Socialist Worker

What do we mean by a workers’ revolution?

Issue No. 2233

As resistance to the cuts grows, more people are involved in activity and experiences that make them open to the idea that we need a completely different kind of society.

But many can be intimidated by the idea of revolution. After all, aren’t revolutions violent, with a few leaders exploiting the “mob” to seize power?

The ruling class promotes this scary image of revolution. But it is far from the truth.

A socialist revolution is first and foremost a vast expansion of democracy. Socialism is about the transfer of economic power—away from a tiny, greedy elite, and into the democratic control of the majority, the working class.

Revolutions are about the mass entry of ordinary people onto the political stage, as they actively attempt to shape their own futures.

Millions upon millions of people, including many who have never been on a protest before or even voted in an election, take to the streets, take over their workplaces—and start debating how society should be organised.

They go much further than events like Ukraine’s “orange revolution” in 2004 and other “colour revolutions”—movements for democratic reforms that are often hailed as revolutions.

Revolutions that really shift power from one class to another look very different.

New institutions are created to express the new democratic power of the masses: elected councils of workplace delegates, who decide the way forward for the revolution.

Remarkably, similar structures appear again and again, each time under a different name. In the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1971 they were called “soviets”. In Germany in 1918-23 they were called “rate”. And in Chile 1972-73 they were known as “cordones”.

They are much more democratic than capitalist parliaments. Instead of ordinary people only voting every few years and then leaving things to the politicians, the delegates represent the workers and can be instantly recalled.

They are paid no more than other workers, and are easy to replace with a new representative who better expresses the views of a factory or office as the revolution develops.

Ordinary people discover a new sense of confidence and power. Other groups from students to peasants who begin to identify with the revolution elect their own delegates.

And the mood can infect the rank and file of the army—and they can elect delegates too, challenging the authority of the officers.

Revolutions are “festivals of the oppressed”, as the Russian revolutionary Lenin put it.

Oppressions used to divide us under capitalism—from racism to prejudice against disabled people—are challenged and start to fall away.

People’s intellectual horizons are vastly expanded, as life no longer seems cramped into the narrow drudgery of work and poverty.

But surely there would be some “violence”?


The real violence in every revolution comes from the old order, as it desperately uses every weapon it has to try to cling onto power.

That’s why we are not pacifists. It’s necessary to be ready to use violence to defend ourselves and our revolution against counter-revolutionaries.

Revolutions have to go further than setting up new democratic institutions. These new forms of democracy cannot exist side-by-side with the capitalist state. They have to overthrow and dismantle the state—or the old ruling class will eventually use it to destroy the revolution.

It sounds like an impossible task—but it can happen. Ideas that before the revolution were only held by a minority of socialists become accepted by millions of people. But this is a process—it doesn’t happen instantly.

As Karl Marx put it, “Revolution is necessary not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but because only in a revolution can the class overthrowing it rid itself of all the muck of ages and fit itself to found society anew.”

The capitalist society we are all brought up in makes any argument for revolution difficult to win. The idea that we could overthrow not just one hated boss, but that ordinary people could take over and run society themselves, runs completely counter to the dominant ideology.

That’s why socialists who are clear about the need to push forward the revolution have to be organised—to win the debate and make sure the old order is swept away before it can regroup.

To do this effectively, that minority needs to be organised now, into a revolutionary party.

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Tue 4 Jan 2011, 17:30 GMT
Issue No. 2233
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