Lessons for the Present from the October Revolution

The Russian Revolution was a coup d’etat and Stalin was the same as Hitler. Or not?

Lessons for the present from the October Revolution


Marga Ferré


Informe Semanal were kind enough to dedicate a report to the October Revolution on its centennial. Of the 10 minutes that it lasted, 6 were dedicated to describing the death of the Romanovz, and 4 to affirming the theory of a dictatorial coup d’etat, designed from the very beginning by the treacherous mind of Lennin. As crude as this historical representation of the events of 1917 is, it serves its function of reproducing the orthodox neoliberal narrative of the twentieth century that has been reiterated and repeated profusely by the media and in academia.

The political use of the past is something with which the left has some familiarity, but, after the fall of the Wall, the capitalist narrative needed a story that delegitimized the importance of the Revolution, the epic, and, above all, the possibility of a revolution that could defy this narrative. The historian Enzo Traverso dissects this historical manipulation (and its political intent) through two categories that the enormous system of the reproduction of capitalist ideology repeats without deviating from its line: presentism and a sort of parallelism.

Presentism is the technique of presenting events in an isolated manner, like a succession of happenings, analysing neither their causes nor their effects. In this way, the October Revolution is represented, like many things, as having been helped by the First World War and also as being a coup d’etat of the maligning Bolsheviks who did not accept the goodness of the provisional Kerensky government. This coup d’etat provoked a civil war and inevitably brought Stalinism and the gulags. This narrative, while false, has been tremendously effective.

A sort of parallelism is the true objective, as we know well in the case of our Civil War. The contemporary narrative tells of the twentieth century as an epic of catastrophes and extremisms and, to prevent that it be repeated, compares Nazism with Communism, Hitler with Stalin, in such a way that liberalism seems to be the only viable system that can avoid these disasters. Applied to the October Revolution, we see repeatedly how history is distorted to try to demonstrate that Stalinism was the origin of the Revolution itself, of all revolution.

Stefan Sweig includes in his “10 Headline Moments of Humanity”, the journey of Lenin from Switzerland to the Finland station on a sealed train. And indeed it was; the October Revolution was one of the most important moments in the history of humanity, and, because of this, attention is called to what has been overlooked upon its centennial: that, aside from the editorial profusion and this public debate, it seems that it is wanted silenced. Better not to talk of revolutions, we wouldn’t want…

Throughout the series of articles published in this section, it would seem that there is a certain consensus about the most positive elements of the events of October, 1917, and that there is a unanimity about the most negative, of which I will attempt to give a summary synthesis:

  1. The impact of the October Revolution was immediate and universal. The hopes of the poor and the exploited of the world were given a crucial reference point in a revolution that triumphed and that showed that it is possible to defeat the tyranny of capitalism. This real, tangible source of hope inspired movements, parties and syndicates dedicated to protest, resistance, and the taking up of the offensive of the exploited of the entire planet.
  2. The 20 million dead of the USSR were decisive in the victory against Nazism. In fact, I was in Moscow for the centennial commemoration of the Revolution and this experience confirmed to me that, for the Russians, the victory in the Second World War against Nazism is even more important than the revolution of 1917.
  3. The existence of the USSR permitted the development of the Welfare State in Europe as a concession of capitalism to avoid similar revolutions. In fact, after the fall of the Wall, Donald Rumsfeld, at the time serving as George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense, boldly declared “dead the danger of Communism, the Welfare State is an unnecessary luxury”. Prophetic words.
  4. He has left for the end the most important contribution of the legacy of October: the process of decolonisation of countries and peoples oppressed by imperialism that had a very powerful ally in the USSR, a living example of the Revolution.

The negative consequence of 1917 is obvious to any observer of the events of the twentieth century: Stalinism, which determined the course of the USSR over almost 30 years and steered the USSR away from the founding principles of the October Revolution (going beyond the proletarian dictatorship to the abolition of the state) in an authoritarian and violent way.

I know that it is presumptuous to try to take lessons for the present from the Russian Revolution, but, reading the articles published here, we could deduce the following:

– It is not possible to confront the powerful in an innocent way. The violent response to the revolution shows us that those who hold economic and political power do not cede it graciously.

– It is not possible to start a change of great magnitude in only one country. Perhaps the tragedy of Russia was that the anticipated revolution in Germany and in other western countries was not produced, leaving Russia standing alone against the countries of the Allied Intervention which supported the White Army.

– The alternative model must not be like capitalism. Stalin based economic growth in the USSR on the overuse of agriculture to force accelerated industrialisation, a system that seems shockingly like a capitalist form of acquisition.

The lesson that best serves us today of what happened 100 years ago in Russia is that it was an unexpected revolution, in a place in which nobody thought such a thing possible. A revolution at the periphery, precisely from whence I write.

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