This short essay is a study of the Russian Revolution, and its importance to the history of Socialism. The Russian Revolution of 1917 was one of the great revolutions. Through the two great revolutions which make up the Russian Revolution — the February Revolution and the October Revolution — the Russian people changed both Russia and the world. The overthrow of Tsarism (in the February Revolution) and the establishment of Soviet power (in the October Revolution) makes the Russian Revolution probably the most successful working-class revolution, so far, in modern history — a revolution which proves that Socialism is possible, and that Socialism can be made by social revolution. The legacy of the Russian Revolution, both good and bad, changed the world — and it still changes the world today, despite the collapse of the Soviet Union and the reality of the world today.
The Russian Revolution was a historic event in revolutionary history. Indeed, it was one of the great social struggles of revolutionary history. It was the first time, in modern history, and the first time since the Paris Commune of 1871, that the working class managed to achieve its own revolution. The Russian Revolution, especially in the form of the October Revolution, established the first modern attempt to build Socialism. It was a revolutionary event which helped to create the first long-term workers’ state in history. It was the first workers’ revolution on a truly national and international scale. Even though the Russian Revolution degenerated, due to Stalinism, its legacy is eternal as a historical and political event. Millions of people, around the world, are still inspired by the basic political example of the Russian Revolution. This example still points to the possibility for Socialism.1
The Russian Revolution was a crucial event in the history of Socialism. Indeed, it probably remains the most crucial event in the history of Socialism — still helping to define the basic ideas and the basic hope of Socialism and Socialist politics. The Russian Revolution showed that ordinary working-class people could seize state power and social power and build their own society. By seizing state power Lenin and the Bolsheviks showed that Soviet power, in the form of workers’ councils, remains the basic social basis for achieving Socialism and a Socialist society. The Russian Revolution shows us that the real and effective way to achieve Socialism is through workers’ power. It was the Russian Revolution which showed that Socialism is, ultimately, a revolutionary process. As an event in the history of Socialism, the Russian Revolution proves the revolutionary possibility of Socialism.2
Lenin saw the historical importance of the Russian Revolution — in providing a spark to a wider, international, revolution to achieve Socialism. He believed that the Russian Revolution had the power to change both Russia and the world. Indeed, the Russian Revolution did change Russia and the world — largely for the better. The Russian Revolution spread out from the old Tsarist Empire and became a truly global revolution — inspiring revolution across the world for the rest of the 20th century. Most of the great social revolutions and political revolutions, since 1917, have been inspired, in one way or another, by the example and legacy of the Russian Revolution. Every subsequent revolution in human history will be compared to the Russian Revolution. The Russian Revolution will always be a classic example of a social revolution — a social revolution which achieved Socialism.3
The Russian Revolution was a great revolution — but it could not overcome the limits of the early 20th century. The degeneration of the Russian Revolution, due to Stalinism, is one of the great tragedies and failures of the last century, yet the attempt of the Russian Revolution to build a better society was worth its problems and its sacrifices. Indeed, without the victory of the Russian Revolution many of the great social struggles for human freedom and human progress, in the 20th century, might never have happened. The Russian Revolution, as an event, might have collapsed into Stalinism but its real social and historical power can never be ignored. Revolutionary events like the Russian Revolution can never be ignored or forgotten by history. The Russian Revolution remains the greatest and most heroic event of the 20th century — a revolutionary event which still inspires anyone who is interested in the struggle for human freedom.
There have been many revolutions in modern history. The Russian Revolution remains the most important. This is for two reasons. The first reason is that it changed the course of world history — by helping to end the First World War, by overthrowing Tsarism, by achieving the world’s first workers’ state — and it still shapes world history. The second reason is that it shows the power of revolutionary Socialism. The legacy of the Russian Revolution might be largely forgotten in the Russian state, today, but the political legacy of it remains. Humanity entered a new era, and a new stage, in history because of the events of 1917.4 Humanity might still achieve Socialism — thanks to the legacy of the Russian Revolution and the victory of the Russian Revolution.5 Humanity still lives in the shadow of the possibilities of the Russian Revolution.
1. L. Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, (1931)
2. L. Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, (1931)
3. L. Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, (1931)
4. V.I. Lenin, The Third International and Its Place in History, (1919)
5. E.H. Carr, A History of Soviet Russia, (1950-1978).
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