The Soviet Revolution: Lessons for Californians by Matt Owen (Guest blogger)

July 18, 2019
As we celebrate the Centennial of the revolution which brought workers to power in Russia, let us take this opportunity to examine what, if any, lessons we in the California independence movement can apply to our struggle.

One lesson, drawn not only from the Russian Revolution, but from the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the revolutionary process underway in Venezuela, and many other instances, is that movements often end up quite different than when they first began. 

The American Revolution started out as a struggle by the English American colonies to regain the autonomy taken from them by the Crown, backed by a Tory Parliament: only after the British government refused this demand did those colonies unite and declare their independence from Britain (this demand was also the motive for the first Declaration of California Independence from Mexico, made in 1836, the same year Texas was annexed by the US: the Bear Flag Revolt, which resulted in "Anschluss" of California and the US, was a decade later, and led by US settlers).

The French Revolution, inspired by the above, resulted initially in a constitutional monarchy: the failure of the monarch to accept his reduced status set the events in motion which led to the Republic, the Thermidorian reaction, and ultimately the seizure of power by Napoleon Bonaparte.

The Russian Revolution originally overthrew the Tsar in order to end Russia's participation in the First World War: a succession of Provisional Governments failed to make peace with Germany, so the workers finally took matters into their own hands, as they had in 1905 to put an end to the Russo-Japanese War, and the All-Russian Congress of Soviets--the central organ of the Soviets, or workers' councils--was recognised as the government of Russia by the Military-Revolutionary Committees, or military Soviets.

Unfortunately, party after party in the Soviets turned against the All-Russian Congress of Soviets, leaving the Bolsheviks the only party standing in the Soviet government: the result of a very particular situation, as we shall see...

When Hugo Chavez first rose to power at the end of the 20th Century, he was combating the market-totalitarian type of capitalism known as neoliberalism: his MVR offered, and the Venezuelan people embraced, a new Constitution, that of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela: the reaction by the neoliberals and the class they represented necessitated a broadening of the target of the Bolivarian revolution from neoliberalism to capitalism as a whole: while a referendum on a new Constitution for a "Bolivarian Socialist Republic of Venezuela" failed, Chavez did succeed in launching Soviets...Consejos Venezuela, and they've been growing ever since.

Venezuela now finds itself in a struggle to convene a Constituent Assembly: this didn't go so well in Russia, but there, the Soviets were already in power, albeit tenuously--whereas in Venezuela, the struggle is to shift power to the Consejos Comunales and their Comunas.

In California, the election of Trump has resulted in the explosive growth in interest in independence from a United States increasing numbers of us are seeing as falling to fascism: less than 20% supported California independence from the US when Obama was president, whereas one-third of Californians support the idea today--at the same time that about as many Millennials favour socialism as do capitalism, and more people boycotted the 2016 US Presidential election than voted for either candidate!

A potentially explosive political mix: if the boycotters and socialists began to move to California, drawn by single-payer healthcare, a living wage, sanctuary from punitive, racist immigration policies and enforcement, and the like, that mix could explode at any moment--and a truly viable independence movement would be born!

The other lesson we can draw from the history of the Russian Revolution is this: the impossibility of socialism in one country, even one as vast as Russia.

Until Lenin, Marxists believed that socialism, understood as a revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat, was impossible in an overwhelmingly peasant country such as Russia: both Marx and Lenin, however, did think that a socialist revolution could start amongst the Russian working class--but that it must spread quickly to a more industrialised country (most likely Germany) if it was to retain its socialist character.

This is why the Bolsheviks used the ceasefire between themselves and the German Army to agitate German soldiers to join their revolution: don't shoot us, shoot your officers and join us! Unfortunately, the Germans continued to obey their officers, leaving the Russians no choice but to negotiate peace with their government: by the time the peace was inked, Russia had lost much territory to the Germans, and war broke out between the two remaining Soviet parties, the Bolsheviks and Social-Revolutionaries: rooted in the proletariat and peasantry, respectively, this was the opening salvo of a civil war which destroyed the Russian proletariat, leaving the Bolsheviks to lead a peasant country...

In Germany, however, events took turn after turn as the Germans faced their own defeat by the addition of US forces to their foes: Eugene V. Debs, the only antiwar socialist leader other than Lenin, was in jail, and within a year of defeating the Russians, it was the Germans' term to taste defeat. The armistice their enemies forced them to sign was as onerous as that they imposed on the Russians--and that, like the Russian defeat before it, set things in motion.

By 1919, the Kaiser was overthrown...and a Soviet Republic proclaimed from the balcony of the Kaiserpalast was opposed by the Social Democrats in the Reichstag: the Social Democrats put down the pro-Soviet uprising using demobilised soldiers reorganised into "Freikorps"...and for the next few years, they played "whack-a-mole," putting down Soviet uprisings up and down Germany, but not throughout the whole country simultaneously...

...Until 1923! In that year, the Reichsmark became worthless, and as a direct result Soviets sprang into being throughout Germany, and began arming themselves...

...However, the new Communist Party of Germany had just inked a "United Front" agreement with the Social Democrats: as happened in Russia, the forces used by the anti-Soviet government to crush the Soviets tried to overthrow it and new fascist forces were growing, especially the "German Workers' Party" after it came to be led by one Adolf Hitler, who imbued it with an ideology, "National Socialism," that is, violent nationalism with a socialist face.

Because of the United Front agreement with the Social Democrats, when they demanded that the Soviets disarm and dissolve, the Communists complied...

...But what if they hadn't? What if the German Communists did what their Russian comrades had done, and instead led a Soviet revolution in Germany? How differently history would have turned out had the Soviet Union grown to the Rhine, encompassing not only the peasantry of Russia, but the German proletariat!

This, I submit to you, is the juncture at which we once again find ourselves:

Venezuelan socialism is under siege at precisely the moment that its Soviets, its Consejos, now must walk through the door to power: if not, socialism will be crushed in Venezuela...

...Unless the 21st Century socialist revolution spreads to a country with a larger economy, more diversely developed than Venezuela, with about the same population...

A country poised to break free from the imperialist hegemon.

Our country. California.

Socialism isn't on the agenda "por ahora" but I predict that the struggle for our independence, like the antiwar struggle in Russia, and the antineoliberal struggle in Venezuela, will make socialism the order of the day.

When that happens, we revolutionary socialists must be organised to lead that fight: to that end I propose a California analogue of Venezuela's PSUV, a California Socialist Party, drawing on existing Socialist and Communist organisations.

¡Viva California libre, soberana, y independiente, con libertad, justicia y democracia de, por, y para el pueblo!

¡Viva la Rep├║blica Socialista de California!
Matt Owen is a Californio striving to make California a worker's paradise.



  1. Yes! A worker's paradise in California! And in a couple of years, after you've hung all the dissenters from the window blind cords, and spent all the money you didn't earn, we will have our own Venezuela.
    Or, maybe we'd end up with a nice Stalinesque pogrom system to aid in the starvation of a few million citizens-er, that is to say, comrades. You people are so dense.

  2. Where you been, Kevin Mac?
    I was getting worried about you.



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