“But socialism is dead, darling!” This was one response on the street to the front page of Socialist Organiser with the headline: ‘Stand up for socialism’ And there were many similar responses, sad as well as gleeful.
For sure, if the Stalinist systems were any sort of socialism, then socialism is dead, and it deserves to be dead. It was rotten and stinking for decades before its recent outright collapse.
But Stalinism was not socialism. It was the opposite of socialism.
Throughout our existence, Socialist Organiser has championed the underground workers’ movements and the oppressed nationalities in the Stalinist states. We have waged war on the idea — held by many in the labour movement — that the Stalinist states were socialist in any sense or in any degree. It is the same idea being peddled now — but from the other side, not by confused would-be socialists, but by bourgeois propagandists who insist that Stalinism was socialism because they want to discredit socialism and bury it.
If socialists hold their course then we will find the collapse of Stalinism and the discrediting of its bureaucratic falsifications of socialism has cleared the ground for a new flowering of unfalsified socialism. Socialist Organiser is one of the bearers of the seeds of this new growth of socialism. Fighting the lies that socialism and Stalinism are identical, and that Stalinism was the same thing as the Bolshevik Russian Revolution, we will hasten the new growth of unfalsified working class socialism.
The first thing now is to answer the lies of the bourgeoisie and of the ex-Stalinists.
1. The system now disintegrating in Eastern Europe was socialist.
No it wasn’t! It was a system of extreme exploitation of the workers and peasants, run by a backward bureaucratic ruling class with a monopoly of political and social power. It was that bureaucracy which decreed that their state should nationalise and control everything — not Marx, or, for that matter Lenin.
Far from representing the working class, the Stalinist systems were characterised above all by a savage repression of the working class, and relentless persecution of working class dissidents, especially workers who tried to organise independent trade unions.
2. The most important thing is to defend the nationalised economies.
It will be a great defeat for the working class in Eastern Europe and the USSR if the collapse of the bureaucratically centralised economies leads not to workers’ liberty but to their replacement by Western-style capitalist exploitation. Far better if the state-monopoly system is replaced by workers’ democratic self-management, and democratic socialist working-class planning. Such a trajectory would avoid the long detour and the bitter class struggles that otherwise face the workers in Eastern Europe and the USSR.
Some would-be Trotskyists, on the other hand, argue that the preservation of the Stalinist nationalised economy is of great importance and its loss would be a huge catastrophe, dwarfing almost everything else.
But the nationalised economy has been operated on the basis of the savage exploitation of the working class. What is most important of all for the workers in the Stalinist state is to gain the liberty to organise, to think, to discuss, and thus to learn.
Suppose a section of the Stalinist bureaucracy tights to defend the state-monopoly system, while workers, for example in Solidarnosc, press for the extension of market forces. The view that the preservation of the nationalised economy is of overriding importance would logically lead socialists — and even “Trotskyists”! — to support the hard·line Stalinists against the workers.
Neither market forces nor a Stalinist state-monopoly economy serve the working class. The cardinal value for socialists must, be the free activity of the working class — even when, in the opinion of those who take the long historical view, the workers are muddled and mistaken. In all circumstances socialists must support the right of the labour movement to exist, irrespective of its political ideas.
3. All that is needed is to liberate the nations of Eastern Europe from Russian overlordship.
That is needed! Socialist Organiser and Workers’ Liberty — in the tradition of the Trotskyist movement of the 1940s — have been very outspoken in demanding freedom for the nations of Eastern Europe. But that is just a beginning.
The question is, what is to replace Russian overlordship? The terrible truth is that Eastern Europe and large areas of the USSR are mosaics or crazy pavements of fractured nations and peoples. State boundaries rarely coincide with the outlines of ethnic or linguistic groups or of national self-definition.
National conflicts and resentments have festered and become doubly poisonous under the clamp of Stalinist repression.
Now they are emerging into the open.
There is almost civil war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and between different groups in the Yugoslav federation.
The idea of national self-determination — that is, national democracy — is only a rough guide to what must be done in these areas to secure a basis for coexistence between the different peoples. If self-determination is not linked with the ideas of socialist internationalism, then in these conditions it can be channelled into the most vicious and narrow chauvinism.
The socialist movement long ago answered these problems with such ideas as creating a Socialist United States of Europe and a Balkan Socialist Federation.
Only the working class, fighting for socialism, can make these ideas a reality.
Market forces in Eastern Europe and the USSR must inevitably accelerate the present trends towards fragmentation and ethnic and national antagonisms.
4. The collapse of the planned economies in Eastern Europe means the eclipse of socialism.
Quite the opposite. It means the renewal of socialism. The disavowal of socialism by the Stalinists will help free socialism from the Stalinist, statist taint which poisoned much of the socialist and communist movement for six decades.
Socialism is a good idea — but it is not just a good idea! It is rooted in the class struggle of the working class. That struggle continues. The collapse of Stalinism has already opened up space for the workers, long suppressed, to begin to organise independently and think for themselves. They will formulate their own ideas.
Marxists do not believe that the dominance of socialist ideas is inevitable among workers. The hard truth is that there are great obstacles in the way of workers becoming socialists when they have lived all their lives under a Stalinist totalitarian system disguised as socialism.
We see that now in Eastern Europe. In the ex-Stalinist states the working class looks to the West and to market economics for its solutions. It mirrors the way in which working class movements in the West have for decades mistakenly looked to the Stalinist East as a model of escape from the peculiar horrors of our own society.
Nevertheless the prospect in all the East European states is for an intensified class struggle.
Many workers, faced with class conflicts, in the new conditions, will move towards a genuine working-class world outlook. They will understand that the free market is no acceptable alternative to Stalinism, just as Stalinism was never a genuine working class alternative to the free market.
The rebirth of a mass socialist movement, cleansed of Stalinism, is a certainty in these conditions. It is a hard road from now to then, and it may be a long and winding road, but there is no other road for workers who want to defend their class interests to take.
Just as in recent years we have seen the inspiring development of such working class movements as South Africa’s non-racial trade unions and the Brazilian Workers’ Party — and Solidarnosc too — in previously more or less fallow areas of class struggle, so we will see the emergence of new workers’ movements in the opened-up ex-Stalinists states.
5. Leninism bred Stalinism, and is discredited with it.
This is the central pillar of the edifice of lies now agreed on if bourgeois and ex-Stalinists alike. It is the biggest lie of all. Lenin and the Bolsheviks led the workers to power. They fought ruthlessly against the bourgeoisie and the opponents of socialism. They smashed the walls of the Tsarist prison-house of nations. Far from substituting for the working class, the Bolshevik party, by its leadership and farsightedness, allowed the working class to reach and sustain a level of mass action hitherto unparalleled in history.
The Bolsheviks based themselves on a system of democratic working class councils (soviets). Their goal was working class democracy.
They never believed that they could make socialism in backward Russia, only that the Russian working class could take power first. They believed they had a duty to maintain their bridgehead for workers’ revolution in the most difficult and arduous circumstances.
The Bolsheviks were fallible human beings, acting in conditions of great difficulty. Mistakes they may have made in the maelstrom of civil war and economic collapse are proper subjects for socialist discussion and debate. As their critic and comrade Rosa Luxemburg wrote in 1918, the Bolsheviks would have been the last to imagine that everything they did in their conditions was a perfect model of socialist action for everywhere at all times. But what the Bolsheviks never were was the root of the Stalinist counter-revolution, which amongst its other crimes, murdered most of those who were still alive in the mid-1930s.
When things began to go wrong the Bolsheviks stood their ground. The workers’ risings were defeated in the West. Invasions and civil war wrecked the soviets. The Bolshevik party itself divided. One section took a path on which it ended up leading the bureaucratic counterrevolution. The surviving central leaders fought the counterrevolution on a programme of working class self-defence and of renewing the soviets.
Those Bolsheviks (Trotskyists) went down to bloody defeat. Stalinism rose above the graves of Bolsheviks, just as it rose hideously above the murdered socialist hopes of the Russian and international working class. By the late-1930s Stalin had slaughtered the leading activists not only from the Trotskyist, but also from the Right Communist and even the Stalinist factions of the Bolshevik party of the 1920s.
Stalinism was not Bolshevism, any more than it was any kind of socialism. Trotsky, who was to die at the hands of Stalin’s assassins put it well and truly when he said that a river of working class and socialist blood separated Stalinism from Bolshevism. The workers in Eastern Europe and the USSR will learn the truth about that now that the possibility of open debate and honest information has been opened up.
6. Even if the Stalinist states were not fully socialist, they were “post-capitalist”. They represented a stage in transition from capitalism towards socialism.
Post-capitalist is precisely what they are and were not. Socialism grows out of the most advanced capitalism. All the Stalinist states were and are comparatively backward and underdeveloped.
If capitalism had continued to decline as it was declining in its heartlands in the 1930s, and if the USSR had maintained the dynamism it had then, then the historical relationship between the two systems would perhaps have shaped up differently. But in fact capitalism has expanded immensely since the Second World War.
After 1945, US capitalism had huge power, and reshaped the world market into something not too far from the ‘imperialism of free trade’ dominated by British capitalism in the mid 19th century.
Capitalism grew both in its heartlands and in new areas.
The USSR began to lose its relative dynamism in the early 1960s. As Trotsky had pointed out, bureaucratic rule could import basic technology and create a crude industrial infrastructure, but was a great obstacle to a self-sustaining modern economy generating its own new technology.
With hindsight, the Stalinist system can be seen to be an epiphenomenon of the world capitalist system. The tremendous upsets now shaking the Stalinist system are the direct consequence of its comparative inefficiency. It is not the inefficiency of socialism, or of the working class. It is the inefficiency of a system which suppresses all working-class initiative.
7. Capitalism is vindicated by the disintegration of “state socialism”.
One of the most profound and heartfelt paeans of praise ever written about capitalism will be found in the Communist Manifesto, the founding document of the modern socialist movement.
Capitalism gave a tremendous boost to human capacity to change and control our environment and thus created the objective possibility of humanity rising above its “pre-history” out of the social jungle into a classless socialist society.
Marxists criticise the waste and irrationality and savage inhumanity of capitalism, but at the same time see capitalism as the necessary forerunner of socialism.
Capitalism has not ceased to be irrational and inhuman, nor have market mechanisms ceased to be blind and wasteful, just because of the Stalinist experiment in “state socialism”. Wage slavery and exploitation have not ceased to be at the heart and root of capitalism. The possibility and even the inevitability remains of capitalism plunging once again into devastating slumps as in the 30s — and there are three million unemployed in Britain alone right now. Capitalism still presides over regular mass slaughters by hunger which are an indictment of any social system.
In the United States, the richest capitalist country in the world, thousands of people sleep on the streets, or get a living only through the drug trade. In the private-profit counterpart of Eastern Europe — Latin America — unemployment runs at 40% in the big cities, workers’ living standards have sometimes been halved since the debt crisis broke in 1982, cocaine gangsters rule huge areas, and malnutrition and even starvation are widespread. Capitalism is no alternative at all!
Stalinism was not an attempt to go beyond advanced capitalism on the basis of the achievements of advanced capitalism which has proved by its failure the hopelessness of all such attempts. It was an experience on the fringes of world capitalism, arising out of the defeat of a working class revolution, and stifling under its own contradictory bureaucratic regime.
Stalinism was part of the pre-history humankind must grow beyond. So is capitalism!
8. Socialism is discredited because only a free market economy can give a secure basis for democracy. Without it you get state control, and state control inevitably stifles democracy.
Marxists do not want any sort of bureaucratic state, neither that of a country like Britain, where the bureaucratic state works in tandem with the bourgeoisie, nor that of the Stalinist systems where he bureaucracy was the sole master of society’s wealth
We advocate a “semi-state” without a standing army, without an entrenched bureaucracy. The Bolsheviks wanted that, too. They could not create it because of the backwardness of the isolated USSR, but it would be entirely possible in a country like Britain, especially with modern technology.
The idea that only the market system of the West can be the basis for democracy is the idea that only wage slavery for the masses together with the phenomenal concentration of wealth — and therefore power — at the top of society can be the basis of democracy! It is a prize example of the crazy logic satirised by George Orwell according to which war is peace and lies are truth.
Even such democracy as we have in the West owes its existence to decades and centuries of struggle by the working class. Democracy in capitalism is limited, imperfect, and normally not very stable.
Mass self-rule by the producers, dominated neither by a bureaucratic state monopoly nor by the economic rule of the multi-millionaires and their officials, is a better form of democracy. It is socialist democracy.
9. The reason for the economic impasse of the Eastern Bloc is that centralised planning cannot work in a complex economy: therefore capitalism is the only possible system.
This argument too rests on the lie that Stalinism — the Stalinist command economy was socialism.
The attempt to have the state control everything served the Stalinists, not the working class. Marxists never believed that the working class could take power and simply abolish the market: in 1921 Lenin set the goal of Soviet government as that of occupying ‘the commanding heights of the economy’.
Socialism, once the workers have taken power and abolished wage slavery by taking the major means of production from the capitalist class, would — probably for generations ahead — operate through a combination of planning and market mechanisms — within the broad framework of a flexible plan.
There is a vast difference between an economy where the basic strategic decisions are made by democratic planning — which is certainly possible — and one where they are made by the crazy gyrations of the Stock Exchange.
How quickly a workers’ planned economy will be able to make its planning more comprehensive, and move towards replacing the market altogether, must be an open question.
10. Events in Eastern Europe prove that you can get a peaceful revolution.
No, they don’t! The Stalinists (or neo-Stalinists) in Eastern Europe have nowhere given up the state power. Even in Poland the army, the police, and the core of the state bureaucracy remain in the hands of the Stalinists. They are by no means a spent force.
What will happen to these state apparatuses, how much purging they will receive in future, is an open question.
Right now to dismiss them as a threat is to say the least premature.
Whether even a shift to market economics, curtailing the power and privilege of the bureaucrats but allowing many of them to retain much of it on a new basis, can be achieved peacefully, is still an open question. There is no reason at all to believe that the workers in Eastern Europe could take power themselves, abolishing all the power and privilege of the bureaucrats, without violent clashes.
And even if they could, that would not mean that a peaceful revolution is possible in Britain. The reason why we cannot hope for a peaceful revolution that would end capitalism in Britain is that the ruling class would fight to defend themselves, as any ruling class capable of doing so would.
They have the army and the civil service, the judiciary and the police force.
They plan their strategies far ahead, as they planned and prepared to defeat the 1984 miners’ strike years in advance.
ln Eastern Europe we have regimes imposed by foreign armies, with very little support in the population apart from those admitted to the perks and privileges of the ruling class circles. They have in the past proved capable of lethal violence against the workers. Demonstrating workers were shot down in East Germany in 1953. Hundreds were mowed down in Gdansk, in Poland, in 1970. In 1981 the Polish bureaucrats imposed martial law.
Erich Honecker reportedly wanted to massacre the demonstrators in Leipzig. His colleagues stopped him. Why?
Because the Russian overlord had changed the terms under which the satrap regime operated and, faced with the prospect of revolt at home and abroad, was no longer willing to guarantee support.
The East European bureaucrats are the puppet rulers of a retreating empire. That is why they have conceded demand after demand. There is no real parallel here with conditions of working class struggle against a relatively stable ruling class of the capitalist sort.
11. The “melting” of East European Stalinism proves that the Stalinist bureaucracy is not and never was a ruling class.
This is a “left wing” rather than a bourgeois piece of nonsense. This opinion is held by two distinct currents of thought. One current denies that the bureaucracy is a class, still less a ruling class, and asserts that the working class rules in the Stalinist states.
The other current simply says that there is no ruling class in any of the Stalinist states! This position is especially associated with Hillel Ticktin, a left wing academic, and promoted, notably, by the strange advertising-agency-designed “revolutionary” organisation, the RCP.
The idea that the working class ruled and rules in the Stalinist states is on the face of it a strange idea about states where the working class has been savagely oppressed and denied freedom of speech, press, assembly, sexuality — in short denied all the civil and human rights workers in Britain have won through hard struggle over the decades and centuries.
The workers have been treated like this by a vast privileged and corrupt bureaucracy which has ruled over society and controlled the lives of its inhabitants in its own interest, owning the means of production collectively because it “owned” the state.
The view that, nevertheless, the working class rules in these societies is tenable only if we believe that a nationalised economy — the model initially created after 1928 by Stalin ~— is working class per se; and that in the perspective of history, in the necessary succession of stages in the development of society, a nationalised economy like the classic Stalin model can only be working class. Such a view is held in Britain by, for example, Militant and others who went so far with this perverse view of history as to support the Russian army’s napalm and gunships war against the people of Afghanistan after the USSR’s invsasion of that country in December 1979.
At root, in this its only logical form, this is a Stalinist theory, even though it is also adhered to by anti-Stalinists who mistakenly think it was Trotsky’s position at the time of his death.
Events have long shown it to be a nonsense. We have had a massive experience of Third World bourgeoisies using extensive nationalisation to develop backward economies — Egypt in the ‘50s, ‘60s and early ‘70s, for example. By now it is indisputable fact that a social group with most of the attributes of a ruling class has held and exercised power in the Stalinist states.
The other view, that there has been no ruling class at all in East Europe and China for forty to fifty years, or in the USSR for the last 60 years, since Stalin overthrew the rule of the working class, rests on complicated technical theories and assessments. According to these, the chaos within the nominally planned Stalinist economies has meant that there is no properly worked-out system whereby the privileged rulers “appropriate the surplus product” and therefore they could not, in Marxist theory, be a ruling class.
This is a very similar idea to the workers’ state theory of Ernest Mandel and others, except that Mandel goes on to fantasise that, despite all the appearances, the working class, although it is socially, politically and intellectually kept `down is nevertheless the ruling class. Instead of Mandel’s mirage ‘solution’, which allows him to formally stay within Marxist categories, the proponents of this view reach conclusions more typical of mainstream bourgeois sociology than of Marxism.
That the Stalinist bureaucracy does not have the stability of the bourgeois class is incontestable, based as it is on collective ownership, by way of its control of the state, of the means of production.
Nevertheless it does rule the economy in its own interest, it does organise the population to work in its projects and for its goals, it does siphon off a vast part of the wealth of society for its own private consumption.
Bureaucrats can and do accumulate vast private wealth, as well as enjoying the right to live like billionaires while in office — the exposure of vast corruption has been one of the consequences of “openness” everywhere, from China to the USSR, and now East Germany. Children of the bureaucrats do not inherit ownership of factories, but they do inherit, by way of educational privilege, special access to the portals of the bureaucratic ruling class, “contacts”, etc., places in the bureaucratic ruling class: a working class child even in Thatcher’s Britain has a far better chance of a higher education, and even of becoming a capitalist, than a Russian working class child has of higher education or entrance to the ruling bureaucratic elite.
The whole of history — after the end of primitive communism — is the history of societies divided into classes under a dominant ruling class, more or less stable, more or less efficient at running society.
Vast areas of Stalinist society are shrouded in darkness after decades without freedom of information, or freedom of scientific sociological investigation. Much about the Stalinist societies and how they function is simply unknown. But it is perverse in face of this situation for Marxists to jump to the conclusion that the Stalinist states are the exception to the whole recorded history of human society! No they are not, no they can’t be! All of recorded history — not to speak of Marxism, which codifies it — tells us that it is absurd to say that these societies have existed for decades with no ruling class, and that the typical all-powerful totalitarian Stalinist states which have tyrannised over the lives of countless hundreds of millions of peoples for decades have not been class states!
Should the analysis of Stalinism force Marxists to such a conclusion, then we would not be able to confine our conclusion to the experience of Stalinism.
lf societies can exist for decades with no ruling class, and if states can exist and do what the Stalinist states have done to the peoples over which they have had dominion, and yet still not be class states, organs of ruling classes, then you have a vast breach in the fabric of Marxist theory woven over the last 150 years out of the whole experience of human history so far.
Inevitably, vast credence is thereby given to liberals, reformists and others who argue — despite all the evidence that the real rule of the bourgeoisie is the hidden hand within the glove puppet of our bourgeois-democratic system — that states like the British bourgeois-democratic state are not class states, nor organs of class rule. Look at the view of Stalinism which denies the bureaucracy is a ruling class from a slightly different angle, and you find yourself looking at the old refomist picture of bourgeois-democratic states like Britain! Its advocates might not want that, may not hold such a view of the British state, but logic does work itself through in these matters.
If the facts led us to such a conclusion then honest socialists working in the spirit of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky would not want to close their eyes to it. It is in the light of the undeniable facts around us that we say: such a conclusion about the British state is an obvious absurdity — as absurd as the view which denies that the Stalinist bureaucracy is a ruling class, and the Stalinist states ruling class organs.
12. The Communist Parties have ditched Marxism and Communism, and they should know what they’re talking about.
The Stalinist rulers in the USSR have created an ideology through which their interests and their immediate political concerns were expressed in stereotyped language derived from Marxism. Marxist analysis has been no part of that ideological process.
Communist Parties like the British CP danced like performing bears to that official “Marxism”. In the high Stalinist period, Moscow could say on Monday that Britain and France were democratic powers justly opposing ravenous German fascism, on Tuesday the British and French warmongering imperialism were ganging up on peace loving Germany, and on Wednesday that it was Anglo-French democracy against German fascism again — and the CPs would jump accordingly. (They did that between September 1939 and June 1941).
CPs justified Stalin’s terror and for decades lied systematically about the reality of the USSR. When told to, they collaborated with Nazis against socialists in Germany in 1931-33; co-ordinated Nazi-like campaigning against “Jewish Trotskyists” in Mexico in 1939-41 when Hitler and Stalin were friends; organised bloody counterrevolution against the workers in Republican Spain in 1937; and so on. The list is almost endless.
Later, the CPs softened up, accommodated more to the societies they lived in, and for a couple of decades past they have occasionally criticised aspects of Stalinist rule. In practical politics, the West’s biggest Communist Party, the Italian CP, has long been to the right of the British Labour Party.
These political whores and charlatans can speak neither for socialism nor for Marxism. The best service they can render to socialists and Marxists is to distance themselves from us, the more formally and explicitly the better. The air around us will eventually be a lot cleaner for their departure.
When the Italian ex-Communist Party decides to change its name, what is collapsing is not Bolshevism or Communism but the grotesque counterfeit of Marxism and socialism shaped and moulded by Stalin, and in part sustained by Stalin’s wealth and power.
13. The collapse of Communism vindicates the reformist “social democratic” model of socialism.
Social democracy defined itself historically not against Stalinism but against Bolshevism. And the social democrats were wrong at every point against Bolshevism.
They either supported their own bourgeoisie, even against the revolutionary communist workers, or temporised and hesitated and thus helped the bourgeoisie to win.
It was the social democrats who rescued German capitalism in 1918 and thereby isolated the Russian Revolution. By betraying socialism or dithering in countries like Germany and Italy, the social democrats played the role of historic stepfather to Stalinism.
The Bolsheviks did not lead the workers to power believing socialism could be rooted in Russia; they led the Russian workers on ahead believing the European workers would follow. The socialist leaders in the West left them in the lurch, amidst the Russian backwardness, where Stalinism was eventually to grow up.
Whatever about this or that error made by the early Communist International, the international Bolshevik current was entirely right against refomist social democracy.
The reformists’ criticisms of Stalinism have often, of course, been correct. They have been right on the same questions bourgeois democrats have been right on.
The disintegration of Stalinism cannot lead logically to the conclusion that reformist social-democracy is the answer — unless we also accept that Stalinism was socialism, and that its collapse therefore shows us that capitalism is the best we can ever hope for.
Reformist social-democracy is not a different strategy for achieving socialism. Socialism is the replacement of wage-slavery and the capitalist system built on it by a different mainspring — free co-operative self-administering labour. What has that got to do with the achievements of social democratic reform?
The fight for welfare-state reforms, and the defence of existing welfare state provision, is indeed necessary for socialists. But socialists cannot stop there. And very often today the reformists do not even defend the welfare state. The fight to defend welfare state provision is often a fight against reformists in power — as it was in Britain during the last three years of the 1974-9 Labour government. The socialism of the reformist social democrats is like the smile on Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat.
Since the 1920s, social-democratic parties have abandoned even a verbal commitment to fighting for a socialist system defined as something radically different from capitalism. They aspire at most to modifying capitalism, with a few welfare measures. In the 1980s, social-democratic leaders in France, Spain, Australia, New Zealand and Italy have become no better than pale-pink Thatcherites.
The only model of socialism restored to its proper shape and colour by the disintegration of Stalinism and the open disavowal of socialism by the Stalinists is the only model of socialism that ever deserved the name — the fight to organise the working class as a clear conscious force, a class for itself, to break bourgeois state power and abolish wage slavery, and establish a comprehensive, democratic self-rule throughout society.
14. The notion of a Leninist party is completely discredited because Stalinism and Bolshevism are the same, and because Stalinism and Bolshevism are the same, and because the working class does not need such parties.
The opposite is true. It was the absence of organisationally coherent, disciplined, clear-headed and determined revolutionary parties in Germany, Italy, Hungary and France just after the Russian Revolution that left the Russian Revolution isolated and prey to bureaucratic counter-revolution. That same absence, by allowing capitalism to survive in the West, also prepared the way for Italian and German fascism, and for the millions of dead in World War Two.
lf revolutionary organisations like the Bolsheviks existed now in Eastern Europe, then the mass movements could probably avoid the bitter clashes that are likely as market forces cut into the lives and living standards of the people. The workers could be organised now around the idea that their real interests, and the only possibility of creating a democracy that is not a hollow mockery of their aspirations, lie in substituting for discredited Stalinism not market economics but rational socialist planning of the major elements of the economy, confining market mechanisms to secondary things.
No such parties exist, though they may come into existence relatively quickly.
Because they do not exist, the great mass movements crying out for democracy, with most of their supporters probably opposed to the growth of inequality and insecurity that is in fact inseparable from market forces, are going in a social and political direction which will produce nothing like what they want. They follow priests and intellectuals whose hopes and ideas centre on West European capitalist civilisation.
Human beings make their own history, but in conditions they do not choose and usually do not understand, with the consequence that the result is not what they want or aim for — that is what Marxism teaches us about human history so far.
Socialism is about overcoming that limit, and introducing conscious control by humanity of itself and its societies. A Marxist party which knows history, knows the experience of the working class, and knows the options in a given situation, can make the difference between a mass movement blundering into an outcome it would not choose and the same movement achieving the goals it sets itself.
The mass movements for democracy in Eastern Europe — within which tolerance and even a welcome for the development of capitalist modes of operation are so strongly allied with the desire for a classless democracy — have a great deal in common with historically pioneering movements like the movement of the masses in the French Revolution of 200 years ago.
In 1789 it was not possible to know better. Today it is. It is possible for the inspiring movement in Eastern Europe to learn from history, and reach its goal.
But for that, an organisation is necessary which can help the working class to develop an independent world-historic viewpoint, a viewpoint which incorporates not just the experience of Stalinism and a negative recoil from it but also the experience of world capitalism, and an independent working-class programme derived from the world-wide experience of the working class. Without such an organisation, even a heroic working-class activist like Lech Walesa — who was an underground trade union activist when that was dangerous and unprofitable work and, for all he knew, might not bear fruit for decades — degenerates into someone touring the world trying to organise a more efficient form of exploitation for his fellow Polish workers.
Not for many years have events given such a powerful proof that a Marxist revolutionary party, modelled on Lenin’s and Trotsky’s party, is irreplaceable for the working class if it is to act as a class for itself.
One of the most reactionary of the many reactionary features and consequences of Stalinism in power was that — by police-state terror and wholesale lies — it systematically prevented the working class from thinking for itself, from leaming the lessons of its own history, and from organising. The consequences of that are felt now in Eastern Europe, where the working class is submerged in a series of vast national-popular movements for democracy — movements which cannot by their nature satisfy working-class demands or even survive in their present form.
The working class needs a revolutionary party — not a party to control the working class, but a party ultimately controlled by the class while having an existence of its own as an ideological selection. The working class needs such a party to make its mass action purposeful, effective, and capable of reaching the goals it aspires to.
Hypocrites, cynics, and petty-bourgeois sharp-shooters say that such a view of the need for a revolutionary party is elitist. It is not. Such a party serves the class, it does not aim to dominate it or rule over it. One-party rule was no part of the Bolshevik programme, and arose in the civil war as a temporary measure, later preserved and made rigid by the Stalinist counter-revolution.
We are not elitists. A Marxist party can lead the workers only to the degree that it wins their freely-given confidence. But we say that this is how reality is: that the working class needs its own party to help it realise its own potentialities as a class and to help it free itself. Without such a party, the working class will suffer needless defeats.
Unlike the cynics — who accept the real elitism of the capitalists, with their entrenched wealth, their galaxy of specialised intellectuals, their control of the State — we do not wish to live with capitalism. We want to help the working class to overcome it.
15. We are now entering an era of peace and stability, forever. The End of History has come.
What is likely to succeed the dead weight of the melting Stalinist ice-cap in Eastem Europe and the USSR is not bland liberal democracy, but a maelstrom of nationalist conflicts. Wars are probable.
The retreat of the Russian Empire is a sort of undoing of the outcome of World War Two. But History will only “stop”, or, rather, move on to a higher plane, when capitalism stops, that is when the working class takes power and begins to “construct the socialist order” world-wide.
The words in quotes are Lenin’s, from his speech to the Congress of Soviets just after the Bolsheviks’ seizure of power in 1917. Circumstances and events ultimately defeated Lenin. The working class will yet start to “construct the socialist order” in better and more favourable circumstances. We do not know when, but for certain the disintegration of Stalinism will bring that day closer.