Editorial from the January 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard
Ten Years that prove our case.
It may appear paradoxical to write of the failure of a movement which has controlled the political machinery in the largest country in Europe for a decade. Success or failure, however, must be measured in relation to the avowed object of the movement. In England we have had, for generations, a movement (known as the Co-operative) which claimed to supersede capitalism. In fact, it has developed into a department of capitalist society. Similarly the Soviet Government employs wage slaves (like any other State), produces commodities for sale at a profit and arranges concessions with other capitalist concerns, private or national; at one time feared and execrated by capitalist politicians it is now treated on level terms at World Councils of the Powers. Why?
The Bolshevist coup of November, 1917, was no miracle. It was in line with the general history of Russian conditions for a century past. The development of industry, and, consequently, capitalist society had been held in check both by external and internal forces for generations. Britain and France had throttled expansion in the Baltic and the Black Sea, while the new capitalist power, Japan, put the finishing touch on the process in the East.
Capitalist industrialism must have markets, but the population of Russia consisted (and still consists) of millions of peasants producing mainly to satisfy their own requirements. Such surplus as they raise is under pressure from the tax-gatherer. According to Trotsky, "More than two-thirds of the consumption of the scattered peasant holdings is excluded from the market, and only the lesser third has any influence on the economy of the country.” — "Towards Socialism or Capitalism” (page 43).
Depending upon such immature productive resources the Tsarist bureaucracy plunged into the war with Germany (a highly industrialised nation) with the inevitable result that three years later its armies melted away, underfed, ragged, ill-armed and ill-equipped, to listen to the agitators. Revolt and the collapse of the governmental edifice followed. Party after party attempted to stem the rising tide. The Bolsheviki alone had the organisation, discipline and insight which enabled them to ride the storm.
Overthrowing Kerensky and his facing-both-ways supporters they endeavoured to obtain the support of the workers along parliamentary lines. Failing in this they proceeded to disperse the assembly by force and have "dictated" by the same means ever since.
Their leaders. Lenin, Trotsky and the rest had studied Marx and professed Socialism as their ultimate object. This, however, does not distinguish them from opportunist parties in other countries.
This programme upon which they gained the support of the army was certainly not Socialism; nor could any army establish Socialism, except under the direction and control of a Socialist working class, and this in turn could not have been found in Russia in 1917.
The army, drawn mainly from the peasantry, wanted to get back to their villages. Along with the workers in the towns they wanted food, and an end to the war in which they had no interest. The Bolsheviki promised them these things.
Although the new régime excluded all other parties from control, it dished them by stealing their programmes. Thus it legalised the Social Revolutionary Party’s ideal, peasant proprietorship, and eventually by means of the New Economic Policy opened up the avenues of development for the petty bourgeois elements in towns hitherto championed by the Mensheviks. It nationalised the large industries by the simple process of confiscation and then paid the capitalists to restart them (vide Trotsky’s book quoted above, page 38). The unreadiness of the workers themselves to assume ownership and control provided the dictators with both the opportunity and the excuse for the policy of compromise, economic and political, which they have since followed.
In foreign affairs, intrigue has been the weapon with which they have endeavoured to make terms with other capitalist powers.
Ostensibly they set out to initiate a world-revolution, ignoring the enormous amount of propagandist spade-work that still remains to be done before any such event is likely. Again the unreadiness of the workers of the world furnished them with the opportunity and excuse for entering into negotiations with the leaders of the "Second International,” whom they professed to be out to smash. Their "sympathisers” throughout the world, who suddenly conceived a respect for the magic of the name "Communist,” similarly commenced by attacking the Right Wing leaders both of Labour Parties and Trade Unions, and wound up by calling upon the workers to support these self-same leaders at the polling-booth. Where Marxian phraseology has appeared to meet their requirements they have used it only to disregard its real meaning whenever that has proved inconvenient.
The high-sounding phrases with which the movement proclaimed its alleged mission to the world have long since degenerated into empty verbiage, repeated parrot-like by the hot-headed "enthusiasts” who encumber the pathway of the scientific revolutionary party.
In Russia the proletariat (i.e., the wage-earning, working-class) is in a minority. Hence any movement on their part is a "minority movement.” In Britain the same class is in an overwhelming majority. It only needs to organise consciously and politically to have its way. Yet we have in this country a "minority movement”! What interests does it represent?
In Russia dictatorship is the traditional mode of government. It is made possible by the unorganised conditions of the majority of the population whose outlook is local rather than national; where politics are concerned the peasants "leave it to others.” In Britain the wage slaves have struggled for and gained legal and political rights which serve as a stepping stone to the control of society along democratic lines.
The Bolshevist movement has failed to teach the workers of Western Europe and America anything new concerning their position and has assisted but little to help forward their education in the task ahead of them. It has fogged the issue by introducing controversy over points long ago settled so far as this country is concerned. Let the workers study the history of their class and they will discover that the methods advocated by so-called Communists were tried and scotched by the ruling class over a hundred years ago.
When the army was quartered among the workers at the time of the French Revolution and the workers themselves were seething with discontent brought about by the advent of the machine industry then, if ever, was the time for seducing the troops from their allegiance. Destitute of political rights, it appeared in those days the only logical policy. Capitalist statesmen, such as Pitt, however, foresaw the danger to their class and segregated the army in barracks. To-day there is only one road to political power and economic emancipation. That is the slow but sure road followed by the Socialist Party.