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Issue #1710      November 11, 2015

Why we remember the Russian Revolution

On Saturday November 7 the Sydney Central Branch held a successful function to mark the date of the Great October Revolution. Branch secretary Rob Gowland spoke of the continuing significance and relevance today of that world shaking development.

The Great October Socialist Revolution took place in November of 1917, almost 100 years ago. The new society and the country it created, the USSR, was extinguished in 1989, more than two and a half decades ago. So why bother to remember it, let alone celebrate it?

Because it did something momentous: it changed the world forever. It signalled at last the birth of a new form of society, Socialism.

Recognised as the successor to – and replacement for – capitalism, the exact way the new society would be achieved and how it would function had been debated – as a theoretical concept – throughout the previous century. There had even been two attempts to bring it about, by revolutionary action, but both were tragically premature and were crushed by the military forces of the imperial powers.

The first was the heroic but short-lived Paris Commune of 1870, a popular rejection of the outcome of the imperialist war between France and the new imperial kid on the block, Germany. Thirty-five years later, there was another, more determined attempt, this time in Russia, also as a popular response to defeat in an imperialist war, this time between Tsarist Russia and the rising Empire of Japan.

That was the Revolution of 1905. It too was premature and was crushed with relative ease, although in parts of Southern Russia, thanks to the region’s wide open spaces, poverty and lack of industry, Stalin and a group of Bolsheviks around him were able to keep it alive for another two years before the revolutionaries were finally defeated and imprisoned.

Then, in 1914, inter-imperialist rivalry finally erupted in a world war. The First World War was a man-made catastrophe on a scale never seen before. It was a war waged by imperialist blocs to redistribute the great powers’ colonial possessions and markets. Romanticised last year on its centenary, it was in fact nothing more noble and glamorous than a trade war.

And yet it took a horrendous toll in human lives and economic loss, as well as devastating many parts of the globe, from Europe to the Pacific. One of the worst hit was Tsarist Russia. Its economy was saddled with a huge collection of feudal aristocrats who saw no reason why the War should interfere with their luxurious and hedonistic lifestyle. A largely agrarian country, the bulk of Russia’s huge army was drawn from the ranks of the peasantry, so, as the War dragged on, their farms were neglected and their families starved.

The Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, waged a strong and vigorous campaign of agitation to change the imperialist war into a revolutionary one, under the slogan “Peace to the villages, war on the palaces!”

By February of 1917, both the more well-off peasants and the small but growing capitalist class had had enough of the war. They were also aware that if they did not act, the workers and the poor peasants, who were already talking revolution, would take action themselves. So they overthrew the Tsar and installed their own bourgeois government. But it was not nearly enough.

The “Provisional Government” they set up was still imperialist, continued the ruinous war, and tried to back it up with repression. By November of 1917, (October according the faulty, antiquated calendar used in Russia under the Tsars and still used under Kerensky’s Provisional Government) Lenin judged that the time for a successful socialist revolution had finally arrived. Armed workers, supported by revolutionary soldiers and sailors, arrested the Provisional Government and ushered in a new stage in human history.

It did not have an easy birth: the imperialist powers hastily brought their world war to a close, so that their soldiers, expecting to return home in a world at peace found themselves being used to crush the socialist revolutions that had followed the Russian Revolution in Hungary and Germany. The revolution in Russia embodied the hopes and desires of working people around the world. The capitalist powers responded by sending troops from 14 imperialist countries (Australian military forces amongst them) to invade Revolutionary Russia itself, to “strangle the socialist baby in its cradle” as Churchill so charmingly put it.

Thanks to the sheer size of the country, and the incredible tenacity of its people who at last were fighting for themselves not their feudal masters, and also thanks to the spread of an international movement demanding an end to this new war against the workers and peasants of Russia, the counter-revolution was defeated after several rears of intense fighting, privation and destruction. The revolutionaries won but inherited a country in ruins.

Undaunted, in what has been called “the Russian miracle,” they went on to turn a backward agrarian country into one of the world’s two superpowers, the country that saved the world from fascism, the country that took humanity into space, and which developed a form of society free of unemployment, exploitation, racial hatred and war mongering.

Despite constant imperialist acts of aggression, subversion and sabotage, the new society created by the October Revolution was able to stand up to imperialist attempts at intimidation, to economic boycotts and non-stop propaganda, and to support socialist revolutions in Eastern Europe, in Asia, in Africa and Latin America. The largely successful movement against colonialism was as successful as it was because of the inspiration and support it received from the USSR.

The capitalist world opposed the spread of revolution with every weapon at its command, and in many countries the people’s hopes and dreams were snuffed out by covert and overt wars to prevent capitalism being overthrown or to restore it where the people had temporarily succeeded in getting rid of it.

The successful counter-revolution of 1989 in Russia itself has brought the Russian people such “benefits” of capitalism as unemployment, inflation, sky-rocketing prices, the catastrophic diminishing of the state sector of the economy and a burgeoning number of profit-driven entrepreneurs. Just recently, thousands of doctors were laid off, as part of a “reform” of the health system to bring it into line with the predominantly private health care system of Western capitalist countries.

With a ramped up Cold War, and numerous actual wars being fought all around the world, and the economies of the major capitalist powers now dependent on an extraordinary doctrine of constant war, while millionaires and billionaires spring up like mushrooms after rain, the bulk of the capitalist world’s population faces growing unemployment, poverty, food shortages and epidemics. Big corporations are seeking control over not just the world’s energy resources but also its food and water, its trade and its health care – over everything that’s vital to life.

The Great October Socialist Revolution showed us the way. Our task is to complete the journey it began, and once again change the world!

Next article – Syria – US invasion has begun

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