Red October in retrospect


October 26, 1917: Lenin addressing workers at Red Square, Moscow PHOTO/Colour by Klimbim

With the October Revolution, the locus of the revolutionary dynamic began to shift towards the East and more generally towards lands that were struggling against imperialism. This symbiosis between communism and anti-imperialism may well turn out to be the more lasting legacy of Red October.

[In this article we shall reflect not on what came after Red October, a vast subject in itself, but on the lasting global significance of that revolution, the process that led to it and the kind of state and society the makers of the revolution, most notably Lenin himself, expected to arise out of the revolution. All dates will be given in accordance with the Julian calendar that was used in Russia until well after the revolution. The Julian calendar runs 13 days behind the much more commonly used Gregorian calendar. For instance, the Russian working class women’s march that initiated the revolutionary dynamic of 1917 occurred on International Women’s Day, which is March 8 according to the Gregorian calendar but February 23 on the Julian calendar. Hence the designation: February Revolution.]

The Great Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917 was by no means simply a “Russian” revolution. Rather, it was a watershed event and a turning point in universal human history. This revolution came after a whole chain of revolutions that broke out in Europe in the aftermath of the French Revolution of 1789, but it was the first that envisioned the end not only of the rule of capital but of private property altogether, thus of all class society as such. In his seminal writings of March-April 1917, Lenin in fact envisions an immediate “withering away of the state” (“abolition of Army, police and the bureaucracy”, as he put it, and distribution of these functions among some two million people). This was the most far-reaching project that any revolution had ever set for itself.

When the 300-year-old tsarist monarchy collapsed in February 1917, most of the Russian Left, including the majority of the Bolsheviks, sought to stabilise a Western-style bourgeois democracy in their country. By contrast, Lenin argued in favour of mobilising workers and peasants towards an immediate socialist revolution that would be “the prologue to the coming European revolution”. Similarly, his vivid image of Russia as “the weakest link” in the imperialist chain illustrated the strategic conception that if a revolution could break that weakest link, the whole chain would come undone. In this sense, the Bolshevik Revolution not only had a European dimension but was to serve as a force that would detonate a worldwide crisis of colonialism and imperialism as such.

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