Time to rearm Marxist Theory

Published: October 25, 2017 - 15:00 Updated: October 25, 2017 - 15:09

A hundred years after Red October, theory still lags behind in analysing and comprehending contemporary imperialism and capitalism and the changes they have wrought

THAT THE RUSSIAN Revolution had a profound impact on the 20th century is well recognised. The powerful currents unleashed by the October Revolution saw other revolutions unfolding, from China to Cuba; it set off the wave of national liberation struggles which swept away old-style colonialism and provided the impulse for the democratisation of politics.

However, with the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, capitalist triumphalism proclaimed the end of socialism and the burial of the revolutionary message of October 1917. It provided the opportunity for imperialism and the bourgeois ideologues to go about negating the essence of the October Revolution, distorting its meaning and erasing the significant achievements
of socialism. 

Much historical writing has been produced in the 25 years since the dismantling of the Soviet Union to prove that the October uprising was not a revolution by the people but a putsch or a coup. By these accounts of Western scholars, Vladimir Lenin led a group of Bolshevik conspirators who were supported by a section of the soldiers to overthrow by force the provisional government in Petrograd on October 25, 1917.

Following from this narrative of the putsch, the revisionist history writing of Russia goes on to describe how the Bolsheviks instituted a Red Terror to overcome their opponents and to establish dictatorial rule by the Communist PartyThe next ideological engineering was to characterise the Soviet state as a “totalitarian” one. Totalitarianism is defined as a system in which there is no place for bourgeois democracy.  Thus, the Soviet Union was a totalitarian state akin to the Nazi state in Germany. Communism and fascism are thus two faces of totalitarianism. This absurd thesis has become the prevailing dogma in Europe and the United States.

These falsehoods need to be debunked and their ideological motivations exposed. The October Revolution was a mass revolution. The major forces in the revolutionary movement were the workers, peasants and soldiers who constituted the overwhelming majority of the population. All over the country, Soviets had sprung up. The Soviet was an elected body of representatives of a particular class of people. They were Soviets of the workers, peasants, agricultural workers and soldiers. In October 1917, Russia had 1,429 Soviets including 455 Soviets of peasant deputies. The All Russian Congress of Soviets represented 20.3 million people, of whom nearly six million were workers, five million were peasants and nine million were soldiers (two-thirds of whom were peasants and agricultural proletariat). 


The October Revolution was a mass revolution. The major forces in the revolutionary movement were the workers, peasants and soldiers who constituted the overwhelming majority of the population.

By the time of the October Revolution, a big majority of the Soviets of workers in Petrograd and Moscow had come under Bolshevik influence. So had the Soviets of soldiers in the various garrisons and on the war front. The Bolshevik party membership had grown to 350,000 in October, compared to the 75,000 at the time of the February revolution.  The Bolsheviks and the Left-Socialist Revolutionaries who allied with them, commanded a clear majority in the All Russian Congress of Soviets. 



There is nothing compatible between fascism, which is a phenomenon that sprang from the most reactionary sections of the bourgeoisie,  and Communism that is based on the Marxist ideology which is anathema to the reactionary sections of the bourgeoisie. Fascism was born in the aftermath of the October Revolution and the deep crisis of the capitalist system in the inter-war period. The fascists, whether Hitler or Mussolini, saw Communism as their mortal enemy.

To bracket fascism and Communism is an assault on history and reason because it negates the vital role played by the USSR and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in destroying the Nazi regime and the enormous sacrifice of the 25 million Soviet citizens and soldiers who died fighting fascism. It is also an insult to the tens of thousands of Communist partisans and fighters who played a key role against the Nazi occupation and fascist regimes in France, Italy, the Balkans and Greece.

The reason this vilification of the October Revolution and negation of history is going on is because of the abiding relevance of the revolution. The October Revolution was not just a revolt against Tsarist autocracy. It heralded a new type of revolution which was anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist. This had a universal significance in the last century and in the present-day world because imperialism continues to dominate the world.

The original and most important contribution of Lenin lay in developing the Marxist understanding of imperialism and making it part of the revolutionary strategy. Lenin noted that the uneven development of capitalism during the stage of imperialism will create the possibility of a socialist revolution becoming successful in a country even though it may be backward in terms of capitalist development. For Lenin, Tsarist Russia represented the weakest link in the imperialist chain after the advent of the First World War, a product of inter-imperialist rivalries. 

Changes have occurred in the nature of imperialism since Lenin’s time with the development of international finance capital. Under the hegemony of international finance capital, the rivalries between imperialist nation-states have been subdued.  However, this does not imply a disappearance of imperialism.  Rather, imperialism has acquired a particularly vicious form under the imperative of international
finance capital. 

Imperialism continues to be the foremost barrier before all those who seek to create a just, democratic and peaceful world order.



The October Revolution was the first anti-imperialist revolution and the struggle against finance-driven imperialism continues in the 21st century, tracing its lineage from 1917. The global financial crisis of 2007-08 brought into sharp focus the structural crisis affecting neo-liberal capitalism. Nearly a decade after the eruption of the crisis, there has been no real recovery with productivity still below the pre-crisis levels. The working people in the advanced capitalist countries have been subjected to austerity measures which have resulted in loss of livelihood and a big fall in living standards. At no time in the history of capitalism have the levels of inequality reached such heights in these countries. There is a growing acknowledgement that neo-liberal capitalism has reached a deadend.

The October Revolution established the revolutionary role played by the working class.  The working class remains central to any revolutionary challenge to capitalism. Despite assertions by the ‘post-Marxists’ to the contrary, the working class has grown in size and strength globally. Deindustrialisation and off-shoring of industrial activities into the developing world have led to the shrinking of the industrial workforce in the advanced capitalist world. However, the size of the proletariat has grown in the developing world and the world as a whole. Moreover, those employed in the services sector are also exploited workers. The changes that have come about are in the forms of employment and labour exploitation, under the rubric of ‘labour market flexibility’. Across the world, organised formal sector employment has been increasingly replaced by casual and contract work. Alongside the institutionalisation of a hire and fire regime, economic growth under the neoliberal regime has also led to a ballooning informal economy characterised by intense exploitation and self-exploitation of labour. A key challenge before Marxists in the 21st century is to devise new forms of organising the casualised and informal workforce, who bear the brunt of intensified exploitation.

The theory and practice of Marxism in the 21st century also requires the integration of gender issues into the mainstream analysis of class exploitation and social oppression. Even the most advanced capitalist countries have been unable to address in any substantive way the unequal division of labour that is detrimental to women

There is a churning process occurring in the world today in the countryside, particularly in the rural areas of the less developed countries – in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Over the last three decades, policies of so-called stabilisation and structural adjustment have systematically been imposed on the working people of the Third World by international capital, domestic bourgeoisie and landed rural elites. These policies accentuate agrarian crisis, impoverish and worsen the incomes and livelihoods of the peasantry. Rural unrest on issues of land, livelihood and access to resources is a widespread phenomenon across the developing world today. Organising the peasantry and rural labourers and building an alliance with the urban working class pose the main challenge in these societies. Here again, the worker-peasant alliance forged in the course of the Russian Revolution is the pioneering path to follow.

The new Soviet State took some radical measures for the emancipation of women, something which could not be sustained in later years. The theory and practice of Marxism in the 21st century also requires the integration of gender issues into the mainstream analysis of class exploitation and social oppression. Even the most advanced capitalist countries have been unable to address in any substantive way the unequal division of labour that is detrimental to women. On the contrary, the severe cutbacks in the social sector under the neoliberal regime have meant that the burden of the care economy is borne disproportionately by women. At the same time, the exploitation of cheap female labour continues to be an important source of extraction of surplus value.

Discrimination against women, reflected in unequal wages, discriminatory labour practices and the political economy of the reproduction of labour power shows that it is systemic and embedded in the capitalist production system. The invisibilisation of women’s work, the devaluation of their labour and the predominance of patriarchal modes of life reinforce the exploitation of women under neoliberal capitalism. The Left alternative to imperialist globalisation must recognise and give prominence to the liberation of women from patriarchal and class-based exploitation.



For over three decades, the trend has been for the social democrats to shift to the right and embrace neo-liberal prescriptions. But after a long spell, the contradictions of neo-liberal capitalism are resulting in a new turnaround in terms of Left politics. More and more, the nostrums of neo-liberalism are being questioned and a new radical Left platform and politics are emerging. In Britain, a country where reformism has been the most deep-rooted in the working class movement, the emerging Left platform under Jeremy Corbyn signifies the change. 

It is by a critical examination of the experiences of socialism in the 20th century that we can arrive at a new and more meaningful concept of socialism in the 21st century. This requires carrying forward some of the original impulses of the October Revolution and some of the valuable achievements. At the same time, we have to discard the negative aspects and distortions which manifested in the existing socialism of the
20th century. 


Jeremy Corbyn rally in 2016, Paul via wikicommons

The debate on 21st-century socialism is ongoing and has not reached finality. This is so because the socialism of the 21st century will arise not just from theory but also from practice. But we have now some broad contours of what a renovated socialism of the 21st century will look like. This is a subject which cannot be gone into in this essay, except to emphasise that while the socialism of the 21st century will be different, it will have to draw from the wellsprings of the October Revolution.

At the heart of the October Revolution was the issue of the potency of Marxist

theory and practice. It was Lenin’s revolutionary praxis which achieved the breakthrough which was Red October. In today’s world, theory is still lagging behind in analysing and fully comprehending contemporary imperialism and capitalism and the changes they have brought about. The challenges of dealing with gender oppression, the danger to the environment and the new advances in science and technology require rejuvenation and rearming of Marxist theory. From this will flow a revolutionary praxis, just as in
 Lenin’s time.    


is an Indian communist politician. He was the General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) from 2005 to 2015

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