The Star reprints MARTIN LEVY’s speech from Sunday’s Communist Party executive committee meeting
SATURDAY’S London conference, organised by the Russian Revolution Centenary Committee, was a tremendously powerful celebration of everything that the October Revolution stood for, inspiring us to fight and win the battles of today.
The slogan that moved the Russian masses to establish Soviet power was “Peace, Bread and Land.” The world is much more complex now.
Yet peace remains a critical issue and, as in 1917, the major threat to it is from imperialism.
Imperialist wars may take place directly or through surrogates, and they may be fought for economic domination rather than territorial expansion, but they are still imperialist wars.
And, as Russian communist SlavaTetekin said at Saturday’s conference, the danger of nuclear war has increased since the Soviet Union’s demise.
In the Decree on Peace adopted on November 8 1917, the Russian workers’ and peasants’ government appealed in particular to the class-conscious workers of Great Britain, France and Germany to “understand the duty that now faces them to save mankind from the horrors of war...” That duty remains.
Bread today can be taken as a metaphor for having the resources to survive and have a decent life. So in Britain, it’s about pay, breaking the public-sector cap and about pensions and benefits.
Worldwide, as Indian communist Brinda Karat noted on Saturday, eight men own as much as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity.
And, while poverty in Britain is nowhere near as stark as in many third world countries, it is worsening dramatically, and we have a crisis of low pay here, such that there are workers having to rely on food banks, a situation which will be made much worse by the roll-out of Universal Credit.
Meanwhile, investors’ share of corporate profits has soared from 10 per cent in the 1970s to 70 per cent today.
Land remains a crucial issue for peasants in many parts of the world. But land is also a place for living. Today in Britain 1.2 million people are waiting for a council home while developers are building houses for sale, which young people in particular can’t afford. Increasing numbers are being forced into private rented dwellings, one third of which fail basic health and safety standards. Tenants who complain can easily find themselves evicted, and homelessness is at an all-time high.
Land is also about the environment. Late Soviet ecology was actually well ahead of the West, and aware of the potential dangers of global warming.
Now the UN environmental programme reports that average temperatures will rise by a catastrophic 3°C by the year 2100, unless greenhouse emissions are cut well below those of the Paris Agreement. Capitalism is threatening the life-stability system of the planet.
The October Revolution was also about equality. The Declaration of the Rights of the Peoples, signed on November 15 1917, proclaimed equality and sovereignty of the peoples, with the right to self-determination.
It was an enormously powerful message at the time, a direct challenge to both colonialism and racism. These issues are still with us — for the British working class in particular, over Ireland — and especially over Palestine, just 100 years after the infamous Balfour Declaration.
Equality also meant gender equality, overcoming women’s oppression. Enormous, albeit incomplete, advances towards this were made by the Soviet Union.
For us today, it’s still very much a live issue — not just the gender pay gap but the objectification and demeaning of women, as revealed by the Weinstein accusations and the “inappropriate behaviour” by some MPs and government ministers.
The Revolution was also about democracy — real, participatory working-class democracy expressed in the Soviets, as against the limited bourgeois democracy where wealth determines power.
In 1952, at the height of the Cold War, the Soviet leadership called on the most class-conscious forces in the West to pick up the banners of democracy and national sovereignty.
That’s just as valid today, with the EU the biggest threat to working people’s ability to enforce policies in their own interests, and with Theresa May’s government’s plan to grab dictatorial “Orders in Council” powers.
But finally, of course, the Revolution was about socialism, about public ownership and taking power out of the hands of the landlord-capitalist class. Socialism cannot be achieved without such a change of state power.
Labour’s policies under Jeremy Corbyn represent a break with right-wing reformism and provide an opportunity in a changed political climate for the people of this country, led by the most class-conscious forces, to build a broad movement to tackle the fundamental issues of public ownership of the means of production and the nature of imperialism, Nato and the state.
Nonetheless, fierce battles with the ruling class lie ahead. Our Party’s responsibility is to mobilise the working class for these battles and for left policies, give leadership, and educate the working class to understand its historic mission.
For that we need a much bigger party, including rebuilding our strength in industry. The centenary of the October Revolution gives us the opportunity to do that.
We have the materials and the moment.
Let’s be bold about what socialism has achieved. The USSR, as Slava Tetekin said, did not collapse — it was betrayed. But socialism still exists and is growing in the world today.