Today is one hundredth anniversary of the October Revolution in Russia. The armed uprising against the provisional government, led by the Bolsheviks, began on the night of November 6/7, 1917 (October 24/25 according to the Old Style) and culminated in the storm of the Winter Palace the following night.
The October Revolution was an event of truly planetary significance, “ten days that shook the world.” Its immediate, and catastrophic, impact was on Russia. The two Revolutions of 1917 (February and October), the bloody civil war, and the establishment of the Stalin dictatorship imposed enormous costs on the Russian society, both demographic (tens of millions of people were killed, died of starvation and disease, were imprisoned in labor camps, or emigrated) and cultural (for example, resulting from the suppression of Russian Orthodox Christianity).
The Revolution also had long-term impacts, and not all of them negative. It transformed the ramshackle Russian Empire into the Soviet Union, which became one of two world superpowers after 1945. Most importantly, pre-revolutionary Russia was one of the losers in World War I, but the Soviet Union won World War II. This victory was exceedingly costly for the generation of my parents and grandparents, but my generation was the beneficiary of it. Certainly, had Germany won, I would have never become a scientist – my generation, at best, would supply illiterate serfs to the German overlords (this is not an exaggeration, check this article in Wikipedia). Instead, the generation that grew up in the Soviet Union during the 1960s and 1970s was, on balance, the happiest (and the healthiest) one in the last century. This assessment may sound strange coming from a son of a dissident, who was exiled from the Soviet Union in the late 1970s. However, it is confirmed not only by subjective memories, but also by objective data on population well-being.
The impact of October 1917 ramified far beyond Russia. The Russian Revolution was an inspiration to China’s communists, so it also transformed that most consequential nation in Asia (and probably in the world later on in the 21st century). The Chinese Revolution eventually ended the hundred years-long disintegrative period and propelled China back to the rank of world powers. Today, of course, CPC might as well stand for the Capitalist Party of China. Nevertheless, it was the Chinese Revolution that brought to power the currently reigning “Red Dynasty”, which succeeded the Qing Dynasty in the China’s dynastic cycle.
The 1917 Revolution has an important, although indirect and little appreciated effect on the United States. I make this argument in Ages of Discord, but briefly, the threat of the first workers’ state played a key role in forcing the American ruling class to adopt a series of reforms during the New Deal, which ensured that the fruits of economic growth would be divided equitably between the capitalists and workers. The American post-World War II Prosperity, thus, is indirectly but powerfully a result of the Russian Revolution.
Finally, The 1917 Revolution had transformed post-World War II Europe. It divided Europe (and Germany) between the West and the East. But it also unified the West. It’s doubtful that the European integration project would get as far as it did, if it weren’t for a looming presence of the Soviet Empire on its eastern marches. And when the Soviet Empire disappeared, the European integration also started unraveling. As I’ve written at length in this blog, there are multiple reasons for the current disintegration trend in Europe, but the Soviet Union, and the Revolution that gave rise to it, are an important factor in the mix.