TrotskyWhat About Russia? | Home | News | Donate | Join

 

Trotsky: In Defence of October

The Revolution and its place in history


Page 5  [Previous]  [Next]

Let me now, in closing, attempt to ascertain the place of the October Revolution, not only in the history of Russia but in the history of the world. 

During the year of 1918, in a period of eight months, two historical curves intersect. The February upheaval that belated echo of the great struggles which had been carried out in the past centuries on the territories of Holland, England, France, nearly all over Continental Europe takes its place in the series of bourgeois revolutions. 

The October Revolution proclaimed and opened the domination of the proletariat. World capitalism suffered its first great defeat on the Russian territory. The chain broke at its weakest link. But it was the chain that broke, and not only the link.

Capitalism has outlived itself as a world system. It has ceased to fulfil its essential function: the raising of the level of human power and human wealth. Humanity cannot remain stagnant at the level which it has reached. 

Only a powerful increase in productive force and a sound, planned, that is, socialist organisation of production and distribution can assure humanity all humanity of a decent standard of life and at the same time give it the precious feeling of freedom with respect to its own economy. 

Freedom in two senses first of all man will no longer be compelled to devote the greater part of his life to physical toil. Second, he will no longer be dependent on the laws of the market, that is, on the blind and obscure forces which work behind his back. 

He will build his economy freely, according to plan, with compass in hand. This time it is a question of subjecting the anatomy of society to the X-ray through and through, of disclosing all its secrets and subjecting all its functions to the reason and the will of collective humanity. 

In this sense, socialism must become a new step in the historical advance of mankind. Before our ancestor, who first armed himself with a stone axe, the whole of nature represented a conspiracy of secret and hostile forces. 

Since then, the natural sciences hand in hand with practical technology have illuminated nature down to its most secret depths. By means of electrical energy, the physicist passes judgement on the nucleus of the atom. 

The hour is not far when science will easily solve the task of alchemists, and turn manure into gold and gold into manure. Where the demons and furies of nature once raged, now reigns over more courageously the industrious will of man.

But while he wrestled victoriously with nature, man built up his relations to order men blindly almost like the bee or the ant. Slowly and very haltingly he approached the problems of human society.

The Reformation represented the first victory of bourgeois individualism in a domain which had been ruled by dead tradition. From the church, critical thought went on to the State. 

Born in the struggle with absolutism and the medieval estates, the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people and of the rights of man and the citizen grew stronger. Thus arose the system of parliamentarianism. 

Critical thought penetrated into the domain of government administration. The political rationalism of democracy was the highest achievement of the revolutionary bourgeoisie.

But between nature and the state stands economic life. Technical science liberated man from the tyranny of the old elements earth, water, fire and air only to subject him to its own tyranny. Man ceased to be a slave to nature to become a slave to the machine, and, still worse, a slave to supply and demand. 

The present world crisis testifies in especially tragic fashion how man, who dives to the bottom of the ocean, who rise up to the stratosphere, who converses on invisible waves from the Antipodes, how this proud and daring ruler of nature remains a slave to the blind forces of his own economy. 

The historical task of our epoch consists in replacing the uncontrolled play of the market by reasonable planning, in disciplining the forces of production, compelling them to work together in harmony and obediently serve the needs of mankind. Only on this new social basis will man be able to stretch his weary limbs and every man and every woman, not only a selected few become a citizen with full power in the realm of thought.

The Future of Man

But this is not yet the end of the road. No, it is only the beginning. 

Man calls himself the crown of creation. He has a certain right to that aim. But who has asserted that present day man is the last and highest representative of the species Homo Sapiens? No, physically as well as spiritually he is very far from perfection, prematurely born biologically, with feeble thought, and has not produced any new organic equilibrium.

It is true that humanity has more than once brought forth giants of thought and action, who tower over their contemporaries like summits in a chain of mountains. The human race has a right to be proud of its Aristotle, Shakespeare, Darwin, Beethoven, Goethe, Marx, Edison and Lenin. But why are they so rare? 

Above all, because almost without exception they came out of the middle and upper classes. Apart from rare exceptions, the sparks of genius in the suppressed depths of the people are choked before they can burst into flame. 

But also because the processes of creating, developing and educating a human being have been and remain essentially a matter of chance, not illuminated by theory and practice, not subjected to consciousness and will.

Anthropology, biology, physiology and psychology have accumulated mountains of material to raise up before mankind in their full scope the tasks of perfecting and developing body and spirit. Psychoanalysis, with the inspired hand of Sigmund Freud, has lifted the cover of the well which is poetically called the "soul". 

And what has been revealed? Our conscious thought is only a small part of the work of the dark psychic forces. Learned divers descend to the bottom of the ocean and there take photographs of mysterious fishes. Human thought, descending to the bottom of its own psychic sources must shed light on the most mysterious driving forces of the soul and subject them to reason and to will.

Once he has done with the anarchic forces of his own society man will set to work on himself, in the pestle and retort of the chemist. For the first time mankind will regard itself as raw material, or at best as a physical and psychic semi-finished product. Socialism will mean a leap from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom in this sense also, that the man of today, with all his contradictions and lack of harmony, will open the road for a new and happier race.

 


 

Some terms

Bonaparte, Napoleon 1 (1769-182l): Seized power in coup d'etat in 1804, proclaiming the French empire and himself emperor.

Clausewitz, Kari Von (1780-1831): Prussian army officer, military theoretician.

Duma: Parliament in Russia before 1917. Had a truncated franchise.

Jacobins: Popular name for members of the Society of the friends of the Constitution who were the radical wing of the French revolution.

Kerensky, Alexander (1 882-1970): Reformist Prime Minister in Russia in 1917, overthrown by the October Revolution.

Liebknecht, Wilhelm (1826-1900): Alongside Bebel founder of the German Social Democracy.

Liebknecht, Karl (1871 -1919): Leader of the left wing of the German Social Democracy, opposed World War One, founded Spartakusbund with Rosa Luxemburg. Murdered by reactionary troops in January 1919.

Mensheviks: Reformist wing of the Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party (RSDLP), until 1912 when it and the Bolsheviks became separate parties. The Mensheviks opposed the October 1917 revolution.

Miliukov, Paul (1859-1943): Leader of the capitalist Cadet Party in Russia. Minister of Foreign Affairs until May 1917.

Poincare, Raymond (1860-1934): President of France, 1913-20, Prime Minister 1912, 1922-24, 1926-29.

Social Democratic International: Historically Social Democratic was the title adopted by many workers' parties. The International collapsed in 1914 when a majority of its parties supported the imperialist war.

Social Revolutionaries (SRs): Peasant socialist party. Split in 1917, the Left SRs participated for a period in the Soviet government, while the right SRs opposed the revolution.


 

[Continue...]

 

What About Russia? | Home | News | Donate | Join