Has October 1917 been a revolution?

Warning: this text had been automatically translated from french into english. It has been revised but will doubtless show many errors. Please send proposals for improvement (of the translation) to info@left-dis.nl


This text was made by the occasion of the questions of Raoul at the introduction of the book of Peregalli and Saggioro on Bordiga into the years 1926 - 1945. Raoul asks for attention for the positions of Bordiga on the internal policy of the Bolsheviks. Raoul notes that initially the Bolsheviks were the champions of the watchword "All power with the Soviets" and that after they were the principal craftsmen of the destruction of this power. By saying that this refers to the "refusal to wait until IIe Congres of the Soviets determined insurrection and that the Congres was placed before the fact achieved by the revolutionary military Committee of Petrograd, controlled by the Bolsheviks ". Other arguments go from the period after the insurrection and can be neglected here. The problem is that Trotsky already answered this argument, in its History of the Russian Revolution saying: if the mass is ripe to do it, it is necessary to prepare the insurrection in the greatest secrecy. The true question is to know when the mass is ripe. The following text is an effort to put within the broader framework of the position of the revolution in permanence the question of the internal policy of the Bolsheviks and its apology by Bordiga and the bordiguists. Finally Raoul seems to put the question - without explicitly stating so - if October 1917 were a coup d'etat. But if this question is answered positively, it will be difficult to defend the proletarian character that Raoul entrusts with October 1917 and with the Bolsheviks at this time.

I started to doubt the proletarian character of October 1917 since a discussion in February of this year with another comrade. After I could read the book of Willy Huhn Trotzki - Der gescheiterte Stalin (Karin Kramer Verlag, Berlin 1973, also translated into french, Cahiers Spartacus no.113) and the text of Paul Mattick Bolschwismus und Stalinismus (please send USA-original to info@left-dis.nl) my doubts became increasingly strong. I hope to find soon time to subject the work of Huhn to an analysis which I propose here in some theses.

Alfredo, Geneva on July 17, 1999.


If one want to know if October 1917 was a revolution (and its nature, and succeeded or not?) it is initially necessary to highlight wat is a revolution. The bourgeois media use the term revolution for a a whole series of forms of change of power in which one bunch of exploiters follows the other. By doing that the difference between a revolution and a coup d'etat has disappeared. But to understand the future tasks of the working class the difference between revolution and a coup d'etat is vital. Each revolution in the Marxist meaning of the term - what is thus as true for the bourgeois revolution as for the proletarian revolution as well - is characterized by the seizure of the political power by a class which carries a new and progressive form of production. In the bourgeois revolution the bourgeoisie finally conquered the state power to eliminate the feudal obstacles for a continued evolution of the capitalist mode of production. In the 20th century the capitalist relations of production became an obstacle to the development of the productive forces. All the revolutionairies saw in the outburst of the First World War a clear sign that the period of the decline of capitalism and thus the period of the world revolution of the proletariat had started. But the differences between the bourgeois revolutions and the world revolution of the proletariat were not not immediately clear. The lefts in the Socialdemocrat Second International underlined in their fight against the reformism of Bernstein and the centrism of Kautsky the lessons of the Commune of Paris, at the time the top of the proletarian fight: the revolutionary proletariat does not conquer the bourgeois state but it does found the dictatorship of the proletariat by its own forms of organization of mass and it destroys the bourgeois state.

The mass actions in 1905of the proletariat in tsarist Russia confirmed the new forms of mass organization, the worker councils. At the time of the foundation of the Communist Third International , after the movements of the councils in Russia 1917 and Germany 1919, the implications in the new way of struggle for the proletarian tactics were hardly clear. The lessons of the communist lefts of October 1917 and of what followed, are very diverse.

In the light of the definition of the term "revolution" (see thesis 1) the lessons of the councilcommunists and of the bordiguists are both inacceptable.

Anton Pannekoek speaks during its council communist period about October 1917 as a bureaucratic revolution, Paul Mattick as a fascistic, state capitalist revolution. But bureaucratization, fascism or state capitalism are no expressions of a progressive way of production but of the decline of capitalism. Mattick maintains in a changed form the comprehension that the KAPD had of the decline of capitalism and admits that fascism and state capitalism are tendencies of a declining system production. But Pannekoek always refused economic theories of crisis. It is thus not by chance that its adherent, like Cajo Brendel, put forward the position that a a whole series of national " liberation" movements would be "progressive". In general the council communists repudiate the role of the Bolsheviks like ' bourgeois' from the beginning. In the majority of the cases they overlook the proletarian internationalist positions of the Bolsheviks in the First World War and they are limited to a moralist analysis of the history by neglecting the discussions and the level of knowing in the international revolutionary milieu.

Bordiga adopted a position comparable to that of the council communists. Probably already during the time under Mussolini, when he was captive in its own house - and certainly later, when he took again the role of Īhistoric leaderā as head of the Internationalist Communist Party founded in 1943 (party ignored the work of the Left Italian in exile) he developed the idea of the double character of the revolution in Russia: proletarian and bourgeois. Bordiga permanently underlines in its idea of the revolution in permanence the positions on the role of the proletariat in bourgeois revolutions, as if it were immanentes since the positions of Marx and Engels in the German Revolution of 1848. The ignorance of the development of the revolutionary practice, carried Bordiga and the bordiguists to an apologetic defense of the jacobinist attitude of the bolsheviques. Most dreadful of this is that Bordiga after two decades of isolation accepts as his the attacks of Trotsky to the 'luxemburgism' of the German Communists of the Twenties against all that resembles a manifestation of the German-Dutch left (see Note 1).

The discussion between the Italian left and the German-Dutch left on this question is hardly developed. During the time after the Second World war the ICP and the remainders of the German-Dutch left are quickly marginalised, one completely isolated from the other. There were some rare contacts between Communistenbond ĪSpartacusā (Netherlands) and Internationalisme which continued the work of the Italian left in exile, and which - in contradiction with Bordiga - knew well the German-Dutch left. The efforts on this subject by the International Communist Current, founded in 1978, were limited to repeat fundamental positions Internationalisme and to fight polemics against the most absurd consequences of the position of a 'double', ' state capitalist' or ' bureaucratic' revolution (see higher and further thesis 3). Follows in the form of some theses an attempt at a broader approach of October 1917.

Note 1
For lack of information we can only speculate on the reasons of the political evolution of Bordiga in the Twenties and Thirties. It does not seem impossible to us that his diatribes in direction of 'luxemburgisme' were aimed at the Italian left in exile, which partly returned in Italy under his direction, partly fought him from France and Belgium.

Theses over October 1917, revolution or coup d'etat?

  1. A revolution is characterized by the seizure of political power by the class which carries a new fashion of progressive production. In the proletarian revolution the working class does not conquer the bourgeois state but it destroys it and does found dictatorship of the proletariat by its own forms of mass organization.
  2. With the outburst of the First World War capitalism has moved in an irrevocable manner during into the period of its historical decline. From this moment in all the countries of the world the proletarian revolution is on the historic agenda.
  3. Given this fact, everywhere in the world the bourgeois revolution is not anymore on the order of day. Neither in 1905, nor in February 1917 or October 1917 in Russia there was question of a bourgeois revolution.
  4. October 1917 was neither a bureaucratic, or state capitalist or fascist revolution. Bureaucratization, fascism, war economy, stalinism etcetera, are all essentailly manifestations of the tendency towards the state capitalism which is characteristic of capitalism during its period of decline.
  5. The advance of the workers councils in Russia was not a sign that the working class in Russia was relatively strong compared to the class in other countries, but a sign of weakness of the bourgeois in Russia and of inexperience of the international bourgeois with a proletarian threat of its of international position of force, like the proof the existence the one near the other of the power of the workers councils and the power of the bourgeois state.
  6. The only significance that the advance of the workers councils in Russia could have was that of the beginning of the proletarian world revolution.
  7. The bolshevik party has been until and inclusively October 1917 the clearest expression of the proletariat in Russia, as shows from:
    • its internationalist position against the First World War;
    • its position against the democratic government which comes to power in February 1917;
    • its position for the workers councils as bodies of the dictatorship of the proletariat;
    • its position for the world revolution and the foundation of the Third International.
  8. The position of the bolsheviks and mencheviks that in Russia - as in other delayed countries - would be held a double revolution, was a current position in the revolutionary milieu. The same moment this position was outdated by the evolution of capitalism as by that of the struggle of the proletariat, just like the jacobinist tactics which followed from this position. Rosa Luxemburg was one of the first who criticized this weakness of the Bolsheviks, determined by regional and historical factors.
  9. These jacobinist tactics brought the Bolsheviks not to go against the current of the obvious weaknesses in the movement of the Russian workers, as the request for workers control, the illusions in democracy, the trade unions, peace and the pact with the pesants and the petty bougeoisie. The Bolsheviks did swim with the current of the proletarian illusions in stead of to fight them.
  10. Because capitalism has not destroyed by the world revolution before it entered into its time of historical decline, it continued to develop into state capitalism. Therefore in Russia the tendency to state capitalism developed under the tsarist government , the provisional 'rŽvolutionairy' government, and after October 1917. The ideas of a 'double revolution' led the Bolsheviks - Trotsky most - to consider state capitalism to be the base of communism instead of its perfect contradiction. In doing so they became from its devoted promoters to the gravediggers of the world revolution.
  11. Increasingly conscious of their defense of russian state capitalism, the bolsheviks oblige via the Third International the communist parties in the democratic and highly industrialized countries to accept their jacobinist tactic. In the interior circles of the party an obvious goal in doing so is to influence the foreign policy of the other countries by the seizure with the old social-democrat mass organizations, which during this time are close to their governments.
  12. The left in the Third International did not succeed into thwarting the fatal influence of the bolsheviks on the tactics of the communist parties. In the Forties the Īhistorique leadersā of the left ended up accepting in a 'critical' manner jacobinism (Bordiga) or rejecting it as inevitable aspect of the state capitalist character of the 'russian' revolution (Pannekoek). On the other hand not all the lessons are drawn from the period of October 1917, which until today is the highest point at which the working class reached in its struggle. But before one can speak about October 1917 as the beginning of the revolution proletarian or as a coup d'etat by the bolsheviks, it will be necessary to answer especially the following questions:
    • Were the preparations of the insurrection in the military-revolutionary committee of Petrograd in agreement with a revolutionary conscience of the mass of the workers on the need for a world revolution? In any event it is clear that the party Bolsheviks by a parallel committee in the party used the efforts of the workers to defend (bourgeois) democracy, to seize state power.
    • Up to what point was the bourgeois state destroyed by October 1917, when it reappears so quickly after the revolution as the enemy of the councils? It is certain that the Bolshevik party stimulated the development of the state capitalism by all its force.
    An answer to these questions will only be possible by the analysis of the events in Russia 1917 - 1921 and of the discussions between various currents in the revolutionary organizations; an analysis which can only be fertile if it is held within the frameworks of the positions of the Italian left in exile, especially those on the fatal identification of the Bolsheviks of class, party and state and of the state of the transition period.