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The Victorious October Revolution and the Strategy of the International Proletarian Revolution

by MLPD, Stefan Engel, 12 October 2017

Stefan Engel



At the beginning of the twentieth century, capitalism entered a new, higher stage: imperialism. The outbreak of the First World War was accompanied by the increasing complexity and extreme intensification of all fundamental contradictions of capitalist society. This required the further development of the theoretical foundations of the revolutionary working-class movement.

At a time when the opportunists were dreaming of reconciling the contradictions, materialist dialectics, the “basic theoretical foundation” of Marxism (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 17, p. 39), had to be defended against eclecticism and sophistry and applied to the essential changes in the capitalist development. In his dialectical analysis of imperialism, Lenin discovered the law of uneven economic and political development as “an absolute law of capitalism” (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 21, p. 342). “Hence,” writes Lenin, “the victory of socialism is possible first in several or even in one capitalist country alone” (ibid.).

The successful October Revolution in Russia was essentially based on the application of this insight. It signified a further development of the strategy of Marx and Engels in regard to the international revolution.

The First Victorious Socialist Revolution

How was it possible that the era of proletarian revolutions began exactly in backward Russia, a country whose population was almost 80 percent peasants? Stalin remarked about the circumstances of the “comparative ease” with which the overthrow of the bourgeoisie took place:

The October Revolution began in a period of desperate struggle between the two principal imperialist groups, the Anglo-French and the Austro-German; at a time when, engaged in mortal struggle between themselves, these two groups had neither the time nor the means to devote serious attention to the struggle against the October Revolution. (“The October Revolution and the Tactics of the Russian Communists,” Stalin, Works, Vol. 6, p. 374)

All fundamental contradictions of that period came together in Russia, which therefore was the weakest link in the imperialist world system. The gigantic czarist empire united capitalist imperialism and pre-capitalist relations of production. With the development of capitalism the class of wageworkers had emerged, which, though still relatively small, became the decisive force of the Russian revolution under the revolutionary leadership of the Bolsheviks.

Lenin broke with the dogma of several social-democratic parties of the Second International which claimed that a socialist revolution was only possible, was only “permitted” after the capitalist productive forces in a specific country had completely matured and the proletariat constituted the absolute majority of the population there. The Menshevik defamation of the October Revolution as a “putsch” was based on this dogma. In the final analysis, though, this was nothing but an attempt by the opportunists to justify theoretically their capitulation in the face of the tasks of the socialist revolution.

The Russian October Revolution in 1917 ushered in the era of the proletarian revolution for the overthrow of the imperialist world system. It was the first victorious revolution with the goal of abolishing the exploitation of man by man as precondition for the transition to a classless society. Stalin said about its historical significance:

The October Revolution is noteworthy primarily for having breached the front of world imperialism, for having overthrown the imperialist bourgeoisie in one of the biggest capitalist countries and put the socialist proletariat in power. (“The International Character of the October Revolution,” Stalin, Works, Vol. 10, p. 245)

Lenin regarded the October Revolution as the start of the international revolution against imperialism. He therefore emphasized:

This first victory is not yet the final victory, and it was achieved by our October Revolution at the price of incredible difficulties and hardships, at the price of unprecedented suffering, accompanied by a series of serious reverses and mistakes on our part.… We have made the start. When, at what date and time, and the proletarians of which nation will complete this process is not important. The important thing is that the ice has been broken; the road is open, the way has been shown. (“Fourth Anniversary of the October Revolution,” Collected Works, Vol. 33, pp. 56–57)

The October Revolution became the model for communist and working-class parties all over the world.

The October Revolution and the Modern Revisionists and Neorevisionists

The modern revisionists did not dare to dissociate themselves openly from the October Revolution, not even when they had turned away from Marxism-Leninism at the Twentieth Party Congress of the CPSU in 1956. From Khrushchev to Gorbachev the anniversary celebrations of the October Revolution were intended to delude the masses into thinking that the revisionist politics of the new ruling bureaucratic monopoly bourgeoisie continued to follow Lenin’s revolutionary politics.

What remains of the spirit of the October Revolution as far as the modern revisionists are concerned can be seen in an article written by Willi Gerns, a leading theoretician of the German Communist Party (DKP), on occasion of the 85th anniversary of the October Revolution. He starts out by praising the October Revolution as “the event that undoubtedly has molded the course of history in the twentieth century in the most powerful way. It was the first victorious socialist revolution” (Unsere Zeit, 15 November 2002). But in the following he keeps quiet about the decisive lesson of the October Revolution. He says nothing about the October Revolution ushering in the era of proletarian revolutions within the epoch of imperialism. He covers up the fact that capitalism in its imperialist stage is dying capitalism and that the historical period of transition from capitalism to socialism is an era of proletarian revolutions. This means he withholds the decisive criterion for judging the politics of a Marxist-Leninist party: whether it truly works toward this proletarian revolution or not.

In its program, for a number of years the DKP has conceded that a “revolutionary break with the capitalist power and property relations” would be necessary (Program of the German Communist Party, Supplement to Unsere Zeit [DKP newspaper], April 2006, p. 1). The DKP reacts here to the Marxist-Leninist critique of the revisionist concept of the “peaceful road to socialism” as put forward over a period of more than 40 years; it does not, however, disengage itself from this concept in a principle-based way. It is characteristic for this position that it vaguely concedes the necessity of a “revolutionary break” while remaining completely mysterious about what it is and how it is to be carried out. Typically enough, this apparent change of the programmatic position in regard to the revolution is made without self-critical correction of the illusionary revisionist strategy and tactics of “pushing back the power of monopoly capital,” which the DKP explicitly continues to adhere to:

The more changes are achieved in the sense of self-determination in the workplace and in society, democratic control, demilitarization and democratization in state and society, the greater the influence of democratic and socialist forces wherever the shaping of opinion takes place – the better are the chances in the struggle for pushing back the power of monopoly capital and for opening up the road to socialism (ibid., p. 9).

The combination of the revisionist strategy and tactics of “pushing back the power of monopoly capital” with the concession of a “revolutionary break,” whatever this may be, marks the transition of the DKP from failed modern revisionism to neorevisionism – a modification of the modern revisionism which originated at the Twentieth Party Congress of the CPSU in 1956 and suffered its most devastating defeat with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Today the DKP is split into several factions that fight against each other in public. Modern revisionists, neorevisionists and Left-reformists are fighting over dominance in this party, which has been in a deep crisis since the reunification of Germany and the disappearance of the German Democratic Republic. And yet, there are a growing number of DKP members and followers who subjectively consider themselves to be revolutionaries and seek the cooperation with the Marxist-Leninists.

The essence of revisionism is blurring the difference between socialism and capitalism. This is why the difference between reform and revolution is blurred in the revisionist strategy and tactics. In the DKP party program this leads to all kinds of contortions:

The DKP has always worked on the assumption that the antimonopolist and the socialist transformation are stages of development linked to one another in the unified revolutionary process of the transition from capitalism to socialism.

Antimonopolist transformation stands for a period of the revolutionary struggle where elements of capitalism still exist, but already rudimentary forms of socialism as well. In the beginning the elements of the old will predominate, but the essential elements of the new society will have to become more and more predominant in the class struggle if the counterrevolution is not to succeed in stifling the revolutionary process. (ibid., p. 10)

Thus the DKP ends up with the illusion of all opportunists: the evolutionary transition from capitalism to socialism. This is supposed to be a gradual development, “where elements of capitalism still exist, but already rudimentary forms of socialism as well.” Lenin criticized this blurring of capitalism and socialism in a principled way, from the point of view of dialectics:

Dialectics repudiate absolute truths and explain the successive changes of opposites and the significance of crises in history. The eclectic does not want propositions that are “too absolute”, because he wants to push forward his philistine desire to substitute “transitional stages” for revolution.

The Kautskys and Vanderveldes say nothing about the fact that the transitional stage between the state as an organ of the rule of the capitalist class and the state as an organ of the rule of the proletariat is revolution, which means overthrowing the bourgeoisie and breaking up, smashing, their state machine. (“The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky,” Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 28, p. 324)

Gerns does not say a word about the universal lesson of the October Revolution that the revolutionary proletariat must smash the bourgeois state machine, the crucial power organ of the dictatorship of the monopolies, and establish instead its own dictatorship in order to suppress the exploiting classes and eliminate them as classes. Gerns acts like the forerunner of all opportunists, the Renegade Kautsky, whom Lenin derided:

Kautsky takes from Marxism what is acceptable to the liberals, to the bourgeoisie…, and discards, passes over in silence, glosses over all that in Marxism which is unacceptable to the bourgeoisie (the revolutionary violence of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie for the latter’s destruction). (ibid., pp. 242 and 243)

The DKP seemingly deals with the historical experiences of the working-class movement, for instance those made in Chile in 1973 when the hopes for a peaceful transition to socialism were crushed by the military’s tanks:

The experiences of the class struggle teach us that the monopoly bourgeoisie always tried to prevent societal progress by employing all available means if it suspected a threat to its power and privileges; this went as far as establishing fascist dictatorships and triggering civil wars. (Program of the DKP, p. 10)

It is all the more irresponsible when the DKP – against its better judgement – continues to propagate the illusion of the peaceful road to socialism:

In hard struggle, the unavoidable resistance [of the monopoly bourgeoisie] must be overcome, and such a superiority of the forces striving for socialism must be achieved that they can prevent reaction from using force and push through the road to socialism most favorable for the working class and its allies. (ibid.)

The revisionist concept of a strategic “counter-power” within capitalism which is to prevent the ruling monopolies from using their power apparatus against the revolutionary masses is only intended to gloss over the renunciation of the revolutionary class struggle.

The method used by Willi Gerns in dealing with the October Revolution was polemicized against already by Lenin in his work The State and Revolution:

What is now happening to Marx’s theory has, in the course of history, happened repeatedly to the theories of revolutionary thinkers and leaders of oppressed classes fighting for emancipation.… After their death, attempts are made to convert them into harmless icons, to canonise them, so to say, and to hallow their names to a certain extent for the “consolation” of the oppressed classes and with the object of duping the latter, while at the same time robbing the revolutionary theory of its substance, blunting its revolutionary edge and vulgarising it. (“The State and Revolution,” Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 25, p. 390)

Revolutionaries have the responsibility to be honest to the working class and the broad masses. This is why the Program of the MLPD declares:

The working class has the wish that the revolution could win without the use of violence. But the issue of violence rises independently of the will of the proletariat. With the struggles taking a revolutionary upswing, the monopolies, according to all historical experience, will attempt to maintain their power by means of brutal force. Therefore, the working class must rise up in arms under the leadership of its party. In the overthrow of imperialism and the smashing of the bourgeois state apparatus, proletarian class struggle attains its highest form in capitalism. (Program of the Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany, January 2000, p. 53)

Betrayal of the universally valid lessons of the working-class movement – this is the relationship of the revisionists to the October Revolution!

Dogmatic Disregard of the Lessons
of the October Revolution

The dogmatists in the international Marxist-Leninist and working-class movement idolize the October Revolution as though it were the “holy of holies,” taking everything literally. They condemn as betrayal every objective, historical, let alone critical and creative evaluation. A group with the name Trotz alledem (Despite Everything) for instance goes head over heels accusing the MLPD. The reason why it is necessary to deal in a principle-based way with this group’s ideas has less to do with the group’s practical relevance for the class struggle in Germany than with clarifying the basic content of these attacks. We can read in one of its publications:

In the question of the significance of the October Revolution the complete ideological bankruptcy of the MLPD becomes apparent.… This party’s attitude towards the October Revolution is an open attack on Marxism-Leninism, an outright questioning of the revolution. (Trotz alledem, Newspaper for the Construction of the Bolshevist Party of Germany, No. 11, December 1998, p. 1)

This pompous and sweeping attack is followed by a barrage of spiteful distortions of the MLPD’s positions intended to associate the party with Trotskyism and Kautskyanism. The authors of Trotz alledem neither can present a single piece of evidence for this absolute nonsense, nor can they talk their way out by claiming they do not know the ideological-political line of the MLPD. All they do is spread absurd allegations to stir up reservations. Above all, the dialectical reflection accomplished by the MLPD remains a closed book for them:

First of all, a clear-headed person can’t make heads or tails of the MLPD’s assessment. Why is the October Revolution supposed to have international significance, but not an international character? (ibid., p. 6)

Stalin explained on occasion of the Tenth Anniversary in 1927 why “the October Revolution … is … a revolution of an international, world order” (“The International Character of the October Revolution,” Stalin, Works, Vol. 10, p. 244). He continued:

While shaking imperialism, the October Revolution has at the same time created – in the shape of the first proletarian dictatorship – a powerful and open base for the world revolutionary movement, a base such as the latter never possessed before and on which it now can rely for support. It has created a powerful and open centre of the world revolutionary movement, such as the latter never possessed before and around which it can now rally, organising a united revolutionary front of the proletarians and of the oppressed peoples of all countries against imperialism. (ibid. pp. 250–251)

Here Stalin describes the general essence of the October Revolution and its general significance for supporting the revolutionary movement in all countries. This does not alter the fact, however, that the October Revolution as far as its concrete essence is concerned, in its form, remained a revolution with a national character. Willi Dickhut, in 1991, evaluated the character of the October Revolution in the context of the era of proletarian world revolution and from the point of view of historical materialism:

The Russian October Revolution of 1917 ushered in the period of transformation from capitalism to socialism. It became the great example for the communist workers’ parties of the world. Nevertheless, the October Revolution had national character. It was victorious because Czarist Russia was the weakest link in the chain of imperialist nations. The October Revolution led to the construction of socialism in one country. The revolution did not spread further, however. The revolutionary movements in other countries were suppressed. (“On the International Character of the Proletarian Revolution,” Selected Documents of the Berlin Party Congress of the MLPD [4th Party Congress], p. 42)

With their metaphysical evaluation of the October Revolution the dogmatists block the realization that the international revolution is necessary. They want to apply rigidly to today a revolutionary model that was correct – even ingenious – under the special conditions of 1917. To do so they have to ignore essential changes in imperialism and the conditions differing in the various countries.

The October Revolution as Application of the
Strategy of the International Revolution

Lenin, in fundamental concurrence with Marx and Engels, regarded the international revolution as starting point and permanent reference point for his revolutionary strategy. To him the Russian revolution merely was the start of the international revolution, “but a single link in the chain of the world revolution” (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 31, p. 322).

On the basis of the revolutionary crisis caused by the First World War, triggered off by the October Revolution and the civil war in Russia revolutionary movements developed in a number of capitalist countries, colonies and semicolonies. Contrary to Lenin’s expectations, however, the October Revolution did not spark off an international revolution. In no other country were the revolutionaries able to triumph over the counterrevolution. However, the revolutionary movements in many countries prevented world imperialism from concentrating its forces on smashing the Russian revolution. This emphasizes the inseparable connection of the October Revolution with the international class struggle.

The fact that the international revolution did not take place was in Lenin’s view no reason for pessimism and resignation. Although his expectations were not fulfilled he defended “that we staked our chances on world revolution, and were undoubtedly right in doing so” (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 31, p. 398).

At the Third Congress of the Communist International in summer 1921 Lenin assessed critically and self-critically:

When we started the international revolution, we did so not because we were convinced that we could forestall its development, but because a number of circumstances compelled us to start it. We thought: either the international revolution comes to our assistance, and in that case our victory will be fully assured, or we shall do our modest revolutionary work in the conviction that even in the event of defeat we shall have served the cause of the revolution and that our experience will benefit other revolutions. It was clear to us that without the support of the international world revolution the victory of the proletarian revolution was impossible. Before the revolution, and even after it, we thought: either revolution breaks out in the other countries, in the capitalistically more developed countries, immediately, or at least very quickly, or we must perish. In spite of this conviction, we did all we possibly could to preserve the Soviet system under all circumstances, come what may, because we knew that we were not only working for ourselves, but also for the international revolution. We knew this, we repeatedly expressed this conviction before the October Revolution, immediately after it, and at the time we signed the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty. And, generally speaking, this was correct. (“Third Congress of the Communist International, Report on the Tactics of the R.C.P.,” Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 32, pp. 479–480; emphasis added)

Lenin had understood the objective laws in the era of imperialism and this is why he based his strategy strictly on the international proletarian revolution. In his speech on the occasion of the third anniversary of the October Revolution he declared:

We knew at that time that our victory would be a lasting one only when our cause had triumphed the world over, and so when we began working for our cause we counted exclusively on the world revolution. (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 31, p. 397; emphasis added)

Lenin’s concrete expectation was not fulfilled. Though in Russia the factors in favor of the proletarian revolution existed, the objective and subjective factors in the other capitalist countries had not yet matured. An international chain reaction of revolutions aiming at the overthrow of imperialism and the establishment of “a Union of Socialist Soviet Republics ... [and] the economic unity of the working people of all countries in the single world socialist economy which the proletariat of the world must establish after it has captured State power” did not materialize (Minutes of the Sixth World Congress of the Communist International, quoted in: The Communist International 1919–1943, Documents Selected and Edited by Jane Degras, Vol. II, p. 512).

Despite this experience the leadership of the CPSU was completely justified in rejecting any kind of capitulation and proved in the following decades that in Russia the proletarian revolution could not only be victorious, but also that socialism could be built. Contrary to Lenin’s theoretical and practical approach, the dogmatists with their metaphysical mode of thinking regard the October Revolution not as a component part of the international revolution. Perhaps this can be excused in times of relative calm of the class struggle, because then everything depends on rebuilding, strengthening and consolidating the revolutionary working-class movement in the different countries. But since the new historical period of transformation from capitalism to socialism has been initiated through the reorganization of international production, there is no excuse for such a position, because it would inevitably lead to defeat.


Stefan Engel, “The Victorious October Revolution and the Strategy of the International Proletarian Revolution,” in: Dawn of the International Socialist Revolution, pp. 31–44

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