Revolution and Socialism:
Importance of Revolution:
There developed an impression that the evils of uncontrolled concentration of wealth and cut-throat competition among the producers of goods and articles could be ended only by means of a revolution or number of revolutions. “The Revolution was the greatest emancipatory event in European history. It profoundly effected the future of the socialist movement but it was not in itself socialist.”
From history we come to know that both in France and in America the revolutionaries laid abnormally great faith on the revolutionary tactics for the attainment of objectives. Though critics (Specially Marx and Engels) are of opinion that the revolution in France could not overthrow the oppressors and capitalists from the power, there occurred a revolution against the establishment. The American Revolution was not of socialist revolution, it was a war of independence.
But the revolutionaries were united to overthrow the colonial rulers and finally they succeeded in installing their own rulers to power. In fact, the importance of revolution was being felt since French Revolution. Tocqueville once said: “The French Revolution was then a political Revolution which in its operation and aspect resembled a religious one. It had every peculiar and characteristic feature of a religious movement, it not only spread to foreign countries, but it was carried thither by preaching and by propaganda”.
Socialism through Revolution:
Without revolution, it was the firm belief of many socialists; socialist society could not be set up. This belief spread its roots in the minds of many in the early years of nineteenth century. A forerunner of this conviction was the French Socialist Louis Auguste Blanqui (1805-1881). Louis Blanqui had no faith on parliamentary process as a means of radical change of society.
He even ridiculed parliamentary methods or constitutional techniques. Before Blanqui, Babeuf and his followers were strong advocates of resurectionary means for change of society. Blanquism was subsequently bequeathed to Marx, Engels and Lenin. All the revolutionaries were the followers of a general principle which was a very small organised dedicated person would shoulder the responsibility of organising a revolution. Of course, without the large scale participation of the masses the success in revolution would never be achieved.
Thus it means that the leadership would be vested in the hands of few men and the common people would bear the brunt of revolution. Though Marx and Engels could not provide us a detailed analysis of revolutionary tactics and means Lenin did not fail.
In fact, revolution as a potential force of setting up socialism was first applied by Lenin in Russia. Since Lenin’s time we have come to be acquainted with the concept revolutionary socialism which denotes socialism through revolution. Method other them revolution has no relevance.
We have just now stated that the socialists, in general, have laid great stress on revolution. Now time is ripe to investigate the reasons of this preference.
Few reasons are stated below:
1. The economic and political history of the post-industrialization starkly reveals that the wealth generated by industrialization was so much unequally distributed among different classes of people that it resulted in gross injustice and it crossed maximum limit of toleration.
Rectification of this injustice and overhauling the whole system were strongly felt by more or less all sections of society and it was also fact that sporadic methods or reforms were fully inadequate, a revolutionary method was necessary.
2. Reforms, parliamentary methods, democratic tactics could not help the common people. There was practically no scope for the workers to participate in political affairs of the state. Democratic methods and franchise were limited to the affluent persons. Naturally participation in democratic methods was not seriously thought of by general public. Revolution was to them the last resort.
Moreover, it was felt that the heartless autocratic rulers of Russia and several other states of Europe could not be managed and controlled by parliamentary means.
3. The autocratic rulers had large force of military and police at their disposal and in order to counteract reforms and democratic procedures. Only revolution could be relied upon. Even a liberal state from military point of view was very powerful.
Reforms vs Revolution:
The revolutionaries were faced with a dilemma—reform vs revolution. A section of the socialists had certain amount of weakness in mind. But majority rejected reforms. It was felt that for a radical change of society (radical change means a thorough change in political and economic fields) reforms were insufficient. Reforms could simply ensure a change of power from one group of persons to another group or one party to another party.
But for the complete emancipation of men this type of change could do nothing. The capacity of reforms was so much limited that economic fate of the masses of men even after the implementation of reform would remain same. For this very reason there was a great demand for revolution in some countries, specifically in Russia. Piecemeal change could be effected by the introduction of reforms.
In some capitalist countries some reforms were introduced as response to the increasing demands of men. But these reforms could not change the economic and political structure of state. The proletarians (to use Marx’s term) were fully class conscious and the bourgeoisie and the proletariat were in direct conflict with each other and in such a situation there was hardly any scope to implement the reforms for the radical change of economic and political fate.
Moreover, the common men had no power to implement the reforms. So for a change of society the seizure of the state power was essential and without revolution this could not be done. So far as reforms vs revolution is concerned the demand was in favour of the latter.
Revolution in Practice:
In a number of countries revolution succeeded in bringing about an end of autocratic rule. V. I. Lenin (1870-1924) is first among them. Under the leadership of Lenin the Bolsheviks overthrew the Czarist rulers and established communist rule in Russia which took the name of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. He not only established a new regime in USSR, but also he showed the world the success could come through revolution. He is regarded by many as the father of revolutionary struggle.
He also introduced organisation of party and revolutionary tactics. Revolution as a method of changing society and setting up of socialism was also used by Mao Ze Dong the great Chinese revolutionary. Mao (1893-1976) blended his own thought about revolution and the role of party in revolution with those of Marx and Lenin and all these took a new name, popularly known as Mao’s thought.
However, in all his revolutionary activities Mao never departed from the basic tenets of revolution. Similarly in Cuba and Vietnam we witness the grand success of revolution. Fidel Castro (born 1926) was the undisputed leader of Cuban revolution and to his revolutionary tactics the USA, the most powerful capitalist country in the world, was forced to admit defeat. His revolution also defeated the Batista regime in Cuba. USA led a prolonged war (more than a decade) in Vietnam to defeat the Vietnamese revolutionaries but finally was forced to accept defeat of imperialism and victory of revolution.
In many countries of Asia and Africa we encounter the frequency of revolution and many of the revolutions could not finally succeed. To conclude, the success or failure of revolution could not seal the process of revolution. In almost all the countries of the world revolutions in numerous forms are always taking place. But all of them are not in Marxian form.
Conditions for Success:
The contribution of revolution to revamping the social, economic and political structures of state is immense no doubt. But the revolution will not fall from the sky. Men are to organise revolution and for that purpose the workers and common men must form party and its members must be revolutionary-minded.
It has been recommended by many hardcore socialists that the leadership of the party and the revolution shall be vested in a small group of persons. Another condition for the success of a revolution is revolutionaries or persons participating in revolutions must be prepared to make any sort of hardship and sacrifice. In China, Vietnam and some other parts of the world the revolutionary process was a prolonged one and mainly because of that people’s sacrifice was also prolonged.
Our point is they must be prepared for it. Another condition is success of a revolution depends considerably upon the selection of strategy which includes to be quite aware of the weak points of the opposite force. The objective of the revolutionary would be to strike the iron while it is red. It is generally suggested that there is no master key which the revolutionaries can use at will.
The selection of strategy or tactics shall be chosen by applying a good deal of acumen. Almost all the top revolutionaries have suggested that workers must be aware of the extent of exploitation and they must be determined to free themselves from exploitation. For this is required spread of knowledge about revolution and also the necessity of revolution. Lenin and Fabian Socialists resorted to this practice. Even after the establishment of socialism people must be prepared to protect it.
Alternative to Revolution:
The past incidents as well as the success and failures of the revolutions that occurred in several countries have taught the lesson that only a revolution cannot be the weapon for constructing a socialist society. There are other methods. This idea has been expressed by F. Engels in his famous Introduction to Marx’s Class Struggle in France.
In their Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels stridently advocated for armed struggle or revolution as means of setting up socialism. In those days (in the first-half of the nineteenth century) Marx and Engles felt that revolution had no alternative. But towards the end of the nineteenth century the situation in many countries of Europe had undergone rapid changes and the sharpness of revolution was not so prominent.
Engels wrote this Introduction in 1895. In this Introduction he wrote “the conditions of the struggle had essentially changed. Robellion in the old style, street fighting with the barricades which decided the issue everywhere up to 1848 was to a considerable extent obsolete”.
While Engels was writing this Introduction Marx was no more. After the death of Marx in 1883 Engels got 12 years to study the political, economic and other conditions that prevailed in those 12 years. His main concern was how to win a battle against the bourgeois. Before 1848 their (Marx and Engels) concerns were selection of tactics and victory in revolution. After about half a century Engles focused his attention on the victory. If he keeps himself preoccupied with strategy problem will arise.
Engels in the above-noted Introduction has suggested few alternatives to revolution. In the first place, Engles says that, universal suffrage is a very powerful weapon to fight the capitalist exploiters. After every three or four years the workers by exercising the right to vote can elect representatives to legislature and they will in turn control the government. Engels suggested this method on the ground that to seize political power was not an easy task and the exercise of franchise can at least partially serve the purpose of revolution.
In the second place, election in capitalist state also provides another scope to the working class. In such states elections are frequently held (frequently means after fixed duration) and common people get the opportunity to participate in such elections. Elections are also vehicles through which electorate can ventilate its opinions.
Thirdly, in every capitalist state there are various types of institutions and organisations who have enough freedom to work freely. The organisations of the proletarians can fully and effectively utilise these institutions as weapons of their struggle.
Fourthly, people have certain political rights which the proletarians can use against the bourgeois rule and oppression.
There are also other democratic means to fight the bourgeois and reactionary forces. The workers and common people must decide that. Engels has observed that insurrection, surprise attack, revolutions carried by small minority militancy all are techniques of past epoch. But this does not mean that the importance of all these does not exist at all. The point is—time has changed.
Definition and Causes:
In the last section we have discussed socialism through revolution which may also mean violent methods. But the suitability of violent methods in all situations raises questions. Many people began to doubt about the applicability of revolution.
Their main argument was violence or armed struggle might bring temporary success but this has no permanent value. For all practical purposes and for all situations it is better to suggest that by gradualism or step by step socialist goals can be achieved. This is called socialism through evolutionary methods. It is also known as evolutionary socialism.
A number of factors have contributed to the growth of this belief:
(1) Towards the end of seventies of the nineteenth century the nature of capitalism began to change specially its attitude towards the legitimate demands of workers. Most of the genuine demands were accepted by the capitalists and this discouraged the workers to launch agitation.
(2) Expansion of colonialism in Africa and Asia helped capitalists to accumulate more and more profit and wealth and with it they met the demand for higher wages of workers.
(3) The consciousness of the workers increased immensely and they formed organisations and unions. All these in turn protected the interests of workers.
(4) The capitalists appeared more pragmatic. They eschewed the path of confrontation with the workers. By displeasing the workers they could not earn profit and manage industry.
(5) Democratic feeling and consciousness began to spread rapidly among all sections and on the face of it the capitalists hesitated to continue the earlier methods of exploitation.