Great October Socialist Revolution: Impact on the World and the Birth of Internationalism
The following piece by Andre Vltchek was written for the third edition of ThinkLeft, the Workers’ Party’s theoretical magazine, which was focused on the October Socialist Revolution, to coincide with its 100th anniversary late last year. Get your copy of ThinkLeft 3 here.
Great October Socialist Revolution: Impact on the World and the Birth of Internationalism
Perhaps no other single event in modern history brought so much hope for humanity as the Russian “Great October Socialist Revolution”.
During those late autumn days of the year 1917 the entire world shook to its core. All previously accepted and incontestable foundations, on which the basic perceptions of morality, justice, but even hope and love were resting, began trembling, cracking and collapsing.
Tyrannical certitudes of obsolete and oppressive “cultures” and regimes began collapsing like towers made of clay.
For some, these were thoroughly intoxicating, and long expected moments of joy and rightness. A new dawn was here, and the New World had just been born. Slavery, servitude, humiliation and hopelessness were about to be swept away from the surface of the earth, immediately and irreversibly.
For others, this was nothing less than the bitter end. Old certainties that used to govern over their existence, from faith to ‘family values’ and structures, were suddenly questioned, criticised and often labeled as absolute.
Those who used to govern and rule were all of a sudden uncertain about their own future.
A new meaning was given to The International. It was not an abstract tune anymore; everything was suddenly becoming real and achievable:
“No more tradition’s chains shall bind us
Arise, ye slaves, no more in thrall;
The earth shall rise on new foundations
We have been naught we shall be all.”
It appeared that the entire world, in fact the entire universe, was suddenly ripe and ready for one spectacular and total reset. What appeared to be permanent and even sacred just at the onset of the previous night looked suddenly shabby and completely outdated in the morning.
Everything was changing: from how people walked, to how they smiled, how they were addressing each other, how they perceived their elders or how they were begging for pardon. Songs were also changing and the way people were dancing to their rhythms. Colours and shapes were altering as well and often in such places that used to be covered by an impenetrable darkness a bright light was appearing suddenly and unexpectedly.
On 25 October (7 November, New Style) 1917, the day a cruiser Aurora fired its symbolic salvo at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, the entire world was awakened to an absolutely new reality.
“So, with the crash of artillery, in the dark, with hatred, and fear, and reckless daring, new Russia was being born,” wrote John Reed, an American author and journalist, who witnessed first-hand this amazing event that he then almost immediately celebrated in his immortal book Ten Days that Shook the World.
John Reed came to a simple and powerful conclusion:
“Imagine this struggle being repeated in every barracks of the city, the district, the whole front, all Russia. Imagine the sleepless Krylenkos, watching the regiments, hurrying from place to place, arguing, threatening, entreating. And then imagine the same in all the locals of every labour union, in the factories, the villages, on the battle-ships of the far-flung Russian fleets; think of the hundreds of thousands of Russian men staring up at speakers all over the vast country, workmen, peasants, soldiers, sailors, trying so hard to understand and to choose, thinking so intensely-and deciding so unanimously at the end. So was the Russian Revolution….”
Yes, for those who were oppressed, who struggled and suffered terribly, being shackled by the “old world” and its structures, the decision was almost unanimous indeed!
Suddenly, for those who were clinging to terminologies like “holy Russia” or “Tsarist fatherland”, nothing appeared to be safe, anymore.
But fear was actually spreading far beyond Russia’s frontiers. Almost intuitively, Western imperialism and capitalism began to feel threatened, in fact vitally endangered. The revolutionaries were hungry, angry, outraged, and ready to openly defy and then challenge the greatest enemies of humankind: grotesque class divisions, imbedded racism, atrocious imperialism and colonialism, as well as the outdated family structures, religious “beliefs” and power structures.
With false certitudes also disappeared fear. All of a sudden everything seemed to be possible for Russia and for the entire world.
For the first time in human history, there was a great expectation that the world could improve and soon really belong fully to its people, and that the people would be able to form and re-form it, shape it so it could finally be there mainly in order to serve the majority and the majority’s needs.
“Mankind – that has a proud sound!” wrote the great Soviet writer Maxim Gorky.
After centuries and millennia of horror, plunder and misery… Yes, a proud sound, finally!
Day one, year zero, and Russia was beginning to live again, after it gave itself a new existence. An enormous nation was making its first steps, getting accustomed to an absolutely new reality, new circumstances!
It was not simple, not easy at all. There was zeal and optimism but also sorrow and immense struggle and loss.
It was all so difficult and so tough! The war, the First World War, was still raging, in the west, northwest and southwest. The new war, the Civil War, soon engulfed almost the entire enormous territory of Russia, covering it with agony, and with an agonising carpet of flames.
Oppressive forces of the previous regime were waging continuous and vicious attacks against the new revolutionary state, its government and people. “Elites”, religious cadres, high-ranking military officers, stubborn landowners and businessmen, almost all of them were united, sparing no resources, doing all in their power to turn the clock of history decisively backwards. For some, particularly for those who used to be actively engaged in plundering “old Russia” for centuries, it was nothing less than a bitter fight for survival. For the “other side”, for the revolutionaries and the awoken masses, the Civil War became a monumental “holy war”, an epic struggle for a totally new and better country, as well as for universal justice and egalitarianism.
While the fury of Civil War was raging, everything had to be re-thought and re-defined, from the land issues and property rights to things like marriage (should marriage as an institutions survive in this new society?) and rights of women. What political, economic and social system should be implemented? Should revolution be first won and solidified in one country, or should it be fought simultaneously all over the world? There were debates between Lenin and Trotsky, between those who trusted peasants and others who only trusted the workers.
Discussions were conducted everywhere: in workplaces and at dining tables inside people’s homes, even on street corners and on board the long-distance trains as well as city trams. Debates were loud and passionate. People’s voices were finally being heard and taken seriously. That itself was revolutionary, something unimaginable just hours between when the Aurora fired its first shot at the Winter Palace.
Hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions had been dying. The Civil War (1918-20) was brutal and devastating, while the First World War was one of the deadliest in history, and it was raging simultaneously with the internal fight.
Most significantly, countless foreign invasions were overwhelming both several major Russian cities and the countryside. As always throughout the previous centuries, Europeans never thought twice before putting their military boots on Russian soil. In a way, Russia was treated and perceived as a “barbaric” nation that could be attacked, colonised and plundered at will and without much justification, not unlike all those countless unfortunate nations all over the world from South America to Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Oceania.
Internally, several military and political factions were desperately opposing the Bolshevik Revolution. The “Russian Civil War” was fought by numerous groups, which included monarchists and militarists, with the great participation of foreign nationals. What is essential to understand is that virtually all opposition to the Bolshevik/Communist rule after the Great October Socialist Revolution, whether armed or political, was partially or even fully financed and sponsored from abroad.
Without grasping this fact it is absolutely impossible to understand objectively what Western propaganda has been defining as the “paranoia” of the Soviet leadership in the 1930’s: its fixation on exposing the “enemies of the state”, uncovering of people spying for foreign powers, as well as those who had been involved in various acts of sabotage and destabilisation of the young Soviet socialist state.
What is being constantly omitted from almost all Western sources and historical accounts related to the Russian Civil War is the shattering effect that foreign attacks, propaganda and occupation of large territories had on the people of the young socialist and still largely defenseless nation. Much of the suffering and loss of human lives between the years of 1918 and 1921 could be traced to those “interventions”.
Tactics that the West had been using so successfully against the post-1917 Russia were later (and with greater and smaller success) utilised against virtually all socialist and communist countries in all parts of the world.
The essence and strategy of Western imperialist subversion is essentially very simple: identify all strong and weak points of the country that you are attempting to murder and try to comprehend its ideology. Study and learn all about its progressive leadership: its plans, and all that the revolution is trying to do for its people, like giving them freedom, an egalitarian society, improved life expectancy, education standards and quality of life. Then, attack where it hurts the most: use direct interventions, sabotage, terrorist attacks, or sponsor extremist and even religious fundamentalist groups, in order to spread fear and insecurity, and to slow down the process of social change and economic growth. Hit so hard that at some point the democratic revolutionary system would have to react, simply in order to protect its people, their achievements, and even their bare lives. Once there is at least some basic security, police and military measures implemented, hit even harder, in order to trigger a strong government reaction, and then immediately declare: “You see, this is the real face of socialism or communism! You want a revolution? Fine: what you get in a package would be this: oppression, political trials, gulags, lack of freedom, and even some brutal executions!” Use widely weapons like disinformation and negative propaganda, so the revolution in a progressive but cruelly terrorised country could never have a chance to really influence the rest of the world and even at home it would begin to suffer from serious ailments such as a lack of determination, confusion, cynicism as well as loss of faith. Take advantage of the fact that the world is still an extremely fragmented place and people are actually in possession of very little knowledge about different parts of the world (not much has changed in this respect in the last century, despite television, internet and other means of communication). At this point, when you have succeeded in spreading fear, nihilism, and while you have managed to put the government of the country you want to destroy on the defensive or even pushed into a corner, half of your battle is already won! You have managed to manufacture a real oppressor, a ruthless tyrant, and a “brutal dictatorship”! Once you succeed, you could easily silence domestic opposition and begin direct support for the “opposition” in those rebellious countries. If everything fails, you could, in many instances, invade yourself, benevolently “liberating oppressed people” from “tyranny”.
Such a scenario deeply injured the Soviet Union before the Second World War, but it failed to destroy the country.
In later years and decades, techniques and battle tactics of Western imperialism was perfected, thoroughly and impressively. Dozens of countries collapsed under its attacks, from Iran, Egypt and Indonesia, to Chile and Nicaragua. Places like North Korea (DPRK) and Cuba were forced to toughen up and radicalise their defenses, after countless embargos and even some deadly terrorist attacks.
Back to Russia. Not long after the Revolution, foreign invaders began arriving from all corners of the Western world: France, Great Britain, the United States, Greece and Italy. There were also Czech, Romanian, Estonian, Polish and even Australian troops attacking the country, as were the mighty Japanese troops, which were responsible for countless atrocities in the Eastern part of the country (recently I was told in the city of Vladivostok how the Japanese Imperial Army used to burn alive Bolshevik commissars inside the railroad steam engines).
After the Revolution, all parts of the former Russian Empire were allowed to declare independence, if they so desired. Finland did so, and then, with German help, the Finnish aggressors pushed eastward the Finnish-Russian border, putting Petrograd almost within artillery range.
The British captured two important port cities in the north: Murmansk and Archangelsk, even setting up their client governments there.
The French were stationed in Ukraine.
Czech “Legions” at one point managed to control the entire Trans-Siberian Railroad between the cities of Simbirsk (after 1924 known as Ulyanovsk) and Vladivostok, as well as an enormous territory north and south of the railway. They were actively fighting against the Bolsheviks, pillaging, raping and murdering in the areas that fell under their boots.
After declaring its independence in 1918, Poland decided to invade Ukraine in 1920. A brutal war followed. Eventually, the Treaty of Riga was signed on 18 March 1921, and about 10 million Ukrainians and Russians were put under Polish rule.
One year later, in 1922, the Soviet Union (The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or USSR) was formed, which did not put an end to foreign onslaughts.
Even the most unrealistically conservative Western estimates admit that at least 200,000 foreign troops were fighting against Bolsheviks and the Revolution during the “Russian Civil War”. Compared to the Red Army, they were extremely well-armed and -supplied and capable of causing terrible damage.
Even before the years 1918-20, Russia had been continually invaded, primarily by Western powers. During such attacks, millions of people vanished and the country was fully destroyed. Having to fight so frequently for their bare survival, Russian people have been intuitively understanding of the sentiments of individuals of countless nations on all continents of the world that have been suffering under the brutal yoke of colonialism and imperialism.
Imperialist attacks against their socialist motherland and Revolution hardened the Russian nation even further, bringing a new level of determination and consciousness to its people. The conclusion of the original, and in that period still-evolving, ideology was obvious and logical: “In the name of world peace, in the name of global justice, and especially in the name of survival of mankind, imperialism has to be fought decisively, and defeated in all parts of the world. There should be no colonialist practices left anywhere on our Planet, colonialism has to be defeated and destroyed, once and for all”.
Here, on the battlefields of the Russian Civil War, modern internationalism was born!
Almost immediately, the Western imperialist regimes understood the importance of the event, as well as its implications. The decision was made rapidly: “This system – this new revolutionary Internationalism and its ideology, theories and practice – are the most dangerous antagonists of the Western geopolitical and commercial interests. They are directly challenging the Western dominance over the Planet. They would soon influence and inspire dozens of oppressed and usurped nations all over the world; they’d give them hope, as well as ideology and strength to fight their cruel imperialist tormentors. Therefore, they have to be fought, destroyed and their thoughts should be fully erased from the consciousness of all people, as promptly as possible. Even after being defeated and destroyed, their ideals have to be smeared, ridiculed and discredited, posthumously, by all means, and in all corners of the world.”
The West in general and its ideologues in particular were at that point getting clearly and impressively “farsighted”. In their imagination and with their predictions, they were even one step ahead of Russia itself (and of the Soviet Union shortly after). They identified and forecast many fierce battles that would soon begin shaping the future of our Planet: the battles that would be fought for true and sacred freedom, for independence, and against imperialist tyranny. They predicted all this, and actually they did it even several years before the first modern-day anti-colonialist fights could truly begin (and in which the USSR would full-heartedly get involved in).
This is how the irreconcilable conflict between the nihilism of imperialism/colonialism and optimism of internationalism came to life, how the struggle, which is raging to this very day, suddenly erupted.
For centuries, Russia was a feudal country. Only by a decree issued by Tsar Alexander II in 1861 was serfdom abolished. That is only 56 years before the start of the Great October Socialist Revolution. But even right before the Bolsheviks took power in two major cities of the empire (St Petersburg and Moscow) in 1917 conditions in most of the Russian countryside and even in some provincial towns continued to be thoroughly appalling. They were not as bad as in the colonies occupied and plundered by the UK, France, Netherlands, Belgium or Germany, but they were very cruel nevertheless.
Traditionally, serfdom in Russia was not race-related; it was a complex and unsettling phenomena, which was victimising millions of both white and blue-eyed Orthodox Christian men, women and children, as well as millions of “others” (people belonging to various ethnic and religious groups) inhabiting the vast territories of the Russian Empire.
By the time the Aurora fired its first salvo at the symbol of imperial oppression – the Winter Palace – most of the long-suffering Russian people were ready for a prolonged struggle for an egalitarian society. The brutality of the oppression of the masses before the Great October Socialist Revolution gave birth to popular outrage and for a deeply-rooted desire to create a new system based on the principles of permanent social justice, first for Russia, and eventually for the rest of the world.
At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, there were numerous fundamental differences between life in Russia and life in Western Europe. Most importantly, in pre-1917 Russia, both political and social conditions in which the great majority of people had to live were simply disgraceful.
In the West, the rulers were allowing their citizens at least a certain degree of freedom, providing at least some social stability. The standard of living in the UK, France, the United States and elsewhere in the industrialised West had been consistently growing for decades, at least before the start of the First World War. However, the question that would be asked very soon, addresses the most essential issues related to the distribution of wealth in the West: “who was actually paying the bill for such ‘altruism’?”
Of course, true horrors were not taking place anywhere inside the boundaries of the West, they were occurring somewhere “far away”, in the “rest of the world”, where both Europe, and increasingly the United States, were mercilessly massacring and plundering entire conquered continents, while filling their own coffers, beautifying their cities and enjoying high arts and culture.
European colonialists “opened the veins” of Central and South America. They stole everything they could lay their hands on in what is now Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, Chile and Mexico, as well as in so many other places in so-called Latin America.
They murdered millions or even tens of millions, showing no mercy and absolutely no humanism. People in the colonies were regularly treated like animals; the entire concept of “human rights” was exclusively applicable to white Europeans and North Americans. In some places, particularly on certain islands, Westerners managed to exterminate almost everybody, demonstrating much greater ruthlessness than even the US neo-colonialists who have often murdered “only a fraction” of its victims in the occupied territories. In some instances, the French butchered 100% or almost 100% of the native local population, as happened for instance during their reign of Grenada, or in the Polynesian Easter Islands where over 90% vanished.
Europe has been committing slaughters on unimaginable scales in other cultures. For instance, the Belgian King Leopold II was responsible for the loss of around 10 million human lives in Congo, in the days when what is now known as the Congo (DRC and Congo-Brazzaville) had just a fraction of the population that it now possesses. Entire families, millions of them, living in the countryside, were locked in their huts and burned alive, while millions of others had their hands amputated, for “being lazy” and not working fast enough on the rubber plantations.
When it comes to the list of crimes against humanity committed by Europe, in the past and present, I never know where to begin and where to end. The list is simply so long and too horrible. An entire sizeable book would, perhaps, be needed to compile at least some basic catalogue.
Such a list would have to include the German holocaust against the local people of what is now Namibia; the Belgian super-genocides in all of their “dependencies”, the Dutch plunder of what is now Indonesia, the Portuguese inefficient but deadly plunder of Brazil, India and China, Italian barbarities in Africa, and of course both the British and French holocausts, the slave trade, pillaging and plunder in basically all the continents of the world, something that continues to this very day, to a great extent unopposed and generally ignored.
Not long before the Great October Socialist Revolution began liberating oppressed people all over the Russian Empire, the United States managed to murder around one million people in the Philippines, which was then its crown colony. Some victims were combatants – true patriots and freedom fighters – but most of them were just defenseless civilians.
Despite the great fragmentation of the world, Russian revolutionary intellectuals were well aware of the state in which most of the Planet had to fight for its survival. In St Petersburg and Moscow there was a natural sympathy and solidarity towards the oppressed people of the world. Although initial attempts of the Russian revolutionaries were to radicalise Europe, seeking alliances in Germany, France, Hungary, Spain and elsewhere, the focus eventually shifted towards Asia, Africa and other parts of the world that were brutalized by Western imperialism and colonialism.
At the start, the Bolsheviks had hoped for a series of revolutions to rock Europe and to overthrow imperialist regimes. That would have created new alliances and stopped all anti-Russian aggressions from the West. But European revolutions, from Hungary to Germany, had failed. It indicated even then that European workers and the middle class were already at least partially bought and corrupted by the system and therefore unwilling to sacrifice the dividends from the enormous booty (at least to some extent shared among all citizens of the colonialist and imperialist powers) that was ceaselessly flowing from devastated and humiliated colonies.
Although life in the Russian countryside before the Revolution was not as extreme as in most of the colonies controlled by Western imperialist powers, the Russian people were able to understand and identify with the suffering of Africans and Asians. Intuitively, they decided to spread their struggle to the rest of the world. From the outset, there were some basic disagreements between major Soviet leaders: while Lenin and Stalin were basically advocating first building a strong socialist state in one country, Trotsky believed in global revolution, in parallel revolutionary struggles in several parts of the world. However, scholars and theoreticians often exaggerate these differences: both Lenin and Stalin were strong believers in a global struggle and internationalism, and their attempt to first solidify revolutionary achievements in Russia (and right after that in the Soviet Union) was nothing other than a strategic maneuver.
The deafening salvo from the battleship Aurora, and the heroic charge against the Winter Palace, was in fact the great beginning of the first truly internationalist struggle; one that would later be understood, modified and carried on in several other centers of heroic resistance against Western imperialism, such as Havana, Beijing and Caracas.
As Western anti-Soviet and anti-Communist propaganda shifted into top gear, all that is stated above got completely ignored. The leitmotif became predictable and primitive: “excesses and crimes” committed under the Bolsheviks during and after the 1917 Revolution, as well as under Stalin’s government, which lasted from the 1920s until his death in 1953. Nothing is usually mentioned about what triggered the reaction. As if the “action” never took place and the reaction appeared without any substantial reason. Erased were almost all references to Western invasions into the country, all subversions and other acts of terror unleashed against the young revolutionary state. As if the enemies of the Soviet Union were all imaginary, as if all fears of the Soviet leaders for the survival of their country (and the world) were only the results of their dictatorial tendencies and psychological disorders!
This propaganda, repeated thousands of times all over Europe, North America and inside their client states, eventually fully domesticated, in fact converted itself into the mainstream narrative and interpretation of history.
Anyone with even a drop of objectivity would have to admit (unless he or she was fully set on denying the basic principle of humanism, which declares that all people are equal, regardless of their race and or nationality) that the Communist Soviet Union committed much lower amounts of crimes than Western countries under the banner of “constitutional monarchies” or “multi-party democracies”.
While the Soviets were busy pulling tens of millions of people out of poverty (and we are talking, for instance, about the Muslims of the Soviet Middle East, the areas where the standard of living eventually reached that of the European parts of Russia, as well as the other countless minorities inhabiting this enormous country), in approximately the same period of history the Europeans managed to kill, as was mentioned above, around 10 million people in Central and West Africa alone, chopping off their hands and burning women and children in their huts alive.
The British Empire was running several concentration camps all over the African continent simultaneously; it was bombing and gassing civilians in the Middle East (“We reserve our right to bomb those n******”, to borrow from the colorful vocabulary of the British Prime Minister Lloyd George), and it was triggering several brutal famines all over the subcontinent, which (if numbers were to be combined) took the lives of at least 10 million people.
The Germans committed a monstrous genocide (or call it Holocaust) against the Herero and Nama people in Namibia for no other apparent reason than because they seemed to dislike their members.
The French colonial onslaughts are well documented in Southeast Asia, in West and North Africa and elsewhere.
The genocides, mass murder and terror spread by the West, in the rest of the world, are countless, but of course under-reported as “foreign aid” for education and the media managed to train and discipline collaborators in the poor parts of the world, securing that the truth about the past would be generally omitted or downplayed even in those countries that have been brutalised by the West incessantly (this trend is now clearly evident for instance in Afghanistan, Kenya, India and Indonesia, and before Duterte’s administration it was reaching absolutely grotesque proportions in the Philippines).
Even the end of the Second World War did not bring an end to the savage treatment of “the natives’” at the hands of the European and North American colonialists. One should recall the treatment of the people of the Middle East by Winston Churchill and other glorified British leaders. All this is of course well-documented, including in the books written by Churchill himself, but hardly mentioned by the disciplined and reliable mainstream media and academia, in both the colonising and colonised nations.
There are countless statues of Winston Churchill and Belgian King Leopold II all over the capitals of Europe.
In Russia and the Soviet Union the first half of the 20th Century was mainly dedicated to solidifying Communist rule, as well as to industrialisation, education and construction of a solid scientific platform in this once deprived and backward part of the world. In that period of history, and mainly due to the great hope and enthusiasm triggered by both the Great October Socialist Revolution and the evolution of the socialist state, the Soviet Union achieved the fastest economic growth of any country on earth in any historic period. Almost total access to electricity was accomplished, new roads and railroads constructed, tens of thousands of schools and hospitals built. The Soviet Union reached almost 100% literacy rate. Its newly-educated people were suddenly able to design as well as produce anything from giant turbines to some of the most advanced airplanes on earth.
This was the specter, the most horrid monster and nightmare for Western demagogues and reactionaries: a socialist or a communist country capable of standing firmly on its feet, of building bridges, skyscrapers, giant ships and locomotives, a nation, which inspired some of the greatest musicians, poets, writers and dancers, and where great arts suddenly belonged to everyone. This was a place where even a cleaning lady or a janitor could afford to visit an opera house performance, and eat open sandwiches with black caviar during the intermission.
For the West and its classist, racist and elitist system, this was something thoroughly unacceptable. Such a system was seen as sick, deranged, extremely dangerous, and it had to be destroyed by all means! Otherwise the rot could easily spread all over the world. Otherwise it could contaminate even the very centers of world finance, or imperialism and colonialism.
For decades the Western regime studied and analysed all possible scenarios that could help it to achieve its main goal: to damage and finally destroy the land of Soviets, to stop the clock of history and to reverse progress.
Instead of zealous optimism, the brotherhood of men, an egalitarian society, instead of the joy of giving, of creating a new country and a truly new world, the Western regime was dreaming about preserving slavery in most parts of the world. It was fighting to uphold elitism based strictly on lineage and the white race, on private property and profits, and on outdated religious dogmas and demagogy.
The showdown was inevitably approaching; the battle between the legacies of the October Revolution, versus powerful reactionary forces united under such banners as the “conservative and religious values”, “civilisation” and “Western culture”.
Then came the Second World War and the epic struggle of the Soviet people against Nazism and fascism. At least 25 million Soviet people lost their lives fighting one of the most dreadful monsters in human history. Most definitely, the monster was “one of the most dreadful”, but not “the most dreadful” because right from the start both fascism and Nazism were constructed on the principles of Western imperialism, racism and colonialism. What the West was doing to all parts of the world, for long and dreadful centuries, it suddenly dared to unleash against the people living on its territory: Jews and Roma, Slavs and the disabled.
In most parts of Europe, fascist and Nazi sentiments resonated often very positively. Entire countries became fascist or Nazi overnight, from Spain and Portugal to Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Italy and of course Germany itself. In both the UK and France, Nazism enjoyed a great following.
The United States was first extremely reluctant to join the struggle against Nazism and fascism. Both were often intertwined ideologically: Henry Ford inspired Adolf Hitler, and vice versa. The US concept of “advertisement” had a great influence on Nazi propaganda techniques (and one could say again, “and vice versa”). Right before the Second World War, the United States was still one of the most racially segregated places on Earth!
There was only one country on Earth, in that period of history, which could stand up, proudly, throw itself on the battlefield, and in tremendous but beautiful sacrifice, defeat the sickening plague of Nazi hordes. It was, of course, the Soviet Union!
The reason was simple: the Soviet Union and its people were fighting for the survival of the entire humankind, not just for their own devastated Motherland, and definitely not for some geopolitical interests.
Soviet soldiers marched to Berlin, and on the other side of the world, they fought alongside their Chinese brothers, the great People’s Liberation Army, helping China to defeat another malicious and close ally of Western imperialists – Japan.
Only true Internationalist spirit was capable of saving our Planet from colossal peril.
And it did. At an immense price, but it did!
Instead of gratitude (by now it is clear that Western imperialist culture and propaganda machine are hardly capable of such emotions as gratefulness), the great Soviet sacrifice was belittled, and then even dragged through dirt. Instead of comparing two almost similar coins – Western colonialism/imperialism and racism with German and Italian Nazism and fascism – the official mouthpieces of the West got busy trying to debauch history by comparing Nazism with “Stalinism”, essentially spitting on the graves of 25 million Soviet people who nobly and altruistically saved the world from imminent ruin.
That’s how imperialism functions and survives: by spreading dogmas, lies and negativism, and by utilising its perfectly functioning indoctrination apparatus, which is regurgitating and disseminating the most effective propaganda on earth.
In the second half of the 20th Century, during the so-called “Cold War”, the Soviet Union stood firmly on the side of the oppressed, on the side of liberation struggles, and for freedom in Africa, Asia and Latin America. One has to wonder how mighty the disinformation campaign has had to be to have made all this “forgotten”?
While Europe and the United States (and their constitutional monarchies and multi-party “democracies”) cultivated despots in Iran, Egypt, the Gulf, the Middle East, South Vietnam, Cambodia, South Korea, Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Uruguay, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Brazil, Kenya, South Africa, Indonesia and so many other unfortunate places, the Soviet Union stood by the Cuban, Nicaraguan, Tanzanian and North Vietnamese revolutions, it supported the leaders, true heroes and liberators, such as Patrice Lumumba of Congo and President Salvador Allende of Chile.
Both of us – Noam Chomsky and I – came to the conclusion during our recent debate at the MIT that the standards of living in Riga, Prague or East Berlin were “allowed to be” significantly higher than in Moscow, while those of Tashkent or Samarkand were just marginally lower. The standard of living in the colonies and the client states of the West were ten, twenty, even a hundred times lower than those in Washington, Paris or London, often resulting in the loss of millions of human lives due to misery, even famines.
I calculated that some 55 million lives have been lost since the Second World War as a result of Western colonialism, neocolonialism, direct invasions, sponsored coups and other acts of international terror. I am probably grossly under-estimating the numbers, as there were lives lost to famines, terrible mismanagement, and the outright misery triggered by Western imperialism and neo-colonialism.
Tens of millions of lives were further lost as a result of planting the terrible seeds of the “divide and rule” strategy, the most obvious and horrid case being the “Partition” of the subcontinent.
Inspired by the principles and ideals of the Great October Socialist Revolution, the Soviet Union was on many historical occasions the only beacon of hope for oppressed people in all corners of the world.
It was not only the armed struggle against colonialism that Moscow was supporting. There were entire dedicated publishing houses in the former USSR, which were printing millions of books in all languages of the world, including the tiniest ones, almost extinct, in Asia, Africa and elsewhere. These books were then distributed, for free or for a symbolic price, to all parts of the world, wherever they were needed, wherever local culture appeared to be in danger.
That’s the spirit of internationalism!
Tens of thousands of students from poor countries, including Africa, Latin America and Asia, were annually descending on Moscow, Kiev, Leningrad and other major cities, in order to receive free high-quality education.
Soviet cultural centers in India, Egypt, Afghanistan and countless other countries, were overflowing with classical music records (LPs), books and educational materials.
The West, and its mass media and propaganda outlets, liked to call all this a ‘“rivalry”, between the West and the socialist block countries.
But in reality, often clumsily and not always effectively, the Soviet Union, until the end of its existence inspired by the ideals of the Great October Socialist Revolution, was doing exactly what its early-day revolutionaries had promised to the masses: it was educating people regardless of their race or position, it was trying to cure the ill, it was bringing culture and arts to the cities as well as the countryside, and it was fighting against all sorts of racial discrimination.
The West never “forgave” those countries that stood in way of absolute global supremacy.
Those nations that dared to resist, were smashed to pieces: from Afghanistan to Indonesia, from Yugoslavia to Chile.
The Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics, a colossus that was built on the legacy of the Great October Socialist Revolution, became the first determinately anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist power in the history of mankind. For that reason alone it simply had to be destroyed. Its annihilation became the mainstay of Western foreign policy, for years and for decades.
In 1979, the West tricked the Soviet Union and its Red Army into invading Afghanistan. Later, as a result of this irreversible error of judgment, two countries, both Afghanistan and the Soviet Union, were mercilessly destroyed.
There may be no country called the Soviet Union anymore, but even its legacy gives shivers of fear and nightmares to the captains of the Western-imposed global regime, whether they are seated in Washington, London, or anywhere else.
The legacies of both the Great October Socialist Revolution and the Soviet Union are still being smeared on a daily bases, in all mainstream Western media outlets, from the right to the left.
The greatest adversary to Western imperialism and colonialism so far, the Soviet country, its Revolution, its ideology and even its greatest leaders and people, are being slowly changed into monsters, even coldblooded murderers. In the West, this act is turning into hysteria, into one which could only be compared to religious fundamentalism.
How did the Great October Socialist Revolution influence the people? I went to my comrades and colleagues in several parts of the world, asking this exact question.
“Bolsheviks and proletarian internationalism” is a brief study written by Artem Kirpichenok, a prominent Russian historian, a graduate of Jerusalem University (Ph.D.) exclusively for this essay. Mr. Kirpichenok is now residing in St-Petersburg, Russia where he works as a historian, journalist and a blogger:
“From the beginning, proletarian internationalism was a very important part of the Bolshevik movement, for three different and significant reasons: First, Bolshevism was born as part of the international social-democratic movement and never saw itself removed from the global workers’ movement. Before WWI, leaders like Lenin and Trotsky, as well as other Russian Bolsheviks, took part in the international labor mobilization during the social-democratic congresses. Second: the Bolshevik party itself always included people from different nations of the Russian Empire and some parts of Europe – Lenin was Russian, but Stalin was Georgian, Trotsky was a Jew, Enessa Armand (one of Lenin’s close friends and aides was French) etc. The last point I’d like to make – proletarian internationalism was an important element for the Bolsheviks, because of the international nature of the working class itself, in that historic period, like today, when mass migration brings to all industrial centers people of many different nationalities. In St Petersburg about half of the professional workers were Latvians, Finns, Germans and Estonians. In Baku, which used to be the center of Russian oil industry, most workers were Azeri, Russians, Armenians, Iranians as well as Georgians. In Donbas industrial areas, most workers were Russians, Ukrainians and Poles. And in such a reality of the proletarian togetherness, the internationalism was not just some beautiful rhetoric, but the only way for the workers’ movement to succeed.
“On November 1917 the Bolsheviks triggered the Revolution. But the situation in Russia remained extremely difficult for them. The Russian army almost collapsed, under the German offensive. The frontline kept moving eastward. Both industry and transportation were paralyzed, while agriculture remained desperately undeveloped. New revolutionary states could count on almost no friend and allies from abroad. In those days (as well as now) the ruling classes around the globe hated the Bolsheviks even more then they’d now hate an Islamic state. Lenin understood that the only friend and staunch ally of Russia was the global working class. Only solidarity of workers could bring real peace to Russia, to modernize the country.
“Lenin was not a utopian; he saw the situation in the world very clearly, and his work was tactically brilliant. In November 1918, the German Revolution erupted. When the German workers and sailors crashed the Kaiser’s regime, Soviet Russia managed to free itself from the “Brest Peace Treaty” and eventually achieved liberation from German occupation. A few years later, massive workers protests literally paralyzed both British and French intervention against Soviet Russia. That was a good beginning, but Lenin had much bigger plans. He believed in a global Revolution, or at least in an emergence of the Socialist States of Europe. For him, such a development was the most certain way to modernize Russia. How? After the capitalist states and empires would collapse, Russia would receive German and other technologies from European workers, while sending back to Central and Western Europe things it had in abundance, including food and natural resources. It all looked very promising. Between 1918 and 1921 revolutions or rebellions erupted on the territory of almost every European country. The most significant revolutions took place in Germany (Bavaria) and Hungary. There was a military rebellion in Holland, as well as the so-called ‘Red Year’ in Italy. General strikes and uprisings were taking Spain and Italy by storm, while Irish people commenced their war of independence, against the British Empire. However, the social democrats began betraying the European revolutions, and at the end, Lenin’s hopes for the Socialist States of Europe were never fulfilled. The modernization of Soviet Russia finally took place, in the early 1930’s, but the process became much more dramatic and painful than was originally expected. In the end, it didn’t come because of positive involvement from the friendly socialist countries, but because of the internal mobilization of resources.
“In the end, Lenin confronted leading imperialist countries, and launched a totally new strategy. He clearly realized that in 1918-1921, several important socialist and anticolonial rebellions were taking place in the countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. In 1920 the Bolsheviks organized the congress of Asian and other colonialized nations in Baku. During the congress, the new tactics and strategies of close cooperation with all oppressed nations around the globe were announced. Capitalists and imperialists put to use resources from the plundered countries for corrupting ‘worker’s aristocracy’ in Europe and in North America. They also used the colonies as secure markets for their goods. The plan of the Bolsheviks was to help trigger several anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist global revolutions, and to destabilize the entire Western expansionist system. These tactics were used by the Bolsheviks for decades.”
One could also argue that modern-day Russia has basically adopted a significant part of its foreign policy from the Soviet Union. Moscow continues to support various anti-imperialist struggles all over the world, while it stands by several countries that are resisting Western neo-colonialist occupation and plunder.
Néstor Gorojovsky, an Argentinian thinker, is one of the most respected historians in Latin America. He replied to me from Buenos Aires, paying tribute to the greatness of the October Revolution, while also warning that, like in China, the Latin American Revolution should have its own individualities, reflecting its national character:
“The Russian Revolution of 1917 was like a solar flare that, in some way or other, illuminated the entire planet Earth. However, this immense burst of light reached different places in different ways.
“In Latin America, the Russian Revolution, of course, aroused every socialist dream among the exploited who took notice of the enormous historic event. It also has had a strong influence in shaping the ideas of the Latin American radical minded youth ever since.
“However, many of those young people who have been influenced by the Russian Revolution, erroneously and (what a paradox of history!) in a colonial bend of mind, believe that in order to solve Latin American problems it would be enough to just copy the “lessons of Red October”. Actually, this is a great mistake. Devising the way in order to carry on our own revolution is, of course, our own task. In fact, what we must do is to be faithful to the message of the Great Russian revolution and others that followed, but also to be ourselves, not to copy anything, and arise.
“If October 1917 had not challenged Western European punditry, and Russians had not started a proletarian revolution in a predominately peasant country, our world would now be very different, and almost certainly much more ‘gloomy’. That is the greatest lesson we can learn from October 1917, here in Latin America.
“As an eventful and long century flowed through the gates of history, we Latin Americans have learnt many other lessons as to how our own battles must be waged. Many of them came from the Red October, but others are deeply rooted in our own peculiarities.
“Today, the October Revolution is still like the brightest imaginable beacon that helps us to map the road towards a humane world of equality and liberty for the entire world and mankind. It has explained to us, sometimes through Moor’s splendid propaganda imagery, sometimes through the acts and writings of its great leaders, that we shall never be truly free until the snake of imperialism is finally beheaded.
“Just like the Chinese Revolution of 1949, the Great October Socialist Revolution taught us that we, Latin Americans, must be always faithful to ourselves, build our struggle on the socialist foundations of the great and united Latin American Nation for which our Liberators fought with such passion, and that only the complete uprooting of capitalism could open the gates and give birth to a new humankind, in fact the first real humankind that would have ever stepped on the vast spaces of our planet Earth.”
Arthur Tewungwa, an important Ugandan opposition politician, an aide to the President Of The Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) expressed his views from Kampala:
“Academically, post-colonial Africa has always been overly influenced by the Western imperialist nations, as a legacy of that unfortunate epoch. This led to limited understanding, let alone knowledge of the 1917 Great October Socialist Revolution. However, those individuals who were leaning towards the left of the political sphere led our great independence struggles. This has resulted in a sentiment that lends to the notion that the Revolution was the catalyst to the liberation struggle on the continent that was underway albeit, in a limited way, and provided the ideological drive missing in that struggle.”
Ms. Zeinab Al-Saffar, an Iraqi educationalist, journalist and researcher connected the legacy of the October Revolution with the on-going plight of the Palestinian people:
“The centennial to the Great October Social Revolution this year coincides with 100 years since the ominous Balfour Declaration was produced, which led to the confiscation of the land from its real owners, the Palestinian people.
“What the Palestinians are in dire need of are the underlying humanitarian principals of the Red October uprising, but with the emphasis on maintaining respect for all religions and faiths, followers and their particularities. We all need those powerful slogans like ‘end the war!’ as much as we need all the Palestinians to return to their land based on another potent motto: ‘All Land To All!’, be it Muslims or non-Muslims, rich or poor, peasants or masters.
“Just as the October Revolution was the culmination of a long period of repression and unrest, the Palestinians need a multi-colored worldwide revolution that will bring to a halt the offensive oppression of the Palestinians by the ongoing Israeli onslaught, settlements and occupation.”
A legendary Filipino academic, Prof. Roland Simbulan, who is teaching at the Department of Social Sciences of the University of the Philippines,
“The 1917 socialist revolution in Russia for the first time transformed socialist theory and practice into a material force and reality. From now on, here was a socialist country and model that challenged capitalist development and the U.S. development worldwide. The global balance of power became more favorable for the development and strengthening of the working class and liberation movements, especially in Asia and the Philippines. For soon after socialist led liberation movements were established in Asia including the Philippines, where an advanced detachment of the labor movement organized in 1930 the Communist Party of the Philippines led by Crisanto Evangelista.
“Soon after the 1917 Great October Socialist Revolution, Russia immediately fostered international solidarity. It became a sanctuary and point of convergence between and among fraternal proletarian parties in capitalist countries and national liberation movements from the colonies.”
Dr. Taher Moktar, a socialist Egyptian physician, is a revolutionary and a former prisoner of conscience. He wrote to me from Europe, explaining how the Great October Revolution influenced him personally:
“100 years have passed since the Great October Socialist Revolution, which took place in Russia in 1917. 100 years since the beginning one of the most inspirational events in human history. Whatever the results are, this revolution will remain one of the extremely important marks in the struggle of mankind towards freedom and rights.
“The Great October Socialist Revolution had a huge effect on me personally, on both political and revolutionary levels. Before the Egyptian revolution in 2011, I had very little knowledge about revolutions in history, and when the Egyptian revolution started, I was wondering about other revolutions in history: how the revolutionaries behaved, and how they dealt with the counterrevolutions. Of all revolutions in history, two revolutions that grasped my attention the most were the French and the October revolutions. I actually became a revolutionary socialist through reading about the October Revolution. And almost the same happened with many activists in Egypt who began considering the Great October Revolution as a great revolutionary reference which has been helping them to understand the meaning of the revolutionary process and the nature of the revolutionary struggle against the counter revolution. Whatever the consequences were, the October Revolution was an illuminating sign in the memory of mankind when the collective will of the people touched the sky and turned into collective power which was capable of overthrowing tyranny and the repressive regime.”
Binu Mathew, chief editor of the most influential left-wing electronic magazine in India, Countergurrents.org and my friend for many years, wrote to me from Kochi, in Kerala State:
“The great October revolution made a huge impression among Indian revolutionaries and intellectuals in India. The Communist Party was formed on 26 December 1925 under the towering leadership of M. N. Roy. They organised against the British colonialists all over India. Major armed resistances took place in Telengana and Kerala. The communist party in Kerala formed a government in Kerala in 1957, the first time ever in the world a communist government was formed through the ballots. Communists now rule Kerala and Tripura. Their influence was lost in a major way in West Bengal due to its anti people policies. The communist party is not an influential player in India now. However they have major influence in trade unions.”
In many great nations of the world the principles and ideals of the October Revolution are alive and well. In China, Russia, Vietnam, Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and elsewhere, they form the core of the national identity as well as the mainstay of future development.
But even in many countries that appear to be, at least on the surface, extremely far from being socialist, these ideals, or at least some of them, have managed to domesticate – they penetrated brains, hearts and souls of the people, and stayed inside them, forever.
This is because they are correct!
Almost all human beings, no matter where they were born, what is their race or culture, are longing for solidarity, safety, social justice, dignity and hope.
The Great October Socialist Revolution promised exactly those things and more. Later, the country and the system that was shaped on its ideals, managed to deliver a lot, although far from everything. It is because any true Revolution is a journey, it never is, or should be, an end.
First steps, first struggles, are always marked by courage, heroism, and sacrifice. That is where those who are weak, or not determined enough, often break; they betray and quickly return to their false, deceitful comfort zones.
Those who prevail and continue their struggle are then often burdened with even greater tasks: with the slow and tedious building of their country, with gradual step by step changes, with constant duties. They have to fight against all negative inertia of so many, against the reactionary forces and all sorts of disloyalties, against cowardice, and against fear.
There is always a great dose of cynicism slowing down the process, there is corruption especially at the lower levels, and there is constant interference, even interventions from abroad.
There are always plenty of “objective reasons” why one should abandon the process, to give everything up and to go back to bed, or back to familiar structures, be they the family, religion, culture or class.
True Revolution is like an icebreaker. The revolutionaries are its crew. The blizzard hits their faces, one false turn is made and everything is lost! An enormous vessel has to be steady; it has to be led decisively forward, with one single-minded goal: to bring the convoy of ships safely to calm and warm waters, to balminess and comfort, to a much better and kinder world. Thousands of lives of those in the vessels behind are in the hands of the captain of the icebreaker and those at the control bridge, as well as the crew. It is so easy, when everything around is frozen and hostile and cold, to just give up, to lie down, to fall asleep, to freeze to death. It is so easy to jump to the cabin of the helicopter at the back of the ship, and escape, to fly away to safety. But there are those human lives behind, thousands of them, and therefore one fights and wins, for them, mainly for them, or he betrays, and goes down into history as a coward.
Or he fights like a hero and still loses. In that case, others would soon rise and finish what he began. That’s how life is; that’s how true revolutions are: the journey through the ice and blizzard, the journey that only the best of us would ever dare to embark on.
The Great October Socialist Revolution began by a proud salvo from Aurora. It broke the barrier, and a secret road suddenly opened. The journey began. Several countries rose, following the revolutionary ideals. Since then, some have fallen. Others rose again.
The journey continues. It is the most beautiful, the most meaningful journey that I ever took, and I took many. It is the toughest, the most demanding, and the most taxing journey. It is definitely not for the fainthearted, it is not for the weak, not for those who never grasped the true meaning of the word “Freedom”.
Many have fallen. Many will fall. The enemy is fatal; it is mighty. But mighty are also the love, humanism and courage of our comrades. Mighty is the desire to build the most beautiful and kindest world imaginable!
Beirut – Kabul – Beirut
Andre Vltchek is a revolutionary, internationalist, and globetrotter who fights against Western Imperialism.