two sections will deal with these questions.

Read More Related Topics:

The Philosophy of Communism
Russian Marxism
Lenin’s Theory of The Party
Lenin on Dialectical Materialism
The Bourgeois and the Proletarian Revolutions
Imperialist Capitalism
Approach to March Revolution
Revolution in Prospect
The Vanguard of the Proletariat
Lenin Doctrine of Democratic Centralism
Socialism in One Country
Communism in China
The Temper of Communism

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