‘It well recalls the triumphs past, it gives the hope of peace at last,
The banner bright, the symbol plain, of human right and human gain’
Â Â Â Â (From ‘The Red Flag’, British Labor Party anthem)
‘Then comrades come rally, and the last fight let us face,
The Internationale unites the human race!’
Â Â Â Â (From ‘The Internationale’ Socialist/Communist anthem)
‘Over your face a web of lies is woven, laws which are falsehoods pin you to the ground
Labor is mocked, its just rewards are stolen, on its bent back sits idleness encrowned’
Â Â Â Â (From ‘England Arise!’ English Socialist anthem)
‘Bandiera Rossa la trionfera, Bandiera Rossa la trionfera,
Bandiera Rossa la trionfera, eviva el communismo et la liberta’
Â Â Â Â (From ‘Bandiera Rossa’, ‘The Red Flag’ Socialist anthem of Italy)
‘Unbreakable union of freeborn republics, great Russia has welded forever to stand,
Created by struggle by will of the peoples, united and mighty our Soviet land.’
Â Â Â (From ‘Anthem of the Soviet Union’)
For well over a century men and women all over the world dreamed and strived for a better world, following the blueprints laid down by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the 19th century. Exploitation of the proletariat by the ruling classes would be ended for ever, the workers would seize control and take into public ownership the entire means of production, distribution and exchange.
Socialists and Communists everywhere were united in this goal, from the British Labor Party which had these aims printed on every membership card, to the mighty CPSU, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, where the workers seized control under the leadership of Lenin and the Bolsheviks under the slogan ‘All power to the soviets’, or workers’ councils. Communist parties swept to power all over the globe, to liberate the peoples forever from capitalist exploitation and wage slavery.
In countries like Britain after the Second World War, the Labor government brought into public ownership huge industries and services like Steel, Coal, the railways. Electricity, gas, the telecommunications network, the Post Office – all were owned by the people with no shareholders to syphon off profits. The Cooperative movement, founded by Robert Owen, was strong, giving the British people another form of common ownership. The National Health Service was established to give people free access to medicine and medical treatment.
In the Soviet Union,Â under the leadership of Lenin, Stalin and others,Â the backward country was industrialized, the farms collectivized, and it becameÂ one of the most powerful nations on Earth, but at tremendous cost. After the defeat of the Hitler fascists in 1945, Soviet-style Socialism spread to Eastern Europe and beyond. Huge Communist parties were established in countries like France and Italy. Communism spread to China, AfricaÂ and the Far East, and to Cuba on America’s very doorstep. It seemed there was no stopping the march of Socialism.
But all was not well. In Britain the Socialist state started to be dismantled by both Labor and Conservative governments. Charges were introduced into the NHS, and in later decades whole industries were privatized – stolen from the people and handed back to their exploiters by a Labor government in many cases.
The Soviet Union and the Eastern Socialist bloc collapsed, and again the people’s assets were stolen from them and handed back to their exploiters. All their social security and all the gains of their flawed and imperfectÂ Socialism were lost overnight.
The dreams of world peace were shattered, first when the two Socialist giants, the USSR and the People’s Republic of China, fell out and skirmishes broke out on the border of these two countries. How was it possible for two Socialist countries to become enemies? Because each accused the other of not being truly Socialist, and in fact neither of them were. Both had ruling classes which were looking after their own interests whilst exploiting the masses.
Then, after the fall of the Soviet bloc,Â American imperialism seemed to rule trimphant for a while, tillÂ extremist religious movements such as the Islamists challenged Western hegemony, and the world was plunged into a new age of terror.
Where did it all go wrong? What happened to our dreams of a utopia on Earth and world peace? It started to go wrong right at the very beginning, when Lenin, Trotsky and other Soviet leadersÂ allowed bureaucrats to take over the Soviet Union and award themselves luxuries and privileges, and then crushed the Krondstadt uprising which tried to restore the aims of the Great October SocialistÂ Revolution. The masses failed to support the Krondstadt sailors, and so a new ruling class gradually took over, turning the Socialist State into a new means of exploiting and repressing the masses.
When the workers got too lazy to attend meetings of the local soviets and defend workers’ power. When careerists and opportunists joined the CPSU and its sister parties in Eastern Europe just to further their careers, award themselves and their families privileges, and use the system as a means of exploiting the people again. When Stalin turned on genuine Communists and revolutionaries and created an atmosphere of fear and terror, whilst allowing the new ruling class of State bureaucrats to retain their power and privileges. When Mao Zedung tried to defeat this backward slide to a class society by launching the disastrous Cultural Revolution andÂ the Red Guards,Â but onlyÂ anarchy, terror and famine wasÂ ever achieved; the ruling class of bureaucrats retained power, and have now turned China into a capitalist country again in all but name.
A new ruling classÂ had arisenÂ in the Soviet Union and allÂ its allies, and finally the system collapsed but the same ruling class stayed in power in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
In Western countries, Socialism was abandoned as it had been in the Communist countries. Communist parties around the worldÂ collapsed, and Social Democratic parties, such as the British Labor Party, removed all traces of Socialism from their agendas and set out on a path of out-and-out Thatcherism, the most right-wing Tory or capitalist doctrine ever. This taught that market forces should be given free rein, taxation kept low, public services starved of funds, and every commonly owned industry or service should be privatized.
The result has been total disaster all over the world. Globalization, which is merely international capitalism unrestrained and left to run riot, is destroying the planet. Factories and services are being moved from high wage economies to those in the developing world where labor is little more than slavery, the wages and conditions are so bad. Child labor is used to produce a lot of these goods. The environment is being destroyed, people are being thrown out of work or forced to accept lower wages, wars take place so the capitalists and imperialists can grab more of the developing world’sÂ dwindling natural resources.
We have all lost our way. Who is to blame? We all are. Communists like myself who got the formula wrong, Social Democrats and democatic Socialists who allowed Tories like Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and the New Labor crowd to infliltrate the Party, the workers in the former Socialist countries who refused to join the Marxist-Leninist Party and actively root out the careerists and opportunists, leading comrades like Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zedung, etc. who allowed a new ruling class to take over, and who failed to realize that a new multi-party electoral system was essential since the one-party system wasn’t working, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Lenin for putting too much faith in the toiling masses, and underestimating the cunning of the exploiting classes. Communists everywhere for being so naive as to believe the one Party system would lead to a classless society where the State would wither away and a utopian self-governming Communist society emerge. We are all to blame, but we must learn from our mistakes.
We must not take the writings of Marx, Engels and Lenin as gospel. The system they devised did not work. But with slight adjustments, it WOULD have worked. Most of whatÂ Karl Marx wrote is still valid. The trouble was the wayÂ his theories were put into practice in the Soviet Union and other countries. All that was needed to make Socialism work was pluralism in both politics and the Socialist economy. This means free elections with many Socialist parties competing under a Socialist Constitution, and a Socialist economy in whichÂ cooperatives and rival publicly owned companies compete in the market place. In short, the combination of the best elements of Western democracy with the best elements of Socialism. It is as simple as that.
With the benefit of the experience of 20th Century Socialism, both in the Communist world and in countries like Britain, we can learn from past mistakes and create this new form of Socialism for the 21st Century. Already countries in South America are embracing Socialism. It is time for the pendulum to swing to the Far Left elsewhere and for private enterprise (which increasingly means multi-national monopolies taking over the world economy) to be abolished, or restricted to small family businesses. For the exploitation of others to be swept aside in a vast explosion of true democratic Socialism which will guarantee the people own and control the means of production, distribution and exchange, that the industries and services are efficiently run, that healthy Socialist competition ensures freedom of choice and spurs initiative. Also that different political parties are able to try out their brands of Socialism,Â that public services are maintained at a high level with social security for everyone (including good pensions when they retire), the elimination of low wages and unemployment, and theÂ creation of a classless society with no exploiters and no ruling class.
IÂ still believe such a world is possible. It is up to the toiling masses to take KarlÂ Marx’s advice: ‘Workers of theÂ World Unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!’ Only this time, once we’ve got control, neverÂ letÂ anybody take our power away from us again.Â