The October insurrection in Russia would not have succeeded had it not been for the Bolshevik party. The Bolsheviks are still the best model for how revolutionaries should organise.
The insurrection saw ordinary people who were organised into councils, called soviets, seize power and take over the running of the country for themselves.
Led by Vladimir Lenin, the Bolsheviks were the driving force behind it.
Mainstream historians paint the Bolsheviks as a homogenous, unthinking group in thrall to their dictatorial leader Lenin. The opposite is true.
There were constant debates and disagreements within the Bolshevik party. For instance, following a revolution in 1905 the Bolsheviks initially shunned a new elected assembly called the Duma.
But as the revolutionary wave faded, Lenin won an argument that the Bolsheviks should use the Duma as a platform to advance socialist politics.
Some leading Bolsheviks opposed taking power not long before the October insurrection. And after the February revolution it took a sharp argument by Lenin to shift the party towards opposing the war.
But the key wasn’t clever arguments. Ultimately the Bolsheviks were revolutionaries rooted in the working class and this shaped their politics.
As Marxists, they focused on the working class as the agent of change in society. So while other parties argued for limiting the revolution to parliamentary democracy, the Bolsheviks argued for the soviets to take power. While other parties backed the war, the Bolsheviks denounced it and called on workers of all countries to unite.
The Bolsheviks had a centralised leadership that local groups fed into. This meant they were effective because they could quickly recognise mistakes and shift their position rapidly.
The Bolsheviks won more support as the revolution unfolded because of the positions they took. Their demands for peace, bread and land connected with the mood among millions of people.
When the revolution began in February, there were 10,000 Bolshevik party members. By November this has grown to 250,000. Most Bolsheviks were workers and so understood the mood among ordinary people.
In July armed soldiers and workers marched in Petrograd against the Provisional Government. The Bolsheviks joined them. But they knew that a majority elsewhere in Russia would not have backed an insurrection, so they argued against taking power.
In the run-up to October they knew the mood was radicalising. Lenin and other Bolsheviks successfully argued that this was the moment for the soviets to take power and drive the revolution forward.
The Bolsheviks gave the revolution clear, decisive leadership operating on sound Marxist principles.
Their centralist organisation meant that once a democratic decision had been made, the entire party would shift behind it for maximum impact. It was rooted in workers’ struggles and clear enough to fight for the hardest positions.
It’s this kind of party that we need today in order to make sure the revolutions of the future are successful.
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