The eternal lessons of the Russian Revolution: history of Bolshevism now available in Urdu!

We are very excited to announce the release of Alan Woods’ Bolshevism: the Road to Revolution in Urdu, from Lal Salaam publications in Lahore, Pakistan. Anyone interested in getting a copy should contact Lal Salaam via their website, or on their Facebook page. We publish the full author’s introduction here.

This is an important publication for Urdu-speaking readers, especially at a time when Pakistan is on the brink of default and the crisis of the state has reached unprecedented levels, with infighting among the ruling class increasing every day. This book will play a key role in the building of a revolutionary party, in the mould of the Bolsheviks, preparing to overthrow capitalism. Such a party will have to play an important role in the historic events of the coming period.

Previous works by Alan Woods and Ted Grant translated into Urdu include Reason in Revolt: Marxist Philosophy and Modern Science, Marxism and the USA, Why we are Marxists, The Venezuelan Revolution: A Marxist Perspective, Russia: from Revolution to Counter Revolution, What is Marxism?, and many others.

Lal Salaam publications regularly releases a quarterly journal on Marxist theory with the same name, along with books on China-Pakistan Economic corridor, Marxist critiques of liberalism, the women’s struggle, and much more.

Author’s preface to the Urdu edition

No matter what one thinks of Bolshevism, it is undeniable that the Russian Revolution is one of the greatest events in human history, and the rule of the Bolsheviki a phenomenon of worldwide importance.” (John Reed, 1st January 1919, Ten Days that Shook the World, p. 13.)

The historical importance of the October Revolution 

Two decades have passed since the publication of the first English edition of Bolshevism: the Road to Revolution. The book had a very enthusiastic reception, even from people not necessarily in agreement with the political standpoint of its author. It has been translated into many languages and the news of a new book in the Urdu language was truly inspiring.

Author Alan Woods This is an important publication for Urdu-speaking readers, which will play a key role in the building of the revolutionary party / Image: International Marxist Tendency

From a Marxist point of view, the October Revolution was the greatest single event in world history. Why? Because here, for the first time, if we exclude the heroic but tragic episode of the Paris Commune, the masses overthrew the old regime and began the great task of the socialist transformation of society.

Karl Marx said that “philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” Under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, the Bolshevik Party changed the history of the entire world in such a way that its repercussions are still being felt today. Therefore, no matter what one thinks about the Russian Revolution and the role of the Bolshevik Party, it is incumbent upon every thinking person to study what was, from any point of view, a most important historical phenomenon.

Over a period of thirty years, I collected the material for a comprehensive history of Bolshevism, for the simple reason that I had found no work that really did justice to this important subject. The bourgeois historians are quite incapable of writing a serious work about the Bolshevik Party or the October Revolution. They are motivated by feelings of hatred and spite, which they do not even attempt to conceal under the guise of a false and hypocritical academic ‘objectivity’. Needless to say, behind this hatred lies another emotion: fear of revolution, which under the present worldwide crisis of capitalism is threatening to reappear in one country after another.

The apologists of capitalism, and their faithful echoes in the labour movement, try to comfort themselves with the thought that the collapse of the USSR signified the demise of socialism. But what failed in Russia was not socialism in any sense that would be understood by Marx or Lenin, but a monstrous bureaucratic and totalitarian caricature. Contrary to the oft-repeated slanders, the Stalinist regime was the antithesis of the democratic regime established by the Bolsheviks in 1917.

The myth of the coup

The argument that the October Revolution was nothing more than a coup, organised by a tiny and unrepresentative group of conspirators led by Lenin and Trotsky, is so childish that I find it quite astonishing that any intelligent person could repeat it. But repeat it they do, with monotonous regularity.

Here we leave the realm of history far behind, and enter into the world of fairy tales or science fiction. I have repeatedly asked the pedlars of this pathetic myth if they could kindly provide me with the recipe for such an extraordinary feat, so that I could take power in Britain the following morning. Sad to say, to this day I am still waiting for a reply.

The plain truth is that the October Revolution, far from being the conspiracy of a small minority, was the greatest mass popular revolution in history – a mighty movement of millions of workers and peasants who erupted onto the stage of history, to take their destinies into their own hands.

In my book, I showed how the Bolsheviks, by October 1917, were the only party who worked among the masses and were trusted by them, and how their struggle for ‘Peace, Bread and Land’, and ‘All Power to the Soviets’ were the slogans that won the decisive majority of the population to their banner.

But this success did not fall from the clouds. It was the result of decades of patient and tireless work that led to the creation of a revolutionary party that was capable of providing the necessary leadership to the working class in the decisive moments. It is this remarkable story that I have attempted to summarise in the pages of this book, which comprehensively demolishes the childish myth of the coup.

In most of the available material, the real traditions of Bolshevism have been grossly distorted by the lies and distortions of the bourgeoisie, as well as by the Stalinists. The Bolshevik Party was profoundly democratic in its nature. At each turn its history was characterised by vibrant debates that prepared it for revolutionary action.

This sort of internal democracy was absolutely necessary so that the party would learn from its own mistakes. The idea that the Bolshevik party developed through an always onward march without mistakes, until the taking of power, is a Stalinist myth from which nobody can learn anything. These traditions have to be recovered for the new generation of revolutionary fighters that is emerging all over the world.

The lessons of Sri Lanka

The recent events in Sri Lanka provide us with striking proof that revolutionary movements are on the order of the day everywhere. If you wish to see what a revolution is like, just look at the marvellous insurrection in Sri Lanka. Here we see the colossal potential power of the masses. If anyone doubted the ability of the masses to make a revolution, this was a resounding answer.

The mass movement succeeded in forcing the departure of the president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was forced to flee to Singapore. But the victory was still far from complete. When the masses learned of a plot to install the prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, as acting president, it provoked an insurrection.

The acting president declared a state of emergency and ordered the army to put down the people. They were met with a barrage of tear gas and water cannon. But nothing could stop that human tsunami.

The events in Sri Lanka deserve the closest examination. What do they show? They show that, when the masses lose their fear, no amount of repression can stop them. They show us that there is a power in society that is greater than any state, any army and any police force.

With no leadership, no organisation and no clear programme, the masses took to the streets and overthrew the government with the ease of a man swatting a mosquito. But Sri Lanka also shows us something else. The power of the masses is very great, but it is only a potential power. In order for it to cease to be a mere potential and become a real power, something else is required.

Without correct leadership, the revolution cannot succeed. Power was lying in the streets, waiting for somebody to pick it up. It would have been sufficient for the leaders of the protests to say: “We have the power now. We are the government.” But those words were never spoken. Power was in the hands of the masses, but it was allowed to slip through their fingers.

There is a precise analogy with the power of nature. Steam is just such a power. It provided the motor force for the industrial revolution. It is the power that drives engines, providing light, heating and energy to bring life and movement to great cities.

But steam only becomes a power when it is concentrated in a mechanism called a piston box. Without such a mechanism, it is merely dissipated uselessly into the atmosphere. It remains a  mere potential, and nothing more than a potential.

The same is true of the working class. Karl Marx explained that the working class without organisation is only raw material for exploitation. Only when it acquires organisation does it begin to transform itself from a ‘class-in-itself’  into a ‘class-in-and-for-itself’ – that is to say, from a mere potential to something actual and real. 

“Full strength at the point of attack” – that is a basic principle of warfare. And it also applies to the class struggle. The task of the revolutionary party is to concentrate the power of the masses, such that the workers strike together at a specific point and at a particular time. This is clearly analogous to the piston box mentioned earlier. 

That was precisely the role of the Bolshevik Party in 1917. It was what guaranteed the victory of the revolution. In the same way, but in an opposite sense, the absence of such a party and leadership was what rendered all the heroic exertions of the masses useless in Sri Lanka.

The failure to overthrow the regime allowed Ranil Wickremesinghe to manoeuvre in parliament to regain the initiative, cracking down on the protests in an attempt to restore order. The masses quietly left the presidential palace and the old power was allowed to return. The fruits of victory were handed back to the old oppressors and the parliamentary charlatans. That is an unpalatable truth. But it is the truth.

However, that does not mean the revolution is finished. The upheaval in Sri Lanka is not over. The underlying economic and social problems that provoked the masses into action have not been removed. The revolution will re-emerge on an even higher level. But it will face a far more difficult and painful period with many more sacrifices.

Pakistan on the brink

Sri Lanka was the first country since the start of the war in Ukraine to default on its debts. It will not be the last. More than 19 countries, with a population of more than 900 million people, have debt levels that mean there is a real possibility of default. The list of countries includes El Salvador, Ghana, Tunisia, Egypt, Pakistan, Argentina and Ukraine.

This gives us a very accurate picture of what will occur in one country after another. We will see an enormous intensification of the class war and a situation pregnant with revolutionary possibilities. That, and that alone, is the most important thing from a Marxist perspective.

Pakistan now finds itself in a catastrophic situation. According to a report by Michael Rubin, a senior fellow at the Washington-based magazine, National Interest: “While many countries are dependent upon Ukrainian or Russian wheat or foreign energy imports, Pakistan requires both. Between July 2020 and January 2021, for example, Pakistan was the third-largest consumer of Ukrainian wheat exports after Indonesia and Egypt.”

The report continues:

“The price spike in oil prices has hit Pakistan hard, driving up the cost of its imports by more than 85 percent, to almost $5bn, just between 2020 and 2021. At the end of Pakistan’s fiscal year on 30 June 2022, its trade deficit neared $50bn, a 57 percent increase over the previous year.”

The position of the masses is desperate: unending misery, hunger and destitution is all they can expect from a rotten and corrupt system. The people of Pakistan are so used to poverty that they can tolerate their misery to a surprising extent. But everything has its limits.

Beneath the surface, there is an accumulation of bitterness, rage, hatred and frustration that is seeking an outlet. In the same way, beneath the Earth’s crust, colossal pressures are constantly building up, seeking a weak spot where they will finally burst onto the surface with elemental violence.

All this is preparing the way for a social explosion.  This is a finished recipe for class struggle and even a revolutionary explosion on the lines of 1969. Sri Lanka shows us Pakistan’s future as in a mirror. But as that country shows, a revolutionary movement of the masses, in and of itself, is insufficient to guarantee victory. 

It is imperative that the new generation of revolutionary fighters in Pakistan study the lessons of the past, because, in the words of George Santayana, he who does not learn from history will forever be doomed to repeat it. And we have no wish to repeat the tragic defeats of the past, but to prepare the working class for the victory of the socialist revolution.

A vital part of this preparation is to engage in a serious study of the history of the Bolshevik Party. Thus, the present book is not an academic exercise in history, but a tool for the building of a revolutionary party today. Such a party is first of all ideas, methods and traditions, the historical memory of the working class, and only later an apparatus to carry these into practice. 

My heartfelt thanks and congratulations to all the comrades who participated in the titanic task of translating, editing and publishing this book. I wish you all the greatest success in your important revolutionary endeavours.

London, 19 August 2022.

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