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One may ask why we still think it important to understand the theories and practices of those who came to power in Russia in 1917 and those who have governed for some three quarters of a century with falsehood marking the entire course of the regime’s rise and demise – November 7, 1917 to December 26, 1990.  It matters vitally to the workers of all countries because the same wrong theories are still impeding the achievement of socialism. The urgent need of the time is the replacement of capitalism by a world-wide socialist system of society. This requires a clear understanding of the socialist objective and of the means by which alone it can be achieved. In particular it requires an understanding of the reasons why socialism was impossible in Russia in 1917 – as was pointed out by the Socialist Party of Great Britain at the time – and of the deception and distortion practised by the so-called Communist regimes in Russia, China, Cuba and Vietnam and the erstwhile despotisms of Eastern Europe and elsewhere of describing their ruthless state capitalist regimes as ‘socialist’. Actually, socialism means a radical change in the relation of production – a change of the wage labour / employer relation of production into an egalitarian cooperative relation of production via abolition of the wages slavery. This hadn’t happened in history.

I want to remind you that we consistently use the term socialism for the kind of classless social system described in our Object and Declaration of Principles.

The World Socialist Party (India) since its inauguration on 1-3 March 1995 has always held that the system of society known as socialism becomes possible only at a certain stage in the forward march of humanity. It depends firstly on the objective condition – on the growth of the powers of production, transport and communication to the level at which the provision of the necessities and amenities of a full life could, with proper organisation and social planning, be assured for the whole population. Capitalism solved this technical problem long enough ago through the development of great industrial plants, technology and machinery, and the breaking down of the physical barriers which formerly kept people in different parts of the world isolated from each other. It depends secondly on the subjective condition – on the growth of working class consciousness and organisation on a world-wide basis united by understanding of socialist ideas, and by agreement on the democratic political action necessary to replace capitalism by socialism.

These two conditions interact with each other. The second could not precede the first and, as experience has shown, the growth of socialist understanding and organisation actually lags far behind the advance of productive capacity. “Circumstances make men just as much as men make circumstances,” said Marx. However, the second part of the task remains yet to be accomplished.

Since one country can learn from another and the industrially more advanced could help the less advanced, it is not necessary for the latter to go through all the historical phases of capitalism. On the other hand, it is not possible for one country alone to leap forward into socialism in a predominantly capitalist and hostile world. By this benchmark it was not possible for Russia in 1917 to achieve socialism. Russia lacked both the necessary productive capacity and the necessary acceptance of socialist ideas by the population; nor was the small socialist movement in other countries in a position to help by overthrowing capitalism. In that situation there was no way Russia could avoid having to develop along capitalist lines.

Russia 1917

In October (November in the Gregorian calendar) 1917 the party that seized power by means of a coup d’ e’tat in Russia was the Russian Communist Party – known as the Bolsheviks (meaning ‘majority’) because their faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party had received the support of a majority of the delegates at a conference held in London in 1903.

The party had been formed in 1898 and had inherited traditions from various movements against the Tsarist autocracy which had been active earlier in the nineteenth century. Russia was a predominantly agricultural country, freed from serfdom only in 1861 and with the mass of its peasants brutally oppressed and desperately poor. Capitalism was growing but was still limited in extent, and the immature capitalist class was so weak politically that it was commonly accepted that the full development of capitalism could only be achieved through a peasant and working class uprising to overthrow Tsarism. Some groups, however, believed it possible to introduce socialism without going through capitalism and most of them, including many claiming to be Marxist, rejected the possibility of the workers and peasants being capable of grasping the meaning of socialism. Lacking the universal suffrage and parliamentary institutions, and without the legal right to form political and trade union organisations, some groups turned in despair to political assassination.

In 1917, beside the Bolsheviks, the principal political parties were the other wing of the RSDLP, the Mensheviks (meaning ‘minority’) who believed that Russia must pass through the normal stages of capitalist development and a democratically elected parliament, and the Socialist Revolutionaries, a largely peasant party which stood primarily for the abolition of private property in land and which made use of political assassination as a weapon of struggle.

The organisational principles of the Bolsheviks were elaborated by their leader Lenin in his What is to be done?, published in 1902. In it he argued that in all countries “class political consciousness can be brought to the workers only from without [Lenin’s emphasis], that is, only from outside the economic struggle, from outside the sphere of relations between workers and employers.” For him, workers by themselves were unable to go beyond trade union consciousness – incapable of developing “class political consciousness”. Thus, they require “the vanguard of the revolutionary forces” … “an organization that will consist of professional revolutionaries” … “the “dozen” tried and talented leaders (and talented men are not born by hundreds) … “a dozen wise men” … in a “conspiratorial” … “strictly secret organization”.  All along Lenin maintained this theory and practice of an elitist, vanguardist, centralist, conspiratorial, strictly secret party class relationship.

In the First World War, owing to its weak industrial development, Russia could not stand up to the might of more highly industrialised Germany. The hardships imposed on the civilian population and the troops through inadequate transport, defective equipment, scarcity of food and high prices, together with the inefficiency and corruption of the ruling class provoked revolt. There were frequent strikes for higher wages and for the ending of the war, and mutinies at the front. Soldiers ordered to counter workers sided with them. Crowds attacked the houses of the Tsarist ministers. In this situation the government, in March (February under the old Russian calendar) 1917, ordered the dissolution of the Duma. This body, although elected on a limited franchise from which most workers and peasants remained excluded, declined and decided to carry on. The Tsar then abdicated.

In the confused period which followed the abdication, there was first a provisional government formed by Liberals and other capitalist and landowning representatives in the Duma and eventually a government under Kerensky, leader of a group associated with the Socialist Revolutionary party, whose authority rested partly on the committee of the Duma, but increasingly on the Committees of Workers and Soldiers (Soviets) which had sprung up all over Russia and which were rapidly pushing the less representative Duma into the background.

While Kerensky’s government retained the backing of the Soviets the Bolsheviks were unable to make headway against it, but as the Kerensky government grew more unpopular, because of its efforts to continue the war, one after another of the Soviets elected Bolshevik majorities; and when an All-Russian Soviet Congress met in November 1917 (October under old Russian calendar) a clear majority, 390 out of 676, were Bolshevik delegates, and it passed resolutions in favour of peace, the dispossession of the landowners, and the setting up of a temporary ‘workers and peasants’ government, pending the election of a democratic ‘constituent assembly’ which was to decide the future constitution. Backed by successful risings in Moscow and other towns the Bolsheviks consolidated their position as the government made peace with Germany and faced a long period of civil war provoked by reactionary groups which were supported by the British, American, and other governments.

The dissolution of the Constituent Assembly 1918

One of the Bolshevik government’s first actions, a prelude to the dictatorship that followed, was to dissolve the constituent assembly as soon as it met, in January 1918, because a majority of the delegates there represented parties in opposition to the Bolshevik Party. They gave as their excuse that the voters had changed their views after the elections.

The elections took place over a period of a few weeks. One study gives the following results:

The vote by parties for the whole country

Socialist Revolutionaries ……………..15,848,004

Ukrainian Socialist Revolutionaries ….. 1,286,157

Mensheviks …………………………….1,364,826

Constitutional Democrats ……………. .1,986,601

Bolsheviks …………………………….. 9,844,637

Others …………………………………11,356,651

Total …………………………………..41,686,876


In March 1918 Lenin declared in his The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government, that “unquestioning subordination to a single will is absolutely necessary for the success of processes organised on the pattern of large-scale machine industry. Today, however, the same revolution demands – precisely in the interest of its development and consolidation, precisely in the interests of socialism – that people unquestioningly obey the single will of the leaders of labour.”

Two years later, at the 9th party congress (29 March to 5 April 1920), Lenin derogatorily despised the still “surviving notorious democratism” to uphold his vanguardist “democratic centralism” theory, whereby he not only imposed dictatorship of his party, but also superimposed his “one person rule” over a nomenclatural hierarchy. Lenin’s own words in a speech on Economic Construction in 1920 were also revealing when he said: “the Soviet Socialist Democracy is in no way inconsistent with the rule and dictatorship of one person; that the will of a class is at times best realised by a dictator, who sometimes will accomplish more by himself and is frequently more needed. At any rate, the principal relation toward one person rule was not only explained a long time ago but was also decided by the Central Executive Committee.”

The Peace

The Bolsheviks had campaigned under the slogan “Peace, Bread and Land”. Immediately on gaining power they persuaded the second All-Russia Soviet Congress to adopt a decree on peace drafted by the Bolshevik leader, Lenin. It invited the peoples and governments of the nations at war to begin negotiations at once for peace “without annexations and indemnities” and to conclude an immediate armistice.

The appeal met with some response from sections of the working class in various countries, but was ignored by the governments with which Russia had been allied. Thereupon the Russian government entered into separate negotiations with Germany and its allies. The German authorities imposed harsh armistice terms, including the continued occupation of large territories that had been part of Tsarist Russia. Many members of the Bolshevik party wanted to reject the terms and advocated the waging of a ‘revolutionary war’. As Lenin understood that Russia was in no position to wage such a war, he declared: “It is a question of signing the terms now or signing the death sentence of the Soviet Government three weeks later” and eventually won over the Central Committee of the Party to his point of view.

At the seizure of power, the Bolsheviks had been opposed by the Mensheviks and the majority of the Socialist Revolutionaries. A minority of the Socialist Revolutionaries, however, gave the Bolsheviks their support and was at first represented in the first government. They resigned over disagreement about accepting the harsh German terms to end the war and over the government’s policy of subordinating the trade unions.


From the middle of 1918 the Bolshevik government began arresting the Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary leaders, expelling their delegates from the Soviets and driving the parties underground. By 1922 the Communist Party was the sole legal political party in Russia.

The Communist Party’s seizure of power in 1917 started the three quarters of a century-long Communist Party rule over Russia. They claimed that their coup would lead to the speedy establishment of socialism there and in the rest of the world, and that other countries should follow their example. They went on propagating this by feeding the world with blatant lies and publishing and distributing heavily subsidized and distorted Collected Works of Marx and Engels to lay a Marxian layer over those of Lenin. Stalin baptized this dogma ‘Marxism-Leninism’. Yet, Marxism-Leninism is an oxymoron. In fact Marxism and Leninism are poles apart.

As a Marxist organization, as the agent of change, the Socialist Party of Great Britain rejected the Communists’ claim and showed already at that time that it was based on wrong theory and was incapable of succeeding.

Besides the necessary development of the means of production to a stage at which socialism is economically possible, the other necessary pre-requisite of socialism is the existence of a majority which understands and wants socialism and is determined to achieve it. This condition did not exist in the Communist Party-controlled countries. Socialism cannot be marshaled gradually by the assorted Leftists or imposed by a Communist Party dictatorship. Both groups claimed to have found the shortcut road to socialism and both rejected the Socialist Party of Great Britain’s principle that the vital task was to win over the working class to an understanding of socialism. While the ‘gradualistss were promising that with a Labour government socialism would come in “like a thief in the night”, Lenin, in a speech at the Peasants’ Congress in 1918, reported by John Reed, was making the exaggerated declaration that “If Socialism can only be realised when the intellectual development of all the people permits it, then we shall not see Socialism for at least five hundred years”. The irony of the claim is that, on the contrary, Lenin and his coterie have forced us see capitalism doing business for over one hundred years more.

Lenin’s socialism

In his State and Revolution written in August-September 1917, Lenin shrewdly devised a trick, an arbitrary “scientific distinction” between ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ whereas for Marx and Engels, as also for us, the two terms are synonymous, meaning post capitalist participatory democratic administration of the means of production and distribution held in common. However, Lenin, in Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It, written in 1917, proceeded with his ‘distinction’ to define his ‘socialism’: “socialism is merely state-capitalist monopoly which is made to serve the interests of the whole people and has to that extent ceased to be capitalist monopoly” [Lenin’s emphasis].

What rubbish. You could never lead capitalism, whatever the form – individual, joint-stock, state, or corporation all being essentially private – “to serve the interests of the whole people”. Capitalism works objectively to serve the interests of the capitalist class against the interests of working class. Lenin’s definition threw overboard one of the basic principles of Marxism – the theory of surplus value. Every class conscious worker knows capitalism means profit production via wages slavery; if capital exists so exists wages slavery. Thus socialism is the negation of capitalism. But classified wages slavery remained intact in Russia.

But falsehood, regimentation and coercion cannot withstand the test of time, and the vindictive dictatorships of Russia and her satellite police states in Eastern Europe met with their ignominious demise by1990.

Binay Sarkar is a retired college teacher