Tuesday March 28, 2023
| Last update: Tuesday at 11:57 AM

Red Theory: The achievements of socialism in the Soviet Union

Analysis by J. Sykes |
December 11, 2022
Read more articles in
Enter a descriptive sentence about the photo here.

As Marxist-Leninists in the United States, we can draw lessons from the experiences of others in carrying out revolution and building socialism. While every revolutionary struggle must be firmly based on the concrete analysis of its own conditions, we should still study closely both the successes and failures in the rich experience of the Soviet Union. From that experience we can draw both lessons from their struggle as well as inspiration from their heroic achievements. In the next article we will examine the causes of the collapse of the USSR and draw lessons from it, but here let’s look at all that it achieved. 

First, the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin, developed Marxism-Leninism and applied it to the particular conditions of the Russian Empire. They fused Marxism with the workers movement and built a militant and revolutionary Communist Party that overthrew tsarism and capitalism and put the state into the hands of the toiling masses, the dictatorship of the proletariat. The dictatorship of the rich was smashed and a new democracy based on the Soviets (councils) of workers and peasants, was built in its place.

During the course of the revolution the Bolsheviks advanced the mass-line slogan of “Peace, Land and Bread,” opposing the imperialist war and advancing a program of land reform and ending poverty and hunger. World War I had claimed nearly 3 million dead from the people of the Russian Empire. Lenin mobilized mass anger against tsarist repression and raised the slogan of “revolutionary defeatism” to turn the imperialist war into a civil war through which the working and oppressed masses could throw off the yoke of the tsar, the bourgeoisie and the landlords. Uniting with the poor peasants, the Bolsheviks led the working class through a revolution in two stages, first to defeat tsarism, and then to defeat bourgeois reaction and imperialism. The revolution’s first stage brought about the 1917 February Revolution. The Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917 soon followed, which smashed the bourgeois state and established the Soviet Union.

The counterrevolutionary White Terror, led by the defeated bourgeoisie against the newly founded Soviet government, was aided by the imperialist countries. After a lengthy Civil War, the Soviet Red Army was victorious in defending their revolution and the Soviet Union could set about with the tasks of socialist construction. Lenin set out the basic principles that would guide the process of building socialism, but this had only just begun by the time he died in 1924.

Under the leadership of Lenin, the Third (Communist) International was founded to support revolutionary movements all over the world. The Soviet Union became the center and base of the international communist movement the world over. While Stalin led the Soviet people in building socialism, the Communist International continued to support proletarian internationalism all over the world, from Asia, Africa and Latin America to Europe and the United States. The Communist International allowed the working people of the entire world to come together to coordinate and to share experiences and summation. 

From 1924 to 1953, Stalin led the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and the masses of workers and peasants in carrying out and developing Lenin’s plans for building socialism. Stalin led the Bolshevik party in carrying out this Leninist line against opportunist and counterrevolutionary currents, such as those of Trotsky, Zinoviev and Bukharin. 

Industrialization was achieved between 1921 and 1941, developing the productive forces to the point where the basic needs of the people could be met. The priority of the government was to see that people were fed, clothed, housed and guaranteed quality health care and education. Millions of peasants were educated, creating the first fully literate society in history. The Soviet Union guaranteed free and compulsory education in the arts and sciences. Educated and freed from capitalist relations of production, the Soviet Union advanced from a backwards, semi-feudal country to a major industrial power in just 30 years. In the countryside, landlords (Kulaks) were expropriated and farming was collectivized and mechanized. Horse-drawn plows were replaced by modern tractors.

According to Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenny in their book Socialism Betrayed

“In fifty years, the country went from an industrial production that was 12 percent of that in the United States to industrial production that was 80 percent and an agricultural output 85 percent of the U.S. Though Soviet per capita consumption remained lower than in the U.S., no society had ever increased living standards and consumption so rapidly in such a short period of time for all its people.”

The Soviet Union guaranteed not only free education and health care. Trade unions had the power to veto firings and even recall managers. Prices were regulated by the state and basic food and housing was subsidized. Rent took up only 2 or 3%, and utilities only 4 or 5% of a family’s income. While socialism still has a wage scale with higher and lower incomes due to the persistence of bourgeois right (the lingering inequalities carried over from capitalism), the highest paid individuals in the USSR only made ten times that of the average worker. To put that gap in perspective, Keeran and Kenny point out that by the late 1990s, corporate executives in the U.S. made 480 times the wage of an average worker. 

The Soviet Union fought tooth and nail to uproot both national oppression and gender oppression. The Soviet Republics of the formerly oppressed nations exercised their self-determination and their autonomy and national development was prioritized. Every effort was made to stamp out racism, bigotry and national chauvinism. At the same time, the Soviet Union worked tirelessly to abolish the gendered division of labor and dismantle the laws and customs that upheld gender oppression, misogyny and male chauvinism.

In 1936, the so-called “Stalin Constitution” set about to take proletarian democracy in the USSR to even further heights. As Anna Louise Strong wrote in her book The Soviets Expected It

“Stalin’s great moment when he first appeared as leader of the whole Soviet people was when, as Chairman of the Constitutional Commission, he presented the new Constitution of the Socialist State. A commission of thirty-one of the country’s ablest historians, economists, and political scientists had been instructed to create ‘the world’s most democratic constitution’ with the most accurate machinery yet devised for obtaining ‘the will of the people.’ They spent a year and a half in detailed study of every past constitution in the world, not only of governments but of trade unions and voluntary societies. The draft that they prepared was then discussed by the Soviet people for several months in more than half a million meetings attended by 36,500,000 people. The number of suggested amendments that reached the Constitutional Commission from the popular discussions was 154,000. Stalin himself is known to have read tens of thousands of the people’s letters.”

The red banner of socialism flew as a beacon of hope to the workers and oppressed peoples of the world. Following the bitter experience of the Civil War period, the CPSU knew that the imperialists would not let such a challenge go unanswered. In 1931, ten years before the German Nazi invasion of the USSR, Stalin said, “We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this distance in ten years. Either we do it, or they will crush us.” Stalin was correct in his assessment of the challenge and the danger that faced them, and they did close the distance. Likewise, Stalin led the CPSU in defeating the organization of a “fifth column” of enemy agents, spies and saboteurs with the USSR. The Soviet people heroically built their industry and developed their productive forces so that they were able to eventually turn the tide of the German invasion at Stalingrad and push the Nazis all the way back to Berlin. The Soviet Union lost 20 million people in this life or death struggle, bearing the brunt of the war and taking the lead in saving the world from fascism. During and after World War II, the Soviet Union was pivotal to the establishment of socialism in China, Korea and Eastern Europe. 

After Stalin’s death in 1953, despite the growth of opportunist and revisionist currents within the CPSU, especially following the 20th and 22nd Congresses in 1956 and 1961, the Soviet Union continued to be a force for peace and democracy against imperialism and war. It aided and defended revolutionary movements all over the world, from defending Eastern European socialism from imperialist-backed counterrevolution, to supporting socialist revolution in Cuba and Vietnam. 

The achievements of socialism in the USSR prove that the working class, guided by Marxism-Leninism, can create a society based on serving the people instead of the blind pursuit of profit, and despite all of the imperialist propaganda that would have you believe otherwise, can accomplish truly amazing things.