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Past revolutions

In considering the question of how realistic it is to expect a socialist revolution, it is important to consider the hidden history of events that most people are unaware of. It was in the Paris Commune of 1871 that French workers actually created organisations of mass control which challenged the old system for a brief space of time. In the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917, workers and peasants developed similar structures of direct workers' control such as the workers councils and factory committees. The Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917 eventually destroyed this, and ushered in a system of state capitalism. Similarly, in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the workers set up workers' councils when they took on their so-called "communist" oppressors. During the May of 1968 in France, workplaces and universities were taken over and in many cases run in a way that is of immense inspiration to socialists.

What happened on these occasions? Not socialist revolutions, as some claim. But they were significant in the history of the struggles of our class. They are significant because the sort of people who dismiss the possibility of revolutionary upheavals were dismissing it seconds before these events blew up in their faces. No one is in any position to dismiss the prospect of revolution who has not carefully examined these movements. In none of these cases was a socialist revolution achieved, but in each case there was a fundamental interruption of the ruling order and the appearance of new forms and conceptions of everyday life. To ignore them because of their failure is to miss the point. Individual revolts are bound to fail until they are accompanied by a widespread and growing—and ultimately worldwide—socialist consciousness.

What we hope these brief examples show is that real change can be brought about by workers. Socialism is not a utopian dream. It is an ever-present undercurrent in working class practice. The task is to make it the main one. That these revolts did not go farther is hardly surprising. What is inspiring is that they went as far as they did. To find out more, try some of the writers featured at the John Gray website. To read our reactions to some of these events, see How close was France to a socialist revolution?, Russia was never socialist—and why… what we said over the years, Russian Socialism?????.