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Vol. 81/No. 38      October 16, 2017

(Books of the Month column)

1917 Bolshevik Revolution: Example for workers today

Below are excerpts from Revolutionary Continuity: The Early Years 1848-1917 by Farrell Dobbs. It is one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for October. Dobbs was a central leader of the successful 1930s Teamsters’ strikes in Minneapolis and the eleven-state over-the-road campaign that spread the union across the Midwest. He served as labor secretary and then national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, part of the communist leadership cadre determined to build a proletarian party modeled on the Bolshevik Party led by V. I. Lenin that organized the workers and peasants of Russia to take power in October 1917 — 100 years ago. Copyright © 1980 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

Although the October insurrection ended capitalist use of the government against the workers, it did not follow that they could achieve full economic supremacy in one stroke. More was involved than the seizure of capitalist industry by the soviet regime. For this step to become practical, the workers first needed to gain experience in administering the national economy while most factories remained temporarily capitalist owned.

To carry out the desired measures in the industrial sphere, Lenin explained, revolutionary democracy had to be applied so the masses could develop confidence in their own strength. In addition to their other functions, the trade unions had to become schools for managing the economy. The workers had to be schooled in the art of administration in handling overall management of production and distribution. Toward that end their control over the bosses had to be extended at once to every facet of industry and trade. Knowledge acquired through such activities would prepare them to administer the whole economic structure, and all capitalist enterprises could then be expropriated.

Quick action was taken by the soviet government to set this process into motion. By official decree workers’ control was established over all industrial, commercial, banking, and agricultural enterprises employing five or more people. Committees elected by the workers in these enterprises were authorized to keep a constant eye on company books, records, inventories, etc.; ferret out secrets kept from them by the bosses; and see that all operations were conducted in the public interest.

Factory committees of this kind constituted the organizational nuclei for state regulation of the industrial economy. They became part of and subordinate to the trade unions in the various branches of industry. The unions, while independent, were in turn responsible to the soviets, and subordinate to them on matters of planning and state policy. By means of this overall structural form, the workers in each factory could defend their immediate interests. …

Seventy years after publication by Marx and Engels of the Communist Manifesto, the October revolution had brought a government to power that led the workers in establishing the world’s first workers’ state. Its appearance introduced qualitatively new dimensions into the class struggle internationally. For the first time in history a state without exploiters was being founded. The old bourgeois society — in which a privileged minority used its control of the economy to rule over and plunder the toiling masses — had been displaced. The means of production and distribution were now collectively owned by the working people.

A viable structure already existed for the organization of mass action to achieve new social advances made possible by the changed property relations. The soviets served that purpose admirably. These bodies provided a vehicle for establishment of a higher form of democracy than had ever existed in any bourgeois republic. The soviets personified the Marxist concept of a self-conscious movement representing the immense majority, acting in the interests of the immense majority, and doing so in keeping with the democratic principle of conscious development of society by majority decision. They served as dynamic instruments through which to extend the rights and ensure the welfare of the working people.

Once in full control over industry and commerce, the soviet leadership made economic planning to serve social aims the keystone of the new society. Under the old bourgeois order, in which the coining of capitalist profits was the main goal, social relations had been conditioned by the blind play of economic forces. As a result downturns, if not deep economic depressions, had followed inevitably after periods of relative prosperity. In sharp contrast to the economic anarchy that had previously prevailed in production and distribution under capitalism, the soviets were given the chance to demonstrate the intrinsic value of a planned economy.

Such planning, carried out in a society where capitalist expropriators of the surplus social product had themselves been expropriated laid the basis for rapid development of the productive forces. The available social wealth could thus be increased apace, and means provided to make a better life for all.

Appropriation of the surplus social product by the proletariat through its government opened the way to new cultural advances. It became possible not only to reduce scarcities in living necessities and eventually eliminate them, but also to widen the vistas of the future. The door was opened to begin eradicating the crushing inequalities due to class, race, and sex oppression that had been reinforced by centuries of exploitation and rule by the privileged classes.

Together with the new social potential that had been created, the soviet triumph gave powerful impetus to proletarian struggles going on elsewhere in the world. A concrete demonstration had been seen of the manner in which the working class internationally could take steps to end the imperialist war, abolish capitalism, and move toward construction of a socialist order.

In the process of reaching these goals through their own revolutionary struggles, the Bolsheviks had also shown in practice how the workers elsewhere could build a vanguard party capable of leading the exploited masses in battle against the capitalists.  
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