Journal of Socialist Theory

Critique conference: A Call for Papers on 1917

Critique intends to produce an issue around the themes of the meaning and long term results of the Russian Revolution of November 1917. How did the Russian Revolution change the evolution of national and global society? Are its ideals still alive in the way our society operates or has humanity given up?

The Russian Revolution was based on the enthusiasm of the Soviet working class and on Marxist theory, on Lenin’s and Trotsky’s understanding of capitalism and of the Russian empire, in particular. They were incorporated in the ideas espoused by workers and peasants who fought to maintain power.

The immediate effect of the Revolution was to shock the ruling class into a realisation that they could be overthrown, if only temporarily. After the revolution became permanent, by 1921, they worried that they might lose power completely. They took steps to avoid that contingency both through repression and concession. The isolation of the Soviet Union after its inhuman suffering in the Civil War and famine, facilitated the rise of Stalinism and a new turn in global history.

Under Stalinism, the Soviet Union was neither socialist nor capitalist, nor even a new intermediate mode of production. Remnants of the original form remained but transformed into something quite different. However, the question is not the nature of the former Soviet Union, which this journal has discussed frequently but how far modern capitalism has adapted, incorporated and negated the Russian Revolution. Its history is usually distorted in school textbooks, and university courses are frequently superficial and more often biased in favour of the Tsarist system.

We cannot understand the history of Europe without incorporating the way in which the USSR, and the Communist Parties influenced events from the twenties onwards.

The question that is posed is whether the Russian Revolution began the subjective and objective process of transformation of capitalism, and in what ways; or whether we should regard the chapter as over, as it were.

We are not calling for yet more demands for the formation of a new party. That may or may not be correct. The question is twofold. 1. Do we, in spite of or perhaps because of Stalinism have a world which has changed to the point that we need to adapt our perspective on how capitalism will be overthrown? Has it become more difficult? In other words, did the de facto defeat of the Russian Revolution through Stalinism retard the move to socialism, or has the revolution, like the old mole, continued to burrow its way through history?

Looked at from another angle, the Russian Revolution can be conceived of as the start of the conscious process of the overthrow of capitalism. The introduction of more democratic governing forms, like universal suffrage, the movement towards equal rights for women, the implementation of a welfare state and decolonisation were all a form of reply to the proclamation of the overthrow of the ruling class in favour of socialism. On the other hand, fascism and the world war, not to speak of sundry dictatorial regimes could be regarded as the repressive side of ruling class reaction.

The Critique call for articles and participation in our forthcoming conference is to ask for papers showing the importance of the Russian Revolution yesterday and today, politically, socially and economically.

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