Interview: Picking Up The Peaces
Unions: The Royal Con
National Focus: Around the Grounds
Economics: The Secret War on Trade
International: United Front
History: Confessions of a Badge Collector
Politics: Stalin’s Legacy
Review: Such Was Not Ned’s Life
Poetry: Osama's Top Recruiter
Satire: Woolworths CEO Denied Bonus After Company Posts Profit
The Locker Room
The Fog of War
Trots Bomb Back
Put simply, the man who killed up to twenty million people rose to power as a consequence of the defeat of the Russian Revolution.
In 1917 the Bolsheviks took power. Lenin's aphorism - that every cook would govern - aptly described the democratic intent of the revolution and its working class nature.
During the revolution Russian workers, soldiers and peasants established councils to run society. Representatives came from the workplace and were subject to automatic recall. If the workplace didn't like what the representative had done, it immediately replaced the delegate with someone who reflected their interests.
Compare this to the limited democracy we have today where our representatives have three years of ignoring our wishes on major issues like Iraq, safe in their undemocratic incumbency.
However, while the intent of the revolution was democratic - socialism can only exist with democracy - the reality became something very different.
Russia was a backward agricultural country with large-scale modern factories in the major cities. Trotsky predicted that the working class - a few million -would lead the revolution because of its economic power, dragging the countryside of over fifty million with it.
Trotsky argued that workers, having overthrown the feudal dictatorship, would not be content with a revolution that allowed capitalism to rule over them.
The period from February to November proved Trotsky right (and Lenin, prior to 1917, wrong.) The revolution against absolutism became a revolution for socialism.
In October 1917 the working class, through the Bolsheviks, took power.
The Bolsheviks were internationalists. They knew that to survive the revolution had to spread to one or more advanced capitalist countries. Their vision was of a socialist United States of Europe in which countries like Germany and Great Britain could provide real assistance to Russia to bring it out of its backwardness.
The revolution did spread. In November 1918 a workers uprising in Germany ended the First World War. However the German Labour Party brutally quashed the revolution and saved German capitalism. In 1923 revolution again swept Germany but again it was defeated.
Civil war in Russia broke out when the Bolsheviks took power. The Civil War destroyed the Russian working class as a class. Working class democracy could not exist because there was no working class.
The Bolsheviks began to rule for the working class rather than as the dominant trend of the working class. The workers councils became shells.
Stalin played no real part in the revolution or its defence. He began his rise to power as the revolution waned.
The Civil war and the defeat of international revolution meant the state became more and more bureaucratised. Stalin represented this bureaucracy.
The bureaucrats wanted stability and quiet and a government which expressed their interests rather than those of workers. In 1924 Stalin produced the anti-Marxist theory of socialism in one country which was the rationalization of the interests of the bureaucracy using the language of socialism.
The political struggle over the next few years was between Trotsky and Stalin. Trotsky argued for democratic working class socialism while Stalin put forward the developing class interests of the bureaucracy.
While the outcome was not inevitable, given the relative strength of the class forces involved Stalin won. The first five-year plan in 1929 represented both the consolidation of Stalin's power and the development of a new capitalist ruling class in the USSR.
Capitalist? Capitalism has as its essence the extraction of profit and other surplus from workers and the reinvestment of that surplus to make further profit. In Russia the state became the collective embodiment of capital.
Stalin used the language of revolution to cloak the reality of capitalism.
The 1930s saw Stalin embark on the rapid industrialisation of society. He drove millions off the land and into the cities and forced wages down (thereby increasing the rate of exploitation.) His gulags provided slave labour that helped establish Soviet industry.
The process of primitive capital accumulation that Stalin adopted was not new. Marx in Capital described in chillingly similar detail the establishment of capitalism in England. As Marx said the history of capitalism is written in blood.
There was another necessary task for the Stalinist state capitalists to undertake to tighten their grasp on power. Many of the Old Bolsheviks with their crazy ideas about working class democracy and revolution were still alive. Stalin's show trials destroyed them. And in 1940 one of Stalin's agents drove a pick axe into Trotsky's head, killing the last enduring symbol of democratic socialism and the possible threat it posed to Stalin's rule.
Yet as Trotsky wrote before his murder the revenge of history would be far greater than the revenge of the General Secretary.
It was in Stalin's success in creating the world's second major imperialist power that lay the seeds of the destruction of the Stalinist system.
Revolution challenged Stalinism. In 1953, 1956, 1968, 1970 and 1980 the working class in places like Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland rose up against their overlords. In 1989 Stalinism collapsed in Eastern Europe as millions took to the streets for their political freedom.
But we need to be clear. The revolutions in Eastern Europe were political, not economic. They involved a shift from state capitalism to market capitalism. The next step - economic liberation - still awaits humanity.
In 1989 Chinese workers, inspired by the students of Tiananmen Square, began to organize a challenge to the rule of the corrupt and anti-worker Communist Party. The Party drowned the nascent revolution in blood, but the Chinese working class grows ever more tired of the heirs of Stalin. The Chinese working class today has an historic opportunity to sweep aside the Communist Party and begin the worldwide move to a democratic and planned society where production occurs to satisfy human need.
It may not be China; it could be Egypt with its millions of workers angered by US imperialism's attack on Iraq and its failure to deal fairly with the Palestinians. It could be France which in 1968 was saved from revolution by the thoroughly Stalinist Communist Party. Who knows? The point is that capitalism is an unstable and transient system whose very structure creates workers, the gravediggers of the system. One spark could set the world aflame.
Stalinism is no more stable a form of the beast than market capitalism.
|Search All Issues | Latest Issue | Previous Issues | Print Latest Issue|
© 1999-2002 Workers Online