Transcribed from the rally held in Southall, London on 8 November 2008 to celebrate the 91st anniversary of the October Revolution. The video of this speech can be found at the CPGB-ML YouTube page.
Comrades, we’re celebrating the historic October Revolution. There have been many revolutions around the world, but the October Revolution is a revolution that changed the world in a way that previous revolutions have never changed it.
The great revolution before that, probably the greatest one, was the French bourgeois revolution of 1789, but, historic though it was, it was not in the same mould as the October Revolution, because the French revolution got rid of one system of exploitation and replaced it by another; got rid of feudal exploitation and instituted bourgeois exploitation.
What the October Revolution did was, it finished all exploitation; it created a country where there was no person exploiting another person, where there was no nation oppressing or exploiting another one.
That is the historic significance of the October revolution.
It changed the world in a way that cannot be undone, notwithstanding the reverses that we have undoubtedly suffered ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The world cannot be put back to what it was prior to the October Revolution in 1917.
Thanks to the October Revolution we have had tremendous advances. The October Revolution, for the first time, taught the working class that it could not only destroy the old society, but it could also build a new one.
Within a very short space of time, a socialist industry was built, agriculture was collectivised, the culture of the people, their level of scientific attainment, was raised to unprecedented levels.
Russia’s per capita income in 1917 was one tenth of that of the United States of America. By the time the Soviet Union collapsed, its per capita income was half that of the United States of America.
But that doesn’t really tell you the whole story, because what the Russian people had was not just per capita income, but the facilities that they got socially – free childcare, free nurseries, free education, a free health system and very cheap housing.
One of the joys of the old Soviet Union was that as soon as the schools shut, millions of children all around the Soviet Union queued at railway stations, airports, bus stops in order to be taken away to pioneer camps for their holiday.
Parents didn’t have to worry whether their children would be bored during the holidays; they were looked after by trained staff and taken to the best places, which in our part of the world are reserved for the very rich. Soviet children could have the facilities that are only available to the very rich in West European and imperialist countries.
The Soviet Union didn’t stop at that. The Soviet Union built her defence industry and defence capability to a point whereby the Soviet Union was able to make the single most important contribution to the defeat of the allegedly invincible fascist war machine, and saved humanity from the scourge of fascism. [Applause]
The fascists had expected to rule the world for a thousand years in the name of the master race, but the so-called ‘slave nations’ – the Russians and the people of the Soviet Union – defeated that by almost single-handedly fighting against them.
France, of course, was finished within three weeks. France’s army was supposed to be the most important and powerful in western Europe; they had the Maginot Line, but the Nazis finished them off in three weeks’ time.
When the Soviet Union was attacked, they [bourgeois commentators] gave the Soviet Union three weeks. Three weeks became three months; three months became three years; and at the end of for years of gruelling war, the Soviet Union had chased the Nazis over the Polish border and pursued them all the way to Berlin.
And as the Soviet flag was proudly being flaunted on the Reichstag building, the Fuehrer was committing suicide. Isn’t that a wonderful achievement for the working class? [Applause]
The Soviet Union was the only country in 1935 – and from ‘35 onwards, right up to its collapse – which had no unemployment.
Now, if you live in western Europe, if you live in capitalist countries, it’s considered a law of nature, like the law of gravity – you must have unemployment. A society cannot function without unemployment; a society cannot function without homelessness; a society cannot function without destitution, without prostitution, without gangsterism, without drug trafficking.
But all these ills were eliminated in the Soviet Union and other socialist countries, and that was the achievement of the Soviet Union, which we miss dearly now.
For the first time, the Soviet Union provided the facilities necessary for the elimination of discrimination against women. Women cannot become equal with men unless and until two things take place – that they are introduced on a mass scale into social production, and that there are facilities for the looking after of children, the cooking of food and laundry.
The Soviet Union created crèches, kindergartens, nurseries and dining facilities for working people on a mass scale. You didn’t have to eat in a dining room if you didn’t want to, you could cook at home, but the thing was that the choice was there should you not wish to cook. Women would only be able to get that equality if those facilities were there, and the Soviet Union actually set the standards.
If women in western Europe have the rights that today they have, they owe it to the Soviet Union because the Soviet Union was the first and showed it as an example.
It was only a few years before the first world war that property qualifications had been eliminated before people could have the right to vote. Women were not allowed to vote until after the first world war. The Soviet Union, the moment it was established, straight away gave the right to vote to every person over the age of 18, whether they were men or women.
For the first time, you could see women doing the jobs that you thought they were never capable of doing – driving trains, flying aeroplanes, becoming doctors, becoming everything. And that, of course, again set the example, whereby women in western Europe were able to catch up.
Such was the effect of the Soviet republic, that in order to avoid a repetition of what had happened in Russia, namely a socialist revolution, the bourgeoisie had to institute reforms to ease the conditions of living of the working class – even more so after the victory of the Red Army in the second world war.
Sometimes, the working class here, led by imperialist propaganda, talks as though the Soviet Union was nothing and everything here is wonderful, but they owe the better conditions they have, partly at least, to the victories of the Soviet Union and other socialist countries in providing those facilities. [Applause]
The Soviet Union, by liberating all the ex-Tsarist colonies, and then, on the basis of voluntary union, bringing them into the USSR, and providing them with equal rights, set the standard for the people of the world.
Paul Roberson, whose songs you’ve been listening to earlier, said: ‘I went to the Soviet Union. They used to say to us that black people in Africa or elsewhere will not be capable of self-government for a thousand years. I realised in the Soviet Union that within ten years, the most backward people had been brought to a position where they were the equal of the Russians.’
Colonialism plunders colonies, takes the wealth from poor countries and takes it to rich areas, just as within each rich imperialist country, it takes the wealth from the poor people and gives it to the rich. You know, [we are told that] the rich will only work if there are ‘incentives’ and you give them more money; but the poor will only work if you take away even their last crust of bread, because that’s their only incentive – otherwise they’ll never come to work.
The Soviet Union did the opposite. The Soviet Union put huge amounts of resources into developing backward areas and the former colonies of Tsarist Russia in order to bring them to the same level of development that was available in the central regions of Russia and in important centres like Moscow and Leningrad.
For the first time, people could use their languages – their theatre, their arts, their sciences, their administration could be conducted in their own languages.
For the first time, even, they could repair their mosques – mosques were repaired. You say: is that because they were trying to propagate religion?
No. Propaganda in favour of materialism, in favour of atheism, was accompanied by giving people the right, should they wish to do so, to believe in claptrap – as long as religion did not interfere with state matters, as long as it did not put its foot into educational institutions, as long as it kept to just praying.
If you wanted to pray, you could go to a church or a mosque or a synagogue or wherever you wanted to. In spite of all the stories that are told that they [the communists] destroyed every church, this is total rubbish; you only had to go into the former Soviet Union to see that.
Loss of the USSR; era of reaction
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the bourgeoisie was cock-a-hoop; they were triumphalist, and the reactionary American professor of Japanese origin Fukuyama even said that it was the end of world history.
It just shows you what the best brains of the bourgeoisie are like. A long while ago, in Capital Volume 1, Marx, and he was really commenting on Mill, but compared with these intellectuals, Mill was almost a giant! Marx put a footnote, having discussed Mill, in which he said: ‘On a level plain, small mounds look like hills, and the flatness of the present bourgeoisie may be measured by the altitude of its intellects.’
Now, in my view, in Marx’s days, even though they were flat, the bourgeois intellectuals were still, compared with our intellectuals, giants. Today, they have just become mercenary salesmen for a system which is 150 years at least out of date, and which only lives by devouring living human beings, not only through the extraction of surplus value, but wars – inter-imperialist wars and wars against oppressed people.
We were told that, once the Soviet Union collapsed, there would be a peace dividend; everything would be fine because the Soviet Union was the cause of all war and danger and now there would be peace.
As the Soviet Union was collapsing, the first Gulf war was being waged against Iraq.
Since then, we have had the second Gulf war, which in the last five years has consumed 1 million Iraqis and displaced 4 million others – half of them abroad and half of them internally.
Tens of thousands of Afghan people are being murdered in the name of ‘humanitarianism’, but the only humanitarianism imperialism has is how to exploit and how to oppress. Imperialism seeks domination; it does not stand for freedom anywhere, either in its internal policy or in its external policy.
We celebrate this victory because we think it’s significant, and we will also, having learned from the reverses that socialism has suffered, go forward and be able to achieve victories. Not ignoring the Soviet republic, not ignoring the Soviet Union, but building on the basis of that, we would be that much better because we have learned so much – positive as well as negative – from what happened in the Soviet Union.
A lot of people have been disheartened. The bourgeois propaganda is incessant. They keep on saying communism is dead. Well if it’s dead, what’s the point in going on about it? [Laughter]
I mean, if somebody stood up outside and said “Napoleon is dead”, you’d think he was a lunatic. Well everybody knows Napoleon is dead; he died in 1821 or something like that. So what’s the point in going around saying so?
If Marxism is dead, why do you have to say every morning like a prayer: “Marxism is dead”? [Laughter] Well it’s clear to me that Marxism is not dead.
Far from being dead, Marxism is very much alive, and the bourgeoisie cannot sleep because Marxism can only be dead if there’s no working class. Marxism is the ideology of the modern proletariat, and it can no more be destroyed than can the proletariat. [Applause]
The proletariat cannot be destroyed under the conditions of capitalism because there would be nobody to exploit and the bourgeoisie could not live. The only way it can be destroyed is that the proletariat becomes the ruling class, in which case it would cease to be a proletariat; it would cease to be a proletariat because its role as being the exploitable material would cease to exist.
The reason they keep on saying it [Marxism] is dead, is that they want to demoralise every one of us.
Stalin a long while ago pointed out that the chief endeavour of the bourgeoisie of all countries, and of its reformist hangers-on, and this is very important to remember, is to kill in the working class faith in its own strength, faith in the possibility and the inevitability of victory, and thus to perpetuate capitalist slavery.
And that’s really what they’re trying to do.
And Stalin was absolutely also right when he was having an argument in the executive committee of the Communist International against the Soviet opposition, the Bukharinites and Trotskyites, who were saying that the Soviet Union was using other peoples, that it was nationalistic and was not promoting world revolution.
And Stalin’s answer was that the very existence of the Soviet Union was a tremendous help to peoples abroad; that the Soviet Union was the base of the world proletariat; it was really a base from which the revolution could spread.
Stalin asked the question: “What would happen if capital succeeded in smashing the Republic of the Soviets?” And he went on to answer: “There would set in an era of the blackest reaction in all the capitalist and colonial countries, the working class and the oppressed people would be seized by the throat, the positions of international communism would be lost.”
Looking back at the last 18/19 years, don’t you think that that remark was truly prophetic? Not prophetic in the sense that the victory of capitalism over the Soviet republic was inevitable, but prophetic in the sense that those consequences are being realised.
Imperialism is not very much frightened of the Soviet Union now, so it attacks oppressed peoples abroad; it wages innumerable wars – wars against Yugoslavia, wars against the Sierra Leones people, wars against the Colombian people, wars against the Palestinian people, wars against the Iraqi people, wars against the Afghan people, and now they are actually trying to wage a war against the people of Pakistan as well.
Since August this year, the United States has, on 17 occasions, bombed villages and places in the border areas of Pakistan, and killed several dozen people. It’s only a question of time before the Pakistani army begins to shoot back, because there’s mass pressure in Pakistan that Pakistani sovereignty is not to be violated, and if the Americans continue, they are really going to stir a hornets’ nest in that part of the world.
Our day will come
And at the same time, imperialism is attacking working people at home. There are attacks on the National Health Service, which is becoming a two-tier system is already penetrated by market reforms, education is becoming increasingly more of a two-tier system (it was never one-tier, but it’s become even more so), and various public facilities are being taken away.
They tell you there is no money. Public-sector workers are getting pay increases which are below the rise in prices, ie, below the inflation level, and when they ask for money, Gordon Brown says, ‘We must be prudent, there’s no money.’
Lo and behold, there’s a credit crunch, and the giants of finance are falling like ninepins. And suddenly, Britain is able to find several hundred billion pounds in order to shore up the banks. The Unites States of America, the land of the free and the land of the free market, suddenly is able to find $700bn in order to shore up their banking industry.
Now people in the left-wing movement have said: ‘This is socialism.’ [Laughter] No. It’s socialism, yes, but for the bourgeoisie. You and I are going to pay taxes in order to shore up the very people who brought us to this crisis – they run with their money, and if, tomorrow, the banks become profitable again, as, if capitalism is not overthrown, they must after two, three, four years, then all the shares that the state has bought will be sold back to them so they can start again their merry-go-round of speculation and chasing after more and more profit.
But what it does show is this: every crisis is an indication, as Engels said; every crisis shows that the bourgeoisie is incapable of managing the economic affairs of society. [Applause] It is incapable of doing so because long ago, the productive forces of society became far too powerful to be contained within the shell of capitalist relations of production.
And at every crisis, the productive forces break through those barriers and bring the ruin of a lot of capitalists, but even more misery to millions and millions of people around the world.
There is only one way that we can get rid of that, and that is: the working class takes over these means of production in the name of society and organises production on a planned basis, to satisfy the ever-rising cultural, educational and material needs of all the people, rather than to cater to the greed of a few people. This is the only way that society can go forward.
It is out function to inform the working class of this. Marxism is nothing but the theoretical expression of that understanding, and to bring to the working class the idea that there is a liberation for you, but not within this system; there is a liberation for you, but by breaking that particular system. Only then can society be rid of discrimination; be rid of sex discrimination, race discrimination, oppression of some nations by a few powerful nations, and wars and unemployment and hunger and poverty.
I’m sorry if I’m bragging about it: I took part in a debate at the Oxford Union, and the motion there was: ‘Capitalism can save the world.’ We lost the motion. Of course, in Oxford Union, you don’t easily win. [Interjection from the floor: ‘Only just!’] Yes, only just.
Madeleine tells me – she phoned them – that the people who won the motion for the proposition got 140 votes. We lost it but we gained 130 votes. [Applause] To actually go to the enemy’s camp and lose by 10 votes – and two of them foolishly because we went to the wrong side! [Laughter] (The working class must learn from its own mistakes!) So had we been on the right side, we would have lost by only six votes, if you like. But it doesn’t matter, because, as I said in my contribution there: ‘Comrades and friends and students, this issue is not going to be decided through a debate at the Oxford Union, nor anywhere else. It’s going to be decided in the arena of class struggle throughout the world, and I haven’t got the slightest doubt which side will win.’ [Applause]
So comrades, to conclude my rather lengthy introduction, for which many apologies (and you can attack me after the meeting), I would simply say that our day will come, and in the words of the great Russian writer N G Chernyshevsky, there will be joys and festivities in our streets.
We have no reason, despite the reverses, to feel sad; we have no reason to feel downhearted, because the future is ours. No matter how much the removal of this horrible system is delayed – 10 years, 20 years, 50 years – in terms of individuals’ lives, it’s terrible; I shall not live to see it; some of you might be able to live and see it; but humanity at large will see this present system fall and a new society being born on the basis of the road of the October Revolution.
Where the October Revolution left off, humanity is taking up. There are other socialist societies in existence. We have here two perfectly good examples – we’ve got representatives of two socialist countries here; from the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. And there is also China, there is Cuba, and there are other places which are trying to move in that direction, and we are very, very sure of the future.
All I want from our members and our supporters is to redouble their efforts, or rather, increase their efforts a hundred fold, to build a powerful voice of the working class. In this country – and I don’t mean to be arrogant – there’s only one party that represents it [the working class], small though it may be, and that’s the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist). Please support us in our endeavours. Thank you very much. [Applause]