October 2017 is a time for celebration and for memory. It is a time for homage to millions of working people, who struggled so bravely in the past for so much that we have all benefitted from – worldwide. It is a moment when we remember a very important event, or series of events that happened a long time ago, 100 years ago, and far, far away, over in Russia. It was in October, 1917.
LALIT took the decision last year that this year we would celebrate the historic Revolution that took place in Russia. We have held three new Marxist study groups. We participated in the viewing of the film Reds, about the International Workers’ of the World (IWW) and socialist parties in the USA, as well as a visual and audio synopsis of the Russian Revolution.
Why celebrate it, though? The Revolution brought about changes, not just in Russia itself, but all over the world – in terms of rights – workers’ rights, women’s rights, housing rights. The bosses, the capitalists, not just in Russia but all over the world were thrown on to the defensive. They were terrified that revolution would spread.
So, what was it that happened one hundred years ago in Russia? There was a revolution and in it the working class seized power in a country that had, only eight months earlier, been a monarchy run by a King that, in Russia, was known as a Tsar. Tsars had been ruling Russia for centuries. But in Russia there were also the people. There were workers, including industrial workers in big enterprises, and a huge number of peasants, who worked the land. There was poverty. People were without food, they were desperate for food and access to the land, and also, it being a time of the Great War (1914-1918), people were desperate for peace.
At that time, the Tsar had six million men conscripted to the war front, fighting in the trenches in what was later named World War I – against Germany and others. Over a million Russian soldiers had already died in the war. It was in this context that people began protests and street demonstrations – workers, soldiers and peasants, united in various socialist political parties, behind leaders like Lenin. He addressed huge gatherings. There were others like Trotsky and Alexandra Kollontai, and in every neighbourhood and every factory and farm, there were leaders at the grassroots level. All wanted to overturn the Tsar’s rule that was causing so much suffering in Russia.
But within eight months, the revolution went far beyond overthrowing the Tsar. It even overturned the Provisional Capitalist government that had, in February, replaced the deposed Tsar.
And this revolution provoked, as revolutions do, a series of counter-revolutions.
When the revolution took place, there were all kinds of political, and military, forces that rose up against it. And they acted. There were whole countries – the USA, imperialist USA, France, Britain, and others whose ruling classes took them to war against the Russian Revolution, to try to prevent workers’ control in Russia, as a desperate way of trying to ensure it did not get a chance to spread to other countries like theirs.
In Russia itself, there were all manner of classes and collaborators that did not want the working class to take its destiny into its own hands. They set up the White Army that ran a long civil war.
But the working class held the reigns of power from 1917 to around 1923. For 5-6 years, the working class took power, and thus took control of the fate of the whole of Russia. This was only possible because of a new, democratic way of organizing that had been developed in Russia: workers’ councils called “soviets”. If you press the youtube icon on our site, you can see the pictures, only two excellent photographs of the Petrograd Soviet at the time. He said how it was women’s demonstrations earlier in 1917 that had been key to the revolution. So, we have street demonstrations, we have the workers’ councils (soviets) meeting, we have the Bolshevik leaders like Lenin and Trotsky, and together that will begin to give an idea of how the revolution took place, how Russia became the USSR and how the working class, for some years controlled a State.
Russia, at the time of the revolution, covered about one-sixth of the globe’s surface, and already had a population of over 100 million. There were dozens of languages and cultures in Russia. I mention all this to give an idea of the scope, the immense size, of the revolution.
This revolution then, in turn, influenced events from then onwards – not only in Russia but all over the world. Even in Mauritius, the rights we have today, and in terms of the rights we know to struggle for in the future, they are in part a legacy from this revolution. And we, too, have learnt from the Russian working class that a revolution is the question of taking power as a class.
So the celebrations that LALIT is holding also include a day’s celebration. It took the form of different comrades speaking on different aspects of the revolution and then of the counter-revolution afterwards, and how it all worked. And the speeches will be in-between an ongoing poem.
On this right-hand microphone on one side of the stage, the various parts of the poem, “One Hundred Years” by Steve Bloom will be read, one after the other, by in all ten readers, in a Mauritian Kreol translation by Aanas and Lindsey. On the left-hand microphone on the other side of the stage, the speeches on different aspects of the Revolution will be given.
So, it will take about 2 to 2 and a half hours.
These celebrations are not an end in themselves. They are also just the beginning of what will be ongoing work. For some of us it has been the first we have heard about the Revolution in Russia, for others, we have renewed our admiration the working class in Russia for this brave taking of power. For all of us, we are looking at the nitty-gritty of how the working class took control of its own destiny, of human destiny. So that we can go further next time.
[This article is developed from the speech Rada Kistnasamy gave at the LALIT celebrations. He and Anne-Marie were joint chair, on 8 October, 2017 at GRNW.]