MARKING THE 95TH ANNIVERSARY OF 1917 SOCIALIST REVOLUTION IN RUSSIA:
MARKING THE 95TH ANNIVERSARY OF 1917 SOCIALIST REVOLUTION IN RUSSIA:
Lively Debate on Building a Working People Political Alternative
By HT Soweto
Dagga Tolar led the discussion marking the 95th anniversary of the 1917 socialist revolution in Russia, held in Lagos, photo DSM
November 7, 2012 was the 95th anniversary of the 1917 socialist revolution in Russia, often called the October revolution because then Russia had a different calendar. About 30 comrades and supporters from the branches of Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) in Lagos gathered on Saturday November 10 at a lively meeting organised to mark the anniversary. According to Dagga Tolar, who led the discussion, the 1917 revolution was one of the most important events in the last century and its echo continues to reverberate in the 21st century.
While Karl Marx and Frederick Engels laid the firm theoretical and philosophical foundation of the ideas of scientific socialism, the 1917 October revolution led by the Bolshevik party of Lenin and Trotsky demonstrated the possibility of socialist change. For the first time, the working class, leading the peasant masses, took power in its own hands and began to build a new society where genuine equality, fraternity and cooperation between people – rather than private property and ruthless exploitation of the majority by a few – was to be real essence of being.
Aside from defeating feudalism and capitalism in Russia, the 1917 October revolution inscribed on its banner a programme for world revolution. As the bold example of the Russian revolution inspired workers in Europe as well as the masses in the colonial world to begin to rise to fight for change, the “spectre of communism” which was the opening line in Marx and Engel’s ‘Communist Manifesto’ actually became a reality. It appeared that capitalism was doomed everywhere as the working masses from one country to another sought to break the chains of their oppression.
Unfortunately this was not to be because of the role of those workers’ leaders in other countries who did not wish to overthrow capitalism and the subsequent emergence of Stalinism in the then Soviet Union. Contrary to the lies of the defenders of capitalism, Stalinism and its monstrous bureaucracy, authoritarianism and terror did not grow out of socialism but out of the isolation of the young workers” state due to the failure of revolution in Europe. A successful workers” revolution in Germany or any other developed country in Europe could have come to the aid of then backward, largely peasant, Russia. As Leon Trotsky said, “Stalinism is separated from Bolshevism by a river of blood”, something brutally seen in the Purge Trials of the 1930s.
Segun Sango (DSM General Secretary) – photo DSM
The revolution was generally on a correct course in its early years when the young workers’ state was led by the Bolshevik party of Lenin and Trotsky. Those who try to discredit socialism often fail to recognise this. The programmes laid out by the Bolsheviks to industrialize Russia, develop agriculture, on the national question, to provide free education, health care and a better the life for the mass majority are worth studying by revolutionaries 95 years after today. So also was the democratic working class government of soviets when functioned in its original and democratic form. However the combination of the revolution’s isolation and the then tremendous backwardness of Soviet Union’s economy undermined the workers’ democracy and allowed the bureaucracy to secure privileges, in comparison to the broad masses, which then the bureaucrats sought to maintain and extend.
Through the October revolution the working class took not just political power from the ruling class represented by the backward Tsarist-feudal lords, they also broke the rule of capital and private property by giving lands to the peasants and nationalizing the key sectors of the Russian economy under the control of the Soviets; which were democratic committees of elected representatives of workers and peasants. The Soviets set up in factories, workplaces, the army, cities and rural areas all over Russia were the democratic organs of workers’ power and through them the working class and peasants were involved in the key decision making processes about the economy and governance as a whole. Compared to the fake ‘democracy’ of capitalism today especially in Nigeria where politicians once elected become rich and are seldom recalled no matter the crimes or corruption they commit in office, a representative in the Soviet could be recalled within 24 hours if those he or she represented wanted it so.
Studying the dynamics of past revolutions especially the revolutionary year of 1917 is important for working class activists and youths seeking genuine change in society today. Today, society under capitalism is in a frightful mess. While the development of science and technology since the last century permits a more fruitful, healthy and fulfilling life for all, capitalism and its craze for profit over and above the needs of the people has worsened peoples’ living standards not just in Africa, but also Europe and the rest of the world. Now millions of people the world over are being confronted with the brutal reality of capitalism.
Living standards are not just coming down now because of the slowdown in the world economy due to the capitalist economic crisis, they were down too during the boom period. The current economic crisis has only made it worse as the burden of the crisis is unloaded through brutal austerity measures on the working people who did not benefit during the boom period. While more wealth has been created since the last century capable of providing a better life for 3 times the current earth population, the condition of life of most people is only a little better than that of the factory workers and landless peasants of 1917 Russia. In Africa, this difference may even be hard to find given the “stone-age” conditions in which millions of the continent’s population are still living despite being the richest in terms of minerals and natural resources.
Comrades at the Lagos DSM discussion marking the 95th anniversary of the 1917 socialist revolution in Russia – photo DSM
Summing up the discussion, Segun Sango (DSM General Secretary) argued that Nigeria represents an important case for a socialist revolution. Despite huge crude oil wealth, the living condition of the mass majority and public infrastructure remain deplorable. While Nigeria’s economy is growing at a high pace compared to the rest of the world, the wealth is only benefitting a tiny minority. This explains how a Nigerian – Aliko Dangote – could be the richest person in Africa with a net worth of $11.2 billion in this ocean of mass poverty and misery. Yet over 112 million Nigerians are living on less than $2 per day.
Poverty in Nigeria as well as unemployment has reached acute levels. Demonstrating this was recent media reports of a recruitment exercise for truck drivers by Dangote’s firm. While only 100 vacancies were available, over 13,000 submitted applications. Out of these were 8,460 University graduates, 704 masters degree and 6 PHD holders! Now there is nothing wrong with driving a truck but what kind of society has no other gainful employment for its PHD holders except truck driving? How can such a society develop? This reflects the acute unemployment situation with vast numbers having no real jobs. The condition of mass poverty and unemployment in the midst of wealth is a big scandal for capitalism as it demonstrates how it cannot develop society. All it offers and will continue to offer is a life misery. Only a socialist reconstruction of society can reverse this ugly situation.
As Dagga Tolar pointed in his lead-off the experience of the 1917 revolution in Russia demonstrates, changing society requires the building of a political party of the working class and poor. October 1917 would have been impossible without the Bolshevik party – a Marxist party built in the crucibles of the class struggle for over nearly two decades and conscious of the historical task of the working class to liberate society from the misery of capitalism and feudalism. As our own experience especially the strike and mass protest against fuel subsidy removal in January has shown, the situation in Nigeria urgently demands such a party. This is a reason why the DSM has formed the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) as a step towards creating the mass party we need.
Soweto reported to the meeting the progress made so far in the building of the Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN). Since we took the initiative to form the party early in the year, we have gone far in laying its basic foundations which includes drawing up a manifesto and a constitution. We have also taken the initiative to the working class. On May Day this year, we circulated leaflets of the party and marched with its banners in about 5 states. This has generated encouraging response with many workers calling afterwards to know about the party. While the DSM formed the party, we are prepared to work jointly with groups who share our vision of the possibility of a better Nigeria. This is why we have initiated discussion with some left groups on collaboration to build the party. Also some of our branches have started using the party to intervene, through press statements and propaganda activities, in workers’ struggles. This has to be emulated by all branches. Now we need to do more in building the structures of the party, organising public programs on its platforms, using it to intervene directly in workers and community struggles and calling on change-seeking people to join us.
Speaking further, Segun Sango pointed out that without a political party of their own, the working masses and poor will every four years have to continue to choose those to run society from the ranks of the same political parties whose capitalist policies of privatisation and commercialization have created the current debacle. In such a situation, there can be no way out for the working masses and poor as whatever party that wins elections, the same anti-poor policies will be on offer.
There is no fundamental difference between the ruling PDP and the ACN. They both support neo-capitalist policies of privatisation and Public Private Partnership (PPP). Neither of the parties is paying the genuine N18, 000 minimum wage while brutal attacks on the working people appear a policy thrust of both parties. In Oyo State for instance where the ACN is in power, over 3,000 workers have been sacked. It is not an accident that Okada riders are not just under attack in Lagos where the ACN is in power but also in States being ruled by the PDP. This shows that despite their skirmishes, on the most fundamental issues facing the working people, both parties are in agreement.
Comrades of the DSM attending a meeting in Lagos 95th anniversary of the 1917 socialist revolution in Russia – photo DSM
Unfortunately the Labour Party (LP) formed by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) offers no credible alternative to all these parties. While the LP won the governorship election in Ondo State, the low turnout (less than 40% of the total number of registered voters) shows the lack of enthusiasm and the fact that the working masses could not see a fundamental difference between what the LP and other contending political parties were offering. This is not surprising given the way LP is being run like another pro-capitalist party.
Despite being presented as a workers’ party, no genuine worker can join the party or aspire to contest into the leadership of the party or on its platform. The LP is so monetized that to aspire to fly the party flag as a local government chairmanship candidate, you must pay N300, 000 just for expression of interest! For presidential and gubernatorial aspirants it is staggering N10m and N5m respectively! Now how is it different from PDP or ACN? These ‘nomination fees’, which were decided upon in May 2010, extend right down to the very bottom of the Labour Party. To stand for the lowest possible position, that of a Ward Secretary, a Party member must first hand over N2,000 which will not be refundable. Truly the Labour Party is monetized from top to bottom. Yet a ‘left’ group while responding to DSM’s invitation to join us in building the SPN turned us down with the incredible argument that the task at hand “requires patient work within the mass organisation of the working people, including the Labour Party which we are very much aware does have a significant proportion of the advanced strata of workers in its ranks across the country”. This position is unbelievable! Only moneybags will be found in the ranks of such a party, not genuine workers with a monthly take home pay of N18, 000!
Comrade Robinson reported the movement developing against soaring electricity tariff or “crazy bills” in Ajegunle. This movement offers big opportunity to spread our ideas of an alternative to privatization of the Power Holding Company (PHCN). This would mean linking demands against the tariff with a call for public ownership of the power company under democratic control and management.
Comrade Chinedu introduced our paper, the Socialist Democracy (SD). A new edition is now out. We also raised a financial appeal to support the struggle of South African miners. The meeting ended in high spirit and with confidence that the next period would offer big opportunities for the development of the class struggle and for the victory of socialism.