Khrushchev Lied book cover
Via The Class Struggle
The historian J A Getty, one of the most respected authorities on Soviet history, remarked of the Stalin era:
“For no other period or topic have historians been so eager to write and accept history-by-anecdote. Grand analytical generalisations have come from second-hand bits of overheard corridor gossip. Prison camp stories (‘My friend met Bukharin’s wife in a camp and she said …’) have become primary sources on central political decision making.
“The need to generalise from isolated and unverified particulars has transformed rumours into sources and has equated repetition of stories with confirmation. Indeed, the leading expert on the Great Purges has written that ‘truth can thus only percolate in the form of hearsay’ and that ‘basically the best though not infallible sources is rumour.’ As long as the unexplored classes of sources include archival and press material, it is neither safe nor necessary to rely on rumour or anecdote.”
The ‘leading expert’ to whom Getty was referring was, of course, Robert Conquest, whose emotionally-charged books on the Stalin era, such as Harvest of Sorrow and The Great Terror, did more than perhaps any others to ingrain in people’s minds the notion of Stalin as ‘the ruthless dictator’.
This image was, however, inherited from the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev whose infamous ‘Secret Speech’ at the 20th Congress of CPSU claimed to ‘lift the lid’ on the hitherto hidden terror of Stalinism. As Grover Furr notes in his book on the speech (provocatively entitled Khrushchev Lied):
“This speech is often referred to as one of the ‘revelations’ by Khrushchev of crimes and misdeeds done by Stalin. The issue of the ‘cult of personality’, or ‘cult of the individual’, around the figure of Stalin was the main subject of the speech …
“The ‘Secret Speech’ threw the world communist movement into crisis. But the claim was that all the damage done was necessary, prophylactic. An evil part of the past, largely unknown to the communists of the world and even of the USSR, had to be exposed, a potentially fatal cancer in the body of world communism had to be mercilessly excised, so that the movement could correct itself and once again move towards its ultimate goal.”
The fall-out from this speech cannot be underestimated. It led to a rift in the world communist movement between the two largest socialist nations, the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union (the ‘Sino-Soviet Split’ as it is referred to by historians), as well as a rift between the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of Albania.
The Albanians and the Chinese rejected both the image of the Stalin era that was being presented by Khrushchev and the way that phoney image was being used as justification for revisions of the central tenants of Marxism Leninism. The anti-revisionist movement was thus born.
An equally important result of the ‘Secret Speech’ was that it reinvigorated the decaying Trotskyist movement. As Furr notes:
“Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin in the ‘Secret Speech’ echoed Trotsky’s earlier demonisation of Stalin. But in 1956 Trotskyism was a marginal force, its murdered leader most often dismissed as a megalomaniacal failure. Khrushchev’s speech breathed new life into Trotsky’s all-but-dead caricature of Stalin.
“Communists and anti-communists alike began to view Trotsky as a ‘prophet’. Had he not said things very similar to what Khrushchev had just ‘revealed’ to be true? They dusted off Trotsky’s little-read works. Trotsky’s reputation, and that of his followers, soared. That the ‘Secret Speech’ constituted an unacknowledged ‘rehabilitation’ of Trotsky was recognised by Trotsky’s widow Sedova who, within a day of the speech, applied to the Presidium of the 20th Party Congress for full rehabilitation for both her late husband and her son.”
Trotskyism thus re-emerged as a force within the working-class movement and, often trading off its apparently sharp-eyed analysis of the Soviet Union, rose to become one of the most persistent features of the western political spectrum.
Indeed, in a very real sense it may be said that the ‘Secret Speech’ was the birth of modern Marxism. After all, what modern strand of Marxism has not been shaped by its views on the Stalin era?
‘Western Marxism’ (the Frankfurt School, Hegelian Marxism etc) sought to develop a ‘non-totalitarian’ Marxism and much of its work is pregnant with ruminations about ‘terror’; and the necessity for the ‘freedom of the individual’ to safeguard against it. ‘Luxemburgism’ and ‘Anarchism’, which came to believe that the Leninist political project itself inevitably ended in tyranny and repression. And, of course, ‘Trotskyism’ which we have already touched upon.
The publication of Grover Furr’s Khrushchev Lied is therefore an event of great import. Having spent the past ten years buried in the infamous Soviet archives (or at least, those sections of it which are now available to be studied – much of the archives are still too politically-charged to be considered for opening by the current Russian government) he has now produced a book, based on his research, which makes an outrageous claim:
“Not one specific statement of ‘revelation’ that Khrushchev made about either Stalin or [Lavrenti] Beria [former head of the NKVD] turned out to be true. Among those that can be checked for verification, every single one turns out to be false. Khrushchev, it turns out, did not just ‘lie’ about Stalin and Beria – he did virtually nothing else except lie. The entire ‘Secret Speech’ is made up of fabrications.”
The book has already caused a storm in Russian academic circles and is beginning to make an impact in the United States, as well. As Professor Roger Keeran of Empire State College has remarked: “Grover Furr’s study demands a complete rethinking of Soviet history, socialist history, indeed world history of the 20th century.” This is not an overstatement.
Among the most important claims debunked by Furr are:
- Stalin supported and fostered a ‘cult of personality’. Furr demonstrates that not only did Stalin not actively foster any such ‘cult’, he spent a great deal of his time actively fighting against it. Khrushchev, on the other hand, emerges as one of the leading proponents of the cult, for his own self-serving political motives.
- Stalin embarked on ‘mass repressions’ within the Bolshevik party. This claim has already been tackled by earlier historians and writers (including Ludo Martens, in his book Another View of Stalin), but it is Furr who really puts it to bed, with reams and reams of primary sources to refute it. Furr also successfully rehabilitates Lavrenti Beria, the man who is often accused of being ‘Stalin’s executioner’ in his role as head of the NKVD.
- Stalin stifled internal party debate and ruled the Soviet Union as a ‘dictator’. Furr provides an impressive collection of primary sources, which document that Stalin was committed to internal party democracy and that he made no special fetish of his position of power.
In total, Furr identifies and debunks sixty individual lies or half-truths put forward by Khrushchev in his ‘Secret Speech’. The sheer number of major modifications to our common understanding of the Stalin era that are suggested by Furr is dizzying.
The beauty of Furr’s book, however, lies in the clarity of its argument and the author’s rigorous attention to good historiography. Every claim that Furr makes is backed up with primary or secondary sources of real weight.
The book’s structure speaks volumes about the intellectual integrity of its author: the first quarter of the book is taken up with directly examining and countering the claims made by Khrushchev, the second quarter is taken up by a wide-ranging discussion of the historiography of the Stalin era in general, while the entire second half of the book is taken up with a mammoth appendix documenting, and providing lengthy quotations from, Furr’s source material. The appendix alone makes for fascinating reading. In it, we find such nuggets as this comment in a letter from Stalin to Shatunovsky:
“You speak of your ‘devotion’ to me. Perhaps this is a phrase that came out accidentally. Perhaps … But if it not a chance phrase, I would advise you to discard the ‘principle’ of devotion to persons. It is not the Bolshevik way. Be devoted to the working class, its party, its state. That is a fine and useful thing. But do not confuse it with devotion to persons, this vain and useless bauble of weak-minded intellectuals.”
Or the documentary evidence of Stalin’s four attempts to resign his position as General Secretary of the CPSU (1924, 1926, 1927, 1952), as well as his attempt, in 1927, to abolish the position of General Secretary altogether. We can quote directly from the CC Plenum transcript of this last occurrence:
“Yes, it seems that until the 11th Congress we did not have this position [of General Secretary]. That was before Lenin stopped working. If Lenin concluded that it was necessary to put forward the question of founding the position of General Secretary, then I assume he was prompted by the special circumstances that appeared with us before the 10th Congress, when a more or less strong, well-organised opposition within the party was founded.
“But now we no longer have these conditions in the party, because the opposition is smashed to a man. Therefore we could proceed to the abolition of this position. Many people associate a conception of some kind of special rights of the General Secretary with this position. I must say from my experience, and comrades will confirm this, that there ought not to be any special rights distinguishing the General Secretary from the rights of other members of the secretariat.” [Emphasis added]
These are just two examples from what is a veritable goldmine of source material.
It is, however, the section on historiography which, in many respects, emerges as the most engaging. Furr’s sober approach to his subject matter deserves to be widely read and imitated and his comments on Soviet historiography are at least as persuasive as many of the ‘standard’ works on the subject. A good example is his discussion of ‘Torture and the historical problems related to it’, a question which any serious student of the Stalin era cannot avoid:
“The fact that a defendant was tortured does not mean that defendant was innocent. It is not evidence that the defendant was innocent. But it is often erroneously assumed to be … Establishing the fact that someone really has been tortured is not always easy.
“The mere fact that someone claims he confessed because he was tortured is hardly foolproof. There are many reasons why people sometimes want to retract a confession of guilt. Claiming one was tortured is a way of doing this while preserving some dignity. So to be certain a person was tortured there has to be further evidence of the fact, such as a statement or confession by a person who actually did the torturing, or a first-hand witness.
“When there is no evidence at all that a defendant was tortured objective scholars have no business concluding that he was tortured. This obvious point is often overlooked, probably because a ‘paradigm’ that everybody was tortured, and everybody was innocent, acts powerfully on the minds of both researchers and readers.”
Another engaging aspect of Furr’s work is the possible conclusion that it points towards, and it is this aspect that will probably most interest those readers who are already convinced of the ‘innocence’ of Stalin. Traditionally, it has been assumed by anti-revisionists that Khrushchev’s primary motivation in attacking Stalin was to lay the groundwork for his pro-market economic reforms and his counter-revolutionary modifications to Marxism Leninism. Furr accepts this as a likely primary motivation, but he adds to this another, more disturbing, possible motivation.
Furr returns to the right-Bukharinite conspiracy that was uncovered by the Moscow Trials in the late 1930s and notes the sheer number of those convicted as part of that conspiracy by Stalin and Beria who were ‘rehabilitated’ (often posthumously) by Khrushchev following his ‘Secret Speech’.
Among these are Ezhov, the man responsible for hundreds of thousands of wrongful imprisonments and thousands of wrongful executions as part of concerted campaign to ‘sow discontent’ amongst the Soviet people and lay the groundwork for a counter-revolution; Zinoviev and Kamenev, both of whom were working with Bukharin to aid the cause of hostile imperialist powers and remove the leadership of the CPSU; and Eikhe, the First Secretary who was deeply involved in the illegitimate repressions of the Soviet people, and many others. The chilling significance of this is best explained by Furr himself:
“[Iuri] Zhukov has argued that it was the First Secretaries, led by Robert Eikhe, who seem to have initiated the mass repressions [uncovered and exposed by Beria and Stalin in the late 1930s]. Khrushchev, one of these powerful First Secretaries, was himself very heavily involved in large-scale repression, including the execution of thousands of people.
“Many of these First Secretaries were themselves later tried and executed. Some of them, like Kabakov, were accused of being part of a conspiracy. Others, like Postyshev, were accused, at least initially, of mass, unwarranted repression of party members. Eikhe also seems to fall into this group. Later many of these men were also charged with being part of various conspiracies themselves. Khrushchev was one of the few First Secretaries during the years 1937-1938 not only to escape such charges, but to have been promoted.
“Might it be that Khrushchev was part of such a conspiracy – but was one of the highest-ranking members to have remained undetected? We can’t prove or disprove this hypothesis. But it would explain all the evidence we now have.”
The implications of such a possibility are, of course, massive. In particular, if Khrushchev could be proven to be a part of the right-Bukharinite conspiracy, it would have vital implications for our understanding of the birth of revisionism in the Soviet Union.
The difficulty for anti-revisionists up till this point has been to demonstrate how seemingly good communists could develop into enemies of the proletariat. This new theory, while not removing the difficulty entirely, would certainly tie it into more readily explicable phenomena, such as the right deviation that overtook Bukharin and others and led them to actively seek the overthrow of the Soviet leadership. Clearly, this is a point that will demand further examination.
If there is one major fault to be found in Furr’s work, it is his final conclusion. In the very last page and a half of the book he arrives at the somewhat dubious assertion that the rise of Khrushchevite revisionism and the right-Bukharinite conspiracy is to be explained by the faulty conception of socialism which Stalin inherited from Lenin and Lenin in turn interpreted out of the works of Marx and Engels.
This is not a conclusion which he has hitherto been building towards, nor is it one that he makes much, if any, sustained attempt to support in the page and a half that he discusses it. It feels a-priori, as if the author is trying to make his own personal belief about Marxism Leninism sit comfortably with the other conclusions of his research in a way that it simply does not.
To Furr’s credit, he wisely ends on the words “that is a subject for further research and a different book”, but nonetheless, one is left wishing he had simply left his own personal feelings on Marxism Leninism for that ‘different book’ and not tacked them, sloppily, to the end of what is otherwise a fantastic work.
Khrushchev Lied is a fascinating new perspective on the history of the Stalin era. The wealth of new research alone is worth the cover price, but the reader is also treated to an excellent discussion of historiography and some tantilising possible conclusions.
I would urge anyone with any interest whatsoever in either Joseph Stalin or the Soviet Union to read it, but also I feel certain that it will serve as a new vital resource for the anti-revisionist movement in its fight against the historical distortions perpetuated by the enemies of Leninism.
It is with the deepest grief that the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) announces that our beloved Comrade Jack Shapiro, Honorary President of our party and of Hands off China!, passed away from illness in the early morning of Friday 29 January 2010 at the age of 93.
Comrade Jack was a staunch Marxist Leninist, a proletarian revolutionary, a long-tested communist fighter and an implacable foe of revisionism and opportunism.
Born into the working-class jewish community in east London, he served a full eight decades in the communist movement; decades that took him from a young teenage militant in the ranks of the Young Communist League to Britain’s most cherished veteran communist fighter.
From the moment he took his place in the ranks of the proletarian army, he stood in his place, fighting for the liberation of mankind. He never once looked back, but always forward to humanity’s brilliant communist future. He never once regretted the choice he made. Whilst every victory inspired him, no difficulty or setback could ever daunt him.
To paraphrase the words of Ostrovsky in <em>How the Steel Was Tempered</em>, our Comrade Jack can have no regrets for a cowardly and trivial past. In dying, he can truly say that all his life and all his strength were given to the finest cause on earth, the liberation of mankind.
Comrade Jack’s early political life was marked by intense class struggle against rapacious sweatshop employers, slum landlords, bigotry, antisemitism and the rise of fascism; in defence of the Soviet Union, of Joseph Stalin, of the Spanish Republic and of the Chinese people’s war of resistance against Japanese aggression.
Throughout his eight decades of political life, Comrade Jack was as firm as a rock in his defence of the principles of Marxism Leninism. He defended the Marxist-Leninist theory of the state and the dictatorship of the proletariat. He knew that without revolutionary theory there could be no revolutionary movement and he studied hard throughout his life up to his final days. He knew that labour in the white skin could never be free if in the black it was branded, and that the movement of the proletariat in the advanced nations would be a fraud and a humbug if it was not most closely united with the struggle of hundreds of millions of colonial and neo-colonial slaves for their national liberation.
The struggle against zionism was no exception. The Palestinian, Lebanese and other Arab peoples had no better friend and comrade-in-arms than Jack. One of his very last political acts was to generously donate to the Viva Palestina! convoy that has just returned from carrying much needed relief to the people of Gaza.
He knew that “women hold up half the sky” and his own long marriage, friendship and comradeship with Comrade Marie was a true example of how human beings should live.
To Comrade Jack, the socialist countries, especially the Soviet Union of Lenin and Stalin, the first country in which his own jewish people knew freedom, and the People’s Republic of China, were the apple of his eye, and no task was greater than their unyielding defence. For him, every step taken by the socialist countries in the building of a free, prosperous and happy life was but a harbinger of the future new world where every child would know oppression and exploitation only as a topic taught in history classes.
With such bedrock principles, from the first, Comrade Jack opposed the revisionist <em>British Road to Socialism</em>, both for its parliamentary cretinism and abandonment of the dictatorship of the proletariat as well as its betrayal of the peoples fighting British imperialism for their complete freedom. He strongly supported the leadership of the Communist Party of China, and its great leader Comrade Mao Zedong, in the international fight against modern revisionism.
Comrade Jack’s relationship with the Chinese revolution was a special one indeed, ever since his much loved brother and comrade Michael Shapiro took up work with the Xinhua News Agency in Beijing in 1949 at the request of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, and stayed in China till he breathed his last.
Comrades Jack and Michael and their wives Comrade Marie and Comrade Liu Jinghe formed a single proletarian fighting unit, uniting the communists of Britain and China across continents and oceans. Senior Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping described Michael Shapiro, who accompanied the Chinese People’s Volunteers in Korea during the most bitter days of war, as a “staunch international soldier and sincere friend of the Chinese people”. These fitting words equally describe his dear brother Jack. It is indeed appropriate that his final speech should have been given from his wheelchair on 3 October 2009 at our party’s celebration of the 60th anniversary of the victory of the Chinese revolution.
Having staunchly fought against revisionism for more than half a century, going through many twists and turns, Comrade Jack greeted the foundation of our party with almost youthful enthusiasm. He joined our ranks, accepted the post of Honorary President, gave us wise advice and counsel, and generously supported us in every way. To us, he was truly a star shining in our sky, a living link to the October Revolution and to the Third Communist International. He was also a friend and a man whose impish sense of humour made light of every difficulty, whether political or personal.
Jack’s passing is a sad and irreparable loss to our young party. But we take courage from, and will never forget, the rich legacy he has left us.
Comrade Jack, with our heads bowed but our fists raised, we offer you our reddest of red salutes. You have earned the right to take rest. You will live forever in our hearts.
ETERNAL GLORY TO COMRADE JACK SHAPIRO!
Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist)
29 January 2010
VIDEO: Jack speaking against zionism at a meeting during the Gaza massacre, January 2009
VIDEO: Jack speaking on the advances of Chinese socialism, October 2009
VIDEO: Jack speaking on how Chinese socialism serves the disabled, October 2008
LETTER: Condolences received from the CPA (M-L)
In our country, in the USSR, the workers have long forgotten unemployment. Some three years ago we had about 1.5 million unemployed. It is already two years now since unemployment was completely abolished. And in these two years the workers have already forgotten about unemployment, about its burden and its horrors. Look at the capitalist countries: what horrors result there from unemployment! There are now no less than 30-40 million unemployed in those countries. Who are these people? Usually it is said of them that they are “down and out.”
Every day they try to get work, seek work, are prepared to accept almost any conditions of work, but they are not given work, because they are “superfluous.” And this is taking place at a time when vast quantities of goods and produce are being wasted to satisfy the caprices of the favourites of fortune, the scions of the capitalists and landlords.
The unemployed are refused food because they have no money with which to pay for it; they are refused shelter because they have no money with which to pay rent. How and where do they live? They live on the miserable crumbs from the rich man’s table; by raking refuse bins, where they find decayed scraps of food; they live in the slums of big cities, and more often in hovels outside the towns, hastily put up by the unemployed out of packing cases and the bark of trees. But this is not all. It is not only the unemployed who suffer as a result of unemployment. The employed workers, too, suffer as a result of it. They suffer because the presence of a large number of unemployed makes their position in industry insecure, makes them uncertain about their future. Today they are employed, but they are not sure that when they wake up tomorrow they will not find themselves discharged.
(The Results of the First Five-Year Plan, Problems of Leninism, 1933)
Transcribed from the rally held in Southall, London on 8 November 2008 to celebrate the 91st anniversary of the October Revolution. The video of this speech can be found at the CPGB-ML YouTube page.
Thank you, Harpal, for your wonderful and inspiring speech about the October Revolution and our Korean achievements.
As always, on behalf of my ambassador and all the other staff, I would like to express my sincere thanks to all the members and activists of the CPGB-ML on your support for our Korean revolution and the solidarity you’ve shown in our difficult times. Thank you very much.
On this occasion, also, I would like to congratulate all the members of the CPGB-ML on this very auspicious occasion of the [anniversary of the] October Revolution.
The great October Revolution in Russia, nearly a century ago, opened a new age for revolutionaries, for the working-class and progressive people all over the world, and gave them a bright hope. I think we can still hear the guns and cheers and see the red flags flying in the sky and feel the enchanted moment of that day, November 7th, 1917. [Applause]
The great October Revolution proved that the working class, when guided by correct and just ideology, and the wise leadership of their outstanding leader, could defeat the reactionaries of history – anti-revolutionaries – and thus build a new society and a new world.
The justness and vitality of the October Revolution has been proven throughout history. Comrade Harpal explained that very well in his speech: the socialist revolution and construction of socialist society in the Soviet Union, the defeat of fascism in World War II and the consequent victories of the socialist and people’s democratic revolutions and anti-imperialist national-liberation struggles throughout the world – Asia, Latin America, Europe and Africa.
And the Workers’ Party of Korea and the DPR of Korea have always regarded the October Revolution as an immortal achievement of not only the Russian communists and revolutionaries, but also of the Korean and world progressives and revolutionaries. [Applause]
Our party and government does continually safeguard the spirit and the principles of the October Revolution, through ups and downs, and, I think, will do the same in the future too.
Let me finish my short speech by reading an excerpt from a great work by Comrade Kim Jong Il, with a very touching anecdote from 2001 by him. You may all remember the work, but I will just repeat. It is a work written by him in 1996: ‘Respecting the forerunners of the revolution is a noble moral obligation of revolutionaries’.
“The cause of independence for the popular masses, the cause of socialism, is a national, and at the same time an international, cause. The Korean revolutionaries are genuine internationalists; they respect the revolutionaries, anti-imperialist fighters, anti-fascist fighters, progressive figures and revolutionary people of all countries, irrespective of their nationality, and duly appreciate their achievements.
“Our party and people respect Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin as the leaders of the working class and speak highly of their distinguished services. Reflecting the demands and aspirations of the working class, Marx and Engels, the first leaders of the working class, developed socialism from a utopian concept to a science and started the socialist and communist movement.
“Lenin inherited and developed Marxism to meet the change in the times and won the victory of the October Socialist Revolution by organising and mobilising the working class.
“Stalin, succeeding to the cause of Lenin, built the first young socialist state into a world power and defended the socialist fatherland from the fascist invasion, leading the army and the people. In their days, Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin represented the aspirations and demands of the exploited working masses, and the cause of socialism was inseparably linked with their names.
“The fact that imperialists and the traitors to the revolution viciously defame the leaders of the working class and abuse their leadership as ‘dictatorship’ or ‘infringement on human rights’ only proves that the leaders of the working class were zealous champions of the people’s interests and enjoyed their trust and support.” [Applause]
“Although the opportunists and the socialist renegades defaced the honour of the leaders of the working class and the revolutionary pioneers, they can never wipe out their names and their worthy achievements from history.
“Just as socialism is alive in people’s minds and is opening up the path to a new victory in spite of temporary twists and turns, so the honour and accomplishments of the leaders of the working class and the revolutionary forefathers be respected forever by the people as the socialist movement advances.
“Our party and people treasure friendship and solidarity with the peoples of various countries around the world and have given active support and encouragement to people who are fighting for socialism and for the cause of anti-imperialist independence.
“We have invariably been true to the internationalist principle and revolutionary obligation, both in the party and state relations with the socialist countries and in our relations with all the friendly countries and friendly people” like Britain.
“We remember our revolutionary comrades-in-arms and fraternal people who gave our people unconditional help and support in the hard times of our revolution and construction of socialism, and also people of all countries who support and encourage the just cause of our national reunification.” Thank you. [Applause]
And one last anecdote to prove this theory and principle. When our respected general visited Russia in 2001, he visited Red Square to pay a tribute to Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Great Socialist October Revolution. I think this anecdote will tell everything about his work and his ideology – everything. Thank you very much. [Applause]
Transcribed from the rally held in Southall, London on 8 November 2008 to celebrate the 91st anniversary of the October Revolution. The video of this speech can be found at the CPGB-ML YouTube page.
I’m going to talk a little bit more from the perspective of someone of my generation: what does October mean to me, and why do I think it should matter to other people like me?
You know, I’m a pretty normal(ish) middle-class, mother of one – perfectly good job, got a house, got a family – so why is it, living in the imperialist heartlands, that I should give a monkeys about the socialist revolution, and about standing here today to celebrate the 91st anniversary of the October Revolution, something that happened thousands of miles away, 90 years ago to people very far removed from the kind of life that I’m living? [From the floor: I quite agree with you!] (Someone agrees: why do I?!)
Now, I grew up at a time of rampant anticommunism; I grew up in Thatcher’s heartlands, one of ‘Thatcher’s children’, as our generation were called. We were taught to be selfish, we were taught to believe that it’s the law of the jungle, it’s a dog-eat-dog world, and that capitalism really is the ultimate expression of ‘human nature’, and that by being selfish, by thinking only of yourselves, by just fighting for you – and maybe your offspring – you are just reflecting reality, and that if society teaches you to be that way, it’s because that’s how people are.
Bourgeois ideology was truly in the ascendant when I was growing up, and there was no-one really countering this barrage of propaganda.
We had English literature lessons where we read Animal Farm and learned to repeat that Stalin was a crazy, murdering, stupid butcher and Trotsky was the true leader of the revolution. We had history lessons where we learned that Trotsky led the Red Army to victory and Stalin somehow hoodwinked and then later personally bullied the Soviet people into following him.
What was the aim of all of this? The aim was to teach us that revolution is pointless; that, no matter what your intentions, if you try to change society, it will go wrong; and to negate the real building of socialism in the Soviet Union by slandering the leader of that building. By slandering Stalin, by telling you that Stalin was an evil murderer, they basically say that everything that was achieved in the Soviet Union wasn’t achieved; it didn’t happen; it wasn’t true.
We were taught all sorts of stupid truisms that we just learned to repeat. These things become axioms because people say them often enough: ‘power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely’. They’re the kind of things people say to you and they think they’ve clinched the argument; they don’t have a clue what they’re talking about, but they’ve learned to say them over and over again, and whenever you talk about socialism to people, they come out with the same things: ‘It’s a nice idea in theory, it could never work in practice’; ‘It’s never been done, has it?’
And people can say ‘It’s never been done, socialism’s never been built’ because we’ve been taught all these lies about the Soviet Union and about Stalin’s leadership of the Soviet Union.
Anti-Soviet slanders are in every field of life. I did a music degree and it’s amazing how it creeps in. You wouldn’t think you could go and study music at university and several times a week get some kind of anticommunist slander, but we did.
The great music of Stravinsky and Shostakovich was produced at the barrel of Stalin’s gun! [Laughter] Somehow or other, they made great music – it would have been much better if Stalin hadn’t been there, obviously; if they’d managed to escape to the West, which was obviously what really wanted to do, everything would have been much better for them!
The fabulous child care and maternity provision provided by the Soviet Union? The children were treated like automatons! Their mothers were forced to work! The profession care was impersonal and uncaring!
All the artists, musicians, dancers, gymnasts, athletes that were produced in such amazing quality by the Soviet Union? They were coerced! They were overtrained! It’s not really human to be so good at things … [Laughter]
The victory of the Red Army over fascism? The soldiers were starving! They were forced to fight! Their best commanders had all been shot by Stalin, probably personally! [Laughter]
And to cap all of this hostility from the official sources – from the press, from the school curriculum, from the media – we grew up with a left-wing movement that was pretty much saying the same thing – denouncing and disowning Stalin and all the achievements of socialism.
People in the trade unions, people in the Labour party, the Socialist Workers’ Party, the Communist Party – these were the people who you came up against, who told you they were socialists; that they believed in the working class – they all agreed. When I was growing up, whichever one of these shades of ‘left’ you cared to talk to, they would all tell you: Stalin was a mass murderer, probably Mao was too, and Kim Il Sung the same; socialism has never been put into practice anywhere; Marx wouldn’t have approved of Lenin’s revolution; Lenin wouldn’t have approved of Stalin’s building of socialism.
So essentially, every step of the way, our generation – and probably several before and several after – have been demoralised; they’ve been cut off from their own heritage; cut off from the knowledge that another world is possible and that they’re capable of building it. [Applause]
They’ve been cut off from the science of revolution and from the ideology that offers them hope for a future free from war, poverty, unemployment, homelessness, degradation and disease.
Such has been the success of this sustained propaganda campaign, that even the few socialists that did defend the Soviet Union when I was young didn’t do a very good job of it. We’ve been taught to feel so culturally alienated [from the Soviet Union] that it’s hard to bring it to life; it’s hard to believe it’s really as good as we wanted to say it was.
The repeated assertions that I talked about earlier create an atmosphere of overwhelming associations about what life in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe was like: inhospitable, joyless, we think of gulags in Siberia, everything was grey, everybody was a bit of an automaton, there was no choice, there was no inspiration, there was no magic to life.
Stalin’s name is a swear word; you can’t use it, it’s synonymous with fear and loss of liberty, with the evil KGB, and with a Big Brother culture, so that even those who’d understood in theory that yes, socialism is a good thing, and think that probably what happened in the Soviet Union might have been alright, they couldn’t find the enthusiasm, they couldn’t overcome this barrage of propaganda that had been instilled into them – all this prejudice – to find out for themselves, and to actually stand up proudly and say ‘You know what? This is nonsense! This is not the truth about socialism; this is not the truth about the Soviet Union.’
But we do need to understand the significance of the Soviet Union. We need to read works of literature produced in the Soviet Union. They bring to life life under socialism like nothing else can. And we should read books about the years when socialism was being constructed in the Soviet Union. Novels like How the Steel Was Tempered by Nikolai Ostrovsky, The Zhurbins, Ivan Ivanovich, or books like Soviet Democracy or The Stalin Era; books that describe the life of ordinary people at a time when the Soviet Union was going from strength to strength.
From the time of the revolution up until the time of Stalin’s death, if you read these works of literature, if you read the works of eye witnesses, [you find out that] the Soviet Union was the most incredible place to live, and the Soviet novels illustrate really beautifully how socialism can unlock the tremendous creative powers of working people, imbue them with a spirit of enthusiasm for their work and with a feeling that they really can achieve anything that they put their minds to.
We need to disseminate these works and ideas; there’s a much bigger audience for them than you might think, especially now.
At this moment now, the crisis of capitalism is really providing the best opportunity that I’ve seen in my lifetime to talk to people. Suddenly all sorts of people who wouldn’t have been able to get past the word ‘socialism’ and hear anything else that came out of your mouth – today you can talk to them about child care in the DPRK; you can talk to them about the building of socialism in the Soviet Union and they’ll listen to you; they want to hear; they’re interested in answers now.
For a long time, people here haven’t had such bad lives, and when things were getting worse for them, they believed what they were told. Comrade Brar referred to it earlier – when Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher turned around and said, ‘Well, you know, of course, we’d like to provide you with a perfect education system, perfect health care, but these systems are under strain, we just don’t have enough resources to go around; we can’t just be giving things out willy nilly; we can’t just provide houses to everybody – where will the money come from?’
Where will the money come from? That’s what we’re always told. And it’s an unanswerable question. Where will the money come from? Oh, well, ok, fair enough, there’s not enough money, so that’s just the way things are, right? And people have swallowed that.
But it’s very hard to swallow that when suddenly £500bn is found for the banks – out of nowhere, apparently! [Applause] And I think that’s been the most incredible wake-up call for everybody. While they see that their pensions, their health care, their education are all under threat, that they cannot rely on their pay packet being there next month, that they cannot rely on their house being there next year, but that actually money can be found for the things that matter to the ruling class – and suddenly you see what are the things that matter to the ruling class and what aren’t.
My generation was taught to be nihilistic and cynical, and yet, however much we’re told that that’s the normal way to be, we fight it! If human nature is to be selfish and greedy, why doesn’t being selfish and greedy make us happy? Why doesn’t it make us feel good about ourselves? Why is it that we search for some other meaning in our lives? [Chair interjects: That’s also part of human nature! Laughter]
Why is it that our grandparents look back so fondly on the second world war, a time of such hardship? They talk about the ‘war spirit’. What was the war spirit? It was the collective spirit.
The reality is that people are collective animals; we feel best when we are contributing to something that isn’t just yourselves, our own little lives in our own little boxes. We feel happiest when we are working for something that feels like it means something bigger; we feel happiest contributing to society.
But we don’t get that opportunity. We look for it; we try to find it; we try to tell ourselves that our jobs are meaningful and we feel bad if we can’t find a way to believe that.
Even those who are comparatively wealthy in our society don’t feel it. They don’t feel it because there’s constant insecurity. Even quite well off middle-class people are only a couple of pay packets away from destitution, from defaulting on the mortgage, from losing out on their pensions, from not being able to provide their children with what they need for a decent life.
And that’s in the good times! And as we see now, you can’t rely on the good times. You play the game according every way you’ve been taught and you win, you’re one of the lucky few who does everything you’re told and it works out for you – you’ve got your savings pot, you think you’ve got what you need for your pension, you’ve invested in a few properties.
But tomorrow, maybe the properties aren’t worth anything, maybe the money in the bank isn’t there any more, or it isn’t worth anything any more; maybe suddenly tomorrow you have to pay for health care you didn’t have to pay for before, or your pension’s taken away from you.
You can’t rely on anything under capitalism; there’s no such thing as security no matter how hard you work, no matter how much you accumulate. And that’s why, no matter how much people do accumulate in this society, as they’ve been taught to – accumulate to find happiness – they don’t feel happy; they don’t feel comfortable.
It’s the secret of middle-class whinging – all these well-off people who always have something to moan about! Everybody thinks if they had ten grand a year more, they’d be happy. But the people the next ten grand up, they’re not so happy either – they think they need another ten grand!
And then we compare that with the picture of life in a socialist country. Can you imagine living in a world where every job makes a contribution to building a better life for people? That in itself would be such a great motivator and inspirer! That in itself would unleash the creativity of so many people, bring out people’s natural collective spirit.
It’s very interesting to me; I recently spotted a bit of a pattern. We met a comrade from China and he was talking about life in China and achievements of the Chinese people in the last 50-60 years, and he said to me, ‘You know, we Chinese, we like to do things for ourselves; we don’t like to rely on others, we don’t like to exploit others, we like to build things ourselves – it’s just what we’re like. It’s because we’re Chinese.’
And we were watching a film about the Cuban revolution, and there was a Cuban bus driver, and the interviewer was asking him about the problems with the transport in Cuba because of the blockade, lack of petrol, lack of spare parts, and he said, ‘You know, we’re Cubans, problems are to be solved! It’s because we’re Cuban – we find solutions to our problems, we don’t moan about them, we get on with it, we fix things.’
And I bet if you’d gone to the Soviet Union, you’d have heard something very similar. North Koreans will talk about their self-reliance, their pride in being Korean and achieving things by themselves for themselves.
Now I hope our comrades from these countries won’t take it amiss when I say to them that my belief is that it’s not because they’re Korean or Chinese or Cuban that they feel this way about their people, about their country, about their lives; I think it’s because they live under socialism. [Applause]
I think a socialist society inspires them to build and to achieve; it makes them feel valued, it makes them feel part of something, it makes them feel that their work is useful. They can see the fruits of their labour in front of them and it comes back to them and to their neighbours a hundred fold.
Imagine never having to worry about paying the rent; never having to worry about health care, education provision for your children, university fees.
Imagine never having to worry about whether or not you’ll still have a job tomorrow; never having to worry about whether there’s going to be food on your table or your children’s table today or tomorrow.
Cuba’s achievements in the fields of health and education are relatively widely known now, but it’s not so well understood that it was the Soviet Union that pioneered all of that.
It was the Soviet Union that was the first to provide these kind of things – and that at a time, not only when they had just fought a very debilitating war – first the revolution, then the civil war, then the war of intervention – but when the rest of the world was going through the great depression – the mirror of the crisis we’re having now.
The rest of the world was plunged into total poverty, but the Soviet Union was going from strength to strength; they were providing facilities – first class, world class facilities – for ordinary working-class people of the kind that before then had only ever been dreamed about.
Like the Soviet Union before it, if you go to the DPRK today, something that hits people when they go there (and I’m sorry to say I never have yet, but it’s something that’s always related to me when I talk to people who have been) is that there are no advertisements on the streets. Can you imagine a life free from that bombardment of rubbish?
You don’t appreciate how much it oppresses you and weighs down on your mentality – all the time, in your face – you have to learn not to look around you; learn to walk around in your own little bubble to keep it out, blaring out at you. You’re not even free from it in a petrol station forecourt, in Sainsbury’s – they’re advertising at you non-stop, all the time.
To live in a place where not only do you not have that, but instead you have people’s art in the streets; celebrations – statues and posters – artwork celebrating the achievements of you and your fellow people.
Ordinary people’s buildings made beautiful – turned into palaces. They have children’s palaces in Korea, and the Soviet Union did just that sort of thing, constructing the most incredible, artistic buildings where ordinary people were every day, like the underground system in Moscow; places where ordinary people go made beautiful, to uplift them, to make them feel respected, valued; to make them care about their society and feel that they in turn were cared about.
Comrade Brar’s already talked about how the Soviet Union provided for mothers and children. It’s something you can’t underestimate the impact of – and so far in advance of the rest of the world. It’s the first place where they really showed that the liberation of women is about practical things – it’s not just about allowing women to take part in jobs, but freeing them to do so: providing the best possible child care, where you feel happy to leave your children; providing huge amounts of paid maternity leave, both before and after the baby’s birth, for the optimum health of the mother and the baby. I was reading recently how as soon as they knew a woman was pregnant, they’d move her into easier physical work if she was in something that was quite taxing. The day the baby and the mother came home from the hospital, who came to see them? Not just the nurse – an obstetrician! In the house!
They really, really cared about the health of women and of children. They set up crèches, laundries, kindergartens, public dining rooms – all the services that Comrade Harpal talked about before – to free women and allow them to really take their place in society, and to give children an equal start in life.
There was recently a report published by the World Health Organisation. It talked about health inequality in the world, and the conclusion that they [the authors] came to – well, the conclusion between the lines was, we need socialism! [Laughter] – they said: people need jobs, they need decent housing, people need access to culture.
They talked about illness prevention, which of course was the core principal tenet of the Soviet medical system, and they talked about children needing an equal start from the beginning.
They talked about the importance of pre-school education; they talked about the importance of involving the whole community in that type of pre-school education – it’s not just a question of sending them off to a kindergarten for a couple of hours and bringing them back again, but a whole community really needs to take part in that.
But you need to have a community to do something like that; people need to be organised as a community in order to implement those kind of programmes. There are only socialist countries in the world today that do that – it’s only in Cuba, it’s only in the DPRK where you see those kind of programmes in action – and it was in the Soviet Union that you saw them first.
Imagine living in a world where education throughout life was the norm; where opportunities to develop your potential are provided as a matter of course to everyone, at no cost, with no penalty to your family if you decide to take them up or to have a change of career – where you don’t have to worry whether your children are going to eat if you need to retrain.
We live in a society that criminally squanders and suppresses the creative and productive potential of the vast masses of humanity. Even the best off workers often feel isolated and insecure, and the vast majority are only ever one or two pay packets away from destitution.
None of the main contradictions of imperialism can be solved without proletarian revolution. We will never have job or housing security or secure pensions as long as imperialism exists.
Our job as socialists under capitalism is to use the daily and hourly crises of imperialism to expose the system and explain to workers that as long as this system continues the rich will get richer, the poor will get poorer, the crises will get deeper, the wars will become bigger and bloodier.
October showed us we have nothing to lose and everything to gain from the socialist revolution, which will free us all from poverty and insecurity. [Applause]
October proved that work under socialism is transformed from meaningless drudgery into a vehicle for unlocking the potential and creativity of the working class.
And it was October that proved that while imperialism continues to oppress and plunder and drench the world in blood, there is only one thing that can usefully be done with your life, with my life, with anybody’s life, and that is to join the fight against imperialism, to join the fight for more Octobers. [Applause]
Reply to Joti’s speech, Harpal Brar
Thank you very much Joti, but you were quite wrong in saying that I’d spoke your speech earlier; it’s quite different. And to the extent that there is some repetition, then I think it’s perfectly alright. As the old Latin saying goes: Repetition is the key to learning!
You have talked of the power of advertisements. We must advertise our ideology – the more often we speak about it, the better. I hope each speaker will be able to repeat some of the things, because they are essential.
We are in a minority and we’ll never become a majority unless and until we actually continue to insist on speaking the truth, whatever the cost.
We’ve somehow been thrown back in the imperialist centres to being in a similar position to that of the early christians – you know, you’re hounded from place to place, but you’re nevertheless able to convey what they used to call ‘the lord’s message’. [Laughter] In our case, it is the message of the working class.
We are the majority. Why are we such fools that we accept the propaganda of the tiny minority that actually keeps us in subjugation? We shall not accept that as being the fate of humanity.
Transcribed from the rally held in Southall, London on 8 November 2008 to celebrate the 91st anniversary of the October Revolution. .
Thank you very much. It’s a great honour to be with you today delivering the message of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Turkey and Northern Kurdistan.
October is the future of humanity. It has been said that we have called the 21st century with the defeat of socialism, but yet we are here again, discussing socialism and wanting socialism. Because the world today needs socialism, humanity today needs socialism more than ever and more than everything. [Applause]
Look at the world roughly: imperialism’s financial crisis; wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; hunger, poverty and death in Africa; racism in Europe. Alongside this, we see mass unemployment all over the world. Capitalism is unable to solve these problems.
Through looking at the successes of the October Revolution, we can understand why humanity needs socialism, but looking at the countries of the destroyed Soviet bloc – Russia, Romania, East Germany, Poland – will give us the same result. We have all seen how the mafia, unlawful living and working, sex slavery, begging, homelessness and national conflicts have rapidly grown and are continuing to grow in these countries.
This is the general look of the capitalist world, but it is obviously not limited to only this.
However, there are enough resources in the world, enough machines, labour power and factories. All the labourers, all the oppressed people in the world, could live in healthy homes that see the sun; their children could be educated in high quality schools; they could live without the hospital queues which they have to live with today.
We can see that the oppressed people of the world cannot find these conditions in the current society under capitalism.
October brought the world which the oppressed people wanted, because it was directly formed through the will, power and struggle of the oppressed people. October brought peace to humanity, national freedom and equality; it became the name that suits humanity in production to have an education.
October is the future of humanity. [Applause]
The October Revolution clearly shows that the bourgeoisie is extra in this world; it is a weight on the shoulders of humanity; it is unneeded. October showed us that we can get rid of it.
October has shown us that the only way to get rid of the bourgeoisie as a social class is through removing the private ownership of production vehicles.
Palestine, Iraq and Kurdistan are places where the national problems are still continuing, which capitalism is unable to solve. October had the best solution to these types of problems.
The bourgeoisie has a wide propaganda about the violence of the October Revolution and Soviet socialism. What we have to say about this is very short and very clear: if we are to talk of violence and barbarism, the violence October used against its class enemies looks very tiny when opposed to the violence used by the USA against black people in history. [Applause]
If we are to talk about brutality, we should see the 150 wars that have been caused by the bourgeoisie in the 20th century, which have killed more than 250 million people. Unless we take into account the budget put into arms and relate this to the budget put into health and education, we will not be able to understand the real barbarism of the bourgeoisie.
Violence and barbarism are both caused by the bourgeoisie. The violence of October against its class enemies was very innocent compared with the violence and barbarism of the bourgeoisie against the oppressed people. [Applause]
Another world is possible. A world free from wars, occupation, imperialist plunder, racism, and all else that humanity wants to get rid of. This world will be socialism.
October is the future of humanity. We salute this event of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) and look forward to working together for another world.
Transcribed from the rally held in Southall, London on 8 November 2008 to celebrate the 91st anniversary of the October Revolution. The video of this speech can be found at the CPGB-ML YouTube page.
Comrades, we’re celebrating the historic October Revolution. There have been many revolutions around the world, but the October Revolution is a revolution that changed the world in a way that previous revolutions have never changed it.
The great revolution before that, probably the greatest one, was the French bourgeois revolution of 1789, but, historic though it was, it was not in the same mould as the October Revolution, because the French revolution got rid of one system of exploitation and replaced it by another; got rid of feudal exploitation and instituted bourgeois exploitation.
What the October Revolution did was, it finished all exploitation; it created a country where there was no person exploiting another person, where there was no nation oppressing or exploiting another one.
That is the historic significance of the October revolution.
It changed the world in a way that cannot be undone, notwithstanding the reverses that we have undoubtedly suffered ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The world cannot be put back to what it was prior to the October Revolution in 1917.
Thanks to the October Revolution we have had tremendous advances. The October Revolution, for the first time, taught the working class that it could not only destroy the old society, but it could also build a new one.
Within a very short space of time, a socialist industry was built, agriculture was collectivised, the culture of the people, their level of scientific attainment, was raised to unprecedented levels.
Russia’s per capita income in 1917 was one tenth of that of the United States of America. By the time the Soviet Union collapsed, its per capita income was half that of the United States of America.
But that doesn’t really tell you the whole story, because what the Russian people had was not just per capita income, but the facilities that they got socially – free childcare, free nurseries, free education, a free health system and very cheap housing.
One of the joys of the old Soviet Union was that as soon as the schools shut, millions of children all around the Soviet Union queued at railway stations, airports, bus stops in order to be taken away to pioneer camps for their holiday.
Parents didn’t have to worry whether their children would be bored during the holidays; they were looked after by trained staff and taken to the best places, which in our part of the world are reserved for the very rich. Soviet children could have the facilities that are only available to the very rich in West European and imperialist countries.
The Soviet Union didn’t stop at that. The Soviet Union built her defence industry and defence capability to a point whereby the Soviet Union was able to make the single most important contribution to the defeat of the allegedly invincible fascist war machine, and saved humanity from the scourge of fascism. [Applause]
The fascists had expected to rule the world for a thousand years in the name of the master race, but the so-called ‘slave nations’ – the Russians and the people of the Soviet Union – defeated that by almost single-handedly fighting against them.
France, of course, was finished within three weeks. France’s army was supposed to be the most important and powerful in western Europe; they had the Maginot Line, but the Nazis finished them off in three weeks’ time.
When the Soviet Union was attacked, they [bourgeois commentators] gave the Soviet Union three weeks. Three weeks became three months; three months became three years; and at the end of for years of gruelling war, the Soviet Union had chased the Nazis over the Polish border and pursued them all the way to Berlin.
And as the Soviet flag was proudly being flaunted on the Reichstag building, the Fuehrer was committing suicide. Isn’t that a wonderful achievement for the working class? [Applause]
The Soviet Union was the only country in 1935 – and from ‘35 onwards, right up to its collapse – which had no unemployment.
Now, if you live in western Europe, if you live in capitalist countries, it’s considered a law of nature, like the law of gravity – you must have unemployment. A society cannot function without unemployment; a society cannot function without homelessness; a society cannot function without destitution, without prostitution, without gangsterism, without drug trafficking.
But all these ills were eliminated in the Soviet Union and other socialist countries, and that was the achievement of the Soviet Union, which we miss dearly now.
For the first time, the Soviet Union provided the facilities necessary for the elimination of discrimination against women. Women cannot become equal with men unless and until two things take place – that they are introduced on a mass scale into social production, and that there are facilities for the looking after of children, the cooking of food and laundry.
The Soviet Union created crèches, kindergartens, nurseries and dining facilities for working people on a mass scale. You didn’t have to eat in a dining room if you didn’t want to, you could cook at home, but the thing was that the choice was there should you not wish to cook. Women would only be able to get that equality if those facilities were there, and the Soviet Union actually set the standards.
If women in western Europe have the rights that today they have, they owe it to the Soviet Union because the Soviet Union was the first and showed it as an example.
It was only a few years before the first world war that property qualifications had been eliminated before people could have the right to vote. Women were not allowed to vote until after the first world war. The Soviet Union, the moment it was established, straight away gave the right to vote to every person over the age of 18, whether they were men or women.
For the first time, you could see women doing the jobs that you thought they were never capable of doing – driving trains, flying aeroplanes, becoming doctors, becoming everything. And that, of course, again set the example, whereby women in western Europe were able to catch up.
Such was the effect of the Soviet republic, that in order to avoid a repetition of what had happened in Russia, namely a socialist revolution, the bourgeoisie had to institute reforms to ease the conditions of living of the working class – even more so after the victory of the Red Army in the second world war.
Sometimes, the working class here, led by imperialist propaganda, talks as though the Soviet Union was nothing and everything here is wonderful, but they owe the better conditions they have, partly at least, to the victories of the Soviet Union and other socialist countries in providing those facilities. [Applause]
The Soviet Union, by liberating all the ex-Tsarist colonies, and then, on the basis of voluntary union, bringing them into the USSR, and providing them with equal rights, set the standard for the people of the world.
Paul Roberson, whose songs you’ve been listening to earlier, said: ‘I went to the Soviet Union. They used to say to us that black people in Africa or elsewhere will not be capable of self-government for a thousand years. I realised in the Soviet Union that within ten years, the most backward people had been brought to a position where they were the equal of the Russians.’
Colonialism plunders colonies, takes the wealth from poor countries and takes it to rich areas, just as within each rich imperialist country, it takes the wealth from the poor people and gives it to the rich. You know, [we are told that] the rich will only work if there are ‘incentives’ and you give them more money; but the poor will only work if you take away even their last crust of bread, because that’s their only incentive – otherwise they’ll never come to work.
The Soviet Union did the opposite. The Soviet Union put huge amounts of resources into developing backward areas and the former colonies of Tsarist Russia in order to bring them to the same level of development that was available in the central regions of Russia and in important centres like Moscow and Leningrad.
For the first time, people could use their languages – their theatre, their arts, their sciences, their administration could be conducted in their own languages.
For the first time, even, they could repair their mosques – mosques were repaired. You say: is that because they were trying to propagate religion?
No. Propaganda in favour of materialism, in favour of atheism, was accompanied by giving people the right, should they wish to do so, to believe in claptrap – as long as religion did not interfere with state matters, as long as it did not put its foot into educational institutions, as long as it kept to just praying.
If you wanted to pray, you could go to a church or a mosque or a synagogue or wherever you wanted to. In spite of all the stories that are told that they [the communists] destroyed every church, this is total rubbish; you only had to go into the former Soviet Union to see that.
Loss of the USSR; era of reaction
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the bourgeoisie was cock-a-hoop; they were triumphalist, and the reactionary American professor of Japanese origin Fukuyama even said that it was the end of world history.
It just shows you what the best brains of the bourgeoisie are like. A long while ago, in Capital Volume 1, Marx, and he was really commenting on Mill, but compared with these intellectuals, Mill was almost a giant! Marx put a footnote, having discussed Mill, in which he said: ‘On a level plain, small mounds look like hills, and the flatness of the present bourgeoisie may be measured by the altitude of its intellects.’
Now, in my view, in Marx’s days, even though they were flat, the bourgeois intellectuals were still, compared with our intellectuals, giants. Today, they have just become mercenary salesmen for a system which is 150 years at least out of date, and which only lives by devouring living human beings, not only through the extraction of surplus value, but wars – inter-imperialist wars and wars against oppressed people.
We were told that, once the Soviet Union collapsed, there would be a peace dividend; everything would be fine because the Soviet Union was the cause of all war and danger and now there would be peace.
As the Soviet Union was collapsing, the first Gulf war was being waged against Iraq.
Since then, we have had the second Gulf war, which in the last five years has consumed 1 million Iraqis and displaced 4 million others – half of them abroad and half of them internally.
Tens of thousands of Afghan people are being murdered in the name of ‘humanitarianism’, but the only humanitarianism imperialism has is how to exploit and how to oppress. Imperialism seeks domination; it does not stand for freedom anywhere, either in its internal policy or in its external policy.
We celebrate this victory because we think it’s significant, and we will also, having learned from the reverses that socialism has suffered, go forward and be able to achieve victories. Not ignoring the Soviet republic, not ignoring the Soviet Union, but building on the basis of that, we would be that much better because we have learned so much – positive as well as negative – from what happened in the Soviet Union.
A lot of people have been disheartened. The bourgeois propaganda is incessant. They keep on saying communism is dead. Well if it’s dead, what’s the point in going on about it? [Laughter]
I mean, if somebody stood up outside and said “Napoleon is dead”, you’d think he was a lunatic. Well everybody knows Napoleon is dead; he died in 1821 or something like that. So what’s the point in going around saying so?
If Marxism is dead, why do you have to say every morning like a prayer: “Marxism is dead”? [Laughter] Well it’s clear to me that Marxism is not dead.
Far from being dead, Marxism is very much alive, and the bourgeoisie cannot sleep because Marxism can only be dead if there’s no working class. Marxism is the ideology of the modern proletariat, and it can no more be destroyed than can the proletariat. [Applause]
The proletariat cannot be destroyed under the conditions of capitalism because there would be nobody to exploit and the bourgeoisie could not live. The only way it can be destroyed is that the proletariat becomes the ruling class, in which case it would cease to be a proletariat; it would cease to be a proletariat because its role as being the exploitable material would cease to exist.
The reason they keep on saying it [Marxism] is dead, is that they want to demoralise every one of us.
Stalin a long while ago pointed out that the chief endeavour of the bourgeoisie of all countries, and of its reformist hangers-on, and this is very important to remember, is to kill in the working class faith in its own strength, faith in the possibility and the inevitability of victory, and thus to perpetuate capitalist slavery.
And that’s really what they’re trying to do.
And Stalin was absolutely also right when he was having an argument in the executive committee of the Communist International against the Soviet opposition, the Bukharinites and Trotskyites, who were saying that the Soviet Union was using other peoples, that it was nationalistic and was not promoting world revolution.
And Stalin’s answer was that the very existence of the Soviet Union was a tremendous help to peoples abroad; that the Soviet Union was the base of the world proletariat; it was really a base from which the revolution could spread.
Stalin asked the question: “What would happen if capital succeeded in smashing the Republic of the Soviets?” And he went on to answer: “There would set in an era of the blackest reaction in all the capitalist and colonial countries, the working class and the oppressed people would be seized by the throat, the positions of international communism would be lost.”
Looking back at the last 18/19 years, don’t you think that that remark was truly prophetic? Not prophetic in the sense that the victory of capitalism over the Soviet republic was inevitable, but prophetic in the sense that those consequences are being realised.
Imperialism is not very much frightened of the Soviet Union now, so it attacks oppressed peoples abroad; it wages innumerable wars – wars against Yugoslavia, wars against the Sierra Leones people, wars against the Colombian people, wars against the Palestinian people, wars against the Iraqi people, wars against the Afghan people, and now they are actually trying to wage a war against the people of Pakistan as well.
Since August this year, the United States has, on 17 occasions, bombed villages and places in the border areas of Pakistan, and killed several dozen people. It’s only a question of time before the Pakistani army begins to shoot back, because there’s mass pressure in Pakistan that Pakistani sovereignty is not to be violated, and if the Americans continue, they are really going to stir a hornets’ nest in that part of the world.
Our day will come
And at the same time, imperialism is attacking working people at home. There are attacks on the National Health Service, which is becoming a two-tier system is already penetrated by market reforms, education is becoming increasingly more of a two-tier system (it was never one-tier, but it’s become even more so), and various public facilities are being taken away.
They tell you there is no money. Public-sector workers are getting pay increases which are below the rise in prices, ie, below the inflation level, and when they ask for money, Gordon Brown says, ‘We must be prudent, there’s no money.’
Lo and behold, there’s a credit crunch, and the giants of finance are falling like ninepins. And suddenly, Britain is able to find several hundred billion pounds in order to shore up the banks. The Unites States of America, the land of the free and the land of the free market, suddenly is able to find $700bn in order to shore up their banking industry.
Now people in the left-wing movement have said: ‘This is socialism.’ [Laughter] No. It’s socialism, yes, but for the bourgeoisie. You and I are going to pay taxes in order to shore up the very people who brought us to this crisis – they run with their money, and if, tomorrow, the banks become profitable again, as, if capitalism is not overthrown, they must after two, three, four years, then all the shares that the state has bought will be sold back to them so they can start again their merry-go-round of speculation and chasing after more and more profit.
But what it does show is this: every crisis is an indication, as Engels said; every crisis shows that the bourgeoisie is incapable of managing the economic affairs of society. [Applause] It is incapable of doing so because long ago, the productive forces of society became far too powerful to be contained within the shell of capitalist relations of production.
And at every crisis, the productive forces break through those barriers and bring the ruin of a lot of capitalists, but even more misery to millions and millions of people around the world.
There is only one way that we can get rid of that, and that is: the working class takes over these means of production in the name of society and organises production on a planned basis, to satisfy the ever-rising cultural, educational and material needs of all the people, rather than to cater to the greed of a few people. This is the only way that society can go forward.
It is out function to inform the working class of this. Marxism is nothing but the theoretical expression of that understanding, and to bring to the working class the idea that there is a liberation for you, but not within this system; there is a liberation for you, but by breaking that particular system. Only then can society be rid of discrimination; be rid of sex discrimination, race discrimination, oppression of some nations by a few powerful nations, and wars and unemployment and hunger and poverty.
I’m sorry if I’m bragging about it: I took part in a debate at the Oxford Union, and the motion there was: ‘Capitalism can save the world.’ We lost the motion. Of course, in Oxford Union, you don’t easily win. [Interjection from the floor: ‘Only just!’] Yes, only just.
Madeleine tells me – she phoned them – that the people who won the motion for the proposition got 140 votes. We lost it but we gained 130 votes. [Applause] To actually go to the enemy’s camp and lose by 10 votes – and two of them foolishly because we went to the wrong side! [Laughter] (The working class must learn from its own mistakes!) So had we been on the right side, we would have lost by only six votes, if you like. But it doesn’t matter, because, as I said in my contribution there: ‘Comrades and friends and students, this issue is not going to be decided through a debate at the Oxford Union, nor anywhere else. It’s going to be decided in the arena of class struggle throughout the world, and I haven’t got the slightest doubt which side will win.’ [Applause]
So comrades, to conclude my rather lengthy introduction, for which many apologies (and you can attack me after the meeting), I would simply say that our day will come, and in the words of the great Russian writer N G Chernyshevsky, there will be joys and festivities in our streets.
We have no reason, despite the reverses, to feel sad; we have no reason to feel downhearted, because the future is ours. No matter how much the removal of this horrible system is delayed – 10 years, 20 years, 50 years – in terms of individuals’ lives, it’s terrible; I shall not live to see it; some of you might be able to live and see it; but humanity at large will see this present system fall and a new society being born on the basis of the road of the October Revolution.
Where the October Revolution left off, humanity is taking up. There are other socialist societies in existence. We have here two perfectly good examples – we’ve got representatives of two socialist countries here; from the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. And there is also China, there is Cuba, and there are other places which are trying to move in that direction, and we are very, very sure of the future.
All I want from our members and our supporters is to redouble their efforts, or rather, increase their efforts a hundred fold, to build a powerful voice of the working class. In this country – and I don’t mean to be arrogant – there’s only one party that represents it [the working class], small though it may be, and that’s the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist). Please support us in our endeavours. Thank you very much. [Applause]