1. One hundred and fifty years ago, Marx’s Capital (volume 1) was published. Nobody, OK, almost nobody thought it was a big deal.
One hundred years ago, the event voted “least likely to succeed” by the senior class attending the Second International’s Karl Kautsky Gymnasium, occurred. Everybody, everywhere knew the Russian Revolution was a really big deal.
And that’s OK. Marx was first, foremost, last, and always a revolutionist. “Economics” is, in his own word, shit.
Revolution, in Lenin’s words is “the festival of the oppressed.” Everybody, well almost everybody, knows how much Marx and Engels loved to party.
If there were still a Soviet Union around, the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution would be marked by some big-ass parades in Red Square– rocket launchers, tanks, armored personnel carriers, airborne troops, with the usual gray eminences standing appropriately/inappropriately atop Lenin’s Tomb, looking like they were just three hours either side of the cardiac intensive care unit; clapping hands (their own), pounding chests (each other’s) to keep warm enough, breathe long enough to have time for one more cigarette, one more shot of vodka.
It’s unclear how Putin will mark the event. In 2016, the Russian government did authorize a commission to plan a suitable celebration. However, Vladimir not-Lenin not-Ulyanov Putin is reported to be ambivalent, with that ambivalence expressing the truth of the revolution’s history, its success and failure. Said Vladimir not-Lenin not-Ulyanov Putin, according to the New York Times of March 10, 2017, “We didn’t need the world revolution.”
Oh yes you did, motherfucker. That’s exactly what you did need.
Any attempt to assess the significance of the Russian Revolution has to begin and end with that, that connection to a world revolution. The Russian Revolution was not a “national revolution.” It was a class uprising where a working class was struggling for power, for the ability to reorder, refashion, restructure the condition of labor, the relations of production, rather than capture a bigger market, a greater share of wealth through exploiting the labor of others.
Uneasy may lie the head that imagines itself wearing a crown given the delightful historical relationship of revolutions to crowned heads, but the world revolution is exactly what Russia needed. The need for world revolution was exactly what the Russia Revolution expressed in its eruption, its survival, its consolidation, its defeat, and its eradication..
2. The Russian Revolution was not the product of a historically specific Russian capitalism. Vladimir not-Putin Lenin to the contrary notwithstanding, the capitalist development of agriculture in Russia was not proceeding inexorably, evenly, or broadly.
The commercial exchanges of grain, produce, foodstuffs in the markets, domestic and international, between city and countryside, and between Russia and other countries were not indexes to the growth of capitalism. The direct agricultural producers, the peasantry, were not farmers, yeoman or tenant. Their direct labor and their direct product could be, and was, exploited, expropriated, stolen. However, the exploitation, expropriation, theft were not creating the condition of labor where subsistence was possible only through subordination and submission of all production, i.e. of all labor time itself as a means of exchange for a value sufficient to reproduce these direct producers as property-less, dispossessed, “free” labor.
That the network, structures, conditions of the agricultural production relations, the obshchina, the mir, could improve or decline, be made more miserable, less miserable, by interaction with the markets, by the exchange with the enclaves of capital in Russia is not disputed; that those networks, structures, conditions could not be revolutionized by capitalism, fusing increased and increasing productivity with capitalist property forms, is beyond dispute.
Capital had so extensively, expansively developed itself internationally that its expansion and extension in Russia were circumscribed, inhibited, by its very ability to generate value in the relations of industrial production without first, and fundamentally altering the relations of agricultural production. “Backwardness,” that is to say pre-existing agricultural relations of production, becomes more than a burden upon advanced capitalism. Backwardness becomes the measure of capital; like a coffin measures the man.
Those relations when undermined by the pressure of capitalist markets undermine capitalist property itself.
This forms the material substance of uneven and combined development, and the material substrate for the “uninterrupted,” “continuous,” “permanent” revolution– where the struggle for “progress,” for “productivity,” against “backwardness,” is not and cannot be categorized as an economic struggle for “development,” but must rather be actualized as class struggle, as the proletarian social revolution abolishing the capitalist mode of production in its most advanced, developed, international manifestations.
Yes, Vladimir not-Lenin not-Ulyanov Putin, the world revolution is exactly what Russia needed.