People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 44

November 01, 2009

November Revolution�s Lessons Are Relevant To Date


                                                                                                                         Sukomal Sen


THE November Socialist Revolution, which occurred in Russia on October 17, 1917 according to the old Russian calendar and on November 7 according to the revised calendar, was not only a world-shaking event; it has relevance also in today�s world that is passing through an unprecedented crisis of world capitalism and grave recession. The latest world crisis of capitalism completed its first anniversary on September 15 this year and its impact on the working class and the poor of any capitalist country is yet to fully unfold. This world crisis has added to the practical importance of the November revolution.

Today, imperialism is recklessly sharpening its destructive war machine and threatening the entire world with its hegemonistic designs by sheer force or by diplomacy. In its ruthless pursuit of profit, the imperialists have designed the neo-liberal economic model to dominate the world market and deepen the exploitation of the working class and common people.

It was Russia which, in 1917, broke the weakest link in the capitalist chain and was the first country in the capitalist world to establish the rule of the working class. The most important aspect of the Russian Revolution was that it put an end to the exploitative rule of the bourgeoisie.  

If the Soviet socialist state came to an end in 1991, it was because of grave distortions and deviations from the basic tenets of Marxism. Marxists all over the world are engaged in finding out its causes.


How revolutionary changes take place? According to Marx, the contradiction that develops within a class society, between the developing productive forces and the existing property forms, constitutes the key to instability and revolutionary change. It is in these terms that the rise and fall of the ancient and feudal modes of production and the development of the capitalist mode could all be understood. The most visible sign of this contradiction under capitalism was to be found in �the epidemics of overproduction� and economic crisis, bringing into bold relief the incompatibility between the social character of production and the system of private appropriation. Marx originally thought that revolutions against capitalism would arise in the most developed capitalist countries, such as Britain, France and Germany. Late in his life, however, he looked to less developed countries on the periphery of the capitalist world, particularly Russia, which he hoped would serve as a detonator for revolution within the core of the system. This pointed towards the idea, widespread in the twentieth century, that the system would tend to break down at its weakest link --- in the underdeveloped or �backward� nations.

The ingenuity of Lenin was that under his leadership the Bolshevik Party identified and attacked this �weakest link� and successfully organised a revolution in Russia, a capitalistically backward country.

The theory of revolution is the concentrated expression of Marx�s view of historical development, that is, of the sequence of social formations in history. In their struggle for a living and in their interaction with nature, men develop certain instruments, tools, forms of division of labour and experiences, which Marx described as productive forces. Then he described as production relations the relations governing men�s existence, which are essentially dependent on who owns the means of production. He saw the driving force of social development in the historical tendency towards establishing production relations (or property relations) which correspond to the level of development and the character of productive forces at any time. In this �law of motion of history� --- always activated by social classes whose interests coincide with the developing tendency --- he saw the key to understanding the sequence of the various forms of social order (primitive communism, slavery, feudalism, capitalism), though not quite according to the simple linear scheme later to be drawn in various textbooks of Marxism. On the evidence of the transition from feudalism to capitalism, of bourgeois revolutions (one might say of West European history in general), he methodically and concretely modified the law of historical motion and with it the theory of socialist revolution. In his Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy he expanded the particular to the general as to how an epoch of revolution begins.

Marx assumed, both in Communist Manifesto and in Capital, that the recurrent capitalist crises would become continually more violent and all-embracing. In these �epidemics of overproduction,� the social character of production revolts against capitalist property relations and demands social ownership of the means of production.

Economic crises bring this conflict into the open. According to Marx, �The ultimate reason for all real crises always remains the poverty and restricted consumption of the masses as opposed to the drive of capitalist production to develop the productive forces as though only the absolute consuming power of society constituted their limit.�

Let us recall another passage in Capital:

�The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under it. Centralization of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.�

But the transition to socialism is not automatic. It is enforced by the revolution of the working class, for it is this class, itself �the greatest productive force,� which suffers more than any other from the conflict between the productive forces and production relations. The socialisation of the means of production is of special interest to the working class which has �to set free the elements of the new society with which old collapsing bourgeois society itself is pregnant.�




For the state to be created after smashing the centralist, parasitic state apparatus, a state led by the working class and one which gradually socialises the means of production, Marx used the term �dictatorship of the proletariat.� Within this concept was implicit the vision of grand struggles and victories, and also of increasing democracy for the mass of the population. Marx wrote to his friend Josef Weydemeyer on March 5, 1852:

�And now as to myself, no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society, nor yet the struggle between them. Long before me, bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this struggle of the classes and bourgeois economists the economic anatomy of the classes. What I did that was new was to prove: (1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production: (2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat: (3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.�

Marx�s concept of the state under the leadership of the working class and the functions of such a state was further elaborated in the light of the events in France from 1848 to 1852, and made more concrete by the Paris Commune of 1871. He regarded the short-lived Paris Commune as the first case of a workers� government, which by its practical actions and the measures it adopted had proved that the transition to socialism is bound up with a fundamentally new state system. Such a state system is no longer a state in the old sense of the word, because, after the smashing of the old state apparatus, it develops forms of popular control over the executive and the bureaucracy which correspond to the vision of the abolition of all central political power. In The Civil War in France, which appeared immediately after the defeat of the Paris Commune, we read that the nineteenth century saw the development of �centralised state power, with its ubiquitous organs of standing army, police, bureaucracy, clergy and judicature� --- a power whose origins went back to the Middle Ages. With the intensification of class antagonism between capital and labour, the state power more and more assumed the character of a national power of capital over labour, of a public force organised for social enslavement, of an engine of class despotism. After every revolution marking a progressive phase in the class struggle, the purely repressive character of the state power stands out in bolder and bolder relief.




But which is the agency of social transformation today? For that, we have to look to the word �proletariat� as summed up at the time of Marx. At that time, the word often meant industrial proletariat. The industrial working classes are on the whole manual workers, from mining to various branches of industrial production. To confine the social agency of change to manual workers was, obviously, not Marx�s own position. Marx was very far from thinking that the concept of �manual workers� would provide an adequate framework of explanation of what is required for radical social change. We must recall that he was talking about how through the polarisation of society ever greater numbers of people are �proletarianised.� So, it is the process of proletarianisation --- inseparable from the global unfolding of the capitalist system --- that defines and ultimately settles the issue. That is to say, the question is how the overwhelming majority of individuals fall into a condition whereby they lose all possibilities of control of their lives, and in that sense become proletarianised. Thus, again, everything comes down to the question of �who is in control� of the social production process when the overwhelming majority of individuals are �proletarianised,� whether they are working in financial institutions, government machinery, commercial institutions and even the modern InfoTech and other mot modern and automated  industries. For every one of them serves the interests of capital and is degraded to the condition of utter powerlessness, just as the most wretched members of society --- the �proletarians� --- were at an earlier phase of development.

There are degrees and possibilities of control, up to a certain point in capital�s history, which means that some sections of the population are more in control than others. In fact, in one of the chapters of Capital, Marx was describing the capitalist enterprise as almost a military operation in which you have officers and sergeants, and the foremen overseeing and regulating the direct labour force on the authority of capital. Ultimately, all of the control processes are under the authority of capital, but with certain leverages and possibilities of limited autonomy assigned to the particular overseeing sections. Now, when we talk about advancing �proletarianisation,� it implies a levelling down and the negation of even the most limited autonomy some groups of people formerly enjoyed in the labour process.

We can just think of the once sharply stressed distinction between �white collar� and �blue collar� workers. As we know, propagandists of the capital system who dominate the cultural and intellectual processes like to use this distinction as yet another refutation of Marx. They argue that in modern societies blue collar manual work altogether disappears, and the white collar workers, who are supposed to enjoy a much greater job security (which happens to be a complete fiction), are elevated to the �middle classes� (another fiction). But even about the postulated disappearance of blue collar workers, we would say bourgeois intellectuals may hold on but not so fast! For if we look around the world and focus on the crucial category of the �totality of labour,� you find that the overwhelming majority of labour still remains what one might describe as �blue collar.� In this respect, it is enough to look upon the hundreds of millions of blue collar workers in India, for instance.




The Marxian historical framework undergoes development with the change of time. Marx was writing in the middle of the nineteenth century and died in 1883. Things have changed immeasurably since then. The tendencies of transformation, which we witnessed in the recent past, with their roots going back to the first few decades of our century, are of such character as Marx could not even dream about. Above all, this concerns the way in which capitalism could adjust and renew itself, so as to postpone the maturation of its antagonistic contradictions. Marx was not in a situation to assess the various modalities and the ultimate limitations of state intervention in prolonging the lifespan of this system. A key figure in the twentieth century economics was John Maynard Keynes whose aim was to save the system through the injection of massive state funds for the benefit of private capitalist enterprise, so as to regulate the overall production process within the framework of undisturbed capital accumulation.

However, of late, �monetarism� and �neo-liberalism� have pushed Keynes aside and are out to do away with state intervention altogether, thinking of �rolling back the boundaries of the state.� But, in reality, nothing could be worse than such self-serving fantasies; the need of the state in contemporary capitalist system is greater than ever before, including the time of the two and a half decades of Keynesian precepts in the capitalistically advanced countries. The present crisis of world capitalism confirms this point. This kind of development is totally new, as compared to Marx�s lifetime; massive historical changes have indeed occurred since Marx.

To mention yet another important consideration in regard to this question, Marx was to an extent already aware of the �ecological problem,� i.e. the problems of ecology under the rule of capital and the dangers implicit in it for human survival; in fact he was the first to conceptualise it. He did talk of pollution and insisted that the logic of capital --- in its pursuit of profit in accordance with the dynamic of self-expansion and capital accumulation --- cannot have any consideration for human values and even for human survival.

In March 1998, the world celebrated the 150th anniversary of The Communist Manifesto. The question is: has humanity got another 150 years to go? Certainly not, if capitalism survives. What we have to face is either total catastrophe due to this system�s monstrous exploitation and wastefulness, or humanity must find a radically different way of regulating its social metabolism. Rosa Luxemburg once warned the communist movement by posing the choice:  Socialism or barbarism!




The state sanctifies acquired wealth and privilege, defending them against the communist tradition of earlier societies and creating conditions in which private fortunes and inequality increase. �Because the state arose from the need to hold class antagonisms in check, but because it arose, at the same time, amid the conflict of these classes, it is as a rule the state of the most powerful, economically dominant class, which through the medium of the state, becomes also politically dominant, and thus acquires new means of holding down and exploiting the oppressed class� (Frederich Engels, Origin of Family, Private Property & State, Chapter IX).

The implication of Engel�s analysis here is that any government, whatever be its complexion, seeks to limit the class struggle or opposes the workers� militant protest, and thus it ultimately helps the capitalists to protect their privilege of property and their exploitation of the workers.

Moreover, depending too much on the bureaucratic state machine, a government ultimately serves the interests of capital.    

The Marxist concept of revolution retains its validity for a profound ongoing revolutionary transformation of all facets of social life. One must not take the concept of revolution to mean �one big push that settles everything once and for all,� nourishing the illusion that you win if you cut off a few heads. To Marx, revolution always and meant a �social revolution.� No doubt, it is relatively easy to break a few heads, to kill some people in a �big push� to overturn something; and this is what the Maoists operating in India mean by a revolution. But this is not certainly what Marx meant by the term.

But we know from bitter experiences that it did not work in the past and it cannot work now. So we have to go back to what Marx said about social revolution, we must also point out that this concept of the social revolution. Originally, it was a concept that emerged from Babeuf and his movement during the turbulent aftermath of the 1789 French Revolution. Babeuf�s group was then accused of a �conspiracy� and he was executed at that time, while in reality he was pressing for �a society of equals.� The same concept reappeared in the 1830s and during the revolution of 1848. In those times of revolutionary upheaval, the idea of �social revolution� was in the foreground and Marx very rightly embraced it.

In a radical social transformation, the new mode of controlling the social metabolism must embrace every segment of society. In this sense the concept of revolution remains as valid today as ever before. A revolution, in this sense, not only eradicates but also implants. Creation is as much a part of this process as destruction. Marx once said becoming �radical� meant �to grasp matters at their roots.� This meaning of being radical it retains its validity as a pert of the concept of social revolution.

The Marxian concept of social revolution holds its relevance for the revolutionary struggle in India also. Any deviation from this concept is bound to cause untold harms to the revolutionary process.  

At is true that the Soviet setback in 1991 gripped the world communist movement into an ideological bewilderment and many communist parties are still to recover from that shock. Some of the parties have turned social democratic, opposing the concept of class struggle and believing in �enlightened capitalism,� or �globalisation with a human face� etc. In fact, it means hindering the revolutionary developments and in the end serving the interests of capital, at a time when world capitalism is tottering under the grave shock of an unprecedented crisis.

Thus the lesson of November Revolution in today�s world is to unwaveringly adhere to the Marxist concept of social revolution and advance the revolution struggles in the respective countries.