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.

1st October – Declaration of the People’s Republic of China

Mao Tse-tung October 1949

Mao Tse-tung October 1949

In the autumn of 1949, in front of thousands of people in Tienanmen Square, Mao Tse-Tung, Chairman of the Communist Party of China stood on the podium over the Gate of Heavenly Peace (which gives its name to the square) and made a short speech which was to see the country follow a road for which millions had fought and died during the majority of the first half of the 20th century. The date was 1st October, the speech, the Declaration of the People’s Republic of China.

After a bloody war against the Japanese invaders and then an equally bloody civil conflict against the United States supported Nationalist forces of the Kuomintang, under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek, the Chinese people had, as Mao declared a number of times during that period, ‘stood up’.

No longer would the Chinese people be treated as slaves for the invading powers; no longer would imperialist powers (both minor and major) treat China as a country they could do with as they liked; no longer would the people kowtow to the Emperors who ensconced themselves in the palace at his back; no longer would the workers and peasants live in abject poverty whilst the wealth of their country was being enjoyed elsewhere; no longer would peasants be abused by avaricious and cruel landlords; no longer would the fate of poor Chinese women be that of concubines or prostitutes; no longer would it be necessary for Chinese families to migrate and face racism and humiliation in far off countries in efforts to achieve a better standard of living.

Although there were still pockets of Nationalist opposition at the time of the declaration the new government set about challenging and changing what had become the lot of the majority of the Chinese people.

As had happened immediately after the Russian Revolution, another country with a peasant majority, one of the first tasks was to take the land from the landlords and distribute it amongst the peasants who worked the land.

Laws were passed to free women from the shackles of feudalism and patriarchy, where they were often treated as no more than chattel; education that had been denied to all but a privileged few was to be made universal; health care was to be made free for all and care of the elderly was to be an obligation of the State. This was the start of the era of the ‘iron rice bowl’, when State employees (which encompassed most workers in the cities as industry as well as ‘white collar’ jobs were all part of the nationalised structure) were guaranteed a job for life and access to the other welfare benefits.

But the construction of socialism is not easy. Within a year of the declaration of the People’s Republic thousands of Chinese volunteers went off, yet again, to war, this time to prevent the United Nations troops from intervening in North Korea.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s different movements sought to learn from some of the mistakes made in the Soviet Union culminating in the Great Socialist Cultural Revolution that started in 1966. Although these mass political movements sought to prevent the restoration of capitalism in China a very short time after the death of Chairman Mao in September 1976 those who had been denounced during the Cultural Revolution had engineered a successful coup against the revolutionaries and started to dismantle all those advances in the construction of socialism that so many had fought for after Mao’s declaration on October 1st 1949.

(Why they were able to do so, and in such a short space of time is an issue that Marxist-Leninists-Maoists need – at some time in the future – to analyse and try to understand.)

The 38 years since the death of the Chairman have not been good for China. In agriculture the communes and collective farms have been broken up and privatised – although not without resistance as news leaks out of countless battles between farmers and the security forces.

Because there is no work in the countryside the whole demographic of the country is changing. Young people leave the villages to find work in the Special Economic Zones where they work in the factories to produce all the consumer goods that working people in the west buy with money they don’t have. Any family life is more or less destroyed as children remain in the villages with their grandparents and only see their parents twice a year – at Chinese New Year and during the National Holiday which is celebrated at this moment, the beginning of October. (There used to be a third occasion, the May Day holiday, but that was reduced to a couple of days in 2007, too short a time for people to make the long journeys necessary to travel to their home towns.)

Industries have been privatised and State enterprises broken up and organised in a way no different from what exists under capitalism. The once proud People’s Liberation Army, set up under the principal of ‘serving the people’ has transformed itself into an oppressor of the people and generals and other high officials have gorged themselves at the trough of the people’s wealth.

Millionaires and billionaires abound and now the biggest market for luxury goods in the world is now the ‘People’s’ Republic of China, but a republic that is in the hands of the people in name only and led by renegades who besmirch the achievements of the once glorious Communist Party of China.

The Chinese people, in the main, have accepted these changes. They now have ‘things’, consumer goods which were in short supply in the early years of the Republic. But these ‘things’ have been ‘gained’ at a price. The ‘iron rice bowl’ has been smashed to smithereens; education is being privatised, as is health; the once independent country that ‘stood up’ in 1949 is now allowing itself to be controlled and influenced by the very same countries that spent the first part of the 20th century trying to destroy and humiliate the Chinese people in general; and – in some ways even more disgraceful – China is turning into an imperialist power and exploiting and using its military strength to oppress people in other countries, especially a number of countries in Africa.

Why the Chinese people have allowed this happen I don’t know. But then I don’t understand why this situation has been allowed to develop in a number of other countries where, at one time, the people had ‘stood up’, proud, independent and with a perspective on the future that wasn’t based on exploitation and oppression.

So if 65 years ago there was a sense of optimism at the time of Chairman Mao’s declaration what are the main subjects presented in the current edition of Beijing Review, the long-established foreign language publication of the People’s Republic?

A boasting of the level of Outbound Direct Investment; a celebration of the floatation of the e-commerce company Alibaba on the New York Stock Exchange in September, the largest amount of trading in one company in one day ever; a call for more private (read foreign) capital investment in China’s oil, natural gas, banking and railway enterprises; boasts about the unsustainable rates of growth in China outstripping those of the United States by factors of 5 or 6; and boasts of how the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of China will soon overtake that of the US and become the biggest in the world.

But this all comes at a price. And that price is always paid by the poorest in society. They can either accept it or pick up the baton that was carried by the Maoist Communist Party of China for many years but which has been dropped and trampled in the dust.

The people of China are yet again on their knees. How long will it be before a future leader stands over the Gate of Heavenly Peace and pronounce such inspiring words as the Chairman did on Saturday 1st October 1949?