The Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 smashed the Russian capitalist state and brought a workers’ party to power for the first time in history. Later revolutions in China, Vietnam, Korea, Cuba and elsewhere would smash the existing state in those countries and bring parties of workers and peasants to power. In each case the workers’ party, or communist party, was dedicated to the construction of socialism and the long- term transition to a fully communist society.
Workers and students often question exactly what constitutes a revolution and what does not. The media often confuses the issue further by referring to any big change as a revolution, like the so-called Republican Revolution of 1994.
A revolution is much more than a big event, however radical or life-changing that event may be. A genuine social revolution is represented by the overthrow of one class by another. This overthrow occurs when the contradictions and conflict inherent in existing social and economic relations become an intolerable burden on society’s development. The revolution itself sets free new advanced social relations and marks the beginning of a whole new economic system.
A genuine revolution is necessarily violent. The present revolutionary class of workers and oppressed would obviously prefer to have a peaceful revolution in which their friends and loved ones were not the target of violence by the state. History, however, has clearly demonstrated that no ruling class has ever given up its power without a violent fight. Existing class rule is based on the organized violence of the police and army. Workers and their allies must be prepared to defend themselves by any means necessary in the course of a revolutionary struggle.
All changes of class rule in recorded history have come about by revolution. The Glorious Revolution in England and the French Revolution represented the process by which the capitalist class came to power in these two countries and smashed the old feudal state and feudal social relations. These revolutions laid the political basis for the rapid development of industry and technology. The capitalist class was the revolutionary class at this time in its struggle against the vestiges of feudal power.
Today the capitalist class is the reactionary class that holds back the productive potential of workers as it oppresses them. The workers of the world make up the revolutionary class with the historic potential for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. Not all revolutionary struggles are successful; and the inter- national revolution has suffered severe setbacks following the defeat of the socialist-bloc countries of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Despite these temporary and serious setbacks, the working class has not ceded its historic mission of socialist revolution.
The counterrevolutions in the former socialist-bloc countries illustrate the need to continually struggle against the retrograde trends of bureaucratism and privilege which separate the communist party and workers’ state from its natural base in the working class. These trends developed over time in the socialist-bloc countries and preceded the eventual defeat of the revolution by domestic reaction allied with imperialism.
Mao Zedong, the founding chairperson of the Communist Party of China, foresaw this possibility in China and sought to head it off by launching the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in 1966. The Cultural Revolution was a recognition of the need for continual revolution in all spheres of society — political, economic and cultural. The theory of continual revolution explicitly acknowledges that the process of socialist revolution within a particular country does not end at the exact moment workers smash the old state and establish a revolutionary state in its place.
Socialist revolution represents the conquering of state power by the exploited masses for the first time in history. All previous revolutions have transferred power from one small ruling class of exploiters to another class of exploiters. Modern technology lays the basis for material abundance and provides the oppor- tunity for the producers of wealth to run society.
The working class cannot rely on the old state mechanisms developed to serve capitalism in its revolutionary struggle. Elections, for example, may be a barometer of how the masses feel, but they cannot in and of themselves bring workers to power. Workers must create their own instruments of power to carry through the revolution.
The working class needs a party which understands its role in history and is organized under the centralized leadership of workers and the oppressed to assist in the development of these instruments of power. This party must come from and be embedded in the exploited masses so that it can move decisively when a revolutionary situation presents itself. Only through the leadership of such a communist party can the working class smash the old capitalist state and replace it with a revolutionary dictatorship based on workers’ power. The final victory of workers’ revolution throughout the entire world will definitively end the basis for all exploitation.