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On October Revolution

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Whenever we discuss the October Revolution, we do it with the sobering realisation that the political–economic system that the revolution brought about ultimately collapsed after 72 years of existence.

There is a certain sadness over the demise of the Soviet Union within the left vis-à-vis the October Revolution. But we should not fall into this trap of disappointment. I do not think Lenin himself would have expected Russia’s socialist state to last for more than seven decades.

There is a story about Lenin dancing in front of the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg on the 73rd day after the revolution. Why on the 73rd day? Because on that day, the revolutionary state of Russia had surpassed the life of the Paris Commune by one day! The Paris Commune was able to hold on only for 72 days. It survived from 28 March to 28 May of 1871 but the upper classes of France drowned the revolutionary regime in blood. Around 20,000 communards were butchered in the streets of Paris. “[The] bourgeoisie will stop at nothing. Today liberals, radicals, republicans, tomorrow betrayal, shootings,” wrote Lenin, “this is (the) lesson of Paris Commune.”

In the book The Civil War in France, Marx wrote: “Workingmen’s Paris, with its Commune, will be forever celebrated as the glorious harbinger of a new society. Its martyrs are enshrined in the great heart of the working class …” For the revolutionaries of October 1917, their benchmark was the Paris Commune. Russian socialism surpassing the Commune in its longevity even by a single day was a cause for celebration for them. When you see history like this, realistically, the fact that socialism in the Soviet Union could be toppled only after seven decades of imperialist machinations is remarkable.

Marx, Lenin and other revolutionaries had a deep interest in analysing the external situation and also the internal weaknesses of the Paris Commune that led to its demise in 72 days. Similarly, in our time, we are all interested in analysing the ways and means of imperialist machinations directed against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and also the internal stagnation that handicapped that society to defend socialism, a decay which has now led to the establishment of full-fledged capitalism in the former Soviet Union.

But disappointment is plain foolishness. One should keep in mind that social systems of exploitation, in which dominant classes concentrate wealth and power in their hands by appropriating the labour of commoners, has a history spanning many millennia. If you look at the latest form of exploitative system, capitalism itself, then the Paris Commune of 72 days and the Soviet Union of 72 years were glorious breaks from it. It is for us to define and work towards better systems of social appropriation of social production, more durable and beautiful future versions of socialism.

When we reflect on the achievements of the October Revolution, there are so many achievements which any well-meaning individual will cherish. Most of all, the Soviet Union put an end to unemployment.

Preethy Sekhar

Mumbai

Updated On : 10th Nov, 2017

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