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Editorial: What Socialism is Really About

Prior to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, there was an understanding among many workers, that socialism was a society of common ownership of the means of living where the state, money and national frontiers would be rendered obsolete, and that it could be established peacefully and democratically.

That all changed after the Bolsheviks seized power. The Bolshevik leaders understood that socialism could only be achieved worldwide and hoped that the revolution would spread to the West. Lenin admitted that what existed in the new Soviet state was really state capitalism. After the failure of similar uprisings in Europe, their hopes were dashed. Stalin, as the new Soviet leader, came to terms with this reality by promulgating the theory of ‘Socialism in One Country’ to describe the regime.

Therefore, the prevailing view of socialism was no longer a world society of human cooperation and freedom, but a state capitalist dictatorship imposed on its population. It would not be brought about by a socialist, conscious working class but by a vanguard party leading the working class through a violent uprising. ‘Communist’ parties were formed worldwide and had become mouthpieces of the new regime and were influential in the trade unions and had some electoral success in countries such as France and Italy. This allowed governments and employers to claim that the ‘Communists’ were behind many strikes and other manifestations of working class discontent. One example was that during the 1966 seamen's strike, Harold Wilson, the Labour Prime Minister, alleged that the latter had been taken over by the ‘Communists’.  Trotskyist and Maoist groups, although critical of the Soviet regime, still defended state capitalism in the guise of ‘socialism’ and the tactic of a vanguard party leading the working class to revolution.

However, events like the violent suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion in 1921, the Stalinist purges in the 1930s, the crushing of the Hungarian uprising in 1956, the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the existence of prison camps in Siberia exposed the oppressive nature of the Soviet regime, where workers lacked trade union and other rights.

Not only was the USSR a political dictatorship, its economy was falling behind those of the Western countries too, and the living standards of its workers were low in comparison to Western workers. When the USSR finally collapsed, supporters of private-enterprise capitalism were not slow in proclaiming that not only had socialism been oppressive and economically inefficient, but that it no longer worked and that there was no alternative to the free market. Unfortunately, this tenet has defined global politics for at least the last quarter of a century. Many workers who looked for radical change became disillusioned and either dropped out of politics altogether or settled for more mainstream reformist parties.

Needless to say, this has all made it rather more difficult for the Socialist Party to get our message across. However, capitalism always throws up social problems for the working class, and therefore it draws workers into political action. We are confident that more workers will come to see through the fiction that the USSR was ever a ‘socialist state’ and come to understand what socialism is really about.