From the January 1949 issue of the Socialist Standard
Henry Ford is reputed to have said, "History is bunk." If he was referring to the stuff that we were taught, under the heading of history, in elementary schools a generation ago, we can agree with him. But that is not what WE call history. History, for us, is not the kind of incident portrayed by film actors like George Arliss, Linda Darnell and Charles Laughton; it is not an account of the bedroom antics of princes and prostitutes. It is the study of the social life of people; how they produce their means of living; how they think and behave; the institutions they throw up, the changes they bring about; their struggles, their failures and their successes.
From a study of such things we can learn much. By learning of mistakes made in past struggles we can avoid making them in our own. If we trace the course of past events, and know how to interpret them, we shall be less likely to be misled by political quacks in our own day.
When we recognise these things, we can appreciate the importance of a study of history. But, when we learn of the activities of people in the past, we need a key to enable us to understand why they so acted. Such a key is provided by the "Materialist Conception of History," the theory propounded by Karl Marx a hundred years ago.
By the use of this key we can understand many of those things that Ford has referred to as "bunk." We can learn of the Crusades of the 12th century as being something more than just wars of Christendom against the "Oriental infidels." We can study the social effects of such inventions as gunpowder, the mariner's compass and the internal combustion engine, We can get at a real understanding of the great French Revolution, the American Civil War, and the Russian Revolution of 1917.
The Russian Revolution is interpreted differently by different people. The Communist see it as a working class revolution revolution resulting in the establishment of Socialism. Socialists, who apply the "M.C. of H." when they study any historical event, have an entirely different interpretation of the events in Russia during and since 1917. The Socialist view of this outstanding historical period is presented in a new pamphlet published by our companion party, The Socialist Party of Canada, entitled "The Russian Revolution. Its Origin and Outcome."
The opening chapter of the pamphlet outlines the fundamentals of the present world system. It provides the foundation for the rest of the pamphlet.
Chapter 2 analyses the set-up in Russia prior to, and at the time of the rise of, Bolshevism. It deals with the state of Russian agriculture and industry in those days and with the origin and coming to power of the Bolshevik Party. It shows that, "The Bolshevik revolution . . . was not, and could not have been, a proletarian revolution. The best that can be said for it is that it was intended to be a proletarian revolution."
The third chapter, entitled "Dictatorship of the Proletariat," states that "Russia in November, 1917, fell into the lap of a handful of revolutionaries with a programme far beyond the limitations of the material at their disposal." It goes on to show that the so-called dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia is really the dictatorship of the Communist Party.
The next two chapters, "The Paper Revolution" and "Socialism in One Country," shows that "The Bolsheviks learned rapidly that the revolution could emerge only from somewhere other than their own muddled heads." They deal also with the rise of Stalin and quote from him to show the mis-application of Marxism in Russia.
Chapter 6 carefully analyses the Russian Constitution adopted in 1937 and " . . . hailed by Communists and 'fellow travellers' everywhere as the most democratic constitution in the world." The pamphlet then passes to an examination of the contortions and convulsions of the various national parties of the Communist International, " . . . the organisation set up by Moscow to guide the destinies of the workers of the world."
"Poverty and Riches in Russia" is the title of chapter 8, a chapter of facts and figures. Tables of production costs, wage variations, cost of food, etc., give a vivid picture of conditions amongst Russian workers today. These figures, in the main, are drawn from Russian sources, which adds considerably to their usefulness. The concluding chapter poses and answers the question, "Could events have taken a different turn in Russia?" It also shows the general tendency of the workers' struggles in the future.
"The dictatorship has now been in existence for more than thirty years. It has remained throughout fearful of a free and unhampered reaction to its record. It has proved a failure as an agent of working class emancipation." (P.15.)
The confusion about Russia that exists in the minds of many workers is, perhaps. excusable. It is difficult to interpret events whilst they are are happening, even when they have but recently happened. Especially so when there is so much biased propaganda on the subject. For those who wish to see the Russian Revolution in its proper perspective, this pamphlet is invaluable. In the future, when the events described have sunk into a more distant past, and can be viewed more impartially, " . . . the Bolshevik Dictatorship will . . . take its place amongst the tyrannies of history."
This pamphlet, coupled with "Russia Since 1917" published by ourselves (1s.), forms a valuable work on the developments in Russia during the past thirty or more years. The two pamphlets together, contain more useful information—reliable information—than is to be found in books at twenty times the price.
It is obtainable from all S.P.G.B. branches and from Head Office. "The Russian Revolution. Its Origin and Outcome," published by the Socialist Party of Canada, October, 1948, 52 pages, price 6d., post free 7d.