Better to be red than dead

Where the Soviet revolution provided innumerable revolutionaries who confronted the totalitarian states, it gave exceptional writers, thinkers and intellectuals to the world and above all, it offered a hope to humankind

On a rare, frosty yet a breezy morning when the golden light of a mellowed sun was still lightening the street of Vienna, a young doctor dreaming about his post-graduation studies came across a thin but an organised procession marching on one side of the strasse, as the traffic peacefully moved on the other. Scared of a particular system the Austrian middle-class was carrying play-cards that reeked hatred against the ‘malicious ideology’ of an ‘evil empire’. It wanted the state to inhibit the wave of its influence from traversing their side of Danube. ‘Better to be dead that to be red’ was the essence of those play cards.

For a young doctor having indomitable spirit of Marxism the sight was perplexing. For him the destiny of the world was red, that meant freedom from the objectified alienated labour, how could people stumble or dither otherwise? The amputation of South Tyrol from Austria, predominantly a German inhabited state, was carried out on the behest of Britain; except liberating it from the Nazi occupation, USSR did nothing to hurt Austria. It was a moment of reckoning through a rude shock yet it was only the beginning of a long traumatic series of events. The year was 1981 and the ambitious young man was the scribe.

In the last few decades of twentieth century, the extended reproduction of capital provided an era of economic relief to the working class of the Europe. The gradual ruthless overtaking of all spheres by technology was evident yet its lethal effects were not impinging upon the workers violently. The state was maintaining the farce of a welfare society quite effectively. Despite exploitation, people had their jobs and a massive consumer culture was enough for them to forget the source of inhuman process inducing alienation and self-preservation among them. For a majority, uncomprehended exploitation ceases to be exploitation, when it does not hurt visibly or hurts transparently to all with democratic disregard. Since it is far easier to follow than to command, capitalist — fully aware with this mass psychology — has exploited media to indoctrinate the masses who find their realisation in commodities and entertainment, the latter fosters the resignation as well.

Fast forward to 1989, the bulwark of socialist might was beginning to look vulnerable yet hope was not lost yet. In theory, everything that did not kill made the USSR strong; the idea of Nietzsche was the source of solace yet the frequent meetings between Gorbachev and Regan were fuelling fire. No Soviet leader ever met the imperialist force so often. A moment of serious reflection came to haunt the scribe when he paid a visit to Alice Faiz, a remarkable fighter of our time. The grim face narrated an awful story yet no one had the slightest inkling about the liquidation of Soviet Union. There was a ‘blessed no’ to that farfetched idea, which was not far off and was fetched to reality. All the well-defined antidotes of the left, raised as bulwarks proved futile against the fatal truth.

It was the same winter of 1989, when legendary journalists, notable thinkers and the most scholarly leftists visited my native city. Those were the moments of mourning for the left when both the idols and ideals were withering away. No one knew what was in stock for the future. The demand of Austrian petti-bourgeoisie had come full circle; the ‘red’ itself was committing a harakiri. I humbly sought permission to recite my English poem, a melange of hope among scattered dreams that forewarned the catastrophic termination of Soviet Union, a utopia turning into an ash. In moments of nihilism, no one bothered about me, but once I was through with my poem that targeted the Soviet bureaucracy, by then a holy cow, a distinguished late journalist pronounced me a revisionist. Yet another leading light of left, a legendary humanist associated with HRCP intervened by stating that the ‘chaos killing a dancing star’ was a cry of a bleeding heart, expressing a possibility of hope and not of despair.

The much-hyped narrative of failure of revolution is a rhetoric meant for the satisfaction and consumption of bourgeois intellectuals’ inflated ego; otherwise, in reality it swung a backward country into the limelight as a technological super power and that too in minimum time

A meeting with Danial Latifi who visited Pakistan soon afterwards compounded the confusion by his outright denial of recognising Soviet-Union even as a former socialist state. It probably was a case of a post-traumatic shock leading to a state of denial. In those days, the dazed and disoriented left was behaving what Marx suggested by ‘drawing a magic cap down over their eyes and ears to deny that there were any monsters’. In fact, that was the time for monsters since the old had survived and new had yielded albeit temporarily. Nothing was unfamiliar to the history; it was merely taking the old to the grave in its own way.

Since the demise of Soviet Union, so much has been written about the October revolution that it is pointless to add further to this chaos. From lack of objective conditions in Russia to the rule of a party in the name of a class and from a power struggle between Stalin and Trotsky to a series of purgation, its cadaver is dissected and analysed abundantly. The much-hyped narrative of failure of revolution is a rhetoric meant for the satisfaction and consumption of bourgeoisie intellectuals’ inflated ego; otherwise, in reality it swung a backward country into the limelight as a technological super-power and that too in a minimum time. It comprehensively won a war against fascism, the favourite philosophy of western capitalism under recession when its democratic counterpart had already surrendered to the Nazi blitzkrieg.

Certainly, it was not an ideal revolution, no revolution can be ideal since it is different from a revelation. Moreover, the critics tend to forget that Lenin had already passed a verdict about the fate of revolution when he said “for the Soviet Republic to exist side by side with imperialist states for a long time is unthinkable. One or the other must triumph in the end”. In Russia the problem was merely posed, it will be solved where objective and subjective condition are most suitable.

Adorno states that ‘whatever has once been thought can be suppressed, forgotten, can vanish but it cannot be denied that something of it survives’. Being its own nemesis capitalism could not counter its own antithesis to re-emerge; the idea of socialism vindicated. As Mahmoud Dervish said, it ‘triumphed over the plan to expel’ it ‘from history’. Neither the power of capital nor the powerlessness of the workers could stamp the final authority of capitalistic hegemony on the world. The crisis of capitalism revived the subversive content of freedom, equality and liberation since the realisation of this content alone could promise a life worthy of humankind.

No one can predict what would have been the shape of the world if Russian revolution had not materialised. Yet the far-reaching impact of this revolution speaks for itself. Soon after its success, it became the moving spirit of the world revolutions.

Whereas it provided innumerable revolutionaries who confronted the totalitarian states, it gave exceptional writers, thinkers and intellectuals to the world and above all, it offered a hope to humankind, a possibility of seeking salvage from the savagery of colonialism, a vista that opened a new dimension to the wretched of the earth. In this process, thousands fell to fields of honourable death to be enshrined in the hearts of workers forever. Today people from Vietnam to Cuba owe their freedom from the hegemonic powers to Soviet Union, so is the idea of welfare capitalism, an oxymoron that itself contradicts the tenets of capitalism. By any stretch of imagination, those were no mean achievements, justifications in their own rights for this revolution to happen.

The post-Soviet world is the universe of violence dominated by corporate capitalism that is based not only on production of means of destruction but on destruction itself. In the presence of Soviet Union neither the devastation of Middle East, Pakistan and Ukraine nor the upsurge of savage organisations such as Al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra and ISIS would have been possible. These Frankenstein including fascism are the consequences of the capitalistic mode of production if not its creation. Certainly, the living conditions under Soviet Union were least ‘barbaric’ than the one endured by humanity under the rule of a ‘civilised’ world where life is plunged permanently in a concentration camp. The unabated holocaust continues to remind that the system imposing the struggle for existence cannot help in its pacification. No matter how much it pretends to rationalise its domain, a world of freedom remains an impossibility under capitalism. To the humanity pulverised by barbarism, a new Soviet Union reined in by the proletariat would open a new vista of liberation. In the end to be dead or red would be the sole choice left to humanity.

The writer has authored books on socialism and history. He blogs at and can be reached

Published in Daily Times, November 18th 2017.