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Validity and Relevance of the October Revolution
in Response to the Challenges of the 21st Century

By Prof. Jose Maria Sison
at the Forum to Celebrate the 90th Anniversary of the October Revolution
in The Hague, The Netherlands, 02 December 2007

I propose to discuss the objective conditions and subjective factors that brought about the October Revolution, the continuing validity of the October Revolution despite the disintegration of the Soviet Union and other revisionist-ruled societies and the validity and relevance of the October Revolution in dealing with the conditions of the 21st century.

1. Objective conditions and subjective factors that brought about the October Revolution

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the world had entered the era of modern imperialism and proletarian revolution. Monopoly capitalism became dominant in the advanced capitalist countries. Finance capital was born out of the merger of bank and industrial capital. The export of surplus capital was gaining importance over the export of surplus goods.

Monopoly firms of the imperialist countries combined and competed with each other through cartels, syndicates and alliances. The colonial and imperialist powers had divided the rest of the world as colonies, semi-colonies and dependent countries in political terms and as sources of raw materials, markets, fields of investment and spheres of influence in economic terms. And yet they continued to struggle for a redivision of the world in accordance with the changing balance of forces among them.

Like the bourgeoisie in the era of free competition capitalism, the monopoly bourgeoisie used the slogan of "free trade" to penetrate foreign markets and expand their direct and indirect investments abroad. But in their competition, the imperialist powers in fact became increasingly protectionist economically and aggressive politically. They were driven by their national self-interest towards the first inter-imperialist war, World War I.

Kautsky and his followers who became dominant in the Second International interpreted the global expansion of imperialist capital as a continuous unilinear process for dissolving pre-capitalist formations and effecting industrial capitalist development in the backward countries. But Lenin correctly pointed to the uneven and spasmodic development of capitalism, the recurrent and worsening crises of overproduction and the decadent, aggressive and destructive character of imperialism.

He opposed the opportunist and revisionist line of Kautsky, which promoted social chauvinism, social pacifism and social imperialism. Having grasped well the lessons of the Paris Commune and the necessity of bringing about the dictatorship of the proletariat through the class struggle, he was well prepared to lead the Bolsheviks, the proletariat and the people in realizing the Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia,

This huge country with a few islands of industrial development amidst an ocean of feudalism and medievalism was the weakest among the imperialist powers and was itself an object of penetration and manipulation by the stronger competing imperialist powers. At the same time, it was a real giant oppressor of nations and peoples within the Russian empire. The proletariat and the people had to contend with Czarism, representing feudalism and medievalism, and also with the bourgeoisie dominating the modern industrial sector and trying to head off the revolution.

Lenin saw the impoverished and desperate conditions of Russia as favourable for the advance of the Bolshevik party as the revolutionary party of the proletariat, leading the broad masses of the people to overthrow Czarism and install the democratic republic, rallying the peasant masses as the massive reliable ally of the proletariat through the nationalization of land and land reform and militating the proletariat with the demand for an 8-hour workday.

Lenin was ever conscious of the need to carry out a two-stage revolution, where democracy must first be won against feudalism and repression and where socialism must be subsequently established and developed. For the working class to lead such two-stage revolution, it must be able to build the Red Army and mobilize the people to smash the military and bureaucratic machinery of the counterrevolutionary state. It must rely on the worker-peasant alliance, including the soldiers of worker and peasant origin. Thus, the Bolsheviks succeeded in defeating Czarism and then the bourgeoisie and in building the first sustainable socialist country on one-sixth of the face of the earth.

2. Validity of the October Revolution despite the disintegration of the Soviet Union and other socialist societies

The October 17 Revolution has come to signify all the great revolutionary achievements of the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Stalin in establishing the proletarian dictatorship as a requisite of socialist revolution, overcoming civil war and foreign military intervention, reviving the economy through transition measures, building socialist industry, collectivizing and mechanizing agriculture, developing the educational and cultural system of the working class, supporting the international communist movement, fighting and defeating fascism and further pursuing socialist revolution and construction in the face of the threats of US imperialism after World War II.

These achievements can never be belittled. Socialist revolutions in Eastern Europe, Asia and elsewhere have been inspired by the October Revolution, the achievements of the Soviet Union and the work of the Third International. The Soviet Union was unquestionably a socialist country for decades from 1917 to 1956. Its great achievements could not be completely undone overnight. It would take decades for the modern revisionists to subvert and dismantle socialism, from the anti-Stalin coup of Khrushchov in 1956 to the undisguised full-scale restoration of capitalism and disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991.

There are principles and lessons to be learned from the positive experiences of the Bolshevik Party and the Soviet Union as well as from the negative experiences involving the "Left" and Right opportunists (represented by Trotsky and Bukharin, respectively) and modern revisionists from Khrushchov to Gorbachov. From the outside, the imperialists unleashed a series of attacks on the Soviet Union, including the war of foreign intervention, economic and military blockade, the fascist invasion and the Cold War. These did not defeat the Soviet Union. But modern revisionism proved to be the enemy most lethal to the Soviet Union, the main cause of its ultimate destruction.

Insofar as fighting imperialism, classical revisionism and reaction and undertaking socialist revolution and construction are concerned, the October Revolution and the teachings of Lenin remain valid and relevant to this day. But in fighting modern revisionism, we need to study and learn from the history of the Soviet Union and other former socialist countries the lessons on how the bureaucrats and intellectuals became divorced from the working people and how they abandoned the class struggle and the class stand of the revolutionary proletariat. In this regard, we need to understand the struggle of Mao against modern revisionism since 1956 and his theory and practice of continuing revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat since 1966.

Mao's theory and practice of continuing revolution aimed at combatting modern revisionism, preventing the restoration of capitalism and consolidating socialism in China. It won victories in ten years of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, from 1966 to 1976. Although it was eventually defeated, it succeeded in posing the problem of modern revisionism and in presenting certain principles and methods for solving the problem. It offers a great deal for proletarian revolutionaries to learn and further develop in order to explain the disintegration of the former socialist systems and to avert the restoration of capitalism when in the future they shall build and develop socialist societies in various countries until they can defeat imperialism on a global scale and bring about communism.

In this period of the temporary defeat of socialism on a global scale, proletarian revolutionaries must be able to answer the questions of the proletariat and people about the past, present and future of the revolutionary cause of socialism. They must contend with the mocking claims of the imperialists and reactionaries that socialism is dead. Following the disintegration of the Soviet Union and other revisionist-ruled systems, the enemies of socialism have spread notions that are calculated to demoralize the proletariat and the people.

Such notions include the following: that there is no such thing as scientific socialism but only utopian and impracticable socialism, that personal greed rather than social concern can cause social equilibrium and progress, that history can go no further than capitalism and liberal democracy, that the era of imperialism and proletarian revolution is gone, that "neoliberal globalization" is the way to global capitalist development and that the people's struggles for national liberation, democracy and socialism are futile.

In fact, the world has not gone beyond the era of modern imperialism and proletarian revolution precisely because of the large but temporary defeat of socialism caused by modern revisionism. Global conditions have basically retrogressed to those before the October Revolution when there was yet no socialist country as bulwark of the world proletarian revolution and the imperialist powers seemed to be able to do anything they pleased against the toiling masses.

Upon the rise of modern revisionism and ultimately upon the complete restoration of capitalism in the great socialist states, the conditions of oppression and exploitation of the working people by imperialism and reaction have become far worse than ever before. But the resistance of the people is steadily increasing on a global scale.

In so short a time, the concentration and centralization of capital in the imperialist countries and the chronicity and intensity of economic and financial crisis have become worse than ever before under the auspices of "neoliberal globalization". This has led to the stepping up of military production, state terrorism and wars of aggression. We are practically back to conditions of great disorder in which there was yet no socialist country before World War I but which were the prelude to the emergence of the first socialist country.

So long as there is oppression and exploitation by the monopoly bourgeoisie, there is resistance by the proletariat and people of the world. The epochal struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat continues. So do all the concrete forms of national and class struggles in various countries. The people do not wish the greed of the few to victimize them without end. They fight for national and social liberation from imperialism and reaction. And they strive for greater freedom and social justice to prevail and continue under the principles of scientific socialism.

The need for the revolutionary party of the proletariat continues. It is for leading the proletariat and the people to carry out the revolution in stages on the basis of concrete conditions. It upholds the Marxist-Leninist ideological line against modern revisionism and all forms of subjectivism. It makes sure that the general political line can bring about the victory of democracy and socialism and defeat imperialism and all forms of reaction and is not diverted by either "Left" or Right opportunism. It concentrates the collective will and material strength of the proletarian revolutionaries by following the organizational principle of democratic centralism.

The revolutionary party of the proletariat must arouse, organize and mobilize the broad masses of the people through various forms of struggle. The most important form of struggle is ultimately the smashing of the military and bureaucratic machinery of the counterrevolutionary state and the establishment of the proletarian dictatorship or the people's democratic dictatorship under working class leadership, depending on the concrete conditions.

3. Dealing with the Conditions and Challenges of the 21st century

On the basis of the current conditions and trends that we see clearly, we can be optimistic that in the next decade or so the people will intensify in a dramatic way and on an unprecedented scale their revolutionary struggle for national liberation, democracy and socialism against imperialism and reaction. Let us line up the major conditions that proletarian revolutionaries must deal with in the 21st century, particularly in the early decades where we are now. The century will either be too long for great leaps in the cumulative advance of the revolutionary forces or too short for the entire historical epoch needed for socialism to overpower capitalism.

First, let us observe immediately that the disintegration of the revisionist-ruled systems has led to the acute crisis of the world capitalist system and the unbridled oppression and exploitation of the working people by imperialism and reaction. Conspicuously, the US has been in the forefront of generating economic crisis, political turmoil and wars of aggression. It has enjoyed the unprecedented role of being the sole superpower in command of an obviously expanded world capitalist system through the complete integration of nearly all the former revisionist-ruled countries.

But the expansion of the world capitalist system has actually led to an increase in the number of imperialist powers and to the intensification of inter-imperialist contradictions. The world cannot accommodate too many imperialist powers. The US-led imperialist alliance became crisis-stricken, especially with the phenomenon of stagflation, as soon as the World War II losers were reconstructed and strengthened economically in the late 1960s. The addition of Russia, China and India as big players in the playing field of imperialism spells further crisis and troubles for the original Group of 7 and the original OECD countries.

Second, the policy of "neoliberal globalization" has been a big failure in overcoming the problem of stagflation under Keynesianism and in shoring up the imperialist powers from worse economic and financial crisis. The problem of stagflation is persistent and has been merely covered up by ever rising levels of indebtedness in both imperialist and underdeveloped countries. The imperialist powers headed by the US have applied the policy of "neoliberal globalization" (denationalization, liberalization, privatization and deregulation of economies) at the expense of the world proletariat and the oppressed nations and peoples. And it has aggravated and deepened the crisis of overproduction and of finance capital and pushed the imperialist powers to compete with each other and adopt protectionist measures as in the decades before World War I and likewise before World War II.

The policy of "neoliberal globalization" has caused such worse crisis that the US has resorted to military Keynesianism. The Bush administration has sought to stimulate the US economy by stepping up military production. In this regard, it has also unleashed war hysteria, wars of aggression and state terrorism on a global scale under the pretext of combating terrorism and so-called rogue states. But the problem with high military production is that it has little employment potential. The US has also maintained a high level of consumerism by outsourcing goods, widening current account deficits and incurring an overly large foreign debt.

Third, despite the glaring failure of "neoliberal globalization" which is actually unbridled monopoly greed camouflaged by the petty bourgeois term "free market", the monopoly bourgeoisie continues to misrepresent its ideas and policies in petty bourgeois terms and give full play to petty bourgeois ideology as an instrument to befuddle not only the petty bourgeoisie but also the working people concerning the social, economic, political and cultural realities. Thus, the imperialists are funding and touting the petty bourgeois-run reformist nongovernmental organizations as the "civil society" and as the people's part in the triadic "social accord" of states, big business and a docile population.

The monopoly bourgeoisie is using a wide range of instruments (the cultural and educational system, the mass media, the electoral process, think tanks, policy institutes, charity foundations, religious institutions and so on) for promoting big bourgeois and petty bourgeois ideas in order to counter the resurgence of the proletarian revolutionary ideology and the revolutionary mass movements against imperialism and for socialism. Of course, various petty bourgeois currents masquerading as proletarian, such as classical revisionism (social democracy), Trotskyism and modern revisionism are still around to assist the monopoly bourgeoisie and trying to outflank the theory and practice of genuine Marxism-Leninism.

But no matter how clever are the ideological and political trappings of the monopoly bourgeoisie, these become futile as the crisis of the world capitalist system worsens and the proletarian revolutionaries and the revolutionary mass movement arise, persevere and further develop the revolutionary struggle. As in the prelude to the October Revolution from the defeat of the 1905 revolution to the February revolution in 1917 when the Bolsheviks appeared to be small and weak, their proletarian revolutionary descendants of today appear likewise, especially in the aftermath of the disintegration of the revisionist-ruled systems from 1989 to 1991. But once more the objective conditions are favourable for the resurgence of the revolutionary forces of the proletariat and the people.

Fourth, the use of higher technology in production and consumption under the auspices of "neoliberal globalization" has accelerated the concentration and centralization of capital in a few imperialist countries. This has aggravated the crisis of overproduction in all types of goods and services. In the aftermath of every crisis of overproduction are the increase of chronic unemployment and the lowering of incomes. The destruction of productive forces is not being segued by any new round of expanding production and reemployment.

The adoption of higher technology by the monopoly bourgeoisie for the purpose of maximizing profits, accumulating capital and reducing the variable capital for labor can only result in aggravating the crisis of overproduction and the narrowing of the market. The higher technology that can be used for determining needs and market demand, expanding production and accelerating distribution is suitable to socialism and not to monopoly capitalism.

The higher technology for collecting, storing, processing and communicating information and knowledge is mainly under the control of the monopoly bourgeoisie. This kind of technology is used to promote monopoly bourgeois ideology and politics with embellishment by petty bourgeois phraseology, to propagate the petty bourgeois ideology of self-interest and to preoccupy the public with the message of consumerism, sports and entertainment. Most of the personal computers and other gadgets for disseminating information are in the hands of the petty bourgeoisie, particularly the professionals and the youth with a high level of formal education. However, as the crisis of the world capitalist system worsens, the petty bourgeoisie becomes more discontented and more inclined to join up with the working people in progressive alliances against imperialism and reaction.

It is a sign of desperation and weakness that the monopoly bourgeoisie has been driven by crisis and competition to raise profits on new products by commercializing the information technology and other forms of technology that used to be exclusively for the military. Even now these openly available technologies can be used by the revolutionary forces for undertaking information and educational campaigns and for launching tactical offensives. The multi-media based on personal computers have been used to spread revolutionary theory and political messages and to mobilize people for mass actions. The cellphone has been used for precise tactical offensives by revolutionary armies.

Fifth, the contradictions between the working people of the world and the imperialist powers and reactionaries are intensifying. So are those between the countries asserting national independence and the imperialist powers. The imperialist powers are increasingly finding themselves at loggerheads with each other in the political and economic institutions that they have created to harmonize their relations against the working people of the world.

The continuing aggravation of the crisis of the world capitalist system under the policy of "neoliberal globalization" can push the imperialist powers to resort to Keynesianism, to further state monopoly capitalism, intensified monopoly competition and protectionism and to wars of aggression for the redivision of the world. The intensification of the inter-imperialist contradictions generates more favourable conditions for the resistance of the proletariat and people of the world.

Revolutionary parties of the proletariat must lead the resistance of the people in all types of countries, in the imperialist countries and in the dominated countries. The increase of competing imperialist powers deepens the crisis in every imperialist country. The proletariat in every country is driven by worse conditions to intensify resistance through strikes, protest rallies and other concerted actions. The working people and the oppressed nations and peoples suffering the most from imperialist plunder and war are the most hard pressed to rise up in armed revolution.

The crisis conditions of the moment generate the immediate issues of the struggle against monopoly capitalism and local reaction. But in recruiting and developing party members, the revolutionary parties of the proletariat must inculcate in them the historic mission of building socialism up to the theory and practice of continuing revolution under proletarian dictatorship. There is the need to counter the propaganda of the enemy that socialism is successful only up to a certain point and then fails. There is the need to assure the proletariat and the people that modern revisionism and the restoration of capitalism can be prevented and that socialism can be consolidated repeatedly until it gains the upper hand over imperialism on a global scale and reaches the threshold of communism.###

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