Letters: Islands of socialism?

Dear Socialist Party,

I’m a big fan of yours. I used to be a liberal, but you guys have opened my eyes and I would like to thank you for that. I have realized that the only solution to our problems and the way to a better life for all is through socialism. But, having read the replies under your tweets, I’m aware there is still a long road ahead.

However, there’s also something else that I’d like to address: what do you guys think of the Free Territory of Ukraine that existed from 1918 to 1921? Was that a real example of socialism working? They had no top down control (only a defensive military, which was needed considering they were under threat from all sides); they had collective property; lived in communes; used no money in most parts, and the parts that did use money were planning on abolishing it soon, and not to forget, they had working co-ops and direct democracy. They were quite successful and would have achieved more had the Bolsheviks not invaded them.

There have been other attempts to anarchism as well.

So would you say this was a real and good example of socialism working? If yes, why don’t you mention this in your tweets against all the ignorant people who ask ‘when has socialism ever worked’. Of course you would mention that in the future, socialism would have to be enacted on a larger scale, but this is as close as it gets out of all real life attempts so far, in my opinion.

Greetings from the Netherlands,

Tamee Gözübüyük


Thanks for your supportive remarks. It’s nice to feel appreciated. You make some interesting points and we agree that the story of Nestor Makhno and the Makhnovists deserves to be better known, especially as it is a good example of something which leftists often tend to gloss over.

Leninists usually excuse the top-down, authoritarian structure of the Bolshevik regime, as well as its murderous excesses, by saying that ‘there was a war on’. But that war didn’t stop the Makhnovists, who were under attack from both the White Army and the Bolshevik Red Army, from , as you say, trying to set up an egalitarian social system, although given the constraints they were operating under, whether we could call this ‘socialism working’ is somewhat debatable.

What it does show is that the Leninist justification is meaningless, and that the main reason Bolsheviks employed authoritarian repression was because that is the nature and mentality of Leninism. This vanguardist mentality is one of the things that makes Leninism quite different from the socialism/communism that Marx and Engels understood, and that we

Nestor Makhno


Ultimately the anarchist endeavour was defeated by armed force, and the same can be said of other famous attempts to establish such libertarian communities within capitalism, such as the 1871 Paris Commune. Such ‘islands’ will always be swamped by capitalism as long it remains globally dominant.

When we talk about socialism we mean a worldwide sustainable society of common ownership, with no leaders, so by our global definition socialism has never existed before. Temporary or small-scale experiments have certainly occurred at different times in history, but we tend to question their usefulness in convincing anyone of the viability of socialism. If anything, the very fact that they didn’t last long can be trumpeted as proof that socialism is not viable. Of course it’s not proof of any such thing, but neither is it proof that socialism could work long-term. Besides, not everyone finds such obscure historical debates either attractive or relatable. Perhaps what such attempts do show, however, is that the human desire for social equality, real democracy, free access and so on is very real and very strong, and the fact that people have acted on that desire in the past is a very good reason to think they will act on it again in the future, next time we hope with happier results. –Editors.