The world has moved further away from socialism in the last 100 years. Despite that reality, the historical impact of this movement is still felt even in the slightest reverberations. Socialism and Communism have been in the public consciousness to an extent more so than in the past few years. Last years candidacy of Bernie Sanders, a self proclaimed democratic socialist for president, and the resurgence of the Democratic Socialist of America are outward expressions of it.
This is an interesting year in politics. We have witnessed in the United States a resurgence of the far-right: Charlottesville being the flashpoint of it. With the reality of a Trump presidency, there is a muffled radicalization on the left. When not being hectored by neo-liberal Democrats, the American progressive left is striving to find its voice, and reach out beyond the various, separate echo chambers that it can find itself in. This is why the study of history is important. Which brings us to the topic of this post. 2017 is the 100 year anniversary of the Russian Revolution.
Now, some of you reading this may say, what does this have to do with anything going on now? Well, for starters, there is a “Russia did it” campaign when it comes to the election of 2016 that has reached a fever pitch unlike anything since the end of the Cold War. We have not heard so much about Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union. As conditions worsen in this country from all of the austerity, masses of people will look towards means of making their lives better outside of the trap of electoralism. This is why this Neo-McCarthyist smear campaign is pre-empting much of the movements on the ground. Those who have co-signed the idea that Russia hacked/influenced the election have now enabled this unsubstantiated talking point to go even bigger, potentially ensnaring people who are anti-imperialists as foreign dupes. We now have the Atlantic running stories about the history of Russian/Soviet influence in American racial issues. In short, the Russian Revolution was one of the most defining events of the 20th century. What it represented, still means a great deal to people all over the world.
This brings us to a second question: What does socialism have to do with African people? Some argue that because Marxism is so Euro-centric- with influences from British industrialism, French political terminology, and German philosophy, that it can not speak to anyone outside of that framework. The beginning of the answer has to be that since were talking about a global economic system, that the working class just doesn’t somehow disappear when we’re talking about the African continent, nor the rest of the Diaspora. Capitalist exploitation, colonialism and neo-colonialism certainly didn’t miss these areas. So we need to be in on the conversation about the potentiality of a post capitalist world. We are not minorities, so let no one tell us that we have no “business” conceptualizing how society can be structured differently than it is now.
Furthermore, as indicative of our own agency in understanding these matters, there have been scholars and many books dealing with this question. George Padmore’s Pan-Africanism or Communism is one such work, and Claude McKay’s Amiable with Big Teeth which was released this year delves into some of this history as well. There indeed is a socialist current within the overall Black radical tradition, and it cannot be easily dismissed as a bunch of stooges with no agency of their own. Whether it is the militant activism of Hubert Harrison in early 20th century Harlem, or the Christian socialist doctrine of George Washington Woodbey in San Diego, the Black adherents of socialism took up the grievances of our people without having to be goaded by foreign powers.
It would be dishonest to talk about the lasting legacy of the Russian Revolution without talking about how it ended. When modern progressives and radicals point to the potential of socialism as a solution to the problems of modern society, the question of what happened to the Soviet Union haunts the entire conversation. We are nearly 3 years shy of the third decade of the 21st century, and the old questions about the viability of socialism and whether or not it is in conflict with human nature are still with us. Its understandable that people don’t want to risk changing things and end up worse off.
The complicated truth of what happened is that one of the first states in the 20th century that took the direction of socialism was destroyed by a combination of external forces and a successful counterrevolution. That’s what the Great Purges were about, as well as the destruction of the Left Opposition, and the assassination of Leon Trotsky. Instead of the beginnings of a new society, what developed was a state capitalist country with a colonial relationship to its “satellite” nations and spheres of influence.
People are scared of the word socialism because of the history of the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin. But, very few have the historical analysis about the statified capitalist nature of that former country. One of the best books to look into to understand what that state was is The Life and Death of Stalinism: A Resurrection of Marxist Theory by Walter Daum
Now, its understandable that this is kind of an ill post to write at a time where people are accusing Russian collusion as one of the reasons for the election results. But, I say that its important that we push past unproven talking points from intelligence agencies that are notorious for fabrications. These are the same forces talking about some Black activists as “Black Identity Extremists” – a designation meant to smear anyone who steps outside of the bounds of acceptable activism. We should reject this out of hand. Unless I have missed something, Russian spies haven’t been dressing up as American police officers and killing unarmed Black people. If anyone has any reports of this, feel free to share them in the comments here.
2018 will be the 80th anniversary of Leon Trotsky’s Transitional Program. This document, written a year before the beginning of World War 2, was a way to link the struggles of everyday concerns to the needs of millions to the long term need for revolution. Considering that we are threatened with a real possibility of a nuclear war, it is time to revise this. As current political developments take shape, and the world heads towards another major conflict, the question of socialism or barbarism becomes real again.
For those who are interested in more information about the Russian Revolution, its lasting impact, and other aspects of socialism, I have collected a few resources for your further reading.
Until next post… peace!