The Great October Revolution in Russia changed the world forever. Since November 7, 1917, a century, the world has ceased to be the same: the world is no more under absolute control of the world capital all the time, the world can’t be absolutely dictated by the world imperialism all the time, the world can’t be compelled to carry the yoke of exploitation all the time, remnants of old order don’t feel assured of its existence any more.
The world capital and the world imperialism never went unchallenged since November 7, 1917; and at times, many in numbers, it had to bow down unceremoniously. Since November 7, 1917, many times, the world witnessed labor’s victorious march forward on the world stage, on the stage of politics. Since November 7, 1917, the world labor achieved many advances in the history of humanity that no other class has ever achieved in terms of quantity and quality.
Conflict for liberation
About 12 years before the revolution Maxim Gorky mentioned a world-wide contradiction while discussing the developing revolution:
“The conflict against the mean oppression of poverty is a conflict for the liberation of the world from that net of coarse contradictions in which all men are fiercely and impotently struggling.” (“Letter on the Russian Revolution”, January 1, 1906, January 27, 1906, Justice)
The Great October Revolution was part of that “conflict against the mean oppression of poverty”, was part of that “conflict for the liberation of the world” as it shattered the system of oppression in Russia, and called upon all to rise against exploitation and oppression in respective lands.
Gorky pointed out the noble position the exploited hold, which is often missed:
“[Y]our weapon is the sharp sword of truth, that of your enemies the crooked needle of falsehood. Dazzled by the glitter of gold, they slavishly trust in its might, and do not perceive with what steadily increasing brightness burns the great ideal of the union of all men in one comrade-family of free workers. Socialism, the religion of liberty, equality and fraternity, is as unintelligible to them as is music to a man who is deaf and dumb, or poetry to an idiot. When they see the mighty march of the masses of the people toward freedom and light, dreading a disturbance of their peace, trembling for their position as lords of life, they hide the truth even from one another and console themselves with the spectral hope of defeating justice. They slanderously describe the proletariat as a dark mass of hungry beasts whose one desire is to gorge large quantities of food and who are ready for the sake of a good hunk of bread to destroy everything with which they cannot fill their maw.” (ibid.)
The noble position of the exploited consists of truth, union of all men, socialism, freedom, light and justice. The position does neither nourish nor patronize any supremacist, racist idea – a progressive position on a world-scale. It’s a humane dream, a humane aspiration. The revolution began materializing this dream, began realizing this aspiration.
While depicting the Russian reality and a course of development of the reality Gorky wrote:
“In Russia a revolution is bursting into flame, and they [enemies of the proletariat] slander utterly the Russian proletariat, representing the workman as a mere unconscious elemental force, a barbarous horde, ready to destroy, to wipe out completely all that exists, and incapable of creating anything but anarchy.” (ibid.)
The revolution’s class position is clear: Of the proletariat, of the working people, of the majority. Its political aim was unambiguous:
“The Russian proletariat is struggling consciously for the political freedom it urgently needs”. (ibid.)
No people can successfully organize struggle to radically re-organize economic system favorable to it without political freedom. The Russian proletariat unfurled the standard of political freedom, and organized the revolution to materialize the political aim, which showed the path to millions around the world.
Anti-people forces, forces of reaction regularly fail to fathom reality. The philosophy it uphold, the world view it use to look at developments create the failure. This happened in Russia. Gorky describes:
“‘The proletariat is beaten, the revolution is stamped out,’ shrieks our reactionary press in malignant delight. Such delight is premature. The proletariat is not beaten. Although it has suffered loss. The revolution is strengthened with new hopes and during these days its ranks have been immensely increased. The revolution has gained a great moral victory over the bourgeoisie”. (ibid.)
The Great October Revolution achieved moral victory over the bourgeoisie, its class enemy. And, moral victory is not gained through preaching of hatred, supremacy, and call for subduing all. Moral victory is not gained by not condemning the system of exploitation, by not condemning the exploitative property relations as exploitative property relations are permanent obstacle to the development of a humane society. The revolution practically showed this fact.
The revolution’s path was certain, which led Gorky to write:
“The Russian proletariat is marching towards certain victory, for in Russia it alone is spiritually strong, it alone has faith in itself, to it alone belongs the future.” (ibid.)
The revolution was not only limited to smashing the system of exploitation. It was wider. It was deeper. Gorky writes:
“[T]he Russian revolution is a cultural and constructive movement, the only movement capable of saving Russia from political dissolution. I declare that the bourgeoisie is impotent and incapable of constructive political work”. (ibid.)
Classes organizing a revolution for changes in political power and economic system are to rationalize its task by presenting evidence that its opposing classes are defending status quo, which is backward and impotent, is incapable to move to the path of progress. The proletariat in Russia successfully carried on this task.
Gorky, at the conclusion of his letter, echoed the proletariat’s position, which is free from all forms of sectarianism:
“Long live […] the proletariat as it goes forth to renew the whole world. Long live the working men of all lands who by the strength of their hands have built up the wealth of nations and are now laboring to create it new life! [….]
“[T]hey [the fighters and the workers of all lands] […] have faith in the victory of truth, the victory of justice! Long live humanity fraternally united in the great ideals of equality and freedom!” (ibid.)
The revolution began its journey to renew the whole world as it stood for fraternity among all peoples of all lands. It called upon all the toilers in all lands to unite trampling all forms of segregation. It stood for equality and freedom. This position made the revolution nobler than all noble revolutions. And, the proletariat in Russia organized this noble revolution that challenged all ideologies and practices based on exploitative property relations. This enabled the revolution to impact on a world-scale. The revolution became the yardstick: Which side you are on. (Pete Seeger)
A bold purge
The proclamations the revolution made and the actions it initiated since the moment it assumed power stand as evidence of its noble position: Cease all hostilities, fraternity among all peoples of and democratic peace to all lands, land to the tiller, liberate labor, bread for all. Decisive phase of the revolution began by opposing imperialist war – the World War I. It dethroned all exploitative forces while it ennobled the toilers. The constitutional and legal arrangements it made declared dominance of the working classes.
So, Lenin, on the fourth anniversary of the revolution, said: “And, we can justifiably pride ourselves on having carried out that purge [“destroy the survivals of medievalism”, “sweep them away completely”, “purge Russia of this barbarism”] with greater determination and much more rapidly, boldly and successfully, and, from the point of view of its effect on the masses, much more widely and deeply, than the great French Revolution over one hundred and twenty-five years ago. (“Fourth Anniversary of the October Revolution”, Collected Works, vol. 33, Progress Publishers, Moscow, erstwhile USSR, 1976)
Nikolai Bukharin cited the proletariat’s political power derived through the revolution:
“Our enemies, whoever they be, whether representatives of predatory imperialism, agents of the reformist internationals, representatives of the big bourgeoisie or landowners, or of the petty-bourgeois cliques, are all compelled to recognise the magnitude and significance of this historical fact that the working class has been in power for the space of ten years.
“Our November revolution stands at the threshold of a new world-historical epoch of humanity because it overturned and reversed the old social pyramid, putting in power the most oppressed, most exploited and, at the same time, most revolutionary class known to history, viz., the proletariat.” (“The World Revolution and the U.S.S.R.”, The Labour Monthly, vol. 9, no. 11, November 1927)
Revolutions and risings followed the Great October Revolution, which were cited by Bukharin: March, 1917 — the bourgeois democratic revolution in Russia; November, 1917 — the proletarian revolution in Russia; March, 1918 — the workers’ revolution in Finland; November, 1918 — revolution in Germany and in Austria; March, 1919 — revolution in Hungary; January, 1920 — revolution in Turkey; September, 1920 — revolutionary seizure of the factories by the workers of Italy; March, 1921 — the March “rising” in Germany; September, 1923 — revolution in Bulgaria; Autumn, 1923 — semi-revolution of the German proletariat; December, 1924 — the rising in Estonia; April, 1925 — the rising in Morocco; August, 1925 — the rising in Syria; May, 1926 — the General Strike in Britain; 1926 – the rising in Indonesia; 1927 — the rising in Vienna. He added: “[W]e must mention the Chinese revolution, continuing through many years, and now passing through an extremely acute phrase.” The Chinese revolution was identified by Bukharin as of “a factor of colossal significance”. In the colonized Indian sub-continent, the nascent labor was waging a series of battles against capital during those years. Thousands and thousands of industrial workers participated in waves of hundreds of strikes. The land witnessed: (1) at least one strike stopped an entire industry; (2) the labor’s enthusiastic participation in a political strike at least in a city, and the labor carrying on a general strike in the city although its bourgeois leadership tried to keep away the labor from the political move; (3) an entire province coming to a standstill by a solidarity strike by workers from many branches of industries; (4) workers’ city-wide clashes with police and army in Kolkata, one of the largest cities in the sub-continent, twice. (Farooque Chowdhury, Upamahaadeshe Srameek Aandoloner Kaalpanjee (Notes on Labor Movement in the Indian Subcontinent), 2015) Latin America organized many revolts and struggles against imperialism. In the US, there was the Seattle General Strike, the first general strike in the country’s history, in February 1919 paralyzing the port city for six days. It was followed by massive strikes in the country’s steel, coal, and meatpacking industries and a dozen cities faced threat of civil unrest. The steel and coal strikes in 1919 in the US shook the country and showed the labor’s power. There was the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921, the largest labor uprising in the US history and one of the largest, best-organized, and most well-armed labor risings since the American Civil War. For five days in late August and early September in Logan County, West Virginia, around 10,000 armed coal miners confronted 3,000 armed lawmen and strikebreakers. The battle was pushed down after intervention by the army. These, and innumerable labor/people-actions, ultimately political in nature/having political implication, around the globe were influenced/impacted/educated/encouraged by the Great October Revolution.
Bukharin inferred on the basis of the facts:
“[T]he international revolution is something actually in progress.” (ibid.)
There’s no reason to differ from the inference.
“It is true that there has been no victory of the international revolution in the sense that there has been no simultaneous victory of the working class in a series of countries. But whoever predicted that the world revolution would occur in this way? It is extremely probable that immediate risings are imminent in the colonial subject countries, and, while they are not proletarian revolutions, they are yet component parts of the international revolutionary process. How can it be said that there is no such thing as the international revolution when there is the victorious Socialist revolution in the U.S.S.R., and while there is the Chinese revolution, both of which are parts of the world revolution.” (ibid.)
On international revolution, Bukharin’s further argument was:
“There are many people who picture to themselves the international revolution as an occurrence which some fine day will take place simultaneously in a number of countries. This is extremely improbable and unnecessary. Comrade Lenin, even during the war and before November, 1917, insisted that it was necessary for everyone to realise that the world revolution, which would overthrow capitalism, was primarily a protracted historical process, that we were on the eve of an epoch of world revolution which would contain a whole series of proletarian revolutions, colonial risings, and national wars, arising from the combination of all the factors breaking up capitalism.
“The international revolution is then an epoch of revolutions, a long extended process.” (ibid.)
To have a comparison, Bukharin mentioned the bourgeois revolutions: in the seventeenth century in England, in the eighteenth century in France, in the middle nineteenth century a series on the Continent of Europe, and in the twentieth century in Russia. “The process of revolutionary transition from feudalism to capitalism has occupied a number of centuries”, the fact he reminded, and the fact that many bourgeois scholars prefer to forget with the motive of belittling proletariat’s historic fights and gains.
The Great October Revolution showed path to uncountable strikes, general strikes and revolts of the working classes in bourgeois economies, and almost countless peasant risings, workers’ struggles and national liberation movements and armed struggles in colonies. Many of these struggles successfully compelled the world imperialism to retreat.
These changed the world scenario forever. It was a permanent change in world power equation, which had no scope, power and possibility to reverse its flight to the yester-position: a singular rein of capital. In the newly-emerged power equation, capital and imperialism never succeeded in ignoring the labor’s political power, it never felt free from presence of the labor’s political power; rather, contrarily, time and again it had to come into compromise with and appease the labor, it had to retreat despite setbacks in many areas the proletariat emerged victorious, despite sell outs and deviations by a part of labor leadership. The Great October Revolution initiated the new labor-capital political equation on the world scale.
The exposure & mistakes
The revolution exposed bourgeois democracy and imperialism with burning examples, and set example of people power, people’s participation and people’s democracy despite flaws in the initiative as the initiative was the first in human history, as the proletariat organizing the system had no experience on such a scale and with such power and responsibility spread over a vast land mass. In terms of length of time the proletariat began organizing the initiative, it was only a few decades. On the contrary, the bourgeoisie began the job of constructing its political system/arrangement centuries ago, and yet, it’s struggling with self to make it failure-proof, to make it flawless. What are the “achievements” of the bourgeoisie in this area in contemporary period? It successfully “failed to avert” the Nazism/Fascism; and to be factual, it generated, and it had to generate Nazism/Fascism. It didn’t fail to succeed in imposing neo-colonialism on countries. What’s the reality within the systems of its nobility – the advanced/matured bourgeois democracies? Has it succeeded in separation of power, accountability and transparency, which it propagates all the time? Hasn’t its executive branch already overwhelmed the rest of its governing machine – the legislature and judicial branches? Has it succeeded in making its system corruption-free? Doesn’t it rely on country- and society-wide surveillance? Doesn’t it rely on manipulating citizens? And, doesn’t it claim that its electoral system can be manipulated by another country in its system? It doesn’t even look into the meanings of the claim: (1) the manipulating country can manipulate electoral systems of all relatively weaker advanced bourgeois democracies; (2) the manipulated advanced bourgeois democracy is not the political system that reflects citizens’ opinion; and (3) the system is so much flawed after centuries of practices that it can be manipulated. Recent nasty politicking with natural disaster in one of the advanced bourgeois democracies, and the democracy’s unpreparedness to face such disasters despite having immense material and technical resources is a stark indication of the bourgeois head and heart, bear witness to betrayals to its taxpayers. The proletariat, through the Great October Revolution, stood above these hypocrisies, childish gossips, chicaneries, failures and betrayals. The juvenile literature – the values presented before the young learners – the proletariat produced in post-revolution Russia testifies importance the proletariat puts to the issue – future of humanity.
The proletariat’s revolution in Russia formulated laws and organized governing organs on the basis of new relations it was setting up after smashing down exploitative property relations. It was the proletariat’s one of the major achievements, which impacted many societies.
The Great October Revolution showed the proletariat’s intellectual, theoretical and organizational supremacy above the bourgeoisie. The supremacy got reflected in all practical areas of life: smashing death-clutches of hunger-ignorance, medieval practices and illiteracy-absence of shelter and health care-infrastructure and public places constructed/allotted favoring the exploiters-permanent plunder of public resources-denial of political space for public participation-use of science for making profit-culture defacing humanity and for profit making-distortion in human relations-parade by Nazism/Fascism. In this task the revolution had to bear burdens imposed by history. Hostile encirclement, subversion and wars were order of the days while the proletariat was reconstructing the society it was leading. Consequently, mistakes accompanied while organizing the strides within a shorter period of time. Lenin, the leader of the revolution, admits that the first victory of the revolution was “accompanied by a series of serious reverses and mistakes on our part. [….] We are not afraid to admit our mistakes and shall examine them dispassionately in order to learn how to correct them. [….] [W]e have sustained the greatest number of reverses and have made most mistakes.” (op. cit.) Then, he explains the circumstance leading to the mistakes: “How could anyone expect that a task so new to the world could be begun without reverses and without mistakes!” (ibid.)
However, mistakes don’t dismiss significance and achievements of any revolution. Then, how do the Great October Revolution’s significance and achievements get cancelled? Can its role in humanity’s journey to progress be denied? Shall not the denial be a part of denying humanity’s history? And, the part is the most revolutionary in human journey to make life humane. “[F]or the first time in hundreds and thousands of years the promise ‘to reply’ to war between the slave-owners by a revolution of the slaves directed against all the slave-owners has been completely fulfilled – is being fulfilled despite all difficulties.” (Lenin, op. cit., emphasis in the original) Shall denial of these facts help organize further steps forward, the need for which has turned out as essential and immediate? The call of the Great October Revolution, hence, is renewed and echoed all the time as the world still bears the scourge of exploitative property relations, as the world is being threatened and trampled by imperialism, as the world still bears archaic and medieval ideas, as the world humanity and labor are still made victim of divisive and sectarian politics.
The article, composed on the occasion of the Great October Revolution Centenary, is part of a series.
Farooque Chowdhury, a Dhaka-based freelancer, has not authored/edited any book in English other than Micro Credit, Myth Manufactured (ed.), The Age of Crisis and What Next, The Great Financial Crisis (ed.), and he doesn’t operate any blog/web site.