What remains of the October Revolution legacy?

This autumn marks the hundredth anniversary of the October Revolution. After the removal of the czars from power and a civil war that claimed many victims the Bolsheviks took over the government of the country and founded the Soviet Union in 1922. However, only a minority of Russians are celebrating the anniversary. Commentators examine the reasons for this loss of significance, put the upheaval in context and analyse its historical legacy.

Open/close all quotes
Efimerida ton Syntakton (GR) /

A mixed legacy

Political scientist Takis Batzelis sees the October Revolution as having had both good and bad consequences in Efimerida ton Syntakton:

“The policies [of the Soviet Union] overstretched the national resources and the people's resilience. And they would never have stood a chance if the administration hadn't been so ruthless. ... What good things did the October Revolution achieve? Compared to the unruly and backwards Russia of the 1920s, the USSR of the 1950s was an industrial nation that had made significant advances in the education of its people and the provision of social services. All this was achieved within the space of 25 years. The successful defence of the USSR and the counter-attack after the Nazi invasion would not have been possible without industrialisation and the education of the people.”

Le Quotidien (LU) /

Lenin cult based on a misconception

The regime that emerged after the October Revolution did not become totalitarian only after Stalin came to power, Le Quotidien explains:

“1917 saw the establishment of a dictatorship - one that was far removed from that of the proletariat. This was the beginning of the regime that caused the deaths of millions of people and continued in power until 1991. It's fashionable these days to present Stalin as the man who betrayed the revolution after Lenin's death. Yet the regime established by Lenin already displayed all the characteristics of totalitarianism: widespread surveillance, a political police force, mass terror, the repression of all dissenting voices. Lenin wasn't an innocent revolutionary idealist fighting for the good of the people. He was a cynic, not afraid to commit excesses and even kill people to achieve his goals.”

Criticatac (RO) /

Revolution swept under the carpet

The centenary of the October Revolution is being marked all over the world but not in Russia, social anthropologist Florin Peonaru observes on the Criticatac blog:

“It's as if the entire communist tradition in which the October Revolution played a central - if not the founding - role had never existed. The break-up of the USSR, which is regarded as the collapse of communism, has taken the place the revolution once occupied. ... But this collapse not only rendered the revolution superfluous, it also fuelled a new and powerful revisionist movement. This allowed a reinterpretation of the era of the tsars - from the perspective of the failed regime that followed it. It's no mere coincidence that the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution is not being officially celebrated in Russia now.”

Der Tagesspiegel (DE) /

Putin fears a new rebellion

Russian President Putin has every reason to be less than enthusiastic about events commemorating the October Revolution, Der Tagesspiegel surmises:

“Even today the mobilisation for at best implausible ideas and the dream of an entirely new world is still astonishing. ... The president and his closest circle of advisers fear any kind of upheaval, coup or popular uprising. They know history too well not to recognise the weak points of any authoritarian regime: the fact that any form of legitimacy is lacking or at best diminishing at lightning speed. Putin no longer has a utopia to offer his people. All he can do is cite the 'greatness' of Russia, which however must be reaffirmed - and with ever greater conviction - at every occasion. Even Crimea can only be occupied once. And then what?”

T24 (TR) /

Dream of a just world more relevant than ever

The dream of a just system that drove the people to start the revolution of 1917 is more vital than ever, T24 concludes:

“Marx's idea that capitalism digs its own grave plays out differently in reality: not only does its dig its own grave, it destroys all life on the planet. ... The disasters triggered by climate chance are making the world a less hospitable place with each day that passes. ... In many countries racists or despotic regimes are gaining ground or already in power. On the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution we should go beyond the ideas of Marx and Lenin and think about how to overcome our current problems and the evils of capitalism. Long live the October Revolution with the hope and possibility of a world shared equally among all living beings without war, classes or exploitation!”

hvg (HU) /

Communist notions ony create injustice

The ideas behind the October Revolution would create an unjust rather than a just society, journalist László Seres counters in hvg:

“We only need reflect on the type of society that shimmers through the theses of Marx and Engels. Humane? United? Free? When we see someone trying to achieve their goals by violently overthrowing the ruling class; when we see that their programme is aimed at banning private ownership of the means of production and free market trade; when we see that they will do whatever it takes to collectivise everything; when we see that they want to gag the representatives of the old system, then we shouldn't be surprised that their ideological successors have produced terrible regimes.”

Õhtuleht (EE) /

Moscow still cherishes its imperialist dreams

Estonia certainly has nothing to celebrate as regards the anniversary of the Russian Revolution, Õhtuleht points out:

“A century after the October Revolution a whole generation of Estonians has grown up that has no personal experience of the Red Empire. They know nothing of the communist regime, of barbed wire on the borders or the lack of freedom of expression. Indirectly, however, we are still suffering the consequences of the October Revolution. This is most evident when we compare our backwards living standards with those in the West - a direct consequence of the Soviet occupation, mass deportations to Siberia and Russification. Even today the situation is far from rosy. The communist public holidays are a thing of the past but the imperialist ambition is still there. Russia sees the collapse of the Soviet Union as the biggest geopolitical disaster.”

Il Sole 24 Ore (IT) /

Anniversary of myths

The 100th anniversary of the October Revolution marks a century of historical misinterpretation, US author Paul Berman writes in Il Sole 24 Ore:

“The Bolsheviks' rise to power in Russia was purely coincidental. ... No one predicted the revolution yet its fame is based on the false conviction that the scientific predictions of Karl Marx came true. ... The absurdity of this contradiction forms the foundation of the Bolshevik myth. And the most absurd aspect is that the appeal of this myth has proved to be incredibly powerful. ... It was a cult of reason and madness at the same time. And for a long period of the 20th century that appeal was the strongest force of attraction in the world.”

24 Chasa (BG) /

Revolution was only a facade

24 Chasa gives a different version of historical events:

“For a hundred years historians have been racking their brains over the question of how it was possible for a small group of Bolsheviks to take power in Russia on October 25, 1917. According to the most recent version, the Czarist generals simply handed power over to them. ... The author of this version is [Russian historian] Oleg Strizhak, but it's now also been espoused by influential patriotic ideologists. ... According to them the Czarist generals needed a proletarian facade to continue ruling, and they shared with the Bolshevists the goal of concluding peace with the German Reich. ... It's no coincidence that at least 100,000 Czarist generals and officers continued to serve in the Red Army after the October Revolution.”

Courrier International (FR) /

Russians no longer willing to be duped

In contrast the Russian government the people of Russia are showing a growing interest in history, Courrier International observes:

“Civil society is slowly starting to waken history from its slumber. By debating and digging deeper and deeper, people are unearthing history and activating memories: of crimes and of betrayed revolutionary hopes. The Putin era, characterised by an oligarchical economy blended with social elements, has maintained a semblance of the status quo among the elites and the population thanks to the comprehensive use of state funds. Nevertheless the inequalities are increasing. And if the people aren't rapidly presented with a new social contract, the Russian people's patience could reach its limit.”

The Guardian (GB) /

Lenin handled Ukrainians better than Putin

Today's Russian elites should follow V. I. Lenin's example in the conflict with Ukraine, historian Serhii Plokhy urges in The Guardian:

“With nationalism now rising on both sides of the Russo-Ukrainian border, Lenin must be turning in his mausoleum. He knew back in 1917 that Russians and Ukrainians were separate peoples, and that the only way forward for the revolution was to recognise the difference. Lenin accepted the formal independence of Ukraine. The challenge that Putin and the Russian elites face today is to accept the country's real independence from its former imperial master. There can be no lasting peace in the region until that occurs.”