The Russian Revolution in History
Can history be interpreted through a singular approach? Certainly not the Russian revolution which many historians of the time hailed as “the greatest event of the twentieth century”. In recent times, conversely, there are numerous attempt by contemporary historians, social scientists and others to label it as a coup d’etat under the tyrannical leadership of the Bolsheviks.
A coup d’etat or revolution?
Nevertheless, the opponents of the Russian revolution, even the most ardent enemies of the Russian Revolution and all the aspirations it embodies are forced to recognise its immense historical significance. Like the French Revolution, the two World Wars, etc. this revolution claims its place among such events for which there is always a “before” and an “after”.
Etched as an extraordinary occurrence, unprecedented in mass participation in large numbers changing the course of history and humankind it makes incumbent upon them – on those pundits claiming it to be a coup d’etat, an act of a conspiratorial minority – to explain the capacity of a handful of conspirators to succeed in their goals by forcing millions of men and women to mobilise against their interests.
Any understanding of contemporary history is inconceivable without an adequate knowledge of the Russian revolution and the extraordinary historical events it has engendered. Of course, it is unbearableto all those who obstinately defend the established order, religiously worshipping the capitalist system and claiming that the current socio-economic relations have always existed and, therefore, will always exist. For such breed of analysts revolution in general is the source of all evil. They triumphantly applaud the fall of the Soviet Union as the supreme proof of their explanation. In fact, for these conservatives, revolutions can only be a manifestation of madness. They must nevertheless explain how the Russian events inspired many more revolutions including successful struggles for national liberation.
In the words of Leon Trotsky, one of the principal organisers of the Russian revolution, “The most indubitable feature of a revolution is the direct interference of the masses in historical events. In ordinary times the state, be it monarchical or democratic, elevates itself above the nation, and history is made by specialists in that line of business – kings, ministers, bureaucrats, parliamentarians, journalists. But at those crucial moments when the old order becomes no longer endurable to the masses, they break over the barriers excluding them from the political arena, sweep aside their traditional representatives, and create by their own interference the initial groundwork for a new régime. Whether this is good or bad we leave to the judgement of moralists. We ourselves will take the facts as they are given by the objective course of development. The history of a revolution is for us first of all a history of the forcible entrance of the masses into the realm of rulership over their own destiny.”
There could be no better answer to those scholars who finds no component of democracy in the October Revolution; who see no merit in millions of workers and peasants uniting for a radical transformation of society. The antagonists describe it as a simple coup, planned and executed by the Bolsheviks behind the backs of the masses while historical facts tells something else. The Bolsheviks worked tirelessly to win the masses. This meant, first and foremost, winning a majority in the Soviets, where the Bolsheviks were at first only a small
The history after the fall of Soviet Union, i.e. the history of the last 26 years has witnessed the birth of new narratives. Powerful and audacious. Tonnes of materials have flooded the market to prove that the evil is over and history has now found a free course to flow. Needless to say, this powerful propaganda, often backed by the rich western universities and the state departments, is fixed on one unwavering goal : to tarnish the image of the Bolsheviks, to blacken the name of their leaders and to uproot any living collective memory of the Russian revolution.
Since this oft-repeated propaganda also ends up permeating the collective consciousness of contemporary masses it is useful to examine if this revolution was at all necessary. The fall of the USSR apparently endorses the claim of the liberal pundits. It is fashionable today to discredit the ideas of socialism and claim that the Russian revolution was a gigantic aberration, an undeserved historical mistake. However, two issues here : first, what failed in the Soviet Union was not socialism as understood by its progenitors, but a flagitious bureaucratic and totalitarian caricature of socialism.
Secondly, the argument that the revolution has brought nothing is very obviously wrong and malicious.
First, it put an end to thousands of years of autocratic Tsarist oppression politically awakening the masses and inspiring a whole generation. Its democratic and socialist ideals inspired not only the exploited and oppressed masses, but also the best artists and intellectuals who rallied irresistibly to the cause of the revolution.
Secondly, despite all the horrors of Stalinism, it demonstrated, in practice, the superiority of the planned economy and the possibility to develop the economy of an immensely backward country without landlords, bankers and capitalists. The enormous benefits of the nationalised and planned economy resulted in remarkable progress in education, science, art and culture. Russia and the other parts of the Tsarist empire before 1917 was plunged in the depths of illiteracy. The events of 1917 saw it experience a cultural upturn unprecedented in history. In spite of thousand limitations, a backward country was transformed into a modern and highly developed economy. Thirdly, it inspired millions around the world to fight against colonialism, authoritarian & tyrannical powers and capitalism where giant corporations and financial tycoons rule the world under the garb of parliamentary democracy.
What went wrong?
However, if the USSR was so developed, why did it collapse? The answer to this question has to be traced back to the rise of bureaucracy and Stalinism. Nationalised and planned economy being higher forms of social organisation obviously require a higher form of democracy. An authentic workers democracy, in which the masses exert direct control over industry, society and the state, through democratically elected bodies (soviets) and revocable at any time.
The isolation of the Russian revolution in conditions of extreme economic and cultural backwardness was the terrain on which the bureaucracy developed gradually pushing the workers out of the soviets and concentrated all the power in its hands. Under Stalin’s reign, almost all the political conquests of the revolution were eliminated.
The bureaucracy turning into a ruling caste rose above the working class and governed in its name. Like any other caste or ruling class in history, it used the state to defend its power and privileges. All the institutions of workers’ democracy were ruthlessly liquidated and replaced by a disgusting totalitarian dictatorship.
This voracious bureaucracy ended up undermining and destroying the planned economy until the restoration of capitalism on the land of October.Otherwise, how could a nation, which in 1917 was more backward than present-day Bangladesh or Nepal soon rise to the rank of world power; how was it able to defeat Hitler’s wehrmacht which was armed with all the resources of Europe; and how, after the war, the Soviets succeeded, without the help of a Marshall Plan, in rebuilding a country that had lost 27 million people – more than all the other countries combined. Surely, history is witness to these testimonies.