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Values and lessons of justice and equality from the October Revolution and the realistic socialism

(LLCT) - The Russia's October Revolution is a product of the developmental era of capitalism and actions taken by the communist and workers’ movement around the world. The revolution provided a realistic path to fulfill people’s desire for a fair and equal society. The socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe has created the unprecedented and unforgettable values of justice and equality. However, mistakes in conception and policy that hadn't been fixed in time resulted in the collapse of the realistic socialism, leaving behind important lessons for communists in the world.

Key words: October Revolution, realistic socialism, justice and equality.

1. The inevitability of the October Revolution presents a way to fulfill the human desire for a fair and equal society

Since class appeared in society, and subsequent states and regimes whom exploited others emerged, progressive thinkers and the oppressed classes have always desired for a soceity of justice, equality, freedom and happiness. This aspiration is presented in many famous works of philosophers, writers of all times. The appearance of religions, from Buddhism to Catholicism, is a result of the desire to bring mankind to a life of genuine justice, equality, freedom and happiness.

The establishment and development of capitalism in Europe garnered within 200 years a large amount of wealth equivalent to the aggregate amount of all previous eras, as stipulated in the Communist Manifesto in 1848(1). Capitalism also caused the development of the bourgeois state and the demand for basic rights that people were not granted in the feudal system - freedom of possession, and corporal freedom, etc. However, even 100 years after the Communist Manifesto, instead of eliminating inequality and injustice; capitalism had just created a new form of the two. There was inequality and injustice between capitalists and the working class - as the exploited laborers being in the working class.

The advent of socialists in the 18th century was a continuation of mankind’s desire for a society of justice, equality and happiness. However, neither their views, guidelines nor their experimental solutions became a reality. Owen’s model of socio - economic organization was very advanced but could not develop on a national scale. That was the reason why Marx and Engels called them utopian socialists.

The 19th century marked the connection between the socialist movement and the workers’ movement in their fight for the interests of the working class in many countries. The First World War proved that capitalism had reached the point in which imperialists had to fight for colonies by war. As an imperial nation, the involvement of Tsarist Russia in the war not only devastated Russia but also did not satisfy the Russian bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie wanted to seize power to carry out the war in their own way. This was the cause of the February Revolution in 1917 in Russia, which was supported by Russian political parties, including the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party(2).

Russia’s bourgeois democratic revolution in February 1917 brought the bourgeoisie political interests and some political reforms in favor of other classes in Russia. However, the Russian bourgeoisie quickly made other classes and the laboring stratum became disappointed because it didn’t end the meaningless war in which it was participating. Instead, it revealed the blatent conflict between the bourgeoisie and the working and peasant classes. Russia’s situation required a different force and policy that would satisfy the people. That force and policy was the Bolshevik led by Lenin. The October Revolution, as a result, was inevitable.

The October Revolution succeeded due to both objective and subjective factors converging in Russia that no other developed capitalist countries had at that time. The objective factors included the severe conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat which had become more defined by the World War I. This factor was also seen in America and other European countries; however, what they lack was Russia’s, the subjective factors of the maturity in ideology, politics and organization of a revolutionary party - the Bolshevik party under the leadership of Lenin.

Both the objective and subjective factors account for the fact that, up until the death of Lenin (1924), in the world there was only one country successful in a proletariat revolution led by an othordox Marxist party; and only Russia declared its socialist way. Right after the Russian October Revolution, in late 1918, Hungarians also revolted, followed by Germans. In the beginning of 1919 in Bavaria, the German communists rose up in arms to establish the Soviet Republic like Russia but was eventually unsuccessful. Leaders of the Revolution like Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebnecht were captured and killed(3).

As the only successful revolution, Russian October Revolution was not only the success of Russia itself but also a product of the capitalist era.

Under the leadership of Lenin, the Soviet authority brought Russia away from the meaningless imperialist war. The Soviet Russia declared a peaceful foreign policy. Domestically, it implemented the policy of confiscation of capital assets to hand over to workers, confiscation of land from wealthy landlords to distribute to peasants as a means of ensuring social equality and turning laborers into masters of their country.

That being said, the Russian October Revolution has opened a new model to fulfill people’s progressive ideals and desires for justice, equality, freedom and happiness.

2. The unforgetable achievements of justice and equality of realistic socialism

With over 70 years of existence, including over 30 years of the socialist system (from after the World War II till its collapse), the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries had recorded many great achievements. The most remarkable success was to ensure the labor force rights to justice and equality they had never had before.

In the 1920s, Russia was the only country to have no class differentiation between the rich and the poor, the exploiting minority and the exploited majority, the employer and the employee inside its border. Russia was also the only country where all people had the legal status of society masters, equal rights for voting, rights to free education, healthcare and other benefits regardless of gender and skin colors.

That was the superiority of the regime and it is the social dynamism source creating the aggregate strength of the country in face of most severe challenges, which made the Soviet Union a powerful country in terms of military, science and technology compared to America for many decades.

Lenin once generalized, “war is a test on the superiority of a political regime”. The Soviet Union overcame the intervention of 14 imperialists and then a harsh civil war for three years. It also won the defensive war against German fascism. The regime’s superiority contributed significantly to the Soviet Union’s strength to overcome severe challenges.

With Russia, the backward Central Asian countries within the Soviet Union or some underdeveloped East European countries after World War II also made great progress in all aspects, especially the social one. Equal rights and social welfare were for everybody regardless of class, wealth or gender.

In decades after World War II, the social organization model and great progress of the Soviet Union and Eastern European socialist countries were the role models for many communist parties and social reform movements in the world including Vietnamese communist movement. The Soviet Union and Eastern European countries became a great political force counterpointing to aggressive forces of the imperial capitalism; a great source of support for peace, democracy, progress movements and national liberation movements of the 20th century including Vietnam.

It would be impossible to imagine how human progress would be in the 20th century without the realistic socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Would fascism be defeated and if it had not been defeated, how would it have survived? Would the United Nations have come into being and become such an important international organization as it is today? Without the model of the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries, could social progress in Europe and America’s capitalist countries be easily achieved and reach millions of workers? Could social democratic people in Northern Europe and many other countries easily take over power from domestic conservative capitalists to carry out social reforms as happening for the last half of the 20th century?

The Soviet Union and Eastern Europe’s realistic socialism model and success is still a useful and unforgetable experience. Even its failures are also helpful lessons for human beings on the path to greater freedom, equality, justice, happiness as well as reality of their aspirations.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern European socialist countries confirmed the truth that despite a good start, the way mankind progresses is not smooth or without any bends or curves. The collapse of real socialism is a backward step of history; however, 30 years after the realistic socialism model fell in Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the efforts to build a socialist society have been remained in some places. The future of socialism remains bright, and it is a long way of development of mankind. Russian October Revolution and the revolutions followed role model in the 20th century should not be considered as a mistake in history.

3. Lessons on justice and equality from the collapse of the 70-year-old realistic socialism in Eastern Europe

The question is why the socialist regime in Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, after 70 years of existence with a lot of great achievements, collapsed so abruptly. There are many explanations but the question still needs further clarification. Was it an indispensable collapse or a temporary mistake of the authority? Was there another solution for the reforms and transform action into realistic socialism of the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries or not?

Below are some lessons on justice and equality drawn from the causes of the collape of the realistic socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe:

a) Lessons on organizing a production model with high productivity as an economic foundation for socialist justice and equality

Lenin once affirmed, “After all, the victory of a social regime over another is the increase of social labor productivity”(4).

There was a time when the Soviet Union excelled in economic development, building technical infrastructure for socialism, strengthening national defensive strength for the country. That was the time when the Soviet Union implemented the centralized and command mechanism and encouraged patriotism. From there, they had achievements in developing the country’s infrastructure and military power.

Additionally, the superiority of a fairer, more equal and more democratic regime in the early socialit period was a huge driving force for millions of laborers in factories and on the fields as well as for working class - based intellectuals.

However, under conditions of peaceful development in the 1970s, and the bogged down US war in Vietnam, which were favourable for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, their production had manifested in a less motivated and dynamic regime. These signs were seen in Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia in the 1960s, in Hungary in early 1970s; however, such signs were not properly discussed.

The centrally-planned, bureaucratic and command-based economy did not follow the value rule, denied profit and competition, lacked innovation and creation in organizing production and applying modern technologies. Subsequently, the labor productivity in the Soviet Union and other socialist countries gradually decreased.

On the contrary, the market economy based on the value rule and the profit of capitalists still motivated the creation of science, technology and innovation in production which both stimulated and satisfied the increasing demands of consumers. Entering the 1980s, with the new Freedom Doctrine, the US, UK and other capitalist countries made an economic breakthrough, leading to a breakthrough in the application of scientific and technological advances to production. In these years, people in socialist countries experienced the non-stop renovation of the market economy; they hoped to have consumer products made by capitalist countries because they were not satisfied with their own production.

The race for strategic weapon production with the US in the 80’s made the Soviet Union use an important portion of its economic and financial potential for military purposes, which further exposed the decline in production and creativeness of the economy.

Two major mistakes of the realistic socialism contributing to an unmotivated production are: firstly, motives that booster labor weren’t including profit, private possesion and what are so called human rights; secondly, the wrong evaluation of the market economy’s role in the production and the over-valued management role of the State.

From this we can draw a few lessons: in the current era, the market economy still plays an essential role because it creates motives for the creation, labor productivity and renovation of the social production. The thing is that the socialist state should use appropriate tools to overcome its “failures” and guide the market-driven production to serve people and ensure a happier life for everybody.

b) Lesson on ensuring extensive justice and equality

Right at the beginning of the Soviet regime, Russia, later the Soviet Union, brought an equal regulation among people of which nobody was differentiated and everybody had the rights as social masters. That was the unprecedented superiority of the Soviet regime.

However, during the peaceful building and developing period of the realistic socialism, justice and equality were manifested in new forms.

Under the proletarian dictatorship and domination of the state economy, “non-socialist” economic sectors were discriminated and even abolished. Private business owners were excluded from the political, economic and social life. Their descendants were also discriminated and considered a “non-basic” background. That was a manifestation of inequality among economic and social components.

In terms of politics, non-communist parties were suppressed and just existing in form only (for example Poland’s Peasant Party). During three decades after becoming a system, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe socialist countries didn’t have any referendum. Legislative elections from the central to local scenes were set up in advance, the people didn’t have any other choice, apparently reflecting inequality between Party and non-Party members.

Being the sole ruling party, its political power was not supervised and controlled; its political responsibilities were not equivalent to its rights. Such manifestations of political inequalities increasingly caused discontent among the people.

In terms of justice, the state implemented the distribution model mainly based on the principle, “You gain as much as you work, no work then no gain”, but with very small differences that didn’t reflect accurately the disparity of individual labor value. It gradually became egalitarism in standard distribution. Equal welfare regulations for everyone also brought the same negative results. For people who had made real contributions to society by their efforts, intelligence, and even their properties, that type of distribution and welfare was unfair, as addressed by Aristotle 200 B.C. years ago: “Too much fairness is unfair”(5).

Egalitarism gave birth to and encouraged laziness and dependence of parts of the labor force while reduced the enthusiasm and ardent motivations of the others. To compensate for the standard distribution inequality, a part of the people who had power and social positions sought to establish privileges and special advantages including uncovered corruption in various forms.

The unfairness was not only among individuals but also among communities. The adjustment according to political requirements of the central government made many regions and republics of the Soviet Union which were rich and contributed mainly to the national wealth unable to receive corresponding economic and political benefits. That was one of the reasons that boostered the breakaway trend of some countries in the Soviet Union later on.

Such justice- and equality-related issues reduced the people’s support for the regime. Being stimulated from outside, the displeasure felt by the masses manifested into conflicts between the people and the government. The appearance and fierce conflict between the Polish Independent Self-governing Labour Union “Solidarity” and the government and the Polish United Workers’ Party in the 80’s were an example. This was a key political factor that directly led to the loss in the leadership of the Polish United Workers’ Party.

The lesson drawn here is: it shouldn’t just be pleased with the achievement of justice and equality earned in the post-revolution time, it needs unceasing efforts of improvement and further enhancement to meet increasing demands of the people for justice and equality in a peaceful environment and international integration.

3. Lessons on justice and equality in the ruling communist party

The Soviet Union and Eastern European countries all implemented the sole leadership of the Communist Party. That was the central manifestation of the proletarian ruling, with its superiority shown during difficult periods of the country. The unity of the will and action of the Party, the crystalization of the intelligence and the sacrifice of the working class gave the Party spirit, capacity and prestige to lead the people overcome difficulties, challenges and threats from outside. However, it was the peaceful period that revealed the threats inside the Party, including unfairness and inequality among party members.

The gap between high-level leaders and the majority of ordinary communist party members was increasing. There was not an effective mechanism for the majority communists to supervise and check high-ranking leaders of the authority. Opportunists joined the Party by using tricks and gradually sneaked up to higher positions in the authority. There were a lot of cases in which high-level communists were corrupt without being charged or were not charged appropriately. These things caused discontent inside the Party.

Defects and hidden dangers of the realistic socialist regime were not unrecognized by any communist party members. But democratic restrictions made communist parties miss the opportunity to fix it and let discontent grow bigger; it grew to a point that in crucial times, people and even party members became indifferent and turned their back on the Party and the regime just like in the Soviet Union in August 1991.

The lesson drawn here is that: on the one hand, discipline and regulations must be ensured. On the other hand, the Party must have a mechanism to guarantee democracy, equality and justice. Ethics of Party members should be highly valued, especially Party leaders. Besides, the law-ruled State must be built and the Party must be put in the constitutional regime framework under the supervision and inspection of the people and fair judgement of society. This helps overcome the regressive threat of a sole Party leadership.



(1) K.Marx, F.Engels: Complete Works, vol.4, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1999.

(2), (3): www://wikipedia.com

(4) V.I.Lenin: Complete Works, vol.34. Progress Publisher, Moscow

(5) Aristotle: Politics, The Gioi Publishers, Hanoi, 2013

Assoc. Prof., Dr. Vu Hoang Cong

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics 

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