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.