There are several questions mixed up here. We must start by distinguishing between what is specifically Russian and what is universal in the ‘schema’ or ‘model’ of the Russian revolution. What was specifically Russian was not the
Similarly, the extent of decomposition of the Tsarist/bourgeois state apparatus in Russia between February and October 1917 is not at all peculiar to the Russian social formation. It is a phenomenon which recurred in all the revolutionary crises in Western Europe that I have mentioned—perhaps in different forms, but with the same, and sometimes with an even more pronounced dynamic. Thus, during 1975, the repressive forces in Portugal were more paralysed and the bourgeois state apparatus was in a more advanced stage of decomposition than was the Tsarist/bourgeois state apparatus at any time between February and October. Of course, I am not here denying the obviously far greater intrinsic strength and stability of the bourgeois state and social order in the West, in normal times. But, precisely, that strength is itself dependent upon the maintenance of that ‘normality’. When the social ‘peace’ is shattered, as in May ’68 in France, for instance, that apparent strength is replaced by an evident vulnerability.
What was, indeed, peculiar to Russia was not the ease with which the Bolsheviks were able to seize power, but on the contrary the much greater difficulties they faced on the eve and above all on the morrow of the seizure of power—compared with the possibilities in the advanced capitalist countries of today. I am not trying to advance a paradox. Truly, the most striking feature of the critiques levelled against revolutionary Marxists by the anti-Leninists and centrists is their attempt to ignore or blot out this obvious fact. The peculiarity of Russia lay above all in the limited weight of the working class in the total active population. This meant that the Bolsheviks could hold an absolute majority in the soviets, whilst remaining a political minority in the country—a situation which is unthinkable in an advanced capitalist country. In England, France or Italy it would be impossible for a party to have 65 per cent of the votes in workers’ councils elected in every town by universal suffrage, and at the same time to have only 20 or 30 per cent of the votes of the whole population. What would be the social basis of such a disparity? What was also peculiar to the Russian social formation was the existence of a huge peasant hinterland, which served
Another peculiarity of the Russian social formation was the much lower degree of technical, cultural and also political preparation of the working class for the direct exercise of political and economic power that exists in the advanced capitalist countries. Yet another specific feature was the world context of the Russian revolution. International capitalism was then incomparably stronger than it is today: it had at its disposal infinitely greater economic, social, political and even ideological resources, as well as an incomparably more extensive and secure international system of supports and credits. Thus, the Russian revolution was from the outset threatened with submergence by a counter-revolution basing itself on the passivity of the majority of the population, and on an active minority which was not much smaller than the minority that supported the revolution. In addition, an armed international counter-revolution was ready to undertake an almost immediate military intervention, by invading Russia with armies from six, seven or eight different countries. Today, such operations are a little more difficult! We have not witnessed any ‘descent’ on Portugal by the Spanish regular army—let alone the French, German or American regular armies. Nor do I think that a victorious revolution in Spain, Italy or France will have to face anything of that kind in the first three or six months. The world has changed a great deal since 1917. My conclusion from the historical balance-sheet, then, is the paradoxical one that the ‘Leninist schema’, or what I see as the essence of Leninism—namely, the strategy which combines State and Revolution, the documents of the first four congresses of the Communist International and what is valid in Left-Wing Communism—is much more applicable in the advanced capitalist countries of Europe than it ever was in Russia. In all likelihood, that strategy, which was not applied in its entirety or even to a very great extent in Russia, will be fully applied for the first time now in Western Europe.
There is a certain lack of precision in the relevant concepts used by the Marxist classics, and, despite the modest theoretical gains of recent years, the Fourth International has still not entirely eliminated this imprecision. Your question then is very much to the point. My answer will only be an approximation, since we still lack the practical references which would allow us really to settle the matter. Let me begin by referring to the essential point developed by Lenin. For there to be a revolutionary crisis, the impetuous rise of the mass movement is not enough; such an upsurge gives rise to a pre-revolutionary situation, or rather process, which may go a long way without developing into a revolutionary situation. A revolutionary situation or crisis (the lack of precision
We must obviously interpret the expression ‘cannot carry on ruling’ not in the general historical, but in the conjunctural sense that the ‘upper classes’ do not have the material possibility of exercising power. Let me illustrate this by a very ‘provocative’ example (which has long been the subject of a debate amongst revolutionaries). In May ’68, there was not a really revolutionary situation, since the Gaullist régime was not so paralysed that it could not go on ruling. At no point did De Gaulle lose the capacity for political initiative. He was thrown off course and temporarily immobilized by the changed relation of forces. He was shrewd enough not to take on the extremely powerful mass movement with a frontal assault—which could have provoked a revolutionary situation! But he never lost the capacity for political manoeuvre and initiative. He waited for his hour (or almost the exact minute) to strike, and when this came it was clear at once that—due to the complicity of the reformist leadership of the pcf—he was in a position to assert his power throughout the country.
A revolutionary crisis appears when the bourgeoisie loses this capacity for initiative and assertion of its political authority. Whence does it derive? This is the real problem. It is difficult for us today, with so rich an experience behind us, to reduce all the major instances of revolutionary crisis in Europe—Russia 1917, Germany 1918–19, Hungary 1919, Spain 1936–7, Yugoslavia 1941–4, perhaps even Portugal 1975, and the list is not exhaustive—to a single common denominator. However, we can isolate two or three basic factors. First, a highly advanced stage of decomposition of the repressive apparatus of the state machine. This is an altogether decisive element in the loss of authority and initiative by the bourgeoisie. It may be due to a war or to the disintegrating effects on important sections of the army of a partially miscarried coup d’état, as in Spain. Or it may be the result of a general strike or workers’ uprising of such great moral and political power that it disintegrates the army from within, as happened in the days following the Kapp putsch in Germany 1920. Secondly (the positive side of the same coin) a generalization or at least broad development of organs of workers’ and popular power to the point where a régime of dual power exists, with the same impact on the repressive apparatus. The bourgeois state apparatus is obviously completely paralysed once the workers’ and people’s councils are strong enough for a major part of the public services to identify with them. If the staff of the banks reject the orders of the Finance Minister or of the Governor of the Central Bank in favour of the workers’ council of the banking sector, then the whole administration is paralysed. It is the same with the transport sector, and so on. If the phenomenon is widely extended, to include even sectors of the police, it is clear that what is involved is a total paralysis of the bourgeois state apparatus and of the bourgeoisie’s capacity for centralized political initiatives. However, it is the third, politico-ideological dimension to