The editorial board of the IMT’s Arabic website, marxy.com, is very proud to announce the publication of the Arabic translation of Bolshevism: The Road to Revolution, by Alan Woods, editor of marxist.com. The book is a masterful account of the history of the Bolshevik Party, rich with lessons about how, over years of patient work, it came to lead the Russian masses to power in 1917. Read on for information about an Arabic-language launch event this Sunday, and the author’s preface (in English), which discusses the legacy of the 2011 Arab Revolution.
To celebrate the release of this book, our Arabic-speaking comrades will organise an online seminar in the Thesis Eleven Room, hosted on clubhouse.com, on Sunday 30 October, at 19:00 GMT. This will be followed by weekly meetings to study and discuss the book. If you are interested in obtaining the book and registering to attend, please fill in the form here.
For more information, you can contact our Arabic comrades at the following email: email@example.com.
Watch Alan Woods introduce the new Arabic translation of Bolshevism below:
Author’s preface to the Arabic translation: Lessons of the Arab Revolution
The Arabic translation of Bolshevism is a cause for great celebration. The Arab Revolution was a real inspiration for millions of workers and youth all over the world. Here we see the colossal potential power of the masses in action. If anyone doubted the ability of the masses to make a revolution, this was the resounding answer. What did these events demonstrate?
The images of millions of workers and peasants moving to overthrow the dictatorships of tyrants in one Arab country after another provided conclusive proof that there is a power in society that is greater than any government, army or police.
They showed that, when the masses lose their fear, no amount of repression can stop them. With no leadership, no organisation and no clear programme, the masses took to the streets and overthrew their governments.
But the great Arab Revolution also shows us something else. It proves conclusively that, without correct leadership, the revolution cannot succeed. Power was in the hands of the masses, but it was allowed to slip through their fingers. It would have been sufficient for the leaders of the protests to say: “We have the power now. We are the government.” But those words were never spoken.
The revolutionaries, despite all their heroism, failed to take advantage of the situation to deal the final death blow to the old regime. The masses had the power in their hands but did not know what to do with it.
They hesitated, surrendered the initiative, and the old power was allowed to return. They danced and celebrated in the street, while the forces of the old order were allowed to regroup and move to take power into their own hands. As a result, the fruits of victory were handed back to the old oppressors.
That is an unpalatable truth. But it is the truth nonetheless.
The October Revolution
The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917 is a positive example of how the working class can gain power, just as the Arab Revolution is a negative example, demonstrating how power can slip through the hands of the revolutionary class, even when it has the power within its grasp.
Wherein lies the difference? It is not to be found in the objective conditions, but entirely in the absence of the subjective factor: the party and the leadership. Tsarist Russia was a very backward, semi-feudal country – far more so than Egypt today. The working class was a small minority of the population. Yet, under the leadership of the Bolsheviks, it overthrew the mighty tsarist regime and conquered power.
In the last book he ever wrote, which was left unfinished on his desk in August 1940 when he was murdered by one of Stalin’s agents, Trotsky – the man who, together with Lenin, led the October Revolution – wrote the following brilliant analysis of the main forces in a revolution:
“The struggle between classes reaches a point where intolerable tensions arise. That is the economic premise of revolution. On the basis of this objective reality a definite regroupment must arise, expressed in definite political relations and definite states of consciousness in the relationship between classes. These processes have a psychological character. In the final analysis, they are, of course, governed by the objective social crisis. But they have their own internal logic and dynamic: will-power, the willingness to fight and, conversely, perplexity, decadence and cowardice – it is precisely this dynamic of consciousness that directly determines the direction and outcome of the revolution.
“What characterises the epoch of the revolutionary flood tide is on the one hand growing contradictions, antagonisms and perplexity among the old ruling classes, while on the other there is the growing solidarity of the main revolutionary class, around which all the oppressed classes gather in the hope of bettering themselves. Finally, the intermediate classes and strata that either remain neutral or are sucked into the maelstrom of events on the side of one or other of the main classes.
“The revolution can be victorious when the revolutionary class manages to win over the majority of the intermediate layers, and so becomes the spokesperson of the majority of the nation. In a revolutionary epoch, one can distinguish the slogans under which the struggle takes place: the revolutionary class that strives for power. Revolution becomes possible when the vanguard of the proletariat, organised in the Party, draws the vast majority of the class behind it, isolating the crushed and demoralised elements and reducing them to insignificance.
“The highest attainment of solidarity of the revolutionary class corresponds in equal measure to the dissolution and internal divisions within the old classes. However, classes are not homogeneous, either socially or ideologically. Within the proletariat it is always possible to distinguish its vanguard, the intermediate and middle layers, and finally the backward and even reactionary rear-guard. Once the proletariat in its majority is united around the revolutionary vanguard, it sweeps along a significant portion of the intermediate, discontented and oppressed classes and the lower classes of the petty bourgeoisie, neutralising the other layers, and the thrust of its onslaught throws into crisis the ruling class that has outlived itself. It breaks the resistance of the army, winning over a significant part of it to its side and neutralising the rest, isolating the most reactionary elements. This, in general outline, is the formula of the proletarian revolution.” (Trotsky, Stalin, ‘The Thermidorian reaction’, pp. 651-2, the new English edition)
In these few concise paragraphs, Trotsky brilliantly summarises the real role of the revolutionary party.
The importance of theory
The decisive factor in the success of the Russian Revolution was the presence of a Marxist Party – the Bolshevik Party under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky. Such a party did not drop from the clear blue sky. Neither could it be improvised on the spur of the moment. It was built with great difficulty over a period of twenty years, mostly in the harsh conditions of underground work.
Throughout the history of political parties, it is impossible to find a similar example to the Bolsheviks who in the short space of two decades grew from a tiny handful to a powerful mass party capable of leading millions of workers and peasants to the conquest of power.
But long before the Bolsheviks could pose the question of power, the party had to go through a long period, passing from tiny underground groups mainly composed of students and intellectuals. The main emphasis was on educating the cadres in the scientific ideas of Marxism.
In the early days, Lenin had to wage a remorseless struggle against revisionism and the tendency that became known as ‘economism’. The supporters of this trend argued that the workers were only interested in improvements in economic questions, what we call ‘bread and butter’ issues – not broad political questions, but only ‘practical’ trade union work.
That was the essence of economism. It was best summed up in Eduard Bernstein’s famous aphorism: “the movement is everything; the final goal is nothing.” This narrow approach actually showed a contempt for the working class, belittling its ability to understand politics and theory. Thus, under the guise of “workerism” this trend really represented an anti-proletarian, anti-revolutionary trend.
Lenin declared out-and-out war on the economists and he was quite right to do so. He said: “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.”
Without this struggle for revolutionary theory, Lenin could never have succeeded in building the party that was destined to lead the proletariat to victory in 1917. Yet even today, one still finds self-styled Leninists who have not understood this.
The reactionary role of Stalinism
The task that I set myself in writing Bolshevism: the Road to Revolution was to demolish all the old myths and present the reader with a truthful and objective account of how the Bolshevik Party was built, with all its successes and failures, its victories and defeats. That was diametrically opposed to the old Stalinist histories, which paint the rise of the Bolshevik Party as a kind of triumphal march to an inevitable victory.
These superficial accounts bear more resemblance to fiction than fact, and are now universally discredited. The few who take the time to read them, find nothing praiseworthy whatsoever.
Stalinism has played a disastrous, reactionary role in the Arab world. The Menshevik theory of stages, in which the proletariat and its party is subordinated to the so-called ‘progressive’ bourgeoisie, was taken over by Stalin and inflicted on the Communist Parties in colonial countries, where it led to one bloody defeat after another.
In Iraq, Sudan and many other countries, the Communist Parties subordinated themselves to such ‘progressive’ bourgeois Arab leaders and found themselves outlawed, crushed and murdered. The same thing occurred on an even more ghastly scale in Indonesia.
A radical break with the noxious traditions of Stalinism and a return to the real ideas of Leninist Bolshevism (‘Trotskyism’) is the prior condition for the creation of a genuine Communist Party capable of leading the masses to a future victory. A serious study of the history of Bolshevism is essential for this.
Build the revolutionary party!
The defeat of the Great Arab Revolution lay in the failure of the working class to take power into its hands when it had the chance to do so. This is what enabled the forces of reaction to regain the initiative, cracking down on the protests in an attempt to restore order. The people of Egypt, Tunisia and other countries paid a terrible price for that failure.
However, that does not mean the Arab Revolution is finished. The upheaval is not over. Not one of the underlying economic and social problems that provoked the masses into action has been resolved. The revolution will re-emerge in future on an even higher level. But it will face a far more difficult and painful period with many more sacrifices.
The task of the revolution would be a thousand times easier, the bloodshed and suffering a thousand times less, if there existed a genuinely revolutionary party and leadership that was willing and able to guide the masses on the road to victory. And by this, I mean a party on the lines of the Bolshevik Party under Lenin and Trotsky.
It is true that the future Arab Revolution will face many difficulties. But from an objective point of view, it will take place at a very favourable time in history. As I write these lines, the capitalist system finds itself immersed in the deepest crisis in two hundred years.
True, the objective conditions vary from one country to another. Events can move quickly or at a slower pace. But everywhere events are moving in the same direction: towards greater instability and an enormous intensification of the contradictions at all levels: economic, social, political.
And one thing is absolutely certain. Sharp and sudden changes are implicit in the whole situation. We saw this at the beginning of the year in Kazakhstan, and we are seeing it again now in many lands, from Ecuador to Sri Lanka. These are not isolated events. They resemble the heat lightning that announces the coming of a storm.
Most importantly, significant changes are taking place in the psychology of the masses that are preparing the way for great social and political explosions.
In this context, the rotten and corrupt bourgeois regimes in the countries of North Africa and the Middle East represent a weak link in the chain of world capitalism, just like tsarist Russia in 1917. They can find no way out of the crisis and are riven with deep internal contradictions.
They have no solution for the terrible suffering and poverty of the masses, which become worse and more unbearable with every passing day. Despite the outward appearance of strength, these regimes are weak and unstable. Like giants with feet of clay, they are destined to fall, and the bigger they are, the greater the crash will be.
The truth is that these regimes are not maintained by their power, but only by the temporary apathy and weariness of the masses, who need time to recover from past defeats. The revolutionaries must make good use of this delay to reorganise and regroup their forces, to study, to draw the lessons from those defeats, and to begin the patient task of building, brick by brick, the solid edifice of a Bolshevik Party.
Unlike other histories of Bolshevism, this book is not a mere list of factual events devoid of broader purpose. My aim was to draw the lessons of a generation of Bolsheviks who built a revolutionary party and which succeeded in leading the working class to power. The task at hand is not to simply entomb these lessons within the dry pages of a textbook, but to bring them to life in the minds of class fighters today. The ideas and methods of Bolshevism are the working class’ greatest weapon, they show the road to revolution and the liberation of humanity from the shackles of class society.
London, 23rd August, 2022