Let’s Remember ‘October Revolution’ That Altogether Revolutionised the World

By Dr. P. R. Kalia

[Last evening, a day before the October Revolution (November 6 in the Gregorian calendar), some close friends gathered at a place to listen and share the views of Harpal Bhatti, former MLA of CPI-M from Haryana, back in India. The discussion, through the lens of Marxism, pointedly remained on political scenario, prevalent during the last 50 years. A very-well read person, Harpal is a prolific speaker. He has the capacity to keep his listeners busy for hours together. Of course, it turned out a very meaningful conversation.

Inspired by the event, today on 7th November (25 October in the Georgian calendar, that was in use at the time October Revolution of 1917) I would like to share my impressions about that historic event that altogether revolutionised the world.]

On October 25, 1917 (November 7 in the Gregorian calendar), during the final phase of World War I, Vladimir Lenin secretly organized factory workers, peasants, soldiers and sailors into Red Guards—a volunteer paramilitary force that transformed the Russian Empire into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), replacing Russia’s traditional monarchy with the world’s first Socialist state, an event known as the October Revolution. The revolution happened in stages through two separate coups, one in February and the other in October. The October Revolution marked the beginning of the spread of communism in the 20th century.

The revolution marked one of the most radical turning points in Russia’s 1,300-year history. It widely affected economics, social structure, culture, international relations, and industrial development. The official ideology of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) espoused a wide array of views depending on their understanding of Marxism, but generally supported the idea of a vanguard party, one-party state, proletarian state-dominance over the economy, internationalism, opposition to bourgeois democracy, and opposition to capitalism. Accordingly, the main changes brought about by the Bolsheviks immediately after the October Revolution were:

All private property was seized by the state; Land was declared social property and peasants were allowed to seize the land of the nobility; All Russian banks were nationalized; and private bank accounts were confiscated; The Church’s properties (including bank accounts) were seized; All foreign debts were repudiated; Control of the factories was given to the soviets;  Wages were fixed at higher rates than during the war, and a shorter, eight-hour working day was introduced; Increased access to health;  and also education took a major upswing, and illiteracy was almost entirely eradicated.

Besides, ruling by decree, Lenin permitted non-Russian nations to declare themselves as independent.

Lenin addressing the crowd on October 25, 1917

Immediately after introducing the radical changes, the long-awaited Constituent Assembly elections were held on November 12, 1917. The Bolsheviks only won 175 seats in the 715-seat legislative body, coming in second behind the Socialist Revolutionary party, which won 370 seats. The Constituent Assembly was to first meet on November 28, 1917, but its convocation was delayed until January 5, 1918, by the Bolsheviks. On its first and only day in session, the body rejected Soviet decrees on peace and land, and was dissolved the next day by order of the Congress of Soviets.

As a result, a coalition of anti-Bolshevik groups attempted to unseat the new government in the Russian Civil War. The Civil War (1918-1922) was fought mainly between the “Reds,” led by the Bolsheviks, and the “Whites,” a politically-diverse coalition of anti-Bolsheviks. The Whites had backing from several nations, besides Great Britain, France, the U.S., Canada and Japan, while the Reds possessed internal support which proved to be much more effective. By 1921, the Reds defeated their internal enemies and brought most of the newly independent states under their control, with the exception of Finland, the Baltic States, the Moldavian Democratic Republic (which joined Romania), and Poland (with whom they had fought the Polish–Soviet War).

The Russian economy was totally devastated by the war. The industrial production value descended to one-seventh of the value of 1913 and agriculture to one-third. The total number of men killed in action in the Civil War and Polish-Soviet War were 300,000 (125,000 in the Red Army, 175,500 White armies and Poles) and the total number of military personnel dead from disease (on both sides) as 450,000. During the Red Terror at least 250,000 summary executions of “enemies of the people”, the total estimate was above a million. Besides, the droughts of 1920 and 1921, as well as the 1921 famine, worsened the disaster still further. Disease had reached pandemic proportions, with 3 million dying of typhus alone in 1920. By 1922 there were at least 7 million street children in Russia as a result of years of devastation from the Great War and the civil war.

Another one to two million people, known as the White émigrés, fled Russia. These émigrés included a large percentage of the educated and skilled population of Russia.

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Following his December 1922 stroke, Lenin dictated a letter (known as Testament) to the party criticizing Josef Stalin and urging his removal as general secretary, a position which was becoming the most powerful in the party. Stalin was aware of Lenin’s Testament and acted to keep Lenin in isolation for health reasons.  In spite of Grigory Zinoviev, Bukharin and Leon Trotsky’s efforts to diminish Stalin’s role as general secretary, he increased his control over the party apparatus. By gradually consolidating his influence and isolating his rivals within the party, Stalin became the undisputed leader of the Soviet Union and, by the end of the 1920s, established totalitarian rule. In October 1927, Grigory Zinoviev and Leon Trotsky were expelled from the Central Committee and forced into exile.

Subsequently, suppressing all political opposition to his rule, Stalin committed the state ideology to Marxism–Leninism (which he created), and initiated a centrally planned command economy. It was based on his policy of Socialism in One Country. As a result, the country underwent a period of rapid industrialization and collectivization which laid the foundation for its victory in World War II and postwar dominance of Eastern Europe. Stalin also fomented political paranoia and conducted the Great Purge from 1936 to 1938. It involved a large-scale purge of the Communist Party and government officials, repression of peasants and the Red Army leadership, and widespread police surveillance, suspicion of “saboteurs,” imprisonment, and arbitrary executions.  

Yet despite the turmoil of the mid-to-late 1930s, the Soviet Union developed a powerful industrial economy in the years before World War II. Over the next several decades, the Soviet Union actively sponsored and assisted Communist movements and revolutions around the world in an effort to broaden its sphere of influence. The country also played a fundamental role in the defeat of Nazi Germany during World War II.

Threatened by the possibility of revolutions in their own lands, the governments of many Western nations viewed Communism as a spreading threat and moved to isolate the Soviet Union as much as possible. Besides, to check the spread of Socialism they introduced some of the welfare reforms, such as Public health, Public education, women emancipation, and to an extent equal rights to the working classes—particularly in respect of wages and working hours, implemented by the Lenin regime.

Following World War II and the advent of the nuclear age, ultimately a confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States took center stage. As this Cold War got under way, the two countries emerged as superpowers with much of the rest of the world falling in behind one or the other. A protracted nuclear arms race between the United States and Soviet Union would last until the USSR finally collapsed in 1991.

Indeed it was a collapse of the bureaucratic rule and authoritarianism, about which Lenin had written in a letter addressed to a friend in early twenties, that, “Communists have become bureaucrats; if anything will destroy us, it is this.” No doubt, Marxism is a scientific analysis of the ‘human history’ and ‘Capitalism’ it will certainly endure through the ages. Surely, the socialist world-view will return one day in a more human form to regain its glory, keeping one thing certain in mind that new dreams will continue to arrive!

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