“We lived better under communism!” Bulgaria then and now

“The Communist Manifesto now reads as if it was written just a few weeks ago. … the experience of Eastern Europe and of the Third World shows the vital need for a universalist left as the only real alternative to diverse forms of barbarism.”[1]

Building blocks for a ‘people’s history’ of socialism 1.0

At this critical juncture, given the fierce urgency of now, it is time for the left to give renewed attention to the socialist experience in Eastern Europe. We need to re-explore in depth across the radical left in North America, Europe and elsewhere what was progressive and successful, in the former ‘real-socialist’ economies in Eastern Europe-especially the smaller socialist states like Bulgaria-along with their weaknesses, mistakes, contradictions and myriad problems engendered by the enduring impact of the Cold War. The socialist countries have been turned with a vengeance into a “testing ground of an extremely aggressive form of neo-liberal social engineering, an attempt to violently impose a change in social paradigm”.[2] We are seeing a metamorphosis in political and economic paradigms at the hands of the IMF, EU-and a nouveau riche comprador bourgeoisie and coterie of oligarchs-that has transmuted much of the post-socialist world into a vast societal poorhouse.

Researchers have argued that the neo-colonial tsunami in the wake of the Cold War has brought extreme neo-capitalist versions of neo-liberalism into Eastern Europe, with devastating results for education and social welfare.[3] Bourgeois history’s irony–or perhaps its Cunning of Reason in Hegel’s classic sense–is that major achievements under ‘real existing’ socialisms in the 20th century were what people everywhere under austerity capitalism are fighting for here and now.

My core thesis is this: The narratives of ordinary people who grew up in socialism and now work and live in post-socialist societies in the throes of anomie [a widespread breakdown in social order] and severe poverty, their basic dignity trampled, need to be collected, discussed and disseminated widely. This will provide a record of authentic experience and memory as radical as reality itself. Such narratives can only sharpen our visions of 21st-century ‘democratic socialism.’ Such a project should be oriented toward oral history and biographical inquiry, exploring what life in these socialist states actually was like, as seen by ordinary citizens now living in the chaos of restored capitalism.

It has been argued that the restoration of market economies and bourgeois democracy across Eastern Europe, along with a massive de-collectivization of agriculture and privatization of industry have trashed human dignity and slashed the gains of ‘real-socialist’ welfare over many decades. Economic and ideological colonization from the West intensified for the vast majority of working families on a massive scale. One author recently observed that

“The dismantling of socialism has, in a word, been a catastrophe, a great swindle that has not only delivered none of what it promised, but has wreaked irreparable harm …. Numberless voices in Russia, Romania, East Germany and elsewhere lament what has been stolen from them – and from humanity as a whole: ‘We lived better under communism. We had jobs. We had security.'”[4] Continue reading

World Socialism Forum in Beijing witnesses clash of socialist ideas

(By the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist))

On behalf of the CPGB-ML, Comrades Harpal Brar and Ella Rule recently attended the Fourth World Socialism Forum, organised by the World Socialism Research Centre of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), and the Centre for Contemporary World Studies of the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CCCPC).

The theme of this year’s forum was ‘The current situation and the development trend of world socialism and leftist thoughts’. Held on 30-31 October at the conference hall of CASS, it hosted 91 participants, including 22 from abroad.

The general consensus at the symposium was that socialism, being a far superior system to capitalism, had a bright future – indeed, the only future for humanity; that capitalism, far from being the final destination, was merely a transitional stage in the long march of humanity from primitive communism to the higher stage of communism.

There was also general agreement that imperialism, especially US imperialism, was on the decline and that socialism was on the up again after the terrible reverses suffered in the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR and east European socialist countries. It was pointed out that the latest economic crisis, while undermining the legitimacy of capitalism, had served to raise high the prestige of Marxism Leninism; and that the balance of power was definitely shifting away from US imperialism and other imperialist countries and towards the socialist countries and the Brics economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

The only area in which US imperialism still reigns supreme is the military. In 2013, the US spent $633bn on the military, accounting for 5 percent of its GDP, 20 percent of its government budget, and 44 percent of global military spending. But even this colossal outlay is increasingly becoming a source of weakness, since the declining economic strength of the US will not be able to cope for very much longer with this huge military burden.

The present crisis, which began in 2007, marked the beginning of the end of US hegemony – economically, ideologically and politically. Even in the military field, despite its huge arsenal of the most sophisticated weapons ever seen, the US and its junior imperialist partners have lost in the battlefield in Iraq and are losing in Afghanistan.

All in all, there was broad agreement that capitalism was a failed system, fully confirmed by the latest crisis of capitalism, which at the same time served to confirm the validity of socialism and of Marxism Leninism.

For all their generally positive reinforcement of socialism, one of the major weaknesses revealed at the symposium was a lack of clarity and agreement among the participants as to the cause of the demise of the USSR and east European socialist countries. Unless this question is satisfactorily dealt with, however, the working-class movement will not be equipped to make real progress.  Continue reading

Romanians Say Communism Was Better than Capitalism

(By 21st Century Socialism)

According to a recent poll conducted in Romania, a large majority of those who expressed an opinion stated that life was better when the Communist Party was in power than it is now under capitalism. Most people gave a favourable view about communism in principle, with over 60% saying that communism is ‘a good idea’. The pollsters noted a significant increase in sympathy with communist ideas since a similar poll was carried out four years ago.

Conducted in August and September this year by the Romanian polling organisation CSOP, the survey found that over 49% of respondents agreed that life was better under the late Communist leader Nicolae Ceauşescu, while only 23% think that life is better today. The remainder gave a neutral or ‘don’t know’ answer.

The reasons given by the participants for their positive evaluation of the communist period were mainly economic, with the availability of jobs cited by 62% and decent living conditions by 26%; the provision of housing for all was referred to by 19%.

The survey was sponsored by the government-funded organisation IICMER (the Institute for Investigating the Crimes of Communism and the Memory of Romanian Exile), in order to help guide the institute in its work to ‘educate’ the population about the evils of communism. Among the most bitter disappointments for that organisation were the answers given to a question which asked whether the particpants or their families had suffered under the communist system.

A mere 7% of respondents said they had suffered under communism, with a further 6% asserting that although they personally had not suffered, a family member had suffered. Again, the reasons given were mainly economic, with most of the small group who had direct or family experience of suffering under Communist Party rule citing the shortages which occured in the 1980s when Romania implemented an austerity programme in order to repay the country’s foreign debt. A small fraction of the minority who had suffered during the communist period said they had lost out by having their property nationalised, and a handful (6% of those who had experience of suffering under communism) recalled that they, or a family member, had been arrested at some time while the communists were in power. Continue reading

1999 Declaration of the International Communist Seminar

Toilers’ Struggle supports this declaration of principles as a fundamental starting point for the unity of communists on the basis of recognizing the basic theoretical principles of Marxism-Leninism and the rich experiences of socialist revolution which inspire and hold lessons for the struggle for socialism in the 21st century. 

Brussels, 4 May, 1999:

1. Today, communists all over the world are summing up the first century of socialist revolution, in order to prepare for greater struggles to come and to achieve ever greater victories. They will exert every effort for the 21st century to become the century of victory on a world scale.

2. The bourgeoisie struggled for three centuries in order to triumph over the forces of feudalism. The socialist revolution aims to put an end to the long reign of the exploiting classes and to eliminate all forms of exploitation of man by man. The final victory of socialism all over the world will take a whole historical epoch.

3. The twentieth century has witnessed great feats of socialist revolution and construction, but also treason and counter-revolution within communist ranks. The twentieth century has been one of dress rehearsal, during which the proletariat accumulated great positive experiences as well as negative and tragic ones. As long as the communist parties remained loyal to the revolutionary principles of Marxism-Leninism, the world socialist revolution followed an ascending course. As soon as the revisionists imposed themselves on a great number of communist parties, the revolution began its downfall.

I A glorious experience

4. A hundred and fifty years ago, Marx and Engels published the “Manifesto of the Communist Party”. The fundamental principles laid down by this great programmatic document remain valid for the proletariat of all countries.

5. Marx and Engels drew the lessons from the Paris Commune, the first revolution to take the path of socialist revolution, the path of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The different forms of power of the working class essentially correspond to the measures taken by the Paris Commune, and later by the Soviets, so as to allow the workers to become the effective rulers of society.

6. Struggling against social-democratic treason, the Bolshevik Party under the leadership of Lenin defended Marxism and developed the strategy and tactics of the socialist revolution, leading the October uprising and wrenching the workers from the barbarism of imperialist wars and interventions. Lenin formulated the general line for building socialism. The October Revolution created a new situation in the world: bourgeois order had to coexist with its opposite, socialist order: the existence of a large socialist country reminded all exploited and oppressed people that the unjust order of capitalism and imperialism could be overthrown. Basically, capitalism’s area of exploitation of both the work force and mineral resources was reduced.

7. Neither the international bourgeoisie nor the opportunists in the Bolshevik Party believed that socialism could last in one backward country alone. It was the Soviet working class and labouring masses, led by the Party with Stalin at its head, who put Lenin’s political principles into practice and built a great socialist power, the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics.

8. The struggle for industrialisation, which mobilised millions of young workers, transformed a backward and feudal country into an industrial power able to stand up to world imperialism. Middle Ages agriculture was transformed, becoming mechanised and collective. Thanks to the cultural revolution, the former country of illiterate moujiks became a country of scientists, engineers and technicians.

9. The Bolshevik Party, under the leadership of Stalin, built the Red Army in a high spirit of initiative and heroism and forged close links between the army and the popular masses. Practically on its own, the Red Army defeated Hitler’s armies.

10. The Soviet Union’s victorious anti-fascist war stimulated the development of the communist movement on a world-wide scale, especially in Europe and Asia. The victory of the Soviet Union over German imperialism gave new impulse to the revolutionary anti-colonial and anti-imperialist movement that shook imperialist domination in Asia and Africa. In several countries, people’s democracy and socialism triumphed.

11. In the wake of World War II, the focus of the world proletarian revolution shifted to Asia, where the most heroic wars of liberation were waged and won under the leadership of the communist parties of China, Korea and Vietnam.

12. By developing the theory and practice of protracted people’s war in the course of the anti-imperialist and democratic revolution in an immense Third World country, the Chinese Communist Party, led by Mao Zedong made a contribution of international importance. He proceeded to transform the democratic revolution into socialist revolution, undertook socialist construction, put forward the theory and practice of continuing revolution to combat revisionism, prevent the restoration of capitalism and consolidate the gains of socialism.

13. At the time of Stalin’s death, the socialist camp and the forces of anti-imperialist revolution enjoyed unprecedented power and prestige. They were on the offensive, the oppressed all over the world could look to the future with optimism.

II The rise of revisionism and the struggle against it Continue reading

Oppressive and Grey? No, Growing Up Under Communism Was the Happiest Time of My Life

(By Zsuzsanna Clark) 

When people ask me what it was like growing up behind the Iron Curtain in Hungary in the Seventies and Eighties, most expect to hear tales of secret police, bread queues and other nasty manifestations of life in a one-party state.

They are invariably disappointed when I explain that the reality was quite different, and communist Hungary, far from being hell on earth, was in fact, rather a fun place to live.

The communists provided everyone with guaranteed employment, good education and free healthcare. Violent crime was virtually non-existent.

Zsuzsanna Clark, right, aged 14 with a friendGolden years: Zsuzsanna, right, aged 14 with a friend

But perhaps the best thing of all was the overriding sense of camaraderie, a spirit lacking in my adopted Britain and, indeed, whenever I go back to Hungary today. People trusted one another, and what we had we shared.

I was born into a working-class family in Esztergom, a town in the north of Hungary, in 1968. My mother, Julianna, came from the east of the country, the poorest part. Born in 1939, she had a harsh childhood. Continue reading