Posted tagged ‘October Revolution’

Revolution day

October 23, 2011

This day – October 23 – has been declared by the new Libyan government to be ‘liberation day’, the day on which the uprising against the now deceased dictator was completed. Although this is probably not much on the minds of Libya’s National Transitional Council, October 23 is a date with all sorts of revolutionary associations, with exactly the kind of mixed results and messages that one might expect. It is the date (at least according to some calculations) on which Russia’s October Revolution began that quickly brought the Bolsheviks into power. Ironically it is also the day on which, in 1956, Hungarians began an uprising against the Soviet occupiers, a revolution that was crushed a couple of weeks later on November 4. However, Hungary actually announced its new post-communist Republic on this day in 1989.

Purely statistically, most revolutions in history were quickly followed by dictatorships or tyrannies. What might however give the Libyans hope is that this longer historical trend may not apply in quite the same way today. The revolutions in Eastern Europe of 1989 have on the whole produced working democracies, and while the jury is still out on the impact of this year’s ‘Arab Spring’, it may well be leading to much greater freedom in the region. While the bloody events of the last few days might give a little cause for concern, it is possible that the relationship between revolution and terror is being broken. Certainly Libya deserves a chance to succeed.


October 24, 2009

On this day in 1917 – at least if you follow the Julian calendar – the first incident took place in Petrograd (which had been, and is now, St Petersburg, and which for 70 or so years afterwards was Leningrad) that was to result in the Soviet Revolution. Just to make it as confusing as possible, it is either referred to as the October Revolution, or Red October, or else the November Revolution (because according to the Gregorian calendar it took place in November). But of course, whatever you call it and whichever calendar you use, it unleashed events which profoundly altered history. The system of Soviet Communism that followed it, and which at least for a while governed much of Eastern Europe, had a huge impact not just on those countries, but on western concepts such as the welfare state. But it also produced enormous hardships, including starvation and totalitarian dictatorship, and eventually it collapsed economically, some time around 1989, also around this time of year (if you take the fall of the Berlin Wall as the defining moment of collapse).

And so, in the early years of the new millennium, how should we now assess the Soviet revolution and the political system that followed it? I still find that very hard to say. One particular communist leader, Zhou Enlai of China, is famously said to have remarked when asked about the impact of the French Revolution that it was ‘too early to tell’. And in some respects that is true of 1917. It is difficult to see it objectively in the light of the many victims of Stalin’s brutal rule and in the light of the oppression that was inflicted on Eastern Europe. And yet, communism in government in the East led to significant social reforms in the West that have defined modern concepts of democracy. The East-West debates that defined political discourse during my youth sharpened ideological perspectives that allowed governments to pursue a much more distinct vision than is sometimes the case today.

I had the opportunity to visit the Soviet Union just before its demise, and on the one hand mostly found it to be bureaucratic and drab; but I also on occasion found it to be unexpectedly cultured and philosophical, in a way that we were not in the West.

I am sure I would have hated to live in the Soviet Union, and I wholly deplore the oppression and brutality that characterised some of its political actions. But I cannot quite bring myself to regret that the October Revolution happened. Not quite.


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