October Revolution: Harbinger of a New World
NOVEMBER 7 this year marks the beginning of the centenary of the October Revolution in Russia (by the old Russian calendar, it took place on October 25). October 1917 marked a new epoch in human history – the transition from capitalism to socialism. This was the first revolution in the world made by the working people and led by the working class. All earlier revolutions before this in the 18th and 19th centuries were bourgeois revolutions to overthrow the feudal monarchies. The 1789 French Revolution being the classic bourgeois democratic revolution.
The 1871 Paris Commune was the historical predecessor of the October Revolution. It was the first attempt by the proletariat to conquer power and set-up a socialist State, though it proved short lived.
The Soviet Union registered many historic achievements in a short span of time which showed the tremendous potential of a socialist system. It made rapid strides in industrial and agricultural development; it eradicated illiteracy and provided for universal education and free health care; it ended unemployment; gave women equal rights in all spheres and enhanced the material and cultural standards of the people within two decades of socialism, despite the destructive four year civil war.
It was the powerful socialist system created in the USSR that could withstand the Nazi invasion and fight back and defeat the world’s most powerful military machine in the war against fascism. Without the Soviet Union, as the bulwark against the fascist hordes, the world would have descended into barbarism.
The October Revolution and the existence of the Soviet Union provided a powerful impetus to the national liberation struggles against colonialism and imperialism around the world. Within five decades of the October Revolution, much of the world was freed from direct imperialist subjugation.
However, the end of the Soviet Union in 1991 provided the opportunity for imperialism and the bourgeoisie to set about negating the essence of the October Revolution, distorting its meaning and erasing the monumental achievements of socialism.
It is, therefore, important to assert the revolutionary content of the October Revolution and its emancipatory role in history. It is necessary to expose the falsehoods purveyed about the October Revolution, the Soviet Union and Communism.
Much historical writing is being produced in the 25 years since the dismantling of the Soviet Union to prove that the October event was not a revolution by the people but a putsch or a coup. A putsch is a violent overthrow of a government implying it was undertaken by a group of conspirators. A coup d’etat would involve a group of generals or officers of the armed forces. By these accounts, by Western scholars, Lenin led a group of Bolshevik conspirators who were supported by a section of the soldiers to overthrow by force the provisional government in Petrograd on October 25, 1917.
Following from this narrative of the putsch, the revisionist history writing of Russia goes on to describe how the Bolsheviks instituted a Red Terror to overcome their opponents and to establish dictatorial rule by the Communist Party.
The next ideological engineering was to characterise the Soviet State as a “totalitarian” one. Totalitarianism was defined as a system in which there is no place for bourgeois democracy. Thus, the Soviet Union was a totalitarian State akin to the Nazi state in Germany. Communism and fascism are thus two faces of totalitarianism. This absurd thesis has become the prevailing dogma in Europe and the United States.
The crude attempt to equate fascism and Communism has stemmed from the anti-Communist offensive in the last two decades to establish the ideological superiority of the imperialist-cum-neo-liberal bourgeois order. The establishment of the anti-Communist rightwing governments in Eastern Europe and the expansion of NATO eastwards have been accompanied by this anti-Communist campaign.
It is with this motive that the European parliament adopted a resolution on April 2, 2009 which condemned totalitarian crimes and called for the recognition of “Communism, Nazism and fascism as a shared legacy”. This was followed by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which adopted a resolution to make August 23 as a day of “remembrance for victims of Stalinism and Nazism”.
These falsehoods need to be debunked and their ideological motivation exposed. The October Revolution was a mass revolution. The major forces in the revolutionary movement were the workers, peasants and soldiers who constituted the overwhelming majority of the population. All over the country, the Soviets had sprung up. The Soviet was an elected body of representatives of a particular class of people. They were Soviets of the workers, of peasants and of soldiers. In October 1917, Russia had 1,429 Soviets including 455 Soviets of peasant deputies. The All Russian Congress of Soviets represented 20.3 million people, of whom nearly six million were workers, five million were peasants and nine million were soldiers (two-thirds of whom were peasants and agricultural proletariat).
By the time of the October Revolution, a big majority of the Soviets of workers in Petrograd and Moscow had come under Bolshevik influence. So also the Soviets of soldiers in the various garrisons and on the war front. The Bolshevik party membership had grown to 3,50,000 in October, compared to the 75,000 at the time of the February revolution. The Bolsheviks and the Left-Socialist Revolutionaries who allied with them, commanded a clear majority in the All Russian Congress of Soviets.
It is the Soviets which actually conducted the revolutionary takeover. To call this a “putsch” or a coup d’etat is to do violence to the historical facts. This canard is being propagated because imperialism and the bourgeoisie cannot acknowledge the fact that a working class party can also mobilise the peasantry and forge a worker-peasant alliance which represents the majority of the people.
There is nothing compatible between fascism, which is a phenomenon that sprung up from the most reactionary sections of the bourgeoisie, and Communism that is based on the Marxist ideology which is anathema to the reactionary sections of the bourgeoisie. Fascism was born in the aftermath of the October Revolution and the deep crisis of the capitalist system in the inter-war period. The fascists, whether Hitler or Mussolini saw Communism as their mortal enemy.
To call both fascism and socialism totalitarian is the ploy to legitimise the rightwing and neo-Nazi trends which have emerged in Europe in the last two decades. We are seeing how the ruling classes of Europe and NATO are supporting the extreme rightwing and neo-Nazi forces in Ukraine and in the Baltic states like Lithuania and Latvia.
To bracket fascism and Communism is an assault on history and reason because it negates the vital role played by the USSR and the Communist Party of Soviet Union in destroying the Nazi regime and the enormous sacrifice of the 25 million Soviet citizens and soldiers who died fighting fascism. It is also an insult to the tens of thousands of Communist partisans and fighters who played a key role against the Nazi occupation and fascist regimes in France, Italy, the Balkans and Greece.
All these efforts to denigrate and vilify the October Revolution, Socialism and Communism will fail. The world capitalist system is unable to free itself from the structural crisis which has gripped it. It is still struggling to come out of the prolonged crisis initiated by the 2008 financial meltdown. Europe is at the heart of this crisis and the savage anti-austerity measures have only aggravated the problems of rising inequalities, unemployment, xenophobia and racism. Popular movements and new political forces are rising against the rightwing neo-liberal policies.
The post-Soviet era has seen the most destructive wars perpetrated by imperialist interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. Millions have died or been displaced due to these conflicts. It is the Western "democracies" who have spawned terrorism based on religious extremism by their interventions.
All around the world, mass movements and struggles are taking place against imperialist globalisation and against neo-liberal regimes. In Latin America, there is an arduous struggle going on between the Left which had gained ground in the last one and a half decades and the counter offensive of the rightwing forces backed by imperialism.
In India, the Left and democratic forces are engaged in a protracted battle against the neo-liberal policies and the Hindutva communal forces represented by the Modi regime. For all these forces worldwide, who are fighting against imperialism, neo-liberalism and the divisive sectarian forces, the October Revolution will remain a source of inspiration.
The revolutionary legacy of the October Revolution has to be upheld. This requires the carrying forward of the struggle for socialism based on the revolutionary theory of Marxism-Leninism. The centenary year from November 7, 2016 to November 7, 2017 should be utilised to propagate the revolutionary message of October and to set out the socialist vision for India in the 21st century. In order to do so, People’s Democracy will throughout the year, carry articles and materials which will help this campaign.
(November 2, 2016)