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Russian October Revolution and lessons for retaining power

100 years ago, following “Ten days that shook the world”, the Russian October Revolution resulted in the advent of the first socialist state of its kind. The struggle of Soviet people in the ensuing years and the collapse of the Soviet Union over the course of its 74-year existence have shown that seizing power is inherently difficult, but retaining it is far more difficult.

Parade on the 70th anniversary of the October Revolution held by the Soviet Union in 1987 (file photo)

According to Marxist-Leninist theory, power is a basic matter of every social revolution. This statement demonstrates the seizure and retention of power as two dialectically related factors. The former is an essential prerequisite for the latter and vice versa.

For bourgeois revolutions, the seizure of power basically brought the revolutions to an end as a result of the replacement of a repressive and exploitative regime with another while the seizure of power was just the beginning for the October Socialist Revolution whose objectives and mission were to eliminate every repressive and exploitative regime of which the decisive task involved the founding and wielding of the new government to create a new society with the mastery of working people. The radicalism of the October Socialist Revolution encountered fierce opposition from the exploiting class at home and abroad as evidenced by armed intervention by 14 imperialist countries to abolish the Soviet Russia in the 1918-1921 Russian Civil War. The insurrection of the Soviet people under the leadership of V.I. Lenin and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in the initial stages of the October Revolution offered a salutary lesson of maintaining revolutionary power. Accordingly, a new government was preserved not just by force; more importantly, it was built upon people’s trust. To this end, V.I. Lenin and the Russian Communist Party attached great importance to three key issues as follows.

First, after seizing power, the working class regards the establishment of an economic background for their new social regime as a key task. This shows Lenin’s loyalty to Marxist theory on socioeconomic formations. Accordingly, a social regime is just permanently built upon its very own economic basis. Being superior to capitalism, the economic background of socialism must be based on the level of advanced forces of production which enhances greater labour productivity than capitalism- an ultimate determinant to victory of socialism over capitalism. Grounded in those conditions, socialist states improve people’s living standards and strength for defending their Homeland and regime.

Right on the initial days of the Soviet government, thoroughly perceiving inferior economic status of the Soviet Russia to that of capitalist states, V.I. Lenin asked the Bolsheviks to consider the establishment of an economic background for the new social regime to be the central task. According to Lenin, politics constituted economic development; class struggle constituted an economic triumph. Only by developing its economy prosperously did Russia become a socialist state. Still, the Russian Civil War during the 1918-1921 period forced the Soviet government to apply the policy of war communism via non-economic measures. When the Civil War ended, the pursuit of this policy brought the Soviet Russia to the verge of economic collapse, sparked public discontent with the government, severely broke up worker-peasant coalition, triggered the outbreak of troops and peasants’ protests, and jeopardized the survival of the government. Under the direction of Lenin, the Soviet government opportunely repealed “the policy of war communism” and shifted to the adoption of the “new economic policy” with broad market-oriented factors which incentivized development of every economic sector and steered private capitalism to state capitalism. In addition, V.I. Lenin also required the government to learn from managerial experience; to strive to apply scientific and technological achievements and utilize leading bourgeois experts in a bid to boost forces of production. The new economic policy gained public support and lifted the Soviet Russia out of the economic crisis in a short period of time, thereby consolidating the government politically and economically and worker-peasant coalition with other working classes.

Second, due attention is paid to building the strong and pure state apparatus. In theory, unlike the state of the dominant exploiting class, the socialist state is not a ruling instrument but an instrument for people to exercise their right to mastery. However, in practice, a corrupt, bureaucratic state apparatus with working style of the ruling regime would hardly ever win any popular support. As a result, in addition to promoted role and efficiency of the state apparatus by means of  promulgating various laws and decrees on its organization aimed at serving people’s legitimate interests, V.I. Lenin and the Russian Communist Party paid proper regard to building the qualitative state apparatus and resolutely combated bureaucratic and bossy working style as well as manifestations of wastefulness and corruption in a bid to build a strong and clean state of people and for people. V.I. Lenin also demanded strict stocktaking and supervision over not only the economic field, but the fulfilment of duties and responsibilities in an effort to preclude latent degeneracy in cadres and party members’ morality and lifestyle while requiring a contingent of public servants to lead by example in maintaining close relations with the masses and gaining their absolute confidence. As regards criticizing some of the Soviet offices and cadres’ improper viewpoints and behaviour towards the masses, Lenin pointed out that “No matter what happens, first of all we have to persuade the masses, then repress them”. Lenin also asked the local governments to lay down and abide by principles of meeting with people to ensure their right to mastery. According to his direction, assistance offices were opened everywhere to not only handle people’s complaints in verbal and written forms, but provide free service of writing reports to people who were illiterate or unable to express what their complaints were. Those measures not merely helped redress bureaucracy and a sense of detachment from the masses among state offices, but made people aware that this state belonged to them, thus they would strive to protect it.

Third, regularly enhancing the Party leadership towards the State and people’s right to mastery. Following the successful October Revolution, the working class and the Russian Communist Party became a dominant force as instructed by Lenin: “In principle, the Communist Party must grasp leadership role” and will never forget it when it comes to its operation and organization”. At the 10th Congress of the Russian Communist Party, Lenin affirmed: “Ours is a ruling party and the whole Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic must abide by decisions approved by the Party Congress”. For the sake of increased Party leadership towards the State, Lenin demanded clearer separation of the tasks of the Party (and its Central Committee) from those of the Soviet government and additional responsibilities and proactiveness for the Soviet offices and cadres. At the same time, great importance was attached to putting party members in key positions of the state apparatus which required them to act as a representative of the ruling party, of people’s interests and of the government. He was early on aware of potential degradation amongst party members when they faced three enemies, namely “communist arrogance”, “illiteracy”, and “bribery”. For the sake of preventing degradation, Lenin requested the Party’s enhanced work of inspection and discipline: “The Bolsheviks will not preserve their government in two and a half months’ time, let alone two and a half years unless our party upholds genuinely stringent discipline”. In parallel with promoting the role of a pool of party members, Lenin and the Russian Communist Party  paid due attention to the masses’ increased right to mastery in the work of state governance. According to Lenin, the work of stocktaking and supervision would be extremely effective if it pulled in the whole population. To this end, he requested that non-party talented and honest individuals be put in key positions in the realm of economic development, and a mechanism be provided for people to monitor party members.

Inheriting lessons of protecting the government of the October Revolution, successors of Lenin had taken creative measures to preserve revolutionary achievements in the ensuing years. Thanks to that, after the Soviet Russia had overcome difficulties and hardship in the Great Patriotic War, playing a vital role in ending the Second World War and saving human kind from fascist disaster, it swiftly restored its economy and became one of the two superpowers and a pillar for the global peace in the 20th century. Yet, due to taking lessons of preserving the government of the October Revolution lightly, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and leaders of the Soviet State made fatal mistakes that led to diminished public support. The undue maintenance of centralized planning system under normal economic conditions not merely retarded the development of productive force, but vexed negative practices such as bureaucracy, corruption, authoritarianism, etc., making the state apparatus rampantly corrupt and ineligible to be a representative of people’s right to mastery. The downplaying of the role of productive forces gave rise to disregarded application of scientific and technological achievements in the 1960s and 1970s. As a consequence, the economy became stagnant; labour productivity, income and living standards of the Soviet people were far inferior to those of developed capitalist states, leading to social instability and dire requirements for “reform”. However, the reform process was not carried out on a sound basis of Marxism- Leninism and resultant unrestored and unrenewed economic background for the existence of the Soviet state which became one of the reasons for the collapse of the Soviet regime.

Mistakes were also made in promoted party leadership towards the State, notably the State apparatus was deactivated by the Party’s power. After Lenin had passed away, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was established as a state structure. The Party was all-powerful and functioned as a state which was intrinsically made up of the central and local governments and became a tool in the hands of the elite leaders, even in the hands of the most powerful leader. In addition, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was increasingly becoming corrupt and isolated from the masses. Interest groups and a contingent of bureaucratic public servants also appeared in the Soviet Party and State offices. As a consequence, the Communist Party the Soviet Union increasingly became degenerate and corrupt, lost its role as a representative of the working class’s interests, gradually dissolved and led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, the collapse of the Soviet Union is not inevitable. The October Revolution is not to blame for this event as distorted by the hostile forces. Strategically flawed policies and betrayal of some of supreme leaders in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union are directly and chiefly to blame for the collapse as anticipated by Lenin “No one but our very own mistakes can kill us”.

Unlike the “reform” of the Soviet Union, fully aware of subjective voluntaristic mistakes in the process of socialist building, the Vietnamese Communist Party has carried out its renewal policy on a sound basis of creative application of Marxism-Leninism and Ho Chi Minh Thoughts to Vietnamese specific conditions with growing emphasis placed on applying lessons of preserving the government of the October Revolution; on taking economic development as a central task, the Party building as the core, cultural development as societal spiritual background, consolidated defence and security as a vital and routine task. By doing so, the renewal process has recorded great achievements, thereby contributing to people’s reinforced confidence in the Party, the State and the cause of socialist construction, creating fresh impetus and strength to build and defend the Homeland and socialist regime.

Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution, reflecting on lessons of preserving power of this Revolution, comparing to the renewal process and the work of Party building in accordance with Resolution of the 4th Plenum of the Central Party Committee (11th and 12th tenures) especially Resolution of the 6th Plenum of the Central Party Committee (12th tenure), we better understand the words by Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong in his closing speech at the 6th plenum: “If what we do is based on people’s trust, we will gain their confidence, and our regime and Party remain. If not, we will lose their confidence and lose everything”. That is the secret of preserving revolutionary power in every situation.

Nguyen Ngoc Hoi

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Russian October Revolution and lessons for retaining power
100 years ago, following “Ten days that shook the world”, the Russian October Revolution resulted in the advent of the first socialist state of its kind. The struggle of Soviet people in the ensuing years and the collapse of the Soviet Union over the course of its 74-year existence have shown that seizing power is inherently difficult, but retaining it is far more difficult
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