The Russian Revolution Changed The World Forever


Stephen Millies

Ninety-six years ago on Nov. 7, 1917, workers and peasants overthrew the capitalist government in Russia.

Two million soldiers in the Russian army had died in World War I. Russia was ruled by the cruel Czar Nicholas II.

Like the United States, the Russian Empire was a big prison of oppressed nationalities. Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Poles, Ukrainians, Georgians, Finns, Armenians and other peoples were denied self-determination.

Russian peasants and workers were also oppressed. Many had been serfs, a sort of land slavery. Serf families couldn’t be broken up and sold like cattle, as African slaves were in the U.S., but they could be worked to death. Thirty thousand serfs died building St. Petersburg, the former Russian capital.

Serfdom was abolished in 1861, two years after John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry. The outbreak of the U.S. Civil War may have influenced the czar to get rid of serfdom before the serfs got rid of him.

Lenin and the Bolsheviks

By 1914, serfdom was gone, but 30,000 big landlords still ruled the countryside. The vast majority of people were peasants who couldn’t read or write. Women had no rights.

Foreign capital poured into Russia, grabbing huge profits from long workdays in the factories. Striking workers were shot down.

Oppression breeds revolution. V.I. Lenin was the greatest leader of Russia’s revolution. He built a communist party commonly known as the Bolsheviks.

Lenin was 17 when his older brother Alexander was hanged in 1887 for trying to assassinate Czar Alexander III. That’s the same age Black revolutionary Jonathan Jackson was in 1970, when he was killed trying to free his older brother George Jackson and other political prisoners.

Lenin studied the teachings of Karl Marx. Lenin taught that workers had to be imbued with Marx’s revolutionary knowledge and determination to win.

Soviets vs. pogroms

The first Russian Revolution broke out in 1905. Workers went on strike, shutting down factories and railroads. Peasants burned the gentry’s mansions. Czarism was on the ropes.

Workers formed councils called soviets. These councils had no formal legislative power, but they had great authority among the workers, peasants and soldiers.

European banks poured in loans to save czarist tyranny. The 1905 Revolution was defeated. The czar was able to pit peasant soldiers against workers and even other peasants, just as billionaires divide poor and working people in the U.S. today with racism and anti-immigrant bigotry.

Mass lynchings called pogroms killed Jewish people, just as the Ku Klux Klan did to African Americans here.

The Bolsheviks fought pogroms with guns in hand. Lenin waged war on racism. He enriched Marxism by teaching that workers in the big capitalist countries had to support revolts in the colonies.

“What emotion, enthusiasm, clear- sightedness and confidence it instilled into me!” was how Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh described Lenin’s “Theses on the National and Colonial Questions.”

Peace, land and bread

Sick of war and hunger, women textile workers in Petersburg went on strike on March 8, 1917, International Working Women’s Day. The holiday commemorates a 1908 march of women garment workers in New York City.

Five days later, czarism was overthrown. Workers, peasants and soldiers made that revolution, but capitalists controlled the new government.

For the next eight months Lenin’s Bolsheviks won millions of poor people to socialist revolution by demanding bread, peace and land. Despite Lenin and other leaders being forced underground, Bolsheviks won majorities in the soviets that sprung up everywhere.

These soviets overthrew capitalist politician Alexander Kerensky on Nov. 7 (Oct. 25 by the old Russian calendar). Many peoples, not just Russians, rose up to break their chains.

Peasants threw out their landlords. Bolsheviks exposed secret treaties among the imperialists that divided up colonies. This revolutionary energy helped overthrow Germany’s kaiser and end World War I in 1918.

Capitalist governments, including the U.S., then waged war against the Soviets on a dozen fronts. But the Red Army, organized and led by another Bolshevik leader, Leon Trotsky, was victorious.

The 73-year war

Following Lenin’s death the enormous difficulties involved in trying to build socialism in a very underdeveloped country, encircled by imperialism, led to struggles in the party and then to backward steps. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin purged Bolshevik opponents while making concessions to careerists and increasing inequality.

Nevertheless, at the same time the Soviet Union launched the first and biggest affirmative action program in history. Every person had the right to education in their own language. The Soviet five-year plans created the world’s second-biggest economy. Everyone had a job.

But the Soviet Union remained the target of world capitalism. German big capital handed power to Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Party so the Nazis could crush the German working class. German imperialism invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.

With Stalin leading the government, the Soviet Union defeated Hitler, but nearly 26 million Soviet people died in World War II. The Red Army liberated all of Eastern Europe from Nazi rule, including the extermination camp at Auschwitz.

The Pentagon spent $5.5 trillion on nuclear weapons aimed at the Soviet Union. This relentless pressure undermined socialist solidarity and finally led to the downfall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Despite this tremendous defeat, the lessons of the October Revolution will live forever.


Russian Revolution Still a Shining Example


Eugene Puryear

(Originally posted in Nov. 2009 and updated slightly.)

Nov. 7 marks the 96th anniversary of the 1917 Russian Revolution. While the revolution itself could be considered a more drawn-out process, Nov. 7 stands as its most outstanding date. When the majority of workers, peasants and soldiers took over state and governmental power, for the first time in the history of class society a country was not controlled and governed by a tiny group of monarchists, capitalists or other exploiting class.

Just six months before, all actors in the political drama had considered it impossible for such a revolution to occur so soon.

Prior to the revolution, the Russian Empire—roughly the same territory later covered by the Soviet Union—was ruled by the czar, or emperor. The czar had absolute power. He ruled both through the Russian Orthodox Church, which created a religious veneer for the regime, and by virtue of his hereditary position as the richest and most central of a group of feudal princes who divided the land amongst themselves.

Small in number, they had tied the vast majority of the country, some four-fifths of the population, to the land like feudal serfs. Although serfdom was formally abolished in 1861, serf-like conditions continued well into the 20th century. Along with the feudal remnants of the 17th century, a section of the nobility wished not only to emulate Europe but also to establish the place of the ruling classes of Russia alongside those of Britain, France and Germany—that is, the most powerful capitalist countries of Europe. That meant Russia also had to develop capitalist industry.

The czar, however, was aware that popular forces led by the capitalist class had overthrown the absolute monarchs in Western Europe. He therefore sought to control the process and preserve the aristocratic class. Capitalism in Russia thus developed in its own peculiar and somewhat “deformed” way. As a proportion of the economy, industry remained relatively small. However, in technique it matched the advanced nations of Western Europe, and indeed foreign, mostly British and French, investors owned most of Russian industry.

The workers were drawn from the peasantry, closely connecting the two laboring classes. Many of Russia’s new capitalists were also landowners and part of the nobility. Illiteracy, poverty, hunger, disease and poor housing ravaged the lives of both the workers and the peasants, in sharp distinction to the great wealth and high living of the czar and aristocracy.

Elements of the new capitalist class in Russia, however, chafed under the czar, as did many of the intelligentsia. Both sectors resented and felt oppressed by the czar’s absolute power. These pressures accompanied the demands of the workers and peasants for more economic and political rights.

War lays basis for revolution

When Russia followed France and England into the First World War, social tensions inside the empire became exacerbated. By 1917, war had wreaked a terrible toll. The brunt of the hundreds of thousands of deaths was borne by the peasants, who were forcibly conscripted. Hunger, disease and poor living conditions ravaged the rank-and-file soldiers just as the rest of the exploited classes.

It was under these pressures that the czar’s regime finally fell. On International Women’s Day, Feb. 23, 1917, on the Gregorian calendar, women textile workers launched a strike in Petrograd, the capital of Russia. Over five days, the textile workers’ strike grew into a general strike, and the army split, with rank-and-file soldiers coming over to the side of the workers.

It took five days for the czar’s government in Petrograd to fall, and some months for the monarchy to be swept away in various parts of the country. Parties representing the capitalists, petty capitalist elements and, purportedly, the peasantry, formed a provisional government.

The reformist socialists—the Mensheviks—and the peasant-based Social Revolutionary Party supported the provisional government. The Mensheviks justified their support for the new bourgeois government by arguing that the revolution would have to pass through a separate “bourgeois” stage where a capitalist republic would be established, with formal democratic rights, as a prerequisite for a socialist revolution. Until their central leader, Vladimir I. Lenin, returned from forced exile in April 1917, the Bolshevik Party, too, gave support to the new regime.

The provisional government, however, was very fragile. The weak Russian capitalist class, totally dependent on Anglo-French imperialism, could not end Russia’s involvement in the war. Prostrate before the Western imperialists, and with little to no independent social base, forces of the provisional government began to move closer to monarchist elements scheming to return to power.

Meanwhile, the workers and peasants had created their own structures of power—soviets. The soviets, or councils, were mass democratic organs based in the factories, districts and military units, as well in some parts of the countryside.

Thus, a type of “dual power” arose. On the one hand, the precarious provisional government was besieged on all sides, unable to end the war or meet the workers’ and peasants’ other social and economic demands. And on the other, the soviets of soldiers, workers and peasants potentially represented the interests of the toiling, exploited masses, who continued to clamor for relief from the jaws of war and poverty.

In April 1917, Bolshevik leader Lenin arrived in Petrograd and grasped the situation immediately. He understood that the nascent Russian capitalist class could not end the war and would not touch the great landed estates or capitalist industry, leaving all the demands of the masses unmet. He argued that instead the soviets of soldiers’, workers’, and peasants’ deputies should take power in their own name.

Rather than depend on the provisional government to provide “Land, Peace, and Bread,” they should gather all the power in the organs of the working masses, demanding and achieving “All Power to the Soviets.” When Lenin first produced his famous April Theses, only a small minority of the party’s Central Committee supported his position. But the force of his arguments and the unfolding of events soon won over the Bolshevik leaders and rapidly growing rank-and-file membership.

On Nov. 7 (Oct. 25 according to the old Russian calendar) the workers, peasants and soldiers rose again, and it was these two slogans that drew them over to the Bolsheviks, giving the revolutionary communists leadership of the soviets. Under that leadership, the workers in alliance with the peasantry deposed the provisional government and assumed total control through the soviets.

This “October Revolution” reverberated all around the world. In China, where Marxism had no history, small circles of revolutionaries began to discuss the ideas of communism. Among them was Mao Tse-tung who urged the Chinese people to “Arise and Imitate” the great popular unity of the October rising. Two years later, in May 1920, Mao and the few other communists formed the Chinese Communist Party, which went on to lead the great Chinese Revolution of 1949.

Over time, when at the peak of its power, U.S. imperialism, along with its imperialist allies, succeeded in dividing the world communist movement and containing the Russian Revolution, leading to the overthrow of the Soviet Union and to other major working-class defeats.

Millions have looked to the Russian Revolution for inspiration, however, because it continues to stand as a shining example of how the majority of society, its exploited and oppressed masses, can under the leadership of a revolutionary party take power in their own hands, mold it in their favor and take a giant leap toward wiping away all vestiges of exploitation.

With capitalism entering an era of deepening crisis, and U.S. imperialism in apparently irreversible decline, the beacon of the October Revolution shines brighter than ever.

60 Years Since Murders of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

Gloria La Riva

Today, June 19, marks the 60th anniversary of the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, two courageous communists murdered by the U.S. government in the midst of the ferocious anti-communist witch-hunt of the 1950s.

They were electrocuted on June 19, 1953, in Sing Sing prison in New York, despite worldwide protests, after a three-year persecution on trumped-up charges of espionage conspiracy, supposedly for providing elements of atomic-bomb production to the Soviet Union.

The Rosenbergs’ real crime, however, was that they stood for socialism at a dangerous time for progressive activists in the United States, when the U.S. government was waging an ideological war at home and abroad in the name of “fighting communism.”

After World War II ended in 1945, the U.S. government launched a military, political and economic offensive against the Soviet Union and socialist camp, commonly referred to as the “Cold War.”

The U.S. had emerged singularly unscathed from the war. It was the only country in the world to possess nuclear weapons, and showed its willingness to use them by annihilating Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The leaders in Washington were determined to achieve global domination and viewed the socialist camp led by the Soviet Union, and the revolutionary movements allied with it, as the main obstacle in their path.

At home, the offensive was aimed at crushing working-class struggles as well as revolutionary socialist and communist organizations. Throughout the late 1940s into the 1950s, U.S. labor unions were purged of socialists and communists, who had helped lead successful workers’ struggles in major industries. By 1949, dozens of communists were imprisoned under the draconian Smith Act (Alien Registration Act of 1940).

U.S. imperialism began its massive bombing war against Korea on June 25, 1950, at the same time the FBI moved against the Rosenbergs, with the arrest of Julius on July 17 and Ethel on August 11, 1950.

After their conviction on treason charges in a rigged trial, Judge Irving Kaufman, sentenced the Rosenbergs to death on April 5, 1951. Kaufman declared them responsible for the deaths of thousands of U.S. soldiers in Korea and, reflecting the wild hysteria of the time, added, “millions more of innocent people may pay the price of your treason.”

Central figures in the Rosenbergs’ arrest and trial were FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and Richard Nixon, then a leading red-baiter in Congress.

Hoover, Nixon and the infamous Sen. Joseph McCarthy were hit men for U.S. imperialism on the home front.

To quell political dissent as the U.S. advanced its objectives, key political trials were given major prominence in the newspapers and new medium of television. The message was: “Communists are endangering the American way of life.”

Hoover and Nixon had just concluded—in January 1950—an outrageous frame-up of Alger Hiss, a former State Department official who was accused of being a spy for the Soviet Union, by an alleged “former communist” named Whitaker Chambers.

The prosecution of Hiss and many other liberal government officials was part of the drive by right-wing elements to gain dominance.

False testimony by Chambers and his absurd claim of burying espionage film given to him by Hiss in a pumpkin (“the pumpkin papers”) conjured up images of ubiquitous Soviet spies in the most unexpected places.

Congressional hearings were conducted by the House Un-American Activities Committee, with Nixon leading the charge. Hiss was convicted of perjury and served five years in prison. He was exonerated decades later.

The next victims of the Cold War

The next targets were the Rosenbergs, who were implicated by individuals who gave false testimony to avoid their own prosecution.

The ruling class manufactured a hysteria to crush dissent and the Rosenbergs paid the ultimate price for refusing to comply with repression. To the last minute, the government offered to spare them if they would admit guilt and “name names” of others who could then face the same persecution.

When they refused, they were killed, a clear case of state murder designed to terrorize others on the left.

The Rosenbergs had two young sons, Michael, age 10 at the time of their execution, and Robert, then 6 years old. They suffered greatly, being placed in shelters and orphanages, because relatives were too frightened to take them in. Finally Anne and Abel Meeropol won a court battle for their custody and adopted them.

In 1990, Robert Meeropol established the Rosenberg Fund for Children, to help children whose families are politically targeted. Both Michael and Robert became activists in many social causes in their youth.

For the 60th anniversary of their relatives’ executions, Robert Meeropol and his daughter Jenn, wrote:

“The US government used the Rosenberg case to attempt to prove to the public that the international communist conspiracy threatened the American way of life, and claimed fighting communism required that human rights and civil liberties take a back seat to national security.

“Today, the US government asserts that danger from the international terrorist conspiracy and their weapons of mass destruction justifies massive surveillance, indefinite detention and even torture. Authorities say we must guard national secrets even more securely to avoid destruction. Today, the issues raised by the Rosenberg case resonate from the Oval Office of the White House to Bradley Manning, who is being tried under the Espionage Act of 1917, as were Ethel and Julius.”

Long live the courage and memory of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

The Rosenberg children, whose parents were murdered by the U.S. government.

In Capitalist Russia, Little Separation Between Church and State

Marc Bennetts

MOSCOW — The Russian Orthodox Church is enjoying its newfound influence in the government of the former Soviet Union.

The head of the church, Patriarch Kirill, was granted residence in the Kremlin, the elaborate historic fortress in Moscow and seat of the Russian government, late last year, and he openly supported Vladimir Putin, who won a third term as president in March.

But the church’s closeness to the government has also made it a target of criticism and protest.

Three young women who stormed into Moscow’s largest cathedral in February to perform a raucous “punk prayer” against Mr. Putin could be jailed this week in a trial that critics say has highlighted the growing ties between the Kremlin and the head of Russia’s powerful Orthodox church.

After the notorious performance, the women, members of an all-female punk-rock band, issued a statement critizing the church as a “weapon in a dirty election campaign” and called Mr. Putin “a man who is as far as can be from God’s truth.”

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30 were arrested weeks after their cathedral protest and charged with “hooliganism.” Prosecutors dismissed their claims that their performance was a political statement and accused them of insulting the Orthodox religion and trying to “incite religious hatred.”

‘Miracle from God’

They acted after Patriarch Kirill called Mr. Putin a “miracle from God” who had “rectified the crooked path of history.” Mr. Putin won a landslide victory.

The case has rapidly become both one of the most politically charged legal sagas in modern Russia and a cause for international free speech advocates. The verdict in the trial will be announced Friday at a downtown Moscow court. Prosecutors are seeking a three-year prison sentence against each defendant.

“I don’t know whether this support for Putin was Patriarch Kirill’s own political calculation or there was some pressure from the Kremlin or Putin’s campaign team,” said Andrei Zolotov, a journalist and expert on the Orthodox Church’s relations with society.

“The modern Russian state has lacked a certain legitimacy since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and it tries to use the Church’s undisputed historical continuity as a way to counter this,” Mr. Zolotov noted.

Patriarch Kirill’s endorsement of Mr. Putin was the culmination of a dramatic deepening of ties between the Orthodox church and the Kremlin since the 1991 collapse of the officially atheist Soviet Union.

“The government relies on the Church for loyalty and support, and the Church has always relied on the state’s generosity,” said analyst Maria Lipman at the Moscow-based Carnegie Center think-tank. “During Putin’s election campaign, a number of decisions were made that were beneficial to do the church, including on real estate and backing for religious schools.”

The 65-year-old patriarch also was granted official residence at the Kremlin in late 2011, a move that restored the head of the church to a residence the church lost in the 1917 communist revolution.

The Russian constitution guarantees the separation of church and state, but leading Orthodox officials have made no secret of their desire for even closer “cooperation” with the authorities.

“Our Church does not consider itself an enemy of the state. The Western idea that the state and the church should be slight rivals and slight enemies is both bizarre and incorrect from an Orthodox point of view,” said Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, a leading Orthodox church official, in June.

“We have, quite the opposite, teachings about harmony, cooperation and agreement between the state and the church.”

He also stressed, however, that the church should not become “part of the state machinery.”

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has denied that the Orthodox church influences Kremlin policy when he made an unexpected appearance on a popular television talk-show earlier this summer.

“Yes, the Church occupies a fitting place in the life of our society and government,” he said on a popular television show earlier this summer.

“But no one knows better than me that it is separate from decision-making,” added Mr. Medvedev, who served as president from 2008 until May of this year.

The vanishing watch

With tens of thousands of demonstrators marching in anti-Putin protests in recent months, the startling rise in political activism has also seen the Orthodox church attacked over allegations of corruption and the perceived luxurious lifestyle of its leaders.

Patriarch Kirill came under fire in April after he insisted in an interview with a Russian journalist that he had never worn a $30,000 Breguet watch he received as a gift. He suggested that any photographs of him wearing the watch must have been doctored.

However, attentive bloggers quickly discovered a photograph on the church’s official website of Patriarch Kirill with the expensive watch on his wrist. Less thatn 24 hours later, the timepiece had been airbrushed out of the photograph. Unfortunately for the Church, the inattentive editor had left intact the tell-tale reflection of the luxury wristwatch on a varnished table, sparking weeks of online mockery.

Patriarch Kirill responded to this growing criticism of the Church by calling a nationwide day of prayer in April. About 40,000 people attended a mass prayer outside the Christ the Savior Cathedral that saw the patriarch urge them to defend what he said was an Orthodox church “under attack by persecutors.”

Although some 70 percent of Russians identify themselves as Orthodox Christians, many see the church as a mere extension of statehood. A report by the independent Moscow-based Levada Center pollster indicated this week that 30 percent of those who identified themselves as Orthodox Christians did not, in fact, believe in God.

“On shouldn’t be misled by the amount of people who identify themselves as Orthodox believers,” said Mr. Lipma, the Carnegie Center analyst.

“For many of them, this is simply a way to identify themselves as Russians.”

International Women’s Day Is A Working Class Holiday

International Women’s Day was first celebrated on March 8, 1909 as National Women’s Day in the United States to show solidarity with striking women workers. This was a direct initiative of the Socialist Party of America. In 1910, the Socialist International declared March 8 to be International Working Women’s Day. The day was of great importance in the Soviet Union and other communist countries as a reminder that women’s equality is a chief task of socialist revolution.

Poster reads: "8th of March is the day of rebellion of the working women against kitchen slavery" and "Down with the oppression and narrow-mindedness of household work!" (via Wikipedia)

In recent years, there has been an attempt by many to wash International Women’s Day of its revolutionary history. Even worse, some, like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, try to use the pretext of “women’s rights” as an excuse to carry out imperialism. Yet this cover for war is quickly exposed after studying the Afghan Civil War, the war against Iraq, and even more recently the war against Libya and the media campaign against Syria. Many of the imperialist targets are leaders in promoting women’s equality. Do not let “progressive” factions of the capitalist class try and disguise the class character of this day.

Let March 8 serve as a reminder that women are integral to the process of building socialism. Without them, there are no revolutions. And without revolution, the rights for women that have been won through struggle — especially reproductive rights — are always ready to be reversed when the political climate calls for it.