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Mainstream, Vol XLV No 47

Tempered Steel

Wednesday 14 November 2007, by Sumit Chakravartty

November 7 this year marks the ninetieth anniversary of the historic October Revolution that heralded the birth of the USSR and transformed the world. On this occasion we reproduce the following report by the Mainstream editor written while he was working as a foreign correspondent in Moscow in 1977 (on the basis of an interview with a legendary participant in the October Revolution on the eve of the Revolution’s sixtieth anniversary). Although written in conditions vastly different from the prevailing situation in Russia now that the USSR has ceased exist, its relevance in the present scenario cannot be overestimated. We also reproduce a piece written by N.C. in Mainstream (November 4, 1967) on the occasion of the golden jubilee of the October Revolution as well as an article by the distinguished writer Nagarjun that appeared in same issue of this journal forty years ago.

Lt. General Ivan Lukich Khizhniyak is a legendary hero of three wars (the First World War, the Civil War as well as the Great Patriotic War as the Second World War is known in the Soviet land), although the old Bolshevik claims that he had fought four wars, that is, he wants to include the longdrawn struggle against the White bandits to defend the gains of the October Revolution.

Born in a poor fisherman’s family in the Kuben region on the banks of the Azov Sea in 1893, he was recruited into the Czarist Army in 1914 and served in it during the First World War till the second half of 1917 when he threw in his lot with the Red Guards while still in the Western Front fighting the Germans. Following the October Revolution, he strove as a Red Armyman to extend the frontiers of socialism and defend proletarian dictatorship in the Northern Caucasus and the Kuban and Don regions against the Kornilovs, Markovs, Denikins, Karsnovs buttressed by the imperialist powers. A card-holding member of the Communist Party since December 1917, he was wounded 11 times in the battlefields and still bears several scars of the wars in different parts of the body, including a deep trough in the centre of his chest-the result of machinegun fire when he and his Division were encircled by the advancing Nazis in Byelorussia in 1941.

None expected Khizhniyak, then a Colonel, to survive. He was very seriously wounded. His battle-steeled face made a profound impression on Vera Mukhina, the famous Soviet sculptor, who fought with time to complete a sculptural portrait of the dauntless soldier who lay dying in a Moscow hospital. Later this bronze bust of Khizhniyak by Mukhina was placed on display at Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery. However, Khizhniyak was saved by the noted Soviet surgeon Academician S.S. Yudon. What is more, on recuperation he again plunged himself into the thick of the war as Commander of the 11th Guards Rifle Corps which played a leading role as a constituent of the 56th Army led by the then General A.A. Grechko (later he became a Marshal and Soviet Defence Minister) in eliminating the Hitlerities in the Northern Caucasus and being the first Soviet contingent to reach the Kerch Strait. For this successful operation Khizhniyak was promoted to the rank of Lt. General and from 1944 till the end of the war he was Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Transcaucasian Front.

Ivan Lukich today is short of sight and hearing. And yet he is still fired with the same idealism that had inspired him to march through the flames of several bloodiest of wars in human history. How did he feel when the news of the October Revolution reached him at the Western Front? “I was both overwhelmed and overjoyed. Why? Because I came from one of Russia’s poorest families and I at once intimately came to comprehend the real meaning of the Revolution—it was a Revolution of the poor, the pauperised masses of the proletariat.”

What is the most precious gift the October Revolution has given to the Soviet people? To this question, Ivan Lukich replied in his characteristic manner placing emphasis on every word he spoke. “The October Revolution has given us many things. But what is most important it gave us, the poor masses, freedom from exploitation—freedom to be ourselves and develop our personalities.”

“Communism,” he raised his voice, “is a very generous humanitarian system. It understands the sorrow of poorer nations and peoples and is always ready to help them.” In this context he referred to the existing close bonds of friendship between the Soviet masses and the “dedicated people of great India”.

When he heard that the Indian people were preparing to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the October Revolution in a befitting manner, his eyes lit-up with happiness. “I want to say,” he stressed, measuring every word he uttered, “that I love the Indian people as my brothers-in-arms in the struggle to realise the basic ideals of the October Revolution all over this planet of ours.”

The face the Ivan Lukich, the 85-year old living legend and brilliant symbol of the new Soviet man moulded in the flames of the October Revolution, was radiating with undying confidence in the future.

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