DATES: THREE WEDNESDAYS in June, 2015
June 10, June 17, June 24
7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
The concept of the Working Class Vanguard Party; the development of Bolshevism in Russia from 1898 to 1914 – A three part discussion series
The Russian Revolution of October 1917 was carried out by mass based Councils of Workers, Peasants and Soldiers which rose up to bring an end to the brutal imperialist World War which began in 1914 and had intensified the vicious oppression and exploitation of the Czarist system. It was the first time workers and peasants took power into their own hands on national level anywhere in the world.
The Workers Revolution in Russia was part of a massive, sustained, worldwide upsurge of workers, rank and file soldiers and poor farmers shaking the foundations of capitalism in the years 1917 through 1921. Other than in Russia, none of these movements brought the workers and the poor to power. Why?
Only in Russia was there a revolutionary party that had succeeded in rooting itself in the day-to-day life of the masses of workers. This party came to be called “Bolshevik,” a word that reflected its determination to become the majority of the working class, even if for long periods of time it was a persecuted minority.
During the years from 1898 to 1914 Bolshevism recruited, trained, and cohered an organization of tens of thousands of experienced workers capable of winning the masses, through their own experiences in action to follow its leadership in struggles large and small. It was this preparatory work which allowed the Bolsheviks to lead the conquest of power in 1917, even though at the outbreak of World War I in 1914 they were once again driven underground.
This discussion will highlight the organizational and political principles which made it possible for Bolshevism to grow into a mass organized effective revolutionary force in the Russian Working class in these preparatory years. Our study divides into 3 parts:
1898-1904 – The origins of Bolshevism: the struggle to refocus the work of Russian socialists from local trade union organization to revolutionary working class organization on a national scale.
The 1905 Revolution to the Counter-Revolution of 1907: how Bolshevism evolves under the impact of the first Workers Councils and struggled to maintain its organization in the intense years of reaction ending about 1910.
1910-1914: The Breakthrough years when Bolshevism skillfully combines legal and underground organization, grows into the majority organization of the Russian working class and leads more and more radical struggles against the Czarist empire until faced with massive repression at the outset of World War I.
In our discussions we will give particular attention to the way the Bolsheviks learned from what was spontaneous revolutionary action in the mass workers movement itself, flexibly altering their tactics, refining their organizational methods and in some cases changing their strategy. We will see how the Bolsheviks pioneered the creative relation between vanguard party organization and mass organizations like unions, and in times of upsurge, mass workers councils, accelerating the transformation of “spontaneity into consciousness.” Along the way, we will examine the practical meaning of controversial concepts like “cadre” or “vanguard party” and “democratic centralism” in the context of the historical evolution of the Russian workers movement. In our discussion we will explore what is relevant to revolutionary work in the United States today from the Bolshevik experience of 100 years ago.
Reading is not a requirement for participation but a suggested reading list will be provided.
Lenin and the Revolutionary Party by Paul LeBlanc (any edition)
Roots of Rebellion by Victoria Bonnell — especially Chapter 9 and 10
The Bolsheviks in the Tsarist Duma by A. Badayev