Sunday, 10 November 2013

The 96th anniversary of the October Revolution

One of the most famous events in history the October revolution is something many socialists look towards for inspiration but while we celebrate its anniversary we should also be wary and look to learn the lessons of why it ultimately did not lead to full communism. The Soviet Union still matters. Though it passed into history in August 1991, the Soviet Union casts a distinct shadow. Indeed it is impossible to understand contemporary capitalism - that is, capitalism in the 20th and 21st centuries - unless you understand the USSR. The welfare state, Keynesianism, the mixed economy, state regulation, the promotion of bourgeois democracy as a universal elixir - all were, in their various ways, a response to the Soviet Union. Not merely the Soviet Union as a superpower with its 15 constituent republics, 10 time zones and Moscow capital. But crucially the manner of its birth. The October 25 1917 Bolshevik uprising shook the word (November 7, according to our Gregorian calendar). Since then capitalism has been managing its historic decline. The policy of forced collectivisation and rapid industrialisation post 1917 and the affect it had on those who had survived the First World War lead to some very tough conditions on the ground. I do think the end of the soviets and the workers councils was a huge factor in the counter revolution which took place post 1917. I am reminded that democracy is key to any revolution and for socialism we need democracy the removal of the soviets as bodies of workers who were subject to recall and no special privileges was a big blow to the revolution. When power was transferred from the soviets to the centralised party structure of the communist party which lead to a move to the right and a lack of democracy ensued. What about Trotsky? Was the Soviet Union a degenerate workers’ state in the 1930s? Surely not. The last shreds of democracy had long been discarded, trade unions operated as a transmission belt for the regime, living standards were being mercilessly forced down, police spying was ubiquitous and the purges were in full swing. Millions were to perish. Add to that the ignominious collapse in 1991 and Trotsky’s theory is surely impossible to sustain. Of course, Trotsky lacked the mass of reliable information we can now access. Moreover, he was assassinated in 1940. There is no reason to believe, however, that he would have stuck to what he called a “provisional” designation had he lived. Indeed Trotsky declared he open to the idea that the Soviet Union could evolve towards an altogether new kind of exploitative social formation. Nevertheless, there are all manner of epigones who, speaking in his name, dogmatically insist that the USSR was a workers’ state right up till 1991 (some even bizarrely argue that it was a workers’ state under Yeltsin). Displaying complete theoretical bankruptcy, they equate a workers’ state or/and socialism with nationalisation. A position which owes everything to clause-four Fabianism Centralisation of the means of production in a few hands of a party is not socialism and is nothing near workers control. For full workers control we need workers participation in democracy if a party instructs what is to be done from the top down this is not democratic or desirable in any shape or form. The soviets and the workers councils were the most democratic form of o organisation and I do think we have to look back at their role in the early days of the Russian revolution for their usefulness today and going forward. When Stalin smashed the soviets and centralised power in his own hands and with the party this was the beginning of the end for the revolution in my opinion. We must not allow for power to be held in such few hands. I do think workers should remain in control and a party has its own interests in keeping power so I’m not convinced a party is necessary to maintain power. An organisation is key but a centralised party with hierarchical structures and a party who is looking to create a society in its own image I am not sure is the way to go in future.

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