Should the October Revolution Be Celebrated?

Most of my readers probably didn’t notice that yesterday was the anniversary of the October Revolution. Around every November 7th, the Russian-speaking blogosphere explodes with discussions as to whether this date should be celebrated. My answer to this question is an unequivocal yes.

Regular readers of my blog know that I hate the Soviet Union with abandon. Unlike many of my compatriots, I fail to find a single redeeming feature to this horrible, repressive, monstrous country. The October Revolution, however, was a progressive, profoundly transformative event that initially* destroyed all of the remaining vestiges of the hopelessly outdated and degenerate Empire of the Romanovs.

Whenever I read late XIXth and early XXth century literature by American authors, I always feel stunned by how much freedom women in North America enjoyed compared to the women of the Russian Empire. The October Revolution bridged the gap in women’s rights between the countries of the Russian Empire and North America overnight and allowed women to move very far ahead on this issue, overtaking every other country in the world instantly.

The Revolution also liberated the Jews of the Empire from the pale of settlement and allowed them to become integrated into society easily and in any form they chose.

The decade of the 1920s saw an explosion of artistic production in Russia and Ukraine. The Russian Modernists of this decade created outstanding works of art and started the Silver Age of Russian literature.

Of course, later Soviet Union transformed into a repressive totalitarian state. The Russian Modernists were silenced. Their Ukrainian counterparts were exterminated. Soviet Jews rediscovered antisemitism in the late 1940s. Women were persecuted by puritanical ideologues for any suggestion that they can be sexual beings and not just productive workers and efficient baby machines.

Any good idea and any hopeful event can be perverted to the point where they turn into their exact opposite. This is what happened to the October Revolution. The society it ended up creating was structured very rigidly in terms of economic and social classes. Inequality was shocking. Artistic creation was stifled. Ethnic minorities were oppressed and subjected to genocide.

Still, even knowing what I do now about the results of the Revolution, if I happened to live in 1917, I would have fought for the Revolution. For a woman, a Ukrainian, a Jew, a peasant and a descendant of slaves, there was no other legitimate course of action.

* Stalin reestablished quite a few of the traditions of the Russian Empire in late 1930s.

10 thoughts on “Should the October Revolution Be Celebrated?”

  1. I appreciate your arguments concerning the October Revolution. I am sure that any revolution was better than none, given the nature of the Romanov dynasty. Nevertheless, I believe that the French and Russian Revolutions were dramatically inferior to the Glorious Revolution in England in 1688 and the American Revolution in 1776. The reason lies in the differing ideological origins of those revolutions.

    The English and American revolutions were based on what Thomas Sowell*has called ‘the constrained vision’ of the nature of mankind. This vision recognizes the moral limitations of man and the importance of constraining man to limit the harm that he can inflict. So the British and the American constitutions severely constrained political behavior and survived to become beacons for mankind.

    The French and Russian revolutions were based on what Thomas Sowell has called ‘the unconstrained vision’ of mankind. This vision endorses the perfectibility of man and does not attempt to constrain his political actions.

    So the French Revolution quickly deteriorated into the Terror, to Madame Guillotine,and to blood splashing down the pavement of La Place de La Concorde. All this culminated in the murderous dictatorship of Bonaparte, thankfully terminated by Sir Arthur Wellesley at Waterloo.

    The Russian Revolution quickly deteriorated into the tyranny of Stalin, the rape of Ukraine in 1931-2 and the Terror of 1937-1938 when Stalin lashed out murderously at his Western hostages right up to the Polish border in the name of protecting his Revolution.

    So it really matters what kind of revolution occurs, under whose leadership and to what constitutional end.

    * Thomas Sowell, A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles, Basic Books 2007.

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    1. But… what about slavery in the US, or British slave merchants? Or the extermination of Indigenous people? The British and the US ended up being violent/tyrannical empires.

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    2. thankfully terminated by Sir Arthur Wellesley at Waterloo.

      By the time of Waterloo Sir Arthur Wellesley had become the Duke of Wellington for his efforts in Spain and Portugal.

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    3. “I believe that the French and Russian Revolutions were dramatically inferior to the Glorious Revolution in England in 1688 and the American Revolution in 1776.”

      -I agree completely. The Russian revolution was an explosion of anger, hatred and resentment that had accumulated over a long period of time. The intellectuals who tried to guide the popular uprising failed to contain it in any significant way. The Russian revolution devoured its children, just like the French revolution did.

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  2. I think that all revolutions are bad – if they are based on violence.

    In Russia, there would have been no revolution and no victims (millions of them) if Alexander II and then Piotr Syolypin had not been killed…

    But that’s all subjunctive clause, unfortunately… They were killed – maybe by those who wanted a revolution. Well, they got what they wanted.

    Michael Blekhman

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  3. I think celebration was worthy for those who lived the moment, and put their efforts into it and making it “succeed.” As of today it makes sense to celebrate it only if you are romantic and hold onto its ideals and see it like a beautiful historical moment, or a remarkable work of art.

    From a birdview perspective of history, revolutions are bound to happen; they’re just a symptom of a reordering of powers. Oppression will come and will vanish again, depending on whose hands the power is, and many other factors such as how closely a social group or a society is linked to power. That is revolutions aren’t really a landmark of progress, only a landmark of change.

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    1. It isn’t simply a moment in the past. For me, the legacy of the revolution is that I don’t feel any need to please men or the desire to seem quite, inoffensive and nice in their company. I am yet to meet any North American women who have the legacy of 3 generations of powerful aggressive, career-oriented women to rely upon. I do have that legacy, and it’s the result of the October Revolution.

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  4. I suppose I have a similar attitude to the revolution in my country — a highly ambivalent one. As I’ve noted before, my country had become severely time-locked into all sorts of antiquated mind-sets. Many of these were anti-feminist. Had I not escaped that extreme right-wing cultural context, I actually wonder if I would be alive right now. One never knows, but there are strong indications that everything might have gone very badly for me. I’m not a cultural conservative at heart, which is to list one very basic fact. So, the revolution disrupted my social stability just at the age when I was beginning to master reality as an adult. Then I had to start all over again, in a non-time-locked culture and try to figure everything out from scratch. While I think this change might have saved my life, I still found it very difficult to resolve.

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  5. I think the October revolution should be celebrated. It marked the end of a feudal system, which has to be worth celebrating.

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