Socialist Worker

How the shockwaves of the Russian Revolution spread across the world

News of revolution in Russia inspired workers to take action against their own rulers—and showed them they could win

Issue No. 2570

A soldiers council in 1918 in Germany

A soldiers' council in 1918 in Germany


The Russian Revolution was received across the world by workers as a beacon of hope and more.

The leader of the great US union Industrial Workers of the World Bill Haywood said, “The Russian Revolution is the greatest event in our lives.

“It is the dawn of freedom and industrial democracy. If we can’t trust Lenin we can’t trust anybody.”

Workers were inspired because they could see that it was possible to resist and bring down kings.

So in Germany in 1918, a sailors’ mutiny spread, merged with workers’ strikes, ended the war and toppled the Kaiser.

In Italy, “To do as in Russia” became the slogan of the left. The revolutionary trade unionist Armando Borghi wrote, “We made the Russian Revolution our polar star.

“We exulted its victories. We trembled at its risks. We made a symbol and an altar of its name, its dead, its living and its heroes.”

But the Russian Revolution did more than inspire people to resist. It showed a path linking the economic and the political.

The Bolshevik approach for the revolution going forward to transform Russia was condensed to, “Peace, Bread and Land.” The linking of struggles contained in the slogan became a lesson being learnt across Europe.

The same factors that produced the revolution in Russia were present to a greater or lesser extent worldwide.

In the spring of 1917 during a French strike wave of hundreds of thousands, strike rallies ended with cries of, “Down with the war!”

Profiteers

When striking Italian workers in Turin in August 1917 were promised bread if they went back to work they chanted, “To hell with the bread! We want peace! Down with the profiteers! Down with the war!” and stayed out on strike.

The writer Victor Serge captured the mood. “The councils of workers’ and soldiers’ deputies—the soviets—are the real masters of the hour. Riots in Paris, riots in Lyon, revolution in Belgium, revolution in Constantinople, victory of the soviets in Bulgaria, rioting in Copenhagen.

“The whole of Europe is in movement. Clandestine or open soviets are appearing everywhere, even in the allied armies; everything is possible, everything.”

Revolts erupted in Egypt, India, Afghanistan and elsewhere as people rose up against empires and imperial troops mutinied.

The method of achieving this was through the soviets. Soviets—councils made up of workers and soldiers—sprung up in 1905 and 1917.

They were the strength of working class organisation in the Russian Revolution. Workers’ councils copying or echoing the Russian soviets sprung up globally.

Around the world strike committees called themselves soviets to mimic Russia. In Italy and Germany the forms of workers’ councils were more advanced and become about direct democracy, workers’ control and power.

But the inspiration of Russia was about more than the soviets. To be “Bolshie” entered the language.

In 1919, 10,000 British soldiers mutinied in Folkestone in Kent. They set up a union with their popular chant, “Come on you Bolsheviks”.

New parties formed while others split or transformed. The paths of the workers’ movements and their organisations internationally had many strands.

But the actual workers’ revolution in Russia moved both forward greatly.

This is part of a series of weekly articles on the Russian Revolution. Go to tinyurl.com/sw1917 to read the rest

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