Notes from the 103rd Anniversary of the October Revolution

Editor’s Note: The CYM held a talk to commemorate the 103rd anniversary of the October Revolution two weeks ago, including a report by the National Education Officer and a talk by Roman Kononenko, secretary of the Leninist Komsomol and a central committee member of the KPRF. The following is a report by DG who attended the meeting as well as the National Education Officer’s lecture.

To coincide with the 103rd anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution, the Connolly Youth Movement had the pleasure of hosting Roman Kononenko of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation.  

The meeting was a nice moment of cultural exchange as not only did Roman teach us about the struggle of Communists within the Russian Federation and the hardships faced by working people in modern Russia, we also shared the socialist-republican history of our small island.

We discussed at length the significance of the October Revolution, preceding the formation of the Soviet Union from the ruins of the Russian Empire, and its implications. How the fragile Kerensky government formed during the February Revolution collapsed in October 

Most of us are familiar with the events of the Russian Revolution from Leaving Cert history in this country, with all its anti-Communist spin and Propaganda, so it was refreshing to be shown a Russian Communist perspective of the achievements of the Bolshevik party of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. 

A couple of interesting questions were brought up during the discussion such as the details of the Communist Party of the Russian Federations party line regarding LGBTQ+ issues in light of the widespread reactionary repression experienced by the LGBTQ+ community in Russia in recent years. We learned that there is no party line as such set-in stone on the part of KPRF but certain members of the Duma who associate themselves with the Communists, yet are not part of the party, made homophobic comments which has seemed to have confused the situation significantly.  

Another question was that of the relevance of the works of Leon Trotsky to Russian Communists. As we know in the West, Trotsky is upheld by some leftists as the true champion of the people and of Socialism as opposed to the “authoritarian tyranny of Stalinism” etc. but what was revealed to us is that the Menshevik political theorist remains mostly irrelevant among Russian Communists with tiny enclaves of Trotskyite organizations in parts of Moscow and Petrograd, but are a largely negligible political force. 

Which leads onto another topic brought up during the discussion, the canonisation of the Romanovs in Modern Russia – the act of Orthodox Christians with extreme anti-Communist political motivations. The Church sided with the White Army, supplying them with money and arms to fight the Red Army, only to have their wealth seized and buildings repurposed for arming forces hostile to the state.  So much more was discussed, almost too much to much to fit into one article, but we are grateful to Mr. Kononenko for taking the time to meet with us on the 103rd anniversary of one of the most important events in human history. 

 

National Education Officer’s Lecture:

The October Revolution and Ireland

In 1920, in his work “Left-Wing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder, Lenin attempted to sum up some of the lessons of Russia’s decades of revolutionary experience. He wrote that ‘For about half a century… progressive thought in Russia, oppressed by a most brutal and reactionary tsarism, sought eagerly for a correct revolutionary theory, and followed with the utmost diligence and thoroughness each and every “last word” in this sphere in Europe and America. Russia achieved Marxism—the only correct revolutionary theory—through suffering, through half a century of unparalleled torment and sacrifice, of unparalleled revolutionary heroism, incredible energy, devoted searching, study, practical trial, disappointment, verification and comparison with European experience.’ Much the same could be said of Ireland’s painful journey toward a revolutionary theory that represents our peoples’ interests and needs. The impact of international revolutions to this process is immeasurable and Ireland’s revolutionary history must be understood in this context.

Ireland’s Struggle for a Revolutionary Theory

Ireland’s struggle against foreign domination extends back to the twelfth century. At that time it took the form of a struggle between Gaelic society, with mutual bonds and kinship at its core, and Anglo-Norman feudal colonialism, with land and domination at its core. This conflict was bloodily resolved in the brutal haze of the seventeenth century when Ireland was turned into Britain’s playground by successive kings and conquerors – Cromwell chief among them. England’s recently developed capitalist system required the total eradication of Ireland’s rival society. Our resistance and ways of life were overpowered by violence and the forces of nascent capitalism. Our culture was deliberately and viciously vanquished and anglicised – all in order to exploit our land and labour more fully.  In Connolly’s words, ‘It was the imposition upon Ireland of an alien rule in political matters and of a social system equally alien and even more abhorrent.’

Ireland’s primary contradiction transformed from a struggle between social systems into a struggle between classes, the dispossessed and oppressed Irish masses on one side and England’s colonial apparatus on the other. The Irish people struggled blindly for a century in the aftermath. As Connolly wrote in Labour in Irish History, ‘the dispossessed people strove by lawless acts and violent methods to restrain the greed of their masters, and to enforce their own right to life.’ Their struggle was purely reactive to the cruel exploitation and humiliation they endured. Only at the end of the eighteenth century, inspired by earth-shattering events in France, did the Irish people at last discover a vehicle for their struggle, the ends and the means.

Republicanism emerged as a revolutionary ideology aiming at the elimination of tyranny, backwardness, and inequality. The shockwaves emanating from the Parisian streets rocked Ireland, and the small Atlantic island would never be the same. In 1798 the United Irishmen, led by Theobald Wolfe Tone, took up the call of the French Revolution and sought to free Ireland, mobilising the broad masses of the country in the process. And if it weren’t for touts, bad timing and dodgy weather Ireland may well have achieved some form of democratic republic on the eve of the nineteenth century. In dialectical fashion, loyalism also emerged at this time as a key domestic agent of imperialism – birthed amid a vicious counter-revolution against Ireland’s republican struggle that left 10,000s dead.

What followed was another century of grasping for the necessary model of revolutionary organisation. Out of republicanism’s most radical elements and sentiments socialism began to emerge. The Young Irelanders, 1848, the Fenians, 1867 – as the century passed on, the necessity of combining the class struggle with the national struggle became ever more apparent. In the figure of James Connolly this found its highest expression – socialist-republicanism as the guiding thought of the Irish revolution.

The Great October Socialist Revolution and Ireland

Wolfe Tone wrote of the 1790s that ‘the French Revolution became the test of every man’s political creed’. Much the same could be said of the October Revolution’s impact on Ireland and the world. In February 1917 the Russians had their republican revolution but it wasn’t enough. The bourgeoisie that took power from the tsar was still tied to imperialism and feudalism. Only the political and economic rule of the working classes was capable of providing the peace, land and bread that Russia so desperately needed. As Connolly had written seven years earlier, understanding in theory what the Russian working class would later prove in practice, ‘only the Irish working class remain as the incorruptible inheritors of the fight for freedom in Ireland.’ In a similar vein Stalin would write ‘the revolution against tsarism verged on and had to pass into a revolution against imperialism, into a proletarian revolution.’ In short, 1917 demonstrated the organic and necessary link between republicanism and socialism. Like Russia we must struggle against our domestic oppressors – the compradors, bankers and landlords – yet never forget our struggle is primarily an anti-imperialist one.

Although Connolly had been executed a year prior, the Irish people lived on to be jolted awake by the world-historic tremor the Russian people left in their wake when they rose up to cast off the yoke of tyranny and seize power for themselves. The Irish people now steadfastly set about ridding Ireland of imperialism and exploitation – the October revolution helping to inspire independent working-class action in the midst of the broad-based republican struggle. In February 1918 there was an enormous gathering in Dublin, at the Mansion House, celebrating the Bolshevik revolution. A militant wave of politicised industrial action ensued alongside the establishment of soviets, directly inspired by Russia’s example, whereby the workers, urban and rural, asserted their immense power. In 1918 a general strike stopped the enforcement of conscription in Ireland. In a Monaghan asylum, February 1919, the workers, led by Peadar O’Donnell, one of Ireland’s foremost communists, declared a soviet. Across the creameries, bakeries and factories of Ireland, though particularly in Munster, many more emerged, one declaring ‘we make bread, not profits’. These were generally not strictly soviets, meaning workers’ councils, but were more often occupations – yet the fact that they were attempting to emulate the Russian experience says much about the time, their level of consciousness and their radicalism.

In Limerick, April 1919, the people declared a soviet and they really meant it – printing their own currency and newspaper, distributing food and essentially taking ownership of their city for a fortnight. This incredible event was sparked by the murder of IRA man Robert Byrne and the imposition of martial law on the city by British forces – therefore, in the Limerick Soviet, we see a synthesis of revolutionary socialism and Irish republicanism, each core pillars of our people’s struggle. It’s not unlike how tsarist repression largely sparked the movement in Russia but the socialist forces worked to ensure that this struggle developed a proletarian rather than a bourgeois character. In Ireland, on the other hand, this widespread radical workers’ movement had no overarching political structures or organisations, beyond trade unions, and no substantial armed force that represented its interests. In this context, its defeat amid the counter-revolution was inevitable.

Much like 1798-1803, England unleashed its blackest reaction. Our February 1917 came in 1921, grossly deformed and misshapen. Instead of a great revolution opening endless possibilities for the future 1921 functioned as a counter-revolution, dividing our island and keeping imperialist interests in charge, north and south. The proletarian forces were crushed, the indigenous forces of reaction ‘filling in the work of the foe’, while declaring their betrayal a necessary compromise. In the aforementioned “Left-Wing” Communism Lenin recognised two kinds of compromise, the proletarian compromise – ‘a compromise enforced by objective conditions… a compromise which in no way minimises the revolutionary devotion and readiness to carry on the struggle” – and the bourgeois compromise – “a compromise by traitors who try to ascribe to objective causes their self-interest… their cowardice, their desire to toady to the capitalists, and readiness to yield to intimidation, to persuasion, to sops, and to flattery from the capitalists”. I’ll let you decide which kind of compromise was enforced on Ireland.

British monopoly capital understood well what Red October meant. They lost not only a faithful ally in their exploitation of the east, but also enormous investments across the former Russian empire. Britain supported the armed counter-revolutionary attempts to return Russia back into the deadly embrace of capital. Failing to do so, like a wounded beast, the British imperialists desperately sought to avoid further blows to the forces of socialism. As Frantz Fanon recognised, speaking of anti-colonial struggles generally, ‘a veritable panic takes hold of the colonialist governments… Their purpose is to capture the vanguard, to turn the movement of liberation toward the right, and to disarm the people: quick, quick, let’s decolonize.’ In this sense, the pro-imperialist statelets, north and south, were established in the shadow cast by the Bolshevik revolution. The north-eastern industrial bourgeoisie and the southern financial comprador bourgeoisie were granted increased control with the caveat that they would staunchly maintain the economic and social architecture of imperialist domination, that is, by maintaining reactionary anti-worker regimes. Akin to the 1790s, the tremendous burst of inspiration gifted to the Irish masses by masses from abroad was quickly stamped out.

Following 1923 the October Revolution remained the primary test of one’s political creed but those adhering to October’s lessons remained on the fringes of Irish society, beleaguered and divided – with many ending up in Britain, America or elsewhere given the hostile climate for their beliefs at home. Yet the Soviet people were long-time allies in our struggle, providing ideological and material assistance, and helping to foster an unbroken communist tradition in this country. Many Irish socialists, such as Jim Larkin and Roddy Connolly (James’ son), travelled to the Soviet Union to soak up the international communist movement in Moscow, even meeting Lenin. Organisations like the Communist Party of Ireland and the Republican Congress arose from attempts by socialist-republicans to form a cohesive unit. Unfortunately the struggle at this time for such a movement foundered on the unforgiving shore of Catholic and unionist reaction. The need to take stock of this experience today and continue this work to build a broad-based anti-imperialist movement in Ireland is imperative.

Conclusion

The October Revolution tore through the fabric of bourgeois reality – forever changing history, casting light on the oppressed and a terrifying shadow on the oppressors. The light that shone through that tear has had an immeasurable impact on the last century of our island’s history – sometimes as a mere glimmer, other times as a brilliant burst. It shone bright again in the 1960s and ‘70s, following another wave of international socialist upheaval, particularly in semi-colonial contexts such as China, Cuba and even the Black colony in the United States. Today we are still working to fan that glimmer into a blaze, into a flourishing of working-class power that will purge Ireland of exploitation. Across the globe, everywhere we look, the struggle against imperialism and capital is intensifying and further revolutions are imminent, glorious expressions of the power of the oppressed which will move the Irish people as 1789 and 1917 did. If we fail to take into account the lessons of October our efforts to channel this inevitable revolutionary sentiment into concrete political action will be in vain. As Lenin wrote, reflecting on the Bolshevik’s earlier shortcomings, ‘The masses of the workers proved to be more active than we; we lacked adequately trained revolutionary leaders and organisers aware of the mood prevailing… and able to march at the head of the movement, converting spontaneous demonstrations into political demonstrations, broadening the political character, etc.’ The need for communist organisations with deep roots among the masses, creatively developing revolutionary strategy, is but one of October’s many lessons for the Irish struggle, historically and today.

 

Sources/Further reading (most found online at cym.ie/education):

Elinor Burns, British Imperialism in Ireland

Liam Cahill, Forgotten Revolution: The Limerick Soviet 1919

James Connolly, Labour in Irish History, Foreword & Chaps. 1-9, 14-6

James Connolly, The Reconquest of Ireland, Chap. 1

James Connolly, Socialism and Nationalism

CPSU, History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks) – Short Course, Chap. 7

CYM, Peadar O’Donnell and the Monaghan Soviet

Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, Chap. 1-3

T. A. Jackson, Ireland Her Own

V. I. Lenin, “Left-Wing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder

V. I. Lenin, What Is To Be Done?

Priscilla Metscher, Republicanism and Socialism in Ireland

Rayner O’Connor Lysaght, From the GPO to the Winter Palace

Vijay Prashad, Red Star Over the Third World

J.V Stalin, Foundations of Leninism, Chap. 1

 

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