Hail the Centenary of the Great October Revolution
V I Lenin declares Soviet power at the historic meeting of the Second All-Russia Congress
of Soviets at Bolshevik headquarters, St Petersburg, Russia, November 7, 1917
(Detail from “Lenin proclaims Soviet power” by Vladimir Serov, 1947)
This year marks the centenary of the Great October Socialist Revolution, in which the working people of Russia, led by the Communist Party headed by V. I. Lenin, overthrow the existing political system of capitalists and feudal landowners, established their own state and political power and began the construction of a new socialist system. The October Revolution of 1917 showed that the workers and peasant farmers, those who were the producers of wealth, could be their own liberators and models. The Revolution also showed the importance of the new organisations of popular power, the soviets, comprising delegates of workers, farmers, soldiers and sailors.
The October Revolution also demonstrated in practice the full validity of the science of Marxism, which had been developed in the previous century, and had been enriched and further developed by Lenin in the new era of imperialism and the concrete conditions of Russia. The October Revolution showed the necessity of revolutionary theory and a revolutionary party armed with this theory to organise and guide the working class to victory. It showed that Communist Party had to use this theory to analyse the concrete situation within the country, to raise the consciousness of the working class regarding their interests, aims and historic mission, the perfidy of those who wished to conciliate to maintain the status quo, and the necessity of the working class itself seizing political power.
The October Revolution demonstrated that only the revolutionary path could empower the working class and people, resolve all the contradictions inherent in the capital-centred system and usher in the alternative. Only by taking this path could the majority empower themselves and place their interests and needs at the centre of society. It demonstrated the need of the workers to smash the entire state apparatus of the existing capitalist system and build anew their own workers’ state, army and political institutions based, in Russia, on the soviets of workers, peasant farmers and the new Red Army. The Revolution was the act of the soviets led by the Communists, which placed power in the hands of the soviets.
Far from being a coup, as those who disparage the October Revolution claim, it developed out of a revolutionary crisis in Russia produced by the demands of the working people to end their economic exploitation and political oppression, a situation exacerbated by the severe conditions of the First World War. Its first major manifestation was the revolutionary events of February/March 1917, when the army mutinied and refused to suppress demonstrations by women and other working people demanding food, land redistribution and an end to war. Though the revolutionary crisis led to the collapse of the Tsarist regime, it continued throughout the remainder of the year as the representatives of the rich, who attempted to replace the Tsar, were unable or unwilling to meet the demands and needs of the people.
The October Revolution came in midst of war. The first acts of the new Soviet power demonstrated the nature of an anti-war government, a government that acts in the interests of peace and the working people of all countries. The new government immediately withdrew from the predatory First World War, even though this meant ceding territory, and exposed the imperialist character of that war by publishing the secret treaties established between Russia and its allies, including Britain, for the re-division of the world between the major powers. The Soviet government also proposed an end to the war and a negotiated peace, a proposal rejected by Britain and the other big powers. The existence of this anti-war government was a great blow to the major imperialist powers. Its principled stands became known to the armed forces of all the belligerent countries and led to more general demands for peace. In some countries, this even gave rise to mutinies and strikes, and in Germany, a revolutionary crisis.
The October Revolution was the first break in the chain of imperialist states. It showed that the working and oppressed people could empower themselves, opening up the prospect of liberation for all the oppressed, not just those in the economically developed capitalist countries. The Revolution established a base from which global struggle for national liberation and social emancipation could be supported, in those nations that had been oppressed in the Russian empire as well as in other countries. It was a great inspiration to all those struggling for liberation; in its immediate aftermath, there were also revolutionary uprisings in Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria and other countries. The October Revolution was hailed by oppressed and exploited people all over the world, in African, Asia and colonial countries, as well as amongst the organised workers in Europe, North America and other economically developed countries. It led to the creation of new Communist Parties in many countries including Britain.
In Britain, the revolutionary events in Russia were immediately supported by the workers’ movement and progressive people and bitterly opposed and attacked by the government, monopoly controlled media and reactionaries. For its part, the British government refused to recognise the existence of the new Soviet government or to have any diplomatic or trade relations with it. Furthermore, it led military intervention in Soviet Russia and an economic blockade of that country, alongside thirteen other countries including France, Japan and the United States, with the aim of aiding the counter-revolutionary forces, instigating civil war and overthrowing the gains of the Revolution. The working class in Britain rallied to support Soviet Russia and established what became known as the “Hands off Russia” campaign, which demanded an end to military and all external intervention in Russia and that normal diplomatic and trading relations be established between Britain and Soviet Russia. Such was the support for the October Revolution in Britain that both the Labour Party and TUC were compelled to support the demands of the campaign.
The October Revolution was the most important political event of the 20th century. It demonstrated that the working class could take power and establish its own people-centred political and economic system; it demonstrated that there was an alternative to the capital-centred system. The celebration of the centenary of that great event is however not just an opportunity to celebrate and reflect on an important historic event. The question for the working class and for all progressive people is how to learn from this event in 2017. It points to the need to learn lessons from history so that, in the twenty first century, we too are able to open up the revolutionary path to progress, establish an anti-war government, create the conditions where the working class can empower itself and build the new people-centred society which puts the needs of the working class and people in first place.