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Taking the world in a Marxist-Leninist whirl.

Summary: From St Petersburg to Santiago, Kolkata to Havana, the Bolsheviks shook the intelligentsia and the commoner alike like never before

Sanjib Kumar Das, Senior Pages Editor

Regarding the Bolshevik Revolution, it was often said that with it, "the sun had finally risen in the East"!

It was the first instance in modern history when the working class - comprising peasants, factory workers and members of the armed forces - took control of the political and administrative power-centre in a country, overthrowing a feudal order that had manifest itself in terms of Tsarist authority in early 20th-century Russia.

The inner contradictions of the revolution itself and its concomitant chaos in the form of an ensuing civil war notwithstanding, the Bolshevik Revolution marked a watershed in modern history that spread its political and ideological imprint far beyond Russia. From St Petersburg to Santiago, Kolkata to Havana, the Russian Revolution was one phenomenon that shook the intelligentsia and the commoner alike like never before.

It is indeed fascinating that from a Che Guevara in Cuba to a Jyoti Basu in India (Basu presided over the longest-running, democratically elected Communist government in the world), the Bolshevik Revolution inspired myriads of standard-bearers of class-struggle across continents and cultures.

Here we trace the global footprint of the November Revolution in Russia.


The 1917 Russian Revolution marked a major shift in the balance of political power on an international scale and continental Europe was very much at the centre of this change in political equation. Apart from the revolution sending its reverberations across countries such as Germany, Britain, Italy, France, Hungary and Yugoslavia, several new independent states came into being such as Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Finland and Estonia that exchanged very strong vibes with the revolutionary rumblings in a post-Tsarist Russia.

All across Europe, the working class - comprising soldiers, sailors and factory workers - were suffering from what one may call the fatigue of a war economy. Communist organisations were born all across Europe in the aftermath of the November Revolution in Russia.

As a counter-balance to such mass outpourings of angst, attempts were made in several European societies to suppress revolutionary trends, which resulted in the crushing of the Spartacus League in Germany and the rise of a fascist regime under Benito Mussolini in Italy.

Germany: The Russian Revolution helped trigger large-scale discontent in Germany. Just as the Russian workers and peasants had overthrown the Tsar and replaced his authority with that of a socialist government led by Vladimir Lenin, the Germans too wanted to get rid of the autocratic rule of the Kaiser and replace it with a council of workers and soldiers. A joint mutinee by soldiers and workers in October-November 1918 saw the governments break down in several German cities such as Hamburg and Bremen. Finally, Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated his authority on November 9, 1918, paving the way for Social Democratic Party (SPD) member Freidrich Ebert to become the new Chancellor of Germany. On December 24, 1918, the Spartacus League, a breakaway faction of SPD, attempted a Communist revolution in Berlin. On December 30, it announced the birth of the Communist Part of Germany. Chancellor Ebert then organised a massive counter-force of former soldiers to crack down on the Spartacists and the revolt was snuffed out in three days' time.

Britain: The Russian Revolution fuelled large-scale opposition to the First World War. In every strike and demonstration, the events in Russia were a case in point. There were demonstrations in support of the February Revolution and conferences, including the Leeds Convention in June 1917. The beginning of 1919 saw massive mutinies by soldiers all across Britain. These soldiers were against the idea of fighting the Bolshevik government in Russia. Many of the British soldiers who were stationed in Russia also rose up in revolt against British authority, which in turn ended Britain's attempts to crush the Bolshevik revolution. The Leeds Convention on June 3, 1917, brought together trade unionists, reformists and revolutionaries together on one platform for the first time to celebrate the Russian Revolution. The events that followed, led to the formation of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1920. However, for a working class and a bureaucracy steeped in the benefits of an entrenched British capitalist system, a truly game-changing Left-leaning revolutionary movement could never catalyse.

Italy: The rise of Benito Mussolini and fascism rearing its head in Italy were the direct fallout of the revolution in Russia. Interestingly, both Mussolini and Vladimir Lenin had Left-leaning, Communist ideologies at the very core of their intellectual and political consciousness. However, Lenin's decision to pull Russia out of the First World War was something that Mussolini was highly sceptical about. Mussolini was opposed to the Bolshevik Revolution because it had advocated surrender to the German forces. Lenin, on the other hand, was very keen on the radicalisation of a socialist movement in Italy, following the success of the Bolsheviks in Russia. Sensing this as a threat to Italy's nationalist agenda, the Fascist Movement saw a surge in Italy under the leadership of Mussolini.

Yugoslavia: During the First World War in Yugoslavia, the existing socio-economic and political climate was calling for a major change of guard - along the lines of the November revolution in Russia. Sailors in the Austro-Hungarian war ports had staged a revolt by the end of 1917. In Pula, there were anti-war protests. In 1918, a major strike broke out among the workers of the state arsenal, demanding an end to the War, higher wages and better working conditions. As many as 11,000 workers took part in that strike. Steadily declining living conditions due to the War, the sordid state of the Slavs and reverberations of the November Revolution in Russia - all combined to trigger a country-wide unrest. According to reports from the Serbian military, the mutiny of sailors in the Bay of Kotor in February 1, 1918, was the "result of Leninist ideas that were so widespread in the Austro-Hungarian Navy that they significantly weakened the familiar harsh discipline".

Hungary: After the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Hungary was transformed into a Republic under a very active Communist party. In March 1919, following a popular unrest, the then president of Hungary was forced to resign and a Communist coalition came to power. Known as the Hungarian Revolution of 1919, this attempt at building a socialist state in Hungary was led by Bela Kun. Soon after, the Hungarian Red Army was formed and it sought to reclaim some of the land lost in the First World War. However, the military's success was very limited and the nascent Communist government in the country fell victim to the hostility of the Romanian Army, barely a few months after its formation. Interestingly, later on, in 1956, when the Hungarian Revolution took place, it was more of a counter-argument to Stalinist excesses. As Leon Trotsky, the Marxist revolutionary theorist, had rightly analysed, the workers under Stalinist dictatorship in Russia, instead of accepting their conditions or seeking a resurgence of capitalism, would move in a political revolution to take power into their own hands.


The first Russian Revolution in 1906 and certainly the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 provided a lot of fuel to the flames of freedom struggle in India and helped fire up revolutionary trends in other parts of Asia, such as Indonesia and Vietnam. The Bolshevik Revolution also helped sow the seeds of a powerful socialist movement in China, decades later. While in a country like India, the Russian Revolution inspired the fight against British colonial rule, in Vietnam, the Bolshevik Revolution encouraged the primarily agrarian country to take up the cudgels against American expansionist policies.

India: Interestingly, in India, the revolutionary ideas espoused by the followers of Lenin in Russia found widespread acceptability among both camps - the proponents of a non-violent struggle headed by Mohandas Gandhi, as well as the firebrand ultra-nationalists led by Subhash Chandra Bose. Moreover, embrace of a socialist ideology in charting out its economic roadmap and incorporation of five-year plans have been some of the defining principles of governance in post-independence India - in line with Lenin's vision of socialism. The Communist Party of India was formed in 1920 in Tashkent after its founder M.N. Roy attended the Second Congress of the Communist International. The formation of the party in Tashkent was followed by initiatives by party sympathisers outside India to connect with activists such as Muzaffar Ahmad, S.A. Dange, Singaravelu Chettier and others. After independence, the Communist movement within India got crystallised primarily in the states of Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura, where peasants' and workers' movements, in line with strong Marxist-Leninist ideological tenets, formed the backbone of the political process and large-scale agrarian reforms for several decades.

China: The Communist Revolution in China (in 1949) started several decades after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, but the similarities between the two revolutions are unmistakeable. No doubt, the Russian Revolution did have its fair share of influence on the Chinese uprising. In both these countries, the conditions that prevailed just prior to the revolutions were similar. Quite like the disgruntled and marginalised industrial workers in Russia, the peasants in China too felt sidelined by the landlords and this led to the revolution. In June 1918, the head librarian at Beijing University, Li Dazhao, paid his tributes to Lenin. Li interpreted the revolution in Russia as a model for China. He established a Marxist study group at the university, which Mao joined in 1919. In the spring of 1920, Grigorii Voytinskii arrived in China with information on the Bolshevik Revolution and related political writings, which were translated into Chinese. It was Voytinskii who worked successfully to transform the contemporary Marxist study groups into the Communist Party of China.

Vietnam: Since 1930, as Vietnam went on the path to revolution, its leader Ho Chi Minh had the opportunity to study revolutions in other parts of the world - namely the French and the American revolutions. He, however, was of the opinion that none of these revolutions were truly liberating in the sense that they had failed to ensure complete freedom for their people. Instead, Ho was immensely impressed by the shape and form of the November Revolution in Russia. Ho came to the conclusion that a "National liberation must be done by no other way than a proletariat revolution". Thereafter, following the path of the Russian Revolution, the Communist Party of Vietnam has piloted very significant socio-political and economic changes in the country. The Russian Revolution and the basic tenets of Marxist-Leninist ideology have made a very strong grounding in Vietnam's socio-political identity, sustaining the country's struggle for decades against imperialist propaganda and expansionist power games.


The Russian Revolution had a profound impact on Latin American and Caribbean countries. This was manifest in various forms and developments such as the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution; the workers' movements in Brazil; the military rebellion in Chile; the anti-imperialist revolutions in Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Granada; armed resistances in Argentina, El Salvador, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil and Uruguay; the students' movements in Cordoba; as well as various feminist movements. The severe blow that the proletariats in Russia had dealt to the landed gentry and the Tsarist elites served as a reference point for revolutionaries across Latin American countries. The ties with post-revolution Russia helped open up a completely new horizon for national liberation struggles, rooted in socialist ideals, as enshrined in Marxist-Leninist thought. The Russian Revolution served as a model for self-determination in Latin America through proletarian struggle.

Venezuela: In 1917, Venezuela primarily had a rural and pre-capitalist economic structure as a powerful military dictatorship swept through the country under the patronage of America. However, at the same time, in the western part of the country, economic activity based on the oil reserves was beginning to take shape and with it, a sizeable working class comprising handicraft workers, peasants and fishermen were gradually transforming themselves into workers in the oil industry. These workers, who were inspired by the upheavals of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and its immediate impact on Russian socio-economic life, formed the core of the Communist Party of Venezuela in 1931. Later on, the Communist Party of Venezuela formed a lasting solidarity with the emerging state of USSR.

Cuba: It was Fidel Castro who brought Communism to Cuba and was supported by Moscow for several decades, which allowed Cuba to survive stringent United States sanctions, until they were lifted by the Barack Obama administration in 2015. However, interestingly, the revolution in Cuba was in many ways independent from the Marxist influence that was sweeping the other Latin American nations at the time. Speaking about the revolution in Cuba, Janette Habel, the French activist, said: "The triumph of the Cuban revolution right in the middle of the Cold War went against the traditions of South American Communist parties and reneged upon their orientations and policies concerning four points: The revolutionary strategy, the so-called Leninist model of the vanguard party, the dynamic and the goal of revolution and internationalism. We can add to that the aim, during the Cuban revolution of building a different sort of socialism starting from the criticism of 'real socialism' devised by Che Guevara." Habel further said: "Cuban revolution was to come up against the excessively Stalinised Communist tradition of the Latino Communist Parties." The Cuban story is indeed interesting primarily because of the fact that though Leftist to the core, the revolution in Cuba under Castro ran counter to the dogmatic proponents of Marxism who were in vogue in the rest of Latin America.

Brazil: The revolutionary uprising that struck Brazil between 1917 and 1919, along with the developments in Argentina in 1919, was the clearest manifestation - so far as Latin America was concerned - of the revolutionary wave that was sweeping the world, with its ideological fulcrum obviously being in Russia. In contemporary Brazil, the socio-economic and political situation was ripe for a major upheaval. The damages inflicted on humanity by the First World War and the marginalised condition of the working class, saw this deprived lot pledge its solidarity with the Russian workers and follow their footsteps. Throughout the 19th century, there were proletarian struggles in Brazil that sought to put an end to slavery. Soon after the Russian Revolution in 1917, there were huge demonstrations in Rio, Sao Paulo and Santos, showing support for the Russian movement. The Brazilian Workers' Federation (COB) played a seminal role in organising mass demonstrations, upholding the rights of the proletariats, in line with the revolutionaries in Russia. "The 1917 Russian revolution had an enormous impact as an 'appeal', more at the level of the maturation of consciousness than an explosion of new struggles," according to the International Communist Current.

Bolivia: In April 1952, Bolivia witnessed one of the strongest proletarian revolutions in the history of Latin America. Within just a few hours, factory workers, city dwellers and miners vanquished the state machinery. This fast and massive uprising left the country's military establishment completely overrun. The army was totally under the control of the ruling bourgeois class. The Bolivian working class firmly believed, quite like the Bolsheviks in Russia, that only the capture of power by force, by the working class, could bring the democratic revolution to fruition and this seizure of power was linked with the ideals to socialism. Mining and agriculture contributed the lion's share to Bolivia's gross domestic product in the early 20th century. Yet, the workers in these sectors were always marginalised by a land-owing class that did little or nothing to help improve the lot of the workers. However, the absence of a revolutionary leadership left some of the agenda of the revolution unfinished.

- With inputs from & International Communist Current

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 25, 2017
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