Communications: Damning 1917 with Faint Praise

By Roger Keeran

Nov.  15, 2017

In the November 8, 2017 issue of the on-line People's World, in an article entitled "Socialism Can Never Surrender Its Commitment to Democracy,"  John Bachtell, the national chair of the Communist Party (USA) gives his thoughts on the centennial of the Russian Revolution. Those who thought that this anniversary might provide a revolutionary wake-up call for the CPUSA, a chance to shake off some of the opportunism of the previous leader, Sam Webb, will be sorely disappointed.

The unwary might be cheered by Bachtell's opening. He calls the revolution one of the greatest history-changing events of the 20th century," "the beginning of the world's first great socialist experiment," a revolution that "inspired hope and unleashed creative energy." While Bachtell wishes to claim this heritage, he also wishes to associate himself with every opportunist criticism of the Russian Revolution from the Mensheviks to Gorbachev.

The result is a fantasy in which the Soviet Communists could have accomplished everything they did from industrializing the country to defeating Hitler, from providing social security and lifting the status of women and oppressed nationalities to inspiring revolutions and liberation struggles abroad without centralizing, without sacrifice, without discipline, without repression.

All the Soviet Communists had to do, according to Bachtell, was develop "genuine grassroots forms of democracy," allow "pluralism of political parties and movements," choose "economic and political decentralization," and promote "sober self-reflection and flexibility and avoid dogma." It all could have been so easy, so wonderful. One wonders why the Bolsheviks were too stupid to see this. One can only regret that they did not have a truly flexible and undogmatic thinker like Bachtell at their head. But for a moment they did have Gorbachev, and these were more or less his policies. But alas, Bachtell rues, Gorbachev's reforms were "haphazard," "disarming" and "confusing."

One might use these same adjectives to describe Bachtell's article, though for completeness one would have to add dishonest and disingenuous.

This is the Russian Revolution through a glossy Menshevik lens, the same lens through which he views the present and future: "Socialism in the United States can be achieved peacefully and democratically through the electoral arena." This is a country where the ruling class sponsored the overthrow of democratically elected leaders such as Mossadegh, Arbenz and Allende  and that has soldiers in 172 countries to use force against opponents who are a lot less threatening to their interests than socialists.

Maybe it's time for a little more sober self-reflection in the CPUSA.


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