November 07, 2021

The Great October Revolution – Its Relevance for the Working Class Today


MORE than hundred years after it ‘shook the world’, the Great October Revolution that changed the course of history continues to inspire the working class around the world. It has started a new era in human history.

The Russian Revolution that took place on November 7, 1917 (25 October as per the Old Russian calendar, hence called October Revolution) is particularly significant today for the working class and all sections of the toiling people who are facing huge attacks by neoliberal capitalism.

For the first time a revolution led by the workers, in alliance with peasants and other sections of the toiling people led to the establishment of a new society free from class exploitation. It was not the replacement of one ruler by another; or a replacement of one party or a coalition of parties by another party or another coalition of parties. Nor was it like earlier revolutions where State power passed from one exploiting class to another. For the first time in history, an exploited class, the working class along with other exploited sections like the poor peasants overthrew the exploiting classes ruling the country. With the call ‘All power to the Soviets’, given by the Bolshevik Party, the Soviets of workers, peasants and soldiers took control of Petrograd, the then capital of Russia on October 25, 1917, followed by other cities and the whole of Russia.

The Revolution dismantled the old State power and put in place a new State representing the interests of the workers, poor peasants and other sections of the toiling masses. The means of production, industry, agriculture etc were taken over by the State and collectively owned by the people. For the first time a new socialist mode of production was established in the world. Production was carried out for the benefit of the people, planned according to their needs and requirements, not for the profits of a handful of capitalists.

The great advances made by the Soviet Union proved what can be accomplished by the people unfettered by class exploitation. The Soviet State abolished landlordism. Collectivised farms and cooperatives were formed with the involvement of poor peasants and agricultural workers. Up to 1965 Soviet Union registered the fastest per capita economic growth in the world, faster than Japan. It has eliminated illiteracy within a few years. Free compulsory universal education was provided up to 15 years. Immediately after the Revolution, free medical care was introduced for all citizens. By 1936, i.e. within ten years of the Revolution, full employment was achieved and unemployment was eradicated.

It was the nascent Soviet Union that successfully controlled the spread of influenza epidemic that raged in 1918, immediately after the First World War. One of the initial decrees passed by the socialist State guaranteed free medical care and ensured measures to strengthen public health system. The failure of the present day capitalist States to ensure protection of people’s lives during the Covid pandemic, the economic hardships people are being subjected today due to the lockdowns, loss of jobs, growing unemployment, highlights the contrast with what was achieved by the Soviet Union in those initial days itself.

The right to vote for women was granted soon after the Revolution.Women in many other countries, so-called democracies, achieved the right to vote much later. White women in the US got the right to vote in 1919 after long struggle; black women and men in the USA got the right to vote only in 1965. In Britain, women got the right to vote in 1928.

The constitution of the Soviet Union guaranteed the Right to Work as a fundamental right. Massive programmes for infrastructural development like construction of houses, roads, afforestation, rural electrification etc were taken up. The State ensured housing with electricity and water facilities for a worker at only 4-5 per cent of the wages. Transportation was provided at very cheap rates. All workers were covered with pension. Special emphasis was given on the health and recreation of workers. Sanatoria, sports complexes, holiday homes were built throughout the country for the workers providing facilities enjoyed only by a few rich in the capitalist countries. Five day week was introduced for all industrial workers. The work day was reduced to seven hours in hazardous industries.

Women workers were ensured equal wages and the right to maternity benefits. Crèches at workplace was compulsory; free time was allowed for women workers to feed their children.

Establishment of a working class State and the measures it was taking for the welfare of the workers had an impact all over the world. The need to formulate policies to address the issues of the workers, to prevent the spread of socialist ideology was felt by the advanced capitalist countries. The International Labour Organisation (ILO), a tripartite agency of governments, employers and workers was established in 1919 as part of the Treaty of Versailles that ended the First World War.

The October Revolution and the advances it made in improving the conditions of the people within a short span of time inspired the working class all over the world including in our own country. Efforts were made to organise the working class with a revolutionary perspective leading to the formation of the first all India trade union centre in 1920. The working class actively participated in the struggle for independence from British colonialism with the hope of marching ahead for achieving such an exploitation free society.

The October Revolution has also inspired national liberation struggles in many countries that were raging during that period in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Heroes of our national liberation struggle including Bhagat Singh and his comrades sent a message of greeting on Lenin Day from the court room while facing trial. The Soviet Union wholeheartedly supported national liberation struggles. Its role in defeating fascism in the Second World War and saving the world from its grip, sacrificing around 2 crore of its soldiers and people can never be forgotten.

The October Revolution was the first experiment for establishing an exploitation free society based on scientific Marxist Leninist understanding, which achieved success. Imperialist countries tried to throttle the working class State even before it could embark upon building socialism. It took four years for the Red army of the Soviet Union to crush the counter revolutionary forces supported by imperialism and the country made progress in all spheres; over time reached a stage where it was competing with the USA in many of these fields.

However, several factors including erosion of socialist consciousness among the working class, influence of revisionist ideology and bureaucracy over industrial undertakings resulted in ignoring the leading role of the working class in building socialism. The State was not able to meet the growing aspirations and needs of the people, which resulted in shortage of several commodities. The role of imperialism was underestimated and capitalist ideology was allowed to percolate. The growing discontent among the people was utilised by the counterrevolutionary forces, who, with the active support of imperialism succeeded in dismantling the socialist system and restoring capitalism.

Dismantling the socialist system resulted in deterioration of the conditions of the working class. The benefits that they were enjoying under the socialist system were all withdrawn. With worsening working conditions, lack of job security, increasing unemployment and falling living standards, people in Russia are gradually realising what they have lost. A recent poll conducted by Levada Centre between August 19-26, 2021 shows that 49 per cent people prefer socialist system. In contrast, only 18 per cent prefer the present political system and 16 per cent believe that the Western model of democracy is the best. 62 per cent believe that state planning and distribution would be the best economic system; only 24 per cent favour a system based on private property and market relations. An overwhelming majority – 75 per cent of Russians – believes that the Soviet era was the ‘greatest period’ in the country’s history. Conducted around three decades after the dismantling of the Soviet Union, it is obvious that this belief is shared by larger sections of people, not just by the older generation, who lived at least a part of their lives under the socialist system.

Implementation of the neoliberal regime and the onslaught on the working conditions and basic rights of the working class have become more aggressive in the unipolar world led by US imperialism, after the dismantling of the Soviet Union. This has resulted in widening inequalities with a few big monopoly capitalists amassing wealth at the cost of the workers and other toiling people. Governments in capitalist countries have been formulating policies that enable loot of the public assets and exploitation of the workers and toiling people by these corporates. Right wing forces that resort to divisive policies and authoritarian and dictatorial measures are being promoted to facilitate super exploitation of the workers and toiling people and transfer of public wealth to the big corporates by breaking their class unity.

At the same time discontent and anger against such exploitation and loot are growing among the working class and people across the world. Today neoliberalism stands discredited. Capitalist system itself is facing systemic crisis. People are in search of alternative to the present exploitative system.

In India, at a time when we are going to celebrate 75 years of our independence, the Modi led BJP government is adamantly going ahead with its neoliberal agenda despite widespread opposition and resistance from the people. Peasants have been fighting against the three farm laws that mainly convert our small peasant based agriculture into corporate controlled agriculture. Workers have been fighting against the labour codes that seek to turn them into virtual bonded labour deprived of their basic right to organisation, collective bargaining and collective actions. It is formulating policies to allow loot and plunder of our national wealth by its corporate cronies.

However, it is not just the BJP government that follow these policies. It was the Congress government that initiated the neoliberal policies. Successive governments at the centre whether led by BJP, Congress or coalitions of parties that represent the ruling classes, have followed the same path. The capitalist path adopted by the ruling classes after our country attained independence, in fact, belied the aspirations of the workers and the people to follow a path that would lead to an end of exploitation; not just replace British colonial exploitation by Indian big capitalist landlord exploitation. This path has proved itself incapable of addressing the basic issues of the people – right to work, decent and dignified life, universal education, health and housing for all toiling people.

The Great October Revolution presents the alternative to the bankrupt capitalist system. It shows that ‘Socialism Is The Alternative’. The 104th anniversary of the Great October Revolution is an occasion to take this understanding among the vast masses of workers and create awareness about the need to fight for ending all exploitation while fighting on their immediate day to day burning issues.