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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 48 New Delhi, November 21, 2015

Remembering the Great October Revolution: Assessing its Impact and Lessons

Saturday 21 November 2015

by Aurobindo Ghose

The Russian Revolution took place on October 25, 1917 as per the old calendar and on November 7 as per the new calendar. The birth of the Soviet Union, an island of socialism in a sea of capitalism, “shook the world”, as American writer John Reed’s noted in his famous book on the subject, Ten Days that Shook the World.

The establishment of the first workers’ state was regarded as a man-made ‘miracle’ to end exploitation and free the workers from their chains. The ‘subjective’ factor of leadership and organi-sation given by the workers’ party and leaders like Lenin, proved to be the clinching factor in the Revolution being successful. The workers and their unions played a major role before the Revolution but their participation and role in decision-making and governance diminished afterwards in the face of the concept of ‘democratic centralism’. There were no separate, independent trade unions. The role of the Soviet trade unions was to act as “transmission belts” between the party and the state. Religion was relegated to a marginal, if not non-existent, role in society in view of the Marxian view that “religion is the opium of the masses”. As the state was a dictatorship of the proletariat under the leadership of the Communist Party, there was no place for capitalist democracy based on elections and adult franchise.

However, the gains to society far outweighed the negative features. The abolition of private property and the achievement of equality between people and classes, generated a new social enthusiasm. The spread of education to all, the conferment of dignity and respect to women, rapid industrialisation and the achievement of higher standards of living for the working people, the advancements in science and technology and development of military might—all created a shining example of a different and exemplary society.

These positive achievements of the Soviet Union were tested in the Second World War when the Soviet Army, in very difficult and adverse circum-stances, was able to defeat Hitler’s all-conquering German Army. However, after a protracted ‘Cold War’ between the two super-powers, namely, the USA and Soviet Union, the Soviet Union crumbled in the late eighties and broke up into separate nations.

It may be said that the lack of workers’ right of association and independent trade unions, the right to faith not being a fundamental right and the absence of adult franchise and popular elections, may have reduced the availability of ‘safety valves’ and internal corrective measures under socialism.

Now Russia is no longer regarded as a socialist country, but the worldwide influence of socialism remains, as most of the capitalist countries have been converted into ‘social welfare’ states having laws enacted for compulsory primary education, abolition of bonded and child labour, social insurance, minimum wages and protection against indiscriminatory retrenchment and guaranteed unemployment compensation. The recognition given to trade unions and the concept of ‘corporate social responsibilty’ are both regarded as the natural outcomes of the Great October Revolution.

The other positive impact of the October Revolution is that it inspired other such revolutions, in China and Cuba, on the one hand, and, on the other, its pervasive influence on economic policy, politics, literature and culture the world over.

In India, the direct influence is seen in the adoption of the concept of ‘political federalism’, ‘socialistic pattern of society’, land reforms, economic planning and the strategy of heavy industrialisation put into effect from the Second Five-Year Plan. The October Revolution admittedly influenced the ideas and personalities of Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhagat Singh, M.N. Roy, Jayaprakash Narayan and Har Dayal. Its influence on the writings of Iqbal, Saadat Hasan Manto, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Sukanto Bhattacharya, Faiz, Munshi Premchand, Ram Prasad Bismil and Ali Sardar Jafri, among many others, is clearly visible. Recall poet Sukarto Bhattacharya’s prophetic clarion call: “Vidroho aaj, Vidroho charidike—There is Revolt today, Revolt everywhere—on all sides”.

All said and done, the October Revolution can never be forgotten, if for nothing else, for setting values-driven, qualitatively higher standards of human existence and aspiring for a better world for all.

The author is an economist, lawyer, political and human rights activist.