The Guardian • Issue #2093

History is a class question

A section of "Ten Days That Shook the World" cover

When US journalist John Reed called his account of the October Revolution in Russia Ten Days That Shook the World, he was not exaggerating.

The overthrow of Tsarism and the capitalist regime that sought to replace it, was a shock to the entire capitalist system. In fact, it scared the pants off capitalists everywhere.

They tried unsuccessfully to smear the revolution (Lenin was “a German agent” and so forth), they tried intrigue (plotting a series of abortive coups and assassinations against Soviet leaders).

They tried invasion and repression. WW1 was raging, troops and weapons were in plentiful supply, and no less than 14 capitalist countries invaded the new Soviet republic.

To the fury of capitalists everywhere, the courage and initiative of the revolutionaries, backed by the solidarity of workers worldwide, thwarted these efforts to crush the Reds.

Instead, they spread their revolutionary ideas to other countries of Europe and then around the world. The capitalists sought to “strangle the Bolshevik baby in its cradle” as Winston Churchill put it, by an international embargo on trade and other contacts with the Soviet regime.

Churchill christened this economic and diplomatic blockade a “cordon sanitaire,” protecting the world from plague. But it was the rule of profits that he was actually protecting.

However, capitalism being the dog-eat-dog system that it is, the USSR was able to find governments and businesses willing to break the blockade if it would put money in their purse. The Soviet state began to build up its industries.

Capitalism, as a system, still saw the socialist Soviet Union as its mortal foe and the spread of communist ideas as anathema. This became particularly urgent when the capitalist system went into free fall with the Wall St crash of 1929 and the Great Depression.

Throughout the 1920s, capitalism had been encouraging every kind of reactionary, from police spies like Hitler to militarist landlords like the fascist Pilsudski in Poland, in the hope that they might become the force that would save capitalism from the Red threat.

Never ones to be concerned about little things like democratic rights, the extreme right eagerly accepted capitalism’s financial and other aid in its bid for power, the thugs and mercenaries in their ranks more than willing to embrace the policies of terrorism that went with it.

By the early ’30s, Nazi Germany’s intelligence service was assisting the activities of fascist groups or movements in Europe and as far away as China, India, Central and South America, Africa, and the USA.

Many of these groups had been in existence since the Revolution, having been established by anti-communist, anti-Soviet Tsarist émigrés. Others were newly created, to combat the threat of revolution in the wake of the Great Depression.

In Britain, Mosely’s British Union of Fascists (and a lot of the upper class) sang Hitler’s praises, France had the Cagoulards and the Croix de Feu. In Belgium there were the Rexists, in Poland the POW, in Czechoslovakia the Henleinists and the Hlinka Guards.

Romania had the Iron Guard, Bulgaria the IMRO, Finland the Lappo, Lithuania the Iron Wolf, Latvia the Baltic Brotherhood, which distinguished itself during and after WW2 by fighting for the Nazis against the Red Army and also against any Latvian peasant who supported the establishment of collective farms.

Estonia’s Nazi-financed fascist organisation was typically misnamed the Liberty Fighters.

These and other fascist groups and fronts carried out assassinations, organised putsches and attempted coups, under the ultimate direction of Alfred Rosenberg, the one-time Tsarist émigré who headed the Nazi Party’s Foreign Political Office.

These fascists would become infamous by forming the core of the Nazi Fifth Column in their countries. They were responsible for inflicting torture and death on large numbers of their own people.

Ten Days That Shook the World available at

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