The REDSTAR2000 Papers

Listen to the worm of doubt, for it speaks truth. - Leftist Discussion

Socialists and Communists October 16, 2003 by RedStar2000

This is my first article in the Che-Lives E-zine, published September 13, 2003.


Why do we have two words to describe "the same thing"? Or why do we think they "mean" the same thing?

The answers are historical, of course. There were a number of people who called themselves "socialists" at the mid-point of the 19th century; Marx and Engels wished to adopt a more radical perspective--entitling their world-shaking document The Communist Manifesto.

The socialists of that era--and our own--have a different outlook on things than communists do. Socialists are "biased" towards peaceful and incremental changes; communists promote proletarian revolution. Socialists are in favor of a strong and centralized state apparatus that owns and manages the economy; communists are opposed to any state apparatus at all.

This is all clear enough...or would be if it were not for one of those vexatious "accidents of history".

The October "Revolution" was made by a group that called itself the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party (Bolsheviks). This party was actually a member of the Second International...though it had little to do with them after the beginning of World War I, since the Bolsheviks were resolutely opposed to imperialist war (unlike most European social democrats who supported "their own" ruling classes).

The RSDLP(B) "took power" from a moribund "provisional government" in what was, for the most, a bloodless coup. (The real revolution, of course, was that of February 1917.)

Because the Bolsheviks were opposed to imperialist war and because they came to power in what, in their minds at least, was a revolution, they sought a change in name to separate themselves from their origins in social democracy.

The obvious, if historically inaccurate, choice was communist...and in due course the RSDLP became the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks).

Why inaccurate? Several reasons.

In the first place, there was no question of establishing socialism in the Russia of 1917--the material conditions were not present. The "New Economic Policy" of Lenin (1921) was frankly admitted to be a combination of state-capitalism and private sector capitalism. In fact, the new "Soviet Union" made vigorous efforts to obtain foreign capital investment from their "class enemies"...and it was not their fault that the capitalists of Europe and America declined to cooperate.

Secondly, if there was no objective basis for socialism, there was even less of a material basis for, to be precise.

The Bolsheviks, as befitted their material reality, were reluctant socialists and not communists of any kind. They had their "strong state" and they did nationalize enterprises where the capitalist owners had fled. They dissolved factory committees, gutted trade unions, and imposed "one-man management" in the name of economic efficiency.

All of this taking place in the midst of wide-spread propaganda to the effect that this new state was the product of "proletarian revolution", the fruits of "communist" politics, the world's first "workers' state".

The confusion thus created is with us still.

The limited socialist economic policies of Lenin and the more far-reaching socialist policies of Stalin became identified in the public mind with communism.

Even worse, the repressive measures of this regime--a logical continuation of its Czarist predecessor--infused new "life" into social democracy in the years between the world wars. Discreetly silent about their own role in the gargantuan slaughter that was World War I, the social democrats could and did say "we socialists are democratic; the communists are blood-thirsty autocrats".

The bourgeois media picked up on the "difference" and publicized it widely for their own purposes. "The socialists are peaceful and democratic; the communists are violent and tyrannical".

To this day, many still think of socialism and communism as being points on a continuum. A socialist is "an irresolute communist" or a communist is "a determined socialist".

This is mirrored in the notion common to both that socialism is some kind of "transition" period between capitalism and real communism--a classless, stateless society. Though one can find ambiguous "justification" in a few fragments of Marx and Engels for such a notion, it is essentially a fabrication of the "legitimize" their expropriation of the name "communist" for a social order that always had much more in common with capitalism than it ever did with communism.

After a century of theoretical and practical confusion on this fundamental matter, it is admittedly problematical that a correct understanding of these two ideas can be restored. People have become "habituated" to the distorted meanings...even though the Leninist parties that still exist are now, in practice, social democratic and the major social democratic parties have all become pro-capitalist.

So now we have people calling themselves "communists" who are really social-democrats--socialists--and people calling themselves "socialists" who are really pro-capitalists.(!)

If this deplorable situation is to be rectified in the new century, I think the duty falls upon real communists to make it clear what communism really means.

It does not mean the nationalization of the means of production. It does not mean a "strong state", democratic or autocratic. It does not mean participation in bourgeois electoral charades or any other formal mechanisms of "conflict resolution".

Communism means the working class "takes matters directly into its own hands".

That is what I advocate. I am not a socialist of any kind; I am a communist, a real one.
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