Workers Vanguard No. 1033

1 November 2013


From the Archives of Marxism

The Proletarian Revolution in Russia

By Louis Fraina

To mark the anniversary of the 1917 October Revolution, we print below excerpts from Louis Fraina’s introduction to The Proletarian Revolution in Russia (1918). The book mainly consists of articles by Bolshevik leaders V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky that were written, as Fraina noted, “during the actual course of the Revolution,” from the overthrow of the tsar in February to the workers’ seizure of power and the birth of the Soviet state.

In 1919, Fraina and other members of a left-wing faction in the Socialist Party who were expelled for advocating Bolshevism went on to found the Communist Party of America that September. James P. Cannon, a leader of the early Communist Party and later of American Trotskyism, remarked that Fraina in that period “did more than anybody else to explain and popularize the basic program of the Russian Bolsheviks” (First Ten Years of American Communism [1962]). In later years, Fraina, writing under the name Lewis Corey, renounced Communism. But as Cannon put it, “The best part of Fraina—the young part—belongs to us.”

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The persistence of Czarism in Russia after its historical necessity had ceased, its clinging to power after Capitalism had come into being, produced a dual political and social development. Within the shell of Czarism developed the bourgeoisie, the class of capitalists, and the proletariat,—a mature and aggressive proletariat. As the bourgeoisie developed power, the proletariat simultaneously developed its own power, while politically and officially Czarism retained ascendancy. When the shell of Czarism was burst by revolutionary action, Czarism disappeared as easily as a dream upon awakening, in violent and suggestive contrast to the painful and prolonged struggles required to overthrow the absolute monarchy in France, and in England; and the failure of the revolutionary movement in Germany in 1848. This unparalleled rapidity of accomplishment in Russia was directly and largely traceable to the development of the revolutionary proletariat.

Upon the overthrow of Czarism, the bourgeoisie and proletariat faced each other in battle array; where previous revolutions found the proletariat scattered and without decisive power, the Russian Revolution found the proletariat disciplined and inspired by traditions of revolutionary struggle, organized by the mechanism of capitalist production itself,—stronger than the bourgeoisie, and able to conquer for itself the power of the state.

This emergence of the proletariat, its independent class policy and class organizations, the Soviets, constitutes the decisive feature of the Russian Revolution,—an emergence definite and sufficiently aggressive to conquer power for the revolutionary proletariat....

As the tendency of action of the Russian proletariat was adumbrated [prefigured] in previous revolutions, so its class organizations, the Soviets, are, in general features, partially, incompletely apparent in these previous revolutions in which the proletariat instinctively tried to emerge for the conquest of power.

The revolutionary masses of the people, during the French Revolution, particularly in Paris, organized their own forms of revolutionary struggle and government, the sections and the Commune. While the average historian dwells minutely upon the action of the various parliaments and the Clubs, the sections and the Commune of the masses were of decisive importance. These sections and the Commune were not alone instruments of revolutionary action, but usurped certain functions of government, the tendency being to place all government power in the Commune, which was simply the organized masses trying to act independently of parliamentary forms and bourgeois representatives. This tendency was expressed in a more definite form in the Paris Commune of 1871, which completely dispensed with the forms and functions of the bourgeois parliamentary state, its purpose being to unite all France by means of self-governing communes, and from which Marx derived that fundamental canon of the proletarian revolution: the proletariat can not simply lay hold of the ready-made machinery of the bourgeois state, and use it for its own purposes.

The Soviets, the Councils of Workers and Peasants, are a much higher form and definite expression of this tendency of the proletarian masses to become the state. Originally created as instruments of the revolution, the Soviets have become organs of government, functioning through a temporary dictatorship of the proletariat. The Soviets are revolutionary organizations of the masses; but they are more: they are forms for the creation of a new type of government, which shall supersede the bourgeois political state. Instead of being amorphous “mass organizations” as were the sections and Communes in the French Revolution, the Soviets are industrial organizations uniting the functions of industry and government. In the Soviets appears the true form of government of the proletariat, based upon the producers organized in the workshops. In the workshops lies not only the power of the workers for the revolution, but equally the groupings upon which is based the self-government of the oncoming communist society of Socialism. And the Soviets, combining temporarily political and industrial functions, are developing the forms out of which will emerge the communist, industrial “government” of the days to come. The tendency of previous revolutions is the dominant fact of the Russian Revolution.

The proletarian revolution in Russia has revealed clearly and in definite form the methods and the purposes, the action and the “state” by means of which the proletariat can conquer power and accomplish its emancipation.

The definite success of the proletarian revolution in Russia depends not alone upon the Russian masses, but much more upon the revolutionary action of the masses in the rest of Europe. The Russian Revolution cannot accomplish that which the French Revolution accomplished—wage war upon the whole of Europe. The strength and the weakness of the proletarian revolution in Russia is precisely that the other European nations are much more highly developed economically. Revolutionary France was the most advanced nation economically in Europe (except England), and this greater economic power was a source of unparalleled political and military vigor to France, making feasible a war against all of Europe. But the proletarian revolution in Russia is vulnerable to a concerted attack of European Imperialism, because the other nations of Europe can mobilize infinitely superior economic forces; simultaneously, this situation is one favorable to the Russian Revolution, since the higher stage of economic development in the other nations prepares the conditions for supplementary revolutionary action, which alone can ultimately preserve the Russian Revolution. Monarchic Europe could not produce a revolution in accord with that in France; modern Europe can produce a proletarian revolution in accord with that in Russia. The proletarian revolution in Russia requires and struggles for the Social Revolution in Europe. The revolution of the proletariat is an international revolution.