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Observe Protest Day, 1st June 2020

Working class and the Great October Revolution

K Hemalata

 

The centenary of the Great October Revolution is being celebrated by the working class all over the world during the last one year. The 15th conference of CITU decided to observe the centenary of the Great October Revolution by focussing on the ideological development of its cadres. Many classes, conventions, meetings, seminars etc have been conducted all over the country by the state committees and affiliated unions of CITU as per this decision. In addition many other organisations of different sectors of the working class – of insurance, bank, telecom, state and central government departments, etc – have organised various programmes to commemorate the occasion. The Left parties too observed the centenary all over the country.

 

The World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) representing 92 million workers in 126 countries in all the continents has observed the centenary through various programmes across the world. The WFTU leadership will be participating in the concluding event being organised by the Communist Party of Russian Federation in Moscow.

 

The Great October Revolution was an event that took place in Russia a hundred years ago. It led to the establishment of socialism in an industrially backward country like Russia. What is its significance that despite the reverses and setbacks to socialism in Russia as well as in the east European countries, the working class across the world continues to be inspired by it?

 

The October Revolution was an event that literally ‘shook the world’, as the American socialist and journalist John Reed wrote in his eye witness account, ‘Ten Days that Shook the World’. It sounded the death knell of imperialism. The workers, peasants and other sections of toiling people tore apart the old exploitative structure of capitalism and erected the framework for a new exploitation free society, a socialist society. It showed the future path for the development of humanity. It was a shining example of ‘concrete analysis of concrete conditions’ and masterly application of Marxist principles to change society, by the Bolshevik party, the party of the working class.

 

What the Revolution has achieved was unprecedented and unimaginable at that time. It was a wonder. Even the so called ‘welfare states’ in Europe after the Second World War could not equal the rights and benefits achieved by the working class – land distribution, workers’ control over factories, the right to recall elected representatives, free education and health for all, free nurseries, communal kitchens and laundries to liberate women from the back breaking domestic work. The comment of the Czech communist Fuchs ‘All our tomorrows had become today’ aptly describes the dramatic changes achieved by the revolutionaries.

 

The impact of the October Revolution on the national liberation movements across the world, the role of Soviet Union in defeating Nazi Germany in the Second World War, the immense sacrifices made the Soviet people in saving the world from the clutches of Hitler’s fascism are well known. Socialist Russia extended unconditional help and support in developing the technological and industrial base in our country through the establishment of various public sector units, the establishment of premier institutions for engineering education and in the development of a self reliant economy after our independence.

 

What lessons can the working class of India learn from the experiences of the working class of Russia, which led a successful revolution that changed the world?

 

The conditions of the working class and their trade unions in Russia before the Revolution were not better than that of the working class in our country today. They were far worse. Though the labour movement in Russia began with the development of capitalism in the country and the first strike was held sometime between 1870 and 1880, it was not until 1905 that unions were organised. Trade unions soon expanded their influence. But repression on the unions and police persecution increased since 1907. The union committee members faced constant threat of arrest by the police. The police confiscated their funds and registers. The leaders including the presidents and secretaries of the unions were deported to Siberia. Czarism made it impossible for the unions to conduct their day to day activities and organise struggles on even the economic demands of the workers. Matters became worse with the declaration of war in 1914. War was used to further suppress the trade unions .The extent of repression can be understood from the fact that while around 200,000 workers were organised in trade unions in 1905, on the eve of the Revolution in 1917 there were only three unions with a total membership of 1500.

 

But despite this rudimentary state of the trade unions, the working class and other sections of toiling masses carried on their economic struggles with great tenacity. The working class gained its class consciousness through such struggles under conditions of severe czarist repression.

 

The war devastated the country. Conditions of the workers worsened. Food became scarce. Soldiers were forced to fight in the freezing cold without proper clothes or equipment. Discontent was growing among all these sections.

 

It was in such conditions that the women workers of Petrograd observed International Women’s Day, for the first time on a working day on 23rd February 1917 (8th March as per the new calendar), by striking work. The women workers of the textile factory came out and marched on the streets calling out the workers of different factories on the way to join them. Hundreds of thousands of workers, men and women, joined the procession demanding bread and end to war. They demanded an end to monarchy. The military arrested hundreds of their leaders. Over hundred people were killed on the day. Unhappy with the terror let loose on the people large section of the army joined the revolutionaries. This February Revolution forced Czar Nicholas II to abdicate.

 

The overthrow of czarism unleashed the creative and organising initiatives of the working masses. The workers organised into the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies. These were councils of workers. In fact the first Soviet was established in Ivanovna - Voznesensk during a strike of textile workers in 1905, as a strike committee. Later it developed into an elected body of the town’s workers. This was followed by the establishment of Soviets of Workers’ Deputies in around 50 towns but these were crushed soon. The leaders were arrested and imprisoned. Soviets of Workers’ Deputies and Soviets of Soldiers Deputies, who were from the peasant families and represented the peasants were formed and became active after the February Revolution. 1090 delegates representing more than 400 different Soviets participated in the first congress of the Soviets held in June 1917. By the time of the October Revolution there were over 900 Soviets. Majority of these including those in Petrograd and Moscow were controlled by the Bolsheviks. The Soviets of Workers’ Deputies were instruments of political struggle for the working class of Russia.

 

The Bolsheviks did not have majority among the Soviets from the beginning. They were in a minority till July 1917. But the tactics adopted by them under the leadership of Lenin helped them capture majority of the Soviets by October.

 

Lenin emphasised the need to win over majority of the Soviets by clearing the illusions that they had on the provincial government, by exposing the government through patient, systematic and persistent explanation. He stressed on the need to teach them the necessity of transferring the entire state power to the Soviets. This was an important task set before the Bolsheviks. He also laid lot of emphasis on organisation. He said ‘To achieve such a victory (victory over capitalists), to have the workers and poor peasants take power, keep that power and make proper use of it, you will need organisation, organisation and organisation...Don’t put your trust in words. Don’t be misled by promises. Don’t overestimate your strength. Organise at every factory, in every regiment and every company, in every residential block. Work at your organising every day, every hour; do that work yourselves, for this is something you cannot entrust to anybody else. Work to steadily, soundly and indestructibly build up full confidence in the advanced workers, on the part of the masses... Such is the one guarantee of success’.

 

Lenin taught the working class about the importance of forging unity with the peasantry. Addressing the All Russian Trade Union conference he urged the workers to take the initiative to organise the agricultural workers and win over the majority of people to their side. ‘The first commandment of any trade union movement is not to rely on the State but to rely on the strength of one’s own class. The transfer of power to the revolutionary, oppressed class is the only way out of the present crisis, and the only remedy for economic dislocation and the war’, he said.

 

These words of Lenin are as relevant now, when the working class is being attacked by the capitalist class trying to protect their profits in the wake of the systemic crisis of capitalism, as they were around a hundred years ago.

 

Today major sections of the working class in our country are under the influence of the ideology of the ruling classes. The ruling classes are attacking the lives, livelihoods, working conditions and basic rights of all sections of the toiling people – the workers, agricultural workers, peasants, artisans etc – through the neoliberal regime. These policies are meant to transfer public wealth into the hands of a few big private corporations. At the same time they are able to create illusions among the people through their false promises and slogans though people are slowly getting disillusioned. They are trying to weaken and thwart united struggles of the working people by evoking communal passions, caste feelings, and regional sentiments.

 

Bringing the working class and the toiling people from the influence of the ruling classes requires ‘patient, systematic and persistent explanation and teaching’ as Lenin taught us. Ten Days that Shook the World says that during the Revolution ‘All Russia was learning to read and reading – politics, economics, history – because the people wanted to know... Hundreds of thousands of pamphlets were distributed by thousands of organisations and poured into the armies, the villages, factories, the streets.’ People absorbed them like hot sand drinks water! These ‘were not fables, falsified history, diluted religion, and the cheap fiction that corrupts but social and economic theories, philosophy, the works of Tolstoy, Gogol and Gorky...’

 

Today we need to create such urge among the working class and the toiling people to know, to understand the truth about the link between their day to day issues and the policies being pursued by the ruling classes, whatever sweet and attractive slogans they mouth. At the same time we have to make serious efforts to satisfy that urge to know and understand the truth by exposing the politics behind the policies through their own experiences; using the language that they can easily understand. We have to develop the class consciousness of the working class to realise its historic role in ending the inhuman capitalist exploitation and replacing with an exploitation free socialist system. We have to prepare it to discharge this role.

 

The Great October Revolution teaches us that this is the only way to end the exploitative capitalist system.

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