“A People’s History of the Russian Revolution,” by Neil Faulkner, 2017
Neil Faulkner is a former member of the British Socialist Workers Party, who certainly learned things in that organization, but then left as he saw it degenerate. This short history is good for a beginner who wishes to understand why this revolution even happened. The ‘bottom line,’ as they like to say in the U.S., is that nearly everyone but the Monarchists, landlords, capitalists, the Black Hundreds and the liberals demanded it. It cribs much from Trotsky’s “History of the Russian Revolution,” as well as other sources like John Reed, Tony Cliff, Plekhanov, Zinoviev, Sukhanov, Raskolnikov, Serge and Le Blanc.
|Lenin addressing the revolutionary proletariat|
Faulkner’s views impact this short history, as he knows the limitations of the stardard ‘party’ form of organization. He states that Lenin was a ‘democrat,’ not a ‘democratic-centralist’ so that assertion is something to mull over. The SWP of which he was part was a Trotskyist-inspired but Schachtmanite organization that believed the USSR became a state-capitalist formation. Trotsky believed it had become a degenerated workers state. Faulkner's position does not really impact his description of the events of 1917, only later.
Some interesting facts and points brought up by Faulkner:
1. The Tsar was so deluded he did not even understand that he had no armed support anymore. (Tsar comes from “Ceasar.”) Tsarism was an end in itself, and had nothing to do with the population, who existed for the Tsar and not visa-versa. Tsarism basically used all monies for building an expanding military-political empire.
2. By 1900, foreign bankers in France and England supplied up to 50% of Russian capital, which certainly explains the Russian capitalists' inability to quit WWI. They had been bought.
3. The 1905 Revolution was sparked by “Bloody Sunday,” where the Tsar’s Cossacks murdered over a 1,000 people. This put ‘a river of blood’ between the people and the government which lasted. Not a good idea if you are a government.
4. The defeat in the Russo-Japanese war sped up revolution. Lenin’s position of ‘revolutionary defeatism’ understood this. Revolutionaries want their own capitalist governments to lose wars. Or as they say in the U.S., 'hands off the world.'
5. The ‘professional strata’ – as was shown in Russia – might dissent, but they cannot carry through revolutionary change. They ultimately back the rulers. Sounds familiar.
6. The end of official serfdom created a kulak class of owners in the countryside, which allowed capital to attempt to control the countryside. This attempt failed in February 2017 when the mass of the peasantry took over the land from the landlords.
7. Faulkner oddly thinks that Marx & Engels in the end maintained that the European working class was the sole agent of revolution. Not sure where he gets this.
8. Faulkner understands that the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) was a politically broad organization up to the split with the Mensheviks and afterwards. Zinoviev and Kamenev broke discipline immediately before the seizure of the Winter Palace in November 7, 1917 by leaking the revolutionary plan to the opposition (Gregorian calendar). They remained within the party for many years afterwards, until they were executed by Stalin.
9. An illegal situation requires that party membership become tighter. (Duh) Significant RSDLP party decisions in these revolutionary times were made by local leaders, not issued by a center.
10. The Black Hundreds – Monarchist, anti-communist, anti-Semitic, anti-working class – were used in the July Days to attempt to roll back the revolution, in league with the bourgeois press and its lies about Lenin being a paid German agent. It shows that fascists are merely the shock troops of a weak capitalist system.
11. It was easy for soldiers in Russia to desert from WWI after a certain point, as they were fighting in or close to their own country. Not in places like Afghanistan, Iraq or Vietnam, as the U.S. military did. Millions of Russian peasant soldiers deserted during WWI.
12. As must be emphasized, women started the February revolution, which led inexorably to the November revolution. It was in late February that women went into the streets to demand bread. The RSDLP and other socialist groups did not play an official role in calling for these demonstrations.
13. Among the soldiers, those who followed orders to shoot women and workers changed their minds, and refused to fire on the working class in the following days. Units stationed in St. Petersburg began to go over to the Revolution one by one.
14. While this was going on, the “Black Partition” was occurring in rural Russia, as millions of peasants began seizing land, burning landlord’s houses and forming village communes and organizations.
15. Police, in both February and November, provided the main bulwark for the forces of reaction. When soldiers started to fire on the police, the end of the regime was at hand. This is the true character of the police, which never changes. The police were run out of St. Petersburg, Moscow and other cities by Red Guards and the revolutionary army.
16. Quite simply, the Provisional government was for war, the control of the land by the landlords, the assertion of vicious military discipline in the Army and support for the local capitalists. It was unable to provide food. It failed on all fronts, as had the Tsar. A continuing revolution was inevitable.
17. The military coup by Kornilov against revolutionary Petrograd was diverted by railroad workers and by proletarians along the way. It dissolved.
18. The average age of the Bolshevik Party in August 2017 was 29 years old. This was a young people’s organization.
19. The Military Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, led by Trotsky, acted defensively by shelling and then arresting the Provisional Government in the early morning of November 7 due to the latter’s attempt to militarily organize against the Soviet. Thus ended ‘dual power.’ This was the culmination of the 1917 revolution.
20. What were the ‘terrible’ demands of the ‘dark people’ of the November 1917 Russian Revolution?
a. Peace and an end to WWI. It was not: ‘Oh, oh, oh what a wonderful war!’
b. Land to the tiller, abolition of private property in land.
c. Right of self-determination for all minority people’s, including the right to secession.
d. Workers control of the workplaces, run democratically. An end to private property in the means of production.
e. Participatory democracy, with the right of recall.
f. Full equality for women, right of abortion and divorce and legitimizing children born out of wedlock.
Later the terrible Soviets legalized homosexuality, ended religious indoctrination in the schools and set up free education at all levels.
All of these decrees were among the first in the world. Now they seem somewhat sensible – but EVEN TODAY – under ‘advanced’ capitalism, they are still revolutionary and still unachieved in most places.
Clearly both Lenin and Trotsky and the ideology of Marxism at that time were based on the idea of the revolution spreading to other countries, especially in Europe, as capital is an international system. The failure of the near revolutions in Germany, in Hungary, in Italy, in Austria, in Bavaria, in Finland isolated the USSR. As did the vicious invasions and counter-revolution led by White monarchists and foreign capitalists, which bled Russia during the "Civil War." All of which is the responsibility of the capitalist system to explain – which they will never do.
Prior reviews on this topic: Mieville’s “October – the Story of the Russian Revolution,” Chernychevsky’s “What is to be Done?” Monthly Review on the Russian Revolution, Biely’s “Petersburg” and many books about the Soviet Union.
And I bought it at May Day Books!
Communa di Cortona, Italia
October 31, 2017