Socialism is Much Better Than Capitalism and Communism Will Be A Far Better World

The Soviet Experiment: The Social Revolution Ushered in by Proletarian Power

Revolution #28, December 26, 2005, posted at

From 1917 until the early 1950s, the Soviet Union was either fighting wars, preparing for wars, or dealing with the aftermath of war. No other modern state has endured this kind of perpetual ordeal. And this profoundly conditioned the development of the revolution, the policy choices made by its leadership, and the struggles in society and the struggles within the Party leadership.

It would be nice to be able to build a new society in ideal conditions. But the oppressed and their revolutionary leadership do not get to choose the larger circumstances in which they find themselves. Russia was a backward country. It was only a generation out of serfdom. The Russian Revolution was a mass phenomenon, and it drew support from the peasants. But the fact remained: an urban-based revolution had taken place in a peasant country. The revolution was confronted with the need to win the peasants and extend the revolution to the countryside. It faced backward social movements in society. This was not a polite PTA meeting. This was a society wracked by war; it was a society on a road of transformation where no one had gone before.

By 1918, reactionary political and military forces were mounting a counterrevolution to restore the old order. Seventeen countries, including the United States, which landed troops in Siberia, put together an army of intervention to aid the counterrevolution. The Bolsheviks took over a war economy on the verge of collapse and led the masses to defend and advance the revolution. The revolution achieved victory in the civil war. But this came at great cost--war casualties, disease, and economic dislocation.

The new proletarian state was fighting for its life. A social revolution was fighting for its life.

The anti-communist histories slander the Bolshevik Revolution and the communist project as a primal obsession with power. The codeword is "totalitarianism." Communists, we are told, seek to establish total control over a docile population. But lets look at what this new class power was actually used for.

Emancipating Women

The dictatorship of the proletariat was used to overcome the oppression of women. In 1918, a new marriage law turned marriage into a civil ceremony. In the old society, marriage had to be sanctioned by the church. Divorce was made easy to secure. Men were legally stripped of their authority over wives and children. Adultery was dropped as a criminal offense. Women now received equal pay in jobs. Maternity hospital care was provided free. And in 1920, the Soviet Union became the first country in modern Europe to make abortion legal. In the newspapers and schools there was lively debate about sex roles, marriage, and family. Science fiction novels imagined new social relations.

Old oppressive and patriarchal customs were criticized and challenged. In the new republics of Central Asia, women were encouraged and able to cast off the veil that had been forced on them for generations. Rather than being held down by family, church, and the state, women were now empowered to fight for their emancipation. Think about the significance of all this when we look at the state of the world today. No society up to that point had ever tried to transform its gender system so completely.

Overcoming the Oppression of Minority Peoples

This new proletarian power was used to overcome the oppression of minority peoples. The Bolshevik revolution created the worlds first multinational state based on equality of nationalities. The new socialist state recognized the right of self-determination for the former oppressed nations of the old Tsarist empire. In a 1917 decree, all minority nationalities were granted the right to instruction in native languages in all schools and universities.

The determination to address problems was real, as were the measures taken. For instance, many minority nationalities with non-written languages were supplied with alphabets. The Soviet state devoted considerable resources to the mass production of books, journals, newspapers, movies, folk music ensembles, and museums in the minority regions. The nationalities policy called for indigenous leadership in the new national territories--not outside Russian administrators. And party leaders and government, school, and enterprise administrators were trained from among the oppressed nationalities. The Russians had long been the dominant and oppressor nationality. Now Russian territory was being assigned to non-Russian republics; now Russians were asked to learn non-Russian languages. The persecution of the Jews was ended. This spirit of combating national oppression permeated the early Soviet Union. It was one of the defining features of the new society and state.

The new Soviet state launched national educational and health campaigns. No country in the period between World War 1 and World War 2 matched the Soviet Unions increase in the ratio of doctors to population. The literacy rate rose from 30 percent to over 80 percent in 1939.

At the time, where else in the world were things like this happening? Nowhere. But we know what the situation was in the United States. Segregation was the law of the land. Jim Crow was in full effect. When Paul Robeson, the great African-American actor, singer, and radical, first visited the Soviet Union, he was deeply impressed by the revolutions efforts to overcome racial and national prejudice. Ethnic minorities weren't being lynched in the Soviet Union as Black people were right then in the U.S. South. The U.S. and the Soviet Union were two different worlds.


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