Schoolwork: Essay on the Failure of Marxist Principles in Russia
I recently completed this essay on why Marxist principles of communism failed in Soviet Russia for history class, so I thought I'd publish it here.
A Corrupted Plan: Russia’s Attempt at Marxist Communism, by Everest Oreizy for Modern Perspectives: European History
“A spectre is haunting Europe - the Spectre of Communism.” These are the first words of philosopher Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, a document written in 1847 establishing the goals and foundational principles of the Communist Party, of which Marx was a part of. Marx believed that in most countries, there are just two social classes - the bourgeoisie, who owned the means of production and most of the wealth and capital, and the proletariat, who were oppressed by the bourgeoisie by being forced to work in their factories and sweatshops for low wages. In the Manifesto, Marx encouraged all proletariats to rise up and overthrow the bourgeoisie, creating a society and government where private property and social classes would be abolished to prevent anyone from being oppressed like the proletariat had. (Marx) This was the foundational idea of communism, a form of government that would soon be implemented in Russia. In 1861, the Russian czar put into law the Emancipation Manifesto, which freed all Russian serfs. However, there were no protections put in place to ensure the serfs’ livelihoods, leading to atrocious working conditions and extreme poverty for the working class - Marx’s proletariat. This caused the majority of Russia’s population to become disgruntled with the government, and did exactly what Marx asked - they started a revolution, and the current government was overthrown and replaced with a communist one. However, everything didn’t exactly go to plan. While attempts were made to put in place Marxist principles, communism ultimately failed in Russia because of corruption within the Russian government, resulting in the misimplementation of Marxist principles and ideas such as the abolition of private property, the withering away of the state, and the elimination of oppression.
The biggest thing that communism set out to do was to abolish private property- to make the means of producing goods owned by the collective community and not one person. Marx wrote that “In this sense, the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.” (Marx) This is the defining idea of communism, making it a concept that any communist government should prioritize. By taking a look at legislation put into place, it seems as if Russia achieved this; at the Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies on November 8, 1917, Vladimir Lenin decreed that “Landed proprietorship is abolished forthwith without any compensation,” and that “All land (...) [shall] become the property of the whole people, and pass into the use of all those who cultivate it.” (Lenin) However, by observing the effect of this law, one can see that instead, the state took control of the land. This same document also gives the state control of land in Russia to distribute and use it how the state wants. (Lenin) This may seem like a small and inconsequential difference, but what happens if the government stops working solely for the people’s interest?
Marx believed that if everyone worked for the good of the community, the government would ‘wither away’ as it wouldn’t be needed. “In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all” were the words he used to describe this concept in his Manifesto. Once the people gained the concept of the collective good and started working not just because they needed money but because they wanted to help the community, there would be no need for a government or state to oversee their behavior. This would only be accomplished by weakening the power of the government and its leaders over time, but the exact opposite of this is what happened in Russia. After leader Vladmir Lenin suffered multiple strokes starting in 1922, preventing him from participating in politics, discussion of picking a new leader for the nation started. Stalin, then in the position of general-secretary, started using his position to manipulate meetings, elections, and conferences in his favor, using his power for personal gain rather than helping the people of Russia. In his desire for the highest seat of power, he had multiple of his rivals executed in order to gain power. When Lenin finally died in 1924, Stalin was ‘jubilant,’ according to his personal secretary. He assumed leadership over Russia, gaining unprecedented power. (Todd) This manipulation and consolidation of power goes against the idea of the state withering away because in a Marxist government, the amount of power the leader has should be constantly decreasing, not remaining the same or increasing. Communism was about taking power away from the few and giving it to the many, and Stalin upended this by consolidating power and influence for himself and using it to further his personal goals.
One final principle of Marxism was that implementing communism would eliminate oppression of the working class as the cause of oppression was the bourgeoisie. Marx believed that because the bourgeoisie sought money at the cost of the livelihood of the proletariat, eliminating them would eliminate oppression. (Marx) While Russia did remove power from the hands of the bourgeoisie by abolishing private property (Lenin), this didn’t actually cause the end of oppression as Marx said it would. During Stalin’s regime, he repressed multiple groups, leading to deporations and executions. (Kotljarchuk and Sundström) One major group that Stalin oppressed were the kulaks, a social class of farmers who owned more than 8 acres of land, about halfway in between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. They were deemed by the government ‘enemies of the people’, dehumanized, called cockroaches and half-animals, and killed en masse. About 30,000 kulaks were killed directly by Stalin’s government, while many more were killed due to the violence that Stalin’s propaganda incited. (Haven) This is oppression of a social class, something Marx put forward as the biggest thing communism set out to end. Marx had believed that a communist society would have no oppression, but after Stalin forced himself into full power against the way a communist government was supposed to work, he could order anything he wanted, including oppression and executions that went against the document that defined communism.
Because of Stalin’s immense influence on the Russian government, communism in Russia failed to abide by Marx’s defining principles. His personal lust for power derailed plans to implement the ideas defined in the original Communist Manifesto. While state ownership of land didn’t seem like a bad thing in the beginning, it left those oppressed by the government with nowhere to hide. Stalin manipulated the state until it was under his control, strengthening the state, as opposed to withering it away. He then used his power to oppress his citizens, including thousands of kulaks. This could have been prevented - before Lenin’s death, he wrote a testament in which he expressed concern about Stalin’s attitude - but Stalin was able to gain power anyway. (Todd) If there had been more legislation put in place to stop the condensation of power into leaders like Stalin’s hands, then Russia would have been much closer to the communist utopia Marx dreamed of.
Haven, Cynthia. “Stalin Killed Millions. A Stanford Historian Answers the Question, Was It Genocide?” Stanford News, 16 Apr. 2016, https://news.stanford.edu/2010/09/23/naimark-stalin-genocide-092310/.Kotljarchuk,
Andrej, and Sundström Olle. Ethnic and Religious Minorities in Stalin's Soviet Union: New Dimensions of Research. Södertörns Högskola (Södertörn University), 2017.
Lenin, Vladimir. Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets - 04, Marxists.org, https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/oct/25-26/26d.htm.
Marx, Karl. Manifesto of the Communist Party, www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/index.htm.
“Stalin's Rise to Power, 1924-29.” History for the IB Diploma Paper 3: The Soviet Union and Post-Soviet Russia (1924-2000), by Allan Todd, Cambridge University Press, 2016, pp. 21–30. https://assets.cambridge.org/97813165/03690/excerpt/9781316503690_excerpt.pdf.