The lessons of the Great October Socialist Revolution, the need for a Revolutionary Party, party building and the experiences of the Party of the Bolsheviks

G. Grainger, Central Executive Committee

Class Struggle and a class conscious party of the working class

“For the proletariat to be strong enough to win on the decisive day, it must … form a separate party distinct from all others and opposed to them, a conscious class party.” Frederick Engels [1]

The Communist Manifesto made clear in its opening sentence that the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. While the central thesis of the Manifesto is that the development and growth of capitalism creates the conditions for a class struggle, workers must organise themselves as a class and engage in a programme of action in political struggle to overthrow the capitalist system. For that purpose workers require a class conscious party capable of performing that role. As the Manifesto explains:

"The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement." [2]

Writing of the Communist Manifesto Lenin said: “This little booklet is worth whole volumes: to this day its spirit inspires and guides the entire organised and fighting proletariat of the civilised world.” [3]

The task of establishing a revolutionary workers’ party capable of leading the struggle for the emancipation of the working class and the construction of a socialist society remains a fundamental preoccupation for those interested in socialist revolution and the overthrow of capitalism.

“What is to be Done?” was Lenin’s seminal work on the party. Once the work was translated into other languages in the early years of the Russian Revolution, it became the framework on which Communist and Workers’ Parties across the globe organised themselves. On the 100th anniversary of the October Socialist Revolution we have much to learn from the Bolshevik experience.

In tsarist Russia, the Russian Social Democratic and Labour Party (RSDLP) was illegal: its members were subject to imprisonment and deportation to Siberia, and its leaders, including Lenin, were in exile abroad. Police repression meant that the party lacked a continuous structure as after each round of arrests in a given area, the process of building the party would have to start from scratch. What is to Be Done? set out a plan for developing the RSDLP in underground conditions. The work was written to address a number of major questions facing the RSDLP concerning ideology, strategy, and party organisation. 

Internationally, Social Democrats were divided between those who continued to believe in the need for revolution and those embracing reformism. The leading thinker among the reformists at that time was the German theorist, Eduard Bernstein. Bernstein, who was influenced by the Fabians during his time in London, presented the argument that capitalism had developed a facility for modification which would obviate future economic crises. Rejecting the concept of dialectical materialism he concluded that the abolition of capitalism and the creation of socialist revolution was both impossible and unnecessary. International Bernsteinism was one of Lenin’s ideological targets, but he also criticised others closer to home, namely supporters of economism and terrorism.

“Economism” was how Lenin described the idea that in the circumstances of Tsarist Russia Social Democrats ought to neglect or even avoid political struggle. The “Economists” explicitly rejected the concept of a party programme consisting of political demands. They sought to confine themselves to agitation on economic issues.

The “Economists” believed that because Russia had yet to make the transition from a feudal absolute monarchy to a capitalist representative system of government, political struggle against the tsarist regime was primarily the job of the middle classes as it was their task to carry out the bourgeois revolution that would establish a new system of government and that it was too early for the development of a political party of the working class.

To Lenin, such arguments were not simply foolish: they were highly damaging to the consciousness and interests of the working class. Lenin believed that unless the working class organised itself politically and unless it embraced the struggle for democracy in Russia, no serious progress could be made in building socialism. He re-stated the vital proposition contained in the Communist Manifesto that every class struggle is a political struggle. In other words, “Economism” was a cancer in Russian Social Democracy that had to be excised. Lenin therefore set about undermining Economism and its chief adherents in What is to Be Done?

The failure to realise the importance of political struggle was a problem not only in Russia. Lenin condemned what he called “trade unionism” (the idea that trade unions were the main means of struggle for workers, and that workers should be interested in politics primarily to meet trade union demands, e.g. legally limiting the length of the working day). Lenin associated both economism and trade unionism with Bernsteinism: in his view, they were a means of stripping Social Democracy of its revolutionary content, thus embracing bourgeois ideology masquerading as socialism.

Terrorism was in Lenin’s eyes a different yet similar threat to the struggle for socialism. There was a strong tradition of terrorism among Russian revolutionaries, both socialist and liberal. For example, Tsar Alexander II had been assassinated in 1881. Lenin’s own brother had been executed for his role in a plot to kill Alexander III. A number of prominent officials within the tsarist regime had also been assassinated. There were those within Russian Social Democracy who believed that terrorism could be an effective weapon in the struggle against the absolute monarchy.

Lenin did not accept this. For him, terrorism wasted the lives and energy of revolutionaries, and it had been proven to be ineffective. As with economism, in his eyes the popularity of terrorism with some Social Democrats reflected the weakness of the Russian Social Democratic and Labour Party. The party lacked ideological clarity, and it had failed to sufficiently raise the political consciousness of its own members, as well as the workers’ movement in general. What is to Be Done? was written in large part to provide greater ideological clarity for, and to raise the political consciousness of, the members of the RSDLP.

Earlier, in Articles for Rabochaya Gazeta written in the second half of 1899 Lenin had stated: “We take our stand entirely on the Marxist theoretical position: Marxism was the first to transform socialism from a utopia into a science, to lay a firm foundation for this science, and to indicate the path that must be followed in further developing and elaborating it in all its parts. It disclosed the nature of modern capitalist economy by explaining how the hire of the labourer, the purchase of labour-power, conceals the enslavement of millions of propertyless people by a handful of capitalists, the owners of the land, factories, mines, and so forth. It showed that all modern capitalist development displays the tendency of large-scale production to eliminate petty production and creates conditions that make a socialist system of society possible and necessary. It taught us how to discern, beneath the pall of rooted customs, political intrigues, abstruse laws, and intricate doctrines - the class struggle, the struggle between the propertied classes in all their variety and the propertyless mass, the proletariat, which is at the head of all the propertyless.” As Lenin stated the real task of a revolutionary socialist party was: “not to draw up plans for refashioning society, not to preach to the capitalists and their hangers-on about improving the lot of the workers, not to hatch conspiracies, but to organise the class struggle of the proletariat and to lead this struggle, the ultimate aim of which is the conquest of political power by the proletariat and the organisation of a socialist society.”

The Second Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party marked the beginning of the Bolshevik Party, a party of socialist revolution.

By the mid-19th century the productive forces created under capitalism began to outgrow the capitalist relations of production. By the turn of the century capitalism had entered its highest stage, imperialism, and was characterised by a sharpening of contradictions in the capitalist system.

In September 1902 Lenin spoke of the necessity for “a disciplined party of struggle”. [4] In One Step Forward: Two Steps back – The Crisis in Our Party written in 1904 he developed the principles required for building such a party. In the struggle to build a disciplined party Lenin demonstrated the importance of resisting those forces determined to liquidate the party, and the otzovists, opportunists and reformists.These lessons remain valid today.

In the course of the first Russian Revolution the working class created Soviets of Workers’ Deputies. Lenin described the Soviets as the beginnings of a new type of government.

On 5 December 1905 the Moscow Bolsheviks adopted a resolution on beginning a general strike which was to develop into armed struggle. The December Uprising, treacherously opposed by the Mensheviks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries, was suppressed. The Bolsheviks, however, learned lessons from the defeat concluding that an armed uprising is a very serious matter and that the time for an uprising must be chosen carefully to avoid premature action which might prejudice its potential for success, and that proper and careful ideological and practical preparations must be in place.

The 1905-07 revolution failed to achieve its objectives for a number of reasons but the workers had demonstrated how it might have succeeded. The defeat was only a temporary respite for Tsarism although it did engage in a campaign of savage reprisals designed to destroy the impetus for revolution and its revolutionary party. Lenin was again forced abroad. The Bolsheviks learned important lessons, including the need to develop new tactics to adapt to changing circumstances, and Lenin later referred to the revolution as the dress rehearsal for October 1917. It demonstrated that the working class was the leading revolutionary force. By contrast the defeat left the Mensheviks demoralised. The ultra-leftist otzovists also failed to learn the lessons. While those such as Trotsky wavered and dissembled others such as Lenin, Sverdlov, Ordzhonikidze and Dzerzhinsky paid the price of arrest, imprisonment and exile.

Lenin writing in Proletary in November 1908 stated: “The fact remains that disunity and wavering exist, and this fact calls for an explanation. And there can be no other explanation than the necessity of a new sorting out … In the interests of this new sorting-out a strengthening of theoretical work is essential. The “present moment” in Russia is precisely one in which the theoretical work of Marxism, its deepening and expansion, are dictated not by the state of mind of this or that individual, not by the enthusiasm of one or another group, and not even by the external police conditions which have condemned many to elimination from “practical work"—but by the whole objective state of affairs in the country. When the masses are digesting a new and exceptionally rich experience of direct revolutionary struggle, the theoretical struggle for a revolutionary outlook, i.e., for revolutionary Marxism, becomes the watchword of the day.” [5]

What is to Be Done? and the question of organisation

Lenin made clear that in its struggle for power the proletariat has no other weapon but organisation. What is to Be Done? established a theoretical framework for party organisation. It dealt with both theory and practice but in such a way as to elevate the importance of questions of organisation as matters of central concern for a revolutionary organisation.

What is to Be Done? addressed the question of how the Russian Social Democrats might best contribute towards preparing for a revolution in Russia. At the heart of its analysis lay the question of organisation. The RSDLP did not exist as a coherent nationwide force capable of articulating the interests of the working class. Lenin laid out a plan that he believed would allow it to become one in the conditions of the repressive tsarist regime.

This plan was based on the concept of the vanguard party. Lenin envisaged building the party around a core of the most politically conscious Social Democrats, with the skills to promote Social Democracy among the workers, who would dedicate themselves to their work for the party. Beyond this core there would be larger and broader organisations. He wanted to create a party with a group of those who looked on revolution as their profession as its foundation. These people needed not only to be well versed in socialist ideas, they also would have to be able to function underground, to stay one step ahead of the Tsar’s secret police for as long as possible. They had to understand, in other words, how to operate secretly. At the same time, they also had to be able to reach new layers of the working class. By taking a leading role in the struggle for democracy in Russia, the RSDLP would make itself truly the tribune of the people, and would gain support not just from workers but from other oppressed elements of society.

In The Tasks of the Proletariat in the Present Revolution Lenin declared: “The specific feature of the present situation in Russia is that the country is passing from the first stage of the revolution – which, owing to the insufficient class-consciousness and organisation of the proletariat, placed power in the hands of the bourgeoisie – to its second stage, which must place power in the hands of the proletariat and the poorest sections of the peasants.” [6]

1917 was a year of crisis across Europe. The European continent and Russia in particular had been devastated by war. There was poverty and deprivation. Tens of millions of people had been dragged into an imperialist war and after three years over four million had died. European countries were on the verge of national bankruptcy. The social and economic conditions of the workers and the peasantry had worsened. In Russia by 1917 the peasants had only about half the land per capita which they had gained at the time of their “emancipation” whereas the Tsar, the church and the aristocracy enjoyed huge landed estates. The economy was in a state of collapse, the transport system was in crisis, factories were closing and food was in short supply. The army, abused, betrayed and impatient for peace, was disillusioned with the bourgeois provisional government.

The Bolshevik party, headed by Lenin, laid the ground for and assumed leadership in the world’s first victorious socialist revolution and the foundation of the world’s first workers’ state.

The Bolshevik programme recognised the demands of the workers, peasants and soldiers encapsulated in the slogan: “Peace to the army, land to the peasants, all power to the soviets”. These demands were approved in the Declaration of the Rights of Working and Exploited People and the decrees on land, peace and the transfer of power to the Soviets. The Kornilov affair heightened the fear among the mass of the people that tsarist generals might attempt to re-establish the old order. The revolutionary consciousness of the people was raised, the bourgeois provisional government was incapable of meeting the demands of the people and the commitment and originality of Lenin coupled with the organisation and discipline of the party set the backdrop for revolutionary change.

Around 700 soviets were created in March and April 1917. By summer there were 1,429.  On 3 April Lenin returned to Russia after almost 16 years of exile. On 4 April he read the April Theses, [7] which reportedly he had written en route to Petrograd by train, at two meetings held at the Taurida Palace and the article was reprinted in various Bolshevik newspapers.  Lenin was clear and uncompromising in his programme. He argued against cooperation with the liberals in the provisional government which was a bourgeois government, clearly identified the war as a predatory imperialist war, demanded nationalisation of the land and power to the soviets, asserting that Russia was passing from the first bourgeois stage of the revolution to its second socialist stage which necessitated placing power in the hands of the workers and the poorest sections of the peasants. As far back as the summer of 1905 Lenin had spoken of a “revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry”. [8] He made clear, however, the leading role of the proletariat in the struggle for emancipation.

As he stated in Social Democracy’s Attitude Towards the Peasant Movement “from   the democratic revolution we shall at once, and precisely in accordance with the measure of our strength, the strength of the class-conscious and organised proletariat, begin to pass to the socialist revolution. We stand for uninterrupted revolution. We shall not stop half-way. …we shall bend every effort to help the entire peasantry achieve the democratic revolution, in order thereby to make it easier for us, the party of the proletariat, to pass on as quickly as possible to the new and higher task—the socialist revolution.”

The October Revolution took place because the Bolsheviks were armed with two indispensable weapons – first, a dynamic revolutionary theory and secondly, a disciplined revolutionary party committed to leading the working class to power. As Lenin stated: “Without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement”. (What is to be Done?) In the period preceding the October Revolution the Bolshevik Party won to its cause the majority of the workers and poor peasants. Throughout 1917 Lenin set out the political structures of the new workers’ state, most comprehensively in the “State and Revolution”.

Lenin wrote: “Marxism differs from all other socialist theories in the remarkable way it combines complete scientific sobriety in the analysis of the objective state of affairs and the objective course of evolution with the most emphatic recognition of the importance of the revolutionary energy, revolutionary creative genius, and revolutionary initiative of the masses – and also, of course, of individuals, groups organisations, and parties that are able to discover and achieve contact with one or another class.” [9]

Uniquely among all the parties in Russia only the Bolsheviks recognised and trusted the instincts and impatience of the working class. Lenin setting aside the pessimism and defeatism of the doubters recognised that the objective conditions for revolution existed. He also recognised that it was necessary to develop and maintain mass support in any revolutionary action against the provisional government.

The October Socialist Revolution


The Provisional Government has been deposed. State power has passed into the hands of the organ of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies – the Revolutionary Military Committee, which heads the Petrograd proletariat and the garrison. The cause for which the people have fought, namely the immediate offer of a democratic peace, the abolition of landed proprietorship, workers’ control over production, and the establishment of Soviet power – this cause has been secured. Long live the revolution of workers, soldiers and peasants!”

These words announced one of the greatest events in human history, an occasion of historic global significance which changed forever the power relations between exploiter and exploited and made real the vision of a new socialist society of equal nations and peoples. On 25 October 1917 (7 November new style calendar) the socialist revolution that took place in Russia in 1917 was the first and the greatest successful workers’ revolution in history. As Lenin put it:

“In bourgeois revolutions, the principal task of the mass of working people was to fulfil the negative or destructive work of abolishing feudalism, monarchy and medievalism. The positive or constructive work of organising the new society was carried out by the property-owning bourgeois minority of the population. And the latter carried out this task with relative ease, despite the resistance of the workers and the poor peasants, not only because the resistance of the people exploited by capital was then extremely weak, since they were scattered and uneducated, but also because the chief organising force of anarchically built capitalist society is the spontaneously growing and expanding national and international market.

In every socialist revolution, however … the principal task of the proletariat, and of the poor peasants it leads, is the positive or constructive work of setting up an extremely intricate and delicate system of new organisational relationships extending to the planned production and distribution of the goods required for the existence of tens of millions of people.”

In contrast to all earlier revolutions the Great October Socialist Revolution transferred power to the working class, broke down the machinery of the bourgeois state and established the world’s first workers’ state. The object of the October Revolution was to abolish all forms of exploitation and oppression and to construct a new society based on socialist ideas.  The Bolshevik Revolution was at the core of a political phenomenon the impact of which was felt across the world. It was indeed “ten days that shook the world”.

In Germany, by contrast, the failure of the revolution, the brutal suppression that followed including the murder of Luxemburg, Liebknecht and others, demonstrated that the counter-revolution, in the absence of a strong, disciplined, organised revolutionary party capable of advancing and defending its gains, had no qualms about preserving the old order by force of arms, ably assisted and encouraged by the social democratic government allied with the right, the army and the Freikorps.

There are similar lessons to be learned from the experiences of the Hungarian Soviet Republic which came into being on 21 March 1919. Workers' control was established in many centres. The government nationalised industrial and commercial enterprises and socialised housing, transport, banking, medicine, cultural institutions, and all landholdings of more than 40 hectares. However, the country was soon under attack from external enemies and internal reaction. The decision of the communists to give up their organisational independence and merge into the social democratic party proved to be a major mistake. The Hungarian social democrats, like their German counter-parts, were heavily compromised, complicit in repressive actions against workers and had engaged in anti-communist campaigns. On 6th August 1919 the government was overthrown in a coup d’état. The defeat of the Hungarian Revolution of 1919 was a major blow to the international working class. The gains of the revolution were immediately reversed and a brutal repression followed involving mass arrests, torture and thousands of workers sentenced, many to death, by military tribunals.

The October Revolution was a decisive break with the old world order and laid the basis for the political, social and economic liberation of humankind. It brought about a new social system which abolished private ownership of the means of production, rejected the barbarism of capital and created the conditions for the establishment of a new type of civilization throughout the world.

Life expectancy and literacy levels were increased, the living conditions and material well-being of the people were improved and the health and education of citizens was secured. The October Revolution created the basis for material and social advancement, for the transfer of power to the working people, the creators of wealth, and provided the workers with the opportunity, through their labour and struggle, to build the social, political, economic and cultural conditions which offered the prospect of a free and fulfilled life.

The victory of the workers in the Great October Socialist Revolution led directly to the formation of the first workers’ state, converting the socialist vision into a tangible reality. For the first time in history the revolutionary ideas of Marx and Engels were translated into practice and this, in turn, laid the basis for the creative and innovative development of the socialist project. It should not be forgotten, however, that the formation of the new workers’ state occurred in the face of counter-revolution and foreign intervention. The Soviet state, still in its infancy, was confronted with aggressive armed, political and ideological opposition and internal and external reaction.

The Bolshevik Party was itself a party of a new type - a revolutionary party of internationalists and the October Revolution was itself a triumph of internationalism. The creation of the Third International in 1919 was a vital contribution to the formation and ideological cohesion of the fledgling communist and workers’ parties throughout the world. The Red International of Labour Unions was another step towards the heightening of working class consciousness and the development of revolutionary potential among the working class.

October 1917 signalled a new beginning. As Stalin wrote: “To begin with, October 1917 marked a breach in the world social front and created a turn in the whole of world history. Picture to yourselves the boundless social front, stretching from the backward colonies to advanced America, and then the immense breach forced in this front by the Russian detachment of the international proletariat, a breach that menaces the existence of imperialism, that has upset all the plans of the imperialist sharks and has greatly, radically, eased the task of the international proletariat in its struggle against capital — such is the historical significance of October 1917.” [10]

The October Revolution provided inspiration to the workers and oppressed of the world. It had a massive impact throughout Europe. In January 1918 there were mass strikes in Austria-Hungary and Germany. Lenin had made clear that the socialist revolution “will not be solely or chiefly, a struggle of the revolutionary proletarians in each country against their bourgeoisie – no, it will be a struggle of all the imperialist oppressed colonies and countries, against international imperialism”. In Ireland, in February 1918, some 10,000 people attended a rally in Dublin to greet the success of the October Revolution. The first Congress of the Peoples of the East convened in Baku in September 1920 was attended by almost two thousand delegates who represented around 40 nations. The October Revolution introduced an era of revolutionary change both within Russia and beyond. Communist parties were formed in the USA, Europe and across the world following Lenin’s articulation of the party of a new type.

It is impossible to commemorate the Great October Socialist Revolution without also acknowledging and applauding the many achievements of the first workers’ state. The industrialization of the economy, the expansion of medical and health services, the development of educational provision and training, the measures taken to provide for culture, literature and sport, the development of agriculture, scientific and technological progress and the improvement in the material conditions of working people were among the many accomplishments of the revolution.

The October Revolution also commenced a new stage in international solidarity. It encouraged and inspired the international revolutionary movement. The victorious revolution in Russia was in itself a serious defeat for imperialism and colonialism and it inspired and supported further such defeats. The movement for national liberation, freedom and independence was strengthened and socialism became the hope of the oppressed. As a result liberation movements, with the support of the Soviet Union and the Socialist countries, swept away the old colonial rulers and proclaimed the freedom, independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of independent nation states whereby the influence of the colonial powers was weakened and undermined. In 1919 colonial and dependent countries made up approximately 72 per cent of the world’s territory. By the end of the 1960’s this figure had been reduced to 3.6 per cent.

The Soviet Union played a decisive role in the defeat of fascism, Nazism and Japanese imperialism. In 1945 fascism was defeated in Europe. The Soviet Union, the Red Army and the communist partisans and resistance fighters of Europe were instrumental in securing that defeat. The battle of Stalingrad, which lasted 200 days and nights, represented a major defeat for the Nazis. The Nazi counter-attack at Kursk was broken and further heavy losses were inflicted on the fascist forces. Subsequent to the defeat at Kursk the Nazis failed to mount another major offensive and the Red Army advanced, step by step, to Berlin. Peace had come to Europe – but at great cost. Fascist aggression had been defeated and the Soviet Union played the decisive role in that struggle and sustained the biggest losses. The Red Army, under the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, was instrumental in that achievement.

The historic victory of the Allies over the Nazis also led to a basic shift in the international balance of forces. The Charter of the United Nations had been drawn up by June 1945. Article 1(2) of the Charter declared that one of the purposes of the organisation was the development of friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples. Throughout Asia and Africa vast areas that had previously formed part of European empires became independent and entered a new existence as sovereign states.

The role of the liberation movements and the creation of a socialist community of nations challenged imperialist ambitions and the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples in 1960 proclaiming that “all people have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development”. The 1952 Declaration on Permanent Sovereignty over Natural Resources emphasised the right of peoples and nations to permanent sovereignty over their natural wealth. Of course, despite the improvement in the correlation of forces and the declarations of the UN Charter about the development of friendly relations between states etc., imperialist aggressiveness continued notwithstanding that positive developments, together with the demand for peace and the demand for an end to the exploitation which bred hunger, misery and oppression throughout the world were the legacy of the experience and ideas of the Great October Socialist Revolution.

The enemies of socialism have sought, unsuccessfully, to diminish the achievements of the Soviet Union and the ideas of the October Revolution. Despite that the lessons of the October Revolution are as vibrant and relevant as ever. The counter-revolution in the socialist states in Europe did not represent the end of history. Neither did it invalidate the revolutionary principles of Marxism and Leninism.

The lessons of the Bolshevik experience

What is the role of the revolutionary party in today’s world? Its role remains the same as when it was first conceived - to provide a disciplined, ideologically coherent and effective force to promote class struggle and revolutionary change among the working class and to secure the transition to a new society. The need for such a party remains vital. The class struggle demands a party of this type. The current crisis of capitalism continues to demonstrate the power and the nature of the state in capitalist society. The state as it exists under capitalism functions in the interests of capital. The need for a party of and for the working class that understands these concrete realities and that has as its goal placing power in the hands of the working class is evident. The task of raising and consolidating the level of class consciousness falls to the revolutionary party.

The threat to the social and economic conditions of workers and small farmers across the world and the escalation of imperialist war has sharpened the ideological struggle and provides new conditions for building class consciousness and preparing workers for political action. Economic globalisation, the corporatisation of the world order, the power of the imperialist inter-state alliances, the subordination of national economies and natural resources to the interests of capital and the monopolies, the continuing indebtedness of the developing world and inequitable trade relations, the ever-increasing expansion of US military bases worldwide reinforces the reality of imperialism.

It is necessary for the revolutionary party to reassert the dynamic of socialism as a viable alternative world vision and to develop working class consciousness and organisation on a mass scale. Marxism provides us with a vital theoretical tool for interpreting the world and Lenin and the October Revolution have demonstrated how that revolutionary theory provides the basis for changing it.

The October Revolution offered the prospects for change, invested the workers’ movement with a revolutionary consciousness and objective, the function of educating, organising and mobilising the mass of the working people in the struggle against capital and the task of building a new society. The events of October 1917 demonstrated the creativity of Marxism and the potential for the enrichment and practical application of the principles of socialism and internationalism.

It remains the task of the revolutionary parties to apply those principles to present conditions in a creative manner, preserving the core values and principles of revolutionary socialism, but also encompassing the peoples’ daily struggles around other concrete issues, including social, economic and labour struggles, gender, race, the environment, peace and democracy. The revolutionary party must be centrally involved in the progressive struggles of workers, the popular strata, small farmers, women, youth, older people and students.

Central to those struggles and consonant with the ideas of the October Revolution and the exhortations of Marx, Engels and Lenin we must challenge the prevailing ascendancy of bourgeois ideology at all levels of political, economic, social and cultural life. It is necessary to confront and defeat hostile anti-communist propaganda from whatever source it emanates and to stand in solidarity with Communist and Workers’ parties under attack. We must actively defend the socialist project. It is time to mount a co-ordinated ideological counter-attack.

It is our task to demonstrate the positive benefits of socialism to workers, not merely as a theoretical proposition but as a practical reality setting out its achievements, its opposition to fascism, imperialism, oppression, exploitation and war.

The Leninist party cannot be a mere mechanism for conducting elections (although this remains an important element of its work). The strength of a revolutionary workers’ party derives from its ideological coherence, its capacity to engage in active political work and its close connections with the working class, not merely from the number of its elected representatives. As Lenin pointed out the Party must be able to work out organisational relations that will ensure a definite level of consciousness and systematically raise this level. It is only a party of this nature which, establishing its unwavering socialist credentials amongst the mass of working people, can become a genuine leading force in the struggle against capitalism, for socialism and communism.

The October Revolution demonstrated the vital importance of a revolutionary vanguard party and a politically conscious working class. The revolutionary party must build its organisational, administrative and political capabilities and develop a strategy for better and more effective political education and communication to enhance its capacity to challenge and contest the centres of power at every level. The development of class consciousness remains a central task of the ideological and political work of the Communist and Workers’ parties. Accordingly, we must be at the heart of the peoples’ struggles and concerns. The fight for democratic rights, in the sense of the relentless ideological-political and mass confrontation developing through the daily struggles of workers for their democratic, labour and social rights remains an inseparable part of the struggle for socialism. [11] This exposes the anti-people, anti-democratic class character of the bourgeois state, the bourgeois governments and parties. In every such struggle it is the task of the communists to highlight and proclaim the necessity of socialism, stressing that social ownership of the means of production is the only economic foundation for genuine democracy.  

The Marxist-Leninist Party must expand the front of struggle, vigorously involving itself in every area of political, social, economic and cultural life, refusing to abandon any arena of struggle to the bourgeois parties with the objective as Lenin put it of combining “the struggle for democracy and the struggle for socialist revolution”. [Collected Works, Vol. 35, p 267] These are the lessons of October 1917.

Lenin demonstrated that the parties of the old, social democratic type could not become the revolutionary vanguard of the working class by reason of their opportunism, loss of ideological integrity and lack of preparedness for the struggle. As Lenin stated: “… the only choice is – either bourgeois or socialist ideology … There is no middle course … Hence, to belittle the socialist ideology in any way, to turn aside from it in the slightest degree means to strengthen bourgeois ideology.” [12]

The 1960s and 1970s saw many socialists argue (correctly) that culture was an important part of class struggle, and therefore that the class struggle would have to be intensified at the level of culture. They argued that in the conditions created by the so-called “western democracies”, a 1917-style revolution was all but impossible, and so the nature of the revolutionary party and its politics had to change. They presented this as “updating” our understanding of revolution and as a response to “changing conditions”. In reality, however, this way of thinking proved to be disastrous for class politics and the working class. The argument about the centrality of cultural struggle proved to be a cover for retreating from the traditional activities and focus of the revolutionary party, The importance of work in the trade unions and other mass organisations was downplayed, as was the importance of other types of work on the ground, or in some cases the importance of the vanguard party itself. Instead, the focus was to shift much more towards electoral politics, and the ways in which the media helped shape people’s ideas. Both these are areas that are central to the struggle to bring about revolutionary change, but neither on their own is sufficient to bring about that change. The consequence was a shift away from class politics and a move towards cultural and identity politics. Some of the biggest Communist parties in Europe adopted these ideas, to their cost. Across the world this downplaying of class politics paved the way for the dilution, weakening and often dissolution of communist parties.

This opportunism was exemplified in its euro-communist form, which rejected the centrality of class struggle in theory and practice, denied the role of class domination of the state, advocated the creation of an all-class social bloc and the construction of a so-called “advanced democracy” though reforms within the existing capitalist order, thereby destroying the Leninist character of the participating parties in pursuit of this revisionist endeavour.

Notwithstanding setbacks and reversals the experiences of the Great October Socialist Revolution remain valid. We have learned to expose the betrayals of the social democrats; to create a political culture favourable to the development of socialist ideas; to analyse our weaknesses and develop our strengths, to challenge the insidious corruption of pessimism and defeatism; to create a bloc to confront imperialism, neo-colonialism and reaction; to engage in mass ideological and political work amongst the people; to defend socialism and the socialist countries against calumny and slander; to vigorously take up every democratic struggle against capitalism; to remain steadfast in our commitment to socialist principles and to remain committed to the struggle for socialist revolution.

The Great October Socialist Revolution demonstrated that the birth of a new society is possible, that workers can create a state in their own image. Today the Marxist-Leninist parties are engaged in a battle with powerful forces but as experience has shown these forces can be defeated. This battle requires mass ideological and political work in a political environment where our parties are confronted with a hostile bourgeois media. In those circumstances the Communist and Workers’ parties must use all means at their disposal to engage with workers’ struggles, raise class consciousness and present the case for socialism. To that end we must endeavour to build a closer unity, co-operation, fraternal solidarity and joint action between our parties, improving the conditions for the mutual exchange of experiences and struggles, the articulation of theoretical positions and to develop and strengthen international solidarity and co-operation between fraternal parties.

The importance of a vanguard party of the working class remains essential. Capitalism has been rampant since the counter-revolution removed many of the limitations it had been forced to accept by the existence of the socialist states. Experience demonstrates that without a vanguard party with a coherent ideology and a presence within the working class and its organisations, then the working class is an easier target for capital. A militant and effective vanguard party of the working class can frustrate and upset the capitalists’ plans, and protect the rights of workers, moving quickly from defence to attack when the opportunity presents itself. A revolutionary transformation of society requires a revolutionary party to define clearly where it stands and to set out its political strategy and tactics for a rupture with capitalism.

The October Revolution graphically illustrated the vitality of Marxism and the potential for workers to transform society and the world. The ideas of the October Revolution continue to foster the revolutionary ingenuity and imagination and provide the basis for building the revolutionary capacity to bring about radical and lasting change.

Lenin formulated the theoretical and organisational principles for the creation of a revolutionary party of a new type capable of rendering Marxist theory into practice and which led the working people of Russia in a victorious struggle against the tsarist autocracy, the landlords and the capitalist class.  These include democratic centralism, ideological and organisational unity and Party discipline. To reject these essential organisational features is, as Lenin said: “tantamount to completely disarming the proletariat in the interests of the bourgeoisie.” [13] This echoes Engels in his refutation of the Bakuninists’ positions when he said that if their notions were adopted there would be “no party discipline, no centralisation of forces at a particular point, no weapons of struggle”. [14]

The revolutionary Marxist-Leninist party is the vanguard of the working class, its organised detachment, characterised by its revolutionary outlook, its irreconcilable opposition to capitalist exploitation and oppression, its unrelenting determination to place power in the hands of the working class and to construct a socialist-communist society.

The experience and ideas of the October Revolution transformed the world. The October Revolution demonstrated the necessity of a disciplined revolutionary party of the working class. The Leninist Party must be able to defend its theoretical and ideological positions, immerse itself in the struggles of the working people building a strong and unbreakable bond between the Party and the working class, demonstrate that every political struggle is a class struggle, preserving the political, organisational and ideological independence of the Party, vigorously exposing and eradicating opportunism, social chauvinism and class collaboration, continuously asserting the fundamental commitment to class struggle, socialist revolution and proletarian internationalism.

[1] K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Correspondence (Moscow, 1975), p. 386.

[2] The Communist Manifesto

[3] V.I. Lenin, Collected Works (Moscow, 1977), Vol. 2, p. 24.

[4] Letter to a Comrade on our Organisational Tasks

[5] V.I. Lenin, Collected Works (Moscow, 1977), Vol. 15, p. 290.

[6] The Tasks of the Proletariat in the Present Revolution, V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 24, p 22

[7] The Tasks of the Proletariat in the in the Present Revolution published in the 7 April 1917 issue of Pravda

[8] Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution Collected Works  Vol. 9 p. 98

[9] V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 13, p. 36

[10] J.V. Stalin, Works (Moscow, 1953), Vol. 5, p. 108.

[11] V.I. Lenin The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky: “It is natural for a liberal to speak of “democracy” in general; but a Marxist will never forget to ask: “for what class?”

[12] V.I. Lenin What is to be done? “The Spontaneity of the Masses and the Consciousness of the Social-Democrats”

[13] V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 31, pp. 43-44.

[14] K. Marx, F. Engels, V. Lenin, Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1974