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Kisna Kistnasamy looks at “February to October of 1917” in Russia’s build-up to revolution

16.10.2017

 Let us, straight away, immerse ourselves in the events of the 1917 Revolution. The Russian Revolution was perhaps the single greatest event in the last Century. Its impact was felt, and still is felt, on the lives of millions of people in Russia, and billions all over the world – and that until today.


When we held LALIT celebrations, in the first part of the poem-reading, we heard that the “Tsar has abdicated”. The Tsar gave up power in February 1917. The Tsar abdicated, after his family, the Romanov dynasty, has ruled over Russia for more than 300 years. Why did the Tsar hand over power?


In the enlarged photographs displayed on the walls during the LALIT celebrations, we saw a huge women’s demonstration in February 1917. The demonstrators demanded bread, peace and land.


The demonstration was started by women textile factory workers in Petrograd. Very soon, they were joined by workers from the Putilov factory, who had been sacked by a boss’s lock-out. This huge demonstration started on a 23 February 1917 grew bigger and bigger day by day. Thousands of workers joined in to protest against a political and economic system which was responsible for the poor living conditions, near destitution, of millions of people in Russia. So, that was how things began in the month of February, 1917.


At the same time, the question of peace became a critical question for the masses of the people. The war which Russia was waging against Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. By their millions, Russian soldiers lost their lives in a war which was not their war. Soldiers were fighting instead of tilling the land. The semi-feudal and capitalist economic system in place was in crisis. The only way for the system to survive was to wage a war to acquire territories.


The demonstrators in February 1917 could not predict how this event would impact on millions of lives in Russia and all over the planet.


Till today, events in 1917 Russia are marking the lives of people in Russia and the whole planet.


So, there were huge demonstrations daily throughout February, 1917. So when the Tsar abdicated in February 1917, the Russian bourgeoisie quickly came up through parties representing its interests which then set up a “Provisional Government”.


The Russian bourgeoisie wanted to ensure that the working class movement did not threaten private property or even touch the property or wealth of the rich, and to ensure that Russia stayed in the war (First World War). But the demands of the Soviets were different. Soviets were working class organisations and structures already in place from the 1905 attempted revolution. There were now soviets, or workers’ councils, in Petrograd, Moscow, Kiev, other big cities and centres. The Soviets’ demands were not the same as those of the bourgeoisie or the Provisional Government. They wanted bread, peace and land. They formed one half of a dual power situation, with the Provisional Government being the other half. You can see that the two sides were irreconcilable. So the Provisional Government was very unstable.


The march of the revolution from February to October was the preparation of the working class towards the insurrection, which would involve the working class actually taking power in October 1917.


It was mass movements at this time that brought political victories, like changes in the law now allowing workers to assemble, a free press, the right to form political parties, and even began the struggle for economic rights like the 8-hour-day. But most workers were not ready to overthrow the existing State, and less still set about creating a workers’ state. By June, the Bolshevik Party that would lead the revolution had only one out of every five delegates in the soviets (workers’ councils). In these months building up to October, over 20 million people – workers, peasants, soldiers – were organized in soviets. Membership of the Bolshevik party would, over those six months, increase from 79,000 to around 170,000. The experience of the soviets allowed the working class to get the experience to be ready to seize power.


 We remember the immense contribution of great leaders like Lenin, Trotsky, Kollontai and all the grassroots working class leaders in Russia organised in their party, the Bolshevik Party.


We know that as from February, it was the Soviets that were organising life in cities, towns and countryside. Soviets were democratic committees of representatives elected by workers, peasants and soldiers from factories, worksites, army units and from the neighbourhood. There were local, regional and national assemblies. Soviets in towns and villages, de facto became the legitimate workers’ government power. And it was these structures which would eventually take power in October 1917. Soviets ended up being the preparation of the working class to take power. It was the soviets that showed the working class how to organise Russia to ensure Bread for all, Peace for all, land to those who tilled it, and to hand over production into the hands of the producers. But the working class did not know this when it set up the soviets.


In the October Revolution, a peace treaty was immediately sought and an armistice signed, private property was abolished, land was nationalized and private property of land ended, big factories were nationalised under workers’ rule, the banks were nationalized and the working class won major advances on the worksites. For the first time in history, there were social services as of right. The education system opened up to children of workers. Right up to University level. The number of schools doubled immediately. The biggest literacy campaigns of all human history took place.


But, we must note that 1917 October Revolution was not “spontaneous”.


For many years, from the time of Engels & Marx’s Communist Manifesto in 1847, there were political activities, there was the experience of political organisation, there were intense political debates, and there were contacts between the working class and socialist parties. It is all this rich political past which was to pave the way to October 1917.


In particular, when Lenin returned from exile, and when he immediately saw that the time was ripe for the working class to demand “All power to the soviets!”, he provoked discussion on all the key issues involved. Workers also discussed his State and Revolution, and contrasted bourgeois democracy and working class democracy, often refuting so-called Socialist- Revolutionary Party calling for a strengthening of the bourgeois government of the February 1917 revolution as a necessary stage in the name of “unity of the left”.


Lenin and Trotsky together with other thinkers, with activists in the working class movement all contributed to the movement towards the working class succeeding in taking power.


Without a working class press, printing newspapers and pamphlets and other party literature to analyse the political situation and what was to be done, was not an easy task. But revolutions are creative. Representatives of Soviets managed to get the printing done in secret through the printing press workers in commercial presses, at night. Railway workers played a very big role in the distribution of party literature throughout Russia.


Today, all the contradictions of the capitalist system which Russia was facing in 1917 remain unresolved. So, as we are today challenging the capitalist system, in Mauritius and in the world, the legacy of the 1917 Russian Revolution is a constant source of inspiration. It is a university for us members of revolutionary political party.


The soviets, or workers’ councils, were a key feature of the new democratic structures that workers would create. They would allow the dictatorship of the minority class (capitalists were an infinitely small minority) to be replaced by the rule of the majority class (of those who work for a living.) And once there is a single class, once all the expropriators who confiscated land and capital from its rightful stewards, are expropriated by the revolution, there will be no need of a state as something separate from society. The definition of a “state” is what allows one class to rule over others. When there is only one class, it is easy to imagine that, in turn, everyone runs any services that are needed, on a rota basis – things like the civil status offices, or local democracy, postal and telecommunication services, can all be assured by us all. Instead of 20% of workers being full-time state workers, we can all give one day out of five to the work done by the state. And the capitalist enterprises will have been transformed, and be run by those who work in them, and those who use the goods and services – through forms of democracy that we can only just begin to imagine.


 If the centenary celebration today is an opportunity for you to join a revolutionary party like LALIT, to meet in our local branches, to learn from the lessons and difficulties of the Russian Revolution, it will be a big step in the construction of the world socialist revolution. A world socialist revolution is on the agenda today as the only antidote against a capitalist system in deep crisis, the only antidote against systemic pollution and pillaging of the planet, and the only solution against the particular form of alienation the capitalism provokes, as well as being the only anti-dote against nuclear war, which is, what with Trump as US President, a real threat to our planet.