How the October Revolution and the Soviet Union contributed to the labor movement in Western Europe, and more particularly in Belgium

The October Revolution and the creation of the Soviet Union were by far the most important events of the 20th century. And not only for the Soviet people for whom it took only forty years to go from serfdom, a backward economic system, utmost poverty, illiteracy and the colonial oppression of national minorities to a modern state, the second world economy, the country with the highest number of engineers and scientists, the first country in the world to put a satellite into orbit, a country in which seventy nationalities lived together, the only country capable of stopping the Nazi war machine when the capitalist countries of Western Europe had capitulated after only a few weeks.

These events were not only important for the Soviet people. The October revolution and the creation of the Soviet Union were by far the most important events of the 20th century for the nations which had been colonized and exploited by the great imperialist powers.

In addition, it would be hard to overestimate the contribution made by the October revolution and the Soviet Union to the labor movement in Europe. With the overthrow of the Russian bourgeoisie in 1917, the bourgeoisie all over the world became conscious of the fact that the working class was indeed in a position to defeat it, to overthrow capitalism and to establish a new social structure. In October 1917, for the first time in the history of humanity, the working class took land, factories, the transportation system, and the distribution network from the landowners and capitalists and transformed them into social property. It set up the socialist power of the Soviets of workers and peasants in lieu of the bourgeois parliamentary system.

The October revolution proved the efficiency of the revolutionary path and brought to light the illusory character of a peaceful transition to socialism through elections, as promoted by Social Democracy. Since then, Social Democracy has not been able to bring proof of the contrary anywhere else. Allende’s Chile is a good reminder to this effect.

A reaction in two opposing directions

Immediately, the fear of revolutionary contagion spread to the whole of the European bourgeoisie… with a double, contradictory reaction, according to the German communist historian Kurt Gossweiler.[1]

On the one hand, the dread of revolution drove it not only to contain the labor movement within certain limits, but also to eradicate and liquidate the revolutionary labor movement and the State which was supporting it, the Soviet Union. This evolution led among other things to armed intervention against Soviet Russia and an "enrichment" of the political spectrum in certain capitalist countries, especially those defeated in the First World War, through the setting-up of organizations and parties whose aim it was to eradicate communism and even the labor movement, essentially by violent and terrorist means: fascism.

On the other hand, the Social Democrat reformist system, which had until then been considered unfit to govern, came to be appreciated in 1917 as a bulwark against revolution and was incorporated into the domination and oppression system. The Social Democrat parties had earned their stripes by taking part in the war effort of their respective bourgeoisies.

Destruction and the cost of war represented a heavy burden for the population of those among the big powers of Western Europe which had been victorious, Great Britain and France ranking first. Letting their workers bear such a burden would have very severely aggravated class antagonisms. However, it was possible for the bourgeoisie of those countries to shift the burden to the defeated German rival and its colonies. It reaped much higher profits from these colonies than those it could have gleaned from the spoliation of the workers at home. A fraction of this pretty sum could be set aside to be distributed generously to labor leaders with the aim of corrupting them one way or another. The bourgeoisie gave its preference to this solution, because it did not want to risk trying to eliminate by violent means a well-organized and revolutionized labor movement whose fighting power had been strengthened by the example of the October revolution, and which was determined to defend the social benefits it had acquired.

Everything became possible

As early as 1918, the bourgeoisie had to accept social reforms which it had fiercely opposed until then. On the day following the 11th of November 1918 armistice, Albert I, King of the Belgians, summoned a meeting of the Liberal Party, the Catholic Party and the Belgian Labor Party (POB), ancestor of the Socialist Party, in the village of Loppem (not far from the Belgian city of Ghent) where he was staying at the time, in order to discuss the measures to be taken to ensure law and order once the soldiers were demobilized. The bourgeoisie was very panicky and this state of panic had been growing since the creation of revolutionary councils by German soldiers in Brussels, on the pattern of those being created all over Germany.

During the Loppem meeting it was decided to bring two socialist ministers into the government, and to introduce universal franchise for men without a preliminary revision of the Constitution. The main promoter of this operation was Belgium’s number one banker, Émile Francqui, President of the powerful Société Générale and close friend of Émile Vandervelde, leader of the POB and of the 2nd Socialist International. So it was that three general strikes were needed – in 1893, 1902 and 1913 – and especially the October Revolution, for male workers – time was not yet ripe for women workers – to acquire full voting rights. This was the first concrete demonstration of the help that could be provided by a socialist State, even if it had not yet reached stability, to the social struggle of the working class in capitalist countries.

Another general strike was needed, in 1919, but most of all the October revolution and the dread of revolutionary contamination, for the 8-hour working day and the 48-hour week to be introduced in Belgium. This demand had already caused tens of workers, among them those who fell in Chicago on the famous 1st of May, 1886, to be shot down by the police. Even bourgeois history books acknowledge this: in 1918, in Belgium, the bourgeoisie’s attitude would largely be determined by the "fear of seeing the proletarians follow the Russian example one way or another".[2]

In a few decades, the Soviet revolution was to guarantee the right to work, the right to education and free access to health services. The 7-hour working day and the 5-day week were introduced as early as 1956 in the USSR. Homes were built for rest, leisure and holidays, an important network of theatres and cinemas was set up, arts and sports organizations as well as libraries came into being all over the country, down to the remotest villages. The State provided the means for an artistic education from childhood onwards. Every Soviet citizen was granted a retirement pension, men at the age of 60, women at the age of 55. Workers did not know the threat of unemployment. Socialist power provided the foundation of equality between men and women. It freed women from many household responsibilities. More than 75% of the population obtained at least a high school diploma, whereas in 1917, two-thirds of the population had been illiterate. Socialist power organized the blossoming of physics and mathematics, the first flight of man into space. The acquisitions of socialist culture benefited the population at large.

Information about these achievements soon crossed the barriers erected by anti-communist propaganda and spread to Western Europe, and to trade-union circles. In the eminently anti-communist official mouthpiece of the trade-union Commission of the Belgian Labor Party, Le mouvement syndical belge, (The Belgian Trade-Union Movement), Berthe Labille, wife of a Socialist minister, published an article on "La vie de l’ouvrière en URSS." ("The life of women workers in the USSR." ):

"Most workers eat on the premises of the factory. Dining-halls have been installed everywhere and full meals are served there at a minimal price. The factory intervenes in case of illness by providing treatment in a clinic and cure in a convalescent home until complete recovery. (…). Today, there are 8 million women workers in the Soviet Union, a third of the total labor force. The estimate for the Kolkhozes is 25 million women workers in the fields. In a country where unemployment does not exist, (…) they are eligible for any career, without the least exception. Half of the doctors are women. (…) Women can be found at the top in Government commissions, they run factories, official institutions, museums etc…

The Soviet Union is the only country in the world where women enjoy such freedom of action as well as absolute equality with men in all fields. Equal work gives a right to equal pay.

A large number of measures have been adopted to allow pregnant workers to work under special conditions and offer them a very wide protection. Attendance at antenatal consultations is compulsory. There, the future mothers are given care and advice and they are monitored at home during the whole of their pregnancy. On the factory premises, the woman worker gets transferred if this is required by her health condition, without any loss of salary. The woman is sent to a maternity home for delivery, at the state’s expense. The law on social insurance has provided women workers with a 2- month leave before delivery and a 2-month leave afterwards, for women white-collar workers 6 weeks before and 6 weeks after. For the whole of this period, full salary is paid, as well as a bonus for childbirth. As soon as the mother starts working again, she is provided with all the amenities necessary for her to take rest and to feed her baby. The latter is looked after in the factory’s day-nursery, at advantageous terms. The mother’s contribution to the costs is minimal. The main part of the costs is borne by the factory’s social works fund.

The presence of such institutions, in addition to that of sanatoriums, polyclinics, clubs, cultural centres, takes an important part of the burden of material worry off the shoulders of the Soviet woman worker. She does not have to solve the many problems related to ill-health, disability, old age, children’s education, with the salary she earns, since all this is free of cost. She is protected from all those worries that make the life of her sisters in the capitalist countries miserable.

(…) Women workers in the U.S.S.R. are spared household chores to a high degree. Most of them eat on the premises of the factory. On the other hand, low-priced meals are provided by the ‘gastronoms’. One just has to warm them up. Central kitchens have been installed in certain housing units, where tenants can obtain all they want for their meals. It cannot be doubted that in the present circumstances, the well-being of male and female workers has never been left out of sight".[3]

The same newspaper saluted the accession of the USSR to the International Labor Conference of 1931. It considered that " to succeed in voting a convention aimed at introducing the 40-hour working week in all countries, Russia could constitute a very favourable factor".[4]

Social legislation in its entirety, its very concept, was influenced at international level by the presence of the USSR and its social legislation. Other countries had to take it into account, even if in a biased or distorted manner. One only has to think of the United Nations’ universal declaration of human rights that had to go beyond the declaration born of the French revolution and had to take social and trade-union rights into account.

Fear of socialism leads to social security

Social security, in the shape in which it came into being in 1945, was the outcome of a long struggle designed to make bosses pay for the risks inherent in their system. Life inside the capitalist system is full of uncertainties for workers. That is why workers have been struggling since the very inception of capitalism to keep an income when they are not able to work anymore because of unemployment, disease or old age. Capitalists do not pay what the worker produces up to its full value, wages are determined by what the worker needs in order to survive and take care of himself and his family. The reserves he is able to accumulate are thus minimal or nonexistent. Social security was born out of the vital necessity for workers to defend themselves.

After the Second World War, social security as we know it today came into being in Belgium with the decree-law of 28 December 1944. The innovation was the obligation for employers to pay a fixed contribution in order to guarantee universal insurance in matters of retirement pension, health and disability insurance, unemployment relief, family and holiday allowances for every salaried worker. Until then, bosses had been paying for their own workers only. A demand dating back to 1890 and to the general strike of 1936 had thus finally been fulfilled.

Belgian Social-Democrat leaders like to make believe that the social security system was a conquest of their party and its leader, Achille Van Acker. The truth is that it was the fear of socialist contamination that egged on employers to grant this reform.

In 1944, the Belgian Communist Party (PCB) and the USSR were enormously popular. The PCB had been the only pre-war party with no links to the new order to present itself as such to the population. The catholic and liberal parties had disappeared qua political parties. The socialist leader De Man had entered the service of the occupier and dissolved the POB as early as 1940.

As from the first months of the occupation, the communists organized strikes. In May 1941, the Party called for the constitution of the Front de l’Indépendance (the "Independence Front"), a wide unitary and popular movement of resistance to the enemy. Two thousand communists sacrificed their lives resisting fascism.

At the end of the war, sympathy for communism and the USSR was immense. In Belgium, the number of members of the Communist Party had gone up from 12,000 at the time of Liberation (in September 1944) to 103,000 in August 1945.

The bourgeoisie was in a hurry to take measures to root out a communist-inspired popular uprising. Robert Vandeputte had been president of the Banque d’Emission (which was working for the Germans) during the Second World War and would become Finance Minister a few decades later. According to him, "in 1944, business leaders were worried about revolutionary tendencies. Communism was enjoying a considerable amount of prestige. It is not without reason that they feared expropriations and nationalisations. (…)".[5]

In order to sustain capitalism at such a critical moment, employers needed socialist personalities who would leap to defend reconstruction. The Social-Democrat leader Van Acker, who had been a trade-union leader, and had been very much involved in collaboration with the occupying force, side by side with Henri De Man, President of the Belgian Labor Party (POB), steered Belgian employers through the most difficult years of their history.

Enormous interests were at stake for Belgian employers who, for the most part, had worked for the occupying power. They had to make concessions, for they had a gun pointing at their head. They had to avoid "the worst", i.e. a revolutionary mass movement supported by the armed partisans and inspired by the progress made by socialism in Eastern Europe.

Already during the war, the bourgeoisie had been preparing for this moment from a military point of view. According to Georges de Lovinfosse, a liaison agent between the government in exile in London and occupied Belgium: "The risk that the armed resistance, whose control we wanted to keep, could escape us was real … a widespread upheaval would have brought about a bloodbath in Belgium…. my mission consisted in…. keeping the insurrection under control at all times…The crucial problem was as follows: Who was going to assume civil and military power in the period between Liberation and the return of the Belgian authorities?"[6]

On the other hand, a strategy of social concessions had been agreed upon during clandestine negotiations during the war. As from 1942, some twenty members of the managerial staff of the Belgian Christian trade union CSC would gather at regular intervals under the leadership of their president, Auguste Cool. According to Cool, "The days following Liberation will be crucial. That will be the time when we will have to decide whether we want a new period of agitation, class struggle, mistrust between workers and employers, division inside the factories and businesses, or cooperation (…) We want this collaboration; that is why we have to do our utmost to avoid disturbances, strikes, conflicts." [7] In secret discussions, bosses had made sure of the loyalty of the Socialist and Christian-Democrat negotiators.

Professor Deleeck, who had been a Christian-Democrat senator, wrote about this period: "In Belgium, the institutional development of dialogue economy and social security was drawn up during the war in secret discussions between employers and workers’ leaders belonging to all ideological tendencies. (…). The workers undertook to accept the authority of the bosses in the firms (i.e. to renounce the principle of nationalisation of enterprises) and to collaborate loyally in the intensification of national production."[8] The following crucial sentence was inserted by common consent in the Social Pact of 1944: "The workers respect the legal authority of the company managers and consider themselves bound to carry out their work, and to remain faithful to their duty"[9]. A commentary published in a stock-market publication confirmed this: "This passage is a perfect illustration of what was aimed at by the promoters of this pact: the creation of a structure that could erect a barrier against the establishment of state control, as encouraged by mounting communism" .[10]

Thus, if the bourgeoisie’s fears were very real, they were partly unfounded. When the PCB (Belgian Communist Party) rightly united with the patriotic bourgeoisie during the war, it abandoned its autonomous programme at the same time. It stuck to respecting the programme of the Front de l’Indépendance (FI) (Independence Front), in which the bourgeoisie had had inserted "the respect of constitutional liberties" (Point 6 of the programme), i.e. upholding the bourgeois state, the bourgeois order. It did not try to raise the aspirations of the Resistance fighters further than that of "driving out the occupiers". However, the people were not only fighting to get the enemy out, their struggle was also aimed at establishing a just and fraternal society, after so many years of horror. The only thing the PCB had in view for the post-war period was to glean a few crumbs of power through participation in the government. Shortly after Liberation, the Independence Front called for the restoration of the state, its institutions, its "constitutional liberties". It recalled the pre-war Belgian government from London to rule the country, whereas this very government had gone to great lengths to protect Belgian fascists and imprison communists. The Independence Front programme, which had been approved by the PCB, even provided for the liquidation of the Resistance movement through its incorporation into the official Belgian army, under the pretext that the war was not yet over, whereas everybody knew that its end was near and inevitable. For this reason, the Resistance movement had to be disarmed.

Fear of the U.S.S.R., the power of the communist parties in certain European countries, their direct and indirect influence on trade-unionism weakened the resistance of the bourgeoisie in Western Europe to social progress. This appears clearly from a comparison between tax and social security deductions (in relation with GDP) in European countries and in the United States or Japan. Nationalisations were the order of the day as well. Soon after Liberation in France, for instance, de Gaulle had resorted to mass nationalisation: the Nord-Pas-de-Calais mines, Renault, Air France, the energy sector, the shipping sector, four big banks, savings banks and 34 insurance companies. This resulted, in the capitalist countries, in an increase in public expenses as compared to total national expenses.

Share of public expenditure in the gross national product of the United States (in %)
1913  7.1
1929 8.1
1940 12.4
1950 24.6
1955 27.8
1960 28.1
1965 30.0
1970 33.2

Share of public expenditure (social insurance included) in the net social product of Germany, later the Federal Republic of Germany.[11]

1913 15.7
1928 27.6
1950 37.5
1959 39.5
1961 40.0
1969 42.5

Right up to the eighties, West German trade union leaders, among them the almost legendary president of IG Metall, Otto Brenner, knew from experience that "during negotiations with the bosses, an invisible but perceptible partner was always present at the table, the socialist GDR [German Democratic Republic – East Germany]".[12]

A German trade-unionist wrote: "I was certainly no supporter of the GDR. But in those days, there was a certain pressure during negotiations with employers. In those days things had been achieved in the GDR: payment of wages when children were ill, lengthening of paid holidays, a free, paid day a month for women, rules concerning the protection of mothers and children, total protection against redundancy, payment of overtime, all this had an indirect impact on collective negotiations in the Federal Republic."[13]

Negative Proof

The most important event of the 20th century for workers all over Europe was the October Revolution and the creation of the Soviet Union, not the participation of socialist parties in government. Proof of this can also be given in the negative. Now that the political pressure of socialism has disappeared, it has become almost impossible for the trade union movement to progress any further. In the Netherlands, the NRC-Handelsblad published the following revealing headline on the occasion of the adoption, in the nineties, of a much more restrictive law on sickness and disability : "With Stalin alive, or, possibly, Brezhnev, our new legislation would not have been adopted."

Fernand Vandamme, philosopher and professor from Ghent, takes the same view. "We had to set up a broad system of social security because, failing this, we might have become communists. Now that this pressure has subsided, some may be attracted by the idea of introducing everywhere one and the same system based on the American pattern."[14]

Whereas competition between socialism and capitalism used to enhance social attainments, it has been replaced today by an endless downward spiral. 54 countries are poorer today than in 1990. [17] among them are situated in Eastern Europe and what used to be the Soviet Union.[15] After the destruction of most of its industry, Eastern Europe has become a reservoir of well-trained and cheap manpower that is made to compete with the workers of Western Europe.

Ever since the disappearance of the Soviet Union, the European labor movement has been in constant regression, in spite and even because of the practically uninterrupted participation of Social-Democrat parties in government.

Since 1989, the famous Rhineland model based on the "social market economy" has not produced any social progress. After ninety years, our children will be the first generation with less social protection than that of their parents. The eight-hour working day, the five-day week and a stable job are all but memories. Half the young people in Belgium start their careers with part-time jobs. Interim jobs are precarious but they grow like poisonous fungi. In some countries, even rich ones like Germany, people have to work until the age of 67 to be eligible for a full retirement pension. Meanwhile, millions of young people do not find decent jobs and are unable to settle down or begin a family. It will soon be impossible to survive without a supplementary private pension, to be treated in a hospital without supplementary private insurance. However, such private pensions and insurances are an inaccessible luxury for a great number of workers.

Through their Lisbon 2020 agenda, European leaders want to reinforce the famous "flexicurity."  They are planning to reconsider an important part of the social advances made in the matters of labor contracts and the right to notice.

The public services in charge of energy, transport, mail and water distribution are being dismantled and handed over to multinationals. Instead of ensuring basic services to the population, the latter limit themselves to the distribution of indecent dividends to the shareholders of Suez, Veolia and others. At the same time, the needy, among them people with jobs, have to beg for energy vouchers in order to be provided with light and heating.

Ever since the U.S.S.R. ceased to exist, 10% of the Belgian gross national product, 10% of the total riches that had previously been devoted to social security and public services, have been shifted from the collective funds of the social security to the safes of the holders of capital.

For two years now, the capitalist world has been engulfed in a new crisis, the worst since the thirties. World wealth has gone down. In most countries, unemployment has risen by half. In the European Union, the increase in the number of unemployed amounts to 5 million.

In his polemic with the trotskyite opposition on the occasion of the 7th enlarged Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International, Stalin stated: "What would happen if capitalism succeeded in smashing the Republic of Soviets? There would set in an era of the blackest reaction in all the capitalist and colonial countries. The working class and the oppressed peoples would be seized by the throat, the positions of international communism would be lost."[16] His words have come true today.

Ever since the U.S.S.R. ceased to exist, the European socialists, whose contribution to its downfall is significant, have not obtained an inch more of social progress. All this makes a fable of the argument that they should be credited with the social advances of the 20th century. Had their policy prevailed, the Soviet Union would never have existed and the bourgeoisie would have had no cause for uneasiness for a long time to come.

Right from the start of the October revolution, the Social-Democrat leaders, among them the leaders of the Belgian Labor Party, were in the vanguard of the struggle against the new socialist state. In May and June 1917, at the height of the Russian democratic revolution, the POB leaders Vandervelde, De Brouckère and De Man travelled to the Russian front in order to urge Russian workers and peasants to continue the war against the Germans together with the French, English and Belgians. De Brouckère and his colleague De Man went so far as to advise Russian leaders to gun down soldiers of the seventh Siberian corps who had started a mutiny. When an international coalition headed by France and Great Britain, with counter-revolutionaries led by ex-tsarist officers, invaded Russia and provoked a bloody civil war in December 1917, the leaders of the POB took their stand on the side of the counter-revolution. During the whole of the civil war, the POB journal, Le Peuple, led a violent campaign against the October Revolution and the other revolutions in Europe. In December 1918, it declared that "were the Spartakists to win in Germany, an intervention by Anglo-French troops would be needed." In May 1919, it supported the foreign intervention against Soviet authority.[17]

The New Socialists

But here come the "new socialists." They retrieve this fairy tale from the refuse bin of history. They defend the reformist system of the "old socialists" against the neo-liberals of the Schröder and Blair-style Social Democratic system. In Germany, the leader of "Die Linke, " Gregor Gysi, belongs to this movement. In August 1999, he published "12 arguments for a modern socialism policy"[18] He writes about "the Social-Democrat era" and its great conquests: "the development of productivity, innovation and the raising of the cultural level of broad strata of the population, that have been obtained in the course of the past fifty years thanks among other things to the great influence of social democracy" (Argument 2).

In a scathing criticism of these arguments, the German communist historian Kurt Gossweiler[19] has declared: "Increase in productivity and innovation have nothing to do with Social Democracy. During this so-called Social-Democrat period, the USA had taken the lead in these evolutions. Moreover, if we take into account the second half of the 20th century, we can observe that the SPD (social democrats) participated in the government for only 16 years and headed the government for only 13 years. For 37 years, it was the CDU (Christian democrats) that was steering the course. A similar situation prevailed in the other countries of Western Europe".

Gysi describes this period as "a long period of prosperity, full employment, growth of purchasing power linked to the increase in productivity, social benefits linked to the growth of income from labor, during which, however, poverty could not be totally erased. The population’s participation was on the increase: workers’ participation in the management of companies. Institutions for the defence of workers’ rights were set up: they partially replaced the principle of capital by that of social participation. All this was made possible thanks to the trade unions in the first place, to Social Democracy and the Socialist movements in the second place, and, finally, to competition with State socialism."

Gossweiler wonders why pressure from the socialist countries comes last in Gysi’s enumeration: "This is strange: all the institutions which are deemed by Gysi to have contributed to social progress still exist today. Moreover, it was Social Democracy that was in power in the first years of the 21st century, not with the right, but with the Green Party! However, since the exact date when ‘competition with State socialism’ came to an end, these institutions have not achieved anything for the workers. They have not even been able to prevent a retreat from the achievements of this competition era. All we can see now is recession, and things got worse under Schroeder. I am not even talking about the latest achievement of Social Democracy: the return of Germany as a power taking part in wars."

And one may wonder, together with Gossweiler, why Gysi, with his great admiration for the achievements of the old Social Democracy "does not go further in singing the praises of reforms such as the agrarian reform through which the land of the GDR was given to those who till the soil, or the collectivisation of the means of production through expropriation of the big banks and industries, the realization of equality of rights for women, the generalization of the education system, free health care, the right to work. These are achievements which no Social-Democrat party ever attained. They existed in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). According to the new Gysi-style socialists, Social Democracy is the only institution worthy of respect. As far as the real historical achievements of the GDR are concerned, in Gysi’s own words uttered at the Berlin Congress of the SDP in January 1999, we must "bring to light without any compunction and criticise the relations that existed in the GDR". What conclusion can we draw from this? The new socialists only appreciate and defend reforms that do not touch capitalism. Those which deprive capitalism of its foundations are only worthy of ‘blunt’ criticism".

The Revolutionary October Legacy

No, the liquidation of the socialist states did not mean "progress towards freedom", it was a counter-revolutionary process which overthrew the social and human conquests of the peoples of the East!

Today, the debate between the upholders of the revolutionary legacy of October and the supporters of a new variety of traditional Social Democracy is on the agenda. The traditional version of Social Democracy is more and more discredited in the working class. Some want to take its place by talking about "modern socialism", a system in which it would not be necessary to socialize the means of production. They promise, without wanting to disturb the economic foundations of the system, an "advanced socialist alternative", "peace", "social justice", "sustainable development", which is what we all hope for.

Nevertheless, the multiple crisis in which capitalism finds itself offers opportunities and possibilities for socialism to be brought back to the centre of political debate. This is what Joseph Stiglitz, who resigned from his post as chief economist of the World Bank, had to admit: "(…) no crisis, especially one of this severity, recedes without leaving a legacy. And among this one’s legacies will be a worldwide battle over ideas – over what kind of economic system is likely to deliver the greatest benefit to the most people. Nowhere is that battle raging more hotly than in the Third World, among the 80 percent of the world’s population that lives in Asia, Latin America, and Africa (…). In much of the world (…) the battle between capitalism and socialism (…) still rages. (…) The former Communist countries generally turned, after the dismal failure of their post-war system, to market capitalism, replacing Karl Marx with Milton Friedman as their god. The new religion has not served them well. (…) Many countries may conclude not simply that unfettered capitalism, American-style, has failed but that the very concept of a market economy has failed, and is indeed unworkable under any circumstances."20

Now that the most severe crisis in seventy years has hit us, it has to be said without any ambiguity: market economy, capitalism, does not work. It is not possible to create a version of it which would be exempt of crises, unemployment and wars. It can only be replaced through a socialist revolution, the socialization of the main means of production, political power for the workers, democracy for the greatest number.

The twentieth century will have been the century of the dress-rehearsal for the world socialist revolution. That experience, with its positive and negative aspects, allows the anti-capitalist forces to acquire a better understanding of the historical soundness of the principles of the October revolution. Indeed, faithfulness to Marxist-Leninist principles brought victories to the revolutionary forces all over the world in the first half of the twentieth century, while their progressive liquidation during the second half of that century has brought about bitter defeats at world level.


Herwig Lerouge is the editor of Études marxistes and a member of the National Council of the Workers’ Party of Belgium (Parti du Travail de Belgique). ,



[1] Kurt Gossweiler, Hitler : L’irrésistible ascension ? Chapter V: Origines et variantes du fascisme, , Études marxistes n° 67-68, Éditions Aden, 2006.

[2] J. Bartier, La politique intérieure belge (1914-1940), Bruxelles, 1953, t. 4, p. 47. Cited in Claude Renard, Octobre 1917 et le mouvement ouvrier belge, 1967, Éditions de la Fondation Jacquemotte, Brussels, p. 63.

[3] Le mouvement syndical belge N° 5 25 May 1936

[4] Ibidem N° 10, 20 October 1934.

[5] Trends, 14 October 1993, p.172.. Ibidem

[6]  Georges de Lovinfosse, Au service de Leurs Majestés: histoire secrète des Belges à Londres. 1974,, éditions Byblos. Pp 186-187 and 196.

[7] Peter Franssen and Ludo Martens. L’argent du PSC-CVP. Editions EPO, pp 29-30

[8] Herman Deleeck, De architectuur van de welvaartstaat, ACCO, 2001 p.2. (cited in Carl Cauwenbergh. "La Sécurité sociale n’est pas une conquête de la social-démocratie", Études marxistes n° 27, 1995)

[9]  Projet de convention de solidarité sociale, 28 April 1944.

[10] Financieel Ekonomische Tijd, 19 October 1993.

[11] US Department of Commerce, Long Term Economic Growth, Statistical Abstract of the United States 1971. Elemente einer materialistischen Staatstheorie, Frankfurt 1973.



[14] De Morgen, 4 September 1993.(cited in Carl Cauwenbergh. "La Sécurité sociale n’est pas une conquête de la social-démocratie", Études marxistes n° 27, 1995

[15] Data from the 2003 et 2006 editions of the UN Human Development Reports.

[16]  J. V. Stalin, Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1954, vol. 9, pp. 28-29 Report delivered at the 7th enlarged CEIC Plenum, December 1926.

[17] Émile Vandervelde, La Belgique envahie et le socialisme international, Berger-Levrault, Paris 1917.

[18] August 1999

[19] Kurt Gossweiler. Der "moderne sozialismus" -gedanken zu 12 thesen gysis und seiner denkwerkstatt.

[20] Joseph Stiglitz, "Wall Street’s Toxic Message", Vanity Fair, July 2009; cited in La crise, les restrictions et les germes du changement, Résolution du Conseil national du PTB, 15 March 2010,


February 18, 2011

Originally published May 5, 2010