In modern America it goes without saying that Communism has failed. To suggest it as a viable system is no longer anathema as it was during the height of the cold war. Instead, Communism is relegated to the mournless death of irrelevance. So, what was the event, the subject, the failed experiment that has made this conclusion so prevalent? To most, the culprit of this failure is the former Soviet Union. The Totalitarianism, the poverty, and the ultimate dissolution of the Soviet Union are pointed to as the ultimate and final proof that Communism cannot work. But is this a faithful anaylisis?
I propose that Communism did not fail in the Soviet Union because it is an unworkable system or an unrealizable dream. Rather, it failed simply because the environment necessary to facilitate communism was not yet in place. In premature zeal to gain state power and enact idealistic communist principles, Lenin and the Bolsheviks set up a system that could not flourish- not because Communism can’t work, but because Russia did not have the producing power necessary for Communism to take root. Communism did not fail in Russia. Bolshevism failed.
Bolshevism tried to set up the second half of Marx’s theory without letting the first part unfold. For communism to flourish a nation must have ample, and thensome, production power to produce for the needs of the entire population. Russia was a mass nation consisting mostly of agrarian, poverty stricken farmers. It had few large, industrialized cities, and even in Petrograd and Moscow Industrialization was still beginning to devolop. In essence, the Bolsheviks tried to make a grand recipe without having most of the ingredients needed to make it. And this led to failure, and even worse, to disillusionment with a system and way of living that treats all people as brothers and sisters and considers the needs of all to be of more import than the greed of the few.
The Bolsheviks nationalized industry during war time when the economy was already weak, and when the people were already in a mood to put up with privations and sacrifice. But when Russia withdrew from the first world war and got back to business as usual it soon became clear that Russia did not have the industry or resources to continue war-time communism. Trotsky went back and forth between forcefully backing state run industry and returning to a mixed economy that would allow peasants to sell surplus crops for profit and would let industry continue to grow. As time unfolded the USSR chose the former path, and to cover for it’s failure enacted a totalitarianism that will not soon leave the collective conscience of the world. And the unfolding history of the USSR was a totalitarian attempt to prop us a system that could not flourish in Russia.
Not only did Communism fail because of a lack of industrialization and producing power, but it failed because of its statism. The Soviet State, contrary to its name, did not put all power into the hands of the Soviets. Soviets are workers councils made up of the representatives of all the unions in a city/region. The economy of the nation was not put into the hands of the Soviets, the unions, or the workers. Instead it was put in the hand of the state and of the “party”. And when workers, or in the case of Kronstadt, sailors tried to take power into their own hands, the state responded with retribution. Where as days before the Bolsheviks called for resistance to state czarist authority, they now called for unquestioning obedience to the workers state, or more accurately, the Bolshevik state. Workers were not allowed to determine what was best for the workers, nor were they given the power of production or distribution. Rather, they were told to submit to the state and its centrally planned economy. This, no doubt, came as a crushing blow to the workers who had such hopes in the October Revolution; both in Russia and across the globe. Once again a small group of leaders in control of the state apparatus claimed the special knowledge and right to rule on the behalf of the masses. The Soviet Union did indeed rest power from the Czarist state and from the industrialists. But it never gave power to workers.
All this being said, Russia was the cause of the failure of communism. Communism was not the cause of the Soviet Union’s failure. Do you see the difference? Communism can flourish where industrialization has created the producing power to provide for the needs of the masses. In America, and in much of the west, we have the industry, the producing power, and the labor to provide for the needs of the masses. The problem is that the producing power is in the wrong hands. It is not presently in the hands of the community, the masses, or of the labor who creates the wealth of the nation. It is in the hands of the corporations, the industrialists, the bosses. To change this we need much to happen. We need labor to become class conscious, to properly interpret his/her place in the capitalist machinary, and to become radicalized. The working class must see that our interests lie with one another, and not with the capitalist class or system. What we don’t need is a violent revolution. A revolution won by violence will be defended by violence and when it will end no one will know. What we don’t need is state power. We don’t need to gain the power of the state we must take power in workplaces and communities at which point intrusive, alien state power will be obsolete. We don’t need a vanguard party to tell the workers what they need. We need the workers to see a way of living above and beyond the current system of capitalism. No one can liberate the working class other than the working class.
This all may be a pipe dream which few will ever consider, let alone realize. But I believe that a new world is possible if we are willing to look at the failures- morally and economically- or our present capitalist system, and dare to dream of a different way of living and working. Labor shared by all. The wealth shared by all. Our lives shared with one another- the source of true riches. The next time someone brings up the Soviet Union as proof that Communism is a failure, don’t be so quick to back down. Tell them why communism failed in the Soviet Union, but why it can succeed here.