The construction of socialism and the defense of the socialist state

Most Marxists, adhering to the theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat, recognize that total victory has not been won over the old ruling classes once the working class seizes the means of production and state control. Although they have lost political and economic power, the bourgeoisie still exists in 3 forms:

  • Domestic former owners of the means of production who have been expropriated
  • Foreign bourgeoisie of other countries
  • Bourgeois opportunists in the country, often within the revolutionary vanguard party

It should come as no surprise to any Marxist with even rudimentary theoretical knowledge that they will put up fierce resistence to restore the old system, either overtly or covertly.

The reason for this has, of course, to do with the nature of class struggle across historical eras. The bourgeoisie itself had to fight bitter wars, often incredibly violent, against the feudal lords, in the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries to prevent the then nascent capitalist system from being strangled in the crib. The Terror in the French Revolution and the conflicts between Protestants and Catholics are notable examples of this (remember, the Catholic church was perhaps the biggest feudal lord).

Our struggle for socialism will face much of the same challenges. Historically, however, socialist countries were not always able to resist the pressure of the bourgeoisie.

Reasons for this abound. Perhaps a major reason was that the revolutions in Western Europe, in the early 20th century, failed, leaving the USSR alone to start building socialism almost from scratch, having been razed to the ground in World War I, and the invasion it faced from a coalition of 14 nations in the Russian Civil War. Who knows how different history could have been had the industrialized proletariat of Western Europe been successful in their revolts.

But even under favorable conditions, at no time must the socialist state let its guard down. In the USSR, industrial sabotage was very common, many spies were uncovered, a nuclear arms race bled it dry, but in the end, the restoration of capitalism brought it down.

They will say to us, “Communism always fails! No communist country has lasted, the socialist dream is nothing but a farce!”

Leaving aside the truth of the assertion (most notably that a semi-feudal nation with an illiterate population became a superpower and went first to space within 50 years), we must ask ourselves: What went wrong? Why threats slipped under the radar, and what can we do about it in the future?

One of the functions of the vanguard party, once the revolution succeeds, is to be vigilant against bourgeois opportunists seeking to infiltrate it. It must drive them away via constitutionally mandated regular accountability of government officials and party members (at least annually). It must also implement meritocratic criteria for important government positions, which officials have to meet, and reevaluated at a regular basis, tying in with the previous point. Rotation of positions and term limits are also essential.

But whatever the party does, it will be all for naught if the masses themselves do not actively seek to maintain the system which they have built. They are the core driver of the revolution. The party is just a tool they use to organize themselves better. It is, by definition, a subset of society.

If they do not, then the party runs the risk of being isolated from them, and this is a breeding ground for stagnation, ideological indifference, and most importantly, it sets the stage for any number of counter-revolutionary elements to dismantle the system from within, as it indeed happened in the Soviet Union. Therefore, direct party control over the society is a temporary measure. It is appropriate at the early stages of building socialism, but it is the masses who will have to take control of the state and its instruments.

So we can already see, that contrary to what anti-communist rhetoric repeats ad nauseum, the solution to the long term success of the revolution is not less democracy but more. This is partly a function of institutions – soviet/council democracy and its imperative mandate serve very well to establish bottom up organization of society. The party, from day one, has to attempt to expand and facilitate political participation in any way possible, as well as advance theoretical knowledge among the masses. Once it is still in control of society, it must also consult them when making political decisions, such as the drafting of a new constitution, implementing changes in planning the economy, etc. Participatory democracy is essential to socialism.

Once the immediate threats are successfully combatted, the party must begin to recede from direct control. If democratic institutions are developed enough, and the party has remained vigilant against corruption and opportunism, then this process will be greatly facilitated.

A dialectic emerges: the party cannot do that without the demand of the masses, but at the same time, the masses will not organically demand to take direct control if political participation is not facilitated. The party and the masses are, therefore, one and the same, as they should be. One does not and cannot exist without the other, in any meaningful way.

The contradiction will be resolved in time when there is no distinction at all between the two, when a stateless, classless and moneyless society is born, communism. Or by the collapse of the system, the destruction of the party, and the restoration of the old system, in which the masses as such will lose their character they had in the socialist system.

Total victory, or decisive defeat. Such is the nature of this contradiction.

Once the party is out of direct control of the society, it returns to its original role as a factor and driver of agitation, education and dissemination of the ideals of communism. It strengthens its connection with the masses, and the masses in turn affirm once again its role as a crucial element in the development of socialism.

Difficulties will always exist along the way, as we have seen in the past. But remember: Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will socialism. And besides, how many capitalist states have come and went over the centuries, facing insurmountable economic, social and political problems, not unlike those of historical socialist states?

Historical materialism shows us there is no such thing as a utopia, and also is premised upon its very impossibility to exist. It is this dialectic that we should keep in mind as we begin the construction of socialism.

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