People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
November 11, 2007
90TH ANNIVERSARY OF OCTOBER REVOLUTION
Comrade Lenin Sweeps the Globe Clean, Poster, 1920 by Mikhail Cheremnykh & Victor Deni
NOVEMBER 7, 2007 marks the historic 90th anniversary of the October Revolution. It is an occasion to commemorate one of the most influential and epoch making events of the twentieth century. The October Revolution in Russia played a major role in shaping the course of events in world history. For the first time, socialism came on to the agenda as a concrete alternative to capitalism.
The Soviet Union came to an end 74 years later in 1991. Since then, there have been determined efforts to erase the revolutionary content of the October Revolution. On this 90th anniversary, it is necessary to assert the lasting relevance of the October Revolution in the contemporary world.
The Russian Revolution of 1917 was neither a coup nor a conspiracy to capture State power. It was a genuine revolution brought about by the working class and the mass of the Russian people who joined the revolutionary movement to overthrow Tsarism and establish a new society. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, this truth is sought to be buried. The revolution is portrayed as an aberration of history. If that was so, the 20th century would not have witnessed the revolutionary currents of anti-imperialism, abolition of colonialism, national liberation and the emancipation of the oppressed peasantry in the colonial countries.
IMPACT OF OCTOBER REVOLUTION
The world before l9l7 was vastly different from what it is today. The beginning of the twentieth century was still the age of empires - the height of imperialism. The British, the German, the Austro-Hungarian, the Russian and Japanese empires dominated and divided the world. There were lesser empires too, of the Italians, the Portuguese and so on. The bulk of the world's population lived in colonies or semi-colonies as subject of these empires.
The Russian revolution heralded the end of this old style colonialism - its death throes began with the first world war, which preceded the October Revolution. Within fifty years of the overthrow of the Tsarist empire, there was hardly any empire left on the face of the earth.
The second major current of the 20th century was democracy. By the end of the century, it seemed the bourgeoisie had appropriated for itself the credit for "global democracy". It has packaged the struggle against the anti-capitalist forces as the struggle between democracy and totalitarianism. Unfortunately it was somewhat successful in this venture, partly due to the mistakes and deficiencies of the communist forces and the socialist countries. In reality, the biggest struggle against the mortal enemy of democracy, the struggle against fascism, was won by the greatest sacrifices made by the Soviet Union and the socialist forces worldwide. Fascism was vanquished by a united effort of the capitalist and working class forces. But, there can be no doubt that it was the firm and unrelenting struggle of the Soviet Union and the heroism of the anti fascist communists in Yugoslavia, Italy, France, Greece and Eastern Europe which decisively turned the tide. In the East, Japanese fascism met its match in the communist guerillas in China. Ironically the world was made safe for the Western democracies to flourish thanks to communist success in smashing fascism.
Internally too, the Western democracies which practised parliamentary democracy but protected economic autocracies, were compelled to yield ground and democratise their systems to some extent, due to the pressure of the forces of socialism which showed by example that democracy means equal rights for citizens in the economic and social spheres. Britain, France, the Scandinavian countries all introduced a welfare system with unemployment, health and pension benefits for its citizens after the example was set by the "totalitarian" eastern states. The direct connection is evident in the fact that the crisis and weakening of the socialist states in the 1980s resulted in stepped up attacks to cut down and do away with such benefits in the West. Mass unemployment has come to stay in Europe since the l990s.
The October Revolution sent out powerful democratic impulses, which reverberated most among the oppressed peoples of the colonies and also among those in the West for whom democracy did not mean any reduction in their social condition of inequality. The mass working class movements of Western Europe fought and wrested important gains in the aftermath of the October Revolution. Even the impulse for women's emancipation got a boost from the revolutionary message of gender equality sent out from the Russian upheaval. The Labour Party in Britain, voted to take up woman's suffrage under pressure from the Miners Union in l9l4. More than a decade later, the Equal Franchise Act of l928 was adopted which gave all women the right to vote in Britain.
Imperialism has become more aggressive utilising the setbacks suffered by the socialist system. The new predatory form of imperialist globalisation and a ferocious neo-liberal capitalism is being imposed all round the world. The world is once again experiencing recolonisation by aggressive imperialism headed by the United States. The series of military adventures launched by the US and its allies from the 1990s, the attack on Iraq in 1991, the attack on Yugoslavia, the war on Afghanistan and the war and occupation of Iraq in 2003 have brought to the fore the resurgence and consolidation of US imperialist hegemony. All the countries which refuse to accept the imperialist dictates are threatened whether it be Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, Iran or Syria.
While this is one side of the picture, the other side is the growing resistance to imperialist hegemony. The centerpiece of the current resistance to the imperialist offensive is the struggle against US occupation of Iraq where popular resistance has made Iraq ungovernable except by fomenting sectarian strife. Both in Iraq and Afghanistan the limits of US military expansionism has been exposed. The other important centre of resistance is the Palestinian movement for statehood which has been heroically fighting the Israeli-US axis for more than five decades. The Israeli aggression on Lebanon was met with heroic resistance by forces led by Hezbollah forcing the Israeli forces to retreat. This was the first defeat suffered by Israel since 1973. Most significantly, Latin America has become the site for the most vigorous struggles against imperialism and neo-liberal policies. It is exemplified by the rise of Left and popular regimes in Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, Uruguay, Ecuador and Nicaragua. The revolutionary process underway in Venezuela after all the attempts to topple Hugo Chavez failed, is of significance not only for Latin America but the whole world.
Working class struggles against the attacks on jobs, social security and livelihood are taking place in capitalist countries and working class resistance constitute the core of the movement against imperialist driven globalisation. Even the ruling classes of the developing countries are compelled at times by the popular struggles to cooperate amongst themselves to resist the onerous conditions being imposed under the WTO and other international agencies.
It is in this background that we must note the role of the socialist countries. Chief among them being China’s remarkable development as a major power with a 9 per cent GDP growth annually for over two decades. The United States sees a potential threat from China challenging its supremacy by the middle of this century. The strategic doctrine of the United States is geared towards meeting this challenge. Vietnam is also making steady progress in economic reconstruction. The revolutionary alliance between Cuba and Venezuela ensures that the socialist cause gets a wider canvas in Latin America.
In India, the struggle against American imperialism has become a crucial task for the Left and democratic forces. The ruling classes have been systematically working to establish a strategic relationship with the United States and to tailor their policies to America's global strategy. Recognising this danger to our independence and sovereignty and mobilising the people to oppose this link-up with imperialism, becomes a foremost task today.
LESSONS OF THE SOVIET EXPERIENCE
The first socialist revolution took place in an underdeveloped capitalist country where semi-feudal relations still prevailed. Lenin had viewed 1917 as a precursor to the German revolution and the world revolution. The German and Hungarian revolutions of the 1918-19 period and other revolutionary upheavals were crushed by the bourgeoisie. "Socialism in one country" was a necessity not the preferred choice. The travails of building socialism encircled by imperialism, the double burden of eliminating pre-capitalist backwardness and catching up with the productive levels of Western capitalism was a heroic endeavour. The socialist potential was vividly manifested in the all-round rapid development of the productive forces, the welfare benefits for all citizens unparalleled in history and the stupendous struggle to defeat fascism.
The distortions and defects in the building of socialism in the Soviet Union have to be understood in the above context and lessons drawn. Increasing bureaucratisation and the retardation of socialist democracy; the rigid economic system which failed to develop and adapt to the needs of an advanced economy and the ideological atrophy resulting in lack of socialist consciousness -- all contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
SOCIALISM IN THE 21ST CENTURY
While commemorating the 90th anniversary of the Russian revolution, there has to be a clear distinction in our understanding between the historic importance of the October Revolution and the concept of socialism that needs to be fashioned in the contemporary times. The Soviet experiment was conducted in specific historical circumstances. Those conditions are not what exist when we undertake the socialist project in the 21st century. Even the dynamics and working of the world capitalist system have changed. Therefore, the Soviet experience should be critically assessed and lessons learnt for a correct approach in the future. To sum up briefly some of the salient features which need to be integrated into the theory and practice of socialism are: (1) Socialist democracy: the institutionalisation of democratic forums and participation of people in the political process and economic management; (2) the role of a working class party in a socialist society and the correct relationship between the Party and the State; (3) flexibility in the management of the economy and multiplicity in the forms of ownership of property at different stages.
To build socialism in a world where capitalism remains dominant or in substantial strength, requires a theoretical perspective which recognises the paramount lesson that the transition to socialism and the building of socialism, particularly in lesser developed capitalist countries is a more protracted and complex process than it was envisaged earlier under the impact of the October Revolution. The experience of the Soviet Union should be drawn upon to develop the theoretical basis for seeing the entire period of achieving socialist revolution and building socialism as a diverse process where there can be no one model.
We must firmly refute the attempts to discredit Marxism as a theory for revolutionary practice. Marxism, to present a renewed socialist alternative, has to be based on class politics that integrates contemporary issues such as gender, environment and racial-ethnic oppression. The alternative to a rapacious imperialist capitalist system, which is increasingly becoming unsustainable and threatens the environment and life on the planet, can only be socialism.
In the coming days, the struggles against US imperialist hegemony, the aggressive efforts at recolonisation and capture of world resources and the brute use of military force will draw sustenance from the beacon light which emanated from the world’s first socialist revolution ninety years ago. The message of October 1917 is immortal in the sense that it will continue to inspire successive generations to struggle for social emancipation.