The Russian Federation is the worst of capitalism reborn and triumphant from the ruins of the Soviet Union. The last head of state of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev was in full command from 1988 until 1991 after becoming CPSU party secretary in 1985, overseeing the end of the Soviet project and the disintegration of the Union into a federation comprising twenty two supposedly independent republics. Judged by land-mass area Russia is the largest single country in the world. This ‘federation’ is still effectively ruled by Vladimir Putin from Moscow, a return to something very like the ‘prison house of nations’ that Lenin described shortly before the October 1917 Revolution, a revolution that finally overthrew the old Tsarist regime. The last three years of the Soviet Union under Gorbachev saw the foundations being laid for the kind of capitalism and imperial ambition that Putin has presided over since his rise to power from within the security apparatus, the FSB, successor of the KGB.
Gorbachev’s reforms had a double edge, cutting away on the one side against the old Stalinist bureaucracy in ‘Glasnost’ – a new openness and transparency that saw a flourishing of social democratic and liberal ideas as well as some limited space for the re-emergence of authentic revolutionary Marxist debate – and destroying the economic foundations of what was left of the workers state in ‘Perestroika’ which explicitly aimed to restructure society and return it to the global economy, return it to capitalism. Gorbachev’s period of rule saw the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and its final destruction in November 1991, from the scrabble for consumer goods by those fleeing from the east in the ‘soviet bloc’ to the complete reintegration of Germany, and then the rest of ‘eastern Europe’ into the capitalist world.
The Soviet Union under Lenin from October 1917 to December 1991 was marked by the particular contradictions of a Russian Empire that housed a massive peasant population and a very small organised industrial working class – not at all the conditions that Marx described for socialist revolution to succeed – and then a civil war, during which there was invasion, sabotage and isolation by fourteen other capitalist nations whose ruling class feared that they would be next for the chop. This weak economic base and political demoralisation was fertile ground for Stalin to crystallise a bureaucracy that revived Great Russian sentiment as the ideological core of its ‘peaceful coexistence’ with imperialism.
It is little wonder that though it was in some sense ‘post-capitalist’, the Soviet Union was not, as it claimed, ‘socialist’, still less communist, and its systematically distorted vision of what socialism would be had dire consequences for radical movements for change around the world. The template it offered for an alternative to capitalism was authoritarian and corrupt, and Stalin imposed this template on the communist parties of the Third International, turning them from being instruments of struggle into instruments of the diplomatic needs of the bureaucracy.
Just as the character of the Soviet Union was marked by the contradictions of the society it negated, transformed and claimed to transcend, so the Russian Federation’s political-economic system reflects the cocoon-regime it emerged from. If capitalism was supposed to have created the proletariat as the gravediggers of that historically obsolete system of rule (as Marx and Engels proposed in the 1848 Communist Manifesto), then the Putin regime has effectively turned the hopes of world revolution and global communism into the graveyard of socialism; the Russian Federation is one of the homes of zombie capitalism. It has been functioning as an afterlife of capitalism, still bizarrely seen by some socialists as a progressive alternative, since 1991, but this state will need to be dismantled in collective revolt, revolution, if the hopes of Lenin’s October are ever to be redeemed.
So, in 1995, this is what capitalism looked like here. Gorbachev has gone, first and last President of the Soviet Union, a post created by himself as part of his swansong. We are nearly five years into the new dispensation under the first President of the Russian Federation, notorious drunk Boris Yeltsin, former member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, CPSU, now reborn as a neoliberal nationalist who steered the country to full-blown privatisation. Glasnost has given way to perestroika, which includes economic shock therapy, lifting of price controls and implementation of a market exchange rate for the rouble. Yeltsin is imposing a political-economic programme that had been recommended to Gorbachev by the International Monetary Fund. Millions of people have been plunged into poverty by these reforms, and state enterprises have been snapped up by the new oligarchs, mostly former prominent apparatchiks in the Soviet bureaucracy. There is capital flight, full economic depression, a fall in production, a fall in the birth rate and an increase in the death rate.
Hotel Cosmos in Moscow, still operated by Intourist, which was founded as a state travel agency in 1929 and privatized in 1992, is a 1,777-room curved gold-painted monstrosity built for the 1980 Olympics and now dumping point for foreign tourists who have to navigate their way through gaggles of prostitutes in the ground-floor lobby. While these women are selling their bodies to make a rouble inside the hotel, the end of the drive approach to the VDNKh Metro station is lined with little old wizened babushkas standing behind mats on which are arrayed a couple of even more wizened vegetables and batteries and other bits and pieces from their homes. They are desperately poor, offering what they have to visitors, barely surviving after the destruction of social services, depletion of pensions and rises in inflation and rent-prices. These are the bitter fruits of the betrayal of socialist revolution, so bitter that people are then also ripe for nationalist propaganda that is replacing the internationalist ethic of the Bolshevik Party and the Third International.
The revolution is also being sold off for very low prices in the flea-markets, with hat badges and medals and other memorabilia marketed as nostalgic tat, some of it fake; memories of a history of hopes for the future displayed as no more than unwanted detritus from the past. The Metro sure is ornate, as has been promised in the sightseeing tour itinerary, and so are the domes of the Russian Orthodox cathedrals, institutions given a new lease of life with the fall of the wall and the rise of a form of capitalism that combines harsh realities about stock-exchange metrics with a new mysticism of the market and hopes for a life beyond it after death.
Lenin is long dead, his waxy-faced perpetually reconstructed stuffed body lit up for view in the mausoleum in Red Square, but viewed quickly; tourists are shuffled through after a quick glance at a revolutionary leader who made it very clear that he did not want to be embalmed or displayed as if he were a modern-day pharaoh. This is one more symbol of the decay of the revolution within ten years of October 1917. The revolutionary sequence of events which began with the February 1917 revolution and the seizure of power by Alexander Kerensky at the head of a liberal-democratic ‘provisional government’ signalled the end of Tsar Nicholas II, but not the end of Tsarism as such.
The rapid shift in power in October saw not only a shift of leadership from Kerensky as head of the provisional committee of the ‘State Duma’, or officially-recognised parliament, to Lenin as head of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies; it was a shift in the nature of power as such, from leaders to deputies, from authoritarian figures to the people, to workers and to soldiers who were also, of course, workers. The October Revolution was a world-historic event because though it was, indeed, led by Lenin and the Bolsheviks (the Communist Party and then CPSU), its dynamic and logic was to a deeper democratic mandate for the people, people from different nationalities taking collective control of their own lives through the ‘soviets’ as their representative assemblies.
That dynamic and logic was under pressure during the civil war and was finally stalled with the installation of Stalin as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1922. It was Stalin who insisted that Lenin be turned into a dummy image of personal power and put in a mausoleum in Moscow because it was exactly that centralisation of power that Stalin desired and enacted himself. Lenin’s body is a harsh reminder of something possible when he was alive and something deep-buried after he was dead. About a half-hour walk away is the first McDonalds in Moscow which opened in 1990, a message from Gorbachev to the West that Russia was open for business and a message to the Russian people that they had better move fast to make the best of it. Crowds flocked to the outlet, and queues stretched to buy fast food that would further boost already chronic obesity, though now, five years on, 1995, the lines of people are smaller and their pockets emptier. This is one of the symbols of the success of capitalism re-implanting itself in the country and of the poverty it feeds on.
There is an overnight train from Moscow to Petrograd, the city that became Leningrad after the revolution but which is now renamed, ideologically returned to the Romanov Tsarist pre-revolutionary days as ‘St Petersburg’. The little people with their power stripped away from them attempt to seize it back in petty displays of authority, and so it is on the train where each sleeper carriage is zealously managed by a scowling overweight guard who locks the toilets before every screeching juddering station-stop and then releases the occupants of the berths to relieve themselves in the dark when the train has got moving again.
Moscow is the present-day power-base of the bureaucrats in the Kremlin, the most important of the Russian fortresses which dominate cities around the federation, but it is revolutionary Petrograd that was the place where the transformation in 1917 really happened. This is where the Winter Palace, official residence of the Tsars and then site of the February 1917 provisional government, was stormed by Bolshevik Red Army soldiers and sailors, a defining moment of the October Revolution. It is a revolution that is often represented as violent, a bloody combat engaged in by desperate men and women, but the really violent bloody days were to come much later and as a direct result of the White Army troops attempting to crush popular power, to take back control, to place it back in the hands of the large landowners, the agricultural and industrial ruling class. The Winter Palace in 1995 was a serene sight, the Hermitage art collection closed, and it was easier to appreciate that more people were killed during the reconstruction of the revolution in the 1920 Eisenstein film October than in the actual events they were designed to remind us of.
Hotel Astoria in St Petersburg opened in 1912, ready for tourists attending the Romanov tercentenary celebrations the following year, and it was patronised by the aristocracy, and apparently by Grigori (Rara) Rasputin, lover of the Russian queen, until the Bolsheviks came to power. Lenin spoke from the balcony in 1919, Mikhail Bulgakov was rumoured to have written part of The Master and Margarita in the hotel, and it was used as a field hospital during the siege of Leningrad during the Second World War. Rasputin was reputedly poisoned and shot and eventually dumped in the River Neva by aristocrats worried by the malign influence the monk had over members of the royal family.
The first issue of a free listings magazine Pulse had just hit the streets in 1995 proclaiming in one of its cover headlines that ‘John Lennon Lives On’. Issue 2 of the Neva News in May 1995 devoted pages 3 and 4 to its ‘Business Monitor’ updates, and the ‘Press Digest’ on the back page had one article telling readers that Boris Yeltsin ‘loves swimming in cold water. He is also a keen hunter and shoots ducks and wild board. He is a professional shot’, and another article headed by a quote by Nikolai Ryzhkov, one of the directors of Tveruniversalbank, declaring that ‘Gorbachev has no prospects’.
I bought a set of wooden nested dolls from a market. The outermost one was of Boris Yeltsin, and emblazoned with the pre-1917 double-headed eagle of the Russian Empire. Next in was Mikhail Gorbachev, his belly marked with the letters CCCP (Russian Cyrillic script initials of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). Inside Gorbachev is Leonid Brezhnev, here wearing his army medals, an old bruiser who lasted from 1964 to 1982. That means some short-lived characters have been missed out. Yuri Andropov, a security apparatus thug was, earlier in his career, involved in the crushing of the Hungarian uprising of 1956 and the Prague Spring in 1968, and only lasted 15 months in power after Brezhnev. Konstantin Chernenko only lasted 13 months, and gave way to Gorbachev.
Who is this smaller guy nestling inside Brezhnev? It is Nikita Krushchev who ruled the roost from 1953 to 1964, a pretty key figure in the so-called ‘de-Stalinisation’ process. An ear of corn is smudged across his chest to signify his peasant origins. Georgy Malenkov had bridged the gap as de facto leader after Stalin, but was quickly edged aside, and it was Krushchev who took the reins of power, delivering a key report to the twentieth congress of the CPSU in 1956 that attacked Stalin’s ‘cult of personality’. Krushchev made this seem as if that was the main problem and as if future leaders, including him, did not indulge in that kind of personality cult as much as they could get away with. And so, in this tracing back of the leadership of the party and nation, we come to a still smaller moustachioed wooden figure in army livery, Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, the man of steel who held the USSR in his bloody grip from 1922 until his death in 1953.
Besuited Lenin is inside Stalin, not a nice metaphor, and, even more inaccurately, the last little piece is Tsar Nicholas II, the last of the Romanovs. Who did you expect to be at the inner core of the diminishing series in this historical chronology of state power? Leon Trotsky? Perhaps Trotsky could have been inside the Lenin matroyoshka doll, animating strategy over the course of the revolution. Trotsky it was, after all, who had written the ground-breaking 1905 text on ‘permanent revolution’ which included the claim that Russia and other so-called ‘backward’ countries’ were not doomed to repeat a strict linear schedule of development which led them from slavery to feudalism to capitalism and only then to socialism and communism. Globalisation of capitalism and the ‘combined and uneven development’ it unleashed meant that the revolutionary fate of each country was interdependently linked to the rest of the countries of the world.
This was not only a thoroughly internationalist conception of what Marx had been arguing, but one that brought the peasantry into the equation as agents of change acting alongside the industrial working class, the proletariat that had been called into being by capitalism. Permanent revolution theorised in advance what actually took place in Russia in 1917 from February to October; Lenin implemented a quasi-Trotskyist political programme to make October possible. Socialist revolution was now on the cards everywhere in the world, but only if extended from Russia and acting independently of it. Lenin made it clear that the Soviet Union would only survive as a democratic socialist holding point if the revolution there spread, and that there could be no ‘socialism in one country’.
If Trotsky was not to be the final piece of the puzzle inside Lenin, then why not place Lenin at the centre and have Trotsky as the next up, next in line? After tracing things back in time through the leadership of the party, we can trace things back again to the present day through the self-activity of the working class and the most authentic representatives of that process, the Trotskyists.
Lenin made it clear before he died in 1924 that Stalin was a bully, and should not succeed him, and though he expressed doubts about the capabilities and sometimes arrogant character of Trotsky, his ‘last testament’ signalled that your man would have been the preferred choice. The Trotskyist continuation of the most democratic and revolutionary Marxist hopes of the October Revolution was expressed first through the ‘Left Opposition’, and then through a network of small groups that looked to Trotsky for guidance after he was sent into internal exile and then expelled from the Soviet Union by Stalin in 1929.
Trotsky was by no means perfect, and was, let’s face it, directly implicated in the suppression of the workers’ and sailors’ revolt at Kronstadt in 1921, but the evolution of Trotskyism as a distinct political current, one that was then identified by Stalin as a main threat to his own power, went way beyond those personal failings. This political current became a historically-grounded defence of revolutionary Marxism as it pitted itself against the Stalinist bureaucracy and its crimes not only at home but also internationally. Trotskyists were murdered inside and outside the Soviet Union by Stalin’s agents, and then finally Trotsky was felled in exile in Mexico in 1940, but not before he wrote his influential analysis of the regime The Revolution Betrayed: What is the Soviet Union and Where is it Going?, published in 1937, and founded the Fourth International in 1938 with a manifesto that included trade-mark Trotskyist ‘transitional demands’ which linked current concerns with the destruction of capitalist property and state structures that prevent basic socially progressive humanitarian measures being implemented. The so-called ‘Transitional Programme’ in the Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International was effectively an update of the Communist Manifesto and a call to arms in the twentieth century.
The Fourth International, FI, had a big enough impact inside the Soviet Union and, more so, outside it inside the Stalinised Third International Communist Parties around the world, to make the bureaucracy crack down hard; tiny though it was, it operated as a reminder of what the revolution should have been about. After Stalin’s death, Krushchev’s 1956 speech was given in a closed session of the CPSU, and so dramatic were the implications for communists around the world that copies had to be smuggled out. During the Krushchev and Brezhnev eras, activists from the FI were actively taking advantage of the small space opened up for debate, and the main demand of the FI was for more openness but no return to capitalism; ‘for glasnost and against perestroika’. That is why the FI supported the rights of all Soviet and East European ‘dissidents’ whether or not they were self-declared socialists.
The following years, four years to the end of Yeltsin’s bungled handling of the handover of assets to the new multi-millionaires – chaotic times that other Stalinist states like China have been keen to avoid as they busily privatise the economy – and then from 1999 onward under Putin, have seen more restructuring and less openness. Calendars and mugs on sale in the Metro underpass kiosks in Moscow in December 2013 sported manly Putin undressed to the waist riding horses or braving the torrents to fish. The freezing snow made me wish I had brought the prickly grey fur hat with me that I had picked up back in 1995.
Putin makes visible what was claimed for Yeltsin as the good hunter and crack-shot, and he has the left in his sights. Putin’s restructuring of Russia as a full-blown capitalist state has two aspects that parody what the re-born social-democratic Gorbachev had seemed to offer: on the one hand, perestroika was reconfigured as the restructuring of the capitalist state as the most authoritarian of neoliberal experiments, combining the stripping back of social security and welfare with the imposition of state security and internal and external warfare; on the other hand, glasnost was reconfigured as a confused contradictory mélange of ideas that seem designed to ensure that Russians have no compass to work out what is going on and, as a consequence, distrust everything they are told. Two studies of these phenomena are especially useful.
Tony Wood’s 2018 Russia Without Putin: Money, Power and the Myths of the New Cold War dismantles the first aspect, showing that the Putin regime is a direct continuation of Yeltsin’s privatisation of state holdings, a process that began under Gorbachev. There is therefore nothing amazingly ‘mafia-like’ about Russian capitalism; it is operating as a neoliberal capitalist state and so comparable with the other capitalist states in the world it competes with. The book also then demonstrates that the so-called ‘peaceful coexistence’ that Brezhnev steered his way through from Krushchev continues, with an attempt by Putin not so much to engage in a great-power battle with the West but to participate in the scramble for spoils as an integral part of imperialism.
So, rather than being a break with the Stalinist past, the nature of capitalism in present-day Russia is very much shaped by those old bureaucratic managerial practices instituted under Stalin. Stalinist state-management was ripe for privatisation, and especially for the kind of privatisation and securitisation that characterises many other authoritarian neoliberal states around the world. Wood only briefly references Trotsky, but his argument is compatible with the revolutionary Marxist tradition that his followers have attempted to keep alive outside Russia and then back inside it.
Peter Pomerantsev’s 2014 Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: Adventures in Modern Russia is a less Trotskyist and more surreal journey through Putin’s surreal ideological universe, mapping the media strategies that are used by the regime to bewitch and bemuse the population. The book begins with the exploitation and oppression of women, and the heteropatriarchal nature of contemporary capitalism is visible throughout. The contradictory ideological assault on reason backed up by pure force entails not only the revival of Russian Orthodox mysticism, but public dabbling in many other kinds of mystical and conspiratorial belief systems; raising possibilities, debunking them, pointing the finger at the West for peddling untruths and then implicitly subscribing to each and every one of them. This is the world of post-Soviet reality as a kind of simulacrum in which it matters not so much what lies behind the surface but efficiently functions to institute the suspicion that there are only surfaces and that it will be impossible to know the truth. This is a paranoid ideological universe which allows private interests to shape public discourse, particularly those private interests linked to Putin, and so it also feeds ridiculous and toxic conspiracy theories.
These are the ideological preconditions for alliances between what remains of the old Communist Party and extreme right-wing political agendas, of ‘red-brown’ politics. This fuels racism and the rise again of antisemitism, this in the land of the pre-revolutionary notorious faked conspiracy theory ‘documents’ and pogroms against Jews which are now also saturated in Islamophobia.
Putin’s Russia is not only zombie capitalism but also ‘Zombie Stalinism’. It entails a significant rewriting of history, one in which Lenin is now viewed as a threat, increasingly ‘criminalised’ retroactively by the regime, and in which ecological, feminist and socialist activists in the anarchist and Trotskyist groups are targeted. There are even state-media tolerated hints that Lenin himself may have had Jewish blood, and this, of course, then also means that Leon Trotsky is completely beyond the pale. The limited opening after Gorbachev did enable the formation of activist groups that eventually, in a politically significant development, led to the formation, after many years absence, of a Russian section of the Fourth International in 2010, ‘Vpered’ (Forward), and then, a year later, its fusion with other forces to form the present-day Russian Socialist Movement.
In 2013 it was already difficult to get specific visa clearance to allow entry to higher education institutions, with the visa system outsourced to a private company that combines the specific requirements of many different client states and so necessitating a very detailed monitoring of every aspect of an applicant’s past. There was a tank parked in the yard opposite the hotel in Moscow, and posters of Putin in the breakfast bar. Near the Starbucks on the Arbat, site of many key scenes in Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, a man played the violin in the bitter cold, snow flecks resting on the strings and on his fingers. The GUM department store facing Red Square was full of fancy goods, yet another indication of the rapidly-widening class divide in the capital from which beggars are regularly wiped away, rendered invisible.
If it was cold in Moscow, it was colder in Kazan, about 450 miles east, republic capital of Tatarstan, a city in which that provincial kremlin houses one of the many mosques, this a republic in which just under 40 percent of the population is registered as Muslim. Yeltsin went to kindergarten in Kazan, and Lenin went to university here. It is possible, though unusual, and cause of great suspicion, to go into Kazan Federal University and find the classroom where Lenin studied law before he was eventually excluded for political activities in 1887. We wandered in blithely asked directions to Lenin’s classroom, and worried officials rushed around looking for English-speakers, eventually turning up a friendly librarian who showed us around and who later met up with us to take us into one of the main functioning mosques in the city. The mosque inside the Kremlin, it now became clear, was a sign of control and management of Islam by the regime, of a distinction between good and bad Muslims.
The Lenin House Museum in Kazan was closed for repairs, but workmen let us in to look around. As elsewhere in Russia, there was both stubborn obedient following of the law and numerous loopholes which enabled people to show generosity of spirit in the face of innumerable odds. We were watched in the airports and stations, and armed police and military personnel would sidle up to us and stand by waiting in case we did anything unlawful.
We were forbidden by our visas to enter the University in Izhevsk, capital of the Udmurt Republic, a further 175 miles east, but special visitors cards were produced when we arrived in the city which enabled us to get into some of the buildings. The Udmurt Republic was recognised, along with Tatarstan, as a separate entity in 1920 after the revolution, but now there is increasing centralisation and control by Moscow. Things were especially tight because Izhevsk was one of the ‘closed cities’ in Soviet times; it was the site of industrial weapons production. In 2013, however, it was possible to visit the Kalashnikov factory, view display after display of crooked regime armies around the world holding different versions of the gun, and then go down to the basement and fire one at a target; it’s a gun with a violent kickback. Mikhail Kalashnikov was still around in the city, but died two weeks after we left Izhevsk, no connection.
At the Tchaikovsky museum in nearby Votkinsk, from which you could look at the real Swan Lake, we were told that the composer had ‘marital problems’, but his homosexuality, which was being erased from a Russian biopic of his life, was not mentioned. Discussions of sexuality in Izhevsk were fraught, with official translators choosing the Russian word for ‘strange’ to explain to a puzzled audience what I was talking about as ‘queer’. Putin has clamped down on those who, as the official legal ruling has it, propagate pretend-family relationships; this is something uncannily similar, but more brutal than legislation floated by the Conservatives in Britain in the late 1980s. It is more brutal in Russia because it licenses physical attacks on lesbians and gays.
Engels’ classic 1884 text The Origin of the Family, Private Property and State had argued that there was an intimate connection between the emergence of class society and the state institutions that defended it and patriarchy, the rule of men over women. This argument was important to the first forging of links between Marxist and feminist politics. Now in modern Russia we had the truth of Engel’s thesis displayed; as the capitalist state became more powerful, the nuclear family, already promoted by Stalin while dampening the sexual liberation that accompanied the 1917 revolution, was part of the ideological bedrock of the regime. That meant suppression of homosexuality as a threat to the nuclear family, something that Pussy Riot understood well, and we visited the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow where they demonstrated in homage to them. The suicide rate for young women is highest in the world in six of the seven Russian republics.
Discussions about race were sometimes also fraught, with people offering the opinion that London must be dangerous to live in because there were so many black people there. I knew from Ukrainian friends who had visited Moscow recently that to speak their language on the Metro there was dangerous. Our hosts in Izhevsk did not know what to make of the Euromaidan protests in Kiev that were happening at that time; those who had been brought up as loyal party members, and showed us a statue of Lenin in the city where they had stood guard overnight, asked us of images of Lenin’s statue being toppled in Kiev, ‘Is this a revolution?’ Sexual and national minorities, even if they are not all together ‘minorities’ at all, are under threat, and ecological activists are also under direct attack. This is clear from the detention of a member of the Trotskyist Russian Socialist Movement in Izhevsk in May 2020 after campaigning against a hazardous waste plant on the edge of the city.
State and Revolution
This is a harsh time to be a revolutionary in Russia, when was it not, and any kind of temptation to ally with the Putin regime on the basis that it is engaged in any kind of progressive struggle against the West should be resisted. This regime is intimately linked to many other brutal regimes around the world, and willing to shift allegiance at a moment’s notice depending on its own particular diplomatic interests. This was the case under Stalin who deliberately distorted Lenin’s explicit pronouncement that it was not possible to build socialism in one country to make it seem as if the only country that could build socialism would be Russia, and that the state interests of the Soviet Union should be defended above all else. There is a direct line between those days of the bureaucracy that crystallised in the 1920s upon the hard-fought-for ‘workers state’ to Stalin and then to Putin.
Trotskyists made a point of principle for many years to defend those economic gains against the capitalist world even when the bureaucracy was dead-set against the people. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the headlong rush to neoliberal capitalism, even that temptation to take sides between Russia and the rest of the capitalist world has fallen away. The irony is that the pull of a kind of ‘campist’ defence of the Soviet Union that was energetically resisted for many years by some revolutionary Marxists who, from 1948, saw the regime as being ‘state capitalist’ and so declared a plague on both houses (with the slogan ‘neither Washington nor Moscow but International Socialism’) have been still powerful now, including on these comrades. There are a multitude of forces pulling old Stalinists nostalgic for the old days of the Soviet Union as well as sect-like remains of old state capitalist groups to find something positive in Putin. There is nothing positive in Putin, nor in the macho capitalist nationalist dreams he peddles to the Russian people.
The Soviet regime once served as a template for other progressive movements around the world, and the military might of Stalin and then Krushchev and then Brezhnev enforced that template inside the Communist Parties that were part of the old Third International. This model was not only a tragic mistake for revolutionaries of different stripes around the world desperate for support in their own struggles, but also had the effect of blocking solidarity with revolutionaries inside Russia who were trying to redeem the hopes of October, to remain true to the democratic socialist dynamic of the 1917 Revolution. It was a revolution betrayed, and if we are not to repeat those mistakes we need to learn from them, and to do that in solidarity with our comrades around the world wherever they are.
This is one of the Socialisms series of FIIMG articles