1917 Russian Revolution: What the world has lost


It has been 96 years since Vladimir Lenin and his Bolshevik comrades overthrew the provisional government of the Russian Empire. It has been 22 years since the Soviet Union, the creation of the Bolshevik Revolution, collapsed and broke into pieces, and full-blast, dog-eat-dog capitalism was restored.

We may ask "what has the human race gained? What has it lost?"

From the fall of Soviet and European socialism, it has gained nothing, and it has lost much.

Yes, the old Soviet Union had a lot of problems; its leaders made mistakes, and some even committed crimes. Those of us who are working for socialism should study those carefully; the socialist states would not have collapsed merely from outside pressure.

To understand the points at which different choices might have been made that could have preserved and improved Soviet and Eastern European socialism is a massive task requiring much study and careful scientific analysis. Flip answers not based on such study and analysis should be avoided. I don't read Russian or any of the other languages of the old Soviet Union and do not have access to Soviet government archives or those of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. So for me to pontificate on the "reasons Soviet and European socialism collapsed" would be an act of of gross immodesty.

But I follow developments in the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America closely, as well as the class struggle here within the United States and in other developed capitalist countries. And on the basis of that, I can state with sad confidence that the collapse of Soviet and Eastern European socialism was a disaster for humanity.

Ideologically, it opened the door for a prolific growth of aggressive and selfish individualism. Numerous political and ideological leaders in the "West" used the demise of socialism to "prove" that human beings are incorrigible. The idea of social solidarity was, and continues to be, ridiculed. Discredited reactionary ideas of people like Ayn Rand took on a new life. "Look out for number one" replaced "look out for your comrades and neighbors." The goal became, not to create a better community for all, but to get more stuff. Those, in the former socialist countries, who object to this are accused in the bourgeois media of being "nostalgic."

The working class, instead of capitalist exploiters, suddenly was being blamed for everything that went wrong. Workers were not exploited enough under socialism, went the refrain. This was soon "remedied" by a horde of instant Russian billionaires.

The supposed non-viability of socialism is used by right-wing politicians in the United States to oppose any effort to improve the lives of ordinary people. This has created new forms of red-baiting, against anybody who tries to achieve modest improvements in the lives of poor and working class people. "That's communism! They tried that in Russia and it was a disaster!"

Working class people in the former socialist states saw an immediate impact on their living standards and on the more intangible aspects of their quality of life. Many, many first hand testimonials have been published about this. Social supports and cultural institutions of high quality were destroyed, abandoned or privatized. Even the old landholding nobility in some European countries came thronging back from exile, demanding that their palaces, castles and estates be returned to them.

The disappearance of the Soviet Union and its allies led to dire situations in poor countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Many of them had been trying to develop their economies with massive aid from the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic and other European socialist states. Thousands of students from poor countries were studying in the universities in the Soviet Union and its socialist partners.

When the Soviet and European socialism collapsed, much of this aid was cut off or sharply reduced. The ideologues of the right in the new Russia tried to portray the countries which the socialist states had been helping as feckless moochers.

This forced poorer countries to go hat in hand to the wealthy capitalist states, to transnational corporations, and to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank for trade agreements and financial help. There were strings attached, namely the acceptance of what came to be called the "neo-liberal" or Washington consensus package: "Free" trade rigged in favor of the wealthy countries and corporations, privatization of public enterprises and services, austerity that deprived the people of jobs and education and health services that are a matter of life or death. And when people in poor countries become restive, there is NATO and "humanitarian intervention."

But we have not yet seen the "end of history". All over the world, the Marxist ideas that inspired the Bolshevik Revolution still animate the struggles of millions. And in Latin America and other places, new forms of struggle for socialism are gaining strength every day.

The hope of a world based on solidarity and progress that was embodied in the Revolution of November 7, 1917 is the same that moves millions today. It will bring victory.


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  • Lets be real, the russian revolution failed the second the false socialist Joseph Stalin took power. I honestly think what the USSR became was the single greatest enemy socialism has ever faced.

    Socialism should never be authoritarian, yet alone totalitarian. The environment was also given no concern. People all across the Soviet Block were stripped of their freedoms, a key part of socialism. And last but not least, the USSR gave people a reason to call socialism a pipe dream.

    We should be very careful not to glorify the USSR past the days of Lenin and Trotsky. Same goes for all other so-called 'socialist states' created in the 20th century.

    Posted by Green Socialist, 11/12/2013 4:47pm (2 years ago)

  • Yes, people are moving towards Socialism.... we have a choice as humans; full steam ahead towards our own destruction from disease, degradation of our planet and blind worship of things...

    I see change coming to New York and New York is just a part of what is happening around America.

    wage peace
    fight like hell for a better world!

    Posted by Gabe Falsetta, 11/10/2013 9:53pm (2 years ago)

  • Excellent summary of what resulted from the disintegration of the USSR and socialist states. Who from the left are now writing about the causes of collapse? And why not preliminary reports? Surely after 20 years there are some reasonable suggestions. Absent analytical arguments from the left, what remains public is the imperial viewpoint. The world is viewing the socialist demise on a playing field created by the right. Are we to wait for "the definitive analysis" that brooks no debate? What kind of science is that?

    Posted by HenryCT, 11/09/2013 7:48pm (2 years ago)

  • I share these lamentations. I can't agree with speculations that "outside forces" could not have been responsible for the collapse. Certainly, it's speculation either way and its presumptuous to make assertions about it.
    As for the many awful results in their homelands and ours, we should add the way that imperialist finance capital dominates everything today. "Globalization," that innocent sounding term we've been using since the 1980s to describe the overall undermining of the world working class, didn't take off while the Soviet Union was still a factor. Corporations were scared to situate their assets in the nonindustrialized world because the people there had a choice -- they could have chosen the Soviet bloc over the much-stronger but also more rapacious capitalist bloc.
    Now, their choices are more limited.
    As I am writing this, the imperialist powers are meeting to decide how they can best disarm Iran. They have the ability to "un-freeze" critical assets. They have the ability to allow Iran to establish life-giving trade. Or they can keep on squeezing.
    I'll bet the Iranians, the Cubans, and whoever else dares to defy imperialism, really miss the Soviets
    --jim lane in Dallas

    Posted by Jim Lane, 11/09/2013 1:01pm (2 years ago)

  • Thank you so much for this timely piece!

    Posted by bruce bostick, 11/08/2013 10:56pm (2 years ago)

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