Eighty years ago the working class, the wage slaves of Russia, rose in rebellion and seized state power there. They decided to try and build a society free from exploitation, a society in which the full, free development of each and every individual would be possible — a socialist society.
Having seized power, they held it in a long conflict with the old possessing and exploiting classes and their foreign allies. No less than 14 states invaded. The Russian workers acted as they did in the belief that they were only going on ahead, and that the working people of the more advanced countries of Europe would soon do as they did.
A year later, the workers of Germany rose and threw out their emperor, the Kaiser. But right-wing socialist leaders held control of the situation. They made peace with German capitalism. They killed the Communist workers’ leaders, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. Unwittingly they thus laid the foundations for the eventual rise of the Hitler fascists.
The victorious Russian workers were and would remain isolated in conditions too backward for socialism. A new bureaucracy, led by Stalin, seized power from the workers and, over time, set up a savage system of totalitarian slavery for the peoples of Russia. This for reasons of their own, they continued to call “socialism” and communism.
Their system was carried on Russian bayonets to the countries of Eastern Europe and duplicated by Stalinist-led peasant armies in China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and other countries. A sort of Stalinism exists today in China, Cuba, Vietnam. It was overthrown in Russia and Eastern Europe almost a decade ago.
But, although Stalinism in Europe is dead and rotten as a system, elements of Stalinism continue to exist: it is in the interests of our bourgeois ruling class that they should exist. What still exists of Russian Stalinism? The gross Stalinist lie that Stalinism was Bolshevism and that Stalinist Russia was socialism. The lies of the Stalinists, about themselves and about socialism, are today preserved in the anti-socialist propaganda and mythology of the bourgeoisie. Stalinism was socialism, they insist. Stalinism was Marxism come to life. Stalinism invalidates the case for socialism.
In point of historical fact, Stalinism was the opposite of Bolshevism and of socialism. Stalin’s “Communist” gangsters killed more socialists, Communists and Marxists than did Hitler’s fascist gangsters. Stalinism destroyed labour movements. Stalinism systematically falsified and bowdlerised the key ideas of Marxism.
Serious scholars know all this. But, like the Stalinists before them, the propagandists of capitalism — including New Labour’s leaders, quite of few of whom are ex-Stalinists — are not interested in truth.
The central truth about the Bolsheviks is that they led the greatest liberating, people-empowering revolution in all history. That the Bolsheviks were defeated, that they “failed”, is a matter of history. That they bore any responsibility for Stalinism — which in its rise butchered nearly all of them — is a foul lie. Socialists who do not understand that and explain it to a new generation of socialists will never be able to get their political bearings in the post-Stalinist world.
For ourselves, as Marxists we evaluate everything, including ourselves, and the history of socialism and the working class, critically. But we are proud to affirm our commitment to the memory of the October revolution and proud to proclaim our affinity with those who made, led, and fought for it.