I’ve been rereading Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution. I do that every now and then, because it makes me think, and because, like all good narrative history, it feels like an adventure story. A few random thoughts have popped up that I want to jot down here.
One thing that hit me is that the February Revolution began on International Women’s Day. This is something I’d been aware of, but never thought about. In fact, there was nothing random about it. Hungry, tired of the war, appalled by the brutality of the Czar’s police, and doubly oppressed, the women textile workers of Petrograd called a protest strike to mark the day. They sent to the metal workers for support, which support was promptly given. This led to additional repression by the police, and the strike grew into mass strikes, demonstrations, and, ultimately, the end of the monarchy. I wish I’d remembered this a few days ago, on International Women’s Day.
In any revolution, the key question is: will the army side with the people, or the ruling class? There are many factors that decide this question: the determination of the revolutionary class probably being the most significant. But what struck me in this reading is that the biggest factor to bring the St. Petersburg working class and the army together was a shared hatred of the police—even, at critical moments, the Cossacks, the most reactionary section of the army, attacked the police on behalf of the workers. And then I remembered this video clip.
The ruling class is caught in an impossible position. As income disparity grows, so will opposition from the oppressed. As opposition grows, the police are required to more and more reveal their true nature as the iron fist of capital. And the more this is revealed, the more the army will come to hate the police, and to side with the masses. This is why sections of the ruling class are openly talking about income disparity as the biggest problem. But that problem too, is systemic; the very forces of the market economy, that was at one time so progressive, are now operating like a juggernaut. “Progressive” capitalist politicians want to find ways to slow the beast down and postpone the confrontation, or else are operating under the illusion that it can be avoided—somehow. Reactionary politicians are aware that the confrontation is coming, and want to have it now, the way a bad poker player makes what he knows is a bad decision because he just wants to get it over with. Progressives and reactionaries will continue to make bad decisions, because no good decisions are left to them (and, yes, various people on both sides will come up with all sorts of brilliant ideas on how to solve the problem, ideas whose only problem is that they cannot be implemented; but we can ignore them.)
So repression increases, the hatred of the police by the masses increases, and this works its way into all facets of our society—the army most definitely not excepted.
I make no pretense of knowing when this confrontation will come, or what form it will take. Indeed, the one thing I can guarantee is that I’ll be as taken by surprise as everyone else. But it can’t be avoided.