Following is the talk given by Mond Jones, a youth leader of the Detroit branch of Workers World Party, to a meeting commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, held in London, Ontario, Canada, on Nov. 4. The meeting was organized by the London chapter of the Young Communist League.
As Marxists, as Communists, we learn from history. We study the successes and the shortcomings of past revolutions, not only in an attempt to understand history and our current conditions, but to guide actions in the present and to guide us on the path to building a revolutionary future.
In this current time, we are seeing the failures of this corrupt capitalist system. Capitalism is in decay, and it’s crumbling in on itself. In Detroit we see it every day. We see the results of capitalist exploitation in degradation.
We see mass water shutoffs, for delinquencies of less than $150. I have a comrade who had his water shut off for 50 cents. He and his mother were 50 cents short of the full payment, and they had their water shut off. However, big businesses in Detroit rack up delinquencies of hundreds of thousands every year, yet go unpenalized and continue to receive subsidies.
Thousands of homes and abandoned buildings lie vacant, while the rates of homelessness rise in the city. Homes are being illegally foreclosed and auctioned off left and right, kicking families to the streets, while the city’s emergency funds are used to help continue the gentrification of Detroit.
There was a conference in October where basically mayors came from all over the country to Detroit to see what a haven of “revitalization” it was. Folks are literally using Detroit as a model for how to quickly and successfully gentrify their cities.
Our party held a Real Detroiters Speak Out during this conference, where many community organizations joined together to answer this narrative and expose the reality of poverty and destruction of our neighborhoods at the hands of the banks and corporations which we experience every day.
And that’s just one city. We are seeing these trends of destruction happening all over the world. The proletariat is growing increasingly into a class of hyperexploited, low-wage workers who can barely afford the bare minimum resources required to even be able to be productive at work.
Comrades, we have a problem. But we also have a solution. And here we are, gathered here as revolutionaries, to commemorate 100 years of the Bolshevik Revolution. Now is a time for celebration, for action, but also a time to revisit one of the most important events of the 1900s for the global working class, and how we can use the lessons learned there, to build revolution here.
The Bolshevik Revolution was quite a few things. Many people view it in a very static and simplified way. See, the Bolshevik Revolution was not only the first successful socialist revolution, it was also the first revolution to successfully put the ideas of Marx and Engels into practice. That’s huge.
Leninism is not only “Marxism in the age of imperialism” but quite literally “Marxism applied successfully,” Marxism IN PRACTICE, and it was the Leninist model that was adopted by revolutionaries throughout the global south. Still to this day, the Leninist model is used across the globe to wage People’s War against capitalism and imperialism. In short: Leninism works.
But let’s talk about some facts. People love to hear the facts, the numbers behind successes and shortcomings of historical events. So right now, I want to give a little bit of insight into the gains of socialist revolution in the Soviet Union.
First, I will talk a little about the emancipation of women during the revolution. Communists understand, or should understand, the role in which special oppressions uphold capitalism.
Just six weeks after the revolution, the church’s patriarchal control over marriage was dismantled, and after within a year of revolution, a code was released that ensured complete equality of rights between both spouses.
In 1920, the Soviet Union was the first country in the world to legalize abortion. Prior to legalization, abortions were conducted in secret, for large sums of money, under unsanitary and dangerous conditions. To protect the women, the state provided abortions free of charge in any Soviet hospital capable of performing them.
In 1927 women formed 12.8 percent of the Communist Party. One-third of students in institutions for higher education were women. In the same year, women formed over 25 percent of the membership of trade unions.
During the revolution, there was a drastic shift in the way women were treated in society, compared to [their treatment in] the institutions of prerevolution tsarist Russia, where women had no rights and were relegated to the property of their husbands.
Lenin and the national question
There’s a trend popularized by anarchists and radlibs alike to try and paint communist leaders as racists. We know that is not the case, and has never been the case, because the Bolshevik Revolution set a template for anti-racism and internationalism, through Lenin’s “Theses on the National Question.”
The Bolsheviks understood that capitalism and imperialism created the conditions for national oppression, and capitalism and imperialism are also upheld by national oppression. Lenin favored self-determination for oppressed people, because there can be no socialism, no road to communism, without dismantling the oppressive hierarchies capitalism promotes.
As well as abolishing the anti-gay legislation left over from the czarist era, the USSR actively supported the struggle for Black liberation in the U.S. and abroad. Black workers from the U.S. were invited by the state to immigrate to the Soviet Union, where they observed a much better life, free of the racism they would have experienced in the United States.
Paul Robeson a Black activist, communist and singer/actor from the U.S., stated that the social climate for Black folks in Russia was like something unheard of in the States. He said, “In Russia I felt for the first time like a full human being. No color prejudice like in Mississippi, no color prejudice like in Washington. It was the first time I felt like a human being.”
The Black American poet Langston Hughes also shared similar sentiments and wrote many poems dedicated to the work of Lenin and the USSR’s dedication to racial equality.
Racial equality and the abolition of national oppression were not just an idea or a series of empty statements in the USSR, but an active state project.
USSR, internationalism and global revolution
The Soviet Union had become a vanguard for the socialist bloc and inspired socialist revolution and national liberation movements throughout the global south. All over the world, oppressed people were taking up arms, expelling colonizers from their lands and loosening the yoke of capitalist exploitation.
The Soviet Union played a huge role in supporting the socialist revolutions in Cuba, the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], Vietnam, China before the Sino-Soviet split, Angola and many other countries fighting for socialism and liberation from colonialism. The October Revolution showed that capitalism and imperialism can be defeated and provided a framework for how to go about organizing the revolution and the structuring of a society where capitalism had been crushed.
There is a reason why Castro, Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong, Thomas Sankara, etc., all identified as Marxist-Leninists. Leninism again provided a workable framework that put the works of Marx and Engels into practice for the first time on such a large scale.
The 1900s were a time of global revolution for the global south, and Russia’s material and military aid to the other countries in the socialist bloc showed the nature of their internationalism.
Fall of USSR, counterrevolution and what we learned
But we also realize that no country is perfect, and although the USSR had many social and economic gains, it still had to make many concessions to bourgeois elements of society, which inevitably led to its demise. This was a product of the difficulties of trying to build socialism in a relatively backward country, magnified by the fact that the socialist revolution did not spread to other more developed capitalist countries as anticipated by Lenin and the other Bolshevik leaders.
It’s common sense that it takes people to build a society. There is a need for industrial workers, but also skilled tradespersons, as well as intellectuals and many other classes of people who would have aligned themselves closer with the capitalist bourgeoisie in opposition to the workers and peasants.
Many of the most advanced workers in the society died fighting in the revolution, which meant that there was a vacuum for skilled workers needed to help rebuild society.
It was necessary for the Bolsheviks to build alliances with the peasantry, but the peasantry had a different set of values at the time than the industrial proletariat. The proletariat was focused on the socialization of society, whereas the peasants valued private property and the private ownership of their land. This alliance would obviously come with contradictions.
One of the biggest contradictions was how to keep the loyalty of the peasants who valued privatization over socialization in the process of socializing society.
The Bolsheviks issued the New Economic Plan in 1921, which opened up the markets again to stimulate food production which had dropped to a low after the attempted counterrevolution. Although there was more food produced, it created a subclass of rich peasants, kulaks as they were called, while the majority of the peasantry remained poor.
After Lenin’s death, the difficulties of how to move forward with collectivization of agriculture created problems and even pushback from many peasants. There was also the issue of having to rely on the old czarist administrative apparatus for organizing society, because they were skilled and able to play administrative roles. Using the old apparatus caused problems, because the old czarist officials used their positions in government as an opportunity to build privileges and hierarchies within the Communist Party.
Also, as a result of making arguably necessary concessions to officials from the old society, they also brought with them the oppressive ideas from that society. After Lenin’s death, women’s rights and LGBTQ rights were set back as well.
We know that social systems don’t change overnight, and we understand that, like a revolution, a counterrevolution is protracted and strategic. The material conditions of the Soviet Union, the reopening of markets and bureaucratization over the course of decades were a factor in the counterrevolution. Of course, what was fundamental to the difficulties of building socialism was the unrelenting opposition and attack from the imperialist powers, from the 14 countries that invaded the USSR after the revolution, the loss of 20 million lives in repelling the Nazi invasion, to the Cold War and massive military build-up during the Reagan years.
However, with all the difficulties, we hail the gains of the Soviet Union. It provided for its people’s basic needs, housing, jobs, education and a rich culture, like no capitalist country has ever been able to do. It built a backward capitalist country into a great socialist federation that stood as a counterweight to imperialist domination. And it provided a model for recognizing the right of oppressed nations, even creating a special Soviet of Nationalities, which stands in stark opposition to the white supremacy and national chauvinism of every capitalist country and which is manifesting itself to an unprecedented degree today in the era of Trump and capitalism at a dead end.
Lessons and going forward
An important lesson to be learned from the Bolshevik Revolution is that the revolution does not end after the initial fighting; the revolution is not over during socialism or while a country is building socialism. On the contrary, the revolution and the antagonisms between the ruling class and the oppressed are amplified as long as world imperialism still exists.
One of the factors that led to the counterrevolution was the Soviet Union having to maintain a military counterweight to U.S. imperialism in an economy one-third its size.
Because the class struggle is heightened, the communist party must be extra vigilant and strategic in consolidating the wins of the revolution. When certain concessions are necessary, there must be an active program to prevent the formation of a bureaucracy and to prevent revisionism in the revolutionary movement. We appreciate the revolutionary character of the Cuban Communist Party today in being open and forthright with the masses and urging them to defend the revolution even as some capitalist measures are introduced to facilitate the growth of the economy in the face of the continuing blockade. We believe Mao’s cultural revolution, with its successes and shortcomings, was an attempt to purge revisionism and reaction from the party, though we firmly rejected its ultimate characterizations of the Soviet Union as social-imperialist.
We are not idealists. We understand that alliances and coalitions have to be made, that concessions sometimes set us back. However, it is important to acknowledge that the fall of the Soviet Union proves the necessity for a continuation of the revolution, even during times of victory.
Tasks as revolutionaries in the imperialist centers
Now here is the big question: As revolutionaries in the imperialist centers, how do we build for revolution? How do we keep the legacy of the Bolshevik Revolution alive; how do we take it further than commemorations and conferences and celebrations?
Today capitalism is at a dead end. Every gain in the productive forces in this era of high technology leads to more poverty, unemployment and low wages, rather than liberating humanity as it should be doing.
The very survival of the planet is at stake, as witnessed by the disastrous consequences of climate change as the capitalists destroy the Earth in their drive for profit. The export of capital pits worker against worker on an international scale, driving down wages for the entire working class and destroying the aristocracy of labor that the capitalists relied on for social peace in the imperialist countries while superexploiting developing nations around the globe. The system is overripe for socialist transformation.
First and foremost, we have a responsibility to the people. Meeting the people where they are, stepping outside of our circles of activists and academics, integrating with the people and making this revolutionary history accessible. In Detroit, our party has been a leader in the fight against foreclosures, water shutoffs and plant closings and against the Detroit bankruptcy itself. We bring a revolutionary anti-capitalist program to the masses by raising transitional demands like a Moratorium on Foreclosures or canceling the debt to the banks to guarantee pensions for the workers — demands that attempt to move the workers in the direction of challenging the system.
Who’s going to want to fight a seemingly unwinnable battle? It’s important for us to understand this revolutionary history, so that we can share it with others. We have to share the history and successes against capitalism and imperialism to show that although it’s a big fight, it’s been won before. If it’s been done before, it can be done again. And historically, across the world, it has been done.
We have to build solidarity among the working class! We must build solidarity between white workers and workers of oppressed nationalities! There is no way for any of us to be free if we all ain’t free. Lenin understood this concept, which is why we have the concept of “oppressed nations’ right to self-determination.” Unity can only be achieved based on the workers recognizing and fighting for this principle.
Solidarity is built through the struggle, and solidarity between white and colonized workers will only be built through the fight against colonialism, racism and imperialism. And this also means uplifting the Indigenous struggle for decolonization of this continent. How do you build socialism on stolen land?
We must oppose imperialist war and intervention all over the globe. Our party proudly defends the DPRK against the Trump war threats and defends their right to develop whatever weapons they deem necessary for their preservation against the Pentagon war machine. It is the U.S. which is the only country to drop a nuclear bomb.
We stand with the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela. We defend Revolutionary Cuba and call for an immediate end to the blockade. We say U.S. hands off Syria and Iran. U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. Remove U.S. forces from Africa and dismantle Africom. Long live the Palestinian struggle against Zionist apartheid Israel and its U.S. imperialist backers.
We support the right of the Puerto Rican people to self-determination and for an end to U.S. colonial domination. We demand all aid necessary for the people of Puerto Rico to rebuild their island and the cancellation of the massive illegal debt to the banks.
We say stop the U.S. war on immigrants, whether they are Muslim, from Latin America, Africa or Asia. There are no borders in the workers’ struggle. And we recognize the so-called war on terrorism as nothing but an excuse for racism and war. The U.S. is the real terrorist and we are for dismantling the Pentagon war machine.
How do we plan on keeping the legacy of the Bolshevik Revolution alive if we can’t understand the basic concept of self-determination? What did we learn from Lenin’s teachings if not how to oppose imperialism in all its forms?
The Russian Revolution showed us victory and provided a framework for successful revolutions across the globe. If we understand this, and we study the science of Marxism-Leninism, and we put theory into practice, we will defeat this capitalist beast and see a new, and free, socialist world.
The time is ripe for all communist parties to put their differences aside and fight for a new unity in the Communist movement, based on adherence to Marxism-Leninism.
Proletarii vsekh stran, soyedinyaytes! Workers of all countries unite!