The everlasting contribution of the October Revolution
On 8 November, the CPGB-ML held a public rally to mark and celebrate the 97th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution. Joti Brar spoke to a packed audience on this occasion, and we reproduce her speech immediately below (it is also available on Proletarian Television).
I want to talk tonight a little bit about just why it is that celebrating October and learning the truth about the Soviet Union is so very important.
Those of us here who were born in Britain, or in other western imperialist countries, have grown up within a bubble of lies and misinformation so all-encompassing that it takes great effort and determination to gain access to even tiny glimpses of the real world beyond the bubble.
Inside this imperialist media bubble, the propaganda of socialism-as-prison-camp and Stalin as evil baby-eating murderer is unceasing. A typical example was represented in an episode of a BBC TV show called New Tricks a while back. It featured a storyline in which an East German man had infiltrated the Stasi in order to ‘fight for freedom’.
He and his wife were shown almost throwing their baby daughter to West Germans they didn’t know through a hole they had cut in the wire border fence. The message to viewers was clear: life in the GDR was so awful that people would rather give their babies to strangers than allow them to grow up under socialism.
This is one of many ‘truths’ that is repeated so often that many of us never think to question it. This is how the information bubble is constantly being reinforced. This is how our rulers hope to prevent us from bothering to try and find out anything about socialism for ourselves.
What has the October revolution ever done for us?
That being the case, people often ask us: why do we insist on celebrating and talking about a revolution that happened 97 years ago? Why do we insist on keeping alive the memory of a place that most British workers have been taught to despise since birth?
It doesn’t seem like a very good way to gain popularity after all! Indeed, many people tell us that if we would only drop the name ‘communist’ and all references to the USSR, our party would be sure to grow much more quickly.
But as Shakespeare said, ‘a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’. It is not our name, but our class allegiance that puts us beyond the pale as far as the British corporate-approved ‘mainstream’ is concerned.
To be acceptable in the imperialist media’s alternative reality, you have to fit within their carefully-constructed mirage of ‘left’ and ‘right’ parties. Our media are full of the fake ‘choices’ and false ‘debates’ between these apparently diverse parties, which are put in front of workers in the hope that they will not notice that all the options being presented to them essentially tell the same story about how the world works and offer the same one-point programme for the future – the preservation of British imperialism, no matter what the cost.
We communists, on the other hand, refuse to play this game. We refuse to go along with the capitalist ruling class’s version of history, or to participate in propping up its fake debates. We insist on finding out the truth and doing everything we can to help workers to know it too.
We want to celebrate and learn from October for the same reason that our rulers are so utterly desperate to keep us away from it. We want to spread – and they want to prevent the spread of – an understanding of what October 1917 represented to humanity and what the Soviet people achieved under working-class rule.
Because the truth is that if we don’t understand the October revolution, we are not able to understand anything about today’s world. Our world has been completely shaped by that revolution, which brought in a new historical epoch and which shattered forever a hundred and one pillars of capitalist propaganda.
Even here, in Britain, which seems so far removed from the turmoil of proletarian revolution, the way we think and the way we live has been irreversibly shaped by the gains that workers made in the Soviet Union.
The fact is that most of the ‘advantages’ that we receive as workers in Britain, and which we are told have come to us because we are lucky enough to live in a ‘successful’ (ie, imperialist) and ‘civilised’ capitalist ‘democracy’ are actually weak reflections and pale imitations of advances that were first made by Soviet citizens under socialism – and which were then demanded by workers all over the world.
What are the things that are held up to us as proof that our life in Britain is ‘civilised’ and good?
We have democratic and enlightened values, we are told. We are free to think what we like and to express our views. We are free to take part in politics – to stand for election and to vote. The welfare state looks after the most vulnerable in society.
Education and health care are provided for all. Our society upholds the concepts of personal liberty and equality. Our court system upholds the law, and our journalists uphold free speech. We can expect to go about our business free from discrimination or racism. We are at peace with our neighbours and our rulers uphold the rights of all nations to self-determination.
And all of this is because we live in a ‘western democracy’, where ‘civilised values’ are the norm.
That is what we are told.
But what is the truth?
The truth is that none of these things was true for workers before the October revolution and much of it is still not true, or is at least only partially true, in capitalist Britain nearly 100 years later, despite the huge wealth that flows into this country from the superexploitation of oppressed peoples all over the world.
Pressure on the British ruling class to grant concessions to working people came as a result of the example set by the Soviet Union. All over the world, anger was building against the imperialist system, which was condemning workers to a seemingly endless cycle of catastrophic war and horrendous, deepening poverty as it lurched from crisis to crisis.
Workers looked eagerly at the advances being made by their brothers and sisters in the USSR, and the revolutionary anti-imperialist movement in all countries grew enormously, as did the prestige of communism and the communist party leaders – much to the alarm of the capitalist world.
So let’s take a look at just two of the items in that list of civilised norms and democratic values that we are taught to believe are the hallmarks of an advanced capitalist society.
Equality of nations and peoples
The October revolution declared all imperialist war and occupation, annexation and colonial seizure to be criminal.
It declared all peoples of the world, no matter what their race, religion or colour, to be equal and outlawed all discrimination.
By involving people from Asia, who had previously been designated as ‘too backward to rule themselves’, in the construction of socialism and the building of a new society and a new culture, the USSR crushed imperialism’s racist justifications for its ruthless exploitation of the world.
The Soviet people proved that there is absolutely no justification for any kind of racism.
The USSR replaced xenophobia, bigotry and fratricidal warfare with cooperation, respect and fraternal harmony, and it showed the immense contribution that all people are able to make to the building of a higher culture and a truly civilised life when given the opportunity.
This example turned the prevailing supremacy myths on their heads and inspired millions of oppressed people all over the world to join the fight against imperialism.
It brought to an end the era when open racism and naked colonialism could be tolerated.
An unstoppable tide of national-liberation movements was launched following the Soviet example. After the October revolution, no people would any longer resign themselves to the inevitability of foreign domination.
The first wave of great leaders of the oppressed world were directly inspired and brought to Marxism by the October Revolution: Mao Zedong in China, Kim Il Sung in Korea, Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, Bhagat Singh in India.
A second wave of great leaders of the oppressed world were directly inspired and brought to Marxism by the construction of socialism and the second wave of socialist revolutions: Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro in Cuba, George Habash in Palestine, and many more around the world.
And all this in turn inspired movements against racism at home in all the imperialist heartlands.
Today, no sane person would admit the idea that race was a justifiable basis for discrimination.
The first (very weak) anti-racism legislation was passed in Britain in 1965.
The legislation may have been a pathetic sop, but its existence was an admission of moral defeat by imperialism.
Previously, the imperialists trumpeted their racist ideology proudly and openly; now they have to hide it behind weasel words about ‘equality of opportunity’ and ‘respect for all’.
And, whether it be princes sporting swastikas, mayors denigrating ‘picaninnies’, or the deaths of half a million Iraqi children being ruthlessly dismissed as collateral damage, the system’s politicians and spokespeople are continually being caught out in their double standards, which further underlines the absolute loss of the moral high ground by capitalism in general.
The right to universal provision of basic necessities
The October revolution brought with it the first ever system of universal provision for all members of society.
· Free and complete health care.
· Free education at all levels.
· The right to employment in the towns or to land and tools in the countryside.
· The right to a home.
· The right to food.
· The right to a decent pension for all those too old or too infirm to work.
· The right to sick leave and maternity leave on full pay.
· The right to leisure, to holidays and to culture.
· The right to develop themselves as fully-rounded human beings.
The capitalists had always insisted that these basic demands of workers were simply too expensive to be met; that enterprises would be rendered uncompetitive and workers would end up losing their jobs altogether if employers tried to provide more than basic wages to their employees.
But the universal provision of all the necessities of life in the USSR, and the constantly-rising quality of life that was achieved by Soviet workers during the 1930s – and that at a time when the rest of the world was in the clutches of the worst economic crisis then ever seen – inspired the workers of the world with a vision of what socialism could offer them.
The revolutionary tide rose as the crisis deepened.
The imperialist ruling classes of Europe responded with fascist dictatorship, but the tide could not be turned.
The experience of the great depression, of imperialism’s fascist brutality in crisis, and of the horrendous war that the crisis spawned brought workers all over the world to revolution.
The incredible achievements and heroic sacrifices of the Soviet people in defeating Nazi Germany added to the already high prestige of communism. The name of Joseph Stalin, the Soviet people’s great teacher and leader, was revered by workers and peasants throughout the world.
Revolutions swept across the formerly occupied territories of Europe and throughout the colonies. From China and Korea in the east to the European People’s Democracies in the west, socialism spread in a new wave.
In western Europe, the revolutionary wave was only stopped by a combination of American cash and British and American weapons.
Revolutions in Greece, Italy and France were decapitated, diverted and put down, and, under pressure of these great events and in fear for the very existence of their system of exploitation, the imperialists united to save themselves.
In the centres of imperialism, the capitalists suddenly found that it was not only possible, but entirely practical and necessary to provide certain basic minimums to workers at home: the age of ‘welfare capitalism’ was born.
We owe our NHS, our council houses, our school and university system, our pensions and our unemployment benefits entirely to the October revolution – to the example it set, to the inspiration and courage it gave to the workers of the world, and to the terrible fear it put into the hearts of the capitalists, who saw the foundations of their rule crumbling away before their eyes.
All these concessions of the capitalist welfare state were meant to pacify us and stop us from thinking that socialism has anything more to offer us.
But they are all stunted versions of the originals. They are a nod to popular feeling and stretch only as far as absolutely necessary – very often observed more in the breach than in the letter of the law, and daily undermined by the conditions of capitalist existence.
The welfare state – a temporary pacifier
And, as we are seeing very clearly today, the welfare provisions in imperialist countries were only a temporary stabilisation measure.
Once the post-war reconstruction boom was over, capitalism lurched back into economic crisis, and the gradual chipping away at all the welfare states began.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, that gradual chipping was replaced by a wrecking ball.
And the latest twist of the crisis is now bringing wholesale destruction to the very foundations of health, housing, education and benefit systems that British workers once believed they had won for good.
Socialism in the USSR – a dangerous example
Most importantly of all, the October revolution gave the lie to the capitalist myth that bourgeois property relations – the private ownership of society’s wealth in a few hands – are sacred and eternal by creating public, socialist property and a new kind of socialist state capable of administering that property with the full participation of ordinary working people – and in their interests.
As Stalin put it: ” The indubitable successes of socialism in the USSR on the front of construction have clearly shown that the proletariat can successfully govern the country without the bourgeoisie and against the bourgeoisie, that it can successfully build industry without the bourgeoisie and against the bourgeoisie, that it can successfully direct the whole of the national economy without the bourgeoisie and against the bourgeoisie, that it can successfully build socialism in spite of the capitalist encirclement .”
It is not possible here to go into detail about the great advances that were achieved by workers in the USSR, but I would like to share a few salient facts about the Soviet health system, which is a perfect example of why socialism is so much better than anything the ‘best’, most enlightened, most well-funded capitalist health service could ever deliver.
The Soviets pioneered the approach that health care is not just about treatment of symptoms and diseases, but is primarily about disease prevention.
Tying this in to the whole of the wellbeing of every person in society, the Soviet government focussed on providing decent housing, education, employment and cultured leisure time. It strove to help every worker feel useful and happy, to reduce stress and provide all that is needed for a fulfilling life!
According to Prof N Propper-Grashchenkov, Assistant People’s Commissar of Public Health: ” In the USSR … unemployment, destitution and poverty have been permanently done away with on the basis of the abolition of the exploitation of man by man. In a remarkably short period of time the socialist state has succeeded in raising the material and cultural level of the entire population enormously, thereby laying a firm foundation for successful work in the field of public health.”
The USSR wiped out slums, built sewerage systems in town and country alike and electrified the country. The quantity and quality of food available to ordinary people was constantly increased.
The Soviet state included in its health work such key factors as environmental measures (protection of soil, water and air from pollution) and the organisation of public catering on a scientific and hygienic basis.
Before the revolution, Czarist Russia had fewer than 20,000 doctors. Twenty years later, the USSR had 132,000.
Meanwhile, hospital beds increased from 175,000 to 350,000 and nursery places from 11,000 to 5.75 million!
There was a requirement on every single doctor to spend one day a month giving public lectures in preventive medicine – in public parks, lecture rooms, health centres and schools – which were backed up by poster campaigns, pamphlets etc.
Thousands upon thousands of committees of workers in factories, farms and workplaces cooperated with local health workers to give feedback and improve services; to oversee spending; to ensure hygienic conditions in their workplaces and nurseries and to organise health education at work. They sent delegates to the Soviets that supervised and inspected hospitals and sanitary establishments, and from there to the district supervising bodies and the Commissariat of Health.
The Health Commissariat worked with industry to prevent the output of harmful substances into the air (ie, filtering and capture systems in factories).
Industrial workers were closely monitored. Those working with dangerous substances worked shorter hours, had extra monitoring and were given extra foods.
Much lower thresholds of dangerous gases were allowed into the Soviet Union’s air, (eg. a 40 times lower limit of hydrogen cyanide was accepted in the air of the USSR than in the USA) – taking into account the chronic effect of small doses of noxious substances.
Noise pollution controls were introduced in cities – everything from muffling industrial procedures to banning the use of car horns in cities!
The descriptions of eye witnesses to the feats achieved by Soviet workers and farmers in all areas of life under socialist planning make truly inspirational reading. If workers in Britain were familiar with these achievements of Soviet socialism, they would be shocked at the lies they have been told and at the contrast between life under socialism and life for workers in even the richest of imperialist countries.
Following in the footsteps of October
This is the example our rulers want to keep from us. They want us to be resigned to our fate and to accept the false world of their propaganda bubble without question.
They want us to bear the burden of their economic crisis on our backs – to take the food from the mouths of our children and the books from out of their hands; to turn off the radiators in our retirement bungalows and send us to the queue for voluntary euthanasia when they can no longer find a use for us and our savings have run out.
They want us to feel that it is we, the multiplying poor, who are a burden to them, the ‘job creators’. They want to hide from us the truth that all their wealth was created by workers at home and abroad, and that, without them clinging onto the fruits of all that labour, we could all enjoy access to a decent, civilised, constantly-rising and truly human level of existence.
Stalin in 1928 summed up the significance of the October revolution when he said that ” The era of the ‘stability’ of capitalism has passed away, carrying away with it the legend of the indestructibility of the bourgeois order. The era of the collapse of capitalism has begun. ”
Comrades, there is no escape from poverty, environmental degradation and waste, devastation and war, racism, ignorance and disease except through a socialist revolution.
October showed us that revolution and socialism are not merely nice ideas, but that we can make that revolution in practice, and follow it by building a socialist society and a world fit for future generations.
In 1921, Lenin told the workers of the USSR: ” We have made the start. When, at what date and time, and the proletarians of which nation will complete this process is not important. The important thing is that the ice has been broken; the road is open, the way has been shown .”
Comrades, we owe a debt of great gratitude to those ice-breakers and road-clearers of the Soviet Union, who showed humanity the way out of the imperialist spiral of poverty and war. Let us carry forward the work of Lenin, Stalin, the Bolsheviks and the Soviet people in fighting to create a new socialist world that is fit for human beings.
Let us hold high the red banner and take the road of October.