Ninety years ago, the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917 gave birth to a new society in which humanity’s jost advanced dreams of peace, equality and democracy began to flourish and become reality. The revolution signaled the opening of the epoch of the transition to socialism, a society which would end exploitation, plunder and war, and construct a whole new kind of social relations based on cooperation, not competition, and based on social justice, not social, national or gender inequality and oppression. Capitalism’s unchallenged rule over the world was over. The October Revolution was one of the rare, truly liberating social upheavals in human history. It made a sharp break with thousands of years of class-divided, exploitative societies, pointing the way for the international working class’s liberation from the chains of imperialism, the highest and final stage of capitalism.
Under the slogan "Peace, Land, Bread" and with the support of the overwhelming majority of the working class and poor peasantry, the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (as the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was then called) began the long, arduous trek to build such a new "system of civilized co-operators," as the great revolutionary Vladimir Lenin came to describe the essence of socialism.
The new revolutionary Soviet government immediately set to work to help birth that truly new society. With his famous "decree on peace", Lenin and the Bolsheviks took Russia out of the First World War, an imperialist slaughter of nations by the leading capitalist countries for the re-division of wealth and colonial possessions they had plundered from the world’s peoples. Land rights were transferred to millions upon millions of landless and impoverished peasants. All industrial, financial and other capitalist companies were nationalized. Workers were guaranteed employment. Education and health care became universal and free. Nations were guaranteed equality and self-determination including political secession. And for the first time in history, bold steps towards the emancipation of women were enacted.
The imperialist countries, including Canada, reacted in horror to the fledgling revolution, and immediately sent armies to crush the young Soviet state while the "baby was still in its cradle." Far weaker than the invading imperialist armies, the Soviet government and peoples nevertheless triumphed, with the support of millions of workers around the world who acted under the slogan "Hands off Russia!" Instead, the example of Russia sparked working class struggles and insurrections throughout the Russian empire and around the world.
The Soviet revolution shook the imperialist world as never before. Yet it stood on the shoulders of more than one hundred years of working class struggles. Millions of workers supported the First and Second Internationals – workers’ political parties whose goal was world peace and socialism, in sharp contrast to the imperialist strivings of the leading capitalist countries.
The Internationals were inspired by the slogan "Workers of all lands, unite!" and by revolutionaries such as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels who declared that the working class was the agent of socialist revolution. They were steeled by heavy persecutions of workers’ organizations throughout the advanced capitalist world. They were educated by the bloody vengeance of the French and Prussian capitalists in 1871 against the heroic but defeated Paris Commune – the world’s first working class state.
Nearly fifty years after the Paris Commune, the October Revolution gave new impetus, content, reference points and energy to the world revolutionary movement. Great October holds a unique and honored place in the entire history of the international working class movement because it was the first socialist revolution to achieve and retain political power, to withstand both internal counter-revolution and foreign intervention.
Because it dramatically changed world politics for jost of the balance of the century, breaking the hegemony of imperialism, and establishing a new and fundamentally different approach to relations between peoples, nations and states.
Because it gave a powerful impulse to the working people internationally to fight for their class interests, and awakened and gave real momentum and practical support to the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles of peoples everywhere, and to the movement for women’s equality everywhere.
And, perhaps jost important of all, because it showed that socialism could be more than just a good idea; that it could become an achievable reality; that the working class and its allies could move beyond sporadic resistance to capitalism, could challenge the system as a whole, and could achieve social emancipation; that the exploited and oppressed, through conscious and united struggle, could shape their future and become the real masters of their own destiny.
It was this truth about the Russian Revolution that more than anything else rattled the privileged classes around the world, filling them with a fear and hatred of socialism which began from the earliest days of the Soviet state and continued ever since. And yet despite an unremitting campaign of imperialist hostility and subversion, the Soviet Union endured for over seven decades, scoring many great social achievements, overcoming unemployment, illiteracy, and social deprivation. Socialism in the Soviet Uniontransformed an economically and culturally "backward" country into one of the world’s leading powers, and made great advances in culture and science.
Internationally, the Soviet Union played the decisive role in the defeat of fascism in World War II, championed the cause of decolonization, supported liberation movements throughout the Third World, and provided vital assistance to the newly emergent states. Its peace policy also restricted — though it could not entirely suppress — imperialism’s tendency to military aggression.
Socialism also benefited the working class in the advanced capitalist countries, greatly strengthening the pressure on the ruling classes to grant substantial concessions to working people in the form of labor rights, the forty-hour work week, unemployment insurance, women’s rights, health care, public education, and pensions. Ultimately however, the first workers’ state was overturned and capitalism restored, due to a combination of interrelated internal and external circumstances and contradictions which culminated in the temporary victory of counterrevolution.
The defeat of socialism in the USSR has become a powerful ideological weapon in the hands of monopoly capitalism, which it uses to convince workers and progressive-minded people that socialism does not work. We categorically reject the bourgeois contention that the internal causes of the crisis and defeat of socialism in the Soviet Union were rooted in the intrinsic nature of socialism. Rather, that historic setback resulted from distortions and outright departures from Marxist-Leninist theory and practice, and arose in part from the extremely difficult conditions under which socialism was being built.
Whatever the failures, mistakes or even gross distortions and departures which occurred during that first great experiment in building a new, higher form of society, this does not detract one iota from the enduring significance of Great October or the historical balance-sheet of the socialist state to which it gave birth, a composite record which was overwhelmingly positive, not only for the peoples of the Soviet Union but indeed for all humanity.
The misery and impoverishment which have befallen the vast majority of working people in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe since the early 1990s is a painful reminder of what happens when counter-revolution succeeds.
Everything we see around us today, confirms that it is precisely capitalism itself which is in profound systemic crisis — economic, structural, political, social and environmental. Capitalism is proving in life that it cannot meet the fundamental needs and interests of the people, neither in Canada nor around the world. Rather, the system is increasingly undermining those needs and interests in pursuit of its own internal "logic" — its drive for personal and corporate wealth, regardless of the social cost. As capitalism brings humanity ever closer to catastrophe, people are yearning for freedom. Socialism and working class resistance to imperialism are growing around the world, especially in Venezuela, Bolivia and throughout South America, resulting in fresh victories which are breathing new life into the international working class, adding to the already powerful example of Cuba’s revolution.
Imperialism is responding to growing resistance with growing reaction, militarism and war. In Canada, right-wing corporate forces are trying to take back the hard-fought gains won by workers and their allies. But despite their momentary advantage, the forces of imperialism cannot hold back the force of history, the irresistible power and attraction of socialist ideas, the growth of the international working class, and the striving of the vast majority of humanity for social progress and a better world.
Nothing can erase the accomplishments of the Russian Revolution. The Communist Party of Canada will celebrate Great October for its great achievements, for its historic lessons and for the unequalled inspiration it has created for the future of humanity – a socialist future.