Revolution or War n°11

(Biannual - February 2019)

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Lenin and... the Yellow Vests in France ?

The unheard of character of the yellow vest movement in France has raised many questions among revolutionaries because of its own characteristics, which we can describe, in short, as interclassist. We have received a number of criticisms following our publication and our support for the first position paper of the ICP – Proletarian ( Among these, the comrades of the group Matière et Révolution (France) referred us to Lenin’s text on the 1916 debate on the right of nations to self-determination. Although this text deals with ’interclassist’ movements with regard to the national question, the following passage is nevertheless worth reading and reflecting on in the face of the questions and problems that the ’yellow vests’ are raising.

"Whoever expects a “pure” social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip-service to revolution without understanding what revolution is. The Russian Revolution of 1905 was a bourgeois-democratic revolution. It consisted of a series of battles in which all the discontented classes, groups and elements of the population participated. Among these there were masses imbued with the crudest prejudices, with the vaguest slid most fantastic aims of struggle; there were small groups which accepted Japanese money, there were speculators and adventurers, etc. But objectively, the mass movement was breaking the hack of tsarism and paving the way for democracy; for this reason the class-conscious workers led it.

The socialist revolution in Europe cannot be anything other than an outburst of mass struggle on the part of all and sundry oppressed and discontented elements. Inevitably, sections of the petty bourgeoisie and of the backward workers will participate in it—without such participation, mass struggle is impossible, without it no revolution is possible—and just as inevitably will they bring into the movement their prejudices, their reactionary fantasies, their weaknesses errors. But objectively they will attack capital, and the class-conscious vanguard of the revolution, the advanced proletariat, expressing this objective truth of a variegated and discordant, motley and outwardly fragmented, mass struggle, will he able to unite and direct it, capture power, seize the banks, expropriate the trusts which all hate (though for difficult reasons!), and introduce other dictatorial measures which in their totality will amount to the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the victory of socialism, which, however, will by no means immediately “purge” itself of petty-bourgeois slag" (Lenin, The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed up, 1916 [1]).