The Guardian 2 November, 2005
Our historic duty
It is 88 years next Monday since the workers and peasants of Russia, sick of war, hunger, suffering and privation, seized the government of the country and demanded peace, bread and land.
It was a revolution, and because it took place in October under the old Orthodox calendar used in Russia at the time, it is known to history as the Great October Socialist Revolution.
There had been at least one attempt at a socialist revolution before 1917, but the revolution led by Lenin and the Bolsheviks in 1917 was the first that was successful.
And that was amazing in itself — for Lenin's new revolutionary regime was promptly set upon, first by armed counter-revolution from within Russia and then by the armed forces of no less than fourteen capitalist countries.
The latter were intent on stifling both the "unnatural" type of regime installed by the Revolution and the equally unnatural type of social system the revolutionaries were intent on building.
For it was a social system where the needs of the people came before the needs of property owners, where provision of health care took priority over the provision of luxury goods, where war was not profitable and peace was actually held in higher regard.
The October Revolution brought the Russian people peace initially, but it was soon shattered by imperialist invasion. But even as counter-revolution began its attempt to strangle the revolution, the working people of the world were taking up the twin causes of revolution and peace.
They overthrew empires and brought the First World War to an abrupt close. Emboldened by the success of the Russian workers and their allies, working people began establishing Communist parties all over the world.
They fought the rise of fascism and resisted the drift to world war. The struggle of the world's colonial peoples for independence and national liberation was begun, if only tentatively.
But above all, the October Revolution gave the working class movement the proof it had been waiting for — the proof that the capitalist ruling class could be overthrown, the workers themselves could take over and successfully run the factories and the state.
Despite mistakes and setbacks, despite sabotage and imperialist blockade, the world's first socialist state successfully involved the working people in building a new type of society, a society they recognised as their own.
When imperialism enlisted fascism as the means of destroying this new society, the people rallied to the defence of Soviet Russia. The Russian people made colossal sacrifices to win a titanic struggle against Nazi Germany. In the process, they saved the rest of the world as well and proved the superiority of the socialist system, for a capitalist Russia could never have done it.
The subsequent betrayal of socialism in the USSR by Gorbachev and others who succumbed to the honeyed words of deceitful capitalism does not diminish the achievements of the socialist countries of Eastern Europe.
The destruction of a society that cared for all its members, that provided universal free health care, that guaranteed housing, education and employment to all its citizens, had a catastrophic effect.
This was made starkly clear by the sudden and dramatic drop in life expectancy in Russia. For those with money, there were now more goods in the shops, but for the people as a whole life was in fact now harsher, less optimistic, more worrying, more fearful. And, not surprisingly, shorter.
The socialist countries, all of which were in fact the product of the October Revolution, kept the aggression of imperialism in check in the decades after WW2. Only after the overthrow of socialism in the USSR and Eastern Europe, did the USA and other imperialist powers feel free to unleash wars at will with devastating effects on the people of many countries.
Today, when capitalist governments are once again introducing draconian laws attacking democratic rights and endeavouring to crush the trade unions with laws that echo the laws and policies of the Nazis and other fascists of the 1930s, the question of what sort of society do we want is once again on the agenda.
The working class must rally all the democratic forces of society to the defence of our democratic rights — including trade union rights — while making people aware that a better world unquestionably is possible: that was demonstrated once and for all by the Great October Socialist Revolution
of November 7, 1917.