Revolutions are the locomotives of history

A few choice sentences from Lenin during the rapid ‘education’ of the 1905-7 revolution:

Revolutions are the locomotives of history, said Marx. Revolutions are festivals of the oppressed and the exploited. At no other time are the mass of the people in a position to come forward so actively as creators of a new social order, as at a time of revolution. At such times the people are capable of performing miracles (Collected Works, vol. 9, p. 113).

A bad doctrine is splendidly rectified by a good revolution (Collected Works, vol. 9, p. 202).

The crucial lesson of the 1905-7 revolution was the need either for a revolutionary army or to win over substantial parts of the standing army, or both. How did they learn this lesson? With the famous incident of the armoured cruiser, Potemkin. During massive strikes and protests in Odessa, the crew of the Potemkin decided to join the revolutionary side on 14 June (27 on the old calendar), 1905. The revolutionaries thought, ‘holy shit! what do we do now?’ Unable to be deployed to any effect, the ship sailed about aimlessly. The tsar ordered the Black Sea fleet to open fire on the Potemkin, but they refused. He also asked Romania and Turkey to destroy it, but they told him to bugger off. After 11 days, short of fuel and food, the ship docked in Romania, where the sailors were allowed safe passage.

Suddenly, the communists, Lenin among them, realised the potential of winning over the armed forces. For Lenin, it was ‘the attempt to form the nucleus of a revolutionary army‘ (Collected Works, vol. 8, p. 561). After that they set their organisation to work training communists, setting up weapons manufacturing, persuading soldiers and officers to join. And Lenin buried himself in the negelected but brilliant writings of Engels – nicknamed ‘the colonel’ – on military matters. As Lenin put it:

The bomb has ceased to be the weapon of the solitary ‘bomb thrower’, and is becoming an essential weapon of the people (Collected Works, vol. 9, p. 284).

So what about Egypt and Libya? Forget crap like Twitter and Facebook. In Egypt, the armed forces began swaying towards the protestors, but it was not until the army told Mubarak to get lost that the situation changed. So also in Libya, where reports are that soldiers and fighter pilots are refusing to fire upon the people and joining them. The catch is that the army might go in a number of ways: a reactionary regime as in Burma and probably in Egypt. And who knows what will happen in Libya. In Russia’s situation a century ago, the Red Army was the clincher for the revolution. But you need a little training and ‘education’ first.

Then again, even Lenin found revolutionaries hopelessly disorganised. He writes to the St. Petersburg bunch:

It horrifies me – I give you my word – it horrifies me to find that there has been talk about bombs for over six months, yet not one has been made! (Collected Works, vol. 9, p. 344).


7 thoughts on “Revolutions are the locomotives of history

  1. Really enjoyable read, mous, the end quote particularly funny : D

    I hope that Egypt doesn’t go reactionary like Burma, the people there gave a lot to oust Mubarak and I am sure they are aware that to get rid of the world military regime ( which has been a stated aim as well as the desire to liberate Palestine ) will be a mighty long haul, a protracted battle, but with other regimes in the area falling, it may not be uphill for too long.

    1. It seems as though the Egyptian armed forces – at least the top command – tolerated or allowed the protests, but only so far. In other words, the protests achieved but a first step. Long haul still, if the energy is there.

  2. Yes, what is the military? Isn’t it a machine that turns peasants into proletarians, in the service of nationalism/imperialism/capitalism? And potentially revolutionary.

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