7th November – The October Revolution

Attack on the Winter Palace

Attack on the Winter Palace

Today is probably the most important day in the history of the international working class. Ninety seven years ago workers, sailors and soldiers under the organisation of the Russian Social Democrat Workers Party (Bolshevik) stormed the Winter Palace, the symbolic centre of Tsarism and latterly the headquarters of the ineffectual Provisional Government. That action took place on, and became known as, the 7th November – The October Revolution.

Some people are confused that the October Revolution in Russia took place in November. The simple answer is that the backwardness of the Russian society under the Tsars, an autocratic and theocratic state, was demonstrated not only by its almost feudal relations with the peasantry but also by the fact that the country was still using the Julian calendar which had been dropped by most other countries hundreds of years before. This meant that the day that saw the cruiser The Aurora fire the shot to signal the beginning of the attack on the palace was reckoned as the 25th October in Russia but the 7th November elsewhere. As soon as was practically possible the new Bolshevik government brought the country into the 20th century, at the end of January 1918, by adopting the more accurate Gregorian calendar.

Although this revolution was to change the course of history, as no other had done in the past, it was relatively bloodless on that chaotic morning. There used to be a ‘joke’ in revolutionary circles that there were more people injured in the making of Sergei Eisenstein’s 1928 film ‘October’ (recreating the events of just over a decade earlier) than the real event.

If reaction and oppression couldn’t stop the revolution at the time it did all it could in the next 4 to 5 years to strangle the nascent workers’ and peasants’ state. Those imperialist powers that had been slaughtering each other (or more exactly had convinced their own workers to kill fellow workers of different countries) for almost four years – the start of which is now being cynically and hypocritically commemorated at this moment – banded together against a common enemy, the working class.

But under the leadership of the party that was to become the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolshevik) and its great leaders, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, the workers and peasants prevailed and started along the difficult and uncharted road towards Socialism.

The reason that the Party, having to surmount unimaginable obstacles and at a great human cost, was due to the Bolsheviks keeping their promise to the Russian people, downtrodden in both the countryside and the cities and tired of the slaughter that was the First World War. The very day after the revolution (26th October) a decree giving land to the peasants was passed and the following day (27th October) the Bolsheviks declared that they were not prepared to continue with the crime of worker killing worker.

Revolutions are not the same as dinner parties, as Chairman Mao said, and however well they are organised they rarely go to plan, there being too many variables and this happened to the intention to cease military action on the eastern front. Foolishly Lenin gave the task of the negotiations with the German High Command at the city of Brest-Litovsk to the recent ‘convert’ to Bolshevism Leon Trotsky.

Playing a role that his followers have played in the intervening years Trotsky went against the instructions of the Central Committee of the Party and dragged out the negotiations, thereby acting as the tool for those nations fighting against the German alliance (who wanted Russians to die and keep a large percentage of German troops away from the western front), causing the needless death of thousands of Russian workers and peasants and finally making an agreement that was more disadvantageous to the new Soviet State than it would have been if he had followed orders. (The erroneous ‘theories’ of Trotskyism, demonstrated by this approach, having failed to lead a successful revolution anywhere in the world in the last, almost, hundred years.)

Attempts at revolution in Hungary and German came to nought and the other capitalist nations went through crises and economic depression without the workers following the lead of the Soviets, thereby weakening themselves and the first socialist state.

Being the first is always difficult. Mistakes, as well as many successes, were made but capitalism never tires in its aim to maintain the system of oppression and exploitation. Whilst it had failed in the intervention with the 14 nations in the Civil War it hoped that the Fascists in Europe would finish the job. Unfortunately for imperialism the dogs of war decided to go for the easy touch first and France, Belgium and the Netherlands capitulated at the first opportunity and the British had to scuttle back across the English Channel, a disorderly retreat which is now depicted as a victory.

But the megalomania of the Nazis knew no bounds and it was inevitable that they would seek to destroy socialism in the Soviet Union. However, at a huge sacrifice in terms of human life and the material advances that had been made since the end of the Civil War (with industrialisation and collectivisation) the ‘Thousand Year Reich’ was utterly destroyed. The men and women of the Soviet Union had saved the world from Fascism.

Although defeated on the battlefield Fascism did have the effect of weakening the Soviet Union, the best and most committed communists being prepared to make the supreme sacrifice in order to save their revolutionary gains. This meant that when the revolution was attacked this time from the inside, following the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953, those revisionist elements within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union were able to move the country off the road of socialism.

The Soviet Union as an entity ceased to exist in 1991 but it ceased to be a socialist country long before that, the date being accepted by most Marxist-Leninist is that of the time of the 20th Congress of the CPSU in February 1956, when Khrushchev made his attack upon Stalin – but really on the whole concept of revolutionary socialism.

But in the same way that the October Revolution was made by the people so the defeat of that same revolution less that 40 years later was also the responsibility of the Soviet people. If they are treated as nothing more than pawns by their rulers then they have accepted that situation. If the working class is the class to move society to a higher level they can’t then cry that they are victims of forces beyond their control.

The slogan ‘ye are many, they are few’ is as valid today as it was when Shelley wrote the line almost 200 years ago.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Russian people have seen virtually all the advances made in those 40 years of socialism destroyed completely in the last 20 or so years, with gangsters and thieves using the natural wealth and the labour of the workers to buy football teams, huge yachts, a myriad of palaces and countless whores no one can take away from their grandfathers and grandmothers the achievements they made in the first half of the 20th century.

The men and women who make revolutions are rare and if a country can produce such a generation once in a millennium they are doing well. Despite the arrogance that oozes out of the capitalist propaganda machine that socialism is dead what those men and women started on 7th November 1917, the October Revolution, will forever be a beacon to the oppressed and exploited of the world.

National Art Gallery ‘Sculpture Park’ – Tirana

Uncle Joe - Art Gallery 'Sculpture Park'

Uncle Joe – Art Gallery ‘Sculpture Park’

Each time I’ve been to Tirana I’ve made it a point to visit the impromptu ‘sculpture park’ that has been created behind the National Art Gallery, just down from the main Skanderbreu Square in the centre of Tirana.

The Art Gallery itself has only a very few actual sculptures on display inside the building, the emphasis being on paintings, especially those from the period from 1945 to 1990, where the dominant style was that of Socialist Realism.

But the area behind the gallery was constructed not for the display of works of art but as a service access to the building. And as the gallery is a public building this area shows the lack of care and investment in maintenance that is the general fate of public spaces in the whole of Albania, not just the capital of Tirana.

The statues that are now there would have previously held pride of place in some public square in different parts of Tirana but there is no indication of their provenance. Some have been damaged, either by accident or design, the statue of the great Marxist and first Soviet leader, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (possibly the one created by K Hoshi, in 1954, in bronze that once stood proud in Tirana), missing his right arm from the elbow.

Many of the statues of individuals from the socialist era take on the pose of some famous meeting and the stance that Lenin takes in this statue can be seen on a number of photos from his relatively short time as leader of the first socialist state (his life no doubt being cut short as a consequence of an assassin’s attempt in 1918 which failed in its aim but which meant that a fragment of the bullet could not be removed from Lenin’s brain).

VI Lenin in Tirana - 1970

VI Lenin in Tirana – 1970

When it comes to the great Marxist leaders they are always (at least here in Albania) depicted with their right arm making some sort of gesture or greeting whilst slightly behind their bodies, in their left hand, they hold a roll of paper as if they are about to make an important proclamation.

Although this damage is unfortunate at least it allows an insight to the form of construction of these statues. They are not made of solid bronze, as many would think, but of a hollow bronze that’s only about a couple of centimetres thick. This relatively cheap construction technique explains why so many statues were erected in virtually every town in the country (it also explains why it was so easy to topple these statues in the counter-revolution).

Although few in number this small group provides quite a deep insight into the thinking of the Party of Labour of Albania during the 45 years it was the dominant political force within the country and attempting to construct a socialist society.

Uncle Joe - in happier times in Tirana

Uncle Joe – in happier times in Tirana

Socialist Albania gave women a role in society and assigned them an importance that has never been surpassed, either in the Soviet Union which proceeded the victory of Socialism in Albania or any other country that has attempted to construct socialism since. This is not the role of women in the higher echelons of society, the breaking of the so-called ‘glass ceiling’, the breaking of which only benefits a minuscule percentage of women in any society yet which gets most coverage in the capitalist media.

In Albania it was the women from the working class and peasantry whose lives were changed beyond recognition. In a patriarchal society where women were oppressed by virtual feudal social and economic conditions, as well as by the stultifying traditions of the church (of various trends) by the taking up of the gun during the war for national liberation against the Italian and German Fascist invaders they stated unequivocally that they would no longer ‘live in the old way’.

In many of the extent monuments to the struggles of the past a woman takes a central position and virtually always with a weapon in hand. Albanian women weren’t prepared to have ‘freedom’ given to them, they would fight for it themselves, freedom that would have real meaning. The clearest example of this idea can be seen in the huge mosaic on the façade of the National Historical Museum in Skanderbreu Square in the centre of Tirana.

The young woman depicted in the dirty shambles of the rear of the Art Gallery (in bronze) is of Liri Gero and exudes confidence in her own ability, looks the viewer straight in the eye (not looking down as ‘traditional’ society would have her do), has a gun strapped to her back and clutches a small bunch of flowers in her left hand. Communists fight for bread but for roses too!

Female Liberation Fighter clutching flowers

Female Liberation Fighter clutching flowers

The smallest of the collection depicts a male fighter (also in bronze) from one of the ethnic groups from the mountains of Albania demonstrating that the fight for freedom is not restricted to the ‘sophisticated’ city dwellers or a self-selected intellectual elite but should involve everyone from all sectors and strata of society.

Liberation Fighter

Liberation Fighter

Another of the statues is a physical representation of one of the fundamentals of Albanian Socialist society, the Pickaxe and Rifle (H Dule, 1966, Bronze). Here we have a male holding a rifle, the butt resting on the ground, in his left hand whilst in his right he holds high a pickaxe. These two items are the equivalent of the Soviet Hammer and Sickle. Whereas in the Soviet Union the symbol represented the unity of the industrial worker and the peasant the Albanian Pickaxe and Rifle declares that the successful construction of a Socialist society depends upon physical labour protected by the determination of the population to defend any gains by force of arms.

Pick Axe and Rifle

Pick Axe and Rifle

The fact that far too many Albanians forgot this necessity during the counter-revolution of the early 1990s (and then seemed to lose all common sense in the chaotic years that followed, basically throwing out the baby with the bath water) doesn’t detract from the validity of this revolutionary concept.

JV Stalin - Skenderberg Square, Tirana

JV Stalin – Skenderberg Square, Tirana

Finally we have the statues of JV Stalin and VI Lenin, the great Marxist Russian leaders so admired by the Albanian leader Enver Hoxha. I’ve already mentioned the damaged statue of Lenin. This statue, along with one of Uncle Joe, was covered by a tarpaulin just prior to the 100th anniversary of Albanian ‘independence’ in November 2012 – true independence for Albania (if only for 46 years) was achieved on November 29th, 1944. They have now been released from their dark penance but they have been joined by another new comrade who is, presently, covered with a white tarpaulin. I have been told that this is a damaged bust of Enver Hoxha.

The hidden stranger

The hidden stranger

I was pleasantly surprised on my visit in October 2014 to find that there had been a new arrival to the small, select group. This was another, but somewhat larger, statue of Stalin. The ‘new’ arrival is in a less formal stance, without cap and is depicted as if greeting the viewer with his right arm stretched out. This is made out of bronze and, as yet, I’ve not been able to discover from where it has come. It’s exactly the same as a statue that was placed in the oil and industrial town of Qender Stalin (now renamed Korcova, not that far from Berat) but the there statue was made from concrete, and unlikely to have survived the chaos of the 1990s.

The original design was by Odhise Pashkali (whose other works number the statue of Skanderbreu on the horse in the square to which he gives his name in the centre of Tirana, as well as another of the national (long time in the past) hero in the National Museum, this time not providing a burden to a poor animal but standing on his own two feet).

Perhaps one down side of a new Joe arriving is that the female fighter has been moved to make way for the Man of Steel and is now facing the other statues, with her back to the Art Gallery. Is this yet another example of the return of a patriarchal society or is it, the reverse, that the female fighter is going to give a lesson to the men?

If I will ever be able to find out more details of these statues, i.e., who was the sculptor, where they originally stood, how they survived the counter-revolution and why they ended up in the shadows of the National Art Gallery remains to be seen.

One slight difficulty that has arisen since my last visit a couple of years ago is the presence of a ‘security’ guard who has to be circumvented in order to get a close view of the statues. Why he is so conscientious in this I don’t understand. If the authorities don’t want anyone to see them why place them out in the open? However, he can only be in one place at a time and when he is watching the world go by at the southern end of the gallery grounds, just creep towards the north.