The Great October Socialist Revolution marked the first successful socialist revolution in world history. On November 7, 2017, we marked the 100th anniversary of this revolution which profoundly changed the world. It marks the first time, under the leadership of the great Vladmir Lenin, that the workers, peasants, and oppressed peoples the world over, would be given more power than the rich. To this day, it remains influential in the minds of many wishing for a better world. There are, however, its detractors -- obviously from bourgeois historians who lament the overthrow of Tsarist Russia, while even a few may grudgingly admit that the Bolsheviks were the only group capable of leading Russia out of the turmoil of 1917. But more appalling are those on the left who see this Revolution, much like the Great French Revolution before it, as an authoritarian nightmare collapsing into the tyranny of the masses. This is meant to address those on the left who ask, “What is the point of debating about and studying the history of the USSR?”
It is an important question to ask. Especially for those of us who were born and have lived in the West, we are generally bombarded by bourgeois history depicting the Soviet Union as the most evil regime to have ever existed, a state of never-ending toiling for the people. We are told of mass poverty and lack of food. We are told repeatedly that we should be grateful for our lives in the West, that we uphold the values of freedom and democracy, compared to the ruthless authoritarianism of the Soviet Union and the rest of the former socialist states which existed until the fall of the Iron Curtain. This leads us to the question about the point of studying the history of the USSR. It is a not only a matter of studying history, but a matter of historiography, that is, how we are presented with history.
As an example, we are told of the widespread destruction said to have occurred throughout the former socialist states. But let us consider one instance of this destruction – the Russian Civil War of 1917 to 1923. This had occurred almost immediately between the nascent socialist Russian state led by the Bolshevik Party, against the White Army which sought to restore the Tsarist monarchy. Not only did the Tsarists try to seize back power, they were given military and financial aid by the world powers of the time, led by the United Kingdom (which also included Canada and Australia at the time), the United States, and France. As Georgi Dimitrov noted on the third anniversary of the October Revolution:
...The imperialists of the Entente resorted to military intervention against the free and self-governing Russian people by financing the counter-revolutionary armies of Kolchak, Yudenich, and Denikin and organizing an economic blockade of Soviet Russia.
The imperialists were exultant, expecting the early destruction of this nest of the world proletarian revolution which was so dangerous for them. Their agents and their lavishly subsidized press were proclaiming to the whole world the forthcoming erasing of Bolshevik Russia from the face of the earth.” (1)How is it that the Bolsheviks could solely be blamed for the destruction of Soviet land when it was attacked from all sides by the world powers? This destruction led to the massive famine of 1921-22 which claimed the lives of millions of people. But that blame should not be put at the feet of the Bolsheviks, who wished for peace, bread, and land, (2) but rather the interventionist aims of the world imperialists who wished to restore a brutal monarchy. In essence, socialism was not allowed to peacefully develop on its own, leading to drastic measures being taken by the nascent socialist government. These interventions have been a regular tactic of the imperialists ever since, of which the most infamous examples include the still current economic blockade of Cuba by the United States, and the coup d'état in Chile which ousted the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende.
Not only did the Great October Socialist Revolution mark the beginning of the greatest achievement of the proletariat, it went on to inspire a great many other revolutions and anti-imperialist movements around the world throughout the rest of the 20th century. These included the failed German Revolution of 1918-19, which ended in catastrophe and led to the infamous murder of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg by the German Social-Democratic-supported Freikorps, and the failed Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919. While these ended in failure, there were tremendous successes later, famously in China with the proclamation of the People's Republic by Mao Zedong, and in Cuba led by Fidel Castro. In the aftermath of World War II, many socialist republics sprung up in Eastern Europe, culminating in the people's republics of Bulgaria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Romania, the establishment of a socialist state in Yugoslavia, and ultimately the establishment of socialist states in Hungary and East Germany that were not able to do so in the aftermath of 1917. Outside of China and Cuba, the anti-imperialist movements in the aftermath of World War II led to Ho Chi Minh's Vietnam, Kwame Nkrumah's Ghana, Thomas Sankara's Burkina Faso, among many others. Indonesia's Communist Party was the most popular non-ruling Communist Party until its brutal suppression by the Indonesian reactionaries led by Suharto and supported by the United States. These are just a few examples of the profound influence the October Revolution had throughout the globe.
In classical Marxist theory, revolutions and the establishment of socialist states should never have occurred in these places first, but rather in the advanced industrial societies of the West. The societies where the vast majority of socialist governments came to power have all been in poor, undeveloped, agrarian societies whose populations were generally impoverished and illiterate. This is perhaps where Lenin can answer this:
...the Social-Democrat’s ideal should not be the trade union secretary, but the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects; who is able to generalise all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; who is able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth before all his socialist convictions and his democratic demands, in order to clarify for all and everyone the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat. (3)Many of these societies, including Russia, did not have a majority proletarian base, a requirement in classical Marxist theory for socialist revolution to occur. However, Lenin recognised that if the Bolsheviks were to come to power, they must stand stand in solidarity with the rest of the toiling masses, those who were also oppressed not only on the basis of their class, but of their race, their nationality and their religion (Lenin's speech regarding pogroms which had been commonplace in Russia before the Bolsheviks came to power is an example of this) (4). It is no surprise that the October Revolution was then more successful in the colonised world which had its resources pillaged by the colonial powers for multiple centuries. It is no wonder that the great Vietnamese revolutionary Ho Chi Minh once proclaimed, “If you do not condemn colonialism, if you do not side with the colonial people, what kind of revolution are you waging?”(5)
It needs to be said, and reiterated, that it is our duty to combat the anti-communist lies and myths which are accepted as fact in the West. The legacy of the Soviet Union is one in which the workers of the world were finally treated with dignity and respect -- as outlined in their constitutions -- among which social rights like the right to employment, education, and healthcare were enshrined. The legacy of the Soviet Union is its rapid industrialisation under Stalin, in which the famous and monumentally historic first Five-Year Plan established the foundations for its future conflicts with the world and its progresses in technology and innovation. The world owes all of its gratitude to the brave Red Army, which not only defended itself against the fascist Nazi menace, but beat them back and rolled them all the way to Berlin to end the war in the European Theatre. Despite quips and jokes about its relative technological backwardness, the Soviets were the first to send an artificial satellite into space with Sputnik, to send the first living beings into space in the form of the dog Laika (who tragically did not return back to Earth alive, but missions after this one returned animals safely back home), and in 1961 its most glorious achievement in sending the first human into space in Yuri Gagarin. The Soviets still remain the only people to have sent rovers to Venus. While the Americans were the first and only people to send humans to the Moon, it was the initial launching of Sputnik which scared the Americans so much with socialist development appearing more technologically advanced -- the so-called Sputnik Crisis -- that ultimately led the United States to create NASA.
Despite the claims that socialism cannot innovate, it is quite clear just from their achievements in the Soviet space program that such a statement is a lie.
The so-called “civilised”, liberal-democratic West celebrated the fall of the USSR and the rest of the socialist states in Eastern Europe. Some went on to proclaim that with this collapse, it was the “end of history”, that meaning that liberal democracy is the only way for a society to be stable and prosperous. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher would quip that “there is no alternative” to the free market. But what has happened in the aftermath of the dissolution of the USSR and the other socialist states? Michael Parenti lists off the tremendous setbacks which affected the masses of peoples of the former socialist states, ranging from a significant rise in the unemployment rate, with that leading to corresponding increased levels of poverty, hunger, lack of trade union power, the cultural degradation of the former socialist societies, and the destruction and restriction of women's rights. (6) In an attack on anarchist philosopher Noam Chomsky, Parenti concludes:
According to Noam Chomsky, communism “was a monstrosity,”, and “the collapse of tyranny” in Eastern Europe and Russia is “an occasion for rejoicing for anyone who values freedom and human dignity. I treasure freedom and human dignity yet find no occasion for rejoicing. The postcommunist societies do not represent a net gain for such values. If anything, the breakup of the communist states has brought a colossal victory for global capitalism and imperialism, with its correlative increase in human misery, and a historic setback for revolutionary liberation struggles everywhere... The breakup also means a net loss of global pluralism and a more intensive socio-economic inequality throughout the world. (7)
This includes cases like the former socialist Yugoslavia, brought to a catastrophic end in a brutal civil war which former republics are still trying to recover from, in which Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina specifically deal with high rates of unemployment and the legacy of the war leaving many unexploded mines littered throughout its territories. Bulgaria, after achieving a peak in its population has had a steady decline since the fall of socialism, a decline which some experts have projected to the current population of seven million being almost half of that by 2100. (8) The current legacy of liberal democracy in the former socialist states is thus not one of immense freedom and prosperity for the masses, but a return to the toiling, misery, and poverty that they had once known under centuries of colonialism from various empires, of the oppression from their own capitalist ruling classes.
Those of us who believe in communism then must make it their absolute duty to take to task the lies that the bourgeois media spreads about the history of communism, and point to its successes and we must continue to struggle to achieve the world we wish to see. As French socialist Jean Jaures once said of the Great French Revolution:
The France of the Revolution required a century, countless trials, backslidings into monarchy, reawakenings of the Republic, invasions, dismemberments, coups d'état, and civil wars before it finally arrived at the organization of the Republic, at the establishing of equal liberty through universal suffrage. The great workers of revolution and democracy who labored and fought more than a century ago are not accountable to us for a labor that required several generations to be accomplished. To judge them as if they should have brought the drama to a close, as if history was not going to continue after them, is both childish and unjust. Their work was necessarily limited, but it was great. They affirmed the idea of democracy to its fullest extent. They provided the world with the first example of a great country governing and saving itself through the power of the entire people. They gave the Revolution the magnificent prestige of the idea and the indispensible prestige of victory. And they gave France and the world so prodigious an impetus towards freedom that, despite reaction and eclipses, the new rights they established took definitive possession of history. (9)It is no wonder then that the Bolsheviks themselves took up the legacy of the French revolutionaries of the late 18th century and compared themselves to the Jacobins in their writings, and created and planned temporary monuments to its leaders (only those of Maximilien Robespierre and Georges Danton were completed). While the Soviet Union has met its demise, it does not mean that the goal to achieve communism is over. It is up to us to complete what the Jacobins and Bolsheviks could not complete themselves during their time, to establish what the Jacobins proclaimed libérté, égalité, fraternité, and the Bolshevik rallying cry echoing from Karl Marx, “workers of the world, unite!” It is our duty to carry on the legacy of Lenin and the Great October Socialist Revolution and see to it that we will be the ones to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat which leads to the world communist society in the future.
Long live Great October on its Centenary! Long live Lenin, the leader of the world proletariat! Long live the socialist revolution!
1) Dimitrov, Georgi, “Third Anniversary of the Russian Revolution”, “Selected Works of Georgi Dimitrov, Volume 1”, pp. 80-81, 1972, Sofia Press
2) Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich, “Lessons of the Revolution”, Collected Works of Lenin, Vol. 25, p. 225, Progress Publishers, 1964
3) Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich, “What is to be Done?”, Collected Works of Lenin, Vol. 5, p. 423, Progress Publishers, 1961
4) Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich, “On Anti-Jewish Pogroms”, Collected Works of Lenin, Vol 29, pp. 252-253, Progress Publishers, 1965
5) Ho, Chi Minh, “The Path Which Led Me to Leninism”, https://www.marxists.org/reference/...
6) Parenti, Michael, “Blackshirts and Reds: Rational Fascism and the Overthrow of Communism”, Chapter 7: “The Free-Market Paradise Goes East (II)”, pp. 105-120, City Lights Press, 1997
7) Ibid, p. 120
8) Alexander, Ruth, “Why is Bulgaria's population falling off a cliff?”, British Broadcasting Corporation, September 7, 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europ...
9) Jaurès, Jean, “A Socialist History of the French Revolution”, pp. 249-250, Pluto Press, 2015
Marko Velimir Kobak is a worker based in Ontario. He is currently on an indefinite hiatus from studying at the University of Toronto, where he studies political science.
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See also: In the shadow of October -- Reflecting on the USSR and Soviet power