RCL Conference: “The Future of Socialism”

First Published: Class Struggle, Vol. 15, No. 10, November-December 1991
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

What are we to make of developments in the USSR and China? The League recently held a conference to explore the implications of this question.

As Marxist-Leninists, we were not taken by surprise by events in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Since the League was founded in 1977, we have always argued that the system in those countries was not socialist. Going further than many trends on the left, the League did not simply see them as ’degenerated workers’ states” but as exploitative regimes, oppressing their own peoples.

In this, our views coincided fairly closely with the masses in those countries, because when they had a chance to express themselves, they chose to scrap the regimes.

Developments in China came as more of a shock. But we were at least forewarned: Chairman Mao Zedong had, after all, pointed out, before he died, that class struggle continues under socialism, and there is a possibility of capitalism being restored.

Thus basic Marxist-Leninist ideas have stood up pretty well in the light of recent history. But this is not to deny that there have been some serious inconsistencies and shortcomings in our understanding of socialist societies, and it was overdue for us to face up to these.

In doing this, we can now proceed from what is probably a more mature standpoint, one of seeing socialism as a complex social formation, containing elements of socialism and various extraneous elements - capitalism, possibly pre- capitalist elements and ’statism’.

The question is, firstly, which mode is dominant, and secondly, in which direction is the society moving. In addition, we have a deeper grasp of qualitative factors. It is no longer enough to view socialism as ’capitalism without crises’ or to measure it in terms of quantitative factors like a constantly growing GNP.


We said that the Soviet and East European regimes were not socialist in the recent period. But when did they cease being socialist or were some or all of them never socialist?

Marxist-Leninists used to say that there was an abrupt change around the time Krushchev took over the Soviet leadership, particularly at the point of the twentieth Soviet Party Congress in 1956. This no longer satisfies anyone.

The old line assumed that the Stalin period (from Stalin’s consolidation of power in the late 1920’s, through to his death in 1953) was mainly good. But opinions have, changed dramatically on this question. At the recent conference, a number of positions emerged.

Where we agree is that the Soviet Union was building socialism after the 1917 revolution, and that things probably started going wrong after Lenin’s death in the mid-l920s. But opinions differed at the recent conference as to how to assess this period. These can probably be clarified in relation to two basic positions.

One sees the Soviet Union under enormous external pressure in the period prior to World War II, with the party from the best of motives, making increasing errors in the drive to industrialise rapidly (squeezing the peasants for funds, bureaucracy) with Stalin in a heroic, though ultimately unsuccessful role, in trying to safeguard socialism.

The second sees Stalinism as the main active factor in degeneration, external aggression serving as an excuse in the process of undermining democracy, so that the whole Stalinist system becomes a major target of criticism in developing a positive concept of people-centred socialism for the future.

There was however general agreement on what was wrong with the Soviet model in that period: identifying socialism with central planning, lack of effective democracy and other related questions.


In the case of China, we confirmed our view that in the Mao period, China was advancing in a socialist direction, even though there were severe criticisms to be made, notably on the question of Tibet. The year l978 probably saw a qualitative shift of state policy in a direction against socialism. It was recognised that the Cultural Revolution had correctly posed the question of combating capitalist restoration, but it did this in a very abstract and mechanical manner which led to serious errors, and these helped bring about the result it was supposed to eliminate. There was agreement that China is not on the socialist road at present.

Our qualitative stance leads us to judge socialism by different criteria from those Marxist-Leninists have been used to use. The women’s issue is fundamental because patriarchy is an essential basis of exploitative social structures, and hitherto existing socialist models have left this largely intact.

We are also thinking in terms of sustainable development where humanity looks to understanding nature’s laws and working in harmony with them, rather than treating nature as the enemy. On this point, however, there is much that can be learned positively from the Chinese experience.


Finally, democracy was sometimes seen as a kind of bourgeois hangover – all that mattered was that the party was in control, and the interests of the working class were assured. This is absolutely wrong, and one of the most important features of socialism will have to be a rich vocabulary of democratic mechanisms to keep a check on the Communist Party something Lenin anticipated, hut which was largely forgotten about subsequently.

The creative development of theory in the new period is not something one Marxist-Leninist group carries out in isolation. The League has given a lot of attention to the debate on the definition of socialism among revolutionaries abroad, and in particular, we drew considerable inspiration from a document analysing socialist societies drawn up by the Communist Party of India Marxist-Leninist, an organisation which has a heroic revolutionary past and strong links with the mass movement today.

We are part of an international trend which includes some of the most honest and dedicated revolutionary organisations in many countries, and each learns from the others.