Editorial from the November 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard
A persistent task for socialists has been to expose the false claims of various governments to have instituted socialism in their country. It is not too much to say that in the process we have devoted about as much time to pointing out what socialism is not as to the infinitely more agreeable task of describing what it will be. The governments concerned bear a heavy responsibility for hampering the work of propagating socialism, for their assertions that their anti-socialist, anti-working class, policies and actions spring from socialist principles have spread a malignant confusion among workers as to the nature of socialism, when the urgent need is for clarity and understanding.
There is no more glaring, or more damaging, example of this than the events in Russia since the revolution there in 1917. At that time Russia was at an economic and social stage of development which nowhere made it ready to move on to socialism. The revolution, inspired by a compound of the people's frustration at the repressive Tsarist regimes, the extreme impoverishment of their lives and their calamitous experiences in the First World War, could at the most begin to move Russia from a feudal to a capitalist society. Whatever the theoretical knowledge of the Bolshevik leaders, they could not have affected this historical process. At the time, little detailed information was available about what was happening in Russia but with what scant knowledge was at our disposal, socialists could be quite certain that Russia could not leap over so vital a stage in historical development and that, whatever emerged there, it was not a revolution for socialism.
This analysis was quickly validated, as the asserted principles of the revolution, set out in so much Bolshevik rhetoric, were modified, or forgotten or ignored. Far from being a country where socialism existed (which in any case is impossible) Russia was a place of widespread conflict, repression and fear. Out of the disputes among the party leaders arose a new ruling class who in due course monopolised the means of production and distribution, as was the case in the other, admittedly capitalist, countries. With the rise of Stalin to supreme power, the disputes became concerned with open repression. exile and murder. It is no overstatement, to describe Stalin's time in power as a reign of terror. There can be no accurate estimate of the number of his opponents who were done to death but those which have been made suggest that it ran to tens of millions.
The Stalinist dictatorship was imposed by a ruthless state machine at home and through the erection of a mighty military force. This has now reached the point at which Russia is one of capitalism's greatest powers, the only one in possession of the kind of nuclear arsenal to rival that of the American capitalist class in its ability to wipe out much of settled life on the earth. This situation in Russia — an entrenched ruling class, a brutal political dictatorship, an enormously destructive military machine could hardly be the outcome of a democratic. conscious revolution to establish a social system based on communal ownership of the means of life, free access to wealth and human harmony and co-operation.
There are, of course, differences between Russia and the avowedly capitalist powers, but these are superficial; basically they all operate the same society, with an owning class who monopolise the means of life on the one hand and on the other a class who are impoverished because they depend on selling their labour power to the owners in order to live. The owning class assert and protect their privileged property rights through a coercive state machine, which operates as ruthlessly as it needs to. In their conflicts with their rival exploiters in other countries over economic advantage they maintain armed forces, some of them with nuclear weapons with all of the ingenuity of modem technology in their delivery systems. This applies especially to Russia, as many a Red Square parade testifies. The socialist analysis of 1917 has been amply justified by events. Socialism cannot be established in any part of the world in separation; as things are it cannot spring out of a feudal society. The social system which began to emerge in Russia in 1917 is fundamentally different from the socialist society which has yet to be established.
A socialist movement consists of people who are consciously socialist, who do not, therefore, need or use leaders to guide them. Socialism will be set up when the majority of the world's population possess that type of awareness and it will replace capitalism in a democratic political revolution. It will be a society in which the entire human race will own in common the entire means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth. Everything which socialist society makes will be to satisfy human needs and desires and be treated as if in a universal common pool from which all people can draw according to their self-determined needs. A state machine will not exist; there will only be an administration of things, by people delegated to organise society's affairs at the wishes of the majority. Nobody will be under a compulsion to work; production will be a voluntary, cooperative effort on the massive incentive of the common benefit. And all this will be through a democratic system, where information and knowledge will be openly available and in which everyone will participate.
All of this is fundamentally different from the capitalism which exists in Russia and for that matter in America, Britain, Japan and the rest of the world. The task of establishing socialism remains to be completed, while the events in Russia provide valuable material which, correctly analysed, can contribute to a rising socialist consciousness.