It put a country of 150 million people under workers’ control. There has never been anything like it before or since.
The revolution gave a glimpse of what a socialist society could look like.
The experience of the revolution, and the writings of Marxists involved in it, would help a new generation of socialists fight for socialism from below.
And it gave everyone who wants to see socialism an example to learn from.
Today we are told that fundamental change is impossible. We are told that racism, sexism, war and inequality are natural. We are told that workers can’t run things themselves.
The Russian Revolution shows all of this to be false.
Soldiers instructed vast armies and workers elected committees to run factories. Peasants threw out the landlords and took control of land.
Workers’ self-organisation chanelled the power that could see control of the state taken from the bosses.
The old capitalist state was torn up and a new workers’ state developed. Workers’ councils called soviets, made up of elected delegates, ran society. Delegates were subject to immediate recall.
The revolution relied on the active and informed involvement of ordinary people.
As Bolshevik leader Lenin put it, “Socialism cannot be decreed from above. Living, creative socialism is the product of the masses themselves.”
When the Bolsheviks negotiated over the First World War they exposed the allied powers’ secret deals.
The revolution brought in measures to liberate women—such as the right to divorce and to abortion—decades before capitalist countries did. It pushed back the most virulent, entrenched antisemitism.
It handed independence to former colonies of Russia.
The Russian Revolution showed that fundamentally transforming society requires a new workers’ state. The revolution made huge gains before October, but it hadn’t brought about socialism.
The capitalist state—the army, the police, the judiciary and the civil service—exists to protect a tiny minority. It can’t be used to build socialism that can deliver for the majority.
Left wing governments that have tried to win change using that state have bent to the will of the rich or only made limited gains.
But the Russian Revolution didn’t bring about lasting socialism. Those who led it argued that it had to spread to survive.
Unfortunately revolts elsewhere failed and a vicious counter-revolution, aided by 14 invading armies, eventually crushed the new society. Stalinism was the result.
But the power of the revolution—and the scale of transformation it wrought—were such that those who had been part of it remained hopeful.
After its defeat Leon Trotsky wrote, “My faith in the communist future of mankind is not less ardent, indeed it is firmer today than it was in the days of my youth.”
Our rulers hate the revolution because it shows that another world is possible—and that workers are the force to bring it about.
And if we could do it in 1917, we can do it today.