Aleksandr Buzgalin On The Centenary of the Russian Revolution
The spirit of the revolution is still alive and the centenary is being celebrated in Russia by the democratic left, it is convening people from the former soviet republics and the world
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
100 years ago the Communist Revolution erupted in Russia in 1917. The world in 1917 was in the midst of World War I, then known as the Great War. As the great European empires of the world were destroying their beautifully built, architecturally magnificent cities, cultures and history, and of course, everyone who got in their way as well. But, the impoverished and angry Russian soldiers and workers had decided to turn their efforts, not at fighting the enemy, which they barely knew, but fighting for a better society for themselves.
We discussed this in the prelude to the Russian Revolution in segment one of this series, but today we’re going to discuss what is going on in Russia now in terms of celebrating the 100th anniversary. We are joined by Aleksandr Buzgalin. He’s a professor of Political Economy at Moscow State University. He is also the editor of the independent democratic left magazine Alternatives. He is the coordinator of the Russian social movement Alternatives and author of more than 20 books.
Today, he joins us from St. Petersburg where he’s been attending a celebration, celebrating the centenary of the Russian Revolution. He’s joining us today to tell us more about what’s going on in Russia, commemorating 1917. Professor Buzgalin, thank you so much for joining us.
ALEKSANDR BUZGALIN: Yes. I’m very glad to talk to you in such wonderful and extremely important day. 100 years is not nothing, and we have big events, we had big events, and we are still having big events today in Russia in different cities Moscow, St. Petersburg and so on.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, you just returned from a demonstration celebrating the 100 years, give us a sense of what that was like and the kind of activities you’ve been engaged in before we dive into the history here.
ALEKSANDR BUZGALIN: First of all, I want to say that we had many events in our country devoted to 100th anniversary of the October Revolution. For some people, this is a terrible event a coup d’etat and so on. But for the left, and this where it’s a big part for Russian population. 100th anniversary of October Revolution means a celebration of the new hopes and new obligations to create world, which will be more just, more free, more humanistic…because Russia needs to have this.
We started different activities, and I can tell what alternatives made together with other friends and colleagues from the Democratic Left Network. From November 2nd to November 15th in Moscow, we had International Forum, October Revolution Future. This forum invited a lot of people. We had more than 500 participants from all over the world including even Australia, Africa, Latin America, United States, Britain, West Europe, China, India, Japan, and so on. Many countries of former Soviet Union.
We had the excellent scholars from our Russian Academy of Science, different universities of our country. Militants of different left organizations, social movements, trade unions, so it was great to event. We had big academic part where we discussed the nature of revolution. Reasons why it took place? What kind of society was created? What are the perspectives, lessons and challenges of October revolution for the future? It was in aspects political economy and some philosophy and some history.
By the way, this conference was made together with World Political Economy Association and some other international networks. I think it was very big event. Finally, I’m very proud that young boys and girls made beautiful movie, documentary movie. It was poems, poetry music, so it was not only academic debates it was also fiesta, beautiful and optimistic.
Then St. Petersburg we have also both academic events and demonstration. Because I am now at St. Petersburg I don’t know how big the, how organized your demonstrations in Moscow. But in St. Petersburg it was many thousand people who were walking from place where Lenin came from immigration, it’s Finland train station to the place, which is very symbolic. To the place where military ship Aurora, sunrise is standing and shooting from this military ship was the signal for beginning of October Revolution. It was a big meeting, with speeches of different left leaders and beautiful atmosphere. The only problem was authorities forbid to have a demonstration in the center of St. Petersburg where typically it took place. They did not give permission to make meeting in the palace, the square in front of Winter Palace. But this is part of reality authorities are not very sympathetic to left ideas of whether to say is there simply hate them. But what can we do? We made what we could. I think this is not better if not small result.
SHARMINI PERIES: How is the state responding to this 100th anniversary? Are they also holding anniversary celebrations and events to commemorate the 1917 revolution?
ALEKSANDR BUZGALIN: It’s a very complex question because for a one hand Russian officials are trying to use these 100th anniversary for propaganda trash as strong state. We have various panic from one hand and very dangerous from another hand combination. Combination of liberal economic policy and great power chauvinism or conservatism in politics and ideology. Because, of the great power trend we have strange combination.
It was bad that left people came to the power as a result of a tool of a revolution. But it is good that great power Soviet Union was created and such leader as Stalin developed this power, and it was big state, to its more respectable state and blah, blah, blah. I’m not against,I don’t know, good feelings towards the really heroic decisions of Soviet people, but I think Stalin was a leader, and the whole Stalin system was something, which destroyed too many positive results of October revolution. Not supported this. That’s why I don’t like this official trend and official model of celebration.
We are trying to show that revolution is not simply creation of big state. First of all, Revolution was social energy of the people who started the big changes. Of course, it was not barracked road. It was not simple at all, it was a real struggle. Maybe I must mention that in 1917, October 25th according to the old calendar and November 7th according to the new calendar. It was not a military coup, or it was not the civil war. It was real nearly peaceful transformation of power and who became the real master of political system.
Typically, everybody will tell Lenin and small part of Bolsheviks’ party but it’s not true. The power took congress off Soviets. Soviets were real democratic institution because the Soviet of soldiers soviets of workers, soviets of peasants. They were created from people, and they took power. In St. Petersburg Soviets took power, complex of soviets not Bolsheviks.
They said the revolution, which was necessary realized. Why Bolsheviks received majority of this soviets not because they made coup or made something extraordinary policy making acts. Because they really reflected interests of the ordinary people and what requirements had people in 1917, in autumn 1917, very simple peace. No democratic, so-called democratic liberal party had the idea to stop the war, bloody world war. Only Bolsheviks and a few others political group said we must stop the war. It was ethical for the interest of the 90% of Russian ordinary people.
Second, land for the peasants. In Russia ,peasants had very small pieces land. Main part of land were in the hands of aristocrats. Both war parties didn’t want to give land to the peasants. That’s why left parties, Bolsheviks and some left part of socialist revolutionist SRs became power not because we were aggressive. By the way when leaders of future worked counter revolutionist officers and generals they were arrested for a few days. Then..who is a symbol of secret police of war chekists. This person came to them and said, “If you give me honest word of office here that you will not take Soviet government, new government you will be liberated.” To all this aristocrats all this very officers in general said, “Yes we tell you that we never start attack against Soviet power.”
After that, they made attempt to organize a coup and attack Soviets … One more fact, in 80% of Russian regions, Soviets took power without even war without confrontation. Only in some regions it was military battle…victims but it was a few hundred people who were killed and wounded maximum one, two thousand people. It was not blood revolution. What was that? It was peaceful victory of soviets power in all over Russia.
Only when Germany, Turkey, Austrian Empire together with their so called enemies France, Britain, United States, Japan. All these countries attacked Soviet Russia in 1918-1919. Only when this foreign… took place did the war start. Only on these basis so called…and to counter revolutionary forces received artillery, received weapons, received money, received uniforms and everything. Only these basis, on the basis of foreign attack, foreign attack on Soviet Russia intervention. They received opportunity to a start civil war. That’s why revolution could have a peaceful victory and this is one of the interesting historical cliques. Until, you use one more parallel, it’s not the only example of nearly peaceful victory of left forces.
Another example, Spain 1936 it was a peaceful democratic victory of left forces. Anarchists, communists, socialists, trade unionists they received power in Spain in 1936. After that was… acoup supported by illegally or legally partly but by first is Germany by Britain and France and so on. It was not left forces who started civil war in Spain it was the liberals, so called liberals. Beorlegui is the war capital who started this war. The same is the victory of Allende and socialist forces in Chile in 1971. Then coup d’etat organized the support of central Italy as the agency of United States big capital and so on…
That’s why our story is not story of blood. Of course, it was blood and its big problem. This is a story of victory of social creativity of masses. This is when important, and I wanted to stress this. Of course then we had a lot of diffusion, mutations. We had very negative influence of subjective factors when Stalinist groups received power and started to bureaucratic operation and then simply terror. But in spite of this fits even in such conditions society and social history was developing, by the way I just came after the demonstration, we went with my wife to the concert. It was in the beautiful, in St. Petersburg. Concert of soviet music. It was so so beautiful, so romantic. No one country has similar. It is a reflection of real enthusiasm and social creativity of the people, which took place even in the atmosphere of Stalin and terror in 1937.
In 1960s, it was over much better conditions. We had the gain political operation, we had political prisoners. We had bureaucratic stupidity, but the majority of people they were enthusiastic and this is spirit of revolution, which is still alive.
I’m sorry for long continuation, but I follow emotions after such day. That should be it.
SHARMINI PERIES: I thank you for joining us, here on The Real News Network. Please stay tuned to an ongoing discussion with the Professor Buzgalin. Thank you so much.