From Set the Record Straight


What Is Communism? What Is Its Real History? What Does It Have to Do with the World Today? Part 1

Revolution #019, October 23, 2005, posted at

Revolution is running this FAQ in four parts. Contact Set the Record Straight for the full FAQ.

Q Hasn’t the communist movement produced dictatorial figures like Stalin?

A The widely promoted demonization and lies about Stalin stand in the way of gaining a real understanding of the historical role that he played and the great accomplishments of the Soviet Union. After Lenin’s death in 1924, Stalin assumed leadership--and in the decade that followed, the Soviet Union was an exciting and emancipatory society. Stalin led the struggles to carry out collectivization of agriculture and to socialize the ownership of industry. The revolution created a socialist economy based on public-state ownership, social cooperation, and conscious planning. This had never been done before. Throughout Stalin’s leadership, the Soviet Union faced incredible pressures: counterrevolution, encirclement by hostile imperial powers, and invasion by the Nazis during World War 2. Stalin led people to stand up to this. But Stalin also had real weaknesses. For example, as the revolution came under greater pressure in the 1930s, he relied less and less on the conscious activism of the masses and more and more on administrative measures. It was necessary to suppress counter-revolutionary forces. But as threats grew in the 1930s Stalin repressed people who were just raising disagreements and dissent. Bob Avakian points out that if the bourgeoisie can uphold Madison and Jefferson--who played pivotal roles in the bourgeois American Revolution but were unapologetic slave-owners--then revolutionaries can uphold Stalin while also criticizing and learning from his mistakes.

Q What about Mao’s Cultural Revolution?

A Mao was dealing with the problem of a new bourgeois elite emerging within the Communist Party. They wanted to bring back capitalism, seizing on bourgeois aspects in society. For instance, on the eve of the Cultural Revolution, many factories still had systems of one-man management and competitive bonus systems that pitted workers against each other; educational and health resources were concentrated in the cities. Mao called on people to rise up against oppressive leaders and institutional structures. Hundreds of millions of workers and peasants were debating questions of the direction of society, criticizing out-of-touch officials, forging more participatory forms of management and administration, and entering into the realms of science and culture. The divisions between mental and manual labor and between urban and rural areas were being broken down. Middle-school enrollment in the countryside rose from 15 million to 58 million! The Cultural Revolution had coherent and liberating goals: to prevent the restoration of capitalism; to revolutionize the institutions of society, including the Communist Party; and to challenge old ways of thinking--in short, to carry forward and deepen socialist revolution.

Q But wasn’t there great violence, and weren’t intellectuals and artists persecuted?

A Violence was not the main feature of the Cultural Revolution. This was overwhelmingly a political and ideological struggle. And much of the violence that occurred was actually incited by opponents of the Cultural Revolution. Artists and intellectuals were not persecuted as a social group. They were called on to integrate with and learn from the laboring masses, especially in the countryside. Exciting efforts were made to create revolutionary culture and works of art that could serve as models. Secondarily, there were mistakes and errors in how artists and intellectuals were treated; and these issues have to be handled better in future socialist societies.

Coming next week: Part 3--Isn’t communism outmoded? How is it relevant to countries like the U.S.?