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The future of socialism, 100 years after


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The October Socialist Revolution of 1917, heralding the victory of the Russian Bolshevik Party was shattering of mankind’s several and long-held dogmas and for the first time turned the theories of socialism in books into a living social reality. The October socialist revolution which was actually on the 7th of November of the Western calendar was a revolt that was like no other before it and its ramifications changed the world forever. Since the past one hundred years after the victory of the October Revolution, the Soviet State inspired by it has collapsed   but the theoretical infrastructure of the Revolution issued from the scientific theory of Karl Marx, Fredrich Engels and Vladmir Lenin has found validity in constant evolution of social realities. Marxism-Leninism as a theory of interpreting social reality, aggregating and examining its components and more importantly transforming its whole, is itself based on the material laws, accessible through scientific interrogation of social facts.

The October Socialist Revolution was a watershed for humanity as it created social consciousness of new possibilities, not just of mere ideals of which honest men and women have dreamt and longed for, but by the apprehension of natural laws through which a transformation force was discovered and organised. Marxism-Leninism gave socialism a fresh and audacious vista, as a material force and the October Socialist Revolution was the objective manifestation of its validity.

Because, Bolshevism was central to the victory of the October Socialist Revolution, it might be pertinent to examine its features. As Lenin noted, “As a trend of political thought and a political party, Bolshevism existed since 1903,” fourteen years before the victory of the October Revolution Throughout the whole intense period including the failed revolution of 1905, which has been recorded as the “dress rehearsal” of the 1917 victorious revolution, the Bolshevik party was able to build up and maintain under very difficult conditions, the iron discipline most needed for the victory of the proletariat. And Lenin asked, “how is the discipline, of the revolutionary party of the proletariat maintained? How is it tested? How is it reinforced?” And he answered. By the class consciousness of the proletarian vanguard and by its devotion to the revolution, by its perseverance, self-sacrifice and heroism. Secondly by its ability to link itself with, to keep in close touch with, and to a certain extent, merge with the broadest masses of the toilers-primarily with the proletariat but also with non-proletarian toiling masses.”


Lenin provided a critical insight into contemporary counter-revolutionary narrative that the objective course of history identified as the driving force of revolutionary socialism which must unfold of its accord and cascade down to its manifest destiny. The leader of Russian Bolshevism was clear that certain conditions are inevitable to establish discipline of a revolutionary party but quickly noted that “these conditions cannot arise all at once. They are created only by prolong effort and hard-won experience. Their creation is facilitated by correct revolutionary theory, which, in its turn, is not a dogma, but assumes final shape only in close connection with the practical activities of a truly mass and revolutionary movement.”

Bolshevism grew in 1903 according to Lenin, “on the very firm foundation of the theory of Marxism”. And the correctness of Marxism as revolutionary theory “has been proved not only by world experience throughout the 19thCentury but particularly by the experience of the wanderings and vacillations, the mistakes and disappointments of revolutionary thought in Russia. For nearly half a century-from the 40s to 90s, advanced thought in Russia, oppressed by an unparallel savage and reactionary tsardom, eagerly sought for a correct revolutionary theory and followed with astonishing diligence and thoroughness each and every” “last world in this realm in Europe and America. Russia according to Lenin “achieved Marxism, the only correct revolutionary theory, through veritable suffering, through half a century of unprecedented torment and sacrifice, of unprecedented revolutionary heroism, incredible energy, devoted searching, study, practical trial, disappointment, verification and comparisms with European experience.”

On the hand, he explained that, “having arisen on the granite theoretical foundation (Marxism), Bolshevism passed through fifteen years (1903-1917) of practical history which in wealth of experience has no equal anywhere in the world”. For no other country during these fifteen years had anything even approximating to this revolutionary experience, this rapid and varied succession of different forms of the movement-legal and illegal, peaceful and stormy, underground and open, circles and mass movements, parliamentary and terrorist.

In no other country was there concentrated during so short a time, such a wealth of forms, shades and methods of struggle of all classes of modern society, and moreover, a struggle which owing to the backwardness of the country and the severity of the tsarist yoke, matured with exceptional rapidity and assimilated most eagerly and successfully the appropriate “last word” at American and European political experience.” Bolshevism and the triumph of the October Socialist Revolution illuminated a path of new social consciousness armed with a theory whose basis was thoroughly scientific. This certainly demonstrated that a low level of material civilization could in no way hold back the progress of socialism, and that when capitalism offered no solution, a turn to socialism is a most considered imperative.

As the Tanzanian socialist revolutionary the late Abdulrahman Babu, put it in his seminal work, “African Socialism or Socialist Africa”, “the Russian Revolution marked a turning point in the history of the world,” describing it as the “first social revolution in history organized, led and carried by the working class and for the working class. The bourgeois, for the time in their short history lost confidence in their own capability when confronted by organized workers. It brought about a general despondency among the ruling classes throughout Europe and elsewhere, as profound doubt began to spread as to the ability of the bourgeoisie and their capitalist system to solve the problems which had brought about the catastrophe of the first world war. On the other hand, Russian worker’s victory heightened the moral of the working class in Europe and elsewhere and put world-wide revolution on the agenda.” Despite, the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, a state built from the triumph of Bolshevism, the October Socialist Revolution and the trajectories of political struggles that led to its epic victory, remain instructional and even more relevant in the current times to understand the contemporary decomposition and de-construction of global capitalism, a challenge more aptly illustrated by Rosa Luxemburg that the “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, with the possibility of either to  “transit to socialism or regress into barbarism.”

Despite the technological and scientific breakthroughs which have opened new vistas in communications, aviation and other hi-tech, global life under the pressure of imploding capitalism appear to be in a frightening descent to barbarism. The October Socialist Revolution was a moment of a definitive entry of the working people into the political arena, assuming direct responsibility to reshape society on its terms. As Leon Trotsky, one of the leaders of the October Revolution and its most illustrious chronicler noted in his magnificent work “The History of the Russian Revolution”, “The History of a revolution is first of all, a history of the forcible entrance of the masses into the realm of ruler ship over their own destiny.” And that “the most indubitable feature of a revolution is the direct interference of the masses in historic events”. Still underlining the preeminence of the masses in revolutionary pressures, Trotsky, revealed that “In ordinary times the State, be it monarchical or democratic, elevates itself above the nation, and history is made by specialists in that line of business;-kings, ministers, bureaucrats, parliamentarians, journalists”. But at the crucial moments, when the old order becomes no longer endurable to the masses, the break over the barriers excluding them from the political arena, sweep aside their traditional representatives and create by their own interference the initial groundwork for a new regime.”

In one of the rare account of history, in which the author was also a distinguished participant, Trotsky regaled his narratives with imageries of the revolution as “the festival of the oppressed”. Underscoring the significance and the dramatic effects of the October Revolution, Trotsky noted that “during the first two months of 1917, Russia was still a Romanov Monarchy. Eight months later, the Bolsheviks stood at the helm. They were little known to anybody when the year began and their leaders were still under indictment for State treason when they came to power. You will not find another such sharp turn in history-especially if you remember that it involves a nation of 150 million people.”

Russia at that time, which was marked by her history of economic backwardness, primitiveness of her social forms and low level of culture, resulting from it, “combined with the concentrated oppression of Czarism, that made the Russian workers hospitable to the boldest conclusions of revolutionary thought, just as the backward industries were hospitable to the last word in capitalist organization”, to trigger the then, world most far- reaching social and political convulsion. Rosa Luxemburg in her work on the “Fundamental significance of the October Revolution”, described it “as the mightiest event of the world, whose “outbreak, its unexampled radicalism, its enduring consequences constitute the clearest condemnation of the lying phrases of official social reformism, and added that the development (October revolution) were a decisive refutation of the doctrinaire theory… according to which Russia as an economically backward and predominantly agrarian land, was supposed not to be ripe for social revolution and proletarian dictatorship”. Paying tribute to “the party of Lenin, which was the only one which grasped the mandate and duty of a truly revolutionary party,” Rosa, wrote that “whatever a party could offer of courage, revolutionary farsightedness and consistency in an historic hour, Lenin, Trotsky and all other comrades have given in good measure. All the revolutionary honour and capacity which western social democracy lacked was represented by the Bolsheviks. Their October uprising was not only the actual salvation of the Russian Revolution; it was also the salvation of the honour of international socialism”.

Socialism offers a humanistic approach to formulating the political alternative to the existing system of the current historical circumstances of the implosion of contemporary capitalism  The October Revolution holds an enduring and honoured place in the history of humanity, and the collapse of the USSR, which apart from how President Vladmir Putin described it as “as the greatest geo-political catastrophe of the 20th Century”, posed the challenge of restoring Marxism-Leninism to its theoretical preeminence as the most viable scientific framework to understand and transform society.

The simple message that resonated with uncommon eloquence from the victory of the October Socialist Revolution was that another future was possible for humanity then, and now it is even more urgent that ever.

Onunaiju is a director, Centre for China Studies, Utako, Abuja.

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