Lenin's birthday

Image: Irina Kapustina


Lenin stepped out of almost complete obscurity, outside the ruling circles of the Second International and the radical left, even in Russia, into the pages of history.

“The greatest is the danger where the greatest is the fear”
(Portuguese popular proverb).

Lenin's birthday is an opportunity to reflect on the extraordinary conditions that favored the triumph of the October Revolution. Lenin stepped out of almost complete obscurity, outside the ruling circles of the Second International and the radical left, even in Russia, into the pages of history. How was it possible?

The old maxim that asserts that late revolutions are the most radical has not failed to be confirmed. At the end of the First World War, three Empires collapsed in Central and Eastern Europe: the Russian, the Austro-Hungarian and the Prussian, which had gone through the 1815th century unscathed since the anti-republican Holy Alliance and the Treaty of Vienna in XNUMX.

The more or less archaic monarchical forms of each one of them, an expression of a bourgeois transition negotiated under the ashes of the defeat of the democratic revolutions of 1848, were destroyed by the outcome of the war, but also by the greatest revolutionary wave that history had until then. known: from Petrograd to Budapest, from Vienna to Berlin, millions of men and women, workers and soldiers, attracted sectors of the middle classes, artists, intellectuals and professors to their side, and set out to destroy the old regimes of oppression that had plunged them into the maelstrom of genocide that ended up consuming something close to ten million lives.

Where the democratic revolutions of 1848 were defeated by the old monarchies – strengthened at the time of restoration after 1815, as in Prussian Germany and the Habsburg Empire, the task of ending war was united with the proclamation of the Republic, but social forces who imposed, by the methods of the revolution, the defeat of the government - the proletariat and the ruined peasants who constituted the majority of the army - were not content with democratic freedoms alone, and threw themselves into the vertigo of the conquest of power with their socialist hopes.

The backward revolutions of Central and Eastern Europe turned into pioneering proletarian revolutions at the end of the First World War, but, with the exception of Russia, they were foiled. Historic defeats have tragic and lasting consequences. The historical cost, for the Germans, of the defeat of their Jacobins in 1848 was the nationalist militarism of the Second Reich, the imperialism of the Kaiser, and the First World War. The price that the German nation paid for the defeat of its proletariat, the triumph of Nazism, the Second World War and the six million lives of German youth – was even greater.

Where the tyrannical forms of the State proved to be more rigid, as in Russia, the democratic revolution very quickly radicalized into a socialist revolution, confirming that revolutions cannot be understood only by the tasks they propose to solve, and even less by their results, but, above all, by the social subjects, or classes, who had the audacity to make them, and by the political subjects, or parties, who were able to direct them. Historical substitutionism – of one class for another – and the centrality of politics – with the reduction of leadership improvisation margins – proved to be the keys to explaining contemporary revolutionary processes.

It was not the Russian bourgeoisie that launched an insurrection to overthrow the semi-feudal state of the Romanovs in February 1917, but it was the Russian bourgeoisie that prevented the provisional government of Prince Lvov from making a separate peace with Germany: the Russian capitalists proved too fragile to, on the one hand, break with their European partners, and on the other hand, guarantee their domination through electoral methods in the Republic that was born by the hands of the proletarian and popular insurrection.

It was not the bourgeoisie who sent their children to the trenches of war to be massacred, but it was the bourgeoisie who supported Kerensky when he insisted on launching peasants in uniform in suicidal offensives against the German army.

The pressure from London and Paris demanded the maintenance of the eastern front, but the pressure from a powerful and combative proletariat – in proportion to a bourgeoisie with little instinct for power towards submission to the monarchy – demanded an end to the war; the strongest forces of the socialist left – Mensheviks and SSistists – refused to assume power alone, because they did not want to break with the bourgeoisie, but the Bolsheviks, a minority until September, refused to collaborate with the class collaboration government and break with popular claims.

When Kerensky lost support among the popular classes, the Russian bourgeoisie appealed to General Kornilov to solve with arms what could not be solved with arguments. The time for elections to the Constituent Assembly had passed. The Russian bourgeoisie lost patience with Kerensky and broke with democracy, two months before the proletariat lost patience with its leaders, and resorted to a second insurrection to end the war.

the failure of putsch of Kornilov sealed the fate of the Russian bourgeoisie. The proletariat and the soldiers found in the Bolsheviks, in the terrible hours of August, the party ready to defend with their lives the freedoms won in February. Without the support of the bourgeoisie and without the support of the masses, suspended in the air, the Kerensky government and its reformist allies sought help in the pre-parliament, but the legitimacy of the direct democracy of the soviets surpassed the indirect representation of any assembly: the time for negotiations with the Entente had run out, the historic opportunity for the bourgeois republic had been lost. It was too late.

The gears of the permanent revolution pushed the social subjects interested in the immediate end of the war, the majority of the Army and the workers – towards a second revolution and operated in favor of the Bolsheviks who, in the space of a few months, saw their influence grow. The proletariat and the poor peasants needed the months separating February from October to lose their illusions in the provisional government, where the parties in which they placed their hopes, Mensheviks and SSistists, were incapable of guaranteeing peace, land and bread and handing over their confidence to the soviets where the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky asserted itself.

Martov, leader of the internationalist Mensheviks, and Kautsky, leader of German Social Democracy, insisted in the following years that October would have been a voluntarist adventure. More reasonable, however, would be to conclude that a Bolshevik hesitation in October, or its defeat in the civil war between 1918/1920, would have brought to power – supported by the democracies of Washington and London – a Russian fascism, and nobody should want to imagine what could have been Kornilov, a Hitler before la lettre, in the Kremlin, fifteen years earlier.

* Valerio Arcary is a retired professor at IFSP. Author, among other books, of No one said it would be Easy (boitempo).

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