Leaving aside bias capitalist propaganda which has always described it in the darkest and most sinister terms, the Russian Revolution of 1917 is bound to stands out in terms of its significance: surely as the most important event of the last century; and, above all, as an event that is still relevant given the current global crisis.
Juan Diego García
Of course, mere exercises in nostalgia are of little help, although one is bound to be deeply moved when remembering the events of 1905, the successful storming of the Winter Palace in 1917, the masses of workers hanging on Lenin’s every word in Red Square, the heroic battles of the citizens of Moscow, Leningrad and above all Stalingrad in defeating the Nazi army, the Soviet soldiers placing the red flag with the hammer and sickle on the dome of the Reichstag in Berlin or Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereschkova conquering space for the first time.
Neither also does ignoring the errors that were committed and led to the collapse of the system – the first victory that the humiliated and vexed masses had achieved over the ignominious tzarist regime – help in coming to a balanced analysis of the situation.
These were errors that resulted from deviations from the original ideology, some due to the influence of tradition and relative ignorance, others born of Russia’s equally backward (in material terms) society, and many due to the way in which the daily lives of these peoples – so alien to the humanist values of the West and so foreign to those of the French Revolution – evolved: a tradition and culture that are apparently not easily subdued.
The creation of the Soviet Union born out of the fury of that revolution will go down in history as a transcendental event because it was socialism’s second important battle (the first was the libertarian feat of the 1871 Paris Commune) and it ushered in a century of unpredictable results in the struggle between capital and labour, completely transforming the social and political landscape throughout the world.
From a backward country, almost feudal and alien to any form of democracy, the USSR became a world power, the central protagonist in the victory over Nazism (the most perverse form of capitalism and something usually concealed in its propaganda as if Nazism had nothing to do with the wealthy classes) and in securing undeniable material gains for the masses.
The lack of restraint shown in dealing with internal conflicts was partly unavoidable as a result of the international embargo placed on the USSR. The Soviets were never able to behave as if the risk of annihilation from without did not exist, something that largely explains their authoritarian ways and the considerable limitations placed on certain freedoms.
In many cases this lack of restraint is judged without taking into consideration the fact that there were similar things going on in the West.
In reality, liberal democracy as it is known today has hardly been practiced in the capitalist world especially since the Second World War; and this is largely because of the policy of preventing popular movements from following the same path as that pursued by the October Revolution. .
There are plenty of reasons for believing that the dismantling of the welfare state and the current progress made by authoritarian movements in advanced capitalist countries (for some, a rebirth of Nazism) indeed have much to do specifically with the disappearance of the Communist Block – the “communist threat.”
The Revolution signalled unrivalled material progress unheard of up until that point in Russian history.
The USSR was successfully industrialised in two decades whereas in the West this had taken more than a century; this also led to the first tests in the exercise of truly democratic power beyond the traditional forms of liberal representation (the soviets), but to a large extent these were frustrated.
And this is probably where the greatest limitation of the project lies: focused on material progress the Soviet communists were unable to create a new culture, in the deepest sense of the term, a “new human being” with essentially different values to those of capitalism.
When the coup d’état of the new wealthy classes occurred (emanating from the very heart of the socialist system) no workers took on the new millionaires who seized power.
When the USSR disintegrated and a model of capitalism was imposed in its most cruel and dehumanized form, the most reactionary religious thinking, racism, xenophobia and pathological Pan-Slavic nationalism were reborn everywhere along with the most disgusting display of Western consumerism from these new elites.
What then became of more than half a century of socialist education? This is probably the biggest failing of those who first triumphantly ‘stormed the heavens’ with the October Revolution.
For those today who yearn to overcome the current capitalist order and build a new world in its place, the Bolshevik Revolution will always be a valuable example, both for its achievements as well as its limitations and failings.
The return of capitalism to the USSR should not be a cause for despair; this also happened in France where a budding capitalist regime under Napoleon underwent a revival of the old monarchical order before the bourgeois republic was only finally established after several revolutions.
The French Revolution’s original values of Freedom, Equality and Fraternity have not even been fully expressed under capitalism to date; and it is quite doubtful that in the present state of affairs in the world these principles are compatible with the current bourgeois order.
In fact, the republican motto is inspired more by the values of “Peace, Land and Bread” of those who stormed the Tsar’s palace than by the principles of cold calculation and unbridled competition, of the law of the strongest and the social Darwinism that are typical of present day capitalism.
(Translated by Nigel Conibear – DipTrans IoLET MCIL – firstname.lastname@example.org)