The October Revolution (1917) remains one of the momentous events in all of human history. Unlike many other revolutions before and after it, the October revolution imagined a world where a new way of collective existence, based on equality, would come alive. Exploitation of ‘man by man’ would be a thing of the past, so it proclaimed! Its subsequent and broadly outlined program was neither location nor people specific. As a result, it had a profound impact on the ideology of the ‘wretched of the earth’, all over the world. When it comes to envisioned transcendence, the October revolution has no equal and puts, even the Great French revolution to shame!
The Bolshevik/October revolution, inspired by the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, tried to put the radical teachings into practice. It was a revolution that baldly set out to change the history of the world, at least in its future episodes! Its commitment to the betterment of the world at large, established the October Revolution as one of the major yardsticks by which all other attempted transformations were (and to some extent still are) measured. Even though the Russian revolution came to its fruition only in October 1917, it had to undergo (like many others) several setbacks. In this regard, the failure of the 1905 insurrection comes to mind. Prior to the success of the October revolution, activists/revolutionaries were being hunted down all over the empire. For example, Lenin of the Bolsheviks (majority) and Leon Trotsky (initially of the Mensheviks -minorities) within the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) were jailed frequently. At times these leaders (and others) had to flee Imperial Russia to avoid persecution and probable death. Nevertheless, their sojourns in many of the European metropolis, as well as NYC, gave them firsthand experience about the day-to-day life/operations of the dominant global system. At this juncture it is instructive to recall the vibrant political landscape (underground) during the last decades of Tsarist Russia. These years managed to produce world class articulators, diligent practitioners and effective administrators, way beyond what could be reasonably expected from a largely peasant society. Incidentally and to some extent, Ethiopia also had a similar kind of a situation just before the 1974 Great Revolution!
Just few months before the Bolsheviks took power from the provisional government, there were a lot of disagreements amongst many of the activists, particularly on the issue of how to move forward. If it weren’t for the baldness and foresight of Lenin and Trotsky, the October revolution might not have come to fruition! Be that as it may, the interest here is not to chronologically examine the events that led to the historic October revolution or what followed thereafter. Our interest today is to reflect on the idea behind this significant revolution. “To each according to his needs and from each according to his ability” is certainly a principle that is still difficult to swallow, particularly in a world where greed is the main operating principle. To be sure, greed is borne of the ‘survival element’ and might not be possible to eliminate it altogether. But it can be tempered and this is where the teachings of Marx and Engels come in. It was presumed the above principle could easily accommodate the ‘survival elements’ without completely letting loose the ‘greed element’. A century and half later, this transformative idea still remains one of the searing objectives of all civilized societies. To this day, only the Scandinavians have come close to achieving this lofty ideal of the dominant species! See the article next column and on page 30 and 44.
It is after some of the achievements of the October revolution the West got the impetus, if not the challenge, to establish the welfare system within its reigning capitalism. Several of the entitlements that currently exist in the west were directly copied from the socialist systems of those days. However, not long after the October revolution, socialism as a theory and socialism as a lived experience started to diverge significantly! To be honest, the socialist ideal was never realized, anywhere on earth! Reasons abound. One goes like this; the West was aggressively engaged in the complete destruction of the ‘socialisms’ of those days, including the ascending Maoism in China. Therefore, to fend off this coordinated offensive, the socialist block had to sacrifice a lot, including democratic freedom. In addition,(it is told) the western proletariat, on whom the USSR leadership counted on, (particularly the senior leadership; Lenin, Trotsky, etc.) failed to deliver. In this regard, the behavior of the more sophisticated German proletariat was considered a real ‘let down’! These and other factors paved the way for extremist leaders like Stalin, to dominate the global socialist leadership. Thereafter, oppression and authoritarianism became the typical face of the ‘socialisms’ of the 20th century. The leader of the Fourth International, Leon Trotsky also fell victim of Stalin’s brutality. Subsequently, the world is left without an ideal signaling desirable goals. We now live in a world where wars, ignorance, greed, servitude and corruption are celebrated; while peace, harmony, solidarity, freedom and egalité are denigrated!
In the words of the wise:”My idea of our civilization is that it is a shoddy, poor thing and full of cruelties, vanities, arrogances, meanness’s and hypocrisies.” Mark Twain. Good Day!