The legacy of the Bolsheviks
The fact that the Bolsheviks staked their whole policy on the world revolution of the proletariat is precisely the most striking testimony to the range of their far-sightedness, to their fidelity to principles, and to the daring impetus of their policy…
Whatever a party can, at a historic hour, provide in the way of courage, drive in action, revolutionary farsightedness, and logic, Lenin, Trotsky, and their comrades gave in full measure. All the revolutionary honour and the capacity for action that were lacking in the Social-Democracy in the West, were to be found among the Bolsheviks. Their October insurrection not only in fact saved the Russian Revolution, but also saved the honour of international socialism…
In this last period, where we are on the eve of decisive battles in the entire world, the most important question for socialism has been and still is just the burning question of the day: not this or that detail of tactics, but the proletariat’s capacity for action, the masses’ drawing power, the will to take power in socialism generally. In this regard, Lenin and Trotsky, with their friends, were the first who went on ahead of the proletariat with their example, they are so far the only ones who can cry out, with Ulrich von Hutten — “I dared that!”
It is that which is the essential thing and it is what remains of the policy of the Bolsheviks. In this sense they retain the imperishable merit in history of having taken the lead of the international proletariat in winning political power and in raising in practice the problem of the attainment of socialism, as well as having mightily advanced the struggle between Capital and Labor in the world. In Russia the problem could only be raised; it could not be settled in Russia. And it is in that sense that the future belongs to “Bolshevism”.
— 27 February 1940
“For forty-three years of my conscious life I have remained a revolutionist; for forty-two of them I have fought under the banner of Marxism. If I had to begin all over again I would of course try to avoid this or that mistake, but the main course of my life would remain unchanged. I shall die a proletarian revolutionist, a Marxist, a dialectical materialist, and, consequently, an irreconcilable atheist. My faith in the communist future of mankind is not less ardent, indeed it is firmer today, than it was in the days of my youth.
“Natasha has just come up to the window from the courtyard and opened it wider so that the air may enter more freely into my room. I can see the bright green strip of grass beneath the wall, and the clear blue sky above the wall, and sunlight everywhere. Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression and violence, and enjoy it to the full.”
By Victor Serge
It was to the cause of the workers that Leon Davidovitch devoted his long life of toil, combat, thought, and inflexible resitance to inhumanity. All those who approached him know that he was disintrested and conceived of his whole existence only as part of a great historic task, which was not his alone, but that of the movement of the socialist masses conscious of the perils and possibilities of our period. “These are bitter times,” he wrote, “but we have no other country.” His character was integral in the full sense of the word: seeing no gap between behaviour and conviction, idea and action; not admitting that higher interest, which give meaning to life, can be sacrificed to what is passing and personal, to banal petty egotism. His moral uprightness was allied to an intelligence that was simultanesouly objective and passionate, and always tended toward depth, breadth, creative effort, the fight for the right... And he was a simple man. He happened to note in the margin of a book whose author alluded to his “will to power”: [It was another man who] wanted power for power’s sake. I have never felt this sentiment... I sought power over intelligences and wills...” He felt himself to be not so much an authoritarian — though failing to recognise the practical utlity of authority — as one who spurred men on, drew them after him, not be flattering their base instincts but by summoning them to idealism, to clear reason, to the greatness of being fully men of a new type called upon to transform society.
Those who hunted him down and killed him, as they killed the Russian Revolution and martyrized the peoples of the USSR will meet their punishment. Already they have calle d down on a Soviet Union weakend by the massacres called the “Stalinist purges”, the most disastrous invasion. They continue on their road to the abyss... A few days after his death, I wrote — and I wish to change nothing in these lines: “Throughout his whole heroic life, Leon Davidovitch believed in the future, in the liberation of men. Far from weakening during the last sombre years, his faith matured still further and was rendered firmer by ordeal. Humanity of the future, freed from all oppression, will eliminate from its life, all violence. As he did to many others, he taught me this faith.”
The Russian revolution led by Leon Trotsky and his comrades ninety years ago was the greatest event in the history of the international working class. Ultimately that revolution and the working class power it established was crushed and defeated. The Bolsheviks knew and said that if the Russian Revolution did not spread to the advanced countries of Europe, then workers’ power could not survive in Russia. They expected a bourgeois counter-revolution.
What happened, however, was a counter-revolution by a collectivist bureaucratic exploiting class, led and personified by Josef Stalin. That regime would last until 1991.
It wreacked havoc with socialism throughout most of the 20th century because, throughout the world, revolutionary workers believed the Stalinists when they claimed to be the living embodiment of the October revolution — which they had murdered.
The resistance to the Stalinist counter-revolution was led by Leon Trotsky, who fought to re-create an authentic communist movement. He failed in that because the tide of world politics flowed entirely against him.
By his death — 67 years ago, on 21 August 1940 — Trotsky had come to personify revolutionary Marxist politics. He fought to rebuild a movement able to lead the working class to power in the middle of the 20th century. What he achieved was to create a literature which embodies the politics of the October revolution and makes it accessible to those who came after him.
It is our work now to defend and extend those politics and that Bolshevik-Leninist political tradition. If we and others succeed in doing that it will be in great measure thanks to what Trotsky achieved in the October revolution together with Lenin and after Lenin’s death in the 17 years of his battle against the Stalinist tide.
Samuel Ferguson wrote on the death of Thomas Davis, a mid 19th century Irish republican leader, that if his followers succeeded, “If God grant this, then under God, to Tomas Davis/Let the greater praise belong.
The god that does not exist can grant us nothing. We do it for ourselves. But when we have rebuilt a mass revolutionary working-class socialist movement then it is to Trotsky and his comrades that the greater praise will belong.