100 years after the Russian Revolution, what is left of the communist hypothesis?
November 7 marked the 100th anniversary of what is probably the most defining moment of the last century. On that day in 1917, the military committee of the Petrograd workers councils (soviet in Russian), led by the Bolshevik party, deposed the provisional government of Alexander Kerensky and, for the first time, created a federal republic of councils of workers and peasants.
In the first 33 days of this government, Russia was turned upside down. Factories and other workplaces were placed under the control of their workers, abortion and divorce were legalized, homosexuality was decriminalized, the eight hour work day was put in place, peasants were granted the right to seize the land they worked, discriminatory laws against Jewish people and Muslims were torn to shreds, the equality of all nationalities was declared in Russia, and the death penalty was abolished. All of this was considered a small step toward the creation of a new world, the first measures taken toward a radical transformation of everyday life. Russia became the first country to be part of the future world’s socialist workers republic.
Why should we care today about these events today? Especially given what came after – how the Soviets became an empty shell under the oppression of a devastating civil war, how the Bolshevik party became a bureaucratic monster that inspired a series of authoritarian governments, each one more dreadful than the previous. The piles of bleached bones that are stacked from Cambodia to Siberia should be enough to discourage any person that would be tempted to hold the red flag aloft.
There is, however, an argument that still remains for those who cling to the communist enterprise: the world around us screams at us to reconsider the communist hypothesis that was defended by Petrograd workers on that fateful day. Facing our own extinction – either slowly, by overproduction-driven climate change or brutally, by state-driven nuclear war – humanity must now reconsider the way the world is organized. The two leading institutions of our world, the Nation State and economic Capital, seem to have failed in guaranteeing the very survival of our species, let alone its well-being. The communist hypothesis – that a classless, stateless world can be built, that national borders and the production of commodities for profit must be dealt away with – seems now more than ever a necessity. October still represents the most concrete experiment of that hypothesis. A flawed, even a failed, experiment, but one that cannot be discarded, that must be learned from. It represents humanity’s heroic attempt to dynamite all that remains in the way of the full self-actualization of our species, and for that “the great October socialist revolution” still deserves a place in the history of emancipation.
A note on months: At the beginning of the century, Russia was using a different calendar than Western Europe. The calendar then used by Russia was eleven days behind our own Gregorian calendar. Therefore, our November 7 was, in fact, October 25 in the calendar used at the time of the revolution. That is why an event that occurred in November is known today as “the October revolution.”