Next Tuesday, November 7, marks the centenary of an event that changed the course of world history for the better part of the 20th century – the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the good ship ‘Aurora’ anchored on the river Nev, flying the Red flag of the revolutionaries, which fired the first salvo into [...]


The Russian Revolution; from Vladimir Lenin to Vladimir Putin


Next Tuesday, November 7, marks the centenary of an event that changed the course of world history for the better part of the 20th century – the Russian Revolution of 1917.

It was the good ship ‘Aurora’ anchored on the river Nev, flying the Red flag of the revolutionaries, which fired the first salvo into the nearby Winter Palace of Czar Nicholas in Petrograd (St. Petersburg). It signalled the climax of the proletariat struggle that toppled the Romanov dynasty and brought the Bolshevik Party led by Vladimir Lenin to power.

The revolution reverberated around the world with the formation of the first Government of workers and peasants, the Marxist-Leninist and then the Communist Party, and the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics).

Many countries experienced tumultuous events during the last century, not least Sri Lanka. But what the people of the USSR experienced was arguably unparalleled. The Russian Revolution occurred during World War I when the country was at war with Germany. Then came the revolution. A civil war between the Old Guard and the newcomers ensued. World War II was soon to follow – that cost a staggering 20 million Soviet lives. Having turned tables on the German Third Reich, the Soviet Red Army marched into Berlin and with the rest of the Allied Powers, the USSR carved out parts of Eastern Europe for itself as satellite states, witnessing what became known as the ‘Cold War’ with the West.

Then there was ruthless dictator Josif Stalin who modernised the impoverished nation, but under his jackboot. One of his victims being Marxist ideologue Leon Trotsky – murdered in Mexico for opposing him. The USSR was ahead in the space race sending the dog Laika and then astronaut Gagarin to orbit Earth and financed revolutions abroad, but Marxist economic doctrine of central planning failed to deliver food on the table to the ordinary masses. The resultant collapse of the economy, and finally of the USSR itself, forced it to eat humble pie. Eventually they embraced a market economy — and capitalism; and a powerful oligarchy of the super-rich emerged with a widening rich-poor divide.

Today, Revolution is anathema to the administration of Vladimir Putin, the Russian overlord at the helm in the seat of power at the Kremlin of an otherwise emasculated Russian Federation. With growing opposition to his iron-fisted rule, Putin has occupied the hot seat since 2000, and is uneasy with the word — Revolution. He is not even celebrating the centenary of the Russian Revolution; trying to whitewash that period of Soviet history by putting the Revolution in the dustbin of history, and recreating the greatness and grandeur of the nation under the former Romanov Empire.

Putin has given new life to the Russian Orthodox Church which went into oblivion under Communist rule; given capitalism a foremost place in the economy and oversees ‘guided’ democracy.

It is quite a quirk of history that while the Germans – and the British ambassador, were accused of playing a role in the Russian Revolution a hundred years ago, today the Russians are accused of interfering in the elections in the United States and countries in the West.

The Russian Revolution had a huge impact on the politics of Sri Lanka as well. We had a Bolshevik Party here led by a Trotsky follower, Colvin R. de Silva armed with a Ph.D from Britain. Prof. Harold Laski of the London School of Economics influenced many other young Sri Lankan postgraduate students of the day to return and form the LSSP and the CP (Moscow). They all played a role in Sri Lanka’s freedom struggle and became influential political leaders until 1977 when they – and their economic theories, were swept away in an electoral tsunami against socialism here as it happened around the world. Russia and China, the then proponents of Marxist-Leninism are today’s advocates of free markets.
(Please see articles on Plus cover and in ST 2 on the subject)

The Catalonia effect on Sri Lanka
The situation in Spain vis-a-vis the breakaway bid by the province of Catalonia and the subsequent crackdown by the central Government in Madrid was not the ideal backdrop for the proponents of a new Constitution for Sri Lanka. On the eve of a Constitutional Assembly debate – a dry run as it were, the influential Buddhist clergy had already shot it down as being “unnecessary”.

The proposed new Constitution appears to mainly focus on four issues; 1) Nature of the State, 2) Status of Buddhism, 3) Devolution, and 4) Executive Presidency. The happenings in Catalonia had a direct bearing to the first three, and the JHU would say the fourth too. Catalonia has long demanded secession from Spain and it drew parallels to a time when a Chief Minister of the North and East provinces here in Sri Lanka also made a UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence).
While confusion reigns supreme over recasting of the words on a Unitary State and a ‘State religion’, the provisions on the Executive Presidency and Devolution ex-facie, are interlinked to political intricacies.

One of the problems of the current Constitution-making process seems to be that it is transitional by nature at least in parts; meant to serve the present-day political needs. The 19th Amendment that limits the size of the Cabinet only after the next election is a classic example.

There’s an argument trotted out that the Executive Presidency cannot be abolished without a new Constitution. This is bunkum. That was the same argument put forward in 2000 when the then Government introduced the ‘package’, resulting in the baby and the bathwater being thrown out.

The Executive Presidency was introduced through the 2nd Amendment to the 1972 Constitution on September 21, 1977. A new Constitution came only in 1978. So too can it be removed by a normal amendment – nowadays, however, with the will of the people at a Referendum. It really is, much ado about nothing, if there is a political will those who promised to abolish the Executive Presidency to keep to their promise.

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