Socialism, a system in which the working class takes control of the means of production and the distribution and exchange of goods, is not just a fantasy, pipe dream, utopian vision, or good idea. In fact, even though socialism was generally constructed despite a history of underdevelopment and imperialist intervention, this new economic system has proven itself to be far superior to capitalism.
Prior to the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, for example, Russia and the surrounding countries which eventually made up the Soviet Union were impoverished. Famine and starvation were common. Women were exploited in the virtual captivity of their homes as well as in the factories and fields. Workers labored long hours for very little pay. Peasants worked all summer growing and harvesting crops, only to be forced to turn them over to the land-owning nobility at the end of the season, leaving them barely enough to survive the winter. Education was unheard of for the vast majority of the population, and illiteracy was rampant.
But the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 laid the foundation for the formation of the Soviet Union and efforts to construct socialism. A new government, led by the Communist Party and drawing power from councils of workers, peasants and soldiers, was established. The workplace was democratized.
This new workers’ state became an inspiration to the workers and oppressed all around the world. Within a short period of time the Soviet Union was able to industrialize a backward country, get rid of landlords and collectivize agriculture, and provide free and universal health care and education to all. No one can forget, of course, the Soviet Union’s most significant contribution to humanity — the military defeat of the invading armies of Nazi Germany during World War II. This war against fascism cost the Soviet Union tens of millions of lives and destroyed much of its industry. The victory over fascism was followed by the Cold War, which further weakened the Soviet bloc.
Workers in China, Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Eastern Europe and other parts of the world were inspired by socialism’s ability to build up the forces of production. Over time the ruling classes were overturned in these countries and revolutionary governments were established that adopted socialist programs to meet the material needs of the masses.
The international working class was dealt a major setback with the defeat of the socialist-bloc countries of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union from 1989-1991. Workers in the former socialist bloc countries were extremely affected, as infant mortality increased precipitously, the quality of education and health care was drastically reduced, and social ills such as drug abuse were reintroduced into society for the first time in decades.
However, the counterrevolutions that swept the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, while they affected other socialist countries, did not necessarily bring them down.
Socialist Cuba has managed to survive horrendous attacks from the U.S. Only 90 miles south of the Florida coast of the U.S., Cuba has the highest life expectancy in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as the highest literacy rate. Cuba’s infant mortality rate is lower than that of the U.S. Cuba sends more medical aid abroad than any country on earth. Cuba even provides medical training for people around the world, where they can come and be taught medicine for free on the condition that they use their knowledge to provide care in their home communities to people who have not able to obtain it.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea also stands tall as an example of a country that has resisted imperialist aggression and instituted socialist measures. The DPRK has provided universal education, housing, health care and literacy for its population. It has stood up to intense U.S. interference and the threat of invasion by tens of thousands of U.S. troops right on its border.
Communist parties still retain their monopoly on power in China and Vietnam following the revolutions in those two countries. Decades of risky market experimentation, however, have allowed the growth of a capitalist class and placed China’s socialist system in a precarious position. At the same time, the working class in China has also grown enormously, along with the development of the means of production. U.S. imperialism tries to undermine the Chinese Communist Party because it is the main organized political force in China that protects the remaining elements of that country’s socialist system. A full counterrevolution in China and the removal of the CPC from power would have devastating consequences for the well-being of China’s one-billion-plus workers and farmers.
The corporate media, which is owned by the very people Marxists seek to overthrow, would like workers to believe that the defeat of socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe represents a failure of Marxism. A closer analysis of history, however, demonstrates that it was the intense economic, political and military pressures on these countries from imperialism that made them vulnerable. While the world revolution has experienced a temporary setback, the advances made by countries engaged in building socialism remain a source of inspiration to the worldwide working class and the oppressed nations.
- Soviet Socialism: Utopian or Scientific – by Sam Marcy