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Lecture on 1917 Russian Revolution and state capitalism

By Umair Arif

This blog is not intended to “deliver” such a lecture but present an account of my observations and intellectual discourse on the event which was organized by Inqilabi Socialists Karachi in collaboration with Irtiqa Institute of Social Sciences on Thursday October 19.

The speakers included Dr Talat Ahmed who specializes in South Asian History, Islam, Women and Culture at University of Edinburgh and Dr Riaz Ahmed who is an activist of revolutionary politics and associated with University of Karachi.

The event had to be started at 5pm but since I had certain commitments at my university, I reached the place at around 6pm. I missed Dr. Riaz’s Speech on the subject but fortunately I was able to listen to Dr. Talat. This was the first time I was at Irtiqa institute and I found it very humble: No AC, a small shelf of books on socialism, no interior design, normal classroom chairs, a microphone system that needed maintenance. This seemed to be a place where intellectual dialogue is focused, rather than the pomp and show at other liberal NGO funded café’s. The audience was also more from the working class families with dominance of Baloch, Sindhi and Pashtun ethnicities and it was a house full.


Dr. Talal is an avid and emotional speaker who was bashing Stalin for destroying the whole soviet revolution and derailing it from the ultimate purpose and therefore does not represent the socialist ideals. She discussed how Lenin was the one who not only implemented but also understood the correct ideas delivered by Marx, angles, Trotsky and Luxemburg. It was at the time of Lenin that a truly socialist society was established which had freedom of religion and the correct wealth distribution model. However, Stalin destroyed all his opposition and even got Trotsky killed and completely deviated from the international socialist path.

After the Speech had ended, there was an unusual thing that caught my attention. A bowl was floated where the audience put in 10 or 20 rupees or maybe a 1000 Rupee note into it. This was a kind of “Chanda” for the tea and biscuits that followed at the end of the session.

The Q&A session was also very interesting.

A person asked “After brief successes in Russia and China, even if we bring such a revolution, it might fail again?”  To which Dr. Riaz first pointed out that yes the socialist revolution did last just for 6 to 7 years during the regime of Lenin but China never had such a socialist change. It was a militant force of Mao which led to a regime change and it had nothing to do with the struggle of the working or the peasant class. Therefore China cannot be taken as the face of international socialism. Secondly, Stalin derailed the socialist struggle in Russia. Furthermore, he said, there are possibilities of a future failure again because the enemy i.e. state capitalism has now its roots all around the world and extremely powerful and it will never give up its status. Even in these tough situations, should we stop aspiring for a better world?

Another question posed by someone in the audience stated “How much time will it take to bring such a revolution, do we have a blueprint or a guided plan?” Dr. Talat responded by first saying that revolutions do not have a timeframe but they do need an organized group of cautious revolutionaries who are ready to grip the moment and sail the wave of a crises. Crises and conflicts will continue to happen but it is up to us to give it the right direction. She said, could anyone imagine in Egypt in December 2010 that in Febraury 2011, the Mubarak regime will fall after a massive wave of protests supported by the working class? She further pointed out that the spark of revolution was not a local phenomena in Egypt, but it happened somewhere in Tunisia. This adds another dimension to the discourse that revolutions do not happen in isolations but have an international dimension to it.

The third question was regarding the role of students in bringing about such a revolution. Dr. Talat emphasized that students are not the working class and therefore, according to socialist theories and understanding, they cannot bring a revolution in isolation. However, they do have the time and luxury to discuss ideas and counter the capitalist narrative from an intellectual standpoint. They can lead the workers and motivate them and stand with them to bring about such a change.

There ended the Q&A session. I had so many questions in mind but we had to move the discussion on to Tea.


Amongst us, at tea hotel was the ex-chairman of Department of Philosophy Dr. Zaheer ud din Babar. I met him the first time and was amazed at his level of understanding on the matters. He listened to our discussions quietly with only a few inputs and sponsored the whole chai paratha for us.

We stood up to depart and I was keen to have some more discussion with Dr. Zaheer sahib. Fortunately enough, my house is in gulistan-e-jauhar and Dr. Zaheer needed a lift. I immediately offered to drop him in my car to his home. The 15 minute discussion with Dr. Zaheer in the car was one of the best learning experiences that I ever had.

Here is an account of our discussion that I remember. It should be very clear that these are not exact his words but the things that I remembered from our discussion.

Me: Sir, are you a socialist?

Dr Zaheer: No I am not. I think the world has more to offer than Capitalist and Socialist extremes.

Me: The concept of absolute equality and abolishment of ownership is unnatural and impractical.

Dr. Zaheer: Yes, they try to look at the human only from the economic perspective. This is wrong. Humans are affected by much more than just means of productions. This is the problem which is why creativity was destroyed in Russia when the state even owned Art and Culture and the incentive to progress was lost. That cannot be a pluralistic and thriving society.

Me: I sensed dogmatic understanding of things when I talked to people at the event. Did you?

Dr. Zaheer: Yes, all ideologues are dogmatic. That’s why philosophy is important

Me: Yes, but all are not labeled as such except the Islamist one. But isn’t dogmatic understanding very relevant for a person to actually give his time, money and life for a cause? Else, a confused philosophy student cannot be a conscious revolutionary.

Dr. Zaheer: Yes, it’s necessary, but people have their inclinations and responses to certain ideas. Some have an inherent ability to be convinced on fix ideas while others do not.

Me: Is contradiction a continuous reality as explained by the Marxists.

Dr. Zaheer: This is Hegelian thought which started off with contradictions as a reality but converging towards Idealism and absolute thought. But Marx and Engels believe it to be a constant reality.

Me: Then there is no truth according to them.

Dr. Zaheer: Truth is based on Logic and Rationality.

Me: But Ghazali and Iqbal believed in the creator and philosophically denied such truths.

Dr. Zaheer: Ghazali and Iqbal were intuitionalists. But intuitions of a person can vary and therefore it cannot be a universal truth for all.

Me: But logic has its problems with propositions. If the propositions are incorrect, won’t the result be incorrect? For instance, the premises “Table has four legs” and “Donkey has four legs” will lead to “Table and donkey are the same”.

Dr. Zaheer: Wrong premise will give wrong results, and sometimes right premise can also give wrong results. The truth would be the right propositions giving the right results and its very difficult to find.

I stopped the car as we had arrived at his home. I was amazed at his intellectual dept and clarity and have become his permanent fan. He is a wonderful conversationalist to sit with to discuss the deepest ideas with great ease.

I never imagined that I would learn so much from a gathering discussing something so contrary to my beliefs and meet such wonderful people.

This post first appeared on Pak Tea House | Pakistan – Past, Present And Fut, please read the originial post: here

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Lecture on 1917 Russian Revolution and state capitalism


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