Socialist Worker

Only taking the revolution beyond Russia could save it from ruling classes' attack

The internationalism of the Bolsheviks challenged the ideology of the war and posed a threat to the world’s capitalists

Issue No. 2549

Fighting in Berlin in 1918—a revolution in Germany was key for the Russian Revolution to survive

Fighting in Berlin in 1918—a revolution in Germany was key for the Russian Revolution to survive


The Russian Revolution of 1917 was steeped in the belief that it was one part of a global working class movement.

The leaflets, speeches and resolutions produced by workers’ committees and revolutionary groups in 1917 make this obvious.

Some include Karl Marx’s ringing phrase, “Workers of all countries, unite!” and there are repeated calls for international revolution.

This was a direct confrontation with nationalism and the ideology of the First World War, which had pitched workers against one another.

As a leaflet issued on the eve of the February Revolution by the Petrograd Bolsheviks put it, “We are against the chauvinist criminal greed of each nation’s capitalists, who divide up the world. We are for the international solidarity of workers.”

The more “moderate” socialist forces spouted phrases about international cooperation, yet did not end the war.

They therefore placed themselves in the camp of the exploiters who were content to see workers slaughter their class brothers and sisters.

Only the Bolsheviks and their co-thinkers, because they were thoroughgoing revolutionaries, were prepared to end the war at any cost.

It took the October Revolution to make words about internationalism into reality and halt the conflict in the East.

And it took a revolution in Germany to end the war on the Western front in 1918.

Immediately after the revolution the Bolsheviks published secret treaties drawn up by Russia, Britain, France and their allies. These aimed to carve up the world after the defeat of Germany and Austria-Hungary.

The revolutionary Leon Trotsky wrote, “The government of workers and peasants abolished secret diplomacy with its intrigues, ciphers, and lies.

“We have nothing to hide.”

This global appeal terrified the ruling classes of the world in a way that no previous movement had done.

The Russian Revolution threatened to be a prelude to the dispossession of the capitalist class everywhere.

Internationalism was also linked to an understanding of who the allies of the working class were once they had made the revolution.

Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin argued there were two indispensable sources of support.

The first was “the broad mass of the semi-proletarian and partly also of the small?peasant population, who number scores of millions and constitute the overwhelming majority of the population of Russia”.

The second was “the working classes of all the belligerent countries and of all countries in general”. The revolutionary working class had to win the peasantry to its project of societal transformation.

But it also had to rest on solidarity—and ultimately revolutions—in more advanced countries. Russia on its own was too weak to achieve socialism.

Even the most advanced country could not attain socialism if it was beset by capitalist enemies and surrounded by hostile economic forces. This was ten times truer of Russia.

All the Bolsheviks agreed with Lenin that, “The absolute truth is that without a revolution in Germany we shall perish.”

The rise of Joseph Stalin replaced such ideas with the opposite doctrine of “socialism in one country”.

It took the defeat of the Russian Revolution to achieve that.

Read more of our series of weekly articles on the Russian Revolution

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