The October Revolution needs an honest, balanced assessment

 
BY:Herbert Griessig| August 26, 2017
The October Revolution needs an honest, balanced assessment

Editor’s note: Herbert Griessing lives in Berlin and was a citizen of the former German Democratic Republic.

Various political parties are dealing with the interpretation of the Russian October Revolution, its history, lessons and perspectives in a very different ways. While the conservative parties and social-democrats are focussing on the shortcomings and mistakes of the revolution the left tries to present a balanced picture one closer to the historic truth. Here are some of my thoughts:

1. The October Revolution was a groundbreaking world-historical event that opened an epoch. For the first time in history, in Russia itself and after 1945 in other European and non-European countries, a post-capitalist, socialist society was created. Various achievements were won in the fields of economics, social policy, culture and education, which were not conceivable in capitalist countries. The USSR and the other socialist countries had an unmistakable influence on world development, peace and emancipation from colonialism. Limits were imposed on imperialism. It was the socialist USSR, which made the the main contribution to the defeat of fascism in the Second World War.

2. In the course of these developments negative phenomena unfolded in socialism which were expressed in deficient human rights and crimes. There was also insufficient democracy, arbitrariness in the exercise of political power and intellectual narrowness and dogmatism.

3. Corrections and reforms, as well as feasible strategies for the further development of socialism were urgently necessary in the end. If implemented socialist measures could have contained the inner erosion processes and the anti-socialist forces within and from abroad. Because these measures were not taken what resulted was the upheavals after 1989 – socialism was replaced by a restoration of capitalism in the countries concerned.

4. The liquidation of the socialism in Europe and the dissolution of the USSR from today’s point of view, that is, in the year of the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution, raises numerous questions for communists and socialists:

  • What is the historical place of the October revolution in the history of the workers’ movement from today’s point of view?
  • What has real socialism achieved on a world scale?
  • What is the historical record of real, failed socialism?
  • What were the main causes of the failure of socialism, which had arisen in the wake of the October Revolution in the USSR and other countries in Europe?
  • What became of the international communist movement?
  • Do the upheavals of 1989-1991 force communists and socialists to a new beginning, or was only a process interrupted in its continuity?

Obviously, there can be no exhaustive answers to all these questions. As is well known, we are still confronted with very different assessments among communists and socialists. But if we continue to consider and embrace a socialist future of humankind, a realistic and critical analysis of the history of real socialism and the international communist movement is indispensable.

Recently, a leading comrade delivered an attempt to point out the main reasons of our defeat, but he was once again too much dealing with the interference of the enemy. It seems to me that we are not yet in a position to find the main reasons for our failure inside our real existing socialist system. As long as the former leaders live we still neglect the shortcomings.

But once again back to the Russian Revolution. Within this process of evaluation a big role must be played by Rosa Luxemeburg’s criticism vis-a-vis the October Revolution and her dissent with Lenin on issues of the ways and means of its implementation, such as missing democracy, the role of force, the revolutionary terror, the missing privatisation of land for the peasants, the mistakes within the Brest-Litovsk Treaty with Germany. But it was also Luxemburg who remarked that this handicapped child of revolution is ours and we should take care of it.

Comments (10)

ASH | November 12, 2017 at 3:23 PM

IDEOLOGICAL WEAKNESS, REVISIONISM, HOPE THAT MARKET AND CAPITALISTIC MEASURES RATHER THAN A WELL PLANNED, SLOW BUT STEADY PLANNED ECONOMY, NATIONALIZATION AND COLLECTIVIZATION CAN RESULT IN A PROSPEROUS SOCIALIST SOCIETY AND ABSENCE OF CENTRAL DEMOCRACY ARE THE MAIN REASON FOR THE COLLAPSE OF THE SOCIALIST SYSTEM. AFTER ALL SOCIALIST ECONOMY IS SIMPLY PROJECT MANAGEMENT BY A CENTRAL STATE TO DISTRIBUTE THE ECONOMIC RESOURCES TO THE PEOPLE INSTEAD OF CONCENTRATING THEM IN THE HANDS OF A FEW CAPITALISTS AS IS THE CASE BY LIBERAL DEMOCRATIC STATES. THE CONSEQUENCE OF THE COLLAPSE OF USSR AND SOCIALIST STATES IS NOT PROSPEROUS CAPITALIST STATES, BUT CONFUSION, CHAOS, POVERTY AND PROSTITUTION RAMPANT IN RUSSIAN AND THE FORMER EASTERN EUROPEAN STATES. CHINA REVISIONIST POLICIES IMPLEMENTED BY DENG ALSO RESULTED IN ALMOST A TOTAL COLLAPSE OF CHINA AND LIKE USSR WOULD HAVE RESULTED IN ITS FRAGMENTATION. EUROCOMMUNISM OF WESTERN EUROPE ALSO NEVER MANAGED TO ACCOMPLISH ANYTHING. AS WITH RUSSIA, CAPITALISM IN THE US AND GLOBALLY WILL COLLAPSE IN A MASS REVOLT AND IF THE MASSES DO NOT HAVE LEADERSHIP VIOLENCE WILL BE USED TO SUPPRESS THEM. PROGRESSIVE FORCES NEED TO UNITE WITHIN A UNITED FRONT AND BE READY FOR REVOLUTION AND DEFENSE OF THE MASSES AND OVERTHROW OF CAPITALISM ONCE AND FOREVER. LIBERAL DEMOCRACY IS A FAKE FACADE TO FOOL THE IGNORANT MASSES AND KEEP THE CAPITALISTS IN POWER. ONCE THREATENED, THE CAPITALISTS WILL UNLEASH WARS AND TERROR ON THE MASSES WHO REVOLT AS IT HAS BEEN THE CASE IN ALL OF HISTORY BY THE RULING CLASS. A UNITED FRONT IS REQUIRED TO PROTECT THE MASSES AND OVERTHROW CAPITALISM, OTHERWISE THE CYCLE OF OPPRESSION AND EXPLOITATION WILL CONTINUE UNTIL IT COMES TO AN END BY SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE’S REVOLUTION.

Wilderness | October 13, 2017 at 12:42 PM

In contrast to self-serving perspectives on the demise of socialism in the USSR and aligned nations and the capital market reforms in China and Vietnam, this appears to be a call to the hard work of advancing understanding of the events/decisions/movements that resulted in the demise. Honest social and historical analysis is needed. Bravo to the author. More attention should be given to Rosa Luxemeburg, especially how vanguardism undercut democracy.

Ema | September 01, 2017 at 3:39 PM

In 1989 in all eastern europe was just people manipulated from wwestern capitalits media!!

jules | August 31, 2017 at 11:49 PM

The October Revolution, although probably unknown in most modern circles of America was a to have a direct and positive influence upon millions.
Labour rights, Women’s rights, education of the masses, racial equality…all a most beneficial legacy of what happened, those many miles away, in 1917.
Bravo

Red Greek Revolution | August 31, 2017 at 7:43 PM

The main problem that undermined and ultimately upturned socialism was the market “reforms” that weakened central planing in favor of market mechanisms. The market and central planing can’t go together, as even when market “reforms” solve some problems temporarily they create bigger ones in the future.

    Redgrandad | September 13, 2017 at 7:20 AM

    hit the nail on the head

Cameron Orr | August 29, 2017 at 2:04 AM

In my view, any analysis by Comrades in the US should take into consideration the analysis of the Russian Communists, which is easily accessible:
http://cprf.ru/party-program/

It would be a reaction and a mistake to try to correct the charges of the CPUSA being too “slavish” to Moscow in the past, by characterizing the entire history of the USSR in a light favorable to our own ruling class. Our histories are closely intertwined, and we attempt to reject our own history to our own peril.

I think it is important to keep in mind that, while many accuse us of having been too close to Moscow while the USSR was still in existence, that Russia was (and still is) a target of US imperialism, and on the basis of the principle of anti-imperialism and the right of nations to self-determination alone, to say nothing of the very real accomplishments of the Russian revolution, it would have been a betrayal of our very principles to have not defended the USSR.

Any analysis of the USSR that also does not place at the center imperialism as the fundamental enemy of all the world’s people, will fall short of a proper understanding of either the accomplishments of the Russian revolution, or the mistakes that were made, because they will fail to take into account the reasons those mistakes were made, and thus will not prepare us to avoid making similar mistakes.

BH | August 27, 2017 at 2:42 AM

Also, is there any way we could contact Herr Greissig, if he was willing to be contacted?

I read a lot of articles and opinions of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist). I do not know if the US Party “fellowships” to borrow a religious term them or not. But, one thing I like about Harpal Bral and the members of that party is that they do lectureships where people who lived in the USSR and other places under Communist rule talk about what life was like then and what was deserving of criticism, what was not, and what was just awful propaganda we were told in the west. Maybe the US party could do things like that.

BH | August 27, 2017 at 2:37 AM

The French in the late 1780 and 90’s were the first on a large national scale to try to make ideas like democracy and republicanism work. The French during this time also tried to greatly expand the ideas of what political rights the common citizen should have and the government protect those rights.( Disclaimer: I say the French because even though the US was around then its leaders reneged on a lot of its promises to its people immediately after the revolution. Rights like the right to vote for common white males did not come till twenty or thirty years later for example though this was promised) And we all now how the French Revolution turned out. However, no one gave up on the ideas of democracy, republican government, and the idea citizens have political rights the government cannot infringe on. It took several attempts but France made it work. And the US got a lot more like France later on. And these ideas spread and were put in practice in other countries and thus ultimately triumphed in many places. The USSR and socialism was like the French trying a new form of government. It was new, the first attempt on a national scale, and the kinks and quirks had to be worked out. I think Socialism and Communism will be like the ideals of the French Revolution. They will be attempted to be implemented a few times and maybe fail but eventually they will be tried and someone find how to make them work.

I respect the author of the article and appreciate him writing it. He lived under such a system and has more right to defend it but also criticize it because he was there and I wasn’t. I only know it from books. But I do think a lot of the criticisms we are told here in the US are greatly exaggerated.

    Monsieur Pierrot | August 29, 2017 at 9:07 PM

    The Americans also tried this idea of democracy, but they intended for a far more people-controlled democracy. (we see how this is working today)

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