A hundred years ago, yesterday, the people of the Tsarist empire overthrew a vacillating government to protect and extend their first revolution of February 1917. These men and women - such as those above - founded the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). This new state - a state of the workers and peasants - produced a new kind of possibility, that a socialist state could be created and that a socialist society might be possible.
I was in England last week to join in the commemoration of the events of 1917 held by the Marx Memorial Library and the Trades Union Congress. At this event, Brinda Karat of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) - CPIM - gave a powerful lecture on the legacy of the Russian Revolution. We have published this lecture at the LeftWord Books blog. You can read it here.
At the blog, I have a shorter assessment of the importance of the revolution - as well as a summary of the books we have done at LeftWord on 1917. My assessment ends with this view,
- Nostalgia is not the mode with which to look back to the USSR. It is important to see it for what it was able to provide human history – an alternative to capitalism, a defence against fascism, an experiment – with failures – of the construction of socialism and socialist democracy. There is a great deal to learn from the USSR, a great deal to admire and a great deal to censure. Communism is not a system that will emerge easily out of our present. All the maladies of our human history will sneak into these new experiments. Vigilance is necessary, as is creativity. The Peruvian Marxist Jose Carlos Mariategui (1894-1930) wrote that Communism ‘must be a heroic creation’. It does not emerge full blown. It has to be fought for, its errors understood, and its achievements digested. Communism, Mariategui wrote, ‘is formed in the class struggle, carried out with a heroic spirit and passionate will’. There are human beings here. Nothing is perfect. The essence of Communism is to strive to break away from guaranteed suffering to a new epoch that shall bring its own challenges.
You can read my assessment here.
In the CPI-M's newspaper - Peoples Democracy - there is a special section on 1917. There are a group of essays in the issue,
(1) Sitaram Yechury, October Revolution: A Lodestar for Intensifying Class Struggles in Today’s Conditions.
(2) Prakash Karat, Europe: A Hundred Years of Revolution and Reformism.
(3) Prabhat Patnaik, Neo-liberal capitalism and its crisis.
(4) Vijay Prashad, Latin America and the October Revolution: We Are All Bolsheviks.
My essay begins in Venezuela and ends in Cuba. But in between are the words of a Mexican rebel right after 1917: 'I don’t know what Socialism is, but I am a Bolshevik, like all patriotic Mexicans. The Yankees do not like the Bolsheviks; they are our enemies; therefore, the Bolsheviks must be our friends, and we must be their friends. We are all Bolsheviks’. This about sums it up.
Meanwhile, my Diary from Trumpland continues. A few weeks ago, I spent two days with some people who are on the front lines of the opioid epidemic, people who suffer from addiction to this dangerous - yet profitable - drug. In the new issue of Frontline, my report appears, which you can read here. This is a painful story, about lives lost and about lives on a thread. Trump has declared a national emergency against the epidemic, but there is no sense of getting to the roots of this problem - the factory deserts of country, the dominance of the corporations over drugs and the deep social depression of populations alienated from the possibility of making better lives.
Making a better life in a society given over to a war economy and drug economy is not going to be easy. A few weeks ago, as well, I went to Washington, DC, to join CodePink as it inaugurated its new campaign - Divest from the War Economy. My talk there, which you can watch here, was about the iron in the soul of the United States. It will be hard for the ruling elite - unconcerned about the trials of the population - given over to profit over people to make sense of the world that they pretend to govern.
Finally, Saudi Arabia's ruling elite seems to be having a tantrum in the aftermath of the defeat of its ambitions against Iran, in Syria and in Yemen, as well as in Lebanon. The Crown Prince forced the Lebanese Prime Minister to resign, arrested a dozen princes (including my former employer - Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud), and cashiered heads of media outlets. The Princes are imprisoned in the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh - image of the pool above. The Saudi economy is in the doldrums with low oil prices, there appears to be no way that the Crown Prince can push his Vision plans.
I joined The Real News to talk briefly about these events and the possibility that the Saudis are trying to provoke Hezbollah and Iran into some kind of regional war against Israel, the United States and the Saudis. It seems impossible that such a war would take place at this time. Iran seems to be eager to remain on the sidelines of this new tantrum from Riyadh. You can watch the segment here.
So many events, so much of great worry.