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Russian Revolution: Days that shook the world

The Irish Times View

It is clear from history that the tradition founded by the Russian Revolution can provide no humane or workable solution to our current problems

Russian soldiers in historical uniforms taking part in a military parade on Red Square in Moscow this week – the centenary of the Russian Revolution – to commemorate a 1941 military parade in Moscow after which soldiers marched off to defend the city. Photograph: Yuri Kochetkov/EPA

The 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution was celebrated this week in its heartland by a march involving a few thousand communists. The Russian state declined to mark the centenary, instead commemorating a 1941 military parade in Moscow after which soldiers marched off to defend the city.

For Vladimir Putin, the legacy of the revolution is “ambiguous”: the Soviet Union was certainly a superpower, which for him remains a positive. But its survival, in peace and war, involved a huge human cost, while its industrial system was often shambolic and citizens’ daily lives marked by shortage and misery. This is not how Putin envisages his country’s future.

Revolutionary communism was always an international project. Having survived attempts to strangle it at birth, Russia industrialised, supported fraternal parties abroad, survived invasion and emerged stronger from the second World War with a string of satellite states acting as a buffer on its borders. On its 50th anniversary, it seemed secure at home and powerful internationally, while the liberation movements it backed in Latin America, Africa and Asia looked to have a bright future.

The prestige which the Soviet Union undoubtedly enjoyed among many left-wingers in western Europe was dented by the suppression of revolts in the satellite states in 1956 and 1968. Yet for some socialists the mere existence of a non-capitalist society, no matter how imperfect or “deformed”, remained a source of hope. The revolutions of 1989 removed that hope.

Some may find it tempting in the face of a particularly selfish current mutation of capitalism - one that, having seen off its main rival, now seems to feel little obligation to contribute to society through taxation and redistribution - to examine the past for more radical political models. It is clear from history, however, that the tradition founded by the Russian Revolution, into which repression and the murder of opponents was hardwired from the outset, can provide no humane or workable solution to our current problems.