Revolutions are the locomotive of history,” says Karl Marx. Ninety five years ago, this month, the downtrodden of Russia decided to take matters in their own hands destroying the centuries old despotic Tsarist regime and created a new political, social and economic order. October 1917 Russian revolution was undeniably one of the greatest events in the world history.

Lately, people in Pakistan are talking revolution because at some level of their consciousness they realise there is something terribly wrong with the current system requiring a drastic change. They are afraid to talk about socialism because for various reasons socialism has become synonymous with totalitarianism, but that is not what the architects of the Russian revolution had envisioned.

John Reed, an American journalist, in his book, “Ten Days That Shook the World”, quotes Lenin, at the dawn of the revolution: “The first thing is the adoption of practical measure to realise peace…....We shall offer peace to the people of all the belligerent countries upon the basis of the Soviet terms…....and the right of self-determination to all peoples. At the same time, according to our promise, we shall publish and repudiate all secret treaties…....To continue this war in order to permit the strong and rich nations to divide among themselves the weak and conquered nationalities, is considered by the government the greatest possible crime against humanity…....” This was the promise of revolution: peace, a right of self-determination for all and no secret treaties. But Lenin died on January 21, 1924, and his dream died with him. He was counting on having similar revolutions in Germany, France, and the UK, but that was not to be. What the victors of WWI and WWII did was diametrically opposed to that vision: there were secret treaties; the Middle East was divided up among the capitalist imperial powers; dictators and monarchs were imposed on the people of the region; budding democracies like Iran and Egypt were crushed; the state of Israel was created; Ottoman empire collapsed and Turks had to fight a war of independence to get freedom. Ironically, Muslims were major partners in this crime. History would have been much different if the world had gone the Lenin way.

The Russian revolution faced tremendous opposition from the capitalist powers because it also wanted to set up a just economic structure with abolition of private property and a central planned economy, severely clashing with the capitalist goals of monopolisation of the world resources.

How the planned economy worked out? The following facts and figures are taken from “Revolution and Counterrevolution”, by Ted Grant: “At the time of the revolution, Western powers controlled 90 percent of Russia’s mines, 50 percent of chemical industry, 40 percent of engineering and 42 percent of banking stock.” In the 50 years from 1913 to 1963, Russia suffered two world wars, foreign interventions, civil war, famine and other calamities. The WWII left USSR with 27 million dead and most of its infrastructure and industry in ruins while the USA emerged from the war with all its industry intact and two-third of the world’s gold in its vaults. And yet within a few decades USSR was transformed from a backward agrarian economy to the second most powerful nation in the world. The growth of productivity of labour, the key index of economic development advanced by 1,310 percent in the USSR compared with 73 percent in the USA. National income rose by 540 percent compared to 55 percent in the USA. There was no Marshal Plan for USSR unlike other European countries, but due to nationalised economy Soviets rapidly built up its destroyed industries. Between 1945 and1960 its steel production grew from 12.25 million tons to 65 million tons, oil production from 19.4 million tons to 148 million tons and coal from 149.3 million tons to 513 million tons. The most spectacular proof of the planned economy was its space programme. This is unparalleled in world history. Capitalists, scared to death of its impact on the world masses, embarked upon a propaganda demonising the ideology and the people behind it and again with the help of Muslim Right were able to eventually dismantle the USSR, resulting in blow after blow to the majority of Muslim countries by the sole superpower left in the world arena.

Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize winning economist, in his book, “Globalisation and its Discontents”, gives a detailed account of how the privatisation and free market economy affected the Russian people: “In 1989, only 2 percent of those living in Russia were in poverty. By the late 1998 that number had soared to 23.8 percent, using the $2 a day standard.” Fifty percent of children lived in families in poverty. Other post-communist countries saw comparable, if not worse, increases in poverty. He says: “The communist system while it did not make for an easy living, avoided the extremes of poverty, and kept the living standards relatively equal, by providing a high common denominator of equality for education, housing, healthcare and child care services. With a switch to market economy, those who worked hard and produced well would reap the rewards for their efforts, so some increase in inequality was inevitable. However, it was expected that Russia would be spared the inequality arising from inherited wealth. Without this legacy of inherited inequality, there was a promise of a more egalitarian market economy. How differently matters have turned out! Russia today has a level of inequality comparable with the worse in the world.”

There are many reasons for the decline and ultimate dissolution of the Soviet Union, but as Trotsky says in “The Revolution Betrayed”: “Even if the Soviet Union, as a result of internal difficulties, external blows and the mistakes of its leadership, were to collapse - which we firmly hope will not happen - there would remain as an earnest of the future this indestructible fact, that thanks solely to a proletarian revolution a backward country has achieved in less than 10 years successes unexampled in history.”

John Reed, in the book mentioned above, shows us glimpses of Russia just before the revolution: Signs in hotel: “Just because a man has to make a living waiting on tables is no reason to insult him by offering him a tip; the servants, one used to treat like animals, were getting independent; all Russia was learning to read absorbing reading material like hot sand drinks water, and it was not fables, falsified history, diluted religion - but social and economic theories, philosophy, the works of Tolstoy, Gogol and Gorky.”

He says: “We came down to the front of the twelfth army, where gaunt bootless man sickened in the mud of desperate trenches; and when they saw us, with their pinched faces and the flesh showing through their torn clothing, demanded eagerly, ‘Did you bring anything to read?’ And ‘Lectures, debates, speeches - in theatre, circus, schoolhouses, clubs, barracks; meetings in the trenches at the front, in village squares, factories; Democrats, Social Revolutionaries, Anarchists, anybody, whatever they had to say, as long as they would talk.”

While observing the burial of the civil war dead by the revolutionaries, Reed says: “I suddenly realised that devout Russian people no longer needed priests to pray them into heaven. On earth, they were building a kingdom brighter than any heaven had to offer, and for which it was glory to die…....” Nothing worthwhile can be achieved without sacrifice. So, while people of Pakistan are dreaming revolution, do they have what it takes to make it happen?

The writer has been practicing Family Medicine in Florida since 1983. She is one of the founding members of the PakistaniAmerican Association of Tampa Bay; was on the board of PAKPAC, which is a lobbying organisation for Pakistani causes in the US; and former president of the Fatima Jinnah Medical College Alumni. Email: shahnazk@gmail.com