Russia: A forward-looking vision must arise from nostalgia for the past
"Poll after poll and public outpourings in recent years testify to a genuine support and longing by the Russian people for the conditions of the socialist era in the Soviet Union.
"While this sentiment has yet to develop into a qualitatively different phenomenon – conscious mass revolutionary struggle for a refreshed attempt at building socialism – our two Parties are confident that the peoples of the former socialist Soviet Union will sooner or later embark on that path."
What is the evidence for the observation above contained in the recent joint statement by the CPA and CPA (M-L) on the centenary of the October Revolution?
Does it really matter in any case?
As a Party dedicated to the eventual realisation of Communism, we believe it does matter.
Fighting for anti-imperialist independence and socialism as a preliminary to the eventual realisation of Communism we are only too keenly aware of the anti-Communist bogey created by apologists for imperialism and bourgeois democracy. It is a formidable barrier to lifting the ideological level of workers above the economism of the fight for better wages and conditions. A significant under-pinning of this anti-Communism is the belief that socialism and Communism have been rejected by people who lived under the rule of Communist parties, particularly in the former Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe.
A complicating factor is the period of revisionism following the death of Stalin when decisive sectors of the socialist economy of these countries were diverted back onto the path of capitalism. For three decades or more leading up to the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the wolf of restored capitalism stalked the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the sheep’s clothing of claims to a continuing socialist society. The formal restoration of capitalism was partly successful because workers had lost faith in a system that promised so much and delivered largely to a new class of top bureaucrats, rapacious entrepreneurs and corrupt oligarchs.
As the years go by following the dismantling of the former Soviet Union, workers young and old have looked the wolf in the face and disliked what they have seen.
Opinion polls and surveys conducted by Russian, eastern European and Western agencies alike testify to a nostalgia for the era of Lenin and Stalin, and testify to a preference for socialism over capitalism. It is significant that in the polls and on the streets, it is Lenin and Stalin, not Khrushchev and his successors, who are honoured. However, pollsters make no distinction between the socialist era of Lenin and Stalin and the revisionist era that began with Khrushchev, and the phrase “life under Communism” is used for both.
“Life under Communism” is quite misleading. No-one has yet lived “under Communism”. The period between all previous class societies and the classless future society of Communism is itself a class society. We refer to the historically lengthy transition period between human class society and human classlessness as socialism, with the specific meaning that it is a democratic reorganisation of the ownership of all productive assets; it is the taking away from the bourgeoisie of its ownership of factories, corporations, mines and so on; it is the protection of this new regime from a restoration of the old order by a dictatorship of the working class over the former capitalists and their managers and servants. “Life under Communism” can only be understood as life in the early stages of this transitional socialist society under the leadership of a Communist party and government. We will return to the matter at hand, using terms as they have been used, albeit inaccurately, by the pollsters.
A 2003 poll in Slovakia conducted by the Public Relation Institute, Bratislava reported that 66% said that they lived better “under Communism” than they did in 2003. Only 8% said they lived better in 2003 than they did then.
A survey conducted by the New Russia Barometer in 2005 found that 48% overall and 85% of those aged 73 said that things were better before 1985 than they were in 2005. 49% said they were better off economically before 1990, while only 28% said they were better off in 2005.
In November 2007, the Forsa Institute reported that more than 90% of East Germans who were polled said they had better social protection under the German Democratic Republic than in the united capitalist Germany. That remains the case today: wages and pensions are lower in the former East Germany than in the western half despite both being under the same federal government.
Romanians were polled three times in 2007-8. In May, a BERD poll found that more than 50% said the economy was better “under Communism” than it was in 2007. A Soros Foundation poll that November reported that 48% said that they lived better “under Communism” and that 45% still believed in Communism.
In 2012, under the heading “Struggling Romanians yearn for Communism”, the Washington Post reported that 53% of Romanians "would prefer to live once again under the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu."
A survey by Pew Global in 2011 found that a majority of citizens throughout Russia and Eastern Europe believed that they were worse off following the formal restoration of capitalism in the 1990s :
Country Worse Better About the Same
Hungary 72% 8% 16%
Ukraine 62% 12% 13%
Bulgaria 62% 13% 18%
Lithuania 48% 23% 15%
Slovakia 48% 29% 18%
Russia 45% 33% 15%
Czech Republic 39% 45% 12%
Poland 35% 47% 12%
According to a 2013 survey by Gallup Poll, residents of 11 former Soviet states were more than twice as likely to say that the breakup of the USSR harmed their countries. For five of these former Soviet states (Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Russia, and Tajikistan,) more than half of the respondents said that the breakup of the USSR harmed their countries.
The great Soviet leaders Lenin and Stalin poll strongly in lists of “most popular historical figures”, competing with the likes of Vladimir Putin and historical figures such as Alexander Nevsky and the last Tsar’s hated “hangman” Pyotr Stolypin. Nostalgia for the Soviet era vies with a right-wing nationalistic embrace of a fascist-like “strongman”.
A December 2008 “Name of Russia” contest run by Rossiya state television channel over more than six months with a final vote via the Internet and mobile phones drew more than 50 million votes in a nation of 143 million. For most of the six months, Stalin was in the lead but was pipped at the post by Nevsky, the 13th century prince who who repulsed German invaders, and Stolypin.
Polls by Moscow’s independent Levada Centre are up and down in relation to Stalin. A May 2012 poll found that 30% of Russians held a positive attitude to Stalin, but by 2017 his popularity – at 46% - was at its highest since 2001 when the poll was first conducted.
A Levada poll on the most outstanding person in world history saw Stalin top the list for the first time in 2012 with 42%; in 2017 he also topped list with 38% of votes. The numbers of those polled are small but regarded as statistically reliable.
There are other popular indications of nostalgia for socialist society and admiration for Lenin and Stalin. New statues of Stalin have been erected, books extolling his leadership are very popular, and people have paid to have images of Stalin decorate public buses – it had to be done as “advertising”, but it was copied in other cities over a period of several years. There was a strong push to restore Stalingrad as the name of the city that became the turning point of World War 2.
None of this is to suggest that there will be any repetition of the Great October Socialist Revolution in the near future. The course that a revolutionary movement to re-establish socialism must take is as yet unchartered and will not be anything like the near-bloodless seizure of power in 1917. A credible Marxist-Leninist party has yet to emerge: the official Communist Party is revisionist and the several functioning groups of Marxist-Leninists are weak and isolated.
The joint parties’ statement quoted above expresses our confidence that the peoples of the former Soviet Union will “sooner or later” find their feet and organise for the overthrow of the new Russian capitalist class. We are heartened by their nostalgia, but recognise that a forward-looking vision must have precedence in their analysis of contemporary tasks and conditions.