R. Page Arnot

The Russian Revolution

Source: The Labour Monthly, November 1927, Vol. IX.
Publisher: 162 Buckingham Palace Road, London, S.W.1
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: Chris Clayton
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

THIS month of November, ten years ago, was the Bolshevik revolution; this month of November, 1927, there still is the Bolshevik revolution, the same, but grown greater. The challenge that rang out in November, 1917, has swollen in volume through the years, and has filled the whole earth till now in every land the capitalists cannot get the sound of it out of their ears. To none is the challenge more compelling than to the leaders of the trade unions and the co-operative societies and the political labour organisations. Their answer is—to deny that any challenge exists. This is the meaning of the flood of anniversary articles in which the revolution is treated as some huge unique catastrophe, as something peculiar to Russia, something that has happened.

This treatment of the revolution, isolating it, gaping at it, is akin to the canonisation of revolutionary leaders (like the turning of Marx into a hackneyed Liberal). Those who would understand the revolution must seek to understand the process of human history. In that search they will find not only that within the historic period man advances by means of class struggle, but that within the period of capitalism class struggle after class struggle culminates in revolution. Within the last hundred and fifty years alone history presents itself not as a record of kings and battles, but (in spite of all the systematic lying of the Whigs and the Radicals, set forth in every school book, in every scholarly tome, in every speech, sermon and editorial) as a process of class striving with class, culminating in the overthrow of one class another, the intervening periods being but the preparation for that overthrow.

The American Revolution reacts on the great French Revolution from which in turn there issue the revolutions of 1930 and 1848 (in England the Luddites of 1812, and the suppressed trade union agitation oft 1800 to 1825, are succeeded by the Chartist movement of the working class which in its widest sense spans the years from the late ’twenties to the early ’fifties). Already in 1848 the working class has learned that it must go forward in its own strength; and though the Paris Commune, the firms attempt to destroy capitalist rule and to build a workers’ society is drowned in blood, the lessons of these few weeks remain unforgotten throughout the epoch of imperialism that followed. Then as the violence, punitive expeditions, wars, and massacres of imperialism bring more and more colonial peoples beneath the yoke, the stage is reached of dividing up the spoil anew through the first imperialist world war; and when this stage is reached the decay of imperialism becomes manifest, and equally manifest the rising of new forces, the re-awakening of the working class, the first rally of the colonial peoples against oppression. The revolution of 1905 in Russia marks the beginning of the decline, 1917 the end of the rotten rule of imperialism over one-sixth part of the earth; and at the same time an intenser conflict begins against capitalist oppression in every country. In the midst of this intenser conflict the British working class now finds itself compelled to fight for a livelihood, and in that struggle to attack the whole system that refuses it the bread of life. This the process of world history, this is the meaning of the stage in that process in which we live, this is the meaning of the Russian Revolution.

How do they see it, the leaders of Labour, the bureaucracy of the trade unions and the co-operative societies, the men elected to parliaments and municipalities? In what shape do they perceive the Russian Revolution? The answer, as shown by thousands of their speeches and articles, is that for them it is something remote, spectacular, inexplicable, and, at close quarters, dangerous. And beneath this surface gaping there lurks a real hostility, only partially restrained by philistine respectfulness towards the might of the Soviet State.

The hostility bursts forth again and again, both in decisions of policy, from the Democracy and Socialism thesis of the Bern International in 1919 up to the rupture of the Anglo-Russian Committee as a pendant to the Baldwin Government’s rupture of the Trade Agreement, and also in the declamations of leading “Socialists.” It is especially at the moments when the Soviet power appears least strong that their theoretical objections become most pronounced. “The Bolsheviks,” wrote Brailsford, ten years ago, against the first activity of the revolution to bring peace, “are putting themselves outside the pale of our international Socialist society.” And through all the vicissitudes that make up a Brailsford, he is in the end as he was in the beginning, impenitently opposed to the world revolution. And Brailsford is typical of all the “Socialists” that pretend to welcome the revolution.

How is this attitude to be explained? It is the outlook born of the between-times, born of the trough of time that lies between the wave-crests of the advancing revolution.

In this century such an attitude was common amongst the Menshevik Socialists in Russia after the 1905 revolution. Because revolution had been defeated once, therefore revolution was at all times and for ever impossible. The Labour Movement, they said, must work within the framework of Tsardom, and give up the dream of its overthrow. So, to their eternal shame and dishonour, these “Socialists” argued—until 1917 swept them into oblivion along with the rotten timbers to which they clung. So now in this country, in the trough of the wave, in a similar time of depression, instead of fighting, stimulating, and heartening the workers, they are preaching industrial peace (submission to the worst the employers can inflict), and dropping Socialism out of their programme. The Edinburgh Trades Union Congress and the Blackpool Conference of the Labour Party mark the lowest pitch of fatalism, of craven submission to circumstance, of complete failure of courage and hope on the part of the leaders.

But this outlook is inevitable amongst men thus blind to the real meaning of the working-class struggle and to the movement it imparts to history. How shall savages understand an eclipse of the sun? To savages, knowing naught of the planetary laws of motion, or the periods of the moon, the sun’s eclipse is a catastrophe without past or future, unpredictable, causeless, dire, and destructive. To the astronomer the eclipse, itself predictable, is the means to verify and establish even more fundamental laws of physics. So with the Russian Revolution. Those who swallowed the hocus-pocus of capitalist politics and disdained any knowledge that lay beyond their own noses, were at once astonished by the revolution (an accident they had not allowed for—like the war which was also left out of their reckonings) and have never ceased to be wrong about it since; and because they were wrong about it, because their scheme of the human universe never rose above the conception of living from hand to mouth, they were bound to mislead the workers in their every-day struggle.

Further, the analogy, if followed up, yields a still more startling parallel between the astronomer of the skies and the social astronomer thinking in the discipline of Marxism. The most learned savage of an Oxford common room, the most bedizened medicine-man on the Treasury Bench, or at the Guildhall Banquet, is less capable of understanding social phenomena than the simple “ignorant” working man who can tell a capitalist war when he sees it (when the savages are prating of nationality, justice, &c.. &c.), and who can see that mankind will halt and retreat unless the capitalists are thrown from off the backs of the workers.

Social astronomers, able to calculate the laws of motion of capitalist society, predict the world revolution; and (since man himself is a social force) strive to hasten it. In the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics the endeavour is to build a Socialist society; and in capitalist Britain to build up through daily struggles a workers’ movement that will conquer the power the governing class, and along with the revolutionary classes of India and other lands, set free a quarter of the human race.