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AUSTRALIAN
MARXIST
REVIEW

Journal of the Communist Party of Australia

ISSUE 35NOVEMBER 1995

Some ideological problems before the international Communist movement

Statement presented by the Socialist Party of Australia to the international conference, convened by the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and held in Athens on June 17 and 18, 1995.

We are sure that all communist and workers parties and all individual communists have been thinking over the tragic events which overtook the Soviet Union and the socialist countries of eastern Europe. We, therefore, appreciate the initiative of the Communist Party of Greece in arranging this discussion on these events and providing an opportunity to re-assert our commitment to socialism.  

We would like to say at the beginning that although we have some opinions, it remains for the communists of the former Soviet Union and the socialist countries of eastern Europe to make their assessment which will be better informed than those made from afar. It is with this qualification that we submit some opinions.

A paper recently published by the Trade Union Scientific Centre of Moscow says that the people of the Soviet Union are asking, "Why is there such a sharp criticism of everything that is connected with the history of the October Revolution of 1917 and the history of the Soviet state?"

It recalls that immediately after the revolution, fundamental means of production were transferred to the people. Land, factories and plants became the property of the working people. Working people across the world regarded this as a truly revolutionary solution. Health care and education were provided free of charge, the state took responsibility for housing development, pensions and social security were introduced, the participation of the working class in the administration of the state was encouraged. For the first time in world history the methods of a planned economy were worked out and applied.

Many more points were made in the trade union statement and we have no right to ignore the far-reaching achievements of socialism.

In offering some thoughts they are as much directed at our own parties. It is for us all to learn from the tragic turn of events in the Soviet Union and the other socialist countries of eastern Europe.

It would be wrong to suggest that the tragedy was the responsibility of one or two individuals in the recent past, although those who held the most responsible positions have to carry a heavy share for the events which unfolded from about 1987 onwards. The destruction of socialism was not the popular demand of the people of the socialist countries.

There have been many causes listed such as bureaucracy, party/state relations, failure to involve the people and a consequent separation of the party from the people, the loss of life by hundreds of thousands of communists in World War II, imperialist subversion and so on. We believe that the main cause is to be found in departures from a full understanding and application of Marxist ideology. This steadily weakened the socialist system and the leadership of communist parties.

We will, therefore, limit our contribution to consideration of some of these departures which began more than three decades ago.

Commodity production

Socialism has the objective of overthrowing the capitalist system and bringing to an end exploitation of the working people. The Great October Socialist Revolution set about doing this as stated by the report of the Moscow Trade Union Scientific Centre already quoted.

If, however, planning in the interests of the working people is undermined, if the blind forces of supply and demand, commodity exchange and profitability become the criteria rather than social need, a process is unleashed that can lead to the regeneration of capitalism.

While the dramatic turn towards market economics in the late '80s and early '90s is well known, the fact that they were being argued in the early '50s is less well known.

An early example was the argument which went on in the CPSU before Stalin's death regarding proposals to sell the state owned machinery of the machine and tractor stations to the collective farms.

Stalin, in his booklet, The Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR (Sept 1952), wrote on this question:

"to raise collective-farm property to the level of public property, the surplus collective-farm output must be excluded from the system of commodity circulation and included in the system of products-exchange between state industry and the collective farms." (p 103, English Edition)

He argued against the sale of the machinery of the machine and tractor stations not only because that would impose a heavy economic burden on collective farms but would be a step backwards in terms of publicly owned property. Far from restricting commodity circulation it would add to the pool of commodities in the commodity circulation process. The objective of socialism is to restrict and then to ultimately eliminate commodity production.

Upon the death of Stalin these fundamentally correct arguments were dispensed with and the machine and tractor stations were disposed of to the collective farms.

It was a long road in the Soviet Union from this beginning to the outright adoption of "market economics" in recent times but, none-the-less, a foot was put on that road at that time.

Profitability, the law of value, exploitation of labour, commodity exchange and the relegation of planning all became common place in the late '80s and, what is even more scandalous, became accepted by leading communists.

Socialism is the antithesis of a market economy (meaning capitalism) and any attempt to marry the two will lead to the regeneration of a capitalist class of exploiters. Socialist economic problems, such as central planning and its relation to responsibility at enterprise level, should be solved within the framework of socialist economics and only in that framework.

It means the maintenance of working class rule, the elimination of the contradiction between the private ownership of the means of production and the commodities produced, on the one hand, and the social nature of production on the other.

The predominance of public ownership of the means of production has to be maintained and appropriate forms of central planning established along with monetary and fiscal controls. Commodity circulation has to be systematically eliminated.

This is not to say that in certain periods and in certain circumstances, elements of capitalist production may exist in a socialist country for a time. But, we believe that concepts such as a "social-oriented market economy" or a "socialist market economy" have to be carefully examined from fundamental ideological positions.

Dialectical and Historical Materialism

There have been departures from Marxist philosophy as well.

One example is the overestimation of the speed of development of socialist construction and an underestimation of the strength of capitalism, reflected in the statements of some leaders of the CPSU in the 1950s and '60s in which it was stated that the people of the Soviet Union would live in a communist society by the 1980s.

The claim that the Soviet State had become a "state of the whole people" and that the CPSU was also a party of the whole people were exaggerations which recent events have proven to be false.

The breach in relations between the Soviet Union and China can also be traced back to hasty estimations and subjectivism. This did enormous long term damage to the international communist movement.

Many sweeping assertions made at that time were disproven by subsequent events and remain a warning that an abandonment of the objective analysis demanded by dialectical and historical materialism, exacts a very heavy price.

A virtual abandonment of historical materialism in the analysis of societies led to distortions of the role of the masses and of individuals. Neither the negative nor the positive features of personalities can be ignored yet historical figures repeatedly became "non-persons", effaced from history. This is not historical materialism but the worst subjectivism.  

An example is the speech delivered by N Krushchov at the time of the 20th Congress of the CPSU in 1956 when a one-sided execration of Stalin took place. What was required, and is still required today, is an objective and truthful evaluation of the whole period and the role played by Stalin.

Neglect of this task has allowed the enemies of the Soviet Union and anti-communists everywhere to heap slander upon slander without any adequate response. Generalised anti-Stalinism rapidly becomes an offensive against Marxism-Leninism as a whole as has been seen in the Soviet Union and elsewhere.

The Marxist position is that fundamentally, the movements and struggles of the masses are the primary makers of history. Within this context individuals can play a greater or lesser role. It may be positive or negative but cannot be ignored irrespective of the contribution made.

The contest between dialectical materialism and idealism

The influence in the communist movement of bourgeois ideology and its petty-bourgeois expression which Marx, Engels, Lenin and others fought so strenuously and exposed so incisively, remains a predominant influence in many societies and inevitably infiltrates all communist parties. We are surrounded by a sea of bourgeois ideology.

Within our communist movement it expresses itself in the twin evils of left-sectarianism and dogmatism, on the one hand, and right opportunism and revisionism on the other. In our opinion, both have a common origin in idealism the ideology of the bourgeoisie. Both are mortal enemies of Marxism and have to be decisively defeated if Marxism is to prevail. Neither trend is Marxist even if they borrow "bits and pieces" from Marxism from time to time.

Idealism remains very widespread in the ideological make-up of the masses of the people and is being propagated daily, hourly and on a mass scale by the capitalist ruling class of our respective countries.

Marxism is potentially much more powerful because it reveals the truth. However, in the Soviet Union, Marxism was often presented in a formalistic manner and there was a failure to argue the real issues of the day from the full depth of Marxist ideology. This meant that dialectical materialism did not successfully replace much older idealist methods of thinking in many minds.

How else is one to explain the fact that many who proclaimed their adherence to Marxism where able without a blush to change their coats. The explanation, we think, is to be found in the reality that many never mastered Marxism, never came to understand the essence of Marxism, irrespective of contributions that may have been made in other respects. This is not an experience that is unique to any one party. All of us have experienced this in our parties.

The experiences of the period have shown for all to see where petty-bourgeois ideology leads to in practice and this can be turned into a plus for our movement.

When it gains the upper hand in a socialist country it leads to the liquidation of socialism and the victory of counter-revolution, the regeneration of capitalism.

When it gains the upper-hand in a communist or workers' party in a capitalist country it leads to the liquidation of that party or, at least, to its serious weakening.  

In the ranks of the working class in its social democratic form, it leads to class collaboration and the acceptance of the subjugation of the working class to the domination of the bourgeoisie.  

The real strength of dialectical materialism lies in its ability to reveal accurately the course of events and what has to be done at  a particular time to guide the working class in its struggle against capital. But first of all, it has to triumph in the ranks of the communists.

Class struggle

Lenin, in his Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism wrote:

"The genius of Marx lies in his having been the first to deduce from this the lesson world history teaches and to apply that lesson consistently. The deduction he made is the doctrine of the class struggle." (LCW Vol. 19 p 27 [English edition])

Widespread and persistent efforts by the ruling class to deny this truth has overwhelmed many in the recent period, yet the reality of the class struggle swirls around us every day, including in former socialist countries.

 The social democrats propagate the idea of "common interests" between workers and exploiters and claim to represent all society. They everywhere dampen the class struggle and are prepared to use the forces of the capitalist state to suppress the workers' struggles.

What is remarkable is that some former communists have also become protagonists of these false theories. Gorbachov was not the only person to abandon the class struggle by advancing non-class concepts of democracy and the idea of "universal human values". They were presented by some in my own country a decade before Gorbachov advanced them.

They forgot to ask themselves the simple question – democracy for whom?

On the question of human values they failed to see that the values of the working class and progressive forces are entirely different from those of the ruling class who are motivated by greed, exploitation, debasement of culture, force, corruption and deceit.

They also wish to deny that class struggle remains the motive force of social change. Abandonment of the class struggle leads inevitably to an accommodation with capitalism.  

Other Issues

There are other issues in the field of ideology which could be considered such as nationalism and internationalism, but time does not permit except to say that, unfortunately, bourgeois nationalism also affects the working class and infiltrates communist parties as well.

Again, unfortunately, the international communist movement has failed to provide opportunities to discuss questions relating to nationalism and internationalism over a long period. Because there is no such thing as an ideological vacuum, the absence of discussion has led to an increase in nationalist tendencies in our movement as well.

We have seen what desperate tragedies have resulted from the upsurge of nationalism on the territory of the former Soviet Union and elsewhere.

The Party and Socialism

An integral part of the revolutionary working class is its Party, guided by the great ideas and principles of Marxism-Leninism. Nothing that has happened undermines their truth nor the necessity and validity of socialism.

Socialism has not been won nor built anywhere without the existence of an ideologically strong and influential communist or workers' party.

No social democratic party, no Trotskyist party nor any "New Left" party has succeeded. This is not an argument against coalitions and united fronts but to turn a communist or workers' party into a pluralist party, meaning by that, a party with multi-ideological trends is not the way.

There will, of course, always be differences of opinion on a range of questions but they have to be resolved within the framework of Marxist ideology.

The Future of Socialism

We wish to conclude by stating our position simply. Firstly, capitalism has not and cannot solve the problems of the people. It will not, of its own accord, abolish exploitation, profit as the motive force of production, private ownership of the means of production, domination of one by another, force, war and colonisation. It is an anti-people system.  

Socialist aims and priorities are fundamentally different – the abolition of exploitation of one by another; for working class rule; public ownership of the means of production; the needs of the people as the first priority; economic planning; liberation and national independence; cultural rights and cultural advance.

There is, perhaps, no better example of the bankruptcy of capitalism than the devastation wreaked on the Soviet people as a consequence of the temporary imposition of capitalist counter-revolution.

The world's people are on the march including the working people of the former socialist countries of eastern Europe. This people's march, plus revolutionary parties, plus Marxism-Leninism are guarantees of a socialist recovery, new steps forward and new victories in our common struggle for working class power and the establishment of a free, prosperous, peaceful and socialist world.

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