Socialism Is Much Better Than Capitalism And Communism Will Be a Far Better World
Part 6: The Soviet Experiment: World War 2 and Its Aftermath
Revolution #030, January 15, 2006, posted at revcom.us
Editor's note: Revolution is serializing the speech "Socialism Is Much Better Than Capitalism, and Communism Will Be A Far Better World" by Raymond Lotta.
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Communism and Socialism
Part 3: The Bolsheviks Lead a Revolution That Shakes the World
Part 4: The Soviet Experiment: The Social Revolution Ushered in by Proletarian Power
Part 5: The Soviet Experiment: Building the World's First Socialist Economy
Lotta is on a national speaking tour as part of the Set the Record Straight project. Information on upcoming speaking dates and related materials are available at www. thisiscommunism.org.
By the mid-1930s, war clouds were gathering. In 1931, Japan had invaded the Chinese region of Manchuria, which bordered the Soviet Far East. By 1934 in Germany, Hitler had tightened his hold on power, crushed the German Communist Party, and had begun to militarize the economy.
The Soviet revolution was coming to a critical juncture. The danger of imperialist war was growing. How would the Soviet Union prepare economically and militarily, and politically and socially?
By 1934, Stalin and several others in leadership felt it was time to consolidate the political and social gains of the revolution. The new proletarian state was facing extreme and difficult objective conditions. War was looming. There was no prior historical experience for dealing with the magnitude of the situation. Adjustments were called for. But mistakes were made in how this dire necessity was dealt with. On the basis of the transformations in ownership that had gone on, there was a push for greater discipline and stepped-up production in the factories. But the development of the productive forces came to be seen as the guarantee of socialism. Leadership relied less on the conscious activism and initiative of the masses. The radical social and cultural experimentation of the 1920s and early 1930s was reined in – and things got consolidated in a way that strengthened more traditional relations. Socialism in the Soviet Union had to be defended. But the Soviet leadership tended to see the defense of the Soviet Union as being one and the same as the interests of the world revolution without any contradiction – and thus increasingly promoted national patriotism instead of proletarian internationalism.
Stalin and the "Great Purges"
The growing danger of interimperialist war and the likelihood of imperialist assault on the Soviet Union were setting the stage for what Western scholars call the "great purges" in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Few subjects in modern history are so thoroughly distorted. Once again, there is bourgeois story line. We are told that Stalin was drunk with power and sought absolute power--knocking down any and all who disagreed with him.
But the reality of the situation was that the revolution was confronting new pressures and new challenges. And political struggle intensified within the party and government: over domestic and international policy, including international alliances…over the direction of the revolution…over whether the revolution could even hold out.
We’re told that Stalin was paranoid. But in fact there were real enemies of the revolution. There was real subversion. There were backward social movements in society. There was a real German threat. And in 1934, the second-ranking leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, closely associated with Stalin, was assassinated. This was the atmosphere of the times.
In terms of the purges, here I have to state honestly that more research is needed into what exactly was going on in the Soviet Communist Party in the 1930s. But what does seem to be the case is this: as international tensions grew, Stalin and other revolutionary leaders had genuine reason to be concerned about the state of the party and army. There was concern about whether some of the regional party leaders could be depended on to carry out national directives, as society and economy were heading into war.
The revolutionary leadership also had reason to be concerned about the reliability of the high command of the Soviet army. After World War 1, Germany and the Soviet Union had entered into military cooperation agreements. These agreements involved training of officers and transfer of weaponry. There was worry that ties and relationships might have developed between the Soviet military staff and their German counterparts. Could the Soviet generals now be counted on, especially as the Soviet Union was preparing to face off against German imperialism--or would these generals compromise with Germany?
These were some of the circumstances surrounding the purges of top Party and military leaders. Stalin was fighting to defend the revolution. He was not going to allow the Soviet Union to go back to capitalism, or to cave in to imperialism.
But in many ways, Stalin’s understanding of the contradictions and struggles under socialism was flawed. It was marked by mechanical rather than dialectical materialism. And his methods for dealing with the situation had serious problems with adverse consequences.
He relied on purges and police actions to solve problems--rather than mobilizing the masses to take up the burning political and ideological questions on the overall direction of society. Mao was critical of Stalin’s approach and pointed out that Stalin had a tendency to mix up two fundamentally different types of contradictions: the contradiction between the people and the enemy, and contradictions among the people themselves. Repression, which should only have been directed against enemies, was used against people who were not enemies but merely were making mistakes or expressing disagreements with the policy of the government.
Soviet Heroism and the Defeat of Hitler
In June 1941, the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union. They threw the most modern army in the world and most of their military might against the Soviets. Hitler made it clear to his troops that he expected them to discard every principle of humanity in what was to be a war of extermination.
The Soviets fought with incredible heroism--block to block in Stalingrad, in epic tank battles over frozen wastelands. When the Germans invaded, the fact that the Soviet Union had a planned economy made it possible--and this was just within a few weeks--to dismantle 1,500 big factories and transport them to the eastern regions of the Soviet Union.
Over 20 million Soviets lost their lives in World War 2, basically 1 out of 10 in the population. Despite what we are told about D-Day and the landing of U.S. and British troops at Normandy, the real turning point of World War 2 was the Battle of Stalingrad. The Soviets were the main factor and force in Hitler’s defeat. And this would not have been possible without the great determination and sacrifice of the people of the Soviet Union under the leadership of the Communist Party, led by Stalin. This too is one of the great achievements of the Soviet revolution.
The Soviet Union came out of World War 2 militarily victorious. But the revolution was weakened politically and ideologically. Conservative forces and currents had gained strength in the Party, in the government, and in society. After Stalin’s death in 1953, new bourgeois forces within the Communist Party maneuvered to seize power; and in 1956, Khrushchev took over the reins, consolidated the rule of a new capitalist class, and led in systematically restructuring the Soviet Union into a state-capitalist society. This was the end of the first proletarian state.
Putting the Soviet Revolution in Perspective
How do we put the Soviet revolution in perspective? From the sweep of history, the Soviet revolution stands as an earthshaking breakthrough in freeing oppressed humanity. Against great odds, the masses accomplished amazing things. A new world was in the process of being created. And this revolution inspired the oppressed of world. These were the first steps, apart from the short-lived Paris Commune, along the road of emancipation, towards a world free of oppression and exploitation.
But the project of emancipation develops and evolves. Great revolutionary leaders with vision and scientific understanding are able to sum up lessons, develop new understanding, and forge new solutions to the challenge of creating a classless world. Mao Zedong would take the communist project to a whole new place.
NEXT WEEK: The Chinese Revolution 1949