On the 98th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution

320px 1976CPA4556VladimirLeninbyPyotrVasiliev

November 7th was the 98th Anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, establishing what was then called Soviet Russia, the first revolutionary socialist state in history .

That state and its successor, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, went out of existence in 1991.  The dominant capitalist propaganda prefers to say that it "imploded" which after forty four years of cold war and an estimated   ten trillion dollars in U.S. cold war related military spending alone is a great example of the old Yiddish term of chutzpah, or overweening arrogance.  I prefer the term counter-revolution, which was what the Soviets feared in 1917  but we will get back to that.

Today, capitalist propaganda, outside  of those brave people who navigate through the Internet to search for truth, remains supreme in official commercial and corporate media, even though the underlying capitalist system itself is becoming very shaky. There are even some Communists in many countries today who use terms like "Stalinism" and "totalitarianism" to disassociate themselves from the Soviet past  believing that this will enable them to move closer to the masses of people in their countries, as "twenty-first century" Communists.

So far, it hasn't worked too well.  In reality, it has led them to move closer to  the very capitalists who hailed the downfall of the U.S.S.R., as some combination of a failed experiment and the "death of Communism" and continue to move ahead with their grand design to turn the 21st century into a high tech version of the 19th century. Perhaps this is an appropriate time to take stock of the Soviet Revolution in terms of its experience and achievement.  I will try to do that in a short sketch.

First, the Soviet Union was not an experiment, failed or otherwise.  Experiments take place in laboratories, under controlled conditions, not in real life. Nor was the Soviet Revolution, "storming heaven," a doomed effort, as Marx wrote about the Paris Commune and anti-Communists have written about every socialist revolution.  The Soviet Revolution took place in a huge empire covering 1/6 of the earth's surface, which as its enemies discovered could not be encircled and destroyed as were the Paris Commune or the Hungarian Soviet of 1919.

The Bolshevik Revolution was not a "coup" as both old anti-Soviet defenders of capitalism and "new Russian" capitalists smugly assert. It was a political revolution which continued a revolutionary process that began in March (on the calendar in use in the advanced countries) and moved forward, as the Czarist autocracy was overthrown, Soviets developed, and a provisional government sought desperately both to keep Russia in the war and thwart the anti-capitalist, anti -landlord upsurge of the masses. The masses of people in motion determined that process, and the Bolsheviks, against great odds, by representing their desires and interests to end the war and the suffering, poverty and inequality of Czarist society, led them to victory and to establish both a government of the Soviets and a government committed to constructing socialism.

In the aftermath of November 7, the Soviet government actually proved what Socialists through the world had been proclaiming since 1914-that the war was an imperialist war among rival capitalist states.  It proved that by publishing the Czar's secret treaties with its allies. To save the revolution, it signed an onerous peace with Imperial Germany. 

Then the revolution was attacked by all, from the defeated Central Powers to the victorious allies. With working class movements and socialist parties as its only friends it then fought a devastating Civil War and became the center of a new revolutionary socialist world movement, a movement which, after 1919, revived the 1848 term "Communist". In the process, it looked to Marxist Socialism, which as theory had identified itself with the industrial and industrializing countries of Western Europe and North America, and in practice, had built parties and trade union movements primarily in those regions, and made it fully a world movement. 

The Soviet Union became the first state in modern history to make anti-imperialism the foundation of its foreign policy.  As such,  through the 3rd or Communist International (Comintern), it helped to develop  commissions  to aid in the construction of both revolutionary socialist (Communist) parties, anti-imperialist, national liberation movements,  trade union federations, peasant organizations, organizations to defend the rights of national minorities and the foreign born, and organizations of youth and students. The Comintern was never really the pawn of the Soviet Union, except in anti-Communist propaganda, but the Soviets played an essential role in its establishment and development

The Soviet Revolution directly influenced the anti-imperialist movement in China, the formation of a Communist Party of China, and the eventual triumph of the Chinese people over Japanese Imperialism and the Chinese Socialist Revolution, with the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China on October 1, 1949. It influenced positively the rise of the Indian national independence movement and the establishment of a non-Communist, non-aligned India after WWII, under the leadership of Nehru, whose commitment to a mixed economy form of socialism was influenced directly by the planning achievements of the Soviet five year plans. 

Of course, the Soviet revolution did produce its antithesis, fascism, an open terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary sectors of the capitalist class.  But if Lenin was correct, and I think he was, the development of finance capital which had produced global imperialism was militarizing societies and liquidating liberal democratic institutions through the world. 

Had the Soviet revolution not taken place, imperialism would not only have assumed its fascist form, in all probability, but would have created the hellish world that Jack London foresaw in the Iron Heel at the turn of the century and the great science fiction writer, Philip K. Dick,  saw in his fictional history, The Man in the High Castle, which looked at what the U.S. and the world would have been if Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan won WWII, divided  up the U.S., restored slavery in Africa, and carried out racist mass murder through much of the world. In the process of playing the leading role in the defeat of the fascist Axis, the Soviet Union also played the leading role in ending  the  colonial empires which  had committed monstrous crimes over generations through Africa and Asia.

Before the Second World War, the Soviet Union not only became the center of anti-imperialism through the world but it also served as the center for global anti-fascism in the 1930s. The Soviets aided anti-fascist people's front movements through the world; advocated in the League of Nations a policy of anti-fascist collective security against aggressor nations; and was the only major nation to provide arms and aid to the Spanish Republic when it was attacked by Hitler and Mussolini supported fascist forces. 

The Soviets did sign a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany in August 1939 after their hopes to stop Hitler over Czechoslovakia were dashed when Britain's Neville Chamberlain gave Hitler everything he wanted in Central Europe hoping to avoid a new World War (that he feared would unleash new socialist revolutions) and also to point Hitler toward attacking the Soviets.

Through most of their history, the Soviets were playing for time against powerful states and alliance systems which sought to destroy them.  They were also building the first socialist state in history under the worst possible conditions, economic backwardness in terms of machinery and skilled workers to begin with, the devastations of war and revolution, and constant serious threats from abroad. Their size was both their strength and their weakness. It made it difficult for enemies to destroy them but at the same time it made overall socialist development through a planned economy extremely difficult under any circumstance, given the ethno cultural diversity, the geographical barriers, and of course the lack of access to capital for development. Under those circumstances, what the Soviets did achieve under such conditions, although their myriad of enemies would never admit it, far surpassed their failures and defeats in real life.

One cannot rewrite history, however one might wish to. Certainly one would have wanted, as Lenin did, a collective leadership to emerge in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, not the factional struggle which lead to the triumph of Joseph Stalin and the establishment of a personality cult around him. One would want the Stalin leadership, faced with opposition in the countryside to the collectivization under the first five year plan, to have pulled back, acted to isolate the Kulak opposition, instead of using massive force in the form of the Red Army, which led to disastrous conflicts, many peasants caught in the middle, disruptions of agricultural production which produced famine, the spread of disease, and huge loss of life. And one would want the Stalin leadership not to have initiated the mass purges in the CPSU after 1934 which took the form of mass hysteria and assumed a life of their own, undermining Soviet society and at the same time offering all of the Soviets' enemies from Nazi Germany to the Hearst Press in the U.S. ammunition to attack the Soviet Union.

But one would also have wanted Winston Churchill to have acknowledged the famine in Bengal and accepted U.S. and Canadian aid during WWII, instead of refusing to do so and permitting three million Bengalis to starve to death in the hope that this would defeat Gandhi and the Indian National Congress. One would also have wanted Churchill and the British General Staff not to create as a contingency  plan ("operation unthinkable") in May, 1945, to launch WWIII in a surprise attack against the Soviet forces on July 1, 1945, with 47 divisions of British and American troops, and former German Wehrmacht troops. One would have wished that this part of the hidden history of the early cold war, had never been contemplated by anyone. Fortunately for the world (perhaps), Churchill had been voted out of office by the summer of 1945. Fortunately this madness straight out of Dr. Strangelove was never anything more than a crackpot contingency plan of a collapsing British Empire, but it has done little to damage Churchill's reputation, unlike Joseph Stalin, who remains capitalism ecumenical devil of Communism, joined in recent years by the late Mao Tse-tung.

Nor has it prevented both academic and journalistic advocates of the "totalitarian theory" to compare Stalin and Hitler even though Churchill, who fought Hitler to save the British Empire, was ready and willing to continue Hitler's war against the Soviets, even if it meant that they would win in Europe and threaten Britain, to save the British Empire.

And one would wish that Franklin Roosevelt had lived out his fourth term, maintained Big Three Cooperation, worked to build the United Nations and used U.S. economic power to internationalize the New Deal, which would have made the U.S. the leading nation in the industrialized world in regard to its labor and social welfare policies by the 1960s, not a nation where the very concept of a welfare state did not exist.  Of course that didn't happen.

At the very least, one would have hoped  that Harry Truman would not have used the atomic bomb against the Japanese  by refusing their request to end the war with the proviso that the emperor be kept and then not only keep the emperor but give him and the royal family amnesty from all war crimes trials; and that he would not use the Japanese armies in China as a police force to try to prevent the Chinese Communist party from triumphing while the U.S. government armed Chiang Kai-shek's forces to the tune of three billion dollars and aided Chiang in looting China as he and his supporters retreated to Taiwan after their defeat.

There are many other examples one might come up with, from Ronald Reagan's winning an Oscar for "Bed Time for Bonzo" so that he could have continued his acting career for the rest of his life to Lyndon Johnson restoring the Geneva Convention and reuniting Vietnam short of war in 1964. One can't make any of that happen. But one can and must understand--and refuse to accept--the double standard that is applied as a matter of course when dealing with socialist countries and revolutionary movements.

Let me conclude by saying that humanity owes the Soviet people a debt that it can never repay.  Even many who denounce "Stalinism" today would not be alive or even have been born had the Soviet people and the Stalin leadership of the CPSU not beaten back the largest invasion in history and literally made the largest contribution to  the defeat of the fascist Axis in WWII. And of course, those who continue to use the  simplistic idealist  concept of mass politics, the "totalitarian" equation, especially those on any section of the left, should stop and think where the world would have been if that concept had prevailed in 1941 to prevent the U.S.--Soviet alliance against the Axis powers from taking shape.

As for the dismemberment of the Soviet Union constituting the "death of Communism," that death was proclaimed many times in the past-first after the defeat of the revolutions of 1848, then after the suppression and massacre of the Paris Commune in 1871, then of course with Hitler's proclamation of a "New Order" and the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, and finally with Gorbachev's outlawing the CPSU and turning power over to Boris Yeltsin in 1991. But somehow the people keep on fighting back,  and socialism lives on as the only viable alternative to and solution for a capitalist system that produces more poverty and more inequality with its every "victory."

Two years from now, it will be the 100th anniversary of the Soviet revolution.  Hopefully we will celebrate it in any America in which the people, the broad left, and the CPUSA are all advancing toward "Bill of Rights Socialism," socialism with American characteristics.

Image: Soviet stamp issued in 1976 for the 106th anniversary of Lenin's birth by Soviet artist Pyotr Vasiliev.  Wikimedia Commons


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  • A Positive Force:
    I would fully agree with the thesis that the Soviet Union, as the first revolutionary socialist state, was a positive force in world history. On many levels, its achievements and contributions to world history are significant and cannot be denied in spite of bourgeoisie propaganda to the contrary. We cannot deny its heroic fights against the scourges of fascism and Nazism. If the Nazi-lead Wehrmacht had defeated the Red Army, the Holocaust would have been repeated many times over, but in the open and not in secrecy. We cannot deny its anti-imperialist foreign policy. The Soviet Union was instrumental in ending western colonial empires with its unequivocal support of national liberation movements. The demise of the Soviet Union has made the world a more dangerous place. Without the Soviet Union and the fear of socialism to unite them, the imperialistic and capitalistic nations of the West will now resume their rivalries for control of spheres of influence, markets, and sources of raw materials. This is already happening with the Balkanization of the Middle East. They will continue to rely on superior military power and nuclear weapons to make/keep the peace. They will continue to maintain and to create alliance systems that have been and will be the cause of world wars. To think that NATO will ever be dismantled is a pipe dream. We will also see the resurrection of Fascism as imperialism assumes it most heinous forms. There will be no global peace in the post-Cold War era. Nor does the demise of the Soviet Union mean the ‘death of communism.’ As long as capitalism exists so will its antithesis, socialism. In many ways, the Soviet Union was a positive force and influence in the world. Its demise leaves a vacuum that will allow imperialism and fascism an opportunity to expand and to grow unchallenged on the world stage. I concur, “… humanity owes the Soviet people a debt that it can never repay.” NT

    Posted by Nat Turner, 11/30/2015 8:06am (9 years ago)

  • Excellent commentary. Very valuble insights.

    Posted by Bob Ryley, 11/28/2015 10:11am (9 years ago)

  • this is a fine contribution by comrade Markowitz. for too long we've seen many leading folks running as fast as possible from any past successes by workers, the socialist/communist movement. The Soviet Union was absolutely that, with many warts.

    I've always felt that workers in power (ie socialist nations) there are many parallels with workers who have org'd into unions successfully. It is certainly true that unions have greatly aided workers, their families & communities, in making gains in the fight against the great corporations. However, they are far from perfect & have problems with democratic norms at times (but are infinitely better with, than without unions) & doing always work how we want.

    our job is to fight to defend, help make better, the forms workers use to better than lives. we can do that & be critical when we need to. What has substituted for the needed hard work helping our embattled working class fight ways to fight in too many cases has been brazen attacks on socialism, other worker's movements. This must change!

    Posted by breuce bostick, 11/18/2015 1:16pm (9 years ago)

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