Socialist Democracy October 2017 Special Edition
Socialist Democracy October 2017 Special Edition
1917-2017: Centenary of the Russian Revolution
- Can the Working Class Take Power in Nigeria?
100 years ago in Russia, workers leading the peasantry overthrew the oppressive Tsarist state. The revolution which started in February 1917 unfolded over a period of 9 months culminating in October with power passing directly into the hands of workers and the peasantry led by the Bolshevik party. The 1917 revolution remains the greatest event in human history because for the first time the rule of a wealthy minority was replaced by the rule of working people. In view of the condition of mass misery in the midst of abundance that has become the permanent fate of the working and poor people in Nigeria, is it possible for a social revolution to unfold in Nigeria?
Revolutions, described by Karl Marx as the locomotive of history, occur when there is no other way out. Before this, the masses “advance and retreat several times before they believe it is necessary to undertake the final assault” (1917: The Year That Changed the World). The entire course of the class struggle in Nigeria reveals a succession of such advances and retreats.
In Nigeria as well as in the advanced capitalist economies, “the objective prerequisites for the proletarian revolution have not only “ripened”; they have begun to get somewhat rotten” (Trotsky’s Transitional Programme). Since the return to civil rule, there have been at least ten general strikes in which the working class unquestionably demonstrated a resolve to fight to change society. In particular, the 7-day general strikes and mass protests of January 2012 against fuel subsidy removal demonstrated enormous revolutionary potentials.
Why then, despite the numerous opportunities, have revolutions not occurred in Nigeria? Does this mean the working class is not revolutionary? How can revolution unfold in the concrete conditions of Nigeria? The questions above and others bothering the minds of working class and youth activists can only be answered by going back to studying the Russian Revolution. No doubt, the 1917 revolution, a sharp turn in history, holds rich lessons for the struggles of the working class and oppressed masses of Nigeria and internationally. But to understand it, Socialists must proceed first from understanding the nature of Russian society within which the revolution unfolded.
20th century Russia shares some similarities with Nigeria and other countries of the Neo-colonial world today. Of course, there are equally great differences. In 1917, Russia was an economically and culturally backward society with the working class in a minority “in a sea of peasants”. It was ruled by the Romanov monarchy which tried to maintain its anachronistic rule despite the disappearance of the social conditions for its existence.
Economically, modern factory production existed side by side with backward feudal relations in the land and primitive agriculture. The peasants were viciously exploited by the landowners and the Tsarist (imperial) state. Many were landless as a result of the concentration of the most fertile lands in the hands of a few landowners. Occasionally, the poor and landless peasants revolted against their conditions demanding redistributions of the land. Similarly in the factories, the workers as wage slaves of capital were viciously exploited. Strikes and demonstrations broke out frequently but the Tsarist state often came to the side of the capitalist employers just as they defended the landowners against the poor peasants. There was extreme wealth inequality with vast majority of the working class and poor peasants living from hand to mouth. How similar is this to the situation in Nigeria today!
Like countries of the neo-colonial world, capitalism in Russia arrived late on the stage of history. In Western Europe, capitalism arose out of social revolutions against feudal relations led by the emerging bourgeois class. Out of these bourgeois revolutions was born the modern national state with a common legal system, common tariff, uniform system of administration, a home market and a democratic republic – in other words, the conditions fit for capitalist system to thrive. The great French revolution of 1789 marked the beginning of “the epoch of formation of bourgeois nations”. By the end of the 19th century, an increasing number of bourgeois nation states could no longer provide a large enough market for the productive forces that had developed and thus began the epoch of imperialism as rival capitalisms sought to carve up the world.
Because of its belatedness, the development of capitalism in Russia could not follow the same pattern as in Western Europe. As Trotsky noted in his description of the growth of capitalism in Russia, “On a foundation of extensive agriculture and home industry, commercial capital developed not deeply, not by transforming production, but broadly by increasing the radius of its operation. The trader, the landlord and the government official advanced from the centre toward the periphery, following the peasant settlers who, in search of fresh lands and freedom from imposts, were penetrating new territory inhabited by still more backward tribes” (History of the Russian Revolution).
Thus modern Russia was formed not as a national state, but as a state made up of nationalities. Better still as a “prison house of nations”. At its height, the Russian empire had amassed to the seventy million Great Russians constituting the main mass of the country about ninety million “outlanders”. The Great Russians were only 43 percent of the population. The remaining 57 percent, “were nationalities of various degrees of culture and subjection including Ukrainians 17 percent, Poles 6 percent, White Russians (today’s Belarus) 4.5 percent”. It goes without saying of course that the Tsarist state could only maintain this state of affairs through brutal oppression and subjugation of the nationalities. Just like the agrarian question, the national question i.e. freedom for oppressed nationalities was a big factor in Russia and in the 1917 revolution.
This is similar to the situation in Africa today. The modern day African states are creations of colonialism. Most borders were drawn up between 1884 and 1885 at the Berlin conference where imperialist nations gathered to partition the continent for their profit interest. Arbitrary and artificial boundaries were drawn cutting nations into two or three and yoking together diverse peoples in a single administrative entity thus preparing the ground for the genocidal wars of the 20th and 21st centuries. In this sense, Nigeria did not emerge as a nation state but as a state made up of nationalities. It is an amalgamation of at least 300 ethnic groups. On the basis of the 1952/ 53 census, “the three major ethnic groups (Hausa-Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba) made up 58% of Nigeria’s population, the remaining 297 groups made up only 42%” (Programme and Perspective for the Nigerian Revolution).
Just like Russia, a revolution in any African country that aims to defeat landlordism and capitalism must be armed with a correct policy on the national question. The starting point for such a policy is the unity of the working class in a common struggle against landlordism and capitalism while according due recognition to the right of nations to self-determination. Particularly in Nigeria, a workers’ party/Marxist organisation must call for the united struggle of the working people against capitalism while at the same time recognizing the right of ethnic nationalities to determine their fate. In essence, what is required is a firm proletarian policy that is both hostile to fake patriotism of the Buhari/Osinbajo kind and the bourgeois nationalist pretensions of ethnic jingoists like Nnamdi Kanu’s Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), Afenifere, Arewa etc. But at no time can Socialists and the working class organization/party be indifferent to the oppression of nationalities.
No doubt, a one and indivisible Nigeria would be the best conditions both for the struggle of the working class and for socialist reconstruction. But this cannot be imposed by force as the Buhari/Osinbajo regime is doing but only through the voluntary association of the ethnic nationalities and respect for the political, social, cultural and linguistic rights of all minorities. This is why at the moment, Socialists call for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) dominated by elected representatives of workers, peasants, youth, women and oppressed people to allow a democratic discussion about the terms of Nigeria’s unity. However in the event of a struggle for secession developing “in spite of the campaign for the understanding of maintaining a single country”, Socialists will support the right to self-determination while calling for capitalism to be defeated, respect for the rights of minorities in the new state and the unity of workers organizations. This was the method of Lenin and the Bolsheviks without which 1917 would have been impossible. The Bolsheviks “based their strategy not on force but on persuading the workers of the minority nations to appreciate the merits of joining a Socialist federation of Soviet Republics”. Rather than lead to the dismemberment of Russia, this method helped to show to the oppressed nationalities of Russia the benefits of a voluntary association in single nation ruled by a workers and peasant government.
In short, the social condition of Russia outlined above went a long way to determine the motive forces and aim of the revolution. The workers wanted liberation from capitalist exploitation, the peasants wanted more lands and modern agriculture techniques while the oppressed nationalities wanted freedom. Not the least was the impact of the First World War in which over 5 million Russian soldiers perished together with associated food shortages, inflation and the growing opposition to it all helped to speed up the events of 1917.
FEBRUARY: The Floodgate Opens
Officially, the 1917 Russian revolution started on 23rd February 1917 (According to the old style Julian calendar then used in Russia, but 8 March in the Gregorian calendar used in most of the world) when women textile workers of St. Petersburg embarked on strike in several factories and mass demonstrations in the city. Their grievance was the terrible shortages in food and other basic needs. This action opened the floodgates with more and more workers joining the movement and the demands becoming more political. Thus began the February revolution – the first act of an entire chain of events characterized by a successive process of revolution and counterrevolution.
Over the next five days, we see what is a common feature of all revolutions; the working class and downtrodden, usually cajoled during “peaceful” periods to accept that nothing can be done to alter their conditions, forcing themselves onto the scene of history and attempting to determine their own fate. Under the impact of the masses uprising, “the repressive state apparatus of landlordism and capitalism dissolved in the heat of the revolution”. This was marked by the coming over to the side of the workers, or a certain “neutrality” of the formerly brutal Tsarist forces such as the Cossacks. The revolutionary workers combined resolute struggle with a class appeal to the ranks of the army and the secret police in order to win them over. As a result, the Tsarist state collapsed like a pack of cards with the abdication of Emperor Nicholas II.
Revolutions can be likened to a sleeping giant stirring and rising to its feet after a long slumber. This will no doubt involve a laborious process that can only be accomplished after a lot of groaning, grasping, hesitations and even relapses. So it happened that while the February revolution overthrew Tsarism, the working class was still unsure of its power and aims, so political power fell into the hands of “a coalition of capitalist liberals, Mensheviks (the original minority in the Russian workers movement) and the Socialist Revolutionaries (a party of the middle classes of the town and country).
Here there is clearly a certain analogy between the outcome of the February revolution and the 2011 Arab springs i.e. revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt which overthrew brutal dictatorships but put power in the hands of capitalist elements who have attempted to roll back the gains of the revolutions. But unlike Egypt and Tunisia where the regimes established after the revolutions have lasted 6 to 7 years despite their openly counter-revolutionary character, the coalition government in Russia only lasted about 8 months before the working class realized its mistakes and then intervened to overthrow and dump it in the dust bin of history. This was made possible by the existence and role of the Bolshevik party, the most politically developed and conscious workers’ party in Europe at the time.
THE BOLSHEVIK PARTY
The decisive significance of the Bolshevik party in 1917 proves that while a revolution can occur without a workers’ party, it cannot succeed without one. Revolution is the forcible entrance of the masses onto the scene of history. The masses go into a revolution “not with a prepared plan of social reconstruction, but with a sharp feeling that they cannot endure the old rÃ©gime”. How to transform this “feeling” into a conscious programme is where the role of the party becomes significant.
A workers’ party is the brain of the working class inside which the theoretical and practical experiences of the class are concentrated. Without a vanguard party outlining the programmes of the revolution based on the whole historical experience of the class and testing it in actual living struggle, revolutions may lead to the changing of one regime to the other but it will not succeed in truly transforming society. This is what Leon Trotsky, the second leader of the October 1917 revolution, meant when he described the relationship between the party and the masses in the following words: “Without a guiding organization, the energy of the masses would dissipate like steam not enclosed in a piston box. But nevertheless what moves things is not the piston or the box, but the steam.” (History of the Russian Revolution).
Any worker or youth that participated in the January 2012 general strike and mass protest would certainly be struck by the similarity of Trotsky’s description above about the “energy of the masses” dissipating in comparison to how the enormous 2012 uprising was defeated. Unless such a party exists in Nigeria today with a courageous leadership, any revolutionary opportunity presented to the working class will most likely end up in a similar manner. Unfortunately, today’s leaders of the workers movement are not prepared to form such a party. The Labour Party (LP) defends capitalism even more than the capitalists! To make a socialist revolution in Nigeria, we need a mass workers party, a piston box to direct the steam.
Certainly without the clear programme and tactics employed by the Bolsheviks especially Lenin and Trotsky, the course of history could have been different. When revolution broke out in February, Lenin and Trotsky were in exile respectively in Switzerland and New York. Consequently, other leaders, particularly Kamenev and Stalin, took on the task of formulating the party’s tactics and programme in the revolution’s early period.
Under their influence, the Bolsheviks initially gave “critical support” to the provisional government formed after Tsarism’s overthrow. In the “manifesto” of the Bolshevik Central Committee, drawn up just after the victory of the insurrection, the Bolsheviks urged “the workers of the shops and factories, and likewise the mutinied troops, (to) immediately elect their representatives to the Provisional Revolutionary Government” (History of the Russian Revolution). This position would mean the Bolshevik party asking the working class to place its fate in the hands of a capitalist coalition government to meets its demands for bread, land and peace.
This was furiously opposed by Lenin who telegraphed from Switzerland “our tactic; absolute lack of confidence; no support in the new government; suspect Kerensky especially; arming of the working class the sole guarantee; immediate elections to the Petrograd Duma; no rapprochement with other parties”. For emphasis he added, “The least support for the provisional government is a betrayal” (“Ten days that shook the world” by John Reed).
It took Lenin’s arrival in Russia in April and an open and democratic debate before a majority of the Bolshevik party was won over to Lenin’s position. At the Committee of the Petrograd soviet where the April thesis which outlined his proposal about the attitude of the Bolsheviks towards the Provisional government was first debated, Lenin was defeated by 13 votes to 2. By the end of April however, Lenin was able to win a majority to his line through “patient explanation”. Compare this to the ignorant bourgeois critics who accuse the Bolsheviks and all Marxists organizations of lacking internal democracy.
Yes, certainly there are a few “socialist” or “left” organizations” internationally who can be rightly accused of such. But for the Committee for a Workers International (CWI), whose Nigerian section is the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), a healthy internal democracy that allows for debate is an indispensable part of our programme. Every policy of the organization must be first debated before putting it to action. This is necessary to ensure that the revolutionary organization presents a coherent policy and programme indispensable in the struggle against capitalism.
However such a debate must be carried out in an honest and comradely manner and with ample opportunity for all sides to argue their points including up to the point of forming factions. But since a revolutionary organization is not a perpetual debating club, once a reasonable majority agrees, the entire organization must act in unison to implement the agreed programme. This is how democratic centralism works in practice. Internal democratic debate and a centralist programme of intervention in the class struggle these are the two intertwined and indispensable characters of any effective revolutionary organization. In other words, a chaotic revolutionary organization broken up into several autonomous parts cannot make a revolution.
ALL POWERS TO THE SOVIET!
From then on, instead of advocating “critical support”, the Bolsheviks fundamentally demanded all powers to the Soviets i.e. for the working class and peasants to take power. The Soviets were democratic councils composed of elected representatives of workers, peasants and soldiers across the country with parliamentary and executive powers. These councils, modeled after the Paris Commune of 1789, first emerged organically in the first Russian revolution of 1905 – the dress rehearsal for 1917. It led the 1905 revolution as an organ of self-government by the revolutionary workers. It issued proclamations and counter-commanded the proclamations of the Tsar. It was in short the living example of an emerging workers government.
In the heat of the February revolution, the soviets reappeared. They were elected from the factory floors, workplaces, barracks, districts and villages. The existence of the Soviets side by the side with the provisional government inevitably created a condition of dual power. But because of the class collaborationist policies of the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs) who dominated its leadership, the Soviets were for a period converted into harmless talking shops. This would soon change as the working masses were gradually won over to the Bolshevik side and, especially after August’s attempted counter-revolution; the Bolsheviks began winning majorities in the Soviets.
The tactics adopted by the Bolsheviks under the influence of Lenin was dictated by the historical peculiarities of Russia at the time which arose out of the belatedness of capitalist development. It was however this belatedness that made Russia the weakest link in the chain of capitalism.
In Russia, capitalism had developed on a weak basis. Primitive agriculture and feudal relations in the land dominated the economy. This peculiarity posed the question of what would be the nature of the Russian revolution: a bourgeois revolution along the lines of the French revolution of 1789 or a socialist revolution? All the parties of the Russian workers movement had agreed that it would be a bourgeois revolution. Where the disagreement laid however was about which class would lead the revolution.
The Russian bourgeois could not its own lead revolution like the emergent French bourgeoisie did in 1789. Its late arrival on the stage of history had robbed it of any revolutionary impulse. Because of the role of bank capital, the economic interests of the Russian capitalists and landlords were intertwined i.e. the capitalists invested in the land while the landlords invested in industry. This meant that any social revolution against the feudal Tsarist state would most definitely also come up against the interests of the bourgeoisie. Also the largest class, the middle classes, of which the peasantry is the bulk – was not capable of playing an independent political role. As an intermediate class, it was fated to either follow the working class or bourgeois class.
Against this background, the only class that could play this role was the working class which though a minority had a potential that far outweighed its numerical strength. Connected by a thousand strings to the exploited peasantry in the countryside, it was only the working class that could lead the peasantry and the rest of the country in a social revolution to transform society.
Prior to 1917, Lenin had argued that the Russian revolution would be led by the alliance of the working class and peasantry and it would establish a democratic dictatorship of workers and peasants. Deliberately, Lenin had refrained from speculating on which class would dominate in the alliance of the workers and peasantry. This is because of the weight of the peasantry in Russia.
This “algebraic formula”, using Trotsky’s terminology, even though brilliantly anticipating the course of the Russian revolution also left room for misinterpretations. It was this slogan that Stalin, Kamenev and co. brandished to justify their call for critical support for the provisional government. By their logic, the provisional government was the realization of the democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasantry. This was firmly opposed by Lenin who declared that in the light of the concrete experience of the February revolution, the old formula of democratic dictatorship of workers and peasants “is obsolete. It is no good at all. It is dead”.
THEORY OF PERMANENT REVOLUTION
Meanwhile as far back as 1905, Leon Trotsky in “Results and Prospects” had boldly put forward the slogan of the dictatorship of the proletariat leading the peasantry. This position was anchored on the clear understanding that the peasantry is incapable of playing an independent political role. Only the working class can take political power leading the peasantry.
But as a class exploited by capitalism, the working class cannot come to power and simply limit itself to the task of the bourgeois revolutions alone (the minimum programme) i.e. solving the agrarian question and establishing a republic. Rather the dynamic of the struggle would push it forward to transcend the bounds of the minimum towards implementing the maximum programme i.e. socialist programmes of nationalizations of the banks, mines and industry, collectivization of agriculture and expropriations of the capitalists. This, in the words of Leon Trotsky, means that under the dictatorship of the proletariat, the revolution will not stop at the bourgeois tasks; it will “grow over” into the Socialist revolution.
But if the working class succeeds in coming to power in Russia, it would mean capitalism breaking at its weakest link thus opening up an epoch of world revolution. While the Russian working class in power would not be able to immediately establish socialism because of the country’s economic and cultural backwardness, successful socialist revolutions in the West would come to its aid. Thus while the coming to power of the working class in Russia would open up the dam of socialist revolutions in Europe, the Russian revolution itself can only survive with the success of revolutions internationally.
Trotsky’s prognosis was brilliantly borne out in 1917 where despite initially capitalist elements forming the government after February, the revolution’s development alongside workers and peasants growing clarity on what needed to be done to led to October when the working class led by the Bolsheviks took power. From the outset the Bolsheviks had an internationalist perspective, one not just based on calls for solidarity but a conscious approach to help revolutions in other countries in order to break the worldwide grip of capitalism. The 1917 October revolution led to revolutions in many European countries, particularly Germany and Hungary, alongside other mass struggles and upheavals in Europe. Even in the neo-colonial world, the anti-colonial struggles received inspirations from the example of 1917.
The theory of the permanent revolution is indispensable for revolutionary struggle today especially in the neo-colonial world. Any country in the neo-colonial world today could be the weakest link. Particularly, Nigeria given the size of its economy and the strength of the working class could be the tipping point for the overthrow of capitalism and imperialism on the continent. A successful socialist revolution in Nigeria will quickly spread across West Africa and the continent opening up the possibility of socialist federation of African states as a precursor to a world socialist federation. Then would be established the condition necessary for the rational plan of global wealth to meet people’s needs.
A significance of the 1917 revolution was the convergence of the two greatest brains of the Russian working class. In April, Lenin arrived exactly at the same position as Trotsky on the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Conversely Trotsky, who over the years had pursued his revolutionary interventions outside of the two main factions of the Russian workers movement i.e. the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks upon his arrival in Russia from exile, joined the Bolshevik party being the most consistent proletarian party. Since then, according to Lenin, there has been “no better Bolshevik”.
JUNE DAYS: Change in Consciousness
The Russian revolution did not develop in a straight line. Between February and October, it went through many twists and sharp turns. In a revolutionary situation, both revolution and counterrevolution struggle for dominance. These twists and turns were reflected in the changing mood and consciousness of the working class and poor peasantry.
But the First World War, a senseless imperialist slaughter, played an enormous role in “speeding up the subsequent phases of the revolution until October 1917”. In that imperialist war, over 5 million Russians were killed and injured. This was an imperialist war in which the Russian workers and peasants had no stake. Moreover, Lenin’s position on attitude to the provisional government was confirmed by the whole cause of the development of the revolution. The provisional government behaved as predicted, clueless and incapable of solving any of the democratic tasks of the revolution. These tasks consisted of establishing a democratic republic, a bold agrarian programme that grants land to the peasants, an eight hour working day and withdrawal of Russian troops from the First World War.
The February revolution had unfolded under the slogan of “bread, land and peace”. None of these was fully granted by the provisional government. The huge landed estates were left untouched even though the peasants were demanding more land. The war continued with Russia’s involvement. No date was set for the calling of a Constituent Assembly. The First All Russian Congress of Soviet on 3 June 1917, dominated by the SRs and Mensheviks, refused to ratify the eight-hour day.
These and many other failures of the provisional government infuriated the masses and contributed to growth of support for the Bolsheviks. From 2, 000 members in Petrograd in February 1917, the Bolsheviks grew to 16, 000 in April (with 79, 000 nationally). By the July days, the Bolshevik party membership stood at 200, 000. This phenomenal growth in support however was not achieved by the Bolsheviks compromising its positions or conciliating as the leaders of trade union leaders and even acclaimed socialists are fond of doing today.
Rather it was accomplished by a stubborn loyalty to the revolutionary programme which at an initial stage was not even popular. For instance, so vicious was the anti-Bolshevik propaganda launched by the Mensheviks and SRs with Lenin slandered as a German spy that at a point in the first months after the February revolution, there was a situation whereby sailors and soldiers threatened “to bayonet Lenin and other Bolshevik leaders”. This forced Lenin to go underground almost as soon as he arrived in Russia from exile.
JULY DAYS: Half-Insurrection
In response to a new offensive launched by the Provisional Government which had come to power on a promise to withdraw Russian troops from the First World War, the masses which had initially supported the provisional government became livid with rage. From the start, the Provisional Government had disguised its continuous participation in the war as ‘defending’ Russia from foreign invasion. But the working masses saw “defending the country as one thing, attacking another”. In Petrograd, troops took to the streets, soon followed by the workers.
From infuriation, an insurrectionary situation developed in Petrograd with slogans of “down with the Provisional Government” gaining ascendance and workers and soldiers calling on the Bolsheviks to provide leadership. This is another feature common to revolutions. There is always the attempt, in the course of a revolution, by the working masses to act to prevent its derailment. However this can only succeed if done on the basis of a correct estimation of the balance of forces.
Petrograd, always ahead of Russia politically, was by July firmly in support of the Bolsheviks slogan of “All powers to the Soviet” based on the daily experience of the failures of the provisional government. But the same could not be said of the rest of the country. Here a certain latent trust in the SRs and Mensheviks still lingered. As a result, the Bolsheviks initially opposed the insurrection and instead argued that it was necessary to continue to “patiently explain” until a majority is won over. “The motto “down with the Provisional Government” is incorrect at present because without a solid (that is conscious and organized) majority of the people on the side of the revolutionary proletariat, such a motto is either an empty phrase, or leads to attempts of an adventurous character” (Bolshevik Central Committee).
This is a clear answer to the myth usually parroted by bourgeois historians that the October 1917 revolution is the result of the action of a conspiratorial minority. It is important to point out here for all conscientious students of the history of the 1917 Russian revolution that the character of the beneficiaries of the different stages of the 1917 revolution is what determines the attitude of bourgeois historians. Thus bourgeois historians often write favorably of February while painting October as a “Bolshevik coup”. To them, it is just okay and even commendable for the working masses to have overthrown the Tsar but reprehensible for them to have followed this up 8 months later with the overthrow of capitalism!
In July, the Bolsheviks opposed the insurrection primarily because the proletariat had yet to win adequate majority of the masses to its side. However, unable to convince the workers and soldiers, the Bolsheviks had to agree to lead the insurrection in order to be able to mitigate the inevitable backlash. As predicted, the insurrection was followed by a “festival of reaction”. A vicious repression was directed against the Bolsheviks and workers by the Provisional Government. Bolshevik leaders, including Leon Trotsky, were arrested and imprisoned.
KORNILOV COUP: The Whip of Counter-revolution
As Karl Marx once observed, sometimes revolution needs the “whip of the counterrevolution” for it to go forward. Such was the case after the July days in Russia. While the repression checkmated the working class in its advance, it only delayed for a while the inevitable socialist revolution. The Provisional Government was quite aware of the continuous threat of a revolution if the Bolsheviks and the Soviets, which were steadily coming over to the side of the Bolsheviks, were not destroyed. Seeing an opportune moment, it gave a nod to the Tsarist General Kornilov to help put down the Petrograd Soviet and the revolutionary masses.
This is a perfect example of how when faced with the threat of revolution, right wing forces can rise rapidly, with the tacit support of the ruling elite, as we have seen particularly in Chile in 1973 with General Pinochet’s military coup or openly fascist forces like Hitler and Mussolini to decisively deal with the revolutionary threat without the encumbrances of democracy. The Far-Right parties which have recently gained electoral visibility in a number of European countries today are warnings of how reaction can develop, even though currently they could not proceed to an all-out dictatorship.
Unfortunately for Kerensky and the Provisional Government, the law of unintended consequences took over. Kornilov’s march on Petrograd, which had other designs including a forcible overthrow of the Provisional Government, succeeded in impelling the revolution forward and showing to the working masses the imperative of seizing power. Leon Trotsky and other jailed Bolshevik leaders were hurriedly released from prison to prepare the defense of Petrograd. The workers were armed. Railway workers struck to halt Kornilov’s armies advance. Before long, Kornilov and his army were smashed and Petrograd saved.
But the armed people would not disarm. In their battle to save Petrograd, they had seen that their fate was bound up with the fate of the revolution and this could only be secured with the overthrow of the Provisional Government. Rapidly the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries lost their majorities inside the Soviets as Bolshevik leaderships were elected. As a soldier in the Moscow garrison puts it, “After the attempt of Kornilov, all the troops acquired a Bolshevik colour All were struck by the way in which the statement (of the Bolshevik) came true â€¦ that General Kornilov would soon be at the gates of Petrograd”. From here, it was only a matter of weeks for the working class to take power.
OCTOBER 1917: Workers Take Power
In the following months, the Bolsheviks continued to grow. “The Petrograd garrison boasted of 90 percent for the Bolsheviks; in some detachments over 95 percent. In the shop and factory committees, the same process was clear.” In September, Trotsky became the President of the Petrograd Soviet.
From here events developed rapidly greatly helped by the impacts of the war, hunger, shortages and the treachery of the Provisional Government. The July offensive had ended in a fiasco. Now even the revolutionary capital, Petrograd, was threatened with capture by German troops. Of course, the provisional government’s first foreign Minister Miliukov had been fired because of his support for the war, but this as with other concessions had little or no effect in pacifying the rapidly sharpening revolutionary mood. Here again, as we see in all revolutions, every attempt by the regime to conciliate the revolutionary masses only impels it forward. This is because once a people accustomed to being suppressed and exploited rise on its feet, it is not likely to accept half-way measures or crumbs. All of these factors led inexorably to the working class and poor peasants led by the Bolshevik party taking political power on October 25, 1917 (November 7 according to the new calendar).
According to Leon Trotsky, “the most indubitable feature of a revolution is the direct interference of the masses in historical events. In ordinary times the state, be it monarchical or democratic, elevates itself above the nation, and history is made by specialists in that line of business – kings, ministers, bureaucrats, parliamentarians, journalists. But at those crucial moments when the old order becomes no longer endurable to the masses, they break over the barriers excluding them from the political arena, sweep aside their traditional representatives, and create by their own interference the initial groundwork for a new rÃ©gime”.
In other words, revolution is a profound social overturn, not a reformist “change” from Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) regime to All Progressive Congress (APC) regime. Since both parties are two wings of the bourgeois class, nothing has changed here except the faces of the capitalist oppressors. Compare this to the October revolution which placed powers for the first time in the hands of the working class. Perhaps here, the lamentation of Tsarist General Zaleesky, would help paint a more accurate picture of the profound change in Russia as a consequence of the October revolution: “who will believe that the Janitor or watchman of the court building would suddenly become Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals, or the hospital orderly manager of the hospital, the barber a big functionary, yesterday’s ensign (junior military officer) the commander-in-chief, yesterday’s lackey or common labourer burgomaster, yesterday’s train oiler Chief of driver or station superintendent, yesterday’s locksmith head of the factory”. This was exactly what the October revolution had accomplished!
The workers and peasants government nationalized the factories and banks, established a monopoly of foreign trade, carried out a programme of land distribution and profound social reforms. As a result, the Russian revolution sparked enormous international attention attracting the brutal hostility of imperialism with 21 imperialist armies at a point invading Russia in order to drown the revolution in blood. At the same time, it set a glorious example for the working masses of the advanced capitalist countries and those of the colonial world. Unfortunately, the revolution became isolated with the failure of world revolutions particularly in Germany 1918 and Hungary in 1919. The leaders of the Social Democratic Parties played exactly the same role as the leaders of the workers movement in Nigeria are playing today i.e. betraying the working class in its struggles against capitalism or proving incapable of leading struggles to victory. This isolated the Russia revolution and soon after led to the deformation of the young workers state and the rise of Stalinism.
Today, bourgeois historians like to equate the authoritarian regime established by Stalin in the aftermath of Lenin’s death in 1924 with Socialism. There is no truth in this! Stalinism arose as a result of the isolation and degeneration of the Russian revolution. It is an antithesis of all socialism stands for: a working class government based on public ownership and a democratically planned economy. The Stalinist bureaucracy preserved the planned economy established by the October revolution only because it guaranteed its privileges and lifestyle.
Before he was finally silenced by an ice pick wielded by Stalin’s agent in Mexico in 1940, Trotsky had warned that unless a political revolution developed to oust Stalinism and re-establish a regime based on workers democracy, capitalism would be restored in Russia. Unfortunately it was the latter prognosis that unfolded in 1991 with brutal consequences for the former Soviet Union.
Today, the world working class faces a far more terrible consequence if capitalism is not overthrown. As Trotsky warned in 1938, without a socialist revolution, a catastrophe threatens the whole culture of mankind. “The economic prerequisite for the proletarian revolution has already in general achieved the highest point of fruition that can be reached under capitalism. Mankind’s productive forces stagnate. Already new inventions and improvements fail to raise the level of material wealth. Conjectural crises under the conditions of the social crisis of the whole capitalist system inflict ever heavier deprivations and sufferings upon the masses. Growing unemployment, in its turn, deepens the financial crisis of the state and undermines the unstable monetary systems” (The Transitional Programme).
The 2008 world economic crash was another sad reminder that capitalism has left behind its progressive epoch and that it is now a fetter on the productive forces. In Nigeria, this crisis manifested in the 2014 crash of crude oil prices on the world market which threw the country’s economy into recession. But quite unlike previous crises, the recovery has been weak and shallow. Extreme income inequality remains a permanent feature of the capitalist system. As Karl Marx pointed out, under capitalism “Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time the accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole”. According to latest findings of Oxfam, just five Nigerians have enough wealth to banish poverty from the country. The richest people in the world who are as wealthy as half of the global population can fit comfortably into a double decker bus!
To put an end to the condition of mass poverty in the midst of plenty, the working class and poor must take the path of the Russian working class by taking political power. As pointed out, Russia of 1917 has startling similarity to the situation in Nigeria today wherein the working class though a minority in the general population is the only class capable of uniting all the oppressed masses behind it in struggle. This is why each time the Nigerian labour movement calls a general strike and actually mobilizes for it, not only are the factories, ports, transportation, government offices and workplaces shut down, also markets, small shops and other sectors of society which are not organized in trade unions are closed and virtually the entire country stops moving.
REBUILD THE WORKERS’ MOVEMENT
What is missing is a bold revolutionary vanguard and a mass workers party armed with a programme to overthrow capitalism. The absence of such a party was what laid the foundation for the electoral victory of the ruling APC Buhari/Osinbajo government in 2015 on a verbose promise of “change”. But since taking power, nothing has changed positively for the downtrodden. Instead, the living standards of the working masses and youth have been further thrown further back in the last two years.
But instead of calling general strike and mass protests as a starting point of a serious fight back, the leaders of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the new United Labour Congress (ULC) are content to issue occasional press statements. On the two occasions since 2015 that the trade union centres have dared call “general” strikes, these were poorly mobilized with the implication that the exercise left workers demoralized instead of strengthened. As a result, many are now disappointed.
The reason why a socialist revolution has not occurred in Nigeria despite the revolutionary opportunities that abounds is not because of the diverse nature or multi-ethnic character of the country. As shown above, Russia at the time of the revolution was even more diverse! Neither is it because of the weakness of the working class and youth. The real reason a socialist revolution has not occurred is because of the timidity, cowardice and lack of ideological clarity of the leadership of the workers movement.
In essence, the Nigerian working class suffers “a historical crisis of leadership”. The task confronting working class activists and socialists therefore consist of rebuilding the workers movement and putting forward a leadership that is courageous and ideologically convinced of the need for the overthrow of capitalism as a necessary prerequisite for the liberation of the working class and poor masses.