On the 98th Anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution and Transformation of 20th Century History by Norman Markowitz

Yesterday, November 7th, was the 98th Anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, establishing what was then called Soviet Russia, the first revolutionary socialist state in history .

That state and its successor, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, went out of existence in 1991.  The dominant capitalist propaganda prefers to say that it “imploded” which after forty four years of cold war and an estimated   ten trillion dollars in U.S. cold war related military spending alone is a great example of the old Yiddish term of chutzpah, or overweening arrogance.  I prefer the term counter-revolution, which was what the Soviets feared in 1917  but we will get back to that.

               Today, capitalist propaganda outside  of those brave who navigate through the Internet to search for truth remains supreme in official commercial and corporate media, even though the underlying capitalist system itself is becoming very shaky. 

There are even some  Communists in many countries today who use terms like “Stalinism” and “totalitarianism” to disassociate themselves from the Soviet past  believing that this will enable them to move closer to the masses of people in their countries, as “twenty-first century” Communists

 So far, it hasn’t worked too well.  In reality, it has led them to move closer to  the very capitalists who hailed the downfall of the U.S.S.R., as some combination of a failed experiment and the “death of Communism” and continue to  move ahead with their grand design to turn the 21st century into a high tech version of the 19th century. 

               Perhaps it is time a day after the 98th anniversary to take stock of the Soviet Revolution in terms of its  experience and achievement.  I will try to do that in a short sketch.

               First, the Soviet Union was not an experiment, failed or otherwise.  Experiments take place in laboratories, under controlled conditions, not  in real life.  Nor was the Soviet Revolution, “storming heaven,” a doomed effort, as Marx wrote about the Paris Commune and  anti-Communists have written about every socialist revolution.  The Soviet Revolution took place in a huge empire constituted 1/6 of the earth’s surface, which as its enemies discovered could not be encircled and destroyed as the Paris Commune, or the Hungarian Soviet of 1919.


 The Bolshevik Revolution was not a “coup” as both old anti-Soviet defenders of capitalism and “new Russian” capitalists smugly assert.  It was a political revolution which continued a revolutionary process that began in March(on the calendar in use in the advanced countries) and moved forward, as the Czarist autocracy was overthrown, Soviets developed, and a provisional government sought desperately to  both keep Russia in the war and thwart the anti-capitalist, anti –landlord upsurge of the masses. the masses of people in motion determined that process, and the Bolsheviks, against great odds, by representing their desires and interests to end the war, end the suffering, poverty and inequality of Czarist society, led them to victory in establish both a government of the Soviets and a government committed to constructing socialism.

 In the aftermath of November 7, the Soviet government actually proved what Socialists through the world had been proclaiming since 1914—that the war was an imperialist war among rival capitalist states.  It proved that by publishing the Czar’s secret treaties with its allies. To save the revolution, it signed an onerous peace with Imperial Germany. 

Then the revolution was attacked by all, from the defeated Central Powers to the victorious allies.  With working class movements and socialist parties as its only friends it then fought a devastating Civil War and became the center of a new revolutionary socialist world movement,  movement which revived the term from 1848, Communist, after 1919. It the process, it took Marxist Socialism, which  as theory had identified itself with the industrial and industrializing countries Western Europe and North America, and in practice, had built parties and trade union movements primarily in those regions, and made in  fully a world movement. 

The Soviets became the first state in modern history to make anti-imperialism the foundation of its foreign policy.  As such,  through the 3rd or Communist International(Comintern), centered   it helped to develop  commissions  to aid in the construction of both revolutionary socialist (Communist) parties, anti-imperialist, national liberation movements,  trade union federations, peasant organizations, organizations to defend the rights of national minorities and the foreign born, and organizations of youth and students.  The Comintern was never really the pawn of the Soviet Union, except in anti-Communist propaganda, but the Soviets played an essential role in its establishment and development

 The Soviet Revolution directly influenced the anti-imperialist movement in China, the formation of a Communist Party of China, and the eventual triumph of the Chinese people over Japanese Imperialism and the Chinese Socialist Revolution, with the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China on October 1.

 It influenced positively  the rise of the Indian national independence movement and the establishment of a non-Communist, non-aligned India after WWII, under the leadership of Nehru, whose commitment to a mixed economy form of socialism was influenced directly by the planning achievements of the Soviet five year plans. 

               Of course, the Soviet revolution did produce its antithesis, fascism, an open terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary sectors of the capitalist class.  But if Lenin was correct, and I think he was, the development of finance capital which had produced global imperialism was militarizing societies and liquidating liberal democratic institutions through the world. 

Had the Soviet revolution not taken place, imperialism would not only have assumed its fascist form, in all probability, but would have created the hellish world that Jack London foresaw in the Iron Heel at the turn of the century and the great science fiction writer, Philip K. Dick,  saw in his fictional history, The Man in the High Castle, which looked at what the U.S. and the world would have been if Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan won WWII, divided  up the U.S., restored slavery in Africa, and carried out racist mass murder through much of the world. In the process of playing the leading role in the defeat of the fascist Axis, its anthithesis, the Soviet Union also played the leading  role in ending  the  colonial empires which  had committed monstrous crimes over generations through Africa and Asia.

               Before  the Second World War,  the Soviet Union not only became center of anti-imperialism through the world but it also served as the center for global anti-fascism in the 1930s. The Soviets aided anti-fascist people’s front movements through the world; advocated in the League of Nations a policy of anti-fascist collective security against aggressor nations; was the only major nation to provide arms and aid to the Spanish Republic when it was attacked by Hitler and Mussolini supported fascist forces. 

               The Soviets did sign a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany after their hopes to stop Hitler over Czechoslovakia were dashed by Neville Chamberlain who gave Hitler everything he wanted in Central Europe to avoid a new World War that he feared would unleash new socialist revolutions and also point Hitler toward attacking the Soviets.

               Through most of their history, the Soviets were playing for time against powerful states and alliance systems which sought to destroy them.  They were also building the first socialist state in history under the worst possible conditions, economic backwardness in terms of machinery and skilled workers to begin with, the devastations of war and revolution, and constant serious threats from abroad.

  Their size was both their strength and their weakness.  It made it difficult for enemies to destroy them but at the same time it made overall socialist development through a planned economy extremely difficult under any circumstance, given the ethno cultural diversity, the geographical barriers, and of course the lack of access to capital for development.  Under those circumstances, what the Soviets did achieve under such conditions, although their myriad of enemies would never admit it, far surpassed their failures and defeats in real life.

               One cannot rewrite history, however one would wish to.  Certainly one would have wanted, as Lenin did, a collective leadership to emerge in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, not the factional struggle which lead to the triumph of Joseph Stalin and the establishment of a personality cult around Stalin, but it did not happen.

  One would want the Stalin leadership, faced with opposition in the countryside to the collectivization under the first five year plan, to have pulled back, acted to isolate the Kulak opposition, instead of using massive force in the form of the Red Army, which led to disastrous conflicts, many peasants caught in the middle, disruptions of agricultural production which produced famine, the spread of disease, which always accompanies famine, and huge loss of life. 

And one would want the Stalin leadership not to have initiated the mass purges in the CPSU after 1934 which took the form of mass hysteria and assumed a life of their own, undermining Soviet society and at the same time offering all of the Soviets enemies from Nazi Germany to the Hearst Press in the U.S. ammunition to attack the Soviet Union.

 But one would have wanted  Winston Churchill  to  have acknowledged the famine in Bengal and accepted U.S. and Canadian aid during WWII, instead of refusing to do so and permitting three million Bengalis to starve to death in the hope that this would defeat Gandhi and the Indian National Congress.

 One would also wanted  Churchill’s and the British General Staff’s  to not create as a contingency  plan “operation unthinkable,” in May, 1945, a plan to launch WWII in a surprise attack against the Soviet forces on July 1, 1945, with 47 divisions of British and American troops, and former German Wehrmacht troops,.  One would have wished that thispart of the hidden history of the early cold war, had never been contemplated by anyone.

 Fortunately this madness straight out of Dr. Strangelove was never anything more than a crackpot contingency plan of a collapsing British Empire, but it has done little to damage Churchill’s reputation, unlike Joseph Stalin, who remains capitalism ecumenical devil of Communism, joined in recent years by the late Mao Tse-tung.

  Nor has it prevented both academic and journalistic advocates of the “totalitarian theory” to compare Stalin and Hitler even though Churchill, who fought Hitler to save the British Empire, was ready and willing to continue Hitler’s war against the Soviets, even if it meant that they would win in Europe and threaten Britain, to save the British Empire

               And one would wish that Franklin Roosevelt had lived out his fourth term, maintained Big Three Cooperation, worked to build the United Nations and used use economic power to internationalize the New Deal, which would have made the U.S. the leading nation in the industrialized world in regard to its labor and social welfare policies, by the 1960s, not a nation where the very concept of a welfare state did not exist.  Of course that didn’t happen

At the very least, one would have hoped    that Harry Truman would not have first used

the atomic bomb against the Japanese  by refusing their request to end the war with the proviso that the emperor be kept;  that he then not only keep the emperor but give him and the royal family amnesty from all war crimes trials; and that he finally  would not  use the Japanese armies in China as a police  force to try to prevent the Chinese Communist party from triumphing while his government armed Chiang Kai-shek’s forces to the tune of three billion and aided Chiang in looting China as he and his supporters retreated to Taiwan after their defeat.

`              And there are many other examples one might come up with, from Ronald Reagan’s winning an Oscar for Bed Time for Bonzo and continuing his acting career for the rest of his life to Lyndon Johnson  restoring the Geneva Convention and reuniting Vietnam short of war in 1964.  One can’t make any of that happen.  But one can and must understand the double standard that is applied as a matter of course when dealing with socialist countries and revolutionary movements and steadfastly refuse to accept that double standard.

               Let me conclude by saying that humanity owes the Soviet people a debt that it can never repay.  Even many who denounce “Stalinism” today would not be alive or have even been born had not the Soviet people and the Stalin leadership of the CPSU not beat back the largest invasion in history and literally made the largest contribution to  the defeat of the fascist Axis in WWII. 

And of course, those who continue to use the  simplistic idealist  concept of mass politics, the totalitarian equation, especially those on any section of the left, should stop and think where the world would have been if that concept had prevailed in 1941 to prevent the U.S. Soviet alliance against the Axis powers from taking shape.

               As for the dismemberment of the Soviet Union constituting the “death of Communism,” that death was proclaimed many times in the past—first after the defeat of the revolutions of 1848, then after the suppression and massacre of the Paris Commune in 1871, then of course with Hitler’s proclamation of a “New Order” and the Invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, and finally with Gorbachev’s outlawing the CPSU and turning power over to Boris Yeltsin in 1991.  Somewhat the people keep on fighting back, socialism, lives on as the only viable alternative to and solution for a capitalist system that produces more poverty and more inequality with its every “victory.” 

Two years from now, it will be the 100th anniversary of the Soviet revolution.  Hopefully we will celebrate it in any America in which the people, the broad left, and the CPUSA are all advancing toward “Bill of Rights Socialism,” socialism, as the Chinese like to say about their socialism. “with

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  • I think this article should be retitled "Tribute to the failures of socialism, and how I learned nothing from them."

    Posted by John Case, 11/19/2015 12:29pm (5 years ago)

  • Thank you E.E. W. Clay for these insightful perceptive comments

    Posted by Norman Markowitz, 11/17/2015 7:18pm (5 years ago)

  • Thanks to Norman for highlighting the "world shaking" (borrowing from the CPUSA's seminal John Reed's Ten Days), positive, and even necessary Soviet revolution's contributions to humankind's survival as such. Today, these are overlooked or glossed over, oftentimes also, by those who call themselves communists.
    There are doubtless many who find themselves tightlipped at this outstanding article, but who will not publicly comment on it.
    Those should be encouraged to comment.
    Marx's and Lenin's winding helical stair of progress for humankind-along with the CPUSA's own W. E. B. Du Bois's famous analytic geometry mathematic asymptotic reference for humankind's progress (Du Bois, probably along with Marx and Lenin familiar with the Greek "asumptotos"-"not falling together" Apollonius of Perga's work in geometry and conic sections, which in turn he probably borrowed and learned much from ancient Egypt-Apollonius influencing Newton (by the way, an Egyptologist), Descartes, Maurolico, Ptolemy, Kepler and thousands and thousands of others).
    Doubtlessly, many, many thinkers and workers will think of Soviet Russia as an anomaly of history and not the integral part of historical progress that Marx, Lenin and Du Bois knew it was-as something that did "not fall together" with world history.
    It was the activists like Marx, Lenin and Du Bois- the communists, who saw it as it was. It was they who saw order in that which did "not fall together" and as part of an historical process of progress.
    Norman Markowitz here makes great contribution to this fuller, truer view of why, how, when and who made it "not fall together" to help complete world progress of all- people of the United States, the Soviet Union, the many national liberation struggles Africa, Asia, and of other parts of Europe, and the sea's isles.
    After all, is not it the job of science to understand also the order in anomalies? Is not it the job of communists to help unify humanity, to help join them in common struggle-both practically and theoretically?

    Posted by E. E. W. Clay, 11/12/2015 12:13pm (5 years ago)

  • The last sentence should end "with American characteristics". Sorry to our readers

    Posted by Norman Markowitz, 11/09/2015 7:40am (5 years ago)

  • The last sentence should end "with American characteristics". Sorry to our readers

    Posted by Norman Markowitz, 11/09/2015 7:40am (5 years ago)

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