Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Thought-provoking Hindu article examining varied legacy of Russian 'October revolution' a hundred years ago

Last updated on 9th Nov. 2017

Today's (7th Nov. 2017) Hindu had a very interesting and thought-provoking article which considered the legacy of Russia's 7th November revolution (known as October revolution), one hundred years ago (in 1917). Before I get to the article I want to give some info. about the event and some background of the author of the article.

The revolution is called the October revolution as Russia was following the Julian calendar then (and not the Gregorian calendar which we follow now). 7th Nov. 1917 of Gregorian calendar corresponds to 25th October 1917 in Julian calendar, which was followed in Russia then. Russia changed over to the Gregorian calendar shortly after, in February 1918 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_calendar).

Given below is an extract from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/October_Revolution (note that 'New Style' below refers to Gregorian calendar):

The October Revolution, officially known in Soviet literature as the Great October Socialist Revolution, and commonly referred to as Red October, the October Uprising, the Bolshevik Revolution, or Bolshevik Coup was a revolution in Russia led by the Bolsheviks and Vladimir Lenin that was instrumental in the larger Russian Revolution of 1917. It took place with an armed insurrection in Petrograd on the 25 October (7 November, New Style) 1917.

It followed and capitalized on the February Revolution of the same year, which overthrew the Tsarist autocracy and resulted in a provisional government after a transfer of power proclaimed by Grand Duke Michael, brother of Tsar Nicolas II, who declined to take power after the Tsar stepped down. During this time, urban workers began to organize into councils (Russian: Soviet) wherein revolutionaries criticized the provisional government and its actions. After the Congress of Soviets, now the governing body, had its second session, it elected members of the Bolsheviks and other leftist groups such as the Left Socialist Revolutionaries to important positions within the new state of affairs. This immediately initiated the establishment of the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, the world's first self-proclaimed socialist state. On 17 July 1918, the Tsar and his family were executed which may have been with Lenin's approval.

The revolution was led by the Bolsheviks, who used their influence in the Petrograd Soviet to organize the armed forces. Bolshevik Red Guards forces under the Military Revolutionary Committee began the occupation of government buildings on 7 November 1917 (New Style). The following day, the Winter Palace (the seat of the Provisional government located in Petrograd, then capital of Russia), was captured.

The long-awaited Constituent Assembly elections were held on 12 November 1917. In contrast to their majority in the Soviets, the Bolsheviks only won 175 seats in the 715-seat legislative body, coming in second behind the Socialist Revolutionary Party, which won 370 seats, although the SR Party no longer existed as a whole party by that time, as the Left SRs had gone into coalition with the Bolsheviks from October 1917 to March 1918. The Constituent Assembly was to first meet on 28 November 1917, but its convocation was delayed until 5 January 1918 by the Bolsheviks. On its first and only day in session, the Constituent Assembly came into conflict with the Soviets, and it rejected Soviet decrees on peace and land, resulting in the Constituent Assembly being dissolved the next day by order of the Congress of Soviets.

As the revolution was not universally recognized, there followed the struggles of the Russian Civil War (1917–22) and the creation of the Soviet Union in 1922.

---- end extracts from October Revolution wiki ----

About Pulapre Balakrishnan, the author of the article in Hindu today, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulapre_Balakrishnan:

Pulapre Balakrishnan is an Indian economist and educationalist. He has served as the director of Centre for Development Studies and Professor at Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode. Pulapre Balakrishnan was born in his ancestral village of Klari, Malappuram, Kerala in 1955. He was educated in Moscow, Madras and New Delhi, and trained as an economist at Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

Pulapre has written in the professional journals and is the author of the books ‘Pricing and Inflation in India’ (OUP India, 1991), ‘Economic Growth in India: History and Prospect’ (OUP India, 2010) and 'Politics Trumps Economics' along with Bimal Jalan. Balakrishnan has held appointments at Worcester College Oxford, the Indian Statistical Institute at Delhi and the Indian Institute of Management at Kozhikode. He has served as Country Economist for Ukraine at the World Bank and been consultant to the International Labour Organisation, the Reserve Bank of India and the United Nations Development Program. He has for over two decades intervened in the public debate on India's economy via his popular writings. He is the recipient of the Malcolm Adiseshiah Award for Distinguished Contribution to Development Studies (2014).

He is currently Professor of Economics at Ashoka University in Haryana.
---- end extracts from Pulapre Balakrishnan wiki ----

Pulapre Balakrishnan's articles regularly appear in The Hindu. My impression of his articles is that typically they have a leftist, a socialist angle. I found that I disagreed with some viewpoints expressed in his previous articles.

With the above background done, here's his article in The Hindu today: The varied legacy of Russia's October revolution, by Pulapre Balakrishnan, http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/the-varied-legacy-of-a-revolution/article19993686.ece, 7th Nov. 2017.

I have given below some points from my reading of the article. I should also state that I do not know enough about Russian history to know how accurate and valid the article's views are.

1) Much of the Russian (October) revolution's legacy has been horrific for Russians and some of it has been benign for the other parts of the world.

2) After Josef Stalin came to power as Soviet Union's head in the mid 1920s, Stalin become dictator of Russia like the Tsar who was deposed by the communists in 1917. In the three decades that he ruled as dictator, "The opposition was annihilated, labour camps for dissidents established, the free press disbanded and the peasantry dispossessed." The article mentions the brutality with which Stalin suppressed the Ukrainains for their desire to be independent. "Upon Stalin’s orders, grain was shipped out of their country to the rest of the Soviet Union, causing famine and deaths. A people were crushed." Similar treatment was dished out to Russians who dared to oppose Stalin with some of them being sent to Siberia where they were forced to work in labour camps in horrific conditions that were similar to that of Hitler's labour/concentration camps.

3) The article mentions that some of Stalin's actions were similar to that of European regimes in their colonies with the key difference being that these European regimes did not promise to emancipate the oppressed in the colonies. It states, "Churchill may have sucked grain out of Bengal thus tipping it into famine, but then he was unabashedly racist. On the other hand, the communist movement that eventually gave birth to the Russian Revolution was premised on the promise of power to the people." The article continues that Stalin instead made the Russian Revolution a bureaucracy whose aim was to maintain the regime of the communist party led by him.

4) Stalin was not supportive of the Indian national movement. But the British working classes and the Labour party which got its power from British working classes, supported the Russian revolution and were committed to socialism. On coming to power after World War II, the British Labour party withdrew British rule from India. [Ravi: The British Labour party supported "responsible self-government" for India in 1945. From 1945 British Labour party declarion, http://www.politicsresources.net/area/uk/man/lab45.htm: "The British, while putting their own house in order, must play the part of brave and constructive leaders in international affairs. The British Labour Movement comes to the tasks of international organisation with one great asset: it has a common bond with the working peoples of all countries, who have achieved a new dignity and influence through their long struggles against Nazi tyranny. And in all this worth-while work - whether political, military or economic - the Labour Party will seek to promote mutual understanding and cordial co-operation between the Dominions of the British Commonwealth, the advancement of India to responsible self-government, and the planned progress of our Colonial Dependencies."]

5) Churchill, from the Tory Conservative party, was against India getting independence in the 1940s (India got independence in 1947). In a speech in the British House of Commons in 1942, Churchill said, "I have not become the King’s First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire...." The article notes that after Churchill and his Conservative Party got back to power (in 1951), Churchill delayed the decolonization process of then British empire (India was already independent but Churchill delayed independence of some other countries that were being ruled by the British).

6) The article views the rise of social democracies in Europe as a benign consequence of the Russian October Revolution. It states that the Russian revolution and (Soviet Union controlled) Eastern bloc taking up almost half of Europe after the end of World War II, led to ruling classes of (Western) Europe making concessions to working classes. Public provision of health, education and housing was part of these concessions. The author writes, "Europe’s social democracies have combined prosperity and freedom, and provided an alternative to raw American capitalism and repressive Soviet communism."

7) After Stalin's death (in 1952), Khrushchev came to power in the Soviet Union. Khrushchev denounced Stalin and the personality cult that Stalin had created. Khrushchev promoted warm relations between Soviet Union and India. Soviet Union gave India "loans and other forms of economic assistance and political support in a notoriously partisan UN Security Council". It allowed India to pay for vital goods India needed like oil, fertilizers and defense equipment in Rupees which was very helpful to India, as otherwise India would have had to earn hard currency on the international market to pay for these goods.

8) After Soviet Union collapsed (in Dec. 1991), India's ruling classes turned towards the West, with India's friendship with the former Soviet Union  countries including Russia declining. The article's last sentence refers to this friendship between India and Russia and laments its decline, saying: "And a brief moment in history, when a rare friendship between diverse peoples had flourished, evaporated into thin air."

That finishes my points about the article. I would like to add some points of my own related to the above:

a) I don't think that the friendship between the Russian people and the Indian people has "evaporated into thin air". Yes, Indian people have become much closer to people from USA since 1991. I think there is no doubt about that at all. But I do think that many Indians (certainly including me) have warm feelings about Russian friendship and help given to post-independence India by the Soviet Union. The international spiritual town that I live in - Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh state of India - has many Russian residents as well as visitors. So much so that some of the Indian shopkeepers and other local businessmen (like foreign exchange dealers) here are able to communicate, at least to some extent, in Russian with Russian visitors/residents! So friendship does continue between Indian and Russian people. However, perhaps due to language constraints and perhaps some economic challenges, we don't see as much Russian companies in India as we see American companies.

As a devout believer and worshiper of God, it has given me great joy to see that the Christian church (Orthodox) has seen a big revival in Russia today and that its government is supportive of the Christian church. India is a very deeply God loving and worshiping country. Perhaps we will see more of Russian and Indian people interactions in the future in this area of belief in God and loving worship of God through various law-abiding and peaceful religious traditions (Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism etc.). My best wishes and prayers to God for happiness, love, joy and peace for all the Russian people as well as other former Soviet Union countries' people.

b) Stalin undoubtedly had a very, very dark side and was directly or indirectly responsible for huge amount of human suffering including vicious killings. Given my limited exposure to Russian history, I tend to agree with the condemnation of this very dark side of Stalin. However, I think it would be an incomplete statement of the legacy of Stalin and the Soviet Union communist party and the Soviet Union armed forces led by him, if some of his and their positive achievements were not mentioned. So here are some positives, or mixed positives-cum-negatives, from Stalin's wiki page, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Stalin:

* "During Stalin's tenure, "Socialism in One Country" became a central concept in Soviet society, and Lenin's New Economic Policy was replaced with a centralised command economy, industrialisation, and collectivisation. These rapidly transformed the country into an industrial power, but disrupted food production and contributed to the famine of 1932–33, particularly affecting Ukraine."

* "Despite initial setbacks, the Soviet Red Army halted the German incursion and captured Berlin in May 1945, ending World War II in Europe. The Soviets annexed the Baltic states and helped establish pro-Soviet Marxist–Leninist governments throughout Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union and the United States emerged as the two world superpowers, and a period of tensions began between the Soviet-backed Eastern Bloc and U.S.-backed Western Bloc known as the Cold War. Stalin led his country through its post-war reconstruction, during which it developed a nuclear weapon." [Ravi: The annexation of the Baltic states is a definite negative, in my view.]

* [Ravi: I think the following paragraph captures Stalin's legacy, both positive and negative, in a nutshell.] "Widely considered one of the 20th century's most significant figures, Stalin was the subject of a pervasive personality cult within the world Marxist–Leninist movement, for whom Stalin was a champion of socialism and the working class. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Stalin has retained popularity in Russia and Georgia as a victorious wartime leader who established the Soviet Union as a major world power. Conversely, his autocratic government has been widely denounced for overseeing mass repressions, hundreds of thousands of executions, and between six and nine million non-combatant deaths through his policies."

c) I don't think Stalin's brutality against his opponents, including his repression of the Ukrainians, is comparable with British brutality against Indians in the British exploitation and plunder of India. In general, I don't think the British were as brutal as Stalin, in their treatment of their opponents in India (perhaps they were not allowed to become that brutal as there were mutinies against them from time to time in India, the most famous being the 1857 mutiny). But that does not mean, by any stretch of imagination, that the British were not brutal in their repression of their opponents in India. The Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919 by the British is just one horrific example of their brutal repression of Indians, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jallianwala_Bagh_massacre. About the suggestion in the article that Churchill sucking the grain out of Bengal tipping it into famine is comparable to Stalin doing something similar in Ukraine's famine, my quick reads of the summaries of the corresponding wiki pages: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holodomor and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bengal_famine_of_1943, indicates that the comparison seems to be incorrect. The Ukraine famine happened in peacetime (in 1932-33) and is alleged by some (not all) scholars to have been done deliberately by Stalin to hurt Ukrainians' independence movement, whereas the Bengal famine happened during World War II and at a time when Britain feared that Japanese forces who were already occupying Burma, might invade India from the Burma-India border and then get into Bengal. Britain's war cabinet "largely denied" international sources of grain to provide humanitarian relief of Bengal then and the British administration was slow in reacting to the famine. So it is a charge of negligence on Britain and that too during wartime, which is very different from the allegation/charge on Stalin of having planned the "man-made" famine of Ukraine.

d) I don't know how accurate the article is in its view that the October Revolution and the creation of the Eastern (Soviet) bloc having almost half of Europe in it at the end of World War II, was a key factor in Western Europe's ruling classes giving concessions to their working classes and providing welfare schemes in areas of education, health and housing. But if that is true then it must certainly be viewed as a benign consequence of the Russian October revolution and the formation of the Eastern (Soviet) bloc. Western Europe's welfare state model, as seen from the second half of the 20th century onwards, I think is a great example of combining capitalism and free enterprise with compassion, of combining material development & material growth with freedom and rights of citizens to certain basic needs of life.
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A USA based correspondent wrote (and was OK with public sharing):
I think that a significant difference between the Ukrainian and the Bengal famines is that the purpose of the Ukrainian famine was to punish and kill (in peace time) whereas the Bengal famine was (as I understand it) incompetence and lack of attention because of the fight for the life of Britain against the NAZI Germany and (in the East) against the Japanese.
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I (Ravi) responded:
Based on my limited reading on these matters, I agree with your view.
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[I thank wikipedia, Pulapre Balakrishnan and thehindu.com and have presumed that they will not have any objections to me sharing some extracts from wikipedia and sharing a few sentences from the above article of Balakrishnan (thehindu.com website), on this post which is freely viewable by all, and does not have any financial profit motive whatsoever.]

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