The October Revolution needs an honest, balanced assessment

BY:Herbert Griessig| August 26, 2017

Editor’s note: Herbert Griessing lives in Berlin and was a citizen of the former German Democratic Republic.

Various political parties are dealing with the interpretation of the Russian October Revolution, its history, lessons and perspectives in a very different ways. While the conservative parties and social-democrats are focussing on the shortcomings and mistakes of the revolution the left tries to present a balanced picture one closer to the historic truth. Here are some of my thoughts:

1. The October Revolution was a groundbreaking world-historical event that opened an epoch. For the first time in history, in Russia itself and after 1945 in other European and non-European countries, a post-capitalist, socialist society was created. Various achievements were won in the fields of economics, social policy, culture and education, which were not conceivable in capitalist countries. The USSR and the other socialist countries had an unmistakable influence on world development, peace and emancipation from colonialism. Limits were imposed on imperialism. It was the socialist USSR, which made the the main contribution to the defeat of fascism in the Second World War.

2. In the course of these developments negative phenomena unfolded in socialism which were expressed in deficient human rights and crimes. There was also insufficient democracy, arbitrariness in the exercise of political power and intellectual narrowness and dogmatism.

3. Corrections and reforms, as well as feasible strategies for the further development of socialism were urgently necessary in the end. If implemented socialist measures could have contained the inner erosion processes and the anti-socialist forces within and from abroad. Because these measures were not taken what resulted was the upheavals after 1989 – socialism was replaced by a restoration of capitalism in the countries concerned.

4. The liquidation of the socialism in Europe and the dissolution of the USSR from today’s point of view, that is, in the year of the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution, raises numerous questions for communists and socialists:

  • What is the historical place of the October revolution in the history of the workers’ movement from today’s point of view?
  • What has real socialism achieved on a world scale?
  • What is the historical record of real, failed socialism?
  • What were the main causes of the failure of socialism, which had arisen in the wake of the October Revolution in the USSR and other countries in Europe?
  • What became of the international communist movement?
  • Do the upheavals of 1989-1991 force communists and socialists to a new beginning, or was only a process interrupted in its continuity?

Obviously, there can be no exhaustive answers to all these questions. As is well known, we are still confronted with very different assessments among communists and socialists. But if we continue to consider and embrace a socialist future of humankind, a realistic and critical analysis of the history of real socialism and the international communist movement is indispensable.

Recently, a leading comrade delivered an attempt to point out the main reasons of our defeat, but he was once again too much dealing with the interference of the enemy. It seems to me that we are not yet in a position to find the main reasons for our failure inside our real existing socialist system. As long as the former leaders live we still neglect the shortcomings.

But once again back to the Russian Revolution. Within this process of evaluation a big role must be played by Rosa Luxemeburg’s criticism vis-a-vis the October Revolution and her dissent with Lenin on issues of the ways and means of its implementation, such as missing democracy, the role of force, the revolutionary terror, the missing privatisation of land for the peasants, the mistakes within the Brest-Litovsk Treaty with Germany. But it was also Luxemburg who remarked that this handicapped child of revolution is ours and we should take care of it.


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