New Years celebrations are bitter sweet, reflecting past failures and future hopes. Except New Year today has lost its significance. It is a cultural hangover alienated from its origins as the celebration of mid-winter. While observing Matariki (literally the ‘eyes of god’) in Aotearoa celebrates the mid-winter as recognition of the renewal of life, it is as a cultural ritual detached from economic reality. We are no longer a society of hunter gatherers or subsistence agriculture that has to ritually appease the gods to get a good crop. Society today is based on capitalist cropping that destroys rather than worships nature. Such is the harm done to nature, capitalism has exhausted the limits of our species ability to live in harmony with nature at the cost of our impending extinction.
If we are to return to celebrating the essence of nature why not make that a cause for reflection on our failures to overcome our alienation from nature and ourselves and on our plans for returning to nature?
Let’s take the long view of capitalism as the most advanced society ever but one that now threatens mass extinction including the human species. How do we overcome denial of this threat, understand it, and work out what is to be done?
There are four broad standpoints on this question. Free market fundamentalists blame the ills of capitalism (where they are not in denial) on state intervention in the market. Liberals and social democrats blame the power elites that manipulate the markets to their advantage. Radicals argue that there is no such thing as a free market and capitalism always used state power to plunder and accumulate wealth. Marxists argue that capitalism is based on the exploitation of labour-power by the owners of the means of production.
What hopes spring from such standpoints? The marketeers proscribe more free market to free individuals to make rational economic decisions by getting the state out of business. Liberals claim that it is necessary to use the state to correct for the inequalities of individuals that dominate the market. Bank bailouts should be redirected to boost wages and stimulate a return to productive growth. Radicals have no confidence in using the state to correct for capitalism’s unequal relations. Build socialism from the grass roots based on direct democracy. Marxists know capitalism is doomed to make more and more wars and ultimately the destroy human society. Organise workers into armed soviets that can replace the capitalist state with a workers state, now!
In our New Year resolutions how do we decide which of these scenarios we should support. For myself, the decision is easy. Each standpoint can be put to the test of practical experience. What better way to do this than by demonstrating that the Marxist standpoint alone has any record of success.
The Bolshevik Centenary
2017 is then centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution. Why should we celebrate it? Because it was and continues to be the most important event since 1917 and in embodying ‘living Marxism’ has shaped the fate of capitalism up to today. What are the lessons of this living Marxism?
First, the revolution took place because global capitalism in 1914 had exhausted its capacity to grow and develop without major crises, depressions and wars. This proved that the market had failed not as a result of state intervention but that imperialist states were forced to go to war to defeat their rivals and plunder the resources of the whole world.
Second, liberals and radicals sided with their capitalist monopolies to send workers to fight one another in the name of profits. The German Marxists (SDP) betrayed their working class supporters by voting to finance the war and then joined forces with the fascists that killed Luxemburg and Leibknecht. Those Marxists who condemned this betrayal created the Zimmerwald Left and called on workers in every country to turn their guns on their own ruling class.
In Russia the Bolsheviks adopted this stand for the defeat of the Tsar in the war with Germany. The strike of women textile workers in February 1917 led the fall of the Tsar and creation of a liberal bourgeois government that continued the war. The Bolshevik agitation against war and campaign for ‘peace, land, and bread’ rallied mass support for workers, poor peasants and soldiers soviets that were able to take power in October and build a workers’ state.
This was proof that the time for socialist revolution was ripe, and that the market, liberal reforms, and radical betrayals were inevitable when it came to a showdown between the capitalist ruling class and the proletariat. So damning was this proof that all the imperialist countries rallied fascist gangs, and co-opted liberal democrats and radicals, even some anarchists, to go to war against Russia to defeat the revolution. The result was the defeat of the revolution in Germany, the invasion of Russia and the 5-year civil war.
While all the capitalists and their hangers on ganged up on the Bolsheviks, workers everywhere were inspired by the revolution. And despite the counter-revolution the Soviet state survived. The degeneration of the revolution into a bureaucratic regime under Stalin had nothing to do with the Bolsheviks and everything to do with the fear and loathing of the imperialist reactionaries facing the threat of the spread of “Bolshevism”.
The Legacy of Bolshevism in 2017
The capitalists were right to fear Bolshevism and the spectre that hangs over them still today. What they fear is the power of workers who are conscious of their class interests and what must be done to defeat capitalism. That is why the imperialist powers ganged up on Russia in 1917 and after the Nazi threat was stopped (mainly by Russia) and Stalin had renounced world revolution, ganged up against it again from 1948. Even after the Soviet Union was destroyed in 1991, the ghost of Bolshevism refused to go away.
The reason for this is that Bolshevism was the revolutionary expression of the proletariat as the gravedigger of capitalism unable to overcome its worsening crises. Capitalism can stagger on over the corpses of billions of workers, but it cannot survive a class conscious revolutionary proletariat. Yet that proletariat does not become revolutionary by passing New Year Resolutions. The Resolutions that count are those of the masses of workers organised into independent organs of class struggle – workers councils or soviets – as the basis for workers’ power.
Bolshevism embodied the program for revolution in the vanguard party. The essence of the party is its program. And the key to making sure the program is correct in any given situation is democratic centralism – the means by which the program for revolution is tested in practice. The party program states what is necessary for revolution and organises its members to fight for it. It applies the program by passing resolutions in democratic congresses to take action, and then organises to fight as a disciplined single force to test that program in action. If the program is found to be wrong, it is changed by passing new resolutions.
The legacy of Bolshevism is that it was the key to the only successful socialist revolution in history and remains the key to revolution today. In 2017 we can begin the new year by passing a resolution to become Bolsheviks. The first step towards that end is to celebrate the centenary of the Russian Revolution by becoming conscious that the ’10 Days that Shook the World’ has continued to shake it for 100 years, and will continue to do so until the failing capitalist system is replaced by a world socialist system.
Comrade Dave Brownz is TDBs Guest Marxist Blogger, because every left wing progressive blog needs a guest Marxist blogger