The birth of the Soviet Union following the 1917 October Revolution in Russia brought about a qualitative change in the international situation. The new Soviet state and the socialist system it defended became the aspiration and source of inspiration for the peoples of the whole world. The agenda of the working class occupied the centre-stage of political discourse. Even spokesmen of the capitalist class had to pretend that they are for some form of socialism.
The disintegration of the Soviet Union in December 1991 brought about an abrupt change of an opposite kind. It was not in the direction of progress. It was a change in the direction of retrogression.
The imperialists used the collapse of the Soviet Union to push the working class and socialism out of the centre-stage of politics. For the past 30 years, the imperialists have been asserting that there is no alternative to capitalism and multi-party representative democracy.
Globalisation, liberalisation, privatisation and regular multi-party elections have been proclaimed to be the only course to be followed by all countries. Today, this course has been exposed as nothing but a ferocious offensive by monopoly capitalists and governments in their service. Multi-party representative democracy is highly discredited in the very countries of its origin. It stands exposed as a mechanism for monopoly capitalists to impose their will on society, by excluding the vast majority of people from decision-making power.
The working class and oppressed peoples of the world want an end to imperialist wars. They want an end to the crisis-ridden and highly destructive capitalist system. They want democracy to mean more than just voting for one or another candidate selected by vested interests. They are refusing to accept that “there is no alternative”. People all over the world are yearning for an alternative.
As the harmful consequences of capitalism on the working class and small-scale producers became evident in Europe in the 19th century, various schools of socialist thought emerged. There were individuals who dreamed of a social system where there will be no exploitation, no unemployment, poverty or periodic crises. Some well-meaning individuals even tried to implement socialist principles in individual enterprises which they owned. However, socialism remained an unrealistic utopia until Karl Marx gave birth to the theory of scientific socialism.
Marx showed that the alternative to capitalism has to be a system in which the means of production have been converted from being the private property of capitalists into the social property of the working people. That will bring the relations of production in line with the highly socialised productive forces. It will thereby put an end to periodic crises and other ills of capitalism such as unemployment. It will eliminate the economic basis for the existence of a class which accumulates private wealth through exploitation and robbery of other classes.
Marx identified the proletariat as the class which has both the interest and the capacity to lead the struggle for revolution and socialism. He concluded that the first and essential step is for the proletariat to capture political power and become the ruling class.
Working class parties had emerged in many countries of Europe in the 19th century. By the beginning of the 20th century, capitalism had developed to the stage of imperialism, a worldwide system of exploitation and plunder to fulfil monopoly capitalist greed. Lenin analysed the changes that had taken place and concluded that this was the highest and final stage of capitalism, when all its contradictions come to a head. Proletarian revolution was no longer a future prospect, but a problem to be taken up for solution. The proletariat needed to have at its head a vanguard party which would lead it to victory in the revolution, in establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat and constructing socialism. Lenin led the struggle to build the Bolshevik party as such a party.
The 1917 revolution in Russia and the creation of the Soviet Union confirmed the validity of the teachings of Marx and Lenin. The proletariat captured political power in relatively backward Russia, in alliance with the peasants and all other oppressed peoples. Guided by Marxism-Leninism, the new Soviet power succeeded in converting the means of large-scale production into social property. Over time, it also succeeded in converting the small-scale property of individual peasants into the collective property of peasant cooperatives, through a process of voluntary pooling of land by individual peasant cultivators.
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was a new kind of state, a superior system of democracy. It was a voluntary union of numerous nations and peoples who had formerly been oppressed in the Tsarist empire. The Constitution recognised the right of every constituent nation to self-determination, including the right to secede from the union. Workers, peasants and soldiers, organised in their soviets, elected their deputies to all the legislative bodies. They elected the members of legislative bodies at the local and national republic level as well as members of the Supreme Soviet, the highest decision-making body in the country. They enjoyed the right to recall the one they had elected at any time. Women had equal political rights as men, including the right to elect and be elected.
The Soviet Union emerged as the liberated base area of the international proletariat in its struggle against the bourgeoisie. It emerged as the most reliable support for all the oppressed nations and peoples in their struggle against imperialism.
By the mid-1930s, the first stage of construction of socialist society was in the main completed. Exploiting classes of capitalists and landlords no longer existed as classes. Recognising the change in the class composition of society and in the stage of its development, the Communist Party led a process of wide discussion among the people, leading to the adoption of a new Constitution.
The 1936 Constitution of the USSR not only established universal adult franchise but also introduced provisions for greatly enhancing the role of the broad masses of people in the political process. It guaranteed the right of people to select the candidates for election, from among those nominated by mass organisations of workers, cooperative peasants, women and youth. Further development along the lines envisaged in the 1936 Constitution was prevented by the outbreak of the Second World War (1939-45).
The Soviet Union’s principled position in international affairs, unconditional support to the struggles of all nations and peoples against imperialism, and its leadership of the struggle against fascism won the respect and admiration of all peace-loving peoples.
Deviation, Degeneration and Disintegration
Why did the socialist system and soviet democracy, which was clearly superior to capitalism and its representative democracy, get destroyed? The root cause lies in the deviation from the path of proletarian class struggle by the new leadership of the Communist Party of Soviet Union (CPSU) following the death of JV Stalin.
All the advances on the road of socialism had been achieved through a protracted, consistent and persistent struggle waged by the working class and its allies, led by the vanguard communist party of Lenin and Stalin. The struggle was directed against both external and internal enemies of the revolution and socialism. The Soviet state protected the interests of the working people from these enemies. The Communist Party led the ideological struggle against all ideas and tendencies promoted by the bourgeoisie in order to destroy socialism.
In the 1950’s, following the period of post war reconstruction, Soviet society faced new challenges. There was need for the uninterrupted revolutionising of the relations of production, that is raising the role of the masses in the running of the economy, politics and culture. Revolutionary theory had to be brought on par with the problems faced by the economy, politics and culture. In the sphere of economic theory, there was need to put the role of the working people in the first place in determining everything in the realm of production, including distribution. In the sphere of political theory, there was need to revolutionise the political mechanism so that people could directly participate in governing themselves. In the sphere of philosophy, there was need to ensure that the human factor and consciousness played leading role in all developments.
Instead of addressing these problems, the new party leadership headed by Khrushchev launched a ferocious attack on the person of Joseph Stalin. In a so-called Secret Report presented to the delegates of other communist parties at the 20th Congress of CPSU held in 1956, Khrushchev repeated all the lies that the Anglo-American imperialist propaganda machine had concocted to present Stalin as an evil dictator.
The attack on the personality of Stalin served to cover up the dangerous deviation from the theory of scientific socialism and the path of proletarian class struggle. It was used to undermine all the achievements of socialism and pave the way for capitalist restoration. The new Soviet leadership declared that there was no longer any need for class struggle in Soviet society. Khrushchev declared that the Communist Party of Soviet Union was no longer a party of the proletariat but a “party of the whole people”. He declared that the Soviet state was no longer a dictatorship of the proletariat but a “state of the whole people”.
According to Marxist-Leninist theory, the class struggle against capitalism and the bourgeoisie continues all the way until the final victory of communism is achieved on the world scale. Until then, the vanguard communist party must strengthen and elevate to ever higher levels its leading role in the class struggle. The state of the dictatorship of the proletariat must be strengthened through ever higher levels of participation of broad masses of working people in managing state affairs.
In complete opposition to this scientific theory, the CPSU headed by Khrushchev spread the notion that proletarian class struggle was no longer on the agenda. This served to lull the people to sleep while the newly emerging bourgeois class organised to usurp political power. From the higher echelons of the party and the state, there emerged those who used their position to accumulate private wealth.
From being the vanguard of the proletariat in its struggle for communism, the CPSU was transformed into a party of the bourgeoisie. The Soviet state became transformed from the dictatorship of the proletariat into a dictatorship of the new bourgeoisie.
As all economic decisions were geared towards the arms race with the USA and towards enriching the new bourgeoisie, severe shortages of food and other essential articles began to emerge in the 1960s. Unemployment and a black market for consumer goods emerged. All the evils of the capitalist system reappeared, including poverty and prostitution.
By the end of the 1960s, the Soviet Union had emerged as a social-imperialist state, spouting socialism in words to hide its imperialist character. Soviet troops invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia in 1968. They invaded and occupied Afghanistan in 1979.
Throughout the decade of the 1970s, international politics was completely dominated by the inter-imperialist contention and collusion between the two superpowers – US imperialism and Soviet social-imperialism. Each superpower justified its unjust aggressive actions by pointing to the other as the main enemy of the world’s people.
The Soviet people’s discontent grew to unprecedented levels by the middle of the 1980s. The war in Afghanistan had drained the Soviet state’s financial resources and further aggravated the economic problems of the working people. The Anglo-American imperialists took advantage of these problems to advance their agenda of destroying the last vestiges of socialism and the Soviet state. They extended all-sided support to Gorbachev, who launched capitalist reforms in the name of addressing the economic problems of the people. Political reforms were implemented towards promoting multi-party elections and a presidential system of capitalist democracy.
While extending support to Gorbachev, the US imperialists also organised to replace him, at a suitable time, with an openly anti-communist crusader called Yeltsin, to oversee the complete disintegration of the Soviet Union. On 25th December, the red flag with hammer and sickle was lowered from the top of the Kremlin in Moscow.
The spokesmen and ideologues of the existing imperialist system use the fall of the Soviet Union to declare that “Red is dead”, as if there is nothing further to analyse. They do not want people to make a serious study of the causes for the rise and fall of the Soviet Union because they do not want people to seek the real alternative to the imperialist system.
A careful analysis of the developments in the Soviet Union leads to the conclusion that it is the betrayal of Marxism Leninism by the Communist Party of Soviet Union which led to the destruction of socialism and to the ultimate disintegration of the Soviet Union. Deviation from the path of proletarian class struggle led to the restoration of capitalist economic relations and the conversion of the Soviet Union from a socialist state into a social-imperialist state. It is that exploitative and oppressive system and state which fell deeper and deeper into crisis and ultimately disintegrated in December 1991.
Scientific socialism remains the only real alternative to the crisis-ridden capitalist system. The present situation demands that communists must defend and further develop the science of Marxism-Leninism, in the course of waging an uncompromising struggle against all those who advocate deviating from scientific socialism and the path of proletarian class struggle.