According to the Mainstream Media, Lenin rode in on a white horse…before putting on a black hat and postponing the West’s capitalist gutting of Russia by 75 years.
This is the third article in a series on this year’s book, A People’s History of the Russian Revolution. The book is going to be a real part of the new canon on socialist literature, along with books like China is Communist, Dammit!
This new book is less like the China book, which relies on a Red Army of facts, statistics and anecdotes which redound with tremendous honor to the Chinese People’s Revolution, in that it prioritizes technique/ideology: it examines those who composed then Russian movement rather than the leaders of the movement.
There has been a lot of of predictably terrible journalism regarding the 1917 October Revolution, which is more accurately termed the October Celebration, as it was a largely bloodless, triumphant installation of the world’s first true government of the people via the first emphatic rejection of bourgeois (West European) democracy.
The Russian Revolution of 1917 has always been poorly-named: It was most certainly two revolutions. The book includes a fascinating section on the more-common “revolution” – the February Revolution – when absolute monarchy was toppled.
I thought I would condense February’s events here, because they so overwhelmingly prove the thesis of my 5-part series and of this book, as well as disproving the idea which has been pushed this year by mainstream western media: that the 1917 Russian Revolution was the work of a tiny, radical Bolshevik party, instead of an expression of decades of work by tens of millions of everyday peasants, workers, soldiers, women and otherwise ordinary people.
What this new book also proves emphatically – and in a far shorter time then Trotsky’s 3-volume History of the Russian Revolution, on which it draws heavily from – is how the February Revolution was not guided at all by the Bolshevik party (or any party), in a clear rejection of the mainstream media’s repeated, uniformed contention of dominance by Lenin.
Again, the October Revolution was such a joyous cakewalk that, in 2017, we don’t really have anything to learn from how it actually occurred on the ground; but the February Revolution provides us all a model of what to expect and how best to react if a revolution hits our own countries.
Ladies first, in revolution as well
I have repeatedly lamented the fact that in protest-loving France it is Antifa at the front of the most important demonstrations – causing useless problems, tarnishing the image of protesters and infested with undercover cops. In that article detailing my many years of standing shoulder to shoulder – and across from – Antifa, I lament that it’s not Frenchwomen at the front, and preferably holding babies. (We can also ask senior citizens to join them.)
Because that is what works, and the first day of the February Revolution proves this: It was the working women of Petrograd (St. Petersburg) – doubly oppressed by unfair conditions at work and at home – who sparked the first day of the Russian Revolution on February 23, 1917.
Amid World War I shortages, a totally spontaneous protest – not organized by any Bolshevik Party (or Social Revolutionary Party, Meneshevik Party, etc.) – to demand bread was started by 7,000 female textile workers. Where women go men will certainly follow, and by the end of the day there were 100,000 people smashing open food shops.
Notably, the region’s male engineering workers – numbering 40,000 and the most militant workforce in Russia – did not demonstrate, in a sign of how unpremeditated the uprising was. Petrograd was the political, military and proletarian centre of Russia, and yet it was women who took the lead.
The Left will never win in any country if they don’t learn what has worked before, so please pay attention to Day 1, ladies and organisers: your presence at the front of protests gives the best chance to avoid violence and to actually win. No state can retain legitimacy if it is seen smashing the faces of women (or old people), and especially in today’s age of mass media. Instead of relying on male aggression, female activists must be willing to receive the first hits, because much stronger than male aggression is the male sense of justice, defense and righteousness.
I will quote often from the book, which does a superb job describing the blow-by-blow account of the February Revolution:
“What did it mean? No one could be sure….(most) consider the day’s events just an ‘ordinary sort of hunger riots’.”
‘Everybody hates the police’ – common protest slogan in 2017 France, 1917 Russia & everywhere else
On Day 2 the Bolshevik Party took the reins and whipped the People head-on into the ranks off massed police….not at all true! Day 2 only became “Day 2” because the average person, worker and woman – the rank-and-file of life, not the party bureaucrat – insisted on it.
“Though the call had not come from their leaders, grassroots activists had worked through the night, agitating for strike actions and mass demonstrations on the morrow.”
What everybody knows – especially activists and grassroots leaders who have their ear to the ground – is that formal political parties are always behind the mood of the average person. This is a recurring theme of this book, and it certainly makes sense: political parties exist to express the formalised will of the People (or formalised interests, in modern bourgeois democracies), and this makes them inherently conservative; but nobody smashes open a shop for bread or demolishes a police station based on a formalised anything – the People are too busy experiencing/living reality to have time to formalise it.
If I may jump ahead to clarify this point: Lenin himself repeatedly pulled the Bolshevik Party back from taking power throughout 1917 because he knew he had not received a formal, elected, democratic-majority mandate in the worker Soviets (councils) or anywhere else! This would not occur until autumn; Lenin waited until the people moved left, and thus the left became what it should be – centrism (the common agreement). But the Bolsheviks were quite behind the People. This lag-time is best expressed by a vignette from July when Trotsky had to rescue a Social Revolutionary cabinet minister from an angry crowd, and a sailor cursed at Trotsky: “Take power, you son-of-a-bitch, when they give it to you!”
So back in February the Bolsheviks were certainly not telling the People to attack the police – but that is exactly what happened.
The book has a superb passage which can never be uttered in the Western mainstream media:
“The police never go over to the crowd. They are recruited from the most backward section of the working class….Their daily work is a matter of hostile collisions with activists, workers, and the poor. Their hatred of the repressed is reinforced by what is nowadays called ‘canteen culture’. So they become a hardened reactionary caste, immunised against any appeal for solidarity by a psychic armour of indifference and prejudice. In revolution, the police cannot be won over; they have to be physically confronted and routed.”
In America the mainstream media lionises just this caste, and to a disgusting degree. Of course, there are no Black or Latino people in power in mainstream media or politics, and the few who get there do so thanks to totally selling out their race, like Barry “no more cold Popeye’s Chicken breakfasts” Obama. In France polls show that 60% of active police voted for the far-right Marine Le Pen, and it was not for her protectionist economic policy, I am certain; the “canteen culture” is even stronger in France where all urban police are mandated to travel in groups of four, making them little insular gangs trolling the streets and looking for Muslims to harass.
All of this is not a juvenile “F-— the police” sentiment – this passage relates exactly what the People everywhere will certainly face if they demand reforms. It is not at all hopeless, because the police are just one caste, after all.
And I have seen the police beaten with my own two eyes:
In 2015, and almost exactly two years ago, a group of serious activists refused to accept the French’s state ban on demonstrations following a series of horrific terrorist attacks in Paris. It had been one week since the bloodbath, and that was enough mourning and reclusiveness, so we gathered at the Bastille in the name of migrant rights. France’s riot police – with more padding than American football players – licked their chops, because they were intent on keeping us from marching, as RT footage from that day proves, and had every ok to use extreme force. What they didn’t realise is that we were not only just as tough, but twice as committed to our cause: this report I made shows exactly how we were able to break through their police lines. Yes, we did not topple the 1% – we only busted through a police line in order to prove our commitment to the People’s hard-won democratic right to march – but it was a battle and we won. I love to watch and re-watch the demoralised police give way at the 1:12 mark from my report that day!
Just like 1917 Russia, it was the army who saved the People in 2011 Egypt (and me too!)
I can report the exact same anti-police sentiments existed in revolutionary February 2011 Egypt. The detested black-sweatered police were the ones Hosni Mubarak used to attack the demonstrators in Tahir Square with camels and cudgels. Their police force was no different: hated, reactionary, propping up an unjust regime/phony democracy.
But I can tell you that nobody at Tahrir Square believed that the army would open fire on the demonstrators. I did not meet a single one. The army was drawn from the class of everyday people, and they were not habituated to violence and hatred like the Egyptian police. The mantra of Tahrir Square from protesters and soldiers was the same – ashan – “peace” or “easy, easy”. These rank-and-file soldiers held and deserved the esteem of the People, and their faith in the everyday army was rewarded. (Sadly, the commanders were the typical 1% betrayers of the revolution and the elected-but-now-jailed Morsi, as we all know.)
I recall my arrival in Cairo back then. With a video camera and a satellite phone there was no doubt what we were there to do, but we actually made it through airport customs anyway. My criminally-selfish cameraman at the time insisted on going from hotel to hotel until he found a price which would allow him to pocket even more of PressTV’s expenses/taxpayer dollars… this is despite the police oppression that the whole world had already witnessed. Given the atmosphere and the very real risks we were facing, I told him his greed was making him incredibly reckless, but could do nothing.
And I was right – finally, at yet another checkpoint in downtown Cairo, a black-sweatered policeman pulled us over, went through our luggage, and was not at all happy at our military-looking satellite phone. His eyes were bloodshot red and he was clearly loaded to the gills. Nighttime had fallen and we should’ve been done for.
But a perhaps 19-year-old army soldier came in, took control of the situation, and allowed us to leave. His authority was not questioned by the drunk policeman more than twice his age, and the smiling soldier gave the impression that such an usurpation would have been impossible. In just a moment, our fortunes and our futures radically changed.
I imagine this type of story was probably repeated over and over among the Egyptian population?
Back in 1917 World War I had radicalized the entire population, which was also on the brink of starvation. The Russian protesters had taken on the police on Day 1, boosted by many former soldiers who were also habituated to violence after fighting in the war.
But behind the police there was a class which did not exist in Egypt: the Cossacks – minor landed gentry, conservatives, disciplined soldiers.
But these Cossacks were not thug policemen, just as the Egyptian soldiers actually cared for their fellow citizens in 2011. Some Cossacks did attack the protesters on Day 2, but apparently not many. From Trotsky:
“…the Cossacks did not hinder the workers from diving under their horses. The revolution does not choose its paths: it made its first steps towards victory under the belly of a Cossack’s horse.”
So we see that the average person and demonstrator was getting closer to the heart of monarchy’s protectors, and breaking through the barriers put up by every state which exist only to prevent a popular revolution by the 99%.
Victory comes from the common person and common soldier, not from Lenin’s order
Day 3 – there is still no formal declaration from the Bolsheviks or anyone else! Yet the strike becomes general.
I will spoil the surprise because it is so important: this call never comes, not from the Bolsheviks or anyone – it was all the Russian People. The mainstream media has deceived you by elevating Lenin and the Bolsheviks – you must not defend them, because then you are just putting down the People.
“But the elemental social forces unleashed in the February days could not be held back. No-one summoned them…. Many of the revolutionary leaders – Menisheviks, Social-Revolutionaries, and especially the Bolsheviks – were abroad. Second-rank figures filled the gaps. But no call to the streets had come from any of them. One rank and file Bolshevik reported: ‘absolutely no guiding initiative from the party centers was felt.’… This is confirmed by the testimony of the Okhrana, the Tsarist Secret police…’the general attitude of the nonparty masses is as follows: the movement started spontaneously, without any preparation, exclusively on the basis of the food crisis.’”
The mainstream media seem to believe that the People are as pliable to politicians (Bolshevik or otherwise) as they foolishly believe. Will they be thinking the same thing in their own country, when their people start to wear padding against the police whips, as in 1917?
The Russian People start to win over Cossacks, one of whom is tossed in the air when he kills a policeman with his sabre. The next and final line of defence is the soldiers.
“The workers approached them, getting close, posing questions. Why have you come? Who is your enemy? Which side are you on? Where do your interests lie? (Trotsky) ‘The soldiers are sullen. A worm is gnawing them, and they cannot stand it when a question hits the very centre of their pain.’”
These were soldiers who had been battle-hardened, but this was not warfare against the Germans. “There were many women in the crowds. Women who were mothers, sisters, wives and girlfriends of the soldiers.”
Just as the Egyptian army forced out their leader Mubarak, so the same occurred in February 1917. Indeed, it can never, ever be otherwise: the state has the monopoly on legal violence, and a near-monopoly on weaponry.
This is echoed by Trotsky: “…the fate of every revolution at a certain point is decided by a break in the disposition of the army.”
In short: On Day 3 the barriers are opened in Petrograd, the police are routed and the police stations are wrecked.
“To do these awesome things – to suddenly and completely burst the iron bands of military discipline – the solider must be certain that he will become part of a victorious mass able to protect him.”
I include that quote to illustrate that the army must be won over; when the Mainstream Media fêtes everyday army privates as chivalrous knights who are different from the People and above them, we should understand how this serves the interests of the 1%.
But we clearly see that – unlike the mainstream media’s recounting in 2017 – this had nothing to do with Lenin: this was a completely spontaneous mass movement which started in Petrograd. It is only “spontaneous” in the sense that there was not formal organization, but it was certainly based on decades of oppression, organization and resistance to the Tsarist system.
Day 4: The state militarizes the crisis but total revolution is now demanded, as is the end to the hated capitalist war. For the first time the army fights against the police.
“For this detachment to take aim and open fire on the people it had been conversing with was unthinkable, and no one in the crowd believed for a moment that it was possible.”
Again this is exactly the same sentiment as in Tahrir Square in 2011 Egypt – the army proves to be the guarantor of the people, while the police exist only to aid the oppressors and join in the oppression.
These lessons may not fully apply in capitalist-imperialist strongholds like the United States and France – where arrogance, aloofness and militarization are the most extreme – but there are many readers in other countries who can learn from these events; how they have a tendency to occur, and how they can be anticipated and treated in favor of the People and progress.
Day 5 – “The soldiers are now helping to hunt down the police, break into the arsenals, and find arms for the workers…The regiment simply disappeared and was never heard from again….Entire military formations were dissolving. The once rock-solid human material of the Tsarist state had turned into a social fluid that seeped away in all directions.”
There was only sporadic shooting in the next few days. This process moved far beyond Petrograd.
“… the story was everywhere the same… the workers left the factories, marched to the city centre, and gathered round the Council chamber. The soldiers joined them there.”
That’s who won the Russian Revolution – too many people to count
Now compare all that with the description of Petrograd on October 25, 1917:
“They had debated, voted, and given their activist vanguard a mandate…. There was no looting or rioting. Theaters, cinemas and shops remained open…. The climax was anti-climax…. It would all look far more impressive in Eisenstein’s 1928 movie.”
Knowing what you now know, and what the Mainstream Media will never tell you…think of how nonsensical their depiction of a “wild-eyed, armed to the teeth, radical, Bolshevik cult led by cunning uber-genius Lenin” truly is? A small sect, no matter how rabid and violent, simply could not take over the enormous mass of Russia in just five days. They didn’t even have access to arms until day 5!
It should be overwhelmingly clear: the February Revolution was the work of the People in the north, south, east, west and center.
The great thing about these “peoples’ histories” is that it sets the record straight. This article aims to re-emphasize that the Russian Revolution was not the work of one man, or even just the Bolshevik political party [critical as it was at many junctures, including Lenin’s clear-eyed understanding of the rapidly changing situation], or even all the left-to-far-left Russian political parties working together: the monarchy was finally overthrown without their involvement whatsoever.
“This does not mean there was no leadership: it means that the leadership was from below. All mass action has to be organised. No meeting, march, or street battle lacks its leaders. In answer to the question ‘Who led the February revolution?’, Trotsky gave an unequivocal answer: ‘conscious and temporary workers educated for the most part by the party of Lenin.’”
But even Trotsky suffers from a bit of Mainstream Media-type arrogance here: He leaves out the Narodniks of the 1860s who schooled Lenin and who Lenin adored. Trotsky also leaves out the peasant occupying the town square in hillbilly towns throughout Russia – those who did not have access to political tracts (and who could probably not read them), and who certainly did not need one V.I. Lenin to tell them that the social order they knew intimately was unfair.
There is no such thing as a self-made man, nor a one-man revolution – these are both capitalist myths.
The opposite is what is presented in this book: The People’s story of the February Revolution, and how they ended their millennia of rank tyranny.
However, the Russian People covered themselves in a truly rarefied glory with the October Celebration, when the People instituted a modern revolution far beyond the timid bourgeois (West European) model.
The list of countries that have had this Revolution, Celebration and actually sustained it is relatively small: the many brother countries of the USSR, Cuba, China, Iran, Vietnam, North Korea, and a few others.
And all of these countries are considered absolute dangers by Western mainstream media: they distort, defame and slander the People of these countries, and thus do the same to their own fellow citizens, ancestors and People. Indeed – it is “every person for themselves” in such nations….
“The battle has been waged entirely through the mass action of the Narod, the common people of Russia.”
We can argue about what came after, but never that it was anyone but the People who led, organised, staffed, demanded and installed the February Revolution.
The next article in this series tries to rectify the proper role of Lenin in the October Revolution – official notary is a good designation; and also to explain how his effectiveness was due to his willingness to humbly serve as a conduit and not as a catalyst. [In fact a capable, flexible and genuine revolutionary leader should be both: catalyst and conduit, as circumstances dictate. The two qualities are not mutually exclusive.]
This is the third part in a 5-part series on the 1917 Russian Revolution which aims to put the role of the People first.
Here is the list of articles slated to be published, and I hope you will find them useful in your leftist struggle!
The fascinating People’s account of how the Russian Revolution was won at street level
Why anti-socialists talk more about Lenin than even socialists
Iran’s 1979 Revolution picked up the People’s torch first lit in 1917 Russia