“No matter what one thinks of Bolshevism, it is undeniable that the Russian Revolution is one of the great events of human history, and the rise of the Bolsheviki a phenomenon of world-wide importance. Just as historians search the records for the minutest details of the story of the Paris Commune, so they will want to know what happened in Petrograd in November, 1917, the spirit which animated the people, and how the leaders looked, talked and acted.” (John Reed: Preface to Ten Days that Shook the World)
The Status Quo of the Left
A person can never learn anything about the October Revolution (November in the Old Calendar) without understanding the status quo of the Left, the Lenin and Trotsky collisions, the imperial wars, and the basic concepts of Marxism.
The left has entered massive debates in the 19th century after the failure of the Paris Commune rebellion of 1871 and earlier the Spanish Commune of 1866. The later was trashed effectively by Engels, the former generated the grounds for expanding Marx’s revolutionary ideas on the ground. The Second ‘Socialist’ International was built after the First International collapsed (with the break-up of the Communists and the Anarchists). The figures who would lead the 2nd International would be Eleanor Marx, Eduard Avalin, Engels himself, Plekhanov (father of Russian Marxism), Karl Kautsky (Spearhead of German Socialism), and others. While the Second International flourished, the great divide expanded despite the foundation of several powerful labor and social democratic parties (then labor and social democratic parties were purely socialist in nature).
Debates among the socialist spheres rotated around the different phases of capitalism. For example, most quasi-feudal societies were supposed to enter the capitalist era before advocating a Proletariat Revolution, this probably would be led by Kautsky, Julius Martov (first spearhead of the Mensheviks), and others. The other line advocated that the feudal lords integrated themselves in the Capitalist system, henceforth all countries already submit to Capitalism. The Proletariat are ready to erupt the revolution when they can as well when the circumstances are available. They focused on the core values of Marx, and argued that Europe already emerged out of the feudal era by 1840. This will be advocated by Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky, Lunacharsky, and several others.
Toward the late 19th Century, Anarchist, and Marxist circles were established on the grassroots level. Lenin, Martov, Vera Zasulich, Plekhanov, Axelrod, and Potresov established the radical journal: Iskra (which means in English: the Spark). Iskra will become the founding basis for activists through out Europe (and elsewhere). Others, such as the likes Trotsky will join. Iskra itself became the building block to build the Russian Social Democratic Party. The Iskra also displayed the heavy collisions between the old guards and the new ones. Lenin, Martov, and Potresov (younger generation) will entered a collision against the Plekhanov, Axelrod, and Zasulich. Here, Trotsky and Lenin will meet the first time in London, October 1902. Lenin and his wife Krupskaya were using alias names of MR. and Ms. Richter.
The Iskra witnessed heavy collisions between Lenin and Plekhanov, who attempted to place an iron-grip over Iskra. Lenin proposed the ousting of Axelrod, Zasulich, and Potresov from the Iskra editorial because they haven’t been productive, while Plekhanov and others fought him heavily. Excluding for the this proposal at the assemply failing, Lenin won every single proposal at a two vote difference, henceforth Lenin’s faction would be called the Bolsheviks (meaning Majority in English), while Martov’s faction would become the Mensheviks (meaning Minority in English). Eventually, the Russian Social Democratic Party will collapse into two separate parties. This signaled the division lines between the Socialists: Emancipation from below through a pure Marxist approach, or step down and reconcile with the right-wings.
In 1905, Leon Trotsky escaped back to Russia after a massacre of proletariat called “Black Friday”, and transformed a workers’ demonstration into a proletariat revolution whereby he succeeded where all his predecessors failed: establishing a Soviet. Trotsky clearly supported a workers’ revolution; however, he advocated the reunification of the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks into the Russian Social Democratic Party. Even though dubbed a Menshevik for disagreeing with Lenin, Trotsky wasn’t any of the two. In fact, when the Petrograd Soviet collapsed, Trotsky was greeted in contempt, while back in exile again, by Lenin and Martov, We will return to 1905 for different reasons at a different section.
The 1905 revolution stormed the Left through out Europe by surprise. Theories were revised, the softies who claimed socialism were placed in a corner. At the dawn of the break of imperial wars among empires, the left remained divided between pure emancipation from below or allying with right.
When World War I came into existence, the Second International collapsed. Kautsky’s stubbornness of remaining its prime figure destroyed whatever is left. The Socialists were divided. One Socialist became the Minister of War to support France’s imperial causes, and he was severely attacked by Trotsky. Trotsky’s mentor, Parvus, became a German Nationalist supporting Czarist Germany in the face of the allies, and to this Trotsky issued an obituary mourning the death of his friend (even though he remained alive). The Mensheviks were also divided into supporting Russia’s war or not. Lenin severely attacked all forms of Nationalism in the war and called it: “Bourgeoisie’s war”. He heavily criticized any socialist who supported the concept of “Fatherland”. For Lenin, these are imaginary boundaries that divided the Proletariat to unite against their oppressors. Two powerful figures also followed this path bluntly, and they paid the price ultimately: Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebnekht. Karl was locked up in prison during all the time of the World War.
Yet, people like Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin, and Trotsky expected a global change throughout the world. Marx’s basic rules over here will come handy. Lenin and Trotsky foresaw the insurrection of the Proletariat in the face of their oppressors. Trotsky and Lenin in specific anticipated a revolution that will trigger a global revolution and knew that it was their chance to attempt to overthrow the capitalist system.
End of Part I