The Third International after Lenin

Thursday, November 5, 2009

We did it before, we can do it again

an editorial
Published Nov 4, 2009 8:59 PM

It is 92 years since the Bolshevik Revolution stunned the ruling classes of the world. For more than 70 years, until the pulling down of the Soviet Union in 1991, the impact of that great upheaval of the workers and peasants could not be ignored by those in the imperialist countries whose preoccupation was to weigh how far they could go in squeezing every last cent out of the workers and every last resource out of the oppressed countries of the world. The specter of provoking similar revolutionary uprisings was always before them to temper their greed and arrogance.

The October Revolution (Nov. 7 by the Western calendar) came out of the terrible havoc and suffering caused by the first imperialist world war of 1914-18. It was a major factor in bringing that war to an end. The European imperialist powers, soon to be joined by the U.S. and Japan, had dragged millions of workers to their deaths in the struggle over which group of capitalists would control the riches of the colonies. At first the socialist movement in Europe capitulated to the war fever, but a few true internationalists—including V.I. Lenin, who would lead the revolution in Russia—stood up against their respective governments and called on the workers to fight their own ruling classes instead of fellow toilers from other countries.

The Bolsheviks, on taking power, published the secret agreements made among the imperialists to carve up Europe and the world after the war. They took Russia out of the war. They inspired uprisings among the troops of other countries who refused to continue to fight.

This impoverished country seemed like the last place on earth where socialism could be built. But the Bolsheviks had no choice. They had to liberate the land from the landlords and the factories and banks from the bosses—and they did. What was so very hard was to reorganize such an underdeveloped economy to meet the needs of the masses.

By the 1930s, however, when the capitalist world had fallen into the pit of the Great Depression, the superiority of socialist planning had proven itself in the Soviet Union. Freed from the profit motive, state-owned industries and agricultural collectives and state farms were forging ahead. Workers elsewhere were clamoring for the kind of security that was being built in the USSR: the right to a job or income, the right to education and health care, equal rights for women. The USSR was a pioneer in all these fields.

Around this anniversary, there will be much in the capitalist media dwelling on the shortcomings of the USSR. How much will be said about how its overthrow greatly worsened conditions for the workers in Russia and other former republics of the Soviet Union? How after 1991 life expectancy dropped, workers lost their jobs, tuberculosis and drug addiction soared, and gangster capitalists grabbed up state property, with the help of the imperialists? How women were hardest hit and prostitution is now a thriving industry in Russia and Eastern Europe? How inequality among the nationalities soared?

What is never mentioned is how, once the Soviet Union had disappeared as a world rival, the huge multinationals felt free to show their true face. They could cut wages at will, move from one area to another—aided by the revolution in technology—in search of workers to exploit.

The imperialist governments, which represent these powerful corporations, could now intervene militarily against any development in the oppressed countries that they saw as threatening their interests—and have done so, hundreds of times.

The imperialists promised that the post-Soviet era would be one of peace and prosperity. All the world’s problems, they said, were caused by the belligerence of the Soviet leaders. (Today, they say it’s all the fault of Islamic fundamentalism.)

What a joke. With the downfall of the bloc of countries that had broken with capitalism, the full irrationality of the capitalist system is revealed in all its nakedness. The higher the technology, the greater the misery of the masses.

The more goods produced, the more unemployment. The closer humanity comes to being able to feed, house and clothe itself, with plenty left over for culture, education and recreation, the further away these things become for most of the world’s people.

With capitalism now supreme, young people must worry whether there will be clean water to drink, pure air to breathe, and a liveable world by the time they have kids of their own.

The Russian Revolution provided many lessons in the struggle for workers’ power. Its leaders analyzed and debated all the time. Their copious writings have so much to offer today on the nature of imperialism, the struggle for workers’ democracy, the smashing of the capitalist state and its replacement by workers’ rule.

But there is no universal blueprint for revolution. Revolutionaries must weigh the conditions, the time and place and past history, in order to find a path for the working people to take back what they have created and build a much, much better world. The workers and peasants of Russia did it, under much more adverse conditions. It can and will be done here.

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