The Significance of the October Revolution

“Revolutions are the locomotives of history, said Marx [In The Class Struggles in France]. Revolutions are the festivals of the oppressed and the exploited. At no other time are the masses of the people in a position to come forward so actively as creators of a new social order as at a time of revolution” (Two tactics of Social-Democracy in the democratic revolution, 1905, ch.13).

The above profound observation of Lenin’s applies to the Great Socialist October Revolution in Russia whose centenary we celebrate on 7 November this year more than to any other revolution, for this revolution changed the world in a way no other had done before, and none other has done since. The salvos of the October Revolution brought socialism to many countries and opened the road to liberation for the colonial and oppressed nations. There is no area of human endeavour anywhere in the world upon which the October Revolution did not have a lasting impact. This earth-shaking revolution, the most momentous event in human history and the most significant date in the calendar of the international proletariat and progressive humanity at large, was not a purely national, Russian, revolution, but a revolution of an international significance, signifying as it did a turn in the world history of humanity – a turn from the old, capitalist, world to the new, socialist, world – its aim being not ending one form of exploitation and replacing it with another, but to abolish all exploitation. As such, it effected an irreparable breach in the front of world imperialism and ushered in the era of proletarian revolutions and national liberation.

Notwithstanding the tremendous reverses suffered by socialism, thanks to the treachery of Khrushchevite modern revisionism, the October Revolution continues to shape the world we live in and its spectre continues to haunt the bourgeoisie of all countries. Realising the possibility of reverses resulting in the crushing of the Soviet government, this is how Lenin emphasised the lasting significance of the October Revolution in the development of world revolution:

But this one country, thanks to Soviet government, has done so much that even if Soviet government in Russia were to be crushed by world imperialism tomorrow, as a result, let us say, of an agreement between German and Anglo-French imperialism—even granted that very worst possibility—it would still be found that Bolshevik tactics have brought enormous benefit to socialism and have assisted the growth of the invincible world revolution” (Proletarian revolution and the renegade Kautsky, 1918, from the chapter entitled ‘What is internationalism?’).

Notwithstanding the wave of counter-revolutions that have swept central and eastern Europe, including the once great and glorious Soviet Union, imperialism finds it impossible to recover the stability that it flaunted before the October Revolution. It is waging wars against the oppressed peoples and in the process wreaking havoc, death and destruction, without being able to win. Invading country after country in pursuit of domination, it is unable to bring imperialist peace and tranquillity. Refusing to submit, the vast masses let it have no rest, with the result that it sinks deeper and deeper into the mire. Its fate is that of the bird in the popular story: “when it pulled its tail out of the mud, its beak got stuck; when it pulled its beak out, its tail got stuck" (cited by J V Stalin in ‘The International Character of the October Revolution’, a speech made on the occasion of its 10th anniversary). This will continue to be its fate right up to the moment of its overthrow and burial at the hands of the international proletariat and the vast oppressed masses of humanity.

Superiority of the Soviet system

The October Revolution irrefutably demonstrated the superiority of the Soviet system over bourgeois parliamentarism; it represented the victory of Marxism-Leninism over social-democratism, a victory of revolutionism over reformism, a victory of the Third International over the Second International. It was nothing short of a revolution in the minds, a revolution in the ideology, of the working class. Through the secession of the USSR from the world market, it accelerated the process of imperialist decay.

While shaking imperialism to its foundations, with the October Revolution, Soviet Russia, and soon thereafter the USSR, became a rallying centre for all the world revolutionary movement against imperialism. This is how Stalin underlined the significance of the October Revolution in this regard:

“…While shaking imperialism, the October Revolution has at the same time created—in the shape of the first proletarian dictatorship—a powerful and open base for the world revolutionary movement, a base such as the latter never possessed before and on which it now can rely for support. It has created a powerful and open centre of the world revolutionary movement, such as the latter never possessed before and around which it can now rally, organising a united revolutionary front of the proletarians and of the oppressed peoples of all countries against imperialism (ibid.).

The October Revolution acted as a catalyst for the development of the proletarian revolutionary movement throughout Europe, notably Germany. Had it not been for the treachery and renegacy of social-democracy, the proletariat of Germany and a few other European countries would have captured power and seen off the imperialist bourgeoisie. As it was, the Soviet Union was left to shoulder the burden of confronting the hostility of the imperialist world on its own – a role which it performed honourably and successfully. Through heroic sacrifices, displaying extraordinary determination and resilience, it made the largest contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany and, in the aftermath of this victory, helped to spread socialism to eastern and central Europe, as well as to large parts of Asia.

Liberation of colonies and oppressed nations

Tsarist Russia had been, as Lenin so often pointed out, a prisonhouse of nations, in which the Great Russians, forming a minority of the Russian empire’s population, sup-pressed and oppressed a huge number of oppressed nations. The Bolshevik Party firmly believed in the right of nations to self-determination. It enshrined this belief in its programme. Starting from the belief that the proletariat cannot emancipate itself without emancipating the oppressed nations, the October Revolution, having overthrown the landlords and capitalists, went on to break the chains of national and colonial oppression and liberated from it, without exception, all the oppressed nations of the vast state.

It was the first time in history that a formerly oppressing nation, voluntarily and with genuine enthusiasm, gave up its dominant position and embraced its former colonial possessions as equal partners, deserving as a matter of right: dignity, respect and the right to manage their own affairs even if they should so desire by forming their own states. What was also new and exhilarating was that it accomplished these world-historical colonial revolutions in the USSR not under the flag of national enmity and conflict among nations, but under the banner of mutual confidence and fraternal rapprochement of the proletariat and peasantry of the many nationalities of the USSR – in other words, not in the name of nationalism but in the name of internationalism.

The Bolsheviks proclaimed the liberation of the peoples of formerly oppressed nations not on paper, as the bourgeoisie has only too frequently done, but in practice. “To the old world”, wrote Lenin, “the world of national oppression, national bickering, and national isolation, the workers counterpose a new world, a world in which there is no place for any privileges or for the slightest degree of oppression of man by man” (‘The working class and the national question’, Pravda No. 106, May 10, 1913, CW Vol.19 p.92).

The national policy of the new socialist state born out of the October Revolution was founded on the Leninist principle of “…a voluntary union of nations – a union which precludes any coercion of one nation by another – a union founded on complete confidence, on a class recognition of brotherly unity, on absolutely voluntary consent” (‘Letter to the Workers and Peasants of the Ukraine apropos of the victories over Denikin’, 1919).

Under this Leninist policy, in Central Asia alone, a hundred equal nations and nationalities lived in a unique multinational federation, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. In addition to abolishing national oppression, violence, coercion and bickering, the USSR created the single socialist system of the economy which placed the advanced forms of socialist production within the reach of all peoples. Fraternal solidarity, mutual assistance and fruitful cooperation between the peoples of the USSR enabled many of them to banish their age-old backwardness within a remarkably short space of time and achieve the heights of social and economic progress. In place of the hitherto lifeless deserts and endless tracts of uncultivated soil, there emerged industrial centres, giant electric power stations and fertile fields with a variety of irrigation systems – all the result of proletarian internationalism that played a decisive role in moulding the new moral physiognomy of nations, thus bringing about a most profound and all-embracing cultural revolution. In this unique family of nations, the best national traditions of each people were enriched by a new socialist content and wonderfully combined with internationalist traits of the entire Soviet people.

In the beginning the main difficulty was that Central Asia was economically very backward compared with Russia at the time. As a result the economic development of the Soviet Union had to take place with the emphasis on faster development of the borderlands than the rest of the country, with the systematic long-term centralised redistribution of national income in favour of the border regions. This was a brilliant demonstration of proletarian internationalism incompatible with the mean and calculating commercialism of the colonialist bourgeoisie, which regards as its chief function the sucking dry of colonies to the benefit of the ruling nation. It is precisely the operation of this kind of proletarian internationalism that won the trust and respect of the formerly oppressed people towards the formerly oppressing nation and turned them into joint fighters against imperialism – into builders of socialism. This is how Lenin defined, in December 1922, the essence of internationalism in this context:

“…internationalism on the part of oppressors or ‘great’ nations, as they are called (though they are great only in their violence, only great as bullies), must consist not only in the observance of the formal equality of nations but even in an inequality of the oppressor nation, the great nation, that must make up for the inequality which obtains in actual practice. Anybody who does not understand this has not grasped the real proletarian attitude to the national question, he is still essentially petty bourgeois in his point of view and is, therefore, sure to descend to the bourgeois point of view.

“What is important for the proletarian? For the proletarian it is not only important, it is absolutely essential that he should be assured that the non-Russians place the greatest possible trust in the proletarian class struggle. What is needed to ensure this? Not merely formal equality. In one way or another, by one’s attitude or by concessions, it is necessary to compensate the non-Russian for the lack of trust, for the suspicion and the insults to which the government of the ‘dominant’ nation subjected them in the past” (‘The question of nationalities or ‘autonomisation’).

The October Revolution, the liberation of former Tsarist colonies in its aftermath and their phenomenal economic growth and cultural development, are eloquent proof of the following observation of Marx and Engels:

In proportion as the exploitation of one individual by another is put an end to, the exploitation of one nation by another will also be put an end to. In proportion as the antagonism between classes within the nation vanishes, the hostility of one nation to another will also come to an end” (The Manifesto of the Communist Party).

In view of the foregoing, it is hardly to be surprised at that the Soviet Union, born out of the October Revolution, became a beacon which illuminated the path of the labouring masses – both in the centres of imperialism and in the colonies and dependent countries. It put an end to the legend of the indestructibility of the bourgeois order.

Before the October Revolution, it was the accepted idea that from time immemorial the world was divided into inferior and superior races, into blacks and whites, where the former were considered incapable of managing their own affairs, incapable of acquiring a higher culture and were doomed to being the objects of exploitation, while the latter’s mission, as the only bearers of civilisation, was to exploit the former. The October Revolution shattered to smithereens this legend by demonstrating in practice that, given the opportunity, the formerly backward people were just as capable of mastering technique, creating a higher culture and overcoming backwardness.

By helping to shatter this age-old myth, the Soviet Republic became a pole of attraction for hundreds of millions of colonial slaves suffering under the heel of colonial oppression and imperialist super-exploitation. Lenin, with remarkable insight, understood the link between the establishment by the RSFSR of fraternal relations of equality with the peoples of central Asia and their effect on the entire colonial world. In his letter ‘To the communists of Turkestan’, this is what he wrote in November 1919:

It is no exaggeration to say that the establishment of proper relations with the peoples of Turkestan is now of immense, epochal importance for the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic.

“The attitude of the Soviet Workers’ and Peasants’ Republic to the weak and hitherto oppressed nations is of very practical significance for the whole of Asia and for all the colonies of the world, for thousands and millions of people.”

The labouring masses and the oppressed people, electrified by the October Revolution and its achievements, were inexorably drawn towards the Soviet Union which was quite correctly seen as the motherland of the international proletariat and a true and reliable friend of the oppressed people everywhere. Dr Sun Yat-sen, one of the finest revolutionary democrats, the leader and father of the Chinese revolution, the first President of the Chinese Republic following the 1911 revolution, and the founder of the Kuomintang (KMT) as the instrument of the Chinese national democratic revolution, looked to Lenin and Soviet Russia with enthusiasm and admiration, as a source of inspiration and guide for future advance. The Soviet Union sent volunteers and political and military advisers to fight with the Chinese patriots. On 11 March 1925, just a day before he died, Sun Yat-sen penned his final testament of advice for his followers in this moving letter to the Central Executive Committee of the USSR:

While I lie here in a malady against which men are powerless, my thoughts are turned towards you and towards the fate of my Party and my country.

“You are at the head of the Union of Free Republics—that heritage left to the oppressed peoples of the world by the immortal Lenin. With the aid of that heritage the victims of imperialism will inevitably achieve emancipation from that international regime whose foundations have been rooted for ages in slavery, wars, and injustice. …

"With this object I have instructed the Party to be in constant contact with you. I firmly believe in the continuance of the support which you have hitherto accorded to my country.

"Taking my leave of you, dear comrades, I want to express the hope that the day will soon come when the USSR will welcome a friend and ally in a mighty, free China, and that our two united countries will march hand in hand in the great struggle for the emancipation of the oppressed peoples of the world (cited by RP Dutt in The Internationale, Lawrence & Wishart, London, p.301).

That happy day envisaged by Dr Sun Yat-sen did finally arrive 24 years later, on 1 October 1949, but not before the betrayal by Chiang Kai-shek, Dr Sun Yat-sen’s successor, which imposed such misery on the Chinese people through massacres perpetrated by this puppet of imperialism and betrayer of his predecessor’s legacy and instruction.

Even Kamal Atatürk, a much lesser person that Dr Sun Yat-sen, spoke on 3 March 1922 about the significance of the October Revolution in the following glowing terms:

This revolution has caught the attention of all unfortunate and downtrodden people. Russia has shown them how to cast off oppression and bondage. Russian revolutionaries granted freedom and self-determination to all nationalities which had languished under the tsarist regime in the former vast tsarist empire. They considered it necessary to respect the independence, rights and freedom of peoples” (Archives, USSR Ministry of Foreign Affairs – in Russia – cited in How the national question was solved in central Asia by R Tuzmuhamedov, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1973, p.98).

Belatedly, even the Spectator, hardly a friend of the proletariat or oppressed people, was obliged to make this admission on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution:

… the real impact of the Russian Revolution on the outside world began to be felt only when decolonisation and ‘modernisation’ of Africa got under way [actually, much before that!]. How was one to modernise? After 1917 the new generation of colonial revolutionaries … began to see Russia as their future model” (3 November, 1967).

Our last, but by no means the least important witness on the question of the world-historic impact of the October Revolution, is Mao Zedong. The Communist Party of China, founded in 1921, which sprang up in the midst of the then ongoing national armed revolution against feudalism and its imperialist backers, was formed by the most advanced representatives of the national revolutionary movement, who had been greatly inspired by the October Revolution and sought to find in Marxism-Leninism the solution to the problems of the Chinese people. Thus is was that, in the words of Mao Zedong, the salvos of the October Revolution brought communism to China:

The Russians carried out the October Revolution and created the first socialist state in the world … All mankind, including the Chinese, then viewed the Russians differently. Then, and only then, did those Chinese working in the sphere of ideology enter a completely new era. The Chinese discovered the universal truth of Marxism-Leninism which is applicable everywhere, and the face of China changed. The Chinese acquired Marxism as a result of its application by the Russians. Before the October revolution the Chinese did not know who Lenin and Stalin were; nor did they know of Marx and Engels. The salvos of the October revolution brought us Marxism-Leninism. The conclusion reached was that we must advance along the path taken by the Russians” (‘The dictatorship of People’s Democracy’, July 1949).

Mao Zedong went on to say that had there been no Soviet Union and its impact on revolutionary development everywhere, including its victory against Nazi Germany and Japanese imperialism, the Chinese revolution would not have met with success.

Precisely for the reason that the Soviet Union became such a support for the international proletariat and the oppressed peoples everywhere, it earned the savage hatred which the exploiters of all countries entertain for the Bolsheviks, the USSR and the October Revolution. Hence their ceaseless attempts to malign Bolshevism, the Soviet Union and the Great Socialist October Revolution.