OCTOBER SOCIALIST RUSSIAN REVOLUTION - REFLECTIONS ON WHY, HOW AND WHAT
Prof. (Dr.) N. Nirmala
The October Revolution of 1917 was one of the greatest events of 20th century which transformed the age old fascist regime of Russian empire into a new socialist regime under the leadership of V.I. Lenin (a strong supporter of Marxian socialism) and his Bolsheviks. Contrary to the Marxian belief that the communist revolution would take place in a highly industrialized country like Germany, or possibly Britain, it took place in agriculturally backward Russia where the industry was also in a very infant stage. The rapid strides made by this socialist state in the economic and military fronts have confirmed the superiority of the socialist system for seven decades.
October revolution was not a single event or even a process but was a series of uprisings\revolutions preceding this Great Russian revolution. For centuries leading up to World War I, Russia was ruled by an absolute monarchy under which the lower classes comprising of millions of peasants and workers had long been suffered in poverty. This situation was exacerbated by the nationwide famine and loss of human lives as a result of a successive wars starting with Crimean war (1855-56) Russo-Turkish War (1877-78), Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) and continued up to World War I.
The first Russian Revolution in 1905 occurred when Russian army defying the Czar’s orders defected and protested along with the factory workers when they lost their jobs. The military quickly lost control of the situation, and the Czar was forced to abdicate. Leading up to the events of October revolution was another revolution in late February 1917, which brought to power a group of leaders from bourgeois political parties that formed a provisional government headed initially by George Lvov, a liberal reformer, and then by Alexander Kerensky, a socialist. In early March of that year Tsar Nicholas II, who had ruled imperial Russia since 1894, abdicated. Five months later, Russia was pronounced a republic.
Although the provisional government did introduce some constitutional reforms on the political front, the leaders of this new established government, including Alexander Kerensky, were still opposed to social revolution and saw the continuation of the war effort as a national duty. The indulgence of this provincial Government in the war efforts led to the outbreak of unrest among the different sections of the people due to continuous food shortages and loss of human resources.
Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky who returned to Russia after being exiled for anti-Czar plots along with other revolutionaries established the Bolshevik party, a communist party that was staunchly opposed to the War, which continued to cause havoc on the unstable nation. The Bolshevik’s anti-war platform was popular among the Russian people, and Lenin used this momentum to overthrow the provisional government, take control of the country and pull Russia out of the war. Lenin also promised “Bread, Land and Peace” to the large populations affected by the famine, further increasing the party’s popularity.
The capitalist system had been overthrown and a workers' state established. It was based on soviets - committees of workers and soldiers created spontaneously during the revolution to organize activity that were later to become the organs through which the new socialist society would be built. Lenin established several state-centered government programs and policies that would continue, in some form, throughout the reign of the Soviet Union. His plan for ‘national economic recovery’ was the first of this type and was designed to stimulate the economy by bringing electricity to the whole of Russia. Lenin also established a national free health care system and a free public education system.
Workers' control of the factories was established, poor peasants were given land, banks and large factories were nationalized. A planned economy was established. Despite Russian society's backwardness, by the mid-1920s the planned economy could succeed in restoring the damage caused by the First World War and the civil war launched by the imperialist powers to crush the revolution. In the process of consolidation of economic base wrecked by the civil war, Lenin had to adopt New Economic policy (NEP) which allowed private businesses and a market economy, despite its direct contradiction with Marxist ideology
After Lenin, Stalin officially ruled the country from 1924 to1953. In his early years as a leader, Stalin revamped the Soviet Union’s economic policy, replacing Lenin’s New Economy Policy with a highly centralized command economy controlled by the state, which rapidly industrialized the country. However, the quick transition from agriculture to industry disrupted food supply and caused a massive famine lasting from 1932 to 1933. In spite of this disruption, the tremendous advances made in Soviet industry in the 1930s coincided with the great slump and Depression in the capitalist world, accompanied by mass unemployment and chronic poverty.
Despite the terrible blow to agriculture by Stalin's forced collectivization in the early 1930s, from which agriculture never fully recovered, progress was made, allowing Russia to feed her population adequately. Such economic advance, in so short a time, has no parallel anywhere in the world. The amount of cultivated land was increased in just three years, between 1953 and 1956, by a staggering 35.9 million hectares, an area equivalent to the total cultivated land of Canada.
The most spectacular proof of the superiority of a planned economy, where it was run well, was the Soviet space programme. Since 1957 Russia had led the "space race". While the Americans landed on the moon, the Russians were building a space station that would take them to the far reaches of the solar system.
In the 50 years from 1913 (the height of prewar production) to 1963, despite two world wars, foreign intervention and civil war, and other calamities, total industrial output rose more than 52 times. The corresponding figure for the USA was less than six times, while Britain struggled to double her output. In other words, within a few decades, on the basis of a nationalized economy, the Soviet Union was transformed from a backward agricultural economy into the second most powerful nation on earth, with a mighty industrial base, a high cultural level and more scientists than the USA and Japan combined.
Before the Second World War the Soviet Union was still far behind not only the USA, but also Britain and Europe. Astonishingly, by the mid-1980s the USSR had overtaken Britain and most other capitalist economies, with the exception of the USA. At least in absolute terms, the USSR occupied the first position in many key fields of production, for example, in the production of steel, iron, coal, oil, gas, cement, tractors, cotton, and many steel tools.
Although the Soviet Union was victorious in World War II, its economy had been devastated in the struggle and the war resulted in around 27 million Soviet deaths.
Following World War II and the advent of the nuclear age, a confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States took center stage. The two countries emerged as superpowers with much of the rest of the world falling behind one or the other. A protracted nuclear arms race between the United States and Soviet Union lasted until the USSR finally collapsed in 1991.
Lenin's prediction of revolutionary turmoil throughout Europe after imperialist world war and the Russian revolution proved to be correct. For several decades, the Soviet Union actively sponsored and assisted communist movements and revolutions around the world in an effort to broaden the socialist order gradually paving the way for establishing a communist world. Unfortunately, all the attempts of Soviet Union, and other revolutionary movements within the Socialist States to consolidate socialist order and to overthrow the fascist, imperialist and capitalist forces were unsuccessful mainly due to the counter offensives of the world hegemony and partially due to the workers' mistakes and inexperience and the betrayals by the leaders of the European socialist parties and trades unions.
The moot question before the human kind is whether the failure of the socialist states is an inevitable failure of the very ideology of socialism and communism of Marxist theory as propagated by the fascist and imperialists forces? If it is so, what explains the incessant anti-globalization, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist movements taking place throughout the world in the 21st century?
Prof. (Dr.) N. Nirmala , Retired Professor of Law, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam.