By Ian Patrick Beddowes*.
Source: "Vanguard", Organ of the NST of the Zimbabwe Communist Party, Vol. 2, No.3, 4th November 2017.
This year we celebrate the centenary of the Great October Socialist Revolution which took place in Russia on 25th October 1917 (Old Style) 7th November 1917 (New Style). To all those familiar with historical materialism, this is the single most important event in human history.
Because it represents the not only the first major step in the movement away from capitalism and the dawn of socialism, it was also the first step away from class society towards non-class society.
Human beings of the species Homo Sapiens have been in existence for ± 250,000 years. For most of that time we have been living in various stages of primitive communism, of non-class society. The emergence of class society emerged only about 10,000 years ago concurrent with the rise of civilisation. Even then, for most of the subsequent period, those living within a class society were a minority of the world’s population.
The young Marx and Engels in the Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848) said famously:
“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848) MECW Vol.6 p.482
to which the mature Engels, in a later footnote to a later edition, added
“That is, all written history...”
Frederick Engels, Footnote to English Edition of Manifesto of the Communist Party (1888) MECW Vol.6 p.482.
Engels and Stalin talk about 5 main modes of production, italicising the word ‘main’: these are: primitive communism, slave society, feudalism, capitalism and socialism; to these categories is often added the Asiatic mode of production used in ancient Mesopotamia (Iraq and Eastern Turkey) which is described by Marx. Only the first and the last are categories of non-class society.
When these writers talk about “main modes of production” they are recognising that within these main modes there have been variations — quite considerable ones — and that between these main modes there have been transitional forms. If we read Engels and if we study real history, we see that class struggle produces both revolution and counter-revolution, we see also that although one mode of production becomes dominant, that older modes still continue and also that new modes start to take shape, to emerge from the bosom of the old. Or as Lenin says in a number of places: “History does not move in a straight line: it zig-zags.”
We hear from some uneducated people that “Communism was tried and failed”. What a wealth of ignorance there is in that brief statement!
Firstly: COMMUNISM HAS NEVER BEEN TRIED. This is not because people do not want to try communism but because the social and economic conditions for the advance to communism do not yet exist. Since the time of Marx and Engels, communists have always been clear that there will be two stages, the first stage, which we now refer to as ‘Socialism’ will be “stamped with the birth-marks of the old society from whose womb it emerges”.
Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875) MECW Vol.24 p.85.
‘Communism’ is the second stage which can only emerge after the worldwide defeat of capitalism in its imperialist stage and after the socialist mode of production becomes predominant in most countries. The process will inevitably stretch across an entire historical epoch. The alternative, of course, is for the majority to accept increasing impoverishment while a tiny élite basks in luxury and conspicuous consumption.
Thus we talk about the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (not ‘Communist Republics’) because as communists our analysis is not based on idealistic fantasy but on material reality. In fact, the concrete experience of the organising economies following the political independence of former colonies from the imperialist centre has shown us that, prior to even the building of socialism, it is, in most cases, necessary to build national democratic economies autonomous from imperialist control as an intermediate stage.
Secondly: Socialism in the USSR was immensely successful! It did not fail. In a few years a country the size of the whole of sub-Saharan Africa — a country in which the majority of people were peasants just as primitive in their production methods and as superstitious in their ideas as their African counterparts — was, under Communist leadership, propelled from the middle-ages into the 20th century. Even before the Civil War (1917-1922) was over, Lenin and the Communist technician Gleb Krzhizhanovsky (1872-1959) launched a plan for the electrification of the whole country; starting in 1920, it was completed in 1932. Industrial growth rates during the 1930s averaged 16% per annum and electrical generation more than doubled from the 1932 level. The living standards of the people advanced with the growth of production.
Then in 1941, came the German Nazi invasion which had the explicit intention of exterminating a large section of the Soviet people and enslaving others to make way for German settlement. By the time of the invasion the Soviet Union was building bigger and better tanks than Germany. These tanks were wholly designed and built by the Soviet people to Soviet designs using Soviet steel smelted with Soviet coal. This war is known to us as the Second World War or World War II and to the Soviet people as the Great Patriotic War. Although other nations participated in the Second World War, it was the Red Army of the Soviet Union which engaged 70% of the German Army and defeated it, most spectacularly at Stalingrad in 1942, the biggest battle in human history and again at Kursk in 1943, the biggest tank battle in human history. It was the Red Army which took Berlin on 2nd May 1945, forcing Hitler to commit suicide.
Despite the devastation of such a huge swathe of Soviet territory and the loss of at least 20 million citizens, the Soviet Union rapidly reconstructed only to be faced with the Cold War — the isolation of the Soviet Union and its allies by the USA and its satellites. After the Chinese Communist victory of 1949, the Soviets gave immense assistance to help China industrialise. In 1959 the USSR backed the Cuban revolution against US aggression and began giving massive aid to the African liberation movements without asking for anything in return.
True, by 1991 counter-revolutionary forces both internal and external as well as errors by the Soviet leadership created the conditions for the overthrow of Soviet power.
But did that lead to an improvement of the living conditions of the people of the former Soviet Republics?
No it did not.
Has this led to an improvement of the living standards and the reduction of war globally?
No it has not.
The conquest if state power by the working-class in Russia in 1917 not only immensely improved the living standards of the people who had previously lived in the backward Russian Empire but created the basis for successful socialist and national liberation struggles elsewhere, including Africa, including Zimbabwe. Soviet socialism was immensely successful.
Thirdly: the socialism of the Soviet Union was not produced from some kind of one-size-fits-all utopian ideal but had of necessity to fit the time and place. Anyone who has read the article Land Reform in the USSR in the August 2017 issue of Vanguard will realise that the land reform was a response to the conditions of the time and that in carrying it out, the traditional Russian co-operative known as the ‘artel’ gave it a form understood by the people.
Neither socialism nor capitalism can be built according to rigid formulas — in fact one of the disturbing features of the current era is the idealisation of the ‘Free Market’ which has pervaded the thinking of Western ‘economists’ since the 1980s and has led to the introduction of devastating ‘economic structural adjustment programmes’ now rejected even by such prominent bourgeois economists as Joseph Stiglitz, former head of the World Bank and former Harvard Business School lecturer David C. Korten.
It should be further noted that the ‘Free Market’ ideal has not been rejected by any of our leading Zimbabwean politicians, either in the ruling party or the or the ‘opposition’. As the great African writer, Frantz Fanon noted in his famous book The Wretched of the Earth in 1961:
“This economy has always developed outside the limits of their knowledge. They have nothing more than an approximate, bookish acquaintance with the actual and potential resources of their country’s soil and mineral deposits; and therefore they can only speak of these resources on a general and abstract plane.”
In terms of the socialism of the 20th century: we value and defend the pioneering work of the Soviet Union in which socialism was successfully built under the most appallingly difficult conditions. But although we have to learn from both the successes and the failures of our heroic predecessors, we have no intention of trying to mechanically reproduce the socialism of the USSR which began 100 years ago in 21st century Zimbabwe!
It is under the conditions of economic collapse that the Zimbabwe Communist Party calls for a National Dialogue for economic reconstruction.
In Zimbabwe, the ZCP has picked up the mantle of Marxism-Leninism hastily dropped by the bourgeois nationalist political leadership soon after they achieved National Independence and is simultaneously the Zimbabwean section of the worldwide communist movement started by Marx and Engels in 1848 and which launched itself as a serious world force in Petrograd in 1917.
A Luta Continua!
Without Revolutionary Theory there can be No Revolutionary Movement!
Viva Socialism! Viva!
iSando le Sikele!
Sando ne Sikere!
* Editor of the "Vanguard".