‘THE WORLD’S first socialist revolution when the working class took power is showing us the way forward today,’ Workers Revolutionary Party General Secretary Frank Sweeney told the more than 300 workers, trade unionists, students and youth attending the Russian Revolution Centenary Rally at the Camden Centre in central London on Sunday.
Sweeney was the final speaker at the rally, which included two films about the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, live theatre about the revolutionary poet Mayakovsky, and an exhibition of revolutionary art.
‘Capitalism has never recovered from the loss of Russia from the world market, and has never ceased trying to overthrow and extinguish this example of working class power,’ Sweeney continued.
‘In spite of imperialist attacks – 13 countries sent their armies to overthrow the workers state, economic embargoes and sanctions, the development of the Stalinist counter-revolutionary bureaucracy – the workers state still lives…
‘Stalin was not born a Stalinist, he became the spokesman and representing of this tendency, he was never a Marxist. Lenin and the Bolsheviks had always believed in international revolution, capitalism was an international system and had to be overthrown worldwide.
‘In 1924 Lenin died after an assassination attempt, and the new emerging bureaucratic layer, through Stalin, brought forward the counter-revolutionary theory of “socialism in one country”. This was a decisive break with Marxism and led them to seek friends in the capitalist countries, “peaceful co-existence”. To have capitalist friends meant betraying workers in these countries, in Britain 1926, in China 1925/1927 and Germany 1933. Every time workers in the West were defeated, it strengthened the bureaucracy and drove it further to the right.
”Leon Trotsky, who together with Lenin organised the revolution, was a member of the Revolutionary Military Committee and later organised and led the Red Army to defeat the imperialist armies, opposed Stalin and the bureaucracy. He fought within the party for an internationalist revolutionary position, until 1933 when Stalin’s policy helped to split the powerful German working class and allowed Hitler’s Nazi party to take over.
‘Trotsky said this was the point where Stalinism had become consciously counter-revolutionary and it was necessary to build a new revolutionary communist international, the Fourth International, which he did in 1938.
‘It is because of Trotsky’s fight against the Stalinist bureaucracy that Marxism was not only defended but developed. Without that fight, at enormous personal cost to Trotsky, we would not have a conscious Marxist leadership today, to face the problems in building our International. Trotsky, vilified, lied about, expelled from the party and from Russia, never bent the knee to the bureaucracy and their imperialist “partners” as Putin describes them.
‘He was murdered by a Stalinist agent in Mexico in 1940, but Trotskyism is alive and definitely kicking. Capitalism is crisis-ridden and bankrupt, but will go to any lengths to save itself. Imperialist wars have become common and have made the lives of hundreds of millions of people a living hell, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere. The capitalists’ solution to this is permanent wars and re-colonisation.
‘In Britain, the sickest and most decrepit, the once mighty ruling class are a shadow of their former power. They are a laughing stock in Europe, split and divided amongst themselves and suffering a leadership crisis of historical proportions. The imposed Prime Minister May is a prisoner of her own cabinet after her election disaster.
‘The recent actions of Priti Patel, who has conducted herself like an agent of the Israeli state, is a clear example. They are reviled by workers and middle class people
‘The loss of empire because of the struggles of the masses in these oppressed nations for freedom has never been accepted by sections of the ruling class.
‘It is a constant reminder of their ever declining importance. The decision to join the European Union in 1973 was a recognition of their weakness, they have been divided on this issue ever since. To be a small part of the EU or to throw in their lot with the USA has been a continuous battleground for them. The deepening of the financial crisis has made these divisions wider and revealed their Achilles Heel.
‘The referendum in 2016, called by then PM Cameron to win over the right wing UKIP voters back to the Tory party gave the working class an opportunity to have its say and deliver a blow to the Tories. Cameron went, May was imposed as leader because the 1922 Committee was not prepared to allow a two-month divisive leadership election.
‘May has a cabinet which is split, divided, backstabbing and weak. Westminster sex harassment allegations, with some 40 MPs involved, are the Tories’ way of settling scores and getting rid of opponents and rivals. Parliament is a sewer and will not be reformed. A degenerate and historically outdated ruling class is seen in its true colours by millions who have had enough of their austerity cuts and are looking forward to getting rid of them.
‘Britain today, with its extremes of wealth and poverty and a discredited ruling class, bears many resemblances to Russia before the revolution. The British bourgeoisie however are most class conscious, they know their weaknesses and are brutal, vicious and bloodthirsty. They will go to any length to keep their power and privilege. They use cowardly Labour Party and trade union leaders to confuse, divide and mislead the workers with reformist nonsense and lies.
‘But the movement of the masses is stronger than the ruling class and its lapdogs. As in Russia, the decisive question is revolutionary leadership, so in celebration of the centenary of the Russian Revolution we rededicate ourselves to building our party to lead a seizure of power here.
‘All the objective conditions are screaming out to be resolved, the subjective factor, the party, has to be built. We, like the Bolsheviks, have to turn out to the masses to win their confidence and leadership.
‘In Trotsky words, the British revolution will be the greatest drama in human history.
‘Because of Britain’s role, the first capitalist country, its history of imperialist conquest, our revolution will ignite the world. The only real way to celebrate the Russian Revolution is to do the same here. Victory to the World Socialist Revolution! Join the WRP today,’ Sweeney concluded to applause.
Manuel Hassassian, Palestinian Ambassador to the UK, the first speaker at the rally, said: ‘It is a great pleasure to be with you today celebrating 100 years of the October Revolution. This revolution will never fade away. It carried the principles of a classless society. We, the Palestinians, have embarked on that revolution and will continue until freedom and independence.
‘We are fighting for the right to statehood against the longest occupation in history, the only nation without the right to be independent and free. We will continue with our steadfastness and resistance. Our inalienable right is to have our freedom and independence. Today’s anniversary coincides with the infamous Balfour Declaration.
‘You comrades, as British citizens, cannot accept colonial Britain, which came to Palestine, called it Palestine and then gave it to Zionism. 12 million Palestinians are living in exile as a result of British imperialism.
‘My government in Ramallah and myself, and my foreign office, have contacted the Tory government and told them not to celebrate the Balfour Declaration. Look how arrogant you are, you are proud of kicking Palestinians out, we cannot accept this insult, the hypocrisy of this matter is so blatant.
‘We believe in interfaith religious tolerance for Christians, Jews and Muslims, but Muslims cannot come to Jerusalem. I was born in Jerusalem, I’m proud to be a Jerusalemite, but I’ve never seen peace in that city. This city should be open to every faith, every race, every religion.
‘I don’t want to meddle in the internal politics of this country. I have no right, but I have to defend my country, my people. Today I can stand and say 70% of the British population believe Palestine should have a state. Where is the democracy? A cabinet minister goes on holiday and meets ministers, she goes to the Golan Heights. Are you trying to tell me they didn’t know? I smell a rat.
‘Priti Patel is proud to funnel money to Israeli operations. This is something abhorant. This is misleading the British public. Her resignation came too late. She should have been sacked. This government is not going to last. Long live the revolution. Long live Palestine.’
Chairing the rally, Dave Wiltshire, National Secretary of the All Trades Unions Alliance, said in response: ‘The first thing a Workers Revolutionary Government will do is recognise the state of Palestine. Your fight is our fight.’
The stage was then cleared for ‘The Slanting Rain’, a gripping one man show about the Russian Revolutionary poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, written by Andrew Rattenbury and performed by actor and Equity member Ed Hughes.
The play told how Mayakovsky became a Bolshevik at the age of 15, a poet of the people and one of the founders of Russian Futurism. It depicted his fight against the Stalinist bureaucracy and Proletcult, up to his suicide in 1930 aged 36.
The play quoted Mayakovsky’s epic poem ‘Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’ – ‘Power to the Soviets, Bread to the hungry, Land to the peasant, Peace to the nation.’
In his intensely powerful performance Hughes recalled that 150,000 people filed passed the coffin of the poet who had declared his devotion to the working class: ‘I want to be read by those who don’t read me’ and, expressing his scorn of his Stalinist persecutors, said: ‘I will fight them to the grave – the penpushers’.
The rally resumed with Bill Rogers, Chair of Chingford Aslef branch, saying: ‘Just over a week ago 20,000 workers and young people marched for Palestine and against the Balfour Declaration. These so-called hospitals that Israel has in the Golan Heights, that Priti Patel said she wanted to send money for, are treating Isis terrorists.’
He continued: ‘I have been a train driver for 39 years, but I want to talk about the campaign to save Chase Farm Hospital in Enfield. The North East London Council of Action, based on the Soviets, was launched to save Chase Farm Hospital. We picketed for over 500 days, we occupied. We were let in and then we were arrested. But we were right to do it, we could have won, but none of the unions supported us.
‘Trillions of pounds has been pumped into the banks paying for mountains of debt, while for the working class everything is going up. This is the weakest government we’ve had for years, yet the Labourites refuse to bring them down and the leadership in the unions is completely lacking. We need revolutionary leadership.
‘Grenfell Tower marked a change in Britain. Only when we take power and smash capitalism and have an emergency programme of housebuilding can we solve the housing crisis.’
Anna Athow, Deputy Chair of the London British Medical Association, said: ‘The NHS has had £20bn cuts from 2010 to 2015 and is now undergoing £22bn cuts from 2015 to 2020. It is facing its biggest ever funding crisis, with more and more patients forced to go private. Last year the Red Cross called it a humanitarian crisis. The NHS has lost half of its hospital beds since 1987. NHS England is the NHS privatisation board.
‘There are now 44 STPs (Sustainability and Transformation Plans), which are bringing in public-private dictatorship, effectively ending our NHS. The STPs are closing maternities, paediatrics and A&Es up and down the country. Now Tory Health Secretary Hunt is proposing that patients should not be allowed to present themselves to A&E, but will only be seen if they’re referred.
‘A £5billion NHS land sell-off is underway. The NHS is being turned into a gravy train for companies like Serco. It was a victory that GPs voted against privatisation last week. Now all the unions must mobilise national strike action together to defeat the government.’
Speaking from the Grenfell Tower community, Gelila said: ‘On the night of the fire I was studying for an exam. I live in a tower block exactly the same, just a bit further down. There were families dying together because our government doesn’t want to provide for the working class. It could have happened to any of us. No-one is being held accountable. They say it’s fine, but it’s not fine.
‘The PM went to the scene but she had security guards all around her and didn’t speak to anybody. People are being re-housed to areas far away from their communities. They chose the flammable cladding. Kensington is such a wealthy area, there’s no excuse.
‘Until this day nobody’s been held accountable. After the fire everybody came together. We will never forget Grenfell. We will never forget the screams. Those lives will not be forgotten.’
News Line Deputy Editor Jonty Leff said: ‘Before the Russian Revolution there was a massive gap between the opulence of the Tsar and the poverty of the masses. And it’s the same today. I agree with the last speaker. Grenfell is where it snapped. That’s capitalism. This system cannot be reformed. Universal Credit, which rolled six benefits into one, has had its first victim, a 38-year-old woman who has died of hypothermia.
‘In its pilot areas evictions have doubled. Britain is ready to blow. It’s like the poll tax. TUC leader O’Grady, instead of calling action to kick the Tories out, has called for Team UK to come together to undo Brexit. The outlook of reformism is bankrupt. Corbyn claims you can restructure capitalism for the benefit of the many not the few. But capitalism is for the few to exploit the many. There is a whole generation of young people who want action.’
The next speaker was Margaret Kinmonth, the Director of ‘New Art for a New World’, the brilliant recently-released and highly acclaimed new film which later on rounded off the rally on Sunday evening.
Margaret said: ‘We are very pleased to be showing our film this week and it is very appropriate to show it here today. The idea for the film came a few years ago when I saw the approach of the anniversary coming up. In Russia 100 years ago you had a huge expansion of the Avant-guarde. I’ve made a few films in Russia. When I came to start filming I looked for relatives of artists of the time and they spoke about their forbears.
‘We found rooms and rooms of thousands of paintings, rack after rack. A lot of the artists perished in the Siege of Leningrad and others in the gulags. I decided as a film-maker I wanted to champion these unknown artists. Some were very reticent and it took me a long time. But I started finding the children or grandchildren of these artists. Some were painters themselves as you will see in the film.
‘The great hope of Lenin was that art would be the greatest propaganda for the revolution. He ordered the creation of sculptures of great revolutionaries, pulpits to honour the people who made the revolution – of Karl Marx and heroes of the French Revolution. He ordered them to be made very quickly. These were all filmed.
‘During the civil war the transport system broke down and the cities were full of people. There was famine during the civil war. You will see in the film the food vouchers. I went to Russia. Lenin himself appears in the film. I read everything Lenin wrote about art. He went on to literacy. There were cinema trains going right across Russia. Amazing constructivist cubist work on the sides of the trains and cinemas inside the trains. They’d all seen Picasso and Matisse and everything in Russia was more extreme.
‘The artists were the vanguard of the avant-guarde movement and went on to become the victims. A lot of people were shot in 1938. My film stops at the Second World War. Art is more important than we realise.’
Next to speak were two comrades bringing greetings from the Russian section of the International Committee of the Fourth International, followed by WRP General Secretary Frank Sweeney concluding the afternoon and the whole rally standing for a rendition of The Internationale.
During the interval, participants watched ‘The Bolsheviks’, a film of unseen footage of Lenin and other Bolshevik leaders, and also viewed the brilliant paintings and sculptures in ‘The Art of Revolution 1917-2017’ exhibition, around the walls of the hall.
The exhibition’s Curator, artist Gennadiy V. Ivanov, said: ‘The Art of Revolution, is dedicated to the Russian Revolution. It was my curator project, on show for six weeks at the Undercroft Gallery in the centre of Norwich. Altogether the exhibition comprises 160 pieces. I’m Russian and during the year I painted about 60 pieces. I encourage my artists to talk about the Revolution.’
Artist Tanya Goddard said: ‘I’m from Moscow and I work in mixed media techniques. This is a big date for us. I believe in the revolution. Russian art has great power. Six of my sculpture pieces are in the exhibition. Today is a very great day. I am surprised that in capitalist London we have this powerful movement.’
After the break, Margaret Kinmonth’s fabulous film ‘Revolution – New Art for a New World’, was shown, encapsulating the momentous period in the history of Russian art and the Russian Avant-Guarde.
News Line spoke to some of the rally’s participants. Gary Easom from Crawley said: ‘It’s a very interesting collection of speakers. It gripped me. ‘It’s like the Russian Revolution could have happened last year. In Britain, it’s a similar scenario. The similarities are very clear. It brings the necessity to build the revolutionary party. Without leadership we’re not going anywhere. You can see the results of lack of leadership from the trade unions just now.’
WRP member Santiago Vicente, from south east London, said: ‘The rally has been interesting. The speeches were straightforward and declared what was going on around us. They explained what the government is doing and how people are reacting.
‘They made it very clear that capitalism is the main cause of this. Tonight was a good opportunity for a welcoming which includes young people to experience the truth of what is going on around them.
‘With great speeches it was made clear the Young Socialists and Workers Revolutionary Party can make a change in the situation. The art exhibition is really, really good and with a good concept behind it. The actor that performed the work of Mayakovsky was very good.’
Luton WRP member Ken Spring said: ‘The rally was very good. I enjoyed it. It spoke about the revolution and what it meant for the party, that we’ve got to carry on fighting and build. We have to have the revolutionary leadership to bring the Tories down and for workers to take power. We need a workers government for everybody to sit down and discuss ways to run the country through socialism.’
Alan Baker, an Iranian living in London, said: ‘I came in the middle of the speeches but they were good. It is the first time I came to one of your meetings. I found something different from Labour and the Conservatives. The speakers criticised the Labour leadership for not fighting for the workers, just pretending. We need some kind of different party to get rid of capitalism and to represent the working class and their wishes. We need a party that is really fighting for workers. We need real socialism, not what happened after Lenin with Stalin. We need to complete the world revolution.’
To end what was an inspiring rally, chairman Dave Wiltshire said: ‘We must now carry out the revolutionary tasks that the situation demands of us.’