The third decade of the 21st century has opened with human society being thrown into an unprecedented crisis by the Corona Virus pandemic and the repeated lockdown of economic activity. Unemployment, indebtedness and poverty have reached unprecedented levels. While the majority of people have gone through untold suffering, the richest billionaires of the world have expanded their wealth faster than ever before. States that call themselves democratic have enacted laws and adopted policies that favour monopoly capitalist billionaires at the expense of the livelihood and rights of the working people.
What is the alternative to the existing capitalist-imperialist system and how can it be brought about? The 20th century provided a clear answer to this question. The Russian Revolution of 1917 and the creation of a socialist system in the Soviet Union established and demonstrated the alternative in theory and practice. It led to the liberation of one-sixth of the population of the world from the capitalist-imperialist system.
A new social system, a new kind of state power and political process came into being in the Soviet Union following the October Revolution. It was a political power committed to carry out the transition from capitalism to communism. It was qualitatively different from and superior to any political power that humanity had ever seen before.
The October Revolution in Russia was qualitatively different from the revolutions which had been witnessed in the 19th century in France and other European countries. Those earlier revolutions were bourgeois democratic revolutions, which led to the replacement of the rule of one minority exploiting class by the rule of another minority exploiting class. The October Revolution of 1917 led to the replacement of the rule of the bourgeoisie by the rule of the hitherto exploited majority, led by the proletariat. The proletariat was organised into Soviets, together with the peasants and soldiers. They were led by a vanguard communist party, headed by Lenin, which came to be known as the Communist Party of Soviet Union (Bolshevik).
It was an enormous uphill struggle for the new political power and system to survive and advance against the combined might of the capitalists of the world. The imperialist powers of the world repeatedly made one attempt after another to destroy the world’s first proletarian state and socialist system. They deployed armed aggression as well as internal subversion. They succeeded in diverting the Soviet leadership from the path of class struggle, starting with the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of Soviet Union in 1956. A process of degeneration began, resulting in the restoration of capitalism in various key sectors of the economy, while maintaining the façade of socialism. The resulting crises were exploited by the imperialists and their collaborators to completely destroy the Soviet Union in 1991.
During the past 30 years, the capitalists of the world have been repeating the assertion that there is no alternative to a market-oriented economy and multi-party representative democracy. However, life experience has repeatedly shown that an economic system oriented to maximise the private profits of capitalists cannot provide employment and secure livelihood for all. A political system in which rival parties of capitalist billionaires compete for the chance to run the government is a democracy only for the super-rich minority. It excludes the vast majority of people from the decision-making process.
The fact that the world’s first socialist state was destroyed by the forces of imperialism and reaction does not negate the importance of the lessons of the Soviet experience. Anyone who is seriously interested in finding the alternative to the present system must necessarily pay attention to the lessons of the Great October Revolution of 1917, the 104th anniversary of which falls on 7th November, 2021.
Great October Revolution
When the rule of the Russian Tsar was overthrown by a mass uprising in February 1917, an unusual situation prevailed, which Lenin called ‘dual power’. On one side was the provisional government representing the interests of the capitalist class, which wanted to prolong Russia’s involvement in the First World War. On the other side stood the workers, peasants and soldiers, organised in their Soviets of Deputies, striving for peace, land and bread.
A Soviet of Workers’ Deputies was a form of popular political organisation of industrial workers of a particular city or town. It was a council of tried and tested deputies of the working class, elected by the workers themselves, from among their peers. Workers had given birth to Soviets during a failed mass uprising in 1905. The idea of Soviets once again came to the fore in February 1917, during the revolutionary uprising that overthrew the Tsar. The Bolshevik Party led the effort to build and strengthen Soviets in as many parts of the country as possible.
The Bolshevik Party used the forum of the Soviets to convince the masses of people that none of their burning problems could be solved by the provisional bourgeois government. To guarantee peace, land and bread, it was essential for the workers, peasants and soldiers, organised in Soviets, to take political power in their hands. As a result of the persistent efforts of the Bolshevik Party, by October 1917, the majority of members of the Soviets had rallied around the call: All Power to the Soviets!
On 7th November, which was 25th October in the Russian calendar of that time, the revolutionary workers, soldiers and sailors stormed the Winter Palace and arrested the representatives of the capitalist government. They occupied the Ministries, the State Bank as well as the railway stations, post and telegraph offices.
The Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies began its proceedings at 10:40 pm on 7th November. It approved an Appeal to Workers, Soldiers and Peasants, declaring that the Congress of Soviets has taken political power into its hands. On 8th November, the Congress adopted a Decree on Peace, bringing to an end Russia’s participation in the First World War. It adopted a Decree on Land, which deprived the landlords of hundreds of crores of acres of cultivable land and turned them over to peasant committees.
Within the first few months, the Soviet state expropriated the big capitalists and converted large-scale industry, transport, banking and trade into social enterprises under public ownership. The production and distribution of all goods and services were brought under one single plan to fulfil the needs of all the people.
During the first ten years of its existence, the Soviet state inspired the toiling peasants to voluntarily pool their land and create large-scale collective farms. A new socialist economic system emerged, in which there was no exploitation, no unemployment, no inflation and no crises of any kind.
The Soviet state adopted special measures to liberate women from all forms of exploitation. It established ‘equal pay for equal work’ for women and men. Public canteens and child care facilities were developed to make it possible for women to participate in social production and in political and cultural affairs, on an equal footing with men.
The capitalist class and all its ideologues claim that the political system of “multi-party democracy” is superior to the Soviet system, which they call “one party dictatorship”. They spread the idea that the quality of a political system is judged by the number of parties which compete in the electoral process.
Whether a political system guarantees democracy for the masses of people or not is decided by who wields decision-making power in that system. In capitalist states which claim to be democratic, such as the USA, Britain and India, decision-making power is concentrated in a small clique of politicians who are entrusted by the wealthiest and most influential capitalists to rule on their behalf. People have no role except on polling day, when they are asked to vote for one or another candidate selected by the trusted parties of the capitalist class.
In the Soviet Union, the workers, soldiers and peasants selected and elected their deputies to serve in their Soviets, from the lowest to the highest level, including the members of the Supreme Soviet. Those elected were subject to recall by the electorate at any time. There was no division between ruling and opposition camps within the elected deputies. The elected body as a whole was responsible for taking legislative as well as executive decisions and for implementing all agreed-upon decisions.
The privileged and highly paid bureaucrats of the Tsarist state were replaced by civil servants who were paid nothing more than skilled workers. The parasitic Tsarist army was replaced by the Red Army, which had emerged and grown in the course of the revolutionary struggle to overthrow the exploiters.
In 1936, the Soviet people adopted a new Constitution. It recognised the fact that exploiting classes no longer existed as economic classes in Soviet society. Socialist construction had advanced to a stage when there were only the two friendly classes of workers and cooperativist peasants, and a stratum of people’s intelligentsia.
The 1936 Constitution is the most democratic and modern constitution that the world has seen so far. Apart from establishing universal adult franchise, it recognised the right of all voters to have a say in the selection of candidates. Elections held that year witnessed a prolonged and intensive process of candidate selection. All voters could express their opinions on the candidates who had been nominated. An elected Committee in every electoral constituency oversaw this process, leading to the selection of a shortlist of approved candidates. Only then did the final voting of the people’s deputy take place.
In calling the Soviet political system a “one party dictatorship”, the bourgeois spokesmen divert attention from the central point. The central point is that a small clique makes all the decisions in parliamentary and presidential systems in the capitalist countries whereas the toiling majority of people played a crucial role in the decision-making process in the Soviet system. The Communist Party provided the vision and the organised advanced consciousness to guide the people.
The deviation from Marxism-Leninism and scientific socialism which began with the 20th Congress of the Soviet Party in 1956 led to the elimination of the role of the people. Decision-making power was concentrated exclusively in the hands of a revisionist clique at the head of the Party and the State.
There is an inseparable link between the political system and the orientation of the economy. Who makes the decisions determines who gets to benefit from the economy and who does not. For the orientation of the economy to be changed, the nature of the political system has to be changed. Decision-making power has to be brought into the hands of the toiling majority of people.
There are some within the Indian communist movement who claim that the existing parliamentary system can be used in the interests of workers and peasants. They spread the harmful illusion that the existing state can be made to serve the interests of all classes. However, the daily experience of our workers, peasants and toiling masses confirms the Leninist conclusion that parliamentary democracy is a form of dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. No matter which party forms the government and which individuals become ministers, the rule of the bourgeoisie is secure.
The struggles of workers and peasants against the capitalist offensive is on the upsurge in our country today. The times are calling upon communists to build and strengthen the political unity of the working class, peasantry and all oppressed sections against capitalist rule, as the Bolsheviks did in their time. The struggle against the capitalist offensive must be waged with the aim of empowering the toiling masses of people and re-orienting the economy to fulfil their needs rather than fulfilling the greed of a minority of super-rich exploiters.