Revolution in the Russian Empire: For Socialist Freedom and Democracy

Submitted by AWL on 25 September, 2013 - 1:57

The program of the anti-Communist revolution in Eastern Europe can be summed up in one word: democracy. And its content can be summed up in one phrase: democratic socialism.

Today this can be asserted not as a hypothesis, a theory or a hope, but as a fact demonstrated and confirmed by every one of the great revolutionary movements which have challenged the rule of the Stalinist bureaucracy for the past decade and a half.

The Ukrainian revolutionary movement fought both Hitler and Stalin during the '40s under the slogans of self-determination and democracy. The East German workers rose in 1953 for an end to Russian rule, and for democracy. These were the fundamental demands of the great revolutions in both Poland and Hungary in 1956.

And by democracy these movements have unmistakably meant the fullest political, social and economic rights and freedoms for all, based on the socialization of the state-owned means of production, and on the right of association of workers, farmers and all other groups in society freed from state or state-party control. In short, not just democracy in general, but democratic socialism.
This is a fact of the greatest significance for our times. For it highlights a truth which has tended to became obscured by the cold-war struggle between the two great war blocs lad by Russia and the United States, in which the issue seems to be: capitalism or Communism. This truth is that as a social system, capitalism no longer has the vitality to appear as an alternative to the peoples who are struggling for freedom tram Stalinism.

True, the propagandists of Communism have tried to make it appear that in Hungary, and even in Poland, the old social order is seeking to re-establish itself under the disguise of democratic slogans. But despite all their talk about the 'fascists' in the Hungarian revolution, they have to this day not produced one iota of evidence to point to any significant participation, let alone real influence, of any pro-capitalist elements in the revolution.


In countries like Hungary and Poland, with their large numbers of peasants, the demand has been raised for the rights of peasants to own their own land. This demand is raised as against the oppressive super-statification imposed on the peasantry by the Communist regimes. In the context of the struggle against the new bureaucratic class which has arrogated all power and "ownership" to itself in these countries, it is a perfectly legitimate, democratic demand, and in no way contradicts the struggle for democratic socialism. And above all, it has nowhere and in no way been linked with a demand for a restoration of the property rights either of large landowners or industrialists.

One of the most telling proofs of the socialist character of the program of the anti-Stalinist revolution is precisely the repudiation by leaders of peasant parties in both Hungary and Poland of any program leading to the restoration of the old order. In Hungary, leaders of the Smallholders Party told foreign correspondents, in the midst of the revolutionary upsurge, not to listen to the voices from abroad of emigres who spoke in the language of a return to the old regime. Their revolution, they said, is compromised, not aided, by the attempt of such people to appeal to it or to speak its name.

As a matter of fact, to the extent that social forces smacking of the old capitalist order have found their voices in the turmoil of the Polish and Hungarian revolutions, they have appeared not so much as part of the revolutionary democracy, but as an element seeking to promote their own interests in alliance with the bureaucracy. This was most strikingly the case with the Catholic Church hierarchy in Poland.


The program and character of the anti-Communist revolution In East Europe is determined, on the one hand, by the needs and aspirations of the workers, farmers and intellectuals who have led and inspired it, and by the character of the regime against which they are revolting. Unless this is understood, the real meaning, for today and for the future of this revolution, which is a continuing process, can be completely misunderstood.

The basic characteristics of the Communism against which the revolution in Eastern Europe are directed are these: bureaucratic state ownership, control and direction of all means of production and exchange; control and direction by the party-state-industrial bureaucracy of all economic, social and political forms of activity; ruthless suppression of all independence from as well as opposition to the party which acts as the executive committee of the bureaucracy as a whole; monopoly control by the party-state bureaucracy over all forms of education, public expression, culture and the like.

In short, except when shaken by the disaffection and struggle of the people, it is a totalitarian society controlled by a small minority of bureaucrats.

This totalitarian society, however, had been created as a result of the complete destruction of the capitalist social order which had preceded it in Eastern Europe. Unlike fascism, which is a totalitarian system based on the continuation of capitalist property forms and relations, Russian Communism and its satellite regimes had destroyed capitalism root and branch.

In Russia, capitalism had been originally overturned by a workers' revolution which sought to lay the foundations of a socialist society. Due to the backwardness of the country and the failure of the working class in Western Europe to come to the aid of the struggling Soviet regime, the power was gradually wrested from the hands of the working class by the rising new bureaucracy under Stalin, which eventually stifled all democracy, exterminated all opposition, and gathered into its hands the political and hence the economic control of the country.

In Eastern Europe, this bureaucracy, now fully developed and differentiated in Russia as a new ruling class, imposed its form of statified, bureaucratized society. It destroyed capitalist relations and rule only to impose its own rule and that of puppet regimes created in its own image, in their stead.

This bureaucracy rules not by virtue of the private ownership of land or means of production by individual bureaucrats. It rules, rather, through its collective monopoly of political power which, in a state-owned economy gives it monopoly of economic power as well. Thus the bureaucracy recognizes very clearly that the establishment of democracy in "their" society means the end of their rule.
The Polish and Hungarian revolutions have now made it clear that this is also recognized by the workers who live under the bureaucratic yoke. After ten years of Communist rule in Eastern Europe, they have seen through the fraud which claims that the rule of the Communist Party and of the party-state-industrial bureaucracy is really the rule of the workers or of the "people." That Is why, both in Hungary and Poland though the ferment first became most noticeable among the students and intellectuals, the workers gave the revolution its real mass, backbone and drive.

The program of the anti-Communist revolution has so far reached its fullest expression and development in Hungary because it was there that the bureaucracy lost all control over the revolutionary process. Here are the most vital portions of the 16-point program presented to mass meetings in Budapest on October 23 which triggered off the revolution:
"Revision of Hungary's relations with the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia to establish complete economic and political equality and non-interference in each others' affairs.

"The calling of a Communist Party congress to elect a new leadership.

"A reshuffling of the government with Nagy as leader.

"A secret general election with more than one party.

"The reorganization of Hungary's economy based on her actual national resources.

"Revision of the workers’ output norms and recognition of the workers’ right to strike.

"Revision of the system of compulsory farm collections.

"Equal rights for individual farmers and members of farm cooperatives.

"Complete freedom of speech and of the press.

"Revision of all political trials.

"Release of all political prisoners, including those who are still held in the Soviet Union."


It would be possible to fill this whole page with quotations from the leaflets, programs, newspapers and radio broadcasts of the Polish and Hungarian revolutions which proclaim democratic socialism as their goal and full democracy in every sphere of life as their program.

Here are just a few random examples from Hungary:

Appeal of the Revolutionary University Students Committee. October 31:

"We want neither Stalinism nor capitalism. We want a truly democratic and truly Socialist Hungary, completely independent from any other country."

Speech by Ferenc Farkas, national secretary of the National Peasant Party, November 3:

"The government will retain from the Socialist achievements and results everything which can be, and must be, used in a free, democratic and socialist country, in accordance with the wishes of the people."

Resolution adopted by the Workers’ Councils of the 11th District of Budapest, November 12:

Point One "We wish to emphasize that the revolutionary working class considers the factories and the land the property of the working people."

And so it went. Quotation could be piled on quotation. But even more important than what the revolution in Hungary said was what they did. The workers, students and peasants proceeded from the first days of the revolution to establish their own democratic councils, completely free and independent of government or party control. These councils sought to take over the political and economic administration of the country on the basis of democracy.

Even though the Hungarian Revolution was permitted to develop freely for only a few days before Russian tanks crushed it, it was clear that every political tendency in the country was permitted the freest self-expression and organization as a matter of course. Again and again the program of the revolution, voiced through a hundred separate, uncoordinated, spontaneous democratic bodies rang out clearly: for "more than one party," for the freedom of all parties accepting socialist economic foundations for the country. Though the revolutionary democracy spelled the end of Communist Party rule, the right of this party to participate in the political life of the country, not as monolithic ruler but as one political tendency among many, was recognized.

It was precisely because the Hungarian Revolution stood so clearly for democratic socialism that the Russian rulers decided to crush it so ruthlessly. And it was for this reason, too, that they spread the slander that this revolution was really brought about and controlled by "fascist elements," or by "American agents."


The Russian rulers recognize more clearly than anyone else that their social rule depends on the extermination of all popular independence, of all democracy. They recognized that with Poland already on the brink of a democratic revolution, and with uneasiness, ferment and rebellion just under the surface throughout their satellite empire and in their own country, a successful democratic revolution in Hungary might be just the spark which would ignite the powder-keg on which they are sitting.

Similarly, they know that throughout their empire there is no popular desire for a return to capitalism. For twenty years they have been able to maintain their power, in part at least, by convincing their people that all who oppose them are actually seeking a restoration of capitalist rule. This is why it was not enough for them to imprison or execute every opponent or potential opponent of their regime. In addition, they sought to smear their opponents, preferably by forced "confessions," with plotting to "restore capitalism," usually as agents of some foreign power.

In the case of Hungary, the old formula was trotted out once more. This most democratic and socialist of all revolutions was and continues to be slandered as a "fascist plot." But the old magic has gone from the formula.

In Russia and throughout the world, the real nature of the "confession" trials was exposed by Khrushchev's attack on Stalin at the"20th Congress of the Russian Communist Party, and by the rehabilitation of hundreds of victims of such trials throughout the Russian empire. Over and above this, the Hungarian revolution was a public event of such gigantic stature, that those throughout the Communist world movement who continue to mumble the formula no longer believe it themselves, and can get no one to lend them an ear.

The heroism of the Hungarian Revolution will live in the hearts of free men and women for all time. Its program, hammered out in the fire and turmoil of revolution and counter-revolution by a whole people, will point the way, not to distant generations, but to this generation which is engaged in the struggle to overthrow Stalinism and establish democracy. It can serve also as a rallylng-ground and inspiration to the working class and the peoples of the capitalist world who have so long been disoriented by the idea that Stalinism was the only realistic alternative to some form of continued capitalist rule.

Democracy - democratic socialism - that is the real alternative to both Communism and capitalism. This is the inspiring, historic message of the program of the anti-Stalinist revolution.

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