There is one special aspect of the first decade after the revolution that needs to be discussed in detail as it holds great importance for any future mobilisation. This is the relationship of the centralised party with the organs of people's power - the Soviets or small factory councils and peasant councils. Contrary to what he wrote just before the revolution in "State and Revolution", Lenin summarily rejected the fundamental concept of "All Power to the Soviets" and instead concentrated all power in the Politbureau of the Bolshevik Party. Since the Party in 1917 had a very thin mass base restricted to the industrial areas of Petrograd and Moscow and almost no mobilisation among the peasants and since it was immediately faced with the counter revolutionary backlash from the ousted monarchists and bourgeois elements, in the initial years the Bolshevik Party was able to convince the industrial workers that the Soviet State could survive only by being run in an authoritarian militaristic way while fighting the Civil War. There was what was called "War Communism", in which grain, meat and vegetables was taken from the peasants in large quantities forcibly to fund the war and also to feed the cities. The workers in factories were made to toil hard and forbidden from striking work or from running their establishments by themselves.
However, once the Soviet State won the civil war by the end of 1920, the peasants and the workers became restive and demanded that true socialism based on grassroots soviet democracy in the factories and the farms should be implemented and the authoritarian control of the Bolshevik Politbureau eased and civil freedoms and rights allowed. The control of the heights of the economy should be with the Soviet State but the running of these establishments should be in the hands of factory councils or soviets. The main demands were -
free and secret elections to the Soviets,
The Bolsheviks would have none of this, however, and decided to crush the workers, soldiers and peasants who were making these demands. The strongest group that were in support of this democratisation of the Soviet State were the sailors at the naval base in Kronstadt near Petrograd. These sailors had played a crucial role in the victory of the October Revolution when it was their storming of the Winter Palace that finally led to the overthrow of the Conservative Government that had come to power after the February Revolution earlier following on the abdication of the Tsar. When the Bolshevik Party refused to accede to their demands the sailors of Kronstadt rose in rebellion and this led to a fight with the Soviet army ending in the massacre of the sailors who preferred to die rather than surrender and fought to the last as shown below.
New Economic Policy was introduced in 1921. While the military control of society continued and civil freedoms and rights were denied, the NEP allowed peasants to sell their produce in markets and only a tax was levied on them. Small enterprise was also allowed but control of the major economic sectors of heavy industry, banking and transport and also military production were retained by the State. The State factories and services were run on a managerial system according to western industrial practices and workers were not allowed to unionise or form soviets. Thus, a form of State Capitalism came into play under the control of the Bolshevik Party.
This then brings up the crucial question regarding how post revolutionary states and societies should function. Especially when revolutions take place in backward countries and are immediately put under pressure by more developed imperialist countries who sponsor counter revolution. The revolution in Russia took place because the State had been weakened due to its participation in the imperialist World War I and it survived because this war had also weakened the winning imperialist powers to an extent where they were not able to provide enough support to the Russian counter revolutionaries. Contrary to the plan he had enunciated earlier for a truly democratic grassroots Soviet system, Lenin after the revolution immediately clamped down on civil liberties and continued with a repressive authoritarian system closely controlled by the Politbureau of the Bolshevik Party. Faced with revolt, he crushed the opposition, clamped down on debates within the party and initiated capitalist management of industries and the functioning of markets and small enterprise. It was clear that a big country like Russia cannot be ruled by a clique of people who still did not have enough power and resources and in one way or other the common people have to be given a say. Instead of allowing civil freedoms and rights, what the Bolsheviks did was to suppress them but allow private enterprise, peasant production and capitalist managerial control of workers in industries. By the time Lenin became terminally ill and finally died in 1924, the revolution had been betrayed and its emancipatory potential had been scotched. After 1928, when the Soviet State had become powerful enough, the New Economic Policy was withdrawn and Stalin, who had become the supreme leader, initiated a terror campaign against the peasants to collectivise and mechanise agriculture. From authoritarianism, Russia morphed into totalitarianism.
Often, when we work at the grassroots, even in our small organisations surrounded as we are by a hugely powerful Capitalist and Neo-imperialist system, the question of how to decide on our courses of action crops up and we have to choose between authoritarian or democratic decision making. I am happy to say that in Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath we always choose in favour of democracy even if on many occasions it leads us into trouble because the majority view of a situation turns out to be flawed in the end!!! Only if there is a firm belief in democracy at the grassroots and decentralised social, economic and political systems, are solutions to the serious problems that beset us at present likely to emerge.