Cpb scotland Marxist Education What is Communism ? Class 4 Tuesday 8 October The Soviet Union: Lessons to be Learned British Road to Socialism

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CPB Scotland Marxist Education

What is Communism ? Class 4 Tuesday 8 October

The Soviet Union: Lessons to be Learned
British Road to Socialism (2011 edition)

During its near 70-year existence, the Soviet Union showed how socialist state power, planning and public ownership could transform society in the interests of the mass of the population.

The Bolsheviks and their allies took state power in Russia in 1917 and used it to withdraw from the imperialist war and defeat counter-revolutionary forces. Fourteen foreign armies, including those of Britain, the United States (US) and Poland, invaded Russia in 1918 to 'strangle Bolshevism in its cradle', in the words of Winston Churchill. This imperialist ambition to destroy Soviet power was to continue through most of the 20th century.

Nevertheless, Russia and the other countries of the Soviet Union were transformed from semi-feudal, semi-capitalist monarchist dictatorships into modern societies with near-full employment, universally free education and healthcare, affordable housing for all, extensive and cheap public transport, impressive scientific and cultural facilities, [equal] rights for women and degrees of self-government for formerly oppressed nationalities.

This was achieved through a world-historic break with capitalist ownership and social relations, on the basis of social ownership of industry and centralised economic planning.

But the struggle to survive and to build socialism in the face of powerful external as well as internal enemies also led to distortions in society that might otherwise have been avoided. In particular, a bureaucratic-command system of economic and political rule became entrenched. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the trade unions became integrated into the apparatus of the state, eroding working class and popular democracy. Marxism-Leninism was used dogmatically to justify the status quo rather than make objective assessments of it.

At times, and in the late 1930s in particular, severe violations of socialist democracy and law occurred. Large numbers of people innocent of subversion or sabotage were persecuted, imprisoned and executed. This aided the world-wide campaign of lies and distortions aimed at the Soviet Union, the international communist movement and the concept of socialism.

Yet central organisation and rapid, massive industrialisation enabled the Soviet Red Army to smash Hitler's war machine, halted the Nazi genocide and liberated much of Europe from fascism,

Following World War Two, the US Marshall Plan financed the rebuilding of capitalist economies in western Europe. The Soviet Union, with 26 million dead and much of its land and productive capacity destroyed, was left to its own devices.

The Soviets once again constructed a society of full employment, housing, public transport and high-quality health and education services for all. This same feat was accomplished in the newly socialist countries of war-ravaged eastern Europe, where the Soviet model of society was promoted in both its positive and negative aspects.

At the same time, the socialist countries launched programmes of solidarity with progressive and national liberation movements around the world that operated over three decades.

But under pressure from the arms race launched by the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the Soviet bureaucratic-command system was unable to utilise the full fruits of the scientific and technological revolution (STR) beyond the military, space and medical fields. From the mid-1970s, economic growth in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe began to fall behind that of the most advanced capitalist countries, notably Japan and West Germany. The ruling communist parties failed to counter the appeal of capitalist 'consumerism' materially and ideologically, as their own citizens [drew] made unfavourable comparisons that took no account of imperialism's super-exploitation of the Third World.

While women participated more extensively in politics, science, education and employment than their counterparts in capitalist society, they encountered limits to their promotion. Some professions lost their status as women came to predominate in them. National autonomy in party, state and cultural affairs was limited in practice by centralised [Russian] control.

The increasing failure to mobilise the party, the working class and the people to solve these and other economic, social and political problems led eventually to stagnation and political collapse in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, from 1989. Significantly, there were no mass movements to defend the socialist system against counter-revolution.

Programmatic Statement of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation 1993

A detailed analysis of the path traversed by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and its organisation in the Russian Republic is a task for the future. For the present we deem it necessary to state the following.

We evaluate the historic fate of the CPSU as great and tragic. This was the party that aroused the people to action in 1917, led the building of a new society, a strong multinational Soviet power – but could not avoid the distortion of the principles of socialist construction. This was the party of mass heroism that, together with the people, saved our socialist motherland from fascist slavery and revived the country from ruins – but at the same time became a prisoner of political demagoguery and adventurism and could not summon the necessary will power to call a spade a spade.

The mistake of the party was that it could not respond to the call of the times and lagged behind in understanding the socio-political and economic contradictions of our society and the tendencies of world development. This manifested itself in insufficient utilisation of the achievements of the world-wide technological revolution of the sixties and seventies, in dogmatism of official ideology and in unscrupulousness and political chicanery in the higher leadership of the party.

All this was alien to the people and to the very essence of the communist movement. Contradictions developing for many years and the manifestations of crisis in the life of the society were ignored in the activities of the party and were not subjected to an all-round analysis.

The underlying causes of what happened were first all

  • The non-realisation in practice of the economic potentialities of socialism. In conditions of technological revolution no new incentives were found for productive creative labour. And because of this, the social and cultural needs of the people were not satisfied. Growing formalism led to a rupture between social practice and the basic ideas of socialist construction

  • The inconsistent application of the Leninist idea of federalism in conditions of a multinational state. Optimum relations between organs of power in the Union and republics and nations were not found in time

  • The bureaucratisation of the Soviets as a result of which they ceased to be the most democratic form of the power of the working people

  • A faulty policy in relation to the development of the party membership which caused immense harm. The highest posts in the party and the state were occupied by people who turned traitors to the cause of socialism and took the road of betrayal to the Soviet cause

The degeneration of the CPSU started with the birth of the party elite. Abuse of power and double standards became hallmarks of the party bureaucracy from top to bottom. Amidst the people and among ordinary party members they gave birth to political apathy and lack of faith in the creative power of socialism.

All this led to a deep internal crisis. Anti-socialist, anti-state forces strongly supported by influential circles abroad did not delay in utilising it. .. The reins of power were grabbed by externally controlled sections intent on restoring capitalism in its more primitive, barbarian forms.

Stalin, Economic Problems of the USSR , 1951


Yuri Andropov, The Teachings of Karl Marx and some questions of building socialism in the USSR, 1982

Some dates

1922 USSR formed out of constituent soviet republics; Stalin becomes Gen Sec of CPSU

1924 Lenin dies; collective leadership of Stalin, Kamenev and Zinoviev; Stalin sole leader by 1927

1928 First Five Year Plan: collectivisation of agric; priority industrialisation; state planning

1933 Second Five Year Plan: heavy industry as basis for armaments tio defeat Nazi Germany

1941 German invasion; 27 million killed; Soviets lead advance to Berlin; 80 per cent of German casualties on Eastern Front

1953 Stalin dies; Khrushchev emerges as leader; 1956 denunciation of Stalin at 20th Congress

1962 Sino-Soviet split

1964 Khrushchev replaced by collective leadership of Brezhnev, Podgorny and Kosygin; 1966 Gagarin first man in space

1982 Yuri Andropov new general sec; followed by Chernenko 1984 and Gorbachev 1985

1986 Perestroika and Glasnost policies announced; December 1987 right-wing Perestroika faction wins in Politbureau and starts to dismantle state planning; 1990 left-wing regains some leadership positions; 1991 right-wing counter-attacks with 500 day programme of transition to full market; left-wing forms Emergency Committee but defeated by Yeltzin who controlled military forces in Moscow.


Divide into groups 20 minutes

1. What were the long-term achievements of the Soviet Union and how far does its legacy still remain with us today?

10 minute report back
Full group discussion (30 minutes)

2. Is socialism in one country impossible ? How far were the distortions of socialist and party democracy inevitable ?
Full group discussion (30 minutes)

3. What lessons should be drawn ?

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