Review: Russian revolution revered as trailblazing event in the developing world
The storming of the Winter Palace in Leningrad in 1917, a pivotal event in the Russian Revolution which inspired revolutionaries around the world. | Pinterest

“Like a brilliant sun, the [1917] October [Bolshevik] Revolution shone over all five continents, awakening millions of oppressed and exploited people around the world. There has never existed such a revolution of such significance and scale in the history of humanity,” wrote a young Hồ Chí Minh while in Paris. He had just read the Communist International’s thesis on the national and colonial questions and wept at its profound insights.

According to Vijay Prashad, Hồ Chí Minh’s comments reflected “a common attitude in the Third World – sincere emotions that reveal how important this revolution was to the anti-colonial and anti-fascist struggles that broke out in the aftermath of 1917.”

Prashad’s Red Star Over the Third World, only 131 pages, is “a small book with a large hope – that a new generation will come to see the importance of this revolution for the working class and peasantry in the part of the world that suffered under the heel of colonial domination.”

Early in the book, Prashad quotes V.I. Lenin, the leader of the Bolsheviks; this quote sets the tone for and highlights the main theme of the book. “[I]t must be remembered that the West lives at the expense of the East; the imperialist powers of Europe grow rich chiefly at the expense of the eastern colonies, but at the same time they are arming their colonies and teaching them to fight, and by so doing the West is digging its own grave in the East,” hence the new Soviet state’s emphasis on supporting revolutionary movements throughout the decolonizing world.

For Prashad and the revolutionary movements and cadre he writes about, the “Russian Revolution tore through the fabric of time. What became real was – a workers’ state, a country whose dynamic was controlled by the working class and peasantry.” The “dynamic,” a new reality, then inspired countless revolutionary movements and their cadre and spurred world-historic changes.

From Mexico, to China, to India, to South Africa, and all parts of the decolonizing world, the Bolshevik Revolution was an inspiration. One Mexican revolutionary saw the Bolshevik’s commitment to anti-imperialism as an animating factor with the potential to build international solidarity and raise revolutionary activities to new heights. He wrote, “I don’t know what socialism is, but I am a Bolshevik, like all patriotic Mexicans. The Yankees do not like the Bolsheviks; they are our enemies; therefore, the Bolsheviks must be our friends, and we must be their friends. We are all Bolsheviks.”

The South African revolutionary, Ivon Jones – who would soon become one of the founders of the Communist Party of South Africa – would note, “We must educate the people in the principles of the Russian Revolution.” A young Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of an independent India, would note, “we were influenced by the example of Lenin.”

Prashad quotes C.L.R James, the Trinidadian Marxist: “It must be remembered that men in Mombasa, in Lagos, in Fyzabad, in Port-au-Prince, in Dakar, struggling to establish a trade union or political organization, most often under illegal conditions and under heavy persecution, read and followed with exceptional concern the directives which came from the revered and trusted centre in Moscow.” As Prashad adds, the “trusted centre” was the Comintern, which “provided the necessary organization to help workers from one end of the world to be in touch with others at the other end.”

While “From one end of the planet to the other, Comintern agents…carried instructions and methods, wondering how best to help along the [decolonizing] revolutions,” others, “men and women of the colonies” went to Moscow where they “studied revolutionary theory and found their way back home to build communist parties against all odds.”

Often revolutionary leaders, with the aid of the Soviet Union, had a huge impact on communist movements throughout the world. The Indian revolutionary, M.N. Roy, helped found the Mexican Communist Party, while the Chilean socialist, Luis Emilio Recabarren, became a founder of the Argentinian Communist Party; Dada Amir Haidar Khan, from Pakistan, who became a merchant marine and an activist in the Communist Party, USA, then goes to the USSR to train at the University of the Toilers of the East, while Yusuf Salman Yusuf, also a Toilers of the East student, ends up in Europe and then Iraq where he becomes the first secretary of the Iraqi Communist Party. On and on, the Bolshevik Revolution and the Soviet State aided revolutionary cadre and their movements throughout the world.

Women were also inspired by the Bolsheviks. With the aid of the Soviet Union anti-colonial women’s organizations sprang up like never before, organizations like the League for the Defense of Women’s Rights and the Women’s International Democratic Federation.

In Prashad’s book, we are introduced to dozens of revolutionaries (those mentioned above, and so many others) and their thoughts regarding the struggle against colonialism and imperialism. Throughout it all, woven into the tapestry of the fabric of 20th-century radicalism, is the inspiration and aid given by the Soviet Union.

Prashad has done a wonderful thing with Red Star Over The Third World. Not only has he demonstrated that the Bolshevik Revolution and the Soviet State were an inspiration, he has also illuminated – brought to life – the continent-spanning impact of those who were inspired by this world-historic Revolution. As a short book, Red Star Over The Third World succeeds masterfully.

Red Star Over The Third World

Vijay Prashad, LeftWord Books, 2017, 131 pages



Tony Pecinovsky
Tony Pecinovsky

Tony Pecinovsky is the author of "Let Them Tremble: Biographical Interventions Marking 100 Years of the Communist Party, USA" and author/editor of "Faith In The Masses: Essays Celebrating 100 Years of the Communist Party, USA." His forthcoming book is titled "The Cancer of Colonialism: W. Alphaeus Hunton, Black Liberation, and the Daily Worker, 1944-1946." Pecinovsky has appeared on C-SPAN’s "Book TV" and speaks regularly on college and university campuses across the country.