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Lenin and Revolution

Lenin was committed to the works of Karl Marx and Friederick Engels. He believed in the manifesto they wrote in 1848 with its promise of a collective free enterprise by and for the masses, without bourgeois financeers or aristocratic property owners, free enterprise and trade without profiteers — just sharing.

Lenin was a voracious reader, and his energy as a writer and organizer allowed him to rise to prominence among Russia's Marxist-oriented socialists. He became leaders of the "Bolshevik" wing of Russia's socialist movement. He believed that the world would be better off without investors, without capitalists and without landlords. In keeping with Marxism he saw workers as the base for his movement and the human instrumental for the coming revolution. He saw the labor movement as a proper organizing of workers and revolution to come when the worker masses had acquired a proper class consciousness. He described

War between Russia and Japan in 1905 had produced in Russia its so-called "Revolution of 1905", forcing the tsar to make a few liberal concessions, but Lenin didn't expect that those in power would soon be foolish enough to give revolution another chance. Then, in late July 1914, Tsar Nicholas II decided to support Serbia. He took Russia into a war against Austria-Hungary and Germany. Lenin and the Bolshevik declared the war "annexationist, predatory, plunderous." It was a position parallel to that which Eugene Debs would take in the US, Debs and other socialists accusing capitalists of fomenting war in order to profit from arms sales. Some capitalists didn't war in general or this new war in particular, but no matter. Lenin described the war as capitalist if not capitalist created. War, he said, could not be abolished until a classless socialist society was created. He described capitalists as robbers "now making thousands of millions in profits from contracts." He wanted "to expose all their tricks, arrest the millionaire embezzlers of public property [and] break their unlimited power."

From the war's beginning the Bolsheviks led Russia's anti-war movement, occasionally beaten by workers and tsar-loving patriots. With the tsar's failures as a war leader, and with his overthrow in mid-March 1917, a liberal Provisional Government claimed power. And in communities across Russia, people excited by the change and a little bewildered gathered in chaotic groupings. These groupings came to be called councils (in Russian, soviets). They quickly came to be viewed as a collective governing body parallel with the Provisional Government. The Soviets were viewed as a democratic institution, while reactionaries and some liberals were looking down on the idea of democracy as support for anarchy, radicalism and subversion. As for Lenin, he was allying himself and his Bolshevik party with the Soviets.

Russia's conservatives, liberals and moderate socialists supported staying in the war to defend Holy, Orthodox Russia against the Germans. Lenin separated the Bolsheviks from the patriotic unity. The Bolsheviks in the capital, Petrograd, took up the slogans "Bread, Land, Peace" and "All power to the Soviets." Lenin had concluded that the road to power was through the soviets because that was where the masses were. He described the Soviets as,

an entirely different kind of power from the one that generally exists in the parliamentary bourgeois-democratic republics... This power is of the same type as the Paris Commune of 1871.

On May 11 1917, he said: "A Marxist should tell the people the truth." (Project1917.com). In a speech to the Soviet Congress in Petrograd in mid-June he is reported to have said:

The first and most important measure of a genuinely revolutionary government would be the arrest of its country's 50 wealthiest factory owners.

The Provisional government could have just held to defensive warfare, but the Wilson administration told them that aid would be forthcoming only if they organized a new military offensive. Russia's offensive, in July 1917, was a disaster. The Russian army fell apart. The Bolsheviks gained more support from their anti-war stance, also from military men. The Supreme Soviet in Petrograd became dominated by Bolsheviks and their allies. Lenin decided it was time to strike. Armed military men who supported the Bolsheviks and armed factory workers took power at crucial points in the city. That was November 7-8, 1917. Resistance came a day later from 700 Cossacks supporting the Provisional Government, and a larger battle took place a few days later, around 700 pro-government forces again a Bolshevik force of 5,000. (And there would be the resistance, and civil war that would take time to organize and would come in 1918.)

Lenin had believed that when acquiring power the revolution's leadership would soon relinquish power to the masses. But for the time being he saw the need for his party's power as a "vanguard" for the working class. He was swamped with practical considerations. He had to take action against managers who were sabotaging what had been their factories. And he faced a strike by teachers, engineers and other white-collar workers. He stopped the vengeance of factory workers putting engineers and other skilled white-collar men to cleaning latrines. Rather than leave matters to the spontaneity of the masses, a decree was issued establishing a Supreme Economic Council to manage the entire economy. In Russia's cities, meanwhile, hunger worsened. Grain supplies had dropped to new lows, so Lenin sent armed detachments of workers and poor peasants to confiscate food that peasants had stored, and armed clashes occurred between resisting peasants and the requisition teams.

Fearing counter-revolution and sabotage, the Bolsheviks created a commission to be known by its acronym, CHEKA (the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage). And to combat "counter-revolution" in the Ukraine and bring the Ukraine into the Soviet camp, the Bolsheviks mobilized another army.

Lenin saw his revolution needing various prohibitions. He favored the state and its prohibitions as ultimately disappearing. He didn't believe in a state philosophy or religion, but he and his followers saw the ideological impositions of their party as an instrument in a class struggle that was still on-going. And their impositions included their opposition to all financiers. It aimed at the eventual disappearance of all privately owned businesses, big and small, the grande bourgeoisie and the petite bourgeoisie. In their fervor for success, Lenin and his Bolsheviks were maximalist. And we all know how that worked out.

CONTINUE READING: German Revolutionaries help the rise of Fascism

Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.