The October Revolution: Not the Past But the Future

Taner Timur and Nuray Sancar

Theory and Practice, monthly socialist theory and politics magazine, held a panel discussion titled “100th Year of the October Revolution/The past, the presents, the future" in which the speakers were [historian and writer] Professor Dr Taner Timur and Nuray Sancar from Evrensel newspaper.

An Exception or an Accumulation?

Can the 1917 October revolution be seen as a deviation, an exception in the course of history? Truly extraordinary conditions, often put forward in the historical writings of bourgeois historians, can be identified regarding this era: WWI, international conditions where the Russian, Ottoman, Austrian-Hungarian and Chinese empires had collapsed. According to Sancar; with the unique conditions prior to and succeeding it, the October Revolution is not an exception but an expression of historical accumulation and ‘universality’ of the class struggle.

“Lyon uprisings in 1830, the Chartist movement in England, the revolution of 1848 took place in a period where workers started to become a ‘class in itself’ according to Marx. Since Marx and Engels writing a programme in 1848 for the movement with their Communist Manifesto, it was anticipated that the working class would one day come forward and demand to be the dominant class. Marxist theoreticians have monitored these movements closely. The Paris Commune of 1871 developed as an example of the organisation of the working class as the dominant class. And that movement harboured, as a seed, the October Revolution within itself.

Again, the October Revolution was a successful outcome of the class struggle and its organisation as a party. According to Sancar “the October Revolution was so organised, the date of the uprising was determined in advance, in detail. As Lenin put it “yesterday is too soon but tomorrow is too late.” Neither is it isolated; German revolution, despite its defeat in 1918, Hungarian Revolution of 1919, workers’ uprising and other insurgencies targeting the Bulgarian government in 1923 all show that the revolution was not an exception.”

Lenin as a Tactician

Sancar identifies one of the most important lessons of the October revolution as the tactical and strategic leadership. With a reference to Lenin’s ‘What is to be Done?’ she says “In conditions where workers’ fighting for economic rights are stuck within the system, Lenin highlights the need for the working class reaching a level of political conscience; reached from outside the economic sphere and the sphere of political struggle. The vehicle to deliver this is the communist party where the workers unite with intellectuals.” Pointing to Lenin’s importance as a tactician Sancar says “Following the 1917 February Revolution, Lenin does not call for a direct grip of power; he puts forward the slogan of “damn the 10 capitalist ministers.” He only called for “all power to the Soviets” when it was necessary. These tactical steps played a determining role in paving the way for revolution and building of the working class.”

Building of Socialism: Electrification and the Soviets

Sancar points to two important factors in building of socialism, saying “The first is electrification as a major project of development. This is underestimated by bourgeois writers. It is seen as overly economical but was essential for an underdeveloped country, for its manufacture to develop, to break the effects of embargoes and the execution of welfare policies. With this planned economic policy, USSR surpassed developed capitalist countries in a short time. The second is the concept of Soviets. They first surfaced during the revolution of 1905 and born as a system of self-governance by the people. They were formed within the struggle; took shape as the foundation for a real democracy unseen in history, where ordinary people took part in governance, as the organs where they could join the political decision making process.”

Stating that the October Revolution lead to a response not only within the USSR, Sancar went on to say “It triggered the establishment of peoples’ democracies in many countries, as well as revolutions in China, Africa and Latin America. European social states developed under the influence and pressure of the workers’ movements in these countries as well as socialism in the USSR. At the beginning of 1990’s, bourgeoisie embarked on a new wave of ‘globalism’. We live in a period where more people are increasingly in poverty and unemployed and rights that were won by peoples are removed. The reason for this is the control of means of production by a minority, just as it was before the October Revolution. As such, the October Revolution is not just a phenomenon that shaped our past but will also shape our future.”

Understanding the Eastern Issue

Professor Timur started by outlining a historical international framework that led to the October Revolution. “The Russian Empire had structural similarities to the Ottoman Empire. The relationships that led to the Russian Revolution are linked to the East issue. The Ottomans’ losing Crimea to the Russians with the Kaynarca agreement in 1774 led to a new balance. Until 1774, Ottomans were the East in the eyes of the West. It had ceased to be dangerous, but they didn’t know how to approach it. Russians’ capturing of Crimea, gaining access to the Black Sea and their fleets reaching the Mediterranean became the focus of the Eastern issue. The threat from the East was no longer the Ottomans but the Russians. Through the reforms first by Peter and then by Catherine, and with the removal of land slavery in 1861, Russians had started a new period with wide social consequences. During this period, the Ottoman Empire became the bumper zone for the Europeans against the Russians. This is the Eastern issue. An interesting fact that surfaced in archives is how the Russians view our compensations and reforms differently. They see it as a period where the West modernised the Ottoman military against the Russians. How did the Eastern issue end? Having taken power after Bismarck was brought down in 1890, Wilhelm II followed a pan-German policy and in 1894, the Russians and the French agreed to give Istanbul to the Russians; the French were to get Alsace- Lorraine. These deals were done in secret. Engels foresaw the results of the World War; he stated that more people will die than the sum of all the wars before.”

Three Important Outcomes

Professor Timur identified three important outcomes of the October Revolution that apply today; “It has been 100 years, during which capitalism suffered big traumas; it is in a big crisis now. As capitalism is a worldwide system, the principles of the October Revolution continue to be current and valid. But we have to consider these with the concrete analysis of the concrete situation.”

The first is imperialism. “Lenin says wealth accumulation in capitalism brought it to a new level. Is it true today? Yes, of course and much stronger. I think this is a reality of our age that needs underlining. Today, imperialism establishes oppression through the brutal methods of capitalism.”

The second is class alliances. “Three currents arose after the February revolution. One is the conservative, reactionary current. It says; this is a bourgeois revolution and the rich land owners that became capitalists should govern. The other is Plekhanov… bourgeoisie is the leaders of the revolution, and power should be surrendered to them. Lenin’s line is an alliance of farmers and workers under the leadership of the latter. According to Lenin, only those that lack self-confidence is scared of class alliances. We need to develop class alliances against the developing fascism.”

The third is the right to self-determination of nations’…

October Revolution and the Nationality Issue

According to Timur, one of the great successes of the October Revolution is solving the nationality issue. “Russia was an empire of 160 million people in 1917; a despotic system called the dungeon of peoples. Russians were in the minority; about 43% of the population. Ukrainians, Belorussians and the Polish make up 70% of the rest. The other 30% of mainly Caucasians were regarded with ethnic prejudice. There is a massive problem of nationalities in such a country. Even the Russians are divided; the big Russians, Ukrainians as the little Russians, Belorussians as the white Russians. As in the Ottomans, nationalities are classified as the ruling and those that are ruled.” How do you solve the nationalities issue in such a society? There have been three theses in the International since 1896. The first is the Polish nationals; they want a separate state. The second is the theses of Rosa Luxembourg. She was also Polish. Socialism can develop in large capitalist markets and build strong states, small countries on their own cannot succeed. The third is Kautsky’s theses of nations and peoples taking charge of their own destiny. In 1903, Lenin adopted Kautsky’s theses and nations right to determine their own future enters the party programme. But Lenin adds that this will not be supported unconditionally; only while it is in alliance with our proletarian revolution. There is no forced assimilation; we would turn a blind eye even to bourgeois nationalism but what is important is unity within the revolutionary stage. The outcome for today is peoples determining their own destiny; in support of separatism, based on united independence, decentralised, autonomous governance.

Evrensel Daily, 1 June 2017.


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