The legacy of the Russian revolution
In November communist parties around the world will celebrate the centenary of the revolution that swept the Bolsheviks to power in Russia and led to the formation of the Soviet Union. That electrifying historic event took place while the major nations in Europe and elsewhere were struggling for imperial supremacy in what was at that time the most brutal war in human history.
The revolution drew on the theoretical work of Marx, Engels and Lenin. It galvanised workers and their organisations into renewed struggles around the world for socialism, and for workers’ rights, peace, the environment, and many other issues.
Communist parties were formed in Australia and other nations in the aftermath of the revolution. Almost one hundred years later its impact is still being felt.
However, the revolution also led to initiatives by western nations to overthrow the Soviet government, beginning with a military intervention which began in 1918. This and other attempts over the next 20 years were defeated.
During the 1930s the Soviet government tried to forge an anti-fascist alliance with Britain and other western powers, but its overtures were rejected. Leaders of the western powers were banking on the ruthless fascist armies marching eastwards and overthrowing the communists in Moscow.
Some in the west wanted to foster a state of war between the USSR and Nazi Germany, with the US and other nations arming whichever was the losing side until each combatant nation was wrecked. The US and its allies would then walk in and seize control of both.
However, the Soviet government countered by signing a non-aggression pact with Germany. Succumbing to the temptation of easier conquests, Germany then attacked Poland and France, which forced Britain into war with the fascist nations. Germany broke the pact in 1941, launching a massive onslaught against the Soviet Union.
Although initially successful, the invasion was eventually reversed. Despite terrible losses and suffering the Soviet people fought with amazing courage, determination and ingenuity. Among the allied forces, the Soviet Union made the biggest single contribution to the defeat of fascism in World War II.
But the Soviet people paid a terrible price. In the subsequent Cold War the US-led arms race drained the USSR’s already depleted resources and stunted production of consumer goods. Weakened by ideological misconceptions, the government was subverted and finally taken over from within by reactionary forces in 1989.
An ensuing military revolt was crushed. To ensure that Russian parliamentarians would not impede the reinstatement of capitalism Premier Boris Yeltsin ordered the army to surround the parliament and open fire with artillery. The interior of the devastated building was left covered with the blood of its occupants.
Conservative governments then argued that the revolutionary era which began in 1917 was over. Some said it was “the end of history”! That, of course, was pure nonsense. Communist governments are still in power in other countries, including China, which has the world’s biggest population and will soon have the largest economy, and Cuba, just off the coast of the USA.
Moreover, the Russian people now bitterly regret the resurgence of greedy capitalism, and the current national leadership has taken a line independent of US diktat.
The US has fostered hostility between Russia and other nations, especially the Ukraine, which a former Soviet leader once described as “the meeting point of the workers’ revolution begun in Russia and imperialist counter-revolution coming from the west”.
The revolution was of enormous historical significance. It was the first time in which capitalism, a political-economic system based on the exploitation of workers who produce goods and services, was replaced with another system based on workers themselves governing a country and collectively owning its means of production.
The revolution proved that exploitation is not inevitable, that capitalism is not permanent and that it can be replaced with a system that has wonderful potential for the betterment of humankind.
And that was the great legacy of the Russian revolution to the working people of the world.