Why Should We Celebrate the Russian Revolution?

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. The cultural and artistic achievements of the USSR – dance, music, painting etc
  7. The scientific achievements of the USSR – achievements which matched those of the much wealthier West.
  8. 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.
  9. The tangible support the USSR gave to communist parties in the West and in the developing world.
  10. 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.

 

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“The October Revolution” author Joseph Stalin printed 1934 Moscow

John Eden. 11th February
It is a long time since I have posted on the blog, recently I have been helping out at the Marx Memorial library in Clerkenwell Green London, home to an extensive collection of books on the labour movement including many Marxist publications. I knew there had been a book by Joseph Stalin called “The October Revolution” published in 1934, this I knew from reading Issac Deutscher’s books either the one he did on Stalin in 1947 or the later three volumes on the life of Leon Trotsky.
It was important to get this first edition of Stalin’s book, which I found, because it contained Stalin’s tribute to Leon Trotsky’s leading role in the tactical organisation of the October revolution in the Russian empire in 1917.
Here is the quote,
“From the beginning to end the insurrection was inspired by the Central Committee of the party, with Comrade Lenin at it’s head. Lenin at the time lived on the Vyborg side in a secret apartment. On October 24 in the evening, he was called out to the Smolny to assume the general charge of the movement. All practical work in connection in the organisation of the uprising was done under the immediate direction of Comrade Trotsky, the president of the Petrograd Soviet. It can be stated with certainty that the party is indebted primarily and principally to Comrade Trotsky for the rapid going over of the garrison to the side of the Soviet and the efficient manner in which the work of the Military-Revolutionary Committee was organised. The principal assistants of Comrade Trotksy were Comrades Antonov and Podvoisky.” Speech made by Stalin on the first anniversary of the revolution reported in Prava no241 Nov 6th 1918. I shall blog more on about Comrade Antonov full name Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko and his subsequent fate at hands of Stalin and the regime in the latter 1930’s.
12th feb,
I just found this on the Russia Today website, it’s historical research on the history of the Red Army, and an event that I have never before come across, that the foundation date of the Red Army 23rd February 1918 marks it’s first victory of the over the occupying German Army. I have never read any accounts of this, and as the artical quotes, it is doubted by most historians.

RT.com / RT projects / Russiapedia / Of Russian origin / Red Army

Of Russian origin: Red Army

Historical background

The Red Army (Krasnaya Armiya) was a common name for the Russian National Military Forces from 1918 to 1946, which was also known by the abbreviation RKKA (Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army). The name refers to the color red. In the workers’ movement red symbolized the blood shed in the struggle against oppression.

The Red Army was founded immediately after the 1917 Russian Revolution when the Bolshevik Party came to power. But the official day of its creation is considered February 23, 1918. This was when the Soviet Republic announced the first victory of the Red Army over the Germans on the very last days of Russia’ s World War I campaign.

Two weeks later the Bolsheviks signed a peaceful agreement with Germany, as it was difficult to fund the army, which was short of everything including guns, ammunition and human resources. Some historians argue that the victory never happened. However, February 23 is still today celebrated in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus as Defender of the Motherland

Within two months Civil War broke out between the Bolsheviks and the remnants of the Old Russian Army. These two opposing forces were also called The Red Guard and The White Guard. The latter was heavily supported by the English and the Americans as well as by regiments from other countries that sought to intervene against the Bolsheviks in 1918.

As a result, the Republic of the Soviets found itself within a ring of opposing forces – with Cossacks on the South, Kolchak and Czech battalions in Siberia and British and American Corps in the North of Russia. It was quite a challenge for the newly born Red Army.

After several defeats in 1918 the Red Army managed to turn the situation around. One of the masterminds of this comeback was Leon Trotsky, a close ally of Lenin, who was later forced to leave the country by Joseph Stalin and then assassinated in Mexico. He managed to garner resources for a counterattack.

In 1919 the Red Army repulsed General Kolchak’s Army in Siberia and then launched a huge assault against General Denikin in the center of Russia. One of the most threatening forces at that time was the First Cavalry led by Semyon Budenny, who later became the Defense Minister of the USSR.

By 1920 the Red Army had succeeded in crushing all resistance in the European part of Russia and then moved on to fight in the Far East where battles lasted until 1922. In 1920-1921 the Red Army went to war with Poland but after a successful offensive the exhausted Soviets troops had to retreat.

The events of the Russian Civil War are a point of heated discussion among historians. Many novels and films have appeared about White Guard Personalities like General Kolchak and officers on the southern front in 1920. But no one denies that the Red Army managed to take over thanks to the following factors:

– intense propaganda to persuade workers and peasants to fight on their side. One of the most popular songs at that time stated:“from he Taiga in Siberia to the British Seas the Red Army is the strongest of all”;

– well-structured military training that promoted the craft of war among the masses;

– persistent work to make White Guard officers change sides and turn to the Red Army as there was a huge deficit of well-trained officers to lead troops.
Written by Oleg Dmitriev, Russia Today