One of the greatest contributions of the USSR to humanity was that it stopped the march of Nazi Germany and reversed its victories; but this came at a cost of over 20 million lives. Also, it demystified governance, and taught the poor, especially workers and farmers that they too can govern. It also taught humanity that another system, another humanity, is possible…
The Bolshevik Revolution, Russian or October Revolution, one of the bloodiest, but certainly, the most profound revolution in human history, will clock a century next Tuesday November 7, 2017. Russia ran the Julian calendar, which was two weeks behind the Gregorian calendar, hence it is called the October Revolution. The shock of a revolution by the ordinary people was so weighty that countries, which some months earlier were engaged in the quite bloody First World War, decided to jointly invade Russia and wipe out the revolution. Fifteen countries invaded Russia, fighting on the side of the overthrown elites, the counter revolutionaries who ran the White Army. Japan sent 28,000 soldiers; Greece, 24,000; the United States, 13,000; and Poland, 12,000 troops. Other countries that sent in troops to destroy the infant revolution included the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France, Italy, Serbia, Romania, China, the Ottoman Empire and Czechoslovakia. That three-year ‘Civil War’ raged from November 1917 to October 1922, and the new Russian Republic, crept out like larva, victorious, but not until eight to 15 million people had been killed. Perhaps the desperation to squelch the revolution might have been borne out of the shock that a workers’ or proletarian revolution, which was thought to be in the figment of the imagination of men like Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, had suddenly become a reality.
The revolution, in which the entire Czarist Monarchy was executed, produced some of the most famous political names in human history. There was the ordinary looking leader of the revolt, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, who updated the theories of Marx and gave birth to the political ideology known as Marxism-Leninism. There was Leon Trotsky, who gave rise to Trotskyism, and Josef Stalin, who begat Stalinism. They were so formidable internationalists that almost all socialist revolutions since 1917, till date, are defined as either Leninist, Trotskyite or Stalinist. Even Maoism, which arose from the praxis of Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, who led the Chinese Revolution 32 years later, closely aligned with the Bolshevik Revolution.
Interestingly, the names of these great Russian revolutionaries were aliases; the Czarist security was so brutal that many radicals did not use their real names, not just to escape detection, but also to shield their families from cruel attacks by the police, as the sins of fathers were visited on their sons, and those of brothers on their sisters.
The real name of Lenin was Ulyanov, and the ‘Lenin’ was coined from the Lena River which flowed close to his detention centre in Siberia. Stalin’s real name was Josef Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili. Stalin, from the word ‘Stal’, means steel. He was considered as being strong willed. Leon Trotsky was a pseudonym; his real name was Lev Davidovich Bronstein. Another figure who was not as famous, but is studied in the secret services was Felix Dzerzhinsky, a Polish revolutionary whose mouth was disfigured under torture. He was of the aristocratic class, and after the revolution, had decided to return to Poland to organise a similar revolt. But things changed completely when he was given the task of providing security at the Smolensk Institute, which the new government had chosen as its operational base. He went on to establish the secret service known as Cheka, and in more recent times as the KGB, one of the most efficient secret services, which ensured that the young revolution survived.
The Bolshevik Revolution begat many others around the world, including the Chinese, Vietnamese and Cuban, and, led to the rise of a bipolar world and the Cold War. It transformed Russia into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which fell apart in September 1991, giving birth to fifteen countries.
The revolution, which had a coalition of mainly workers, soldiers and farmers, had a simple three-point Agenda: for the soldiers, it was a promise to pull Russia out of the First World War in which many had perished. For the workers, it was a promise to provide bread (food) as many were starving, and for the farmers, to redistribute land to them as Russia was slowly emerging from feudalism (abolished in 1861), in which the landlords owned the lands and the landless peasants slaved on them like serfs. It also promised to provide electricity across the country.
The revolution employed a lot of tactics and strategies that were not initially discernible. For instance, when the First World War broke, Lenin saw it as an ‘imperialist war’, which could be turned into the overthrow of capitalism. He argued that “from the standpoint of the working class and of the labouring masses, the lesser evil would be the defeat of the Tsarist Monarchy.” He said that the war can be transformed into civil wars in the various countries, with working class soldiers turning on their own governments. He reasoned that if the Russian Army under the Czar were defeated, the monarchy will be too weak to resist change, and that if the revolutionaries took advantage of that, they could carry out a revolution, and then use the Russian Revolution to carry out similar workers revolutions to take over across Europe. It seemed farfetched, but that was what happened some years later.
With the war going badly for Russia, and the Czar weakened, the Bolsheviks, realising they lacked the numbers, joined mass protests, which in February 1917, forced the Czar to step down. The new Provincial Government was led by a young lawyer, Alexander Kerensky. Before it could find its feet, the new Supreme Commander of the Russian Armed Forces, General Lavr Kornilov, decided six months later to overthrow the government. He ordered the military to seize the tottering government. Kerensky appealed to armed militia, including the Bolshevik workers militia, which came to its aid. Two months later, Lenin who was in exile, returned in a sealed train. At a meeting of the Central Committee, he argued that if the workers were determined enough to resist the coup attempt, then they can overthrow the government. By 10 votes to two, the body agreed and the workers went to the meeting of the Provisional Government, arrested them and within ten days, the Bolsheviks had occupied most of the then capital, Petrograd. The revolution was on!
The Bolshevik Revolution begat many others around the world, including the Chinese, Vietnamese and Cuban, and, led to the rise of a bipolar world and the Cold War. It transformed Russia into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which fell apart in September 1991, giving birth to fifteen countries. The old Soviet Bloc of nine countries gave birth to a total of 30 countries, with Yugoslavia becoming seven countries and Czechoslovakia, two.
One of the greatest contributions of the USSR to humanity was that it stopped the march of Nazi Germany and reversed its victories; but this came at a cost of over 20 million lives. Also, it demystified governance, and taught the poor, especially workers and farmers that they too can govern. It also taught humanity that another system, another humanity, is possible, if not desirable in the strange world we live today.
Owei Lakemfa, former Secretary General of African Workers is a Human Rights activist, journalist and author.