The Great October Socialist Revolution, the centenary of which we celebrate this year, was the greatest practical vindication of genuine Marxism.
Its success was guaranteed by the leadership of the great V.I. Lenin and his unremitting struggles against every kind of bourgeois reformism and unprincipled opportunism. In particular, it was his opposition to the watering down of Marxism, to the stripping away of its revolutionary essence, that educated the class-conscious workers of Russia, raising their ideological level to the point where, in the incredibly complex and ever-changing situation after the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II in March 1917, they kept their eyes on the prize of a workers’ and peasants’ state rather than the bourgeois state of Kerensky, the Cadets and the Octobrists (parties of the capitalists and landlords).
Marx and Engels fought utopian and idealistic versions of socialism
Marx and Engels fought to establish their theories from the laws of dialectical and historical materialism. They analysed the history of class society from its inception through to the revolutionary upheavals of mid-nineteenth century Europe and wrote the Communist Manifesto in opposition to various types of utopian and idealist “socialism”. They also wrote at length to refute the influential, but unscientific, views of Duhring and Proudhon.
The ideological struggles led by Marx and Engels resulted, as Lenin noted, in the defeat of “pre-Marxist socialism”. From that point on, bourgeois efforts to turn the workers from revolution and proletarian dictatorship could no longer stand “on its own independent ground, but on the general ground of Marxism, as revisionism” (Lenin On Marxism and Revisionism).
Scientific socialism extends recognition of the class struggle (which is in plain view of the blindest of Freddies) to the necessity for the overthrow of the capitalist ruling class by means of revolution. It requires that the workers smash the old machinery of state and create their own institutions to keep the restorationists of the old order in check.
Opportunists seeking to build parliamentary careers on the backs of the oppressed were then forced to “stand on the ground of Marxism” in order to fight it. Only as “Marxists” could they have the access to the advanced workers, could they have the credibility with the revolutionary vanguard of workers, that would enable them to divert the workers from the path of the revolutionary movement.
The German Eduard Bernstein was the first significant “Marxist” to “interpret” Marxism to support opposition to it. He argued that the Marxism of the Manifesto was too impetuous, too youthful, and that in their later years, Marx and Engels matured to a point where achieving peaceful reforms through parliament was preferable to upheavals and revolution. Of course, it would be wonderful to peacefully legislate the ruling class out of existence, but it has never once happened in history. What Marx and Engels knew to be true still stands.
Other significant “Marxists” (some of whom were indeed Marxist at one time or another) included the Russian Plekhanov and another German, Karl Kautsky.
n 1895, Engels discovered that his introduction to a new edition of The Class Struggles in France, written by Marx in 1850, had been edited by Bernstein and Kautsky in a manner which left the impression that he had become a proponent of a peaceful road to socialism. On April 1, 1895, four months before his death, Engels wrote to Kautsky:
“I was amazed to see today in the Vorwärts an excerpt from my ‘Introduction’ that had been printed without my knowledge and tricked out in such a way as to present me as a peace-loving proponent of legality quand même (at all costs). Which is all the more reason why I should like it to appear in its entirety in the Neue Zeit in order that this disgraceful impression may be erased. I shall leave Liebknecht in no doubt as to what I think about it and the same applies to those who, irrespective of who they may be, gave him this opportunity of perverting my views and, what’s more, without so much as a word to me about it.”
The “peace-loving proponents of legality”, who sought to distort Marxism in their own image, later formed the core of those who placed defence of their respective fatherlands ahead of proletarian internationalism following the outbreak of the predatory imperialist war for the division of the world (1914-18).
Lenin denounced Plekhanov, Kautsky, and other leaders of the Second International as social-patriots (socialists in words, but bourgeois patriots in deeds), social-pacifists (socialist in words but pacifists rejecting revolutionary struggle against one’s own bourgeoisie in deeds), social-chauvinists (socialists in words, but reactionary chauvinists in deeds), social-nationalists (socialists in words but narrow bourgeois nationalists in deeds) and social-imperialists (socialists in words but supporters of imperialism in deeds).
These hyphenated “socialists” were the revisionists of a particular time and place, the time when competing capitalist ruing classes were using their “own” workers to kill other workers for the sake of a redivision of the colonies and financial spheres of interest of the world.
The fight for Red October
The February Revolution in Russia that led to the abdication of Nicholas II in March was the result of proletarian action but a gift to the capitalists and landlords. The provisional government first of all refused to accept the overthrow of the Tsar, urging Nicholas to abdicate in favour of his young son who would ensure the Romanov dynasty via a Regency under his brother Michael. They wanted to keep as much of the old state intact as was needed for a more vigorous prosecution of the war effort.
From exile, Lenin exerted every effort to prevent revisionist elements from giving legitimacy to the new bourgeois rulers. Intense struggles between the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks were played out in the Petrograd Soviet and other centres of workers’ revolutionary organisation. The subsequent victory of the October Revolution was a victory over revisionist influence in the working class.
Building socialism means fighting revisionism
After the death of Lenin in 1924, the key leadership of the Soviet Union was taken up by Joseph Stalin who, together with the Soviet people, was relentlessly demonised and maligned by the international bourgeoisie and imperialists. In the 1930s, at a time when the rest of the capitalist world was in deep economic depression wreaking enormous hardships, hunger, homelessness and poverty on the majority of the world’s people, the Soviet Union was in the throes of rapidly industrialising its economy and collectivisation of agriculture, able to provide full employment, housing, high standard free education and health, real equality for women, free child care, security for the people and promote vibrant and powerful art and culture of the working people.
The key to the successful construction of socialism by Stalin and the collective leadership around him was confidence in the strength of the working class and its ally, the peasants. Stalin, and the majority of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union maintained confidence in the working class to achieve their goals at a time when so many around him argued that building socialism in such a backward and impoverished country as Russia was impossible without simultaneous socialist uprisings in the more advanced European countries. They argued that support from the latter was an essential precondition for building socialism in Russia.
The people of the Soviet Union could not have achieved such momentous social and industrial progress without enormous confidence, support and enthusiasm for socialism and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Indeed, revisionism feeds primarily on the lack of courage, the lack of confidence in the ability of the people to surmount incredible difficulty, evident in backward, wavering sections of the working class and the petty-bourgeois elements that are drawn to it.
The strength of the economic and political foundations of the Soviet Union enabled it to withstand the horrific loss of life and destruction of cities and infrastructure that were inflicted by the Hitlerites, with the urgings and support from other imperialist powers, in World War 2. Indeed, the turning tide of World War 2 was the succession of defeats inflicted on the Nazis by the Soviet Red Army.
Yet war took its toll. Up to 20 million Soviet people had died, and there was huge economic destruction. The greatly increased economic and military power of the USA was now mobilised against a weakened Soviet Union. The 1948 Berlin Airlift hammered this power imbalance home. Not all Soviet leaders maintained Stalin’s confidence in the future.
Revisionism an ever-present danger
Following Stalin’s death in 1953, Khrushchev - in the face of strong opposition by leaders such as Molotov and Kaganovich - together with his revisionist followers in the Party, used the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to rewrite essential teachings of Marxism, introducing economic and political policies that refuted the continuing class struggle under socialism on the one hand, and on the other, created and favoured a new privileged social and political elite, and sought cooperation with, rather than defeat of, imperialism.
Erroneous theories such as the “state of the whole people”, the “party of the whole people” and the “disappearance” of the dictatorship of the proletariat facilitated the anti-socialist activities of managers now given responsibility for pursuing profit at all costs including the reduction of wage costs by putting workers on the scrap heap. It enabled party and government leaders to make decisions about the allocation of socially- and increasingly, privately-appropriated surplus value that took away the leading role of the working class and vested it in a new bourgeoisie. As the power and influence of this group grew it quite deliberately sought the restoration of capitalism in the USSR. State-owned means of production were transferred, either overtly or covertly, to private hands and those that remained state-owned functioned as components of state monopoly capitalism.
With such a high level of centralisation and monopoly in the formation of private and state-monopoly capital under Khrushchev, the drive for capital accumulation inevitably took on an imperialist perspective, in the first place through the unequal economic and political relations embedded in COMECON (the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance) and the East European “people’s democracies”. The imperialism of the Soviet Union under Khrushchev and his heirs, carried out by a party and nation still cloaked in the garb of Marxism-Leninism, was correctly characterised through a revival of Lenin’s term “social-imperialism”. The post-Stalin Soviet Union, unfortunately and regrettably, was indeed socialist in words, but imperialist in deeds.
The logical conclusion of Khrushchev’s revisionism was the formal dismantling of the great Soviet Union by Gorbachev in 1991, and its degeneration into a land of corrupt and gangsterish rulers and an increasingly impoverished populace.
The rejection of revisionism by the people of former Soviet Union is expressed in the continuing public support for Lenin and Stalin and longings for the socialist country before dismantling of socialism starting with the Khrushchev era. In contrast, there’s been no sign of support for Khrushchev and his successors.
Nor has revisionism disappeared. The Chinese Communist Party invented the “Theory of the Three Represents” to facilitate its transformation from a party of the proletariat to a party of new capitalist elements. According to the Chinese Communist Party its priority is to build “harmony” between classes. Mao Zedong had taught that contradiction resides in all things, that class contradictions and class struggle would exist throughout the entire socialist era, and that ideological struggle against bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideology would be required “for a fairly long period of time”.
History proves that in all Communist Parties existing in class societies, capitalist or socialist, revisionism is an ever-present danger, and class struggle doesn’t cease. In the circumstances of a party such as our own, a small party in a developed country, perseverance in building a revolutionary movement will always be under an immense pressure of bourgeois influence, ideas of class reconciliation, lack of scientific confidence based on dialectical materialism, and hence of revisionism. Nevertheless, we must persevere with the organisational, political and ideological principles drawn from scientific socialism, from Marxism-Leninism.
Is the cup half empty, or is the cup half full? Are we inspired by October 1917, or gutted by December 1991? Times are tough and the Australian people are yet to build leadership or mass organisations capable of overthrowing capitalism. Yet, under the most difficult circumstances imaginable, the Soviet people managed to do just that. There can only be one answer: the cup is neither half full nor half empty: it is overflowing with lessons to integrate into Australian reality.
Lenin’s victory over revisionism, and the creation of the first workers’ state in history, continue to inspire us.