The Russian Revolution of 1917: lasting the ravages of time


Lal Khan

On the fateful night between 6th and 7th November 1917, the Bolsheviks took power through a revolutionary insurrection in Russia. This one gigantic stride of humankind changed the course of history. Bolshevism has withstood the ravages of time. Wars and bloodletting terrorism are tearing societies apart, with remorseless attacks on the working classes in developed countries. Yet all the methods from reformism to repression by the capitalist states in confines of this diseased system have failed miserably.
The American socialist, John Reed, who witnessed the events of the revolution first hand, in his epic book, Ten days that shook the world, wrote: “No matter what one thinks of Bolshevism, it is an undeniable fact that the Russian Revolution is one of the greatest events in human history.” This revolutionary victory appropriated rulership from a tiny oppressor class, and transferred it to the vast majority of the working classes in society with their conscious involvement and participation. It is the only revolution hitherto that took place on classical Marxist positions.
Vladimir Lenin wrote in December 1917: “One of the most important tasks of today is to develop [the] independent initiative of the workers, and of all the exploited people generally, as widely as possible in creative organisational work. At all costs we must break the old, absurd, savage, despicable and distinguishing prejudice that only the so-called upper classes, only the rich, and those who have gone through the school of the rich, are capable of administering the state and directing the organisational development of socialist society… We shall now proceed to build, on the space cleared by historical rubbish, the airy, towering edifice of socialist society.”
Land-owning estates, heavy industry, corporate monopolies and the commanding heights of the economy were expropriated by the nascent workers state. The dictatorship of the financial oligarchy was broken; revolutionary state had a monopoly on all foreign trade and commerce. Ministerial perks and privileges were abolished, and the leaders of the revolution lived in the most modest conditions. Victor Serge in his Memoirs of a Revolutionary wrote: “In the Kremlin Lenin still occupied a small apartment built for a palace servant. In the recent winter he, like everyone else, had no heating. When he went to the barber’s he took his turn, thinking it unseemly for anyone else to give way to him.”
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, we were relentlessly pontificated that liberal democracy and free market capitalism had triumphed. Socialism had been consigned to the dustbin of history. Of all the parodies of popular representation in which history is so rich, Pakistan’s political elite is perhaps the most absurd. While the cliché that ‘socialism is dead’ was reverberated by the intelligentsia, the right wing politicians frighteningly warn about a bloody revolution. But the Bolshevik Revolution (which was relatively peaceful) is deliberately ignored as if it never even happened. Mentioning Bolshevism gets the rude reply, “Oh! The one that failed in Russia.” The relative weight of slander in society still awaits its sociologist.
The historical truth is that only Marxists predicted the fall of the Soviet Union far in advance. On March 7, 1918, Lenin weighed upon the situation: “Regarded from a world-historical point of view, there would be no hope of the ultimate victory of our revolution if it were to remain alone, if there were no revolutionary victories in other countries… our salvation from all these difficulties is an all-European revolution, if the German revolution does not come, we are doomed.” The Russian Revolution of 1917 had immense international repercussions. It triggered revolutionary upheavals far beyond the frontiers of the USSR.
The imperialist masters were petrified. British Prime Minister Lloyd George wrote to Georges Clemenceau, his French counterpart in 1919: “The whole of Europe is filled with the spirit of revolution. The whole existing order is questioned by the masses.” To crush the epicentre of the revolutionary upheavals they launched a massive attack on the nascent Soviet state with 21 imperialist armies. Although only nine people died during the actual insurrection, the imperialist aggression brought drastic carnage, bloodshed, mayhem, starvation and destruction to a backward country already devastated by war.
The defeats of the revolutions in Germany (1918-19 and 1923), China (1924-25), Britain (1926) and several other countries were a fatal blow for the Bolshevik Revolution. They intensified its isolation and induced nationalist degeneration. The combination of the heroic fight by the Red Army, support of the proletariat, and soldiers of invading countries defeated the imperialist aggression. Innumerable Bolshevik cadres perished in fighting to defend the revolution. This created a vacuum in which the opportunist and the careerist elements penetrated the Soviet government. The shortages of commodities and the collapse of industry and agriculture due to the war brought a generalised misery that played an important role in the bureaucratic degeneration.
Lenin struggled against this degeneration before his early death in 1924. His last testament, which called for a struggle against this bureaucratic deformation, was concealed in the iron vaults of the Kremlin, and finally exposed in 1956 at the 20th Congress of the CPSU. Leon Trotsky created a left opposition and put up a valiant resistance against this degeneration, but that was crushed because of the ebbing of the revolutionary tide. This led to the consolidation of a bureaucratic totalitarian apparatus with huge perks and privileges. The maximum wage differentials of 1:4 were abolished.
This political reaction against the October Revolution was so repressive that by 1940 there was only one survivor, apart from Joseph Stalin of the central committee of the Bolshevik Party that had led the revolution in 1917. All others were either exterminated, died, committed suicide, were incarcerated or exiled.
The crisis of capitalism has only brought humanity misery, poverty and disease. It threatens the very existence of human civilisation and culture. The recurrent mass revolts reject capitalism. And 99 years later, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 is still the only way out. Now it cannot be confined to national frontiers.
A socialist revolution in any major country shall begin to fulfil Lenin’s pledge of uniting human race into a world socialist republic.