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Issue #1663      November 5, 2014

The October Revolution was part of a process

The October Revolution was not in any way an isolated event. It was at all times part of a continuum, part of a process. Its origins can be traced back to the ferment of ideas thrown up by the American and French Bourgeois Revolutions. In the decades that followed those two signal events, there were more uprisings and revolts, notably in France and Britain in the 1830s. In 1831, a strike by iron workers in Merthyr Tydfil, against redundancies, rising prices and bailiffs, led to several thousand workers demonstrating and – for the first time in Britain – marching behind the Red Flag.

Lenin leading the Revolution – painting by Vladimir Kholuyev, Soldiers of the Revolution (1964).

In the following decade – in 1848 – there was revolution all over Europe. Two years later, the diggers at Ballarat revolted against the harsh and repressive regime imposed on them by British officialdom and colonial bigwigs. The diggers built a stockade at Eureka and declared their intention to defend their rights. The colonial ruling class crushed the revolt, but the people sided with the diggers and it was not long before they had won almost all their demands.

Meanwhile, imperialism was not sitting idle either. Britain and Russia fought a war in the Crimea for control of the Black Sea and Russia’s lucrative trade in raw materials.

A few years later, and the capitalist North of the USA fought a major war with the comfortably feudal South, because the relations of production in the slave-owning South were holding back the economic development of the whole country.

All around the world, capitalism was entering its imperialist phase, when the opportunities for investing profits at home were no longer sufficient, requiring surplus capital to be sent abroad – exported – if it was to be invested.

The colonial possessions that the Great Powers had seized all over the “undeveloped” world in the previous 200 years now assumed even greater importance: as sources of raw materials for the colonial powers’ industries and as markets for the products of those industries.

However, Germany and Austria-Hungary were short of colonies while Britain and France, the two largest colonial empires, were disinclined to share. In 1905, Japan attempted to establish an eastern empire by seizing part of Russia’s Siberian possessions. The Tsar’s government sent a large fleet from the Baltic and the Black Sea half way round the world to engage the Japanese at Port Arthur. Ill-led and ill-equipped, the Tsar’s navy suffered a devastating defeat.

Shock at the magnitude of the defeat and the loss of life sparked a revolution within the Russian Empire. It was mostly short-lived, however – except in the South where Stalin managed to maintain a resistance against the Tsarist regime for the next two years.

During the period of imperial expansion, its outspoken opponent the socialist movement also grew. The socialist or social-democratic parties, all of which claimed in one form or another to follow the teachings of Marx, were grouped in the Second International. They were vehement in their expressed opposition to war for capitalist profits.

Nevertheless, as the empires took sides in readiness for a war to redistribute the world’s colonies and markets, the various European socialist parties were found wanting. When war ultimately broke out, most of these supposedly socialist parties abandoned their previous positions and joined in the chorus of patriotic shouting, enthusiastically voting war credits for their various imperialist governments.

Only two parties held out: Lenin’s Bolsheviks in Russia and Karl Liebknecht’s Spartacus League in Germany. Lenin was so disgusted by the ideological betrayal by the leaders of the various social-democratic parties that he declared that in future he would no longer identify himself as a social-democrat but instead would be known as a Communist.

The Great War destroyed a generation and reached all parts of the globe. Popular opposition to a war for markets manifested itself very early, in the famous – and spontaneous – Christmas Truce. Later it was seen in the frequent mutinies among French troops on the Western Front and the repeated defeats in Australia of attempts to introduce conscription.

But only the Bolsheviks seriously undertook to try to turn the war from an imperialist war into a war against imperialism. By 1917, the disasters that had befallen the hapless armies of the Tsar and his aristocratic generals, combined with the timely and well-organised propaganda of the Reds had made mass opposition to the war into a tangible, even potent, force.

Soldiers’ committees were springing up every where; troops were deserting the front in droves and heading either home to their farms or to Petrograd to demand that something be done to end the war. The ruling class tried compromise and lies, ditching the Tsar and installing a capitalist government, telling the people that everything would be all right now that they had “democracy”.

The Bolsheviks saw through this ruse and the ruling class then tried to crush them. Lenin had to go into hiding. However, the revolutionary process continued to develop and by November (October in the old calendar) Lenin judged that it was now or never. The Provisional Government, still intent on fighting the war against Germany, was arrested and the workers took control of Petrograd.

The Revolution quickly spread to other Russian cities and towns. Unlike in Petrograd, where it had been largely bloodless, the revolution in Moscow was hard fought and bloody.

The Revolution also spread quickly to other countries. During 1918, it broke out in Germany and Hungary. The Kaiser fled to Holland, the emperor Franz Josef was deposed. The German troops occupying parts of Russia tied red ribbons to their caps, slung their rifles over their shoulders with the barrels pointing to the ground and began heading home. In Hungary, the Communist Bela Kun established the Republic of Councils [i.e. Soviets], and in France mutinies mushroomed.

A badly frightened imperialism, anxious to have loyal troops to send against “the scourge of Bolshevism”, moved abruptly to stop the world war. A hasty armistice was agreed to so that troops could be freed to crush the revolutions in Hungary, Germany and Russia. All three were invaded, but Russia – helped by its sheer size – was able to hold out and eventually defeat the Intervention.

But it was already too late for imperialism. The genie of revolution was out of the bottle. The power of the people had been demonstrated as never before. Soon, a new society was being successfully tried out.

Imperialism has ever since been trying to convince us that socialism failed. It did not. The fact that the Revolution succeeded and Socialism succeeded is why imperialism is at such pains to convince the world’s people that both failed.

For the imperialists know that socialism is the future.

Next article – Culture & Life – Rewriting history again

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