For most of the twentieth century, Communism has defined the possibilities of opposition to capitalism. But the Communist alternative to capitalism has proved to be disastrous: unequal, exploitative, oppressive, unfree. Rather than a revolutionary path to working class democracy, it has proved to be another form of elite control.
What explains the reality beneath the rhetoric of Communism? What has been its real role in the tumultuous history of this century? These are the questions I will take up in this chapter.
The left typically explains the failure of Communism as not intrinsic to the Communist idea of change itself, but the result of some extrinsic event or circumstance: the backwardness of the Russian economy at the time of the Russian Revolution, or Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War, or the failure of Western European workers to come to the aid of the Russian working class. In this view, Communist ideas need not be re-examined or rejected, because they have never been tried in appropriate circumstances.
My purpose in this chapter is to show that the outcome of Communist revolutions was an inevitable function of Communist ideas about people and change. I want also to show that Communism has played a consistently counterrevolutionary role. Capitalism has survived the twentieth century only with the active intervention of Communism.
There is another reason for examining the history of Communism. Communism represents the fullest development of revolutionary theory and practice in history, as well as the most perverse distortion of revolutionary ideals. Within its history lies the real experience of millions who have fought to change the world. The October Revolution in Russia, the Chinese Revolution, the Vietnamese triumph in the face of the armed might of France and the United States: all these represent stunning historic achievements as well as stark perversions of the goals of most of the people who accomplished them. We cannot learn from this history unless we can understand its profoundly contradictory character.
To recover all that has been inspiring and instructive in these revolutionary movements, it is necessary to separate the revolutionary aspirations that drove them from the particular theoretical constructs which led to their distorted and ugly reality. A new paradigm of history can provide the perspective to enable us to understand the hidden history of the revolutionary tradition.
The Russian RevolutionC From February to October, 1917
The Russian Revolution of October, 1917 marked the first time in history that a revolution of the working classC of workers in their factories and peasants in their fields, soldiers at the front and sailors in their fleetsC succeeded. The regime of the Czar had collapsed before the aroused populace in February; it was replaced by a reform government of industrialists, big landowners, and liberal aristocrats, led by Alexander Kerensky. This government of a more modern elite kept in place the basic structures of elite control of Russian society, and continued Russia's involvement in World War I, then in its fourth year.
In October the Kerensky government was overthrown in a virtually bloodless uprising of workers and soldiers, led by the Bolshevik Party. Millions of working people around the world took hope. Capitalists and kings trembled. The age of modern revolution had begun.
At the time of the February Revolution, the Bolsheviks were just one of several small revolutionary parties in Russia. From February to October, however, the Bolshevik Party won the contest for leadership of the revolutionary masses. The strengths of Bolshevism proved decisive in leading the October revolution to victory; its weaknesses led swiftly and inescapably to the revolution's distortion into a new class society.
Alone among the Social Democratic parties of Europe, the Bolsheviks had refused to support the great slaughter of World War I, instead calling on workers of all countries to turn their guns on their masters. Alone among the parties, the Bolsheviks came to believe that working class revolution was necessary and possible in Russia at that time. After the fall of the Czar, they relentlessly attacked the Kerensky government and called for workers' revolution against capitalism. They had a disciplined organization of tremendous energy, which, in the words of an anti-Bolshevik commentator, "seemed to be everywhere" with posters, literature, meetings, speeches, rallies, all expressing the demands of the people: "The land to the peasants! The factories to the workers! All power to the Soviets!"
The Communists not only had revolutionary slogans. They also had a coherent theory of social change. Fifteen years before the revolution, Lenin had declared that, "Without a revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement," and had set about developing a coherent theory of how revolutionaries can intervene in history.
Lenin's Contribution To Marxism
Lenin's great contribution to Marxism was to show that political consciousness, developed and disseminated through a disciplined party of professional revolutionaries, is the decisive factor in Marxist revolution. The other, more orthodox Marxist parties of the time were mass parties; they believed that economic developments determine historical events, and that economic conditions would eventually develop to a point at which the working class would spontaneously take revolutionary action. While they espoused socialism as their long-term goal, these parties confined themselves in practice to economic demands to improve the living standards of workers; they refused to challenge the political ideas and power of the existing regimes. The mainstream and much larger Marxist party in Russia, the Mensheviks, believed that workers' revolution was impossible in backwards RussiaC since economic conditions in the accepted Marxist sense were not ripeC and opposed it.
With his creation of a vanguard party dedicated to the task of revolution, Lenin supplied to Marxism the vital element it was missing: conscious human subjects who by their own actions could create the conditions for revolutionary change. In Marxism-Leninism, the name given to Lenin's development of Marxist theory, the Bolsheviks possessed clearly developed principles of political action joined with a theory of organization. Together, these became powerful instruments of revolutionary practice. They gave the Bolshevik approach a unique strategic coherence, and invested Bolshevik cadre with "revolutionary optimism"C a confidence in the eventual triumph of their cause which was to prove of inestimable importance.
But Lenin's coherent theory had a fatal flaw. Lenin was right about the central role played by consciousness in human affairs, and about the need for a party dedicated to the task of building revolutionary consciousness. He was wrong about what political consciousness is and where it comes from. Lenin's view of revolutionary consciousness turned the revolutionary party into a device for elite control of the working class.
As we have already seen, revolutionary goals and values come from ordinary working people. Revolutionary consciousness consists of working people's consciousness of themselves as the source of the values and vision to create a new world. Lenin, however, believed that workers have no goals or vision but their own self-interest. With other prominent Marxists, he believed that revolutionary ideas come not from workers but from intellectuals.
Political consciousness, Lenin thought, consists of knowledge of capitalism, its laws of development, and its effects on every element of society; it is essentially technical knowledge, beyond workers' experience. Workers of themselves are capable only of "trade-union consciousness"C consciousness of the economic relations between themselves and their employers, and of the need for collective struggle to improve the conditions of their exploitation by capital.
If revolutionary ideas and goals come from the theories of bourgeois intellectuals, then the command and control of the revolutionary party must be in the hands of top leaders most expert in these theories. Lenin's idea of revolutionary consciousness led him to a concept of revolutionary organization in which the goals, tactics, vision and possibilities of revolutionary transformation were all controlled from the top down. Rather than being the lifeblood of revolution, ideas and initiative from below were seen as a threat to party control.
In this way, what had been conceived as the center of organized revolutionary consciousness turned into its oppositeC a device for suppressing the consciousness of workers. Lenin's view of the source and content of revolutionary consciousness ensured that the relationship of the Bolsheviks to the masses would be essentially technocratic: party "experts," rather than the people, would determine the scope and direction of the revolution. The goal of the revolution would be economic development, within a framework which the party would control.
This theoretical relationship between the party and the working class was to be of critical practical importance. While the Bolsheviks helped to lead the revolutionary struggle forward, they simultaneously confined that struggle within increasingly narrow and technocratic bounds, sucked the vital democratic element from it, and turned it into its opposite: a device for a new elite to control the economic and political life of the country.
From Lenin To Stalin
The relationship of party to workers established in Leninist theory was the decisive factor shaping the subsequent history of the Soviet regime. There was, as Maurice Brinton maintains in The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control, a "clear-cut and incontrovertible link between what happened under Lenin and Trotsky and the later practices of Stalin." After reviewing the history, says Brinton, it is impossible to accept the viewC as do many on the leftC "that the whole course of events was `historically inevitable' and `objectively determined' by the difficult circumstances of the Revolution. Bolshevik ideology and practice were themselves important and sometimes decisive factors in the equation, at every critical stage of this critical period."
Under the leadership of the Bolsheviks, the Russian Revolution smashed the power of the bourgeoisie and the property relations of private ownership on which their power rested. It did not alter "the authoritarian relations of production characteristic of all class societies." The effect of Bolshevik leadership on the workers' revolution was that the Russian workers exchanged new masters for oldC Communists for capitalistsC within a set of productive relations which were essentially unchanged.
Brinton focuses on the crucial years from 1917 to 1921, when Lenin and Trotsky were leading the Bolsheviks. In this period the question of who would make decisions regarding production was the primary focus of conflict over the shaping of the new social order. "Thousands of revolutionaries were to be killed and hundreds of thousands incarcerated" by the Bolsheviks in the struggle over this question.
The Bolsheviks did not believe in "workers' management"C in workers' power at the point of production. They believed rather in a socialism which consisted of the nationalization of industry in the hands of a State which supposedly would be in the hands of workers, but which in fact would be dominated by the force that understood the interests of workers better than they knew themselvesC the party.
The principal form of workers' struggle to manage production in the revolution was the Factory Committee Movement. Beginning in March, 1917 Factory and Shop Committees sprang up "in every industrial center in European Russia." From the start they challenged managerial prerogatives.
Before the October Revolution, the Bolsheviks supported the Factory Committees as the most effective "battering ram" against the old order. Immediately after the revolution, howeverC that is, as soon as they were in possession of the StateC the Bolsheviks sought to suppress the committees, by subordinating them to unions and other higher administrative bodies under Bolshevik control.
In the Factory Committees was a fighting instrument of workers at the point of production, prepared to develop a truly national coordinative and directive capability. But this would have put power in the hands of the workers, rather than in the hands of the Bolsheviks:
Underlying the controversies, what was at stake was the whole concept of socialism: workers' power or the power of the Party acting `on behalf of' the working class. `If workers succeeded in maintaining their ownership of the factories they had seized, if they ran these factories for themselves, if they considered the revolution to be at an end, if they considered socialism to have been establishedC then there would have been no need for the revolutionary leadership of the Bolsheviks.'"
The Factory Committees had to be suppressed because they would have made rule by the Bolshevik elite unnecessary.
Many Bolshevik supporters attribute the most repressive features of Communist rule to intervention and civil war, and the failure of revolution in Germany. But the struggle of the Bolsheviks to snuff out workers' power at the point of production represented the approach of the Bolsheviks before the revolution was subjected to shocks from outside. They took place before Allied intervention or civil war had broken out; they took place a full twelve months before the attempt at revolution in Germany.
In the early months of 1918, the Bolsheviks began to build a national administrative apparatus based upon the technical and managerial staffs of the old industrialists. Lenin defended this step on the grounds of economic necessity. This step, however, was undertaken mainly on political grounds. Leninist ideology had long since established the basis for rule by "experts." The bourgeoisie, former officials, managers and technicians were the principal elements of the population who stood in the same essential relation to the workers as did the Bolsheviks; their inclusion in the ruling apparatus was essential if the Bolsheviks were to enforce party rule over the society. The only other source of technical knowledge would have been the workers themselves, acting collectively and democratically at the point of productionC for the Bolsheviks, an inadmissible solution to the "economic" problems of the revolution.
In the early spring of 1918, Trotsky, as Commissar of Military Affairs, reorganized the Red Army, restoring saluting and special forms of address, special living quarters and privileges for officers, and the death penalty for disobedience under fire. He did away with the election of officers and other democratic forms of organization which revolutionary soldiers committees had established.
At the same time, the Bolsheviks undertook vigorous steps to restore labor discipline, using the "scientific management" methods of the capitalists. In addition Lenin called for collective leadership at the factory level to be replaced by one-man management. Managers with dictatorial powersC often the previous owners themselvesC were installed in the factories.
In late May, 1918, widespread civil war broke out. It had the effect of hastening the extension of party control to all economic and social life. Labor was militarized under Trotsky. Trotsky explicitly denied that Bolshevik policies were a function of the civil war: "I consider that if the civil war had not plundered our economic organs of all that was strongest, most independent, most endowed with initiative, we should undoubtedly have entered the path of one-man management in the sphere of economic administration much sooner and much less painfully."
There is no need to furnish further details here. The record makes clear that the Bolsheviks pursued relentlessly, in every sphere of life, policies which were entirely consistent with their view of workers and of social change. The foundations of Stalinism were well-laid by Lenin and Trotsky in the immediate wake of the revolution.
The "Third Revolution"
Workers and others struggled against the stifling of the Revolution both inside and outside the party. There were important factors working against them, however. The Mensheviks, the other large Marxist party, were consistently hostile to workers' power. The Bolsheviks initially had wide support among the most advanced workers as the most firmly and consistently revolutionary party; when the party switched its position in the first weeks after the revolution from support of the Factory Committee Movement to bringing the committees increasingly under the control of party-dominated bodies, the significance was not at first clear. By the time it was, workers had already lost control of production, and with it their most important base for resistance. During the civil war and Allied intervention, workers rallied to the Communists to put down these threats to the revolutionC thus further strengthening Communist control.
Nevertheless, as the civil war drew to a close in 1920, resistance to party domination became widespread. Peasant uprisings, against grain requisitions and for other causes, became commonplace in the winter of 1920-21, with more than 118 risings reported in February, 1921.
Resistance reached a high pitch in the two places which more than any others were the birthplaces of the Russian Revolution. Strikes broke out in Petrograd at the end of February. On March 2, the sailors, soldiers, and workers of Kronstadt, a fortified island city and home base of the Baltic Fleet a few miles across the ice from Petrograd, rose in revolt.
The rebels, disillusioned with Bolshevik rule, established a revolutionary commune. They took up the slogan of the October Revolution, "All power to the Soviets," but they demanded "free soviets"C free, that is, of Bolshevik domination. The rebels "appealed to the entire Russian population to join them in a `third revolution' to finish the job begun in February and October 1917"C a revolution to overthrow "the dictatorship of the Communist Party, with its Cheka and its state capitalism..."
But the Kronstadt rebels made the fatal mistake of not seizing the initiative, failing to march across the frozen Baltic to join forces with the striking workers of Petrograd. Given sufficient time to recover itself, the Communist regime went on the attack. On March 17, 1921, Revolutionary Kronstadt fell. Once inside the city, the Communist forces indulged in "an orgy of bloodletting." Several hundred prisoners were shot on the spot; hundreds others were taken back to Petrograd, where for the next few months they were taken out in small batches and shot.
If Russia had by 1921 become, as the Kronstadt rebels claimed, "a vast concentration camp," in the wake of the rebellion it became even more grim. Lenin vigorously suppressed what little freedom of debate had remained in the party. In 1924, Lenin died. In 1926, Stalin suppressed the opposition which had grown up around Trotsky. "One by one, the revolution devoured its makers," as more and more leading party figures, along with millions of peasants and workers, were murdered or disappeared in Stalin's forced labor camps.
The horrors which developed under Communism are often attributed to the failure of the revolution to spread to Western Europe. It is true that Lenin expected the working class of Germany and elsewhere to come to the aid of the Bolsheviks by making their own revolutions.
Voline, a Russian anarchist who was active in the revolution, comments that Lenin was correct in expecting that successful revolution in one country would "set fire to the world." His mistake was in believing that Communist revolution would spread in this way. Lenin could not see that Communist revolution was sterile: "it could set fire to nothing, for it had ceased to `burn' itself;...it had lost the power of spreading, a character of great causes, because it had ceased to be a great cause....[Lenin] believed that the ultimate fate of the Russian Revolution depended upon its extension to other countries. Exactly the opposite was true: extension of the Revolution depended upon the results of the revolution in Russia."
The Role of Communism in the Twentieth Century
The history of Communism subsequent to 1917-1921 was true to its beginnings. As the Soviet state consolidated its power and recruited former members of the bourgeoisie into its fold, its distance from the ordinary people of Russia increased, along with its need to crush any authentic revolutionary aspirations among party members or workers. Though they had begun as sincere revolutionaries, Marxist-Leninist doctrine led the Communists to constitute themselves as a new ruling class, which ruthlessly exploited the working people and peasants, and with growing cynicism used the prestige of this first "socialist" revolution to mask their real role in Soviet and world society.
After their original fear and hostility, the capitalist powers began to see the Soviet government not only as permanent, but as one with which they might usefully deal. The United States recognized the Soviet government in 1933. In 1935, the Soviets signed major trade agreements with France and Great Britain, and the Soviet Union and France signed the first military pact between the Soviet state and a capitalist power. The Bolsheviks were on their way to becoming fully accepted partners in world management.
Apologists for the Soviets argue that the alliances formed by the Bolshevik government with capitalist and Fascist states, culminating in the Hitler-Stalin Pact in 1939, was born of a desire to protect socialism in the Soviet UnionC a claim which, when the true history is considered, is preposterous. It was the character of the Bolshevik regime itself, as a new ruling class which implacably maintained capitalist productive relations within Russia, which primarily determined its relationships with the capitalist regimes. It was to protect themselves and their own interests, not the working people of Russia or the world, that the Soviet rulers governed.
In 1935 the Communist movement dramatically changed its political direction. No longer would the Communist parties of the world encourage working class revolution, even on the Marxist-Leninist model; rather they would create Popular Fronts with so-called "progressive capitalists" in their respective countries to oppose Fascism and to stabilize capitalism. In the name of anti-Fascism, the world Communist movement became officially and openly an ally of the capitalist "democracies."
While the alliance with capital was justified by Communist leaders as a temporary tactic to forestall the Fascist advance, in fact it too was a function of the nature of the Soviet regime as much as of the international situation. In 1934 Stalin had begun the great terror to purge the remaining revolutionary elements from the party. The Soviets were on the eve of the Moscow trials, in the course of which Stalin executed or imprisoned many thousands of opponents, including most of the surviving Old Bolsheviks who had participated in the Revolution. The Communists were liquidating the remnants of the October Revolution at home; it only made sense that they liquidate their nominally revolutionary policies abroad as well.
Nevertheless, the real nature of the Communist regime was not at all clear to many millions of people both inside and outside the Soviet Union's borders. The Soviet Communist Party and the Communist parties in various countries around the world had the most revolutionary reputations of any existing parties. The Communists had been the only Marxist party to oppose World War I consistently. The Soviet Union was surrounded by aggressive capitalist powers which had intervened once already to put down the revolution, and the country had suffered inestimable devastation from German invasion in World War I, from Allied invasion after the war, and from civil warC facts which seemed to justify draconian measures. Finally, the Communists were the first and only party which had discovered how to practice Marxism as a theory of modern revolutionC and there was no other.
For all these reasons, millions of ordinary people saw the Soviet Union as a beacon of hope in a dark and threatening world.
With their revolutionary reputation largely intact, the Soviets began to play a critical role in supporting capitalism and preventing the outbreak of working class revolution.
Revolution and Counterrevolution in Spain
The first real test for the Soviet Communist leaders as allies of world capital came with the outbreak of civil war and social revolution in Spain. The Soviet and Spanish Communist parties played a crucial role for international capitalism in Spain, undermining the revolution and assuring the Fascist victory.
The 1936 revolt of General Franco against the bourgeois Republican government ignited social revolution in Spain. The government, "fearing the revolution more than it feared Franco," refused to arm the workers and peasants against the imminent Fascist revolt. With no other recourse, workers armed themselvesC with clubs and kitchen knives, sticks of dynamite brought from mines and construction sites, rifles seized from sporting goods stores, and a few racks of government rifles brought over by sympathetic soldiersC and began the fight against the Fascist takeover.
While the Fascist army had vastly superior arms and training, the workers and peasants had the aspirations of the people on their side. The workers' militias beat back the Fascist armies, spreading the social revolution as they went. Workers in Catalonia and in some other regions seized factories and began to run them collectively, producing war materiel for the front and supplies for the cities; they elected workers' committees to organize workers' militias and to carry the revolution forward in the areas under their control. Peasants seized Church lands and large estates and turned them into cooperatives; they elected peasant committees to oversee the tasks of provisioning the front and the cities.
The capitalist powers had a great stake in preventing the spread of revolution in Spain. Not only did France and Great Britain have huge investments there in mining and other industries; they were afraid that revolution in Spain might spread into France and beyond.
France, Great Britain, and the United States declared their "neutrality" in the Spanish struggle; they refused to sell munitions to the Republican forces, while Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy poured arms, planes, and elite forces into Spain to assist Franco.
After several months, the workers' militias ran out of arms and ammunition. The Soviet Union agreed to sell arms to the Republicans, but only on one condition: that they abandon the revolution. The Communists demanded that the workers' militias be disbanded, and that factories and lands be returned to the bourgeoisie.
Betrayed by the leaders of the trade unions and other organizations, and without a strong revolutionary leadership of their own, the workers and peasants were finally forced to return the factories and land to their former owners. With the disbanding of the workers' militias, the government police and the regular army were re-established, and with them the authority of the bourgeoisie.
Politics is the chief factor in civil war. With the abandonment of the revolution, the civil war was lost. The war became a conventional war, in which all the advantages of arms and equipment were Franco's. Soviet secret police, sent by Stalin into Spain for the purpose, began rounding up and executing revolutionary leaders. Government forces invaded villages which refused to disband their cooperatives and shot recalcitrant peasants. Peasants and workers in areas held by Franco, seeing no difference between the Fascists and the Communist-bourgeois coalition government, stopped challenging the Fascist troops.
In May, 1937 workers in Barcelona rose against the Popular Front goverment; they erected barricades and fought the Republican/Communist troops. After several days, however, the leaders of the leftist and anarchist organizations persuaded the workers to give up the fight. The last chance at re-igniting the revolution was lost, and with it the war against the Fascists.
Whatever turns of Marxist reasoning or Popular Frontism the party used to justify it, the Communist role in Spain was consistent with the savagely reactionary Stalin regime which was directing it. The Communists did their dirty work, and the world was made safer for the power of elites.
World War II and the "Grand Alliance"
World War II represented the greatest crisis of the world capitalist system since World War I. The Great War had triggered revolution in Russia and social upheaval throughout Europe; the fear of world capital was that the Second World War would bring with it socialist revolution in Europe. The Allies thus had two primary goals in waging the war: to defeat German imperialism, and to prevent the outbreak of socialist revolution on the continent as Fascist forces fell to indigenous resistance movements chiefly made up of workers and led by Communists. Of these two, the prevention of revolution was the more important goal. It governed Allied war planning on such key matters as the opening of a Second Front, and conditioned the relationships between Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin.
As the war drew to a close, the forces of working class revolution in Europe were immeasurably stronger than ever before. Fascism had provided the backbone of capitalist ruling structures in the occupied countries; now, as Fascism was smashed, capitalist structures collapsed. As Fernando Claudin puts it, "The war tended to turn into a revolutionary war once the movement of the struggle against Fascism led to conflict with the ruling classes which had used Fascism to maintain their domination, once the war brought into action the proletarian classes or they acquired arms and a consciousness of their power." The great fear of the allies seemed on the verge of being realized.
In four European countriesC in France, Italy, Greece, and YugoslaviaC Communist-led resistance forces liberated large sections of the country from the Fascists before the arrival of Allied troops. In each of these countries, the Communists were the leading political and organizational force within the working class, and the working class in each was in a position to create socialist revolution at the time, or to lay the foundations for settling the question of political power with the weakened capitalists in the near future. As Claudin explains, "...in 1944-45 only the Communist parties could halt the revolutionary movement of the proletariat, and in practice this is what they did."
The national uprising of the French resistance took place before the Allied landing at Normandy; the greater part of France, including Paris, was liberated by the armed forces of the Communist-led resistance, with the active support of the population at large. Liberation committees were established everywhere as organs of popular control.
At the direction of Moscow, when the Allies arrived, the resistance forces gave over their weapons and their political power to them. In a word, "the party liquidated the popular armed forces built up during the resistance."
French capital had collaborated with the Nazis through the Vichy regime and had been devastated by the Nazi defeat. In the years immediately following liberation, the French Communist Party energetically set about restoring capitalist power in France, suppressing strike activity and calling upon the people to "steel themselves for the battle of production as they steeled themselves for the battle of liberation."
In Italy as in France, the Communists led the resistance. By 1945, there were over 300,000 armed partisans organized into combat units in the north of Italy. As Claudin points out, "the greatest worry of the Italian ruling classes and the Allies was the possibility of a revolutionary explosion in the north after the defeat of the Germans."
In the fall of 1944, the Allies halted their advance up the Italian peninsula, to allow the German and Italian Fascist troops freedom to smash the growing power of the partisans. The Allies maintained this truce until mid-April, 1945 when, with Germany already practically defeated, and in fear of partisan victory throughout the north, they again went over to the offensive.
The partisan army and the workers of the north had already begun a general uprising. Ten days before the Allies arrived, the partisans liberated Bologna, Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Genoa, Turin, Milan, Verona, Padua and the whole region of Venice, and placed them under the control of national liberation committees.
But at the direction of the Italian Communist Party (PCI), the partisans surrendered their arms to the Allies and returned confiscated lands and goods to the capitalists and big landowners. The national liberation committees were dissolved and former officials were appointed by the Allies to administer the townsC all with the cooperation, even at the insistence, of the Communist leadership.
The Greek resistance had the same revolutionary character as the Italian and French resistance. In 1944, with over 1,500,000 men and women organized in its ranks and in control of most of the country, it was "within a hairsbreadth of victory," not only over the Nazis, but also over the monarchy and British imperialism, which stood behind it. But the Greek Communist leadership acceded to Stalin's demands to give over power to the British-backed royalist forces. After eighteen months of fierce repression at the hands of the British, the Greek resistance finally undertook civil war in much less favorable circumstances. The British still were unable to prevail, and gave over the fight to the United States. U.S. forces, in the first exercise of the "Truman Doctrine," intervened in the civil war on the side of the royalists. In August, 1949 the revolutionary forces, in internal disarray because of Stalin's continued interference, were finally defeated.
Only the Yugoslav Communist Party under Tito resisted the pressure from Moscow to surrender the arms and power of the partisan forces to the bourgeoisie. As the revolutionary forces liberated areas from the Germans, they carried forward social reform and agrarian reform based on popular democratic power. As it progressed, "the war of liberation inevitably took on the form of a civil war against the bourgeoisie and the big landowners."
Stalin did all that he could to stop the advance of the Yugoslav revolution. He offered military supplies to the bourgeois-royalist forces at the same time as he refused arms and ammunition to the Yugoslav Communists. He expelled the Yugoslav party from the international Communist movement, and organized vituperative attacks on them from every quarter. He arrested and executed a number of Yugoslav Communist leaders who had accepted an offer of safe passage to Moscow in an attempt at compromise. He attempted to organize a coup d'etat against the party leadership. The Yugoslav party, however, persisted in its aim and completed the revolution.
Stalin also attempted to put the brakes on another Communist-led revolution in these years. As late as 1947, after the civil war in China had already turned irreversibly in favor of the revolutionary forces led by the Chinese Communist Party, Stalin tried to force Mao and the Chinese party into surrendering their forces and weapons to Chiang Kai-shekC an act which would likely have led to a repetition of Chiang's 1927 slaughter of Communists in Shanghai. The Chinese party resisted Stalin's pressure; in 1949, the revolution was victorious.
What explains the role played by Stalin and, under the influence of the Soviet party, most of the Communist parties of the world in this period of capitalism's greatest crisis? Why did the Communist parties of the world rush forward to save capitalism?
The answer to this question is complicated, but the factors come down chiefly to two. One is that, at a series of conferences during the war, culminating in Yalta, the Soviet Union had agreed with Great Britain and the United States to divide the post-war world into "spheres of influence," dominated by one power or another. The revolutions in France, Italy, Greece, and Yugoslavia had to be put down, because Stalin had already agreed that these countries would remain in the Western bloc.
Stalin had no such hesitations in those areas which it had been agreed would be in the Russian sphere. Soviet troops imposed "socialism" in the countries of Eastern Europe which Roosevelt and Churchill had agreed would be Stalin's to control. Soviet encroachment into Eastern Europe, like Soviet discouragement of revolution elsewhere, was a part of the division of world into spheres of influence.
The second factor in the counterrevolutionary role played by the Communist parties had to do with the nature of the Soviet regime at home. Paraphrasing Isaac Deutscher's detailed study of the question, Claudin says:
The foreign policy of the Soviet bureaucracy could not do other than reflect, in some form, its domestic policy....The victory of a socialist revolution throughout Europe would have meant the end of the isolation of the Russian revolution, but....this would endanger the political and ideological basis of the bureaucratic and totalitarian system built on the basis of isolation. From being an objective influence on the system, isolation had become a necessary condition for its survival and for the privileges of its ruling class.
In other words, the Soviet Communists' fear was that revolution from below in Europe would lead to revolution from below in Russia, and the end of the Soviet ruling class.
The "Cold War": 1947-1989
I have reviewed the hidden, counterrevolutionary history of Communism at some length, because the relationship of the United States and the Soviet Union during the period of the Cold WarC not to mention the present period of perestroikaC cannot be fully understood apart from it.
As the immediate post-war years drew to a close, the world divided into two apparently hostile camps, which, however, had a deep and abiding common interest: the prevention of working class revolution anywhere in the world.
While it still declared itself the world center of socialist revolution, the Soviet Union had become a firmly counterrevolutionary power, with as much to fear from authentic revolutions from below as the capitalists. The Communist parties of Western Europe became part of the "loyal opposition," ruthlessly opposing any efforts to create movements to their left. The Communist parties of Eastern Europe became ruling apparatuses closely tied to the Soviet power.
The counterrevolutionary development of the Communist movement had profound implications for the post-war world. It meant that world capital faced a world without revolutionC at least in that part of the world about which capital was most concerned, war-ravaged Europe. Capital could undertake the rebuilding of the world it had nearly destroyed secure in the knowledge that no significant organized force would challenge its legitimacy. Competition with the Soviet Union would be within the comfortable mold of interimperialist rivalryC a rivalry which both powers could use to advantage to strengthen their control of their own populations and to justify the projection of military force abroad.
The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was much like what Orwell describes in 1984: a perpetual state of warfare which fulfilled important needs of the ruling elites of both societies.
The Cold War provided the ruling elites with a much-needed external enemy to justify internal control. Capitalism and "the American way of life" became synonymous; to criticize capitalist domination of American society was to be disloyal, a "dupe" or worse of the Communists. In the Soviet Union, to criticize Communist domination was to be "in the service of the capitalists."
Both the U.S. and the USSR had acquired extensive interests beyond their own borders as an outcome of World War II. The Cold War provided each superpower with a rationale to protect its interests abroad. The United States invaded foreign lands, installed puppet governments, bombed and tortured and starved countless millions of people to save the world from Communism. The USSR, while it never had foreign holdings as extensive as those of the U.S., had similar interests and a matching rationale. Soviet tanks were not in Hungary or Czechoslovakia to crush the aspirations of ordinary people, but "to save them from capitalism."
Through all this long and bloody contest, the elites in control of the Soviet Union and the United States have principally had to fear not each other but the people of the world, against whom they worked in collaboration. The relationship of the Soviet Union to the United States in this working arrangement has been one of what Noam Chomsky calls "junior partner in global management."
Their respective roles have been something like a global "bad cop-good cop" routine. The United States ferociously attacks revolutionary movements. By cutting off all other means of support, the U.S. forces these movements into the waiting arms of the Soviets. The U.S. in this way accomplishes three important purposes. It justifies further attacks on the movement, which is now truly "Soviet-dominated." It makes the movement liable to Soviet control, so that the Soviets may remove any democratic or radical tendencies from it. Finally, the U.S. can thereby demonstrate to people in other countries who may be thinking of revolution that their fate will be the same: to be attacked savagely by the U.S., only to "escape" into the orbit of the Soviet Union.
The USSR, at least until the collapse of Communism at the end of the `80s, was uniquely prepared for the role of guiding Third World revolutions in a "safe" direction. It retained some of the prestige of the October Revolution. In addition, it possessed an admirable ideological rationale for channeling these movements in the desired direction. Using Marxist-Leninist theory, the Soviets could claim that the only type of change appropriate in these countries is "national liberation" from imperialistC i.e., U.S.C domination, in which the party builds up the economy, under its firm control. Thus control is maintained by the party, and the danger of revolution from below is averted.
The Vietnamese and Nicaraguan revolutions, so different in their ways, both represent movements which the United States preferred to see driven into the Soviet camp rather than left to develop as independent and potentially democratic and liberating revolutions. The U.S. went to great lengths to cut tiny Nicaragua off from any other source of support but the Soviet Union. The willingness of the Sandinistas to follow the Soviet line led to absurd results, such as Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's public support of martial law in Poland. By accommodating itself to the Soviet line in this and other ways, the Sandinista revolution increasingly lost its attractiveness for other revolutionaries, and thus its threatening quality. Similarly the Vietnamese revolution, bombed and battered by the United States, was driven to rely on the Soviet bloc as its principal source of support. While the Vietnamese party always had the structural characteristics of Marxist-Leninist parties, it had developed a degree of internal democracy and radicalism unique in the Communist movement. As the American war on Vietnam wore on, Soviet aid and Soviet influence further insinuated themselves into the Vietnamese revolution, and removed those dangerous characteristics which could have ignited democratic revolution throughout Southeast Asia.
The Solidarity movement in Poland in 1980-81 called for elite collaboration of a different type. Here was a mass movement uniting 10 million workers in the industrial heart of Central Europe. If this movement turned revolutionary, it could have swept into the rest of Europe, East and West.
Far from encouraging the Poles to throw off the Communist yoke, Western leaders urged caution. Western media and politicians lavished praise and attention on Lech Walesa and other counterrevolutionary elements in Solidarity, and magnified the threat of Russian intervention in Poland if the movement became openly revolutionary. (1980 was not 1956 or even 1968; a Soviet invasion of Poland, in the unlikely event it was attempted, could have spread revolution throughout the Soviet bloc.) Western leaders did nothing to oppose the imposition of martial law by General Jaruzelski. Instead, they collaborated behind the scenes to stabilize the Communist government. U.S. and West German banks, deeply concerned lest further stress on the Polish economy lead to a radicalization of the mass movement, renegotiated the $28 billion debt incurred during the 1970s by the Polish Communist government.
There are many other instances of capitalist/Communist collusion during the Cold War period. The point is that, while capitalism presents itself as eternal and all-powerful, in fact it is temporary and conditional. It has survived the twentieth century because the opposition to it has been dominated by another system which has had as great a stake in the suppression of authentic revolution as capitalism itself.