100 Years Later

Birth Centenary of USSR

Harsh Thakor

Progressives around the world commemorated the birth centenary of historic formation of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) on December 30, 2022.

Representatives of the Soviet governments of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and the Transcaucasian Republic (encompassing Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia), declared the formation of a new country: the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the first nation in the world based on Marxist socialism.

“By the time the USSR turned 50, in 1972, it was recognised as a global superpower, matching or exceeding the military strength of its only rival, the United States,” says Benjamin Nathans, a history professor in the School of Arts & Sciences.

This was an event of great historical significance which knit the seeds of the entire path breaking achievements of Soviet Union in industry, agriculture, literacy, health, housing, employment, emancipation of women and winning the Great Patriotic War. Path was carved for establishing industrialisation and electrification, collectivisation and modernisation, the establishment of socialist production relations in the city and in the countryside. Scientific centralised economic planning catered towards the needs of the people and the socialist construction and overpowered evils of capitalism. A path-breaking experiment and true manifestation of the democratic sprit of Leninism.

It paved the way for adopting the most democratic constitution established ever till then in 1924.

It illustrated the democratic approach to resolving the question of merging nationalities into a nation. The formation was linked to the policies of a proletarian state formed in 1917 by the Bolsheviks, with Marxist method applied for the first time in history in integrating different states into a nation. Autonomy was given to the republics themselves, and not imposed from above. Marxist Scholars of history should all research into how proletarian power was linked with nationality question and truly democratic methods of establishing national unity.

Quoting Timor Fencer, of Party of Labour of Austria “The founding of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on 30 December 1922 marked the greatest state-political achievement of the revolutionary working class to date. It was the result of the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917, the successful struggle of the young Russian Soviet Republic against counterrevolution and interventions, the overcoming of civil war and so-called "war communism".

Tragically in December 1991 USSR fell. It had its roots in the Kruschevite overturning of Socialist policies after 1956.Still till 1991 many salient features of the USSR were preserved.

From 1990s, conspiracy was hatched for breaking integrity of the Soviet State through separate existence due to the criminal actions of the authorities. As a result, the convenient shortest railway from Belgorod to Rostov-on-Don was changed because it entered the Kharkov region that had become "foreign".

The whole capitalist world was decisively against the revival of the union of the former Russian state on any socio-political basis.

Lenin had elaborated deeply that unions of capitalist states are either lifeless or reactionary, with an objective of intensifying the power of capital and the exploitation of labour. Workers unity is destroyed by such unions.

After the destruction of USSR, production in Russia slumped by more than 50% in the 1990s, and half of these losses were the result of the destruction of the country's unified demographic complex. Even in the last three years, the disruption of economic ties between Russia and Ukraine has adversely y affected the aviation industry, rail transport, energy supply and many-many other economic sectors of both countries.

Vladimir Mayakovsky most aptly said: "The land with which you froze, you cannot fall in love forever. And we, the Soviet people, together with the land of our great united country were not only freezing. We defended her together from the enemy, together, wounded, walked out, and together decorated with plants and gardens, together dreamed about her and our happiness. That is why December 30–the Day of Education of the USSR becomes more and more disturbing for us every year. After we were forcibly melted in different states, we began to relate to this day much more thoughtful, but not because of nostalgia, but because we need to know the most accurate and shortest route to the revival of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , surrendered to the opponent as a result of a deep retreat.”

Today many intellectuals deride Stalin, including Marxist-Leninists .They fail to comprehend Stalin’s deeply engrained Marxist Leninist perspective on the question of nationalities, who applied the proletarian perspective towards nationalities.

Bujar Hioxha in November 2022 issue of Revolutionary Democracy has summed up the revisionist theorisations of Khrushchev and Brezhnev and how they violated Leninism in Ukraine. It links subject with the current war in Ukraine in the context of ‘national liberation war of the Russian state with puppet states established in Eastern Ukraine, a current issue of national question in Ukraine today. Valentin Sakharov traces the distortions of Stalin’s positive role in 1922 refuting trends that condemn Stalin’s actions in Georgia. It assured that Stalin had allowed right of nations to secession.

No doubt Stalin made gross errors in later stages be it in violating democratic centralism through dictatorial approach and gave one sided emphasis to productive forces. However as a Commissar of nationalities he historically acted in compliance with Lenin .Stalin’s writings on nationality question are a permanent part of a Marxist Leninist treasure house.

Indian Marxists applied Stalin’s writings while condemning repression on nationalities like in Kashmir, Assam, Chhattisgarh or Uttarakhand and even during the Khalistan movement in Punjab they applied his thesis. This was in stark contrast to how leaders like Bismark united Germany or unity of princely states into a semblance of bourgeois democratic form by Sardar Vallabahai Patel in 1947.Late Harbhajan Sohi when writing on Kashmir defended Stalin’s thesis on nationality.

One should never forget how the American nation was formed endorsing slavery.

Even non-Stalinists or non- Marxists expressed great admiration for creation of USSR. The writings of EH Carr or even A P Taylor on Soviet Russia give insight on the essence of Soviet democracy.

One of the major problems dealt by the Soviet regime was the contradiction between class and national question and solution of the national problem. The Soviet government declared that any republic wanting to separate was granted a free right. As a result, Finland gained independence in 1918. This was a most democratic step by the new government, and illustrated its intentions. Russia consisted of so many nations and countries like the Ukraine, Byelorussia, the central Asian republics and so on.

Russia was not one ‘country’ in the conventional sense of the term. It included so many countries which evolved into future ‘republics’. So, a most flexible national policy was adopted, which was applicable to Russian revolution. Significantly, most of the republics or countries and areas chose to remain within the political-economic orbit of Soviet Russia due to democratic and socialist revolutions.

Soviet Russia consisted of 15 constituent republics, 15 in all, which became ‘Soviet’ step by step. They adopted or established Soviet power. They also became ‘socialist’. Soviet Russia became RSFSR or Russian Socialist Federative Socialist Republics. Then it crystallised into the USSR, joined by other republics. This was a slow, complex and complicated, dialectical and contradictory process. The Soviet power germinated arduously or painstakingly, due to sharp class antagonism imposed by former Tsarist forces and imperialist countries, which sent their troops into Russia to overthrow the newly established Soviet power. Fourteen (14) imperialist countries including the US, Britain, France, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Japan, and others militarily conspired to dethrone Russia. The War of Intervention was also known as the Civil War because the rightwing reactionaries and supporters of former regime, the ‘White Guards’, actively took part. The war lasted from 1918 to 1922, when imperialism and counter-revolution was eradicated. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was announced in 1922. It consisted of 15 republics including Ukraine, Byelorussia, Russian Federation and Central Asian Republics etc. It became a powerful union of Soviet nations with socialist direction, which deeply impacted the world history.

In the course of the Civil War, Ukraine, Byelorussia and the Russian Federation entered into a military and political alliance. In 1921 and 1922, it established diplomatic alliance in foreign trade and policy. In 1922, the CC of RCP (Russian Communist Party) formed a commission to discuss the relations between the republics in the midst of serious debates. Lenin proposed formation of the USSR, a voluntary union of equal and sovereign states.

Lenin’s proposals were accepted unanimously. The First All Union Congress of Soviets held on 30 December 1922 accepted the formation of the USSR. A Treaty of Union was signed. Two years later, a declaration on the formation of USSR was adopted and also the Constitution of USSR in January 1924 in the Second All Union Congress of Soviets.

USSR at the time included two federal republics of Russian Federation and Transcaucasia including Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia, plus Ukraine and Byelorussia. All Union Congress of Soviets (AUCS) became the highest body of power. All Union CEC became the highest executive power.

Stalin’s writing on ‘The Formation of Soviet Republics” on December 30, 100 years ago deserves more attention than ever before. Quoting an excerpt: “Comrades, this day marks a turning point in the history of the Soviet power. It places a landmark between the old period, now past, when the Soviet republics, although they acted in common, yet each followed its own path and was concerned primarily with its own preservation, and the new period, already begun, when an end is being put to the isolated existence of the Soviet republics, when the republics are being united into a single union state for a successful struggle against economic ruin, and when the Soviet power is concerned not only with its preservation, but with developing into an important international force, capable of influencing the international situation and of modifying it in the interests of the working people.

What was the Soviet state five years ago? A small, scarcely noticeable entity, which evoked the derision of all its enemies and the pity of many of its friends. That was the period of wartime ruin, when the Soviet power relied not so much upon its own strength as upon the impotence of its opponents; when the enemies of the Soviet power, split into two coalitions, the Austro-German coalition and the Anglo-French coalition, were engaged in mutual warfare and were not in a position to turn their weapons against the Soviet power. In the history of the Soviet power that was the period of wartime ruin. In the struggle against Kolchak and Denikin, however, the Soviet power created the Red Army and successfully emerged from the period of wartime ruin.”

Also useful is Stalin’s writing “The Federation of Soviet Republics’ written in January 1923. ‘The fundamental principle of the Federation is that the republics are voluntarily affiliated, have equal rights, and retain the right of leaving the federation of republics.’

[Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist who has undertaken extensive research on Marxism-Leninism and history of Communist Movement.]

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Vol 55, No. 30, Jan 22 - 28, 2023