For many years, I have basically accepted the analysis that Trotskyists made of the Russian revolution and its aftermath. The outline of that analysis combines a number of things.
- There was a true working class revolution in 1917;
- Basing themselves on that revolution, the Bolshevik party led the workers’, soldiers’and peasant councils (soviets) to power, establishing a workers’ state and beginning the buiding of a socialist society;
- The regime that ensued stood for the defence of that revolution and was, from a revolutionary point of view, basically legitimate;
- The regime evolved in an authoritarian fashion: soviet democracy collapsed, opposition parties were banned, trade union autonomy undermined and worse; but the basis reason of this degeneration of revolutionary democracy lies in the terrible circumstances: economc collapse, civil war combined with foreign intervention. Authoritarian measures imposed by the Bolshevik regime were generally understandable considering the circumstances, not without specific criticisms of specific measures; the outline of Bolshevik policies in the period 1917-1921, however, are defended in general in Trotskyist analyses;
- The Bolshevik attitude – we do whatever we consider necessary to hold on to power to defend the revolution while we count on the international socialist revolution to come to the rescue – was basically valid;
- During the 1920s a proces af degeneration, amounting to a partial or total – depending on whicht version of Trotskyism one adheres to – counterrevolution, led to the totalitarian dictatorship led by Joseph Stalin.
Now, this analysis has its strengths; it is not to be discarded lightly. It gives weight to factors that are indeed important: circumstances did not exactly help to create a flourishing workers’ and peasants’ democracy. It doesn’t capitulate for the right wing versions, in which the whole revolution was a Bad Idea; it does not simplify things by blaming the Bolshevik lust for power for all or most of what went wrong; it is a coherent effort to defend a revololutionary heritage and to use the lessons of that heritage to help change the wold now and in the future.
But, while it shuld not be discarded lightly, discard it we should. Essential parts of the analysis break with that central idea of revolutionary theory and practice: self-emancipation, libertion from below. Bolshevik policies can partly be explained by difficult circumstances, but there was more to it than that. Bolshevik priorities and policies played their part.
And in the whole proces the question that should be asked again and again is not the questions Trotskyist tend to ask, however critically: what should the Bolshevik regime have done? What was correct, what were erroneous decisions? Rather, the main question is: how to defend and extend revolutionary gains from below, against ALL threats, from whatever sides they come?
Asking this question helps in finding a way to another analysis of the Russion experience, one that is more consistent with revolutionary principles, and more helpful for revolutionaries today and tomorrow. In coming articles, I will try to explore the history and politics of the revolutionary experience of that country in those crucial and tragic years.
(These are preliminary notes; I am working on a larger text dealing with these matters; coming articles on the subject can be seen as efforts to explore what directions to take towards the kind of analysis that is, in my opinion, needed)
(edited/changed 19 february, 2.40)