One question communists can expect to receive is Why should we celebrate the Russian Revolution? It’s a difficult one to answer with soundbites, especially when the questioner isn’t really interested in your answer. There is a wonderful example of this here when the BBC interviewed Rob Griffiths, our General Secretary, during his recent trip to celebrate October 1917 in St Petersburg with CPs across the world. First the loaded question; then the broken link before Rob can answer fully; and then the smear implying that either Rob himself or possibly Putin pulled the connection. Deliberate sabotage or incompetence by the BBC would seem more probable explanations.
In fact any assessment of the Russian Revolution or, more meaningfully, the failed attempt by the USSR to build socialism, is highly complex and the subject of continuing serious study and debate. It has, for example, been a recurring item on the agenda of our own Communist University in South London (CUiSL). Here, however, are ten more or less random reasons why it should be celebrated:
- The contribution of the USSR to the defeat of Hitler – without it the Nazis would have won the Second World War and you and I would now be enslaved – or dead. Does anyone think Tsarist Russia could have defeated the Wehrmacht?
- The mere existence of the USSR strengthened the confidence of workers in the West and required capitalists from 1945 to offer concessions to workers to dampen demand for a revolution here. This explains why, as the economic performance of the USSR imploded in the 1980s, capitalists in the West no longer saw any need to offer concessions to their workers, resulting in increasing inequality and exploitation thereafter.
- With its planned economy, the USSR saved its own population from the ravages of the Great Depression of the 1930s. In the West, only the advent of WW2 achieved this.
- The USSR should be recognised for organising through the Comintern opposition to the rise of Hitler and then for seeking collective security agreements which could have to isolated the Nazis. Only when these were rebuffed and it became clear from the Munich Agreement that the USSR stood alone and that the capitalist nations would be happy to see Hitler attack the USSR did the USSR seek its ill-fated, non-aggression pact with Hitler.
- The USSR was the only country to provide support for the Spanish government against the Franco putsch and, though the Comintern, organise the International Brigade. The capitalist nations turned their back on Spain and provided implicit support for Franco with the non-intervention pact.
- The cultural and artistic achievements of the USSR – dance, music, painting etc
- The scientific achievements of the USSR – achievements which matched those of the much wealthier West.
- The tangible support the USSR gave to the socialist revolutions in other countries, especially China and Cuba, both of which continue and provide hope for us all.
- The tangible support the USSR gave to communist parties in the West and in the developing world.
- The USSR’s contribution to the dismantling of colonialism and the ending of apartheid in South Africa. While the Cuban contribution was more tangible, that would not have been possible without the USSR’s support for Cuba.
Can anyone propose two more to make it a dozen? But for a more balanced assessment of the USSR, its successes and failures, and to learn the lessons for the future, we need not only study the former USSR. We can learn from China and Cuba where the building of socialism continues; and we need proper discussion and debate, not soundbites, sneering BBC commentators and mysteriously pulled plugs.