The beginning of history—again

Editorial, Workers World, 10 November 2005 10:31 PM

Remember the end of history? Once the USSR fell in 1990, there wasn't supposed to be anything but capitalism forever after.

This month marks 88 years since the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, and exactly 100 years since the first Russian Revolution in 1905, which brought a new political formation into the world: workers' soviets, or councils. For the first time, workers had a political instrument to vie for power with the propertied classes. In 1917, when the tsar fell and two more revolutions came in quick succession, the peasants and the soldiers set up their own councils, too, so that by October there was already in place an alternative to the corrupt government of the bosses and landlords.

At the prodding of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, the Soviets then took the power. It was the beginning of a revolution that lasted for more than 70 years. They took the country out of World War I, renouncing the tsar's plans to annex territory, and turned over the factories, banks and lands to the working people.

But world capitalism wasn't dead yet. Even as socialist revolutions were spreading in Asia and eventually Eastern Europe, promising greater equality, capitalism was penetrating country after country, coopting feudal lords and latifundistas. The imperialist countries, which had all fattened off of colonialism, had the technology to greatly increase the productive output of the working masses. The early socialist countries, all poor to begin with, were still trying to catch up. But where the imperialists made inroads, the wealth they generated went almost entirely to themselves, secondly to their local allies, and only the smallest of crumbs to the people.

For many hundreds of millions around the world, daily life became more wretched even as modern transportation, communications, energy and machines grew up all around them, sucking out their natural resources and moving the wealth abroad. The U.S., grown into an imperialist economic and military superpower, was able to grind down what was left of the workers' states in the Soviet Union and its close allies.

The gap between rich and poor grew to unbelievable proportions. Not just between social classes, but between exploiting and exploited countries. A handful of billionaires arose whose net assets equal those of half the nations on earth. Inside the U.S. itself, as workers' wages remained stagnant, executive salaries doubled, tripled, and finally grew to 20 and 30 times what they were just a few decades ago.

So now here we are, 15 years after the end of history. And, to the alarm of the rich, capitalism is not a pretty word at all.

As surprised reporters following Bush to Argentina just heard, socialism is the word that is resonating throughout Latin America. And why not? The workers and farmers of the many countries “south of the border” know all about capitalism. And it has only brought them grief.

Ever since the Cuban Revolution, Washington has come up with one high-sounding plan after another: Alliance for Progress, NAFTA, CAFTA, FTAA. But for every dollar the U.S. has put into Latin America, the imperialists have taken out five.

Meanwhile, socialist Cuba has helped its neighbors with doctors and medicines and teachers, even when it was struggling to survive the cruel U.S. economic blockade. And it asked for nothing in return.

And now comes Venezuela. President Hugo Chávez says his country aims to build “socialism of the 21st century,” and is working with other countries of the region on development plans free of the exploitation and control that go with every scheme generated by the transnational corporations that run Washington.

Yes, for a lot of people, history seemed over for a while there. It was a pretty awful period but, as history goes, it didn't last that long. History is back, and with it the hope of all humanity for change, for a life of dignity, justice and sovereignty, a life without billionaires and without beggars, a life where everyone has the right to a job, a home, an education, health care, and time to relax and enjoy what we have produced. We call it socialism. And so do more and more people every day.