Relevance of the Bolshevik Revolution — by Dr. Lal Khan

As the ferocious crisis of Pakistani capitalism pillages and devastates society, there are frantic cries of ‘revolution’ by mainly right-wing politicians and intellectuals. It reflects their utter desperation and an impotent rage at the historical failure of their system to run society. Yet they mention the French Revolution and “a bloody revolution”. Their intention is to inculcate fear amongst the masses against revolution but, in reality, it also unveils how terrified they are of such a prospect. In this hue and cry about revolution they conveniently avoid mentioning the Bolshevik Revolution because they are well aware of the real dangers it poses to this exploitative and oppressive system.

The Bolshevik or the Russian Revolution triumphed on November 7 (October 26 according to the orthodox Byzantine calendar), 1917. Apart from the heroic episode of the Paris Commune, for the first time millions of downtrodden workers and peasants took political power into their own hands, sweeping aside the despotic rule of the capitalists and landlords, and set out to create a socialist world order. John Reed, the iconic American writer, described it in the following words, “No matter what one thinks of Bolshevism, it is undeniable that the Russian Revolution is one of the greatest events in human history, and the rule of the Bolsheviki a phenomenon of worldwide importance” (Ten Days that Shook the World, pg 13).

For 70 years the apologists of capitalism vented their spleen against the Soviet Union. There was an avalanche of slander unleashed to blacken the image of the Bolshevik Revolution and the nationalised planned economy that issued from it. They manoeuvred to identify socialism with the ‘bureaucratic totalitarian’ regime that arose from the isolation of the revolution in a backward country. The regime established by the revolution was neither bureaucratic nor totalitarian, but the most democratic regime yet seen on earth.

For the first time in history, the success of a planned economy was demonstrated, not on the pages of Das Kapital, but in an arena comprising a sixth of the planet’s surface, not in the language of dialectics, but in the language of steel, education, healthcare and electricity. In a gigantic and unprecedented experiment, it was proved that it was possible to run society without capitalists, feudals and moneylenders.

Despite the aggression of 21 imperialist armies, tremendous difficulties and obstacles, the abolition of market mechanisms and the introduction of the planned economy revolutionised the productive forces and laid the basis for a modern economy. In the 50 years from 1913 (the height of pre-First World War production) to 1963, total industrial output of the USSR rose by more than 52 times. The corresponding figure for the US was less than six times. In a few decades, a backward agricultural economy was transformed into the second most powerful country. It developed a mighty industrial base, a high cultural level and more scientists than the US and Japan combined.

Life expectancy more than doubled and child mortality fell by nine times. Such economic advances, in so short a time, have no parallel in the world. Rents were fixed at about six percent of the monthly income. A small flat in Moscow, up until the early1980s, cost $ 17 per month, which included gas, electricity, telephone and unlimited hot water.

However, due to the defeat of revolutions in Germany (1918-23), China (1925-27), Britain (1926) and several other countries, the isolation of the revolution and primitiveness of the technology led to the beginning of the degeneration of the revolution.

In his State and Revolution, Lenin had clearly set the conditions for the soviet power.

1. Free and democratic elections with the right of recall of all officials by the soviets (committees of workers, peasants and soldiers).

2. No official must receive a salary higher than that of a skilled worker.

3. No standing army but an armed people.

4. Gradually, all the tasks of running the state should be performed by everyone in turn.

As the economy expanded, technology became advanced and the produced items ran into hundreds of thousands, it became more and more difficult to run it efficiently.

But under frightful conditions of economic, social and cultural backwardness, the workers democracy degenerated into a deformed caricature. With the death of Lenin and the rise of Stalin, a bureaucratic clique began to monopolise power. The four conditions laid down by Lenin were obliterated.

The degeneration and collapse of the Soviet Union, if the basic conditions of the Bolshevik party set out in 1919 were not adhered to, was predicted by the leaders of the revolution themselves. In 1921, Lenin said the following: “Berlin is the heart of Germany and Germany is the heart of Europe. If there is no revolution in Germany the Russian Revolution is doomed.”

Unlike the development of capitalism that relies on the market for allocation of resources, a nationalised economy requires conscious planning and direction. The workers democracy is for the planned economy what oxygen is for the human body. In his epic work, Revolution Betrayed, Trotsky wrote in 1936: “The fall of the present bureaucratic dictatorship, if it were not replaced by a new socialist power, would thus mean a return to capitalism with a catastrophic decline of industry and culture.” How the post-1991 scenario has vindicated that!

The apologists of capitalism, reformists, the former Stalinists and ex-leftists try to argue that the collapse of the USSR signified the demise of socialism. Alan Woods wrote in 1997: “ What failed in Russia was not socialism, but a false model, a caricature of socialism…The demagogic attacks on socialism/Marxism/communism have an increasingly hollow ring, because they are made against a background of the deepening crisis of capitalism.”

In the present excruciating crisis that spells agony for the masses, nothing less than a revolution can emancipate the oppressed millions. The only revolution that can ensure an end to this pain, misery and deprivation is the socialist revolution. The ruling classes will tremble as the masses enter the arena of history to transform their destiny. But this can only be victorious on the basis of the ideas, methods and strategy of Bolshevism.

The writer is the editor of Asian Marxist Review and International Secretary of Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign. He can be reached at