“Finland Station” and the struggle for socialism today

At the end of June, in the midst of a growing discussion about socialism in the United States, Bhaskar Sunkara ,editor of the US socialist magazine Jacobin, published an important op-ed in the New York Times entitled “Socialism’s Future May Be Its Past.” Below is a reply from Alan Jones, a member of the National Executive Committee of Socialist Alternative, the sister organisation of the Socialist Party in the US. 

Sunkara, editor of Jacobin magazine and a Vice Chair of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), attempts to draw out lessons from the Russian Revolution and take up the relevance of socialist and radical ideas in our time. It was a distinctly different and more sympathetic assessment than other recent articles in the same publication addressing the 100-year anniversary of that historic event. As one point of comparison, a week earlier, the New York Times printed an article by right-wing author Sean McMeekin which sought to revive the long ago discredited “Lenin was a German spy” conspiracy theory.

It should come as no surprise that a large section of the mainstream media and pro-capitalist commentators are again devoting time and resources to distort and discredit socialist ideas, including no less than the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as Sunkara points out. This distortion campaign is a response to the revival of socialism which has begun to take place in the U.S. on the heels of the incredibly popular campaign of Bernie Sanders.

Sanders called out for a “political revolution” against Wall Street and the 1%, and in so doing galvanized millions of workers and young people who have been radicalized by the deep social crisis of capitalism and have begun to question the viability of the system. An estimated 1.3 million people attended Sanders’ mass rallies. In another welcome development, left and socialist organisations, like Socialist Alternative, have grown rapidly. The Democratic Socialists of America has grown three-fold, from roughly 8,000 to nearly 25,000 members since Trump was elected last November.

In his op-ed, Sunkara generally defends the Russian Revolution as a positive development, and the mere fact of the article being published in the U.S. “paper of record” is itself a sign of the changing times. As Sunkara’s article suggests, in order to turn the tide against the bankrupt status quo today we will need to look back and learn the key lessons from the history of the global working-class movement. We must equip ourselves with the best ideas in order to defeat Trump and the worldwide capitalist offensive on our living standards and democratic rights. Unfortunately, in his article Sunkara does not offer a rounded-out socialist alternative. Instead he seems to argue that a “regulated market”, a foundation stone of capitalism, should continue in the society socialists should be striving to create.

There is an important tradition of socialists having a fraternal discussion on important issues of strategy, tactics and program. This has played an essential role in educating socialists, other activists and the general public about the best methods to change society. We offer this article as part of that tradition, not to distort points of view, but instead to contrast different approaches to issues.

Sunkara’s Three “Stations”

In his discussion of the state of modern politics, Bhaskar paints a picture of the key trends that dominate the politics of the capitalist class today: One is the “Singapore Station” which he casts as the logical conclusion of the politics of mainstream neoliberals like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. A second, “Budapest Station,” represents the ultimate destination of right-wing populism like Donald Trump’s. The third, “Finland Station,” is of course the main subject of his article and a reference to the Russian Revolution and the endpoint of Vladimir Lenin’s historic train journey back from abroad in early 1917.

Sunkara’s critique of neoliberalism in the “Singapore Station” section makes important points, but also reveals limitations in his approach. While acknowledging its undemocratic character and relentless drive for neoliberal austerity, he portrays it as relatively benign by understating its brutality and real human costs:

“The Singapore model is not the worst of all possible endpoints. It’s one where experts are allowed to be experts, capitalists are allowed to accumulate, and ordinary workers are allowed a semblance of stability. But it leaves no room for the train’s passengers to yell ‘Stop!’ and pick a destination of their own choosing.”

This dramatically understates the character of neoliberalism and results of its worship of unrestrained capitalism: the vicious driving down of workers’ living standards in the name of profit, the loss of access to vital services like health care, the loss of millions of lives from wars over resources, the many and varied disasters of de-regulation (like that recently at Grenfell Towers in London), and finally to neoliberalism’s complete inability to offer a future for youth and working people around the world.

It is precisely this model’s instability and brutality that opens the door to the “Budapest station” of right wing populists like Trump (and the authoritarian regimes in Hungary, Poland and elsewhere), in the desperate search of middle and working class people for some alternative to the dominant “Singapore” route of capitalism.

In his article, Sunkara gets into what his own “Finland Station” vision of socialism would look like. He explains that it would entail “Worker-owned cooperatives, still competing in a regulated market; government services coordinated with the aid of citizen planning; and the provision of the basics necessary to live a good life (education, housing and health care) guaranteed as social rights. In other words, a world where people have the freedom to reach their potentials, whatever the circumstances of their birth.”

Without a doubt, such changes would represent a significant step forward despite being under threat of attack every time capitalism entered into one of its periodic crises. But this is not the same as the goal of socialism: a global, classless society which does away with capitalism’s organized apparatus of repression and replaces it with a new political order based on mass democratic organs of working people and the oppressed. This has always been the destination called for by the socialist and Marxist movement. Many today, even on the left, may see this vision as hopelessly utopian. But as Marx argued, it is the massive development of human productivity under capitalism which has laid the material basis to eradicate class division and oppression rooted in scarcity.

Marxism and the State

Sunkara also states: “Stripped down to its essence, and returned to its roots, socialism is an ideology of radical democracy. In an era when liberties are under attack, it seeks to empower civil society to allow participation in the decisions that affect our lives.”

Yet a central tenet of Marxism is that capitalist democracy is only a form of state rule. And Marx argues the dominant class in society is the one that controls the state apparatus. Marxists have long championed the most far-reaching, radical democracy. But Marxism has also explained that democracy does not exist in abstract. It must be understood in connection with the dominant economic system. Under capitalism, democracy is always severely curtailed by the domination of the small propertied elite which uses their power to prevent the majority from touching the foundations of their wealth and privilege. In other words, championing “radical democracy” can only be done consistently if it is linked to ending the undemocratic rule of the capitalist class and transferring power into the hands of the working class and the oppressed.

Sunkara does not clarify this. In his “broad outline” of a future socialism, which is dominant: market forces or the workers’ cooperatives? Sunkara further states: “This social democracy would involve a commitment to a free civil society, especially for oppositional voices; the need for institutional checks and balances on power; and a vision of a transition to socialism that does not require a ‘year zero’ break with the present.”

However, if we are talking about ending the brutal and decaying capitalist system, how can this be done without having a fundamental, thoroughgoing break with the present order and its deeply undemocratic and repressive state apparatus? Instead, it appears that Sunkara is arguing against this when he says his vision of a transition to socialism does not require a “year zero” break with the present. It was this central point that Lenin argued for when he returned to Russia in 1917. Lenin stated that the feeble capitalists in Russia could not and would not deliver benefits for the working class. He called for the working class and poor peasants to break the power of the landlords and capitalists over society, and appeal to workers in other countries to follow this example and begin the construction of a socialist society based on workers’ democracy.

Fighting for Reforms

As Marxists, we in Socialist Alternative fight for every gain that working people can win under capitalism. This can be seen in our leadership in the fight for $15, with Socialist Alternative member and Seattle City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant leading Seattle to become the first major city to pass a $15 minimum wage. Two weeks ago, we helped make Minneapolis the first Midwest city to pass $15, this time under the leadership of socialist City Council candidate, Ginger Jentzen. And just last week, Sawant and Seattle Socialist Alternative helped bring about another nationally important victory, this time a local measure to tax the rich to help fund affordable housing, education and other vital services.

In April of 2017, Kshama Sawant responded to questions in the Huffington Post about her views on socialism:

“…There are limits to reforming a system that is dominated by these massive and rapacious corporations. On the basis of capitalism, victories like raising the minimum wage are only temporary. Big business has many tools to make us pay for the crisis of their system. Again, a permanent and sustainable solution to all the problems facing working people is possible only by taking the biggest companies into democratic ownership, and reorganizing the economy on a planned basis. Under such a system we could democratically decide how to allocate resources. We could rapidly transition away from fossil fuels, develop massive jobs programs to rebuild the country’s rotting infrastructure, and begin to build a whole new world based on meeting the needs of the majority, not the profits of a few.”

The issues raised by Sunkara about reform and revolution are not just abstract questions of historical interest. Which “station” we end up at today is intimately linked to how we assess the defeats and successes of the past.

After World War II, in an era of post-war reconstruction and huge economic growth, and under the enormous pressures of mass socialist and communist parties and radical labor struggles, important gains for working people were won in most Western countries. But the tenuous economic landscape of today is radically different, with capitalism incapable of enjoying a sustained upswing, relentlessly attacking unions and working conditions, and demanding deep budget cuts in order to just maintain profitability and survive.

The new parties of the left can end up at a neoliberal “Singapore Station” in the present even as they look to “Finland Station” of the past, if they fail to draw the correct lessons. If left parties are elected to government without a definite program for an alternative to capitalism and a strategy to achieve it, they will inevitably be driven instead into attempting to manage capitalism, which can mean carrying out neoliberal austerity dressed up with kind words of compassion. Reform-minded, anti-austerity governments will ultimately be forced to choose between accepting the demands of big business or implementing radical and socialist measures

As Rosa Luxemburg explained in 1900 in her pamphlet Reform or Revolution these two choices are not just “different roads” to the same station. Because to be successful, the struggle for reform cannot be an end unto itself—serious reforms only come about as a by-product of serious social struggle. The capitalist class needs to be genuinely fearful of a wider revolt before it will grant major concessions like Medicare for All or a federal $15 minimum wage.

Further, if the struggle for reform is not used to develop the consciousness of working people and prepare the ground for a thoroughgoing socialist transformation of society, the capitalists will look to roll back the reforms which have been won, or to destroy those working class forces which defend them. The ruling class will not hesitate to engage in economic war or even military coups against elected left governments. Left governments seeking to carry out their programs will run headlong into the brick wall of capitalist ownership and control of the key resources in society, as well as the capitalist state apparatus. This can be clearly seen in what happened to SYRIZA in Greece.

Sunkara appears to implicitly reject the idea of a radical, revolutionary transformation of society when he says his vision of a transition to socialism “does not require a ‘year zero’ break with the present.” But the view that capitalism can be gradually changed in the direction of a just order flies in the face of the experience of the past 100 years, and specifically to the neoliberal assault on the gains of the working class. Capitalism in decay means that there are real limits to reform and that even the most popular, hard-won gains are reversible.

The Rise and Fall of SYRIZA

In Greece, SYRIZA, a left coalition party, saw its support grow exponentially from 4.9% in 2009 to being elected on an anti-austerity program to lead the Greek government in January 2015. Yet a few months later its leader Alexis Tsipras utterly capitulated, ignoring an over 61% “No” vote against austerity in the referendum his government called, and agreed to the demands of the capitalists and the European Union for further savage cuts to living standards. This was a serious blow against the left internationally which had looked to SYRIZA and Greece to lead the struggle against austerity. The betrayal of SYRIZA’s leadership and its virtual transformation into a neoliberal prop is a bucket of cold water which shows that decisions about program, strategy and tactics are not abstract but have real life consequences.

In a recent article from Xekinima, Socialist Alternative’s sister organization in Greece through the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), there is a description of the current situation in Greece:

“The attack on the living standards and rights of the Greek people is actually deepening under the Syriza government. It tries to hide this by speaking of ‘hard negotiations’ and ‘doing everything possible’ against the ‘Institutions’, the new name for the troika of the EU Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But this is just theater. The latest agreement of June 15 released €8.5 billion to Greece (out of which €8.2 will be used immediately to pay back loans). It added nothing to the Institutions’ proposals made at the Eurogroup meeting on May 22.

The latest agreement puts additional burdens of around €5 billion on the masses between 2019 and 2022….. It has increased indirect taxation on everything, including the most basic goods like Greek coffee and traditional souvlaki, by 20%. It is cutting pensions by a further 9% on average. It is applying measures that (former ruling parties) ND and Pasok found impossible to get through, with the biggest privatization program ever. The labor market remains a jungle where the huge majority of private-sector workers are owed months of wages and exploitation has reached indescribable conditions…

As a result, the prevailing feelings of working people are mass anger and, at the same time, mass demoralization.”

Responding to the question of whether capitulation was inevitable, the article continues:

“The capitulation of Syriza to the troika was not unavoidable. It was the result of the leadership’s lack of understanding of the real processes taking place, the naive if not criminal perception that they would ‘change Greece and the whole of Europe,’ as Tsipras boasted. It was the lack of understanding of the class nature of the EU and a complete lack of confidence in the working class and its ability to change society. When Tsipras came face to face with what it really means to clash with the ruling class he fell into despair and capitulated, completely unprepared.”

The alternative which was developed and advocated by some Greek left organizations—including Xekinima—pointed to the need for policies that would break with capitalism and begin a socialist reconstruction of society. As Xekinima explained, a genuine left government should:

“Impose capital controls; refuse to pay the debt; nationalize the banks; move speedily towards a national currency (drachma); use the liquidity provided by that currency to finance major public works, to stop the continuous contraction of the economy and put it back on the path of growth; cancel the debts of small businesses crushed by the crisis and provide loans under favorable conditions so they can get back into activity and provide a quick spur to the economy.

Nationalize the commanding heights of the economy; plan the economy, including a state monopoly of foreign trade, so that it acquires sustained growth and does not serve the profits of a handful of ship owners, industrialists and bankers, but is in the service of the 99%. Create special planning committees in every sector of industry and mining, and put particular attention into agriculture and tourism which are key to the economy and have huge potential. Establish democracy in the functioning of the economy, through workers’ control and management in every field and level. Appeal to the workers of the rest of Europe for support and solidarity, calling on them to launch a common struggle against the EU of the bosses and the multinationals. For a voluntary, democratic, socialist union of the peoples of Europe. In short, an anti-capitalist, anti-EU offensive on a socialist program and class internationalist solidarity was the answer to the troika’s blackmail.”

We see from the experience of SYRIZA that new left formations can set out toward Sunkara’s version of “Finland” but instead end up in “Singapore” station. In order to effectively fight against austerity in a time of capitalist crisis, we need a Marxist program for fundamental change and a plan to mobilize workers, young people and the poor to fight for it.

Consciousness Today

Despite the tremendous struggles that we have seen recently in Greece, Spain and Portugal as well as the rise of Jeremy Corbyn in Britain—which represents nothing less than a political revolt of the working class and youth—it must be said that there has not as yet emerged a mass socialist consciousness. The consciousness among activists is still mostly anti-corporate and sometimes anti-capitalist, but unclear as to the way forward. This is important because it is a point of departure not only for analysis but also for accurately mapping the struggles ahead.

Capitalism has been discredited among young people, but there is little understanding about how to fight the system or what it could be replaced with. Most people at protests have little experience with ongoing movements, organizations or struggles that can win victories. This flows from the defeats inflicted on the workers’ movement in recent decades with declining union density and setbacks on an international scale.

It wasn’t always like this. Sunkara says that “across the West, workers came to accept a sort of class compromise” in the 20th century. In reality, working people in Europe built movements countless times in attempts to overthrow capitalism, from Germany after World War I to the Spanish Civil War to the revolutionary upturns in France in 1968 and Portugal in 1974. The social democratic and Stalinist leaders in fact held these movements back with their outlook of “gradual” change, and the result was often rampant right-wing reaction.

By the end of the 20th century, the collapse of Stalinism and its monstrous bureaucracy was being used to discredit any idea of a planned economy and opened the door for a massive campaign against socialism in order to drive home the message that “there is no alternative” to capitalism and the market. While the systems in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in no way represented genuine socialism, this collapse was nonetheless a serious political defeat for the working class internationally.

In recent decades, the social democratic parties swung dramatically to the right and implemented austerity, destroyed their democratic structures and lost the vast majority of their activist base even before the financial crash of 2008. In this context, the Committee for a Workers’ International posed the need for new, broad parties of the left and the working class.

The recent surge of left populist ideas – as reflected by the stunning election results for Jeremy Corbyn in Britain, the Mélenchon campaign in the recent French elections, but also the rise of the left in PODEMOS in Spain, the important gains by the revolutionary left in Ireland, and the historic campaign of Sanders in the U.S. (and including the growth of DSA and other socialist forces). All these developments reflect the beginnings of a search for a radical socialist direction, on the part of the youth and sections of the working class seeking a path out of the morass of capitalism.

Bolshevism Is Not Stalinism

If genuine socialist ideas are to once again become the international rallying cry for a new society, inevitably we will have to seriously and honestly discuss the experience of the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Bolsheviks, and Lenin.

The Russian Revolution shaped the entire political history of the last 100 years and represented a colossal effort to establish a new socialist world. Millions internationally were inspired to fight not just for a more “manageable” version of capitalism but for a new socialist world based on solidarity, and without war and exploitation. Many of the gains and reforms working people won across the globe including the 8-hour day, voting rights for women, free education, healthcare, and a broad social safety net, came in the aftermath of the revolutionary wave unleashed by the Russian Revolution.

The Russian Revolution was thoroughly democratic with workers, soldiers and peasant councils (called “soviets”) built from below with all left parties represented. The Bolsheviks went from being a small minority in the soviets to the leading force in the revolution through the course of 1917 by democratically winning over the masses of people to their program to defeat reaction, war and poverty.

Workers councils, built from below, have been a feature of revolutionary struggles since the Paris Commune of 1871 and the first Russian revolution in 1905. Similar features developed in China in the period 1925-27, the Spanish revolution of 1931-37, France 1968, and Chile before the 1973 coup, just to name a few examples. We have seen similar phenomena of “revolutionary democracy” in virtually every major upheaval centered on the working class across the globe.

Sunkara seems to be unaware of the democratic role of the soviets, while implying there was something fundamentally undemocratic about the Russian Revolution. While appealing for a return to the “Finland station” he insists that things will be different this time around. The key difference, he says, is that “This time, people get to vote. Well, debate and deliberate and then vote”. But the Bolsheviks did “debate and deliberate and then vote,” quite often in fact. If they hadn’t done that, both internally and in the soviets, the October revolution would not have been successful.

The strategy and tactics of the Bolsheviks corresponded to a rapidly changing situation in 1917. They fought under the banner of “Peace, Land and Bread” as they sought to undermine illusions in the different pro-capitalist “provisional governments,” which refused to act on any of the key issues which brought about the February revolution. The Bolsheviks helped hold back a premature July attempt of the Petrograd working class to seize power that would have been drowned in blood. When the vast majority of the movement turned fully against the Provisional Government, the Bolsheviks boldly mobilized exploited and oppressed people to end the war, seize the holdings of the big landlords and establish a planned economy. All of these strategies and tactics were debated and voted on not only within the Bolshevik party but also with the mass democratic participation of workers, soldiers and peasants in the soviets and other bodies like the factory shop committees.

Sunkara appears to imply in his op-ed that the totalitarian Stalinist regime which developed later was a logical continuation of Lenin and the Bolshevik party when he writes “One hundred years after Lenin’s sealed train arrived at Finland Station and set into motion the events that led to Stalin’s gulags.” On this point both the Stalinists and the capitalist propaganda in the West are in complete agreement.

The main argument of most of those who attack the Bolsheviks is that they supposedly wanted to centralize all power and to eliminate all opposition. But this was not at all what happened in Russia in 1917, which was in reality the most democratic revolutionary upheaval that has ever taken place. It was after the Bolsheviks had come to power in October, with the overwhelming support of the soviets, that other political parties went over, one by one, to the side of the armed counter-revolution and helped plunge the country into civil war. At the same time, twenty one armies invaded the Soviet Union, including the U.S., Britain, France, and Japan. Alongside international solidarity, the only thing that allowed the Bolsheviks to survive the prolonged civil war, invasions, famine and destruction of the country was the fact that they enjoyed the overwhelming support of the population, who fought back against the murderous, pro-capitalist reaction.

How Stalinism Developed

Leon Trotsky, who along with Lenin was a key leader of the Russian Revolution, wrote that a “river of blood” separated the Bolsheviks from Stalinism. The Bolshevik party was arguably—and new historical research further confirms this—the most democratic party of working people so far in history, and at the same time the most successful in leading the working class to power. Lenin and Trotsky perceived the revolution in Russia as a prelude to the European revolution and beyond, and understood that socialism could only be based on an international and voluntary federation of socialist countries which included the most economically developed societies. They understood that capitalism globally would fight back against a new workers’ state, and that one socialist country (and particularly one as economically backward as Russia) could not survive on its own.

Stalinism did not arise from Bolshevism but from the isolation of the revolution in the young Soviet republic, famine, backward economic and cultural conditions, and the perishing of the most self-sacrificing worker leaders in the course of the civil war. The disappointment of the masses with the failures of the European revolutions was a key factor, especially in Germany from 1918-1923.
These conditions allowed the rise of Stalinism as the Soviet officialdom increasingly controlled the use and distribution of scarce resources, thereby enabling themselves to become privileged. A precondition for the rise of this privileged Stalinist bureaucracy was the destruction of the democratic traditions of Bolshevism, including the crushing of soviet democracy, mass repression of the Left Opposition, the extermination of virtually the entire Bolshevik Central Committee of 1917, and ultimately the assassination of Leon Trotsky in 1940. The rise of Stalinism first undermined the planned economy by destroying the democracy necessary to its function, and eventually led to its destruction in what Trotsky had explained as the bureaucracy “consuming” the first workers’ state.

Not only did Leninism not usher in Stalinism, it took in fact a bloody counterrevolution by the bureaucracy to reverse many of the democratic gains of the Russian Revolution and impede the struggle of workers worldwide for socialism. The Communist parties around the world ceased to struggle for fundamental change, instead becoming props for Stalin and the needs of his bureaucracy, ideologically defended by his policy of “socialism in one country.” Socialists today will be confronted with questions about the Russian Revolution and the totalitarian caricatures of “communism.” We need to have clear answers to these historical issues and effectively apply these lessons from 1917 to the workers’ movement today, which is operating in very different and rapidly-shifting conditions.

Two Souls of Social Democracy

Sunkara expresses some sympathy for the Bolsheviks in his op-ed. However, he also says, “[we] may choose to see them as well-intentioned people trying to build a better world out of a crisis, but we must work out how to avoid their failures.” Certainly we must learn from mistakes, but the same principle must also apply to the political decisions of the Second International of the early 20th century that Sunkara seeks to replicate. Bhaskar correctly states early in his article that the communist movement was “born out of a sense of betrayal by the more moderate left-wing parties of the Second International.” He goes on to explain how those social democratic parties betrayed the working class with their refusal to oppose the slaughter of World War I.

Yet there is no attempt by Sunkara to explain why the parties of the social democracy “abetted the slaughter [of World War I] that claimed 16 million lives.”

Sunkara points out that “the Bolsheviks once called themselves ‘social democrats.’” This is true on the surface, in the sense that, to use Sunkara’s wording, the Bolsheviks were “part of a broad movement of growing parties that aimed to fight for greater political democracy and using the wealth and the new working class created by capitalism, extend democratic rights into the social and economic sphere, which no capitalist would permit.”

But here too there is an important distinction. The early social democrats—from the time of the inception of the Second International in 1889, helped by the guidance of Engels until his death—maintained at least in words a revolutionary Marxist view on key issues and stood for the overthrow of capitalism and for socialism. Today, the term “social democrat” has come to mean a path of reform within capitalism and an explicit rejection of revolution, Marxism, and Leninism.

An ideological battle between the ideas of reform and revolution did take place in the broad tent of “social democracy” in Lenin’s time before 1917. This can be most clearly shown in the prolonged debate that erupted inside the social democracy against “revisionism” over the question of how the working class would come to power.

The main reformist theorist of social democracy of that time was Eduard Bernstein, who argued that there was no need for workers to take power and socialism would come through the gradual extension of democratic rights, co-ops, trade unions and public services. Other reformists argued that workers would in effect “take power” using the existing parliamentary democratic institutions. Bernstein said that “the final aim of socialism, whatever it may be, means nothing to me; it is the movement itself which is everything.” Rosa Luxemburg, along with Karl Kautsky before he began to “renege” on his previous positions in 1910, rejected these views and argued that the working class needed to seize power and to overthrow capitalism as the only way to defeat the resistance of the ruling class and defend the new workers’ state.

These reformist views did not fall from the sky, they reflected the conservative outlook of the parliamentary, trade union and party functionaries who had begun to integrate into the capitalist regime under the conditions of the prolonged period of economic boom before World War I, when capitalism was still capable of developing society’s productive forces. When the crisis of capitalism led to war between the capitalist powers, the betrayal by the social democratic leaders in supporting their “own” ruling class completely disoriented the working class and the labor movement across Europe and internationally.

It was Lenin and the Bolshevik party, along with a handful of internationalists like Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in Germany, that opposed World War I and defended the traditions of “revolutionary social democracy” and Marxism. The discrediting of capitalism during the three-year slaughter of 16 million people in the battlefields of Europe helped prepare the way for revolution across Europe, starting with Russia. Millions around the world rallied to support the Russian Revolution and the new Third International.

When we discuss the history of social democracy, we must make a clear distinction between the early revolutionary social democracy as opposed to the conservative, reformist social democracy that opened the door to war and aligned itself with capitalism against the revolutionary movements of the working class.

The Continuing Debate Today

Successfully translating mass opposition to austerity and the ills of the capitalist system into effective action against racism, sexism, war, poverty and joblessness, depends on adopting a bold fighting program, strategies and tactics. Just as the Bolsheviks did in 1917, we must analyze a fast-moving situation to find the best proposals and slogans that can move people into action. This also requires workers’ developing their own mass independent party, democratically run, which can unite young people, the working class and poor to wage a determined struggle against the billionaire class.

History shows that ideas, program and leadership matter, and opportunities to challenge capitalism will only be fully successful if the ideas of Marxism can take hold in the working class with an organized socialist left.

Socialists in the U.S., while starting from building a movement against the attacks of Trump and the Republicans in power, must also continue to engage in constructive debate about how to build the movement and political power for working people. Movements here today will not happen exactly the same way as in Greece the past few years or the Russian Revolution 100 years ago, but there are important lessons to be learned from all these experiences.

Today the socialist movement faces dual tasks. One the one hand, we need to bring together socialist, progressive, and fresh forces into broad and united action, struggle and resistance to defeat the right wing and the neoliberal offensive. But we also must seek to win the advanced layers of working people and youth to the understanding that a bold socialist program is the only way out of the crisis of capitalism, and of the need to building a revolutionary organization capable of leading the fight to win such a program.

Crucial debates like this one around working-class history, international struggle, strategy and program must continue as we work together to defeat the billionaire class and rebuild a powerful socialist movement.

Reposted from CounterPunch.org.

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