Why socialism? Didn’t the collapse of the Soviet Union prove that “socialism doesn’t work”?
Lots of people ask us “why socialism”? Haven’t the idea and the ideals of socialism been so corrupted by the crimes of Stalin and Mao and by the sterility and oppression of workers lives under the Stalinist or Maoist or the Juche-inspired North Korean regime as to be utterly discredited and useless as a practical and desirable political programme for any future society?
We’ve discussed this in bits and pieces on Twitter with a handful of individuals and groups of people but have never written anything that explains why we are for socialism and why we are so opposed to capitalism. This essay will attempt to explain where we’re coming from in a more comprehensive way.
We do not want to re-create the horrors of Stalinist Russia or Mao’s China!
First of all we want to make it completely clear that we do not worship or seek to reproduce the horrors of the Stalinist or Maoist or Kim Il-Sung-ist versions of “socialism” at all. This is not only because history shows that those regimes have been led by extremely repressive bureaucratic dictatorships but also because they have proven to lead not to the development of socialism but to a return to capitalism and the brutal capitalist exploitation of the working class. Stalinism and Maoism brutalize the working class into submission to the will of the bureaucracy and betray the workers by ultimately leading them inexorably backwards to the status of capitalist wage-slaves, which is the opposite of what they are supposed to do.
There is also no way that we can deny that – to say the least – the development of post-revolution socialist societies have not “gone according to plan” in the classical Marxist sense. However: it is clear to us that there are pretty obvious and compelling reasons why the Stalinist and Maoist-led revolutionary governments developed in the way that they did; reasons that we trace back to the incredibly oppressive regimes that they emerged from and from the fact that they had no ready-made template of how a socialist society must be built. The Stalinist and Maoist workers states were the first socialist governments that came into being, and they came into being under very difficult circumstances, emerging as they did from the horrible political and economic societies that preceded them. This does not absolve them of their crimes against the working class but it does place their development back into the historical context which pro-capitalist historians like to censor completely from their analysis of the development of the socialist movement. The reason why the pro-capitalist historians do this is obvious: their intention is not to simply tell the truth about how and why these regimes developed in the way that they did; their intention is to convince workers that socialism is a bad idea and that anyone who proposes a socialist alternative to the capitalist system must want to reproduce the horrors of the Stalinist gulags or the Maoist disaster of the Cultural Revolution. The capitalists want their historians to teach you that you live in “the best of all possible worlds” and that if workers try to overthrow the capitalist system you will wind up inevitably worse off than you are now. Basically they want you to believe that the human race has reached the highest possible stage of development possible and that the horrors of human misery we see all over the capitalist world are regrettable but, sadly, unavoidable. This is true: the horrors you see human beings suffering are unavoidable – so long as we stick with the capitalist system. This is the best they can do. We know – and the history of even the bureaucratically deformed workers states created by Mao and Stalin prove to us that socialism does work and it can be made to work way better once it is freed from the straitjacket of repressive and stifling Stalinist/Maoist leadership through a socialist workers political revolution.
Why did the revolutions in Russia and China turn out the way they did?
None of the revolutionary Marxists prior to 1917 expected that a revolutionary socialist workers state would emerge first in the most backward countries; they all believed that they would emerge first in the most advanced capitalist states like Great Britain, Germany or the USA. Instead, the chain of oppressive capitalist regimes broke at its weakest links – Russia and China. This now surprises no one in retrospect, but in 1917 it was quite a shock that the first successful workers revolution occurred not in a modern proletarian capitalist state with long traditions of relatively democratic rule but in Russia, of all places: a hideously backward country with absolutely no history of democratic rule, where the economy was about 80% peasant-based agriculture that functioned at the technical level of the 18th century. If it was possible for the revolutionary Marxists of the time to have been able to select a nation in which to attempt to create the first revolutionary socialist workers state, no one – and we mean absolutely no one! – would have selected Tsarist Russia as their first choice or even as one of their top ten choices. But that is what happened; and if we are to be honest in our analysis of any revolution we must analyze its development as it actually happened and not as we wish it had happened. This requires a lot of specialized study of original historical documents and periodicals that were produced by the leading revolutionaries and their political parties rather than the typically superficial survey of anti-communist “histories” written by pro-capitalist historians which you get if you study these revolutionary movements in pro-capitalist universities. Written history is not politically neutral at all; every historian of the socialist movement (including ourselves) has their own political bias for or against the ideals of the revolutionary socialist movement and the revolutions that were led by revolutionary socialist leaders and their parties. As workers you must decide if you think that it is better for 5% of the world’s population to own all the wealth and run the planet or if it would be better for the future of the world to be determined democratically by the vast majority of the world’s population: you, the workers. There is no tenable position to take in some imaginary middle ground between these two options.
We do not believe that there is any divine metaphysical force directing human destiny; but it is difficult not to get the feeling when studying the history of the Russian Revolution that in 1917 fate dealt the revolutionary socialist movement an extremely tough hand to play when it arranged that the most optimal conditions for the first socialist workers revolution in history would occur, of all places, in the ruins of Tsarist Russia. In our opinion it is proof of the incredible bravery and daring of what stands to this day as the greatest revolutionary socialist party that has yet existed – the Bolshevik Party, led by one of the most honest and brilliant men in human history, Lenin – that they dared to make the attempt to build socialism under what almost all historians agree were the most adverse conditions imaginable. That the Bolsheviks managed to succeed in so many ways despite having made some very serious and costly mistakes – especially in terms of human lives lost – is an enduring testimony to their determination to succeed in building socialism at any cost and to prove that firm foundations for a socialist society could be laid down even under the most adverse conditions. Lenin’s Bolsheviks achieved great successes at the cost of tremendous self-sacrifice among the Bolsheviks and their supporters: thousands of young and idealistic communist workers were slaughtered by the counterrevolutionary Tsarist armies that attempted to restore the monarchy after the revolution. On top of that, the birth pangs of this life-or-death struggle between the remnants of the overthrown Tsarist regime and the peasants and workers government led by the Bolsheviks led to the deaths of several million people. Just as in the American and French revolutions, millions of revolutionary workers and peasants were killed in the fighting to bring a new type of government into existence. And as in the American and French revolutions, the new Bolshevik revolutionary government made some serious errors that added to the human cost; there is no denying this fact. So if in spite of this we still honor and defend the Russian Revolution to this day it is not out of ignorance or because we deny that millions of human beings suffered and died perhaps needlessly due to the inevitable difficulties and struggles that always occur in every revolution – whether it is a bourgeois capitalist revolution like the American and French revolutions or a communist-led one like the Bolshevik revolution – what we must do – and what we as Trotskyists have been doing since the founding of our movement in the late 1920s – is to make a cold, hard, pro-working-class analysis of the reality of what was and was not achieved and what was and was not avoidable during this heroic attempt of the Bolsheviks to create a completely new, modern, democratic socialist workers government under extremely difficult conditions. We study the history of the development of the USSR in all its many-sided aspects both good and bad and draw our honest conclusions from there, regardless of whether or not it “makes the Bolsheviks look bad”. Only through hard work and truthful analysis made always with the historical interests of the working class in mind can we create an intelligent revolutionary socialist programme to create a much better development of human civilization than is possible under the present capitalist system. That is our one and only goal.
Trotskyists defended and still defend the gains of the Russian, Chinese and all the other socialist revolutions; we did not and do not defend everything done by Stalin, Mao, their ideological heirs or their respective repressive regimes.
In spite of the oppressive nature and pro-capitalist betrayals of the Maoist “capitalist roaders” in the so-called “Communist Party” of China, these numbers prove that planned socialist economies can work quite well compared to capitalist economies.
So what are our conclusions? First of all as Trotskyists we know as well as any of Stalin’s many victims what life was like under Stalinism. Members of Trotsky’s Left Opposition were among the first to stand up and vehemently oppose and then to be brutally crushed by the Stalinist bureaucratic apparatus; we have no illusions in respect to the true, monstrous nature of the Stalin regime. The development of Stalinist ideology has at its very foundations the abandonment of the fundamental revolutionary Marxist principle of adherence to revolutionary internationalism. The Stalinists, after having proven conclusively that they were incapable of leading the revolutionary Communist International (“Comintern”) which they inherited, to any successes (due to their undemocratic, bureaucratic schematism which they attempted with massive failure to apply in Germany, China and Spain) concluded, erroneously, that since the workers in other countries were incapable of overthrowing their respective capitalist states, they should abandon the Marxist/Leninist programme of revolutionary internationalism entirely. Instead, the Stalinists decided that the task ahead for the USSR was not to fight for workers revolutions worldwide but to retreat inside the borders of the USSR and to build “socialism in one country” – Russia. They set about to degrade the role of the Comintern from being a powerful engine of world-wide workers revolution to that of forcibly subordinating the communist parties all over the world to defend the right of the USSR to exist in its own limited political and economic sphere independent of the capitalist world. This thoroughly counterrevolutionary about-face led to a series of moves being taken by the Stalinists which ultimately led to the complete dismantling of the Comintern as a “peace offering” to the capitalist world. The Stalinists abandoned that prospect in favor of feathering their own nests and making “peace” with the capitalist world. They sought peace with the Nazis, and when that, too failed, the Stalinists sought to make peace with the “democratic West”: Communist parties around the world subordinated themselves to the “democratic” or “progressive” bourgeoisies of their respective capitalist nation-states and sought to become a nationalistic, reformist political parties just a shade to the left of the parties of the Second International. The Stalinists, in a manner very similar to that of the Second Internationalist political parties who abandoned Marxism to defend “their own” bourgeoisies in WWI, ordered the communist parties of the world to defend “their own” bourgeoisies in the global war to re-divide the world amongst the competing capitalist nation-states in WWII. After the war ended this series of betrayals of the Stalinists led ultimately to the “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude of the late-Stalinist regimes under Gorbachev (a parallel development can be seen in China under Mao with his disgusting rapprochement with the Nixon regime even as US bombs were raining down on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia). The Maoists, who were nothing more than a Chinese version of the Stalinists have followed a similar path, with Mao first drinking toasts to the health of Richard Nixon and US imperialism to his cretinous follower Deng Xiaoping’s declaration that “to be rich is glorious”, which is the motto of today’s thoroughly reactionary and increasingly pro-capitalist Chinese Communist Party. The “Juche Ideal”, promoted by the Stalinists of the DPRK, is just a North Korean version of “building socialism in one country”, only made even more utopian and unattainable due to the tiny size and political and economic isolation of the DPRK from the rest of the world.
What “failed” in the USSR was not the revolutionary socialism of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky but its degenerated, bureaucratized and ultimately counterrevolutionary antipode: Stalinism.
Our analysis of the development and degeneration of the Russian Revolution – from its promising revolutionary Marxist beginnings under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky to its slow and brutal destruction first under Stalin and then under his ideological heirs all the way to the restoration of capitalism in the USSR without so much as a shot being fired by the working class in its defense – is that what we saw with the collapse of the USSR was the complete and total failure – not of socialism – but of Stalinism, which revealed itself to be utterly counterrevolutionary in the final analysis – precisely as Trotsky had analyzed it way back in the 1930s.
The very last thing we intend to do is to follow the paths laid out by Stalin, Mao or any of their epigones: we seek to learn all of the hard-fought and won lessons of all of these revolutions and to incorporate all of the best elements of them into our political program to bring modern socialist workers democracies into being throughout the world that are far more democratic than any bourgeois democracy could ever be. We repudiate and condemn the disgusting show trials conducted by the Stalinists in which innocent people were forced to “confess” to monstrous crimes and were then either executed or sent to a Siberian exile just as brutal as that suffered by the revolutionary workers under the Tsar’s regime. We completely oppose and denounce any attempt to reproduce today the hideous and anti-Marxist Stalinist and Maoist police-state bureaucracies as they existed in the USSR and in China under Mao, for example. We have seen absolute proof of the fundamentally reactionary nature of Stalinist and Maoist political ideology: the Stalinist and Maoist political roads lead, ultimately, back to capitalism.
What about Cuba, Vietnam and the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK aka North Korea)?
All of the regimes leading most of the “communist” states in the world: Castroist Cuba, Maoist China, Stalinist Vietnam and (to a lesser extent so far) the Kim Il Sung-ist DPRK– are essentially Stalinist regimes in which the leading “Communist Parties” are thoroughly nationalist and reactionary and are moving the country away from the ideals of socialism and towards the restoration of capitalism. This is a monstrous betrayal of the workers of those countries and a betrayal of the workers of the entire world. Still, we defend the gains of these workers socialist revolutions; and in any war between the capitalist, imperialist powers and these bureaucratically deformed workers states we will defend the workers states and intransigently oppose the imperialist capitalist powers – including the greatest enemy of the US working class, the US capitalist class and their imperialist government. We call on the workers of Cuba, China, Vietnam and the DPRK to begin organizing revolutionary Trotskyist parties so that they can prepare to lead a political revolution that overthrows the Stalinist/Maoist betrayers and places the revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat in power. We call on them to simultaneously defend what is left of the socialist economic foundations of those countries and to honor the heroic, revolutionary socialist roots of their respective revolutions. If Stalinism is not overthrown and replaced by a democratic dictatorship of the proletariat then capitalism will be eventually restored in every one of these countries by the counterrevolutionary and corrupt Stalinist/Maoist communist party bureaucrats; it is just a matter of time before they consummate their betrayals of the workers.
North Korea presents a somewhat different case: it alone in the world continues to fight to defend the socialist property forms created as a result of the Korean workers socialist revolution and has also refused to allow any major incursion of capitalism into the DPRK (though even there the leadership has allowed the capitalists of South Korea to make their first tentative inroads towards capitalist development). Only the murderous belligerence of the US Government, which seeks to place the DPRK on the capitalist road a la China and Vietnam, keeps the North Korean Stalinists from consummating a Gorbachevite betrayal of the workers of the DPRK. By abandoning revolutionary Marxist/Leninist internationalism in favor of the nationalist “Juche Ideals” of Kim Il Sung, the bureaucrats of the DPRK are clearly, if only semi-consciously, laying the groundwork for eventual capitalist restoration in the DPRK.
The capitalist system has long outlived its usefulness and has become the primary obstacle to the future progress of the human race.
We believe that the capitalist system has long outlived its usefulness and can now only lead the world through an endless series of boom-and-bust cycles punctuated by small and large wars, culminating most likely in another global conflagration: a nuclear world war. Preventing the capitalist system’s wanton destruction of hundreds of millions of workers’ lives and the global environment is impossible under a capitalist system that is based on competing capitalist nation-states. So long as the capitalist system exists there will continue to be racism, environmental destruction, poverty, starvation, unemployment, religious bigotry, the oppression of women, discrimination against national minorities and war. Only the organization of the entire world into co-operative socialist workers states can begin to unite the workers of the entire world in the global efforts that are absolutely necessary if we are to stop the destruction of the lives of our working-class brothers and sisters all over the world and the continued destruction of the planet’s environmental treasures. Only under a rationally planned global socialist economic system can we undertake the enormously expensive necessary steps to reverse the ravages our planet has suffered under the destructive anarchy of capitalist exploitation of the world’s natural resources.
The capitalists care about one thing and one thing only: money. Human beings are worth nothing to them; in their money-mad minds the natural resources of our planet exist simply to enable them to get even more money. They pursue the acquisition of wealth with a vicious, pathological persistence that places their own selfish personal interests above that of the entire population of the world and even above what is necessary to maintain the continued existence of human beings on this planet. We are not exaggerating one bit when we say: “Capitalism must die so that the planet and the working class may live”.
Fortunately we do not have to invent an entirely new political philosophy to find our way forward in this critically important juncture of the development of human civilization; the program of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky will serve us well as the basis of our own modern revolutionary socialist programme. We base our party on our firm belief that all workers all over the world are our sisters and brothers; we want to unite all workers to work together internationally to make life easier for human beings to live and thrive while we simultaneously protect our shared planet, its environment and all our fellow creatures who live on it. All the capitalists are promising us today is that our lives are going to get harder and harder; there is literally no future worth living for the working class under the capitalist system.
The main problem with capitalism is that it is fundamentally anarchic and purely profit-driven: there is no way under capitalism to develop a rational plan for the protection and restoration of the global environment, for example, because it is more profitable for the capitalists to invest in projects that exploit natural resources by destroying the environment than it is to develop them while simultaneously protecting the environment. Only after the insane supremacy of the profit motive is overthrown once and for all can we even begin to undertake scientific studies to determine how bad the damage has been which the capitalists have done to our planet: their pathological love for money over all else drives them to poison the scientific wells with bogus scientific studies that make science-based inquiry practically impossible. We have seen this with their creation of the global-warming-denialist movement. The human race can not move forward an inch until we rid ourselves of these noxious, murderous capitalist pests who subordinate the interests of the entire planet to their own personal lust for more and more money!
How would life under socialism be better for the workers?
A socialist world would make possible for the first time the ability of the human race to seize control of human destiny by overthrowing the lust for profits and replacing it with a rationally planned economic system in which all production is subordinated to the needs of the entire human race as well as the environment which sustains us. Under socialism we would be able to do something the capitalist world has never been able to do and which it is impossible to do under capitalism: to not just merely reduce but to eliminate the scourges of starvation, homelessness and disease that are crippling the creative potential of the entire human race. In socialist countries they have always been able to begin to end homelessness on the very first day after the overthrow of capitalism simply by making it illegal to deny people the right to housing. They did this by immediately placing homeless people in unoccupied apartments, houses and hotel rooms! That is impossible under capitalism, where housing is not a right but a privilege granted (or denied) to workers at the whim of the capitalist landlords and bankers. In the “democratic” USA, we have the “right to the pursuit of happiness” – but we do not have the right to actually achieve it by guaranteeing to everyone access to all the things that enable a person to be happy, regardless of race, creed, color, sex, sexuality or ability to pay… “little things” like jobs, food, clothing, shelter and health care! Under socialism all those things that are necessary to create human happiness will be guaranteed to all.
We can free the working people from the debasing need to endlessly pursue money for basic survival and to guarantee all the necessities of life to each and every human being on this planet, so that every human being on Earth can enjoy their lives to the fullest, not just the wealthiest 10%. Under capitalism, workers are forced to endlessly chase after dollar bills, like a horde of desperate idiots. The constant struggle for basic human needs which workers are faced to suffer through is an enormous waste of human creative potential. Instead of “pursuing happiness” we must pursue the money for food, clothing, shelter and medical care, competing like animals against all the other workers for jobs while the capitalist class sits there in luxury, laughing at us all the way to the bank. Under socialism we can put an end to the struggle for survival for the first time for the entire human race through a rationally planned economy.
What would rational planning be? For example: a socialist workers government would guarantee all able-bodied workers a job so they could contribute to the building of a prosperous society for everyone. If, for some reason you were laid off, you would receive 100% of the pay you received while you were working, so your standard of living would not suffer. Since housing and health care would be guaranteed as a fundamental right, the loss of your job would not mean the loss of health care for you and your family; nor would it mean that you would be facing eviction from your home! This is impossible to do under the capitalist system! These goals are not utopian, they are eminently reasonable and realizable with the technology and the productive capacity we have at hand today.
Capitalism IS the problem!
The only thing stopping us from achieving these goals is the capitalist system that will not and can not end the scourges of unemployment, homelessness, starvation and disease because – it is not “profitable” for the capitalists to do so! Every day we continue to allow the numerically tiny, greed-maddened capitalist class to dominate our lives is another day in which thousands of workers will be thrown out of their jobs for no fault of their own; it is another day in which thousands of children will suffer hunger and chronic illness and die of starvation and preventable disease; it is another day where tens of thousands of our sisters and brothers will die for lack of basic medical services; it is another day in which millions of our children will not have the opportunity to attend a school, see a doctor, or get anything to eat at all. As workers of the world we have it in our power right now to put an end to all this needless suffering endemic to the capitalist system!
What can we as workers do to put an end to the misery we suffer under capitalism and start fighting for socialism?
We can put an end to it only by organizing revolutionary socialist workers parties dedicated to the overthrowing of the capitalist system and to replacing it with egalitarian democratic socialist workers governments. Every day we wait brings us one day closer to environmental catastrophe and very likely it brings us one day closer to the next global world war. We must snap ourselves out of the dull-minded, passive stupor we’ve had drilled into our minds by the capitalist entertainment and infotainment propaganda that has convinced too many of us that the capitalist world is “the best of all possible worlds”! If we want our children to live better, more fulfilling lives we must fight for that future, because it will not be given to us by a capitalist class that seeks only to figure out how they can put more of our hard-earned money into their bank accounts! The working class makes up the vast majority of the world’s population and has the right to determine how and by whom this planet will be governed. Why do we allow the top 5% of the world’s population to run the planet and to seize more than half of the world’s wealth? Workers of the world, it is time to wake up and unite to fight for your rights and to shatter the chains that bind us to a system that robs us blind, destroys the planet we live on and promises our children a future of wars over water, land and natural resources! The revolution will not happen on the Internet; it must be brought into existence by organizing revolutionary socialist workers parties to fight to bring a much better future into existence. It is time to shake off your passivity and join in this work before it is too late, for the sake of your own and your children’s and grand-children’s futures! We can’t do it for you or without you!
“Capitalism must die so that the planet and the working class may live!”