Today marks the centennial of the Great October Socialist Revolution, known when I was young in the US as the Russian Revolution, and also perhaps more accurately described as the Bolshevik Coup. On March 8, 1917, people rose up from the streets behind women marching on International Womens’ Day, leading troops to refuse to fire on them, a real revolution, which led to the overthrow of Tsar Nichoalas II and the putting in place of a democratic government eventually led by Alexander Kerensky. He failed to end the war with Germany, and riding on a peace and “land to the peasants” platform, Lenin led the Bolshevik coup on November 7 that overthrew Kerensky’s regime. Peace was made with Germany, and peasants did take land from aristocrats, even if more than a decade later they would have to give it up during the Stalin agricultural collectivization. Arguably this taking of land by peasants did constitute a revolution, and certainly a different regime was put in place, the first officially inspired by the socialist ideas of Karl Marx. Many would say that it would fail to follow ideals laid forth in Marx’s writings, especially the horrors under Stalin, although others would argue that the bad things that followed were inherent or implied in his writings, if not explicitly there.
In any case, given the many Marxist-Leninist revolutions that followed, with the world’s largest nation currently ruled by a party that adheres doctrinally to this view, which has recently been reinforced officially by a party congress, the second Russian Revolution in November is of world historical significance, for better or worse. It is curious that in Russia itself it is currently viewed with mixed feelings. There is a special this week on TV on Lenin, which is apparently showing his life with warts and all. There is also one on Trotsky as well, amazingly enough, although he played a far more important role in the revolution than did his great rival for power, Stalin.
Views of these figures now in Russia are not what one might have expected. Indeed, both Lenin and Trotsky are viewed as mixed figures, partly good, partly bad. The figure who is undergoing full-blown rehabilitation with the support of Vladimir Putin is in fact Stalin, now viewed favorably by 50% of the population. Bookstores are full of books praising him to the skies. Of course it is not his role as a great communist or socialist leader that is emphasized. It is his role as the leader of the nation in the victorious Great Patriotic War against Germany ruled by Adolf Hitler.
Which brings us to how this centennial was celebrated earlier today in Moscow, which ceremonies I have now watched on RT. Putin was not there, nor Premier Medvedev. There was no mention of Lenin or Trotsky or Stalin. Rather there was a military parade that focused on the city of Moscow itself, with the highlight and emphasis being on recreating the November 7, 1941 parade in Red Square that presaged by just under a month the counterattack against the German troops then just a few miles outside of Moscow, a successful counterattack that coincided with Pearl Harbor and indeed was able to happen because of the non-aggression pact between the USSR and Japan, which allowed the Soviets to bring troops from Siberia, who were represented by soldiers in white uniforms, along with others dressed in historical costume. The main part honoring this counterattack was preceded by older history, with people in period costumes depicting the Alexander Nevsky resistance against the invading Teutonic knights, people resisting the Polish conquest of Moscow in 1613, also ones resisting Napoleon in 1812, and, with the only reference to the centennial itself, some depicting partisans defending Moscow during the civil war that followed November 7, 1917, and then those depicting the World War II troops in great detail.
The whole thing was overseen by the mayor of Moscow, who spoke, with some WW II vets sitting next to him and receiving flowers. It closed with current military cadets marching, followed by some WW II tanks and armored vehicles that parked themselves in the square at the end.
There lingers the question of what would have happened if there had been no Great October Socialist Revolution. Presumably this would have involved either Kerensky or perhaps Kadet leader Kornilov making peace with Germany soon enough to forestall Lenin being transported by the Germans to what was then Petrograd. It is impossible to know what would have followed, although Kerensky’s own political ideology looks to have been a variant of social democracy. But it is questionable whether he could have pulled off making Russia a Sweden, with some sort of military dictatorship of some sort probably more likely in the longer run, although probably not a restoration of the tsar. From those who praise Stalin and really like this celebration that just happened, the question arises if this alternative history would have involved Hitler coming to power and starting World War II, and would this alternative Russia have been able to defeat him. There might not have been as large of a steel industry to build those tanks for Stalingrad and Kursk, but there also would have probably been more people around, including leaders of the military who would not have been purged as they were by Stalin in the 1930s In any case, we shall never know.