Revolution, revolutionary situations and the conditions for revolution are fundamental ideas in Marxist-Leninist theory. Seán Manuel sheds light on what these concepts mean in practice and their importance for the left in Britain today.
The study of history reveals a continuous struggle, waged between contending classes, for power and wealth in each society – a class struggle. Capitalist society is not exempt from this struggle, just as slave and feudal societies weren’t.
It Capitalism, in fact, has concentrated this struggle to exist between just two main classes – the proletarians, the modern working class, and the capitalists, the modern ruling class. Just as the slaves toppled their masters, as the peasants dethroned their lords, eventually, the proletarians will be left with no option but to overthrow the capitalist class. The study of dialectical and historical materialism tells us this. But what brings about revolution and makes it necessary?
The pretext to any two revolutions has never been identical. Revolutions are not spontaneous; months, or years, of exposure to certain conditions create the need for revolution. Simultaneously, however, there is no set formula to brew these ingredients. Handily, therefore, Lenin identified three conditions that are necessary for revolution to come about. These are not necessarily exclusive, nor are they dogmatic doctrine, but they certainly hold up as a means to estimate the potential for revolution – including in Britain today.
The first condition for revolution is that the ruling class is no longer able to rule in the way it once did. Emerging changes in society make the old means of rule redundant or ineffective, so new means of rule must be devised. The upheaval resulting from this change produces the opportunity for revolutionary conditions to arise.
In Lenin’s time, we can see this clearly in the brutal conditions of feudal-militarism, imperialism, tsarism, emerging capitalism and, of course, the First World War. Together, these created extremely poor conditions for the Russian proletarians and peasants, urging them onward to the two revolutions of 1917. Today, the COVID-19 pandemic (and the resultant recession) has exposed the hollow foundations of neoliberalism, which has stripped our essential services to their mere skeletal structures. Price-gouging has left our institutions, public and private, vulnerable to stress. As crises continue to escalate, especially with the looming ecological disaster, no longer can the capitalist class get away with the current means of rule. In this need for change, is the opportunity for the revolutionary struggle to emerge.
The second condition for revolution is that the working class is no longer prepared to be ruled in the way it once was. People only begin to fight for change when the old is no longer satisfactory to them.
In Lenin’s time, dissatisfaction with the First World War, with tsardom and with steepening wealth inequality, gave rise to the revolutionary movement. In the 21st century, agitation against the war in Iraq and Syria, against the monarchy, against privatisation and tuition fees have all been brought to the forefront of attention. Declining voter turnout over the last few decades, and growing anti-establishment attitudes, are just two products of our dissatisfaction with the status quo. Another product will inevitably be the growth of the revolutionary movement.
The third condition for revolution is that the working classes must have the organisation, strategy and leadership required to seize upon the revolutionary potential in society.
It is this condition that we can affect and nurture the most. The role of the Communist Party in the revolution is discussed in great detail by Marx, Engels, Lenin and other revolutionary theorists throughout history. To first quote from ‘The Communist Manifesto’:
“The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.”
Next, to quote from Lenin, in his ‘Speech On The Agrarian Question’, in 1917:
“A party is the vanguard of a class, and its duty is to lead the masses and not merely reflect the average political level of the masses.”
These quotes are key in our understanding of the role of the Party in the struggle. It is the historic duty of the Party, led by the most advanced sections of the proletariat, to push forward and uphold the working class movement, to seize upon revolutionary potential and to create an understanding of class struggle in society. That is the Party that must be built if we intend seriously to overthrow capitalism and imperialism and to build socialism in their place.
This was abundantly clear in Lenin’s time, when the Bolsheviks enacted the will of the Russian proletariat in 1917, during the historic events of the October Revolution. This feat was made possible only through thorough party democracy and proper party discipline. With these in hand, it advanced the class struggle, it led the masses and took advantage of the revolutionary potential of Russia. Its triumphs were reproduced across the world throughout the 20th Century, evident in the successful revolutions and Communist Parties of Asia, South America and Eastern Europe.
We, in Britain, must learn from their example, in building our own Communist Party from the ground-up. For us, that means joining and supporting the Communist Party and, its youth wing, the Young Communist League.
Like any successful working class movement, the British proletariat needs the Communist Party in order to lead the revolutionary struggle. And make no mistake: the CP is the legitimate Communist Party of our country. Its membership is the largest; it is partnered with the Communist Parties of Cuba, China and Vietnam; it is widely recognised as the successor to the historic CPGB; and ‘Britain’s Road to Socialism’, the Party manifesto, is upheld and approved by the labour and communist movement, national and international.
Today, the CP and the YCL are indisputably at the forefront of the struggle – with regular work in trade, tenant and student unions, with consistent community service and with political education of workers (members or not). As Communists, it is our duty to seize upon the growing revolutionary potential in Britain, to build the Party – the third condition for revolution – and to lead the successful struggle for socialism.
Build the Communist Party! Join the YCL!
For Peace, Jobs and Socialism within our Lifetimes.
Seán Manuel is a member of YCL Greater Manchester and helps run an educational group called the Marxist Literature Collective.