Socialist Worker

The global impact

by Esme Choonara
Issue No. 2075

Internationalism was at the heart of the 1917 revolution, both as a principle and as a practical necessity. The Bolsheviks believed that the revolution must spread in order to survive.

Workers were sick of the slaughter of the First World War. There was economic turmoil across the globe. The revolution inspired millions to fight for radical change.

In the two years following 1917, there were upheavals across Europe. In 1918 the German empire collapsed and “people’s commissars” formed the new government. In Italy there was a wave of struggle known as the Red Years of 1919-1920.

In Bavaria and Hungary rebellions briefly set up soviets. Spanish strikers in Valencia in 1918 renamed streets “Lenin” and “October Revolution”. In Britain unrest and strikes broke out in 1919. There were mutinies in the French and British armies.

The ruling class was terrified. In a secret memorandum in March 1919, British prime minister Lloyd George warned his French counterpart, “The whole of Europe is filled with the spirit of revolution.”

In 1917 two thirds of the world was still under colonial domination. The revolution was a huge inspiration for those resisting colonialism.

The Bolsheviks were among the first to recognise the importance of liberation struggles and to see those fighting colonialism as a vital part of the international movement.


The new revolutionary state was the first to recognise the new Irish republic before it won independence from British rule.

The Bolshevik government declared itself for the “equality and sovereignty of the peoples of Russia” and for the right to independence for those nations formerly enslaved by the empire.

In the years following the revolution this led to the formation of five independent nations outside Russia and some 17 autonomous regions within the federation.

The revolution led to radical currents emerging within national liberation movements and to the formation of new communist parties across the world.

Between 1920 and 1921 new parties were founded in Turkey, Egypt, India, Indonesia and China.

Tens of thousands of Chinese workers and some 250,000 workers from Muslim states within the federation joined the Red Army to help defend the revolution.

The Bolsheviks’ internationalism meant they reached out to build and discuss with the international movement, forming the Third International.

In 1920, in the midst of civil war, the Bolsheviks organised a Congress of the Peoples of the East in Baku, Azerbaijan, attended by over 2,000 delegates from countries across Asia and the Middle East as well as from Europe.

The British attacked a ship carrying delegates from Iran while its warships tried, unsuccessfully, to stop Turkish delegates from reaching the congress.

The early soviet years should remain an inspiration in the global movement against war and neoliberalism today.

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