The REDSTAR2000 Papers

Listen to the worm of doubt, for it speaks truth. - Leftist Discussion

October 1917 -- Revolution or Coup? February 14, 2005 by RedStar2000


On the subject of Bolshevik/Lenin trivia more people were actually injured during the making of the film 'October' than were injured in the events it depicts.

Not surprising; that famous scene with a whole mob of people storming the front gate of the Winter Palace...never actually happened at all.

The old Karensky government was gathered around a table "wringing their hands" when some Petrograd Soviet soldiers entered through a back door, went upstairs to the gathering, and arrested them.

The October "Revolution" was really a coup.



But the revolution itself was not a "coup" -- it was a protracted armed struggle (a true people's war) that lasted for years and moved back and forth across the vast country.

If you want to characterize the Russian civil war as "a true people's war", I have no problem with that.

But that had nothing to do with October 1917; I don't think the civil war actually began until March or April of 1918.

And had not the imperialist countries provided the counter-revolutionaries with material support and troops, the civil war would probably have been over in a few months. We know that because when that support was withdrawn (by late 1920 or so), the domestic counter-revolution utterly collapsed.


There is a legacy of ruling class historians that deny the Russian revolution was a genuine popular revolution -- and they act like there was nothing other than this "coup" in Petrograd.

There were "coups" in all the Russian urban centers and some fairly serious street-fighting in some of them; in Moscow, 500 Bolsheviks were killed in November fighting.

The distinction made by ruling class historians -- and one that I agree with -- is that in October, only a very small proportion of the population actively took part in the insurrection (Bolsheviks mostly).

February 1917 was "the real thing"...a true revolution that involved the direct participation of millions and even tens of millions of workers and peasants.

By contrast, October 1917 was a coup.



A People's Tragedy : the Russian Revolution, 1891-1924 by Orlando Figes.

I've seen it in other works as well...but, as has been noted, probably all "ruling class historians".


Far from an indication of shallow support, the ability to do this in advance is an indication of the very strong support the insurrection had among the workers and garrison of Petrograd.

Obviously, support for the Bolsheviks was a good deal more than "shallow" -- if I'm not mistaken, the source mentioned above states that the Bolsheviks had an actual majority of the Petrograd Soviet in the weeks leading up to the coup.

And they may even have had a narrow majority in the All Russian Congress of Soviets that met the next day and retrospectively approved the coup.

Call it, if you wish, a "majoritarian coup"...but it was still a coup.
First posted at RevLeft on January 29, 2005


I see that the Petrograd Soviet made a serious mistake in not calling out more of its supporters during the insurrection itself.

I see a remarkably surrealistic effort to evade the obvious difference between February 1917 and October 1917.

The former involved direct participation of the masses; the latter was a military operation conducted by a small group.

The former wished to simply end the Czarist autocracy -- which it did. The latter was an effort to seize political power for a small minority of the population -- which was also successfully accomplished.

Here's a question for you to ponder: why didn't the Bolsheviks -- with their majority in the All Russian Congress of Soviets -- go before the congress and ask it to declare itself sovereign ahead of the actual coup?

Why did they stage the coup first and then ask for retroactive approval of the congress?

May I suggest that Lenin & Company were not as confident of that support as you are...and decided to present the congress with a fait accompli.

Not even the Petrograd Soviet approved the coup in had simply set up a military committee dominated by the Bolsheviks -- and that was the formal organ that actually dispatched troops to occupy government offices, the train stations, the Petrograd telephone exchange, the telegraph office, etc.

I wonder if Lenin also wanted to set a precedent as well; the Bolsheviks act and afterwards seek approval from the delegates of the masses.

If so, it 1921 at the latest, the Soviets had become impotent organs that met only to give ceremonial and retrospective approval to any Bolshevik decree.


One has to wonder if it's recognized as "true" primarily because it resulted in capitalist power, i.e. it had the result both you and the capitalist historians prefer.

It is not a matter of either my preferences or those of capitalist historians. Bourgeois revolution was "on history's agenda" for Russia in 1917.

That was known at the time. Lenin and the Bolsheviks thought a determined minority could go "much further" even in the face of contrary material conditions -- but by 1921, Lenin's "New Economic Policy" was a de facto admission of defeat.

Unlike others, I don't ascribe this trajectory of events to Bolshevik "villainy"...I have no reason to believe that the Bolsheviks were not completely sincere in their attempt to make a "socialist" revolution in a semi-feudal despotism with a few islands of capitalist development.

They thought that "revolutionary will" was "enough".

But it isn't.


Funny, even Encarta Encyclopedia says "On October 25, while the insurrection was in progress, the second Congress of Soviets began its deliberation. Of the 650 delegates, 390 (60 percent) were Bolsheviks." No "may" there.

Correction accepted.


The population of Petrograd in 1917 was about 2 million. So it seems unlikely that "millions" participated in the February Revolution unless every single inhabitant did so....let alone "tens of millions" unless there's some insurrectionary equivalent of "vote early and often."

February was not limited to Petrograd; it happened all over Russia, including thousands of small uprisings in the countryside that expropriated the landed aristocracy.

I think the number of participants certainly were in the millions...and may even have reached the tens of millions.


Your natural aversion to state power means that anytime you see someone who has taken it, you assume they're involved in some kind of mass conspiracy.

The Bolsheviks at the time evidently thought they were engaged in a "conspiracy" -- why else were they so pissed off at Zinoviev and Kamenev for "blowing the whistle" in public?

By the way, my "aversion" to state power is not "natural" -- it was learned.


What you call a "coup", most people call socialist revolution.

No, not "most people" -- just people who accept the Leninist paradigm as "still valid".


The actual removal of murderous leaders must be a thing to be conquered by a few persons, the laws of physics dictate that "millions" can't take part in this.

Evasion. Only a few people arrested the Czar; millions took part in his removal and the removal of his aristocracy.


But then again, do the laws of physical reality impinge on your world, who knows?

Cute...especially coming from a Leninist.
First posted at RevLeft on January 30, 2005


The October insurrection was part of a revolutionary process of political conflict, winning over the workers, soldiers, and peasants, that developed over the previous months and following years.

Indisputable...but the title of the thread is "How the Bolsheviks Seized Power".


Contrary to the theory of "prolonged popular war", it is not only in armed conflict that working people can increase our class-consciousness and organization through active participation in the revolutionary process.

Why do I have the sense that something is being "hinted at" here?

And what is that "something"?

Is an SWP (U.S.) election campaign "part of the revolutionary process"?


You're shoehorning everything you possibly can into a box labeled "February Revolution", regardless of the time and place where it occurred. Then you compare it to the October Revolution, which you define as only those actions occurring in Petrograd during what, three days?, in order to call it a coup.

Historical interpretation is perforce "arbitrary". Your "shoebox" is different from are others.

What you cannot dispute is the massive and spontaneous character of February compared to the relatively narrow character of October.

Well, you can dispute it...but you'd be wrong.


Oh, incidentally, how you can identify the February Revolution with the removal of the aristocracy, when the Provisional Government was initially headed by a prince, I have no idea.

Oh? And how long did he remain in office? And did he get to keep his estates?


There are also revolutions of the "spontaneous" February type, which involve no conspiracy because they have no centralized leadership; these are endorsed by the capitalists and their supporters because the class which makes the revolution cannot obtain power as a result.

I welcome your clear enunciation of the central Leninist dogma -- spontaneous revolutions (in the absence of a Leninist party) "can't win".

Leaving us with the enthralling task of choosing which Leninist despotism to support.

And "enthralling" is exactly the right word -- after we choose, we all get to be thralls. Hooray!


Plenty of unarmed crowds gunned down by the forces of the state, too. If you liked the February Revolution, you'll love the Iranian Revolution.

Well, what's your take on Iran? Lack of "Bolshevik-Leninist" (Trotskyist) leadership spelled doom for the Iranian proletariat?

First posted at RevLeft on January 30, 2005


...A theory whose tradition runs from the Mensheviks through Stalin and Mao to Redstar and others today.

I can't imagine where those other guys got the's my source.

quote (Karl Marx):

If therefore the proletariat overthrows the political rule of the bourgeoisie, its victory will only be temporary, only an element in the service of the bourgeois revolution itself, as in the year 1794, as long as in the course of history, in its “movement”, the material conditions have not yet been created which make necessary the abolition of the bourgeois mode of production and therefore also the definitive overthrow of the political rule of the bourgeoisie.
--emphasis in the original.

Moralizing Criticism and Critical Morality, 1847.

"Proletarian" (more properly, proletarian-peasant) revolutions in "backward countries" clear the way for the native bourgeoisie.

Material reality, as always, prevails.
First posted at RevLeft on February 1, 2005


What you're doing here is using Marx's Collected Works as Christians use the Bible....with any sufficiently large body of work, you can of course find some quote to be yanked out of context and used to support any viewpoint.

Nice try. *laughs*

Try being honest. Just say that "in my opinion, Marx got this one wrong."

It's ok to criticize Marx, really. The heavens won't fall or the earth split open and belch fire and brimstone.

Personally, I think this quotation is tremendously prescient...and fits very well within the corpus of his materialist analysis of history.

Of course, if you say that he's wrong...then you have to give reasons for that conclusion.

Perhaps it's better for you to just evade the issue.
First posted at RevLeft on February 1, 2005


Should workers' parties, in economically undeveloped countries, simply support some allegedly progressive capitalists taking power, or should they take power themselves as "an element in the service of the bourgeois revolution"? Those seem like very different positions to me.

But the outcome, in the long run, is the same...modern capitalism.

What a "workers' party" does when it seizes power in a backward country is "clear the road" for modern "speeds up" what would happen anyway.

Someone in a pre-capitalist or semi-capitalist country who really understood Marx's approach would realize at once that communism in their country could not be anything but an idealist fantasy...something that could not emerge as a serious possibility for a century or more at a minimum.

If you "try anyway", the result is not communism or anything remotely resembling communism. Like Lenin, you end up with some version of the "New Economic Policy" (capitalist restoration) or like Stalin, you end up with the "USSR, Inc." or its equivalent...which inevitably devolves into an "NEP" followed by capitalism.

All efforts to evade this dilemma by Leninist regimes in power have failed...communism remained as hopelessly out of reach as the surface of Pluto.


And how economically developed does a country have to be before you favor socialist revolution? I gotta ask because in another thread you seemed to say that post-WWI Germany - one of the most, maybe even the most industrialized country in the world at the time - had the conditions only for a bourgeois and not a socialist revolution.

The data to answer this question does not yet exist.

What we would need is an unequivocally successful revolution followed by a successful transition to communism. Then we could go back and say that this is the minimum level of development required to make it work. From that we could look at other countries and say "here's where it's possible" and "there are the places where it's not yet possible".

Based on the evidence in front of us right now, communism is not yet possible anywhere. If the case were otherwise, it would show.

Naturally there are "straws in the wind" (of all kinds) in the "west" that "point towards communism"...hints of what is becoming possible. The decline of superstition in western Europe is "a promising development". The rise of "open-source" software is another. It's possible that the renewed popular interest in anarchism is yet another.

But straws are...made of straw. A large and serious revolutionary working class movement that takes communism seriously doesn't exist anywhere right now. Until someone either builds it or it emerges spontaneously or some combination of the two, the best that we can legitimately say is that the possibility of communism has moved "closer".

I don't expect this view to find much favor with Leninists of any variety; they all proceed on the assumption that history can be commanded. If you have "mastered the dialectic", if you have the "correct line" or the "correct demands" or a "great leader", etc., then material reality can be "shoved aside".

Perhaps for a little while...but then material reality shoves back with irresistible force!
First posted at RevLeft on February 2, 2005


No, the outcome's not the same, unless you can show an example of a capitalist government, anytime since the beginning of the 20th century, acting in a revolutionary way to sweep away all the remnants of feudalism, etc.

South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand, etc. are all examples of this process taking place under bourgeois hegemony.

Of course, it took somewhat longer...but it happened anyway, just as I said.

If all the self-proclaimed "workers' parties" in the world were to suddenly disappear, the transition from feudalism to capitalism would still happen in those countries where material conditions demanded it.


And you haven't answered the question. Congrats; as long as you refuse to state a position you are safe from all possible criticisms.

Well, I have said in other threads that I always cheer on the Maoists in backward countries -- they're good at making peasant revolutions and giving U.S. imperialism a hard time (temporarily).

What else would you like?


And, y'know, in the long run we're all dead...or, to fit that saying to the subject at hand, in the long run some war among the capitalists goes nuclear and throws us back to the Stone Age to start over, if we're lucky.

You know it could happen that which case the next stage will be the transition from savagery to barbarism.

I don't see anything we could do about you?


It's also profoundly annoying that you keep talking as if anyone in the Bolshevik Party was unaware of the fact that Russia was not economically ready for socialism. They were perfectly well aware of it, and frequently explained that the prospects for the revolution's survival, let alone getting to socialism, depended on the world revolution.

Yes...but the "prospects for world revolution" turned out to be not so hot either. As I pointed out in passing (in the KPD thread), the failure of the Spartakist Bund uprising in January 1919 was due to the fact that the bulk of the working class did not support it.

It didn't fail because there was "no Bolshevik party". It didn't fail because Luxemburg and Liebknecht were fuckups. It didn't fail because Lenin or Trotsky or Stalin were not Germans and on the scene there from 1900 onwards.

It failed because most German workers were unready for that "leap".

Nor was the bulk of the working class anywhere else ready for that "leap" (including Russia!).

Lenin's whole estimate of what was really possible in the period 1917-20 was well-meaning...and wrong.

A communist revolution is not possible until the working class as a whole understands that it's not simply a matter of swapping means the class itself must be prepared to rule.

Coups, on the other hand, are always possible...but, from a historical standpoint, nearly always marginal in their effects.


Wait, capitalism was restored in the 20s with NEP, and then it was restored again later...c'mon how long has the USSR been capitalist exactly?

You and the Maoists would have a great time wrangling over if a precise and correct date would "solve anything" of importance.

But, ok, I'll toss some dates around for you.

By mid-1918 at the latest, the soviets (the organs of working class power) had become ceremonial bodies that met only to ratify Bolshevik decrees.

In March of 1921, the trade unions were rendered powerless by the 10th Party Congress.

In the same year, the NEP provided for the effective restoration of a capitalist economy...and by 1926-27, this had largely happened.

The Stalinist majority of the party halted and then reversed the process...opting for a state monopoly capitalist version of "socialism". (And turning back Trotsky's bid to be the new CEO of the "USSR, Inc.")

Following Stalin's death in 1953, Khrushchev and his successors "decentralized" -- much like large corporations do here from time to time. They "spun off" various economic enterprises into "quasi-independence" with big rewards for successful (profitable) mini-CEOs.

By 1992, those enterprises were ready to stand on their own and even compete with each other in Russia -- so the central economic bodies were dissolved and, there being no further use for "socialist" pretensions, capitalism was restored de jure.

So, when was capitalism restored in the USSR? In the sense of what it was like to live and work there, late 1921 would be my best estimate. In the sense of putting together the organizational requirements and legal norms of modern capitalism, it probably was an ongoing process from 1956 or so right up to 1992.

That's all a "quick & dirty" summary, of course. But then I have no concern to "pin the blame" on some individual "villain" effort in which the "date" becomes crucial.

The working class in Russia was simply not ready to rule itself -- and proved that by caving in to the Bolsheviks very early on. Which despot would come out on top and lead Russia to modern capitalism is, in my view, a trivial matter.


That's a catch-22: don't overthrow capitalism until it's time, but you can't know it's time until somebody overthrows capitalism and makes the transition to communism.

No, it's not a "catch-22". If the opportunity presents itself (or appears to present itself) to overthrow capitalism, you naturally should make the attempt.

But since we cannot predict the future in useful detail (not even with "dialectics"), we will not know if we were right until afterwards.

The best way to avoid a premature (and thus doomed) uprising is to stand back and let the working class itself "do it". We should resist the temptation to "do it ourselves" (stage a coup) and then hope that we can somehow drag the class into the process.

That doesn't mean we can't offer advice, of course...
First posted at RevLeft on February 3, 2005
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