The World-Historic Achievements and Historical Significance of the Great October Socialist Revolution
Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution:
by RAY LIGHT
Almost 50 years ago, I wrote:
“Marxist-Leninists commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Great October Revolution because millions of Russian people were liberated from Tsarist exploitation and from French, German and British imperialist oppression. We commemorate this anniversary also because the people of the Ukraine, Finland, Georgia, and the other nations oppressed by tsarist Russian imperialism were liberated.“But the primary reason that we commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the October Revolution is the world-shaking importance of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union for mankind, in bringing mighty deathblows against the world capitalist system, in leading the struggle of the world’s peoples a long way down the path of eliminating the system of exploitation of man by man from the face of the earth.” (The Role of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat in the International Marxist-Leninist Movement: The October Revolution Vs. The “Cultural Revolution,” Youth for Stalin, April 1968)
Indeed, little more than twenty-five years after the victory of Red October, the Soviet-led defeat of world fascism in World War II featured the Soviet Red Army’s rout of the previously undefeated Hitler-led German fascist army all the way to Berlin, as this triumphant Soviet Red Army march through Europe paved the way for the creation of peoples democracies across Eastern Europe in its wake. And just a few years later, little more than thirty years after the October Revolution, strongly backed by invaluable aid from the Soviet Union, the Chinese Communist Party-led victorious national democratic revolution over the U.S. imperialist-backed Chiang Kai-shek-led Kuomintang drove the Chinese reactionary regime and its army literally into the sea, that is, entirely off of the Chinese mainland onto Taiwan, liberating one-quarter of humanity.
By the early 1950’s, thirty-five years after Red October, approximately one-third of the world’s peoples still lived under direct capitalist rule, while one-third now lived in the so-called “nonaligned” countries taking an allegedly third “neutral” path, and one-third lived in the newly created socialist camp! It seemed that nothing could stop the world’s peoples from creating a socialist world in short order.
It is difficult to comprehend the fact that almost as much time has passed since then as had elapsed from the time of the Victorious October Revolution until that time. For the titanic Soviet and Soviet-led achievements in that prior fifty year period dominated the world stage. In the fifty years since, the plight of the international proletariat and the oppressed peoples has grown ever worse as U.S.-led imperialism has been riding roughshod over us.
Marx and Engels and then Lenin had examined with great care the experience of the Paris Commune in 1871 when the working class first “seized heaven” and held state power for seventy days. Enriching the magnificent arsenal of scientific socialism, these great leaders of the international working class had turned the defeat of the Paris Commune into a treasured resource from which the Great October Socialist Revolution could draw strength that helped crown the Bolshevik Revolution with a stable victory for at least a few generations of humanity.*
*Mindful of the Commune’s great historical significance, Lenin reportedly danced in the snow when the October Revolution had lasted beyond the number of days of the Paris Commune.
With comparable seriousness, dedication, courage and proletarian internationalist spirit on the part of the international proletarian vanguard in the early 1950’s, an historical analysis of Red October and its aftermath could have itself been the foundation for the triumph of the world proletarian revolution, leading to the abolition of the capitalist system and its replacement by world socialism without the people of the USSR having to experience the reversal of fortune that has actually occurred there. The rest of the world’s proletariat and peoples owed them that much.*
*With the advent of open Russian capitalism in the Gorbachev, Yeltsin, Putin period, beginning in the late 1980’s, for the first time in modern history a people in a developed country, Russia, has suffered a sharp decrease in life expectancy, underscoring the defective economic-social system of capitalism represented by this step backwards into the past.
Today, at long last, Leninists should use this 100th anniversary year of the Great October Socialist Revolution to carefully examine and draw the positive and negative lessons of this world shaking Revolution and its aftermath in the cause of fighting and winning a socialist future going forward.
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-Historical Highlights of the October Revolution-
1. The October Revolution was the work of the workers, the peasants and the soldiers and sailors themselves. The mass character of the October Revolution was based on the ruthless and consistent Bolshevik struggle against opportunism waged by a disciplined and responsible vanguard party among the toiling masses and among the working class in particular and on the Bolshevik mobilization of the masses around the urgent concrete demands for “peace, land and bread.” The masses were undergoing a rich experience in class struggle. This was especially true regarding their bitter and sorrowful participation in World War I. This experience proved to them the correctness of the Bolshevik political line, including the fact that the Bolshevik Party was the only political party that was sufficiently independent of the feudal and international capitalist rulers to satisfy the mass demand for “peace,” that is, for withdrawal from the imperialist war.
The Bolsheviks also immediately carried out their promise of land to the tillers, consolidating the proletarian party’s alliance with the main mass of the peasantry. After Lenin read the Decree on Land, according to John Reed, “the leader of the Maximalists, the Anarchist wing of the peasants [stated] ‘We must do honor to a political party which puts such an act into effect the first day, without jawing about it!’” (Page 135, Ten Days that Shook the World)
2. Tsarist Russia had been known as the “Prison house of Nations.” One of the keys to the Bolshevik-led victory in the October Revolution and the subsequent civil war and imperialist intervention was the implementation of the Bolshevik policy toward the nations oppressed by Old Russia. This was based on the Lenin-Stalin position on the national question. The First Congress of Soviets proclaimed the right of the peoples of Russia to self-determination in June 1917. After the workers took power, one of the first acts of the new Soviet government (signed by Lenin and Stalin) was a special edict entitled “Declaration of Rights of the Peoples of Russia.” This law provided every nation formerly oppressed by Tsarist Russia the right to self-determination up to and including the right to a separate and independent existence as a state. In the immediate situation this deprived the counterrevolutionary White armies and imperialist expeditionary forces of much of the potential reserve for their reactionary war.
In the long run, Bolshevik encouragement of the free flowering of the many nationalities formerly suppressed under the Tsarist Autocracy laid the basis for the economic, political, cultural, and, ultimately, military prowess and success of the voluntary Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the USSR. Even U.S. bourgeois experts grudgingly admitted that, “…the USSR within the framework of the over-all Soviet system seemed to have found a constructive solution to its nationalities question, and is the best example afforded by the twentieth century of a multinational state.” (Our emphasis, A History of the Modern World, R.R. Palmer, Second Edition, 1956, page 732)
3. In contrast with the almost bloodless initial proletarian victory, the forces of the old and dying privileged classes of Russia, backed by all the world’s imperialist powers, launched a civil war. They were not going to give up their heaven on earth without a bloody struggle. They attempted to take back riches of oil, timber and other abundant resources and the opportunity to exploit the millions of toilers there and to crush the new Soviet power before the people could begin to thrive — “to kill the revolutionary baby in its crib.”
The ferocious and bloody civil war and imperialist intervention that ensued from 1918 until 1920 caused terrible human and material damage to the new Soviet society. An estimated seven million Soviet citizens lost their lives in this conflict. Nonetheless, the toilers successfully defended their own newly won state power against the Tsarist and bourgeois Russian armies and the military expeditionary forces of fourteen imperialist countries. The Bolshevik-led victory in the Civil War and imperialist intervention and thus the Soviet Union’s survival was a remarkable accomplishment.
4. In the midst of the Civil War, in March 1919, the Bolsheviks boldly and quickly initiated the establishment of a new Communist International with which to not only defend the Soviet Union but also utilize the Soviet victory “as a means of standing up against the rest of the world, the capitalist world, and helping the proletarians of all countries in their struggle against capitalism.” (Stalin, Selected Works, Volume 9, page 120) This proletarian internationalist orientation led to the flowering of Communist Parties all over the world, many of which came to play an outstanding role in the class struggle in their countries, the USA included. It was also key to building up a socialist rather than a bourgeois nationalist economy and society in the Soviet Union.
5. In March 1921, with the Civil War ended, the New Economic Policy (NEP) was adopted to replace “War Communism” to ensure a strong economic alliance of the working class and peasantry. Lenin and the Bolshevik Party skillfully, openly and honestly led the new proletarian government in implementing the NEP, a strategic retreat economically in order to provide the Soviet regime some stability in which to consolidate the victorious seizure and defense of state power. The confidence that Lenin and the Bolshevik Party had in the working class was clearly reciprocated, for only a revolutionary army or society has the capacity to retreat in such an orderly, disciplined and confident way.
Recognizing the continued vulnerability of the new Sovietstate to capitalist encirclement, Lenin led the Bolsheviks and the Soviet people in making the “Electrification” of the country a foremost revolutionary task. This was vital to bringing the Soviet economy into the twentieth century and moving toward a proletarian-led integrated urban-rural society.
6. Great Lenin died in 1924. While the Bolshevik Party had wisely not opened wide the doors to Party membership after the successful seizure and defense of Soviet state power, the Party now decided to utilize the tremendous love for Lenin to have a special Lenin Enrollment so that many of the most politically advanced workers could collectively fill the shoes of the departed comrade. The 240,000 new party members, nominated from among their peers, were trained using the brilliant new Marxist-Leninist work, The Foundations of Leninism, dedicated by comrade Stalin “to the Lenin Enrollment.”
7. By the mid 1920’s a new global capitalist stabilization had set in. Almost immediately upon Lenin’s death, Leon Trotsky and others began to more openly promote “revolutionary defeatism.” Comrade Stalin, the leader of the Party, defended and developed Lenin’s thesis that Socialism could be built in one large country, if need be. There began an epic ideological struggle that involved millions of Soviet citizens about the future of the USSR and the class struggle for socialism. Comrade Harry Haywood, in his outstanding autobiography, Black Bolshevik, who was there at the time, discusses how democratically this critical question was debated and how thoroughly the Trotskyite position was repudiated.
The most profound repudiation was expressed in the revolutionary practice of the Soviet people in two unprecedentedly successful Five Year Plans, each one completed ahead of time. And this period was characterized by the worst world-wide capitalist depression in history. In this same period between 1928 and 1937, the collectivization of agriculture, a massive revolution in its own right, and the establishment of tractor stations, incentivizing collectivization among the peasants and establishing proletarian leadership in the countryside, were implemented.
The first two five year economic plans, beginning in 1928, were so successful that virtually all bourgeois experts, even during the McCarthy Period in the USA, had to admit that, “No ten years in the history of any Western country ever showed such a rate of industrial growth …” (A History of the Modern World, R.R. Palmer, Second Edition, 1956) As Professor Palmer observed: “By 1939 it was clear that a new type of economic system had been created. However one judged the USSR no one could dismiss its socialism as visionary or impracticable.” (Ibid., page 751, my emphasis)
8. Amazing as was the economic success of the five year plans, it was accompanied by what became known as the Stalin Constitution, the most democratic document both in the process of its creation, involving millions of Soviet citizens, and also in its content.
9. At the same time, the fascist powers of Germany and Italy and Imperial Japan, with the connivance of the western imperialist powers, united against the Soviet Union and the Communist International in the so-called “anti-Comintern Axis.” With the growing threat of fascism, the Communist International, under the leadership of Bulgarian communist hero, Georgi Dimitrov, provided a new tactical vision with the United Front Against Fascism. Despite the tremendous pressure the USSR was under, it was the only country that courageously offered democratic Spain substantial concrete aid, including manpower. Moreover, inspired by the Communist International, International Brigades numbering about forty thousand, mostly but not entirely made up of Communist volunteers from all over the world, answered the call to join the struggle in defense of the Spanish Republic against the Spanish military coup leadership headed by Francisco Franco, strongly backed by both Hitler and Mussolini. With the so-called liberal democracies remaining “neutral” at best, the fascist forces won out in Spain in what was seen as a “dress rehearsal for World War II.”
Stalinist Bolshevik diplomacy enabled the Soviet Union to gain enough time to prepare for the mightiest invasion in human history, the Nazi German invasion of the Soviet Union. The heroic Soviet people, especially the Soviet Red Army and Communist youth, under the leadership of Stalin and the CPSU (Bolsheviks), were the decisive force in the defeat of German and world fascism.
Lest the contemporary reader think that we are exaggerating the role of the Stalin and Bolshevik-led Soviet Union, listen to tributes from two of the twentieth century’s biggest foes of the Soviet Union and communism.
In 1942, U.S. General Douglas McArthur stated: “The world situation at the present time indicates that the hopes of civilization rest on the worthy banners of the courageous Russian Army. During my lifetime I have participated in a number of wars and have witnessed others, as well as studying in great detail the campaigns of outstanding leaders of the past. In none have I observed such effective resistance to the heaviest blows of a hitherto undefeated enemy, followed by a smashing counterattack which is driving the enemy back to his own land. The scale and grandeur of the effort mark it as the greatest military achievement in all history.” (The Great Conspiracy, Sayers and Kahn, page 138)
In 1943, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill admitted: “No government ever formed among men has been capable of surviving injuries so grave and cruel as those inflicted by Hitler on Russia. … Russia has not only survived and recovered from those frightful injuries but has inflicted, as no other force in the world could have inflicted, mortal damage on the German army machine.” (Ibid., page 139)
10. The world historic victory over fascism in World War II represented a general weakening of the imperialist camp (though a strengthening of U.S. imperialism). At the same time, the popular forces were strengthened throughout the world in their struggles for national independence and socialism. On this basis, the fruits of the October Revolution had led directly to a new period of victories for independence movements throughout Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Southern and Eastern Europe. In particular, the victory of the Chinese national democratic revolution in 1949, under the leadership of the Communist Party of China and its Chairman Mao Tse-tung, represented the liberation of one-quarter of humanity! With Leninism, in spite of an objective situation that had been unfavorable to the proletarian revolution on a global scale, the Soviet Union had led the international proletariat and the oppressed peoples from one victory to another. Now, finally, thanks largely to those who had carried out and consolidated the October Revolution and its fruits, the proletarian revolutionary movement had shifted the balance of forces in the world in favor of socialism.
As comrade Jose Maria Sison, founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines and arguably the most prominent Maoist and one of the leading Marxist-Leninists in the contemporary world, has declared:
“The October Revolution has come to signify all the great revolutionary achievements of the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Stalin in establishing the proletarian dictatorship as a requisite of socialist revolution, overcoming civil war and foreign military intervention, reviving the economy through transition measures, building socialist industry, collectivizing agriculture, developing the educational and cultural system of the working class, supporting the international communist movement, fighting and defeating fascism and further pursuing socialist revolution and construction in the face of the threats of U.S. imperialism after World War II.
“These achievements can never be belittled. Socialist revolutions in Eastern Europe, Asia and elsewhere have been inspired by the October Revolution, the achievements of the Soviet Union and the work of the Third International. The Soviet Union was unquestionably a socialist country for decades from 1917 to 1956.” (Validity and Relevance of the October Revolution in Response to the Challenges of the 21st Century, contribution to the International Communist Seminar, Brussels, May, 2007.)
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