1917-2017 Centenary of the Russian Revolution
Articles, recommended reading and other resources documenting and analysing events and consequent developments leading up to the socialist Revolution in Russia.
Paper Presented to Second International Congress, “Marx in May”
Grupo Estudos Marxistas Faculty of Arts and Letters University of Lisbon, Portugal
May 10, 2014
by Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenny
In 2004, Thomas Kenny and I wrote Socialism Betrayed: Behind the Collapse of the Soviet Union. Since 2004, the book has been published and reviewed in Bulgaria, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Portugal, France, Cuba and Spain. One or both of the authors have been present for discussions of the book in Greece, Portugal, France and Cuba, and a number of critics have reviewed the book in leftwing journals. In this presentation, Kenny and I will respond to two criticisms and one question prompted by the book. In the book, we put forth an explanation for the collapse of the Soviet Union. We used the words “collapse” and “betrayal” in the title in spite of the possible misleading connotations of both words.
Still, there was no doubt as to what we were trying to explain, namely the radical transformation that displaced the political power of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, abolished most state ownership, centralized planning, and the system of social services, and fragmented the multi-national state. We argued that the Soviet Union did not collapse because socialism failed. Rather, the system of socialism based on collective or state ownership of property and state planning proved a remarkable success, particularly from the point of view of working people. The system proved itself capable of providing sustained economic growth over six decades, notable technical and scientific innovations, unprecedented economic and social benefits to all its citizens, all the while defending itself from external invasion, sabotage, and threats, and offering economic aid, technical assistance, and military protection to other nations struggling for independence and socialism.
The Soviet Union nonetheless had problems—some related to political and ideological ossification, some related to the quantity and quality of its economic output, and some related to the ongoing struggle with imperialism. These problems, however, did not cause the system’s collapse. What brought down Soviet socialism were the policies pursued by Mikhail Gorbachev. These policies emanated from a belief that the problems of socialism could be solved by making unilateral concessions to imperialism and by incorporating into socialism certain ideas and policies of capitalism. Gorbachev’s ideas had roots in Soviet political discourse, but they had never triumphed so completely as they did under Gorbachev...
Read the full paper here https://21centurymanifesto.wordpress.com/2014/05/17/the-collapse-of-the-soviet-union-reconsidered/
Here is a link to the Marx Memorial Library's webpages on the Russian Revolution where there is a video to watch and links to further information.
IN THIS centenary year of the Russian Revolution books will be published, op-eds written and programmes broadcast about the dramatic events of 1917 and their impact on the 20th century.
In the mainstream media few are likely to look at whether the “10 days that shook the world,” when Lenin led the first successful socialist revolution, have helped shape the planet we live on today, or whether they retain the power to shake the world again in years to come.
The revolution will be presented as history — and socialist and communist ideas as done and dusted, dead and buried. How many of us have heard that socialism “doesn’t work,” that it was tried in Russia and it failed?
Of course, the revolution is part of history and it did shape the 20th century. The great Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm even defined his “short 20th century” as 1914-1991, a period almost coterminous with the existence of the Soviet state.
The great events of the century all took place in the context of the global struggle between socialism and capitalism.
The rise of fascism was a ruling-class response to the threat of social revolution and the defeat of the nazis would not have been possible without the heroic sacrifices made by communists — many of them soldiers in the Red Army, which “tore the guts out of the nazi war machine,” to quote Winston Churchill — but also partisans and resistance fighters in every corner of occupied Europe.
The latter part of the century is held up in the text books as dominated by the “cold war,” supposedly between the democratic West and the wicked and sinister communists.
A wider view, encompassing the titanic Third World battles against colonialism, paints a more complex picture.
The contributions of communists were again key, both as fighters in the front line of liberation struggles in China, Vietnam, Cuba, South Africa and many other countries. And the Soviet-led socialist camp was also a supporter of anti-colonial movements the world over, providing everything from diplomatic backing at the UN to cash and arms when needed.
To many Africans, Asians and Latin Americans, the Soviet Union was a friend and ally against domination and exploitation by the so-called “free world.”
Much of this history is hidden. Children in our schools are not taught about the millions of victims of British imperialism during the Bengal famine, the “Malayan emergency” or the suppression of the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya.
To do so would undermine the myth of a benevolent, enlightened West playing the role of history’s good guys, standing up to the nefarious Reds.
Communists, liberals charge to this day, were guilty of terrible atrocities in Russia, China and elsewhere and there is no point in seeking to defend the indefensible when revolutionary governments had innocent blood on their hands.
But that is not the whole story of revolutions inspired by that of 1917, which also won tremendous achievements in lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty, spreading education and literacy to populations that were previously illiterate and massively extending life expectancy through modern sanitation and free healthcare.
That’s not even mentioning the extraordinary cultural and scientific advances made in the Soviet Union, which sent the first human being into space.
The impact of the revolution was felt way beyond the socialist countries, who helped found the United Nations and define human rights by pushing for recognition of a universal right to shelter and food, for example, against opposition from the capitalist West.
Britain’s National Health Service, offering healthcare to all free at the point of use, owes much to the inspiration of free healthcare in the Soviet Union, as does the welfare safety net put in place by the Labour government of 1945-51.
Since the triumph of neoliberal ideologies in Britain and the United States in the 1980s, we have seen a mammoth effort to undermine and dismantle our social security system, one which continues in the privatisation of our NHS and the cruel and unusual punishment meted out to disabled people in this country today.
The social-democratic compromise of the postwar period was always vulnerable; the interests of working people and the super-rich few who own the banks and the big businesses are simply not compatible. The collapse of socialism in eastern Europe removed the constant leftward pressure that kept social democracy in western Europe alive.
We have since seen a ruthless drive to marketise every service and exploit every natural, human and social resource beyond remotely sustainable levels — capitalism, as Karl Marx once put it, weeping from every pore with blood and dirt.
If we don’t like the poverty and war that are synonymous with modern capitalism, we might think again whether the dismissers who say the Russian Revolution “failed” are right.
Certainly socialism came to an end in the Soviet countries in 1991 and there was a capitalist restoration. Yet, though the kings returned to Britain and France after their revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries, the liberating ideas those upheavals unleashed were not defeated but have borne fruit around the world ever since.
The overwhelming rejection of a tired, corrupt and out-of-touch Establishment we are seeing now in this country, across Europe and in the United States, suggests that capitalism is not delivering and that it can again be challenged.
Revolutions don’t proceed according to instruction manuals and the events of that October night in Russia a hundred years ago are not going to be replicated in London or Washington. But the experiences of the world’s first socialist country are of huge and continuing relevance.
The Morning Star is proud to be part of the Russian Revolution Centenary Committee and, over the coming year, we hope to do our bit in discovering what that revolution meant, and still means, for the prospects of a world free of hatred, oppression and exploitation — one in which humans are never objects to be used but people whose amazing potential has the time and space to flourish.
Ben Chacko is editor of the Morning Star.
Page 1 of 2