The October Revolution and the east

How the Russian revolution of 1917 brought socialism to the oppressed peoples of Asia.

This article is based on a speech given to the CPGB-ML’s public meeting held to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution in Southall on 4 November 2017.

We hail the Great October Socialist Revolution as the first sustained seizing and holding of state power by the working class and its allies and the first building of a new socialist society. As such, the Soviet state was also the bastion of world revolution and the beacon pointing the road forward for oppressed and exploited humanity.

Leninism established that the working class could take power and build socialism first in one or several countries. But, as important as this was, this was not an end in itself. In fact, Lenin and the Soviet state directed great efforts and attached utmost importance to the question of the workers’ state breaking out of its international isolation.

This accords with the basic stand put forward by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto, that the communists are distinguished from the other parties of the working-class movement by two points only, one of which is that they always stand for and represent the interests of the working class as a whole, independent of all nationality. (Footnote i)

With the initial hopes of revolution in the west, and fledgling soviet republics in Hungary and parts of Germany destroyed, Lenin increasingly turned his attentions to the east. In his 2 March 1923 article, Better fewer, but better, he wrote:

“Can we save ourselves from the impending conflict with these imperialist countries? … I think the reply to this question should be that the issue depends upon too many factors, and that the outcome of the struggle as a whole can be forecast only because in the long run capitalism itself is educating and training the vast majority of the population of the globe for the struggle.

“In the last analysis, the outcome of the struggle will be determined by the fact that Russia, India, China, etc, account for the overwhelming majority of the population of the globe. And during the past few years it is this majority that has been drawn into the struggle for emancipation with extraordinary rapidity, so that in this respect there cannot be the slightest doubt what the final outcome of the world struggle will be. In this sense, the complete victory of socialism is fully and absolutely assured.”

Imperialism and the divide between oppressed and oppressor nations

A further crucial theoretical breakthrough on the part of Leninism was that it defined the world as being fundamentally divided between a small handful of oppressor nations on the one hand and a great mass of oppressed nations on the other. On this basis, Lenin further enriched and developed Marx and Engels’ clarion call of Workers of the World Unite, into Workers and Oppressed Peoples of the World Unite – the correct, principled and scientific slogan for the era of imperialism and proletarian revolution.

At its second congress in 1920, the Communist International (Comintern) adopted its Theses on the National and Colonial Question, setting out the stand of the proletarian movement towards the national-liberation movements.

This line was given practical expression that same year with the holding of the Baku Congress of the Peoples of the East. Although it attracted delegates from as far away as Korea, its main appeal was addressed to the muslim masses, calling on them to engage in a holy war against British imperialism, in fraternal alliance with the Soviet state. Anyone who has seen the Hollywood film Reds, about the US communist journalist John Reed, produced some years ago, might recall its depiction of his speaking at the congress.

An early example of this fraternal alliance may be seen in the attitude of the Soviet state towards Afghanistan.

In 1919, Britain invaded Afghanistan for a third time and during the Third Anglo-Afghan war, Soviet Russia supported Afghanistan by becoming the first country to establish diplomatic relations with it that same year, and by recognising its borders. A British attempt to assassinate the Afghan leader, Amanullah Khan, in June 1920 led to Afghanistan quickly signing a draft of an Afghan-Soviet non-aggression pact, which was formalised in 1921.

The treaty provided for Afghan transit rights through the Soviet Union and formed the basis of friendly relations during the 1920s. Early Soviet assistance included financial aid, aircraft and attendant technical personnel, and telegraph operators. During Amanullah Khan’s visit to Moscow in 1928 he was warmly welcomed as a close friend of the Soviet Union.

Under the influence of the Great October Socialist Revolution, the young Soviet state and the Comintern, communist parties were rapidly formed throughout the world, notably in Turkey, Iran and India in 1920, (footnote ii) and in China and South Africa, the first on the African continent, in 1921.

The October Revolution is often and rightly analysed in terms of the events and trends in the European workers’ movement during the preceding years of the 20th century. But it had another background, too, being preceded by the Iranian constitutional revolution of 1905-7, the Young Turk revolution of 1908, the Mexican revolution that commenced in 1910, the Chinese revolution of 1911 that overthrew the Qing dynasty, and Ireland’s Easter Rising in 1916.

These revolutionary movements differed widely, and undoubtedly had their limitations, but their common point was that they were mass movements of the oppressed nations and peoples – the practical vindication of the theoretical developments made by Lenin that we have just outlined above.

Revolution in Mongolia

It is too often forgotten that the first successful revolution after Great October was the Mongolian revolution of 1921, which led to the formal establishment of the Mongolian People’s Republic in 1924. Although this revolution occurred in a very remote and backward country, Lenin’s 5 November 1921 talk with a Mongolian delegation, which can be found in Volume 42 of his Collected Works, whilst short is extremely instructive, especially because it is here for the first time that Lenin puts forward the important thesis that countries can take a non-capitalist road of development, in alliance with world socialism.

“Comrade Lenin outlined to our delegation our country’s international situation and pointed out that owing to the Mongolian People’s Republic’s (footnote iii) geographical position, the imperialist powers, in case of war, would try to seize our country and use it as a jumping-off ground for military operations against another country. Therefore, Lenin said, the only right way for every working person in your country was to fight for state and economic independence in alliance with the workers and peasants of Soviet Russia. This fight could not be carried on isolatedly, therefore the establishment of a party of Mongolian arats (footnote iv) was a pledge of success in their struggle …

“Although Mongolia is a cattle-breeding country and the bulk of her population are nomad herdsmen, she has achieved great progress in her revolution, and most important of all, has made good these successes by creating a People’s Revolutionary Party (footnote v) of her own, whose aim is to become a mass party uncluttered by alien elements …

“Comrade Lenin elaborated on the idea that it was possible and necessary for the MPR to follow a non-capitalist path of development, the main condition for which was hard work on the part of the People’s Revolutionary Party and the government, so that this work and the increased influence of the party and the authorities would result in a growth of the number of cooperatives, in the introduction of new forms of economic activity and national culture, and would rally the arats behind the party and the government in the interests of the country’s economic and cultural development. It was only from the islets of the new economic way of life created by the efforts of the party and the government that the new non-capitalist economic system of arat Mongolia would take shape.”

Peoples of the east turn to Marxism Leninism

It was only natural therefore that the most advanced elements within the oppressed nations would rally to the cause of October, would pick up the banner of Marxism Leninism.

One can illustrate this with quotations from perhaps the three greatest leaders of communism in Asia.

Probably the best known of such quotations is that from Comrade Mao Zedong, the great leader of the Chinese people:

“It was through the Russians that the Chinese found Marxism. Before the October Revolution, the Chinese were not only ignorant of Lenin and Stalin, they did not even know of Marx and Engels. The salvoes of the October Revolution brought us Marxism Leninism. The October Revolution helped progressives in China, as throughout the world, to adopt the proletarian world outlook as the instrument for studying a nation’s destiny and considering anew their own problems.

“Follow the path of the Russians – that was their conclusion. In 1919, the May Fourth Movement took place in China. In 1921, the Communist Party of China was founded. Sun Yat-sen, (footnote vi) in the depths of despair, came across the October Revolution and the Communist Party of China. He welcomed the October Revolution, welcomed Russian help to the Chinese and welcomed [the] cooperation of the Communist Party of China.” (On the people’s democratic dictatorship, 1949)

Comrade Kim Il Sung, the great leader of the Korean people, was born in 1912. In his memoirs, With the Century, he recalled some of his earliest memories and the profound impact that the October Revolution had on his father, the great patriotic revolutionary, Kim Hyong Jik:

“My father, now back at home, told us many things, particularly about news from Manchuria and about Russia, about Lenin and about the victory of the October Revolution. He told us that a new world had come to Russia in which the workers, peasants and other unpropertied masses had become the masters, and he did not conceal his envy. He also expressed his great anxiety, saying that newborn Russia was facing ordeals because of the attack of the white party and the armed intervention of 14 countries.

“Because all his stories were woven with vivid detail and facts, I thought that my father might have been to the Maritime Province of Siberia. Like Manchuria, the Maritime Province of Siberia was also a base for the Korean independence movement and an important rendezvous. At the time of the March First popular uprising the number of Koreans residing there was several hundred thousand. In this area lived many patriots and fighters for independence who had gone there from Korea as exiles … And Ryu Rin Sok and Ri Sang Sol also formed here (Vladivostok) the combined headquarters of the volunteers from the 13 provinces of Korea.

“It was also here that the Korean Socialist Party headed by Ri Tong Hui started to disseminate Marxism Leninism as the first socialist group of Korea. It was also in this area that the provisional government in Russia known as the Korean National Assembly was formed and proclaimed its existence at home and abroad …

“Korean fighters for independence and patriotic people who had come to the Maritime Province of Siberia as exiles formed self-governing organisations and anti-Japanese resistance organisations throughout the area and conducted vigorous activities for the restoration of national rights. Units of the independence army based in the Maritime Province of Siberia advanced into such areas of north Hamgyong province as Kyongwon and Kyonghung and attacked Japanese troops and policemen, thus seriously disrupting the enemy’s rule and border guard.

“Some fighters for independence who had moved to this area from Manchuria formed large units and fought with the Red Army in defence of the Soviet republic. When the combined forces of imperialism and the internal enemy who followed their dictates pounced upon the Soviet Union from all directions in order to strangle the newborn political regime there, thousands of Korean young people gave their blood and lives with arms in hand either in the guerrilla ranks or in the Red Army in order to defend the socialist system, which mankind had longed for as their ideal.

“The names of Koreans are engraved in large letters on the monuments erected in the far east to the memory of the heroes of the Russian civil war. Such people as Hong Pom Do, Ri Tong Hui and Ryo Un Hyong, who had worked hard for the independence movement for some time with the far east of the Soviet Union as their base, met Lenin to gain his support for our national-liberation movement.” (With the Century: Reminiscences of Kim Il Sung, Volume 1)

Comrade Ho Chi Minh, the great leader of the Vietnamese people, and also, as the founder of the Communist Party of Indochina, the father of the revolution in Laos and Cambodia, (footnote vii) wrote in the Soviet journal Problems of the East, marking Lenin’s 90th birthday in April 1960:

“After World War I, I made my living in Paris, now as a retoucher at a photographer’s, now as painter of ‘Chinese antiquities’ (made in France!) I would distribute leaflets denouncing the crimes committed by the French colonialists in Vietnam.

“At that time, I supported the October Revolution only instinctively, not yet grasping all its historic importance. I loved and admired Lenin because he was a great patriot who liberated his compatriots; until then, I had read none of his books.

“The reason for my joining the French Socialist Party was that these ‘ladies and gentlemen’ – as I called my comrades at that moment – had shown their sympathy towards me, towards the struggle of the oppressed peoples. But I understood neither what was a party, a trade union, nor what was socialism nor communism.

“Heated discussions were then taking place in the branches of the Socialist Party, about the question whether the Socialist Party should remain in the Second International, should a Second-and-a-half International be founded or should the Socialist Party join Lenin’s Third International? I attended the meetings regularly, twice or thrice a week and attentively listened to the discussion.

“First, I could not understand thoroughly. Why were the discussions so heated? Either with the Second, Second-and-a-half or Third International, the revolution could be waged. What was the use of arguing then? As for the First International, what had become of it?

“What I wanted most to know – and this precisely was not debated in the meetings – was: which International sides with the peoples of colonial countries?

“I raised this question – the most important in my opinion – in a meeting. Some comrades answered: It is the Third, not the Second International. And a comrade gave me Lenin’s ‘Thesis on the national and colonial questions’, published by L’Humanité, to read.

“There were political terms difficult to understand in this thesis. But by dint of reading it again and again, finally I could grasp the main part of it. What emotion, enthusiasm, clear-sightedness and confidence it instilled into me! I was overjoyed to tears. Though sitting alone in my room, I shouted out aloud as if addressing large crowds: ‘Dear martyrs compatriots! This is what we need, this is the path to our liberation!’

“After then, I had entire confidence in Lenin, in the Third International.

“Formerly, during the meetings of the party branch, I only listened to the discussion; I had a vague belief that all were logical, and could not differentiate as to who were right and who were wrong. But from then on, I also plunged into the debates and discussed with fervour. Though I was still lacking French words to express all my thoughts, I smashed the allegations attacking Lenin and the Third International with no less vigour. My only argument was: ‘If you do not condemn colonialism, if you do not side with the colonial people, what kind of revolution are you waging?’

“Not only did I take part in the meetings of my own party branch, but I also went to other party branches to lay down ‘my position’. Now I must tell again that Comrades Marcel Cachin, Vaillant Couturier, Monmousseau and many others helped me to broaden my knowledge. Finally, at the Tours Congress, I voted with them for our joining the Third International.

“At first, patriotism, not yet communism, led me to have confidence in Lenin, in the Third International. Step by step, along the struggle, by studying Marxism Leninism parallel with participation in practical activities, I gradually came upon the fact that only socialism and communism can liberate the oppressed nations and the working people throughout the world from slavery.

“There is a legend, in our country as well as in China, on the miraculous ‘Book of the Wise’. When facing great difficulties, one opens it and finds a way out. Leninism is not only a miraculous ‘book of the wise’, a compass for us Vietnamese revolutionaries and people: it is also the radiant sun illuminating our path to final victory, to socialism and communism.” (The path which led me to Leninism, 1960)

Revolution comes to the Americas

Many years after these events, in an article contributed to the Tricontinental magazine, marking the first anniversary of the martyrdom of the internationalist revolutionary Comrade Che Guevara, the 50th anniversary of which fell last month, Comrade Kim Il Sung brilliantly explained how the Cuban revolution constituted the continuation and extension of the Great October Socialist Revolution in Latin America and the western hemisphere:

“The triumph of the Cuban revolution is the first victory of the socialist revolution in Latin America and a continuation of the Great October Revolution in Latin America. With the Cuban revolution emerging victorious, the red banner of socialism now flies high over Latin America, which was regarded as a hereditary estate of US imperialism only until recently, and the socialist camp has extended to the western hemisphere and grown in strength a great deal.

“Today the Republic of Cuba, which marches on firmly in the forefront of the Latin American revolution, is the lighthouse of hope for the fighting Latin American peoples and throws the rays of victory on the road of their struggle.

“The triumph of the Cuban revolution shook the colonial system of the US imperialists to its very foundation in the western hemisphere and has thrown the whole Latin America into a revolutionary tempest, forcefully arousing the peoples in this area to the sacred struggle for independence and freedom.

“The triumph of the Cuban revolution signified, indeed, the beginning of the disintegration of the US imperialist system of colonial rule in Latin America, the stern judgement on US imperialism, which had exploited and oppressed the peoples in this area for a long period, and its condemnation to ruin.”

And, profoundly anticipating today’s revolutionary processes in Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, El Salvador and elsewhere, he further wrote:

“The Cuban revolution is an organic part of the world revolution and, particularly, constitutes the decisive link in the chain of the revolution in Latin America. To defend the Cuban revolution and to consolidate and follow up its victories is not only the duty of the Cuban people but also the internationalist obligation of the oppressed peoples of Latin America and all the revolutionary peoples of the world.

“Just as the defence of the gains of the October Revolution in Russia. which made the first breach in the world capitalist system, was an important question decisive of the fate of the development of the world revolution, so the defence of the gains of the Cuban revolution, which made the first breach in the colonial system of US imperialism in Latin America, is an important question decisive of the fate of the Latin American revolution.

“It is of great importance for the defence of the Cuban revolution to advance the revolutionary movement in those Latin American countries neighbouring on Cuba. If the fierce flames of revolution flare up in many countries of Latin America where US imperialism sets foot, the force of US imperialism will be dispersed and sapped as much and the attempts of the US imperialists and their lackeys to strangle Cuba by concentrated force will inevitably fall through.

“Further, if the revolution emerges victorious in some other Latin American countries, Cuba will get out of the encircling ring of imperialism with which she is confronted on all sides, there will be opened up a favourable phase in the revolutions of Cuba and Latin America, and the world revolution will be stepped up still more.” (The great anti-imperialist revolutionary cause of the Asian, African and Latin American peoples is invincible, 8 October 1968)

Revolutionaries today need to take their stand with the great Comrade Kim Il Sung in seeing the struggle of working, oppressed and exploited people in any part of the globe as the continuation of the Great October Socialist Revolution.

This is a living legacy and pressing task of the October Revolution.

Long live the Great October Socialist Revolution!
Workers and oppressed peoples of the world unite!

Footnotes

(i)
“The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.”

(ii)
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPIM) dates the founding of the CPI to 17 October 1920 at Tashkent, Soviet Uzbekistan. Today’s CPI takes 26 December 1925 as its foundation day. This article takes the CPI(M)’s view with regard to the start of organised Indian communism.

(iii)
The Mongolian revolution triumphed in 1921. However, the Mongolian People’s Republic was formally established in 1924.

(iv)
Arats is derived from the Mongolian word for people but this derivation was used interchangeably in Russian for either the Mongolian people as a whole – save for class enemies – or specifically for pastoral and nomadic herdsmen, who, in any event, formed the majority of the population at the time.

(v)
The party was formed as the Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) in 1920 and took the name Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) in 1924. It reverted to the name MPP in 2010, with a breakaway group retaining the MPRP name. Under the leadership of the MPRP, socialism was built in Mongolia. However, it did not survive the demise of the USSR. Nevertheless, at time of writing, the MPP is the ruling party in Mongolia.

(vi)
Leader of the Chinese revolution of 1911, first President of China and founder of the Chinese nationalist party, the Guomindang (Kuomintang). Considered by Comrade Mao Zedong as “our great revolutionary forerunner”: In commemoration of Dr Sun Yat Sen

(vii)
The Communist Party of Indochina, founded by Comrade Ho Chi Minh, is the common root of the Communist Party of Vietnam, the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party and the Cambodia People’s Party, all of which are in power today. Vietnam and Laos are socialist countries.