ga('send', 'pageview');
John Passant

Site menu:

August 2009



RSS Oz House



Subscribe to us

Get new blog posts delivered to your inbox.


Site search


My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole

Sick kids and paying upfront


Save Medicare

Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. (0)

I am not surprised
I think we are being unfair to this Abbott ‘no surprises’ Government. I am not surprised. (0)

Send Barnaby to Indonesia
It is a pity that Barnaby Joyce, a man of tact, diplomacy, nuance and subtlety, isn’t going to Indonesia to fix things up. I know I am disappointed that Barnaby is missing out on this great opportunity, and I am sure the Indonesians feel the same way. [Sarcasm alert.] (0)



The rise of Stalin: What really happened in Russia?

“We have got the dictatorship of the proletariat! … I rub my hands and chuckle with glee. May the day soon come when the proletariat of Western Europe does the same.”

Morgan Philips Price, a Manchester Guardian journalist stationed in Russia in 1917, wrote these words to his wife. He didn’t have to wait long.

In November 1918, German sailors and workers followed suit.

Europe was ablaze with insurrectionary movements until October 1923 when the German revolution was finally defeated.

Word of the Russian revolution, carried around the globe by seamen, inspired masses into action.

 Workers in Seattle in the US set up committees modelled on the soviets, the central organising bodies of the workers’ state. Striking meat workers in Townsville, Queensland, in 1919 had Revolution emblazoned on their jumpers.

Revolutionary movements shook the Caucasus, Egypt and China.

The Russian soviets passed more progressive laws than many countries have to this day.

All workers – women and men – voted for soviet delegates. Workers’ factory committees began to introduce the eight-hour day and equal pay; they abolished night work where possible.

They discussed everything from lighting to sanitation, food distribution and campaigns against the sexual harassment of women.

Laws on marriage, divorce, the concept of illegitimacy, homosexuality were reformed to lay the basis for sexual liberation.

Child care and housework were socialised to minimise drudgery in the home.

National minorities were granted full rights, and religious freedom was guaranteed.

The whole of Russia seemed to be living through a great festival.

Tragically, this hope for a new world of human liberation is overshadowed by the monstrous state that became known as the Communist USSR ruled over by Stalin.

Nothing could be further from the promise of the revolution.

Indeed, Leon Trotsky, a leader of the revolution who led the fight against Stalin, compared Stalin’s Russia with Hitler’s Germany: “In many of their features they show a deadly similarity.”

And he was not exaggerating.

The images of totalitarianism, of millions starved by enforced famine, of the Gulags – concentration camps that used millions as slave labour – are not just the result of malevolent Western propaganda, as many communists deluded themselves for decades. They reflect the dreadful reality.

 Stalin’s dictatorship was not inevitable

“It is the absolute truth that without a German revolution we are doomed” said Lenin in January 1918. The German revolution ended in defeat in 1923 and the Russian revolution was doomed.

A Marxist materialist explanation of how the revolution was lost shows that, contrary to myth, Stalin was not the legitimate successor of Lenin and the Bolsheviks.

Stalin outlawed and ultimately murdered all the surviving revolutionaries. He had to wipe out all memory of the revolutionary traditions in order to consolidate his ruthless rule.

Understanding his victory is vital for anyone who wants to build a movement capable of fighting for human liberation.

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels showed that socialism was only possible if the working class leads a revolution. They are the only class with the power to overthrow the capitalist state; and the only class that organises collectively and democratically to fight for their rights. Their state, formed to carry through this transformation and to defend the masses from the reaction of the old ruling classes, would wither away as society became increasingly free. But for this, the revolution needs to spread internationally. No country is self-sufficient; and trade with capitalist economies will draw it back into competition – to say nothing of the threat of attacks which put pressure on the revolutionary state to compete militarily.

Russia’s transformation into Stalin’s dictatorship is proof of this theory. Lenin, addressing the Congress of Soviets in January 1918 spelled it out:

“The final victory of socialism in a single country is of course impossible. Our contingent of workers and peasants which is upholding soviet power is one of the contingents of the great world army.”

In isolation, Russian workers could not build socialism, no matter what they did.

There are those who blame the violence the Bolsheviks resorted to in the civil war which raged until 1921. But the revolution was threatened by bloody reaction from the first days after the transfer of power to the workers’ soviets in October. The White Terror – by forces of the reactionary old rulers – began in Moscow, where before the workers took control there the Whites conducted a series of massacres. Workers were shot without trial, without even taking part in the fighting, their fate decided by “a court-martial [that] took thirty seconds to pass sentences of death which were carried out forthwith in the courtyard” as Victor Serge, a revolutionary anarchist who joined the Bolsheviks during the revolution, recorded.

In Helsinki in January 1918, the Whites, with the help of German troops, captured the city to overthrow the Council of People’s Delegates. In a brutal wave of repression 8,380 people were executed and 80,000 taken prisoner, of whom 11,783 would die from the appalling conditions. These and other examples spurred millions to support the Bolsheviks’ fight to defend the revolution; because no matter what the privations and suffering, the alternative was obscenely ferocious.

Fourteen imperialist countries invaded and gave economic support to the Whites. Nevertheless the workers and peasants of Russia defeated the brutality meted out to them. However, to go on to build socialism, the revolutionaries needed the help that only workers’ revolutions in the West could bring: agricultural machinery and commodities to boost peasant production and living standards; economic aid to rebuild their devastated industry which had been reduced to 18 per cent of 1913 levels; and food to feed the starving population.

The destruction of industry meant the demise of the class that led the revolution and on which the future depended – the urban working class. Without them, there was no basis for workers’ democracy. And without workers’ democracy, there could be no socialism.

As early as 1921, in desperation to keep the peasantry’s support, the Bolsheviks, ruling on behalf of the seriously weakened working class, introduced elements of the capitalist market and ruled that the principles of competition and profitability would apply to the state sector. These were temporary, emergency measures to survive while helping to foment revolution in Europe – to which they paid intense attention.

Lenin argued it was a “patent error” to still talk of Russia as a workers’ state. He openly admitted: “A workers’ state is an abstraction. What we actually have is … a workers’ state with bureaucratic distortions.”

The degeneration of the isolated revolution is one of humanities’ greatest tragedies. Victor Serge was one of its best chroniclers:

“Now the cities … assumed a foreign aspect; we felt ourselves sinking into the mire – paralysed, corrupted … Money lubricated the entire machine just as under capitalism … Classes were reborn under our very eyes … There was a growing chasm between the prosperity of the few and the misery of the many”.

The defeat of the German revolution and the revolutionary movements in Austria, Hungary, Italy, France and Britain sealed the fate of not just the Russian working class, but humanity. It meant that none of Russia’s problems could be solved. With privation comes competition. Socialism cannot be built by willpower. It requires cooperative, democratic control over plentiful resources. It was not the policies or actions of the Bolsheviks which led to the defeat, but defeats over which they had little or no control.


USSR: state capitalism from the ashes of revolution

Stalin’s counter-revolution confused the revolutionaries. They thought a full-blown counter-revolution would involve a military coup and the open restoration of the old rulers. Instead, a bureaucracy grew up within the Bolsheviks. Stalin headed this monstrous social layer, staffed increasingly by careerists hoping to gain influence and power.

Trotsky led those who tried to fight the degeneration. But the only basis to defeat Stalin was if the working class could regroup and struggle for their own rights. Without the help they needed to rebuild the economy, this possibility became increasingly remote.

In 1924 Stalin declared that it was necessary to build “socialism in one country”. This was a complete overthrow of Marxism – there cannot be socialism in one country. Trotsky condemned it and predicted that the Communist Parties which looked to Stalin would promote reactionary nationalism in their countries – which they increasingly did.

“Socialism in one country” was not just a necessary adjustment of Marxism to take account of reality, as some argue. It was the ruling ideology of a new exploitative class becoming conscious of its need to oppress and confuse the masses. Its equivalent in the West is “freedom and democracy”. Stalin had to use the terminology of the revolution if he was to retain any credibility with workers domestically or internationally.

In 1928-29, Stalin introduced a Five Year Plan to rebuild the economy. It included the final death blows to any remaining vestiges of workers’ control. It consolidated a police state. And it unleashed a vicious war on the peasantry in the name of “collectivisation” which caused millions of deaths. The workers’ state of 1917 was now dead.

There are those who still argue that the barbarous Stalinist state was not capitalist because there were no capitalists, no private property and no competition. However, Marx argued that the fundamental drive of capitalism is the accumulation of capital in competition with rival capitals. Lenin and another Bolshevik, Nikolai Bukharin, had shown that imperialism had transformed this competition so that it increasingly took the form of military rivalry.

In 1931 Stalin spelled out where the USSR fitted into world imperialism: “We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this distance in ten years. Either we do it, or they will crush us.” No longer is there any vision of spreading a struggle for human emancipation which was the hallmark of the 1917 revolution. Instead it is the competitive, militaristic talk of capitalists the world over. His bureaucracy was a capitalist class competing in the world economy.

Marx and Engels argued that capitalism creates its own “gravediggers”, the working class. If there was ever any doubt that the USSR – and then the Eastern European satellites it acquired after World War II – had nothing to do with human emancipation, workers’ power or socialism, the workers’ revolution in Hungary in 1956 proved it. They formed workers’ councils identical in form and content to the soviets of 39 years earlier before they were mowed down by Russian tanks. Then in 1980-81, Polish workers again formed soviets and almost took power before they were crushed by a brutal military coup. These revolutions illuminated the capitalist nature of the Stalinist states.

Finally, mass revolutionary movements brought the Stalinist monolith to its knees between 1989 and 1992. Unfortunately they only transformed state-run capitalism into private capitalism.


The Stalinist legacy of the Russian revolution

Perhaps the biggest lie of the twentieth century was that Stalinism was the inevitable outcome of the revolution. It was certainly an asset to capitalism as it provided a powerful argument against workers’ revolution.

And the Communist parties in the West played the role of representatives of a section of the world’s capitalist class – the ruling bureaucracy of the USSR. This was not easy to see because they talked of class struggle and built workers’ organisations. At times they led principled and important struggles to improve workers’ conditions. But they apologised for the horrors of Stalin’s atrocities, and again and again at significant turning points they convinced workers to compromise with their rulers rather than overthrow them. After all, the last thing the Stalinist rulers wanted was the example of workers’ revolution.

In China, Stalin’s strategy of collaboration with the nationalist Chiang Kai-shek resulted in the catastrophic defeat of the workers and peasants’ revolution of 1925-27. Chiang butchered thousands of Chinese Communist Party militants. This devastating defeat began a downward spiral away from revolutionary policies in the Communist International, in which Stalin exercised increasing influence.

In Germany the Communists allowed Hitler to come to power in 1933 without a fight rather than unite with reformist workers. In Spain in 1936 they helped the capitalists crush the workers’ revolution. They supported the establishment of Israel on Palestinian land.

In country after country, their influence led to defeats where there could have been victories. In Iraq in 1959, the Russian Stalinists instructed the Communist Party not to “destabilise” the nationalist government of Qassim. In return, seeing they could overthrow him, Qassim outlawed the ICP, jailing, torturing and murdering hundreds of its members.

Throughout the Third World, the confusion between communism and nationalism led to defeats and disarray. Brutal “Communist” regimes discredited the very concept of human liberation. And the fact that Cuba, Vietnam and China are still held up as examples of “socialism” keeps this dreadful tradition alive.


Trotsky, the true representative of 1917

Until his murder by a Stalinist agent in Mexico in 1940, Trotsky fought with every breath in his body to preserve the Marxist commitment to workers’ revolution and internationalism as the only basis for socialism. His millions of words written to discredit the Stalinist monolith are the true legacy of the revolution of 1917.

One of Trotsky’s central themes is the necessity to build genuine revolutionary organisations wherever we are. The fate of revolutions, and therefore of the whole of humanity, is not resolved within one nation’s borders. It depends on whether any successful revolution gets the support it needs internationally.

Workers around Europe fought bitterly to defend the only workers’ state in history and to prevent their governments sending troops to crush it. They rose up in their millions. But even brilliant revolutionaries like Rosa Luxemburg in Germany could not provide the necessary leadership without organisations steeled in workers’ struggles for years before the final showdown. The inexperience of the newly formed revolutionary parties was a key reason for the defeats which left the Russian revolution isolated.

Humanity is still paying for this defeat in the blood and sorrow meted out by capitalism. But the conditions of war, exploitation and misery that led to the revolutions of 1917 to 1923 bear down on workers everywhere. This time we need organisations with a commitment to the revolutionary ideas of Lenin and Trotsky built before the revolution. If we can overthrow this rotten system in this century, the tragedy of the Russian workers can still be avenged.

 This article, by Sandra Bloodworth, first appeared in Socialist Alternative in September 2006.


Write a comment